Where did the idea for Every Breath come from?
Well, I guess it came from my long fangirl crush on Sherlock Holmes. In 2010 I won an award for crime writing run by Sisters in Crime, the Australian women crime writer’s organisation, so I decided to turn my hand to YA crime (because YA has always been my first love). When it came to writing a whole book, I knew I had to work Sherlock in somehow – and I’d always wondered what a contemporary teenaged Sherlock would be like…
That question touched off the character of James Mycroft, and so Every Breath was born!
How did you do your research for the book?
Research trips! No, seriously, I took a lot of photos of locations and visited all the places where Rachel and Mycroft go, including St Kilda Rd Police HQ. I also Googled a lot – Google is the writer’s friend J I had to do a lot of reading on things like police processes in Australia, and homicide investigation, as well as homelessness and mental health issues.
I also had to research forensic process and autopsy procedures – for some of the thornier queries I spoke to a forensic pathologist, who was kind enough to provide the answers to questions like ‘Is a Y-incision standard in post-mortem?’ and ‘What colour are the sterile drapes you use?’. Whenever you ask a pro, you have to have your questions all narrowed down and ready, so you’re not wasting their time – I did a lot of research just to figure out exactly what questions were important to ask.
I also asked my sister, who’s a surgeon, to proof-read parts of the manuscript so I could get the medical details right. She got used to me ringing or texting her with weird questions like ‘How much blood does the human body contain?’, and now she knows I write murder mysteries she doesn’t get so worried!
Were you always interested in forensics?
Were you always interested in forensics?
I’ve always been more interested in forensic mysteries than courtroom or police procedurals, yes. I’m a big sucker for Hannibal and Bones and Elementary. I just find the idea of it fascinating: that people can still tell you so many things through their body, even after they’re gone. A YA forensic procedural was something I hadn’t ever seen done before, so I was keen to give it a shot.
I’m not a particularly squeamish sort – in fact, if there’s accidents or blood spilt at our house, I’m always the one who deals with it. We have four boys, so as you can imagine, there’s plenty of accidents to go round. As soon as there’s a glimpse of red, my husband shouts “Ellie!”, so I’ve actually gotten quite good with first aid (a bit like Rachel, although I’ve never received my certificate!).
What came first, the chicken or the egg? In other words, did you have the main character in place before the story plot?
Characters are always at the heart of the story, for me. I always get so much more sucked into stories when they’re built around the characters than if they’re built around a clever plot device. Plot devices are cool, but they’re not often the thing that keeps me reading – the people moving the story along keep me reading.
So yes, my characters always come first, with a few twinkling ideas about where they might be headed. Once I knew that Mycroft and Rachel were a sleuthing duo a la Holmes and Watson, I kind of knew where to jump off from. The rest of it – making up the mystery, laying down clues and red herrings – is just a matter of working out a puzzle. But creating layered characters who lead you through the puzzle, and sometimes take off on their own and drag you into side-alleys…I think that’s what makes it interesting and fun.
How long did you take to write the book? Did you ever get stuck?
Writing Every Breath took about six months, and the only thing that tripped me up at times was making sure my mystery was well-put-together. Sometimes I’d write a scene, and then realise that I needed to leave a clue, so I had to go back earlier to a place where I could first mention the clue… I had to ret-con a bit on occasion!
I don’t really believe in writer’s block, but I do believe you can set yourself such a difficult task that it can be really, truly almost impossible to find the words you need to make it work. I experienced that while writing the third book in the Every series – it took forever to write, and nearly did my head in! Usually you can find an answer to your problems if you take time out, and move away from the writing for a while to give yourself some perspective. But making Time Out can be hard when you’re writing to deadline…
What did you enjoy most about writing this book
Really, it was the characters J I just love Rachel and James so much… I used to get up very early in the morning to write, and when I was deep in the thick of Every Breath, I would honestly be really excited when my alarm went off at 4.45am, because I knew I was getting to spend time with my characters! (I know, that’s a bit crazy, but there you go)
How do you relax?
Reading, watching tv, gardening… Mostly normal ways! I spend a lot of time reading – if I had a whole day to myself with nothing to do, curling up on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book would be my idea of heaven.
What is your favourite motivational phrase?
‘BumGlue’ - it’s one of Stephen King’s recommendations for writing, and it hasn’t failed me yet. Sometimes you just have to sit down and not move until you finish.
What is your favourite positive saying?
I think ‘I love you’ is always the most positive way to show your nearest and dearest that you care.
What is your favourite film and why?
Oh, I have a lot of favourite films, so that is a really hard one… Probably Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope, for the whippersnappers), because when I was little it made me see the world in a different way for the first time (and made me realise there were different worlds, which was pretty mind-blowing).
But – and this is going to sound totally freaky – I have fond memories of a movie called Bullet in the Head, directed by John Woo. That was the film my husband and I saw when we went out on our first date together – romantic, I know! We both liked action films, and I think he figured if I could handle John Woo, I was his kind of girl! It was my first introduction to Asian cinema, plus it’s extremely awesome.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I’d like to think I’d say something inspiring, like “You can do it!” or “Follow your dream!” – but in reality I’d probably say something like “Don’t date Sean, he’s a loser”, or “Stop! Wait! Don’t wear that hideous bubble skirt!”
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
William Shakespeare, no question. And I would be all fangirly and “Love your work!” and he would probably just give me a look, like “Who is this crazy chick with the strine accent?”.
What is the easiest thing about writing?
Getting absorbed is temptingly easy. Sitting down on your bum all day and not moving, and just sinking into the writing… Sometimes my family has to tell me to stop, detach, take a break. It’s important to look up sometimes, and talk to people, interact – you have to remind yourself to do that occasionally J
Do you ever get writer’s Block?
No – although sometimes I need to take a break and get some input. That’s when I read other people’s books, watch tv, listen to music, garden… Another author I know says she sometimes has ‘Text Free Time’, when she actually avoids anything to do with words for a while (including reading!), and goes to art galleries, takes long walks, visits friends, takes photos. I like this idea, and I’ve tried it a few times – it really works!
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
I have a big family, so my time has to be very structured. Some days are busier than others with family commitments, or other paid work, so I organise around that. On a solid writing day, I usually get up about 5.45am, write until 7.30am, then come in and get everyone off to school, then write some more until school pick up at 3pm. On weekends I scrabble for whatever time I can get, often early in the morning – that’s my best time. I’m hopeless at night – my brain switches off after 9pm. That’s when I just sit and watch Outlander or something, and zone out.
Do you write every day, 5 days a week or as and when?
I would write all day every day if I could! That’s not really sustainable though – or good for domestic harmony! – so I try to stick to the routine I outlined above. Before all my boys were in school I’d write from 4.45 in the morning until 7.30am, and then whenever I could get a spare moment.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
No, I find that counter-productive, although I might give myself a scene to complete or something like that, so I have a goal in mind.
Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
I wrote longhand for years, when my boys were small and my work space was non-existent. But once I got a laptop, I never looked back – it’s so much easier! I still rely heavily on notebooks and scraps of paper for jotting things down – I usually have at least one notebook on me, and a pen in my hair somewhere! There’ve been times when I’ve struggled with a scene, and I have to scrawl in longhand – it’s something I often go back to.
Where do the your ideas come from?
Um, my infernal imagination, which will not leave me alone!
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
Stephen King, Thomas Harris, Maureen Johnson – they’re all masters of the craft, and I often go back to their books for inspiration. I also love re-reading Holly Black’s Curseworkers series (oh my god, so good).
I’m gonna pimp some Australian fiction here – Helen Garner is an Australian author I love. Peter Temple is the best crime writer, and for psychological thrillers I always pick up Honey Brown. For Aussie YA, I can’t go past Melina Marchetta (she is amazing) or John Marsden – there’s also Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell, Melissa Keil, Fiona Wood, Kirsty Eagar, Scot Gardner, Vikki Wakefield, Rebecca James…honestly, Aussie YA is going through a bit of a Golden Age at the moment.
I guess the impact these writers have had on me is just to inspire me to work harder, be better, don’t stagnate, always work on your craft. The Australian YA scene is so vibrant, and the community so welcoming, that I find myself always striving to raise the bar and give the work my best.
Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
Well, Every Word, the second Mycroft and Watts book, is coming out through Tundra Books in North America and the Philippines in 2015, so we’re working on preparing that for the printers. And I’m steeling myself for when the copyedits for Every Move, the third and final book, come back here in Australia – then it will be time to knuckle down again, cos that is always a crunch time.
Meanwhile, I’m working on a new YA romantic crime thriller with a new bunch of characters, set in the Mallee area, a rural semi-desert part of my state – I’m deep in the thick of the first draft right now, and I’m loving it! If things go to plan, I’m hoping it’ll be published in Australia late next year.
Where would you like to see yourself in 30 years?
Oh, hopefully covered in grandchildren and still writing! That’s the beauty of writing, you never get too old to do it. As long as my brain keeps working and my fingers keep typing, I reckon I’ll stay at it.
Thanks to Ellie Marney for taking the time to tell us about her wonderful book Every Breath. This book is so well-written, engaging and we rate it 5/5 Sukasa Stars for young readers.
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