Interrogating the Author: Michael Duffy
What was the first crime novel or story you can remember reading? How old were you?
I was 11 and got hold of some Sherlock Holmes short stories and found them engrossing. It’s good to start at the top – although I didn’t realise it at the time.
Name a crime book you’d be happy to be stranded with upon a desert island. Why are they worth re-reading and re-watching?
Interesting questions as so many crime books are indisputably not worth rereading – the whole point about them is finding out what happens. Those I’ve reread are the more literary ones, by Americans James Sallis, Richard Price, and Pete Dexter.
What was the last book you read, and did it live up to your expectations?
Chain of Evidence
by the fabulous Victorian writer Garry Disher. I understand he does well commercially in Germany, but not so well elsewhere. This surprises and disturbs me as his Challis and Destry crime novels are marvellous things.
You have been reporting on crime for years – what was it about the Kylie Labouchardiere case that compelled you to dig deeper and write Call Me Cruel?
I got to know some of her family from meeting them at court appearances and was struck by the enormous quantity of grief they’d been handed, for the rest of their lives. That’s not often written about, and I became driven by the desire to write a book about how one murder can affect all the people around it. I was also deeply disturbed by the related matter of how Wilkinson had managed to lie and manipulate so many people so effectively, and wanted to learn more about that, and tell that story, which a book provides the space to do.
Tell us a little about the challenges of writing true crime; what is the hardest part? What is the easiest/most rewarding?
The hardest part of covering courts for a newspaper is getting the time and space to follow a case in detail. Many crimes don’t even go to trial – because the criminal pleads guilty – which means little information is publicised. As police are very reluctant to give out any information if they can help it, this makes it hard to tell these stories in a way that enables the reader to really understand what happened. And even when a case does go to trial, a lot is often left out because of the very restrictive laws of evidence we have. (For example, usually the prosecutor can’t tell the jury anything about a criminal’s past.) Thanks to the generosity of those involved here, and because I had a whole book to work with, I was able to talk with Kylie Labouchardiere’s family, her ex-husband, and Paul Wilkinson’s ex-wife and others, which meant this was one of the few times I feel I’ve got the full story about a serious crime.
Which do you prefer writing – fiction or non-fiction?
They both have their unique strengths. I do think it’s benefitted my fiction to have a knowledge of real criminals in Sydney, gained from journalism, and I know Michael Connelly has said something similar about Los Angeles. But this is a personal thing. For many fine crime writers have never published a word of non-fiction.
Tell us a little about your research and writing process. Where do you start? When, and where, do you do your writing?
I get up at 5.30am and work on my latest book for a few hours before heading off to my (better) paid employment. I write all first drafts by hand. Too much research kills a book dead – I find it better to write about what I know for the first draft, and beef it up later with research if needed. I don’t do a detailed plan but I do need a strong sense of what I call “the situation”, by which I mean an idea of the central character or person and the circumstance sin which they find themselves at the beginning.
And finally, what are you working on now?
I’m writing my third crime novel about Nicholas Troy and his colleagues in the Sydney Homicide Squad. It involves a Lebanese crime family, one of whose members becomes what I hope is an oddly sympathetic character. You have to keep challenging yourself ...
Michael Duffy is the author of novels The Tower
and The Simple Death
. His most recent book is Call Me Cruel