Here are his thoughts on his time as a board member of Grey Sydney:
Instead, he moved to Sydney and joined a small advertising firm, where his real education began. It was the era of Mad Men, but the series makes him laugh in derision; Sydney in those days was a long way from Madison Avenue and he and his colleagues were not exactly Don Draper types. The alcohol consumption was insane, he says; they had that in common. But, “[The Americans] were so straight. We were not straight. When someone comes into the office and is walking around and the floor is absolutely sticky, and says, ‘What’s wrong with the floor?’ ‘Dunno,’ and it was because we’d been smoking dope and spraying the air with adhesive spray to kill the smell! It was a different world. I liked that.”
Even when he was on the board of Grey’s Advertising in Sydney, there was still no real pressure to conform. Carey was living in a hippy community at the time, and came in for a meeting with some American executives dressed in flip-flops, pyjama trousers and a secondhand Hawaiian shirt. “And I was a board member!” he says. “And my friend said to me once, ‘You don’t know how you look. You have no idea.’”
Carey wasn’t exactly playing at hippydom – the lifestyle suited him, he says, and he assumed, as he does in most situations, that it would go on for ever. On the other hand, “It was a very privileged position. You know, you’re pretending to be radical, with a credit card.” The main thing was, the advertising work was relatively undemanding and paid well enough to free him up to write most days a week. He is grateful for those years, but is still half embarrassed at having been a hack copywriter. He primly refuses to repeat any of the slogans he wrote, won’t allow for the possibility that copywriting influenced his style as a fiction writer, and is still smarting from the reaction he got in some quarters when he first won the Booker, in 1988, for Oscar And Lucinda: Ad-Man Wins Booker Prize. “You know? Fuck you, too.”
And yet, “Advertising really was like a huge arts council grant.”
Mixed feelings then – like a bloke who’s gone out with a girl who let him do some rather questionable things to her, but now he’s moved on to Polly Prissy Pants he feels he must disown the lady of easy virtue.