Soon to be found in our Splash of Ink collection, we recently caught up with Emma Viskic on how she has become a bestselling, prizewinning author since we last spoke!
Interviewed by Anthony Howcroft
Emma, you published a piece of flash with us a few years ago, and since then I see you’ve published a bunch of short stories, and three novels! That’s amazing. Where did this sudden burst of productivity come from?
It’s the slowest overnight success. I’ve been writing since I was four, and working on it seriously for the last ten or so years so I had a lot of words behind me. Having said that – there’s nothing like a multi-book contract to make you work hard.
Your novels are all based around a character called Caleb Zelic. Tell us a little bit about him, and what makes him unique.
At first glance Caleb Zelic looks like a standard hero of a crime novel – a loner PI with a failed marriage – but he’s also profoundly deaf. He lipreads and uses sign language, and walks in both the hearing and deaf worlds without quite belonging to either. The inspiration for his character came from a lot of places, including a deaf school friend, but a large part of it came from my paternal grandparents who were Croatian immigrants. They didn’t speak English and I wasn’t raised to speak Croatian, so communication and isolation have been pretty consistent themes in my life and writing since I was a child. Writing Caleb’s character has been an amazing experience. I learnt Australian sign language to do it and also discovered an entirely new way of experiencing the world.
Your first novel, Resurrection Bay, won a stack of awards - the 2016 Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction, and an unprecedented three Davitt Awards (Best Adult Novel, Best Debut, and Readers’ Choice). It was iBooks Australia’s Crime Novel of the Year, and we haven’t even started on the UK and US awards. That must have been incredible. I get excited if a short story gets longlisted. Tell us what it felt like as the awards started coming in.
It felt surreal. I very rarely showed my writing to anyone and most of my friends and family weren’t even aware I was working on a novel. That other people had read and liked my work was incredible – I kept waiting for someone to tell me it was all an elaborate prank.
Did you feel pressured for the second book in the series, And Fire Came Down?
Yes! I felt huge pressure to write a book people would enjoy as much as Resurrection Bay. But it wasn’t all negative. I don’t write easily classifiable crime novels. They’re plot-driven, but primarily about character, and I explore issues like identity and loss. Knowing that people had liked the first book really helped me trust my instincts the second time around.
Writing’s not your first career though - we hear you are a classically trained musician - is that true?
Yes, my first career was as a classical clarinettist. Like writing, classical music is a great mixed-bag of experiences. I played professionally for twenty years, performing in anything from operas and arena spectaculars, to beer gardens and aged-care homes. All those years of practise were a great training for life as a writer, too.
Do you still write as much flash and short fiction, or do the novels devour your time?
I occasionally write short stories and flash fiction, but my main focus is my novels these days. Partly because I’ve got deadlines, but mainly because I'm usually immersed in the world I’m creating and don’t want to leave it to write anything else.
Any tips for us mere mortals? How do you move from having a couple of stories published to best-selling, prize-winning author?
Write, write, write and read, read, read. I wrote two full-length manuscripts and a number of shorter works before beginning Resurrection Bay. I'd also highly recommend writing short-form fiction. Not only is it an art form in itself, but it's also a great way to hone your writing skills.
Have you met Jane Harper, author of the recent Australian crime novels (The Dry, Force of Nature, Lost Man)? Does it drive you mad that everyone compares the two of you?
Yes, I see Jane every now and then – usually at awards nights! She’s a lovely, generous person. I don’t mind the comparison at all. We’re quite different writers, but as we’re both drawn to isolated protagonists and settings, I can see why people often put us together. Jane’s on-going success has also helped draw international attention to the huge wealth of talent in Australian crime fiction.
Thank you so much for talking with us Emma, and congratulations on your success. For our readers, you can find Emma’s books available online here, online and in your local bookseller - if not, tell them to place an order!