Good Reading : June 2017
GOOD READING JUNE 2017 29 COVER STORY the face of Rosalind Ryan, a teacher at the local school, who Gemma idolised when they were classmates; she spent many hours as a teenager fumbling with make-up and trying to replicate the perfect arch of Rosalind’s eyebrows. ‘Gemma was the thing that kicked it all off,’ Sarah says of her newly published debut. ‘Even her name came immediately, I didn’t even think about it. Weird. In my mind she’s always been Ellen Page in Juno. Little, capable, cute but not really pretty or anything. A small powerhouse kind of person. She drove this entire story. She was the premise: what if a detective who’s doing really well in her career gets thrown this case that completely derails her emotionally?’ Gemma indeed has a lot to contend with in the space of the first few chapters: she suffers a miscar riage, is charged with the task of investigating the murder of an old friend, has a young son to raise with her busy husband, Ben, and is trying to suppress a hell of a crush on her professional partner, Felix. Sarah says that while Gemma isn’t a positive, upbeat, optimistic soul, her realism and relatability is what excites people about The Dark Lake. ‘I’m wr iting the second book now, so I’m back in her head. I was worr ied about this for a while – did people want to read about someone who’s a bit of a downer? But when you look at what’s happened in her life, it’s fair enough. And this is a big generalisation too, but I think that people who do detective work are quite complicated and not necessarily happy-go-lucky people. People who aren’t black-or-white are worth a second look.’ As Sarah interviewed var ious detectives and police officers for research, she became more interested in what happens in detectives’ lives outside their work hours and the way their cases underscore the other emotional stresses of their non-professional lives. The Dark Lake may be a cr ime novel, but it counteracts the stereotype per petuated by cr ime shows of handsome-but-haggard detectives toiling over cases into the early hours of morning accompanied by bucket-sized coffees. Detectives have to sleep too, says Sarah; they’re as fallible and complicated as everyone else. ‘A character who’s really sensible and outwardly doing a great job but who is, in fact, internally so fraught and challenged is really intriguing. Even though most people aren’t detectives with a son and an affair and a miscarr iage, people understand that complexity. They have empathy. I’m also very aware that Gemma is going to drive some people crazy,’ she says with a laugh. ‘But she’s very realistic to me.’ The Dark Lake opens with a prologue that puts you straight in to Gemma’s head, and it’s very hard to step back out – you’re hooked on her voice from the start. It’s a tantalising and powerful opener that arr ived in a stroke of wr iting fervour that barely needed an edit. ‘The prologue has basically never changed. That’s when I thought this book was going to be different, compared to the other manuscripts I’d written that got stale. I got the idea in my head and wrote the prologue in an evening. I woke up the next morning and thought, Did I dream that?’ People often ask Sarah if it’s hard to have two unfinished novels sitting stagnant on her desktop. The answer is yes. But she says that she’s never wr itten a wasted word, and that those two manuscr ipts were vital to the for mation of The Dark Lake. Which, incidentally, is due to launch a day after her 35th birthday. The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey is published by Allen & Unwin, rrp $32.99.