Last week I was special guest at the Bega Evening VIEW Club dinner, a club whose history stems back to 1960 when George Forbes, then General Secretary of The Smith Family, saw the potential for an organisation which allowed women from all walks of life to develop interests outside the home, providing friendship, education and mental stimulation. At the same time he hoped to offer these women the means to assist others less fortunate through The Smith Family.
It was a special evening and a generous audience of women who had all worn red in honour of having their local ambassador for Day for Daniel at their table. It was an absolute privilege for me to share the story of balancing my professional career with my role as wife and mother. Added into the mix is my passion for writing crime mystery novels in my 'spare time' and my volunteer community advocacy to raise awareness for missing people, driven by my personal quest to find my missing cousin Ursula who disappeared in 1987.
What fascinated me most about the VIEW club was its history. I would have liked to meet George Forbes, who spoke up for women at a time when women were discouraged from having a voice in the community. George believed society needed a better balance in decision-making processes at the local, state and national governance levels. He believed that this imbalance could be rectified through the creation of a supportive network of women that worked across these levels.
“People nowadays who insist that ‘A woman’s place is in the home' are living in the dark ages.” VIEW World issue 1, 1971
VIEW was underpinned by the ideal of providing opportunities for women to engage with other women and ideas, to develop not only their social capital but also their knowledge and self-confidence, enabling them to think and act in new ways.
“Since inception, VIEW Clubs have enjoyed a rate of growth unmatched by any similar organisation.” R. Turner, The Smith Family General Secretary, 1977
Reading this makes me appreciate just how fortunate I have been in my professional career, which started in newspapers before I formed my own company 17 years ago, which I still love as much as I did when I first started. I am working in an era where women can and do. Where women can have a family and a career. An era where women support women. An era where women make change.
So what happens when women get into a room together and make plans to help others in their community? What is behind the success of women's groups both past and present? One Australian woman I admire greatly, Ita Buttrose, knows the answer.
“I believe that VIEW’s success is founded in friendship. Australian women coming together and doing what they know best: caring for each other and for society.” Ita Buttrose in her address at the 1999 Melbourne Convention
I agree wholeheartedly. While we live for today and plan for tomorrow, I think we also need to look back at those who helped forge our path. With more than 300 clubs and 17,000 members across Australia, and its heart still very much in the right place, I encourage all women to take on this special VIEW of the world.
When I was in my late twenties a friend and I started a book club in the tiny rural Victoria town of Minyip, home of the television series The Flying Doctors and home of some very special people in my life. Nikki and I wanted to discover books that were not on bestseller lists, to challenge ourselves by reading books we would never consider purchasing in a bookshop, and to find books that didn’t follow a formula. Okay, we also wanted an excuse to get together and drink wine!
I have since moved away and our book club is no longer running, but many of us still keep in touch and remember the wonderful books we read and the robust discussions each book inspired. Although I had always wanted to be an author, I never imagined that one day book clubs just like mine would be reading and discussing my books.
It took a lot of courage for me to firstly write, then release to the world, my debut fiction novel Write About Me - inspired by the mystery surrounding the disappearance of my cousin Ursula in 1987. More than one hundred thousand people have read Write About Me since it’s 2013 release, and it has been the impetus for a fresh investigation into Ursula’s case. I’m so proud of this book, and of what it stands for. It has changed my life and the life of so many others.
On my never ending list of things to do when I became a published author was to put together a list of reader discussion questions for all my books, of which there are now four with a fifth underway. With the help of my book club friend Nikki, here is a list for Write About Me .
Kicking things off is what Nikki thought of my book.
“Just finished "Write About Me"!! Wow!! You had me from the first page! Couldn't put it down. I was enthralled with the characters and the storyline! Please don't stop writing, I'm now a huge fan as well as a friend!”
WRITE ABOUT ME synopsis
The year is 1988 and 16-year old Annabelle Brown from northern Queensland runs away from her family and friends for the bright lights of somewhere new. She ends up in Kings Cross in Sydney where her life takes some dark twists and turns. Endorsed by the Australian Federal Police, Write About Me is real and raw and will break your heart into a million pieces. Inspired by the author's true family cold case mystery, Write About Me is a heart-wrenching story about a teenage runaway who doesn’t come home. Not crime, not fiction, but that dangerous place in between.
More Specific Questions for BookClubs
Q & A WITH THE AUTHOR
Q: Is the book fact or fiction?
is a great question and I get asked all the time.
"The best lie is the one that has an element of truth, so it’s good to include something real in your fiction." Renee Conoutly , Australian writer
I describe Write About Me as 'not crime not fiction but that dangerous place inbetween'.
Athough inspired by my first cousin Ursula Barwick
who disappeared after she boarded a train bound for Sydney in 1987, it is a fictional novel about a teenage runaway called Annabelle. What happens
to Annabelle is pure fiction, not fact about Ursula. The readers of Write About
Me know what happens to Annabelle and see her journey through her eyes. But
sadly, none of us know what happened to Ursula after she reached Sydney.
When I published Write About Me I decided to share the story behind the story because I wanted people to know Ursula wasn’t just a two-dimensional face on a Missing Persons poster. But most of all I wanted the world to know what it’s like when families and friends, investigators, school teachers and friends of friends have to go on with their lives while their missing person remains missing. I was also hoping that somebody, somewhere might come forward and help our family find some sort of end point in regards to her disappearance.
The book resulted in NSW Police taking a fresh look at Ursula’s case, and although we haven’t found clear answers yet, it has given fresh hope to us and to other people in the same situation as ours. So the answer to the question is yes, Write About Me is fiction even though the characters and meaning behind every single word come from a very real place.
Q: One of your characters is a young
policewoman named Rhiannon McVee. Who is Rhiannon McVee?
A: A twenty-something girl from the Australian outback with her eyes set firmly on being a detective. Her career starts in the late 80s at Kings Cross Police Station, amongst a dominant male police force who see so many people go missing that one missing person just blends in with the next. But Rhiannon's no pushover, and doesn't take no for an answer when she's on a case. Off the job Rhiannon is like any normal girl in her twenties, she loves to party, she loves her family and she loves her cowboy who waits patiently for her to return to her outback home. Rhiannon McVee is also the detective I have created as my own fairy godmother, who I wish was in our lives in 1987. It's people like Detective Rhiannon McVee who make our lives better and help us find our missing loved ones. And when we do, she's there to help us pick up the pieces.
Q: How difficult is it to fictionalise what you have experienced in real life?
A: Fictionalising a real life experience the way I have, gives me some distance and allows me to explore the experiences of others. All my characters have something important to say about missing persons. For example, one of my favourite characters is Rhiannon McVee. I’m so captivated by her I’ve created a detective crime mystery series in her honour. Through her experiences and those of the people she’s looking for, I’m able to convey the issues and feelings that surround missing people. Rather than get dragged down by my own experiences missing Ursula, writing fiction helps me channel my energy into a reinvigorated search for answers. Through my books I am giving a voice to Ursula, and to all of those who are missing.
Q: Your books are drawn to two distinct places - Kings Cross and the Australian outback. Can you explain the significance of location for a writer?
A: Location is extremely important when you are piecing your story together. While I write I see the scenes play out in my mind like a movie, and location plays such an important part. Both Kings Cross and the Australian outback have a real sense of mystery about them. They're intriguing and although vastly different, evoke similar feelings for the reader. The outback is such an isolated and lonely place, and with that comes a sense of foreboding and danger. Kings Cross is so small size-wise compared to the outback and it's busy and hectic and noisy, but has the same sense of foreboding and danger. I love moving from one space to the next in my books, as both provide dramatic backgrounds for my characters.
It's book launch time! I can't describe the feeling when I pulled up in my driveway and a truck was parked at my garage unloading boxes of my fourth crime fiction novel – You’ll Never Find Me .
You’ll Never Find Me is the next instalment of the Detective Rhiannon McVee crime mystery series . It picks up from the previous book, When You Find Me , where young policewoman Rhiannon McVee left the bright lights of Kings Cross to be closer to the cowboy of her dreams, Mac, and the vast outback that is her home.
While she searches desperately for all those who are lost, her missing persons’ cases keep drawing her back to the city streets. This creates complications for her relationship with Mac but she remains determined to never give up hope, particularly on her long term missing cases.
At the heart of all my books is a desire to help the broader community understand what it’s like when someone you love goes missing. I’m contributing something really important to the families and friends of the missing, highlighting an issue which affects a large number of people in our community.
That's because my books are inspired by my real life experience, the 29 year old mystery
surrounding the disappearance of my first cousin Ursula Barwick.
In Australia, an average of 100 people a day, or one person every 15 minutes, are reported missing. Thank fully many of these people are found, but around 1600 people are classified as long-term missing.
a character that sprung from my debut bestseller Write About Me.
The novel that first details the story of Ursula, published in 2013.
Rhiannon is a character I have developed through all of the books that have followed, and through her experiences and those of the people she’s looking for, I’m able to convey the issues and feelings that surround missing people. Fictionalising a real life experience the way I have, gives me some distance and allows me to explore the experiences of others.
books Write About Me
, Find Me
and When You Find Me
have reached international bestseller status and most importantly, have
resulted in a new and ongoing investigation into Ursula’s disappearance.
There is such a contrasting range of emotions when someone goes missing and one person’s disappearance affects so many. Statistics say that for every missing person, 12 others are affected, but in many situations including mine, it’s much higher than that.Ursula's family, extended family and school friends all carry a piece of unresolved guilt and loss about her disappearance. I am one of those. I could’ve, would’ve & should’ve done so much more for Ursula all those years ago.
But rather than get dragged down
by guilt, I am channelling my energy into a reinvigorated search for answers. Through my books I am giving a voice to Ursula, and to all of those who are missing.