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Candice Fox on the twists and turns of crime writing

Books & Poetry

Award-winning Australian writer Candice Fox talks about the dark art of crime fiction and reveals what she has learned from her current collaboration with top US author James Patterson.

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For readers yet to discover your writing, tell us about your work?

I write Australian crime fiction which has been called gothic and noir – a different, darker take on the Australian environment. My Bennet / Archer series is about a cop, Frank, and he has a beautiful partner who is very mysterious and is a serial killer and he spends a lot of time trying to decide if the people he’s chasing are more dangerous than his partner.

I’ve also been working with James Patterson on a book series that follows a character, Harriet Blue, who’s a detective investigating a series of brutal rapes and murders.

What was it like working with Patterson?

It’s been great – a huge learning curve for me. I’m a “pantser” [someone who writes with little planning, “flying by the set of their pants”], he’s a “plotter”, so I’ve had to adapt to his system of working because his books are a lot more action-packed and tightly woven than mine. He was constantly getting me to question, “What’s at stake here?” as we wrote.

There’s no time to draw a breath, really. It’s loads of fun, and the character we created is a real wildcat and a loudmouth.

So you really did have a collaboration in the true sense of the word?

Yeah. It was 50/50 ideas and a lot of questioning the whole time – can we throw a twist in here? That sort of thing. I really did wonder if all the planning would suck the excitement out of the writing but it added more, because we set up all this stuff we were going to write, then I couldn’t wait to write it.

You won the prestigious Ned Kelly Award for Crime Writing two years running (for Hades, in 2014 and its sequel Eden, in 2015). What is it about your writing that sets it apart?

I’ve heard people say that the series is very global; it appeals to a wide range of people and backgrounds and could really be set anywhere. It is a bit “Dexter-y”.

Was that deliberate on your behalf?

No, that’s just how it came out. I’m a bit dark, too, and that sometimes can turn off readers. I’ve had some readers react badly to characters who hurt animals, but people hurting animals is the most awful thing I can think of and I find it hard, too. I think we have to have experiences that are a bit disquieting sometimes.

This leads into another question about the “global” feel of your writing. It is set in Australia and you write about serial killers, yet there aren’t as many of them in this country as there are in the US, so how do you make the stories credible?

People will believe if you set it up strongly enough. If characters are reacting the right way, readers will go there with you.

And I think the only reason we don’t have serial killers these days is because we catch them before they can become serial killers. So it’s not to say evil beings aren’t out there walking among us; it’s just that we usually get them, and I don’t think it’s too difficult to believe in a scenario where we don’t get them until the second or third time.

Your characters are all shades of grey and, at times, the bad guys are the most relatable and likeable. In fact, crime overlord Hades is one of the softest, most parental characters in the series. Eden Archer is also far from pure, though you make her acceptable. How do you manage this balancing act?

I think that the best characters are real, and everybody is a little bit bad. Sanctimonious characters that are 100 per cent good and moral all the time are boring. Everybody has experienced the things that motivate these characters. I mean, whether you admit it or not, everyone has experienced murderous rage, or has thought: “What if I had to hide a body? hat would I do?”

People think about murder. They watch murder on crime TV shows and are interested in it, and I think everybody has that little bit of a dark corner of their soul; some just have bigger ones than others.

Can you comment on how the Productivity Commission recommendations about removing parallel importation restrictions would affect the Australian book industry and writers?

It’s sad and scary, and it’s not as though publishing isn’t already having a hard time. There’s no need to make it any worse for emerging authors.

I’m teaching writing classes and everybody is losing so much hope and is even more jaded than I was when I was trying to get published. That light for authors is fading and that’s just really sad.

It’s harder to make a living out of it, harder to feel legitimate doing it … and it’s unnecessary.

Finally, what does the future hold for Candice Fox? Can we expect more Eden Archer/Frank Bennet books, or are you moving on to others?

There may be more Archer/ Bennet books, but I haven’t planned any for the next two or three books. In February 2017, there’ll be a stand-alone book from me, set in Cairns, and then I’m writing a book about the character Hooky, from Fall. She’s a young, fun character who deserves her own book. And then, of course, I’m working on the James Patterson series, so we’ll see how far that goes.

The first James Patterson collaboration, Black and Blue, published by BookShots, is out this month. The second book, Never Never, is due out in August.

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