Australian author Wendy James published her first novel, Out of the Silence, in 2005. In 2006, that book won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Fiction and was shortlisted for the Nita May Dobbie Award for women’s writing. Since then she has published five more books, including the critically acclaimed The Mistake, which was published in 2012.
Her latest book is The Lost Girls (Penguin Books Australia), is part family drama and part psychological thriller. It explores the aftermath of a brutal murder 32 years after the event.
1. Tell us about your latest book.
It’s actually quite difficult to give a summary of this novel! First and foremost, The Lost Girls is a story with a mystery at its heart – the thirty-year-old murders of two teenagers are revisited – but it’s also about the aftermath of tragedy, the way the past continues to cast a dark shadow over the present. It’s also about families and marriages and mid-life crises, and the impossibility of ever fully knowing anyone. Even the people we love most, even ourselves.
2. Where did the idea for this book come from?
The idea actually came from a newspaper article written some years ago (by Australian novelist Matt Condon, funnily enough!) about the brutal murder, back in the 1940s, of teenager Joan Norma Ginn in Newtown. Eleven year old Joan went missing after going to the local milk bar to get a loaf of bread for her mother one evening; the next day she was found dead, strangled, her body dumped in the old Camperdown Cemetery. Condon had interviewed a woman who had been, I think, a school mate of the murdered girl, and she had a theory about what had happened all those years ago. The story of The Lost Girls has moved a long way from that initial tragedy. Not the 1940s, but the 1970s; not the inner city but the northern beaches; not one victim but two. Interestingly, last year I met a woman whose detective father had been involved in the Norma Ginn investigation – it had been quite fraught and difficult apparently, and was one he spoke about and remembered.
3. Your books are variously described as crime, psychological thrillers, suburban suspense, literary novels – but how would you describe them?
They are a type of hybrid, aren’t they? I guess I would describe them as all of the above. My fiction reading falls into two main categories – crime novels of every type and variety, and what can be loosely referred to as ‘domestic’ fiction, that is fiction that deals with the ordinary lives of ordinary people, women in particular. So, in my fiction I’m really trying to mesh the two genres. I suppose you could say it’s what goes on before and after the crime – what happens to the victim’s families, friends, the people left behind – that intrigues me, just as much as figuring out who did it, and why.
4. You published your first novel in 2006 and have published 5 more books since. What drove you to writing? Was it something you’d always hoped to do?
My skill base is a bit limited, really: I love reading, and I love writing, but I’m not so keen on writing about reading. In the end there was nothing much else I could do!
5. Do you have a daily writing routine you stick to?
Yes – I definitely find it best to stick to a routine. I generally write while the kids are at school. My youngest is eleven now, and my attention is not quite as necessary, so it’s getting easier to snatch other odd hours as well.
6. What are you working on now?
I’m working on another novel. It’s domestic suspense again, this time involving children, parenting and bullying, and pondering the nature/nurture quandary.
7. What’s your advice to new writers?
Don’t give up!