Peter Temple talks to Bob Cornwell
is a fresh Monday afternoon in early July, a month that would turn out to be
one of the wettest on record, but the atmosphere in the Bloomsbury offices of
Quercus is feverish. Following on from their success with Stef Penney’s
debut novel, The
Tenderness of Wolves (the Costa Book of the Year), Quercus has
another winner. Peter Temple has won this year’s CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger
with his 2005 novel The
Broken Shore, his first to be published in the UK.
One aspect of the feverish activity is apparent when, as I am ushered into what could be the Quercus boardroom, I catch sight of a grey-haired figure seated at the room-length table , much of it covered by books. It is Peter Temple himself and the books are all his. After a marathon signing session, most of them now bear his signature.
Temple is still high on the CWA award, and the news has spawned huge (Australian) media interest with Temple dealing with umpteen phone requests for interviews, comment and quotes since the announcement. Already that weekend The Australian, the country’s major national newspaper, a friend has emailed to tell me, has run a feature on his work.
At the end of May, The Broken Shore was also published in the USA by Farrar Straus and Giroux, and the reviews, Temple informs me, (New York Times, Time Out New York for example), though slow to arrive, have been excellent. He is proudest of the review in the Washington Post (“the best I’ve ever received anywhere”). It seems that Peter Temple’s international career, so long denied him, is at last ready to take off.
Peter Temple is the most successful Australian crime writer of recent times. South African-born, he and his wife moved to Australia in 1980 where he pursued a successful career, both as a journalist and as an editor. Later he would teach those subjects, eventually becoming the senior lecturer in journalism at Melbourne’s university RMIT and playing an important part in developing the graduate programme in editing and publishing there. He has also been a book reviewer, sometimes of crime fiction.
But he had always wanted to write, and in 1995 he abandoned the day-job and became self-employed (as an editor) whilst writing his first book. That book became Bad Debts (Harper Collins 1996), the first to feature Jack Irish, his Melbourne-based part-time lawyer, part-time everything including football player , horse-racing fanatic and cabinet-maker. Shortly after, it won the Crime Writer’s Association of Austrlia’s prize for the best first novel of the year. It would be the first of many prizes for this hugely-talented writer. In spite of his reluctance to write a series, there are now four Jack Irish books. Bad Debts was followed four years later by Black Tide (1999), Dead Point (2000) and White Dog (2003). Both Dead Point and White Dog also carried off the Ned Kelly Award.
Between the first two Irish books, he wrote An Iron Rose (1998), a stand-alone novel. The books that came after followed a similar pattern. After Black Tide came a second stand-alone, Shooting Star (1999). His other stand-alone novels are the superb international thriller In the Evil Day(2002, aka Identity Theory in the USA) and most recently, The Broken Shore (2005) itself. Shooting Star also won the Ned Kelly Award, as did The Broken Shore, bringing his total Australian awards to five.
I first came across the name of Peter Temple as the writer of the introduction to Kenneth Cook’s outback classic Wake in Fright (1961), filmed by Ted Kotcheff in 1971 as Outback, and republished here as a result by Prion in 2002 in their Film Ink series. The book in fact originated with Text Publishing, a well-respected and enterprising Australian publisher run by Michael Heyward who, at the time, according to Temple, “needed a tame and cheap crime wtiter to write that introduction.” It was the start of a relationship that would result in Text’s reissue of Temple’s back-list, then out-of-print, and a reappraisal of Temple’s international prospects. Out of small acorns, I mutter. “ Either that, or a ruthless strategy to poach someone whose contract with his previous publisher was just about to end”, adds Temple, amid laughter.
Meanwhile he was about to enter into another new relationship, with Anthony Cheetham of Quercus who offered to buy his “life’s work” (as Temple remarked during his Dagger acceptance speech) “for a sum which you might buy a used Vauxhall Velox, in quite good condition given its age.” Temple has however had no cause to regret the deal. As he also remarked in his acceptance speech, he also considers himself fortunate “to be attached to a superman set on world domination, fortunate to be attached in any way”.
The Broken Shore was published in June 2006 to almost universal acclaim “A towering achievement...Indispensable” said Maxim Jakubowski in the Guardian; “written with sensitivity and subtlety” added The Times’ Marcel Berlins; whilst Peter Guttridge in the Observer presciently predicted: “an early contender for next year’s Gold Dagger.” Since then Quercus have published Bad Debts, An Iron Rose and In the Evil Day. The second Jack Irish book, Black Tide will be published on August 30th.
But The Broken Shore seemed as good a place as any to start ...
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Do you see The
Broken Shore as some kind of watershed in your development as a writer?
I didn’t at the time. It took me a long time to write it. I’ve been writing under contract my whole career. I’m deadline-driven so I usually have to wait until someone
threatens me to get on with it. And I’m endlessly tinkering. So I can
never say I’m halfway. I’m not halfway, I’m halfway going
back to have another stab at it.
And this one took exceptionally long because I was losing interest, in writing generally and existence as such, and I put it away. It dragged on and on and on and eventually my publisher rang me: ‘we need a publication date for this thing.’ So then I put my back into it. But at that point I’d been at it so long that I had no opinion left of it at all.
So I was very surprised in the first place by his [positive] reaction, and then it was sent to his UK agent, and she also responded in favourable terms. And she was immediately convinced that English publishers may have been resistant to everything else I’d done, but they wouldn’t be resistant to this. Meanwhile we had dropped my US publisher, a lovely person but who had failed to do anything with the books. So we offered Broken Shore to all the New York publishers and Farrar Straus and Giroux made me an offer almost immediately.
And at that point I felt that I might be onto something here. Because Farrar Straus and Giroux had published almost every Nobel Prize-winner since the war...So I thought this may well be an omen.
Nobel Prize? No, of course not. But at that point I thought that this deal may actually get me out of Australia.
Its themes of political and moral corruption are favourites of yours.
Why is that?
I’m interested in them because I’m a reader of newspapers and it strikes me that the relationship between power and money is not often written about in crime fiction. Except in the case of people like James Ellroy who tackles it full on, writing in block letters with a pencil. I’ve never had protagonists who were just coppers, people with fairly complicated lives and who went out in pursuit of the murderer. I’ve always looked for larger themes. And I’ve always started off with the idea that I could write a really ‘big’ book. But as time goes by, the book gets smaller and smaller. My grasp always exceeds the vision. And the vision almost always includes political corruption, financial corruption, questions of morality, of behaviour or decency. Because I think those are issues you should write about, if you are a crime writer or not. In fact if you are a crime writer you have more licence to write about them than anybody else. So I haven’t been interested in writing plain police procedurals or, even Ross Macdonald-type personal explorations of family issues. I love them but I prefer to do something bigger. Basically what you see in the books is a shrunken version of an ambition.
The Broken Shore comes a little closer to being a ‘big’ book, but it’s not there yet. But it’s a bit closer and I think it’s because I took a longer swing at it. Black Tide, the second Jack Irish book, was well on its way before they reined me in. Black Tide was getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I’ve never shown anyone a manuscript in progress ever, but just in conversation because it was taking too long, my editor said, you may have to trim your sails here, you’re only two days from the deadline... You’re on chapter seven, the book is 250 pages long. (Laughter)
How are your deadlines now?
My present publisher has basically given up on me. He has had enough of my e-mails of despair. I tell him I’m chucking it in. He says, why don’t you just put it in the bottom drawer for a while, take a break (because I write everyday, 365 days a year), why don’t you take a few days off? Why don’t you take Sunday off, that would be good. He’s wonderful, he’s not demanding. But he’s trying to reel you in all the time. And that means that you feel guilty. So there I am. suffused with guilt all the time and always late.
How does your long-suffering wife react to the process?
She probably enjoys the fact that she sees so little of me. She’s a lawyer and she deals with difficult people every day of her life. So on the scale of difficulty, I’m some way down. I’m sort of a brooding surly peasant basically but I’m quite useful. I take the dogs for a walk, I cook from time to time, make bread...
That corruption you mention is often at a local or regional level.
Is that a peculiarly Australian problem?
Australia is a fully mature society and some people don’t seem to grasp that it is just as complex a society as the one they live in.
The cities are really big; they have all the problems of anywhere else and the country as a whole has its original inhabitants still there. Many countries have dispensed with their original inhabitants. And they are not just confined to the Northern Territories living a semblance of their original life. They are part of society; they are everywhere. They can be – and are – anything they want to be. In my time there – and I’ve had thirty years there – relations have improved, and people that have been there longer would say that they have improved remarkably. But there is racism in every society and police forces are particularly prone to this thing because they only see one side of life. You don’t deal with people who don’t fall foul of the law, you deal with people that are on the streets at three o’clock in the morning, for whatever reason.
Shore the first time you have dealt with racism?
In a head-on sort of way, yes... In the Jack Irish books, there is Cam, Jack’s horse-racing buddy, he’s Aboriginal. But I’ve never wanted to make a point of it. There are scenes in which people insult Cam. He takes a terrible revenge on them. (Laughter). One of my favourite scenes is Cam taking revenge on a guy by using a front-end loader to drop large stones on his vehicle – while he’s in it. (Laughter).
No, I’ve alluded to [racism], but I’ve never taken it head-on. I was reluctant in the early years because I’m not Australian-born. It’s a bit cheeky to go to a new society and start telling people how bad they are. I don’t think they are any worse than elsewhere. If I was a native-born Australian I wouldn’t like a white ex-South African, [he emphasises the white ex-South African] telling me about race relations. So I was reluctant. But it seemed to me that after a while that I had paid my dues. I’m just writing about what I see, what I know to be so. And, I have to say, that no-one in Australia, no reviewer has ever disagreed with the content or my expression of it. It is in fact not judgmental. It’s just the recording of it. And Cashin doesn’t like it. And his superior doesn’t like it either. I try to do it in a matter of fact way. But nevertheless, in the towns that I invented for The Broken Shore, I know it’s endemic. That’s a fact.
I know that for Jack Irish you invented a complete family history.
Did you do something similar for Cashin?
I do always. I try to work out some kind of schemata of family relationships. And once you start thinking about that sort of thing, you usually find you have to go back several generations. And if there are going to be references to earlier Cashins and things like that, you need some kind of time line. And if you want to put it in a particular place, you need to be careful that the stuff will ring true, to people who recognise it or places like it. I often do it, as in this case, in a piecemeal way. And it’s often done in retrospect. I’ll go back and change something. As you will know, writing on a computer gives you a wonderful feeling of freedom, you can change everything. If I’d been writing on a typewriter I’d have never gone beyond Bad Debts (which I wrote on a typewriter).
Having put so much effort into developing a character, don’t
you have regrets at leaving him behind? Perhaps Cashin has some potential as
a series character?
I don’t know. It’s a form of imprisonment, a form of slavery. You shackle yourself to these people. I wrote Bad Debts, the first Jack Irish with no intentions of writing a series. I thought it would be nice to write a book. I had a two book contract and [Harper Collins] said, when’s the next Jack book coming out. I said, it’s not a Jack book, I’m writing some thing else. We’d never discussed the second book. They said hang on, you can’t write something else. So we had a polite disagreement and eventually I prevailed. So I wrote An Iron Rose. and then I wrote Black Tide, Jack No.2 and then I wrote another standalone, Shooting Star.
That said, I became more attached to Cashin than my other standalone characters. But also it began to dawn on me that because I had left so many threads dangling, there was the possibility to go on. But I didn’t want to go on with Joe. Readers can bear just so much pain (Laughter) and I don’t want to spend my life writing about people who are in pain, because people are going to say, why doesn’t he just either stop complaining or get better.
But I liked the idea of staying in that world, the world of homicide and I liked the character of his superior, Inspector Villani. So the new book is called Truth. It has Villani as the central character in the city – the city and the country, because Villani’s father is out there. A strange character, a Vietnam veteran who lives out in the sticks, breeds bad racehorses (I’m trying to bring some of my themes together here, you’ll notice). And it is set at a time of a bad bush fire season. We’ve just had a very bad bush fire season, the worst since I’ve been in the country. People don’t perhaps think about it but it is threatening to the city as a whole. And out in the country it’s extremely threatening.
I usually set my books in winter, to reflect their mood, a pathetic fallacy. So I’ve set this one in summer, in the city, trying to capture something of the city but also to bring the forces of corruption very much closer to the protagonists. I’m trying a big story this time, it’ll be the second one in the trilogy, with a third one to follow. Cashin comes into it, but just briefly.
* * * * * * * * * *
Peter Temple was born in South Africa in 1946. The family claims to be related
to Archbisop William Temple, for many years Archbishop of York and during the
war, of Canterbury too. “The Temples are English,” he tells me.
“ I come from a long line of clergymen – they went to South Africa
as Anglican clergy. Apart from that totally spurious claim, we have a lot of
archdeacons down the line. I’m a complete genetic dead-end in that respect.
But my grandfather was a clergyman. On my mother’s side we are Irish and
Afrikaans Dutch. On my father’s side, his great-grandfather married a
Dutch-Afrikaans woman. They became completely anglicised. So I speak a form
of English and grew up in an English-speaking household. But I also speak Afrikaans...”
It was a literary household. “Full of books,” remembers Temple. “Like most boys in the colonies did, I cut my teeth on Just William [Richmal Crompton] and Biggles [Captain W.E. Johns].
But it was, of course, a segregated society. Indeed from 1948 the ruling National Party would reinforce segregation into the system known as Apartheid (separate development for white and non-white populations). Temple went to a white school, “a small high school with about 15 English-speaking children” what he calls a “a chicken and horse school, a chicken and horse pie, horse being the Afrikaans, and we were the chicken in the pie, hopelessly outnumbered.” Here, Temple had one of those inspirational teachers that often feature in peoples’ lives . “ We were even taught English by an Afrikaner, who happened to be the best English teacher I ever had. It was his second language.”
In March 1960 in the black township of Sharpeville, police fired on unarmed protestors demonstrating against the onerous Pass Laws (which controlled the movement of the black population around the country), killing over 60 people. It is an event remembered vividly by Temple, in his early teens at that time: “The teacher came into the classroom on the day, made the announcement to the class and her words were, in Afrikaans, ‘They should have shot more of those kaffirs.’ And my friend Henry, Dutch descent, said ‘Pity they didn’t shoot some policemen.’ And he paid the most terrible price for that statement, an absolute pariah in the school after that, playground fights and so on.”
“Out of profound distaste for the white regime” (as he told BookReporter.com) Temple would later leave South Africa. But it took some time to do, Temple experiencing the reverse racism that lead many people to shun any product of what had become one the world’s most reviled regimes. “I’d been trying for years,” he says. “But you couldn’t. Nobody would take white South Africans unless they were political refugees.”
It was a lucky break that occurred towards the end of his national service in the South African army that finally laid the foundation for his eventual escape. On leave and on a whim, he applied for a job on a newspaper. Despite having no qualifications he was offered a position shortly after leaving the Army. The newspaper, remembers Temple, “put me into cadet school, which is about six months of training, quite rigourous . It’s a proper school, you attend five days a week, and you’d work on the newspaper Saturdays. You learned shorthand, you learned press law, how to write an intro...”
After many years as a journalist in South Africa and by this time married to his lawyer wife, he was finally offered a job in Hamburg, Germany, in spite of not speaking the language. “I told them I did, though! (Laughter) That’s how desperate I was. I would have told them anything. It was obvious from the first day that I had no command of the language. And they went along with the lie, until I had a rudimentary understanding. Panic can make you do amazing things.”
In Hamburg he edited a local magazine and got to know the city well. It would later become a key element in his international thriller In the Evil Day. “A lovely time of my life” says Temple. In 1980 he and his wife were finally able to move to Australia.
Given that both Cashin in The Broken Shore and Mac Faraday in An Iron Rose are men who have returned to their roots in the area of their birth, I ask Temple if we might expect books from him, exploring the fictional possibilities of the new South Africa emerging post-apartheid. Temple is adamant: “I have no desire whatsoever”, he says “to write anything about South Africa. I left a very different place. I no longer understand it.”
* * * * * * * * * *
If there is one thing that all critics who read Temple agree on, it is the quality of the writing. That’s the theme of that Washington Post review that so pleased him. (Check it out at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/17/AR2007061701064.html). And I would most certainly agree.. Despite my ever so slightly carping review of The Broken Shore last August, I have no doubts as to the brilliance of that book. And Bad Debts must be one of the most breathtaking debut novels for many years. But I felt it wise to confess to this indiscretion early on in the interview, especially as he had made it clear that he was an avid reader of his reviews. Temple took it all in good heart (after all he has been a critic himself). One or two points from that review came up as we discussed the writing process.
You came late to writing books. Why was that?
I’ve taught journalism, I’ve studied it. I was interested in publishing and editing in particular. We started a graduate degree [at RMIT] in editing and publishing for the book trade with the support of the book trade. And I taught the editing component, so that brought me into contact with the book publishing industry. So there was never really the time.
You had a fulfilling career...
No. (Laughter) It was better than working and it was fulfilling, until I really turned sour on it. But I’d always wanted to write. I’d write fragments, and I’d write on holiday, and I’d never get the thing going properly. And I used to talk to my wife and tell her what I was doing and give her pieces to read. I got sick and tired of it. Finally I resigned from my job, and I was earning a living as an editor. I wasn’t at that point overworked, but I had to take everything that was going, sometimes working to three o’clock in the morning. She got very sick of this. I was always talking about the book, so one day she said, either write the book or shut up.
I still don’t know how people settle down to write a literary novel. I would always drift towards something dramatic quite soon. I’ve always liked crime, and I’ve always been very critical of crime. A lot of it is very sloppy, very badly written. I liked the Americans, a lot of British writers. But I always thought: I could do that. And if I bring my editing skills to bear, I could do that better. I didn’t really choose crime, that was always what I was going to do.
Any specifically Australian writers you admire?
Oh yes, there is lots of good crime writing in Australia. On the humorous side, Shane Maloney is a real talent. Coming through now there are people like Adrian Hyland [his Diamond Dove is published by Quercus in August. BC. He’s written a very interesting book about the Northern Territories. Very very knowledgeable, sensitive to the area, which is really like another country.] There is a guy called John [J.R.]Carroll who is a very hard-bitten writer indeed, who really hasn’t had the reviews, a woman like Leigh Redhead who has a stripper as a heroine, very smart as a writer, very smart indeed. There is Peter Corris who really invented the private eye novel in Australia. I’ve liked them, I’ve admired them and there are some who I think deserve a wider audience. But I never wanted to write the kind of things that they were writing. That doesn’t say anything about them, everything about me.
How did you arrive at that very distinctive style? I’ve tried
hard to find equivalents. Only James Ellroy comes close.
Parts of Ellroy I like, the jarring impact of the language. But there are times when I want to relax. I’d like to see a proper sentence, just one proper sentence.
But generally I’ve come to it because I want to say things as briefly
as possible, and I want to somehow capture how the words feel in my head. So
if I leave off pronouns and all sorts of things... As I said to one woman, I’ve
taught English grammar and I know what I am doing. And my dialogue, I’ve
always wanted to truncate my dialogue. Ever since I read George V. Higgins’s
of Eddie Coyle, I’ve really wanted to write a book in dialogue.
(Now that I am writing film scripts, I don’t want to write a book in dialogue!).
I’ve tried to create a distinctive voice, so it’s fairly self-conscious.
And I don’t write like that normally. You won’t get an e-mail from
me like that.
But mostly I’m interested in the way we share, although we may come from opposite sides of the world, we’re part of a linguistic community. And the way we speak to each other, we leave things out, we don’t have to say full sentences, or point everything out. And when you find people that work together intimately, or who spend a lot of time together (women are like this sometimes, domestically, whatever), particularly colleagues who do the kind of work that doesn’t lend itself to exposition, like, we know what we are doing here, they don’t spell things out to each other.
So what I am trying to do is to say, inside this community, this linguistic community that we share, when we speak to each other, what don’t we have to say. That’s what I’ve tried to do. I’ve tried to take all of the bits out that people would not say to each other. I want to come close to some sort of naturalistic language. If you try too hard, it’s art. And there’s another line you can fall over, into transcript, and it goes clunky on you.
Do you feel that you have ever pushed that idea a little bit too far.
Iron Rose, for example...
In parts of Iron Rose, I think perhaps I have...
There is a sex scene...
(Laughter) That sex scene – I have had more teasing over that sex scene , and it put me off sex scenes for good! I now get someone to write my sex scenes for me. (Laughter) Besides I don’t remember what sex is like. I can’t rely on my memory. So yes... but you can push everything too far.
You don’t find much of that very clipped style of dialogue in
the books of say, Garry Disher, another Melbourne-based writer...
No, you don’t. (Laughter) But that’s the vernacular. Garry Disher, all respect to him, is writing a fairly standard cleaned up language. Policeman don’t speak like that. They don’t. I’ve been with them, I’ve been in pubs with them. And they speak, apart from their professional idiosyncrasies, exactly the same way as people who occupy those sorts of positions, difficult jobs, working in strained circumstances. And when you live in each other’s pockets, you don’t spend much time talking outside the shop to anybody, because they don’t understand what you do...
How do you approach plotting? Start at the beginning and work through..?
No. I’m mucky, messy...
... Preplanning, outlining?
Couldn’t bear it, that’s writing by numbers. If I was capable of sketching a plot out on a white board, I’d take the whole board down and send it the publishers and get someone else to write it. That’s not the point of writing. I know that with film scripts, you have to write a full outline before they will commission you to write the script, but that’s another form. I couldn’t bear it.
What I start with is some kind of feeling about what I want to do. I arrive at some characters and I think about them. And then I think, roughly what’s going to happen with these people, what will drive this book, what’s going to push these characters forward. And I try to think about the ending... and I think about that a lot. And I work and I work, and I think, and I don’t write very much or I’ll write fragments all the time. And I might start writing. And I might write the first page and I’ll look at that for an hour And I’ll start somewhere else and I’m messing around. Sometimes I’ll start writing chapters deep into the book, because I know what is going to happen. Once I start to do that I’m starting to see where the book is going to go. I don’t always get there. Because sometimes on the way, uh-oh, dead end. It’s a very clumsy, very makeshift, very enjoyable way of writing.
What’s most important to you – plot, place character...?
Place and character – and mood. I’m very keen on mood. And I care how things look. Sometimes you are standing in a room, walking down a street and you see something, and I’ll think, that should be in the book. And I’ll put it in the book. I like to hope that I would capture something of the feeling of a place, even if it’s as simple as two people, like we’re sitting here, you find some way of capturing the feeling... what’s happening outside?
I’m less interested in plotting but I know that if you don’t plot satisfactorily, it will come back to bite you. So a lot of plot tidying up will have to take place at a certain point. Linking bits will have to be written, lots of things will have to be thrown away. I’ve thrown away beginnings of books more times... I’ve written the opening sentences of a number of books that have stuck with me, because I really like the sound of them. [He chuckles.] I’m not chucking this away! But I’ve chucked away big chunks of what followed. I’m undisciplined and I would not have it any other way.
I was talking to Mark Billingham, and he’s a very disciplined person, and gets very good results. That’s a temperamental thing, that’s what he is suited to do.
Let’s talk about Bad
Debts. A long time coming as we’ve discussed. Did it take some time
No. Because I had been threatened by my wife.
How did the character of Jack Irish come together?
I wanted a more complex character. I fancied myself as a critic of crime fiction, so I didn't want a one or two dimensional person. I wanted somebody who lived in the world where he had grown up, and he understood the world, he had friends, enemies, ex-wives and tragedies, places he went to, acquaintances. I wanted a complete person. I wanted to know about his family and their connections. And if its Melbourne, if you want an integrated character in Melbourne, football, that’s Aussie rules football, is the way to do it... But I wanted him to come from a line of people who are known for something, not to be rich but for just being known as fairly hard men, and some of the old footballers are about as hard as you get. And I like football, I’m passionate about football. Then there’s horse-racing. I like horse racing, I spend a lot of time and money on horse-racing.
And I thought, I’ll give him something to do with his hands. He’s known tragedy and he needs some form of therapy in his life. People who don’t practise their occupations anymore are often people who really need something to do. He’s someone who only practices his former occupation in a very half-hearted way. So I thought the man could be a cabinet maker on the sly.
Meanwhile Mac Faraday ( in An
Iron Rose) is a blacksmith...
I’ve had a go at blacksmithing too! All my interests feature sooner or later. It gives another dimension to writing. And it enhances your knowledge of it because when you
try to do it, you think, I’ve got to get this right. Maybe I’ve
been doing this wrong. (I’m self-taught at everything.) You get the literature
out, the books. And I do enjoy that.
My first agent [he chuckles], she got the manuscript, bless her little cotton socks, and she liked it. She liked it hugely. And then she sent me a telex. Peter, she said to me, I like the book so much. I think we will have no difficulty getting this book published... May I suggest that it may be better if we trim it, of the football, the cabinet making and horse racing.
I wrote her an e-mail, one word, no.
Were there rejections?
No. The first person to pick it up said, can I speak directly to the author, asked for a phone number which she gave (they hate to do that you know!) and this person said, I’ve just finished your book and I want to tell you that I loved this book. What I liked most about it, in this order, was the cabinet-making, the foot ball and the horse-racing! I love you, I said, you can come and live at my house! (Laughter)
And that was it. That was a fantastic vindication, because I had no confidence that anybody else would like it.
Strangely enough, women readers have identified very strongly with the cabinetmaking
Women are so much more practical than men, and can do such complicated things. They enjoy the precision of the whole thing.
* * * * * * * * * *
Time is running out. The media, this time in the form of Barry Forshaw of Crime
Time magazine, is queuing outside the door. But I’m curious about the
Australian book market and Temple’s position within it.
It’s a huge market (“one of the biggest per capita markets in the world” he confirms). The best-sellers are “James Patterson, Bryce Courtenay [“Australia’s Best-Selling Author” says his website. BC], Wilbur Smith, and then you get a whole gamut of writers who can really sell large numbers. Michael Connelly, John Connolly, Lee Child.”
Is he up there with them, I ask? “No,” Temple replies, “ There are no Australian crime writers who come anywhere near that sort of level. People are less keen on the home-grown product.”
But with the back-list now in play, his sales are improving, he says. And his increasing international expossure will do him no harm.
Has he come under any sort of pressure to write a particular kind of book, or one of a particular length? “No, oh no, “ he replies quickly. “They know what kind of person they are dealing with. They wouldn’t dream of it. Michael Heyward, my publisher and I – we’re good friends. We talk on the phone all the time, and we meet and we socialise. I mean, you have to write these things, you have to put your name on them.”
Finally, with all the acclaim heaped upon his writing, does he nurse any ambitions in a more ‘literary’ form? “Good lord no!” he replies forthrightly. “There is an awful lot of rubbish in all genres. Literary fiction doesn’t see itself as a genre. They’re up in the atmosphere and we’re down on the ground. But good writing is good writing. There is terrible writing in what some people think is good literary fiction; terrible writing inside crime writing. My only ambition is to write well. That is the Grail. I don’t care when they say, I think the plot was crap. But for somebody to say, this bloke can write, that to me says you’ve done it. If you can sell lots of books, be rich and people still say, the plot’s crap, but this bloke can write, I’d be the happiest person on earth.”
Folks, this bloke can write. Let’s make him rich. Peter Temple, it has been a pleasure.
Bob Cornwell 07
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