Ep 302 Meet Stephanie Wood, author of ‘Fake: A startling true story of love in a world of liars, cheats, narcissists, fantasists and phonies’.

In Episode 302 of So You Want To Be A Writer: Why does writing books get tougher instead of easier? You’ll meet Stephanie Wood, author of Fake: A startling true story of love in a world of liars, cheats, narcissists, fantasists and phonies. Plus, you could win a copy of Gotta Get Theroux This by Louis Theroux.

Click play below to listen to the podcast. You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher Radio. Or add the podcast RSS feed manually to your favourite podcast app.

Show Notes

Why does writing books get tougher instead of easier?

Writers in Residence

Stephanie Wood

Stephanie Wood is an award-winning long-form features writer, known for her rare ability to tell substantial, compelling stories across a range of subjects. She is a former senior staff writer at Fairfax Media’s Good Weekend magazine (released with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers each Saturday).

Fake: A startling true story of love in a world of liars, cheats, narcissists, fantasists and phonies is a powerful, richly layered investigative story for our times, drawing on the personal stories of the author and other women who have been drawn into relationships based on duplicity and false hope.

Follow Stephanie Wood on Twitter

Follow Penguin Australia on Twitter

(If you click the link above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)

Competition

WIN ‘Gotta Get Theroux This’ memoir by Louis Theroux

This podcast is brought to you by the Australian Writers’ Centre

Find out more about your hosts here:

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo

Or get social with them here:

Twitter:

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Instagram:

@allisontaitwriter

@valeriekhoo

Connect with Valerie, Allison and listeners in the podcast community on Facebook

So you want to be a writer Facebook group

Share the love!

Interview Transcript

Valerie

All right, Stephanie. So first of all, congratulations on your book, Fake: A startling true story of love in a world of lies, cheats, narcissists, fantasies and phonies.

So for readers who haven’t read the book yet, can you tell them what it’s about?

Stephanie

Yes. Well, it’s the story of a relationship in my life, a romantic relationship with a man who I thought was heaven, and he turned out to be a bit of hell. He was not at all who he said he was. And in fact, was a fantasist and a phoney.

But I spent 14 months with this man. And I knew something was wrong. I could see red flags but I pushed them away, which I think is a fairly typical response for many people in any number of sorts of relationships. And my anxiety levels spiralled out of control.

And eventually, I dumped him after about 14 months and started to investigate who he really was.

Valerie

And so, at the time you were working as a journalist at Good Weekend, and you had written a piece about this. A couple of years ago.

Stephanie

About 16 months after I broke up with him, and that was a pretty intense period of recovery and grappling with how the hell I’d been susceptible to this man.

And eventually I felt strong enough to write about it and I wrote a piece for Good Weekend magazine in the middle of 2017. And it was published and was rather, sort of a viral sensation, I suppose. And the response I got from… It was just incredible, the response. I heard from people that recognised the character I was writing about, even though we didn’t use his real name. But there were certain things that were recognisable about his behaviour and his persona. I heard from people just expressing shock that people could behave in such a way.

And there was this third category which was extraordinary. This huge volume of people, women and men, mostly women, telling me about their stories of relationships with similar narcissistic conmen. And it was clear, it became clear to me that this was almost a silent epidemic. And people don’t talk about it because they’re ashamed of it. They don’t want people to know that they’ve been fooled.

Valerie

Now, when you received such a huge response, was it at that point or was it sometime later that you thought, there’s a book in this? When did that happen?

Stephanie

I think I always knew there was a book in it. From the end of the relationship, when I started to discover the truth about him. I didn’t know that I’d have the courage to write it or the wherewithal to write it.

And it sort of organically around about the time of the article I got an agent, a literary agent, and started to have conversations with publishers about the potential to extend the story. And look at it in a much broader way. And that became the book that has just been published, Fake.

Valerie

And at some point, you toyed with the idea of making it fiction, of writing a novel. So when did you, what did that feel like, and when did you decide, or what made you decide, no, it’s got to be the truth?

Stephanie

I think in this case, the truth was stranger than fiction!

Valerie

Yes.

Stephanie

I guess… It just seemed to me that it was going to be a more useful book as a nonfiction memoir style book, that would help people far more. And it was such a riveting story that… You know, I did fiddle around with fiction. But it seemed almost pretentious to do it as fiction. It’s hard to explain the instinct I had that it had to be nonfiction. But that’s how I felt.

And I think it was fairly clear after the Good Weekend article that it would have to… I mean, I fiddled a little bit with a few different forms. But within a few months, less than that even, I knew that it was going to be a true story.

Valerie

So you said that you started talking to publishers and your agent about it being kind of a broader book, not just about your experience. And it is. It’s part memoir, and it’s part essay on the idea of love and research into different types of personalities. How did you determine how much of memoir to put in and how much of the interviews with psychologists and researchers and that kind of thing?

Stephanie

Well, I wanted it to be a page turner. And I knew the material from my own story was rich enough and complex enough to make it a page turner. And I didn’t want it to be a story that got lost in research. But I also wanted the research to be a bit of buttressing. So it was a bit of a balancing act.

I spent a lot of time working on a structure for the book. My study was, I had a whiteboard and post it notes and Sharpies and just trying to… And I moved sections around and I looked at what would work and I looked at the thematic, what themes… Each chapter has a number of themes built into it, sort of underlying the story. And it took me a while to get the structure in place.

And I think what saved me… I have a tendency in my Good Weekend, doing my feature stories, to over research. Which means you can get terribly bogged down. And I think what saved me from over researching and getting hopelessly bogged down was the fact that I had only a year to write the book. And I decided, well, I knew pretty quickly that if I did all the research first and then started to write, the book would never get written. And I would spend so much time gathering research material and transcribing interviews and filing it and keywording it and stuff that I would never start chapter one.

So I determined that I would research and write simultaneously.

Valerie

Wow.

Stephanie

So while I wrote chapter one, I was looking at what I was researching chapter two, and thinking ahead to chapter three as to what interviews I needed to be setting up.

And so then I moved, and when I was writing chapter two I was doing interviews for chapter three and thinking about what four needed in the way of interviews to be set up.

So it was a kind of a tandem thing for a year of that sort of writing and researching simultaneously. And I can tell you that the lists that were in my computer just were scary. I had multiple lists running of what I needed to be doing on different chapters at any one time and who I still needed to talk to and what books I still needed to read. And I’d watched a lot of films for the book as well. And so what films I had to watch and what interviews needed to be transcribed and had I sent that one off for transcription and could I afford to pay for it or did I have to do it myself?

So it was… Like, I look back now and go, how the hell did I do that? I just don’t know how I achieved it. It’s just…

Valerie

No! Well, I mean… Let me get this straight. Because I see how you have researched it as you’ve gone along. Because things have unfolded in the book as you’ve discovered them. But you mentioned that you had this big whiteboard. So did you plot out some kind of structure at the beginning?

Stephanie

Yes. Yes.

Valerie

Right. So you did have some kind of skeleton that you were then building?

Stephanie

Absolutely. And the research I did and the writing I did was informed by that structure. So I was constantly going back to look at what that structure was. And it changed. Without question, it was not, the book is not an exact reflection of the original structure. I lost a chapter because I realised it just was too much. It was going to make the book too weighty. And in hindsight, the book benefited tremendously from not having that additional chapter. And I can’t even actually remember what that chapter was going to be now. So I guess that shows how it was a wise decision to get rid of it.

I also had hoped to include a whole lot of historical information, lovely historical anecdotes about true life con artists in the history of Australia. And perhaps overseas as well. But I realised that I just wasn’t going to have the room for that. It would slow everything down.

But what I was working at as I went, originally I wanted to speak to multiple specialists in each area, and in the end I actually in some cases only spoke to one. Once I was confident that their expertise was solid and their work was reflective of the wider body of research in a particular area. For example, personality disorders. Whereas, as I said, if I’d been doing all the research at once, I probably would have spoken to 15 psychologists about personality disorders, and only been able to use a fraction of it and wasted huge amounts of time with that research.

Valerie

Oh yeah, absolutely. But the thing I really want to focus on is the structure thing. Because I have told so many people, oh my god, the structure of this book is genius! And I don’t know how she did it.

Stephanie

I don’t know how I did it!

Valerie

I really do. It’s amazing. So I want to just ask a bit more about that. Because…

Stephanie

Please. I love talking about this stuff. It’s amazing. But whether I can reflect… Sometimes it is organic. And sometimes…

Valerie

Well, yes.

Stephanie

And that’s often the joy of writing, I find. For me, anyhow, is that against all odds pieces just fit together.

Valerie

Yes.

Stephanie

And you’d never ordinarily imagine how. You sit there and you think, how is this going to work? And then seamlessly, something comes up that makes two pieces fit together.

Valerie

Try and cast your mind back…

Stephanie

Sorry?

Valerie

Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you. You go on.

Stephanie

It’s okay. But sometimes it’s a jigsaw puzzle that works and I can’t even explain how it does. But do keep asking me questions!

Valerie

Well, try and cast your mind back to when you did your initial whiteboard. Because the thing is, and this is no spoiler, obviously you broke up. I mean, that’s not a spoiler. So it ended. And in a sense, there wasn’t a kind of, in that story in itself, there wasn’t a climax to that story. And therefore, how did you think to yourself, how am I going to structure my book?

Stephanie

Yeah. Exactly. So I sat one day, well, several days actually, in the State Library… Actually this was when I was, now I remember, this was when I was writing my original Good Weekend article. And I decided that I wanted it to have a filmic structure. And I’ve never written a screenplay in my life.

So I googled, the wonderful world of Google, to look at what film structures do in terms of how they have different stages and different turning points. And I mapped that out and I had a chart where I had “stage one in a film structure achieves this.” And underneath that, the second part of the chart, I had what I’m going to achieve with my stage one that matches what a film would do. Then turning point number one. What a film’s turning point number one tries to achieve. What I would try to achieve with my turning point number one.

And so that… Sort of six months after the original article, I had all of that film structure still. And I rejigged it and I looked at how… What my new… Because I had to bring more for the book in terms of the story than the original article was. No one would have published it if I’d just rehashed what that original article was.

And a lot had unfolded since the article. The story had evolved much, much, much, much further. And I’d met lots of other players in the story, particularly – I suppose this is no spoiler either – the other woman who was going out with my ex. So I had a lot more to say.

And I also knew that the narrative structure had to have that beginning, middle and end with tension all the way through it. And I was determined that it not be a sad story or a tragic story. Yeah, for sure, I was a mess after the breakup. And it was really confronting to come to terms with what had happened to me. But I wasn’t going to let that be the end of the story. I needed… I guess it needed to have a redemptive arc. And I was super conscious of memoirs like, even though I haven’t read it, I have a sense of where it goes, that Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, for example, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. They have those arcs where there’s a journey, I suppose. And I’m not fond of that word journey at all, but I guess it is the best way to describe what I was trying to achieve.

So the original article had a film structure embedded in it. And that film structure, I moved on to the book structure. But it had different turning points and different stages. Because the story had extended, was naturally extended by that point.

Does that seem to make sense? It wasn’t easy. It was really complex. And it did my head in sometimes. And I had, in my chart, each chapter had a theme, at least one theme or two themes that it was looking at. Whether it be vulnerability, or desire or whatever it is. And often those are overlapping. There aren’t neat beginnings and endings to a lot of that.

And somehow, it worked out.

Valerie

Oh, it worked out. But the thing that I am amazed by is that you, as you say, you were researching as you wrote. And the book unfolds as you are doing this, as you are researching and as you are discovering more, you are meeting the ex, and so on.

Stephanie

Well, I guess that’s part of the journey. That’s part of the… I made, I decided that that would be my discovery of what had happened, who he was.

Valerie

Yes, but what if there was no redemption? You know what I mean? There’s such a risk!

Stephanie

Well, I always knew that redemption would be me getting strong. So I guess, I did do that ocean, I embedded the swimming motifs throughout. Water, as well. From chapter one. I mean, every chapter had lots of motifs. And no one’s noticed these, which is kind of funny. Like, I spent so much time on them. I mean, I don’t know whether you noticed, but death is all the way through that book.

Valerie

Yes.

Stephanie

There are graveyards. There are skulls. There are cemeteries and ghosts. And like, no one’s even noticed.

Valerie

The kangaroo skulls.

Stephanie

And to me, that was the death of love, really, I suppose. And hopefully, I didn’t do it in too heavy handed a way. I guess I didn’t if no one’s even noticed it’s there.

Valerie

I noticed the water.

Stephanie

The water is there. There’s death, there’s faces, there’s mirrors. There’s hands. Hands are all the way through the book.

Valerie

It’s because it’s seamless. The whole thing is seamless.

Stephanie

I hope so! But I looked at The Great Gatsby a lot as the way he used the motifs, ocular motifs, and all sorts of things. But in terms of the redemptive stuff, I knew that it had to be my redemption. I had to come back from the dead, if you like. Come back from this dreadful place that I found myself in with this horrible man.

And so there was a certain calculation in knowing and doing the ocean swimming. I mean, it’s certainly something I’ve always wanted to do. So it wasn’t unnatural. It is something absolutely I’ve always wanted to do. And it’s absolutely the case that long before I thought of training for an ocean swim, and I was recovering from this relationship, I would go to the sea baths. All of that is utterly… Like anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I love the sea baths and have been going to them for 15 years.

But it occurred to me that maybe I can use that love for the water to help me get to the ending of the story. And so I very deliberately signed up to do an ocean swim. And I’d never done it before. And I mean, it was… I guess the story was unfolding, because to do the ocean swim required huge… I’m not a physical person. I’m the biggest sloth on earth. I was always the last picked for the team. So to do an ocean swim was really big deal for me. And I did it. I mean, the book doesn’t include me doing the swim. I lead up to that. And for all sorts of reasons I decided not to have the actual swim in the book.

So the redemption is about me coming back to life. And I did. That was nothing, there’s nothing untrue or contrived about it. I really did. By the time I’d finished the book I thought I could die happy now. I’ve done… I had always wanted to write a book. And this wasn’t the one I thought I’d end up doing. But I did it. And I did an ocean swim, which I’d always wanted to do.

So the book did follow my natural emotions as well. Certainly there were moments of calculation in terms of, yep, I’m going to sign up to do that ocean swim and I’m going to use that to finish the book. And I possibly might not have actually finished the ocean swim if I hadn’t been writing the book! Because I thought, how can I possibly, I can’t look people in the face and say, well, no I didn’t actually do the ocean swim.

Valerie

Yes!

Stephanie

And it’s not even there as a… I don’t think it’s in a heavy handed way.

Valerie

So you say that you took a year. You gave yourself a year to write the book. Tell me about that. Were you doing anything else at the time? Were you writing other things? Just tell me about the structure of your day and how you got into some kind of routine once you started writing as to…

Stephanie

I stopped drinking for a while. I had five months without a drink. That was important. I don’t think I could have done it without that. Initially, I thought I’d need to take the whole year and do nothing else but write the book. And then at the end of 2017, when I got the contract and signed with Penguin Random House, I saw a job going at the ABC, Australian Story, as a researcher. And I just thought, maybe I should apply for this.

Because I was super worried about working… Because I live alone and have a study at home. And I knew that I could go quite stir crazy working at home on my own and living on my own. So for no other reason than getting myself out of the house I thought, just apply for this job. And I got the job. And it was a part time job, three days a week.

So I was getting up at 5:30 or 6 in the morning and doing some writing before going into the three day a week job. Then basically, there were not weekends. I worked every weekend. And I would usually work after work at Australian Story in the evenings.

In the second half of the year, the contract changed to two days a week, which I was very relieved about. And then I had the most wonderful boss at Australian Story who let me have a few weeks off here and there to just go away and write.

And I was working Christmas Day. I was meant to finish everything in December last year, and it was January before I did. And Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day I spent at the computer.

And then we rolled straight into the editing of it. And that was almost even more intense than the writing. The editing was fairly minimal, thank god. But it’s a fairly long book, I think, in comparison to similar styles of book. So to cram nearly 100,000 words of editing into two and a half, three weeks was tensely stressful.

And I’m also a really meticulous fact checker, which is just a legacy of my work as a journalist. And so I was going back to every single person I’d interviewed and checking my facts with them and checking every single scientific fact and every single… And there was a fair lot of complex detail in there, in certain parts. So I was simultaneously fact checking. And that on top of that, I needed to be getting written permission from three key people who were interviewed in the book.

And I nearly had a nervous breakdown because I was thinking, what if one of them changes their mind and reads what I’ve written and changes their mind? And thank god, they were all amazing. And they read it, read the manuscript, and didn’t change their mind. And we got their signatures and they’ve been incredible.

But that period of editing, I never want to go back in my life to.

Valerie

Yes.

Stephanie

But I’m pleased with it. There was interest to get it out so fast. Because this is such a hot topic at the moment. And I think if we’d left it any longer, we would have been trampled in… I don’t know whether there are other similar books coming out, but certainly there’s…

Valerie

I don’t believe so. I mean, there is, not in the way you’ve written it. I do believe there are many stories about these types of people like Joe. Yes. But I think this is unique in the way you’ve treated it.

Stephanie

I certainly wanted to do that. I didn’t want it just to be a really straight telling of what had happened. It needed to be more than that.

Valerie

But come back to the actual writing. You’re doing part time Australian Story, you’ve got to write this book. Because you already structured it on your whiteboard. Did you allocate, well, these months I’m going to do chapter one, and I’m going to need to do 2000 words per week, whatever. Did you break it down?

Stephanie

Oh, I was constantly counting words. Constantly looking at I’ve written this much, I’ve got X number of days to go, how many words do I have to do each day? Constantly. I think that’s what kept… I mean, I originally had a deadline chart, but in the end it became kind of, right, I’ve got…

Pretty much the structure, it was a 12 chapter structure. I’ve forgotten. How many chapters did I have? I can’t even remember now. But I did the preface the year before, because that was part of the submission of my proposal to publishers. So the preface was already under wraps and done. So I figured out with the 12 chapters I had, I had basically I had to do one chapter a month.

Valerie

Right.

Stephanie

And I busted the first month, and I busted the second month. And I think by the third month, I had a barely finished chapter two. And I was starting to panic. So I think the sense of panic all through the year kept me going as well.

But no, those calculations, I was doing them constantly.

Valerie

And what’s it like, because when you’re writing a 3000 word feature, it’s very different to writing 100,000 words. How did you get into the long, long, long, long format?

Stephanie

I don’t know. It just happened. The other panic thing that I was having was that I had originally thought that I’d make each chapter about 5,500 words. So it would be about the same as a Good Weekend feature. And I would plan each chapter to have its own individual highs and lows and drama points.

But I was finding every chapter I was going, one chapter got to 9,500 words. So that was completely changing my view of how many chapters I could do each month. My god, if I’m writing 9,500 words a month, I can’t do a chapter in a month! Ah! And I was freaking.

So I was constantly thinking, what’s Meredith, my publisher, going to say when she gets a 9,500 word chapter? And eventually I got the courage up to email her and say, I’m finding it really hard to keep to that length each chapter. Is that all right? And she said, well, it’s better to be around 8 or lower than 8.

But in the end, I probably shouldn’t have panicked as much through the process. Because a few things, there were some slight alterations in the edit that brought some chapters done. And it was fine.

But I guess in terms of comparing it to a Good Weekend story, each chapter had to have the highs and lows as well, which is what I try and embed in a feature longform piece of journalism.

Yeah. It just happened. I know that that’s… I just had to keep going. And I think knowing that I had to keep going I just…

Valerie

Well, you’re used to deadlines, aren’t you?

Stephanie

It just unfolded. I’ve never met a deadline I’ve actually met. But yeah, I knew there was such, there was not much wriggle room in this one.

Valerie

So you’ve spent many years as a journalist. When did you know you wanted to go into this career? How did you get into that? Just to give some context.

Stephanie

Into journalism? As opposed to writing?

Valerie

Yeah.

Stephanie

Oh, from so young.

Valerie

Really?

Stephanie

Oh yeah. I think I was probably in early high school when I realised. Writing had always been something I loved to do. And I was really encouraged by my mother and my grandmother. Because my grandmother had always wanted to write a book. And she used to say to me when I was really little, you and I are going to write a book together when you grow up. And we never did, really sadly.

And in fact, I’ve got this beautiful, grandma was just the most beautiful writer, and I’ve got an excerpt of a journal she wrote when she was travelling up and down the Queensland coast in 1910 or something. And it’s just so exquisitely written. And one day I’d love to try and do something with that, incorporating it in a story of mine, so that we actually do get to write a book together when I grow up. I haven’t had any time to think about what that might be, but her writing was beautiful.

And then mum was a teacher. And I have really early memories of mum sitting with me with charts saying, now you don’t have to start every story with ‘once upon a time’. And the chart had these words that you could start sentences with or paragraphs with that weren’t ‘once upon a time’.

Valerie

Now, you know, after reading this book, because the thing is you went through an extremely traumatic and anxiety-filled experience. And then you went through the rigour of the research and investigation. Then you wrote a 100,000-word book. I just thought, this woman must be exhausted!

Stephanie

Yeah, I’m really tired. And I start a new job tomorrow. And I’m going, oh god! Oh god! I’m really tired, yeah. And you know what’s it like for writers trying to scrounge out a living. And my redundancy’s gone. I mean, freelancing work for a journalist…

I took a redundancy, I took a redundancy, I should have added that, when I left Fairfax two years ago to write the book, I took a redundancy. And that money’s almost gone now. And money just, I haven’t added anything to my bank account all year. And so you know that feeling. It’s kind of panic. It’s like I can’t afford to take a holiday. I just gotta keep going.

Valerie

But having said all of that, are you thinking you’ve got another idea that you want to spend a year on?

Stephanie

Listen, I don’t mean in this in any sort of boastful way, but I’m just an ideas monster. I have a million a day. And in fact, that’s a… It’s not a good thing. Because…

Valerie

Yeah, which one do you choose?

Stephanie

I’ve got too many. Which one do I choose? And how do I… And I honestly, it does my head in. I’ve got lists as long as my arm of ideas for both fiction and nonfiction books. I’d love to try fiction. And I’ve mapped out a fiction idea. But then something else comes along.

This one was so obvious. Fake was so obvious and it presented itself so clearly to me as to what it was that it wasn’t difficult to put all the other ideas side. But now, my literary agent wants another idea from me and it’s like – which one?

And I really… I think that’s my anxiety about starting a new job. It is part time, thankfully, but I really love to have the time just to sit and to still these… I mean, I’ve got Google Drive documents coming out of my ears with different things I want to explore.

And I have sent a children’s book idea off to my… Well, not an idea, actually a manuscript for a children’s book I’ve written. My agent has got that right now.

But yeah. I don’t know. Listen, it’s a curse. Every time I see a face on a street I go, what if that person did X? Or what if that person, X had happened to that person? And then that happened? And yeah. It’s not necessarily a great thing.

Valerie

No, I understand. So one of the things that you address in the book is the idea that people could be judgemental upon reading it or upon hearing your story. And you talk about being a single woman at a certain age. And this idea that people would think, how could she not have known sort of thing. How important… I thought it was beautifully addressed in the book. How important was it to you to address all of those things that would be going through people’s minds?

Stephanie

So important, I suppose. Because who wants to be looked at as stupid? No one wants to be considered stupid. And of course that’s the first thing… I mean, I should add, I didn’t lose any money from this guy. Like he never asked me for money. Which I guess for many people that would be the first red alert, wouldn’t it? Someone asks, a man asks you for money – hang on, what’s going on here? He never asked me. And I didn’t lose any. He stole my emotions. It was an emotional theft.

And as I discovered when I researched personality disorders, there is, that’s a very common… He needed me to bolster his own very fragile ego. And his hollowness, really. He needed me and a series of other women. And me to listen to his ridiculous stories. Which I can see were ridiculous in hindsight, but at the time, he was terribly convincing.

So it was important not – to address that in the book – not just so I could fend of other people’s views of me, which was certainly a component of it. But also for my own self. Like, why, why, why did I do that? So the book is very much… I mean, if there’s a narrative thread underlying the obvious one it’s my search for understanding. Understanding myself and what led me to be vulnerable to him. And understanding him. And what led him to be who he is. And I felt that until I could… Like, that was the most cathartic thing. To understand something can be just so cathartic.

And so I guess it was two pronged, for me and for the audience of readers who would be… And people have still judged me. People have… There was a review in one publication on the weekend of the book, and I think I can take criticism reasonably well. But it was actually a generous review, but it made some comment about it defies belief that – these are my words, but I’m extrapolating from the review – it defies belief that a journalist like that couldn’t see the red flags. Well, in fact, I’ve said in the book, I did see the red flags. But there were a lot of reasons why I chose not to act on those red flags.

Valerie

I read that review and I emailed the editor about it!

Stephanie

Did you really?

Valerie

Yes.

Stephanie

Oh thank you! Do you see… Was I right in going, hang on, you’ve not actually…

Valerie

I will discuss that with you offline.

Stephanie

Okay.

Valerie

But anyway.

Stephanie

Thank you. Okay. It wasn’t just me not liking criticism. Okay.

Valerie

And I don’t usually… Anyway. More on that later.

So the thing is now, so firstly what kind of job are you doing part time? And also, if you’ve got a billion ideas, I’m sure lots of people after they read this will want to read the next one, so what do you do to hone it into the one?

Stephanie

Okay. I don’t really believe in star signs, but I believe in Virgo. Because I’m a Virgo. And every characteristic of a Virgo that I ever read in any sort of magazine or chart or whatever matches me. So I have, the lists I keep are ridiculous. And I need to keep reworking my lists.

So what I’ll… I’m probably answering your second question first. What I will do to finesse and hone my ideas is I will sit at my computer for hours and days and weeks moving documents around, moving ideas around, looking at them, joining ideas, separating ideas, creating new documents, thinking about them, adding thoughts, writing pictures, I suppose, miniature pictures. And finessing the lists and thinking about it. So it’s actually a kind of… It comes out through my fingers.

Valerie

Yeah.

Stephanie

Like, I don’t think I could ever write with a pen. I know that there are writers out there that write their books with a pen by hand. I could never do that. Because weird as this sounds, something happens between my fingers on the keyboard and the screen.

Valerie

I get it.

Stephanie

And I don’t know what it is, it just happens. It’s like in the act of typing. And I’ve never really thought about this before, you’ve just made me think of it. But I learnt touch typing at school, which was a great lesson. And I think every kid should, that should be on the curriculum. Touch typing. Because I think it’s so fundamentally important.

And I wonder, there’s just some sort of alchemy that happens when I touch type that I don’t know… Just comes out. And so it will be sitting at my computer and moving things around and looking at things and looking at documents. If that… I can’t really explain it any better than that.

Valerie

No, I get it.

Stephanie

And I put them in different documents, and then I realise I’ve got five documents so I’ll make the one document. Yeah. It’s merging, it’s moving and stuff like that.

And as for the job, I probably can’t really say much about it.

Valerie

Sure.

Stephanie

It’s very much behind the scenes. It’s a government position, actually. Three months part time, helping contribute to a government report. And it’ll be incredibly challenging, I think. But I’m not sure that I’m allowed to talk about it yet, so… Yes.

Valerie

That’s okay. Well, let’s finish on what your top three tips are, advice for aspiring writers, who’d like to do what you’ve done one day.

Stephanie

Oh my lord, you didn’t warn me about this. Let’s see what I can… If I can come up, off the top of my head.

Structure. It’s to me the bedrock of everything. To know where you’re going, to know how your story is going to unfold. To have maps, almost, to have physical maps, drawings or documents that show you where you’re going. It doesn’t mean you’ve got to stick to it, but I think it’s… And the structure can evolve. But I think that having a really strong structure will give a writer, it gives a writer the narrative drive, the tension, and the momentum to keep the story going.

I think the second one might be to don’t give everything away at once.

Valerie

What do you mean?

Stephanie

To hold your information back. So… To tease. I guess I thought as I wrote Fake that I was… I’m trying to tell a thriller story, in a way. And a thriller holds back. Just when you want the information, you stop and you move on to something else. And so you leave people wanting more. So it’s a matter of teasing out the story. Don’t give everything away at once, if that makes sense.

And I guess third would be just sit and write. Like, when I first started feature writing, I agonised over every word and every sentence. It could take me, and I was at the time lucky enough to have a staff job at The Age in Melbourne, this was some years ago, and so I had the luxury of dithering and procrastinating… Not always, but often. It would take me three weeks to write the first sentence. Like, it was ridiculous. Because I would just agonise over every word.

And now I just write. And I guess having done a book in a year, and it’s I suppose increased my confidence about my writing. I know I can write. I don’t need to agonise over every word. And in fact, when I look back at some of those things that I agonised over, they’re so florid! They’re so overly…

Valerie

Hang on. Let me just hear this correctly. You just said…

Stephanie

Am I contradicting myself? What have I said?

Valerie

You just said having just written this book, now I know I can write. You did not know you could write before? I mean, this is..

Stephanie

No. No.

Valerie

Oh come on!

Stephanie

No, seriously. No, no. Confidence, self-confidence, I think everybody has a degree of lack of confidence. And every writer agonises over their writing, don’t they? No.

Valerie

Sure.

Stephanie

And I still, I read passages of Fake occasionally, well, not very often. I try and put it on the shelf and try not to think about it too much. But I go, oh, that’s not very good. Ooh, that’s a bit overwritten!

Valerie

Oh, you’re insane. Let me assure you. And let me assure listeners. This is one of the best books I have read this year. So do not listen to Stephanie.

Stephanie

Oh thank you. That’s so beautiful of you. Thank you so much.

Valerie

No. It’s beautifully written. It’s incredibly well structured. But it’s beautifully written. And congratulations. It’s a cracker.

Stephanie

Thank you.

Valerie

So thank you so much for your time today.

Stephanie

Thank you.


Comments