Cry Blue Murder
Kim Kane and Marion Roberts
University of Queensland Press
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Celia and Alice met on facebook and the two girls quickly exchange email addresses and begin writing back and forth. They are the same age and they share their fears of a serial killer in Melbourne who is abducting young girls. The victims are found some time later, murdered via poison and shrouded in a handwoven wrap.
Celia is especially worried as she goes to the same school as some of the victims and one of them was the older sister of her younger sister’s best friend. She pours out her troubles to Alice, who is incarcerated in a boarding school in the state’s north, due to excessive family troubles. Slowly the two girls become closer, sharing more and more, becoming enmeshed in each other’s lives.
But who can you trust at a time like this? In an age where entire friendships can be formed and maintained online, where you give out the most private information that you’d never tell someone face to face. How do you know who is genuine and who isn’t?
Cry Blue Murder is a modern-day epistolary style novel that is almost fully comprised of emails and letters sent back and forth between Celia and Alice. It also contains police statements and witness recountings in order to give the reader a little more knowledge about what is happening to these girls who are being abducted from Melbourne’s streets. This style of telling a story hooked me in right away – I love novels written like this and the added police extras just served to fully draw me in to the horrific things that were happening.
I’m 31, so I remember a time when the internet didn’t exist. I was 16 when my parents got a computer and a little 28.8k modem and we began using the internet at home. I’d already experimented in school in chat rooms and the like and I look back now and think that I was probably relatively clueless. I gave out far too much information about myself or I pretended to be someone else and inevitably forgot details of my persona. ICQ and MSN were just beginning and you could chat with random people from all over the world, something that seemed so exotic at the time. There was no way of knowing whether or not they were just some 40 year old weirdo in a house a few doors down who might’ve overheard your handle one day. Such things weren’t really considered back then! Now of course the dangers of giving away too much personal detail to strangers on the internet are well documented. And never before have I read a book which deals with that danger quite like this one.
This is one of those books where it’s really hard to write a decent review examining all of my thoughts because I don’t want to spoiler anything. It’s not a long book and it’s so easy to read. I started it at bedtime, thinking I’d read a few pages – ended up reading it straight through to the end and was sitting there, staring at the wall, heart racing. The end was not what I expected starting out and as I got deeper and deeper into the story, a little thread of fear began to grow in me that this was where the story was going. It’s one of those books that delivers the unexpected slap in the face and some people might be deflated by the end. The end is deflating, but it’s what makes it so incredibly powerful and that’s what has the huge impact on the reader. I was still thinking about it days later – I told my husband all about it because it’s one of those books that made me want to talk about it and I didn’t know anyone else that had read it! I think it’s the sort of book they should give teens to read in school – a book that encourages them to be careful about what they share about themselves. There’s nothing wrong with interactions online but this book goes to show that even though it seems as though they did everything right here, bad things still ended up happening.
I’m a parent as well and from that perspective, this story scares the hell out of me even more. There’s only so much you can do to protect your kids and I felt for the parents in this story (although they were mostly only depicted through the eyes of teenagers, who railed on them for their strictness and caution when the girls kept disappearing). You can think that you’ve done all the right things, that you’ve protected them and in the end, you can find out that no matter what you did, it still wasn’t enough.
I could say I loved this book in spite of the ending, but I think that ultimately, I loved it because of the ending. It dared to go there and if it had’ve resolved some other way, it would’ve made me question to decision to go the soft road and it would probably have felt unrealistic.
Book #108 of 2013
Cry Blue Murder is book #47 for AWW2013
Thanks to the people at UQP, I was given the opportunity to invite Kim & Marion onto the blog and ask them a few questions.
Q1). Hi Kim and Marion and welcome to my blog. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer some questions for me. Congratulations on the publication of Cry Blue Murder. Could you tell me how your journey to publication came about?
Hi Bree – Thanks for your interest in Cry Blue Murder. We were both published authors prior to this project which made finding a publisher a whole lot easier. However, as the book was very different from the tone of our previous novels it still took a little time to find a publisher who would represent it. As we initially pitched it for children rather than teenagers, most publishers wanted a happy ending, or wanted Celia to outsmart her circumstances. The whole point of the novel for us, however, was that sometimes smart people don’t actually outsmart their circumstances. We wanted to explore the interior relationship between victim and predator and the factors that predispose vulnerability. Luckily UQP shared our vision for that.
Q2). I always am very interested to know an author’s process. However this is the first time I’ve been able to ask two people who co-wrote a book to share theirs. How did you each contribute? Did you write together or separately?
We wrote the book almost completely via email and over the phone. We had very few physical meetings, mostly because our schedules didn’t allow it. The first draft of the novel was a flurry of email ping pong each working up our character voices but not really paying much attention to plot or structure. There was energy and excitement in the writing and before we knew it, we had a lot of words and a strong idea about who our characters were and could then set about crafting the novel to make it work as a thriller.
Q3). Cry Blue Murder deals with a subject that becomes more relevant and more frightening with each passing day – internet predators. Was there anything specific that happened in your own pasts that sparked this topic? Or was it all taken from the news?
Neither of us have had any personal experience with on-line predators although we had heard of plenty of instances over the past few years of instances in the media. It’s only details of the actual event, however, that is reported – the abduction, kidnapping or murder – and not the circumstances leading up to that event. This was what interested us the most – the lengths predators will go to to build enough trust to eventually manipulate their victim into the car. Even though we did research certain crimes, the crime and the criminal we concocted were both very much our own and we worked hard to ensure we had a chilling crime committed by a criminal with a feasible MO.
Q4). What was the most difficult part of writing the book?
Definitely our conflicting timetables. Marion had day time work commitments and while we both had kids they were at very different ages so even our ‘home’ times did not coincide. Kim’s twins were very young so when they went to bed at night she had time to work on the book, whereas Marion’s kids were older and she wouldn’t be free in the evenings until well after 10pm – not a great time to try and get the creative juices flowing!! It was not uncommon for us to be on the phone until one of us fell asleep, going over and over…and over changes.
The book seemed to get harder and harder as it went along as we both kept coming up with ideas to improve it which would then mean a total re-write.The difficult thing about writing an epistolary novel was that alterations to one email necessarily meant subsequent changes to most of the correspondence after that. It was a house of cards and we both needed to be part of the reconstruction.
In earlier drafts, the novel consisted of just the emails between the two characters. It was really difficult to create and sustain suspense in this format as the entire story could only be told through two character voices. It also felt very claustrophobic. We then came up with the idea to add a textural element that was outside the girls’ realities and fed in the ‘formal’ documentation – witness statements, police interviews, forensic documents etc. This took masses of research and lots of new writing and plotting to incorporate the background elements of a police investigation into the work – something the reader was aware of but not our characters. While we based our legal/formal documents on real research we also needed to keep them succinct and literary so we chopped and changed a few things here and there. Ultimately Cry Blue Murder is a work of fiction so we weren’t super concerned about making the documentation completely authentic but it did still need to ring true.
Q5). Kim, you’re a lawyer by trade. How much did this background help to get the details of an investigation right in Cry Blue Murder? And how much liberty did you take in order to further the story?
I was a corporate lawyer rather than a criminal lawyer for ten years, but a corporate lawyer with a passion for detective novels, true crime and forensic TV. Marion is not a lawyer but shares a complete obsession with crime. A legal background, however, certainly helped with understanding legal procedure and drafting documents in plain English, however, as Marion has said, we did then alter these to suit our literary needs. I did draw on my interest in criminal law and evidence at Uni and remembered things we had learnt about police responses to criminals, witness unreliability and latent racism all of which fed into the criminal culture we created. So, a legal background was definitely helpful but not as helpful as our shared obsession with true crime.
Q6). I’d like to ask about the ending – but without spoiling it! Was that always the ending you had in mind from the beginning or were other possibilities considered? Did you think about the possible negative effects on the way it might make a reader feel?
Right from the very beginning, we set out to explore the relationship our reader finds in the novel. We hope there is some level of ambiguity in the ending — and yes –- we did consider the negative effects on our readers. We also tested a couple of versions on readers and were very thankful for their feedback. Kim’s teenage cousin Georgia, actually helped us change the end in one of the very last drafts.
We think Cry Blue Murder offers a level of hope that is ‘outside’ the story in the book and ‘outside’ the ending. At the end of Cry Blue Murder, for all the shock, we know the killer has been finally captured and charged.
Q7). What are your five favourite novels or authors (both Kim & Marion).
- Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides
- When you Reach Me – Rebecca Stead
- Patchwork Planet – Ann Tyler
- The Ghost’s Child – Sonia Hartnett
- How to be Idle – Tom Hodgkinson
KFK: I hate these questions as I love so many books at different times for different reasons! I love Hartnett, but I think it’s hard to go past ‘Thursday’s Child’. I love Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, especially the first two in the series. I love Siobhan Dowd — especially ‘Bog Child’ and ‘The Monster Calls’ (Dowd’s idea written by Patrick Ness). Ooooo, Alan Garner, ‘The Owl Service’, Phillipa Pearce’s ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’, Ursula Dubosarksy’s ‘Abyssinia’,Dodie Smith’s ‘I Capture the Castle’ and a number of books written for adults with a younger narrator such a Sybille Bedford’s ‘Jigsaw’. I adore Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Wolf but also contemporary writers like Nicole Krauss — ‘The History of Love’ — and Jennifer Egan’s ‘A visit from the Goon Squad’.
Q8). Lastly – what is next for you both? Do you plan to collaborate again on more novels? Any possible solo projects?
MR: Working with Kim was a lot of fun as well as very difficult logistically. Cry Blue Murder took a little longer than we had anticipated so we both have solo projects we need to attended to in the short term. I’d be more than happy to collaborate with Kim again. It was wonderful to break up the loneliness of working solo for a change and have another person to bounce ideas off and from which to gain input. I honestly don’t think Cry Blue Murder would have been written by either of us as a solo work so we are really happy to have this ‘product’ that we generated out of a friendship. We feel oddly ‘married’ now – and really hope our ‘baby’ will be okay out there in the world. It’s been great to share the ups and downs with Kim
KFK: For all the problems of collaboration, there are so many lovely things about it — the fact that there’s always someone enthusiastic about the project when you’re feeling bleak, it’s a joy to workshop ideas with another mind and it’s different from a normal workshop as both authors are properly invested so they’re thinking up solutions to problems as they swim/shop/shower. So, no, not in the short term (I am shamefully behind schedule on my next novel) but if we get another good idea…
Kim & Marion, thank you both so much for your time and best of luck with Cry Blue Murder and your future works, be they solo or collaborative.