Former celeb ghost-writer turned crime novelist Michael Robotham is appearing at this year's Sydney Writers' Festival
Michael Robotham began his career an investigative journalist in Australia and Britain. He later became a ghost-writer, collaborating on 15 'autobiographies', including those of Lulu, Rolf Harris, Geri Halliwell and Ricky Tomlinson. Twelve of these books became Sunday Times
Twice a winner of the Ned Kelly Award for Australia's best crime novel, Michael has also been shortlisted the UK Steel Dagger, the ITV3 Thriller Award and South Africa's Boeke Prize. His psychological thrillers have been translated into 22 languages. His latest novel is The Wreckage
He chats with ArtsHub about his work.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was six I wanted to be a prison guard because I overheard a radio bulletin about warders going on strike to earn $50 a week. My pocket money was only 50c. I could do the maths.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I wanted to be a writer from my teens. I was a big fan of Ray Bradbury’s short stories and novels, but a number of his books weren’t available in Australia. I wrote a letter to Bradbury, addressing it to his publishers in the US. Months later a package arrived with five books and a letter from Ray Bradbury saying how thrilled he was to have a young fan on the far side of the world. It was an astonishing gesture and I think it inspired me to become a writer.
How would you describe your work to a complete stranger?
I write psychological thrillers that are character-driven rather than plot-driven. My stories aren’t about body counts or gruesome crimes, but the power of the mind to create monsters.
What's your favourite book?
‘A Moveable Feast’ by Ernest Hemingway.
Who or what are your influences?
When I read a book nowadays, I find myself taking it apart, looking at the pieces, seeing how it works. Why did I love a particular scene or character? What could have been improved? With the truly great book, of course, I can't take it apart because there are no joins. Everything is seamless and perfect.
It makes me want to cry because I think I’ll never be that good. It’s the lesser books that influence me the most. The ones that I think could be improved. These give me confidence.
Is there a mission to your work?
I write for myself and hope that others will enjoy it too.
I write to tell an interesting story about compelling characters.
I write to entertain and inform and, with any luck, touch a chord.
What's your background - are there studies that prepare you for this?
I was a journalist and feature writer, then a ghost-writer of celebrity autobiographies before becoming a novelist. There are no studies that prepare you for writing. Life does that.
What's the first thing career related you usually do each day?
I wake up without an alarm clock.
Can you describe your creative process?
I don’t plot in advance.
I don’t even plot in real-time.
Instead I come up with a premise and a group of characters and I let them tell the story. They decide where I go – who lives, who dies, who’s guilty – the twists and turns.
My characters live and breathe.
People often make the mistake of believing that crime fiction is a plot driven genre, which really annoys me. It’s almost as annoying when I hear people say that works of literary fiction have no plot, when the vast majority of them clearly do.
What else do you do to pay the bills?
I’m very fortunate to be a full-time novelist and will never stop being grateful. Clearly, I must have sold my soul to the devil and one day he’s going to want it back.
What's the one thing - piece of equipment, toy, security blanket, - you can't work without?
The Internet. I love and hate it in equal measure. It’s the greatest tool and the greatest waste of time ever invented.
What gets you fired up?
Hypocrisy. The politics of fear. Tony Abbot.
What is the best thing about your job?
I get to wake up without an alarm clock, have breakfast opposite the beach, and spend my day wrestling with words.
What's the worst?
Wrestling with words and wilful characters.
Who in the industry most inspires you?
What in the industry do you despair about?
How do you think digital media is impacting on publishing?
Traditional bookshops and traditional publishing are under threat, but for writers the digital media has many positives. The big negative, as mentioned, is the rise and rise of ebook piracy.
Literature vs. popular fiction - is there still a distinction?
We’re both in the same family. The best fiction tells a story. The worst is self-indulgent twaddle.
What are the top three skills you need to be a writer?
Imagination. Empathy. Determination.
What advice would you give to budding writers?
Write, write and when you’re sick of writing, write some more. It’s the only way to get better.
Michael will be appearing at...