It’s not often a person accidentally gets involved with the mafia.
However, Launceston writer Shirley McLaughlin, 70, hasn’t had a quiet life.
Her career in the entertainment industry has taken her across the globe, which is featured in her memoir The World’s Your Oyster.
Published by Foot and Playsted in Launceston, the stories have been taken from her diaries, letters, professional writings and correspondence from her family, friends, husbands, partners, bosses, colleagues and staff.
When opening one chapter called The American Dream, McLaughlin is faced with a dilemma after concerning revelations were made about a new job in the United States she was preparing to move for.
She was offered an opportunity to work as a trainee manager and personal secretary to a businessman, who owned 100 businesses around the world with his work partner.
“Mum would say the hardest thing to determine is which bridge to cross and which to burn, and probably remind me that some people do nothing because they’re afraid of failing,” she said in her book.
“I worked for the mafia in America,” McLaughlin said.
“I was very lucky to get out alive.”
McLaughlin worked for them in Oklahoma City and Las Vegas.
“I did a lot of their accounts. I was basically employed to become a manager and learn all their businesses so I could come back into Australia and run some of their operations.”
It didn’t take long before she discovered their more sinister side of the business and decided to get out, she said.
Instead of “disappearing” as she said other colleagues had, her boss had her deported.
A note near the front of the book says she has changed some names to protect their privacy, innocence or guilt.
Many of the stories felt too raw, “soul-searching” or dangerous to tell herself.
Mum would say the hardest thing to determine is which bridge to cross and which to burn, and probably remind me that some people do nothing because they’re afraid of failing.Launceston writer Shirley McLaughlin
That was where her muses stepped in.
“It’s another reason I needed my nephews to be my muses, because I didn’t think I could write an honest story of my life,” she said.
Through third person, McLaughlin said she could finally air her tales.
“I was born a gambler and a risk-taker.”
Although she was fortunate to be brought up to carefully manage money, McLaughlin said.
“But thereafter I pretty much tossed the dice most of my life.”
It was writing that helped her take control of her life.
“I think I was born to write,” McLaughlin said.
“I have been writing freelance and books and so many different things for 45 years.
“The dream of writing what I wanted to write came when I was financially secure.”
Putting pen to paper wasn’t her only interest.
From the time she was “in short pants”, McLaughlin was on the stage a dozen times a year.
She was interested in acting, but felt she was not in control of her story or cut out for stage life.
Instead, McLaughlin chose a different path.
Producing and writing became her bread and butter, where she could “take full control” of her actions.
Elocution lessons paid off throughout her career.
McLaughlin said they encouraged her to tell stories.
Writing her memoir was her toughest tale to date as she has watched changes creep into the entertainment industry.
“There is a lack of direct responsibility for one’s actions in a way that bothers me,” McLaughlin said.
She wasn’t sure whether it was technology that caused the change.
“I don’t know if people are secure in their jobs now.”
When computers slowly appeared more frequently in businesses, McLaughlin said she remembered wondering whether the best years were gone. “It probably happens to every generation.”
Love and life have been far from a straight and easy course. “My choice of men needed a bit of work.”
It was 32 years between her second and third “I do”.
“I met my soulmate in my 50s, he is the surprise and the prize of my life,” McLaughlin said.
She moved to Launceston with her husband Dr Jeff Mount two years ago after relocating to Hobart a decade ago.
While neither have children, McLaughlin said she treasured her relationship with her nephews who she chose to narrate her book.
“I’ve had more careers and lived in more places than anyone I’ve ever known,” she said.
“The best thing we did was come to Tasmania and start our lives.”
They both discovered and fell in love with the state decades before they met.
McLaughlin got the first contract as entertainment agent to book acts to star at Wrest Point Hotel Casino.
Her time at the casino meant she had the best performers “in my back pocket”.
Over her life, she has had about 10 different careers as she flitted between jobs every three to five years.
“Only because my boredom threshold is very low. Once I wrapped something up and got it done, I get bored and have to move on.
“I feel very grateful I have had an extraordinary life.”
- McLaughlin’s book is available at Fullers, Foot and Playsted, and Petrarch’s Bookshop.