Val Wake's writing life started with his father. Robert Frederick Bird Wake was an Australian government spy. It was his father's spying missions that first gave Val the idea of role playing. Role Playing and writing go well together but it is only when the writer has something to draw on that the synergy works. Val Wake's traveling mode started early. He was born in Sydney on 11 April 1935. One month later his father Bob took his wife Betty & son to Brisbane where Bob had secured a position as chief investigator with the Commonwealth Investigation Branch, the Australian spy agency charged with maintaining the country's security. In 1937 Val's brother Andrew was born. While the world went to war the two boys led a footloose and carefree life on Brisbane's streets enjoying the freedom and fruits of Queensland's subtropical living.
After the war Bob Wake moved his family to Sydney where he was a founding director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), Australia's new spy agency. The boys were involved in some of their father's activities by providing him with cover when he was on surveilance duties at the Sydney Domain where the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) regularly held public meetings on Sundays.
Although Val was intrigued with his father's activities, he was not comfortable with his father's secret life and in 1955 he left Australia for the first time to travel to London. This was Val's first experience of long distance travelling... an experience that he would repeat throughout his life travelling twice around the world, once by ship and then by plane. Val Wake found that travel gave him an opportunity to renew and re-invent himself.
During the northern summer of 1955 Val worked as a film extra in and around London and wrote reviews for the theatrical magazine Plays and Players. Val's ideas about writing were beginning to take shape. He wrote his first play at 20 years of age. In 1956 he met and married Lillian Louis Lequereux, a registered nurse from Vancouver, Canada.
Lil and Val Wake started their life together travelling. For many years they had trouble deciding what continent they wanted to live on. Canada offered good opportunities and good money but then there was the Canadian winter. Australia had the sun but Australia in the sixties had a lot of catching up to do both socially and economically. In Canada Val worked as a general reporter, broadcaster and editor of a small town newspaper. In Australia he was news editor with a provincial television station and a television news producer with the ABC in Sydney.
His most challenging role as a journalist, on his own reckoning, was when he returned to Canada in 1966 where he worked for CBC News first in Ottawa and then in the new Territorial capital of Yellowknife. Val was CBC News’ first full time Arctic editor working out of Yellowknife. His patch was 1,300,000 square miles of the Northwest Territories.
Val arrived in the north just as the native rights movement was getting started following the discovery of oil and gas in the Arctic. The clash of cultures between the traditional lifestyles of the northern natives and the demands of southern consumers for more fossil fuels provided the background for Val’s first novel White Bird Black Bird.
In the early seventies after the birth of their second girl, Claudine, the family returned to England. Both Val and Lil shared a fondness for the English countryside, its villages, shaded narrow lanes and green fields. They bought a smallholding on the Somerset Levels where Val freelanced, writing stories about the Arctic. The family adopted a self-sufficiency mode, planting a kitchen garden and trees.
Somerset made a deep impression on Val. He wrote a poem Dead Willows Morn and started a fairy story titled The Story of Zog both of which commemorated the Battle of Sedgemoor, the last battle to be fought on English soil.
But self-sufficiency was not enough to keep Val gainfully employed. He joined the British civil service and started working for the Central Office of Information first in Bristol, then Nottingham and finally London. The COI is the British Government’s media factory, responsible for government publicity services both at home and overseas. Val’s main client was the British Foreign Office for whom he made film and radio programmes for overseas distribution. Val’s experiences working for the Foreign Office was the basis of his second novel When the Lions are Drinking.
Asked how he adapted himself to his various roles as reporter, editor, broadcaster and civil servant in different parts of the world Val said he acted like a chameleon, absorbing the colours of the society around him and in the process becoming a part of that society.
After 20 years working for the COI Val and Lil retired to Port Macquarie. As Val explains in his memoir My Voyage around Spray (with apologies to Captain Joshua Slocum) the decision to go to Port Macquarie, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane on the Australian east coast, was a happy piece of serendipity the result of meeting with a London weather man and finding a reference to Port Macquarie in Slocum’s book Sailing Alone around the World. The weather man said Port Macquarie had one of the world’s best climates. Slocum, the first man to sail single handed around the world, was one of Val’s heroes. Val wanted to buy a yacht of his own and although he was not likely to follow in Slocum’s tracks, he did want to sail.
Today in Port Macquarie Val Wake sees his main role is that of a story teller. He looks back on his colourful and demanding career as providing him with the necessary experiences to write authoritatively about a wide range of subjects in various settings.
A prolific essay writer, many of Val Wake’s articles have appeared in the Australian Institute of Policy and Science journal Australian Quarterly. The subjects covered in Val’s essays include the Global Financial Crisis, a revisionist look at the Gallipoli campaign and a theory about the political reasons behind the killing of Captain Cook. Val is a great admirer of the British master navigator. Over the years he has collected a large number of books about Cook. He recently donated the collection to the University of New England at Armidale, NSW Australia.
Val is also a poet. Since retiring he has produced more than 10 poems. The most recent was written to greet the arrival of Lil and Val's first grandson, Auguste Lequereux Chevalier.