Emma Viskic is the author of And Fire Came Down and Resurrection Bay, two clever and gripping crime thrillers that have taken Australia by storm. She talks to us about writing crime fiction, becoming attached to her characters, and the writing process.
Better Reading: Your first novel, Resurrection Bay, did exceptionally well, winning the 2016 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction, as well as an unprecedented three Davitt Awards: Best Adult Novel, Best Debut, and Readers’ Choice, and was iBooks Australia’s Crime Novel of 2015. Was there any second novel pressure for And Fire Came Down?
Emma Viskic: Yes! I felt enormous pressure to write a book that people would enjoy just as much, or even more. But it wasn’t all negative. Knowing that people had liked Resurrection Bay really spurred me on in some difficult moments. It was also wonderful to know that readers had taken Caleb Zelic into their hearts. He’s very real to me, so I feel quite protective of him (despite the terrible things I put him through).
BR: How did you come up with the idea of your main protagonist in both novels – the profoundly deaf, stubborn, and likeable Caleb Zelic?
EV: The seeds of Caleb’s character came from the memory of a profoundly deaf girl I knew in childhood. I met her when I was ten, around the time I first realised that other people’s lives could be very different from mine. She had a big impact on me and has been appearing in my writing in one form or another ever since. Having said that, I didn’t intend to write her deafness into Caleb’s character. I’m a classical musician, so sound has been the focus of my life for a long time. I was so scared at the prospect of writing a deaf character that I abandoned the novel for a while. Luckily, Caleb kept nudging at my brain. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, and wondering what his world would be like. I eventually summoned my courage and began what turned out to be a five year process of writing and research. I’m so glad I did. Every moment of the journey has been fascinating.
BR: We understand you learned Australian sign language to write these novels. How much does Caleb’s deafness determine his character?
EV: Caleb’s deafness is an important part of who he is, but it isn’t all that he is. His deafness makes him very observant, and a bit of an outsider, but in a lot of ways he’s more affected by people’s reactions to his deafness, than his deafness itself. One of the reasons he’s so reluctant to reveal his deafness is because he’s so often treated with pity or irritation when people find out. In contrast, his interactions with people who use Auslan are usually relaxed and easy.
BR: The town of Resurrection Bay is evocatively described in both novels with its small, isolated community featuring social problems and simmering racial tensions. Is it based on a town you know well?
EV: Some of Resurrection Bay comes from my imagination, and some is based on real places. I grew up on the outskirts of Melbourne, and have lived in country towns, so I know what it’s like to live in a small community. Country towns are a great reflection of the family unit. They can be wonderfully supportive, or suffocating, and everyone knows your history.
BR: Can we expect to see more of Caleb Zelic soon?
EV: I’m in the early stages of writing the third Caleb Zelic novel. It will be out in 2019.