Author Wendy James shares insight into her new novel, The Lost Girls.
The characters of The Lost Girls go through emotional upheaval as they relive the loss of their cousin. Where did you find the inspiration to delve so deep into the characters?
Telling the story in a way that will ring true for the reader always means examining the the characters and their motivations as closely as possible — and this is the inspiration for every novel and story I’ve written.
As a writer did you find it difficult to go back and forth between time – the time of Angie’s death to present day?
I like to take the opportunity to move back and forth in time whenever I can; those of us without access to a Tardis are pretty limited to present time, and fiction is one way we can go back – or forward for that matter. You don’t even have to go back very far – it’s amazing how interesting it is just to go back to the time of your childhood. All those things you’d thought forgotten just come flooding back. Or maybe that’s just a sign of my advanced age.
When writing such a novel, do you plan ahead of where the story will take the readers?
I usually have a grand plan – a broad outline of the story – but it’s always a bit sketchy. It’s a bit like having to make your way to a mountain that you can see in the distance without being given a map, or even a particular mode of transport. It might take a long time, and you might take a few wrong paths, but as long as the mountain remains visible you’ll arrive eventually, if you just keep on keeping on.
If Angie could tell her own story, what would it be like?
You know, I don’t know that anyone can really know the real Angie – the perspective we get of her is always coloured by the stories other characters have created about their own lives, their own involvement. But perhaps ultimately Angie was just a lovely young girl, right at the cusp of womanhood, enjoying her unexpected powers, exploring her world, sometimes taking risks that would make any parent worry. The tragedy of Angie’s life (and all those affected by her death) was that she didn’t make it beyond that chrysalis stage – and so we’ll never know who she might have been.
Do you believe past wrongs can be made right?
I’m not sure that they can be made right – and certainly not when a death is involved – but I do believe that forgiveness is possible.
When writing, how do you prepare to immerse yourself in the storyline?
I don’t really do any preparation – the story and its characters just grab me and never let me loose until it’s done. Sometimes I try hard to escape … but I never seem to be able to give up until the story is written.
If you could give advice to young writers and their pursue of becoming a published author, what would it be?
I would always say that reading is the first essential element in writing: if you’re not an avid, back of the cornflakes packet kind of reader, you probably don’t really want to be a writer. The next essential element is that you actually write! And write and write and write. And then finally – perseverance. Writing can be hard work – keeping on writing despite the inevitable setbacks and rejections is even harder!
When beautiful 14-year-old Angie, worshipped by her cousin Jane, is strangled in the summer of 1978, the family and the Sydney Northern Beaches community is thrown into despair. Angie’s parents blame Jane’s mother for letting her stay out alone, Jane’s brother Mick becomes a suspect and Jane’s mother and policeman father struggle with feelings of helplessness and guilt. Soon after, a young prostitute is found murdered in the same way in Kings Cross, sparking a manhunt for the ‘Sydney Strangler’.
Thirty years on and Jane is going through a time of change in her life and marriage. When she is approached in her antique furniture store by a journalist, Jane agrees to revisit the past and describe the tragedy of Angie’s murder. But this journalist is not who she seems to be and as the shocking truth of Angie’s final days emerge, we are left guessing as to whose version of Angie’s story is the truth.
Part family drama, part psychological thriller, The Lost Girls deals with what happens to a family who suffers a tragic loss and just what takes place behind closed doors once the media frenzy has died down.
Wendy James is the author of six books, including The Mistake (2012) and Out of the Silence, which won the 2006 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime fiction and was shortlisted for the Nita May Dobbie Award for women’s writing. She currently lives in Newcastle, New South Wales, with her husband and two of their four children.