In Episode 300 of So You Want To Be A Writer: We celebrate 300 episodes! You’ll meet journalist, author and podcaster Caroline Overington. Discover ideas to help you revise a book’s first draft. Plus, you could win a cracker of a prize for our 300th episode celebration.
Writers in Residence
CAROLINE OVERINGTON is one of Australia’s most successful writers and journalists.
Caroline has worked as a journalist for The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, and The Australian Women’s Weekly, where she has profiled many of the world’s most famous women, including Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton.
Caroline has twice won Australia’s most prestigious award for journalism, the Walkley Award for Investigative Journalism; she has also won the Sir Keith Murdoch award for Journalistic Excellence; Australia’s richest prize for business writing, the Blake Dawson Prize; and the Davitt Award for crime writing.
Her books have earned critical and commercial success: two of Caroline’s novels – I Came To Say Goodbye and The One Who Got Away – were short-listed for Book of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards; her book about the UN oil for food scandal, Kickback has been optioned for film.
Caroline lives in Sydney with her teenage twins and an adored blue dog.
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Caroline Overington is one of Australia’s most successful writers and journalists. She has written twelve books, including the runaway bestseller, The One Who Got Away. And her most recent novel, The Ones You Trust, published by HarperCollins Australia in 2018. Her current project for The Australian is Nowhere Child, an investigative podcast exploring the case of William Tyrrell, a three year old boy who vanished while in state care. Welcome to the program, Caroline.
Hello. It’s so nice to have you here. Now, we’re going to talk a little bit about your book publishing career first, and then we will get on to your latest project. So just to give our readers a bit of background – our readers? – our listeners a bit of background, can you tell us how your first book came to be published? You know, back in the aeons of time?
Yes I can. I was working in New York City for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald as a foreign correspondent. And at the time, when I left Australia, I had twins who were still toddlers, really. They weren’t quite two years old. About 18 months old when I left. And we lived there until they were about five or six. And we had some very funny adventures, the twins growing up in Manhattan. And I mentioned it to a friend of mine who was in the book industry, and she said that she thought that that would make a terrific book.
And it was around the time, there were a couple of great books out about women who were travelling. So there was one about Paris and there was another one about India, which was called Holy Cow, from memory. And they thought, you know, we could do one from a young mum with a couple of lovely funny twins in Manhattan. And so that became my first book.
Okay, so your job was as a journalist. When did you turn to writing novels?
Well, my first novel wasn’t published for some time after I had some books out already. So after I did my adventure in Manhattan, which was called Only in New York, I also wrote another non-fiction book which was called Kickback, which was about the Australian wheat board scandal and the UN oil for food program. So it was quite heavy going. And I hadn’t really turned my mind to the idea of writing novels yet. So that didn’t come until later.
So my first novel wasn’t published until 2008, which would be, I think, a good three years after I returned from New York City.
Okay. And so what made you… You had written a lot of nonfiction. all of your work was in nonfiction. Why did you write that first novel? What drew you to that?
I had been covering a lot of child welfare issues for the paper. In particular, related to foster care and out of home care. And I was very conscious of the fact that in a newspaper you can’t always tell the whole truth. There’s a lot of secrecy surrounding anything to do with child welfare in Australia. The government departments that run it are reflexively secretive. There’s almost always suppression orders in place when you try to cover the various courts that deal with matters involving children.
And I had become quite frustrated by the sense of secrecy. And so I thought to myself, well, why don’t you write a novel? And then you can bring up all the issues that you want to talk about, but because it’s fiction, you can’t get in any trouble.
Because when I say you can get in trouble covering child welfare in Australia, I mean, I really mean it. If you were to breach any of the legislation, the penalties can be as high as a $200,000 fine or five years in prison. So they’re not mucking around when they say that they don’t want you to go near those areas, they don’t want you to discuss those issues at all. There’s always an immense amount of secrecy surrounding anything to do with children in Australia. And there’s very good reasons for that, obviously, because children are entitled to their privacy as they’re growing up. That’s why things like the children’s court are closed.
But my frustration came out of cases where I’d cover cases where a child had been killed, where a child had been murdered. In fact, just one earlier this year I had to do in the Coroner’s Court in NSW, and they would go to their grave without any identity at all. Without a name. Just being called Baby R or Baby X. Or even worse, they would be given a false name, a name that they had never been known by their whole lives, that their family had never referred to them by their whole lives. That’s how they would go to their graves.
And also that was the certificates under which their deaths were recorded. And I thought it was monstrously unfair. And also there was no logic to it. I mean, they’re saying well, we need to do this to protect the victim. Well, the child in all of these cases was already dead.
So given that you’re immersed in that, you understand all the rules of that world, etc, and then you turn to writing works of fiction about this sort of area. Because your novels, psychological thrillers, they feel as though they have been pulled from a true story, so obviously your background in journalism and your immersion in those kinds of stories is there. But how do you tiptoe through making sure that you don’t pull facts into those stories even by mistake?
Well, it doesn’t really matter if you do. As long as you don’t identify anyone. And as long as you fictionalise the case and the characters aren’t real then you can say whatever you like. And that’s what’s so freeing about it. And that’s why I always think to myself that the fiction is often very much closer to life than anything in nonfiction.
I mean, I’ve had a number of friends who have published books over the years that have had to be pulped because people have objected to the content or there’s been some sort of court case has been called or there’s been some sort of defamation problem. I mean, listeners will have heard journalists complain about freedom of speech, and they probably don’t care that much. They probably think that there’s a great reason for it. But it is in fact, this is in fact one of the toughest democracies in the world for press freedom.
Really the most basic things that you can’t say anymore. And actually it’s about to hit the public, too, because just this year there was a case where a judge ruled that a series of newspapers and media organisations could be held responsible for comments that were published on their Facebook pages even if they didn’t know they were there.
So imagine that. So you’ve got a Facebook page and you go on there and you say something about your neighbour’s dog, for example, how they could be so cruel to let their dog bark all day. You are now open for defamation, whether you published that or not. Whether that was published by one of your friends, by your mother. And it can cost you your house. Because defamation is not something that costs you a $10,000 fine. It’s not like jay walking. They will take hundreds of thousands of dollars from you for an offhand comment like that. It is a terrifying environment we live in.
I feel like there’s a novel brewing in there, Caroline, just quietly.
Well, I mean, defamation and suppression in Australia is a real problem. And it’s not just a problem for like journalists working at the ABC when the Australian Federal Police turn up with a warrant and start emptying their computers to find out their sources, which is something you would normally associate with North Korea or Russia, not with a country like Australia.
And in fact, recently at the UN, Amal Clooney, that’s a human rights lawyer, who works out of New York City, said that she regarded Australia as one of the worst countries in the world for people being able to speak their mind.
Isn’t that interesting? And yet so many Australians would not feel that way. They wouldn’t understand the ramifications of what they’re saying.
That’s quite right. Because they can’t possibly know what they don’t know, if that makes sense. So you did get a bit of a glimpse of it this year, because for example in the trial of George Pell. Now, most journalists in Australia knew that he had been found guilty of child sexual assault for months before that was public. Because there was a ban on saying so.
And then of course it was published in some overseas media, like The Washington Post published it and a couple of other organisations. And so people could find it on the internet. And they were ringing up radio stations, ringing up TV stations and newspapers and saying, why aren’t you publishing this? This is one of the most senior Catholics in the world! He’s been found guilty of child sexual assault. And they were then told, we can’t publish it by law. And that’s really quite frightening, isn’t it?
And also I think in Melbourne they got another taste of it with the whole Lawyer X scandal. So again, The Age newspaper and The Australian both understood that there was a lawyer who had been working as a police informant and that a number of prosecutions in Victoria may therefore be insecure. So there might be people who have been put in jail who will now be complaining about being in jail because their own lawyer was a police source. That was well known to journalists for a long, long time, as are many thousands of other things, but it couldn’t be published.
So obviously your background in journalism informs a lot of your fiction. And you’re immersed in all of those things and all of those worlds and all of those secrets. When you write a novel, and you’re fictionalising some of these things that you know, how far away from the truth do you have to get to be absolutely sure that you’re in safe territory?
Well, fiction is fiction. You’ve made it up out of your imagination. And of course you are influenced by all of the things you see in the world around you. So many mysteries and so many confounding stories around me all the time. And so I’m influenced by all of them.
And there’s an enormous sense of freedom, actually, in not having to worry – am I going to be hauled before a judge? Am I going to be hauled before a court? Is somebody going to complain? Am I going to get into trouble somehow if I say this? Because that’s my constant daily life. My constant daily life.
Especially this year because I’ve been completely immersed in the disappearance of William Tyrrell, a foster child. And there’s so much suppression and so much secrecy surrounding that case. Really to the detriment of finding him, which I think is the most scandalous thing. So many secrets have kept us from finding him. And so I’m conscious every single day that I go to work, you can’t say that, you can’t say that, you can’t say that. And that, when you’re writing fiction, it just feels so freeing.
Do you think then that your fiction voice, when we read Caroline Overington the novelist, do you think it’s different to the voice with which you write features or with which you tell stories in a nonfiction way?
Yes. Because I don’t feel like I’m wearing a harness. I feel like I can get out there and gallop.
As a novelist, are you a planner? Or as you say you’re kind of immersed in this stuff, there’s all this swirling inspiration, do you get the idea for the book, the novel, and then just run with it?
I’m never short of an idea. I’ve always got a million ideas about… I always think to myself, you know, that would make a great book. Sometimes even when I’m just looking through stories that are swirling around, I see little snippets of this and then I think, oh, gee, that would make a good book. And I know a lot of writers are the same, actually, they see a little snippet of something and then they spin it out into a novel, which is just great.
But I don’t always know… I sometimes know the ending, but I don’t know how I’m going to get there. And other times I know the character but I don’t know what’s going to happen, exactly. And then often, because particularly the last three books that I’ve written have been thrillers, and you’re not meant to guess the ending, and so I didn’t really know the ending until I got there. And I hope that that means that you won’t be able to guess.
So you’ve continued to work in journalism in some very big jobs even as you’ve written successful novels. Page turners that have huge following. Is there a reason that you’ve never turned to the whole I’m going to be a fulltime novelist now?
Yes. Because I wouldn’t be very good in my own company. I thrive on the company of other people. I love people. And I love having conversations with them. And newspapers are a magnificent way to meet people from all walks of life. Because you’re out interviewing people all the time, whether it be in sport or the arts, or politics or crime, it gives you such an incredible introduction to the world. You have no more than your notebook in your hand and you can just go up and ask people questions.
And I also would get very lonely I think if I just was writing novels. I need the stimulation. I know some other people who are novelists who only want to go to one event a week. They’re quite introverted. And so they’re happy to sit at home and work during the day and perhaps just potter down and have a cup of coffee. And their idea of interaction is to sit in a cafe and work for a couple of hours. That’s the only stimulation they need. And they might only go and see one movie a week or something. That wouldn’t be me. I’m busy all the time. And I love the company of people.
So then the question has to be, how do you manage your time to fit all of the various projects in that you do? Particularly given you also have a family. Your kids a bit older now, but how have you done all of this with a family and a job, basically?
Well, I just like to be busy. I mean, I really like to be busy. I’m not very good at just lying on the beach and getting a suntan. Or doing things where my mind feels like porridge. I feel like, I really like being busy. And the more things that are going on for me, the better. I know a lot of women like that.
Sometimes, I agree, you can get to the point where you feel like your brain is fried because you’re trying to deal with organising schoolbooks for your kids and going to an interview for your day job and your chapter edits have to be back to the editor by the weekend. And then of course you have all your time that you spend with your family and your loved ones.
But I really like that pace. That suits me. And I feel that I would get a bit glum, I think, if I wasn’t busy. I sometimes have a day where I don’t have anything to do, and I walk around clapping my hands like a duck. I don’t really know how to handle it.
I find that image lovely. All right, so let’s switch gears a little bit. You mentioned the podcast that you’re doing, which I have been listening to. And it’s actually quite funny talking to you having heard your voice – I mean, we’ve met, obviously – but having heard your voice over and over and over on the podcast, now to hear it in my ear responding to my questions is actually quite funny.
But you’ve moved to the podcast, which is a different way to tell a story. And it’s also an incredibly intimate and engaging one. As I said, I feel like you’re in my ear. That’s very close. What have been some of the challenges for you of moving to this style of format, of story?
Well, so many. There’s so many challenges. I would like to be really honest with you about it. Because it has been incredibly challenging. And I don’t mind admitting that it was challenging. I had never done it before. I was very anxious and nervous about doing it well.
A couple of things really plagued me about it. One is is that William is missing. And that’s not a game. And that’s a joke. And that’s not a mystery for people to solve. That is the reality of a small boy’s life. Either cut short in potentially horrendous circumstances, or he’s been held somewhere, which is the belief of some people, which doesn’t really even bear thinking about, does it?
And I thought, this is not entertainment. And so let’s not go and make a podcast which is some sort of true crime mystery about something that’s dated or a court case. It’s a live investigation into a small boy.
And I was also very, very worried and upset about compounding the suffering of people which is very real. There are people who are suffering in a very real way because William is missing. And in particular, obviously his families. He has a foster family and he has a biological family. And so I made a pact with myself to just not lose sight of them. Just never, ever lose sight of the fact that this is not a story to be told. This is not… You’re not out there trying to entertain people. If you do this, you have to do it with a sense of immense responsibility. Maybe bigger than any responsibility you’ve ever tried to shoulder before.
And also, I felt like is this even my business to be doing this? Because I mean, I feel people are going to get hurt because every time you do something like this, someone is going to say, oh, I bet it was this person, I bet it was that person. Well, it might not be. And that’s really difficult knowing that you’re responsible for some of that commentary. And there’s a lot of speculation online, and you’re going to send it buzzing like a beehive and who do you think you are doing that to people?
So I felt all of that. And then there were more trivial but still I guess things that I had to grapple with. Where I didn’t think, particularly in the beginning, that I was very good at it. I’ve tried to comfort myself with this idea that, you know, people don’t like women’s voices, we all know that. They don’t like women’s voices. They always get voted down on radio and on podcasts and things. But people were saying on the comments, god, I hate her voice. She speaks too slowly. She puts me to sleep. Australia’s most boring narrator. This is just terrible. Australians should be… Australians should be ashamed of this podcast. This is just terrible.
People saw a lot of bias in it both ways. Some people thought that it was hugely biased towards the foster parents or towards the biological parents. Like it was very hard to find a balance, because emotions run so high in this case. There are some people who really have a vested interest in the whole case.
And also, a podcast is not like going to get your hair cut of buying a dress or having a service. I understand that if you go to a restaurant and you have a terrible meal and you find a cockroach or whatever you might go on there and leave a bad review because you’ve paid for something and you haven’t got what you wanted and it was a terrible experience. A podcast is free. You just listen to it. I’m not being paid any extra to do it. It’s just part of my job. And if you don’t like it, I understand and I’m sorry, and I wish you had liked it. But some people didn’t; they really hated it. But then to go on there and be really…
I’m not one of those people who’ve experienced a lot of hatred online. I know women do get that and I have seen it, I’ve been witness to it. But I’m not someone who has experienced that previously. And it was hard. And so I tried to get better. But I was trying to get better as I was doing it. And I was conscious also that people who had tuned in early on dropped off and never went back to it and maybe didn’t get a chance to see that I did get better. Because I think I did. I think my voice got better, I think I got better at telling the story, I think I got better at balancing all the confusion and turmoil in my own mind about why I was doing it and could I do it well.
So yes, it’s been very, very challenging. Very challenging. And I’m not convinced I would ever do it again. I mean, we’ve just put up the last episode. And the strain was such that… I mean, if you could point to an actual public good and say, okay, well that led to the discovery of a new witness or something, or if you could say, you know, it’s rewarding for you in some other way, that people had said that they felt they understood this foster care system more or something, then you might do it again. But I mean, I’m not really sure that I would go there again.
So my question then would be, given all of those things about the challenges of not hurting the families and not doing all of that, why did you come to this in the first place? I know this story is one of those stories for you that you’re very invested in, you obviously feel strongly about it. Is that the reason that you chose to be part of the podcast?
Yes. Well, yes. Because what happened was I was covering the inquest. So what had happened was William had been missing for about four years and his case was sent to the coroner. Now that’s normally the last step before the cold case files. They send it to the coroner’s court and the coroner looks at all the evidence and then generally says, we don’t know what happened. I mean, not always. Sometimes you can get a breakthrough at the coroner’s court.
But generally what happens is they say, we don’t know what happened and they will declare William dead. And I thought, well, hang on a minute, just before we get there, what went wrong here? Because a child cannot simply evaporate. And the idea that there are no witnesses and no evidence. Nobody saw anything. Nobody heard anything. They have no suspects. I just thought, there’s something wrong here. That’s not normal.
Because even with Daniel Morecombe, the young boy who went missing in Queensland, people came forward. And they said, yes, I saw him standing at the bus stop. Or yes, I think I saw a car going by. There was something to grab hold of. Whereas this, it’s just so mystifying.
And when I went down to Kendal, so he disappeared from the country town of Kendal where he was visiting, and when I went there and I stood in the street, and I just thought, this is surreal. How can this happen?
And I thought, I have to have a look at what went wrong. And whether it turns out to be a fault in the police investigation, or maybe they didn’t search for him properly and they haven’t found him, maybe he got lost, maybe there are witnesses that we could uncover, maybe… Just another fresh set of eyes can’t hurt.
But at the same time I realised that people are hurt by the constant scrutiny of the case. Police don’t like to be hauled up to say, you know, should you have established a cordon? Should you have established a crime scene? Well, they didn’t establish a crime scene when he went missing. But they didn’t for a very good reason. They didn’t because they were really searching for him. They had hundreds of people running around looking for him, checking here and checking there. Because the assumption was that he was missing and that’s totally normal, to assume that he’s lost, he’s visiting there, he’s only little. He’s probably got lost.
But then as a result, now we have no forensic evidence can be taken because of all the boots that trampled through there and all the cars that have come and gone and left without being… So it’s very easy in hindsight for me to come along and say, well, you should have checked the boots of every car that left the street that day. It’s only a small court. There can’t be more than twelve of them. And the police are like, do you mind? We were trying to find a missing boy. We didn’t know he’d been taken.
So there’s all that. It’s messy. And it’s complicated. And it’s human. And it’s complex. And it’s torture. It’s torture.
And is that why you chose… Because the other interesting thing about this for me is as someone who, you know, your investigative features are awarded, you’ve won Walkley’s. Why did you do a podcast and not a feature about that question that you had when you stood there in the middle of that street? Was it because it was complicated and messy and you felt you were going to need more space and time to do it?
It was also because… So I had written features about it. And I had written quite a lot about it, actually. But The Australian has been doing podcasts I think better than anyone else. And we’d had huge success – and when I say success, I mean real breakthroughs – with, for example, The Teacher’s Pet, which was by my colleague and friend Hedley Thomas. And then also with another one called Who the Hell is Hamish?, which was about a fraudster, which was done by Greg Bearup, also a friend and colleague.
And I thought, well, a missing child is something we would all love to see a breakthrough in. And you don’t necessarily kid yourself that you’re going to be the one to find the breakthrough after 3000 police haven’t been able to. But you do hope that by doing what they did, bringing attention to it, getting people talking about it, getting police active on it, getting politicians engaged in it, these are the kinds of things that can really make a difference.
So I thought, well, have a go. And even though you haven’t done it before, and it may not work, have a go. I always think people should at least try. But as I said, I’m not sure that I would… It was very draining. And it was very… I was never entirely, I never entirely felt at ease. I always felt… And maybe that’s good. Maybe it’s good that you’re always on your toes, that your conscious all the time of people listening and criticising. Maybe it makes you better. Because I do think I got better as it went on. And maybe that was why, because I was conscious all the time.
Well, I guess it’s like anything, isn’t it? Like you talked about you write your novels without a plan, in the sense that you start with an idea and then you work through it. And every time you do that, you get better at writing a novel, right? So this is a similar project.
But the thing with it is, and when I listen to the podcast, and other podcasts along these lines, it always blows my mind from the perspective of the scope of the project. Like, so many voices to manage, so many interviews. Trying to work out a narrative arc or a structure to a case when you don’t know what the end is, when you don’t know how it’s going to unfold, when new things come up along the way. I mean, how do you get your head around all that?
Yeah. And more challenging than that was a bunch of stuff that came up that I did not expect as we were going. But I found even more challenging than that… So let’s say, for example, see if you can solve this conundrum. So the foster mother had told the enquiry that she saw two cars in the street on the morning of William’s disappearance. Now that’s given as evidence and so that’s something that we can freely report. And the fact that no one else saw those cars in the street is also something we can freely report, because that too has come up at the inquest. No one else saw those cars.
But when you put that into a podcast, you know in your heart and your mind that people are going to start running around saying, well, how come nobody else saw them? Were they really there? What’s going on there?
And that has the potential to really hurt someone. And so I thought to myself, well, is there an explanation for why nobody else saw those cars? Well, yes, there’s a number of explanations. And so I had to then go looking for somebody who understood memory, and who understood observation.
And as it happens in Australia, we have really great people working at universities, like in forensic sciences and in psychology departments, who could talk to me about how you could be at home in your house, you could in fact see a child being abducted in front of you, and not notice. And they were able to show me and demonstrate actual examples of that happening, where they had set up tests where they had had a child abducted from a playground in front of 20 witnesses, and then they went back and asked all the witnesses, did you see anything? And 19 of them said no.
Because that’s the way our brain works. We’re not always focused on what’s going on around us. We think we are, but we’re not. The idea that you can tell me whether or not there was a car out the front of your house on Tuesday last week, I don’t believe you can. Most people can’t.
And so then to go and find those people and to explain it, so you’re not leaving someone hanging out there saying, I saw something. And having everyone shout back, no you didn’t, in a cruel way.
So because of the interactive aspect of it, you’ve got to be thinking of the rebuttal and all sides of the story at all times. Is that fair?
Yeah. I’m really conscious, from the outset as I said, really conscious of the fact that, you could hurt somebody, Caroline. You could hurt somebody by sending the hares running after the wrong person.
There was another witness who came forward who said that he saw William in the back of the car. Then a number of people have shouted at him, like, why didn’t you call the police? Why didn’t you call the police? There’s very good reasons why he didn’t immediately go to the police. But it takes some time to explain them.
And I didn’t want to just be the kind of person that says, this man who is now 80 years old, who went out to his letterbox that day, thought he saw a child dressed in a Spiderman suit in the back seat of the car and didn’t bother to tell police. I wanted to explain properly what happened. Why he didn’t immediately go to police. How he ended up going to the police in the end. Why he’s so sure that that’s what he saw when other people think that maybe he’s deluded. And that takes time.
So given all of this, so the final episode has been released, will you do further if other things come to light as time goes on?
Well, the inquest has been such a complete and total mess, I’ve never… I’ve covered so many inquests in my life, I can’t even count them all, and I’ve never seen one as bad as this. It’s really terrible. It’s been just plagued by closed court sessions and suppression orders and technology failings and witnesses being unavailable. And all kinds of stuff.
I mean, to sit there and see the families in their distress and their trauma and as they sit there day after day… Well, some days they would take like 20 minutes of evidence and then they would just close the court for the rest of the day and they don’t even tell you why. I mean the grief of these people is real. It’s raw. A child missing. It’s just terrible.
And I’m not at all keen to head back to it. But what happened is they closed it, the whole inquest. Didn’t really give an explanation except that they’re not ready to go on. And they’re not going to open it again until next March, which is seven months of waiting around. So I’m going to wait and see how things look in March. And whether or not things…
You never want to abandon a story. Never. And it’s not… The final word on William Tyrrell has not been spoken. Because I believe in my heart that we will find out what happened to him. I believe that. I really do. I believed it about Daniel Morecombe. I just think the truth has legs. It has a way of standing there. When everything else has fallen away, when all of the politics and when all of the gossip and all of the stories and the false leads has fallen away, the truth stands there. And it has a way of being seen.
And I’ve witnessed that a couple of times in the course of my career where I’ve been told that this case will never be solved. And then it was solved. And I believe that with William, too.
I have to say, though, it must be incredibly distressing for you as the person reporting on this. Obviously not as distressing as it is for the families going through it. But as the witness to all of these things, how do you manage that as part of your daily life? Are you someone who hits punching bags on a regular basis? What do you do with that stress level?
No. I feel a sense of responsibility to my profession and to the people who are actually suffering. Because the people who are actually suffering are William’s families. And in almost all the other cases that I’ve covered, it’s the first responders. I keep my eye very, very clearly on police, paramedics, nurses, doctors.
And then you have a second ring of people who come in. SES, who search often through the night, through the dark. In the case of William, they walked through those forests through the night, calling out his name in wet, cold, hard conditions.
And then you have the forensic scientists who come in and try to unravel the history. They are the people who have got real reason to be fraught with the upset. And I have no reason to be. I’m just ten steps back from there. Way back with readers and listeners who, all we can do really is bear witness and try to do that as well as you can.
So I don’t kid myself that I’ve got a hard job. There are, I promise you, people who have been dealing with this case who have been undercover, who have been dealing with the worst kind of humans, trying to crack paedophile rings. They’ve got a hard job.
Yeah. They do have a hard job. So I know that you are working on a book that is like a companion book to the podcast. When will you be looking at releasing that?
I don’t know. A lot will depend on what happens. And whether we feel comfortable, whether I feel comfortable that I can tell the story in a complete way.
I don’t want to just do a kind of whodunnit. I really want to look at what went wrong. And I really want to think about what it means in Australia to have another missing child.
We’re so haunted by the Beaumonts and Samantha Knight. And these are the cases that they plague us as a nation. It troubles us. The little boy lost. It’s so important that we don’t let this become a case that just falls into the cold case. That we make sure we turn over every stone because there’s more to be done. And when I feel confident that I can properly honour him, I’ll go.
Okay. And in the meantime, I believe your next project that we can expect to read is a new novel coming out next year, is that right?
No. The William Tyrrell book, the book about the disappearance and the investigation into the disappearance of William Tyrrell will come out first. Because that’s all I think about. That’s all I can concentrate on and it’s all I can think about. Trying to do a good job and not muck it up.
And so I had another novel that I was working on, it was almost complete. But I spoke to my publishers at HarperCollins and they agreed to push it into the distance. I mean, it’s in a sort of process of editing at the moment. But they’re quite happy, they understand. They’re like, if you want to do this, if this has to be done now, if you need to concentrate on it, you do that. And we can publish the novel in 2020 or 2021 or 2022. It doesn’t matter. We just don’t want you to feel like you’ve got to rush it out when you really are so immersed in this.
In a different story.
That’s the benefit of having a relationship with a publisher over nearly ten years, which I have now, with HarperCollins. I’m able to say to them, this is what I want to do.
I remember very similar circumstances when I was writing Last Woman Hanged, about Louisa Collins, a real life person who was executed for a crime of murder. And I became so immersed in her story, and so outraged by the injustice of it, that I couldn’t do anything else. And I said to them then, can I push this other stuff away? And they said, yes, do it.
And as it turned out, that book has been hugely successful in terms of bringing women’s history alive and bringing the plight of women in 19th century Australia alive. The idea that we couldn’t vote and we had no representation in parliament, you couldn’t sit on juries. Bringing these things to life. And I often talk to girls’ schools about that now. And I’m so pleased that I took the time to do it and do it properly and not worry, oh, well, you’ve really got to finish your next novel, they’re expecting that. You make a lot of money out of novels. But money can’t be the reason you do it.
Well, Catherine Overington, it has been incredibly mind-blowingly interesting. We are going to finish up with our usual last question which of course is your top three tips for writers. So what do you have for our writers out there?
Well the first thing is write something. Anything! It doesn’t matter what it is. Because I have met so many people, god love them, they often come up when I’m touring or doing events or whatever and they say, well, I’d like to write something but I haven’t started. And honestly, if you sit down in front of a screen and that cursor is blinking at you and you’ve got your cup of tea ready, it can be very daunting. So I always think, write everything down that you can.
And then my second tip is edit very early the next day. So then don’t worry what you’ve put down. You can look at it again the next day.
But then my third tip is, don’t look at it for too long. So you write in a huge slab and don’t look at it. And then in the morning you get up and you look at it again and see if it’s any good. If it’s not, just get rid of it and start again. If it is, fiddle with it. But not for too long! Because otherwise you’ll waste a day.
And then you get on and you do it again. And I think that that kind of habit of just putting it down, putting it down, referring to it again and putting it down, will get you into the habit of producing something. Before you know it, if you write 1000 words a day, by the end of the month you would have half a book.
So true. Is that how you work? Do you write 1000 words a day?
If I have to. Like if I have to, I can. Other days, I can write 10,000. It just, there are days when you’re so motivated. And I’m sure so many listeners will have that too, that it just flows out of you like honey. And then of course there are other days when it’s much harder and you feel grateful for even one decent paragraph. But you can’t let that stop you. I mean, if you want to write something, you gotta write it!
And on that note, I think we will finish up. So thank you so much for your time. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you today. And best of luck with all of your various projects that you are engaged in.
Well, thank you so much for having me