Tell us briefly about your book
Seventeen-year-old Layla has her life mapped out: she’s going to study hard, pass Year 12, get a sharehouse with her best friends, backpack around Europe after uni, then become a pharmacist. But when the owner of the café where she works turns her attention on her, everything changes. She knows it’s wrong, but Scott is going to leave his wife soon, and anyway, he loves Layla too much to let her go. But when the relationship becomes increasingly volatile, Layla is forced to take drastic action.
Twenty years later, Layla has left the past behind her when she receives a message from someone she’d never expected to hear from again: I know what you did. She’s run from her town, her friends and the memory of what she did. Now she must face them all.
What inspired the idea behind this book?
The book was inspired in part by a relationship I had with a married 28-year-old when I was 17. While the relationship was nothing like the one portrayed in this book, I carried the guilt around with me for many years before I finally came to realise how much coercion had been involved. I was interested in exploring the issue of consent, particularly where there are imbalanced power structures at play – whether it’s age, role or other factors – and whether they blur the question of consent.
A lot of these themes really crystallised one night, shortly after women began to come forward with allegations about Harvey Weinstein, when I was out with two other women and we shared stories of our experiences with men who used their power to push the boundaries of consent. There wouldn’t be many women who haven’t experienced the most basic level of casual entitlement, or done things they weren’t comfortable with just to feel safe. It was this vulnerability and uncertainty that I wanted to portray in Layla.
Does the creative process get easier for you with each book?
Yes and no. The impostor syndrome never goes away. Every time I think there’s no way I can pull it off this time. Every time I think I’m never going to have another idea again. But I also know now that I CAN do it, because I’ve done it before. I know I have to suspend disbelief, write through the rubbish and leave it up to my characters to show themselves to me as I write them. I know I have to write fast and edit slow. I find it much easier to get through a first draft when I set myself a daily word goal and trick myself into getting the story down quickly so I don’t get bogged down in second-guessing myself. And I know I have to always keep the themes of the story at the front of my mind.
What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
As some of the themes in the book were close to home, writing it brought up a lot of things I hadn’t thought about in years. I had to look back on events that happened in my adolescence with adult eyes, and I didn’t like what I saw. Even with that adult perspective, writing from the point of view of a teenager made me look inside the girl I’d been, and I rediscovered a lot of shame I thought I’d shed a long time ago. I wrote fast and angry, and by the time I’d finished all the edits I felt completely destroyed, to the point that I considered not writing again. Thankfully, that feeling passed and I’m back to it again.
What’s your daily writing routine like and what are you working on at the moment?
When I’m writing in earnest, I do it in every spare moment, including on the commute to work, in my lunch break and after the kids are in bed. I’m almost finished the first draft of my next novel, The Favour, which is a story about the darker side of female friendship, loyalty, and how far we’re willing to go to repay our debts. Because of my malaise after finishing The Girl She Was, I only decided I was going to write this one 53 days before my deadline, so my writing schedule for The Favour has been a lot more rigorous than usual!