Home > Interviews


Written by Craig Sisterson

New Zealand author Nathan Blackwell hit the ground running in his home country with his debut, THE SOUND OF HER VOICE. A former undercover cop and detective, Blackwell brought a gritty authenticity to his dark tale of a detective whose world begins to crumble as he’s haunted over the years by a case he couldn’t solve. Praised as “harrowing, compelling, and quite brilliant” (New Zealand Herald), the book became a double finalist in last year’s Ngaio Marsh Awards, and is now being published more broadly by Orion. A strong new voice in antipodean noir, Blackwell will be appearing at Newcastle Noir in early May.



Two years ago you were an Auckland detective investigating the most serious crimes, now you’re a crime novelist whose self-published debut got plenty of buzz, was named a double finalist in the Ngaio Marsh Awards, and has been picked up by Orion for global publication. How has becoming a published author compared to your expectations?

I guess I didn’t really have any to start with, so it’s been totally mind-blowing! I started to write as a way of filling in time ... I couldn’t even really call it a hobby, as I had no idea what I was doing. After a decade in the Police, and enjoying all types of crime fiction, I wondered what a truly realistic crime story would be like. I started messing around with short scenes, but didn’t have any objective in mind. Early on I struggled with the realism-versus-thrilling plot issue, and it all stalled many times. Eventually I had enough scenes to start thinking about a whole story ... and the rest was down to time. Even when it was complete, I didn’t really have any expectations - if a few mates and family had read it and thought it was okay, I would have been stoked. To have had it read, enjoyed, promoted and positively reviewed by strangers has been overwhelming, and don’t get me started on being a finalist in two categories in the Ngaio’s! So to have Orion publish it this year is something I don’t think I’ve quite come to terms with ... this was a bucket list thing for me, something I never thought I’d even finish. The reception has been hard to wrap my head around.


Unlike many police procedurals, which focus on a short time period or a particular case or two, THE SOUND OF HER VOICE is a gritty tale melding cop story and noir that spans more than twenty years in Detective Matt Buchanan’s career. What inspired you to take this approach, and to cover such a lengthy period rather than a single major case?

Partly plot idea, partly total lack of self-belief! Initially I thought if I ever finished a novel, that’d be it - there’d be no more. So I poured a lot into it, and that included spanning a large amount of time in Matt Buchanan’s career to effectively flesh out his downward spiral. But I had really enjoyed the time-span of season one of True Detective (loved that show), so I was really interested in what could be done with a case that is drawn out over time.


You’ve said that there were many moments in your police career that you never saw portrayed on TV cop shows. Can you tell us more about the different things you wanted to bring to the table with your own debut crime novel, and how you balanced portraying reality with creating a page-turning tale?

Yeah there were a few key ones - most of which involve how cops really think and feel. I wanted to show how much work really goes into cases, and how decisions are made. To show that a lot of the end results are entirely out of the police’s hands - and no result doesn’t mean the effort wasn’t there. I also wanted to show that cops don’t just get a gut-feel and go off on tangents - investigative work is laborious and follows the same set steps, where evidence and time permits. I guess I wanted to make police officers more human, rather than all being one and the same due to their uniform or badge. That was the problem though - keeping it too real, definitely makes for a more tedious read. I had to avoid realism in many places in favour of interesting plot ... otherwise, who was gonna stick it out and read hundreds of pages of procedure? So the principles of realism are there - but the plot is total fiction. Especially towards the end when Matt has gone a bit rogue ... I’d go: “Okay, a Detective would do this now...” and that would be boring. I’d change it to “Okay, what would the reader probably enjoy Matt Buchanan doing instead?” and I’d go with that. But reality isn’t far behind Matt at all times, and it always catches up with him.


You write under a pseudonym because of your past police career. Can you tell us more about that decision (the things you can tell us), and what it’s been like to see the first novel you’ve written published under a name other than your own?

There’s no cloak and dagger reasoning to it really ... nobody wants to kill me! (at least I hope not). It’s more out of respect for the work the units I used to be involved with do ... being out there as the real me could undermine future work of theirs. And I guess by nature, I’m not a fan of the spotlight, so that’s where my career went. Not up the ladder but sideways into the dingy bars and back alleys. I love seeing the pseudonym out there ... I chuckle all the time. If I mentioned to some of my mates, or people that know me, and said, “Look - that book there? that’s me. I wrote that! ... they’d go: “Bollocks! You can’t even read!” - and there’d be no convincing them. I love that about it.


Are there any particular authors, crime or otherwise, who you’d say have influenced your own storytelling?

To some extent Andy McNab, the inner voice he uses for Nick Stone is similar I think to Matt Buchanan ... that voice that’s at odds a bit to how he portrays himself outwardly. That’s something I really enjoyed, because it’s real. It’s what people actually do. As for crime authors, I definitely picked up some darkness from Jo Nesbo too.


There’s a strong sense of ‘Kiwi-ness’ in THE SOUND OF HER VOICE - the physical settings, the people, the humour. Why did you choose to set your book in Auckland, when in the past many antipodean authors have been advised to set their books in the USA or UK to appeal to a broader audience (though that is lessening in recent years)?

Well I guess I was never thinking about markets or sales ... and Auckland was what I could write about. Not being a literary genius, I decided to keep my writing to what I knew well .. and crime I know well, and Auckland I know well. I wasn’t confident enough to write about any other places (then) ... and I wanted a local reading the story to go ‘I know that street, I know that bridge’ ... it was meant for kiwis. As it turns out people want to read about little old New Zealand ... so I stuck with it. But I’m keen to get into some location research, and have Matt Buchanan venture elsewhere ... like the South Island, or even overseas.


You’re heading our away soon, and will be appearing on a panel at Newcastle Noir discussing Australian and New Zealand crime writing. What are you most looking forward to about your first trip to the UK as a published crime writer?

Everything! A few years ago I was an idiot typing absolute nonsense onto a laptop, deleting it and starting over and over again. Now an actual story has been released by Orion, and I’m heading to Newcastle Noir. How nuts is that?! I’m looking forward to meeting people and taking everything in. Everyone I’ve met in the writing world so far have just been so welcoming and generous ... it’s a great community.


You put Matt Buchanan through some pretty harrowing stuff over many years in THE SOUND OF HER VOICE. What are the chances that we see him again?

The chances would be very good indeed! His story is certainly not over, and he’s got plenty more work to do ...



THE SOUND OF HER VOICE (Orion, 18 April 2019) is now available in the UK and beyond in trade paperback, audiobook, and ebook.

Nathan Blackwell

Book Reviews
About Us
Contact Us

Privacy Policy | Contact Shots Editor