Here’s a quicky interview I did for QUT student Mindy Gill. Enjoy!
You’ve said that you have five unpublished gothic fiction novels! Was Hades your first crime fiction novel?
It was. I don’t know why – looking back, my entire childhood was crime-saturated, as I’m sure you’ve seen from my other interviews. They tell you to write what you know, and I think I might be the perfect example of that, writing five gothic fics/gangster novels etc all set in New York, which I’d never visited, and having them all fail. The other books had crime elements to them, but I strayed away from hard-boiled crime as I was a bit intimidated by how much procedural knowledge I didn’t have. And you can see it in Hades – Frank and Eden have a ‘Captain’ at headquarters. Whoops. There is no Captain rank in Australian policing.
When you landed the two-book deal with Random House, were you worried about whether or not the second book would ‘live up’ to the first? (In regards to this, congratulations on winning the Ned Kelly Award this year! And last year!)
Oh hell yes. I told my partner it was like hitting a bullseye with my eyes closed and then being asked to do it again. All authors have ‘book two terrors’ though, and rightfully so. You have to prove that the first book wasn’t a fluke – and you’ve got a fraction of the time to do it in. I think in the end, Hades went through a total of 14 edits. For Eden and my others, it’s around four or five. And thanks for the congrats!
How did the process of writing Eden differ from writing Hades? Was there more external pressure – expectations of readers, or time constraints from publishers – that informed your practice?
Yes I had less than a year to write Eden. I would have had a full year, but I paused after I got the contract for Hades, too afraid to ask if I could have another one. In about March I bit the bullet and asked my agent if I should write a follow-up book and she told me she thought I’d already been doing that! Shit! Couple of precious months wasted there.
The second book comes with a lot of pressure, too, because people are actually interested in it, if they liked the first one. When you’re an unpublished author, no one really cares that much about what you’re writing because you could very well be a hack. I was always like ‘Oh I’m writing about this old guy who owns a tip,’ and people would be like ‘Uh huh, yeah, great. You just keep on truckin’!’ with a roll of their eyes.
I’d said to somebody ‘I was thinking of making Hades a bare-knuckle boxer in his youth’ when I was writing book two and they said ‘Oh please don’t. That’s so cliché!’ and I thought ‘Right! There goes all my confidence in that idea!’ You learn to stop telling people what you’re writing about eventually, because they only have three reactions: they tell you they love it, they suggest something ridiculous that they think is better, or they tell you it flat-out sucks.
In writing the sequel, did you find that it was easy to pick up where you left off stylistically in terms of voice and theme?
I did. Frank and I think and talk the same, so putting on his voice again wasn’t hard. I found the flash-back scenes to the Cross in the sixties very intimidating, though, because I’d never written outside my own time period. I ended up making friends with the people who own a tattoo shop in the Cross (long story, my mother was getting some of her tattoos touched up. Another long story). So because I had links to the tattoo shop I was able to get a lot of the grisly old guys to open up about what it had been like back then. You can’t walk into Kings Cross and say ‘Hey! I’m a young writer! Tell me all your secrets!’ But I would just sit around in the tattoo shop with my mates writing and listening when the old guy owner’s friends would come in, and I’d pipe up with questions now and then when they were shooting the breeze. Lots of biker types and pimps etc.
This one is a pretty big question but, for you, personally, what do you think makes the successful second novel?
I guess it has to have something from the first novel in it. Even if you write two stand-alones, I think there will be something from the first one that people will want to see – even if it’s just your unpredictability, or your voice, or whatever. I asked myself seriously what people liked so damned much about the first one, and the answer was always the same. We like Hades! So I thought; well, shit, there’s going to have to be a whole lot of Hades in this thing. There was also constant mention of the characters being conflicted, neither good nor bad. So I thought, right, let’s get deeper into Eden herself and show people she’s got some kind of heart going on (maybe?) and brush a little of that good-boy shine off Frank.
I know using Harry Potter as an example is a bit of cliché, but you know what the most exciting part of each of those books was for me – it’s the train ride back to Hogwarts. We’re ‘returning’! I think people want some kind of return, because hey, they’re actually returning to you as a writer.
Do you think you would ever go back to writing gothic or other genre fiction novels? Or do you think you have found your niche in crime fiction?
Oh God no, those books were so embarrassing. I don’t dare read them these days, although I think they’re floating around my hard drive somewhere. I don’t have the romance required for such a genre, I don’t think, and I don’t have my head in it any more. My entire world is about crime, and as a crime author I’ve felt free to embrace that as I never did before. I only read true crime. I only watch crime shows. The podcasts I listen to are crime, and Facebook sites I frequent are crime-related. If I’m bored in my office I Youtube real-live murder confessions, and when I find an interesting one I go back and investigate the case. I mean, this is what I do for kicks. It’s crazy but it seems to work. And for some reason it doesn’t concern my fiancé at all. I’m in the office and I lean back in my chair and call out to Tim in the lounge room. I’m like ‘Hey Babe! You know the Ice Man had his own cyanide spray bottle? He’d just go around spraying people in the face with cyanide, drop them like flies. Doesn’t show up on autopsy! How clever!’ and he’s like ‘Yes, dear.’ Haha
I saw an awesome hashtag recently that was along the lines of ‘Do Not Ask the Author’ or ‘Insensitive Questions to the New Author’, and I had many to add. Of course, this is all in good fun – I’m not writing this in the white-hot rage of someone recently insulted. There are insensitive questions that apply to many situations, and the old list for the pregnant woman pops up a lot. Here are some of my favourites from across my writing career, and I’ll add in any good ones my author buddies come up with if they respond to my Facebook post about it. This might be a good resource for would-be interviewers, or loved ones of writers.
Because writers festivals are as difficult to get into as the popular girls’ slumber parties in early high school. I’m not a popular girl. I’m a writer – that should be evidence enough.
No. I’m not Harper Lee.
See response to question one. I actually had the extraordinary experience of having sixty or more people turn up for a book talk I did in Tamworth for my first novel, but in most cases, if you’re not a best-seller, no one will know who the hell you are during the release of your first, second and third books. They might turn up because they have nothing else to do, or they’re old and they want a night out with easy parking that’ll end in time for an inappropriately early dinner. But that’s about it.
In a goddamn bookstore, you twat.
Now you’re being insensitive to eBook writers.
No. I’m a crime fiction author. You’d know that, if you weren’t too busy thinking about how amazing you are to ask what kind of author I actually am. Also, your life is not the next Eat, Pray, Love. There was one Eat, Pray, Love and that’s quite enough of that to last a lifetime.
Because publishers pay for those adverts, and they’ll only do that for their big-fish authors. Posters on buses need to be brief and recognisable – they’re not designed to draw in first-time readers of an author but to show all-time readers of an author that their new book is out. Jodi Picoult and Lee Child are on the backs of buses, because people don’t see their names and say ‘Who?’
No. J. K. Rowling’s story is a one-in-a-billion Cinderella-style fantasy that happens to absolutely no one. But good on you for knowing another author’s name.
No, Mum. I’m not a washing machine technician. And writing is work.
You really are getting old, aren’t you.
No. There are many reasons why I will not. Because I’m a word-lover, I won’t be able to read your manuscript without marking it up. And because your manuscript is unpublished, it’ll likely need a lot of marking up. This basically constitutes an editing job, which takes forever, and should never be free.
Also, in all likelihood, I have no idea whether your book will be viable for publication or not. I can tell you it’s well written, an awesome concept, or that it’s very rich in good characters and plot (or all of those things!). But books with all of these features go absolutely nowhere in their attempts at getting published ALL THE TIME. The publishing industry is very, very complex, and I would hate for you to hang your chances on me liking your work, because in reality, me liking your work means zip.
Almost no writers live off writing. It’s not very lucrative, for the most part. Writers teach, mostly, or if they don’t have part-time employment, it’s because a very loving and giving partner is sponsoring them while they write.
Why don’t you go and do (other job perceived as being ‘where the money is’, usually training as a doctor or lawyer, or playing the stock market).
In fucking December! Jesus Christ I must have said this eight million times. Look at my blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts, where it’s mentioned. Look at my publishing page. Look at any article that has mentioned me over the last year. If someone asks me when my next book is out again I’m going to kill everyone in this room. SIT DOWN. NO ONE LEAVES. PUT YOUR HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM.