Briefly tell us about your book.
This is a story of rejection, forgiveness and belonging…and what it takes to survive. Unlike my other, city-based, thrillers, this is set in central NSW in the fictional town of Riley, a town scarred by the death of a baby twenty-five years earlier. Our heroine, a recently arrived city psychologist, is confronted at her first postnatal group with a note threatening that another baby will die.
We follow six women prepared to do anything to protect their children, three families with secrets—and someone threatening the foundation their families were built on. Issy, the psychologist, thinks she can find the answer to the quarter-century mystery, her own issues and her marriage—but at what cost?
What was the most challenging part of writing the book?
Writing a series is easier—at least after the first—because you know the characters. With this book I had to start again from scratch, and develop six complex women who interact with each other in different ways, each with their own stories which are relevant to the town secret. Riley, the fictional town, became a character in its own right; I spent some time around Dubbo and Nyngan to get it right. The hardest characters were Issy and Teagan, the Indigenous women who is pregnant at the beginning. Issy was hard because I needed to balance her naive and neurotic personality traits (there is a particular anxiety she has to deal with) with ability to be professional, and to be decisive when it counts. She develops through the course of the story and I wanted people rooting for her, but not put off by her being new and unsupported.
Teagan was challenging because having visited the area, which has a strong Indigenous presence, I felt I needed to be true to that; I didn’t want her to be ‘token’ or to perpetuate a stereotype. By definition, though, everyone in the mothers’ group has problems—it’s why they are there! I had some great advice from two Indigenous women who read an early draft and they gave me confidence it was the right thing to do.
Do you write about people you know, or about yourself?
Characters are always a mix of people you know and yourself. As a psychiatrist I have to be particularly careful that they are not my patients. They never are; but there can be common traits if, for instance, they have a diagnosis in common with my patients (which of course they often do). The challenge is to bring them alive with small things in appearance or behaviour that tells you something about them, but doesn’t have someone say, ‘That must be me!’ To date, no one has thought any character was based on them, but many ask whether a particular psychiatrist was based on Dr So-and-so! Invariably the answer is no.
My two heroines both have bits of me in them, even though they are very different characters. You tap into a particular part of you and then push it in another direction—away from who you are. Quite often my heroines act in ways I wouldn’t, and sometimes they do things I wish I could. Also, partly because they are younger versions of me, they make mistakes I wouldn’t make now.
Who are some of your favourite authors or books?
I am a voracious reader, so this is always a hard question—where to start and where to stop! Historically East of Eden by John Steinbeck is a standout…and possibly The Collector and The Magus by John Fowles. In more recent years—and in the genre I most read and write in—the standouts are Tana French’s Dublin murder squad series (especially Broken Harbour and Faithful Place) and closer to home Jane Harper’s The Lost Man and Dervla McTiernan’s The Good Turn. I am reading Candice Fox’s Gathering Dark currently and while I’ve read her others (not the ones with James Patterson) and enjoyed them, this is a step above. It deserved the recent rave review by Sue Turnbull.
What’s your daily routine like and what are you working on at the moment?
I feel very lucky that COVID-19 has had surprisingly little impact apart from cancelling some overseas trips. I work from two homes, and the one in the country allows me to walk a daily four-kilometre loop before dinner and work out in a home gym (every second morning, watching an episode of Outlander). I work one day a week as a psychiatrist—once a fortnight that’s online Telehealth, and the alternating fortnight I go into the Austin. The rest of the time is emails in the morning (and tasks like this Q&A!), maybe cooking something for lunch…and writing. I tend to do this on the couch with my laptop, or on the veranda in nice weather. My husband, bless him, generally does dinner.
- My husband Graeme Simsion and I are writing a sequel to Two Steps Forward, called either Two Steps On or Two Steps Onwards. It’s set on a walk in Italy that we did earlier this year—we got home in the nick of time on March 4th. We’d already done the first draft and are now re-writing—I have the first half and Graeme’s on the second half. Pre-dinner (post-walk) over a drink we talk about the problems and come up with some (hopefully) creative solutions.
- Locked Ward, fourth in the Natalie King series. I’m up to the third act and things aren’t going as smoothly as I’d like