How Michael Robotham's leap of faith to become a novelist has paid off


Best-selling author Michael Robotham was an investigative journalist before becoming a crime writer, but it was his experience working with clinical and forensic psychologists in this role that gave him insight into his future writing genre.

Robotham's first thriller, The Suspect, sold 1 million copies worldwide and his novel The Secrets She Keeps was recently aired as a series on television.

He remains the only Aussie to win the UK's prestigious Gold Dagger Award twice. His latest book, When You Are Mine, has just been released. 

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What was your first job?

I was so sports-mad as a teenager, playing cricket and golf that I didn't have time for part-time jobs, which means my first ever paid gig was as a cadet journalist, working for The Sun in Sydney.

I had just turned 18 when I secured a coveted cadetship on the afternoon newspaper, starting my career alongside other cadets such as Geraldine Brooks, who went on to become a brilliant foreign correspondent and Pulitzer prize-winning novelist.

When did you know you were a novelist and able to make a good living that way?

I quit journalism to become a ghostwriter and was in between projects when I penned 117 pages of my first novel The Suspect.

The part-manuscript triggered a bidding war at the London Book Fair in 2002. I was back living in Australia when the phone began ringing from my UK agent at three in the morning.

In the space of three hours, the novel was sold to be published in more than 20 languages and every dream I had ever had of becoming a full-time novelist came true.

My wife and I lay awake for the rest of the night, and by 8am we had spent the money and cast the Hollywood film and the sheer terror began to sink in. All of those people, all over the world, thought I could write a novel. Were they crazy?

Is it your dream job?

I have dreamed of being a writer since I was 12, when I fell in love with the short stories of Ray Bradbury and wrote him a letter. He wrote back to me and my fate was sealed.

Although some days are hard, and it is nowhere near as glamorous as people imagine, I wouldn't swap my job or my life.

How many of your books have been optioned - and what does this mean for your success?

Pretty much all of my books have been optioned for films or TV. The Germans have made six Joe O'Loughlin films, and last year Network 10 aired a six-part series based on The Secrets She Keeps.

A second series of the show is being written now. In other breaking news, World Productions, who made Line of Duty, plans to begin shooting a Joe O'Loughlin TV series in London in September.

The making of a film or TV series is a bonus, but not a motivation. I write because I love books and I have a story to tell.

What's the best money advice you've received?

My wife taught me that experiences are more valuable than material things.

That's why we care more about travel and adventure than cars and boats. This advice has taken us around the world many times over and hopefully many times more to come.

What's the best investment decision you've made?

When that first novel triggered the bidding war, I refused to get carried away.

I reasoned that I might never earn that sort of money again, so I put the funds into a house for my growing family, and into a self-managed super fund. It created a safety net that protects us still.

What's the worst investment decision you've made?

Many people think that property is a failsafe investment, but I lost money on the first two properties I ever bought. The first was in 1988 when interest rates hit 18% and I was forced to sell after the market had peaked and crashed.

The second purchase, a house in London, was in negative equity for five years before clawing its way into the black. It taught me an important lesson about diversification and timing.

What is your favourite thing to splurge on?

No question - holidays, particularly to Africa. We have three girls, who were born in different parts of the world, including 
Zimbabwe. We love the people, the wildlife and the lifestyle.

If you had $10,000 where would you invest it?

Renewables. Solar farms, green steel, hydrogen vehicles, wind turbines. The future is coming - get in early.

What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?

I would buy a few notebooks, a pen and write like crazy.

Do you intend to leave an inheritance?

As a writer, my works will outlive me, which means my three daughters will inherit the copyrights.

I have thought about setting up family education trusts, or making bequests to charity, which may still happen, but I trust them to use the money wisely.

What's been your best money-making career move?

I took an enormous leap of faith when I quit a highly paid position on a UK national newspaper and decided I would try to make it as a writer.

I was 43 years old, with a pregnant wife and a house in negative equity in London. Everybody thought that I was crazy, except for my wife, who believed I had the talent.

There were many doubters, but with each new book I have proved them wrong.

Finish this sentence: money makes... 

... the road smoother, stairs less steep and life easier.

Enter now for your chance to win a copy of Michael Robotham's new book, When You Are Mine

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Julia Newbould was editor-at-large and later managing editor of Money from November 2019 to February 2022. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.