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You’ve said that you have five unpublished gothic fiction novels!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 When you’re an unpublished author, no one really cares that much about what you’re writing because you could very well be a hack.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