Interview with Paul Collins – Author of Mole Hunt

Today we’re speaking with Paul Collins, author of Mole Hunt, Book #1 in The Maximus Black Files series.

Writers have various methods as to how they put pen to paper – or fingers to the keyboard. Some write by longhand and transcribe to computer; some write chapter-by-chapter synopses and then write their novels; others start at A and work their way through to Z without really knowing where their story will end; while some writers think of the ending first and work their way toward it.


We at Boomerang Books wondered how Paul Collins wrote his latest science fiction thriller, Mole Hunt. Especially since it’s just book one of a trilogy called The Maximus Black Files.

Why did you write a trilogy?

There are several reasons. One is that the general plot of the series would be too long for one book. All up there must be over 200,000 words in the trilogy, and for the target audience of 14 year-olds plus, I think that’d be too hefty a tome. Also, authors need books coming out at least once a year, or at a stretch, one every two years. I can’t see me finishing a 200,000 plus novel for another couple of years. So it’s good to get one book out there to give me a breather before starting the next one. So it’s also for practical and financial reasons.

Do you wait for a flash of inspiration before starting a book?

Generally, yes. Of course, ideas for contemporary stories are all around us. But not so for science fiction. I initially thought that I’d like to write about a character who’s an anti-hero. I mean, I’m fed up with nice guys winning all the time. Because the possibilities are limitless in outer space, I figured SF would give me broader horizons in which my character would develop. I also like dystopian fiction, that bleak landscape that can be gritty and fun.

We read a review of Mole Hunt in Bookseller + Publisher. To quote, they thought it was “Bitingly clever and imaginative, it’s like a cross between The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Total Recall and Dexter”.  How correct was the reviewer in matching other works to yours. Is there an influence to your writing, especially Mole Hunt?

Certainly. I used to read Marvel Comics when I was a kid. I loved The Hulk, Captain America and Daredevil. Many others, too. So much of my writing is often described as “filmic” and action-packed. So I think readers will see this in The Maximus Black Files. Too, I love Eoin Colfer’s Artemus Fowl books. I think of Max as Artemis’s evil twin. Other favourite books of mine are Philip Reeves’s Mortal Engine series and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. Going back over many years I used to love Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books and Robert E Howard’s work, like the Conan the Barbarian series. I haven’t read the Dragon Tattoo book, but I do love Dexter and I’ve seen Total Recall. Mind you, I’d like to think that what I’ve written is wholly original. Jumble up all the above reading material and you might see a resemblance in Maximus.

How did you get started writing science fiction?

I used to publish a science fiction magazine called Void. At that time it was Australia’s only SF magazine. I met some wonderful Australian authors like Wynne Whiteford, Frank Bryning, Jack Wodhams and Sean McMullen. They all mentored me. I still brainstorm ideas with Sean.

What’s the worst thing about working from home?

I can’t think of too many things I don’t like. It must be lonely for some authors, I think, but my partner, Meredith Costain, also works at home writing. And we have two fantastic dogs, a heeler and a kelpie, that are always there to distract me if I show any signs of getting bored or lonely.

And the best?

There are so many things I love about being a full-time writer. I don’t have to travel to work; the computer is always here for when I want to work; I save money on petrol, food, etc; I can work my own hours; I have no one looking over my shoulder. Stacks of pluses!

Do you experience writer’s block – if so, how do you get around it?

I don’t really have get writer’s block. If I did, I’d simply start another story. You usually find a solution somewhere down the track to any problem. And if you can’t, you can always brainstorm with someone. Two minds are always better than one. Sometimes I might be discussing a problem with a friend, and just by talking about it the solution with present itself.

What are you working on at the moment?

Dyson’s Drop, which is book #2 in The Maximus Black Files. I already have the first draft. So now it’s time to fix all those niggling problems that I’m discovering.

Last but not least, how do you write? Rough drafts first, sentence-by-sentence and not moving on till everything is perfect? How did you approach writing Mole Hunt?

Stephen King says he writes one word at a time! But on a more serious note, I vary my approach. Sometimes I start off not knowing where my characters are going to wind up – this was the case with The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler. Other times, I need a draft. Because the Maximus trilogy is so long and complex, I really needed to know where that was headed. So I actually have a first draft for book #3, too.

Thank you Paul for joining us at Boomerang Books. We hope Mole Hunt really flies for you.


I’ll admit that Mole Hunt, Paul Collin’s action packed new sci fi adventure isn’t the sort of book I normally read.

It’s set in a world I have no experience of, with rules and customs quite foreign to the way I live. Needless to say, I couldn’t put Mole Hunt down.

Maximus Black and his ruthless intentions had me hooked from the first page. I can’t say I liked Max as a person, but he is a very compelling character and I really wanted to know whether he would succeed with his mission.

Maximus is the classic action hero in terms of his intelligence and abilities, but he’s more of a Dexter than a James Bond. In fact, he’s a devious pyschopath, but that ‘living on the edge, take big risks quality’ is what keeps the reader riveted.

Max is RIM spy agency’s star cadet, but he’s also a mole, using the organisation for his own devious purposes. In the Mole Hunt world, unless you’re dead, you can pretty much be repaired so people take big risks and there’s a lot at stake.

Paul Collins gives the reader just enough information to hint that life has not always been kind to Maximus. This suggests a vulnerability that redeems Max to some extent for the reader, but also foreshadows that this could lead to his downfall.

Max has his own agenda – to get his hands on a cache of Old Empire weapons, giving him control of the galaxy and allowing him to extract revenge for the murder of his parents when he was six.

He pits his wits against Anneke Longshadow, one of RIM’s  best agents and someone who also harbours a difficult past. But Anneke’s on the good guy’s side and when her Uncle is murdered, the hunt for The Mole becomes personal.

World building is one of the things that Collins does best and in spite of the unfamiliar names and customs, I found myself totally immersed in the world of Mole Hunt.

Every detail has been meticulously thought out and intertwined with the action to draw the reader into the world of the story. The technological information is authentic and it’s almost as though the setting is another living, breathing character.

The action is non-stop and the dilemma for the reader is who to barrack for – the ruthless but damaged Maximus Black or the equally scarred but righteous Anneke Longshadow. Both character’s points of view are presented to us and like the protagonists, we have choices to make.

I’m looking forward to seeing the tussle between these Max and Anneke in the next book in the Maximus Black trilogy, Dyson’s Drop.

Mole Hunt has strong themes of good and evil, loyalty and identity. It gives the reader plenty to think about including how circumstances and background contribute to who we are, but it’s the choices we make that shape our lives.

This book is recommended for readers 12+, but would also be enjoyed by adults who love the sci-fi genre.

Mole Hunt is published by Ford Street and is due for release in June 2011. Teacher’s notes are available from the Ford Street website