FAQs with Michael Robotham
Bookmark and Share      Follow us on Facebook    Follow us on Twitter
Frequently Asked Questions

Click on a question to read the answer.

1. Is it true that you have ghostwritten some autobiographies of very famous people?

2. Can you tell us a secret about them?

3. Did ghostwriting help or hinder you as a novelist? How easy was it to shift gears?

4. Ghostwriting non-fiction is very different to writing a fictional thriller. Did you have to create a completely different mindset? How did you approach it?

5. What made you decide to write psychological thrillers?

6. Your plots are often quite clever and have readers guessing right until the end. Do you map them out beforehand or do they come naturally?

7. You often take minor characters from one book and make them the main character of your next one. Why is this?

8. Tell us about your latest novel LIFE OR DEATH

9. How did you come up with the idea for LIFE OR DEATH?

10. Joe O'Loughlin is one of your most popular and enduring characters. Why do you keep bringing him back?

11. Do you have a set routine for your writing day?

12. Why write in longhand? How much pre-planning goes into your work?

13. Do you believe successful writing can be taught?

14. How do you manage to sustain the tension? It was a real nail biter and I was guessing right up to the end.

15. You write in the first person and the present tense. This is somewhat unusual, as most writers choose the third-person and the past tense. Is there a particular reason why you use this?

16. Do you have any advice for would-be writers?





1: Is it true that you have ghostwritten some autobiographies of very famous people?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: I've been lucky to work with some remarkable, mercurial, difficult, insanely funny, manic and exceptional people. Many of these traits helped make them famous. Some of them I can't mention but others have acknowledged my help. I've worked with the likes of Ricky Tomlinson (Ricky), Lulu (I Don’t Want to Fight), Geri Halliwell (If Only), Tony Bullimore (Saved) and Margaret Humphreys (Empty Cradles/Oranges and Sunshine).


2: Can you tell us a secret about them?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: A big part of being a ghostwriter is winning people's trust. You learn things that even their families, wives, partners and best friends don't know. Sometimes there are tears and tantrums but hopefully, in the end, we have the truth. That's why I keep their secrets.


3: Did ghostwrting help or hinder you as a novelist? How easy was it to shift gears?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: Ghostwriting did more than pay the bills. It allowed me to see if I had the discipline and wherewithal to write 100,000 words; to sit alone in a room for month after month on a single project. It may seem odd, but I approach my novels in the same way as I approached my ghosting projects. My characters are as real to me as any real person I have worked with. I approach each book as if I'm writing their life story.


4: Ghostwriting non-fiction is very different to writing a fictional thriller. Did you have to create a completely different mindset? How did you approach it?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: I have wanted to be a novelist since I was about twelve and always saw journalism and ghostwriting as being stepping stones. Writing fiction is a lot harder than I expected. Instead of having a wealth of material at my fingertips - the interviews and research about someone’s life – I have to start from scratch, inventing everything. There are few things more terrifying than a blank white computer screen. I love the freedom of writing fiction but sometimes it feels like I'm standing naked on a high wire above Niagara Falls with everything hanging out in the breeze.


5: What made you decide to write psychological thrillers?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: I didn't actually set out to be a crime writer. It might sound naive, but I just thought I was writing an interesting story. It came as quite a shock when the label was applied. The reason I created Joseph O'Loughlin was due to my fascination with the human mind. Everything we do and say; and everything that has ever happened or will happen in the future comes down to that few pounds of porridge we call a brain. When Mozart wrote his symphonies, when Hitler ordered the Final Solution, when a serial killer murders young girls, or when a teenage mother abandons her baby in a rubbish bin – it all comes back to some aspect of human behaviour.


6: Your plots are often quite clever and have readers guessing right until the end. Do you map them out beforehand or do they come naturally?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: Some writers create a group of interesting characters and let the story unfold naturally but this is very hard when it comes to writing thrillers. At some point you have to steer the plot in the right direction. I love creating characters and their back-stories. Plotting is the bit I find hardest.
Writing a thriller is like taking a journey. You know where you're going to start and finish but you never map it out too carefully, otherwise you might miss that side trip along the road less traveled.


7: You often take minor characters in your books and make them the main character in the following book. Why is this?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: When I was a ghostwriter I had the luxury of being able to look at the world through a completely fresh set of eyes every time I sat down to ghost an autobiography. I want the same thing when I write a novel. This helps me to stay fresh. I don't sick of my characters. Each book features a new voice and a new perspective on the world.


8: Tell us about your latest novel LIFE OR DEATH

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: This is my 10th novel and one that I’m immensely proud of. For those who have read me before – this is obviously a standalone. It’s something different, but equally compelling. It is set in America and features a heartbreaking hero called Audie Palmer, who escapes from prison the day before he’s due to be released.

When I sat down to write LIFE OR DEATH I was hoping to for a something that had the heart and emotion of SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. But I also wanted to write a love story, which is just as compelling and important as the mystery.


9: How did you come up with the idea for LIFE OR DEATH?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: The idea came to me almost 20 year ago, when a man called Tony Lanigan, a 47-year-old lifer turned model prisoner escaped from prison only days before he was due to be paroled.

Lanigan had pulled the same stunt before two years earlier. He escaped from jail, took a train to the mountains, spent a night under the stars and the next day waved down a paddy wagon and gave himself up.

So when he escaped for a second time – March 20, 1995 – nobody bothered ringing the police. The warders thought Lanigan would spend another night away and then knock on the door saying, ‘Let me in.’

Only he didn’t show up. He’s never shown up. He’s never been seen since. Lanigan had spent 16 years in prison and was only days away from being released. Why would he escape?

I had to find the answer – even if meant making it up..


10: Joe O'Loughlin is one of your most popular and enduring characters. Why do you keep bringing him back?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: Joe has a wonderful sense of humanity and a brilliant mind, as well has having a very dry sense of humour, which is important when the subject matter is so dark. Joe has a unique insight into human behaviour, which is important when it comes to unlocking the secrets of the mind. He and Vincent also have a wonderful rapport. They're very different, yet work well together.


11: Do you have a set routine for your writing day?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: This is where everyone gets envious. I wake without an alarm clock, wander down to the beach for some exercise and then have breakfast at a café while writing longhand. I try to write a least 500 words a day, hopefully twice that much - and spend my evenings doing research, answering mail and correcting proofs.


12: Why write in longhand? How much pre-planning goes into each book?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: Longhand allows me to get out of the house and mix with people. It also has the added benefit of improving the dialogue. Don’t ask me why, but there is something about a pen and paper that makes me automatically trim sentences and come up with one-liners. It’s true what Graham Greene said that putting words on paper is the final part of the writing process. The most important part is done almost subconsciously. When it comes to plotting, it’s the element I dislike the most about writing. I love writing characters, dialogue and back story, the plotting does my head in because readers are so clever and can see most twists before they ever emerge.


13: Do you believe successful writing can be taught?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: I think writing can be taught, just as tennis can be taught, or golf or painting, but showing someone the theory won’t make them a great writer. Nobody else can put words on a page for you. It takes practice. It takes perseverance. Most of all it takes passion. If you’re writing for fame or fortune or posterity, prepare to be disappointed. If you’re writing because you’re passionate about it, prepare for a life long love affair.


14: How do you manage to sustain the tension? It was a real nail biter and I was guessing right up to the end.

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: I think the tension is sustained because it builds up so slowly. The story is like a slow-burning fuse where there's plenty of time to meet the characters and learn about them. The fuse burns faster and faster and explodes in the last third of the book. By this stage, hopefully readers will really care about what happens.


15: You write in the first person and the present tense. This is somewhat unusual, as most writers choose the third-person and the past tense. Is there a particular reason why you use this?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: First-person present-tense is definitely challenging, but I think it creates a sense of immediacy and pace which grabs the reader and makes them feel as though they are literally being drawn into an adventure that is unfolding in real time.


16: Do you have any advice for would-be writers?

MICHAEL ROBOTHAM: Write, write and when you’re sick of writing, write some more. It’s the only way to get better.
Read everything you can - not just the very best writers because some of them are so brilliant you will consider giving up because your prose might never match theirs. Read the lesser writers, the mere mortals, and ask yourself how each book could be improved. Take it apart like you would an old alarm clock. Why does it work? Why it doesn't it work? Learn. (With the truly great book, you won't be able to take it apart because you won’t be able to find the joins.)

 

 
Subscribe to Michael's Newsletter