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This episode of the Crime Cafe podcast features my interview with crime writer T.W. Lawless.
Check out our discussion of his Peter Clancy series … and more!
Transcript now available in PDF.
Debbi: Hi everyone. My final guest for this season, although actually I’m planning to do a kind of an additional episode after this. It’ll be a bonus for people who are patrons on Patreon if you’d like to see it. I’m going to talk about my plans for the podcast because this is the end of my eighth season so it’s just amazing to me that it’s gone on this far. And if I make it to 10 seasons, well something has to be done to celebrate that.
Having said that, I would like to introduce our guest today. After studying journalism, he worked as a registered nurse for many years before turning to fiction writing. He is the author of the Peter Clancy novels, as well as a thriller called Furey’s War, which he co-wrote with his wife Kay Bell. My guest today, it’s my pleasure to introduce Thomas Bell, who writes under the name T. W. Lawless. Hi Tom. How are you doing today?
Tom: I’m good.
Tom: I’ve had coffee. I’m fine.
Debbi: Oh, yes. You’re always fine once you have that coffee. Amen to that. So how are things in Australia?
Tom: Well, fine at the moment. I think the weather is okay today. Well, we live near the sea, which is always okay. We love the sea. It’s the weekend. What’s today? I’m getting confused with time differences. It’s Saturday today.
Debbi: Oh my gosh. Well, it’s Friday where I am and it’s Saturday where you are.
Tom: I always feel like in Australia, we live in the future.
Debbi: That’s right. Yeah. Everything’s going to be fine because everything’s fine in Australia.
Tom: You just have to get to Saturday.
Debbi: Just take it one day at a time.
Tom: I know.
Debbi: One time zone at a time. Let’s see. I wanted to ask you about Furey’s War first, because for me it was a really interesting read because you were writing about World War II, but you were writing about it from an Australian perspective, and that’s something that I’ve just never read.
Tom: That’s true. That’s true.
Debbi: Yeah. So what inspired you to write that book?
Tom: Well, I guess my father, because he …well, North Queensland. The family came from North Queensland from a small country town, which was a bit like the one in the book. The Gold Rush had gone and basically the town was a ghost town, becoming a ghost town until the Americans came in 1942 or whatever wanting an Air Force base. So that’s what happened. An Air Force Base arrived and an Australian Air Force base arrived and there was this big influx of military people, plus a big cultural impact. So this country town became vibrant with all these American troops, like thousands. And of course, people loved it. Some people didn’t like it. It changed the town, but all over Australia that happened. They wanted to be in Northern Australia because it was the access to Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands.
Some of those stories in there are true. Sometimes the Australian troops didn’t like the American troops because they were better paid, and Australian girls liking the American troops and Australians didn’t like that. And of course, boys being boys, they had some fights and whatnot. So I just put that layer of the police officer trying to navigate his way through that and keep law and order, and sometimes trying to work with the Americans because he had been in the military with the Americans and trying to keep his town stable through all this. So I thought it was a different spin on things because I don’t think peace time – not peace time – but the home front. You don’t often hear about the home front in Australia. I think maybe it was the first, I don’t know, but it was a great read.
Debbi: Well, it’s the first time I have read it
Tom: Yeah. It was great to write and to work with my wife, so we got through that okay, unscathed. There were creative differences, but we got through it and it came out to be a great book.
Debbi: How did you handle your creative differences?
Tom: Just usually to argue and then my wife always wins and I let her win, nah, we just work it out eventually. You know, we just have discussions and so you will just look at the end process and it all seems to work in the end. I’ve never co-authored a book with anyone. I don’t think that, I don’t know if that happens very often, but it was something different to do.
Debbi: I think it’s happening more frequently than it was in the past, especially with self-publishing.
Tom: Yeah. I’ve seen authors like James Patterson. Didn’t he do a book with Bill Clinton and I think he’s done one with Dolly Parton I think, but that’s James Patterson anyway, but maybe it is becoming more common I think because two heads are better than one as they say.
Debbi: I’ve had really good luck collaborating on screenplays with people.
Tom: Oh, that’s right. You do screenplays, don’t you?
Debbi: Yeah. Yeah. It’s really a wonderful process, I think. Do you find that it helps you as a writer to collaborate with somebody else?
Tom: Oh, I couldn’t do it in isolation. Even if we’re not having written a book together because Kay’s a writer also, we can talk over ideas, flesh out things, and try this sort of stuff. I think it really works. I think maybe being a writer by yourself is a little bit isolating. You need to work off other people I think sometimes. Try out your ideas on people and see if they work or not work.
Debbi: I think that’s absolutely true. Let’s see. You’ve also published several Peter Clancy novels. Tell us about Peter Clancy and what went into creating that character.
Tom: Peter Clancy. Well, once again I thought an Australian character because you see these thriller books being dominated by British characters, American characters and now Scandinavian characters I see in other people. But I thought maybe something different. You know, I’m Australian. I sort of understand the place a little bit and I wanted to get away from the detectives, private eyes. Try maybe a journalist, an investigative journalist and try to pay homage to how a journalist would acquire a story. So I just thought about it and started in 2012 to write the first book, and I’ve been sort of going since, trying out different scenarios. Now I’m up to Book 6.
It sort of started out in a … the idea came from when I was young, there used to be a publication called The Melbourne Truth, which is now defunct. My mother used to get it because it had the race guide in it, but it was renowned as being a bit racy. You had a Page 3 Girl and those scandal stories, and I thought wonder what it’s like working for a paper like that, so that’s part of the idea of where Peter Clancy was born and that was in the first two books. But they made up stories sometimes and they’d do anything to get a story, and so that’s where Peter Clancy was born and based for a little while.
Debbi: Cool. Let’s see. Now your latest release, Beachdaze deals with some pretty serious issues, very relevant issues. Can you talk about those?
Tom: Well, once again, dealing with the environment, and I’ve always had a thing about the environment, how people treat it and talking about also having bad neighbors. I think we were living down just outside Melbourne at a peninsula and there were stories going around of illegal dumping because people didn’t want to pay for going to the dump to dump rubbish. You have to pay in Australia and then you have to sort out the rubbish into different classifications, and so some people were just dumping it. And then apparently I’d heard people will dump rubbish like building site rubbish because some building property developers aren’t the nicest people in the world and they don’t want to have to pay all that money to dump the rubbish, so they’ll just pay someone and they’ll just dump it anywhere – farmland or by the side of the highway. So there’s this big industry and this made me angry about why they were doing this. I also read stories about the underworld being involved in illegal dumping because it’s a way of laundering money. So Peter Clancy, you could put him in there and he comes, has a heart attack and I thought, you know, he just wants some peace and quiet, and of course he never does peace and quiet. So that’s what happened. I just took it from there and all the corruption and other elements to make it exciting.
Tom: I think there is a problem across the world. I’ve even heard stories about the Mafia being involved in dumping, illegal dumping of rubbish. Of course it’s toxic waste and then you hear stories that they dump asbestos. I have heard stories in Australia they’re dumping asbestos anywhere they want to.
Debbi: My goodness. Serious situation. Yeah.
Tom: Yeah, there definitely is.
Debbi: What are your plans for the series? Do you envision a certain number of books that you’re going to write or do you just plan to keep writing them until you get tired of it?
Tom: I’m in a sort of state of flux at the moment. I’ve sort of gotten halfway through Walk, the current book, but I’d like to go on a holiday first because we haven’t had our holiday to Greece yet. That got of course canceled during Covid, so maybe after that I’ll write another book. I don’t know if it’s writer’s block, but I think it’s sort of like wanting to go on a holiday overseas sort of situation at the moment.
Debbi: I wouldn’t mind taking one myself.
Tom: I know. I think everyone wants to go on a holiday and the airlines took hold of that because some of the airfares have been very exorbitant. I think they’re coming down now, but I know Covid affected a lot of lives. I think we canceled three times.
Debbi: Mm. Yeah, it’s amazing. Yeah, because we’ve been really careful about not going places and it’s just like, when can we actually go somewhere?
Tom: I know. There are no lockdowns now in America, are there?
Debbi: Not lockdowns, no. Right now, it depends on what state you’re in. It depends on what political persuasion you are. Yeah. Depends on what you believe. It’s so confusing.
Tom: Before, we couldn’t go to a different state without having permits and whatnot. There was a real… I thought it was like being in a war or something. You were so locked down. You can’t do this. We were a bit luckier here in New South Wales. It was a bit more relaxed, but in Victoria and Melbourne, that had the strictest lockdown laws in the world, and of course we’ve got a second house there so to get there was quite hard at times. And you had to be checked at the airport with your permit, and if you didn’t have your permit, you got sent back. It was a really strange time.
Debbi: Yeah. It’s been absolutely. What authors have most inspired you to write?
Debbi: What authors are your favorites, most inspire you?
Tom: There’s different types. I’ve always loved history above anything else, but I guess thriller authors I liked. Trying to think of the top of my head, the LA Confidential author.
Debbi: James Ellroy.
Tom: James Ellroy. Yeah. I read some of his books years ago and I like the dryness and the punchiness of it and sort of the way he spoke and the narrative. I thought, I like that.
Debbi: It’s very terse.
Tom: What’s that?
Debbi: Terse is what comes to mind.
Tom: Terse, yeah. I like terse. It seemed realistic.
Tom: And I also liked Frederick Forsythe. He did Day of the Jackal. I always liked him as an author.
Debbi: Yeah. That’s something I’ve always meant to read – Day of the Jackal – and see the movie.
Tom: Yeah. Really well crafted book for action, intention.
Debbi: And how much research do you usually do when you’re working on a novel?
Tom: I think even when you write a fiction book, you still have to do some research because you might be dealing some legal situations. I think in one of the books … well, I didn’t know anything about cocaine. I used cocaine. I’ve never dealt with cocaine, not even as a nurse. I dealt with other types of drugs, but I asked someone who’d had some knowledge of it and experience with it about cocaine. So yeah, you have to do those things sometimes, and sometimes police procedures and legal procedure in Beachdaze was dealing with the layers of government and that sort of stuff, and about illegal bin dumping. So yeah, sometimes looking up forensics or asking people about forensics. I’ve dealt with being a nurse, but you’re not doing pathology or whatnot, so you have to do it sometimes, ask people.
Debbi: To make it realistic because obviously, you don’t work in those areas. Yeah. What advice would you give to someone who would like to make a career in writing?
Tom: Make a career? Be prepared for the pitfalls and the ups and the downs, and be persistent and tenacious. Just keep writing through it all, even when it’s not going so well. Get involved with other writers and talk to each other. You still can become isolated at times, so you need to download and flesh out ideas with other people. The industry, I found the hardest one. The hardest thing was when I was trying to find out the industry, how it works, the printing, and especially when all the social media turned up, how social media works because when I started, it was all newspapers and radios. I did newspaper interviews and radio interviews. That’s sort of passé now. It’s podcasts and your social media account, who’s following me on Instagram. That’s how I had to navigate that, trying to work out how that works. Is it going to work for me?
Debbi: I hear that. So much has changed over the last 10 or 20 years that it is astonishing.
Tom: I know. When I first started, I didn’t know what a blog was. Now I’m finding out what a podcast is, and this podcast seemed to be the thing, and the latest thing I read about in book trends is Audible books so you have to have a look at that one too.
Debbi: Yeah. Yeah. It’s amazing what’s going on in media in general.
Tom: I know. Legacy media, they call the term I heard the other day, you know the newspapers.
Debbi: Legacy publishing, that sort of thing.
Debbi: Let’s see. I have always been fascinated with Australia because it’s so far from where I am, and because you guys are in a whole different hemisphere.
Tom: I know. It’s your cousins from down under.
Debbi: Well, I just think it’s really awesome. I’ll never forget sending a book to a reader in Australia and including a note that said, I can’t believe I am sending a book to a reader who reads me in Australia.
Tom: I know. The thing about sending books from Australia to people in North America is the cost.
Tom: Luckily now worked out through Ingram, you can just send it from a factory in America, which costs a whole lot less. I think to send a book from Australia would probably cost me over $20, which is probably more than the cost of the book. It’s something about … I’ve always been fascinated why we live so far away from everywhere else, Europe, America or thereabouts. We’re so far away and you just have to go jump on a plane, go across the Atlantic and you are in Europe. That’s a short trip for us. Short trip.
Debbi: Australia would be a long trip for me.
Tom: I know. Well it’s probably 17 or 18 hours. It’s nearly a day. I know that because when you get to Europe or whatever, you’re just totally wasted from being on a plane.
Debbi: Well, it’d be worth it, just so I could see Australia at least once.
Tom: Oh, you haven’t been to Australia yet?
Debbi: I have not. I have not seen Australia or New Zealand, two places I’m interested in.
Tom: You are going to have to come. You’re going to have to visit it.
Debbi: I have to do that. Yes. Absolutely. Positively.
Tom: Well, we live north of Sydney near the beach, which is really beautiful, so you’re welcome to stay.
Debbi: Awesome. Fantastic. I’ll have to run this by my husband.
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Debbi: Is there anything else you’d like to add before we finish up?
Tom: Buy the book. Read the book. Read the whole series. Follow me, all that sort of stuff. Yeah.
Debbi: Follow Tom. Follow T. W. Lawless.
Tom: That’s it.
Debbi: Check out Beachdaze. Check out Peter Clancy and definitely check out Furey’s War if you want a different take on World War II.
Tom: That’s right.
Debbi: Amen. Australia Amen. I couldn’t resist.
Tom: Are there any TV shows, foreign TV shows you watch?
Debbi: TV shows? Oh my gosh. Well, oh, where would I begin? There’s a number of things on Netflix I watch. We could …
Tom: Oh yeah!
Debbi: We could go into all that in the bonus episode.
Tom: Okay. Yeah.
Debbi: Sounds like a plan. Excellent.
Tom: That’s right.
Debbi: Well, I just want to thank you so much for being here today, Tom. I appreciate your being on and talking to the listeners about your books.
Tom: Thanks for the invite, Debbi. I really enjoyed it.
Debbi: Well, I enjoyed it too. Thank you so much. Thank you. And I will turn it back over to me then, I think, if I can do this right. There I go. I knew I could do it.
Tom: You did very well.
Debbi: Very good. Thanks so much.
Tom: Thank you.
Debbi: Sure thing. Hang on so we can do the bonus episode as well.
Debbi: So for all of you listening, I just wanted to say this is the final episode of Season 8 and I cannot believe that it’s been 8 years and that we’ll be coming up on a 10 year anniversary at some point, assuming I last that long. I’m thinking I will; I’m not that old. It’s hard to believe. Anyway, I’m booked all the way into Season 11 if you can believe that so there will be content. I’m thinking over various options in terms of perks to offer on Patreon, things I could do with the podcast, maybe do a scripted podcast at some point. We’ll see. In any case, thank you for listening. In the meantime, take care and until I see you in June or you hear me in June, one way or the other, happy reading. Talk to you later.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more of the Crime Cafe podcast … coming this summer!