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Crater Island
Crater Island


What was your road to publication like?

It had several detours.

From the age of 8 I wanted to be a writer. I was fascinated by the way books swept me into other worlds, and I longed to replicate this magic. My childhood and teenage years were filled with exploring plays, articles, short stories and novellas.

As an adult, I wrote numerous articles and short stories—suspense, mysteries, romance and horror—that were published in national and international magazines around the world, including the United States, England, Australia and South Africa. My short stories were picked up by an agent in Norway and sold to various national magazines, where they were translated into Norwegian.

Eventually I moved into novels where I explored a variety of popular genres, looking for the right fit. I tried writing historicals, but was more interested in plotting action sequences rather than focusing on the historical setting. My next detour was into mystery novels with paranormal elements. While the editors’ comments were definitely more encouraging, with the last book receiving several requests for the full manuscript, none of these novels was published.

Although I was slowly learning my craft and steadily improving my work, I began to realise I should be writing what I was passionate about, not what I thought would sell.

How did you come to write Crater?

One day, I sat down and thought about what I really wanted to write. All my life I’d enjoyed adventure thrillers. In addition, since my early twenties, my life has been filled with emergency services personnel, either friends or relatives: State Emergency Service members, Federal agents, State police, rural fire brigade members, ex-Army, ex-Air Force, Peace Corps, Red Cross personnel, pandemic experts, flood experts. Other friends were scientists—geophysicists, entomologists, herpetologists, geologists. Plus, of course, many of my friends were writers; others were artists.

I used to think that this predominance of emergency services personnel, scientists and writers in my life was totally normal. Lately, to my surprise, I’ve begun to realise it’s actually not the norm. But I think it’s a significant reason why I chose to write an adventure thriller with both scientific and disaster elements.

Why did you include cross-genre elements in Crater?

I wasn’t interested in echoing the techno-military/espionage/political elements that dominate most of today’s thrillers. I’d read and enjoyed those books for years, but I wanted to try something different.

I wanted to write the type of book that I, as a reader, couldn’t find: a fast-paced adventure that combined action, humour, romance, horror and suspense against a scientific background. Since I was a huge fan of movies like the Indiana Jones series, I decided that my story would be written in a similar fast-paced vein.

When I researched the market, I discovered that these cross-genre elements meant my proposed novel wouldn’t fit into the mainstream adventure thriller category. That was a concern. I’d heard that publishers liked books which readily slotted into set categories. This novel might be seen as something fresh and different—or it might be a total failure that no one would touch. I decided to write it anyway; if I was going to spend a couple of years working on a novel, at least it would be a story I’d have fun writing.

After numerous false starts and misdirections, I finally settled on a story that excited me. Despite some initial apprehension, I was relieved to find that blending a range of cross-genre elements into Crater felt as natural to me as breathing. Was this finally it? The perfect fit?

Writing the book turned out to be both fun and challenging, plus an intense learning experience in which I had to solve unexpected plot and characterisation problems.

Are any of Crater’s characters based on real people?

Some aspects of the characters were inspired by real people.

The hero, Matt Hayden, was inspired by the passion and personality of Australia’s Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. While I didn’t agree with everything the Croc Hunter said or did, I admired his enthusiasm, his love of animals, and the way he embraced life to the full.

Matt’s background in expeditionary biology was inspired by the exploits of a real life American expeditionary biologist, Terry Fredeking. Ten years ago I came across an article in a science magazine about this fascinating man, and I knew that one day I’d write a book featuring an expeditionary biologist hero.

Some of Clancy Ryan’s personality traits were inspired by a couple of my friends. These men are honourable, likeable and hardworking and, like many people, sometimes dream of life beyond the big city. I wondered how such a man would fare if taken out of his comfort zone and dropped into a series of frightening scenarios, where he’d have to use his wits and street smarts to not only survive, but also to fight for the survival of those around him.

Not knowing any workaholic epidemiologists, at one stage I was tempted to base my heroine, Lauren Preston, on Buffy Summers, the feisty heroine of the TV show, Buffy. However, I realised Lauren would end up being a derivative character who could seem vaguely familiar to potential readers. And that’s not fair. Readers like fresh and interesting characters, not reworked versions of TV and movie characters. So I developed Lauren from scratch and I’m glad I did—she’s truly my creation and not a clone.

What came next?

When I finished the story, I revised it numerous times.

I then farmed the book out to a panel of readers–not just family and friends, but strangers, too. Family and friends love you and want to support you, no matter how good or bad your work is; this can lead to biased opinions. I needed the objective input of people who had no emotional connections with me.

I picked seven men and three women ranging in age from 20 to 65, all professionals and all well educated. Half were keen thriller readers, the others weren’t keen on the genre. To my relief, they universally loved the book. One reader took the manuscript with him on an overseas holiday, and then refused to move from his poolside lounge until he’d finished the book. The second spent the two days leading up to Christmas reading the novel instead of helping his wife prepare for the holiday. Others had similar stories of reading Crater well into the night.

Did you submit Crater directly to a publisher?

No. I knew I needed an agent.

Every major publishing house receives thousands of submissions a year. Unagented ones go into the slush pile where they can languish for months until someone gets the chance to glance over them. I hoped that representation by a reputable agent might mean my work would be looked at quicker.

So I sent partials to seven well-established agents. Three asked for the complete manuscript, and all subsequently offered to represent me.

The agent I chose felt the story was too long and needed some revisions. I looked at her suggested list of cuts, realised she was right and I made the changes.

How long did Crater take to sell?

My new agent warned me that selling the book could take up to a year and, realistically, might never sell.

I thought she’d mail out a mass submission to all the major publishing houses in the country. Instead, she decided to start with the top three, explaining that if they rejected it, I could use their comments to revise the manuscript before she approached the next level of publishers.

Within twenty-four hours of emailing these three targeted publishers, Random House had requested the complete manuscript. A few days later a second publishing house also asked for the full manuscript.

I was keen on Random House, as I knew its reputation as the world’s top trade publishing house.

A week later Crater was accepted by Random’s acquisitions board.

This was followed by a meeting with some Random House executives in their boardroom. Thankfully the hour went well.

Next came Random’s letter of offer, later followed by the signing of the contract.

And that was it. In the space of a few weeks I had become a Random House author.

In my case, the road to publication had taken a number of different turns, but I had learned from every detour. To my surprise, I’ve found that being an author comes with its own uncharted road—the hard work of edits, proofs, publicity, and so on. But that’s okay. I like challenges.

And I love the new scenery.

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