1. Your books have an Australian central character, but they are set in the US. What were the reasons behind that, and what complications does that bring to the writing process.
My first book, Body Count, was conceived during a nightmare. In that dream I was kind of me, but also obviously an official member of law enforcement. I created Sophie based loosely on the dream and decided she’d be a profiler because psychology and what makes people tick has always interested me and I knew it would be something I’d love writing about. Once I’d decided on her occupation, I started my research and discovered that it was the US and specifically the FBI that really took behavioural analysis to the next step as a law enforcement tool (Australia only has three profilers). It was obvious to me then that the book had to be set in the US and that Sophie had to work for the FBI. But I’d always envisaged her as Australian, and I just didn’t feel right changing that element of her character. So I made her an Aussie working in America.
The main challenge or complication it brings is researching locations and making sure the American dialogue is realistic. I have been to the States on several occasions and I have quite a few American friends, but it’s still not the same as living there. For example, in my first book Sophie visits Tucson, Arizona and I mention oak trees – but apparently you don’t get oak trees in Tucson, Arizona! Oops.
2. Your character has some extra-sensory ability. How did you go about developing that component of her (and for that matter everything about her) overall characterisation?
Sophie’s “gift” is also largely based on the dream. In the dream I was investigating the deaths of three friends at the hands of a serial killer, but the weird thing is that I kept waking up from the nightmare then going back to sleep and re-entering the dream in the same spot. Later that day, I discovered a friend of mine had died and his time of death was estimated to be the exact time of my dream. When I thought about this years later, it gave me the idea of making my main character experience dreams and waking visions that came true or that were somehow related to cases. When I was developing the psychic component, I wanted to make sure that it played a back seat to the real investigative and psychological profiling work, so in some ways developing this aspect was more about not developing it too much…if you know what I mean.
As a character, I find Sophie very easy to write and so the characterisation has been quite easy. However, I usually fill out a character questionnaire for all my leading characters to make sure I really have a sense of them before I start writing. I also cut out pictures from magazines of people who resemble my image of the character and keep them near my computer while I’m writing.
3. Do you read much Australian crime fiction? Can you give us a few standouts that you've read recently? What do you think of the current state of the Australian crime fiction scene?
At the moment I don’t read much crime fiction at all, Australian or otherwise! Juggling writing, my research and being a mum doesn’t leave me time for reading. In the past 12 months I’ve only read three fiction books – two Janet Evanovich novels and Lindy Cameron’s Redback. Lindy is an Aussie writer and she’s written crime fiction in the past, but Redback is a spy thriller. In some ways I find it nice NOT to read crime fiction – to take a break from the genre, especially given the limited time I have for reading. I did find Redback extremely enjoyable and a great, fast read, definitely one I’d recommend.
I think the Australian crime fiction scene suffers a little bit from the big name American and English writers because most readers tend to pick up the latest Ian Rankin or Karin Slaughter or Kathy Reichs, etc., rather than trying an Aussie they haven’t heard of before. This makes it hard for Aussie authors to get established and to make a living out of their writing. At the same time, Aussie publishers are bringing out new Aussie authors and promoting us, which is great and we’re getting published and recognised overseas too.
4. What do you think could be done to better promote Australian authors either at home or abroad (or both)?
I’d love to know the magic spell for this one! I’m not really sure what the best way to promote Aussie authors is…maybe we need to extend the “Made in Australia” campaign to include books! I certainly think booksellers can help us by recommending Australian books or comparing Aussie authors to some better-known international talents and making the consumers more aware of the Aussie contingent. I do like it when you go into a bookstore and they have a section for Australian fiction, but I think it’s important that you can then also find that author’s work in the genre section too. A lot of bookstores also have recommendations and small reviews – it’d be great if they did more of these for Australian books and for their local authors. When I go into the bookstores near me they always seem shocked to discover that “PD Martin” is a local.
In terms of promoting Aussie authors abroad, that’s a tough one. Crime fiction is a popular genre but it’s also very competitive, with lots of writers competing for publication and then sales both here and overseas. In fact, in the US some authors actually pay to advertise their books in magazines and the publicity role is becoming blurry – who’s responsible: author, agent or publisher? That market’s already tightening, so I’m not sure how we can push Aussie authors. Like I said, give me the magic spell and I’ll recite it every night before I go to bed!
5. If your fictional character could meet any fictional character who would you like it to be and why?
Well, a lot of my readers complain that Sophie’s not having much success in the relationship department so I want to pick someone who I think would be a good match for her, but I just can’t think of anyone that’s perfect. I’ll stick with the Aussies and say maybe Scarecrow from Matthew Reilly’s books. But I’m open to suggestions! Tell me who I should match her up with at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P D Martin's Latest book Fan Mail was released in February