Perth! You are a lovely place. Your parklands are beautiful, clean, sprawling. I’ve still not adjusted to the time difference, so I awoke at 5:40am and went for a run along the water and it was just magic. Lots of animals out and about enjoying the sunrise serenity – ducks and swans, cockies playing on the lamp posts.
The old cliché is that writers are awkward and anti-social, but at the festival over the last few days I’ve met some very friendly people and have witnessed plenty of connections being made – everybody seems very excited to meet each other. Perhaps because we’re such a lonely bunch, writers, and it’s nice to get out and see people who suffer the same affliction. I don’t know. Lovely catching up with old mates Natasha Lester and Sara Foster, and meeting Jane Harper and David Whish-Wilson for the first time. I love that we’re all so different. Still keeping an eye out for a crime writer as downright weird as me. Jane and David seemed like gentle, normal people.
I’m getting words done on the CRIMSON LAKE sequel occasionally – about five hundred at a time, stolen between events. The book is doing quite well. Number 6 in Australian fiction this week, and number 17 overall in Australia. I think NEVER NEVER is going into its fifth week on the New York Times Best Seller list, so well done to Jim and I, if I do say so myself. With any luck, fans will enjoy the sequel to that when it comes out over there this time next year.
So, just a quickie from me, but all the happiness in the world to you all and thank you as always for your support. If you’re writing, keep on writing – remember that every word you put down, no matter how badly placed, is one word closer to that finished first draft. And if you’re reading, keep reading – whether your books are bought or borrowed or battered beyond recognition. Every page you turn supports a writer somewhere, in more ways than you can imagine.
Much love! Candice.
Queensland! I’m here! My delightful publicist Jess Malpass is here with me. We’ve been trekking around trying not to get sunburnt and meeting fans at bookstores in Port Douglas, Cairns City and today, Smithfield. Jess and I immediately bought matching hats upon arrival, and I did the classic Candice Fox move of losing my sunglasses a mere 12 hours after I bought them. We’ve discovered a weird shared obsession with cryptograms after buying a poshbook in port Douglas. It’s strange to see places from the novel again in real life. As we drove along yesterday I found myself saying ‘This is where Ted lives!’ and ‘This is where they found the croc!’ like I was talking about real people, and events.
Below I’ve stacked some random photos from the tour, but there are others on the Facebook and Twitter pages. Included is a tiny gecko I found in my hotel. Not five minutes after letting my miniature friend out onto the balcony did I find a compadre of his in the fridge. I am the lizard queen!
I never posted about NEVER NEVER hitting the New York Times best sellers – debuting in no. 1 in the hardcover and combined categories. It’s hard to describe how I feel about this, even though describing things if what I do for a buck. I talk a lot about my childhood on the tour, and the kinds of things I have been experiencing lately – best seller lists, tv deals, multi-book deals all over the world – these sorts of things never entered my young mind. My ‘big dream’ was to have one book published ever, and for my friends and family to read it. I’m overjoyed with all this – I can’t fathom what I’ve done to deserve it. Just being able to write and do nothing else for a living is such a blessing. I get up every morning and I really do actively get excited about my job. I’m so lucky.
I hope, if you’re reading this and thinking about coming out to see me, that you’ll make the effort. I so love catching up with fans and seeing what they thought of the books.
Have a great Sunday, everyone! More to come.
Check me out on ABCNews24’s The Mix with my buddy Michael Robotham and James Valentine. We come on about halfway through the episode. Funny times! If these guys think I’m a ‘sick puppy’, they don’t know the half of it.
I’ve spent the last month driving up the east coast of the US on my honeymoon, and in that time I’ve managed to visit the sites of four infamous and brutal murders.
Don’t be too shocked. That’s not even the weirdest thing I’ve ever done.
For the true crime nuts among you, (and I know there are a few), I thought I’d write a little bit down about what visiting those places was like and the feeling they have left me with. Because I guess all us crime freaks imagine ourselves getting some kind of strange pleasure or satisfaction out of being in a place where something that intrigues us so deeply occurred. I was drawn to these places as though by animal instinct, and approached them with my heart thumping. But what did I really expect to find?
I guess in some ridiculous corner of my mind I imagined that if I could actually physically go to where Hae Min Lee of Serial was buried, for example, I’d find answers as to who killed her. That there’d be some soiled confession letter buried under the log itself, or a symbol carved into a tree, or a wispy shred of fabric that defied every police search, every curious websleuth who trudged that rugged path before me. Something that eluded even the family of Hae herself, who had surely been there themselves to see where she had been laid to rest by her killer. Predictably, and sadly, there was none. I guess you (and I) both knew that deep down. Such a find wouldn’t hold water even in the realms of the worst fiction.
I guess I also wondered if by going to the site of this terrible loss if I might be able to feel some of it more tangibly, and with some further legitimacy. That I might somehow become worthy of the sadness I feel for these strangers. These families I have never met and these victims, some of whom were born and died before I was even born. Because I do feel sad, but I don’t feel like I deserve to. I don’t feel like I’ve earned it. And I can’t think of a way to do that. This seemed like a pretty good shot.
I found the site of the infamous log behind which Hae Min Lee was found in Leakin Park, Baltimore, by following the instructions here. My husband parked the car at the nearby rest stop and walked back through the park with me, a little embarrassed as we ducked off the path by the side of the road and made out way into the bramble. It was tangly but not terribly dense in there, which is something Sarah Koenig was right about in Serial – you could still clearly see the road and the cars going by from 127 feet into the bush. Tim and I were a little confused as to which log we were looking for, but used pictures from Google to narrow it down from two potentials to one. I sat there, expecting something, looking at the leaf-littered earth at my feet, the place where she had lain. My husband stood nearby looking at the creek, probably wondering who the hell he married. I think he gets my weird desire to visit the places from traumatic stories to a certain point. He does it himself. We trudged around Boston making note of the sites of scenes from his favourite Spenser novels. So there.
But, granted, he might not have understood completely when I got my phone out and played ‘All My Life’ by K-Ci and Jo-Jo for Hae. Ok, Ok, Ok, I know how weird that sounds. But hear me out. I don’t know if there are ghosts or spirits or whatever the hell floating around in the universe, and I’m not prepared to completely reject the idea just yet (I’ve seen some shit, ok?). And I’ve never been given a really good guide. I spent most of my high school science classes quietly lighting things on fire at the back of the room. And my mother’s interpretation of Catholicism somehow includes reincarnation (and mermaids!). I have no grasp on the afterlife or whatever the hell happens in it.
But I figured that if even the tiniest part of Hae was around there somewhere, I knew she liked the song, and I thought it was unlikely she’d heard it in a long, long time. Because as I sat there listening and waiting for whatever might come, I realised how incredibly lonely a place this was. Yes, the road was just nearby. People, too. We’d even passed a group of school kids and teachers doing a nature walk by the bridge not a half a kilometre away. But the place where Hae was buried was closed in on all sides by thin green forest, making a sort of timeless bubble. I felt sick to think that she might have lain here forever, had she not been found, so close to life, but so completely detached from it. And even though she had been found here, there was not a thing to mark that horrible consequence. No shrine. No stone marker. Not so much as a cardboard ‘DON DID IT!’ sign pinned to a tree, which I would have put money on being the first indication that we were in the right place. Just an old, rain-soaked wooly rug someone had dumped (I checked it for bodies) and liquor bottles scattered here and there throughout the brush (there was one brandy bottle, but not the same as the brand mentioned in Serial). If some tiny part of Hae resides in this place so full of, and empty of clues, she has nothing but the sound of the slowly wandering creek to latch on to. In Hae’s diary, which Sarah read on Serial, she wrote that she was so excited Adnan danced to ‘All My Life’ with her instead of Stephanie at their prom. I wondered if playing it might help her, if she was there, return to a happier time. I know it’s weird. I’m weird. Get over it.
If the absence of any marker of the loss of Hae Min Lee at her burial site surprised me, it didn’t prepare me for the lack of, and sometimes deliberate erasing, of evidence from the three other sites I visited. Tim and I used our GPS and some co-ordinance obtained online and stopped on the side of a featureless stretch of parkway at Oak Beach, Long Island, where the bodies of ten people were found. Most of them were prostitutes working off CraigsList, but one was an Asian man in women’s clothing, and one was a toddler. Standing far out on the edge of the marshland where crab boats rocked back and forth, we could see a single white cross, but there was no way of knowing if it was related to the finding of the remains of these women (and one man and one child). The bramble at the side of the road was impenetrable. Whoever the killer was, he (or she) likely pulled up to the side of the road along this parkway at various spots and dragged or threw the bodies of his victims in, as each was found less that ten feet from the asphalt, some wrapped in burlap. The Long Island serial killer, sometimes known as the Gilgo Beach killer or the Craigslist Ripper, is still out there.
In LA, we drove along the private and leafy Cielo Drive looking for number 10050, where the glamorous Sharon Tate and the friends and employees with her that night lost their lives at the hands of the Manson family. The residents of Cielo Drive have obviously become tired of the ghost rides and celebrity murder tours roaring up and down their street, as they’ve done a good job of scrambling the house numbers. Tate and Polanski’s house is gone, and there’s no way of really telling where it stood. Walls of desert peppered with harsh plants creep up on each side of the street between the mansions, and a lone security guard loiters in someone’s doorway looking bored.
We took the car to 875 South Bundy Drive and found that there remains some scattered pieces of the scene burned on my mind of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman’s murders. Those peach-coloured tiles are still there, but the famous gateway has been blocked off and turned to the side, where a tall wooden gate guards the residence within. The house number hides behind the fronds of a potted palm, and the garden on either side of the doorway has been allowed to grow over, sheltering the dark space that so many remember from those awful photos.
In the end, I found no clues, and I felt no more justified for the sadness I feel over all these lost lives. And because I don’t feel like I’ve earned my grief for them, the guilt of a ‘gawker’ haunts me. Because surely I’m not the first to have come to these places and closed my eyes and breathed the air, tried to understand what happened, how it might have been interrupted.
As we turned and headed back toward Redondo Beach I posed a hypothetical to my husband. If I could have made a video of one of the killer’s lives after the murders and showed it to them, what did he think they would have done? I asked him to imagine that somehow, for example, I could take snippets of a greying and bloated OJ Simpson in prison coveralls and cuffs at his kidnapping trial, and splice it with pictures of Nicole’s crime scene. If I could have cut in images from the murder and civil trials, the aftermath, the strangely behaved and lonely OJ devoid of friends. If I could have showed him OJ not as the star but as the murderer who got away. What if I could have taken this short video from a future that may never have been and showed it to OJ himself back in time, if I could have put it in his hands just as he was getting in his Bronco that night, just as he pulling out and turning to drive to Nicole’s condo.
Would seeing what was to come change his actions? Or is killer rage just killer rage? Is fate, fate? Were these people meant to die?
Are monsters just monsters, no matter what you try to do to stop them?
Tim didn’t know. I don’t think I do, either. We drove on through LA toward the airport, and left these scarred and barren places behind.
Here I am! I’m plodding happily along, putting in about a thousand words a session. I’d probably be at around this word count by this time of year anyway, but I have been held up a few times – by my own marriage, for one! – and by some editorial business. I’m at 11,000 words today on my own manuscript for the year (if you haven’t been following, I also do collaborations). I’ve been putting together detailed outlines and some mini-outlines for unmentionable projects that you’ll probably be able to guess anyway. The seductive whispers of other books have been plaguing me, as I’m only a tenth of the way in, and I could turn around without feeling so bad. I shun those voices! Be gone! You have no power here! Saucy, sexy books are a reality. Don’t give in to those sirens.
My, my, my, I certainly know what I don’t want to ever do for a living, and that’s organise weddings. Though I’m not an amazing sleeper, I’ve lost a considerable amount of sleep this month agonizing over everything that could go wrong in my wedding to the hilarious, handsome and decidedly hairy Tim Keen, fellow wordsmith extraordinaire. In the dark hours, I’ve imagined some pretty insane stuff, like ex-boyfriends/girlfriends turning up on the green and shouting that they’re still in love with me/him. The more extreme fantasies involved a relative shooting themselves in the middle of the dance floor. In daylight guessed that more likely, Tim and I were going to get something like a story frequently told about a wedding of a friend of a friend, who had a fat man with a beer walk right through the back of the ceremony wearing nothing but a pair of Speedos. While we did have our wedding in a public garden, and there were hangers-around with no idea of personal space, they tended to loiter during the photographs after the ceremony. We only had eyes for each other! Nawwwww alright I’ll stop now. Perfect, perfect day, anyway.
There are more editorial nightmares looming on the horizon, so I’m trying to trundle along on the book at a healthy pace. My crisis of confidence seems to be over – and I think that’s a mark of having thickly detailed characters who are intriguing (I hope, anyway!) in themselves/their pasts without necessarily having to rush here and there completing plot points to fill themselves out. If you’ve got a few deeply interesting people, worrying about plot is like worrying if three incredibly socially skilled strangers are going to get on with each other at dinner. They have the tools. They have the experience. They’ll make it work, even if they fumble around a bit first.
As a mark of good practice I’m attending a new boxing gym tonight, because James and my character, Harriet Blue, is a boxing enthusiast. I think it’s always good to write what you do, and do what you write – it’s a lesson I learned back in the day as a teenager, when I used to set all my books in New York. I’d never been to New York, and knew nothing about it. The books were garbage in the first sense because I was an overly emotional, melancholy teen with a bit of an over-infatuation with Anne Rice and Martin Scorsese, but in the second sense I think it didn’t help that I didn’t know what New York looked, felt and smelt like. I’ve boxed for a long time, and Harry boxes. It’s a chicken and egg thing. It’s time to get back to that, I think. Get some of the tension out so I/she can sleep.
As always, curious to know how you’re all going with your writing/submitting/editing. Keep your chins up, everyone. (No seriously it’s really bad posture looking down at your laptop. Sitting is the new smoking, for real).
So I thought it might be fun to do a series of blog posts throughout the year that track my actual activities in writing a novel, so that those who are curious about how I work can get an idea of my ‘process’. I get asked the process question a lot. Here’s the answer. I do not anticipate in any way that this might stop me getting the process question in interviews. But what the hell, huh?
Everybody has their own process. There are writers who smash the first draft out in something like National Novel Writing Month, then spend 11 months fixing it up. I know fantasy writers who spend three or four years off and on putting together dictionary-sized epics, who spend whole parts of the year plotting and drawing maps and writing nothing.
Not so here. I’ve been writing a book a year for a good long while, and they’re all about 90-110,000 words. If you’re curious as to how that actually happens – in terms of word count spread, plotting time, and the intrusion of other employment activities I need to do to survive, I’ll try to paint that for you. I’m going to attempt to tell you what I’m actually DOING throughout the year so you can get an idea of what it takes for me – and how that relates to your own work.
So we’re at Stage One: Pre-writing ideas collection.
This has been going on for a little while now, maybe four or five months. Now don’t get all ‘Well, that’s cheating because it’s not in the year!’ on me – I haven’t actually DONE anything on this novel in that time, and this year I’ll be plotting the actual DOING for you. Thinking is not doing. Doing is doing.
And that’s an important distinction. Plenty of people think about writing books, and never get past this stage.
For four or five months, I’ve basically just been playing around with ideas about this novel in my head. I’ve been keeping an eye out for crimes and perpetrators in true crime books, podcasts and docos that I think I’d like to explore, and I’ve been thinking about my protagonist herself. What sort of person is she? What’s her history? I haven’t written anything down about her, or the crime, or set in stone the structure of the book. I’ve just been thinking daydreaming about it with my mind open to new influences.
Like I said, this stage is common. Ever heard someone say ‘Oh I’ve always wanted to write a book about (blah)’. I hear it all the time. When I ask – ‘So who would be your protagonist?’ Or ‘Where would it be set?’ Or ‘What’s the genre?’ Usually I get nothing back.
Ideas collection for me is kind of like this: whether I’m in the middle of writing a book or not, I have a basket on my arm and a backpack on my back. As I’m wandering around, day to day, I might come across ideas and influences that I like the idea of. I might hear about a particular poison that works well and doesn’t leave a trace at autopsy, for example. While I don’t have a use for the name of that poison, who used it on whom and how you make it, I figure it might be useful to collect that tidbit of information for use one day in a future book. So I put it in the backpack. I’ve got all sorts of weird things in the backpack, some of it decades old. Some of it is ‘how to kill a person’ type stuff. Some of it is totally random bullshit – hairstyles I like, one-liners I heard in movies, stats about serial killers I’ve known and loved.
I might come across another bit of information that I think closer relates to the project I want to work on this year. So for example, for this book, I’m interested in pathological liars, and people who suffer from Munchausens. I was very interested in the Belle Gibson affair when that happened, and I read a book on Casey Anthony early this year that was so great. I’ve decided my killer will be a Munchausens sufferer. So if I see or hear anything about that, I put it in the basket hanging on my arm. The basket is more immediate, directly pressing, and organised than the backpack. I don’t have much room in it, so it’s important that only the best bits and pieces go in there, stuff I’m fairly sure I’ll use. I might actually seek out specific sources for stuff to put in the basket. When the book is written, I dump the basket into the backpack and start a fresh one for the next book.
So I started my basket for the novel I’ll write this year a few months ago, and as I’m looking into it now, there’s a bunch of stuff in there – but not a huge amount. It’s not necessary for me to become a world-leading expert on Munchausens before I can write a character who has it. There are other puzzle pieces in there about the character that I’ve gleaned from my imaginings over the last few months – what her hair looks like, what she sounds like, where she lives.
I like to start writing when I’m sure of a few things. Firstly, who kills who, and why. So in my basket I’ve got a bit of an idea of the victim, and the killer, and of course I know my protagonist pretty well. This year I’m writing a novel about Amy ‘Hooky’ Hooku, who appeared in my novel just released. If I’d been starting with a brand new protagonist, I’d have things in the basket I’d picked up about her. Cuttings and shavings from real or fictional women I like, pasted together to create her. This woman’s hair, that woman’s smile. This woman’s upbringing, and this one’s shitty attitude toward public transport, etc.
At this stage, I don’t really know what the first few scenes of my novel will entail, or what order they’ll be in. That will come in the next stage – First Words. Right now I’m sifting through ideas for those chapters, trying to come into the story at a hugely thrilling point, so I’ll hook my reader nice and early. If I get stuck, I can always draw from my backpack of lifelong collected ideas to see if there might be a good starting situation for a novel in there somewhere.
So right now, my word count is zero. I don’t have a word doc open, blank page blaring, cursor blinking. My list of plot points reads zero. Only one character has a name, and a face, and a history, and that’s because she’s appeared on the page before. I’m hoping to start writing on January 1, just to make things nice and neat. So tune in next time for that!