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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot - James Phelan

1. With two Lachlan Fox thrillers now out, FOX HUNT and PATRIOT ACT, and global terror warnings beamed into our loungerooms every night, do you find yourself spoilt for choice with possible storylines to give him?

With the end of the Cold War, quite a few thriller writers at my end of the genre were left scratching their heads looking for a new enemy to write about. Since S11, yes, there's plenty more fodder for us writers but it's also a situation that requires much more delicacy and finesse. Gone are the days when we could write about 'black hat' wearing bad guys up against a force we knew was good, ie the Yanks or Brits. These days, we constantly see footage on the internet and on TV of horrific things occurring in the Mid East, Africa, and closer to home. We now have a much more cynical view of our own political leaders who have been proved time and time again of lying to us. So, yes, there are now plenty more plausible storylines out there, it's just a matter of getting the right balance between producing an entertaining read and staying true to the circumstances we are living in. Some might say "this is fiction, leave truth at the door" but for me, the most powerful element of writing a thriller is that it is a snapshot of the time and place that I am writing about.

2. After 2 books Lachlan Fox has become established as a higly trained operative who can be relied on to respond to just about any emergency. Are there more global threats out there that will require his expertise?

There certainly are many more global hot spots and threats out there for me to write about. The third novel is about an oil crisis in Nigeria, and the fourth is about fresh water scarcity in India. On the first of March I finished the third Lachlan Fox novel, BLOOD OIL, and we see in greater depth how his post traumatic stress disorder is ruling his life. We see early on that Fox has the skills that come with being an ex-special forces operative, and soon realise that he's ready to snap. When an incident compounds something that has been haunting Fox since serving in Iraq, his quest becomes a path of revenge and redemption, and as we turn the pages we can see that he's getting closer and closer to going a step too far. And he just might... you'll have to read the book to find out.

3. Do you read much Australian crime fiction? Can you give us a few standouts that you've read recently? What do you think of the current state of the Australian crime fiction scene?

Half the novels that I read are written by Australians, and I am very deliberate about that and what I buy when in a bookstore. Many crime and thriller novelists here and overseas are my friends, so sorry if I am offending any friends here by listing some local standouts of the past twelve months (those that I can remember!): The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham, Maelstrom by Michael MacConnell, Shattered by Gabriel Lord, Chain of Evidence by Garry Disher, Sucked In by Shane Maloney, The Broken Shore by Peter Temple.

4. What do you think could be done to better promote Australian authors either at home or abroad (or both)?

Overseas we do okay - it's a gobalised marketplace and a pretty even playing field. Here at home, there could be more done to promote Aussie authors. Again, I have the opinion that we are in a marketplace where book sales will, over an author's career, equate to the quality of their work. That said, it would be great to see more retailers and publishers really pushing the novels written by Australian authors. We have authors here who are as good if not better than any import, and that's something that should be seen and heard when you go into a bookstore. I know that there are many readers here who are not aware of many Australian authors simply because there's not enough done to create that awareness. Which is sad, because there's some great books getting little to no attention, and the authors are right here on hand ready to promote them. How is the bigger situation fixed? We should all do more to promote and sell Australian novels, and by we I mean the publisher, retailer, media, government (how much do the state and federal governments spend on supporting the film industry?) and the authors. We would all benefit from more Aussie titles selling, and readers would be all the better for it - you know: smarter, happier, healthier, funnier, sexier... Seriously though, it's a big topic and one where we readers can make an impact right now by buying more Aussie fiction.

5. If your fictional character could meet any fictional character who would you like it to be and why?

In my novels I often have my lead character Lachlan Fox meet many real-life people, so that's always fun. Still no lawsuits have come my way, which is nice. During dialogue in my novels Fox makes references to heaps of fictional characters and I prefer to make fun of James Bond and Jason Bourne as fictional characters than as "real people". Besides, I'm sure we all know that if it really came to it that Fox had to fight Bourne or Bond, he'd kick their arses.

James Phelan is the author of the fast action Lachlan Fox thrillers mentioned in the interview. You can read more about him and his work by clicking on his name.

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