Sunday January 6, 2013
Fugitive on the run
By CHESTER CHIN
Beyond the electrifying momentum, Conspiracy 365 is really a coming-of-age tale about family.
IT’S ironic that Australia’s first lady of crime fiction, Gabrielle Lord, should find the occupational hazards of being a crime writer lurking within the confines of a publisher’s office rather than out in the field when she’s researching psychotic killers with detectives and forensic anthropologists.
“Publishers keep wanting more of the same, whereas writers often want to develop other aspects of their craft and move out of the ‘marketing box’ they’re put in,” says the Sydney-born author in an e-mail interview.
She has never bowed to those pressures though, choosing to stake her stories on a variety of criminal subjects that correspond with the current zeitgeist instead of sticking to a generic storyline that works.
Since she started writing professionally at the age of 30, Lord has tackled plots about a school kidnapping (Fortress), an iconic star caught in a big scandal (Spiking The Girl) and a series of murders by a modern day “vampire” (Death By Beauty), just to name a few.
Pushing 66 now, the grandmother of two has decided to bring her brand of crime thriller to a new generation of young readers with Conspiracy 365, a unique series of 12 novels published in 12 months.
“The series was born when Andrew Berkut, the publisher at Scholastic, met me at a café and put a proposition to me: would I be interested in writing a 12-book thriller for Young Adult readers with a book coming out monthly. I thought it was a marvelous, original idea and said ‘yes!’ almost on the spot,” Lord shares.
Conspiracy 365 revolves around 15-year-old Callum “Cal” Ormond who is forced to become a fugitive as he tries to uncover the truth behind the death of a family member.
Cal’s father had fallen gravely ill while he was researching his family’s history in Ireland the previous year. Before his death, he wrote his son a letter and sent him some mysterious drawings. As the first book January opens, our young hero is told by an anonymous psychiatric patient that his father was murdered because he had uncovered the secret of the “Ormond Singularity”. The man also warned Cal that he must go into hiding for exactly a year, or he will be killed.
Set in a fictional Australian city, the series kicks off on New Year’s Eve and counts down, month by month, as Cal is hurled into a life on the run.
With its fast-paced plot and narratives that almost always carried from one minute to another, Conspiracy 365 has been likened to being a teenage version of the hit television series 24.
However, writing a series of 12 books that chronicled one whole month each proved to be no easy feat for Lord.
“It took almost four years of my life! The biggest challenge was to make a story so thrilling that it didn’t ‘sag in the middle’ because the action of most thrillers is contained within a few days.
“In my adult novels, I only have to build to one denouement. With the series, I had to create 12 of them, each one building towards the final dramatic action in Book 12 of the series,” says Lord who lists Charles Dickens, Alistair MacLean and Alfred Hitchcock as literary inspirations.
The page numbers of each volume in the series count down in reverse numerical order with the chapter headings indicating the days left before the end of the year, an ingenious adrenaline-pumping device that serves to remind readers of Cal’s potential bleak fate.
Another approach that Lord took to sustain the electrifying momentum in the series was through extensive research, something which the author is notorious for.
She dipped into the huge data base of her past research and travelled to Ireland to chase up the story concerning the Virgin Queen and her cousin, Black Tom Butler, the 10th Earl of Ormond.
Coincidentally, one of the subjects of her research is a family member.
“Black Tom Butler was actually a very distant relative. I was a Butler before I married Mr Lord,” she reveals.
Strip away all the thrill and action in the series, Conspiracy 365 is really a coming-of-age tale about family.
“Underneath the fast-moving action is the real, soul story of a boy leaving his mother’s house and facing dangerous challenges so that he emerges as a young man at the end of the series. It is really a rites of passage story disguised as an action thriller,” says Lord.
The multi-layered theme of the series has clearly resonated well with many young readers. In Lord’s native Australia, the books have sold over a million copies and have been adapted into an epic 12-part drama series.
“I was thrilled with it.The producer was very kind and invited me to watch some of the scenes being shot in Victoria. To see my characters come to life in the forms of brilliant young and not-so-young actors was very exciting,” she says.
Lord is currently working on a trilogy involving the same characters in Conspiracy 365 because she enjoys writing about “younger people having extraordinary adventures”. Ultimately though, her heart will always remain within the crime thriller genre.
“I love the way crime thrillers move. A crime catalyses all other action and allows characters to emerge under duress so that more is revealed about them and the crime together. Justice is done, which is satisfying as that is often not the case in the real world.”