FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
What is your favourite book and literary genre?
Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton. I guess my favourite genre is the thriller genre (I like to be kept on the edge of my seat), but I tend to read all kinds of genres.
What books would you recommend fans of your books to read?
Anything by Michael Crichton, especially JP, Eaters of the Dead, and The Great Train Robbery
Fatherland by Robert Harris.
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.
Honour Among Thieves by Jeffrey Archer.
The Day After Tomorrow by Allan Folsom.
Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy
Debt of Honour by Tom Clancy.
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King.
The Long Walk by Stephen King.
About a Boy by Nick Hornby.
Searching for Bobby Fischer by Fred Waitzkin
A Civil Actionby Jonathan Harr
Rich Kidsby Paul Barry
Marine by Tom Clancy
George Lucas by John Baxter
Steven Spielberg: The Unauthorized Biography by John Baxter
The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman
Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam
Done any newspaper or magazine work that wasn’t fiction?
Er, no. Don’t really like being pinned down to reporting facts. Just doesn’t work for me. I once did some columns for CLEO magazine here in Australia.
How many different languages and countries have your books been printed in?
Gosh, it must be about 17 countries, and about 14 languages. To list some of them off the top of my head: Australia, UK, US, Germany, Italy, Holland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, India, China.
Which country gets the best sales based on population? And overall?
I’ve never done the math, but I think Australia would win based on sales per capita, but Holland would come a close second. That said, the UK, US and Germany are all huge markets for me, with the US ultimately the biggest.
Did you find that your friends and family were supportive while you were writing?
Yes. Absolutely. I always write in the Acknowledgements pages of my books “To anyone who knows a writer, never underestimate the power of your encouragement.” One kind supportive word will obliterate one hundred critical words. But where there is only criticism, that really hurts an author.
Have you done any work that hasn’t been published? If so, what kind of projects were they?
I have about seven screenplays sitting in my cupboard that are just dying to be made! As for books or short stories, no, what I have written has been published.
What is happening with the movie versions of your books?
The original option of Contest expired, so I got my rights back, ready to sell again. As for Ice Station, I have discovered how slow the Hollywood movie-making process really is. Paramount have been great, developing the screenplay, but with a project this big, it has to go through many sets of eyes before a big decision is made. The short answer is: it’s still percolating through the system and will hopefully come out within four years. (As a point of reference, The Fugitive took five years just to come up with a script!)
And news just in: ABC US Network Television has bought the rights to the Jack West Jr series (Seven Ancient Wonders, The Six Sacred Stones and The Five Greatest Warriors) for a TV series put together by ABC US Studios. The producer is the powerhouse Mark Gordon (Speed, Gray’s Anatomy) and the writer is Michael Seitzman (North Country).
Are you a fan of the screen?
As far as TV shows and movies are concerned, I’m a huge fan of CHUCK (one of the best shows I’ve seen in years and its writers are clearly from the same era as me: they reference the stars of the World Wrestling Federation in the 1980s, and all the action movies I loved as a teenager). I also like BONES a lot. The mysteries in each episode of BONES are as good as any you will see at a cinema, and they do this 22 times a year! Movies that I have enjoyed recently:
BATMAN BEGINS: THE DARK KNIGHT
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (one of the best climaxes in recent times)
RED DOG (an excellent Australian movie)
How about actors and actresses; who do you look out for in particular?
I look for presence. The ability to command the screen. Either you have it or you don’t. Jennifer Garner in Catch Me If You Can was someone who just stole the screen (not easy when you’re onscreen with Leonardo di Caprio). I’m a fan of Bruce Willis, Keanu Reeves (who both have had just a great variety of movie choices), Harrison Ford’s early work, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Reese Witherspoon, and lately, Jennifer Garner.
And directors? Do you follow crew as well as cast?
Oh yeah. I love John McTiernan’s stuff; Jan de Bont’s camera movement; Steven Spielberg of course (he’s the master); recently, I’ve liked John Stockwell’s Blue Crush and Crazy/Beautiful, and Rob Cohen’s actioners.
Do you use music to set the tone while you write?
Not really. Most days, I just have the radio on (Nova 96.9 in Sydney).
Do you play any kind of organized sport?
I play golf regularly, off a handicap of 6. I also play touch football in a competition in Northern Sydney, and every now and then, with some friends, I play indoor cricket.
What hobbies, outside of your career choices, do you pursue?
I love watching movies – especially listening to the director’s commentaries on DVDs. Ridley Scott’s commentaries are awesome, as are John McTiernan’s and Michael Bay’s.
Do you collect anything?
I collect two things: movie memorabilia and books. Last year, for my birthday, I was given a full-size Jango Fett helmet! (Yes, I know, I didn’t like Episode II that much, but I love Boba and Jango Fett!). I particularly like vehicles from movies, like spaceships (from the Star Wars movies, the little attackers from Independence Day) and the DeLorean from Back to the Future. Standing on my desk right now are the Terminator, RoboCop and Buzz Lightyear. As for books, I love to go into second-hand bookstores and find old hardbacks (or overseas editions) of my favourite books. I love the US hardback covers of Jurassic Park and The Lost World, for example. I also have an old illustrated edition of Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, one of my favourite novels. I sometimes even buy books just for their production value: Underworld by Don Delillo was beautifully packaged, so I bought it just because it was an example of top-shelf publishing.
Favourite Cartoon Character?
Favourite Comic Strip?
What about food habits? Do they change when you’re writing?
I’m very bad in that I tend to write through lunch! I eat anything that can be cooked in a few minutes – toast is a staple! Mainly salad sandwiches. But when writing, good coffee is a must. I have a thermos-type mug for my coffee – keeps it warmer for longer. I’m also kinda susceptible to chocolate of any variety.
Dido, a labradoodle.
One brother, Stephen (who wrote Ninety East Ridge).
Do you have a dream car in mind? Is it in your garage, too?
A DeLorean. And, yes, I do!
Is there anybody you would most like to meet?
I’d like to meet my creative inspirations: Michael Crichton, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and/or Joss Whedon.
What single thing has been said to you that you’ll never forget?
“Never let the sun go down on an argument.” My mum told me that.
“You are not an aspiring writer. You are a writer.” Jeff Arch, the writer of Sleepless in Seattle told me that.
“These are crazy people.” Tom Clancy, talking on CNN, immediately after September 11, commenting on the similarity between the events of that day and his book, Debt of Honour, in which a man flies a 747 into the Capitol Building.
What is your single best accomplishment?
I think it’s still to come.
If you could have any one gadget in the world, fictional or real (from movies, etc), what would it be?
Astroboy’s boots or Boba Fett’s rocket backpack.
What about gifts? What’s the most innovative you have received?
And what about the most, uh, bizarre gift?
My brother, Stephen, once gave me a full-size glass head. At first, I had no idea what you would use it for (unless you wanted to display sunglasses in a shop window), but then a few years later, I received the famous Jango Fett helmet and – voila! – put Jango on the glass head and it was perfect fit!
What has been your biggest hurdle during your writing career?
Getting inside. The publishing industry is a tough one to get into, but once I was in, I was away.
How do you prepare for public appearances?
If I’m going on TV or radio to promote a new book, I will have prepared a 25-word summary of the book – because you have to be brief on those occasions, and when you have to be brief, it’s best to be prepared. If I’m giving a speech, I write it a few days in advance, and go through it once or twice. If I’m going to an event on, say, literacy, I’ll just gather my thoughts on the topic before I go, so that if I’m asked a question on it, I’ll be vaguely ready. For a book signing, I just dress smartly and grab a pen! The thing is, after you do enough public appearances, you sort of get used to it.
What kinds of audiences have you spoken to, and on what subjects?
I’ve spoken to many audiences over the last few years. A group of influential citizens in Cape Town, South Africa, a dining room full of booksellers in Birmingham, England, and a mini-stadium filled with school students at Homebush here in Australia, not to mention numerous libraries around Australia! Often I’ll talk about writing and the benefits of reading, my own books and my own path to getting published (I spoke about this once for the Victorian Writers Centre). The big stadium event was for high school students and was on the topic of leadership (it was called The National Young Leaders Day and is held every year).
Has any single appearance been the most fulfilling, or most enjoyable?
That last one, The National Young Leaders Day was amazing. I was just as inspired as the kids were – the other speakers there were awesome.
Have you ever thought of merchandising? I think a Contest watch would be killer!
I love the idea of computer game versions of my books – I think the structure of the books themselves lends them to the ‘level’-structure of a computer game. As for merchandising, I’d love to see action figures based on my books! As a kid, I was a huge fan of the Star Wars action figures, and to have some based on my own books would be very cool. And now that I think of it, there are a multitude of characters and vehicles that you could make from my books: Schofield and Mother and William Race, and the cats and caimans from Temple, the aliens from Contest, not to mention all the vehicles (like the Silhouette or the hovercrafts from Ice Station, or the boats and planes from Temple and Area 7).The sky is the limit.
As an author, how much control do you have over:
– The final copy
I take a keen interest in the formatting of my books. With all the lists and diagrams, I like to make sure that they have been reproduced correctly. Since I often use those diagrams and lists for twist, it is crucial that they be done right, so I keep a close eye on them.
– The front cover
This is more of a collaborative thing – while I don’t have cover approval, with my Australian and UK publishers, cover design is something we talk about as a group. In the end, though, the decision is my publisher’s. That said, in the US, they don’t give me any say.
– The blurb
I write my own blurbs (except for the US paperback editions of my books – they get their own guy to do it, and he comes up with very good blurbs). Obviously, I did the blurb for the self-published version of Contest, but when it came time for Ice Station to be released, I just thought about it and drafted my own blurb and it was used. I like to think that, as the author, I know the story best, but I also know that some authors can’t stand condensing their 140,000-word novel into a 150-word summary! I just think of it as drafting a movie poster and go from there (does anyone remember the original poster for Die Hard, that was my favourite: ‘High above the city of LA, a team of terrorists has taken over a building and declared war… ‘)
– The diagrams
I do them myself. I also deliberately try not to make them too detailed. They are there only as a reading aid. I absolutely do not want to take the ‘imagining’ of the book from the reader. I want readers to picture Wilkes Ice Station or Area 7 for themselves, I just try to help them out with the basic layout. That said, I am most proud of the diagrams in Area 7. So far as I know, they are the only diagrams in a novel that ‘evolved’ with the story – as the underground facility floods, the diagram changes with it!
– The cover style (trade, hardback, etc)
That’s a publishing decision, made by the publisher in whichever country I am being published. Hardbacks in the US and Italy, trade paperbacks in Holland. In Australia, Ice Station was originally slated to be released straight-to-paperback, but when it got such good buzz in Pan Macmillan’s offices, they decided to release it big-time as trade paperback (this was when trade paperbacks were a new thing).
– The advertising coverage
Publishing decision. Although I do help with the content – again, it’s like designing a movie poster!
How much time per week, on average, do you spend working on your Golf Handicap?
How much time per week, on average, do you spend working? Do you have a set routine/writing hours? Do you treat it as a full time job?
Probably about 30 hours a week. I always like to do 4 good days’ worth of writing a week. I used to write when it suited me, but now I tend to write between Monday and Friday – this allows me to catch up with my friends on the weekends. I treat it as a career, but not a job. I have far too much fun doing it to treat it as a job! And if I wake up and I’m not in the mood to write, I won’t. If it were a job, I’d have to make myself write, and I never ever do that!
Have you ever had an adventure that could appear in one of your books?
Hiking up to the base of Mount Everest was an adventure – and will certainly appear in something soon!
Which scene out of all of your books are you most proud of?
There’s a huge scene in Scarecrow, which I can’t tell you about till it comes out, that I am very, very proud of. Apart from that, I love the scene at the end of Temple, where William Race is falling to earth inside a tank and he has to disarm the mother of all nuclear bombs. You don’t write scenes like that every day, and it took a long time to figure it out. Actually, for that matter, the whole of Temple took a lot of thinking. I am very proud of the entire structure of that book. I am really proud of the structure of Seven Ancient Wonders, especially the moment where everything is going against Jack and the one thing he has to do is find the only Wonder that no-one has ever found, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I love the 747-vs-the-buses car chase in The Six Sacred Stones and all the Neetha scenes. The fight scene in The Five Greatest Warriors of Pooh Bear v Scimitar/Vulture is just kick-ass, and ends very gruesomely!
And while many of my readers have told how creepy they found it, I do like the “formaldehyde tanks” scene in The Five Greatest Warriors. It really sets up Muniz as a nasty villain.
How do you decide on the book title? When do you decide? (First, last?)
Contest was always the title of that book. Ice Station came well after the book was finished (it was called Starfighter once, then South Pole, and I wanted Twelve Swordsmen at one point, as a reference to the Marines’ dress-uniform swords – I may still use that title, I like it!).
Temple was always the title. Area 7 came about halfway through writing that book. Its working title was POTUS, standing for President of the United States. Scarecrow came about halfway through as well. Its working title was The Most Wanted Man in the World, but I decided that that was a little too long and static. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had made the titles of the Scarecrow books more obviously “connected”, so that people would know immediately that they are a series. I have met readers who started with Scarecrow or Area 7, not realising that they were sequels to Ice Station. That’s why I made sure the new book had Scarecrow’s name in the title, so that people would be very clear. (I have sometimes thought of rebadging the originals as Scarecrow And The Station In The Ice [Ice Station], Scarecrow And The Secret Base [Area 7] and Scarecrow And The Great Bounty Hunt [Scarecrow], but we’ll see…)As for the Jack West Jr books, after writing Seven Ancient Wonders, having learned from the Scarecrow experience, I thought any sequel should have title that seemed connected to it, so I thought, “What about a countdown?” Then it became a matter of thinking of six things, then five things that would work for the stories. I now find myself contemplating The Four…and The Three…and that’s fun!
Will we ever see another book with the same background as Contest? I.e.: the aliens/sci-fi.
Potentially, but I don’t think so. If I go that way again, it’ll be more like Ice Station, with the premise centring on the possibility of alien life, not actual aliens. But then, never say never. One of my recent screenplays is total sci-fi, with spaceships and planets and creatures, so I might leave my sci-fi dreams to the movie world.
Some of your scenes seem similar to scenes in action movies – is this ever intentional?
I actually try to make them as different from the movies (that I know) as I can. It can be hard because there have been so many action movies in recent years, using so many common objects – car chases, fights on buildings, aerial stunts – but you have to try to be new and innovative. Funny, I have found my own scenes replicated in other spheres. My hovercraft chase in Ice Station was totally new… until James Bond did it in Die Another Day a few years later. The big river chase in Temple hasn’t been replicated, so far as I know. Mind you, I do like to (in nearly all my books) pay homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the wonderful scene in it where Indiana Jones goes under the truck. In Ice Station, Schofield went under a hovercraft; in Temple, William Race went under a speeding boat.
Would you ever consider writing a book with another author? If so, who would you like to co-author with?
Thing is, I don’t think anyone would want to write with me! When it comes to writing, I’m a bit of a control freak, and I don’t think I’d be fun to write with.