Having just been to Russia and back (more about that later) recovering from jet lag and back to part time work, it’s time to update the blog.
I recently met Sydney based author Michael Robotham in Fremantle where he was in conversation with book reviewer, William Yeoman. Talking about his latest novel Watching You, Robotham gave guests an insight into his published works and talked about his writing, ideas and experiences along the way.
As an eclectic reader and writer myself, with a crime novel in the pipeline (a work in progress) it was of great interest for me to meet Robotham and chat about his work.
After reading his books and I must admit, becoming hooked, I was particularly interested in the writing process. I am pleased to say Michael kindly agreed to an interview for my blog, for which I am most grateful. I do hope this post will be of interest and I think you’ll agree his honesty is inspiring to writers and readers alike.
Interview with bestselling author Michael Robotham
- When you start writing a story do you have an outline of the plot in your mind or just an idea that evolves as you write?
I start with a ‘what if’ moment, normally some small detail that has snagged in my imagination. It could be something I’ve read in a newspaper or a memory from my past career as a journalist. For example, the book I’m writing now LIFE OR DEATH was triggered by a single paragraph I read many years ago about a prison escape by someone who had served a long sentence, but broke out of jail the day before they were due to be released. I kept asking myself the obvious question – why?
Once I have an idea, I create my characters and then let the story unfold. It’s a very organic way of writing, a little like being on a high wire without a net. Sometimes I fall and hurt myself – having to throw away tens of thousands of words.
- What inspired you make the transition from journalist to fiction writer and was it a difficult process?
The jump from journalism to writing fiction had a step in between. I spent ten years as a ghostwriter, penning the autobiographies of the great and good – including soldiers, politicians, pop stars, celebrities and adventurers. Ghostwriting taught me that I had the patience to persevere with a single story for a period of time. It taught me to be a self-starter. But most importantly, it taught me about capturing ‘the voice’ of a character. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, a writer must bring his or her characters to life. They must live and breathe in the reader’s imagination. They must not just ‘seem’ real, but ‘be’ real.
- Who would you say was your favourite author / authors who most inspired you to write?
Oddly enough it’s not the truly great writers who inspired me. As much as I admire and love their works, they leave me depressed because I feel as though I can never be that good. Like all writers, I take books apart as I read them. I try to understand why a scene works, why I feel a certain emotion, how the writer has achieved his or her goal. With the truly great novels this is often impossible, because they are so flawless I cannot see the joins. It is lesser novels that inspired me because I could say ways they could have been improved. I could look at them and think, ‘Yeah, I could have made that better.’
- What is your writing routine and has there been a story that has been harder than the others to write or to finish?
I write every day. Long hours because I can procrastinate so easily and I have the luxury of being able to do this full time. I keep setting myself a goal of 1000 words a day. That’s easy, I tell myself. I could do that by lunchtime and take the rest of the day off. It never happens.
I lost what little remaining hair I have left writing THE WRECKAGE because it involved multiple story lines that all had to be drawn together at the end. Because I don’t plan ahead, I had to somehow juggle all these plots and sub-plots and get the characters to London on the same day.
- I just love the two characters Psychologist Joe O’Loughlin and retired detective Vincent Ruiz and the relationship between them – their rapport, humour and natural dialogue. I feel I know them, like they’re old friends of mine. Are they based on anyone you know?
Joe and Vincent are compilations of people I know. Joe is probably the most autobiographical, but he is far braver and cleverer than I am. Vincent is one of those clichéd, hard drinking, womanizing, three times married ex-detectives that populate crime fiction – but such men are clichés for a reason. They exist! I met dozens of them in my journalistic career.
- What advice would you give to budding / wannabe crime writers?
Writing has to begin as a passionate hobby. You do it because you love it. You do it because it helps you make sense of the world. And if they outlawed it tomorrow you would do it by candlelight in your basement as the jackboots marched in the street above. You write, write and when you’re sick of writing you write some more. It’s the only way to get better. If you’re lucky and if you’re good enough and if the planets line up, you might make it a career.
- A question I’m sure you have been asked many times, but why did you give Joe O’Loughlin Parkinsons disease?
When I created Joe, I wanted a hero who couldn’t out-run, out-fight and out-score his adversaries in the bedroom department. Not a James Bond, Jason Bourne or Jack Reacher, but someone with a brilliant mind who could pick apart crimes and understand human behaviour, but struggled to control his own body because of his Parkinson’s Disease.
There is a tragic irony to such a character. Think of Muhammad Ali when he lit the flame at the Atlanta Olympics. There wasn’t a dry eye on the planet. Why? Because a great sportsman had been reduced to this – a shuffling, mumbling, twitching cripple. A man who once danced like a butterfly now shook like a blancmange.
We always remember the sportsmen and women. When the body deserts a scientist like Stephen Hawking we figure that he’ll be able to live in his mind, but a crippled athlete is like a bird with a broken wing. They soar to great heights and have further to fall.
- Is there a possibility we can look forward to seeing any of your books on the big screen or television in the future?
The TV and film rights have all been sold and re-sold with scripts written and re-written. The BBC holds them presently. I never hold my breath over such things, but a German TV series began filming in Hamburg this month (October 2013).
My first ghostwritten book, EMPTY CRADLES took 17 years to make it to the screen. It was turned into the film ORANGES AND SUNSHINE starring David Wenham, Hugo Weaving and Sarah Morton. A writer should never hold their breath when it comes to films and TV adaptations.
Thank you so much Michael for giving up your time to take part in this interview
And here’s an interesting book for crime writers: If I tell you I’ll have to kill you edited by Michael Robotham
that’s on my “must read list”
more about that later