Good Reading : July 2008
JULY 2008 ı goodreading 13 cover story of depleted uranium comes in. It was used in the Middle East and Rollins says, ‘It’s a pretty ugly weapon with an incredibly long half life that as it decays, forms all kinds of horrible isotopes.Three hundred odd tonnes of it are blowing around Iraq. A lot of soldiers have come back from there and will suffer from its effects. It will be America’s legacy in Iraq, like Agent Orange was in Vietnam.’ Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 is a favourite book Rollins has read and re-read and says has had a profound influence on his writing. ‘In business, people only tell you what’s in their interests for you to know.That’s a conspiracy. Governments are the same.There’s money and power and prestige involved and you don’t get the real picture and I guess that’s what’s driving my writing and I guess I’m getting that sort of cynicism from Joseph Heller’s landmark novel.’ Other influences include Nelson DeMille who has spoken highly of Rollins’s work, James Lee Burke, Lee Child and Tony Park. Unexpectedly, Robert Graves, Julius Caesar and Livy have also taken precedence on his reading list. Rollins, a self-confessed news junkie, comes from a family of journalists. His mother was a journalist and he is related to Mary Moody (see gr May 2008). Greatly inspired by his English teacher (now Headmaster at Barker College in Sydney), he decided to study journalism and was lucky enough to get a cadetship with a large publishing company, driving cars and motorcycles for motoring magazines. A pretty cool job for an 18-year-old! From there he went into advertising as a copywriter, eventually forming a highly successful agency and yes, he admits to briefly sporting a rat’s tail. ‘It was the ’80s.You had to have one to get past the reception area,’ he laughs. So how has his career in advertising helped him as a writer? ‘Advertising has given me a good work ethic, I’m very disciplined about the writing and I’m used to tough deadlines. It’s also given my writing a very visual quality.’ Research is another skill he picked up from advertising and journalism, and he travels a lot to research his novels. He went to Burma for A Knife Edge, and to Turkey, Egypt and to the Sudanese border for Hard Rain. In 2007, while part-way through writing Hard Rain, he toured the US to launch The Death Trust and went on a tour of six airbases where he built up a great network of sources with whom he is in regular contact.These include fighter pilots, bomber pilots and OSI agents. He’s just returned from Siberia and Russia, in preparation for his next political thriller (not a Vin Cooper book) called The Zero Option.This one’s about the shooting down of Korean Airlines flight 007 by the Soviets over the Sea of Japan in 1983. In 1998, after around 15 years in advertising with that news junkie still active inside him, Rollins was having what he calls ‘a slow day at the office’. He’d been reading a lot about Australia’s relationship with Indonesia and how the Indonesian military had referred to Australia as ‘South Irian Jaya’, and he got out a big piece of paper and started writing down a story.That story became his first novel Rogue Element. In its original form, the manuscript was rejected by 76 publishers from around the world (ironically, that included his present publisher) and it was then that he decided to get an agent. Purely by chance, that agent turned out to be Rose Creswell, as Rollins explains: ‘She was the one who happened to be in’. It’s a phone call they’ll probably both never forget. ‘Hello. I’m probably your worst nightmare. I’m an unpublished author with a manuscript.You interested?’ Creswell said ‘Yes’ and the rest, as they say, is history. A two-book deal (Rogue Element and Sword of Allah) followed and the idea for the Vin Cooper series came from the SAS characters in Sword of Allah. With more than a little in common with the fictional hero he has created – maybe a little too much – Rollins is taking a year off from Vin Cooper. As he explains, his wife should feel a bit relieved: ‘My wife is afraid I’m turning into Vin. His voice is in my head. I’ll be at a dinner party and someone says something. I just know what Vin’s reaction would be and sometimes I will say it and my wife will elbow me in the ribs and say, “Put Vin away”.’ Cooper and Rollins share a healthy disregard for authority. ‘I’ve never been good with it,’ Rollins says.When he was suspended from Barker College in 1976, he was told, ‘We’re not suspending you for this one instance. It’s for a litany of things that you’ve done over time.The problem with you Rollins is that you’re an individual!’ This didn’t bode well for his dream of joining the military to fly fighters or choppers after leaving school, and his application was rejected. Looking back, Rollins says, ‘The defence forces made the right decision for both of us.’ Having been rejected from the military didn’t stop Rollins from learning to fly later in life and he still does so for pleasure and relaxation regularly. In true action-hero style, we’re not talking your average flying here but aerobatics. Rollins enthuses, ‘I love doing loops, spins and rolls,’ and with a Vin Cooper twinkle in his eye he says ‘If you’re flying straight, you might as well be driving a Hyundai.’ Hard Rain is published by Pan Macmillan, rrp $32.99.