The Kill Your Darlings Podcast is back for 2019 and so are our First Book Club events. We know you can’t always get to our events in person, but if you’ve read our February book club pick, or you’re planning to, you’ll enjoy First Book Club Coordinator Ellen Cregan’s chat with J.P. Pomare.
His debut title, Call Me Evie (Hachette), is a taut psychological suspense novel centred on a teenage girl held captive in a remote town in New Zealand. Meanwhile, now’s a great time to pick up a copy of our March book, Sam George-Allen’s Witches: What Women Do Together, ahead of our March event at Bargoonga Nganjin, North Fitzroy Library on 27 March.
Our new theme song is Broke for Free’s ‘Something Elated’.
Read Ellen Cregan’s review of Call Me Evie in our February Books Roundup.
Read J.P. Pomare’s reflection on the nuances and difficulties of writing the town of Maketu.
Let us know what you think by rating and reviewing in your app of choice!
Meaghan Dew: Welcome back to the Kill Your Darlings podcast. I’m Meaghan Dew and today I’ll be bringing you our first First Book Club recording of 2019. Our February First Book Club title was J.P. Pomare’s Call Me Evie, a literary suspense title published by Hachette in February 2019. The thriller focuses on Evie, a teenage girl held captive in a remote town in New Zealand. Our First Book Club co-ordinator, Ellen Cregan, asked J.P. a few questions. This recording has been edited for clarity.
Ellen Cregan: My name’s Ellen and I’m the First Book Club co-ordinator at Kill Your Darlings, and we’re lucky enough to be here tonight with J. P. Pomare, author of the book Call Me Evie, which we’re going to be discussing. We’re gonna chat for about thirty minutes or so, and then there’ll be lots of time for questions, so we will give you all a heads up just before that time comes so you can prepare them and have them ready, and be poised – especially difficult ones, we want those. Um, and I think we’re going to begin with a reading for those of you that haven’t yet had the chance to read the book.
J.P. Pomare: So…
It takes forty minutes to drive back to civilisation. I watch out the window, counting intersections, memorising the route to the highway. Left, right, straight through, right. I repeat it in my mind like a mantra. Left, right, straight, right. Focus on landmarks: tall trees, a rusted-out shed.
Are you okay? he asks. ‘Is it alright in the car?’
My breathing is loud. ‘It’s okay.’
Eventually we pass a McDonald’s and a BP, and I almost feel normal. A sign declares that a small square building, a place that looks just like a house, is the Te Puke police station. I stare as we pass by.
Pulling into the doctor’s surgery, I see it also appears to have been a house once. A sign is stabbed into the lawn displaying the doctors’ names with all their suffixes and above them all: AROHA MEDICAL CENTRE.
Inside it looks like any clinic, with posters for flu shots, a crate of children’s toys in one corner, and magazines so dog-eared they no longer stay closed but splay out over the low coffee table.
A nurse with hair she gave up on years ago and clacking plastic bangles leans over the desk.
‘Yep,’ Jim says, squeezing out a smile. He thumbs his glasses back up his nose.
She hands me a clipboard. I look him in the eye pointedly as I let the pen hover over the name section. He takes the clipboard and pen from me. I watch him fill in the boxes with his leaning scrawl. ‘Evie Turner under name, then our new address. He checks his mobile for his new number, before scribbling it down. He takes the clipboard up to the receptionist, then returns and folds one leg over the other, looking down at his phone. The benches and seats are full. There is a child with a cast on his arm sitting beside his mother, who has sunken cheeks and the last millimetre of her thumbnail between her front teeth. An elderly man sits beside her, clearing his throat periodically. He hawks up a wad of phlegm, deposits it into his hanky.
We sit there as the afternoon stretches out. The mother and son disappear up the corridor with the doctor. Eventually the nurse calls another patient. She calls the name again. She comes over, places her hand on my wrist. ‘Evie?’
‘Sorry,’ Jim says, ‘I was daydreaming. Come on, Evie, doctor’s ready.’
Why has he brought me here? It’s as if I’m peering at their faces from the bottom of a well. I can hear them, feel their hands on my arms, under my shoulders. They lift me to my feet but at first I can barely move. I’m as still and rigid as a china doll.
‘Are you okay, dear? Do you need a drink of water?’
‘She’s fine,’ I hear him say. ‘She’s a little tired is all.’
White walls, anatomical posters, a blood pressure machine. ‘Dr Simon,’ says a tall man in an off-white doctor’s coat, taking my hand in his. I’m surprised by its softness, the way his fingers curl around mine. I sit on the bed and stare at a pink mouth and throat cut lengthwise, pinned up on the wall. The tongue looks so thick I wonder why we don’t all choke on them.
‘She’s been quite unwell for the past couple of weeks or so; she’s had some issues with eating and sleeping.’ Jim runs through my history, though of course he leaves out the most important, incriminating parts. There was an incident, she’s had a bit of a tough time and you’ve been feeling a little blue, haven’t you, Evie?’ Jim says.
There was an incident. Dr Simon nods gravely. He scrawls notes, asks questions, pokes something cold into my ear. They speak in euphemisms. Incident, unwell, trauma, stress, history. Jim says just enough to get through the appointment. Eventually the doctor leads us to another room, where a nurse slides a needle into the hinge of my arm and draws out blood.
‘Not so bad, huh?’ Jim says afterwards as we cross the car park. ‘It was okay.’
‘Soon you’ll be better than okay. Trust me, and it will all end up fine.’
The next morning the air is cold and gritty with salt. We descend towards the private beach at the foot of the headland.
As we walk on the pale sand, we collect driftwood for the fire. I carry a few pieces in my arms back up the track that splits farmland. Wind-polished bones, boars’ tusks, shinbones, antlers sit on top of the dog cages. An old woman with eyes as dull as oysters watches us from the yawning doorway of an iron shed. Jim turns to look; even he can’t ignore her stare.
When my breathing gets too heavy, we slow down a little. ‘I’ve got a couple of questions,’ he says.
‘They might help you to remember and understand, eventually, you know?’
‘If it gets hard to answer, let me know.’
‘We can walk and talk.’
We start walking back down towards the house.
‘What do you remember about that night?’ he asks.
‘Well, I remember in the morning… I remember waiting at the table.’
‘No, not the morning. The night before.’
‘Do you remember drinking?’
I recall the scorch in my throat. Tipping the bottle back. ‘Yes.’
‘Anything else? ‘I remember being on the couch.’
‘What about seeing him? Seeing him lying facedown?’
I can see him, see the blood spreading. I squeeze my eyes closed. ‘Stop,’ I say. ‘Stop it!’
‘Okay.’ He pauses. ‘It’s not looking good for him, you know.’
My chest feels weak. ‘What do you mean?’
He sighs. ‘It means I don’t like his chances.’
His chances… his chances of what? I try to block it out again.
‘How do you feel when you try to remember?’
‘So you do remember?’
I don’t answer. It’s not that I want to keep it from him; I just don’t know what to say. It’s as though the kinetic energy is working to dislodge something in my mind, but how can I possibly distinguish between what is a memory, what is a dream and what I have invented from everything he has planted in my head with his stories?
We’re approaching the fence at the road’s edge; sheep watch us from a distant corner of the paddock. He climbs over and holds his hands out to help me. The questions keep coming.
‘Do you have bad images, like memories that come when you’re not expecting them?’
‘Let’s talk about that,’ he says. ‘What images come to you?’
Tears start, silently running down my cheeks. I try to think about Melbourne. When I speak, I gasp. ‘I don’t know.’
‘It’s okay,’ he says. ‘Do you remember who else was there?’
‘I’m not there, in your memories?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t know. Please can we stop?’
‘Just a few more questions, alright? Have you thought about how you were feeling? What you went through?’
‘No.’ We pass the bus shelter; staring white eyes float in the spill of darkness, becoming wide and fierce when they meet mine.
‘Regardless of what memories come back to you from that night, I want you to know that you weren’t yourself, okay?’
But it can’t be true. I can’t have done anything… I just know that it wasn’t me. When he tells me big lies, how can I accept the small things as truth?
EC: So creepy, thank you. So, for those of us who haven’t read the book yet, can you give it a real elevator pitch?
JPP: Yeah, um, I can, I can try. So, I guess it’s, I’ll start by saying psychological suspense novel, it’s set between Melbourne and Maketu, a small beach town in New Zealand. Um, it’s about Kate, who has sort of emerged from a stupor in a place she’s never been with a man she’s not entirely sure if she can trust, and she’s sort of called upon to um, recollect things that she’s… memories she’s not entirely sure she has a handle on. And um, so the sort of truth, as far as she’s concerned, kind of lies in the past and she sort of has to access her memory and try to recall what happened before she arrived. Um, yeah.
EC: That’s excellent. So, if anyone hasn’t read it yet, we’re not going to be revealing any spoilers, so don’t worry.
JPP: Not deliberately.
EC: Not deliberately, no. Um, so, and also congratulations on a very good book, very pacey, I really enjoyed reading it. Um, first question’s pretty general, how did you actually come to write this book? Had it been something that had been in your head for a really long time, or did it sort of come to you more quickly?
JPP: Yeah, um, it had been, I guess the setting had been with me for a while. So, um, Maketu is a place I know very well, I frequently visited as a teenager. And I didn’t realise it back then, but I think it was always something that, regardless of what I wrote, it would feature. I always, you know, when I did start to write more and concentrate on um, potentially looking at writing a novel, it was always going to be the setting, regardless of what I wrote. Um, so for me certainly with Evie, but even the project I’m currently working on, so the next book, setting always comes first, so I decided on the setting and I had this great character Kate slash Evie, who was something of a… I lost the manuscript and she sort of was the one thing that survived, if that makes sense. And although she changed, I had a really sort of clear picture in my head of this character and I really understood her and, and I was quite sort of obsessed with, in terms of writing. I wanted to write this character so I took Evie who’s this really sort of insular you know Melbourne schoolgirl like a private school girl coming from upper-middle class background and I deposited her in a place where there’s a really strong gang presence, there’s a lot of domestic violence, it’s a really insular community, and reasonably remote part of New Zealand and from there I thought how does she get here? how does she arrive? who’s she with? what does she do when she arrives? and what’s her, sort of, reaction to the place? So that was essentially the seed of the story and then from there I just kind of let it happen naturally, yeah.
EC: That’s really interesting, because you don’t often hear that place and a specific character are the two things that draw a novel into being. Normally there is… it’s more like a plot that is the inspiration. And that’s really yeah… because the sense of place comes through super strongly in the book like it’s really integral to how she is built as a character as well, that comes through very well.
JPP: Yeah, you know I definitely wanted, I mean a setting, like I said, came first. So I could I feel like I could have put anyone there, it probably would have been a completely different story but it was always gonna be Maketu, that was the first thing.
EC: Were there any books or authors that you took inspiration from while you were writing this book, either from this sort of psychological suspense side of things, or the more literary, or even the more crime thriller kind of edge?
JPP: Yeah, um, I mean I didn’t really start reading as much crime until someone told me this was a crime book, which is really funny. Or I didn’t realise I was, what I was reading was crime. So books like Gone Girl, in a really broad sense is crime, although it doesn’t necessarily subscribe to many of the tropes of crime or the set up or anything like that, but it is it is still, I guess, considered a crime novel. so I, I mean books that spring to mind instantly are um, All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, which won the Miles Franklin but is a really super gripping and pacey read, and…
EC: Super landscape focused as well.
JPP: Yeah, yeah the setting yeah, and the landscape’s really important in that book. And something, you know, so it’s no coincidence it’s called Call Me Evie, like that’s where I got the name, but there’s other parallels you know like it’s a, it’s a young woman running away from something that was a sort of teenage mistake and um, and just the sort of kind of mingling of before and after, and cause and effect, so I took so much away from that book in terms of structure and what makes for a compelling sort of narrative. So that, yeah that springs to mind. Gillian, Gillian Flynn of course, I think it, you can’t be operating in the space without um, taking some influence away from Gone Girl, Sharp Objects, Dark Places, so other, when we talk about influence in terms of style or writing or development, people like Helen Garner spring to mind, which I think’s probably seems quite strange because this is definitely more of a commercial sort of you know endeavor than, than what you would sort of, you know, tie to Helen Garner but, I think she’s just a real stylist, I think she’s got real control of language, and in terms of her writing in a sentence level that’s what was, I found so fascinating about her work so um… Cormac MacCarthy, I think is really important for me, just because he really sparks my interest in literature and, for years I kind of had wrote like him, which is like you know, you can’t write like him, but you can try.
EC: Only he can get away with it really.
JPP: Yeah so I guess those, those are the names that spring to mind when I think of what, you know, what shaped me as a writer and informed this project.
EC: So these are all quite literary projects and you just then, said your book you feels more commercial, so what I’m interested in is – do you think that it changed a lot on its journey to publication and to sort of coming out as this fully formed beautiful creature behind us?
JPP: Yeah, I mean, when I, when I engage in the arts in, in any form I tend to want, I want to be engaged as much as, as I want to be entertained or enlightened, I just want to be engaged. And, I think it’s, I think if you’re a literary author you can achieve that, but you have to be brilliant and I and, and I kind of accepted that that’s not the right, I, I couldn’t write that. What entertained me or, or engaged me when I was writing was plot and so I and so early drafts of Evie was this big bloated literary work where lots happened and that doesn’t tend to happen as much in literary fiction, that’s more the interiority and it’s the sort of interior world of the characters, and so for me, so much happened but I was trying to make it, I was thought it was literary novel and, and as soon as I realised it wasn’t and accepted that that’s when things started to move for me. So I think it was just, I had this, you know, we if you look at Cormac McCarthy for instance, so much happens in his novels and he can get away with it because his writing’s so beautiful, and he’s got such control and, and his characters… like he just has that balance. Whereas, I think if you’re writing and as much that happens in Evie happens in a literary novel, it’s gonna be like 900 pages, and it’s gonna be tedious for the reader unless you strike that balance perfect – no I don’t think I could. So for me it was much the editing process and the journey was refining and cutting away all those, sort of all those things that were completely unnecessary.
EC: Because you, to bring it back to All the Birds, Singing that is a book that is a very still book, like things don’t necessarily move so much, and Call Me Evie’s a little bit like that too in the sense that you do have movement but it’s sort of across time you don’t really see the movement between Melbourne and New Zealand, it’s kind of happened already.
JPP: Yeah, like things happen and then you catch up to the carrot yes, and you know All the Birds, Singing is again one of those rare books that is it’s just the perfect balance for me. Um, it’s very short, that’s what’s surprising for, for how much happens, but you know so much about the characters. And again it’s just one of those things, when I’m reading, when I read that book, part of me was like I wish I could write this, but part of me was also like I can never write… like it’s not me. I couldn’t write like this. So, so yeah it was I guess it’s there was a period of acceptance that and this is the form I was most comfortable and this this kind of hybrid, hybridized sort of genre that’s… I guess in the States that they call like upmarket suspense or crime. Like, I think my publishers gone with like a literary thriller, but for me it’s, you know, it’s… I needed enough room to kind of explore certain ideas, but I also want it to have be pacey and gripping, and so yeah.
EC: I don’t think I’d ever call it a crime novel if I was recommending it to someone, cause crime makes me think of like hard-boiled detectives and like dark alleys and guns, but whereas this is really, it’s really about the psychological like fear and, and control, like the passage you just read the control is the most scary thing in it, I think.
JPP: Yeah, I mean it used to be called In My Skull, which was like a, almost like a horror title.
JPP: But it’s like a horror and like again you’ll find usually I’ve done the crime, or like you know, it’s sort of crimey. So and, and thrillers are still, for some reason, you know, it’s like that genre that’s – crime is so broad and it tends to cover these things. Um, I think for me, like, I like the idea of psychological suspense, I don’t even think it’s a psychological thriller, I think it’s more… what are the atmosphere I was going for was suspense, more than a thriller. And I… it’s pure like psychological as far as I’m concerned.
EC: Yeah, there’s not a lot of blood spilled.
JPP: Yeah, well there’s a little bit, but not a lot.
EC: Just a little bit, yeah. So the book delves into quite a few ideas about memory and trauma, and how trauma can disrupt memory and a sense of self – which again in the passage you read we got a little taste of – did you do a lot of research into this aspect of the novel?
JPP: Yeah I did, I mean research didn’t happen in the way that: I want to write this novel; I’m gonna go and learn about it. And it wasn’t even that reactive research that writers conduct which is: I’ve written this I need to make sure it all works. For me, you know, I was really interested in psychology, I was fascinated in the way that memories change. As a youngest child you get, sort of, you get this anecdotal kind of, you know, you get an intuitive sense that the way that you remember things is different to your siblings, and so you kind of know memories change. But for me it was reading and, and sort of researching, psychological texts, as sort of hobby more than research for this, and that was years before I started this. So I sort of wanted to understand memory in a way, purely to satisfy my own interests, and then I felt I could write about it with just a small, that amateurs acquaintance with psychology, I could write about it with that level of authority knowing that I didn’t need to info-dump, I didn’t need to sort of try to show off how much I knew about it, I just need to make sure that it sort of worked. So there wasn’t much in the way of research directly for this book, but it is something that I was so interested in that it’s sort of naturally emerge from the text because I wanted to write about it.
EC: Because that can be quite distracting sometimes when you’re reading a book and, it’s sort of like, you can see the author opening their file, and sort of like, plucking a fact out ‘oh yeah I’m just gonna pop that in…‘, and it sort of it does disrupt that reading process, for me anyway.
JPP: And the temptations always there when you’ve got like, something you find really interesting, when you’ve researched, to plug it in somehow. And, and it doesn’t… it’s not important to the story, so just sort of distracts.
EC: It’s hard to make it seamless, I think. Um, so we don’t want any spoilers again, again I’ll bring it back up, but can you describe what it was like to write a character whose psyche is so shaped and scarred by a large trauma like Evie’s is, Kate’s is.
JPP: What it’s like to write it? I mean it certainly presents challenges… is this… I think it for me, you know, and I’m sure this has been experienced some readers – but I didn’t want it to be frustrating I didn’t want it to be like, well, ‘what’s going on?’ I read a book Fever Dream by, I think, her name’s Samantha Schweblin, amazing book, amazing book, but you’re so… like there’s a sense of dislocation, the entire book is short enough that it gets away with it, but if anything I was frustrated that I didn’t understand what was happening, and so I wanted, I wanted the suspense factor of ‘is it this?’ or ‘is it that?’ when certain things happened, but I also fully appreciated that a fairy damaged character can be quite challenging for readers to get a grasp on. So there were certain things that I had to make sure were very clear and sort of set boundaries and rules in terms of… just so there was something for the reader to grab onto – but it was a real challenge, it’s something that I, you know I sort of… as I was writing I was thinking about a lot as well, like how is she going to be interpreted? what sort of level of access do I have? and yeah, it was a real challenge.
EC: So she’s quite an unreliable narrator, I would say, when, when I read the book that was my first thought, and do you think that’s something that helps you keep that suspense so taut throughout what is quite, you know, a relatively long book?
JPP: Yeah, and there’s no secrets – I mean that’s at the very beginning of the book you probably work out she’s unreliable.
JPP: So, I mean, quite often it’s a twist like ‘ah she was lying all along or something’, you know.
EC: But she doesn’t even know herself.
JPP: Yeah, yes. So for me it was, for me the, the unreliable… I mean I always say like most writers aren’t entirely reliable anyway, so there’s always, you know their, their worldview sort of informs what they noticed. Like I think of a book, by Joshua Ferris, it was shortlisted for the Booker… To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. He’s a dentist so just he’s obsessed with certain things, you wouldn’t notice any misses and things you probably would, and I would consider him mildly unreliable. Whereas what I’ve done with Kate is I’ve made someone unreliable but they’re aware that they are unreliable, they’re aware that their memories aren’t a thing, which I thought it would make for a pretty… I mean it was it so interesting to write I just assumed and hoped it would be interesting to read.
EC: I thought it really helped drive that, that sense of suspense the whole way through and it was like you didn’t make it annoying, because I have read books before that uh that it keeps you so out of the loop that you’re like ‘just give me something, please’. It definitely wasn’t like that, but her sort of sitting there because she, she doesn’t know what she’s done or what this incident is, or she can’t quite put it together, and I thought that really aided that.
JPP: Yeah, and suspense with, I mean is there’s really like tangible sense of danger at times, but you’re, I think you’re right that the suspense for me came from the fact she was unreliable and couldn’t trust anything or trust anyone. And like, this… so much happens in the book and as a writer I know it’s completely innocuous, and like she’s in no danger whatsoever, but she perceives certain things as quite threatening which I think like most people do, you know? There’s certain situations or environments where you do feel really disconcerted or afraid and they are really innocuous sort of things. So that’s, I think, that’s something I also wanted, I used to kind of ratchet up their tension is that she’s just not… she just interprets things in a certain way and, it’s just, can’t trust anyone. So that’s sort of, you know, creates that tension.
EC: She’s on edge and it kind of makes you, the reader, on edge as well. I, that was my experience of it anyway, it was that I was like ‘oh my god, like is it nothing? Is this somewhat, like, does she need to be running? You know, like what’s going on?
JPP: You know, that’s right, I wanted it to be you inhabit the character so much that you’re just experiencing with her and that’s her kind of confusion, or whatever. But the last thing I wanted was like the horror movie trope, where like the audience can see like a killer coming.
EC: Yeah, behind her.
JPP: You know, I don’t want, I don’t want it to be the really insightful clever reader watching this helpless girl, I wanted the readers to be in her head and to be like what the hell is going on? Like who can I trust? So yeah, it’s important for me that it wasn’t one of those things where from the outside you can watch and you can sort of see what’s happening, I wanted you to be in her head and I wanted you to feel as confused as she did.
EC: Yeah. Um, so if you didn’t already have your hands full with an unreliable narrator like that, you then also have this split timeline which I brought up before, so we see her life before and after the incident that she can’t remember. And um, in the beginning she’s in Melbourne, she’s a upper middle-class schoolgirl, and afterward she’s in New Zealand, small town, very, very different to where she’s come from. Did it ever become hard keeping track of these two narratives and kind of placing them next to each other like that?
JPP: Yeah, but you know before I started, before I started writing this I I’d read books like All the Birds Singing and I read books with a sort of split narrative that runs between a before and after and so on and so forth. And I, I often wondered did they write those separately and then splice them or did they write them all together? And I think I answered the question when I started writing. I just wrote what was interesting me at the time, and in terms of pacing I, when the past or before narrative was getting boring, I would switch and, and you have that sort of accent, you know you can do that when you are writing whatever you want instead of writing this whole narrative.
EC: Yeah, and sort of not having the post-its up on the wall.
JPP: Yeah, and trying to figure it out. So for me it was, particularly the first few drafts, it was a case of writing in a certain way that just purely just interested and entertained me, and I think that’s how you, certainly in this genre, I think that’s how you should write, particularly early on. And then you can start being clever and start to find ways you can put twists and or, you know. So um, yeah, it was structurally you know that was… so I had, like we talked about setting and character, structure was the other thing that really drove the narrative for me. I wanted the structure, I wanted to be a little bit experimental about it and I wanted, I wanted to be able to… I didn’t want backstory to be her remembering it, because she’s already unreliable. I wanted to go back and look at it, in that, in that sort of first-person sense, yeah.
EC: Yeah, and it’s, I thought that the jumping between the timelines was another factor that helped drive the suspense because I found I would get to the end of a Melbourne chapter and be like ‘no, just a little bit more!’
JPP: Yeah, I mean it’s a bit of a cheat, I think about a lot. Like, you can kind of like, so something’s about to happen and one of the parrot of threads and before after and then you, you jump back and you can talk about boring stuff for a while because everyone’s like ‘I still want to know what happened.’ So I think it’s, I mean it’s intuitively I knew what was happening but in retrospect I’m like it’s, it is a real, you know, it’s a real advantage to that structure that you can leave that action and go back and then sort of explore a bit of backstory in a way and then you can maybe leave on a cliff-hanger there and come back. So there’s yeah, it was quite fun to fly over actually and, and I’m writing my… editing my second book at the moment and I’m finding, it’s I don’t have that advantage, like it’s you have to find other ways to make it kind of cliff-hanger, keep people reading.
EC: Yeah, to keep that suspended. Um, you’ve spoken about landscape being important to the book and to your sort of you knowing that place quite well… Kate’s identity is actually really, I thought was tied quite closely to her sense of place in Melbourne. There is a lot of the Melbourne chapters are about her friendships and her community and her school and things like that… Do you think that if she were left in Melbourne or even closer to Melbourne after this incident, if it were the same situation for that character, would she be have been able to kind of work out what had happened to her and what was going on in her head?
JPP: I think, I mean there’s a couple of things to sort of unpack there… The first thing is, I mean, when you’re for me when I was like, still when I was like 24, I was looking at school friends you know, and I, and I was thinking about home, as in where I grew up, and I was still really tethered to this place. So, so as a 17 year old who hasn’t left her city, let own her country, you, your, your entire sense of identity is tethered to this, not even the city, the suburb often. So when Kate is sort of transposed from inner city Melbourne to Maketu, she is fixating on her life before in this, in the city, and getting back there. Um, and so yeah, when you know, when we talk about, when we talk about if she, what sort of character she would be if she stayed there, will you get so much perspective when you leave, and I think that’s what so much of the motivation for Jim is, is about removing her from this environment. And, and I know I’m sort of getting close to spoilers, so I won’t go too far down.
EC: I didn’t want to talk about Jim at all because I was like ‘it’s too risky’.
JPP: Yeah, I mean what I would say, if she was and, if she stayed in that environment what would she what would she be like? I mean first and foremost she would still have… And Maketu is great cause it’s isolated enough, you can’t go to the library and use the Internet. So for crime writers in the Stone Age – the internet and technology suit, there’s a real…
EC: Yeah, it screws you over doesn’t it?
J. P: So Maketu is great, I, you barely get cell phone reception out there. So yeah, so that’s, so for me if she’s still there and if she’s as neurotic you know and like she’s going on the internet she’s googling herself and she’s trying to figure out what happened, and so the plots resolved like that, and she understands there’s probably gonna be a process to know or whatever, so she’s probably gonna negotiate this information in a way, that’s not you know not going to completely destroy it, but I feel like there’s a whole bunch of stuff she’d find out that would make the story finish in less than 30 pages probably, yeah.
EC: [Pause] Sorry, blank. But I am gonna open up to questions after this question, is what I was thinking about, so if anybody has a burning question have it ready and I’m gonna ask a question about Jim, I know I said I wouldn’t.
EC: But I can’t imagine how tricky it would have been to write a character like Jim because he is pretty, it, I’m not gonna say too much, but he is quite horrible in a lot of ways with the control and with the, and keeping that… because he keeps on the edge of her, sort of mental state, all the time. She’s always worried about what he’s gonna do and what he has done. How was it, sort of, conjuring that up?
JPP: It’s funny, I mean I’ll start by saying I know I’ve got a friend who identifies with the character Jim so you can see how that’s you can see how that’s changed my opinion of him. A friend of mine, Johnny, in New Zealand. So he’s, um, yes so like there there’s certain things about him that are by all means not his behaviour, no way, not as attitudes, but there’s certain things about him that you can admire. But there’s a lot, there’s a lot there that you know was obviously really problematic.
EC: And very unhealthy.
JPP: And very unhealthy. And it’s, so I wanted to write about control, and I wanted to write about that, and the way that, it’s a sort of, I mean, it’s a manifestation of domestic violence, there’s sense of control. And so, and just having to maintain control and I was really, really interested in that. But writing Jim, I mean there’s been a really strong kind of reaction to him that I wasn’t expecting because um, you know, again I can’t talk too much cause you get spoilers.
EC: It’s really tricky to talk about this character.
JPP: But there’s, there’s things about him that are redeeming, there’s absolutely things about him that are redeeming.
EC: There are.
JPP: And he is, he was a fun character to write, it was painful at times, but he was a fun character to write because he’s got a… his motivation for me was really clear and his motivation was the same the entire writing process. Like I like the fact that that character came fully formed to me, I knew his backstory I knew his family, I knew everything about him and so writing him was, was fun because things just sort of happened and then I knew exactly how he would react. Where even with Kate, who I feel like I knew probably better, I still had to think a lot about how she would react. So um, he was, yeah it was… you go to some pretty dark places with him, but I felt like I had a real handle on him as a character and I felt like he was it was quite easy to write, in a sense that I knew always what he was going to do.
EC: And there was quite a great symbiosis between him and, well almost like this wavering energy between him and Kate of, when he was losing control Kate is sort of gaining control and he’s constantly trying to claw it back and then when she sort of gets a bit stronger she’s doing the same, and that was just really satisfying to read because it was this interaction that was… you didn’t, you don’t know what it is at the start but it, it was just so fascinating.
JPP: Yeah, the sort of dynamic there, like it’s, it’s just, I mean it’s so unhealthy, you know like it’s just manipulation, the entire story is about manipulation and who’s manipulating who. And it turns out everyone’s manipulating everyone maybe, I don’t know, that’s a spoiler, I guess. But yeah, there is, I mean as you read I think even as a reader, I wanted part of it to be that, that exact, you know, sense of like who’s, who’s in control who’s, who’s in it? You know? And, and what do they do and how do they sort of do that? Because it’s really clear if you’ve got a an older, strong, very blokey man, and a young woman – it’s very obvious, physically you know, who’s going to be in a position of power there, who’s going to be in a position of control. So for me, it was about sort of trying to subvert that with, with other things and I think Kate is a really clever character and I think, I think although she’s you know she’s got, she’s in a really bad place, I think she has slightly more awareness and she’s slightly cleverer than, then you would probably initially give her credit for.
EC: Thank you very much J.P. For coming in and talking…
JPP: Thank you for having me!
EC: That’s okay, and I’m sure you’ll be happy to sign copies of your book if people purchase them downstairs at the counter. And thank you very much to Hill of Content for having us, it’s always a pleasure.
Meaghan Dew: That was the February First Book Club edition of the Kill Your Darlings podcast. Our next episode you’ll hear a few of us chatting about the Stella shortlist, Mari Kondo-ing our books, and other scintillating topics, before we’re back with our March First Book Club pick, Sam George-Allen’s Witches. But for the moment, please pick up a copy of either of these from your local bookshop, and don’t forget to read commentary, essays, memoir, short fiction and more on the Kill Your Darlings website. See you next time!