Matthew Reilly: Internationally best-selling author

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image-mattreilly200Publishing phenomenon Matthew Reilly is known for his action/thriller novels. His first book, Contest, was self-published in 1996. After being knocked back by every major publisher in Sydney, he produced 1,000 copies of Contest himself, and eventually won a publishing deal with Pan Macmillan.

His first book with Pan Macmillan was Ice Station, followed by Contest and Temple. Among the 7 books published since then are Hell Island (one of four in the Shane Schofield series), The Five Greatest Warriors (book 3 of the Jack West series) and Hover Car Racer, a book that was originally published online and read by over 180,000 people – for free!

Matt Reilly’s books have been published in over 20 countries and sold over 3.5 million copies. Some of his books have also been optioned for film.

In this podcast Matthew is interviewed by Australian Writers’ Centre presenter Geoff Bartlett.

Click play to listen. Running time: 45.36

The Five Greatest Warriors

Transcript

* Please note these transcripts have been edited for readability

Geoff
Matthew Riley, welcome to Sydney Writers’ Centre.

Matthew 
Thank you for having me.

Geoff
Now, you’re the author of nine books, the latest one is…

Matthew
 
The Five Greatest Warriors. It came out last year. And, I’m halfway through a new Scarecrow book now.

Geoff:
Oh, Scarecrow? So, the fans of previous books have got something to look forward to?

Matthew
I haven’t brought Scarecrow out for awhile. There was the Ice Station, Area 7, and then Scarecrow … And, then the little side one, Hell Island. But, having done my Jack West stuff with the ancient history and adventure, I thought I’d see where Scarecrow has been.

Geoff
Fantastic. So, that’s going to be hitting the streets when?

Matthew 
That will be Christmas 2011. I do one book every two years now.

Geoff
Is that your own decision?

Matthew
Yes. When you’re starting out it is important to have a book a year that bookstores get to know who you are and recognise the name; Matthew Reilly.

But, after a time I found that was unsustainable for me. I couldn’t finish my book, do the promotional work and then start another one straightaway. I needed time. And, that’s one of the joys of the success I’ve had. The more success you’ve had, the more time you have to come up with better ideas, and because the ideas are better, you have more success. So, that because a virtuous circle.

Geoff
How does it break down? What percentage of time is there in structuring, in writing, and then in promotion? Is it pretty much a three way split?

Matthew 
No, no. Probably research takes about two or three months, also plotting out the story. I don’t start a book until I know the whole story from the get go. So, I don’t start page one until I know what happens at page 401. About eight months of writing, getting it out of my head and onto the page.

Geoff
That’s just a first draft?

Matthew
Just first draft. Then it’s five months of rewriting. The Five Greatest Warriors is a good example. The Five Greatest Warriors followed on from The Six Sacred Stones. It was a direct sequel. So, page 1 of that book followed straight on from the end of Six Sacred Stones.

And, I was corralling together a whole bunch of subplots. And, so The Five Greatest Warriors more than any of the other books required a full five months of revise, revise, and revise again, because when the reader read it, it had to be completely seamless.

So, yeah, at the moment it’s three months research, eight months writing, five months revision, and then I rest and stop. And, then when the publicity, promotional obligations kick in there’s probably two months there. My books come out in about October, and so I tour from October to early December.

Geoff:
And when you were writing Six Sacred Stones, had you premeditated that there was going to be The Five Greatest Warriors as a follow up to it?

Matthew
Yes. It was the only book that I’ve done where I knew the story was too big for one book, so I planned out the point where the book ended, which was the ultimate cliff hanger. I had my hero falling down this bottomless abyss.

The hard part with that was that the biggest fans of my books had to wait two full years until The Five Greatest Warriors came out, whereas all the Johhny Comelatelys can now read Six Sacred Stones and just go and get Five Warriors and it flows straight on.

Geoff
Exactly. The early adopters put in the hard yards and weren’t rewarded.

Matthew
When they come to signings I actually apologise. I say, “I’m really sorry. If you waited two years I’m really sorry.” And, God love them, they go, “Hey, I got into the spirit of it. I understood.” You know? “Matthew Reilly is known for cliffhangers. This was just a really, really big cliffhanger.”

Geoff
So, the first draft, it finishes up at 400 pages, but how big is the original first draft? Do you literally dump everything in your brain onto the page?

Matthew 
Yeah, usually my first drafts are about 20 or 25 pages longer than the finished product?

Geoff
Is that all?

Matthew 
Yeah. I’m a planner. But I never expected to write nine books. I thought maybe in my life I would write five or six. But, the more you write, the more practice you have, and the better you get. And, so I’ve learned now as I go to generally get rid of stuff which I am fairly sure is not going to sort of lead down a new subplot.

So, for a 400 page book I might do 425 and when I do the revisions I’m utterly ruthless. If a sentence does not advance the plot or some character, cut it. And that’s where it trims back down after the first draft.

Geoff
We teach ‘How To Get Your Book Published’ and ‘How To Self Publish’ as seminars – you started out with self publishing. Did you have anybody as a role model when you were starting out?

Matthew
Not a one. It’s funny because I have sort of come into not only the Australian publishing world but the international publishing world from completely out of left field. I don’t know published writers. I don’t know anybody in the industry and the reason I self published was because I did not know anybody. And, it galls me a little bit when I go to writers festivals now and they ask an author, “How did you get published?” And they say, “Oh well, my friend was an author.” Or, “My cousin was an editor.” And those are golden contacts. And, if you have those contacts, use them.

I wrote Contest, sent it to all the publishers here in Sydney and was rejected by all of them, including famously getting a photocopy rejection letter with a photocopied signature. So, I self published Contest with the sole goal of getting spotted by a publisher.

Geoff
Was that a big decision for you as far as saying, “The professionals don’t feel that there is going to be a market for this book.” Were you at some stage thinking “maybe they’re right.”?

Matthew 
You know for about four seconds. I thought, “Yeah, they’re professionals, but they’re wrong. I know better than they do.” And, I honestly thought, and I’m serious, I honestly thought Contest had the goods. I thought this book was faster, scarier, and more thrilling than the books I was reading. And I was a big thriller reader, and still am.

Geoff
So, you’re a big fan of the genre.

Matthew
Yeah. I am the kind of guy who will go out and buy a Matthew Reilly book. And so, I’m often asked by people do I see lots of movies, read lots of books. Yes. I even go and see the bad movies, because I want to know what people are trying, what stories are out there. I want to know that my books are at the cutting edge of whatever is happening in the thriller genre. I need for my information and my plots, and my twists to be better than everything that’s out there. I thought Contest was an innovation and it just hadn’t been seen by the right person. That’s why I self published it.

Geoff
What was the process from the decision, “OK, I’m going to self publish.” You knew virtually nothing about the whole process, I imagine.

Matthew
No. My brother, Stephen, helped me out. He found a desktop publishing company. And they did brochures for corporations. And they quoted us $8,000 to do 1,000 books but, they would do no design at all. So I even had to tell them what size a paperback book was. I took a ruler and measured my Michael Crichton’s paperback of Jurassic Park, and said, “It’s 11 cm by 18.” And I designed the cover and did the page type setting in Microsoft Word.

And I just basically sent them the file. So, they would print it, they would bind it, they would put the cover that I wanted on it. And, they would give it to me. It’s printed on new paper, because it was cheaper than recycled paper.

Geoff
By the sound of things, they had never actually printed a book before?

Matthew 
No. Never a book before. I understand now you can do really, really short runs, small runs, at McPherson’s, who are the printing company who actually print my books for Pan Macmillan. So, and I know people who have gotten literately a single book done for like $13 or so.

Geoff
The people that I speak to who are self publishers, once the book has come out they realise that getting it made was the easy part. Now they’ve got to get it into the hands of the public and let them know there’s this wonderful book out there.

Matthew
Yep. You end up with boxes of your own book in your house. I had a little 1977 Toyota Celica. It was a bomb.  And, that’s when you hit the road and you go to bookstores and you walk in with a copy of your book. And you say, “Hi, I’m Matthew Reilly. This is my book. Would you like to put it on the shelves?”

Geoff
So you were literally a door to door salesman?

Matthew
Yes. And, some stores, fortunately for me there was a store in Chatswood called Read and Write and the manager there took me to the backroom and said, “OK, this is consignment. Now this is sale or return. These are the terms of sale,” That’s where I got my education.

And, I went to stores and the responses ranged from, “Hey, you’ve got a bit of chutzpa, good on you.” You know? “I’ll put your book on the shelf and we’ll see what happens.” to  others that say, “No, we don’t take self published authors.” So, you’ve got to  be prepared for someone to completely slam the door in your face.

When you self publish and you tell your friends, you know, “This is my book.” They go, “Who’s your publisher?” “I published it myself.” They almost all go, “Ah…” and it’s, “Oh, he must suck.”

Geoff
So there’s that stigma of “Well, if no publisher has picked you up, it’s more of a hobby…”

Matthew
That’s right. That’s all vanity. Oh, it’s vanity. And, you just have to develop a thick armor and say, “Well, I’ve got a goal. And, my goal is to get this book out there…” because my goal is to entertain people. I thought this book would entertain people like me. So, I need to get it into their hands, and the way to do that is to get it into book stores. And the bookstore that made a difference was the Angus and Robertson on Pitt Street. Again, I went in, spoke to the manager. He gave a couple of copies to some staff members who enjoyed that kind of book. He said, “I’ll give it to them, see what they think.” They liked it, so he took some copies, and when they sold he took more and put it in front of the store.

And, that’s where it was found by the commissioning editor of fiction from Macmillan, Cate Patterson, who, like a good publisher, was going to stores to see what the competition was doing, to see what was out. And, she bought it, read it, rang up the number that was on the coverlet page and asked to speak to me.

And importantly she said, “What else are you working on?” “I don’t want an author who just writes one book. I’m after somebody who writes, two to four books.” And, I had just started Ice Station.

Geoff
Because it’s all about the brand?

Matthew
Well, it’s, it’s not quite all about the brand. And, I’m saying that as a guy who, you know, has my name in large letters now on the cover of books. So, now it is about the brand.

I think it’s a little bit about the business, that publishers are companies that need to make a profit. And, they need to find authors who can reach the audience. And, so I think they need to know that if you write one book that was pretty good, the audience will want the next one, and the next one. So, it becomes a brand, but at first it’s about the art and the commerce, and then it because the brand.

Geoff
So you were getting reasonably good success when you were self publishing with your first book?

Matthew
I reckon about two thirds of stores took it. One third slammed the door in my face.

Geoff
Was it then a big decision to go with a publisher? Did you think, “Well, self publishing seems to be working. I’m making more money doing it this way.”?

Matthew
On my model I couldn’t make money so much. It cost me $8 a book. And at that time, a paperback was selling for $16 in store. So the store would give me $8 to take the book and they got 50% from the sale. If I sold them individually – I worked in a bar, so I sold some out of the box. So, I guess I got $8 a book on those. My goal – in the end my sales would have only been Sydney-based, because it was just me and my car.

But, in the end I wanted distribution around Australia…and around the world. And so, when the call came from Macmillan, and ultimately the letter to publish, I was over the moon, because I felt their distribution power was what I wanted.

Geoff
How long had the book been out there before she approached you?

Matthew 
About four months. She liked the concept of the book. I think she was a little surprised when she found out it was self-published. Contest was good quality and I believe, not only in my writing, in the concept of verisimilitude – that, not only should I make the book seem as real as possible to the story, when self publishing Contest, it had a little fake publisher’s logo on the spine, which was just a K.

But if you have a self published book, if you’ve got no logo on the spine it doesn’t look real. The verisimilitude is lost. And, the public can spot that. They don’t know why that book doesn’t look right, but if it doesn’t have a publisher’s imprint on the spine it looks off. You need to match the title page and copyright page conventions of books published by major publishers, otherwise the public will think “There’s something wrong with this.”

So Contest, it even…to use a word I don’t really like – sort of “convinced” someone in the industry that it was a real major published book.

Geoff
And was the publisher one of the publishers that had rejected you previously?

Matthew 
Yes.

Geoff
Was it the same person?

Matthew 
No, my manuscript didn’t get to her, but I give her grief about this all the time.

Geoff
Do you still have the copy of her letter?

Matthew 
Oh, hell yeah. I have a copy of all the rejection letters. But I don’t have any daydreams of vengeance. Publishers receive a lot of manuscripts every week, every month. I knew I was sending it in cold, but that’s it.

I keep every rejection letter. You know, as they say “wallpaper the outhouse wall with them. Keep them. Let them fire you up.” But, the letter I got, the offer of publication was the single greatest letter I had received in my life, obviously.

Geoff
You’ve been doing this for how many years now?

Matthew 
I self published Contest in late ‘96. Ice Station came out in late ‘98. So, yeah, 12 years.

Geoff
So, knowing what you know now about publishing, self publishing and the industry, what would you tell Matt Reilly back in ’96 who’s just starting out?

Matthew
If I had my time again I would have gone to more agents. Agents have the super highway, broadband connection to publishers. So, if you want to save time, send your manuscript out to agents. I would even say send it to agents in London and New York. Because there’s a certain amount of agents here in Australia, there are lots in London and New York. And, publishing has become very global, and with the internet as well, you can send the first few chapters as a PDF. It’s not even going to cost you postage.

I did send Contest to one literary agency here in Sydney. And if there is a tinge of bitterness in me, it’s to them. I sent it to them. I waited a little amount of time. I called up to chase them up and said, “What did you think?” “Oh, where did that go?” “I’m sorry we can’t find that.” And, so I swore then I would not send it to anymore agents.

That said I am so pleased that I self published. And, as a published author, and an author who’s published by major publishers around the world, Simon & Schuster in the States, O’Brien in the UK, Macmillan here, you’d be amazed when you do promotional work having this story to tell. Because people say, “Well, the way you got started, Matthew, is really unusual.”

And, so I have this little story to tell, which is not related to the content of my books. I’m not going on radio station and saying, “Well, my new book is this big action-packed story about…” so and so. They say, “Tell us about how you got started,” because it’s an unusual story. And, it’s now sort of part of the brand that is Matthew Reilly.

Cate Patterson goes to the Frankfurt Book Fair and gets publishers from other countries say to her, “You’re Cate Patterson. You’re the one who found Matthew Reilly in a bookstore.” And, they are just blown away.

So, yes, I wish I had done some things differently, but in another way this is the path I’ve gone down and it’s created this, it’s a story I can tell over and over again. People love it. So, I don’t think I’d do it differently, but that’s what I would tell myself. Go to more agents.

Geoff
Now that you’re working with a publisher, has the writing process changed at all? Is there a lot of feedback from them as far as the structure, or the general nature of the genre of the book?

Matthew
Actually, I get pretty much free reign. To the point where I don’t even send them a synopsis of what I’m going to write about.

I basically told Macmillan, “Hey, I’m going do a new Scarecrow book.” And maybe that’s enough when it’s a sequel to a series of very successful books.

When I went into the Jack West books, Seven Wonders; Six Stones; Five Warriors; I said to them, “I’m going to do something which is going to be action-packed and thrilling. It’s going to be more Indiana Jones, going after ancient artifacts, booby-trapped places.” And they said “Oh, OK. Cool.”

Going right back to the start with Ice Station, when Macmillan picked up Ice Station you have to give them great credit. The original title I had, which I can’t believe, was Star Fighter.

Geoff
Whose idea was it to rename it Ice Station?

Matthew
That was Macmillan’s, that was Cate Patterson and James Frazier. They said, “Why don’t you call it The Ice Station?” And I said, “Well, let’s take away the ‘The’. Ice Station works for me.” And, you have to be, as an author you have to be open to suggestions from your publisher. Yes, they rejected Contest, but they are still good at what they do for a reason.

What most impressed me with Ice Station though was that Macmillan had never published a thriller like this before. They sort of said, “We don’t know what this is, but we really like it, and it’s new.”

And, so when Ice Station was being edited I was often educating my editor. They said, “Oh, what about this?” I said, “No, no. This is something that thriller readers will be OK with.” They said, “Oh, OK.” So to their credit, it was almost like Warner Bros making the movie The Matrix. “We don’t quite understand this, but it looks good.” And, so from there they have trusted me to know my genre.

I have heard stories of, especially with children’s authors, who get weighed on not to use so much foul language, but I have never had any intrusion into plot language, violence, and my stories have a lot of plot, a lot of foul language…and a lot of violence.

Geoff
You said that you first started writing Contest purely because it was a book that you wanted to read yourself.

Matthew
Yes.

Geoff
Have you a better idea of who your readers are now? And when you’re putting a book together, are you writing with them in mind? Has it changed over the years?

Matthew
Actually, no. I still write for myself.  And the change that has come about is that I’m acutely aware, year after year, that the audience is getting more sophisticated. In the two years between my books, the audience has watched several dozen movies. They’re getting TV shows now, like House and CSI, which are filled with plot, filled with twists, and exceptional film making.

And, so they’ve watched two years’ worth of that. So my twists have to be better. My plots have to be better. I think a single episode of House, one of my favorite shows, it’s got more plot and character than most movies that you pay $17 to go and see.

And so not only am I writing for myself, but I’m writing for myself as the thriller reader who is now getting smarter and smarter and more sophisticated, and I have to get cleverer. So, the twists and the plot density of, say, The Five Greatest Warriors, I think are more complicated than Ice Station, which came out in 1998, because the audience can now grasp plots and twists so much faster.

Geoff
Do you look at the early Matt Reilly stuff and say, “Ugh, nice first attempt, but I’ve learned so much over the last twelve years.”?

Matthew 
Not for a second. One of my great skills, I think, is my ability to be satisfied with something and then move on. And, it’s a skill that I think as a professional writer you have to develop. If you’re walking along with a bag of regrets, it’s a tough life.

Geoff
For a lot of first writers that’s one of their greatest decisions to make. “I’ve worked on this for two years. I think it’s finished, but I’m not sure.” It’s very hard for people to say, “OK, it’s done.” Was that a difficult process for you with Contest?

Matthew
Publishing a book, it’s a really weird thing because to write a book you have to spend a lot of time by yourself. It’s quite an introverted activity. And, then you put your name on the front cover and you put it out there to be evaluated, reviewed, or worse, ignored.

And, to my mind a lot of people who write a book, they’re the first part of that. They’re quite introverted. And, so yes, it can be a bit of a warm blanket to say, “I’ll revise it one more time.” Because to take that step to the extroverted side of it, of putting your name on a book and literally sticking your neck out there, that’s a big step. So, I do understand there are people who basically are trying to procrastinate and put off taking that step. But at some point you have to say, “This is the best I can do” and put it out there.

And, yes, you need a bit of a brass neck. I’ve had reviewers say that Scarecrow had less literary merit than a shopping docket. I get people on Amazon.com who hate my guts. It’s going to happen. But, you also get those wonderful emails from people who say, “I’ve never read a full book before, but then I read Ice Station,” or Hell Island “and now I read all sorts of books.”

So, if you can get past the introverted state and get to the extraverted state, that’s a big step, but basically be happy- get to a point where you’re satisfied you’ve done the best thing you can do. And then put it out there. And, then maybe start thinking about what’s next for you.

Geoff
It can be difficult to answer, but how much of what you do, how much of writing is a trade that you can learn through spending eight hours a day at the computer and just putting your thoughts on paper, and how much is actually skill?

Matthew
It’s very hard to break it down. I think it all starts from one first step. And I found it quite independently in Stephen King’s book on writing, where he wrote, “At some point in their career, every writer looks at the books they’re reading and says ‘I can do better than that’.” And, so I don’t know if you can write yourself into skill, just through sheer hours and hours, and hours of doing it. I do think that I certainly looked at the books I was reading and I said, “I’m a bit of an expert in this. I’ve read dozens and dozens of action thrillers and I reckon I can do it better.”

All it takes is the ability to look at what you’ve been reading and to say, “You know, this could evolve.” And, I will always look at what I’m writing and say, “Have I ever read anything like this before?” And, I’ve watched a lot of movies, I’ve read a lot of books. If I’m writing something and think “you know, this sort of was in Predator II.” I go, “OK, I can’t write it.”

But, if I’m writing something and can say “I’ve never seen this in any movie, or any book.” That means I’m in uncharted territory, so I’m doing something right. So, yes, practice helps, but the first step is knowing your genre and saying, “I can do better than that.” And, that applies to thrillers for me. Romance novels, literary fiction, non-fiction, biography, it’s looking at what you’re reading and saying, “You know, I can do that, and I can do it better.”

Geoff
Was there somebody who was reading the chapters as you were doing them? At what stage in your process do you like to start getting feedback on a book?

Matthew
My wife reads my books in 150 page chunks. So, she might read the first third, then she’ll wait a few months read the middle third, wait a few months and then she’ll read the last third.

Geoff
Was she a fan of the genre before you came along?

Matthew
You know, she wasn’t a particular fan of thrillers. She was just a reader. But she knows what she likes and my books are designed to sort of hook you in from the first line. So, I hooked her in from the start withContest, and she wants to keep reading.

When I’ve finished the book and when I’m just about to send it to my publisher I send it to a good friend of mine from high school. He works in the building industry. He’s not a writer. He’s not an editor. He’s just the guy will go through the airport and buy a paperback book on the way.

I send him the manuscript and I say, “Tell me what you think.” And, so far he comes back and goes, “That was great.” And, so I’m not looking for erudite literary criticism from him. I just want to know if he’s having a good time.

And, the only thing I ask him and my wife is, “Does it slow down at any point?”

And at one point in Ice Station my wife said, “You know around page 160-180 I felt it slowed down, and so I went straight to those pages and just went cut, cut, cut, cut. And, so when the general public got Ice Stationthere was no slowing down.

But beyond that, sometimes my wife will say, “What are the characters feeling at this point?” Because I will often be going helter-skelter with the action and the plot. And, she’ll say, “I wanted to know what ‘X’ was feeling.” And that’s a good reminder as well.

Geoff
Typically in the thriller genre there isn’t a lot of what you would call ‘character development’.  It’s more about plot structure and action. Is that a concern for you? Do you feel that you’re neglecting the character?

Matthew
No. No, this is where I think I build a better mousetrap. I am inserting character into things. And, one of the key problems, especially with a sequel, and I’m a student of sequels. I look at movies, why Lethal Weapon 2is a good sequel, why Speed 2 is a bad sequel. And Lethal Weapon 2 is a good sequel because it advanced the characters of the lead characters.

But, with any sequel the danger is the hero is probably going to survive because James Bond will live to fight another day. How do you keep the reader on the edge of their seat and thinking that the hero may not? In Scarecrow, I actually killed off a much loved major character. It wasn’t the hero, but it was a much loved major character. I get hate mail for that book. And, the reason I accepted the hate mail for what it is, is that I generated such an emotional attachment to that character that people cried, that people got upset.

But, by killing off that character, in my future books people will say, “Remember what Matthew Reilly did inScarecrow. He was so horrible. No character is safe.” Plus, the effects of that character’s death on the hero transformed his character. So, in a thriller you need character. If you don’t have characters that people love and want to know and engage with, then you’re not going to be thrilled when they’re in danger.

So, in actual fact, I think it’s a tough call when people say that there’s little character development in thrillers, because I think it’s very subtle, but there is character development because you care about them. And, I put a lot of time and effort into that. That’s a lot in the revisions. I’m inserting more character. “Where can I put more character?” “Where can I get more interest so that the readers care about these characters?” And, a lot of that is in the revising.

Geoff
Is there still the same passion for you writing novel number ten as there is for writing number one?

Matthew
You know, the passion is still there. The hard part is that I get the idea – as I said before, I map out the whole book in my head. And, so I map out 400 pages of a jam-packed story. It’s in my head, but writing still takes me eight months.

And, so that’s the hard part. I wish I could develop a machine where I could just zap it from my brain and have printed text straight away. The only thing that tires me now is forcing myself to sit down for three, four, five hours on a given day and just type out the ideas. Because the ideas are fully formed.

So, the passion is still there, but it’s just the physical getting it out of here onto the page that’s the hard part now, because the ideas are fully formed.

Geoff
So you’re after some brain transferal, character recognition software…

Matthew
Yes.

Geoff
Sounds like the sort of thing you might read about in a Matthew Reilly novel.

Matthew
It is, but I guess the funny thing is if it were easy, everybody would be doing it. The biggest question I get asked, apart from, “Where do you get your ideas?” is, “How do you maintain the discipline?” “How do you sit down and write for these periods of time?” And it’s the passion which drives me to sit down and do the typing. So, if it were easy everybody would be doing it. And, it’s hard. It takes a long time, of solitary work.

Geoff
Now Ice Station, the entire background for that you said you did research in your local library.

Matthew
Yeah.

Geoff
To create a realistic environment for the readers. How credible do your plots have to be? Do your books live somewhere between reality and sci-fi?

Matthew
I think that’s a pretty good description. There’s often the hint of sci-fi. So, Ice Station had the discovery of what appears to be a spaceship buried in the ice in Antarctic, and it turns out not to be. To the full on sci-fi, I mean Contest and Hover Car Racer are overt science fiction. Contest has aliens, Hover Car Racer is set in the near future.

But the thrillers always have the hint of sci-fi. And, that’s more just, that’s the story I like. Raiders of the Lost Ark, is a very influential film for me. And, while it has all this very realistic, although outrageous action in it, you know, where he goes under the truck and that sort of thing, it still has that element of sort of paranormal sci-fi in the ark of the covenant ultimately shoots out flames and kills people.

But no matter how outrageous you get, and my books I think are in the James Bond level of outrageousness – people jump off moving vehicles onto moving planes. It’s big action, the kind of you expect in a Bruce Willis movie. But, it has to be grounded in some sort of reality.

And, yeah, Ice Station, I researched Ice Station in Willoughby Library, which through sheer good fortune, had the most incredible Antarctic section. And, so all of the stuff about Antarctic in Ice Station, the ice stations that float out to sea, ice moving out from the poles, the inability of helicopters to fly in the extreme cold air, all came from non-fiction books I found in the library.

And, I’ve spoken at Willoughby Library, and I’ve done speeches at libraries around Australia, and I say, “I researched Ice Station in a local library just like this.” And the people in the audience, many of who are aspiring writers, look around and go, “You can write an international best selling book starting here?”

And nobody is born a best selling author. I get invited to army bases now, but when you’re alone at home in a room writing that first book – nobody is born with access. You have to go and find it out.

Geoff
So, for the courses that we teach, for people who are self-publishing or who want to get a book published, what’s the key advice that you can give them?

Matthew
The first thing I will say is write the kind of book that you like to read yourself. You will not see the Matthew Reilly book of poetry anytime soon. You will not see me writing a romance novel, and there’s a reason for that. Readers of poetry and romance novels will spot me as a fake in a second. Likewise, don’t write thrillers if you think, “Thriller writers make money. I’ll write a thriller.” Thriller readers will spot you as a fake in a second.

If you write what you love, and as I’ve said before, try to write a book which is better than the stuff that you’re reading, then you’ll be building on this knowledge that you’ve had from reading and enjoying these books.

So, if romance is the kind of book you like, then that’s the kind of book I think you should write. If thrillers are what you like, then that’s what you should write. So the passion is already there, and it’s the passion which drives me to sit down and spend those thousands of hours writing the book, getting the idea out of the head onto the page. And, so suddenly discipline isn’t an issue. So, if you write what you love and what you’d want to read yourself the passion is there, the discipline will follow.

I’d also say it works for me, it doesn’t work for everybody, get the end in your head before you start, because it’s like planning a trip. If you’re going to drive from Sydney to Canberra, you need to know that you have to get onto the M5, and then get onto the Hume highway and eventually you’ll get to Canberra.

That’s the way I write my books. I have my starting point. I have my finishing point. So, when I sit down, all I have to do is make sure I’m moving myself towards the finish. So, write what you love, the passion, discipline will follow and get the end in your head before you start.

Geoff
Discipline is a key thing. For a lot of people, they’ve got the idea, they’ve got the passion, but life keeps getting in the way. They say “I’m halfway through it, but I  can’t find the time to finish it. Were there any things that helped you to write day after day?

Matthew
You know, the thing to keep you going is to know that it will take a long time.

When I wrote Contest and Ice Station, and to a lesser extent, Temple, I was studying at university and working at a bar. What I would do is write on Thursday nights, or Sunday afternoons, or Saturday afternoons.

And this friend of mine, who reads books now, he was a very keen soccer player. He belonged to a district soccer club. And it can help to view it as a hobby. He went off and spent his Saturday afternoons playing soccer. I went off and wrote my book.

And, slowly – the pile of pages gets bigger. There’s no time limit. There’s no rule that a book has to be done in six or twelve months. It can take as long as it takes, but if you make it a hobby, then you just find a little bit of time here and there to work on it.

When I was on university holidays I’d get five days in a row that I could write, and that was just, that was a bonus. So, if you view it as this thing you do for enjoyment, and I get a kick out of it. I think I get an endorphin rush doing it. If you view it that way, it becomes fun. Don’t set yourself arbitrary time limits, it’s counter productive.

Geoff
Is calling yourself an author something that’s good?

Matthew
Absolutely. And, I kick myself from before, when I used the phrase ‘aspiring writer’. You’re a writer. You should not say ‘aspiring’, you should say, “I’m a writer.” And, “I am an author.”

If you’re heading overseas and it says on the outgoing passenger form ‘occupation’, write ‘author’. Do that.

It’s a rare case where you have to write it down and put it on a page. And, the first step to becoming an international best selling author is to have the dream. You have got to think that it’s possible first. These things rarely happen by accident. And, so if the dream is to be an author, say it.

Geoff
Well, Matthew Reilly, you’ve lived that dream. You’re now a best selling Australian author of nine novels with another one to come. Thank you so much for your time.

Matthew
Thank you for having me, and good luck to everybody with their writing.


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