In a classic example of don’t try this yourselves kids! research, YA author Justine Larbalestier once followed a shady looking guy wearing a hoody who worked out at her gym.
“It’s not stalking,” she told a Melbourne Writer’s Festival school group. “It’s active research.”
The gym Justine frequents in Surrey Hills is a ‘crim gym’ and she’d been watching this guy for a while because he resembled the kind of stand-over man she wanted as a character in her novel Razorhurst. Sort of dead in the eyes. She’d established that he liked women of the blonde, well-endowed, super-tanned variety. As a grey-haired woman of a certain age, Larbaleister was confident she would be invisible to him. So one day she followed him out of the gym, down the street and into a café. She sat at a table nearby and listened (as only a writer on the job can) to the conversation he had with the friends he’d met up with. Perhaps she thought they’d talk about a heist, a job, something juicy – in reality they talked about what happened on The Block the night before.
I convinced Thee Ferret to wag school so we could have a day up to the Big Smoke for the festival. Justine’s talk was definitely a highlight and I now own a signed copy of Razorhurst and am looking forward to reading it.
The book was partly inspired by the fact that Justine lives in Surrey Hills. Walking the streets, she was constantly confronted by plaques and memorabilia about that Sydney suburbs’ bloody past. Then she attended a photo exhibition at the Justice and Police museum which was filled with crime scenes and mug shots taken during the 1930s. Some of the mug shots formed the basis for characters in her novel and initiated a whole heap of research about the minutiae of the time. Little details like needing to feed coins into the gas metre to cook, helped to create the sense of ‘other-worldliness’ that Justine was wanting.
The other thing she researched was newspapers and magazines of the time to get a sense of the language. Thee Ferret and I (and perhaps most of the school children in the room) really liked the expression ‘Jesus’s tits and Mary’s balls’ which apparently was a common expression of the time.
Thee Ferret posted on her YouTube account a little clip of our trip which you can check out here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mI7XktcMP1s&feature=share