An Interview with Chris Hammer – author of The Tilt

Author and Journalist Chris Hammer, shot for his latest novel “Treasure and Dirt” published September 2021. Photograph by Mike Bowers. 9th September 2021.

QRC was fortunate to be able to interview Chris Hammer about his new book The Tilt which features Aaron Falk.  Please see the interview below.

There is a strong sense of family in the novel whether we are looking at Nell’s relationship with her parents, or the Buchanan family, or James Waters and his family. Is the intent here to explore the various permutations of family – the good and the not so good – and the complex issues surrounding adoption particularly in the 1970s?

I’m certainly interested in  families and how they help shape my characters as individuals. Also, the way different family members interact with each other. So to that extent I am exploring the various permutations of family, but I’m not trying to deliver any particular message about, or insight into, adoption in the 1970s.

The landscape also figures very large in the novel and some of the characters – Willow, Bucky and Jimmy in particular – clearly know every inch of it. The descriptions of the creeks and trees as well as the explanations about the ebb and flow of the water suggest a deep knowledge and appreciation of the country on your part.

Would it be correct to say that you have a deep affinity with that part of New South Wales; and from where does that affinity come?

A forest is a wonderful location for a crime novel. It exercises the western imagination, going back to the fairy tales we hear as children, everything from Little Red Riding Hood to Hansel and Gretel. So it resonates with readers.

This forest provides three setting for the price of one. Jimmy’s forest is drought stricken, but also an industrious place, full of workers. Tessa’s forest is more in equilibrium, a place the teenagers can escape the shackles of adult supervision. Nell’s forest is a wetland, a national park, somewhere where nature has reasserted itself.

I do feel an affinity with the forest, just as I feel an affinity with other parts of regional Australia. I visited Barmah-Millewa at the height of the Millennium Drought while researching my non-fiction book The River, a time when trees were dying. I visited again late last year when the forest was filling with water. It’s a magical place, full of bird life and animals. So a wonderful place to set a book.

Although he plays a relatively small part in the novel, Tycho is almost larger-than-life – handsome, charismatic, sensitive – and his presence in the novel extends beyond his death. Was it difficult to write him out of the story in the way that he died?

Yes. I become quite attached to my characters. I laugh along with them, and occasionally shed a tear with them, as I write. So yes, killing one of them off can be wrenching. It was like that with Henry Livingstone in Trust – partly because I would have liked to use him again in future books. But I must remind myself – these are not real people!

Tessa is a fascinating character as she moves through the three phases of her life [although the reader is not fully aware of the connections until later in the novel]. She is at first a vibrant, intelligent 15-year-old; then an agoraphobic mother and wife; and finally, she returns to her real self when the secrets which have dominated her married life are revealed and resolved.

Was writing about her as engaging as it is for the reader to read about her?

Absolutely. It was quite a challenge trying to get inside her character, particularly as she is not always consistent in her approach to life (as with all of us). But I wanted to take the reader on her journey with her,  so they could experience it for themselves and empathise with her, rather than the alternative: Ivan and Nell simply finding out her story in retrospect as part of the resolution to the crime plot.

It wasn’t always easy, but I’m so glad I took that approach and I’m so glad you found her as engaging as I did.

Finally, it is always interesting to know which books our authors are reading. What books are you reading at the moment; and which authors do you enjoy reading?

Inevitably, I read a lot of crime nowadays. I liked Hayley Scrivenor’s Dirt Town very much, partly for the way she tells stories through the eyes of children, and also for her fine use of language. I liked English author’s Dominic Nolan’s Vine Street, set in the seedy underbelly of Soho in the 30s and 40s. Incredibly atmospheric. And I’ve just read an advanced copy of Brisbane author Ben Hobson’s The Death of John Lacey – again, a most atmospheric story, a morality tale set on the Australian frontier during the nineteenth century.

To read our review of The Tilt, click here.

Our thanks and appreciation to Chris for taking the time to answer our questions so thoughtfully.



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