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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot - Mark Abernethy

1. Do you find yourself scouring newspapers, watching the evening news and reading Internet news sites picking up likely future plots? Golden Serpent was such a full-on action thriller, yet given world events over the last few years, no scenario seems too outrageous any more. Do you find that frees you up or make you feel more restricted?

Yes, all of my stories comes from the media and all of my characters are based either on people I’ve read about or people I know. In Golden Serpent the head bad guy is Abu Sabaya, from Mindanao. He is real as is the story that he was gunned down by Philippines and US commandos in 2002; 10 days later, a priest on one of the islands in the Sulu chain told a newspaper that Sabaya was still alive because he’d seen him walking around. And from there came an idea for a book… But I don’t scour the media for stories I just sort of absorb them. I also read a lot of the boring stuff: the Senate inquiries, the house committee reports, the judicial inquiries and the auditor general’s reports. Mostly these things are stripped for their news value in the media, but they’re full of gems if you can be bothered. I find that sticking closely with the truth frees me up because it’s more fun to write about the way things are than creating an alternative world.

2. GOLDEN SERPENT introduced us to a very complicated character in Alan "Mac" McQueen. There appears to be a lot more to discover about him. Is there a follow-up on the horizon? What's in store for him?

Alan McQueen is going round for another go in August of 2008, in a sequel to Golden Serpent. Can’t say too much at this stage but he’s still in south east Asia and Australia and his life has become more complicated than it was last time. But there’s still very bad people trying to do terrible things. Then there’s a third Alan McQueen book for 2009. One of the fun things about this character is that he is complex (as most of us are) and that allows lots of scope for how he deals with people.

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?

I don’t read as much Aussie crime fiction as I’d like, mostly because I’m always reading government reports and non-fiction books. My standouts are Melbourne-based investigator-fiction: the Jack Irish series is a lot of fun and also very smart; and I like Leigh Redhead’s PI, Simone Kirsch, who has to be one of the funniest characters in Australian fiction. One of the things that surprises me about the Melbourne view of the world is the attention to food, clothes and music. These seem to be essential elements of a Melbourne person’s character whereas Sydney is more about how much money or power you can wield in public. I like the state of Aussie crime fiction but it would be nice to see some of these stories made into movies.

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

I’m not entirely sure about that. Golden Serpent was my first novel (after 21 years of writing journalism and speeches) and I’m still stoked just to have fan letters which are not a normal result of other types of professional writing. I go to the writers festivals and do the signings and I have to say that they’re so much fun that I forget it’s actually a promotion. Publishers all want to make a return on their authors and I think they are out there doing what they can with the crime fiction.

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

Probably the first person Alan McQueen would have to deal with would be Jill McBain, the character played by Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West. She’s tough, mysterious, complex, dishonest and beautiful and Mac would fall into her as surely as day turns into night. And as with all the complex, difficult women, he would not have a clue what he’s doing and would end up like the mouse who’s been cornered by a cat. When it comes to male characters, Mac would wander into Elsinore, meet the Prince of Denmark, tell him to stop sniveling and do what he has to do. He’d spin some inspirational story about courage from his rugby league days in Rockhampton. It would be a very short play.

Mark Abernethy's debut thriller Golden Serpent introduced us to Australian spy Alan McQueen and established himself as an author to watch out for. As Mark mentions above, there's more McQueen to look forward to. Read more about him on Mark Abernethy's website.


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