1. Your first book, Vodka Doesn't Freeze, was obviously hugely influenced by your day to day job experience. Will you be doing something similar with the second book?
Well, the first book really was a mental download of a lot of the horrible things I’ve seen in my ‘day job’ over the years. It was kind of my own therapy. I felt, witnessed, or watched other people experience pretty much everything that happened in Vodka. Voodoo Doll is also based upon real events from my time as a psychologist, but I want people to understand that I distort, intertwine and embellish the true crimes. I'd never want any of my past patients to open one of my books and recognise their suffering reproduced as entertainment in a novel.
Voodoo Doll explores the makings of a psychopath. When I first studied psychology I was fascinated by such people’s minds and always wanted to meet and interview a true psychopath – until I did. On a placement in a maximum security prison I met some of these men and realised I wanted to be as far from them as possible! Still, I guess I'm in some ways still intrigued by the development of their personality disorders, and that’s explored in the second novel.
As a therapist, I help my clients understand that emotionally processing traumatic experiences involves working through them repeatedly, in meticulous detail, and I think that’s what I do for myself when I write about these things.
2. What is it, do you think, that attracts so many readers to crime fiction?
Interesting question, isn’t it? I think many of us are drawn to the macabre or unusual, even if we don't particularly want to be. For some of us it may just be something like being unable to look away from an accident scene, even when we don't really want to see what’s inside. Maybe that’s a survival mechanism for humans – to pay close attention to novel experiences so that we can learn from them, perhaps to assist us in the future.
Some of us though, can't get enough of the thrill of danger and horror – at least experiencing it vicariously through fiction (there are those who are addicted to the real thing, but they’re another – interesting – kettle of fish). Maybe some of us read crime fiction because it takes us away to intriguing worlds we don't typically inhabit. But that doesn’t account for the readers who work in such fields – many emergency service workers, for instance, enjoy crime fiction. For me, there’s a satisfaction in reading a story that turns out the ‘right way’ – the baddie is caught and punished (hopefully horribly) in the end, and that’s often not the way it is in real life. Women, in particular, love crime fiction, and it’s interesting that they’re most likely to be the victims of crime. Maybe it gives a sense of power or control when we see our worst fears brought to life in print, and then vanquished by the end of the book.
I think a lot of crime fiction – the stuff I like anyway – also explores the psychology behind the crime. We want to know why – why would someone do that? How come there are people who could get to the point where they’d do such a thing? How can they be so different to me? But are they really so different? There is evidence that we are all capable of committing truly hideous acts. The Zimbardo prison experiment, Stanley Milgram’s studies on obedience to authority, Nazi Germany, show that under the right (or wrong) conditions we’re all capable of sadistic acts. Maybe we’re living vicariously through the baddies’ eyes in these books? A text by forensic psychiatrist, Robert A. Simon, titled Bad Men Do What Good Men Dream, argues that all of us have evil impulses, but most of us, fortunately, don't act upon them.
3. Do you read much Australian crime fiction? Can you give us a few standouts that you've read recently? What do you think of the current state of the Australian crime fiction scene?
I feel that subscribers to your website are more qualified to answer the last question. I go through spurts of reading fiction and then I'm submerged in work again, so I'm not as well read in crime fiction as lots of other crime authors. To be honest, sometimes I'm so saturated by the impact of actual crime, and have read so many police statements or texts on trauma, that I find myself reaching for a fantasy novel. I recently presented at a couple of writers’ festivals with Catherine Powell and Gabrielle Lord, and it was great to meet them.
4. What do you think could be done to better promote Australian authors either at home or abroad (or both)?
I'm still learning about this industry, so I don't really know yet. I guess media attention is the obvious answer, but to be attractive to the media we must be truly fascinating for some reason, not just have a book to sell. I think websites like yours, and the internet generally, can cross international borders and link like-minded people more easily than traditional media.
5. If your fictional character could meet any fictional character who would you like it to be and why?
Um, I don't think Jill Jackson’s had enough of dispatching paedophiles, so any fictional character with such predilections would be pretty satisfying. Other than that, I wouldn’t mind her spending some time with Jason Bourne. Maybe she’d let me hang around with them for a while?
Leah's first book VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE isn't an easy read - but those who are interested in the psychological aspects of being a victim and a perpretrator should find it fascinating. Her second book, is due soon. Having seen Leah a couple of times at last year's Melbourne Writers Festival - she is a festival guest must see. Her sessions are informative, fascinating and encouragingly accessible.