If you attended high school in Australia at some point in the last 20 years, you’ve probably read at least one book by Melina Marchetta. But this Aussie author’s stories aren’t just for teenagers; these narratives truly stand the test of time.
Since releasing her first novel, Looking for Alibrandi, in 1992, Melina Marchetta has gone on to write several books (including Saving Francesca and On the Jellicoe Road) and a screenplay. Off the back of her new novel, Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil, we sat down with Melina to chat about all things book-related (and some non-book related!).
Your new novel, Tell The Truth, Shame the Devil, is a suspenseful drama. How did you find your first foray into crime and adult fiction?
I’ve written mystery before with my third novel, and The Piper’s Son had adult characters, so it wasn’t a massive jump, really. I think the genre makes it stand out more, and also the fact that it’s set in England and France. Every book (without sounding like a cliché) does feel pretty special because I’m just shocked that I’ve managed to write another one! I never take it for granted. It’s been a lovely experience; I’ve had such a great response to it.
How do you go about writing a book? Do you have any rituals or places you look for inspiration?
I always begin with a character. Obviously a character comes with a bit of a story, so you just kind of go with it. I’ve always had a bit of a – terrible to say, but – fascination or an interest in false imprisonment stories. That was at the back of my head when I was writing this. More than anything I felt that the characters all had their own mysteries. It wasn’t just about revealing the crime; it was more about revealing aspects of their life that I think tend to surprise readers.
You said you start with a character. Which character sparked this story?
That’s probably what makes [this book] different to my other stories. I’ve always had a younger character come along, and adults play an important role in their journey, whereas in this case, the character Bish Ortley is in his late 40s, and the younger people in the story shape his journey.
I didn’t feel as if he came to me in mystery – I felt as if I knew him quite well. It was just something about him; he had a story to tell. He’s a very fractured person, which always makes a good story. It was just interesting for me to even reveal what his story was.
Did you draw on aspects of real people for his character?
Not really. I mean, obviously there are always parts of me that go into the characters, and that’s not to say ever that they ARE me, but there are concerns that they might have that might ring true with myself.
For example, Bish Ortley is a chief inspector for the London Metropolitan Police on suspension. I wanted to differentiate between a chief inspector and a detective. If he was a detective, it would have meant that he was more hardened and had seen things out on the street that I felt that I would have to kind of go into a different direction to really understand him.
So I felt that with the chief inspector, he works in the police station, he takes care of the uniforms, he’s the liaison guy between the police and the community. I just didn’t feel as if there was anything different about that than, say, when I was working as a teacher, as a year coordinator, dealing with parents, kids, teachers, communicating – being empathetic. I didn’t think it was a big stretch away from stuff that I know myself.
Bish Ortley’s character didn’t require much researching, but how much research went into the story as a whole?
There was so much research for this novel! I concentrated on researching everything else that has to do with the plot, the setting, and that I didn’t have to really go into the worksite to be a detective in London.
How long has this novel been in the works for?
I started writing it in 2013. It’s probably been the longest [process], apart from my first novel. That has a lot to do with raising a child; it kind of gets in the way sometimes of your work.
That brings me to my next question – I understand you are in the process of adopting your daughter, Bianca. How has she changed your life?
The adoption hasn’t gone through yet, so she’s still a foster child and we’re in the middle of adoption. It takes a long time. It’s amazing. We’ve just returned from our first overseas trip together; she was just a brilliant traveller.
I don’t think it’s changed who I am. Sometimes people say, “I didn’t know what it felt to love before I had a child” but I say that my daughter and I were just meant to be. We just had that gift – we connected from the very beginning.
When a two-year-old comes into your life, you hit the ground running and get to know her. I just feel as if we had this amazing connection. Three years on, we’re inseparable. She’s got a big personality and I’ve got a big personality, so it’s lovely. I think it’s the greatest gift I’ve been given.
Will you be writing over the holidays?
I’m working on the film script of Saving Francesca – we’re up to the second draft so that will be the focus of the holiday break. It’s such a lovely world to be in. It’s a joy to be writing it but film is so much harder for me than writing a novel. Everything from the cast to the direction has to change your work in some way.
But I had a great experience with Alibrandi and I’m having a great experience with Francesca. They both have the opportunity to be as powerful as each other. Francesca deals heavily with gender and depression. It’s small but it’s meaty and has quite powerful themes and I have to make sure to do justice to them.
Who are you working with for the movie?
Werner Productions – Joanna Werner. Her biggest work has been Dance Academy and Secret City, which was on Foxtel this year. She’s an amazing, dynamic producer and I love working with her and Lou Smith.
TAKING FIVE WITH MELINA MARCHETTA:
Favourite book? Anne of Green Gables
Most recent book you have read? Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple.
How do you unwind? With a glass of wine, either watching TV, reading or chatting to a friend on the phone.
If you weren’t a writer, you would be… a musician – I’d love to be able to just pick up a guitar and start singing.
Your favourite place to write? In my sunroom or in bed.
Ultimate weekend away? Anywhere with a brilliant night sky.
A great lunch is… a bowl of pasta.
Best advice you’ve ever received? Less is more.