QUESTIONS ABOUT WHERE THE TRUTH LIES
Q: BRIEFLY TELL US ABOUT THE BOOK.
A: It’s about changing worlds, of the main character, the media, unions, politics, police and truth all wrapped up in a gritty crime story involving a newsroom investigation into the death of a wharfie. It’s set in present day Melbourne but it could also be any major port city in the world.
Q: WHAT INSPIRED THE IDEA BEHIND THE BOOK?
A: I think writing about what you know is really important. I had met so many interesting people during my life and many of them just stuck in my head and wouldn’t go away. I love the idea of a good stoush and the push and shove between the different segments of society and work seemed like a great starting point. I didn’t really know I was writing a crime novel, until I’d finished.
Q: WHAT WAS THE RESEARCH PROCESS FOR THE BOOK?
A: I have two friends who are shipping experts, so they helped me with the wharf issues from the company’s side of things. And a union source also advised about the upheaval and impact on workers. I also spent a couple of days inside a big busy port observing, which was fantastic. A police contact – you make a lot of contacts when you’re in journalism – also helped with the national security issues and, of course, the newsroom setting was based on my own experience as a daily newspaper journalist.
Q: WHAT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF WRITING THIS BOOK?
A: Some of the passages in the book, especially around Chrissie’s grief and regret, were really hard to write. I think you inhabit each character when you are writing and it was hard to go through the tough part of Chrissie’s life with her. And, I suspect it might be the same for many authors, but time can be a real challenge. When you’re working, have family and just getting on with a busy life, it’s very hard to find the time to write.
Q: WHAT ARE YOU HOPING THE READER WILL TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR BOOK?
A: I hope it’s a message of resilience, in all it’s forms. To stay true to yourself, to keep fighting, to look beyond the surface, to know that grief ends, to accept that life’s complicated. But because the media has been such an important part of my life, I also want people to realise how critical it is for democracy. The decline of independent media around the world means that the sources of information for the population get smaller and narrower. Overall, however, I hope readers are transported and entertained!
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Q: IF I LOOKED AT YOUR INTERNET HISTORY WHAT WOULD IT REVEAL?
A: It would definitely ring alarm bells – for all sorts of reasons; police, corruption, smuggling, murder… I’ve searched some terrible things, too terrible to confess here! But as a journalist turned author I like to get down to the nitty gritty of issues, even though they weren’t ever going to appear in the book. Most recently Ive been researching how to bury a body and the decay process. Ewww, is all I can say about that, for now. On a lighter note, I’m a great hand-crafter, sewer, quilt maker and wannabe painter and apprentice gardener. So it’s not all crime, death and destruction.
Q: TELL US YOUR BACKGROUND AND WHAT LED YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK.
A: I come from a big political and social justice family. On both sides of my family there is also a very strong connection to the wharves and sea trade. This goes back to the early 1800s, I’m descended from a New Zealand whaling captain but in more recent generations my grandfather and great uncles, even a great aunt, worked on the wharves or trucked goods to the docks. However, I also studied and worked in business as a finance journalist so I understand the profit drive of companies on behalf of their shareholders and investors. In the book I wanted to highlight that tribal difference between the two worlds.
Q: ARE YOU ABLE TO SWITCH OFF AT THE END OF A DAY OF WRITING?
A: OMG yes! I can’t wait to meet my word count target for the day and blob out in front of TV or binge a series on one of the streaming services. I love trash TV – it’s like exercise to me, it restores my energy and helps me relax. I’m constantly checking my word count as I write to get to my “word o’clock” knock off time!
Q: WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
A: I’m writing a second Chrissie O’Brian novel. I’ve heard people say their second novel is often their hardest, however, I’m enjoying it. My first novel was such a steep learning curve! This new book is also about the close ties between Australia and New Zealand but this time the idea for the storyline came from the Aussie side of my family. My great grandfather George at the age of seven (yes seven) left his poverty stricken home to work for a travelling sheep shearing crew. The new book has Chrissie investigating a visiting sheep shearing crew from New Zealand. Of course, there’s more media and journalism practices, the divide between rural workers and city investors and Chrissie’s moving on with her new life. That’s about all for now.
Q: WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHORS OR BOOKS?
A: This is a toughy. I’m not sure if these are my favourite but they are probably the most influential.
The Borrowers by Mary Norton. It was an old book when I read it as a kid, not sure where I found it but it was the first book I remember reading, apart from picture books. I guess it was fantasy or science fiction, hard to know these days but it completely transported me and it is definitely responsible for me falling in love with reading.
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth was another incredible and memorable journey for me. I didn’t want the book to end and I really felt I was part of the families in that story. I was sad for days afterwords, missing them all.
In the crime category, there are so many, although women crime writers stand out for me, including Denise Mina, Jane Harper and from my kiwi background Ngaio Marsh. And let’s not forget Sarah Paretsky, Patricia Highsmith, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe, … Too tough!
QUESTIONS ABOUT WRITING
Q: WHAT’S YOUR DAILY WRITING ROUTINE?
A: I’ve still got lots of demands on my time, so it’s a matter of fitting it in best I can. But what has worked for me so far is writing at least 500 words first thing in the morning – that gives me that sense of achievement even if I don’t ever get time again in the rest of the day to do any more, at least I’ve knocked off 500 words. But ideally I’d like to do at least 1000 words a day. With my first novel my word target was 2000 words a day as I only had a few months to get it done. I make myself write even when I have no idea where the story is going. I figure some of it will survive and some of it will be killed off but at least there are words to kill off.
Q: WHAT’S THE EASIEST AND MOST DIFFICULT PARTS OF YOUR JOB AS A WRITER?
A: As a journalist, I’ve written to deadline almost every day of my adult life. I’ve estimated that I’ve had more than three million words published in newspapers, magazines and various platforms during my career — enough for 30 novels. So physically writing is probably the easiest part of the job for me but – and it’s a big but – as a fiction writer, rather than a reporter of fact, I find inventing stuff and making stuff up really difficult. I constantly want to research and resort to facts. Without the facts and figures, I struggle a find it hard to create a storyline, which, according to the experts makes me a “pantser”. I write by the seat of my pants, instead of plotting everything out in advance.
Q: WHAT’S SOME GREAT ADVICE YOU’VE RECEIVED THAT HAS HELPED YOU AS A WRITER?
A: I remember listening to a radio interview with a very busy high profile person, not a writer, who said that she loved books because they created empathy and understanding between different worlds and different people. That every book was really just human story. That really stuck with me and I keep it in mind whenever I’m writing.
Q: WHAT’S ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
A: Don’t use complicated or fancy words. I think that’s the biggest mistake new writers make. They feel as if they have to impress someone with their literary prowess, when really the only job of a writer is for the reader to understand your story. So don’t overwrite and don’t over explain. A good trick in journalism when things start to get complicated is to stop writing and instead say it out loud as if you are telling a friend. Then once you’ve got the short sharp version locked in, you can go back and embellish a little – but just a little!
Q: DO YOU WRITE ABOUT PEOPLE YOU KNOW? OR YOURSELF?
A: Yes and yes. All the characters in the book, especially in the newsroom, are amalgamations of the people I’ve worked with or met in my life. They’re all real people but I’ve combined the traits from several into each character. I might have taken a physical description of one and mixed it with the personality or the language of someone else. Maria, for example in the novel is four people I worked with. And, I can definitely see bits of me in these characters too. I would recommend having real people in mind when you create your characters to help you live in their lives as you write.