know you've read a good book because it stays with you long after you've read
the final page, and the hairs on the back of your neck are standing on end. When
I closed The Broken Shore, I felt a tingle throughout my body and I knew
that I had read possibly one of the best crime books this year (2006).Ē Mike Stotter
Temple, former journalist, is an acclaimed Australian crime and thriller writer
who has won the Ned Kelly Award for crime writing in his native Australia five
times. His novel, The Broken Shore (Quercus) won Duncan Lawrie Crime Writersí
Association Dagger for the Best Novel, the first Australian to do so. It also
won the Colin Roderick Prize for best Australian book and the Australian Book
Publishers' Award for best general fiction. Ayo Onatade managed to grab some
time with him.
Ayo: Congratulations on winning
the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award! How important is it to receive the recognition
from your peers regarding your writing?
Itís terrific because itís always nice when people are making a judgment on you
and they have a good comparative basis. In other words, they read a lot, they
know whatís out there, and they decided that in this year for this particular
award you are the person. It is a kind of affirmation of what you do! Iím
thrilled! I have had too many Ned Kellyís I donít think Iíll every see
another one. But, this is terrific, I am absolutely thrilled!
Ayo: You were
on a rather impressive list.
Peter: It was a good list I thought.
I am familiar with three of them on it. The others I havenít read and I didnít
want to read them once I knew that I was on the list.
have received immense praise from fellow international crime writers about
The Broken Shore. Especially from John Harvey and Mark Billingham!
Did it come as a shock to you when your name was read out?
I was, I had spoken to
one of the nominees, and to me, he seemed remarkably calm. I thought does this
guy know something I donít? And I sensed in the people around me, the Quercus
people, that they were pretty doubtful about the outcome as well. There was a
sense of great relief from everybody. You can imagine the sense of anti-climax
that everyone feels when you donít win.
In some ways, itís just nice to be nominated because with
the judges it is all about what they like reading as well and that is always a
bone of contention about the books that donít make the short list.
Peter: I said to a reporter in
Australia that I was perfectly happy to make the short-list, I would be
perfectly happy if matters ended right there and then and that wining would be a
fantastic bonus but I wouldnít feel any way that I had been let down. I would
for twenty-five minutes but after that I would think that at least I got on the
short list. I mean, not even John Cleary, who in his day was a very big name,
never made a short list.
Donít you think that peopleís taste in crime fiction
reading has changed quite a lot these days because of the availability of
different crime writers?
Peter: I think, one of the things,
Britain and United States have in common is that they have always been pretty
much stuck in their own world. America is almost completely self-contained
reading just about nothing from anywhere else. Britain less so but with very
powerful names from Margery Allingham to Agatha Christie, through to Ruth
Rendell: a very powerful group of writers. But you have always published
American writers from Chandler to Hammett and people like that. But it has been
pretty much a self-contained world. Australianís never really had a look in to
that society at all. Now the continent is emerging and people are saying read
books in translation. I think that Miss Similaís Feeling for Snow just
changed the whole rules. There had been Sjowall and Wahloo, before that, but
not with that kind of international sales.
Donít you think that it is possibly because the people now
reading crime novels have a much more eclectic taste and are willing to broaden
Peter: Absolutely. And they are often
people who are not just crime readers but read widely across all sorts of
boundaries. They read literary fiction but they enjoy crime. It is coming out
of the closet. People are actually able now to admit that I am mad about crime
novels. If I am looking for a book to read it has got to be a crime novel. We
had a judge of the Supreme Court, whoís a judge of the Ned Kelly who
said that once upon a time I would have thought that my colleagues on the Bench
would have turned up their noses at some of these until I discovered that they
are all mad crime readers. It is suddenly respectable, because a lot of it is
prompted you to write The Broken Shore? It is very dark, atmospheric,
and gritty and while it moves slowly, it certainly portrays the feeling for the
Australian way of life outside the city and the Joe Cashin the homicide
detective who is slowly trying to rebuild his life.
Peter: I wanted to write something set
outside the city. Iíve done this before but on a very limited scale. I always
start off thinking that I want to write a fairly big novel and as you write it
it gets smaller and smaller, and you think oh God I have got to finish this
thing so I give it up. But this time I took a little longer and wrote it and I
stuck to the fact that I wanted to write a bigger novel. I wanted to portray the
world the way it is in small communities. It is not a matter about preaching at
people, itís not a matter of pointing a finger at anybody, itís just a matter of
saying this is the way it is. And if there is racism in it, whatever prejudices
that simply is the way it is. Iím not saying how disgusting Australia is, how
terrible it is. I am just saying thatís it. Thatís life. When it came out, I
was fairly apprehensive; you can get hit over the head very seriously in
Australia for touching on some sensitive issues. And you always think that it is
very difficult for people.
an ex-white South African, what right do I have to comment on race relations?
In Australia, people have said itís right on! Thatís the way it is. I wouldnít
say I am proud but I feel a sense of satisfaction that I got it down properly
and people are not arguing and saying for example if you portray a certain group
of people in a certain way and there are people that are unflatteringly
portrayed of every race, creed or colour in there, fine provided itís just the
people you are talking about. If people say that you have given an unflattering
portrait of a group like the whole police force for example, then you have to
say demonstrate to me that it is not so or I havenít done so at all. I have
just said this person.
Ayo: And also,
they have got to remember that it is fiction!
Peter: Thank you. I said to a guy from
an Australian newspaper who came to interview me here and really wanted me to
give him a social commentary on Australia. I said its fiction mate, its
fiction. I make this stuff up. Itís not fantasy but its still fiction.
then leads me to another question, which is, some people feel that crime fiction
is the only way in which they can raise social issues that they feel very
strongly about. Do you feel that that is true?
Peter: I think that is absolutely
valid! I support that image. Really, inside the genre you have an opening for
doing this. And indeed, in a way you have duty to do that kind of stuff. If
you think there is an injustice there simply by exposing that injustice and you
brought life to it, I donít think it means that your characters can have moral
views of outrage etc. Iím just saying that the writer should be able to say
just read the book; take the message from the book. I donít want to add another
layer, you are able to see what I think, but you can mostly see what my
characters think. If you identify with my character and the words that my
character used, you can take a pretty dammed fair guess what my own views are
but I am not going to give them to you because thatís secondary.
Ayo: Where did
the character Joe Cashin come from?
Peter: My wife said to me once do you
have anything except wounded men here? Ah, difficult. In the end I didnít know
what I wanted, I just started writing it. It eventually came to me
that the kind of character I was creating was the sort of person, as you put
earlier on quite rightly, who has suffered a great deal of trauma himself, has
been taken away from the things that he can do and is very conscious of the fact
that he has never done anything else but be a cop. He has lost that inner
sense, that expertise, also he has been responsible for the death of somebody
else. He is badly injured himself, he will never recover fully from those
things and then he is fronted with what he clearly believes is an injustice. It
is not just a homicide and he is looking for the person who did it.
He is seeing other
injustices take place and I wanted to create a character who would because of
the identification with the people concerned through his cousin and his motherís
family would actually feel. I know what this shit is about mate but would also
feel I have a duty to do this? And as I wrote it became more clear of Cashin,,
and I hate to say it, he is in the process of trying to heal himself in this
book and there is also a bit of redemption about the whole thing. I mean those
are terrible clichťd things to say but I didnít start off wanting to do that but
it was just as I wrote it became more and more clear that was what the book was
doing to me. I didnít set out with any ideas of what he really was as a person
that just emerged in writing, because once I introduced his family then things
became more complex.
Ayo: Have we seen the last of Joe
Peter: I hope to do a trilogy of which The
BrokenShore will be the first one and the next one is called Truth
and it is set in the city and it involves Inspector Valani the acting head of
homicide who is Joeís friend; but not an uncritical friend of Joeís. He is an
interesting character: he is from a migrant Italian background, but a very
Australian background because his father is not first generation migrant. His
father is, in fact, an Australian soldier. There are lots of Australianís of
Italian descent who go back six, seven generations; thatís not unusual at all.
But I wanted him to have a complex family life, I wanted him to see City Hall, I
wanted to see the corruption, I wanted to see what power does, I wanted to see
how politics and power and policing actually intersect in the person of Valani
and Joe makes an appearance in it but he is just a subsidiary character. Then
we have to see how the book goes, whether anybody likes it. If there is any
future in it at all. In which case I might think whether these people going to
handle another man in pain and the dogs. Anthony Cheetham said to me are there
any dogs in this one? I said no, no dogs and he said just one dog.
In the Evil Day is one of the latest of your books to be published by
Quercus, what was the impetus for this story? It is very violent, has loads of
deaths and dirty secrets. It conjures up a world where information is more
dangerous than anything else including guns and explosives.
Peter: Yes, it is a very violent piece of work. I am
interested in the subject. I am interested in the subject of where technology
takes us, the possibilities of surveillance, how it will eventually become such
a powerful force. That, of course, takes you to areas which I donít want to go
which is civil rights, the right to privacy and things like that. I thought
that I would try and write a book in which an essentially moral person is
engaged in this kind of occupation simply because he is another one of these
Heís been a hostage in
Beirut and all sorts of things as the main character, but I wanted to write a
good mystery where we donít know what is going on here. I wanted a South
African character; he was much more unsympathetic when I started. I
actually set out to write an extremely unpleasant character but as time went by
I realised he had to have some kind of moral theme to himself, too. I mean he
will simply kill people but they are trying to kill him. But he is also a
person who is waking up to life. Being in that kind of occupation leaves you
with a dead centre. It is very hard to be awake. Lotís of policemen are like
that. Itís very hard to be normal with people who are not in that occupation
particularly when you kill people.
Nobody walks away
when you kill people. But I wanted to write an international thriller, I wanted
to have Americans, I wanted to have bad people, plots and conspiracy, but I
wanted to write an intelligent book, instead of a Tom Clancy type of book. I
thought is it possible to write an intelligent thriller on a fairly large
canvass? So it was just an experimental thing.
I thought, could I do it?
I had never written in the third person, that was a big challenge. I had always
written in the first person and you can get very comfortable with that and I
thought I had got to break out of that, IĎd have a go. I tried it and said no,
itís not working. I thought may be I should put it back in to first person into
the main characters. That means that I couldnít get into the minds of the other
characters. Now I messed around with it endlessly and I thought to myself just
do it so I went back and put everything back into the third person. Then all of
a sudden the moment came when I realised I can do this.
Talk to me about the Jack Irish novels Are you ever going to go back to Jack
Peter: I am under huge pressure to go back to Jack Irish. I
would like to go back to Jack Irish. I didnít try to avoid it but thought that
I needed a break from it. Because I have always written one series book
followed by one standalone book. So Broken Shore was a standalone, and
in theory I should have gone back to do a Jack Irish. Then again, I had a huge
amount of pressure on me because Broken Shore
has had some success not to do another Jack Irish just to do another
standalone. The future is uncertain and I am not sure what I am going to do. I
would hope to do another Jack Irish, I love them, and I am hugely attached to
Jack. Jack Irish has a huge cast. There are thirty-eight continuing characters
across the series. I have got to wake every single one of them up for every
book because I canít get rid of them because then people complain.
do you maintain your knowledge about all those thirty-eight different
Peter: Absolute hell! I have started the new one, just
because I always have to write two books at the same time. I get too bored with
one of them. So I have started the new one and Iím having to go back, not just
to consult the most recent one, but to consult all four. There are things I
just donít remember stuff about it! There are thirty-two people and Iím finding
that I donít remember this character at all. Who is this person? In how many
books does this appear? I get the feeling that I should be consulting a
database. I have always relied exclusively on stuff in my head. Only write
down things if I am drawing timelines or chronologies or trying to work out the
relationships, how old his father would be. I keep notes about that. As far as
notes on each character I just let it run. Yes difficult stuff to do.
How do you write? Are you a disciplined author or are you easily distracted?
Peter: No, no, I just write the book. I start off with a
vague idea of what I want to do, just a rude idea. I write a paragraph see how
it goes. Not bad, Iíll do that! Donít like it, Iíll chuck it away, leave it, put
it in the store, mess around, and think. Sometimes I write the ending,
sometimes I write chapters in the middle and Iíll have several attempts at the
start. If I get to chapter three and I feel that I am beginning to go then I
can more or less write from beginning to end. But not always, sometimes I get
to chapter seven or eight , then wham! Dead end, I donít know where I am going!
Letís try writing it from the end again and see how it goes! I try to work out
the plot. The plot has to come to me. I just start off with one thing! This
is whatís happened. Whatís going to happen next, I have no idea at all. I
believe thatís right. If I donít know the reader is not going to know either
when they read the book. Itís these authors that plot the whole thing out on a
laptop you know, as a reader, when you pick you know what is going to happen.
Sometimes I feel that people are trying to write a film script in advance.
have been writing for quite some time now, did you always want to be a writer?
Peter: Yes always, I wrote a book when I was eight. I wrote
a western in a class workbook with a pencil. I always had a passion for
Do you read crime fiction yourself and do you have any favourite authors?
Peter: Yes I do, I donít read as much as before I started
writing crime fiction. I read it, and I read everything. I am keen on history,
biography and politics and all sorts of things but I have always had a steady
diet of crime. When I started writing about 10 years ago, I started to get a
bit of a fear of imitating people.
is what a lot of crime writers have said. That when they are writing their
novels they wonít read crime novels. They will read anything else but a crime
Peter: Absolutely not. I wonít touch it. I am absolutely
strict about it. In two ways Ė Iíll read it now and then somehow in the course
of the next two months it will slip out or even worse Iíll be quite well into
the book and Iíll read something and think that this has been done before and
you know how terrible that is going to be? That is the point. Iíve always read
crime but while I am writing, I just canít. I can read stuff in sub-genreís
like funny stuff because thatís not me, but if it is getting somewhere in the
area where I am then no. It is a bit like finding someone wearing the same dress
or tie that youíve spent a lot of money on.
Part and parcel of being a crime writer is the camaraderie that is found amongst
crime writers. Do you enjoy that part of it?
Peter: I donít have anything to do with anybody. I donít
have any experience of it.
Ayo: You donít go to conferences?
Peter: Crime writerís conferences? I have never been to
one. No one has ever invited me to one. They invited me to Harrogate but I
couldnít go. I get invited in Australia because I am reasonably well known. I
get invited to a lot of writerís festivals and there will be crime writerís
there. Sometimes I will meet them and I am always willing to talk shop with
people. Always talk about our publishers and money and crime writing. But by
and large, I just donít meet them. Now I know John Harvey, which is a really
great privilege. We met in Melbourne and hit it off straight away and I had
dinner with him and a couple of other people recently and I hope that he will
come and stay with us in Australia. And I have now met Mark Billingham and also
I am a great admirer of his so that was fantastic. He was not what I thought he
would be like which was also interesting. He is actually nicer than I thought
he would be. He has a tremendous sent of humour and I would love to see him up
on stage. I am friendly with Shane Maloney in Australia, a crime writer called
John Carroll who is a very slow producer and is totally unknown outside
Australia and Iknow Peter Corus who is probably the best known crime writer in
Australia and heís a lovely bloke. But I have never discussed with any of those
people, never ever discussed writing at all. Itís good company and you would
love to spend your time with these people. But I live out in the sticks and
there is only one other writer in town that I live in, one, and he writes
literary fiction. He wouldnít talk to me.
Donít you think that that is rather annoying because people donít take crime
fiction seriously. I get so annoyed by the fact that crime fiction hasnít won
any major literary award.
Peter: I got long-listed for the Miles Franklin award, which
is an award for literary fiction. No crime writer in Australia has ever been
long-listed for it.
Ayo: Thatís because the judges had
such good taste.
Well, I commended them heartedly on their taste. Lots of people were quite
offended by the idea that someone from a ďgenreĒ should get on the list. I am
hoping that it sets precedence. But I hope that I can write a book that can win
the bloody Miles Franklin award and would shove it up them. But I hope that
someone else writes a crime novel and gets on it. There is so much crime and it
is so superior.
Ayo: Itís very elitist when they do
things like that.
Peter: Itís kind of like the world of the imagination
against the people write about the realities of life.
Ayo: I am sorry but you write about
the realities of life in crime fiction.
Peter: I know, thatís the crime fiction ones, but you are up
against the people who donít write about it and that is regarded as somehow
wrong. It has always struck me that people who read literary fiction expect to
come away from it improved. I have had people say Ďhave you read Henry James
or Proust ?íand if you said no then they would say that you really should as if
in reading that you would actually be improved.
Ayo: But I would say to them have
the read any Raymond Chandler?
Peter: Well exactly! But they would say what sort of moral
improvement do you expect from that? None, absolutely none and I donít care.
Iím not looking for moral improvement.
Ayo: How do you relax when you are
Peter: Well I write every day of the year but all my
interests can be brought into my writing. I have been distracted in recent
years but I have always been interested in cabinet making. I have been a very
serious and dangerous punter. I have won and lost a lot of money on the races
in my day. Mostly losses. I am interested in all kinds of things. I am not a
big relaxer I have taken my dogs for endless bloody walks, long walks. I love
music and I have music on all the time, but thatís while I am working. I like
making things with my hands and Iídrather work with my hands than write any
day. Iím much more a manual person than I am anything else. I donít think that
I do relax; my wife would say, ďrelaxĒ what would you know about relaxing?
If you had to pick five books to take away with you which would they be and why?
Peter: I would always take some poetry with me because I
love poetry. He is unfashionable but T.S. Elliot remains the touchstone for me
in modern poetry. I am a great reader of plays and I would take a Pinter with
me just to sharpen up my dialogue and just to show to me that you donít have to
explain anything because itís all there. I would take Ė this is going to too
sound pretentious, I would take The Mediterranean in the Age of Philip II
by somebody called Bradel which I have now managed read about half and itís
taken me over ten or fifteen years. I have got to finish this one. What would
I take in literary fiction? I would want to take a new John Updike anyday and I
would look on the lighter side in recent times I would look for a Denis Lehane.
I would be happy to try a Pelecanos. That would pretty much cover it.