From ghost writing to crime thrillers: an interview with Michael Robotham

With a distinguished career spanning journalism, ghost writing, and author of bestselling crime fiction, I've been lucky enough to meet today's guest twice in person. Each time, he's proven to be as gracious as you'd imagine with lots of advice for fellow writers and an enthusiasm for the craft that shows no signs of diminishing.

As he has a new book out this week, I thought it'd be a great idea to welcome Australian author Michael Robotham to the blog today.

Michael Robotham Australian crime author

Michael, congratulations on the imminent release of your twelfth novel, The Secrets She Keeps. What can you tell us about the book?

It’s the story of two women who are both pregnant, whose babies are due on the same day. Agatha stacks shelves in a supermarket and looks forward each day to catch a glimpse of Meghan, an effortlessly chic customer, who appears to have the perfect life – a handsome husband, two beautiful children and a lovely house. Yet nothing about these two women is as ordinary as it seems because both have secrets that could destroy everything they hold dear. Soon their lives will collide in the most dramatic and dangerous of ways.

It’s been well documented that you began your career as a journalist and ghost writer – how did you become a ghost writer and do you have any tips for anyone interested in that career path?

I fell into ghost writing from journalism when I met a literary agent who handled celebrity memoirs and autobiographies.

Most of these books – whether they involve pop stars, screen sirens, soldiers, adventurers or politicians – are ‘ghosted’ by professional writers.

The skill of a good ghost writer is to disappear… to leave his or her ego behind and try to capture someone else’s voice so perfectly that people that have known and loved them for decades won’t see the ‘fingerprints’ of the unseen hand putting the words on the page.

For someone just starting out, with no track record, I would recommend they look for captivating, untold stories that might interest a publisher.

Get an agreement with the subject and then write a few chapters and a synopsis, ‘selling’ the story in the best way possible.

Michael Robotham crime author at home

What attracted you to writing in the crime/thriller genre? Was there a particular author that inspired you to do so?

I’m an accidental crime writer. I had no idea I was writing a psychological thriller when I penned the first 117 pages of The Suspect, which triggered a bidding war at the London Book Fair in 2002.

I’m not a huge crime/thriller reader, although I’ve become much better versed in the genre over the past twelve years.

The books that inspire me are novels like Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg and The Secret History by Donna Tartt and The Broken Shore by Peter Temple. These are beautiful written literary thrillers that prove great writing crosses genre boundaries.

What sort of research did you undertake for your latest novel, The Secret She Keeps?

I spent a long time reading ‘Mummy blogs’ and talking to pregnant women about their experiences. I also drew upon my own – being the father of three daughters.

Do you outline/plot, or do you prefer to start at the beginning and see where the story takes you? Are you ever surprised by what your characters do or say, even if you think you know what the ending will be?

I don’t plot my books in advance.

I start with a premise, create compelling characters and let the story unfold organically. 

Michael Robotham The Secret She Keeps book cover

It’s an exciting, nerve wracking, scary way of writing – like being a trapeze artist and working without a net. Sometimes you have to let go and tumble through the air, hoping there is something to cling on to when you get to the other side.

My characters don’t always do as their told. Some who I expect to be minor, become major players. Others refuse to go quietly and muscle their way back into the story.

Because I don’t know the ending, I am constantly surprised by the twist and turns.

What does your writing space look like?  Do you have any pre-writing rituals to get you “in the zone”?

In my previous house my office was downstairs in what my daughters called, ‘Dad’s Pit of Despair’.

We’ve since moved and I work in ‘The Cabana of Cruelty’ in the back garden. It is a lovely room, overlooking the garden, which can make it difficult to conjure up the ‘mean streets’.

How do you structure a typical day to ensure you avoid distractions and hit your word count targets?

I don’t really set myself word counts. Some days writing comes easily. Other days are hard. I try to write every day including weekends, holidays, Christmas, Easter, even just for a few hours.

The Internet is the greatest tool and the greatest waste of time very developed for a full-time writer, which is why I often work in cafes, writing longhand.

We all occasionally hit a brick wall with our creative endeavours – what do you do to overcome any stumbling blocks and keep your enthusiasm going?

Every writer falls out of love with a project at some point. We doubt our ability. We question our judgement. We wonder what we ever say in the idea in the first place.

The trick is to press on and to finish and then to polish until we turn our ‘piece of crap’ into something that others might want to read.

The Secrets She Keeps is out on 11 July worldwide – what else do you have planned for 2017?

I have almost finished a new Joe O’Loughlin novel, The Other Wife, which I will spend the next few months polishing for publication in July 2018.

In the meantime, I have a full schedule of publicity dates in Australia over the next few months and plans to head overseas after that.

You can keep up to date on my appearances here.

Finally, where can we buy your books?

At all good bookstores and online retailers.

Michael, thanks for joining me on the blog today.

If you would like to keep in touch with Michael, you can find him here:





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