Working with Words: Matthew Reilly

Matthew Reilly is the international bestselling author of nine novels: Ice Station, Temple, Contest, Area 7, Scarecrow, Hover Car Racer, Seven Ancient Wonders, The Six Sacred Stones, The Five Greatest Warriors and Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves. His latest book is The Great Zoo of China.

We spoke to Matthew about how writing is born out of ‘an unstoppable need to put words on a page’, the laughs he gets from reading an unkind review aloud during speeches (on four continents), and what he’d talk about over dinner with Hannibal Lecter.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

A freelance article for CLEO magazine.

What’s the best part of your job?

Not having to set an alarm in the morning.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Nothing really comes to mind. I can’t believe I get paid to do what I do. Switching mindsets from creating to promoting can be a challenge, since they are very different things.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

When Cate Paterson, the director of publishing at Macmillan, found my self-published book, Contest, in a bookstore and decided to call me.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

Best advice: ‘Don’t call yourself an aspiring writer. You are a writer.’

Worst advice: ‘You can’t make a living as a writer in Australia.’

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?

In a book review, the reviewer said the book in question read as if ‘Matthew Reilly had suddenly and miraculously discovered how to write competent prose.’ The thing was, it wasn’t even a review of one of my novels. It was a review of someone else’s book! Very unkind! I now read that review at speeches and it always gets a laugh! I’ve got laughs from that one on four continents!

If you weren’t making your living by working with words, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Maybe a barrister.

There’s much debate on whether writing can be taught – what’s your view?

It can’t. It is born out of passion, an unstoppable need to put words on a page.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Write what you yourself love to read. You will re-read that manuscript so often, you must enjoy reading it yourself. And if you can’t enjoy it yourself, how can you expect anyone else to enjoy your work?

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Physical if I can. I just remember what I read better when it’s on a physical page. I don’t retain information as well from an ebook. But if a book is not available in physical form, yes, I do buy them in e-format.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?

Hannibal Lecter. I’d ask him why people do what they do. I like to think he’d give an interesting, insightful and warts-and-all answer!

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. It was the book that inspired me to start writing novels. When I read it, I had never been more thoroughly engrossed in a novel. It was fun and fast and filled with man-eating creatures. It showed me that, if you want to make readers believe something that is inherently unbelievable, you have to ground it in solid technical reality.

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