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The story behind the story – getting to know the real Tom

The Broken Wave is a very personal book to me because the character of Tom is heavily drawn from a real friend I had as a kid, also named Tom.


I had the idea for this story back in 2007 when I was in New Zealand for a wedding. While I was there, I visited Tom, now both of us adults with kids. Like Tom and Drew, we met when we were 12 years old. We were both living in an expat community in Asia at the time, where our dads had been posted for work. Tom had arrived from Australia too, and we became instant mates. He and I did everything together – sleepovers, Nintendo, squash, swimming, videos, grass-skiing and generally wandering the streets and bushland of Yangmingshan, the area of Taipei where we lived. But our time together was short-lived. As is the nature of the expat life, Tom’s dad was transferred again less than two years after arriving in Taiwan.

I’d seen Tom a few times in the intervening years, but it wasn’t until this trip in 2007 that I met his son, David, for the first time. It struck me how similar David was to my boyhood friend, and that’s what sparked the idea for The Broken Wave. In a similar way, when grown-up Drew meets Tom’s son for the first time, it triggers memories of their time together as kids.


Thankfully, the real Tom is still alive and we never went through the kind of tragedy that Tom and Drew go through in the book. Although, having to part after such a short time together was, at the time, devastating.


Photo descriptions (clockwise): What Tom looked like when I met him; the two us as twelve-year-olds; we apparently had a thing for photo booths when we caught up as teenagers (or maybe we just didn't own cameras so we had to improvise).

Fact versus fiction – the real Tom


  • The real Tom looked like the boy in the novel – tanned skin, concave chest – and dressed the same (not too fussy!).

  • He introduced me to egg sandwiches (made exactly the way they are in the book).

  • He was smart like the boy in the story, always rattling off random facts.

  • He wanted to be a marine biologist.

  • He put on tops the same way, pulling the whole thing over his torso then poking his arms through.

  • He loved remote-controlled cars.

  • When we were twelve, he liked a tall girl named Marissa.

  • His mum was a scientist and rode a motorbike.

  • His dad worked in finance (but it was my dad who worked for Ford Motor Company).

  • He had two kids of his own, first a boy, then a girl.

  • He was the first one to call me Matt (I was Matthew up until then). After that, I started insisting everyone call me Matt. (This inspired Andrew to become ‘Drew’ in the book.)

Fun fact: It was Tom’s real-life son, David, who introduced me to the potato shooter.


  • We never fished together. As far as I know, he didn’t know how.

  • He doesn’t own a fishing charter business as an adult. He works mostly in IT.

  • He is a New Zealander by nationality but spent his early years (before we met) growing up in South Australia. He now lives in the US.

  • He married a Minnesotan named Cathy.

Tom and Matt 2007.jpg

Photo descriptions:

Tom and me in 2007 when I visited New Zealand. This was the trip that sparked the idea for The Broken Wave.

Tom in 2023. His son, David, is in the background. David inspired the character of Adam. Tom's wife, Cathy, is in the foreground.

Tom 2023_edited_edited.jpg

Fact versus fiction – the real Drew

It’s natural for readers to assume Drew is based on me, given he is a novelist and looks pretty much like me (at least in my mind). But the similarities between Drew and me are a lot less pronounced that those between the fictional and real Tom. Here are some of the main differences:

  • I’m not American.

  • I didn’t have a parent in the military, although we did move overseas because of my dad’s work.

  • I don’t like coffee (shocking, I know).

  • I have two grown kids.

  • I didn’t read for pleasure as a kid; I was not obsessed with words back then the way Drew is.


I also pilfered some of Drew’s story from Tom. Tom lived in Minnesota for years because his wife, Cathy, is from there. He’s a New Zealander by nationality, so he lived there for a long time too. He lives in Illinois now.

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