Meeting the charming Michael at Fiona McIntosh's inaugural Masterclass National Conference (Clare Valley SA -October 2019)
As I started writing this post, I realised something. Today is the 1 year Anniversary of my Author Stalker blog series!! What started out at the urging of my writer friends, to create a monthly blog post documenting my penchant for Author Stalking, has turned into a twice-monthly blog, with authors already lined up until early November.
I am so grateful to all the authors who have allowed me to 'stalk' them over the past twelve months. They are always ready to offer advice and wisdom to those of us still on the path to publication and I am blessed to now call many of them friends (see...stalking does have its payoffs!) Their generosity and support has been wonderful. Writers are such a brilliant tribe to belong to.
Which leads me to introduce my next victim.
Michael Robotham is a truly fascinating man. Not only does he write riveting novels where you simply cannot turn the page fast enough, he is also one of the most engaging and funny keynote speakers I have ever had the pleasure to listen to.
I first met Michael in October last year, when he was keynote speaker at the Masterclass National Conference in South Australia's breathtaking Clare Valley.
Over three days he regaled us with tales from his days as a journo on Fleet Street, his time as a ghostwriter for the likes of Ginger Spice/Geri Halliwell, the nail-biting night spent with his wife Vivien when his incomplete debut manuscript started an international bidding war at the London Book Fair and many insightful words of wisdom about writing.
His story of sitting perched on the edge of the bathtub in a swanky hotel in London, while he interviewed romance novelist Jackie Collins amidst a quickly disappearing sea of bubbles, had us all in hysterics. And then there was the time that he was baled up in the corridor of his hotel in Wisconsin by an angry reader named Bubba, who had taken offence over disparaging remarks Michael had made about George W. Bush in his 2004 novel, The Suspect https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/bookmarks-20120831-25565.html
And then there's the famous Cabana of Cruelty, the name allocated to his writing space, where the true magic happens. Michael told us that nobody reads his WIP until the first draft is completed and then he hands it to Vivien, and drives her so crazy waiting for feedback that he is often banished to the Cabana of Cruelty to start a new book.
And even now, after fifteen best-selling novels, he admits to still wondering if he can actually do it all again, every time he sits down to start a new novel. So many writers speak of suffering from self-doubt. I personally think that is what keeps them digging deeper each time they write, and leading to the creation of even more fabulous stories.
So without further ado, I will hand you over to Michael.xx
Q1: What piece of advice do you wish you'd been given when working on your very first manuscript?
A: Writing should begin as a passionate hobby, like playing the piano or painting. Then, if you’re good enough, and lucky enough, and the planets line up for you, perhaps it can become a career. Write because you love it. Write because it helps you make sense of the world. Write because nobody can stop you. You can’t be too old to write, or too young to write. You only need a pen and paper and an idea.
My second piece of advice would be to finish. What sets published authors apart from the vast majority of part-timers and wannabes is their ability to complete a manuscript or a story. To ignore their inevitable doubts because all writers have them. To push through the boredom and the distractions of new bright ideas for different stories they could be writing. To polish the same manuscript, over and over, when they’re sick of reading the same sentences; and can’t remember why they ever thought their idea was a good one. Even a turd can be polished until it shines. (I really love and relate Michael's answer to this question. Shelley.xx)
Q2: If you could have written ANY book besides your own, what would it be?
A: There are so many books I could mention, but I’m going to choose THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt. Part psychological thriller and part chronicle of debauched, wasted youth, this stunning debut novel proved once and for all that there is no demarcation between genre fiction and literary fiction. A book can be both. Crime writing is a broad church – there are some airport style novels that you should read but not inhale, while there are other genre books and writers, that deserve to sit alongside the very best that literary fiction has to offer. Authors like John le Carré, Peter Temple and Gillian Flynn.
'This one is of my view from my desk in the Cabana of Cruelty.'
(Wow! Nice view. This is not at all how I imagined the Cabana of Cruelty to look...not dark and eerie, with a killer lurking in the shadows. Shelley.xx)
Q3: What is the first book that made you cry?
A: I cry all the time, when I’m reading, or watching films, which makes my daughters very embarrassed. Don’t get me started on ‘Finding Nemo’. The last book that made me cry was ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens. When I say book, I listened to it on audio, while walking along my local beach. I had tears streaming down my cheeks and people were giving me strange looks. One person came up to me, convinced that I’d suffered some personal tragedy, and I had to explain, sobbing, about the swamp girl and how she was all alone. (Love this. Shelley.xx)
Q4: What is your favourite drink? Coffee, tea, wine or…
A: I could give up wine (he says confidently, although he struggles going two nights a week without a glass or two) but I could not give up coffee. It is my breakfast, my drug of choice. It’s not procrastinating if you’re drinking coffee.
Q5: What is the next book on your TBR (to be read) pile?
A: I’ve just finished THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead, which won the Pulitzer prize for fiction this year. It is a confronting book about the abuse and exploitation of a young black boy at a children’s home in Tallahassee during the early 1960s and is based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children.
One of the best book inscriptions I've ever had!!
Next on my list is THE GLASS HOTEL by Emily St John Mandel, who is a friend of mine and one of the finest young writers of her generation. Her novel STATION ELEVEN is one of my favourite books, and a must read in these times of a global pandemic.
Q6: Choose one male & one female character from your novel. In a film adaptation, who would you love to see play them?
A: I’ve been asked this question a lot over the years and my answers have changed. In the very early days, before his star turn in HOMELAND, I thought that Damien Lewis would make a wonderful Joe O’Loughlin, my brilliant psychologist with early onset Parkinson’s Disease. And I thought Ray Winstone would be a great choice to play Vincent Ruiz.
Now that I’ve had a novel turned into a TV series, I realise how often it’s the least likely actor, who steps and completely inhabits a role and makes it her own. In my case, it was Laura Carmichael, who plays Agatha in the TV version of THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS. Laura is best known for her role as Lady Edith in DOWNTON ABBEY, and other bodice and buggy period dramas. But as Agatha she displayed the full range of her acting talents, often in the same scenes, proving she could be fragile, strong, calculating and downright creepy.
'This is a shot taken on the set of THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS where I’m with the two female leads, Jessice De Gouw and Laura Carmichael.'
Q7: Name one thing you couldn't live without?
Q8: What is your dream holiday destination?
A: Africa. The Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia. Sitting on a sandbank, sipping a gin and tonic, while the sun goes down over the Zambezi River. Then cruising home, past elephants and hippos, hopefully catching sight of a leopard before we get back to camp.
Q9: If you had to choose a career besides writer, what would it be?
A: I have had three careers in my life, the first as a journalist, then as a ghostwriter and finally as a novelist. I could go back to journalism or ghostwriting because it wouldn’t change the fact that writing is my passion, the eternal search for the right words and what order to put them in.
What's the hardest scene you have ever written and why was it so hard?
A: I struggle to write scenes that involve violence, particularly when the victim is a woman or a teenage girl. Often, when I do write these scenes, I put the violence off-camera and reveal people’s reactions, rather than describe the actual events. Occasionally, readers have contacted me and complained about the graphic nature of these particular chapters, yet none of what they describe is on the page. They’re own imaginations have filled in the blanks that I’ve left. My books are not steeped in blood, or high body counts, but the reader’s mind is still the most powerful tool to create monsters.
Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?
A: I remember chatting to the late great Peter Corris about writing and he told me he had been writing virtually every day for over 30 years and it had become something like breathing – stop it and he’d die. Like a smoker addicted to nicotine, he was addicted to writing, physically, emotionally and psychologically. I feel the same way.
How long does it take you to complete your first draft?
A: Some writers are pioneers and others are settlers. Some charge forward, planting flags as they go, intending to come back later and explore further. Others reach a nice location and build a town, not moving on until they’re happy. I think I’m a settler. I write a strong first draft, rewriting as I go, which takes about ten months. I do not plan ahead. I rarely have any idea how a book is going to end until I’m almost finished. I figure if I don’t see it coming, neither will the reader. If it surprises me, it should surprise them.
'He thinks the truth will set her free. She knows it will kill them. A heart-stopping psychological thriller from the Number One bestselling author of THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS and THE OTHER WIFE.
She has secrets. Six years ago, Evie Cormac was found hiding in a secret room in the aftermath of a brutal murder. But nobody has ever discovered her real name or where she came from, because everybody who tries ends up dead.
He needs answers. Forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven believes the truth will set Evie free. Ignoring her warnings, he begins to dig into her past, only to disturb a hornet's nest of corrupt and powerful people, who have been waiting to find Evie - the final witness they have been searching for. Unbeknownst to him, Cyrus is leading them straight to Evie. The truth will not set her free. It will get them killed.
From Australia's foremost crime writer, Michael Robotham, this is the second explosive novel featuring gifted criminal psychologist Cyrus Haven following the Edgar-award nominated GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL.'
Thank you Michael for being my August 1st Author Stalker victim. xx
When She Was Good is available through all leading bookstores and online.
If you would like to find out more about Michael, you can find him here: