For almost three decades, best-selling Australian author Matthew Reilly has been entertaining his fans one page at a time.
And, if you’ve read either the Captain Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield or Jonathan “Jack” James West Jr series, for example, you definitely know what I’m talking about.
Even Vince Flynn, the man who created Mitch Rapp (American Assassin), once stated “no one writes like Matthew Reilly”.
Never a truer word has been spoken.
His books – now 20 in total – draw you in from the opening exchanges, with his colourful characters and frenetic action sequences, and refuse to give you a moment’s rest.
By the time you’re finished, you’re as exhausted as leading men Scarecrow or Jack West Jr.
But, Reilly wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love the movies of the 80s, you know Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and Raiders of the Lost Ark for example, it was such a terrific era,” he said.
“So, I guess my style came from that.
“I want people to be thoroughly entertained through my words.
“In the end, I like a good story and a hero who’s a bit of an underdog.
“I take delight in them overcoming any situation and, maybe, that shows my age,” he added with a laugh.
“However, I can ‘nerd out’ on that because the 80s were also a time of original films, like the ones above as well as Aliens, Terminator, Predator, Hunt For Red October.
“Now, Hollywood’s sort of eating itself by remaking Total Recall, Robocop etc
“Back in the 80s, people went to the movies to see good films.
“The funny thing I’ve noticed is my stuff is very much like that… the lone hero against all the odds, getting beat up.
“These days, it’s so different.
“I watch movies like John Wick, he’ll go out and kill 80 blokes.
“I still remember the Austin Powers film where the henchmen are at a barbecue.
“I think about the John Wick baddies leaving their wives for work, saying ‘hey see you later honey, enjoy your day’.
“And, the poor guys get killed in a fight.
“But, the audiences today like John Wick; it’s popular right now.
“When Interceptor (starring Chris Hemsworth’s wife Elsa Pataky) came out, people thought the movie was a bit of an 80s’ throwback.
“It was a lone hero up against the odds, not a lone hero killing 50 henchmen.
“That’s really interesting to me.”
Life wasn’t always so breezy for the former Sydneysider who now calls Los Angeles home.
Following rejections from all the major publishers, Reilly famously self-published Contest in 1996, printing 1,000 copies.
He produced a big-budget-looking novel, which he sold into bookshops throughout Sydney… one shop at a time.
“It cost me $8,000; it’s one of the best decisions in my life, that one,” he said.
“I’ve actually had people comment on my social media saying they’re going to bring some of those originals to the book signings on this trip.
“It’s a funny thing, how do you get discovered these days?
“It is so hard to cut through because there aren’t many publishers and the ones that are still around are now consolidating.
“I was knocked back by everyone.
“So, to get noticed, I self-published.
“If I was doing that today, I’d put it on Amazon and sell it for $1.50, give people a reason to try it.
“Even my books, sometimes individuals complain they sell for $16 on Amazon, and I’ve sold eight million around the work in 20 languages.
“However, I’m lucky, I’ve [now] got a reputation.
“If you self-publish on Amazon, don’t sell it for $16, sell it for $1.50 or $2.
“That way you’re giving more people an opportunity to see what you’ve written.
“Honestly, Michael Crichton, my favourite author, he was always asked: how do people get into the movie business?
“And, his answer, which I agree with, is that everyone finds their own way in.
“It sounds a little, I don’t know, a bit glib, but it’s actually true.
“Take Sylvester Stallone for example, he had to write Rocky to get into it.
“I have a great affinity with him because, with Interceptor, someone offered to buy my script, a very strong script, as long as I did not direct it.
“Stallone had Rocky… and he insisted on being in it.
“You must have the guts to say no and the courage that you’ll eventually get it made.
“I’ve great respect for Stallone with what he did with Rocky. And, on a smaller scale, I did that with Interceptor.
“That was seen by more than 100 million people and was No 1 in 90 countries.”
Ironically, in January 1997, Cate Paterson, then a commissioning editor for Pan Macmillan Australia, walked into Angus & Robertson’s Pitt Street Mall store and bought a copy of Contest.
She tracked Reilly down through his contact details in the front of the book.
And, she was thrilled to find him working on his next novel, Ice Station.
Based on Contest and the first few chapters of Scarecrow’s introduction to the literary world, Paterson signed the 49-year-old for a two-book deal with Pan Macmillan Australia.
The rest, they say, is history.
Reilly has since released blockbusters such as Temple, Area 7, Scarecrow, Hover Car Racer, Hell Island, Seven Ancient Wonders, The Six Sacred Stones, The Five Greatest Warriors, Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves, The Tournament, The Great Zoo of China, Troll Mountain, The Four Legendary Kingdoms, The Three Secret Cities, The Two Lost Mountains, The One Impossible Labyrinth, The Secret Runners of New York and much more.
On the eve of his guest appearance at the Newcastle Writers Festival on Wednesday 25 October, he’s also unveiled his latest offering, the epic thriller Mr Einstein’s Secretary.
“It’s about a young German woman (Hanna Fischer) navigating her way through all the key historical events from about 1912 to 1948,” he said.
“She’s a gifted physicist but tragedy strikes.
“Hannah is sent to secretary school in New York City and becomes the assistant to all these high-profile individuals for the next 30 years.
“So, she encounters gangsters in the 20s, the stock market crash and Nazis in the 30s, and the events of World War II.
“It might sound a bit Indiana Jones-ish, however it’s probably more Dr Zhivago.
“But, I love history and that period of time was just so dramatic.
“To put someone in there, who is gifted and thrown into, I mean these secretary schools of that time, they were extraordinarily sexist.
“They’re saying ‘it’s your job to help a man do his job. The man’s brain is bigger than yours’.
“So, I get to go through the genesis of the atomic bomb and why the Nazis failed in building one.
“These are all things that are interesting to me.
“And, as a Matthew Reilly story, it’s always going to be fast.”
History has played a prominent role in most of his books.
“I loved all the Inca stuff that I did in Temple and the Jack West Jr series,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.
“Then there was researching the pyramids, Stonehenge and Easter Island.
“The Tournament came about because of my interest in Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and the Islamic Empire.
“And, now, with Mr Einstein’s Secretary, it just appeals to me.
“I’m so lucky; my fans follow me, too.
“They allow me to do that, which doesn’t happen for every author.
“Some fans don’t like it if they go away from their main character.”
So, what book is Reilly’s favourite?
“That’s tough, when I started, it was Ice Station and Temple,” he said.
“Then they re-released Contest, so there were three stand-alones.
“Area 7 and Scarecrow soon took over.
“Then I wrote Seven Ancient Wonders before committing to do Six Sacred Stones, Five Greatest Warriors etc
“That became a seven-book series, which I never really expected, but I’m so happy with the end result.
“And, I really love One Impossible Labyrinth.
“I was very, very pleased with that… it was a great way to finish that series.
“However, I can answer this honestly.
“Every book that I wrote was the best thing I could do at that point in my life.
“It’s a very simple rule I have when I start a new novel.
“Is this in some way better than the one that came before it?
“So, Contest was designed to be fast. Ice Station was designed to be fast and better than Contest.
“And, if you keep doing that, every now and again you write a book, which is a lot better than the one before it.
“I can look at my body of work and I know that Ice Station was a quantum leap up on Contest.
“Scarecrow was a quantum leap up on Area 7; and then you move forward, you get the Seven Wonder series.
“The Tournament was a very unusual book, however it was very, very high quality.
“Even with Mr Einstein’s Secretary, I’ve never done an epic before.
“It’s not only better than the books that came before it, Cobalt Blue and One Impossible Labyrinth, it’s a lot better.
“It is one of those ones, which is just every now and again, you surprise yourself.
“It’s not just better, it’s a lot better.
“It took five years to do this one… I wrote it on and off around the other books, so it’s had much more put into it.”
Reilly said he was looking forward to returning to the former steel city.
“It’s great being back in Australia full stop,” he admitted.
“But, I think I was last in Newcastle in 2016, seven years ago.
“I did an event up there in City Hall, which was terrific.
“Beforehand, one of the earlier books, I attended the Newcastle Young Writers Festival… gosh, that’s going back 24 years or so.
“Actually, before I moved to America in 2015, I received an invitation from a regional library in the Hunter.
“Yep, that’s right, it was in Singleton.
“And, it was such a lovely invitation.
“Even though I’d travelled in the region for several book tours over the years, like Erina and Newcastle, I loved going to the smaller towns.
“I once drove two-and-a-half hours (from Adelaide) for an event in South Australia.
“However, I clearly remember the Singleton gig.
“There was a huge crowd, standing room only.
“Another [visiting] librarian asked one of the Singleton girls how did they get Matthew Reilly to come there?
“She replied: ‘I asked him nicely’.
“There’s nothing better but, unfortunately, I can’t sort of do it now.”
Despite his success with pen in hand, Reilly hasn’t given up hope of one day landing a massive movie deal, given his books are made for the big screen.
“It’s frustrating,” he said.
“One, they’d be very expensive to make.
“And, two, it’s hard to explain to people that your principal movie studios, such as Disney or Warner Bros, they only produce about six major blockbusters every year.
“They’d rather stick to safe remakes or Marvel, Star Wars films.
“So, to break in, you basically need a big star like Chris Hemsworth or Chris Evans to say I want to make that book into a movie.
“Trust me, it’s not for want of trying.
“Once, I sold Ice Station to Paramount and the executive who bought it got a great screenplay done.
“But, he was then offered the top job over at 20th Century Fox.
“So, when your executive leaves the studio, a new person comes in and kills all the cubs of the previous line.
“There are many reasons why [they haven’t been made into films], but they’re very silly.
“I was literally talking to a company the other day about doing a TV series based on the Scarecrow books… Ice Station, Area 7, Scarecrow and Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves.
“Thanks to Game of Thrones, I think episodic television is very good way to adapt a book.
“If you turned Ice Station into a movie, you’d have to take a lot of stuff out.
“Whereas as a TV show, you could do the whole thing.
“I do hold a candle out and now with Interceptor, I believe it’s given me more of an ability to get the correct people on the phone, which is good.”
So, who would Reilly secure to play Scarecrow or Jack West Jr?
“That’s actually a really interesting question,” he said.
“Hollywood doesn’t make movie stars anymore.
“Star Wars, Marvel… it’s the franchise that’s the star.
“You’ve got all these guys who’ve got their starts in Marvel, Chris Pratt, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans etc.
“However, I’d love Hemsworth to be Scarecrow or Jack West Jr.
“He’d be great for both.
“The 80s and 90s were very good at making movie stars.
“In fact, there was a list recently of the most bankable stars.
“Nineteen of the 20 were from the 80s.
“I just find it very, very interesting that Hollywood wants to sell you a product.
“So, it’ll figure out what you want.
“If you want to watch Denzel Washington kick butt for two hours or Keanu Reeves kick butt for two hours and, if Hollywood figures it out, they’ll give it to you.”
ABC Newcastle presenter Dan Cox will host the hour-long conversation with Reilly in the Shortland Building at the University of Newcastle’s Callaghan campus.
Tickets are $35 and can be booked at https://www.newcastlewritersfestival.org.au/matthew-reilly-event/
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