Author Q&A

Good Reading Magazine Blog

07-Oct-2014

Ten questions with thriller writer Greg Barron

 

 

Tell us about your characters Marika Hartmann & PJ Johnson?

I believe that great characters are a gift to the writer, an amalgam of real people he or she has admired over the years. Marika is my homage to the strong, resourceful and independent women I have had the privilege of knowing over the years, starting with my wife, mother and three sisters!

PJ Johnson isn’t especially tall or good looking. He certainly doesn’t ‘pull’ chicks, and he isn’t very sure of himself when it comes to relationships. But he is tremendously capable, and believes that his role is to help create a better world.

You’ve studied education, aquatic science & terrorism – how have these qualifications influenced the writing of your books?

Most writers have a number of different occupations before they finally settle down to write. My qualifications have all helped shape my writing persona. I might also add that workplaces are excellent venues to study the best and worst of human nature.

Terrorism studies have obviously helped inform my books. I gained invaluable detail and general understanding of the issues and motivations behind terrorism. I find the underlying reasons for religio-political violence fascinating. Politicians love to simplify these struggles into ‘good’ and ‘evil’ but the truth is so much more complex as events in Syria and Iraq are proving.

Why were you drawn to the thriller genre?

I never made a conscious decision to write in the thriller genre. I just started writing books with a strong plot and realistic characters in suspenseful situations. Lethal Sky has a huge canvas and a geopolitical backdrop, but not all my books will be like that.

I’m interested in growing the scope and potential readership of my books from the thriller genre into mainstream fiction. Having said that, however, my books will always be page turners because that is what I love to read.

What makes a great thriller?

A character with a moral code, a threat to the world as we know it, and a plot that requires the main character to make sacrifices in order to save the day.

Lethal Sky, for example, presents a disastrous scenario—a genetically engineered anthrax bacteria in spore form, and a group planning to broadcast it from the skies, beginning with Sydney. Importantly, the plot involves the hijack of some deadly Western technology, autonomous drones that work in clusters, or swarms. This is a frighteningly realistic possibility, and my characters have to go all the way to the edge. Some of them far beyond.

How did the concept of the storyline of Lethal Sky come to you?

I wanted to push the boundaries of what’s happening in the world right now. I wanted to explore a new kind of villain - men who could draw on the vast financial resources gathered by the former dictators of the Middle East. These ruling families squeezed their countries dry for generations, and concentrated funds from massive oil profits in offshore accounts. A good proportion of that wealth remains hidden.

At the same time I was becoming interested in the idea that high-tech weaponry manufactured by the West might be turned against us. To me, drones are weapons that should be sending shivers down all our spines. We are not that far away from the hunter-killer machines of science fiction.

What kind of research went into the writing of Lethal Sky?

The research for Lethal Sky included visits to London and surrounding areas, Africa, the Middle East, and revisiting some Sydney landmarks such as Lyne Park at Rose Bay. I’d been there several times in the past, but casual visits aren’t enough to pick up the level of detail required for a novel.

Each scene needs specific technical data, location detail, as well as minutiae such as the clothing worn by each character. I visited as many locations as is technically feasible, given that I write a lot about war zones.  I like to know how many paces it is from point A to point B. The colour of the bricks in a given building. These details are important when the time comes to put the story together.

I interviewed people involved in everything from peacekeeping to defence procurement. I used social media, Twitter in particular to gather up-to-the-minute information. I also devoured dozens of non-fiction books and hundreds of articles. I co-opted friends with strong areas of expertise, particularly in biotechnology and aeronautics. I even had an ex-Special Forces friend read the near-final manuscript to make sure I got the action right.

This is your third novel – is each one becoming easier to write?

No. Each novel is a process that tests all my skills, patience and care. There is no magic bullet and I am constantly dissatisfied, going through periods where I simply cannot see my way forward. Usually I spend at least a year rewriting after finshing the initial draft, and I constantly challenge myself to improve my work.

Did any particular writers or books directly influence you while writing Lethal Sky?

I am a reader first, and a writer second. I read fiction every day, even if it’s only a few pages. Reading great books during the writing process definitely has an influence, but not in terms of voice or ideas.

Reading great books reminds the writer just how high the bar is. Getting close to that level invariably requires more work, more thought, and sometimes a bit of luck in that right piece of information or inspiration reaches you at just the right time.

In this novel, Sydney is under threat from a deadly bioweapon – are there many other thriller novels out there with major plotlines set in Australia?

There aren’t many that have a truly international flavour yet include Australia as part of the plot. Jon Cleary wrote a couple, and British authors Hammond Innes and Ben Elton have used Australian settings with action thrillers. Steve Worland’s Quick is set mainly in Australia. It’s a shame there haven’t been more, because lots of Australians love thrillers.

I also believe that part of our job as novelists is to imagine circumstances in which harm might come to our doorstep. In some small way these creative scenarios, imagined in exhaustive detail, might help to prevent such things from happening. I understand that the planning team of the 2004 Athens Olympics even hired author Matthew Reilly to help dream up possible security threats to the games!

What’s your next project? Will we see more of Hartmann & Johnson in the future?

My next project is a standalone book, with new characters. The story is set primarily in Australia, but has a thread in North America, where I’ve also lived. This is a story that has been simmering away in my subconscious for years and the plot and characters are quite well developed.

I haven’t settled on a final title yet, but at the moment I’m calling it The End of War. That’s what it’s all about for me, really.

 

Lethal Sky is published by HarperCollins. Head to their website here.

 

15-Sep-2014

10 questions with C M Lance

C M Lance is author of The Turning Tide - a novel of secrets, mateship & betrayal in wartime Australia.

You have a background in physics and astronomy. Where does writing fit into this?

As a scientist I enjoyed clarifying complex ideas, and in technology always tried to write well even if it was just email, so my background was good training for writing.

Where does your passion for maritime history come from?

The story of Redbill – a Broome lugger that survived for nearly a century, joined the navy during the Pacific War, and later worked for Greenpeace – came my way in 2000, and demanded to be written. I found I loved researching and writing all the odd connections that actually happened in real life, too bizarre for fiction. Bringing together the scattered clues from old newspapers, shipping records and wartime archives was endlessly absorbing.

The Turning Tide is based in wartime Australia. Where did the inspiration for this novel come from?

I live in South Gippsland near beautiful Wilsons Promontory. I was intrigued by a memorial to the commandos who trained at the Prom in 1941-42, as I was familiar with their missions to Timor from researching Redbill. I wanted to write a love story from a man’s perspective and was interested in the wartime relationships between Australians and Japanese who had grown up together in ‘melting-pot’ Broome. 

This all came together in the story of Broome-born commando Mike Whalen, who fought in Timor in 1942. Later, as an academic in his sixties and more damaged than he realises, he meets Lena, the granddaughter of his old friends Helen and Johnny. After Johnny died in the war Mike was left with a painful burden of secrets, and as Lena draws him back into the life of her family he has to cope with the guilt and memories that threaten to overwhelm him.

You focus your writing about people’s reactions to extreme events. Why does this area of human psychology interest you?


How could it not! People under pressure – emotional, intellectual, physical – provide the essence for almost all novels. They give us clues for how to survive our own difficult times.

What did you enjoy most about writing The Turning Tide?

Reading old books for research. Working out plot complications. Revising and reorganising what I’d written.

What does C.M. stand for?

Catherine Margaret, although I’m usually known as Kate.

Can you tell us what you do in other areas of your life?

I consult on Internet technology in the specialist area of IPv6. I also create and manage websites.

Are you a full-time writer? What are your writing habits like?

No, still part-time. Words come most easily in the morning, so if I can get into something then it usually flows, but more often because of work I end up writing late at night and weekends. My habit is simply to edit whatever I’ve written over the last few days then push ahead a few more paragraphs. Or, even while only partly through a book, start editing again from the beginning. I revise my words many dozens of times.

What are some of your favourite books? Are there any in particular that influenced the writing of The Turning Tide?

I read and enjoy almost all genres of fiction and non-fiction, from historical to contemporary to SF and fantasy. My favourite author is Dorothy Dunnett, a historical novelist of intricate subtlety and brilliant settings. I also like Helen Garner, Hilary Mantell, Kate Atkinson, Patrick O’Brian, Alex Miller and Tim Winton, and for a change of pace, Iain M Banks and George RR Martin. Certainly, in terms of subject matter at least, none influenced this book!

Do you have more novels planned for the future and if so, will they also have a focus on maritime history?

I have two novels in progress, one a historical novel set in Broome in the first two decades of the twentieth century, exploring the Great War and the influenza epidemic, and the other a contemporary techno-thriller. Both have strong maritime components, even though they are set in very different eras.


The Turning Tide is published by Allen & Unwin and is now available.

04-Sep-2014

Ten questions with Karen M Davis

Karen Davis is an ex-police officer from New South Wales who has used her experiences as inspiration to write crime-fiction novels.

Has writing books ever been a dream of yours?

Not really. I only thought about writing after I left the police force seven years ago. I had been a cop for twenty years and thought I would always be a cop but circumstances change. All those years of dealing with violence and traumatic incidents caught up with me and I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. My mother, being an author, the late Lynne Wilding, suggested I write about my police experiences as a form of therapy and that's how it started. I was surprised to find that I loved writing.  

Was it hard to transition from a life of solving action to a life of writing it?

Yes, very hard. Being a cop can be challenging but writing a book, especially when you have no idea what you are doing and have no background in writing, is incredibly hard and at times very frustrating. I also struggled with the concept of keeping it realistic but interesting at the same time. I really wanted it to be authentic. My aim was to have the reader come along for the ride with Lexie and her workmates to feel what it is really like to be a cop. Yet, not all police work is interesting and some of the things I’ve seen are stranger than fiction. That’s why I use lots of personal experiences, I know that they really happened which makes my books believable.

Who are your biggest inspirations in the literary world?

I would have to say the biggest inspiration was my mother, Lynne Wilding. She wrote many manuscripts the hard way, before computers on an old type writer, at a time when getting published in Australia was very rare. I watched her send manuscripts back and forth from America – the old way, by post, and I witnessed her numerous disappointments when they were rejected. But she never gave up. Finally, after ten years of trying her dream came true and she was offered a publishing deal. Then, after that book was published, her American publishers decided it was too hard dealing with an Australian author and dumped her. However, fate worked in her favour this time as she met her agent-to-be Selwa Anthony through the Romance Writers of Australia, the organisation my mother was president of. Exceptionally, 12 bestselling books followed. So, on the days when I felt like giving up I thought of mum’s determination and it kept me going.

What is your advice for any new authors?

I’ll repeat the advice my agent gave me when I had my first manuscript rejected. Don’t give up. It doesn’t happen overnight. It is a learning process. Only write because you love to do so. Write what you know and love and what you like to read. Don’t write to get published as that, of course, is a bonus. You have to love what you do to do it well.

Will you write more novels starring Lexie Rodgers?

Yes, I am well into the third Lexie Rogers book. I love writing about Lexie for many reasons. There is a lot of me in Lexie; we share many experiences. My own experiences are thrown at Lexie and her colleagues. I really enjoy watching the characters of the fictional Bondi Junction detective office grow and interact. I also love writing about some of the more unlikable characters, like the local bikies and crooks, that are frequently coming under police notice. I feel like I still have many scenarios to throw at Lexie and her co-characters yet. At this stage I’m hoping for four Lexie books but we will have to see what happens.

Writing came to you as an opportunity for catharsis. Do you recommend writing for other suffers of post-traumatic stress disorder?

Writing is not for everyone but I can certainly say it helped me. Not that it's easy to write about some of the more traumatic experiences I'd tried hard to forget; i.e. attending cot deaths, fatal car accidents, suicides, drug overdoses etc. But what I found was although it was hard to relive those events, once I had made myself do that and put my memories on paper, I felt better. I'm not sure why. I had been suppressing emotions for a long time so maybe by documenting the traumatic events, it helped me deal with them and enabled me to leave them behind. I'll never forget some of the things I've witnessed but they are now a memory, not a constant slide show of gruesome images in my head.

Has the genre of crime-fiction always been an interest or is that passion purely from working as a police officer?

After my first failed manuscript - which was a romantic historical my mother had started before she died - my agent suggested I start again. She told me to write what I know and love. I didn't know how to write a book but I figured I knew about crime so that was a start. As it turns out, I love writing about the profession I was once a part of. I find it interesting and in a strange way it keeps me connected to the police force. I might not be a cop anymore but I can now live vicariously through my characters.

Do you ever brainstorm ideas for your writing with your husband (a detective inspector) and daughters?

Not so much with my daughters but I certainly run ideas by my husband. I'll sometimes give him a scenario and ask if he thinks whether it is believable or probable. He also keeps me up to date with procedural advice as things change all the time; computer systems evolve, techniques improve, police powers change. He will sometimes come home from work and tell me about an event that has happened that day and I'll think; now that's a great idea, I could use something like that in the book. I find that the best idea's come from true life events.

What are your plans for future novels?

For now I’ll finish the third Lexie Rogers book, which is going to be a bit different from the first two as Lexie will be sharing the spotlight with some of the other characters. Then hopefully a fourth Lexie book will come. Maybe after that I’ll try my luck at writing a mystery.

What is your biggest challenge as an author?

Writing an exciting, interesting and suspenseful book where the characters are charismatic and engaging. I also want to keep it authentic, an easy read whilst keeping the reader in suspense. I want people to put my book down and want to read the next one. If someone says; that was a good read, I’m very happy with that.