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Chris Hammer: Ten questions (plus one)

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We catch up with Canberra novelist Chris Hammer on the launch day of his second book Silver.

Hammer published his debut novel Scrublands in August 2018. Scrublands shot straight to number one for four weeks and stayed on the bestseller lists for months. It has sold in excess of 80,000 copies.

Earning outstanding reviews in Australia and overseas, Scrublands—set in a dry, dusty outback town—has established Hammer’s place among an elite handful of Australian thriller writers, who have made ‘Aussie noir’ a publishing success here and internationally.

In Silver, Chris Hammer turns his forensic eye to an Australian coastal town.

What can you tell us about your new book, Silver?

It’s a crime novel, similar in many ways to Scrublands. If you like one, you’ll probably like the other.

It follows the same protagonist, damaged journalist Martin Scarsden and his partner Mandalay (Mandy) Blonde. The events in Silver take place about six weeks or two months after the events in Scrublands.

It starts with Martin arriving in his old home town–a place he has steadfastly avoided for more than twenty years—only to find his best friend from school days stabbed to death in Mandy’s apartment. She’s there, with blood on her hands, going into shock.

She’s the primary murder suspect, so Martin sets to work to find out who really killed his old friend. And the more he digs, the more criminality he discovers.

And always in the background, the mystery of why he fled Port Silver and what happened to his family.

So what can readers expect?

It’s crime fiction, so I don’t want to give too much away. So no spoilers. But there is sex, murder, a religious cult, con artists, drugs, blackmail, smuggling, drug-fuelled orgies, a media storm and corruption. So there’s a bit going on.

Scrublands was a real page-turner—is Silver the same?

To a great extent. The first half of Silver is probably more of a slow burn–lots of intriguing characters, lots of strange events. A really immersive read as Martin, and the reader, explore the town. Then the second half of the book really rips along.

So is Silver a sequel or a stand-alone book?

It’s a stand-alone book, and it would be possible to read it without reading Scrublands first. This is typical of the crime genre with a series featuring the same protagonist. Every book features a new case. That said I think readers who have already read Scrublands would have a better sense of the main characters and their pasts.

The drought-ravaged setting played a large part in Scrublands. Is the setting as important in Silver?

The setting is again important but in a different way. In Scrublands, the isolated town of Riversend is under immense economic pressure. It’s an irrigation town and its river is empty. Port Silver is different. It’s a fictional town, located on the North Coast of New South Wales. Locals spruik it as the next big thing, the next Byron Bay or Noosa. This is reflected in the outlook of many residents, obsessed with making money and setting themselves up for the coming boom. So setting again affects the motivation of the townspeople.

There was a lot going on in Scrublands, with several crimes and interwoven plot-lines. Is Silver the same?

Yes. There are multiple plot lines. Just as I can’t believe any reader worked out the resolution to all the strains in Scrublands, I doubt any reader will be able to work out all the resolutions in Silver. That’s part of the fun of reading it.

Is there more to the book than Martin working out who killed whom?

Absolutely. One of the elements of Scrublands I am most proud of is Martin’s emotional journey: the Martin Scarsden at the end of Scrublands is a very different man than the Martin Scarsden at the beginning of the book.

It’s the same in Silver. Remember this is Martin’s home town. Possibly the most powerful element of the book is Martin discovering what really happened to him and his family as a child, the events that left him traumatised. For me and, already, several readers, this is the most satisfying part of the read.

What do you hope readers get out of reading your books?

First and foremost, I hope they enjoy them. Anytime someone reads one of my books, they’re paying me an enormous compliment, given there are so many other books to read.

Personally, I love immersing myself in a book, losing myself in the created world, so I hope readers might experience something like that with Scrublands and now with Silver. After that, if they like the writing, or pondering the mysteries, or they find elements thought-provoking, or the story lingers a while with them, well that makes me very happy indeed!

Did you find writing your second novel difficult?

You hear this a lot—the difficult second novel. But to be honest, I didn’t find it too bad. There was the same joy in making things up, of creating new characters and new scenarios. I find it immensely satisfying. Which is not to say there aren’t days when it’s difficult and the words are hard to find.

I think one thing that helped was that I was a on a tight deadline, so I really didn’t have too much time for navel-gazing!

What is happening with film and television rights?

Scrublands is being developed as a six-part television drama, with a couple of highly-respected writers working on a screenplay. Hopefully, an announcement isn’t too far away, but in film and television nothing is certain until filming actually begins.

If Scrublands goes into production, it’s likely the same production companies would then look at a follow-up series based on Silver.

What’s next?

I’ve just started work on a third Martin Scarsden novel. Hopefully, that will be published in late 2020. After that, I’ll probably reassess. There may be more Martin books, maybe not.

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