Steve Lillebuen, author of The Devil’s Cinema: The Untold Story Behind The ‘Dexter Killer’, Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Steve Lillebuen

author of The Devil’s Cinema : The Untold Story Behind The ‘Dexter Killer’

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, an oil-rich prairie capital a few hours drive east of the Canadian Rockies. After spending my childhood on country acreage, I moved back up to the city, discovered journalism in university, and kept writing for various newsrooms and newspapers until I ended up in Melbourne about four years ago.

2. What did you want to be when you were 12, 18 and 30? And why?

Growing up, I never had an answer to that question — and I still don’t. I guess this has led to a continued career in journalism: everything is of interest and it’s one of very few jobs that exposes someone to all sorts of interesting characters, places, and experiences. One day as a reporter can be spent interviewing a convicted murderer, the next it’s the prime minister. As a journalist, I’m given a front-row seat to all sections of history as it happens, which can be pretty exciting.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at 18 that you do not have now?

I remember my mother once stuck a magnet on the fridge when I was a teenager that quipped, “Better ask your kids now while they still know everything.” I think that sums up the attitude of youth. At 18, I thought I had it all figured out. Today I’m not so sure.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Richard Price’s Clockers, a novel examining the lives of American drug dealers and detectives, remains one lasting influence. While the story is fiction, Price certainly did his homework by job-shadowing police officers for years.

I admire the cross-cutting used throughout the book, alternating chapters between two very different perspectives. His writing style also has a beautiful sense of place, and I’ve always felt a good book will use the setting itself like a character.

I’m also a fan of Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, which speaks of a time and place like any great big novel should. Quite funny at times.

And in university, I was an avid film fan and watched a lot of film noir and neo-noir, which I think led to my interest in reporting on the darker side of things. Everyone should watch films like The Night of the Hunter and The Third Man. Hollywood doesn’t tell captivating stories like this anymore.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete??

Only a narrative non-fiction book can transform print journalism into storytelling. In a newsroom, I am often writing articles about facts or policy and rarely get to dive into the lives of the people behind the news. In a book I have space to explore the emotional narrative behind a real-life story. It’s more honest and raw, taking the story to a much deeper level.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Taking place in October 2008, The Devil’s Cinema is the bizarre true story of filmmaker Mark Twitchell, a charismatic young man who is accused of turning his move script into a real-life slaying by replicating elements of the Dexter television series.

The narrative explores the lives of the killer, his victims, and the detectives who chased him. But it also gives the reader a rare “insiders account” of everything that happened because I interviewed all the major players over several years, including a year of exclusive contact with the killer himself.

The book details how and why a suburban father with no criminal record could seemingly transform into a wannabe serial killer by stealth. One day he’s a bit of a geek infatuated with Star Wars, and the next he’s charged with murdering a complete stranger. His wife, young child, friends — all had no idea.

Click here to buy The Devil’s Cinema from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

Mark Twitchell’s criminal trial drew international attention largely due to its connections with Dexter, the popular TV and book series about a fictional vigilante serial killer. But what I’ve discovered is how my take on the story has resonated with a wider audience who’ve never even heard of Dexter because it is so oddly relatable.

We’ve all had a dream of becoming famous, even if it was just as children. Here we have a group of friends who never grew up, became fanboys, and saw their sci-fi fantasies merge with reality as they reached for Hollywood fame, only to have one of them slowly turn it into something quite strange and in the end, terribly horrific.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I admire any journalist who can remain enthusiastic and passionate despite how toxic the industry has become. There is not a lot of hope out there for non-fiction writers, especially when newspapers are shrinking and shutting down. We need to support those writers out there who are still fighting for good journalism.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I try to set more realistic goals and let others worry about the rest. I just want to be able to keep doing what I love: find interesting true stories, get them published, and hope readers find them fascinating as I do. Everything else is out of my control.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Aspiring writers need to write every day, and then write some more. For every book an author has published there is the equivalent of two more in the recycle bin.

Steve, thank you for playing.

Nellie Bennett, author of Only in Spain: In Search of My Heart’s Desire, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Nellie Bennett

author of Only in Spain: In Search of My Heart’s Desire

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, and I went to a hippy school, a public school and a private school.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I wanted to become a spy.

At eighteen I wanted my life to be a Hollywood musical.

And when I’m thirty I hope to be dancing tango in the streets of Buenos Aires.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

When I was eighteen I believed that it was my moral obligation to be a size six forever. But after five years living in Spain I’ve learnt that size is just a number. 14, 16, 24, fabulous is as fabulous does.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

The day I took my first flamenco class. One strum of that guitar and I was in love. Then the day I decided to runaway with the gypsies and dance flamenco in Spain. And I’m about ready for that third one…

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?

Because I’m old school. I use a fountain pen. Can someone please explain Twitter to me?

6. Please tell us about your book… Only in Spain: In Search of My Heart’s Desire

It’s the story of how I fell in love with flamenco one hot summer day in a Sydney dance studio, and travelled to Spain to learn to dance. In Spain I discovered a crazy wonderful world where everything is upside-down: wine is cheaper than water, the garbage collectors look like Enrique Iglesias, and people live to the rhythms of flamenco.

(BBGuru: publisher’s blurb > A sparky, witty and thoroughly enjoyable memoir of a girl who fell in love with flamenco dance and with Spain.

A foot-stamping, full-on firecracker of a travel memoir, crackling with energy, dance, gypsies, love, food and the occasional donkey.

Nellie Bennett fell in love with flamenco one hot summer day in a Sydney dance studio. Longing to get closer to the authentic experience, she packed her suede dance shoes and a set of castanets and travelled to the other side of the world, to Seville, to learn flamenco.

What she didn’t realise is that flamenco is not a dance, it’s a way of life.

In Spain, she fell in love three times – the first time with a smokey-eyed flamenco dance teacher, the second time, with a wild and tempestuous gypsy; and the third with a tall, dark handsome Basque chef – not realising that, all along, it’s really Spain she’s fallen in love with.

A witty, passionate story of romance and discovery. Read an extract)

Click here to buy Only in Spain: In Search of My Heart’s Desire from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

I’d like to see more people dance. What I love about Spain is that everyone dances, young and old. They dance because they have so much joy – and they have so much joy because they dance!

Diana Vreeland

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Diana Vreeland. Because when everyone was saying, ‘Why should I?’ she asked, ‘Why don’t you?’

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To live without goals.

But if I have to have one… a Kelly bag.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Live.

Nellie, thank you for playing.

Click here to buy Only in Spain: In Search of My Heart’s Desire from Booktopia, Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

Australian Jessica Shirvington’s young-adult novel Embrace to be brought to TV by Steven Spielberg

From Michael Idato in The Sydney Morning Herald: Local author Jessica Shirvington, the wife of champion athlete and Foxtel presenter Matt Shirvington, is poised to conquer Hollywood.

Shirvington’s supernatural young-adult novel series Embrace is to be adapted into a TV series by the famed producer Steven Spielberg. The project, commissioned by the US network The CW, is already being hailed as a potential successor to the billion-dollar Twilight franchise.

It’s been mind-blowing. I never even thought I would get published.

The deal for Embrace, if the planned TV series become a blockbuster hit, represents a multi-million dollar windfall for the young Australian writer.

Shirvington, 33, was elated when she spoke to Fairfax today. “I’m stoked,” she said. “The most exciting part is to be able to talk about it because it’s something I’ve had to keep under my hat and I’m not good at that at all.” Read more

About The Author: Jessica Shirvington lives in Sydney with her husband, former Olympic sprinter Matt Shirvington, and their two daughters. A successful businesswoman, she has previously founded and run a coffee distribution company, Stella Imports, in London, and been involved in managing the restaurants Fuel Bistro, Tow Bar and MG Garage in Sydney. Her debut novel EMBRACE, the first book in the Violet Eden Chapters series, was published in 2010, followed in 2011 by ENTICED and in 2012 by EMBLAZE.

Jessica combines her writing career with juggling the demands of motherhood and her responsibilities as a co-director in the company MPS Investments Pty Ltd.

Click here to read more about Embrace, Enticed and Emblaze

Michael Robotham, author of Say You’re Sorry, The Wreckage and many more, answers Six Sharp Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Michael Robotham

author of Say You’re Sorry, The Wreckage, Bombproof and many more

Six Sharp Questions

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1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

SAY YOU’RE SORRY is a dark psychological thriller about two missing teenage girls, best friends Piper Hadley and Tash McBain, who disappear on the last Saturday of their summer holidays. Piper narrates half the story, still alive and being held captive after three years. Meanwhile, after a grisly double homicide at an isolated farmhouse, psychologist Joe O’Loughlin becomes convinced that the girls might still be alive. Piper is counting on him and she’s running for her life.

Click here to buy Say You’re Sorry

2. Time passes. Things change. What are the best and worst moments you have experienced in the past year or so?

The best moment was moving into a new house – leaving my ‘pit of despair’ basement office and swapping it for a ‘cabana of cruelty’. The worst moment was struggling to sell our old house and wrestling that all-consuming monster called ‘bridging finance’. We slew the dragon eventually but I still have the scars.

3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.

‘One of the strange things about friendship is that time together isn’t cancelled out by time apart. One doesn’t erase the other or balance it on some invisible scale. You can spend a few hours with someone and they will change your life, or you can spend a lifetime with a person and remain unchanged.’

This is a line that I wrote in my novel ‘THE NIGHT FERRY

4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.

I’m a pain in the arse to live with – ask my wife and daughters. I’m moody, temperamental, opinionated, pessimistic and racked by self-doubt (and that’s on my good days). This has always been the case, but I know how lucky I am to be writing full time. I can wake in the morning without an alarm clock. Walk along the beach. Breakfast at my favourite café. I’m living my dream but the words don’t come any easier.

5. Some writer’s claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!)?

Many writers argue there is no commercial imperative about what they do. They write for love. They write because there is nothing else. I have made a living out of writing since I was 17 years old and became a cadet journalist. I am very fortunate to be a full-time writer, but my books have to pay the bills or I’d be writing as a hobby and working another job. My kids won’t go barefoot because of my ego or desire to follow my dream. Writing for me is a job.

6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Amber Spyglass Trilogy by Philip Pullman

The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkien

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.

Why? Because they’re all brilliant and getting somebody to read is about matching the right book to the right person.

Michael, thank you for playing.

Recently Michael shared a wonderful story with readers of the Booktopia Blog – if you missed it, go here, you won’t regret it.

James Roy, author of Miss Understood, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

James Roy

award winning author of Miss UnderstoodAnonymity Jones and many more

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in western NSW, but when I was ten months old my parents accepted a missionary placement in Papua New Guinea. We lived there for almost six years, and I also lived for a number of years in Fiji. I was home schooled for part of my schooling, attended regular schools and ex-pat schools at times, and even did a couple of years of correspondence school.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Twelve? An around-the-world sailor.

Eighteen? I was studying to be a registered nurse, but I’m not sure that that’s what I wanted to be. A professional musician, perhaps, despite not having the musical ability to pull it off.

And thirty? What I’m doing now – being a full-time writer.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

At eighteen I had a few interesting political views. Nowadays I’m pretty left-wing, but back then… look, is it okay if we don’t talk about it anymore?

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

I can name three books: The Mouse and His Child, by Russell Hoban, is a children’s fable that is also a work of philosophy. It showed me that a story can work on several layers if it’s done well. The second was actually a series – the Narnia books, by CS Lewis, which I think are some of the finest fantasy books ever written. And the third was Josh, by Ivan Southall, which really spoke to me as a young boy who was feeling a bit disconnected from the world. That book also taught me that if you are bold, you can break many of the rules of writing and use those broken rules to create a powerful and unique voice.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Because it was the main artistic avenue open to me – you can write a story with a bit of broken pencil and a scrap of cardboard, but photography/visual arts/music are to some extent dependent upon equipment. But really, at its core, the reason is that I am better at writing than I am at any of those other artforms. Plus I grew up surrounded by great books, so it seemed like the logical thing to do.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Sure, I’d love to! It’s called Miss Understood, and it’s about Lizzie, who lives in a house that used to be a display home. The house next door still is, so people are constantly wandering into Lizzie’s house thinking that it’s an open house. Her mum is a stay-at-home mum, and her dad is a food reviewer who often makes the mistake of reviewing the meals his wife makes. But he’s starting to behave quite erratically, and Lizzie wants to find out why.

This book is, at first glance, about a girl who is constantly misunderstood. She doesn’t mean to wreak havoc wherever she goes, but it happens so often that people now assume that the trouble that follows her is all her fault. It’s also a book about misunderstanding people’s motivations. But it’s also about depression, which is something I’ve struggled with from time to time over the years, so it’s quite a personal story.

Click here to order Miss Understood from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

First and foremost, the feeling that they’ve just enjoyed a good story. We overcomplicate things a lot, and deconstruct, and look for deeper meanings, but at the end of the day, if the story doesn’t work, the rest of it is pointless. And I’d also like them to go away feeling that the characters in the story were real. And finally, of course I’d love them to go away thinking, “Now, where can I find another book by James Roy?”

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Roald Dahl. He wrote so many books, and they are all brilliant, and seamlessly combine bizarre, surreal, absurd, gross and emotionally engaging. If you ask a group of people to name their favourite Roald Dahl book, it’s pretty much an even spread. Some love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, some love The BFG, some have a soft spot for Matilda… and the fact that you’re now running through his books in your head wondering which is your own favourite simply helps make my point. (For what it’s worth, my favourite is Danny the Champion of the World.)

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Make my next book better. I look at it a little like being a test batsman. If you average 40, you’re a good batsman, but you keep working on your game. When you get to 50, you keep going. You are satisfied with what you’ve achieved, but at the same time you can see few flaws in your game, so you work on those. Even if you get to an average of 60, you don’t stop working on your game. Oh, and of course I want to sell millions of copies and be insanely wealthy. But for now, writing a better book that people actually read.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read until your head hurts, write until your fingers bleed.

James, thank you for playing.

Click here to order Miss Understood from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

Meg McKinlay, author of Going for Broke, The Big Dig and now, Wreck the Halls, from the Lightning Strikes series, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Meg McKinlay

author of Going for Broke, The Big Dig and now, Wreck the Halls,  from the Lightning Strikes series

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in a tiny town in South Australia named Tailem Bend. I have a curious attachment to having been born in a place with an interesting name.

We moved around a lot in the first few years of my life, then settled just outside Bendigo, a beautiful old goldmining town in Central Victoria. That’s where I was raised and did my primary and secondary schooling. After that, I decided it was time to move to a place where nobody knew me, and caught a bus to the other side of the country. I then did far too many years of higher education at the University of Western Australia, putting off entering the ‘real world’ for as long as possible.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve, a teacher, so I could make satisfying ticks on large stacks of papers.

At eighteen, I had no idea, just a vague sense of hopefulness that if I kept doing things I loved, something would turn up.

At thirty, my only goal was to finish my neverending PhD. I had no idea what would come next.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

The belief that if I did ‘the right things’ – exercised, ate well, lived ethically and so on – that good things would necessarily follow, that there was some sort of transactional quality to the universe, a way of short-circuiting the ‘random’.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

The poetry of AA Milne – “Bad Sir Brian Botany”, “The King’s Breakfast”, and so on – which gave me an early love of, and ear for, the rhythms of language.

The poetry of TS Eliot and Walt Whitman and Sylvia Plath and Judith Wright and so many more besides, which taught me that there is treasure in the everyday.

Franz Kafka’s The Blue Octavo Notebooks, whose aphorisms showed me the value in collecting and recording fragments of observation, a habit that led me eventually towards writing.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Well, I don’t only write novels. I write poetry, picture books, fragments of observation, paragraphs of pointless prose. But some ideas present themselves as stories; it’s just the form they need. As for the ‘innumerable’ artistic avenues, they’re actually rather numerable in my case. The only thing I can do is write, so it’s just a question of what form that writing will take. No one wants to see me draw, sing, or perform interpretive dance…

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Wreck the Halls is a novel for primary school readers. It tells the story of Nathan and his hapless mates, Ronnie and Weasel, who decide it can’t be that hard to win $500 in the local Christmas lights competition, and hilarity, of course, ensues. Or at least, I hope it does. Wreck the Halls is my third book for Walker Books’ Lightning Strikes series, and continues the adventures of the boys readers met in Going for Broke and The Big Dig.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

That depends on what sort of work they’ve just read – I suspect they’d get something quite different from my poetry than from my picture books. But in general, I guess I hope that my work would lead people to reflect, to look differently at what’s around them, even if that’s just by way of a wry sideways glance.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Tricky question. I think I’m going to say Harper Lee, because she wrote a single stunning book and then stopped, having said what she wanted to say. And also because she has refused all publicity for almost 50 years.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Not very ambitious, I suspect. To keep writing. To maintain the love of writing that drew me to it in the first place. To be led by myself and not the industry or the market.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read a lot. Write a bit. Reflect. Be in the world.

Thank you for playing.

Booktopia Presents: Caroline Baum in conversation with Chris Cleave

GOLD
by Chris Cleave

The extraordinary new novel from the author of international bestseller THE OTHER HAND.

Usually, this is where we’d tell you what this book is about. But with Chris Cleave, it’s a bit different.

Because if you’ve read THE OTHER HAND or INCENDIARY , you’ll know that what his books are about is only part of the story – what really matters is how they make you feel.

GOLD is about the limits of human endurance, both physical and emotional. It will make you cry. GOLD is about what drives us to succeed – and what we choose to sacrifice for success.

It will make you feel glad to be alive. GOLD is about the struggles we all face every day; the conflict between winning on others’ terms, and triumphing on your own.

It will make you count your blessings.

GOLD is a story told as only Chris Cleave could tell it. And once you begin, it will be a heart-pounding race to the finish.

John Purcell: ‘Some books I like to gobble down in one sitting. Some books I like to savour over weeks. GOLD is the latter kind.’

Click here to order GOLD from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Bookshop

 About the Author: Chris Cleave’s debut novel INCENDIARY won the Somerset Maugham Award, among others. His second, the Costa-shortlisted THE OTHER HAND, was a global bestseller and sat in the New York Times Top Ten for over a year (under the US title, Little Bee). Both books were shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prizes. He lives in Kingston-upon-Thames with his wife and three children.

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