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Interview: Suzanne Frankham talks about Shadow Over Edmund Street

Updated: May 15, 2021

With a background in science, Suzanne Frankham's writing was constrained for years by technical jargon so the transition to writing fiction, in particular crime, has been liberating. After winning her first short story award in 2014, she’s gone on to win others in Australia and overseas, but for Suzanne, there’s nothing quite as exciting as sitting hunched over her computer in Bayside, Melbourne, planning a murder or two. All, so far, we believe, confined to fiction.

Shadow Over Edmund Street, set in her hometown of Auckland, a place she still loves, is her debut novel, published by Journeys to Words Publishing. Suzanne talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Shadow Over Edmund Street.

It's a murder mystery/thriller set in Ponsonby, Auckland, BUT it's really a story about the character Edwina. Edwina was born in Ponsonby in 1965 when the suburb was part of the inner city revival. She was a third generation Ponsonby battler and when she was killed, the detectives have to examine the story of the suburb and her life, which are intertwined.

What inspired you to write this book?

My publisher describes me as a storyteller and I'd agree with that. I love to make up stories, and this is one that emerged during the wee small hours when I should have been asleep! (I'm a terrible sleeper.) There are characters who I’ve drawn from snippets of memories I’ve tucked away over the years, always knowing their quirks and idiosyncrasies would make it into a story one day, so now is their time. What research was involved?

Some people who have read the book comment on the amount of research I must have done. There's some science in it; ecological descriptions of the inner city harbour beaches, and a character who works in a university teaching lab. There's also quite a bit about the law and the legal system. Given that I studied as a zoologist, come from a family of lawyers, and flatted in Ponsonby - most of the information was already accessible to me before I fact checked it with the experts. I did quite a bit of research for one of my main characters Mr Chan, you'll meet him early on in the book. Many of my characters have immigrant heritage and once again, this was the world I knew. You could say that I pulled together many of the strands that make up the diversity that is Auckland.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

Bio-rhythmically I do my best work first thing, which is perfect given I don’t sleep well so I’m all for getting up and cracking on. To keep the pace flowing, which was a very important part of making this book successful, I went through a concentrated period of writing first thing in the morning. I’d go outside and sit or lie in the sun, if it was out, and visualised and plotted a scene, then retreated inside and quickly hammered it out on the keyboard. Later that afternoon (when I'm not so alert), I would edit. This meant that the skeleton of the book was laid down within a few months. However adding the texture and addressing the fine detail took years!

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

This is an intriguing question because this book never had music in the words when I was writing. Edwina was born in the 60’s and killed around 2019, but she was not someone whose life had the luxury of music, books or education.

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

While I don't see any particular actors playing the roles, I would love to see who would be cast as Jessica Chan in particular! We don't see much of her in the book, but what we do see is fun. She's a together young woman, the sort I'd have liked to have been but sadly never was! Ditto with the character Juliana. She's an earthy kind of person with bags of personality - the kind of role an actress would leap at. What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

Novel writing is hard! I mainly write short stories and I love to play with them by becoming a character for a short time, but to write a novel takes determination. With this novel I loved being back in Ponsonby (in my mind, since it was written in my study in Melbourne). I loved exploring the influences on Edwina's life: the church, poverty, being a single mother, etc. I like to write with a certain level of humour, which you’ll find in the book, it's not all doom and gloom! And hey, I can't resist a tiny bit of romance. What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

The final edit of this book was done on the 21st December 2020! It had been a gruelling process. I had a houseful of guests for Christmas who had braved the border closures in Australia which were, and still are, very difficult to predict. As a result my daughter was quarantining in the front bedroom for a while! It was a tense time and getting the book away was just something that had to be done! I'm only just now beginning to relax. I'd love a holiday! What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I've just started reading Homo Deus - A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari. Given how much I loved Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind (I gave it to everyone for Christmas the year it came out) this book has been waiting until I had some free time to address it. I’m looking forward to losing myself in it. What’s next on the agenda for you?

I have 15,000 words of the next Alex Cameron novel already laid down, (he’s the detective) and 25,000 words of another novel which is more ambitious. It's part sciency (Alfred Russel Wallace), part history, (two timeframes, 1861 and present day) and has a more romantic component. It's a far larger scale project, so for now I'm going to concentrate on the next Alex Cameron. It will require more research, in that it involves long distance ocean sailing (something I've done a LITTLE bit of). I have also been playing with two short stories I wrote a while ago. I've pulled them apart and hopefully improved them!


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