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I Wanted to Explore One of my Favourite Topics: Q&A with Blood River Author, Tony Cavanaugh

July 17, 2019

About the author:

Tony Cavanaugh is an Australian crime novelist, screenwriter and film and television producer. He has over thirty years’ experience in the film industry, has lectured at several prestigious universities and has been a regular guest on radio commenting on the film and television industry. His Darian Richards novels which include PROMISE, DEAD GIRL SING and THE TRAIN RIDER, have been highly praised.

For more information about Tony Cavanaugh visit his Facebook page ( or follow him on Twitter (@TonyCavanaugh1).

Buy a copy of Blood River here. // Read a review of Blood River here

Blood River is described as a taut, gritty crime novel set in the Brisbane floods. Can you tell us a bit more about the book?

It’s the story of an Asian Australian female cop, Lara, who’s endured a few doses of racism in her time and her male partner, Billy, who grew up amid London wartime poverty. Lara is in her mid-to-late 20’s and Billy is pushing 60. She’s the youngest Homicide cop on the squad, ever, since Billy, now the oldest Homicide cop on the squad, started back in the mid-1960’s. The book is set in 1999 as Y2K is about to plunge all of mankind into darkness as the new millennium kicks in. And yes, there is a flood. As there is, thrice a century, in Brisbane.

The book is also set in 2019. When Billy is well retired but still good for a little nefarious activity and Lara is the first Asian police commissioner in Australia. Left-over, a terrible failure to her now-dead mum, having brought shame on her for not being the dutiful Chinese daughter.

Having spent quite a bit of time through the last 6 years in the Chinese space – their different approach to storytelling, their history and how the elements of Maoism and Confucianism carry through to behaviours which are alien to Anglos, their movies and books, new and old, I wanted to explore all of that with a young, C20 rebellious, ambitious, super-clever but fucked up young woman, covered in tatts and anger, battling self-loathing like an addict. Searching for herself, as we all do; who am I? Am I the Chinese kid who got kicked and spat on at school by the whities or am I the Australian kid who got elbowed and shoved by the Asians?

At the same time, I wanted to explore one of my favourite topics, ever since when I was a kid reading Conrad’s The Secret Sharer – the doppelganger. This, actually, was how the idea came about: what if a person goes down for a string of killings that they insist they did not commit and, while incarcerated, keep banging on to all who will listen and those who won’t, that she is innocent. But, like Heller’s conundrum, if you keep insisting you are innocent, you will never get parole; the only way to get parole is to become guilty. Thus, only an embrace of guilt – to become the killer – will set you free. (If only I could articulate it as well as the elegance of Heller; oh well.)

The killer, our innocent – or is she? because maybe she’s making it up – is a young woman at the age of 18. The president of the parole board, who has to shepherd her levels of remorse, atonement and guilt, is another woman. Robert Altman is a bit of influence in this book and his Three Women was always lurking on the side of the desk.

Writing this would, I imagine, take you to some rather dark places. How do you shake that off at the end of the day?


Frank Zappa.

Brazilian soap operas.

Re-reading Harold Robbins.

I’m joking; I don’t and never have shaken off a story or a character at the end of a day because there is no end of a day when you’re writing. There’s the end of the journey which, in writing novels, is the publication and in writing film or TV, is when the story is on air or in the cinema. Up until then it’s a constant process of reviewing, rethinking, consideration, rewriting. It’s life.

Even sleep – see below – is inhabited by the world of your story.

What’s your daily writing routine like?

I get up at about 3.30 or 4 in the morning and spend awhile scrolling across stories that have come through over the news during the night – from all parts of the world, not just the Anglo part – to ensure I’m abreast of what’s going on around me. This is part procrastination (as all of us writers tend to do) and because it’s vital to stay afloat on the winds of cultural change, as a storyteller who wants to be relevant to their audience/readers.

Then I write from about 6 or 7 until early afternoon and then I read for a while, usually non-fiction while lying down on the couch and maybe have a half hour snooze. Then I might go back to the writing or, more likely, jot down some ideas long-hand (I do a lot of long-hand writing) for ideas on characters or images or theme… this, actually, trips me up 27/4; getting up in the middle of the night, deep in slumber, suddenly waking with a thought, staggering out of bed and scribbling something on a random bit of paper, hoping like hell it will make sense in the morning. In the middle of all this I try to run a film and TV business – usually by email and the occasional meeting – pushing forward on my slate of about 12 projects.

You need an understanding partner.

Do you plot your books or write by the seat of your pants?

I do not plot when I am writing a novel. I totally plot when I am writing a script. Go figure. I tried to plot my first novel as I wrote it – because that’s how I learnt to write, back in the Crawford Production days and TV writing (especially) is structurally rigid. (Every Sullivans script had 26 dramatic points. Not 25. Not 27. First thing you did in the story conference room: write down 1 to 26 on the left hand of the empty page and then wait for someone to start the process of filling them in with ideas and scenes.) But with Promise, that didn’t work and I started to freak out because usually I can write underwater stuffing my face full of pizza but this was like pulling teeth. So I chucked the plot (which was fucked anyway) and thought, ‘whatever, just go for it and see what happens’ and I did and when I felt that I was sick of my lead character I’d shift away from him and let the whole thing roll. I might add that, by the time this wire-walking ‘let’s just jump off the cliff’ thing was happening, I had over 25 years’ experience structuring stories from episodes of The Flying Doctors to Once Were Warriors. Me and structure, we are good friends of many years.

What are you working on at the moment?

The aforementioned 12 film and TV projects, some of which are Mandarin-speaking films set in China which explore that culture. And a Thai-speaking film and a Burmese-speaking film. There are English-speaking films too.

Lara and Billy have been banging at the door, reminding me about that story set in Hong Kong in 2002, based on a true-life killing and related to Lara’s mother’s days in the HK police force – one of those nasty little shadows that come back to remind you of dodgy things past.




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