Back in 2005, a German backpacker had been found murdered, her body left under palm fronds near a Lismore caravan park, and her case has gone largely unsolved, despite several good leads and at least three suspects. My lawyer friend, Tracey, who also happens to live near Lismore, knew about the case and thought it would make a fascinating book.
But did I listen to her? No I did not!
Then, last weekend, while planted in the packed audience at a true crime session of the Byron Bay Writers Festival—a popular annual event that I NEVER miss out on—I had the great good fortune of hearing three writers speak about their work.
One of them was about a German backpacker who had been found murdered, her body left under palm fronds near a Lismore caravan park. What? No! Not only was the tragic story of Simone Strobel fascinating, the author, Virginia Peters, had such an incredible tale to tell of researching and writing the book, and the audience was captivated by the excerpt she read out.
After the session I rushed out to buy the book.
While I'm yet to finish Have You Seen Simone? (Penguin, 2014)—freelance work, why do you plague me so?—I am enjoying it thoroughly. And I can not help wondering, what if ...
What if I had listened to my lawyer friend and written the book myself?
One step removedI recall at the time Tracey suggested it, I was intrigued. I've always had a macabre interest in true crime, devouring Who/People magazines' crime articles weekly and reading real crime stories in daily papers with the same gusto that my heroine Roxy Parker does. (Although, unlike Roxy I do not cut and paste them in a Book of Death. I'm sick, but not that sick!)
Yet I made a deliberate attempt to ignore my friend's advice. I like reading about true crime, I love writing crime fiction, but both things afford me a distance that writing true crime would not. Mine are one step removed. Safe and cosy. To do this book I would need to do as Virginia does, and not only immerse myself in the real crime, decaying flesh and all, but I would have to meet and interview the suspects. I would have to look a potential murderer in the eye.
It felt like a step too far. Did I really want to invite that kind of vermin into my life? Back then, I decided, not.
Now, flicking through this book and remembering the wide-eyed audience who clung to the author's every word at the Writers Fest, I wish I had been braver. I wish I had taken a risk. And I wish I had written about an important story that needed to be told. Maybe if I had, it would be me sitting up on that podium, keeping an audience entranced with a story that breaks your heart.
Oh well, Tracey, you tried. Next time I'll heed your advice!
Happy reading everyone and kudos to you, Ms Peters.
POSTCRIPT: Despite not pointing the finger directly at any one suspect, author Virginia Peters is currently being sued for defamation. For me, this only underscores the importance of this story and the author's utter bravery.