Welcome to Ord City
The Fighting Man
What inspired your most recent book?
The treatment of refugees in Australia and other first world countries is a matter which deeply divides those communities and has an enormous impact on those wanting to escape trouble at home. All of this provides an interesting and multi-textured backdrop for a crime thriller.
Do you remember the moment (or person who inspired it) in your life that you knew you were going to be a writer?
My mother had a go at being an author when very young and she probably inspired us. I was a dabbler from my very earliest days and always expected to be a writer.
Tell us your favourite character you’ve created.
I love all of my characters, they're all fun to write. The current MC is Agent Conan Tooley (Tools) who seems to get offside with just about everyone - especially his bosses and the women he encounters. The two main female leads are both very interesting (to me) but I can't say anything about them without giving part of the story away.
How do your books differ from each other?
I've always wanted to be regarded a bit like Kubrick - always working with a different genre. Despite having very different settings, most of my books could be regarded as off-beat crime thrillers - the exception being The Fighting Man which is an historical novel (which sometimes feels a little like a crime thriller).
Have you ever written a story from a dream?
My novel Straight Jacket was inspired by a dream experience rather than a dream. I woke up and realised that many of my dreams took place in a dream suburbia that I knew as well in my dreams as the real suburbia of my waking reality. The two suburbias were only subtly different which made me wonder about particular incidents in my life and whether they'd truly happened. This idea made an excellent setting for a psychological crime thriller.
What genre that you haven’t tried already would you like to?
I'm always a sucker for archaeology/adventure stories (even though they're usually terrible). I'll probably have a go at one of those one day.
Do you base characters on people you know?
Never. They'd mostly be composites of my own various traits - which is a worry when you remember I mainly do crime.
Do you do a lot of research and why, or if not, why not?
Depends on the book. I did heaps of research for The Fighting Man - set in the eleventh century with a lot of historical characters. We even travelled to most of the places in the story (from Australia). Apart from that - I just need the web and google earth to check a few details. I did consult some IT and chemistry professionals on a few ideas I'd had for Welcome to Ord City - inventing the technology of 2030 was surprisingly difficult.
What does literary success look like to you?
Great question. In the past I would have said being able to make my living from writing (which I'd still love to do) but now I'd say being read by tens of thousands of readers with fans all over the world. I have achieved that and am very proud of it.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I hide secrets in my books that not even I can find. Not kidding - I have regularly re-read my own books and suddenly twigged to a deeper meaning I hadn't quite realised was there.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Always. Fortunately, I've never had a bad review - other than some lousy ratings on goodreads. I almost never respond to reviews - even the glowingly enthusiastic - as someone once told me that some readers regard such behaviour as creepy.
Do you try more to be original or pander to readers’ wants?
I've always tried to write the books I'd love to read myself but no one else has written. My books are for adults, and some will find them confronting, but I refuse to dilute them for a wider audience. They would lose their edge.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
They all stand on their own but I have mapped out sequels to one or two. I'm working on a multi-volume story now.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Lots of books have made me see the possibilities of fiction differently. Some stand-outs are Slaughterhouse 5 (Kurt Vonnegut); Catch 22 (Joseph Heller); Trainspotting (Irvine Welsh); The Last Magician (Jeanette Turner Hospital).
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
Great question. All of my books are textured enough to merit some deconstruction and all have some subtext. They require a little bit of effort to plumb their deeper levels but can always be enjoyed as rattling good reads also. I have learned (after several novels - including some unpublished prototypes) how to grip a reader and keep them turning the pages. My aim is always to set up a pleasurable expectation in the mind of the reader so they're thinking: "Oh I can see where this is going…this is gonna be good." But then I go all out to deliver far more than they thought they were going to get as the scope of the story opens up. I hate books that don't deliver what they promise.
How do you feel when you start a book, in the middle, and when you finish?
I'm always excited when I have the framing/inciting idea for a story and start rattling off ideas for plot and characters. I typically write about 30 pp then put it aside for a while to let it build in the back of my mind. Then, when I have enough ideas for the plot, including an ending, I start the main slog of prose generation. If I'm not enjoying it I always put it aside again and work on something else until I'm ready to continue. I typically get to the 80 - 90% point and again have to think about how I'm going to tie all the threads together. When I get to the end, having worked towards a particular conclusion, I always have a much better idea - buried in the DNA of the story - which no-one will ever guess.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Many years, but I'm always working on several projects at once. I'd average a new book out every two years but that rate will increase over the next few years.
How many hours a day do you write?
Only one or two - usually, but I'm very productive in that time.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
Learn the piano or some other instrument really well. I feel that's missing from my life.
What did you edit out of your most recent book?
I edit as I go so I've learned to stick pretty close to the spine of the story. In my latest book the main editing deletions would have been unnecessary dialogue. I try to keep that as snappy as possible. Even single syllables are deleted to achieve the smoothest rhythm.
Do you ever think it’s ethical to reply to your book reviews?
Unless invited to do so, I am usually reluctant to respond to reviews - even the very best ones. I used to thank people for good reviews but someone suggested that some would find it creepy being contacted by an author so I do it very rarely now. You also risk losing your mystique in responding to reviews (unless invited).
Do you always give books not your own a chance right up until the end, or are you quick to DNF?
I used to struggle on to the bitter end but I am far more ruthless now. Books have to grab me and hold my attention or they tend to be put down and not picked up again.
Do you think a big ego is a hindrance or a help?
Hard to say. Everyone's different but I suspect that no-one takes writing seriously without something that drives them - a sense of destiny; a creative urge that can't be turned off; a desire to carve one's name on the wall of the great cultural museum of our epoch? Surely these are aspects of ego.
Do you think writer’s block exists?
Not for me. I am endlessly bursting with ideas so the challenge is to pick the right ones.
Have you ever done a pilgrimage or visit far away specifically for research?
Yes. I travelled to Europe to research The Fighting Man set in 1066. I wanted to go to Falaise where William the Conqueror grew up and check out the ruins of the castle. I had this idea that I could find an oddly shaped rock in a staircase and have William staring at that rock as he made the decision to invade England. Then readers could go to the castle themselves to find the rock. It's a really long way from Australia to Normandy so it was with some excitement that I walked up the ramp towards the castle, already immersing myself in the shreds of William's ambience, when my wife pointed at a sign that said: Falaise Castle, built 1147. Doh!
What is the most unethical practice in the publishing/distribution industry?
Speaking only for Australia, and I don't whether it's unethical, but the refusal of most publishers (or even agents) to consider unsolicited mss denies traditional readers access to interesting new voices. The commitment of publishers solely to existing authors over several books severely limits opportunities for new writers and stultifies the entire book reading culture. The democratisation of publishing through independent means is an exciting development.
How do you feel about book pirating?
Do you have any secret marketing advice?
Make sure your book is the best you can possibly make it before publishing. Unless of course you're happy to have a whole bunch of noms-de-plume before you reach the requisite level of quality.
Which author would you like to write your biography?
Who’d play you in a film of your life?
Find this author at some or all of the links below!