Matthew Reilly is the international bestselling author of twelve novels: Ice Station, Temple, Contest, Area 7, Scarecrow, Hover Car Racer, Hell Island, Seven Ancient Wonders, The Six Sacred Stones, The Five Greatest Warriors, Scarecrow, Army of Thieves and The Tournament.
Matthew’s books are published in over 20 languages and he has sold approximately 5 million books worldwide: 3 million in Australia; over a million in the US; and over a million in the UK.
In 2011, Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves was the biggest selling fiction title released in Australia for that year. Three more of Matthew’s books have been the biggest-selling Australian fiction titles of their year of release: The Tournament (2013), Seven Ancient Wonders (2005), The Five Greatest Warriors (2009).
Matthew has also written two novellas: in 2005, he wrote Hell Island for the Australian Government’s Books Alive project and in 2014 he released the epic fantasy-quest ebook Troll Mountain.
Tim Ward: I first discovered your work through a Creative Writing course at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. Gary Crew is also an Australian author and assigned for us to read Temple. I loved the jungle adventure you told in that story. When you think back to that book, what do you love about that story?
Matthew Reilly: Temple, for me, was about writing a story that was part modern techno-thriller and part swashbuckling adventure. It is the only novel I have written with a dual storyline — that was a challenge I set myself: to see if I could hold the reader’s interest while switching between two stories which are ultimately on a collision course.
I love the pacing of the novel — it is a difficult thing to do, stopping and restarting different storylines, and I like to think Temple succeeds at this.
TW: What is your story of writing Temple, from inspiration through the work of completing the story?
MR: Temple has a unique history. It is the only book of mine that I had to write “within a year”. I had a two-book deal and Ice Station was the first book of that deal. I was under contract to deliver a second book within a year of delivering Ice Station. But I wanted my follow-up book to be different to Ice Station. I didn’t want to be seen as a one-trick pony.
I desperately wanted to do a historical thriller in the first person — but I just couldn’t make it work. I enjoyed my techno-gadgetry too much! So I hit upon the idea of the dual storyline, switching back and forth between a present-day thriller and a swashbuckling romp set in 1535. Planning it was tough. And then I had to finish it within a year, so I wrote my butt off.
After that, I re-released Contest, which “bought” me an extra year to do Area 7 (and that year, I still think, made Area 7 a better book). Since then, I have gone to a schedule of writing one book every two years, which suits me much better. Oddly, I have only broken this schedule twice: when I was inspired to write something different: with Hover Car Racer (2004) and The Tournament (2013). Knowing I have more time makes me relax, the ideas are better and so the books are better!
TW: How have you grown as a writer since then?
MR: I think The Tournament shows just how much I’ve grown as a writer — it shows that I am far more willing to experiment when the story is a good one. It was about a chess tournament in 1546, and yet I like to think it’s a pulse-pounding thriller. As a character study, it’s about greatness — how a young girl becomes a great queen. My answer: her education at the hands of a master teacher. Unlike my other books, where events propel the story along, it’s the relationship between student and teacher that propels the story.
I also see myself putting more “life experience” into the books: Troll Mountain is a good example. It is essentially an epic-fable, yet a good fable needs some good messages, and Troll Mountain has a bit of that. Maybe I’m just getting old…
TW: Lately I’ve been fascinated with the importance of creating sympathetic characters and how genres influence that act. How have you blended your hero development within the thriller genre?
MR: A thriller is not thrilling if you don’t care about the hero! If readers don’t care about the hero, your story will quickly descend into mindless action. But if they care, they get on the edge of their seat as they read, and that’s what you want as an author.
TW: What are your thoughts on the fine line between endearing character flaws and flaws that turn the reader off, or stop them from rooting for the character?
MR: I don’t think readers want to read about perfect characters. Readers, in my humble opinion, want to see a little of themselves in the hero or heroes, and that means giving those heroes flaws that people can identify with. This is something that develops with each draft of my manuscripts — and often when I am reading the final proofs of a novel (a very late stage in the production process). This is when I read a book like my readers will — I have always felt it is very, very important to put myself in the shoes of my readers. That’s where character is revealed.
MR: It’s funny, I don’t make any distinction between writing for adults and writing for younger readers. There is only “story”. Young readers are so savvy nowadays, they can read adult fare. They also hate being patronised. In the two stories I’ve written that would be classified as “for younger readers” I didn’t pull any punches. I just wrote it!
We will root for Raf, our human hero, and I hope readers will bond with Dum, the rogue troll Raf befriends in Episode I. Dum ain’t too bright, but he tries his best!
TW: What kinds of adventure and conflict can your readers look forward to in Troll Mountain?
MR: Troll Mountain is a pure hero’s journey story: our hero will literally have to scale the mother of all mountains to achieve his goal. There will vertigo-inspiring action scenes, lots of trolls going on a rampage, and quite a few explosions (this is a Matthew Reilly book, after all!).
TW: What inspirations in YA Fantasy motivated you to write in this genre?
MR: I very much enjoyed The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, so I suppose they were an inspiration. The only thing I didn’t particularly like in those books was the depiction of trolls in them. I see trolls as having big lower jaws and being just bigger than a man (not twice the size of a man). I also wanted to imagine a troll kingdom or civilization, and create internal hierarchies within that society.
I’m not a big YA reader: I often find YA a bit simple in its storytelling. The big breakout YA hits of recent years (Twilight, The Hunger Games) have been complex and pretty-much “adult” stories, so far as I can tell.
TW: What is your goal with serializing Troll Mountain and how has that influenced your story structure?
MR: Ah-ha! A few years ago, I was touring with The Six Sacred Stones. That novel had a cliffhanger ending. At one speech I gave, a 12-year-old reader asked me why he had to wait two years for The Five Greatest Warriors. I asked him if he’d ever had to wait for anything in his life. He said no. And that’s why I like serials! I think there is a whole generation out there who have never experienced ANTICIPATION. And anticipation is fun. It’s actually good to wait for something. To gear up for it; to get excited about it.
That’s what motivated serializing Hover Car Racer and it’s the same for Troll Mountain. It’s funny, we’ve come all this way, with technology, the Internet and e-books, and here I am doing serialized stories like Charles Dickens did 120 years ago!
I also think shorter serial “parts” work better on the modern technology (smartphones and tablets). A book like Troll Mountain is designed to be read in short chunks, on the bus on the way to work, or on the subway on the way to school or college.