Not to be confused with the upcoming all-female remake of Ghostbusters, this brand new novel – Ghost Girls (Echo Publishing) – takes place mainly in and around Sydney’s Chinatown district, with enough mystery and intrigue to shake many sticks at. We wanted to get to the bottom of this story, so we had a chat with its Australian author, Cath Ferla.
So Cath, can you sum up this book in under 85 words?
Ghost Girls is a crime novel set in Sydney’s Chinatown district and also in Beijing. The plot involves a young Australian woman, Sophie Sandilands, who stumbles across a mystery involving missing international students. She investigates and uncovers a dark web of sex, exploitation and violence. The further Sophie investigates, the more it becomes apparent that someone is also tracking her and has knowledge of the ghosts in her own past. Will Sophie solve the mystery or will she also become one of the disappeared?
Will she indeed! So, let’s back things up a little. How did the idea for this book come to life?
The story kernel was an incident at a Sydney language school where I had been working as a teacher. One of my students turned out to be a ‘fake’. She had been claiming another student’s identity and helping that person to meet their student visa requirements by sitting in on their classes. I didn’t find out what the missing student had been doing in those hours, but my story brain began ticking over. From this initial kernel, the story certainly evolved over time. I added layers and a visual texture, nutted out a complex plot and threaded through themes that I wanted to explore via the story and characters (such as identity, power and female agency and connection).
Wow, quite the intricate web. So tell us about your writing – what's your typical day like? Do you have a writing routine?
There is no typical day for me. I try to do my contract writing work in the 9am-3.30pm working hours of the school and available childcare days, and I write creatively either in the early morning, between the hours of 5-6.30am, or in the evening, between the hours of 8pm-midnight or later. I take my laptop poolside while my children have swimming lessons and I make notes on my phone if inspiration strikes when at the park or on transport. I do find music helpful when I write fiction, but not for any other form of writing.
Okay, so now that this book is published, what's next for you?
I have various creative projects on the boil including a couple of novels and a screen-based project. I blog at www.cathferla.com and you can find my social media links there too.
And finally, what advice do you have for writers hoping to do it full-time?
I advise resilience, belief and flexibility.
Resilience means being prepared to put your work out there for criticism and rejection. It means remaining positive despite the knocks and taking criticism in a constructive way so that you can continue forward.
Belief means believing in yourself, your work and the process. Self-belief is what you need to finish a project, even if it means getting up at 5am or sifting painfully through plot ideas for that one, shiny speck of gold. Belief in your work means ‘owning’ it, standing up for it and continuing to believe in it even after several rejections. Belief in the process means engaging constructively with the writing business that you are in. If this is journalism, take your editor’s suggestions and feedback on board. If this is publishing, be prepared for and open to any structural suggestions and concerns… by doing so, you might just make your work better.
Flexibility is what writers need to make a living from their writing. I have written across many mediums: journalism, editing, educational publishing, screenwriting, script editing and fiction. I am flexible and I am willing to try new things. My CV is a patchwork. The common thread is words. This is how I’ve made my writer’s life.
Cath Ferla is also a screenwriter and editor. You can check out her website here.