author post: david rollins

David Rollins a Sydney-based ex-journo, ex-advertising, now-pilot and now-author with a stack of thrilling novels up his sleeve and more to come. After his Special Agent Vin Cooper books, including the pulse-stopping Standoff, he’s now tackling the historical thriller with Field of Mars, tracing a lost legion in Ancient Rome. As a renowned nosey parker, I asked him to write about how he works.

 

I often get asked what my writing process is. The fact is, writing a novel is a pretty romantic notion for a lot of people. But is it? Most people envisage that they’ll be sitting in their study, soothing music playing, and otherwise undisturbed while the creative juices flow. Hmm…my reality is that I write at a desk in my bedroom, facing a brick wall. I used to listen to music, but for some reason I don’t any more. I used to do that so I could block out the real world and concentrate instead on the world playing out behind my eyes. I don’t need to do that anymore. I can hold reality at bay at will. I write sitting in departure lounges, or on planes, or in the back of taxis. I can write anywhere. Sometimes I have to because there’s not enough time for that desk in my bedroom.

For years I wrote 2000 words a day and I was religious about it. Sometimes that writing would start at 6 am and finish at 8 or 9 pm – whenever that 2000 words was on the hard drive. Some days I could peel off 2000 words a few hours. Sometimes the words come fast, and sometimes you have to lever them out with a crowbar. These days, there’s so much else I have to do that I’m happy if I just advance the story. Even a couple of hundred words, if that’s all I can manage.

When I’m in the middle of a manuscript, I go over and over the dialogue in my head until it sounds about right. Sounds cool, right? But often this happens at 4 in the morning when I’m trying to sleep. Or when I’m trying to exercise. Or when I’m watching my daughter play soccer. Or driving. Or at a restaurant with friends. In fact, sometimes I wish the voices in my head would just fuck off and leave me in peace. My wife will often say, “Hey, where are you?” because I won’t be in the here and now, I’ll be in someone else’s skin, in some other place, and, recently, in some other time. It’s relentless.

I also don’t always know exactly where the story will go, though I’m reasonably clear on where it will end up. I write a kind of an outline and this includes several key scenes I can see clearly. The outline is important – if it works, I know the book will work. This is my “spine” or “railway tracks” – I’ve heard a number of writers call this different things, but it’s all the same. If I don’t have something like this – even a paragraph – I know I might lose the plot.

You want to know one of my most favourite sounds? It’s the clatter of fingers on the keyboard of a computer. What a beautiful sound – all those words and thoughts being created. It’s like a rush of new life.

Is writing a novel romantic? Maybe it is, I don’t know. What I do know is that no one else will write it for me. If the words get written that’s me. If the words don’t get written that’s also me. So instead of going to the pub, I write. Instead of going to watch a game of rugby, I write. I’ve missed quite a lot over the years. And maybe lost a friend or two also. But in their place I now have 10 novels and each one has been its own adventure. I went to Siberia to research THE ZERO OPTION. And the Thai-Burma border for A KNIFE EDGE. For STANDOFF, I went to Colombia, Panama and Texas and hung out with The Texas Rangers and watched drug couriers come across the Rio Grande at night. I’ve also met some great people, though admittedly some of these have been conjured in my own brain.

And when you write the novel, you live with these people in your thoughts for the duration. That’s not always a good thing, believe me, because a novel has to be convincing. If you can’t convince yourself that the characters and the situation (or plot) is real, you can forget about convincing your readers. So when I’m deep in the story, the lines of what’s real and what’s in my imagination can get a little blurry. My family is used to it now, but the outcome is that I’m thought of (I believe) as being either vague and dreamy. There’s no room left in my head for names or faces or places that aren’t in my current book. It’s weird, I guess, but that’s how it rolls for me.

alex hammond, the unbroken line

Defence lawyer Will Harris has barely recovered from being hospitalised after going rogue in his first book, Blood Witness, when he and his lover Eva are attacked and threatened by strangers who tell him: “Back off.” Will, who doesn’t enjoy danger as much as it enjoys him, would oblige, if he knew what he was supposed to back off from: he’s already busy fighting a complaint accusing him of some suspicious activity he’s not entirely innocent of, and grappling with his newly minted law firm, a business partner who is never around, and defence cases he’d prefer to avoid. Now, of course, he’s got something else on his plate—finding out who assaulted them and caused Eva to flee from Will and the violence that surrounds him.

If you’ve ever wondered how it feels to be a defence lawyer, read this and wonder no longer: if it’s half as complicated and tense as this book, we should all just stick to being armchair lawyers, even if the pay isn’t as good. Will’s exhausting day-to-day life of interviews and solving murky problems into crystal-clear defences and juggling any kind of private life is something else – and obviously fictionalised enough to be interesting (Will is a media darling post his adventures in the Ned-Kelly-shortlisted Blood Witness, after all), while retaining enough paperwork out of the ears to be realistic, if not slightly depressing for trees. This is one for Melbourne locals – as Will gallivants around town from east to west and north to south, getting into crashes in the Burnley Tunnel and going for drinks in bars as familiar as the one you were in just last weekend, it’s a heady tale of local intrigue that spans contemporary Melbourne and a grim part of Australia’s history. I often take notes on my phone when I’m reading, to help me remember good lines (or make up my own! Like this one just now.) I wrote moral quandary on its own, because idea infuses every page of the book. Will is a serious man who tries to do good in a career and a world that seems desperate to stop him. And he’s not some shining white knight, here to save everyone from his ethically stabled high horse—he twists himself in knots that can’t be untangled without assistance. The legal world is one soaked in privilege, with all the good and evil that come with it, and Will, with his family ties to the industry, is part of the problem. What can he overcome to prove himself, and what lines will he refuse to break?

author post: sj brown on writing high beam

High Beam (check out my pal Karen’s review here)is the first book in the DI Mahoney series, set in Tasmania – and I’m thrilled to see books set in places you don’t see in literature as much – and is a pacey new read by S J Brown. Here, he tells us how his tale of politics, violence and football came to be.

WHY NOT ?

Despite an almost overwhelming body of advice not to, writers continue to embark on the perilous path to being a published author. And with the hope, again in the face of a welter of evidence pushing the contrary opinion, they may become commercially successful.

Why?

Why plug away for months, usually years, at creating a product that may be submerged by unpitying waves of indifference? Why do all the research into your subject area and work unceasingly at improving your writing technique if there is so slim a chance of actually seeing your novel on the shelves?

Why indeed?

Quite simply because the risk is so great. You are not risking your life but you are placing a great deal else at risk; your sanity, self-esteem, sense of self, reputation, and belief in a fair and just universe all go on the line. You are truly putting yourself out there in front of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Yet in doing so you are taking on life by endeavouring to leave your footprint in a definitive way.
And also because you soon realise that ‘success’ as an author comes in many forms. That is at the heart of what I have experienced over the past few years as I seek to make the transition from writer to author (my distinction is simple: an author is a published writer).

Here is why I believe I am a ‘successful’ author;

1. I acquired some ‘bum glue’ and sat down to write and write and write some more. Prior to hearing Michael Robotham’s blunt advice on how to be a writer I had dabbled and made a number of promising, but false, starts. I learned to make time to facilitate a writing schedule. I took steps to learn all I could about crafting fiction, the publishing industry and the specialities of my preferred genre (e.g. it would be hard to create good crime fiction without a solid grasp of forensics and investigative procedure). Then I cut, edited, re-wrote and effectively re-created my manuscript. I overcame lethargy. I learned the crucial truth that inspiration is but a small part of writing: perspiration is at the heart of so many good books.
I took pains to improve and, in doing so, I have experienced success in my battle with despair, self-doubt and fear. It’s an ongoing struggle but I’m advancing.

2. I have fallen deeply for the process. Professionals of all persuasions often talk about “being in the zone.” As I sit at my desk and disappear into the fictional world I’ve created there is a palpable sense of being completely engaged in the task. In the background ABC Classic FM is playing but the only times I consciously hear it is at the time-pips on the hour. Otherwise I’m with ‘my people’ and that’s a great feeling. I doubt the day will come when I feel the same about proofing a manuscript but you never know.

3. My books are on the shelves (and my e-books are in the cloud somewhere: I’m not overly technical). For an indie author to get your books placed is a real achievement. You have to sell your product (and yourself) very hard. Fortunately there are plenty of booksellers prepared to back authors who dare to ask. And they are selling. You won’t have seen me on the best-seller charts (just yet!) but they are selling.

4. The feedback is (largely) positive. Reviews, both informal and formal have been constructive and very encouraging. Bearing in mind obtaining any sort of review in the mainstream media is exceedingly difficult to accrue any publicity or critical feedback is a huge bonus.

5. I’ve had the opportunity to experience afresh the generosity of the wider community. While it could have been anticipated my local Dymocks proprietor (Ian Campbell in Hobart) would be a great source of commercial insight (I’m a long-time book buyer and we know each other through sport) it was an unexpected bonus to find, on a recent trek through country Victoria, so many booksellers giving up valuable time to offer advice and encouragement. (And agreeing to stock my titles!)

6. (Trumpet fanfare)! Early in 2016 I’ll be appearing at my first Literary Festival. This is big. I’m not kidding. Not just the occasion (Tamar Valley Literary Festival 2016) but the opportunity. It’s like your debut book launch, first author signing in a different town, premier radio interview: an event that reinforces a belief I am inching toward some semblance of public recognition that my input into the cultural world is valued.

With an acknowledgement to George Orwell, that’s why I write. Well, partly. Of course it’s do with a host of other reasons but the foregoing is my personal response to the question of why an embryonic writer should stick at it. To paraphrase another Anglo author, E M Forster, it is the way “to connect, only connect.”
For me, crime fiction is the best means to connect with other booklovers. Rather than construct a thesis on the attributes of the genre let me simply say this: it is the branch of fiction that deals most comprehensively with the trials and tribulations of life. My take on the police procedural is the “Whydunnit”: here the focus is on why seemingly quite normal people are driven to take life. The stress that drives someone to contemplate homicide and the pressure the detectives endure in the investigation of such a crime is at the heart of my “TAS Noir” novels.

Stephen Brown (S J Brown) is the author of the Detective Inspector Mahoney series. Set in Tasmania, they seek to show what is happening beneath the placid ‘tourist poster’ surface. HIGH BEAM and DEAD WOOD are available in stores.

tony cavanaugh, kingdom of the strong

Darian Richards is a lost man. A man he has hunted for years has vanished again, presumably overseas. His lover is gone. The Noosa river, the one bank of water that affords him peace, is not doing its job. Early retirement is looking like it is not for him. But then: a visitor to the cabin he has retreated to. Victorian Police Commissioner Copeland Walsh—nicknamed Copland for his dedication—asking for his help. He needs to retire, and be replaced. But his replacement, Nick Racine, has a cloud over his past, involving an unresolved death of an eighteen-year-old woman in 1990. The case needs closing, and Richards—no longer part of Melbourne’s police politics—is the one for the job. Of course, Darian says yes. To Copland, the man who made Darian into the police officer he is today—decent and dedicated to justice beyond everything else—he always will. And after summoning Queensland Senior Constable Maria Chastain and Isosceles, his nothing-can-stop-him tech whiz, Darian will find out what happened to Isobel Vine: for the outgoing and incoming commissioners; for Isobel’s father, still fighting every day to prove his daughter did not kill herself; and for his own sanity.

Cavanaugh’s writing is tight as a clenched fist, and this book is late-night tension, knife-edge danger, pulsating anxiety in your fingers when you turn the page. For every moment that slips out of realism—when Darian’s best friend and Maria’s lover, the slightly criminal yet perpetually honest Casey Lack stumbles around on the page, or when Isosceles manipulates the internet so effortlessly—you are more than paid back in Darian’s dogged pursuit of Isobel’s last few hours, spent in the company of far too many bad people. Do you know what reaction I never have when I read crime books? Unlike every Pixar movie, they don’t make me cry. Often I’m repulsed and horrified and appalled, frequently swimming through a mire of emotions about the bad things people do. Sometimes, there is enough distance between a victim and a reader that when someone in the pages cracks a joke, I can laugh at it—or maybe no one is dead, and everything is a little lighter. All these things have their place. But I can’t remember the last time I cried in a crime book, and I cried in this, for Isobel. I was horrified, too, of course. The world is not always a lovely place. This fictional world, though, is almost a tangible one. Melbourne is a vivid map in this book, but not the kind you’d pass to tourists: everywhere Darian travels, he remembers which crimes he was solving there, the streets of Melbourne hiding a bloodthirsty history. Lygon Street gets a mention, but don’t expect to be flattered by it. Kingdom of the Strong is devastating; gather your strength and read it.