Interview: Chris Stuart talks about For Reasons of Their Own
Can the past ever be left behind? Ask a flawed detective, a former refugee and a government desperate to misuse a dead body to reshape Australia’s security policy.
Chris Stuart talks with NZ Booklovers about her debut novel, For Reasons of Their Own.
Tell us a little about For Reasons of Their Own.
This is a crime novel in which the discovery of a dead body in a rural swamp in drought stricken Australia sends DI Robbie Gray into the humanitarian world and forces her to ask the question of whether the past can ever really be left behind. It also and challenges our notion of what it means to be safe. It is also the story of a government manipulating evidence for their own purposes, and relates the effects of overt racism on minorities and highlights the consequences in life when critical decisions are made under duress. The main character, Detective Robbie Gray, a kiwi but residing in Melbourne and herself the subject of a recent internal investigation wants the truth but when she ultimately finds it, feels broken and wonders, if there are certain situation where murder may well be justified.
What inspired you to write this book?
I am a former humanitarian worker and have always wanted to tell the story of some of my experiences when working in the Middle East, but in particular I was interested in telling the story of what it is like to be home.
What research was involved?
There was a lot of research involved, particularly in areas where I had no expertise, such as the composition of suicide bombers vests, how deep a knife needs to be to kill and some of the background to the Muslim immigration and of course police procedures. At one stage I expected that the CIA or someone from Foreign affairs would contact me, because of the content I was exploring on the internet.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
I usually wrote every day for about 4 – 8 hours, and I tried to have a break in the middle and get some exercise and take my dogs for a walk. Most days I would start at 0800 and before I knew it, it would be two in the afternoon, time just flew. I always wrote better when the weather was cold and miserable outside, which unfortunately, was not often in Nelson. After trying various methods, I eventually found that writing in scenes worked best for me. It meant that when I went to bed at night, I would always be looking forward to the next morning to discover what was going to happen. Sometimes, I just didn’t know. By the way, the process also included a roller coaster of and downs, lashings of self –doubt, blockages and disappointments combined with exhilaration, pride and excitement. The process was very challenging, but it taught me resilience and belief in myself.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
There are two songs mentioned in the novel. Bozz Scaggs, Harbour Lights and Phoebe Snow, If I can just get through the night.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
For the lead character of DI Robbie Gray I would love to see Claudia Karvan, an Australian actress playing this role. For PC MacMahon I would like an indigenous actor and I would like the different nationalities in the book, to be the same in real life.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?
Not knowing what was going to happen and where the characters were going to take me. I also loved the process of watching that first draft get edited, then watching the novel get stronger, more interesting, and deeper, sharper and better textured and when the underlying themes emerged, that was really exciting. At the very end, I also realised how much I had grown as a writer as well. It was a huge learning curve.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
Nothing really. It’s never really finished as I am now involved with the promotion. I was a bit exhausting and for me, the process ( journey) is sometimes more enjoyable that the outcome. ( destination) I think I will feel like I have finished, when I see it sitting in a bookshop and watching someone pick it up.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
I have been reading some of Colin Dexter’s early books. He is the original author of the Morse series and my central character Robbie Gray, is a salute to his Sergeant Robbie Lewis. What I particularly like about his novels, is that his detective Morse understands completely the context in which the murders take place, (which is Oxford) and this is a very strong mantra of Robbie Gray as well and it was mine when I went into the field. Dexter was also an Oxford graduate and wrote what he knew. I was immersed in the humanitarian world for a long time and can write with ease about events that I was involved in.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I deliberately left a couple of loose ends in this novel for a sequel and I plan to make this novel the first of a three part series.