Michael Robotham’s damaged protagonist, psychologist Joe O’Loughlin, hunts for two kidnapped teenage girls in Say You’re Sorry.
What appeals to you about this kind of flawed hero?
A perfect hero is about as boring as a perfect marriage. Of all the characters I’ve created, Joe O’Loughlin is the closest to me. We’re both the same age, married with daughters, and have similar political and social views. At the same time, he’s nothing like me. He’s almost a better version. Braver. Stronger. Less grumpy.
How challenging was it to write from a teenage girl’s perspective?
Creating Piper Hadley was one of the great challenges and joys I’ve experienced as a writer. Joe O’Loughlin is like an old friend who I’ve known for years. Piper was new. I had to discover things about her. A number of years ago I wrote The Night Ferry from the perspective of a 28-year-old policewoman. My wife had to come to terms with the fact that I spent a year having an “affair” with another woman. It was the same this time. When I was writing Piper’s chapters, I felt as though I was living and breathing her years in captivity. I had no idea if she would make it home to see her family. That’s how I built the suspense.
What draws you to young adults in jeopardy, especially adolescent girls, who often figure prominently in your novels?
I have three daughters, two of them teenagers and one on the verge. This helps when it comes to deciphering the language, logic, and thought patterns of adolescent females. But the real reason I write books involving girls is that I draw upon my own worst nightmares. I normally sleep very well, but when I do have bad dreams they always involve my children. I don’t enjoy writing the scenes that emerge from the dreams. But I do like exploring relationships between fathers and daughters, particularly Joe O’Loughlin, who’s trying so hard to be a good father.
You don’t gloss over violence, particularly the numerous sexual assaults the kidnapped girls endure.
I’m very careful to set boundaries when it comes to portraying physical and sexual violence. In Say You’re Sorry there’s a very disturbing scene, which I thought long and hard about including. I’m very critical of crime novels that use gratuitous violence to shock readers when it isn’t necessary. If that’s all you have to offer as a writer, perhaps you’re in the wrong job. Violence is inevitable in crime novels, but there are many different ways to tell a story. I use my characters’ reactions to illustrate the worst moments, rather than let readers witness them at first hand.