Matthew Reilly shares the story behind his latest book with Laura Brodnik
Matthew Reilly has always believed in a good gamble.
Following a string of rejections from major publishers early in his career, Reilly self-published his first book, Contest, in 1996, printing 1000 copies and selling them through one Sydney bookshop at a time. Betting on himself soon paid off and Reilly is now the international bestselling author of twelve novels.
His latest offering, The Tournament,also shows the importance of using your wits and following your gut instinct. Set in 1546, the story kicks off when Suleiman the Magnificent issues an invitation to every king in Europe to send their finest chess players to a tournament and what follows is a mixture of barbaric deaths, unimaginable depravity and diplomatic treachery.“I had wanted to write a medieval murder thriller for some time. I particularly liked the idea of depriving my hero, Roger Ascham, of all the modern technological tools at the disposal of modern investigators,” Reilly says.
“I visited Istanbul for the specific purpose of researching The Tournament. The palace is labyrithine and mysterious and the Roman cisterns, the giant underground water storage caverns that are over 2,000 years old are just awesome! It was a perfect place to set my story. The book took about a year to write,although that is just the writing phase. The ideas for the story rattled around in my brain for almost 20 years before I nailed down the structure of the novel.”
Reilly admits his publishers were not keen on the idea of a chess tournament anchoring his latest book, but once again following his instincts paid off and his loyal legion of readers were quick to devour the tome.“I was a keen chess player as a child but,sadly, I don’t play it very much these days,”he says. “That said, I love chess. I love the lessons it teaches you, in particular, not to be self-absorbed. In chess, if you become too preoccupied with your own strategies,you will suddenly find yourself in check and realising that your opponent was carrying out a plan of their own.
“I’ve been especially pleased by readers’ reactions to the chess. I wanted the book to be accessible to non-chess players, yet enjoyable to those who do play. You can imagine that my publishers had a minor heart attack when I told them my new book was centred around a legendary chess tournament, but they backed me and the response has been awesome.”
Despite the favourable reaction to the book it was reported that Reilly had been afraid to publish a book that was so far removed from his previous work, but the author revealed that was not entirely the case. “It’s not so much that I was afraid to publish The Tournament,” he clarifies.“I just knew that it was a little different to my other books (being a historical thriller featuring a young girl as the narrator), it featured racy sex scenes and explored some very adult themes (child abuse by the clergy).“I actually think of the book as a story I am really passionate about. It’s just that whenever you do something a little different, you experience some trepidation.
“I’m thrilled, however, with readers’ and reviewers’ responses: they have appreciated the risk and enjoyed the tale I told,” he says. “There are two reasons I really wanted to write this book. First, you’ve always got to challenge yourself, and by depriving myself of nuclear weapons and car chases, I was forcing myself to focus on tension and suspense, as opposed to pure action. And secondly, maybe I am just maturing a little! I’m 39 now and perhaps I am starting to think of adding deeper issues to my books, albeit always within the pages of a fast-paced story.”
The Tournament is out now through Macmillan Publishers Australia.