Ten Terrifying Questions
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 Willoughby, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. I went to St Thomas’ Primary School until Year 3, and then to St Aloysius’ College from Year 4 to Year 12 (yes, I had very Catholic parents!). I then went to the University of NSW where I got degrees in Law and Arts.
At 12, I wanted to be an action movie director, because I just ate up action movies; I loved sitting in a darkened cinema, gazing up at the screen, and being swept away by a rollercoaster ride of thrills and twists.
At 18, I wanted to be an action movie writer-director, because I realised that it was the writer who initiated the stories that I watched on screen. The director might paint the visual picture, but it was the writer who provided the story.
At 30, I just wanted to be a writer of novels and screenplays (as I am now 37, this still applies!). I simply love writing novels—novels are more pliable than movie screenplays, you do more in them, and I particularly like the idea that my words go directly to the reader; there is no director who stands between me and the reader. If someone reads my books quickly (which is what I want), it’s because I put the words down in a certain way, nothing else.
I still love movies, but my desire to be a director of them has passed—I’d rather be a producer, watching over a project I have written, rather than be the guy filming every scene. Directing movies, I have discovered, is like building a jigsaw puzzle piece by piece!
That the world is fair. I know that sounds rather bitter, but trust me, I am not bitter—far from it, I am the least bitter person I know! I mean, hey, I’ve had more than my fair share of success in this world. It’s just that you have to be realistic: the world isn’t always fair, so you have to live your life being aware of that.
Roll with the punches, know that merit is not always recognised, but always try hard and do your best anyway because sometimes merit is spotted (and rewarded). And most of all, live your life by your own principles and you will be happy no matter how unfair the world might be.
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?
Music: The Eye of the Tiger by Survivor. The best psyche-up song ever written, and one that I find very powerful and meaningful, even today. Not only is it about working hard, it is also a warning to anyone who has meteoric success. If you rise to the top too fast and forget what drove you there in the first place, you will lose your edge. I never want to lose my edge, that spark that drove me to write the fastest, most action-packed stories ever seen in print.
Book: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. A titanically original story, with pace, verve and man-eating dinosaurs! This was the novel that made me want to write novels and is the benchmark by which I judge myself. With every book I write, I hope that I give my readers the same exhilaration and enjoyment that Jurassic Park gave me.
Movie: Die Hard, starring Bruce Willis, directed by John McTiernan. I saw Die Hard ten times at the cinema as a 14-year-old in 1988. It was, for me, the perfect action movie—and remains so.
Fast, clever, with a great hero, an awesome villain and some good twists, it is a killer action movie. The scene where John McClane leaps off the top of the building hanging from a fire hose, and then swings back in through a broken window is one of the finest action scenes of all time (alongside the truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark). When I first saw Die Hard, I couldn’t believe you could make a movie so tension-filled and exciting. Again, this is what I seek to do with my novels.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Because novels are a unique kind of storytelling. The reader’s imagination is a powerful thing (which is why the book is always better than the movie; no Hollywood director, no matter how much money they have to spend, can match a reader’s imagination) and this is why reading a novel is a unique enjoyment.
Books are long and dense, and filled with lots of extra information that other methods of storytelling, like movies and TV shows, simply can’t fit in. You immerse yourself in a book, whereas you watch a movie (a really good movie is an immersive experience, but those are very rare). I love curling up with a good book and immersing myself in its world and forgetting the passage of time. I like that more than anything, and I like to idea that readers do that with my books.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel, SCARECROW AND THE ARMY OF THIEVES.
Fans of the Scarecrow books have been waiting for a new novel featuring him since 2003, and I’m very excited because I think this one delivers everything they’ve been waiting for.
The new book is, in short, an absolute, bloody rampage! It is huge, explosive, scary in places, and filled with big character moments.
As for the story, SCARECROW AND THE ARMY OF THIEVES is set in the Arctic, at a remote, ex-Soviet weapons base that has been seized by a mysterious group calling itself the Army of Thieves. The Thieves are about to set off a top-secret weapon of terrible destructive force, and since they have a missile-defence system that can repel any missile or air attack, the call goes out to find any troops in the immediate area who can stop them in time. Our friend, Scarecrow, happens to be in the Arctic, with a civilian equipment-testing team… and so he goes in against totally impossible odds.
It’s a wild, wild ride! I think the torture scene will be remembered…
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope they put down my book buzzing with adrenalin. I hope they look at that book, sitting on a table or shelf, and shudder at the memory of all the action and thrills contained in it!
I admire anyone who can find their way into the world of publishing and stay there.
Getting a publishing deal is a very difficult thing to do (I should know!), but forging a career as a professional author is even harder. I’ve seen promising authors come and go over the last thirteen years, but it’s the stayers who impress me the most, the ones who keep delivering new and innovative stories.
To write one book is an achievement. But to write several books that continue to engage the reading public is far more impressive to me.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To make each new book that I write better than the one that came before it. That’s it. That’s all. If you don’t keep improving, what’s the point?
I’d also like to write a movie that becomes a global phenomenon!
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write what you yourself love to read. If you love poetry, don’t try to write a thriller because you think you’ll make money. Or if you like more cerebral works of fiction, don’t try to write a romance. Fans of those kinds of books can spot a fake in ten seconds flat (and writing the wrong kind of book will quickly become a chore, not a labour of love).
If you write what you enjoy reading yourself, not only will every writing session be a joy (I love sitting down at my computer and writing the biggest, baddest, most outrageous action stories I can think of), but readers will detect your enthusiasm and warm to your work. Money and glory are not the end goals of writing—appealing to those who like your kind of book is.
Matthew, thank you for playing.
BBGuru: Leave a comment below. Tell me why you love reading Matthew Reilly’s books…
About the Contributor
John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French, Korean and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for over twenty-five years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au.