Michael Rose (left) and interviewer Tony Maniaty.
Michael Rose talks to author and broadcaster Tony Maniaty, whose highly-respected "Miscellany" book review column first began to appear in The Australian newspaper in 1993.
Michael, as a journalist and foreign correspondent you've been in some pretty seedy and dangerous places around the world. In some ways, writing spy fiction seems the perfect fit for someone like you.
Yes, absolutely. I've been to so many rough places and met so many strange and even mysterious people over the years that I've assembled a wealth of ideas for stories and characters that is basically my raw material. My previous work at Interpol also helps me a great deal. At Interpol headquarters in France, you have police from more than 60 countries working side by side, and they bring with them an incredible variety of stories about crime and international intrigue, and about Interpol's own investigative work and intelligence sharing. For a journalist and writer to have been able to spend three years in a place like that was a fantastic experience. It's yielding some terrific ideas and plotlines for future books.
How much does your background as a journalist shape your storytelling?
That's really still at the centre of everything I do. I spent a lot of time as a wire service journalist and editor. I was a news agency man. We always prided ourselves on getting the facts right and on writing clear concise copy that got to the heart of any story fast. So in that regard, I try very hard in my books to get historical or geographical or political or technical facts right, and to write in an accessible way.
But journalism has its limitations, right?
Exactly. One of the reasons why I made the jump into fiction was that I grew impatient with "just the facts" and wanted to be able just to imagine scenarios and endings for real life stories. In my first thriller, The Mazovia Legacy, I took a real-life historical situation, the decision to hide the Polish national treasures in Canada during World War Two, and from there I imagined where that story might have gone, imagined a series of characters operating inside that existing historical situation. Then I threw the story and its consequences forward to the present day.
What do you think sets your work apart from others in the spy/thriller genre?
Well, I am very interested in character, and psychology, and the way the previous life experiences and concerns of human beings shape their reactions to troubles or dangers or challenges. I try hard to "know" my characters as well as I can, to know their histories and their worries and weaknesses and personal concerns and to work out how they would react to certain events and situations they encounter. I am also very interested in dreams, in the dreaming state and what it can tell us about people. So I occasionally will use a dream that a certain character has to help readers understand more fully what sort of person this is, what he or she is really all about, even though this may not be clear at that moment in the story to the characters themselves.
Which writers do you identify with most? Who has influenced you?
Of course, like most thriller writers, I regard John LeCarre as a master. I enjoy Len Deighton as well. Graham Greene is also a master -- though not a thriller writer per se, he knows the milieu that interests me and he knows how to work with characters in seedy settings or scenarios that cause them to do dangerous or courageous or foolish things; even, sometimes, if it is against their better judgment.
Where are you going to take Frank Delaney on his next spy adventure, or will your publisher be upset if you talk too much about that right now?
The first volume in the series was set in Canada, then Paris and Rome. In The Burma Effect, Delaney is in Canada again at the start, then London, Bangkok and the most remote parts of Burma. In the Tsunami File, he was back in Thailand, then in Germany and France. I think it's only natural that in the next instalment Delaney goes off to some other exotic locale. I sense he might be off to Latin America next time around. I've spent a fair bit of time there as a journalist and I would like to see how Delaney manages in Nicaragua or Peru, for example.
Where do you want to take Frank Delaney as a character?
Delaney started out as a journalist and got pulled into the world of spies almost by accident. Now that he is in that world, and he is becoming more aware of the rules of that new game, I can see him steadily becoming less of a journalist and more of a spy. But all spies still need a cover. "Journalist" is a handy label for a spy to have on his business card.
Are you happy to be identified as a "Canadian" writer?
I've lived in a lot of countries over the years and had some terrific professional experiences in a lot of different places. Sure, I am a Canadian and a Canadian writer, but I am at ease outside of Canada, very much at ease. Right now I'm living and writing in Sydney, Australia, which is a great and quite unique city but one with also a very wide range of global influences. My books send a Canadian character all over the world and to that extent the books are international, they have the strong global dimension that all good spy fiction needs.
A lot of people who like the Delaney books say they can easily see them as movies, that the books are very visual. Can you see Delaney on the big screen?
Well, my publisher and agent would be absolutely delighted to have Frank Delaney on the big screen! I think the kind of people he runs with, and the kind of places he goes to, would make for good films. Let's see what happens. My priority now is to put Delaney in the big league of spies, in the middle of big stories with wide, exotic international settings and strong historical and factual back stories. Telling a good story is my main concern, and if those stories make it into the movies, all the better. I'd be delighted.