Chris Hammer writes bestsellers with a distinctly Australian flavor. His latest book, Treasure & Dirt, his fourth, is a gritty, hard-to-put-down crime thriller, and it’s no surprise that Chris is winning awards, as well as an international audience.
Hi there, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler, and in Binge Reading today Chris talks about transitioning from journalism to successful fiction writing. He explains why he thinks Australian crime fiction is growing in popularity around the world, and the blossoming of “Outback noir” – though not all of Chris’s books are set in the Outback.
We’ve got three eBook copies of Treasure & Dirt to give away to three lucky readers in our Crime Giveaway. You can enter that draw on the website www.thejoysofbingereading.com or on our Binge Reading Facebook page. Chris’s books and social media contacts are also to be found on the website.
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Six things you’ll learn from this Joys of Binge Reading episode:
- How Chris transitioned from non fiction to fiction
- the new sub genre of “dingo noir”
- Martin Scarsden may still return
- The ‘father’ of quality Australian crime writing
- The writers he admires most
- What he’s working on next.
Where to find Chris Hammer:
Facebook: @HammerNow /
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to important mentions.
Introducing Chris Hammer, thriller author of Outback Noir
Jenny Wheeler: But now here’s Chris. Hello there, Chris, and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Chris Hammer: Hi there, Jenny. Thank you so much for having me on.
Jenny Wheeler: Getting the geographic location set at the beginning – you’re talking from the Australian capital of Canberra, aren’t you?
Chris Hammer: That’s right.
Jenny Wheeler: Are you a Canberra born man?
Chris Hammer: No, I was born in Tassie actually – Tasmania – but I’ve lived most of my life in Canberra. I grew up here. I tried to escape several times, but I kept getting sucked back. Being a journalist, it’s a good place to be, in the Capital. I did a lot of politics as a journalist, but also my wife is an academic. She specializes in International History and History of the Asia Pacific and for her the Australian National University – the ANU – is based in Canberra. So it’s perfect for both of us.
Jenny Wheeler: You had a stellar journalism career and looking at your life from the outside, it looks like you replaced a stellar career in journalism with an equally stellar one in books. Right from the beginning, your first book, Scrublands, was an award winner and an international bestseller. Tell us how you managed to make that transition.
Chris Hammer: You make it sound so easy and inevitable, but it wasn’t. Indeed, Scrublands isn’t my first book. Many writers, of course, have the one or two in the desk drawer that will never see the light of day, but I did write two nonfiction books. I quit full-time journalism for a while and went freelance.
How Chris Hammer transitioned from writing journalism to fiction
I wrote travel writing but traveling in Australia. One through the hinterland down the Murray Darling basin, which is the biggest river system in Australia, right at the peak of the worst drought in the history of European settlement. That provided me with the settings for Scrublands and others of my book.
Then I did a second book called The Coast, which was traveling down the east coast of Australia, which helped provide the setting, in some ways, for my second crime book, Silver. I’ve said before, I learned three things by doing those books. One, that I could actually do it, because until you write a book it seems like climbing Everest. But I found I could do it.
Two, I found I really liked it, not just having the book on the shelf, but the process. The third thing I found was there’s no money in writing books. In the end, I had to go back and get a real job again, as a journalist back in the Press Gallery. I pretty much wrote Scrublands, not quite as a hobby, but for my own self-satisfaction, so I was as surprised as anyone when it became a success.
Jenny Wheeler: That transition from non-fiction – non-fiction probably came readily to you being a journalist, but the switch to fiction, how big a jump was that?
Chris Hammer: A lot of journalists, as part of their career as a journalist, will try writing a book, and where I was, covering federal politics, ambitious journalists will write a biography of the next up and coming politician. It’s very factual, very fact-based. My books were travel writing, which is more like narrative non-fiction.
Opal Country – a Priscilla In The Desert madcap adventure
You’re telling a story. You can be impressionistic. You can have a bit of purple prose if I can put it like that. You’re recounting a story. It’s almost like a halfway house. I was listening to another author the other day on a podcast, and she was saying that she written travel non-fiction before going to fiction. I thought, that sounds like a similar trajectory to me.
Jenny Wheeler: You are onto book four now, which in Australia and New Zealand is out in another couple of weeks. It’s called Treasure & Dirt here, but it’s going to be released in the UK and Europe in January, and it’s going to be called Opal Country. For any of our people listening who might want to follow up, it’s Opal Country on the other side of the world and Treasure & Dirt this side.
They are all standalone works, but they do have a linking narrative of some of the characters and the background themes that are coming through. Treasure & Dirt picks up on one of the detectives from the earlier series, doesn’t it? Tell us a bit about your Ivan Lucic.
Chris Hammer: The first three books I wrote were crime books – Scrublands, Silver and Trust. The main protagonist is a journalist called Martin Scarsden. Then by the time Trust comes along, we also get the point of view of his partner, Mandalay Blonde, or Mandy Blonde. Those three can be read as standalones, but they are also a kind of a series, and the main characters are Martin and Mandy.
Finnigan’s Gap – a town where detective reputations go to die
Treasure & Dirt is a standalone and has completely different main characters. Martin does get a mention and there are a couple of the minor characters from the first three books who pop up in Treasure & Dirt. It’s the same sort of universe, if you like, which is contemporary Australia.
There are two point of view characters in Treasure & Dirt. Ivan Lucic is a homicide detective. He is in the first three books, but as a very minor character. He’s the offsider to the main police officer, Morris Montifore. He turns up. He has his own problems with his past and his family that is mentioned in passing in Treasure & Dirt.
He’s got a poker machine addiction, he is very disturbed about what’s been happening inside the Police Force, particularly to his boss Morris Montifore, so he comes to the story with a bit of baggage. Then he’s sent to an outback town called Finnigans Gap. It’s a fictitious town, but it’s based somewhat on the real Australian outback opal mining town of Lightning Ridge.
What’s happened is a body has been discovered – an opal miner who has been crucified and left to rot down his opal mine. Ivan Lucic is sent from Sydney to investigate. He’s meant to be with his boss, Morris Montifore, but he can’t make it, so he’s assigned a very young, inexperienced detective from the far west of New South Wales, from Bourke, a young detective called Nell Buchanan. She’s been assigned because, in her days in uniform she spent some time in Finnigans Gap. That’s the set up.
Australian rural crime novels enjoying international success
As they investigate the murder, more and more secrets start to emerge, but things from Nell and Ivan’s past start catching up with them as well, so there’s a kind of dual-track narrative.
Jenny Wheeler: You mentioned the same universe. In the first three books, it’s definitely against a background of corruption, both in high places in society, and even reaching into the Police Force. You get the impression that there is some problem of leakage in the Police Force, and that becomes even clearer in this book. There’s an edgy cynicism to it. I gather that you’ve developed this genre called “Outback noir”, and it perfectly fits this book. Can you tell us a bit about Outback noir?
Chris Hammer: I think in some ways it’s probably a bit of a lazy description in that a lot of us Australian writers are pushed together in this group. My first book, Scrublands, is not really in the Outback, but it’s certainly far western New South Wales, so fair cop. But my second book, Silver, is set on the coast and my third book, Trust, is set in Sydney. This is the first of my books that is truly set in the Outback.
I think what happened is that Jane Harper’s book, The Dry, was a huge success, both in Australia and internationally, and as that came out, I was writing Scrublands. There are other Australian authors who have set books in the countryside, most notably a recent author is Garry Disher. Now there are quite a few more. Sarah Bailey had also written a book around the same time called The Dark Lake, so it seems to have an appeal.
Small town stories capturing big city attention
Most Australians live in cities, so I think it helps the imagination escape. You can have fictional towns and you can make up entire towns and settings and populations in a way you can’t with an established city.
My third book, Trust, is set in Sydney. It’s kind of an imagined Sydney, but I’m not about to make up a fictitious city of millions of people on the east coast of Australia. That would not be feasible. But it does seem to appeal to international readers – people in the UK, people in the US, wherever – and I think there’s something about a small-town setting that helps fire the imagination of the readers.
Having a small, confined space helps with plotting too in a purely technical sense, because people can run into each other, which in a small town is likely whereas in a big city it might be a bit of a stretch sometimes. Part of it is a marketing thing – here’s the latest Australian Outback noir book. There’s a very well-known journalist in Australia called Laurie Oakes who is a big crime fan. He’s called it dingo noir, which I kind of like the sound of.
Jenny Wheeler: You mentioned the feeling of a contained township or area, and in all of your books, you’ve got the most wonderful graphic maps at the front which give you a picture of the setting. I wondered whose idea those were, and whether that was how you approached your writing, whether you were a visual writer and saw things visually.
A stong visual sense underlined by graphic maps in each book
Chris Hammer: I think I do see many things visually. When people are interacting it is playing out a scene, almost like a screenplay, and then descriptions of towns and whatever I see visually. I spent a long time as a television reporter, so I was very used to writing to pictures.
The maps came about more or less by happenstance. When you’re writing a book, a crime book in particular, there will be a lot of stuff an author will think of and write down that doesn’t appear in the narrative. Typically for a crime writer, they’ll have a timeline of when events happen and where each person is.
For example, if the killer needs to be somewhere and then go and kill someone, dispose of the body, change their clothes, then reappear, you need the timeline to make sure they’ve got enough time to do that, and that people aren’t in two places at once, et cetera. That’s probably a standard thing.
When I was writing Scrublands, its set in a town called Riversend. It’s a fictional town, so I started drawing a map, not with the intention of it being published, but for my own reference, like that kind of timeline. I wanted to make sure that buildings didn’t change locations or distances didn’t change.
If Martin walked five minutes to the bookstore in chapter one, he wasn’t taking half an hour in chapter 20, particularly as I was writing it over an extended period, in my spare time.
Getting into the real feeling of the Martin Scarsden stories
When I finally got around to submitting it to an agent, I had my very crude hand-drawn map. I thought, I’ll put it in the front. It might make it easier for them to understand what’s going on. That’s what went to the publisher. Then in discussion with the publisher, Jane Palfreyman, we decided we would put the map in. Not my terribly crudely drawn one. She commissioned a cartographer. It didn’t look very good at all, because for a real cartographer the essence is accuracy, and there was nothing to judge it on because it was all made up.
I’m not sure how she found him, but Jane called Alexander Potocnik who has done the maps in all the books. The interesting thing is he’d only recently arrived in Melbourne from Slovenia, so most of the examples he gave us, which were fantastic, were of these little towns in the Balkans and Dubrovnik, and places like that. With Scrublands, he hadn’t actually been to a country town.
Fortunately, I had stacks and stacks of photos from when I was traveling for those non-fiction books. I was supplying him photos saying, this looks like that, and this is what wheat silos look like. Similarly, with Trust, he hadn’t been to Sydney. He lives in Melbourne, so it gave him a good excuse to go and see Sydney.
We really liked the map in Scrublands. I love them. I commissioned him to color them, so I have got some nice big prints of them. That has become a feature of the books.
Author Chris Hammer – working with an evolving story
Jenny Wheeler: Perhaps we ought to explain, they are 3D, aren’t they? They’re not just a black mat, but very much 3D graphic representations.
Chris Hammer: Yes, they’re more like illustrations than maps.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, they are. You mentioned the photographs. Did you refer a lot to the photographs when you were writing the book?
Chris Hammer: Not really, no. They’re in my imagination. I referred to them when I was writing the non-fiction books for accuracy, but not so much for the fiction ones.
Jenny Wheeler: I’m interested in your process. With books like these which are complexly plotted, do you do a very detailed outline or do you rely on sitting down in a chair and having it develop as you go along?
Chris Hammer: They evolve very much as I go along. This division is often discussed, particularly with crime authors, about the difference between plotters and pantsers, plotters being the ones who plot it out and then start the narrative, and pantsers are the ones who write by the seat of their pants. I am definitely towards the pantser end of the spectrum. I wish I wasn’t. Being a plotter sounds far more efficient.
My problem is that if I try and plot in advance and then start writing, no sooner do I start writing than I get a better idea, and so the story evolves. But I’m not just writing it hoping I know where it’s going to end up. As the story evolves I’m constantly thinking forward, thinking where is this heading, and is this going to work? I’m probably getting a bit better at that, with experience.
The challenge of multiple plot lines for author Chris Hammer
Also, there are multiple plot lines, and I’ve probably got an idea of where one or two of those are going to end up, particularly the emotional story more than the actual crime story. I might know where I’m thinking it’s going to end up, but I’m not sure how to get there. The stories change. With Scrublands, I was learning on the job, so I rewrote the end of the book three times, like throw away 40,000-50,000 words and completely rewrite.
I did that with Silver a little bit, but not with Trust and not really with Treasure & Dirt, so I think I’m getting better as the story evolves, working out how to bring it all back together again.
Jenny Wheeler: Some writers talk about this thing where their characters refuse to do things they want them to do, that the characters start to dictate the story. Has that happened with you, particularly in Treasure & Dirt, without giving away any spoilers?
Chris Hammer: For sure. You’ll have minor characters begin life as a kind of a plot point. Your protagonist needs to learn some piece of information. This happened in Scrublands, for example, there’s a bloke called Codger Harris. Initially he was meant to be someone who told Martin Scarsden something important, pointed him in the right direction. But he grew, and he ends up being a pretty important character by the end of the book. That happens quite a bit. The characters evolve.
How being a journalist has helped in writing crime fiction
Personally, as a reader, I like character driven books more than plot driven books, so it’s important to me that characters are complex. Right from the start, as I was writing Scrublands, I was thinking, I don’t want black and white characters. I don’t want the goodies over here and the baddies over there. I want the baddies to have some good characters and I want the goodies to have some bad characters and make it complex. I think that makes it a more engrossing read for readers as well.
Jenny Wheeler: Looking back over your career, moving on from talking about the individual books, we’ve mentioned your time as a journalist. You have also mentioned the non-fiction books, The River and The Coast, but were there other ways in which your journalism career has fed into making fiction writing easier or reflected in your fiction writing?
Chris Hammer: There are a whole lot of things about being a journalist that I think have helped. One is the discipline of writing. In journalism, you do the best you can in the time available. There is certainly no opportunity to wait around for inspiration. You can’t ring up your Editor and go, I don’t think I’ll file a story today. I’m not feeling inspired.
I think doing television was very useful because even in a half hour or 40-minute documentary, there is a very limited amount of words you can use. You get to appreciate the value of each word and the weight of each word. Over time that builds up.
Capturing the Australian spirit in Chris Hammer novels
Many journalists are not able to make the transition from writing journalistically, which tends to use a lot of shorthand and clichés. This is a very effective way of communicating but does not read well in a narrative or a fiction book.
Also, I travel a lot internationally, I do a lot of political stories, both in Australia and overseas. That gave me some insights into how the world works, how power works. In a sense that stood me in good stead as well.
Jenny Wheeler: I wondered if your international experience helped you to frame the Australian experience more clearly and sharply, having been away from it, because these books are very, very Australian. They absolutely capture the Australian spirit.
Chris Hammer: That’s nice of you to say so. It wasn’t intentional because as I said, when I was writing Scrublands I was hoping it would get published. By the time I’d finished it I was reasonably confident it was good enough to be published. But because of my experience with my previous books – that were very well received, one prize here and got shortlisted for a couple of other things but didn’t sell anything – I thought Scrublands might get published, but I didn’t think in my wildest dreams that it would be published internationally.
So I wasn’t trying to be particularly Australian or particularly non-Australian. I think a lot of authors with ambitions, particularly if they want to sell into the United States, either overemphasize the Australian-ness or underemphasize it, try and make it easily digestible for an American audience, both of which I suspect is a mistake. For me, I was just trying to write a good book and hoping that it might get published in Australia. I wasn’t at all conscious of being overly or underly Australian.
Why the world is lapping up Australian stories
Jenny Wheeler: I have read online some of your commentary about why you think Americans in particular find Australian stories appealing. I wonder if you could recap a little bit on that. What do the Americans like about Australia, do you think?
Chris Hammer: I first went to the US when I was 19 and traveled around for months, and then members of my family live there so I used to go there a fair bit and travel around. I went back several times as a reporter as well.
Americans like Australia for a number of reasons. One is I think in some ways they can feel a bit alone in the world and the burden of world leadership can weigh heavily on them. They like it that there are other countries that are a bit like them – Britain and Australia and New Zealand. But Australia they identify with because the size of the country, because of the idea of the frontier. They see Australia as a more innocent version of America, that we are kind of like America used to be.
Now, I don’t think that’s right. I think their idea of what America used to be is probably not accurate, and of course, there’s this assumption that countries like Australia and New Zealand lag the US in all sorts of ways. I’m not sure that’s correct either. But it’s this view that Australia has enough in common that you can identify with it if you’re American, but it’s like a little brother or something like that.
An audience in France, Germany, the UK and Italy . . .
It’s interesting. In Europe, my books have sold in translation in France and Italy and Germany and places like that. The French really like Australia too. They see it as this very exotic place, because of the size and the climate and the wildlife. They find it rather intriguing as well in a different kind of way. I think maybe the Germans are the same, a lot of them travel here and in New Zealand. And the British have this fondness for Australia and New Zealand, going back to the days of empire.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, although the Aussies have come closer to declaring a republic than we have. You haven’t quite got there yet though, have you?
Chris Hammer: We’re a long way off.
Jenny Wheeler: It looked close at one time, but then it faded again.
Chris Hammer: Yeah.
Jenny Wheeler: This is The Joys of Binge Reading and I’d like to talk to you about your reading tastes and whether you like to binge read, in the past or today.
Chris Hammer: I do like binge reading. The trouble is, I don’t get the time. I read quite steadily. Nowadays I read a lot of crime fiction because I’m sent a lot of books. I’ll be interviewing someone at a festival or something, so I have to read their books. Or someone sends me a book to be endorsed, so I’m reading a lot more crime fiction than I would have beforehand.
I really like reading good crime fiction. I always liked the old Raymond Chandler Dashiell Hammett-type books. I like some of the good Australian writers, particularly Peter Temple, people like the American Michael Connelly. I read a lot of crime now.
What author Chris Hammer is reading – or binge reading – right now
But when I get a chance to take a break I also like to read some more literary fiction, contemporary fiction. I just read Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan, which I just loved. I think one of the reasons I loved it so much is because it wasn’t a crime book.
Jenny Wheeler: I was going to ask you that. Right at the beginning, why did you choose crime as your genre?
Chris Hammer: I didn’t think I could do non-fiction again because I had just started working full-time, a very demanding job, so I didn’t have the time or the money to do non-fiction. I didn’t think I was a good enough writer to write a literary book, plus I didn’t have an idea.
I thought if I wrote crime fiction, the plot element of it would give me a skeleton at least to drive the book forward and give it a narrative arc and a shape. Then I could do whatever else I wanted to do within that sort of boundary.
As I said, I like those old crime fiction books, the hard-boiled detective type ones, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler – the ones that inevitably, when they were made into movies, starred Humphrey Bogart.
Also, when I went to university in my early twenties to study journalism, my writing teacher, who’s teaching newspaper, feature and magazine writing was Peter Temple. He later became a most acclaimed Australian crime fiction author.
Peter Temple a revered pioneer of Australian crime fiction
In fact, his last book, Truth, won the Miles Franklin award, which is Australia’s most prestigious literary award. That is very unusual, here and anywhere else I guess, to have a so-called genre book win a major literary prize like that. They are fantastic books and show such command of the language and the Australian vernacular and pose some interesting moral questions.
So, I thought, I’ll give that a go. You know, maybe I could do that and I’m going to stick with it because there’s something about it I really like. It’s a very broad canvas. You have the discipline of the plot, the mystery of the crime, but you can overlay that with really interesting characters, personal dilemmas, emotional development, moral questions, observations on society.
If you read a lot of crime, it tends to pick up on what’s happening in society at the time. You can see right now, for example, there are quite a few crime books picking up, whether it’s consciously or unconsciously, on the Me-Too movement. There are ones that pick up on environmental concerns. If you go back, sometimes the fear would be more of the serial killer, 20 or 30 years ago.
I think it’s crime writers going, what’s going to grab people’s attention? What are people scared of right now? What’s worrying them? It’s not some big didactic decision to give a lecture on this issue or that issue. It’s what’s in the zeitgeist at the moment, and you pick it up and write about it. That’s an interesting thing about crime fiction too. The best crime fiction does transcend genre. It speaks more widely and appeals more widely.
Chris Hammer studied under crime master Peter Temple
Jenny Wheeler: I know that Peter Temple sadly has died, but did you ever have a chance to talk with him as one crime author to another?
Chris Hammer: No, he died before Scrublands was published. Probably not that long before, it may have been the same year or the year before he died. So, that’s quite sad. Mind you, the sort of marks he used to give me at uni, I’m not sure he would have liked Scrublands so much.
Jenny Wheeler: You’ve mentioned your previous experience in TV. Have you had any interest so far from filmmakers or TV producers for your books?
Chris Hammer: Scrublands has been optioned for a six one-hour television series. What that means is the production companies pay some money and that gives them exclusive rights to develop it. They can then go out and try and attract interest from broadcasters and hire writers and all that sort of thing. That’s what’s happened with Scrublands.
It’s still in development. Fingers crossed it’s going to go ahead. There has been some interest from broadcasters, both in Australia and internationally and streaming services. But the trouble is, until it goes ahead, nothing is certain.
Jenny Wheeler: I must admit that there were certain aspects of Treasure & Dirt that made me think of the Mad Max movies. You’ve got this crazy religious cult, you’ve got no-hoper dreaming guys who spend their life underground looking for opals, and there was a slightly weird Australian theme coming through.
Chris Hammer: I hadn’t made that connection at all, but if it works for you.
Jenny Wheeler: It might appeal to a producer or a director for the same reason.
Chris Hammer: It’s quite visual. Yes, that’s true.
Looking back over a long career what Chris might – or might not- change
Jenny Wheeler: Circling around and looking back down the aisles of time, looking over your fiction career, is there anything you would change about how it’s progressed?
Chris Hammer: No. I’m living the dream. Most authors are really time poor because they can’t make enough money to write full-time. People have their family commitments, they’re working full-time or part-time and they’re writing late at night, stolen hours on weekends, that sort of thing.
I’m fortunate in that the books have done well enough that I now write full time. I really love what I’m doing so no, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Jenny Wheeler: How long ago did you go full-time on the fiction?
Chris Hammer: Before Scrublands was published actually. I started getting book deals in Australia and the US and the UK, so I had to make this decision. It wasn’t that hard because I’d lost my job as a journalist shortly before in the company I was working for, the publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. I was working for them in the Press Gallery, but I was doing video production and they cut the whole video division.
So I lost my job, which in retrospect was fortunate because I got a payout. A few months later I would have quit anyway because I got these book deals. I had a very short spell as a political advisor, which was a good job but probably unsustainable because it had so much travel, it wasn’t compatible with my family circumstances. But then we got these book deals and I was able to resign from that job. Now I write full time, so I’m loving it as you might imagine.
Chris Hammer’s writing projects for the next 12 months
Jenny Wheeler: Looking over the next 12 months or so, what have you got on your desk? What new projects are you developing?
Chris Hammer: I was hoping I’d be on a book tour publicizing Treasure & Dirt. With the east coast of Australia in lockdown and not able to travel to those parts of Australia that aren’t in lockdown, I’m beavering away writing. I’m working on another book already, partly because of time constraints, but also there’s a lag between the time you finish your final edit and the time the book comes out, two or three months.
Psychologically, I need to move on as well. Otherwise, as it comes up to publication day, I get very anxious about how the book’s going to go, how it’s going to be received. It helps if I have already moved on to another project. If I get a bad review or something, I can go, oh well, who cares? Wait until you see this next one.
Jenny Wheeler: Are you able to give us any hints? Is it going to continue in a similar vein to the rest? After Treasure & Dirt, I’m still wanting to know what happens with Ivan.
Chris Hammer: Yes, it’s going to be Ivan and Nell again. Particularly Nell. That’s what I’m thinking. The structure of the books is evolving a bit. The first two books, Scrublands and Silver, are told very much from Martin’s perspective. They’re not first person, but they’re very close third person, so the reader can read what Martin is thinking and what he’s observing about the world, but no one else. You can’t see in anyone else’s head.
Growing sophistication with writing as experience matures
In Scrublands, although it’s very complex in the sense that there are four or five plotlines intertwined, the structure is simple. Martin arrives in a town, and then it’s a chronological narrative that goes from beginning to end. Silver is similar except there are flashbacks. Trust evolves again.
You’ve got two points of view alternating, between Martin and Mandy. Treasure & Dirt is the same, except the delineation between the points of view isn’t as strict in that you swap between Nell and Martin quite a bit.
This next one is probably going to have three points of view and different timelines, so a more complex structure. Of course, a more complex structure does not necessarily mean a better book.
Often the more simply a story is told, the more powerful it can be, so I have to be careful in writing in a different structure or form, that I’m not losing the strength of the book.
I certainly don’t want to lose the readership, if the readership feels in any way cheated or anything like that. But if you liked Scrublands, you’ll probably like Silver and Trust. If you liked Treasure & Dirt, you’ll probably like the books that follow up.
Jenny Wheeler: Knowing that you were a journalist and that Martin, your first protagonist, was also obviously extremely fully rounded as a journalist, you naturally think that a lot of your personal experience went into that. Did you find it hard to let Martin go, to write this next book where he is only mentioned in passing now and then. Was it hard to let him go?
Chris Hammer’s Martin is no dispassionate, objective investigator
Chris Hammer: The problem I had is, he’s not like this hands-off, dispassionate, objective investigator in the same way that, say, Poirot or Miss Marple is. If you have a character like that, you can have many, many books and it works very well obviously. But with Martin and Mandy, there’s emotional content in each of those three books.
That was my problem. If I wanted to continue, was I then starting to almost fabricate emotional situations for them? Or, if I didn’t, and they became this objective, dispassionate investigator, would readers be missing something they valued in previous books? That’s why I thought, we’ll give Martin and Mandy a break. They deserve a break. That doesn’t mean I won’t come back to them. I may well come back to them, but I need the right story.
In the meantime, this other story came into my mind, so I’m working on that at the moment. Who knows? Maybe there will be a book where all the characters intersect. I don’t know. I don’t have anything planned. It’s a possibility, I guess.
Where to find author Chris Hammer online
Jenny Wheeler: Do you like to meet with your readers or to interact with your readers and if so, where can they find you online?
Chris Hammer: I really do like interacting with readers, which is the great pity of not being able to do a book tour. I have a web page which is www.chrishammerauthor.com. That has news about upcoming events, et cetera, but there’s no way of interacting there. I have a Facebook author page, and that’s where I can interact with people. I’m also on Instagram. I do have a Twitter handle, but I don’t really do Twitter. That’s a bit of a hangover from the days of being a journalist, so don’t try and contact me through Twitter. Try and contact me either through Instagram or my Facebook author page.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s fantastic, Chris. Thanks so much for your time. It’s been wonderful talking today.
Chris Hammer: Thank you so much, Jenny.
What to read next? How about another Australian crime writer?
If you enjoyed Chris’s Outback Noir you might also enjoy Garry Disher’s three different Australian mystery series, including Ned Kelly winner 2021 Consolation.
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