Emma Viskic is a writer from Melbourne, Australia. She is a classically trained clarinettist who has performed with José Carreras and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Her debut novel, Resurrection Bay was the 2016 winner of the Ned Kelly Award for best debut. It also won three Davitt Awards including best debut and was shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger. And Fire Came Down, the second book in the Caleb Zelic series won the 2018 Davitt Award for best novel. She reliably informs me that these days she prefers writing to performing music. And just to show she’s not perfect she told me she once broke her foot trying to answer the phone but that’s a whole other story. There will be two more novels in the Caleb Zelic series. She recently interviewed Lee Child for the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne; she is published by Pushkin Vertigo.
I asked Emma about what sub-genre of crime she thought her books were. I told her I didn’t think they were noir. She told me she didn’t want to put a label on her books but that some reviewers had called them modern noir, not necessarily referring to them being contemporary but rather that the ending isn’t completely dark and negative. Emma doesn’t read or write thinking about genre. I mentioned that the relationship at the centre of the novel was quite sweet also rather than dark. She mentioned that the crimes and violence were dark and I must agree, some of the violence is chilling.
I asked Emma about the terrific opening to Resurrection Bay and she told me that it was the first scene she had in her mind for the novel but it wasn’t at the start, not in her mind. She had about twenty-thousand words at this stage, mostly backstory but couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working and then she put that scene to the beginning. A man in a kitchen holding his friend and she knew she had her opening.
French Connection and Jack Reacher.
I mentioned to Emma that she did the French Connection thing. One of her characters (avoiding spoiler) getting shot up with heroin. So, I asked if films had a big influence on her writing.
She laughed about the French Connection reference, she hadn’t thought of it until I mentioned it and although she watches crime films and more readily these days, Crime TV, like The Wire, they are not a major influence on her work. She claims to be a bit of a magpie, picking up things here and there.
As we were talking about books and films I asked about her recent interview with Lee Child and whether she asked him about who should play Jack Reacher in the upcoming series on Netflix. She said Lee Child was putting it out there for everyone to comment on but that she hoped it was someone new, an unknown.
At this point I should tell you that Caleb Zelic, the hero of Emma Viskic’s book series is deaf and relies on hearing aids, signing and lip reading to get by. Why? Because I got a little serious and said that Murakami wrote that writers should explore the wounds that remain.
Emma replied that, in fact, the second novel has scars as the essential theme. The image of the scar tree. The tree grows around the scar but it keeps growing, surrounding the scar and the bark often grows back thicker and stronger. It is an absolute metaphor for that novel (And Fire Came Down).
He is very brave. I often make him do the opposite of what I might have done. His personality is someone who constantly need to prove himself. He is also incredibly stubborn and he will never back down, this is why I had to make the dénouement so harrowing. Caleb is a person who will never give up because he is scared.
Aboriginal characters and setting.
It is a delicate area but I always knew I wanted Indigenous characters. I have close ties to the Koori Community and because the second novel is so based around ‘the mish’ I wanted to get it right. Even though I was nervous, it’s part of my life, part of my world. It would have almost been cowardly not to do it.
I wanted to make sure I got things right so I showed it to my father-in-law, who is a Gunditjmara Elder. I wanted to get feedback on anything he thought I hadn’t got right. It was very much hanging on his response in the end. One of the reasons I thought I could do it was that I was writing Caleb’s character from my perspective. I’m not writing a third person Indigenous voice. I’m writing as a white person. As a privileged outsider.
Pantser or planner?
Pantser. I have to do an incredible amount of re-writing. I don’t think it’s an incredibly efficient way but it seems to be the way it works for me.
I read everything really: Crime and not crime, except for horror. I really enjoy Peter Temple. I’ll always come back to Peter Temple. I often forget to mention him because I assume everyone knows. And you’ve got the classics, Chandler. Um, reading Attica Locke recently. In terms of non-crime fiction: Hilary Mantel; Annie Proulx. All of these people are people really interested in examining people or working out why they think the way they do rather than just being entertainment.
Female Crime Writers.
I grew up with Sara Petrasky, loved her books. Adored them. Val McDermid obviously. In Australia I really enjoy Jenny Green’s novels set around Footscray, the western side of the city. Candice Fox I really enjoy. The Crimson Lake series.
There’s going to be four books in the series. The next book will be called, Darkness for Light. It’s another biblical quote. Possibly after the four books are finished, I might do a stand-alone. I needed to know how many books in the series so I could do arcs, the character arcs. I knew it wasn’t going to be a fifty-book series. Having said that I might go back and do a trilogy or a quartet at some stage. Jump forward in time or something.
You can find Emma Viskic on her website here: https://www.emma-viskic.com
Sean O’Leary’s ‘road novella’ Drifting is available for purchase here: https://www.busybird.com.au/books/our-books/drifting/