Wendy James lives in New South Wales, Australia, a mother of four children she juggles child care with work, university studies, and of course writing. Wendy’s first novel, Out of the Silence (Random House, 2005), won the 2006 Ned Kelly Award and was followed by The Steele Diaries (2008), a collection of short stories published in 2009 as Why She Loves Him, and Where Have You Been? (2010), a psychological thriller recently optioned by a film company. Wendy’s newest release, The Mistake, was published by Penguin Australia earlier this month. Part psychological/crime thriller, part family drama, The Mistake defies genre conventions and simply delivers a compelling story about a woman whose past becomes a matter of criminal investigation and intense media scrutiny.
You can read my four and a half star review of The Mistake HERE.
I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to ask a few questions of Wendy James and appreciate her cooperation.
Wendy: The initial inspiration for the book came from the notorious and tragic Keli Lane case, but I pretty quickly decided to move my story as far away from that as possible. It seemed too raw, too sad – and of course, for the people involved, it’s ongoing
Q: The Mistake was rejected several times as publishers felt the protagonist, Jodie, was not particularly likeable. Why did you insist on Jodie’s characterisation being largely unsympathetic
Wendy: What I was trying to do was to create a character who readers weren’t instantly going to ‘fall’ for, but one who they could gradually come to understand, and hopefully empathise with. This was important in building up a sense of the way the public responded to her perceived personality rather than any actual evidence.
Q: Jodie was tried, and found guilty, by the media almost before the case became a legal matter. How do you feel media bias affects justice in this case?
Wendy: I think it’s potentially quite dangerous. Media and public scrutiny are so all-pervasive now, we’re bombarded with opinion and commentary ( of widely varying quality) as well as the straight news items. A real mob mentality – witch hunt stuff – can so easily develop. It would be very difficult, as a member of a jury for instance, to remain impervious to this – to not let it compromise your objectivity.
Q: The Garrow family dissolves under the pressure of suspicion, do you feel Jodie’s secret exploits, or creates, the cracks in the family?
Wendy: I think the cracks were there right from the beginning – but perhaps Jodie carrying the secret has always distorted her relationship with Angus and Hannah. With everyone. Those cracks certainly get wider, though, don’t they?
Q: Why did you choose to leave the fate of your characters, including the baby, largely unresolved?
Wendy: As a reader I always like to finish a book and have the story left slightly open. I need the essential things to be resolved – there’s nothing worse than an unsolved mystery, for instance – but just a little teasing question to keep the story going round and round in your head is good. A little bit of uncertainty gives readers something to debate, too
Q: Your four published novels (Out of the Silence, Where Have You Been, The Steele Diaries, The Mistake) all have a crime at their core, what is it about the genre attracts you?
Wendy: I love reading all and every sort of crime novel, but when I’m writing, it’s not so much the crime itself, but what happens to the people involved that fascinates me. The people I’ve written about – perpetrators and victims – have all been very ordinary – they could be you or me. I want to know just how they ended up at this juncture, and what happens to the people around them, more than anything else. As in much contemporary crime fiction this often involves taking a good hard look at the cultural and social backdrop to the crime – for instance in my first novel, Out of the Silence, the story of women fighting for the vote, and for equal rights, was an important part of the story; and in The Mistake, the role of the media is essential.
Q: What are you working on now?
Wendy: Another family/crime novel. Set on the Northern Beaches of Sydney this time – in the late seventies and now.
Q: Which three novels by an Australian Women writer are your favourite?
Wendy: It’s far too hard to pick just three books! Some favourite novelists: Ruth Park, Henry Handel Richardson, Kate Grenville, Shirley Hazzard, Eleanor Dark… I could go on
Q: What is your preference?
- Coffee/Tea or other? TEA (and Champagne) Beach/Pool or River? BEACH
- Slacks/Jeans or Leggings? JEANS
- Butterfly/Tiger or Giraffe? GIRAFFE– I could use a bit more height.
- Swing/Slide or Roundabout? SLIDE for sure. Don’t have to worry about vertigo or motion-sickness. Fast and fun!
Learn more about Wendy James and her work @
The Mistake is available to Purchase
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