1. As a ghost writer, you once said the celebrity subjects of your books were always honest with you. You did a book with Rolf Harris - was he honest?
No. That was quite a chastening experience and I feel very betrayed by Rolf Harris. Nothing compared to the betrayal all his victims feel, obviously. The book actually reveals that he was a bit of a lech. He was a man of his generation, prone to getting a slap on the face for making inappropriate remarks to women. He was a groper. But I was devastated by [the revelations that he was a multiple sex offender]. It was one of those books that I took off my shelf and basically wish I'd never had any involvement with.
2. Did you like him?
He's a charming guy. In hindsight though, the one thing I found was that he was very depressed. His daughter wouldn't talk to me for the book. In the book Rolf talked about wanting to spend the rest of his life making things up to his wife and his daughter. I thought he meant that he'd spent his life touring and wanted to spend more time with them.
3. You also ghost wrote a book for Geri Halliwell. How was that experience?
Her story was a sort of late 20th century fairytale about what it's like to be a young person who gets chewed up by the machine and finishes up being incredibly famous and rich but never more miserable. When I met her she was bulimic, she was anorexic, she was a mess. She'd just done up an ex-monastery west of London and she was rattling around in this big place with heated marble floors. I lived there for six or seven weeks while I was writing the book; we'd go rollerblading down these empty corridors. She hadn't yet hired a housekeeper and she couldn't cook so I was feeding her, which was a challenge.
4. Did you like her?
Yeah, I did. I saw two sides of her. The first Geri I met was very insecure, very bruised. She'd lived in a bubble for so long - she was worth £14 million but didn't know her pin number. By the time we finished the book Geri was launching a solo career and she sort of became a different person. I think I preferred the little girl lost to the hard-headed pop diva.
5. Could you be a ghost writer if you had a big ego?
No, you've almost got to make yourself into a blank canvas. There are times your subject will say things that you fundamentally disagree with, or you think of a joke that you'd love to put in there but you can't because it wasn't their line. But you've got an opportunity to look at the world through someone else's eyes, to absolutely inhabit their skin and find out how they were formed, their deepest fears, their greatest highs; all that is a huge privilege. And it was a stunningly good grounding for a novelist because all of those skills of capturing someone's voice, I could then turn to writing fiction.
6. Is it necessary for you to relate to your criminal characters?
Totally. As a journalist in the UK I was very fortunate to work closely with a man called Paul Britton, a pioneering forensic psychologist who was the inspiration for Fitz in that wonderful BBC series Cracker.
Paul spent over 20 years working with the criminally insane. He understood the way psychotic and sociopathic people think, and he's got a brilliant, brilliant mind. He worked on a lot of the biggest crimes of the 80s and 90s including Fred and Rosemary West. And one of the things that Paul taught me is that these villains don't spring from nowhere. Society gets the monsters it deserves.
7. What did society do to deserve Fred West?
There were three generations of incest in Fred West's family so he was never going to be a normal individual. When the police first called Paul Britton in to the West case they only had the three bodies in the back garden and the Wests were denying all knowledge. Paul looked at all the interviews with them and told the police that they buried their bodies close because they liked to fantasise about what they'd done. The police said "so that's why they used the garden". And Paul said, "no, they've used the garden because the house is full". And then they checked the basement and found seven more bodies.
8. Where did you grow up?
My father was a country high school teacher so he moved around a lot. I spent all of my high school years in Gundagai, a tiny country town halfway between Sydney and Melbourne. I decided I wanted to become a writer when I was really young so I applied for a journalism cadetship and moved to Sydney. I'd never been in a lift before, never been in a building with more than three storeys. Never knew there were so many rich people in the world. I was a complete hayseed, completely blown away by Sydney in every way.
9. You then moved to London. How were your Fleet St years?
Oh amazing, a revelation. I was there for the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the whole dismantling of the Soviet Republic, reporting on history being made. Actually I was a day late getting to Berlin.
10. You quit journalism in your early 30s - why?
It was a great profession but it owned me. I'd go to India and before I'd even got on the plane to come back they'd ask me to go somewhere else. I always said that I wanted to be out by the time I was 35 and I wanted to become a writer. When I was 33, my wife was pregnant and I thought, now is the time.
11. As a self-employed writer at home how do you stop yourself from procrastinating?
Writing is what I do. It's almost like I can't stop myself. I write seven days a week. I write Christmas morning. Sometimes I'll come out of a day with just a single line. I've thrown 40,000-word novels away and started again.
12. Your latest book Close Your Eyes opens with a murdered teenage girl. Was that hard to write as the father of three daughters?
If you look back through my books they often involve a teenage girl in jeopardy. My nightmares all involve my children - that I can't get to them or reach them in time and maybe I just put demons on the page in the hope that they'll never appear in real life.
• An evening with Michael Robotham is on next Tuesday the 25th of August at 6pm at the Leys Institute Library, Ponsonby. Gold coin donation. RSVP on the Leys Institute Facebook page or phone (09) 890 8755.