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July 25, 2011 | by  | in Books |
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Michael Robotham Interview

Salient’s Fairooz Samy talks to Michael Robotham about his latest novel, The Wreckage

It’s lovely to meet you! What inspired you to write The Wreckage?

All my novels are based on real-life events or they’re normally inspired by something I’ve read. In the case of The Wreckage, I guess it was two stories. One was a story in The Observer newspaper in the UK in December 2009 where the head of the UN Crime and Justice Commission was quoted as saying that, during the height of the global financial crisis, Western banks were so desperate for funds and on the brink of collapse that $352 billion in cartel money was laundered through Western banks. I was astonished by the size of those figures. The second story was a piece in Vanity Fair by two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, and this was around 2004. They discovered that on the day that George Bush declared ‘Mission Accomplished’ for the Iraq War, a C-130 aircraft took off from Andrews Airforce Base, and it began the biggest airlift of currency in the history of the US Federal Reserve Bank. 363 tonnes of money (US dollars) were flown in to Iraq to stop the country descending in to chaos, so that’s $12 billion USD, and $9 billion of that money has never been accounted for. In the chaos of war it just disappeared. So I was fascinated by this idea and those two stories, of writing a thriller about what might have happened to all that money.

How do you go about researching an international thriller?

Because I’m a former journalist, research is really important to me, accuracy is important to me. Funnily enough, I’ve travelled a lot, I’ve been to Iran, Syria, Jordan, a lot of places in the Middle East, but I haven’t been, to or only very briefly ever been to Iraq, so a lot of the sections—because the story takes place in London, Baghdad, Washington, multiple storylines that all pull together at the end—I had to do it from the internet, from reading diaries, from reading blogs of people that have been in Baghdad writing about petrol shortages and power outages. I studied photographs and just tried to build up a picture of what it’s like, and then, when it comes to the financial side of things, the banking conspiracy element, I talked to bankers and asked them about the way that money’s transferred and how money can be laundered. I just went from there and talked to experts. You’d be surprised how, once you’ve got a couple of novels out there, how many people are willing to help you, whether it be police or pathologists—they get quite excited about helping a writer write a book, and I always make sure I put them in the acknowledgements at the front.

What, in your opinion, makes a character interesting?

To be compelling, they have to be very human. In fiction there are some very successful characters like Jason Bourne or James Bond who are superhuman almost, but people are willing to leave their sense of disbelief behind when they go into those sorts of books. I think a great character tends to be flawed, but not hopelessly flawed. Also, people just don’t seem to like them because they’re hopeless. They’ve got to have a great sense of humour. I write crime/mystery thrillers, and people often assume that stories like that are plot driven. But ultimately, if you ask the readers of the genre to tell you their favourite book, most of the time it’s not the plot they remember but the characters, and it’s what brings them back time and time again to the same series. I’ll always remember when I wrote my first novel, The Suspect, at the very end of that book there’s a character who’s pregnant. For years after that, I didn’t comment on her again, and readers would come up and ask if she had a boy or a girl, and I’d say, “well, I don’t know”, to which they’d reply, “well, how can you not know? She’s had the baby by now”. That’s the art—creating believable characters that people think are real.

Stephen King has praised your work as being “exceptionally suspenseful”. When you hear praise like that, are you used to it or is it new every time?

When it comes from Stephen King, you sort of sit back and think to yourself, “Whatever else I do in my life, I will be able to sit on my porch in my rocking chair when I’m old and greyer, and say to my grandchildren, ‘Stephen King once said this’”. That was an enormous compliment—enormous. He’s not a man I’ve ever met, but I’m a huge fan of his work, and that came out of the blue and is an enormously influential sort of comment because he doesn’t do it very often. He doesn’t blurb on a book, he doesn’t comment on a book unless he’s really impressed by it. It was very nice. *

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Comments (2)

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  1. Phillip Holvast says:

    A+ well done!

  2. Crissy says:

    That’s the best asnewr of all time! JMHO

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