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Monday, March 10, 2008

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot - Michael Robotham

1. You have utilised an interesting, hmm, shall we say tool(?) with your first 3 novels taking minor characters and using them in subsequent books. This may be a bit chicken and egg but, did you plan it this way or did you see the potential in Ruiz and Alisha Barba only after the earlier book was finished?

I know it sounds like I’m a borderline psychotic, but my characters are as real to me as any living breathing subjects of the books I used to ghostwrite. When I was a ghostwriter, each time I took on a project I got to look at the world through a fresh set of eyes. That’s what I love about shuffling my main characters around and introducing new ones. I never write a character and think I’ll use them again in another book. I let the story idea decide who the narrator should be.

2. You have a new novel that will be published later in the year (Shatter) and it sees the return of Joseph O'Loughlin. He appears to be the type of character that has enormous potential in terms of emotional development. Is this one of the reasons for his return?

The storyline for SHATTER is so dark and confronting, I felt it needed someone like Joe to guide readers safely through it and not leave them traumatised. He has such a wonderful sense of humour and sense of humanity that he lightens up the darkest moments.

It’s been a while since Joe appeared in one of the books. He’s a wonderful character, but sometimes I need to separate myself from the people who inhabit my head. (Imagine spending a year living in a two-man tent with your best friend and you’ll understand what I mean.)

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 tend not to read much crime fiction because I’m frightened of being influenced by other writers. Maybe that’s why my novels are a little different from the mainstream crime novels. Peter Temple is an obvious master storyteller, who is quite rightly respected internationally. THE BROKEN SHORE isn’t just a great crime novel it’s a great novel. Adrian Hyland’s DIAMOND DOVE was a stunning debut.

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

I’ve been very fortunate but I realise how difficult it is to make a living as a writer in Australia unless you are published internationally. Getting those deals is the first hurdle. The UK is harder to break than the US because UK publishers want Australian rights and these have normally already gone by the time they see an Australian book. Once you have that deal, you then face the reality that supermarkets dominate the book trade in the UK, making it very difficult to launch new writers because they stock so few titles and the list is dominated by the big names.

Although the US may be an easier place to secure a deal, you risk being the smallest goldfish in the biggest pond - published directly into paperback, ten thousand copies, no promotion, let’s see what happens…

There are so many obstacles it’s hard to know where to begin, but all aspiring writers should concentrate on only one thing - writing the best book possible. Not because it follows a formula or because it’s what they think publishers want - but because it’s what they want to write. Their passion will show through in their words. Once they get the book right, it will be much easier to find a good agent and then a supportive publisher.

Of course, more can always be done to promote Australian authors. Internationally, for example, we should be including writers in events such as the ‘G’DAY LA Australia Week and ‘G’DAY NY Australia Week promotions in America. Authors could also be sponsored to attend literary festivals to promote Australia and their works.

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

Where did you come up with a question like this? It’s given me nightmares, picturing my fictional characters mingling with other fictional characters. It’s like a breach in the time space continuum - characters walking out of the pages of one book and sneaking into another.

I’ve given it some thought and decided that I’d quite fancy seeing Holden Caulfield from CATCHER IN THE RYE on Joseph O’Loughlin’s couch pouring out his teenage angst about the fakes of phoneys in the world.

Michael Robotham is the author of 4 thrillers, the first titled The Suspect . Michael's second novel, LOST (aka The Drowning Man outside of Australia), won the Ned Kelly Award in 2005 for Best Novel, while his 3rd novel, The Night Ferry was shortlisted for the 2007 CWA Steel Dagger. His latest novel, SHATTER, has been released in the UK and is about to be released elasewhere. Visit Michael Robotham's website for all the details.

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