Matthew Reilly is an international bestselling author who wrote his first novel, Contest, at 19. He is now the author of 12 bestsellers including Ice Station, The Tournament, and The Great Zoo of China.
Matthew is acutely aware of his audience. He’s particularly aware that they are becoming more sophisticated in their knowledge of crime. “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 filmmaking.”
He talks about the influences of crime shows on current television and how he develops his own stories to keep up with the plot twists audiences are attuned to. “So my twists have to be better. My plots have to be better. I think in a single episode of House, one of my favourite shows, it’s got more plot and character than most movies that you pay $17 to go and see.”
Matthew finds it important to remember that he himself is a thriller reader – and that’s who he is writing for. “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.”
He also isn’t above seeing bad movies to find the gap in the thriller readership. “I am the kind of guy who will go out and buy a Matthew Reilly book. And so, I’m often asked by people whether 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 but it just hadn’t been seen by the right person. That’s why I self published it.”
Matthew’s tip: Own it
“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’.”
Listen to the Australian Writers’ Centre’s spine-tingling Murder and Mayhem podcast here.