Now this is something totally awesome!
Michael Robotham, the internationally acclaimed and best selling author of The Suspect, Life or Death, Watching You and his new book, Close your Eyes, via his publisher Hachette Australia, took time out of his busy schedule to answer questions from Starts at 60 (SAS) Bookclub members.
“Many thanks for giving us this opportunity. I notice from your home page, you are very generous with your fans and last year I saw you at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival, which leads me to my first question.
SAS You were on the panel with a noted “funny man” Tim Ferguson and yet you more than held your own, so the “darkness” of your novels seems at odds with your sense of humour. Is there a dark side to Michael Robotham?
MR It’s an odd thing that most crime writers tend to be very laid-back and gregarious, showing none of the darkness of their books. We’re like the cool group at festivals, who are out back smoking or sneaking off to the bar. We take our writing seriously, but also realise that we are writing what Graham Greene called ‘entertainments’. I also sometimes wonder if I avoid my demons by putting them on the page, although my children will tell you that I get very moody and grumpy when things aren’t going well.
SAS Along the same lines Jo asked, “Does writing crime give you a dark outlook on life?”
MR I think it’s quite the opposite. Writing about terrible things doesn’t make me scared of life, or fearful for my children. Sometimes people perceive the modern world as being more dangerous or crime ridden, but statistically there are no more murders or child abductions per head of population than in past decades. Unfortunately the 24 hour news cycle and the breathless way news events are reported creates a perception of danger. The bigger question is why so many people want to read dark stories. I suspect it’s because in real life terrible people often get away with their crimes, but in crime fiction they tend to be caught and punished. Justice is restored.
SAS Jacqui (SAS member Lee) tells me you are in touch with her husband Brian and that you generously write back to him (they are the couple from Bristol who live in Victoria) – her question “Why did you decide to write and what was your first published piece?
MR I wanted to be a writer from about the age of 11 when I discovered the short stories of Ray Bradbury. I actually wrote a letter to the great man and he replied to me. Growing up in small country towns in NSW, I felt as though I had nothing to write about because Mark Twain had stolen all the best plots. So I became a journalist to gather material, starting as a cadet on the old Sydney Sun. In the years that followed journalism took me all around the world, including a long stint on Fleet Street in London. The dream of being a novelist never dimmed. My first published book (and not many people know this) was a work of non-fiction called Neighbours in Dispute, a domestic legal guide for home-owners, written while I worked in Sydney and published when I was 23. It was another 20 years before I had my first novel published.
SAS Peter says, “I enjoy your books but, do you think you will ever write in another genre?”
MR I am an accidental crime writer. When I wrote The Suspect, it was sold on a partial manuscript of 117 pages and caused a bidding frenzy at the London Book Fair in 2002. I had no idea it was a crime novel. I didn’t know how it ended. I have grown to love the genre because it allows me to explore so many current events such as people smuggling, domestic abuse, mental illness and how the media covers crime. Saying that, I have pondered the idea of writing in another genre. Perhaps I would have to do it under a different name because I’m so closely associated with psychological thrillers.
SAS Lynn says, “I guess everyone asks you this but where do you get your ideas from? Such great stories that ring true yet have the twist.”
MR All of my books have been seeded (I never use the word “inspired”) in a real life event or story that I either covered as a journalist or have read about. For example, Life or Death was triggered by a two paragraph story in the Sydney Morning Herald in March 1995 about a man who had served a long prison sentence who escaped the day before his release. The new book Close Your Eyes had its beginnings in a story I covered in the UK – the murder of Janet Brown, a nurse and mother of three, who was found naked, handcuffed and beaten to death in her farmhouse home in Buckinghamshire more than 20 years ago. That crime has never been solved, but police have recently announced a DNA breakthrough, which might finally give her family some peace.
SAS Jess would like to know, “You manage to write a book per year, so people would be interested to know what your normal work day looks like? Do you have set days and times to sit in your workspace and write, or do you approach it in a less structured manner?”
MR I am very fortunate to be able to write full-time. The vast majority of writers – and those I admire the most – are those who struggle to find time to write, working full-time, looking after children and snatching a few exhausted hours every evening. I have the luxury of full writing days. I try to get to my desk by 9.30 most mornings. My office has become known as ‘Dad’s Cabana of Cruelty’ – so named by my daughters. When I’m not touring I write seven days a week. In the past, I would work into the evening, or late at night, but I’ve tried to find a better work/life balance in recent years.
SAS Peter asks, “Is the life of a full-time writer what you dreamed it would be?”
MR As mentioned earlier – I have held the dream for more than 40 years, first as a teenager, then reporter, feature writer and ghost writer of celebrity autobiographies (I ghosted fifteen of them.) In my innocent and callow youth, I imagined myself to be God’s gift to writing and pictured myself winning literary prizes. Later, as I grew older, I began to doubt my abilities (or become more realistic). I love what I do. It’s never as glamorous or as smooth as you imagine, but I wouldn’t swap my life for anything. And whenever I hear someone complain that writing is hard, I say, “No, raising a disabled child is hard. Boxing is hard. Being in an abusive marriage is hard. Writing is a privilege.”
SAS John wonders “How are you seeing the book world change in light of the internet, e-readers etc.?”
MR The Internet is the greatest tool ever invented for a writer and also the greatest waste of time. I can discover the answer to any question within minutes, yet suddenly discover I’ve spent two hours surfing the net, reading stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with my novel. E-readers are a mixed blessing for a writer – but definitely a greater benefit than hindrance. The idea that someone anywhere in the world can download a book within seconds is a huge leap forward. At the same time, digital publishing has opened up the reality of growing e-book piracy that threatens authors and publishers. The Internet and social media have also allowed writers and readers to communicate as never before. Instead of writing in complete isolation, now I come to my desk every morning to find emails and messages from people all over the world.
SAS Karen again; “I know you have only just published Close your Eyes, but those of us who follow writers are very selfish and want to know … what are you writing now? When can we expect it?”
MR I’m always writing. I can’t go more than 24 hours away from the story before I get edgy and anxious and begin doubting myself. I have a couple of books I’m working on – one of which is a Joe O’Loughlin. When people finish reading Close Your Eyes they’ll understand why I have to go back to Joe.
SAS Thanks Michael, for your generosity and for your time in answering the Starts at 60 Book Club questions.
MR Happy reading.
So there we have it, all you wanted to know about Michael Robotham and more. The lucky people who won the copies of Close Your Eyes from Hachette Australia last month, are undoubtedly already reading, but for the rest of us …