“Teaching someone to write is a bit like teaching someone to ride a bike. You can tell them to sit up straight and pedal really fast but all those little adjustments you make while you’re riding a bike, that’s just something you have to do instinctively.” ~ Michael Robotham
I love attending author talks. I always come away from them inspired and excited. This is again the case following tonight’s Conversation with Michael Robotham at Success Library. A talented Australian crime writer, Robotham visits Perth for Crime Scene WA, which is on this weekend, and soon heads to Canada and Germany with his latest book, Life or Death.
I had a wonderful time at Success Library this evening. The new library is huge and stunningly beautiful. It still has that “new” smell and it’s so light and clean and expansive – you feel like you could get lost in all that space. There is a meeting room above the library with a kitchen and event area that overlooks the library below which is really cool. Then there is the larger presentation room that seats up to 170 people. I’m thrilled to have had the chance to go to their first event in the new space, the conversation with Michael Robotham, because I’ll be presenting a NaNoWriMo Information Session there on the 16th of October and it’s nice to get a sense of the space before using it. I have to admit we’re going to feel swamped by space because there is no way we’ll have the numbers Robotham had, in fact, I might recommend we have the Info Session in the smaller meeting room.
Anyway, back to Michael’s event, I have to admit I’m jealous of his relaxed and natural demeanor. He made it look easy, and I know from my very limited experience that presenting, even in conversation-style, is daunting. Of course, Robotham has been in the industry many more years than I have, he’s interviewed famous people like Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell, and English actor, Ricky Tomlinson. It was fun to hear his anecdotes about his experiences as a ghost writer and of course funny to consider his wife feeling that fiction writing is a step into the mundane in comparison. Truly, what’s more interesting? Saying you had dinner with a celebrity or admitting you spent the night alone in front of a computer screen.
One of the key points that remained with me tonight is that Robotham admitted he writes every single day, even on tour as he is now. He’s away from home, busy with radio interviews, author events, conferences, and the rest of the promotional hamster-wheel Hachette has him running, but he still takes a few hours every day to work on his new book. He also said that he has ideas one at a time, (sometimes I wish for THAT rather than having a dozen ideas all wanting to be written yesterday), and that he has a few hours of panic after finishing a manuscript worried he’ll never have another good idea – and then inevitably does and begins writing the next book a few hours after hitting send on the one before. This is steadfast professionalism. It’s the kind of staying power and dedication to his career that I’d like to develop within myself. He had some advice for me when I admitted that it wasn’t finding time that was the issue, but in using it when it was available instead of running scared. He said, “You need to glue yourself to the chair.” And he’s right. Those hours I’ve blocked off for writing need to be non-negotiable. “Glue yourself to the chair” and get the writing done because without the words you have no books, and with readers waiting for the sequel to The Flight of Torque, I definitely need to make those words happen and develop a regularity over doing it.
It was reassuring to hear that Robotham takes years for some books to come from idea to finished product. Life or Death was inspired by a real-life story of a convicted felon who broke out of prison the day before he was due to be released. Michael talked about how that real-life story unfolded and other than that initial premise the true story “bares no relation to the novel”. Convicted murderer, Tony Lanigan, escaped from prison in 1995 “on the eve of his release” and then turned himself in the next day to score himself two years added to his sentence. Then, two years later he escaped again and they didn’t run him down because they thought he’d turn himself in again; he’s never been found since. Still, that initial seed, ‘Why would a man escape prison on the eve of his release?’, was planted in Michael’s mind in 1995, but it took almost ten years before Robotham could come up with a truly compelling reason. At that point Robotham hadn’t written any fiction and thought, “I don’t know if I’ve got the ability to actually tell the story”. That’s how I felt about The Flight of Torque when I shelved it in 2007 after starting it in 2006. Almost ten years later again, and nine other novels under his belt, Michael finally decided “Okay, now or never, I’ll give this one a crack.” That’s a book that took almost twenty years to write!
I guess the true take away lessons here are to “glue yourself to the chair” no matter how long it takes!