An Interview with Frank Chalmers
Frank Chalmers has a UQ bachelor’s degree in Philosophy & Maths, MA(Qual.) in Philosophy, and is a graduate of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. He has taught high school and at university in Science, Philosophy, Communication Design and Writing. He began a forty-year professional writing career on scripts for drama (feature film, tv series, interactive), documentary, corporate and educational media, moved to conceptual/interaction design for websites and games, and has addressed conferences.
He now writes novels and Conviction is his first and features Detective Ray Windsor.
Queensland Reviewers Collective:
Based on the length of your writing career, presumably you witnessed at first hand the events through the 1970s and 1980s in Queensland which led to the Fitzgerald Inquiry. What brought you to make the leap from personal knowledge of that period to writing a book which essentially creates in Royalton a microcosm of the corruption then existing across the state?
I only discovered the scale of the corruption during the Fitzgerald Inquiry itself and after reading its Report. Like most Queenslanders perhaps, I had heard stories earlier but had no direct experience. After reading the Report, it was that personal experience of those who resisted corruption that touched me most deeply. Lives of heroic people were savagely ruined, with less public appreciation for their courage than they deserved. Admiration for their moral courage led me to write CONVICTION.
Long before COVID, I characterised political and police corruption as spreading like a virus into the lives of ordinary people who lacked the power of their adversaries but stood up against it anyway.
Detective Ray Windsor is – I think – a complex character. On one hand, he is a street fighter [both in and out of the ring] and, on the other, he is almost brought to tears when he goes to his send-off. He has a somewhat dysfunctional background but puts himself at high personal risk in finding and rescuing Cassie. Is he based on any person/s you have met or is he a product of your creative imagination?
He is invented. His capacity for violence is a key starting point for his character, and central in dealing with men he encounters, especially since this story is set in the seventies. Violence against women, which Ray rejects, remains a shocking fact in our own society and I am interested in how any crime writer depicts it without glamourising it. Ray has problems with his temper but, as you say, has softer characteristics too. Plausibly fusing them into one person was crucial, to stop him being too virtuous or too villainous.
One of the things which particularly impressed me about the book was the authenticity of the dialogue between the characters. Some authors seem to struggle to have their characters sound like real people. Is the creation of ‘real’ dialogue a challenge for all writers; or is it an art which only a few writers share?
I can only answer from my own experience as a screenwriter for many years, which demands dialogue that is succinct but multi-layered, then as an interviewer of many people out west for museums, on and off camera. The latter was a rich opportunity to listen to the rhythms and nuances of ordinary conversation.
At the end of Conviction, Ray says to Arshag ‘No rush. I like it here’. Can this be taken as an indication that there may be more of Ray’s story to come?
Two subsequent Ray adventures are already advanced. Book Two sees him in Brisbane, much deeper ‘in the belly of the beast’ of corruption than he likes. In Book Three, Ray being Ray, he is exiled again, this time to sugarcane country further north, culminating in the period of the Fitzgerald Inquiry itself, where he tries to use his own history of fighting wrongs to achieve justice. It’s a struggle that puts him under increasing pressure. It never gets easier.
Any subsequent Ray stories are likely to return out west, still in the seventies and eighties.
It is always interesting to know what writers read when they are not researching for or creating their own work. Are there particular authors whom you turn to for reading pleasure?
A diverse list.
“Born in Blackness” by Howard French, “Reality +” by David Chalmers (no relation)
“Black Snow” by Georges Simenon, “Crime and Punishment” by Guess Who (again)
My appreciation to Frank for the opportunity to ask him the questions above, and for his thoughtful and considered answers.
To read the QRC review of Conviction, click here.