JOANNA MORRISON says her first novel The Ghost of Gracie Flynn is proof that “writing is actually writing”.
Gracie, the novel’s ghostly narrator, didn’t appear in the first two drafts and only took her central role in the final rewrite before Morrison posted the manuscript off to be judged in the Hungerford Award. It was shortlisted.
“I’m glad she tapped me on the shoulder demanding to drive, because her omniscient voice pulled all the different elements of the story together in a more compelling way,” Morrison said.
“The inspiration was a scene I wrote as part a different novel, in which a woman discovers the lifeless body of man on a boat.
“I shelved that novel for various reasons, but my mind kept returning to that scene.
“Did the woman know the man? What happened to him? Why and how? It took hold of me as an intriguing mystery around which to build a story.”
The Ghost of Gracie Flynn is set in Perth and features journalist Robyn (no doubt influenced by Morrison’s former career as a Chook journo), financier Cohen and bestselling author Sam.
Close university friends, they drift apart after their friend Gracie dies in mysterious circumstances.
They reconnect as adults, but before long, Sam is found dead, all alone on his boat on the river.
Apart from drawing on her experience as a journo, Morrison was also in a band in the noughties and channeled some of that experience into one of the novel’s characters.
“I enjoyed revisiting some muso memories when writing the band scenes, though I must point out that I was never a mesmerising frontwoman the way Skye Culhane is in the novel; she is complete fiction,” Morrison said.
“Similarly, our drummers were exceptional human beings, unlike Jethro in the novel.”
• Published by Fremantle Press
What are the most important elements of good writing?
‘Emotional impact is the holy grail, plus I really appreciate an engaging voice, pared-back clarity, authentic dialogue, savvy use of tenses and gripping narrative tension.’
What advice would you give to a first-time writer?
‘My first tip is, read a lot. It’s motivating and it helps you to soak up the language of imagery and narrative. Secondly, build up your resilience; see rejections as mere setbacks and cherish feedback — that stuff is gold! Thirdly, build a community of fellow writers, be it an in-person writing group or an online network. If you can do those things, you’ll have the tools and friendships to inspire and sustain you.’
What are the major themes of the book and why did you choose them?
‘Love, grief, and seizing happiness where you find it. Because it’s a mystery novel involving a couple of deaths, the love and grief themes emerged organically. Seizing happiness (and supporting others to do the same) is a personal philosophy of mine, so it managed to weave its way in there too.’
What is your schedule like when you’re writing a book?
‘When the stars align, I write during school hours and can get around 2000 to 3000 words down each day. But the schedule is always in flux because my life is a kaleidoscopic juggle of bookshop work, writing, parenting and trying to stay fit, because sitting at a desk all the time is good for no one’s back! Luckily, some important writing work can happen in your head while you’re walking the dog.’
How do you celebrate when you’ve finished?
‘My family and I have celebrated various writing milestones by going out to dinner or having takeaways delivered, but we will step it up and celebrate the release of The Ghost of Gracie Flynn with a hearty launch party.’
What are you working on next?
‘I’m working on my second novel — a nested narrative set in London and Fremantle. It’s a quest novel about motherhood, abandonment and feminism, but it’s also a mystery novel about a decades-old secret crime. There’s a hidden diary and a stolen manuscript woven through it, and there’s a gorgeous old house, high on the ridge near Monument Hill, where all three narratives converge.’
By ARIANA ROSENBERG