I have a confession to make: when I found Alex Hammond’s books I hadn’t read a legal thriller by an Australian writer. In the coming weeks, I plan to rectify that with his first book, Blood Witness.
The Australian legal system is very different from the American one and as a result, so are the expectations I have of legal thrillers. So, I was very curious about Alex who calls himself an American-ophile when it comes to crime fiction, and how he makes the dry bits of law exciting to readers. Read on to find out more about his thoughts on law, writing and Will Harris.
Alex, you’ve left practicing law to write about law – what led to the change?
Leaving the law was a pragmatic decision to work in a field that gave me more time to focus on my writing. Inevitably my experiences within legal practice informed my work. A solicitor as the detective in a crime novel was something I felt hadn’t really been seen before.
You’ve said in other interviews, that practicing law is actually quite quite dry, so in writing about it, how do you make the dry, boring but essential parts to your story exciting?
With each novel I find myself re-engaging with this question. At the moment I think the solution is to relate it to characters and the conflict between them. Talking about the law in this context gives the reader a lot more to hold on to.
The law is such a rich field for readers and authors, but at the same time filled with certain conventions – which are your favourites? And, which are not?
Court cases are great. They’re inherently conflict driven and lend to good drama. So too the big ethical questions such as ‘what is the difference between law and justice?’ On the downside I have no love for the minutiae legal process if it becomes distracting or confusing for the reader – a sprinkling is all it needs.
You’ve also written a script for a TV series based on Will – what are the differences you didn’t expect in the translation from page to screen? Or, perhaps, I should say similarities?
Definitely. The TV version is from the perspectives of two leads, not one. So that’s a big (and exciting) difference based around the practical realities of having one actor on set all the time. Will Harris is still Will Harris – so the similarities are still there but because of the faster rate of storytelling the narrative becomes more focused.
Are you still an American-ophile when it comes to your fiction? Why or rather how so?
If I was to limit the answer to crime fiction, I think the American sensibility leans more towards hard boiled/social realism whereas the English tradition still struggles under the weight of Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie — the neat denouement to a bespoke mystery. Obviously there hard-boiled writers working in the UK so in many ways it’s a short hand for a preference of style.
How does that fit with Australian characters and setting?
I’m being very broad brush stroke here but for the most part I think Australia tends to be more interested in the social underpinnings of criminal activity. This with our entrenched distrust of authority tends towards the American-style of realist crime fiction.
Yes and no. It’s a wonderful feeling to see your book in print on the shelf of a bookstore or library. I also expected to enjoy the editorial process, it’s very rewarding and I’ve learnt a lot about the craft. Some of the stark realities of the publishing industry were a bit of a surprise — the challenge to get coverage of a new release, the sheer size of the market and getting noticed in the crowd.
You’ve written two books now with Will Harris – was his story always meant to be a series? What tricks have you learned to managing the details/writing of a series.
Although I intended it to be an ongoing series it’s only as I’ve been writing it that I’ve come to
appreciate what this actually means. Having a self-contained central storyline to each book while leaving enough seeds to explore in future novels is important. Having an overarching character journey throughout the novels is also key. What is the emotional/ personal challenge the protagonist must overcome? It’s better if this is character-driven than plot-based as it allows new readers to jump on without prior knowledge.
Is there anything about writing a legal thriller that you didn’t expect/realise even though you’ve practiced law?
Absolutely. Trying to have a fast-moving plot while taking into account the snail’s pace at which the law works is a major challenge. I keep having to come up with narrative tricks to truncate the timelines.
What’s next for you in 2015?
Working with the TV producers who’ve optioned Blood Witness and The Unbroken Line. It’s a fascinating process and good to be flexing a different kind of writing muscle.
I am looking forward to reading this book next, so look for my review soon. I feel so weird to think that I’ve never read Australian authors in this genre. I feel like my library card should be revoked or something, lol! If you have read of any of Alex Hammond‘s work, do share your thoughts here — or about any of your favourite Australian law thrillers.