Write About Me for Book Clubs

  • By Melissa Pouliot
  • 30 Sep, 2016

Discussion topics plus Q & A with the author

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.

Discussion topics

  • Missing persons - Has the book made the reader more aware of this important subject and created more empathy towards the missing and those missing them?
  • Mental illness - Are we today more knowledgeable and compassionate towards those with mental illness or are we still just as ignorant and is the stigma still there?
  • 80's song references - Does this help to take the reader to the time and place in the book and invoke emotions/nostalgia? Are the lyrics of each song relevant to what is going on in each chapter?
  • Sex workers - Has the book made the reader more sympathetic to how people find themselves in this line of work or do we continue to see these people as bad people, not people who have made bad choices?
  • Sexual abuse of children - How far have we come in exposing and preventing this insidious crime?
  • Drug use - Scarier now or when the book was set in the late 80s? With ice and other designer drugs now in use, are these drugs worse than what was around back then?

More Specific Questions for BookClubs

  1. The simple act of stealing her friend's mail changes the course of Annabelle's life dramatically, was this the beginning of the end for Annabelle's future choices?
  2. There are many hints of what happened to Annabelle as a young child behind closed doors, although largely the adults in Annabelle's life remain oblivious, how important is it to speak to our children about feeling safe and giving them skill to get themselves out of dangerous situations?
  3. Do you think Annabelle's risk taking was learned or was she simply born this way?
  4. Big John and Lins rescued Annabelle and provided her with a safe haven, what could they have done differently which might have resulted in a different outcome?
  5. Bessie rescued Annabelle when she reached Kings Cross - was Annabelle fortunate or unfortunate that Bessie entered her life?
  6. Rhiannon McVee is quick to investigate Annabelle's disappearance and appears to leave no stone un-turned. How is it that she was still unable to solve the case?
  7. What was your favourite storyline within the book and why?
  8. Did you understand who the characters of Anna and Belle were right from the start or did it take some time for you to realise who they were?

Q & A WITH THE AUTHOR

Q: Is the book fact or fiction?

A: This 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.

MP Book News

By Melissa Pouliot 11 Dec, 2017
I've just been on holidays and I took my iPad in case I felt the urge to write, and four novels that have been sitting on my bedside table for several months. The holiday was much needed, as I have been feeling complete burnout since about August when I launched FOUND, and I needed nothing more than to sit by the pool and read (or write). I didn't write, although ideas still sloshed around inside my head, and instead I read.

These couple of weeks of reading reminded me of why I have always been such an avid reader. Since I was a young child reading Dr Seuss right through to now, I have always found peace and comfort inside the pages of novels. Now that I write my own, I am seeing books through completely different eyes and further appreciate the skill and absolute brilliance of other writers.

Everyone has their own unique way of saying things but the one thing good writers have in common, is that their words become part of you. They draw you into their characters, both real and fictional, and you are right there, in the moment with them. Crying and laughing, holding your breath and hoping things turn out okay when you know they won't. 
Then walking around long after you've finished thinking about what you've just read and mourning for what you've lost when you reach the end.

I generally don't read many memoirs or non-fiction books, as my love affair has been with fiction from a very young age. But as I aim to become a better writer myself, I'm making a genuine effort to read more non-fiction and memoirs. There is only one fiction in this group of what I'm recommending highly for your holiday reading, and I must say I'm thoroughly enjoying expanding my reading horizons.

1. Bush Doctors by Annabelle Brayley
Bush Doctors is a brilliant collection of short stories, truly Australia, truly unique. Annabelle is a wonderful storyteller and has the ability to find the story behind the story, then brings that to the forefront to grab and hold your attention, before delicately filling in the back story. By the time you reach the end of each doctor's story, you are completely engrossed in their lives and in awe of their courage and contribution to their communities. I have a personal link with Annabelle that we only discovered last year. My mother-in-law Lyn Pouliot, a retired teacher, used to volunteer as part of an outback angels program where retired teachers went to isolated properties to be in the classrooms of School of the Air children. The Brayley family was one of the families she spent time with, and so it was with great delight that Annabelle and I discovered each other through our writing, then realised the link!I absolutely loved this book and am now going to read all her others which include Bush Nurses, Our Vietnam Nurses. Outback Vets and Nurses of the Outback. I have gifted several copies of her books for Christmas and birthdays, highly recommended!  

2. Love Your Sister by Connie & Samuel Johnson
This year I lost a long-time friend to cancer, and like Connie Johnson she was a wife and mother, and an amazing woman who we all miss very much. I have also been an avid follower of the Love Your Sister journey, like many others, and am in such admiration for the bravery it has taken for both Connie and Sam to make this journey such a public one. I love how Connie tells the story from her side, then Sam jumps in to tell it from his. The story is both inspiring and heartbreaking, heartwarming and devastating. The chapters I found most harrowing were the ones they added after the initial book was finished. Their updates after Sam finished his epic journey around Australia on a unicycle are raw, real, honest and compelling. Cancer spreads its reach far beyond the person who is suffering cancer itself and Connie gives us a no holds barred insight. Yes we've seen both Connie and Sam speak passionately on television, we've read Sam's beautiful tributes to Connie since she died but until you take the time to read through these pages, you'll never fully be able to comprehend just why Love Your Sister (which to date has raised over $7 million) is so vitally important as a vanquisher of cancer, both now and into the long-term future. DONATE HERE

3. Wimmera by Mark Brandi
Having spent more than 15 years living in the Wimmera in Western Victoria, it's no surprise this novel jumped off the shelf and into my hands. Since it's release this year I have enjoyed following its author Mark Brandi on social media, whose debut crime fiction has attracted broad praise, and I wanted to savour every moment once I was finally able to pick it up. Wimmera will stay with me for a long, long time. Its dark themes, beautifully crafted characters, strong sense of place and its ability to make you feel hot when it's hot and feel scared when it's scary. I am not going to sugar coat this book, it's covers several very disturbing sides of everyday life. I deliberately didn't read reviews or detailed synopses of the book before I read it and so it caught me by surprise in so many ways. I couldn't put it down and anyone who tried to speak to me while I was reading got no response. I absolutely loved it. 

4. I Am, I Am, I Am by  Maggie O'Farrell  
At a recent writer’s course a word of advice stuck in my mind, read what you don’t normally read. This was a reminder of the philosophy of the book club a friend and I started in 2000 where ‘popular’ books were discouraged, but as the years passed I fell into the trap of reading mostly in my comfort genres. I Am I Am I Am was my foray into Memoir, and I chose well. There is so much to love about this book. It doesn’t follow a logical timeline and jumps from a young Maggie to an older Maggie back to a very young Maggie. But it is so cleverly weaved together that these jumps are connected in another, more meaningful way. Am so in awe of the writing, the language and the way the words take you deep into Maggie’s heart. I adore this book and can’t wait for a friend to read it so we can talk about it over wine.

By Lyndal Reading 25 Oct, 2017
FROM seedy Kings Cross of the 1980s to the beaches of Anglesea, the disappearance of Annabelle Brown is felt through the decades in this work of fiction by Merimbula-based author Melissa Pouliot.

Protagonist Christine, a former prostitute but now successful jewellery designer, can’t escape the memories of her past when a former love re-enters her life.

The sudden appearance of her former drug dealer and boyfriend, Ant, sends her into a tailspin. She gets in touch with her former boss, Bessie, then returns to “the Cross” and to drug taking as she tries to dig up information about her missing friend, Annabelle.

Annabelle, 19, vanished during a party in the Blue Mountains. No trace of her was found and any witnesses remained tight-lipped.

A keen detective, Louise Whadary, takes up the cold case and her life soon intersects with Christine’s.

Whadary brings fresh eyes to the case in her search for clues, although the case, frustratingly, has very few.

Pouliot easily switches between the past and present without losing the thread of the story and an unexpected twist at the end ties up a few loose ends and explains why the case took so long to crack.

The author draws on her personal experience as the relative of a missing person, as she has done with previous books.

Pouliot’s books often finish with a cliffhanger. Found reaches a conclusion that mirrors her personal experience.

Pouliot’s cousin, Ursula, 17, had been missing since 1987 before it was discovered she had died in a car accident near Tarcutta on the Hume Highway earlier this year.

Ursula had been living under a new name, and was quietly buried in Emu Plains cemetery when police couldn’t track down her family.
By Michael Inman, Canberra Times 30 Sep, 2017
Ursula Barwick's simple decision to change her name for her new city life allowed her to disappear in 1987. But that new moniker also provided a hint about her whereabouts.

"It was like she was leaving little clues for us," her cousin, Melissa Pouliot, says.

Barwick had moved to Sydney to find work and visit friends. But the city lifestyle wasn't the only change for the 17-year-old country girl from Quirindi, on the NSW north-west slopes, who adopted the name Jessica Pearce.

She was with her new friends – who knew her only as Jessica – when she died in a car accident on the Hume Highway, near Tarcutta, in October 1987.

As far as they knew, Barwick had boarded a Sydney-bound train on the NSW central coastsoon after her 17th birthday, and disappeared.

The pain of losing her cousin never left Pouliot, who poured her experience into crime novels about a missing teenager.

"Initially thinking it was too late to solve the mystery of her disappearance, my quest started as a way to honour her memory," she says. "To show her, no matter where she was, that I had not forgotten about her, I had not stopped missing her, I had not stopped searching for her."

Her first novel, Write About Me, started as a way to honour Barwick's memory, but it helped spark a fresh investigation that found her after almost three decades.

"It just exploded from there," Pouliot says. "An amazing groundswell of support followed, and it soon became clear that Ursula wanted to be found."

The Merimbula-based author contacted the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre and asked it to update the website with correct information. "The colour of her hair, eyes and the date she went missing were wrong."

Pouliot says she didn't have high hopes but thought she would feel better if the details were correct. She then collected more information from family and friends and gave it to police in a spreadsheet.

As a result, the case was reopened through Taskforce Hemingway. "It was like a tap was turned on."

However, it wasn't a smooth process. The investigation started and stopped, and encountered a number of dead ends, including a tip that Barwick had worked at a Randwick pub.

The shifts in momentum brought on "a real yo-yo" of emotions. Pouliot's books reflect the highs and lows.

"For a long time, we thought she'd been murdered because we knew she'd come home if she could. We were preparing for the worst when Taskforce Hemingway started. This is what all friends and family of missing [a] person go through."

The power of words spurred the author to keep searching. "Words have real power. Words can wound, words can heal. And in my case, words can find people," she says.

Those words were delivered in an old letter Barwick had sent to a school friend, in which she wrote that she liked the name Jessica. The clue helped lead the search party to the Jessica Pearce - whose appearance matched Barwicks - and, through painstaking work, investigators managed to match the two files.

Her friends who had been in the car with when she died had given the fake name to investigators after the fatal accident. Authorities at the time failed to track down her family and Barwick was buried in the Emu Plains Cemetery under the name of Jessica Pearce.

The family held a graveside memorial at the cemetery in July this year.

While Barwick has been found and the police case is now closed, Pouliot says the family's quest for closure continues.

Pouliot now wrestles with a new emotional battle. She launched her fifth novel, Found, in Canberra in July.

"Instead of the raw volcano of emotion that I expected to go with the news that Ursula is dead, I carry around a dull ache across my shoulders, behind my eyes, in my right leg, and in my lower back. My grief moves and shifts around, reminding me every now and then that she is really gone.

"There are other signs of my grief. I forget things. I fade away in the middle of an important conversation.

"We are still trying to join dots that connect Ursula and the fictional character of Jessica Pearce, who she created for her new friends in Sydney."

The details and circumstances of Barwick's death are now with the NSW coroner. Pouliot says she hopes for answers to her many unanswered questions.

"Maybe then I will be ready to say goodbye."

Australia's national register of missing persons is at missingpersons.gov.au If you have information about a missing person, contact police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
By Melissa Pouliot 21 Aug, 2017

Article first published Canberra Times, July 31, 2017

"It's never too late to find your missing person."

That's the message Melissa Pouliot has for suffering families after her missing cousin, Ursula Barwick, was recently found following a 30-year search.


Ursula, aged 17, had died in a car accident on the Hume Highway, near Tarcutta, in 1987, only weeks after she went missing.

Ursula had been living in Sydney under a new name, Jessica Pearce, and it was that name her new friends provided to investigators after the crash.

Author Melissa Pouliot, left, with her cousin Ursula Barwick, who went missing in 1987, aged 17. Photo: Supplied

The authorities failed to track down her family and Ursula was buried in Emu Plains cemetery under the name of Jessica, where she lay undiscovered until Ms Pouliot re-sparked the search.

The Merimbula-based author wrote the crime fiction novel, Write About Me , as a way to honour Ursula's memory, but it created the momentum that saw the case reopened by police  and Ursula found.

Ms Pouliot chronicled this journey through a series of novels and last week unveiled her fifth, Found , which was launched in Canberra.

Ms Pouliot will launch Missing Persons Week 2017 – the annual national campaign to raise awareness of the issues and impacts surrounding missing persons – in the Bega Valley this week.

The theme of this year's campaign is "Still waiting for you to come home".

Like Ursula, 25,000 of the 38,000 people reported missing in Australia each year are under the age of 18.

Teens aged between 13 and 17 are six times more likely to go missing than the rest of the Australian population.

Young women are the most susceptible.

While the majority of missing people are found within a short period of time, there are more than 2000 listed as long-term missing, which means they have been missing for more than three months.

Australian Federal Police national coordinator missing persons and exploited children Marina Simoncini said for every missing person there were family, friends and colleagues left behind, still waiting for them to come home.

She said, in some circumstances, disappearing might be viewed as the only option to escape a bad situation, but in some extreme cases, a young person might have become a victim of crime.

Ms Simoncini said young people went missing for a range of reasons, including miscommunication, misadventure, or because of a misunderstanding.

While Ursula has been found, the police case finally closed, and a memorial held at the Emu Plains Cemetery earlier this month, Ms Pouliot said the family's quest continued.

"The long journey of her death is not over yet," she said.

"We are still trying to join dots that connect Ursula and the fictional character of Jessica Pearce, who she created for her new friends in Sydney."

The details and circumstances of Ursula's death are now with the NSW Coroner.

Ms Pouliot said she hoped for clear answers to the many unanswered questions.

But she said Ursula had left a clear legacy for the families and friends of missing persons.

"[Ursula's] legacy, the thing that will inspire others for many years to come, is that it is never too late to find your missing person."

To view Australia's national register of missing persons, visit the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre website at www.missingpersons.gov.au , where information about support services across Australia can also be found.

Anyone with information relating to a missing person is urged to contact their local police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.


By Melissa Pouliot 21 Aug, 2017

For me, a bestselling crime writer based on the stunning Sapphire Coast, where you’ll find some of the best mountain bike tracks in the world, they are intrinsically linked. As part of the launch of my fifth crime novel FOUND , I shared with Sapphire Coast Tourism how the bike trails I ride inspire my writing. I also shared some excerpts from my new book, which the Australian Federal Police launched in Canberra on July 27, 2017.

BUTTERFLY

The morning is warmer than usual and it won’t be long before I won’t need my gloves or beanie beneath my bike helmet. I look to my right and admire the swans gliding gracefully on Wallagoot Lake.

The water is so still it looks like glass. To my left I hear a rustle in the thick bush and wonder if it’s the lyre birds I see from time to time, building their nest, or something more sinister.

I shift gears as I reach a slight incline and look down at my handlebars. Something flashes past my face and my heart skips several beats as wildly look around to see what it is.

It appears again, then multiplies. Butterflies. One, five, ten, twenty. They dance around my head then disappear into the bush. A few moments later they return, then they’re gone again.

They follow me like this as I ride past the boat ramp, along the corrugated dirt road and to the entrance to Bournda National Park. I stop for a drink and admire their quiet presence, wondering if I will be quick enough to capture them on my camera. I’m not.

I keep riding. There’s a steep section and I’m so distracted that I forget to change gears and nearly don’t make it up. The butterflies are still with me when I reach Wine Glass Bay, and they follow me to the steps leading down to Turingal Head beach.

My thoughts flutter to the fifth book I’m writing and by the time I’m back home, I have a new chapter already written in my head.

Ant was ahead of her, gesturing and pointing out things while Andy quizzed him. Occasionally Andy would crouch down, Ant standing awkwardly by his side. Rhiannon walked silently, also in front, and Christine watched a butterfly land on her shoulder. It was bright yellow with small dark spots on its wings. It was a Eurema smilax or small grass yellow butterfly. Quite common, but something Christine had never noticed in the city.

She watched it cling onto Rhiannon’s white cotton shirt with its tiny sticky feet, a slight breeze making its wings move ever so gently. Christine focused on the butterfly to calm her mind. She became transfixed, wondering in her foggy drug-induced mind, if it was a sign from Annabelle.

Annabelle loved yellow. The butterfly was yellow.

Annabelle was here!

She was trying to tell her something. A strong gust of wind dislodged the butterfly and Christine watched with panic as it flew away. She raced after it, convinced it would lead them to Annabelle.

Nobody noticed at first, until Andy called Rhiannon over to show him something and Ant looked back to see Christine running in the opposite direction.

‘Hey, Christine! Where you going?’ Ant called.

Christine didn’t answer, it was taking all her energy to not lose sight of the butterfly which was leading her deeper and deeper into the bush. She pushed through shrubs, she was off the path now, panting heavily from the exertion. She rolled her ankle as she scrambled through the dense undergrowth and pain shot up her leg, but she kept running.

Ant tore after her. ‘Christine, what is it?’

Rhiannon and Andy started jogging after Ant, while Christine dashed and darted after the speeding yellow butterfly, pushing through branches and around trees.

‘Show me Annabelle, show me where you are,’ she whispered hoarsely.

Finally the butterfly stopped. It settled on the flower of a Christmas Bush, its yellow standing out strongly against the white. Christine hunched over, trying to catch her breath.

Within minutes Ant was behind her. ‘What the fuck are you doing?’

‘Shhh,’ she said. ‘Don’t move.’

Rhiannon arrived next; a few minutes later Andy crashed through the forest.

‘Shhh,’ Christine hushed him. ‘ Quiet! Don’t come any closer.’

Her eyes remained firmly fixed on the butterfly.

Ant leant in close, clearly annoyed. ‘What. Are. We. Doing. Here?’

Once Andy stopped the loud puffing of a detective who was unfit, overweight and spent far too much time at his desk, Christine spoke. ‘See that yellow butterfly there?’

They all peered amongst the mass of flowers on the bush, eventually making out the tiny yellow shape. ‘Yes,’ they said in unison.

‘It’s a sign from Annabelle! It landed on your shirt when we first arrived, and now it’s brought me here. To this spot.’

Silence.

Well? Don’t you get it? Yellow is her favourite colour. The butterfly is yellow. The butterfly has led us to Annabelle. The butterfly is Annabelle! This is where you need to look. Don’t you understand, this is the spot. She’s here, somewhere! Start looking!’

She was crying and shaking, clearly distressed. ‘She’s here, I know she’s here. Have a look, you’ll find her. I’m sure of it.’

Ant stepped in close and wrapped his arms around her.

Andy walked away first, then Rhiannon. Ant stayed and hugged Christine tightly. Through her tears, she stared at the tiny yellow butterfly, before it lifted gracefully off its flower and disappeared deep into the forest, never to be seen again.

BONES IN THE BUSH

It’s the first time I’ve ridden this track on my own; it’s always made me feel slightly uneasy but with a riding companion, there’s nothing to worry about. Right? Right.

I duck to avoid a low hanging branch then quickly swerve to avoid a large stick hidden underneath the thick mat of crunchy leaves.

I’m getting deeper and deeper into the bush and start to feel disoriented as I come to a fork in the track and wonder if I should go left or right. It’s a common theme in my book; my runaway teens including Annabelle Brown and Keely Johnson never know whether to turn left or right, and more often than not, take the wrong track.

I stick left. I nearly fall off my bike when something hits the back of my helmet at full force. I’m terrified. The track narrows and the bush closes in around me. I hear a buzz over the loud crunching my wheels make. It gets louder and louder, then something hits my helmet again, and again. I scream, and get off my bike, flailing my arms about, fighting with the giant buzzing creature that is swarming around my head. I can’t get away from it.

I jump back on my bike and pedal as fast as I can to escape, but it keeps up with me. It won’t leave me alone. My legs are burning and I can hardly breathe. I feel it land on my back and I writhe and wriggle to free myself from its dangerous grip. There is no sun in here, and I am completely spooked.

I keep pedalling, searching for the light at the end of the tunnel. I know it can’t be far away. Something catches my eye on the ground, tangled in the leaves and undergrowth. It’s a black jumper. My imagination is going wild. What is the jumper doing here? Who does it belong to?

I’m not sure if I’ll ever escape the ‘the spooky forest’, and it becomes a recurring theme in all my books. It’s where terrible things happen, deep in the Australian bush.

  teph’s daughter Sara, Annabelle’s best friend, was home for a school friend’s engagement party, so first stop was her room.

‘Hey, Sairs, got any plans tonight?’

Sara looked up from the book she was reading, leaning over her bed at full stretch to turn down the volume on her cassette player. ‘Not really. Why, what’s on?’

‘Want to come out to Lee’s with me?’

Something in her Mum’s tone scared Sara. ‘Don’t tell me,’ she said, snapping her book shut and getting off the bed to move closer.

‘No, not that. But Lee’s in a fret. The news tonight, more bones in the forest.’

Annabelle,’ Sara said quietly.

‘Maybe,’ Steph wrapped her arms around her daughter. ‘Best place for us is with Lee, on the couch, with chocolate.’ ‘And cups of tea,’

Sara tried not to go into a panic. They’d been here before. Waiting, watching, wondering. Watching every news bulletin for that glimpse of information that might connect bones to Annabelle. Daring the phone to ring, wondering how long it would take for detectives Andy Cassettari and Rhiannon McVee, and the seemingly slow-turning wheels of the police system, to match bones in the forest with Annabelle’ s.

Within half an hour Lee and Steph were on the couch, Sara in the kitchen making tea and preparing a platter of sweet treats.

‘I hate this Steph.’

‘Me too, Lee. The not knowing, it’s so hard.’

‘Should I call Rhiannon and ask?’ Lee posed this question every time. She and Steph went around in circles, like they had many times before, and eventually talked themselves out of it.

‘You’re right,’ Lee said, after they’d been over it from all directions. ‘They’ll have it in hand. Of course they’ll be checking against her file. Rhiannon will let us know.’

Sara handed them their steaming cups of tea, slipping easily into her role of chief carer. She never contributed much to the conversation, letting their words wash over her while she did everything she could to cheer up Lee and look after her every need. Sara kept her thoughts for her diary, the one she was planning to give Annabelle when she came home.

Sara stubbornly refused to entertain the possibility these bones could be Annabelle’s. She refused to let conversations like these filter through to her inner belief that Annabelle was still alive and well. That didn’t mean she didn’t feel paralysed right now. With so many bones being discovered, and all this talk of a serial killer on the loose, her hope of seeing her best friend again was at risk of shattering, piece by tiny piece.  

By Melissa Pouliot 28 Jul, 2017
It was an honour and a privilege to have the Australian Federal Police launch my fifth crime novel, FOUND , in the perfect book launching venue of Muse Canberra in July. The AFP National Missing Persons Coordination Centre has played a pivotal role in the search for Ursula since 2013, and endorse all my fiction novels for raising awareness for missing people. 
All my special people were there to wrap me in love including my family and friends and other authors, as there was a lot of emotion surrounding the launch as it was the first time I spoke publicly about the story behind the story - that Ursula had been found .
I was thrilled to also meet other families of missing people and some of Canberra's keen reading crowd. Kings Cross Detective Sergeant Kurt Hayward, who led the search for Ursula prompted by the release of my first novel Write About Me, was also there.
The 30-year search for Ursula involved a entire village of people who never gave up: her family, her friends, the AFP, the broader community and Kurt and the investigating team for Strike Force Hemingway that also included Detective Senior Constable Amy Scott. 

Launch speech
Below is part of the launch speech by AFP Assistant Commissioner Debbie Platz, which made me feel humbled and extremely fortunate to be where I am today, as a strong advocate for missing people and an established fiction author. And the family member of someone I have missed for 30 years, who thankfully now is found.

"You will know there is a personal touch to all Melissa's books, through her cousin Ursula who went missing in 1987. Ursula was the first person in Australia that the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre age progressed in 2010, she was age progressed to 39 and her picture placed on billboards in Sydney airport. She was featured again as part of National Missing Persons Week in 2015, and a result of that, we received many leads from various parts of Australia in our efforts to try and find Ursula. Fast forward to this year and tonight, 30 years after Ursula was first reported missing, and the launch of Melissa's novel FOUND. This picks up the story of teenage runaway Annabelle Brown who we first met in Melissa's first international #1 bestselling book Write About Me.
Melissa's first story was published in a newspaper when she was 8 years of age, Santa's Elf, and since then we've seen her go from strength to strength tonight, to launch the fifth in her Missing Series, FOUND.
What is profound about Melissa's books is that because of her personal connection with the storylines, the things that have happened in her life, she can actually tackle complexities of missing people. She can show us what it's like to feel hopeful, and also despair and what it's like to feel hopelessness. Melissa is also an advocate for missing persons, an Ambassador for Daniel Morcombe Foundation, and by what I can see tonight here with her family and friends, she is really well respected and loved by everybody who comes across her. I know for a fact that the people at the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre are deeply indebted to Melissa for the work she has done, and love spending time with her."
By Melissa Pouliot 07 Jul, 2017
WORKSHOP: How to get buzz for your book launch
Saturday July 15, Club Sapphire Merimbula
A book launch is a fantastic way to celebrate. It is also an essential part of getting your new book noticed, generating sales, building your author profile and putting your book into the hands of the people who matter most – your readers!
Writers of the Far South Coast have invited me to run a workshop with practical, simple tips on organising your book launch. To register for the workshop visit HERE .

FIND ME in Collins Merimbula's Top 10 for June
It's so exciting to walk into one of my favourite bookshops and see one of my books on the Top 10 stand. The previous month it was You'll Never Find Me in the #7 position and now FIND ME has snuck in at #10. Happy days!

What do you do when you walk into a bar and spot someone reading your book by the fire with a glass of red?
Join them of course! I was thrilled to talk books with Ginelle from Ballarat one Friday night at Dulcie's Merimbula, but I'm afraid I cut into her Mum time and she didn't get much reading done!  I shared this special moment on my Facebook and Instagram pages if you'd like to check it out.

By Melissa Pouliot 07 Jul, 2017

One of the perks of being an author is an excuse to have a book launch party! And this year I'm thrilled to be having not one, but two book launches for FOUND , my fifth crime fiction novel.

1. Who better to host the launch of a crime novel than the Australian Federal Police? 

Thursday July 27, MUSE Canberra

 It's difficult to find the right words sometimes, and one of those times was when the AFP National Missing Persons Coordination Centre asked if they could host a launch of FOUND in Canberra.
 Let me think about it...for less than a millisecond! This means so much to me, as they hold a very special place in my heart for the support they've given me since I published Write About Me. I will always remember my first meeting with them, clutching my new book in my hands, to see if there was anything I could do to help reinvigorate my cousin Ursula's case.
 They have endorsed all my novels and taken them to international conferences, and because of the work they do, they understand the layers and meanings that surround every word I write. I'm proud to be helping raise awareness through fiction about the far-reaching impacts when someone goes missing, and beyond excited that they're launching FOUND.

Everyone is welcome, and your friends too!
 

2. Beers, Burgers, Books and Blues is BACK! Thursday August 3, Merimbula
 After the success of the launch of You'll Never Find Me last year at Dulcie's Merimbula, they've invited me back! This launch has it all - live blues music by Mojo, and the best burgers you'll ever taste. Beer (or wine), an atmosphere you need to experience to believe and the friendliest (and coolest) staff on the South Coast. And of course, books! Your ticket includes a copy of FOUND, a burger and a beer or wine.

 Tickets are limited so you need to get in quick. Dulcie's will post event details on their Facebook page when tickets become available.

By Melissa Pouliot 20 Jun, 2017
It's that time of the year again - book publishing time!

Fifth time around I feel I should have this down to a fine art. It should be completely stress-free, there should be no deadline pressures because I know exactly how long it takes to pull it all together, I should have a super-organised marketing plan that rolls out with ease and I shouldn't have to get up at 4am every morning for the month leading up to sending my book to print to check if all my commas and fullstops are in the right place.

It's so true what they say - the life of a writer is never dull. If I tried to record what has happened in my world during the past year, even the last month, it would fill another novel, or two. So I'll just keep things simple. My book is finished. And I love it! And I'm so excited to be sharing it with you all.

FOUND is available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle as well as in my online Australian bookstore .

I'm also having not one, but two book launches, one in Canberra on July 27 and a second in Merimbula on August 3. Click on the word HERE for full details - everyone is welcome to come along!

FOUND
In the dead of night, teenage runaway Annabelle Brown vanishes in the rugged Blue Mountains west of Sydney, in a shroud of mystery and intrigue. Twenty-seven years later, with no body, no clues and no leads, the case remains unsolved.

Then reformed Kings Cross drug dealer Antonio ‘Ant’ Fitzpatrick runs into his old flame Christine Long, a prostitute turned jewellery designer for the elite, and the criminal underground drags them back to their dark pasts. Bright, young detective Louise Whadary, determined to solve this cold case, discovers some hidden clues and their lives start to unravel as the secrets they buried come back to haunt them. 

As investigators close in on a murder suspect, Annabelle’s family realise it’s never too late to discover the truth. But will that truth ever be found ?

The sequel to the #1 bestselling novel Write About Me , by the Australian author of the Detective Rhiannon McVee crime series.  

By Melissa Pouliot 06 Apr, 2017
A book club in Albury Australia has spent an evening with Write About Me

The club used the book club discussion questions I have developed for the novel. The photo they posted on Instagram says it all - what better way to spend an evening than with a group of book-loving friends, cheese, wine talking about books!

Here is what they said:

"Where do I even start? A great discussion tonight with lots of personal experiences and thoughts - some quotes from the night include:
  • Harrowing but just so well written
  • It sounds strange because of the content but I loved this book
We also had comments about how well Write About Me demonstrted just how many people can be affected by a missing person and how it can happen to anywhere, to anyone. And a lot of interest in following your young detective Rhiannon McVee - yay! Thankfully you have three more books after this one!!" Sandra Moon

"A wonderful book Melissa Pouliot. Harrowing subject matter, but as I said to Sandra Moon,  your book cleverly illustrated the enormous impact any one individual has on so many lives. Thank you for a great read." Kristen Ody

One of my favourite comments from the night was this one:
"I will show these photos to hubby to prove that we do talk about the books - not just the wine and cheese!"

* If your book club would like to add Write About Me to your list, my discussion questions are HERE . It doesn't matter where you are in the world, if you would like me to join your discussion I'd be happy to - just get in touch via email mp@melissapouliot.com and we can arrange to Skype, talk books and drink wine!
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