Interview: Michael Robotham talks about The Other Wife
Michael Robotham is a former investigative journalist whose psychological thrillers have been translated into 23 languages. in 2015 he won the prestigious UK Gold Dagger for his novel LIFE OR DEATH, which was also shortlisted for the 2016 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel. Michael has twice won a Ned Kelly Award for Australia's best crime novel for LOST in 2015 and SHATTER in 2008. He has also twice been shortlisted for the CWA UK Steel Dagger in 2007 for THE NIGHT FERRY and 2008 with SHATTER. Michael lives in Sydney with his wife and three daughters. Michael Robotham talk to NZ Booklovers about his novel, THE OTHER WIFE.
Tell us a little about The Other Wife.
Clinical psychologist, Professor Joe O’Loughlin is summoned to hospital by news that his father, a celebrated surgeon, has been attacked and is close to death. Joe discovers a strange woman at his father’s bedside, who tells him a story that calls into question everything Joe has ever believed about this father. Could it possibly be true? Is she a friend, a mistress, a fantasist or a killer?
What inspired you to write this book?
This is a very personal book for me because it deals with families, fathers, sons and secrets. My own father died 10 years ago and while he is nothing like William O’Loughlin, I spent most of my life trying to impress him, hoping that he’d be proud of me. When he died, I remember thinking, ‘Who am doing this for now?’ It took me a long while to come to terms with that.
What research was involved?
The journo in me has always taken research very seriously. I want to write fiction that reads like the truth, which is why I set my novels in actual places and try to create characters that will hopefully live and breathe in each reader’s imagination. This means walking the streets, eating in the same cafes and restaurants and talking to the experts.
The emotion has to come from the inside, drawing on my own experiences, as a son, a husband, a brother and a father.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
I usually start writing a new book within hours of finishing the previous one. Writing has become like breathing for me. It is all I know how to do. I don’t plot in advance. I come up with a premise, or a hook, then I create the characters and finally I let the story unfold. It is a very organic way of writing, without a safety net. It is exciting and scary and surprising. When I come in from my office and say to my wife, ‘You would not believe what just happened!’ I know I’m on the right track. If I don’t see the twists coming, neither should the reader.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
I’m a writer who doesn’t listen to music when I’m working because it distracts me; and when I’m walking – which I do most days – I tend to favour audio books. Saying this, my latest musical crush is British singer songwriter George Ezra. Two songs: ‘Blame it on Me’ and ‘Hold My Girl’.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see play the lead characters?
I used to think Damien Lewis would be a great Joe O’Loughlin, but he’s become too famous in other shows such as Homeland and Billions. Ray Winstone would be a great Vincent Ruiz and I think someone like Tom Hardy, or Christian Bale would make a great Joe.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?
I have a confession to make – I hate plotting. What I love most about writing is creating believable characters that readers care about and exploring their relationships. This might seem an odd admission for a crime novelist, but when people talk about their favourite crime novel, they remember the characters far more vividly than the plot. That’s what stays with readers and why they come back to particular series.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
I started a new book. I can’t help myself. My only moment of celebration comes when the new book arrives, freshly printed. I open the page, read a paragraph, remember writing it and then bury my nose deep in the pages. There is nothing that can match the smell of a new book.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
I hesitate a little in recommending my favourite book because it so polarising. MY LITTLE DARLING by Gabriel Tallent is a beautiful, albeit confronting story of Turtle, a 14 year old girl being raised in the wilderness by a monster of a father, who believes he can protect her, when really he wants to ‘own’ her. It is beautifully written, but some of the violence and abuse is hard to stomach.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I’m deep into the next book, which is very excited because it introduces a new character and signals the start of a new series. I can’t you too much, just yet, but stay tuned.