JW; I’d like to start by asking, have you always wanted to be a writer? And where did the idea for No Country For Girls come from?
ES; I’ve always loved writing and reading. At age twelve I would raid my parents’ bookcases for my dad’s Robert Ludlum and Dick Francis thrillers, and I remember thinking, one day at high school, ‘When I’m old I’ll be a writer.’ I didn’t start writing my first novel until I was forty, which twelve-year-old me would definitely have thought was old!
The idea for No Country for Girls came from the two protagonists Charlie and Nao, who appeared almost fully formed during a writing exercise. They had great chemistry and a lot of stuff to work out and I knew I wanted to send them on a road trip together. I’d been considering writing a Thelma & Louise-style road trip thriller and these two were the perfect characters for that story.
JW; How much research did you have to do for No Country For Girls, did you get to visit any of the places mentioned in the book?
ES; I did a fair bit of research online, as well as speaking to locals about particular aspects of the plot, setting, and characters. I’d been to almost all the locations in the book before and driven the road trip as far as Broome a few times growing up, so the setting was very alive in my imagination. I’d have loved to visit again while writing, but the pandemic got in the way of that. Instead, I traversed hundreds of kilometers in Google Street View and asked my West Australian family and friends to send me pictures, videos, and sensory impressions of the road trips they were doing in 2020. I did miss some things though! Termite mounds are one feature I realized I’d forgotten once we’d finished all the edits.
JW; How important to you was it to raise awareness of women’s issues in rural Australia, particularly First Nations Australians?
ES; I didn’t think about these aspects consciously but I can see why they emerged. I was in my early twenties working as a newly qualified veterinarian in rural Australia when Thelma & Louise was released, coming up against sexism and misogyny every day in my life and work. When I started writing and thought back to how much I loved that movie, I began to question how much the world had changed in thirty years.
There’s a line in the film when Louise says, ‘We don’t live in that world, Thelma.’ She’s talking about a world where victim blaming of women and girls doesn’t exist, and we still don’t live in that world. I wanted to write about two young women who are not powerful in their lives and give them the opportunity to fight back and find their freedom. This, along with the Cormac McCarthy novel No Country for Old Men, informed the title No Country for Girls.
In terms of the First Nations characters in the story, especially Nao, it was second nature to me to include this perspective. It doesn’t feel possible to write authentically about modern Australia and intimately about the Australian landscape, without writing from this point of view, even though it’s not my background. It also became increasingly important to me that I was writing two characters trying to connect across their difference. The world needs that so badly, for us to genuinely listen and communicate with one another whatever our different perspectives might be.
JW; Who would you like to see playing the parts of Charlie and Nao, and Warren when No Country For Girls is turned into a Movie!
ES; I so hope they make the movie. I’ll be beside myself with excitement if that happens. I can see Eliza Scanlen playing Charlie, Rarriwuy Hick playing Nao and David Wenham has always been Warren for me, right through from writing the earliest drafts.
JW; As a child growing up, were you an avid reader, or was television your thing? Do you have a favorite childhood book or television program?
ES; I did watch TV but books were what I escaped into the most. I loved pretty well anything with wilderness in it, both in the characters and the landscapes. I’ve talked about them before (notably in front of a sold-out crowd at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate) but the Silver Brumby books by Elyne Mitchell were beloved books for me growing up, as well as Mary O’Hara’s My Friend Flicka and Green Grass of Wyoming. I loved losing myself in the big landscapes and heart-in-mouth drama of those stories.
JW; If you could go back in time, to one historical event, to witness it, what would it be and why?
ES; This is extreme but honestly the first thing that came to mind was the Big Bang. I mean, it’s the biggest thing that’s happened in the universe and none of this would exist without it. If I could have a front-row seat to that and survive it, like maybe from the Tardis, I’d do it in a heartbeat.
JW; What is your favorite book or books that you have read so far in 2022, and why?
ES; Three brilliant crime fiction debuts I’ve read this year are Wake by Shelley Burr, Better the Blood by Michael Bennett, and Breathless by Amy McCulloch, in each case because of an exceptional sense of place and the strength of the connection between the setting and characters, which is always what makes a book for me. In YA fiction I’ve recently finished The Eternal Return of Clara Hart by Louise Finch, a debut time-loop novel with an incredible voice that unpicks toxic masculinity. These books are all amazing reads.
JW; What is something you are passionate about aside from writing?
ES; Wildlife and wilderness. Spending time in nature, whether in the UK or Australia, is the one thing that never fails to remind me how rich and amazing life on this planet is. The wildness of one kind or another will always find its way into what I write. I’d probably be planting trees somewhere if I wasn’t writing.
JW; Do you have a favorite author or favorite book of all time?
ES; Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro has been my book of all time for years for its emotional devastation, and my crime novel of all time is Truth by Peter Temple. Both these books are filled with longing, which is always what fuels what I write.
JW; If you could invite four people to dinner, living or dead, who would you invite and why?
ES; This was a fun question. I’ve settled on four characters from crime fiction who I’d love to throw together and see what happens. Villanelle, Vera, V.I. Warshawski and Allie Burns. They’re all great female characters and between them, they have the perpetrator, detective, PI, and journalist covered so I think it’d be an interesting evening.
JW; If you were to be marooned on a desert island what 3 items would you take?
ES; Some high-factor sunscreen, a really good knife (no crime writer marooned on a desert island should be without one), and a huge box containing each of the debut novels I’ve been published alongside this year. That’s probably cheating, but there’s so much of life covered in these books. Reading them reminds me how different we all are, and what an achievement it is to get your first book out into the world.
JW; Do you have a hidden talent?
ES; I learned to fly when I was in my twenties and got my private pilot’s license. I’m not sure that’s a talent but I loved learning to navigate and read the weather as well as the technical aspects of flying. I didn’t have the money to keep it up, and neither did that feel like a sustainable thing to do in terms of the climate and environment, but it was a formative experience I’ll always be grateful for.
JW; Are you currently writing another book, and when will it be released?
ES; I am! I’ve had a few runs at two different books and I’ve now settled on one of them, a serial killer thriller set in Western Australia, again with two young women protagonists. A story that couldn’t be set anywhere else, it’s strongly influenced by the Claremont serial killer case in the mid-90s that haunted the neighborhood where I grew up. There’s still a lot of work to do and I’m way off having a release date yet, but I’m excited about the story and I love the two main characters.
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