Stephen King called international crime writer Michael Robotham an “absolute master” so it’s no surprise that he’s sold millions of books all around the world. His first thriller, The Suspect, was snapped up in more than twenty countries in just three hours and the superlatives have kept on rolling in ever since.
Hi there, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler, and today Michael talks about his latest book, When She Was Good, and expands on that remarkable career, first as a journalist, then as a ghost writer, and now as an award-winning bestselling novelist.
Six things you’ll learn from this Joys of Binge Reading episode:
- Michael’s remarkable beginning in journalism
- Ten years of ghost writing in preparation
- Bidding war on debut novel The Suspect
- The Secrets She Keeps – the story behind the TV series
- How Sept 11 changed everything
- Why he’s still a ‘newbie after 15 novels
Where to find Michael Robotham:
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to important mentions.
But now, here’s Michael.
Jenny Wheeler: Hello Michael, and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Michael Robotham: Thanks Jenny.
Introducing Michael Robotham
Jenny Wheeler: You grew up in rural Australia, in country towns, and I’ve read online a funny little quip where you said there were more dogs than people and more flies than dogs in the places you grew up in. Then you went straight into talking your way into a cadetship on a Sydney daily. When you went there for that job interview, had you ever been to Sydney before?
Michael Robotham: No. I had to come down to Sydney six times and catch what was then the North Coast mail train, which was an overnight train that took twelve hours to get from my hometown to Sydney. I was seventeen when I first caught that train overnight and went for my first job interview. I had never been in a building over three stories high and I had never been in a lift before by myself. I don’t think I’d been in a lift with anyone else either.
When I got to the Fairfax building, who were the publishers of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sun, I stood outside the lift and I didn’t go inside the lift because I wasn’t sure how to work it and I wanted someone else to get in and I’d follow them. I didn’t know whether you had to shut the doors yourself, it terrified me. These security guards, I could see them laughing, wondering when this hay seed is going to get into the lift. But I did. I waited for someone else to get in, and that was my very first job interview.
Getting started in Sydney
There were 6,000 applicants for 12, I can’t remember if it was 12 or 18 positions. Journalism had become a very sexy profession ever since Woodward and Bernstein broke Watergate. I was very lucky to get one of those cadetships and one of my fellow cadets was Geraldine Brooks who went on to be a Pulitzer Prize winning author and a very famous journalist as well.
Jenny Wheeler: How did you manage to walk your way in there? What did you have on your side?
Michael Robotham: I don’t know. You had to go through a whole series of interviews which involved doing a current affairs test and general knowledge tests and writing essays and that narrowed the field down. But when I went for my final interview with the editor, I’d pretty much been told I hadn’t got the job because there had been people who had been applying for years and narrowly missed out, and it was their turn.
Before I went into the final interview, the guy who was coordinator said listen, you’ve done incredibly well to get this far. Don’t be disheartened, try again next year, but you’re not going to be one of my recommendations. So I went into the interview not nervous at all because I thought, well, I haven’t got the job.
Hence the fact it was a really good interview with the editor. I’m not a confident person by nature and at one point in the interview, he looked at me and he said, why should I employ you? Why should you be the one? I said, I have no idea how to answer that question, but in six months I’ll prove it’s the best decision you ever made.
A job meant for him
I think he appreciated my complete ballsyness to say something like that, this 17-year-old, whose parents didn’t even have a phone. They couldn’t phone me to say I had got the job, they had to send me a telegram. I mean, I knew nothing. I’d grown up in tiny country towns, but he gave me the job.
Jenny Wheeler: Do you reckon you had proven your worth in six months?
Michael Robotham: Yes. It was a three year cadetship and I did my three years in a year because they graded me by the end of that first year. Oddly enough, in a sense journalism was supposed to be a stop gap because I had deferred a law degree because my parents had no money to be able to help me go to university.
I wanted to be a writer and journalism fitted in with that plan. But my parents didn’t like the idea so much. I thought, naively, I’ll do journalism for a couple years, I can always go to university later. And of course, I fell completely in love with journalism. Even at the age of 18 or 19, I was interviewing presidents, and I covered stories like the Mount Erebus disaster, which was obviously a huge tragedy in New Zealand. I was covering huge stories and I was 17, 18, 19 years old. What an exciting time.
Jenny Wheeler: And it just got better because that courage, that arrogance you had, led to fourteen years in journalism working in Australia, the UK and America. During that time, you also had some stellar jobs. I wonder what made you then decide to move from newspapers to books.
Moving on to ghost writing
Michael Robotham: I had never lost my desire to be a writer, to be a novelist. But I guess when you’re very young, and that confidence and bravado I had is very much a sign of the arrogance of youth, you think you’re bulletproof and you’re God’s gift to life. I thought all those things. I worked with some of the great journalists and I realized how good they were compared to me, and I tried to get better all the time.
But I reached a point in journalism in the UK where, you know, they owned you. They paid you well and you traveled the world but you couldn’t have a relationship or a family, because you didn’t know from one day to the next whether you’d be in Russia or America or India. It sounds very exciting, but you can’t make a plan.
I thought I would go as far and as fast as I could, but by the age of 35 I didn’t want to be an editor. I loved writing too much, so I thought I’ll get out by 35, I’ll try my hand at writing. What happened was I was Acting Features Editor of the Mail on Sunday in London, and a young guy came in who was a ghostwriter. I had never heard of a ghostwriter. He was helping pen celebrity memoirs and autobiographies, and he had worked on things like Robert Swan, the polar ice walker/explorer and Simon Weston, the Falklands hero who was very badly burned in the Falklands War.
Making the jump to fiction
I became fascinated with this idea of ghostwriting. I suddenly thought, do I have the patience to sit and write long term. Could I spend six to twelve months or longer writing just the one thing, when I’d grown up for the previous 10, 12, 14 years doing something different every day. I guess ghostwriting was the next step along. I was offered an opportunity to ghostwrite, and I decided to put journalism aside. For the next ten years I was a ghostwriter.
Jenny Wheeler: Ten years, gosh. Now you have sold millions and millions of your own books and from the very get go, as seems to be the way you do it, you were a major success. The Suspect was one of those books that was in demand from several publishing companies, and I think it went up for auction. Was that a surprise to you?
Michael Robotham: Yes. If you tried to arrange it, you couldn’t have done it because I was in between ghost writing projects. For my sins, I had just finished working with Rolf Harris, obviously before all the Rolf Harris thing blew up. And I had been asked to write Lulu’s autobiography, the sixties pop star, Lulu, famous for To Sir, With Love.
I had a window of about three months between those two projects and I sat down and wrote 117 pages of a book that became The Suspect. I showed it to my agent because I didn’t want to have to finish it if no one wanted it. I thought, I’ve got a family now and a mortgage and I can’t afford to write for nothing, and ghostwriting was making me a good living.
An instant hit on debut
I showed it to him and said, should I finish this? He said, oh yes, definitely finish it. I think a lot of people will want to buy this. I said, can you not sell it now, so I know they want to buy it rather than me spending 12 months. I know that sounds very naive. And he said, no, no, finish it. I put it aside and then I was having lunch with a UK publisher to discuss the Lulu project, and she said, what are you working on? I told her just one chapter of The Suspect, one little story, and I could see the hair on her arms sort of raise.
She said, I have to read the 117 pages and I said, you’re not allowed to. She badgered my agent for two weeks and finally he gave it to her, and she read it on a flight to Australia. She landed and rang up and I had a very modest figure in my head of what I would need to give ghost riding away for a year to finish the book. She offered three times that amount and the same agent who said finish it was saying, take the money.
News of that offer leaked at the London Book Fair, again I don’t know how, in February 2002. This is about five months later and suddenly there was this feeding frenzy because the more publishers were told they couldn’t read the 117 pages, the more they demanded to read it. It got to the point where they were offering money to my agent just to read the 117 pages.
An international bidding war
I was living back in Australia and at 3 o’clock in the morning the phone was ringing and my agent was literally in the back of taxis doing deals, saying there are seven French publishers bidding, there are five German publishers bidding, four American publishers are bidding and the Spanish have offered this and the Portuguese, and it sold into more than 20 translations in three hours.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, my gosh.
Michael Robotham: Every dream I had ever had of being a full-time writer, and I dreamed of being a novelist since I was 11 years old, it came true in that three hours.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s a wonderful story. The new book that we are particularly here to talk about today, When She Was Good, is the second in a new series. It’s easily read as a standalone though, I must reassure people who are listening for the first time. It features a clinical psychologist called Cyrus Haven, and your previous first series that started with The Suspect also had a clinical psychologist as the main character, Joe O’Loughlin. I’m wondering if you have a particular fascination with that sort of job or do they just make jolly good stories?
Michael Robotham: I do have a particular interest and one of the people I was privileged to work with as a ghostwriter was a man called Paul Britton. Paul Britton is the pioneer of offender profiling in the UK. I don’t know if you remember a brilliant series called Cracker. Cracker was based upon Paul Britton, not the Robbie Coltrane character who was obviously a bit of a drunk and a reprobate with a brilliant mind. Paul Britton’s not like that, but he does have a brilliant mind.
The lure of forensic psychology
I did two books with Paul. One was called The Jigsaw Man and he’d worked on celebrated police cases like Fred and Rosemary West, James Bulger, and, oddly enough, my book, The Secret She Keeps, which was turned into a recent six part TV series, was seeded in an idea of a baby stolen from Nottingham hospital, Abbie Humphreys. Paul Britton was the psychologist who helped recover the baby that was stolen from that hospital and that’s where the idea for the novel came from.
Having worked for two books with this brilliant, brilliant psychologist, it was a very easy thing for me to do, to create a psychologist as my main character, because I understood so much more about criminal psychology and I had this wealth of material, some of which we included in Paul’s books, others which we could never include for legal reasons. But I could still use them in fiction. So that’s the reason.
Even as a journalist, I was always fascinated by why people did things. I’m not so much interested in the forensics, how many times someone was stabbed or this or that. I want to know what was going through someone’s mind when they committed that crime and what was going through the victim’s mind, and how did those two people interact?
Jenny Wheeler: That beautifully describes what happens with this series because the other central character is this young woman, Evie, who’s had an extremely traumatic experience as a young child. When we meet her, she’s claiming to be 18 and she’s in a children’s home still, but she’s wanting to be released as an adult and it’s obvious she wants to escape into anonymity in general society.
A traumatic beginning
But there’s a great twist to her personality, isn’t there, in terms of the issues of telling truth and lies. Give us a bit of an idea of the setup here.
Michael Robotham: Evie was discovered hiding in a secret room when she was very young, in a house where a man had been tortured to death. Nobody realized there was a child hiding in the walls and she refuses, when she is discovered, to reveal her age or her name and the worldwide search fails to uncover her identity.
She is given a name and made a ward of the court and put in a children’s home and every attempt to have her adopted out fails. One of the reasons is that Evie has what some people may call a gift and what she refers to as a curse. She has the ability to tell when someone is lying. I can understand why it’s a curse because we lie to each other all the time.
We lie to our friends, we lie to our family, we lie to our children with the best possible reasons. It’s how we keep relationships together. When my wife says, does my bum look big in this, I am not going to say anything other than, no dear. I only had the one beer. I bought it on special. I’m five minutes away. We tell lots of little white lies. But imagine for a moment if you always knew when someone was lying, and the power of three little words like I love you or I miss you, if you know that they’re disingenuous.
A compulsive liar as main lead
Evie has this ability, which makes her incredibly exciting to work with. Cyrus Haven realizes when he goes in to talk to Evie that she will always have this curse in a sense and will always have to be protected. He can’t let people know what she can do, or she will be exploited. Any crime writer who creates a character who can tell when someone is lying is on track to write the shortest crime novel in history.
You put all the suspects in a room, and you let Evie loose and the book’s over. The only way I can make Evie work as a character is because she is so damaged. She is so out of control, she has suffered so much abuse. Also, she is a compulsive liar herself, which means she might be able to tell when someone is lying, but she cannot lie straight in bed. So nobody believes her when she does tell the truth.
Jenny Wheeler: That condition is not something that you made up, is it? It is a real thing.
Michael Robotham: Yes. There are about 1 in 500 people have an 80% ability to tell when someone is lying. Invariably, they are people that have spent decades working in the prison service or the police or child services or even schoolteachers. If you are lied to every day, you get a pretty good antenna about when you are being lied to. They have about an 80% ability. Normally of course we have a 50/50 shot as the average whether someone is lying.
Good Girl, Bad Girl
Evie Cormac is very young to have this sort of skill. It’s not proven, but there is a growing body of, I say evidence, but people have begun to speculate that when a young person has this ability, it is sometimes because they have suffered such an abusive childhood that they have learned to pick up on the very fleeting micro expressions to keep safe. They don’t know from one split second if someone is going to hug them or hit them, and it becomes a means of survival to pick up on these sorts of tiny expressions to stay safe.
Jenny Wheeler: It’s obvious that there is at least one more book in the Cyrus Haven series. It is a series of two books at the moment, but there are quite a number of intriguing unsolved mysteries still hanging there at the end of the Book Two. Have you got any idea about how many books there are going to be?
Michael Robotham: No. When I finished the first book in that series, Good Girl, Bad Girl, and you learn a lot about Evie, but you don’t know why she was locked in that room. People said, do you know why? And I said, not yet. Because I don’t plot my books in advance, so I had no idea who put her in that room and how she got there when I finished that first book. I had to plant clues in that first book, which I had to live with, because I didn’t know what they were going to mean. I had to make them fit.
You’re right. There are a few unanswered questions in this book, which means there’s at least one more. Every book was going to be the last Joe O’Loughlin book, every book with Cyrus could be the last one. I never plan ahead. I just come up with the seed of an idea and let the story unfold.
An exciting organic approach
Jenny Wheeler: It is remarkable because they are very complex in their plotting. It must be quite an edge of the seat experience for you as well as the reader.
Michael Robotham: Absolutely. When we reach a point in the story where people are in great danger, then I’m not sleeping. I’m sitting there thinking, how on earth am I going to save them? How are they going to get out of this? It’s a very organic way of writing. It’s a very exciting way of writing.
When I come in from my writing room, the office here, I say to my wife, you would not believe what just happened. I’m genuinely excited. I know there are a lot of writers who plot the whole thing in advance, and they know what’s going to happen, they know what’s coming. Whereas I like not knowing. I think it’s incredible, but it’s also like writing without a net. You fall and crash and burn and you throw out a lot of material, but it’s a fun ride.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s probably why they’re so exciting, because they’re exciting for you as well.
Michael Robotham: I sometimes think they develop such pace at the ending, and often my editors tell me I have to slow down the ending, and partly that’s because I’m so relieved to have come up with an ending that I race towards it thinking, oh, thank goodness. Then I go back and give the reader a chance to breathe.
Jenny Wheeler: You’ve mentioned that The Secret She Keeps has been put into a TV series. It’s still showing here on TV One on demand. Is it likely to be released in other places? We’ve got quite a few listeners outside Australia and New Zealand.
The Secrets She Keeps
Michael Robotham: It’s been sold. It’s the biggest selling Australian drama in history. It was the first Australian made drama to ever be shown on BBC One prime time in the UK and it got 3.5 million viewers every night. It has sold into America on Sundance Now it’s been sold into pretty much all of the major territories. Partly I think that’s because they did a very good job and partly I think it’s also benefited because so much of the world’s production has been closed down by the pandemic. People are crying out for material. The BBC bought it before the pandemic so were going to show it anyway, but it’s going to get widely played all around the world.
Jenny Wheeler: You are remarkable the way you keep on notching up these amazing successes. As a feature writer on the Mail on Sunday, you also had another great scoop, so to speak. You had access to Moscow’s World War Two archives, and you had a chance to uncover Stalin’s fascination with Hitler and particularly his death. I wonder if you could tell us a little about that remarkable experience. It struck me as being something pretty amazing.
Michael Robotham: That was the Moscow State Archives. I was the first Western journalists to be given access when the Soviet Union collapsed. It was amazing. This was a treasure trove of materials going back to Peter the Great, all the Rasputin files and the Nicholas and Alexandra photo albums and the love letters of Nicholas and Alexandra, and the Romanov children’s diaries which still had flowers pressed in the pages. It was an astonishing opportunity.
Discovering Hitler’s secrets
In 1991, there was a box that was discovered, and it should not have been in that archive, it should have been in the KGB archives. Nobody knows what it was doing in the Moscow State Archives, but a cleaner stumbled upon a box and inside it was what became known as Stalin’s Hitler files.
At the end of the Second World War, the Russians were the first into Berlin and first into Hitler’s bunker and Stalin refused to believe that his great enemy, that had led to millions of deaths on the Eastern Front, could have committed suicide. He refused to believe that Hitler was dead. So he arranged for nine of Hitler’s closest aides – his driver, his personal physician, his batman – all of them were taken back to Lubyanka, the notorious prison in Moscow, and they were interrogated for six years.
Together it probably forms the greatest archive of Hitler and his day to day life. But it went a little bit further because also in that box was a photograph of the bloodstained sofa that Hitler and Eva Braun had perished upon. The sofa had been broken up and the wooden spars and the fabric were rolled up, so there was a photograph and then the actual fabric, the bloody fabric, inside the box. Similarly, there was the top of the skull with a bullet hole through it.
Now because Hitler was burned and buried and then dug up and buried again before the Russians arrived, they had no way of knowing then. They believed it was Hitler’s skull, and I remember holding it in my hand thinking, this could be Hitler’s skull.
DNA testing of Hitler’s skull
It’s since been proven that it is Hitler’s skull. The DNA testing has improved where they proved that in fact it is him. That was all uncovered in this box by a cleaner, and I happened to be the journalist who was there and got access to it.
But it was the greatest story I could never tell because we bid a million pounds for the film and the TV and the newspaper rights, and we were outbid by the newly refurbished Jewish Holocaust Museum in Israel, who, for all the right reasons, wanted to make sure that if this was Hitler’s skull and this was Hitler’s blood, they wanted to make sure they had it.
Jenny Wheeler: Is it on display there now?
Michael Robotham: It has gone back. Recently it was taken to Russia and put on display, but not the skull. I don’t think that’s ever been on display, but some of the other materials were put on display in Russia a couple of years ago and some of it has been displayed in Israel. But they don’t want the skull to become some sort of rallying point for neo-Nazis or right wingers.
Jenny Wheeler: Right. I don’t know if you’d agree that most journalists are adrenaline junkies and I’m not sure if you would class yourself in that category, but I was touched by hearing you talk about how your feeling of excitement over journalism was slightly changed, jolted perhaps, after September 11. Could you tell us about that? How did it change your attitude towards your old job?
Michael Robotham: Yes, I am a news junkie and I still read three or four newspapers a day. I wake up every morning and first thing I do is turn on news radio. I have been out of journalism now since the mid-nineties, but for many years, whenever there was a major event somewhere in the world, I would know the journalists were there. I would have worked with them. They would be former colleagues of mine or friends of mine, and a little part of me used to want to be there, because you’re there reporting on history being made.
The legacy of 911
I was lucky enough to report on things like the Berlin Wall coming down and Nelson Mandela being released and so I was there to report on some major events in history, and it’s an incredibly exciting time to be a journalist. But when the planes flew into the World Trade Center, I remember I knew it was out of my system because I had no desire to be there. I felt so devastated.
As a writer I thought, why am I bothering to write? No one will ever want to read a book again. No one will ever want to go to the movies again. I felt as though the world had been so fundamentally changed, and I knew then that I was very pleased I wasn’t there. I didn’t want to be a journalist anymore. Obviously, people did go back to reading, thank goodness, otherwise I wouldn’t have a career.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s right. Turning to Michael as reader. This is The Joys of Binge Reading because we tend to focus on the idea that people have become binge watchers of TV and reading habits have changed to an extent, especially with digital books where people can buy into a series and if they finish Book One at midnight, they can roll up and get Book Two straight away. There’s no more waiting for a year for your favorite author to produce a book. What do you like to binge read? Are you a big binge reader yourself?
Michael Robotham: No, I’m not a binge reader. I was once famously, famously for me, infamously, misquoted in I think it was my very first ever interview when, rather than interviewing someone, I was being interviewed. I was misquoted and they said I had only read one crime novel.
Michael as reader
What I had tried to say was, I try to read one of each. I had read one Ian Rankin and I read one Conan Doyle, because I read so incredibly widely and so I tend not to discover a writer and then read everything. Although there are some writers like Gillian Flynn, who writes books so rarely I’ll jump on anything she writes because they don’t come often enough.
I think it’s one of the reasons I try, where possible, to make my books as different as I can. Too many writers in my genre. Even though readers do love a series, it’s like putting on their favorite pair of slippers and getting in their favorite armchair, it’s like being back with an old friend when they pick up a Lee Child or a Rankin or a Val McDermid Tony Hill/Carol Jordan book or whatever. They’re also very quick to say, I liked it but it was a bit like the last one, a bit the same. When I start writing the same book over and over, I want someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, Michael, maybe it’s time you walked away.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. If you’re not a binge reader, who are your favorites then?
Michael Robotham: Growing up, my huge favorite was John Irving. I was a huge John Irving fan. I think James Lee Burke is a genius but again, I can’t read too many of his books because it’s like eating too rich a cake. What have I read? Every so often a book stands out. My favorite crime novels, what I regard as crime novels, are things like Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg, or Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, or The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré. These are beautifully written novels.
More bookshelf favorites
I have got loads and loads of friends who I tend to read as well. I should read more Stephen King because he has been so nice about my books, but I don’t like his scary ones. I like his Stand By Me and Shawshank Redemption type stories, not his killer dogs or psycho fans.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. You’ve had a remarkable career; it would probably be very difficult for anybody to match you. But when young writers have the temerity to ask you for advice, what do you tell them? What do you say is the secret of having a career as successful as yours?
Michael Robotham: One for me is, I didn’t plan. You asked me earlier, Jenny, whether I plan series. I honestly thought each book would be my last one, so I never thought that far ahead. Write each book as though it’s your last one and make it absolutely as good as you can.
I guess I’ve got several bits of advice. I don’t believe in three-word slogans, but if I had one, it would be ‘Make Them Care’. Make the reader care. Write compelling characters that the reader cares about. You want the reader to be chewing their fingernails or checking the locks on the door and have tears streaming down their face. You want them to care. And the only way to get better is to write and to write and to write and to write and when you’re completely sick of writing, write some more. It’s the only way you’re going to get better.
Jenny Wheeler: I think I read somewhere that you write seven days a week. Is that right?
A workaholic maybe?
Michael Robotham: Yes, every day. Even Christmas Day. I had a journalist come to interview me and he was supposed to follow me around for three days and write a 10,000-word article. He gave up after a day and he wrote 3,000 words. He said, you don’t do anything. He even asked my wife, what did he do on Christmas day? She’ll go, oh, he’ll write.
Peter Corris once said the same to me. He said it’s like breathing. You get to the point where if you don’t do it, you feel as though there’s something wrong.
Jenny Wheeler: We’re coming to the end of our time together. Circling around and looking back down the years, is there anything you’d change, and if there is, what would it be? Do you think, I wish I’d done this or that?
Michael Robotham: I wish I’d started earlier. Initially, I wanted to have a novel by the time I was 30, and then I said, by the time I’m 40. It doesn’t matter. I tell a lot of people who are older the story of Ron McLarty, a remarkable man who didn’t have his first novel published until he was 67 and it triggered a bidding war and sold for millions and millions and millions.
Still a newbie at novel 15
It doesn’t matter, but I wish I’d started a little earlier maybe. But I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I always get surprised when I talk to publishers and I hear about some of the diva-like behavior of established writers and I keep saying to myself, you don’t realize how lucky you have to be to get published.
You can write the best book imaginable and there’s still a degree of luck that involves it getting into enough hands and word of mouth moving it. Anyone who tells you that a truly great book will never be overlooked, or true greatness will always rise to the surface, I go, that’s rubbish. Truly great books have disappeared without trace and we only have to look at bestseller lists now to see some very ordinary books do very well. So go figure.
I realize how I fortunate I am to be a full-time writer. This new one, When She Was Good, is novel number 15. I still feel like I’m a newbie though, I hate being called a veteran.
Plans for the next year
Jenny Wheeler: What have you got in prospect for the next 12 months, the rest of this year and going over into 2021? What are your plans as a writer?
Michael Robotham: Normally I would be touring now, with a new book out. I would be touring in Australia and New Zealand and then going overseas, but that’s not going to happen. I’m writing a book for next year, a standalone, so it won’t be another Evie and Cyrus next year. I’ll go back to Evie and Cyrus the year after most likely.
So I’m writing standalone and trying to stay safe and hoping this madness, these mad times we’re in will eventually allow me, because I turn 60 this year, it’s supposed to be a big celebratory year of travel and family. My family is spread all over the world. I’ve got one daughter in LA and another daughter in Zambia. We were all going to be together for my birthday and that’s not going to happen now.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh dear, what month was that?
Michael Robotham: That was in November.
Jenny Wheeler: When this thing started back in April/May, I was talking to writers and I had that feeling at the time, oh well, in another six weeks this will be a dead topic. And I was thinking today, it’s far from a dead topic.
Michael Robotham: It’s an interesting element because if you look at When She Was Good, I set that book in May 2020, and there’s no reference to a pandemic. But I wrote it before it all happened. Now I’m trying to write a book which is set next year, and I refer to before the lockdown or during the lockdown, but for all I know there will still be a lockdown. It’s very difficult when you’re writing contemporary stuff, it’s moving so quickly, to know where we’ll be.
Where to find Michael online
Jenny Wheeler: At that time in May, I was talking to a Kiwi romance writer who just published book set in the Whitsundays in a tourist resort where people were flying in and out all the time. She was saying, can I do a follow up to this book and have that still the situation, because very likely people won’t be able to fly in and out.
It’s that kind of dilemma, isn’t it, for the novelist. Do they pretend it’s not happening and believe readers want it to not happen or do they have to be realistic?
Michael Robotham: In my case, I wrote in the acknowledgements, I’m sorry, but the book was written before it all happened. Next year I’m going to have to make a call as to what I do.
Jenny Wheeler: Obviously you enjoy interacting with your readers when you’ve got it set up and planned. How can they find you online, and do you like to do much online stuff?
Michael Robotham: I’ve got the normal Facebook and Twitter pages. I only ever post if I’ve got some news, like this week. Good Girls, Bad Girls has been shortlisted for the Gold Dagger award in the UK, which I won with Life or Death in 2015. That was quite exciting.
I’ll normally post when there’s some big news, and I try to reply to people if they send me messages, and most of them I’ll try to get around to replying to. It just depends. Some people slip through the cracks, but I try to reply. Normally I just say, thank you very much for the kind words, because they are normally, thankfully, writing to say how much they enjoyed the book.
Keeping in touch with readers
But if someone writes to me who’s very young or interested in writing or has Parkinson’s because Joe O’Loughlin had Parkinson’s in that previous series so if I get people who suffer from Parkinson’s, I’ll try to give them a longer answer.
Jenny Wheeler: Michael, thank you so much for your time. It’s been wonderful talking and all the very best with this new standalone.
Michael Robotham: Thank you very much, Jenny. It’s a pleasure.
If you enjoyed Michael’s international crime fiction you might also enjoy Fiona Barton’s hot thrillers.
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