Review Blog

Jun 03 2011

Post from Paul Collins, author of the thrilling book, Mole Hunt

cover image

I grew up in a house without books. One occasionally materialised from a drawer - it was a green-spined mystery title by Erle Stanley Gardner. I used to look at it on its rare appearances, and wonder what a book was doing there. None of my family read - my brother, a director of a printing company, hasn't read a book to this day. But we both read comics. We'd devour Marvel Group Comics such as Captain America, Spiderman, Daredevil, the Uncanny X-Men, etc. And I think this is why I write the way I do- it's not 'literary', nor really 'character-based', but I'd like to think an amalgamation of both, but surely driven by action. There is of course a place for all writing and we just need to find our niche.
Regardless of style or motivation, writing novels can be an arduous and unrewarding business. It's one of the few jobs in the world where someone can work for a year and there's absolutely no guarantee that he or she will be paid. So imagine working for a year maybe as a carpenter, plumber, whatever, and getting told after a year that your work isn't up to standard and sorry, we're not paying you.
More authors than not go through this scenario. I went through it with Mole Hunt. Over four years it was submitted to most of Australia's major publishers and some via an agent in the UK and the US. Many replied saying how good it was, but -
Penguin UK praised it to the hilt saying if they didn't already have Artemis Fowl, the young James Bond, etc, they'd be keen. Another prominent Australian publisher told me Mole Hunt reminded her of what she used to love in science fiction - but it wasn't for her imprint, which was more contemporary literature. But of course, rejection is rejection.
Having learnt the hard way, I know that persistence is the key. I'm reminded of when I first started submitting Dragonlinks (book one in The Jelindel Chronicles), my personal best-selling book. It was at the beginning of a fantasy craze in Australia. Every major publisher rejected it. Three years went by and finally a publisher at Penguin left and I resubmitted the manuscript without telling the new publisher that Penguin had already rejected it some years earlier. It worked. The publisher bought it. Published in 2002 it's still selling today.
Why dystopian fiction? Well, I've written it in the past with The Earthborn Wars published by Tor in the US (The Earthborn, The Skyborn and The Hiveborn). Fifteen years before The Hunger Games, I also wrote a virtual reality dystopian novel with a remarkably similar plot called Cyberskin. People dying from a terminal illness can sign their lives over to a legal 'snuff' movie company and get killed live for the audience (for payment, of course, a life insurance policy that goes to their grieving family). They're pitted against a superior fighter who is an enhanced fighting machine.
So it's a genre that I feel comfortable with. I think dystopian fiction also lends itself to fast-paced filmic action, which is usually attributed to my writing. Sometimes it's best to stay with what we know and love. My own favourite authors are Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl) and Philip Reeve (Mortal Engines). I can just as easily see these books as films, as I can my own Mole Hunt.
Although I suspect the time of the anti-hero is nigh, I was a little worried about Maximus Black. He's obviously a sociopath, and demonstrates this propensity by killing two people in the first chapter. But just today I started reading Scorpio Rising by Anthony Horowitz. His baddies make Maximus look like an apprentice sociopath. Scorpio agents manage to kill a truckload of people in the first hundred or so pages. So that's one piece of doubt off my mind - perhaps killing in comic-book fashion in YA fiction isn't so prohibited after all. Further doubt has been eroded by various reviews that are appearing. Bookseller and Publisher said it was 'bitingly clever' (I don't usually get quotes like that!) and a cross between The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Dexter and Total Recall. Now if the book lives up to that description I suspect I'll have an enthusiastic readership. Other reviewers refer to it as being so fast-paced it would give Matthew Reilly a nosebleed, while another said she couldn't put the book down (must be that magnetic cover!).
Paul Collins
Melbourne June 2011

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