Sydney Bauer: Award-winning author of crime fiction

Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends










Submit

image-sydneybauer200Sydney Bauer is the author of the crime series featuring Boston based criminal attorney David Cavanagh. Her debut novel Undertow, also the first novel in the series, was published in 2006 and won the Sisters in Crime Davitt Award for the best crime novel by an Australian Woman.

Since then, Sydney has written three more David Cavanagh novels – Gospel, Alibi and Move to Strike. She is currently editing her fifth novel and writing her sixth. Sydney’s books are also released in the US.

Sydney’s background is in journalism and television. While studying for a Communications degree in the 1980s she worked as a copy girl at a major Australian newspaper and then secured a cadetship that led to a position as a crime, legal and courts reporter. She eventually moved on to become a features editor for an young women’s magazine before finally changing direction completely and moving to television.

Click play to listen. Running time: 27.34

Undertow

Transcript

* Please note these transcripts have been edited for readability

Valerie:
So, Sydney, thanks for joining us today.

Sydney:
Thank you for having me.

Valerie:
Now, you have had a lot of experience in both print and visual media and spent some time as a court reporter. Now how did you get into writing novels, especially crime novels?

Sydney:
I know it’s kind of a bizarre thing. I mean, yes, absolutely my background is in journalism and in television it was in publicity and programming. It was really a fluke to be honest with you.

I had my daughter in 1999 and then I was still working part-time for Channel 7. Then a few years down from that my husband’s firm transferred him to London. So we all trekked so far over to London in the middle of winter which was fantastic. My daughter was in nursery school and my husband was working long hours. It was the first time since I had left school  that I wasn’t going to university full-time or working and so I literally sat down in my little London terrace and wrote the two words, “Chapter One”.

Obviously there was a lot of research and thought that went into what I was going to do but I basically drew on my experience in TV to set up the legal thriller genre and sort of went from there.

Valerie:
And did you draw on the experiences court reporting as well? Did that influence it too?

Sydney:
Yeah, absolutely, I certainly tried to. I was court reporting for the Australian, the Telegraph, at a very interesting time. It was kind of that Underbelly time in Sydney when there was the Tom Domican stuff and was still going on Chris Dale Flannery’s wife was on the stand and I did the bikie trials after the big bikie massacre at Penrith.

There was a lot of interesting stuff there to draw from. However considering I was setting my books in the US, specifically in Massachusetts, in Boston, the laws of Massachusetts are obviously grossly different to the laws here in New South Wales. I had to literally sit down and learn the general laws of Massachusetts and look at it from an American perspective.

Valerie:
Wow! Why did you decide to set your stories in Massachusetts?

Sydney:
It was the influence of TV. I was working at 7 and 10 at times where I launched shows like Ally McBeal and The Practice and Boston Legal was about to happen and Crossing Jordan was set in Boston. Boston appealed to me because it’s like Sydney, it’s a harbour city.

But it’s a very small city with that rich history. The first everything is in Boston, the first American library, the first American public park and it was where the Declaration of Independence was first wrote out from the State House there on Congress Street. So it was small. It’s a very visually beautiful city and it has a nice eclectic mix of suburbs and neighbourhoods that had different racial tinges to them. It hit the right mix with me.

Valerie:
Have you been to Boston?

Sydney:
I go there regularly, obviously I have to for the research. That’s a big part of what I do. I now like to get stuff as legally correct as possible. So yes, I do have friends in the District Attorney’s Office and I have a defence attorney friend and I go to the jails and obviously the Superior Court and the medical examiner’s office. Over the years I have actually built up a lot of really good friends and good contacts there who help me with getting things right.

Valerie:
And in real life is it like 24 and Crossing Jordan?

Sydney:
It is, what you see is what you get with Boston. Admittedly there are some poor areas, particular down in Dorchester and South Boston and in Roxbury, it’s quite depressed there. But around near Boston Common and the Public Gardens and Downtown Crossing and the Financial District and on the harbour there on the north end which is an old Italian section of Boston, it’s really, really beautiful. Across the Charles River you’ve got Cambridge which MIT and Harvard are so it is really as beautiful as you see on television.

Valerie:
Take us back to when you first started writing that novel. A lot of stuff happens from when you first started writing and it’s gets to a publisher. Tell us about that process. How did you get into it? How did you end up getting published? What happened?

Sydney:
I think that it was a lot of hard work and part luck. I mean, the first thing that I did was that I contacted a guy at Boston College who was a historian who knew everything about Boston, Massachusetts to get a feel for the city. Of course I was living in London, Boston was only seven hours on a plane away so I went there and did some research.

I came up with my main characters and gave them proper lives and identities. I wrote Undertow largely while I was living in London and then I got back home here and the gaining of a publisher was kind of a bit of a fluke.

We were on the Gold Coast actually for a family holiday and I picked up a book there on a shelf of an apartment that my father-in-law owned. I read the book. It was a great book and it was based in American and in the UK. I went to the front of the book and it said, so-and-so the author lives in Brisbane. I thought, “Oh, my God. This guy is doing exactly what I’m doing and that he’s an Australian but he’s basing his books internationally.”

Also as part of his acknowledgements he actually said that he would like to thank Kate Patterson for taking my call. I thought, “Okay, well if Kate Patterson took his call maybe she’ll take mine.” And Kate was the first publisher that I approached with an idea of somebody publishing Undertow. Luckily within the matter of a few weeks I had a publishing deal so in that aspect I was kind of lucky.

Valerie:
Wow, fantastic.

Sydney:
But I guess that I had put in a good solid year’s work previous to that so the background work was there but luckily Kate had the confidence enough to take me on.

Valerie:
With that debut novel, Undertow, did you decide then that it was going to be a series or later?

Sydney:
Yeah, absolutely, I think once again the background in TV I didn’t know what else to write so I had exposed myself to so many brilliant American based series like your West Wing’s and your Law & Order’s and your 24’s. I wanted David, my main character, to have that kind of longevity and the characters around to become people that the readers knew and loved. Besides the fact that each individual novel actually has a different crime and a murder story going on within it, I wanted them to watch the characters grow from book to book.

Valerie:
When did you decide that you could do writing full-time? When did it occur to you, I’m a full-time author?

Sydney:
I’d got the publishing deal and then I was contracted to do a book a year so that kind of made it important that I was concentrating on it. Also I had a small child so my priority was actually being a mum. But writing and being a mum go really well together in lots of ways because like even now my daughter is nine but I can take her swimming the mornings and take her to school and pick her up from school and take her to soccer or do whatever she needs to do and make my writing hours the school hours or at night when she has gone to bed or on the weekends.

So it’s a job where I don’t have to be in an office from 8:30 to 6:30 like I did when I was in TV. You can pick and chose when you have the time to sit down in front of a computer.

Valerie:
When you do write a series, you’re writing book number five at the moment.

Sydney:
I’m actually writing six, isn’t that weird. I finished five and I’m editing five.

Valerie:
So how does that work, do you work on them concurrently? Do you actually think of your stories ahead? How does that work?

Sydney:
It’s a personality trait. I’m very organized and structured kind of person so I write calendar year. I sort of when the school holiday is finished and the end of January, that’s when I start my next book and I like to finish it by the end of December.

But obviously while I’m writing that book I’m editing the previous one. I’m promoting the one before that and often editing the one before that for the US market. So even though I might be writing book six now, I’m editing book five, I’m promoting book four and I’m working on editing book three for the US.

So it kind of has to be a full-time job because I really literally don’t have time to do much else to be honest with you. But it’s great fun. I really enjoy it.

Valerie:
Your background is in journalism before you went in TV but both journalism and what you did in television is very different to writing fiction. How did you learn the skills and transition into writing fiction?

Sydney:
That was tricky. I think it was basically exposure to people who are clever. To be honest, I’ve always been a bit of a sponge and part of my job when I worked for 10 and 7, particularly at 7 when I was director of programming in Sydney, I was travelling to the US a lot and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with people like Steven Bochco who created shows like NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues and David Kelley who created 24 and Boston Legal and The Practice and Dick Wolf for Law & Order.

I guess I drew my inspiration from them. So I think that it was a combination of working on those quality American dramas and the fact that I had the journalism background helped me sit down and write a book.

Valerie:
Do you think that you will always stick with crime? Do you want to write about other things?

Sydney:
I don’t know. Some of my favourite authors, people like Lee Child or Michael Connelly or I’m actually quite into Mark Gimenez he’s another legal thriller writer from America. If Lee Child came out with a book that wasn’t the Jack Reacher, who was his main character, I think that I would be kind of disappointed because I like Jack and I know him now.

I’m just wondering how many readers I would disappoint if I came out with a book that wasn’t a David Cavanaugh book because both here and in the US gratefully he’s getting a bit of a following. But yeah, if my American agent sort of says to me, “I’d love to see you have a try at something like what Jodi Picoult does or what have you.” Because in American 92% of the readership is, women buy a lot more books than men.

I’ve got commercial reasons I guess to try something new but I’m happy doing what I am at the moment and I love David and I love the characters that I have created and they are very much a part of my life now so it would be difficult to let them go.

Valerie:
So David, as your main protagonist, how did he come about? How was he created? Is he based on anyone?

Sydney:
He’s based I guess on an accumulation of television characters like Bobby Donnell from The Practice. And maybe there’s a bit of Jack Bauer from 24. He’s a strong, everyday man with his own personal flaws. But what I love about him is when he takes a client on and he has his personal policy that he only takes a client on when he believes in their innocence. He fights for them with his entire being even if it comes to putting his life at risk and sometimes unwittingly putting other people close to him lives at risk, I love the way that he never gives up even when things seem beyond impossible.

So I feel like I hope that he is part of me. I hope that there is part of me in him and because I think that he’s a good guy. He’s kind of an accumulation of people that I know and people that I have pulled on from fiction.

Valerie:
You’ve mentioned a lot of shows that I watch and I’m a big fan of, 24, The Practice. Are there plans or hopes for David Cavanaugh to make to the small screen?

Sydney:
Yeah, of course, that’s my dream. It’s what I’ve learnt with publishing and this is very difficult for somebody who worked in TV and got the ratings every morning because everything is so immediate in television. Publishing works very slowly. I have been given advice by people who know that you have to do things in order.

So the first thing was establishing myself here and now I’m in the process of establishing myself in the US. And then with that weight behind you with the sales figures and so forth, then you can go and approach studios in Los Angeles so we’re on the cusp of doing that now. So I guess that I have to cross my fingers and see how it goes.

Valerie:
Have you actually spent time writing television scripts?

Sydney:
No, but I do ironically I think that the daft thing in my books that the script would be actually easier than writing a book only because it’s what I’m used to compared to I’ve had more experience with scripts than I have with novels I guess.

A good friend of mine, Shane Brennan, who is executive producer of NCIS, he’s an Australian. I was over there seeing him in LA recently and he gave me a whole lot of advice so I’m really lucky that I have those contacts and friends who sort of have my back and are trying to steer me in the right direction.

Valerie:
The name Sydney Bauer seems like a very familiar name especially when you watch those sorts of shows. That’s actually a pseudonym isn’t it?

Sydney:
It is yes, my name is Kimberly. The reason for it back in Undertow days, with my first novel was statistics show here in this country that a lot of men don’t pick up that genre being legal thriller written by a female. We wanted to come up with a name that I could be either male or female and I settled on Sydney because I stole that from the show called Alias which the lead character played by Jennifer Garner’s name was Sydney Bristow. The Bauer of course comes from Jack Bauer and 24.

Valerie:
Famous name now.

Sydney:
I know. It’s a good name, right?

Valerie:
It’s great.

Sydney:
I mean for authors having a name at the top of the alphabet apparently is a plus because people browse books A – Z in bookstores. I don’t know how many people actually get to Z. Apparently B is on eye level, I’m not sure about this but Bauer apparently is a good name to have.

It’s like Dan Brown or like Lee Child. Lee Child is not Lee Child’s real name. So they chose those, Dan Brown that is his real name. He lucked out I guess but a lot of authors do chose those names for those reasons.

Valerie:
Tell us about your writing day, just take us through. Do you have a routine? Are there certain things that you do before you start tapping away at the computer? What happens in your writing day?

Sydney:
My day starts with my daughter is a swimmer so I’m one of those wonderful mothers that gets up at 6:00 a.m. to go to squad. I often swim at the same time as her which I did this morning and that’s why I’m quite cold.

So it starts with things like that taking her to school. I’m really such a mundane person that it then goes on to things like housework. Then I sit down and write. What I often do is that I read over what I wrote the day before, before attacking the next section. My non-writing hours are spent thinking about what I am going to write the next day.

My head is actually even when I’m doing those laps in the pool or what have you, my head will be on how I’m going to start that next section and who’s perspective it’s going to be from and where the story is going today. I would write then from roughly 9:30 through until 2:30 and then pick my daughter up or do whatever I need to do. Often that night I might read over it again and start my head working on what comes next.

I don’t know if it is an upside or a downside but this is a job where the work is never actually out of your brain. It’s there constantly at 3:00 a.m. or 2:00 a.m. or 8:00 in the morning or there’s always some idea that’s trying to push its way to the front of your brain. It’s a constant flowing thing.

Valerie:
Is that stressful or is that a good thing?

Sydney:
Some days it’s incredibly stressful because there are days where things just aren’t working. Because my books are so complex and intricate and they always have a big twist at the end and of course I know what’s going on but I can’t reveal to the reader what is going on through the course of the book.

I’m always trying to cover myself whilst leaking enough clues so that the end makes sense. With the genre that I write I do make it hard on myself. Some days it’s soul destroying but then other days everything falls into place and you think, “Oh, God! That worked.” So you have to take the good with the bad.

Valerie:
From the outside you’re a mother and you take your daughter to swimming and that sort of thing and you use the word “mundane” before but if somebody was actually in your head and they could actually see the murders and the images and the crime, how do you actually think about crime and kind of some vicious or violent themes quite a lot?

Sydney:
I see what you’re saying. It is a duplicitous life. Obviously part of my research has taken me to some really interesting places like I have been to the FBI in Quantico and the CIA in Langley. There was a moment at the CIA where I had this great agent, this great guy who had been undercover for 25 years showing me around.

And I said, “Would you mind excusing me for a moment?” I walked out over that famous eagle’s shield on the floor. You know that you see it on TV shows and I walked out to the front to make a phone call. I made this phone call back home because I was worried that my husband would forget to put my daughter’s dancing gear in her school bag because she had dance that afternoon.

One minute I’m talking to spies and the next minute I’m worried about the dancing shoes. This is my kind of weird existence and it happens to me all of the time where my head will soar into FBI mode and then fall back into mum mode at any given time. But I guess that’s the fun of it, right?

Valerie:
Now crime can be very complex though. Do you plan it out in your head or do you have way of planning out on the wall at home? How do you actually sort it all out?

Sydney:
It’s mostly my head. Before I start a book I write down what I call ideas but inevitably when you are writing a book like I am things change. I like to know who my main characters are, what the crime is and where it’s going to end up. But inevitably when you’re halfway through the book or two-thirds through the book, you think, “Oh, my God! There is a better way to do this. I think that I should do this rather than this.”
So for those reasons I let it be fluid because every work is a work in progress and you are bound to think of a better way to do it when you’re in the middle of the book rather than when you are sitting down in front of the computer on the very first day trying to map it all out. I let myself change. I change my mind.

I basically know who did it and why it was done and what the crime was. I can foresee the problems that David is going have in solving it. But there are details that obviously come to me when I’m sitting in front of the computer. It’s both a combination of structured planning and allowing yourself to be flexible.

Valerie:
If Keifer Sutherland is Jack Bauer and Dylan McDermott is Bobby Donnell, who is David Cavanaugh for you?

Sydney:
Everybody asks me this question and I never really have a good answer. Sometimes I think Matt Damon (Sydney refers to Matt Dillon in the audio recording. However, we checked with her later and she meant Matt Damon.) because he is a Bostonian and he’s a nice guy. As well as having that edge, that Jason Bourne edge about him, he does have that bit of vulnerability and softness that I like.

But everybody that I meet particularly when  you go to the US, everybody has an opinion and some of them I think, God no! Where did you come up with that. So I kind of like the idea that David looks a little bit different in everybody’s mind even though I describe him in the book. Casting is fun so I’m really not too sure.

Valerie:
But what are your plans at this stage? Is it are you currently just seeing no end to the David Cavanaugh series and you are just keeping ongoing? Or what are your plans in the next five years?

Sydney:
At the moment I think that I am really still enjoying it. The sixth book that I’m writing now, well, I think what helped was with the fifth book which comes out next year I did something a little bit different. All the first four books were set largely in Boston with a bit of Washington in there and what have you. But I wanted to learn more about David myself and also in the books that I had mentioned that David grew up in New Jersey, specifically a working class town called Newark.

So what I did with book five I created where David was called by a childhood friend and the childhood friend is kind of a prominent senator in New Jersey now. He’s accused of murder and David goes back home to represent this boy who’s now a man who was one of his two best-friends when he was in school. But the twist to it is that the friend is accused of killing a girl who was also a part of their friendship group when they were young. So he is defending a friend who killed a friend.

He’s also working in New Jersey which he’s a fish out of water because he practices in Massachusetts and every single state has a different set of laws. So I think as long as I mix it up like that, as long as I move David around a bit and even if I keep him in Boston which he is back in Boston for the sixth book. I give him a different sort of defendant, a different sort of case to tackle. As long as I am able to keep it fresh like that then I can’t see an end to it at this point.

Valerie:
Finally do you have any advice for any who are listening to this and thinking, “I’d really love to break into it in the same way that you have.” What would you advice be on the steps that they should take to get into writing?

Sydney:
My advice is persistence and determination and to never give up, to sit down and write the two words, “Chapter One”. Then you are locked in and you have made a commitment to yourself to keep going. With me I know that it sounds like I have done it easily but when it comes to America for example I have a pile of rejection letters from agents who did not want to take me on or who didn’t even open my letter to begin with.

Now I have got a great agent in New York but it took time and it took a lot of heartache and frustration. So I think the message is that everybody can do it. Writing is not brain surgery. It’s more to do with passion. As long as you have the passion and as long as you are willing to sit through the rejection letters and the frustrating times, then I think that it’s a wonderful job.

Look at me. I’m an Australian who has worked in journalism and TV and now I’m a mum who my main priority is my family but yeah, I have days where I am at the FBI. And I have days where I am watching autopsy at the Boston Medical Examiner’s office so it has opened up a whole new world to me and a whole new group of friends that I would never have had if I had never not started down the road of becoming a writer.

So I have been incredibly lucky and I think that’s my advice is to keep at it and know that when you do keep those goals that  it’s a wonderful job to have.

Valerie:
And on that note, thank you very much for your time today.

Sydney:
Thank you so much. Thank you very much.


Comments