Briefly tell us about your book.
In the summer of 1989, a local teen goes missing from the idyllic Australian suburb of Camp Hill. As rumours of Satanic rituals swirl, schoolteacher Tom Witter becomes convinced he holds the key to the disappearance. When the police won’t listen, he takes matters into his own hands with the help of the missing girl’s father and a local neighbourhood watch group. But as dark secrets are revealed and consequences to past actions are faced, Tom learns that the only way out of the darkness is to walk deeper into it.
What inspired the idea behind this book?
The idea for Wild Place sprouted after my wife and I moved back to the area we grew up in. When COVID hit, like most people in Melbourne, I spent a lot of time just walking around local streets, mulling over what was happening in the world. I was alarmed by the misinformation floating about, and the mad conspiracy theories that were taking root. It got me thinking about Satanic Panic, a wave of mass hysteria and moral panic that took place in the 80s and 90s. I’ve been interested in it for a long time, probably since learning about The West Memphis Three, a group of teenagers who were wrongly convicted of murder in the early 90s, largely based on the way they dressed and the kind of music they liked. But I didn’t know I wanted to write about it until the pandemic hit. Early during the first lockdown, I was amazed at how quickly conspiracy theories emerged, and how many people seemed eager to believe them. Then there was Q’Anon! It became clear that the more scared/angry/outraged people are, the lower their standards of evidence become. It landed me on a question: What has to happen to make a normally good person do terrible things?
What was the research process like for the book?
Listening to heavy metal of the 80s ended up being a big part of my research. I never really listened to that sort of music before writing Wild Place (I was always more of a The Smiths guy) but the deeper I delved into the era of Satanic Panic, the more relevant that music became. It’s hard to imagine, but back in the 80s and 90s, concerned parents were terrified of this stuff!
How did you think of the title of the book?
The original title of the book was ‘Neighborhood Watch’, which felt a little bland. In the novel, Wild Place is the name locals give a big pocket of land between streets. It’s dense and ominous and there are a bunch of urban legends about it. The name felt like a good title!
Who are some of your favourite authors? Or favourite books?
Gillian Flynn, Stephen King, Harlan Coben, Haruki Murakami, Don Winslow, Anna Downes (the list goes on, but I have to stop somewhere!).