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Interview with Michael Robotham 2015

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Michael Robotham’s latest O’Loughlin and Ruiz outing, Close Your Eyes is set to be published by Sphere at the end of August. Here the author answers a few posers set by Chris High

Close Your Eyes is an incredibly intense novel. Did you have difficulty maintaining the intensity on so many levels?

I don’t plot the stories out in advance and I think much of the intensity comes from my own attempts to maintain my interest. A certain scene might take a week to write and I think, ‘No, it’s too slow. Nothing is happening.’ It’s only when I read it back later that I realise my week of work takes only a few minutes to read and it isn’t slow at all. I also think that part of the intensity comes from making readers care about the characters.

Joe O’Loughlin also has a great many personal issues to deal with in this outing. There are two particularly strong plotlines developing throughout, so how did you manage to keep the strength of each going?

I don’t think I’ve never regarded myself as a natural crime writer, which is why I struggle with the nuts and bolts of plotting the crime and investigation, but feel much more comfortable writing about relationships and family dynamics. I worried that this would show in Close Your Eyes. So much of the story revolves around Joe O’Loughlin and Julianne, his estranged wife. Rather than being a sub-plot of a main story, it has equal billing. It’s like two novels have been woven together.

There is also a strong re-evaluation of relationships running throughout Close Your Eyes, but particularly through one exchange between Emma – Joe’s youngest daughter – and Joe himself. Does such close examination of deep rooted personal emotions come easy to you as a writer?

Three words are pinned above my desk: MAKE THEM CARE.  It helps that I’m a pretty emotional person. I can make myself cry when I’m writing and I embarrass my daughters by sniffling through films …even animated ones. Quite often the exchanges that I’ve portrayed between Joe and his daughters mirror my own conversations with my girls. I steal their best lines but they get to spend the money.

Tough and grizzled as he undoubtedly is, Vincent Ruiz is very often the calming conscience. How well have you got to know him as the series has developed and is he likely to take centre stage again any time soon?

I’m always on the look-out for stories where Vincent Ruiz could take centre stage. Given that he’s now in his mid to late sixties, his days as an action hero are probably numbered, but I am considering taking him back to his early days as a detective and writing about one of the cases that haunts him. Watch this space.

What is it that binds Ruiz and Joe so closely together?

Good question. I think they’re both intelligent men who struggle to know if they are good fathers and husbands. I also go back to Joe O’Loughlin’s description of Vincent in Bleed For Me: ‘Broad like a bear with a busted nose and booze-stained cheeks, Ruiz has had three marriages and three divorces. World weary and fatalistic, I sometimes think he’s a walking, talking cliché – the heavy-drinking, womanising ex-detective – but he’s more complicated than that. He once arrested me for murder. I once rescued him from himself. Friendships have flourished on less.’

“Experimentation” and “Moral Boundaries” are an integral part of Close Your Eyes. Where did you start your research?

Many years ago I spent some time with Paul Britton, a brilliant psychologist who has helped the UK police on a number of high profile cases. One of the things that Paul taught me is that everybody has secrets. Each of us has layers of personality that we keep hidden from the world. I wanted to explore this idea in Close Your Eyes…to create a story where almost every character is hiding something.

Having written Life or Death as a stand alone, with Audie Palmer as the protagonist, how was it coming back Joe & Vincent?

I have to admit it was hard because I loved writing Life Or Death. In the past I’ve described it as the book I was ‘meant to write’ and I think this is because it flowed so easily and I came so close to transferring the story that was in my head onto the page. This made it hard to go back to Joe and Vincent. For a long while I struggled. I wrote half a novel and realised I was basically regurgitating a previous one. Then I began again, focussing on Joe’s family rather than the crime.
Were you pleased with the response to Life or Death and what did you learn from the feedback the book received?

The response to Life Or Death was amazing. To have Stephen King call it ‘nerve-shredding’ was beyond my wildest expectations. I told my wife I could retire now because the greatest storyteller since Dickens had called me a ‘master’. It was also an important book for me because it showed my many publishers that my readers aren’t just interested in Joe O’Loughlin and Vincent Ruiz. Whatever I choose to write – they will come with me. This gives me far more confidence to write other stand-alones and experiment with the genre.

Is there likely to be a film / TV series of either the Joe O’Loughlin novels or, indeed, Life or Death?

A German film company ZDF has just finished filming BLEED FOR ME, which is their third Joe O’Loughlin film. They have plans to make more of them, which will be sold internationally. They have moved the action to Hamburg in Germany. Joe O’Loughlin has become Johannes Jessup, a psychiatrist rather than a psychologist.
Over the past ten years there have been several attempts to get an English language series off the ground, including a premium cable series in the US. Another is in the offing although I can’t reveal the details just yet.

What’s next?

I am going to take a short break from writing – so there may not be a Michael Robotham novel next year. I have, however, decided that the next book will involve Joe and Vincent. Joe’s life is in such turmoil I cannot leave him in limbo.

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See also: Chris High's interview with Michael Robotham 2014


If you would like to comment on this interview with Michael Robotham in 2015, please feel free to contact me - GUESTBOOK

“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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