Monday, September 13, 2010

9mm interview with Michael Robotham

Welcome to the latest instalment in Crime Watch's ongoing series of author interviews; 9mm - 9 Murder Mystery questions put to a variety of New Zealand and international crime, thriller, and mystery authors.

Today I thought I would share my recent 9mm interview with acclaimed Australian crime writer Michael Robotham, one of the authors who was scheduled to appear at the 2010 The Press Christchurch Writers Festival, which was of course cancelled due to the Canterbury earthquake (help with earthquake relief here).

Robotham became a ghost writer in the mid 1990s after fourteen years as a journalist in Australia, the US, and the UK. He was Deputy Features Editor for the Mail on Sunday in London just prior to shifting to longer-form non-fiction, writing a dozen bestselling ‘autobiographies’ for celebrities and other public figures like Geri Halliwell (many of his clients remain a secret).

Eventually he started writing fiction as well, breaking through in 2004 with THE SUSPECT, a thriller featuring Parkinson’s-affected psychologist Joe O’Loughlin. Since then Robotham has produced another five thrillers, won two Ned Kelly Awards, been shortlisted for the Barry Award, the CWA Steel Dagger, and South Africa's Boeke Prize, and been translated into more than 20 languages. His sixth novel, BLEED FOR ME, was released earlier this year, and marked the return of Joe O’Loughlin.

You can read my review of BLEED FOR ME here, and find out more about Michael Robotham here.

But for now, Michael Robotham stares down the barrel of 9mm.

The Crime Watch 9mm Author Interview: Michael Robotham

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Um, Dave Robicheaux - I think James Lee Burke is just one of the most astonishing writers - forget about literary fiction, crime fiction, genre fiction - he’s just amazing, he’s got the soul of a poet. And every book just seems fresh to me, and very few people manage to create a series character where they can do that.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I’ll tell you a story. I fell in love at a very young age, probably about 12 or 13, with Ray Bradbury’s stuff. He did the Twilight Zone type of stuff, and he was an amazing novelist, but mainly did short stories. A limited number of Ray Bradbury titles were available in Australia, so at a very young age, I might have been 13 or 14, I wrote a letter addressed to Ray Bradbury, well it was addressed to sort of ‘Random House, America’ - there was no address other than that, and six months later a package arrived in the post, and it was the five books that weren’t available in Australia, with a letter from Ray Bradbury saying how truly thrilled he was to have a young fan on the other side of the world. And I feel that was one of the reasons I became a writer, I think, just because of the generosity of spirit of that man, and his astonishing act of generosity. And so I always remember Bradbury.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
There was the great Australian unpublished novel, which is still unpublished, but will be published some day. But other than that, there were 16 ghost-written autobiographies for various people, and lots and lots of journalism.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?Ha, ha, hahaha - I don’t have a life other than that. I spend time with my family, with my daughters. When I was a ghost-writer I did quite a bit of reading, but if I’m reading I feel guilty, and that I should actually be writing. I don’t really have any activities, any hobbies. That’s what my wife says, that I don’t have any hobbies.

But writing starts as a passionate hobby, that’s how it has to start. So my passionate hobby became my career, and so it’s all I really want to do.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
Probably take the mail ferry from Palm Beach, it’s a two-hour round trip along the upper reaches of the Hawkesbury River. You jump on the ferry, and it stops at all the little communities. It’s this most spectacular natural harbour north of Sydney, but it’s mostly bushland, with these incredible sorts of views, and you can just sit out and look and it costs virtually nothing. At the other end it stops for about half an hour at this little place where you can have a cup of tea or coffee, and you just jump on the ferry and come back again. It’s just a wonderful way to spend the day.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?Dreyfus. Everybody says I look like Richard Dreyfus. It’s funny, but he’s the guy that I most often get mistaken for. I should actually say that Richard Dreyfus most often gets mistaken for me (chuckling).

Of your writings, which is your favourite, and why?
All writers are told by their publishers, that they have to say the latest one. All writers are told you don’t announce ‘oh no, this isn’t my favourite book, my favourite book is the second one’ (chuckling).

But... The first one, because to sell a half-finished manuscript all around the world, it just changed my life. And when people talk about books that changed their lives - reading a book or writing one - that was the book that changed my life. In the space of a few hours, after being at the London Book Fair, my life just changed, within a couple of hours. And it was just, after having 16 books for other people, that my name never appeared on, to actually see a book appear in a bookstore, with my name on it, was a very special moment.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?Crime writing publication - well as I say, that sort of happened with getting a phone call at 3 o’clock in the morning, saying there were six American publishers bidding, and two French publishers, and you don’t go to sleep after something like that, so we lay in bed, and at about 7 o’clock in the morning we’d spent the money, and we’d cast the film (chuckling). And that was about it really. I’m sure we had a bottle of wine, we have a bottle of wine most nights, but I don’t know whether we did anything other than that. But it did change my life. I mean, I’d been a ghost-writer so I’d been a published writer for many, many years, but it was still one of those great moments.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Good or bad? Well, the good - doing a signing event in a town in Western Australia which had a population of 125, and 75 people turned people turned up. So that was absolutely mad. And the other side of it is I’ve been to places where three people turn up, and one of them is in a pram.

There was one book signing at a small bookstore in Sydney where there was no room for me to sign in the bookstore, so they put the table outside with a microphone, and they expected me to spruik. That did not go down well.

Thank you Michael Robotham. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.


So what do you think of this 9mm interview? Have you read any of Michael Robotham’s books? I'd love to read your comments. Please share your thoughts


  1. Craig - Thanks so much for this interview. I've read quite a lot of Ray Bradbury, too, so it was nice to find out that Michael Robotham is also a fan. And I agree: James Lee Burke is an astoundingly talented writer. Fascinating interview, for which I'm grateful.

  2. Craig, thanks for this excellent interview. I have not read any Michael Robotham books yet but he is definitively in my priority list on my next shopping.

  3. Michael Robotham is indeed a great author, I havent been disappointed in any of his novels. It is interesting how many authors rave about James Lee Burke. I confess to reading only one of his books, the very first one, guess I had better read some more.


  4. I am far behind as I have only read his debut yet. I liked it a lot, but Australian novels are not exactly overflowing the shelves of Danish book shops (and sadly it seems that it is only the debut that will be translated into Danish, unless another publisher picks them up).