International best-selling author Matthew Reilly began writing his first novel at 19, while still at university. That first novel, Contest, was rejected by all major publishers and Matthew self-published it in 1996, printing 1000 copies and selling it himself to bookstores across Sydney. In early 1997, he was contacted by a commissioning editor at Pan Macmillan who had purchased his book and loved it.
Please describe your most recent book, The Tournament. Was there something in particular that inspired you to write it?
The Tournament is set in 1546. In it, the Sultan of the Islamic empire invites every king of Europe to send his champion to compete in the world’s first chess tournament in glittering Constantinople. But on the first night, a visiting dignitary is murdered, and a member of the English delegation is called on by the Sultan to solve the crime, all while the tournament progresses. The story is told from the point of view of a 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth, who will one day be Queen Elizabeth I — this is a first for me, the first time I have written a book entirely in the first person, and from a girl’s point of view at that.
I wanted to explore how Queen Elizabeth I, Britain’s greatest monarch, became a great queen who famously never married, while also telling a cracking murder mystery story.
What’s the first thing you do before you sit down to write?
I plot out that day’s scenes on a pad.
Describe your desk or writing space.
My writing space is filed with inspiration: mainly models and action figures from my favourite movies. Star Wars features: there is a full-size Jango Fett helmet. There is also a miniature Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark. A dropship from Aliens. A velociraptor from Jurassic Park. The character River from the film/TV show Serenity/Firefly. Buzz Lightyear is also there, as is Woody (he was a gift from my then 7-year-old niece). A Die Hard poster fills a very cool lightbox above my desk (I love that poster). I also stick up inspirational notes and wisdom I have received, and finally there is a postcard that reads CHEERFUL WHISTLING PERMITTED which reminds me to have fun.
I write on a huge screen Mac desktop computer, big enough to show three Microsoft Word pages at a time. As if that isn’t big enough, I have a second screen slaved to the first, on which I put up research and other images I like to reference.
I have a view of my garden off to my right, and lots of light. I can see my TV (on which I often play a movie or the cricket) and the Die Hard poster sits right above me in its lightbox. Behind me (not in the photo) is my life-sized Han Solo in carbonite — the ultimate inspiration.
How many words (or hours) do you aim for in a day when you are writing?
When I write, I do not think in terms of words. I think that’s a really bad idea for a writer — after all, who sits down to read a certain number of words? Nobody! I think in terms of pages or even scenes. A good day may be five pages, a great day may be thirteen. Sometimes, at the beginning of a book, I might do three pages in a day, and that will be awesome. It all depends. I usually write for about four or five hours.
Tell us about your typical day.
I get up around 7.30am, have breakfast, read the paper, watch ABC News Breakfast, start writing about 8.45 and go till about 1pm. I wind down by playing golf, taking the dog for a walk or going to the gym.
Do you have an alternative writing space (eg local cafe, park etc)?
Tell us a bit about what you’re working on now.
I have finished the first draft of a new novel. It’s a techno-thriller set in China and it’s awesome fun, huge action. If all goes well, it’ll be released next year, along with a novella I have finished called TROLL MOUNTAIN. That’s a good old fashioned quest story…with trolls in it!
What’s your advice to up-and-coming writers who want to be where you are today?
Write what you yourself love to read. It’s as simple as that. You can’t fake enthusiasm and readers can spot a fake in ten seconds. Besides, you’re going to re-read your manuscript so many times, you really have to love it.