Tag Archives: crime writing

Beer, Berettas and bonsai: Researching novels

Research for my first novel, Please Don’t Leave Me Here, involved sifting through 1990s newspapers on microfiche at the State Library, frequenting coffee shops in Degraves Street and drinking beer at featured pubs.

My second novel, Dead in the Water, required a lot more research. I stayed at the place where it’s set — Raymond Island, a tiny island in the Gippsland salt-water lakes system, with a population of about 540. There are plenty of koalas, but no shops or other businesses. If you run out of bread or milk [OK, wine], you have to catch the cable ferry across to Paynesville on the mainland for supplies. After the last ferry crossing between 11pm and midnight, there’s no way on or off. The perfect place to set a crime story!

Dead in the Water deals with trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, so I spoke with a police psychologist and officers suffering PTSD. I also made friends with forensic scientists who told me more than I needed to know about dead bodies in water, DNA and gun shot wounds.

The hardest research was learning to shoot a gun. I wanted to write a shooting scene and, being a ‘method writer’, didn’t think I could do it without knowing how it really felt. So, I booked into a course at a pistol club.


You can hear gunshots from the car park. Inside, people are lying on mats, shooting rifles at targets on the range. I go the wrong way and end up in the bistro instead of the training room. You can relax and enjoy a drink in the lounge or licensed bar after shooting the crap out of stuff. There are taxidermied animals around the room and deer heads on the wall.

The training room is full of mostly young men. Anybody — who doesn’t have a police record — can do the handgun-shooting course. So how dangerous can it be? Our instructors enter the room — one has an arm in a sling; the other has a leg missing below the knee.

They teach us about the safety equipment required on the shooting range. Special earmuffs, because guns are louder than a jet engine and can cause permanent hearing damage. Safety glasses, because pieces of shrapnel can fly back and hit you in the eye. And be sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards, because handgun ammunition contains some very hazardous materials like lead styphnate, which can cause heavy metal poisoning. That’s if you have any hands left: Never cross your thumbs behind the slide of a semiautomatic pistol (the slide is the thing on top that flies back from the recoil of the shot, forcing the empty round from the chamber out through the ejection port). Not because it might break your thumb, but because it could slice it right off. Excellent. I start to think maybe I don’t need that gun-shooting scene in my book after all.

shooting range

Relaxed on the shooting range. “Never cross your thumbs behind the slide …”

Out on the range, each shooter is allocated a shooting bay. Always make sure the gun is pointing in a safe direction, and the only safe direction is DOWNRANGE! (they shout a lot on the range). Be especially careful of turning around to talk to the person next to you because … [Remember that scene in Pulp Fiction — ‘I just shot Marvin in the face’? You get the picture]. There is a yellow safety line along the back of the bays, and a red line along the front. NEVER REACH ACROSS THE RED LINE! At this stage, my legs have started to shake and my mouth is very dry.

They said we’d have plenty of time to get the ‘feel’ of the guns before shooting at the targets. But I’m still getting to know my gun, and so not ready when the Range Officer commands ‘EYES AND EARS!’, a reminder to get your safety equipment on. Trying very hard to suppress a panic attack, I put on my earmuffs and safety glasses. ‘MOVE FORWARD. LOAD. FIRE!’

I have a go at shooting semiautomatic pistols of increasing calibre, my mantra the whole time: Never cross your thumbs behind the slide, never cross your thumbs behind the slide, never cross your thumbs behind the slide. Then I try some revolvers, including a Magnum (or was it a Beretta? — same name as a cop show from the 1980s), which has quite a kickback.

The cylinder on one of my revolvers seems to be stuck. I keep trying to pull the trigger, but it won’t work, so I hold up my hand. The Range Commander comes over to check what’s wrong. Lucky I asked for help because one of the rounds is stuck in a chamber and, had I kept trying to shoot, it could have caught fire and exploded in my hands. That’s enough for me. I donate my remaining ammo to the guy in the next bay who is enjoying himself far more than I am. I come away with my eyes, ears and thumbs intact, and enough details to write the gun-shooting scene.


In my work in progress (working title: You Used to Love Me), my protagonist’s hobby is bonsai. I’m looking forward to a relaxing short course, researching the gentle art of bonsai. Careful with the trimming tools?


Dark and spindly like an old Tasmanian apple orchard in winter

I don’t often post reviews — anymore 🙂 — but this one (of Please Don’t Leave Me Here) by Janice Simpson is too good not to share:

This novel took me on a dark and winding road of connection, coincidence and secrets. Chandler’s writing is assured, her characters are people you think you know, or at least have met once or twice. Flaws are close to the surface, which is the real strength of her characterisation, as authors often fall into the hole of creating an unpleasant character when writing a character with faults. Not in this novel, however.

In Part I, the protagonist, Brigitte, jolts through that which comes her way, the core and the peripheral indistinguishable in her world: her mother’s voice scratching in her ear; the one-too-many glasses of wine; her run-over cat. She is trying to keep many things humming along including being wife, mother and sister; a writer of monthly articles for ‘Parenting Today’; landlady to Aiden, one of her husband’s colleagues; and a past. (Incidentally, what happens on the night of the twins’ birthday will make you view cake quite differently.) And Kurt Cobain.

Part II is heartbreaking. Who doesn’t know a young woman who falls in love, falls for money over substance, falls into a hole. The positivists say holes such as these are made by the people who fall into them. They’ve had their chances, they never wanted for a roof over their heads and a meal on the table, so it must be their fault. But Chandler is able to weave a different version of how people come to fall in holes, a story that is altogether more satisfying, even while you lay in bed clutching the book, hoping that the bad thing you think is bearing down will be diverted. And Kurt Cobain shoots himself. The biggest hole of all.

I loved this book. It is dark and spindly like an old Tasmanian apple orchard in winter.

Janice’s novel Murder in Mount Martha is a terrific read. Well-drawn characters — some to hate, and some to adore. Inspired by a real case, the story will lull you with its nostalgia and shock you with its violence. So much more than just a crime story.

My author interview on Crime Book Club

Originally posted on Crime Book Club


Thank you for taking the time out of your busy blog tour to answer some questions for Crime Book Club.
1. Can I just start by saying how much I enjoyed reading ‘Please Don’t Leave Me Here’. You had me from the first page until the last, I was left open mouthed at the end of part 1. Can you tell us about it, and where your inspiration came from?

Thank you so much!
PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE is a tale of murder, love and despair. It starts with my protagonist, Brigitte, married with three-year-old twins, but her marriage and her very sanity, is being undermined by the pull of the past. Fourteen years ago Brigitte was left for dead by a hit-and-run driver. She claims to have no memory of events before her accident, including the body found in her apartment.
Whether or not Brigitte really is a killer is the anchor to the story, but the whodunnit element matters less than how Brigitte ends up, how she faces her inner demons and wins or loses.
The inspiration for this story came one day when I was flicking through my old journals and I came across an entry from the day that Kurt Cobain was found dead. I was surprised by how different my memory of the time was compared to what I had written in my journal. It made me think about the memories we hold and how they become skewed over time. I wanted to explore the idea of whether or not people ever really change – with age, circumstances, relationships. What remains constant and what shifts?
I was also inspired by music, art, books, objects, smells, dreams, memories, snippets of conversations overheard on the tram.

2. Did you know you wanted to write in the crime genre or did your characters bring you here?
Initially, I had delusions of writing literary fiction. I was doing a Professional Writing and Editing diploma at the time and was surprised that my classmates thought I was writing a thriller. But my teacher said it lacked tension. I was stuck for a while. Then one day I got frustrated with the feedback, and I thought, ‘What would be the one thing I could do to really increase the tension?’ Answer: I wrote a homicide detective. And that was the key!
I went back to the drawing board, thought a lot about plot and structure, rewrote in third person (it was originally written in first), read a lot of crime fiction and did some research. From there on, the writing got easier, and it became the story it was meant to be.

3. Did you write from an early age?
Yes. I started writing stories when I was about five, and I’ve always kept journals.

4. I was so conflicted about different characters throughout, I found myself loving and hating them for their actions or lack of, was that your intention?
Yes, that was my intention. All my characters are flawed, and none are completely good or completely bad. I hope this makes them more human.
The character I felt most conflicted about was Matt. I don’t think he loved or helped Brigitte enough. Under the charm, he was self-righteous and condescending, and he wanted to change her. Aidan was the only one who knew everything about her and accepted her anyway.

5. When you include a famous person in a fictional book you can open yourself up to the readers. Did you feel any pressure to research Kurt Cobain’s death in depth?
I wasn’t a big Nirvana/Kurt Cobain fan before I started writing PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE, but I was by the end. Researching Kurt’s death, I found myself captivated by his story and his music. So sad. It was more his essence rather than true events surrounding his death that I wanted to capture. Kurt helped set the mood of the book as well as the time, and he symbolised despair and tragedy.

6. What was the last book you read that you would consider a must read?
‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ by Australian author Richard Flanagan.
I also recently reread ‘The Great Gatsby’ and was blown away by the great story, the portrait of the 1920s, and the elegant prose. Like most people I was made to read this book when I was too young to understand it, but it’s definitely a must read (the second time around).

7. I like that we see Brigitte in many different lights and found myself shouting at her many times through the book, did you enjoy writing her?
Writing Brigitte was up and down, as you can imagine – sometimes it was fun, and sometimes it was distressing. It sounds cruel, but when writing scenes, I would think: What’s the worst thing that could happen here? OK, now rewrite it and make it worse for her.

8. Do you have any rituals for when you are writing? Such as a desk in the basement, with poor lighting and a loud dripping sound……
No rituals really, although it sounds like you’re describing my house! I wrote most of PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE between the hours of 5 and 7a.m. My kids were small, I was studying, and running a small business from home, so the early mornings were the only times I had for writing. I still stick to that routine because it seems to be my most productive time.

9. Your novel includes so much loss and addiction that as a reader I felt Brigitte’s pain and the spiral into her drastic actions. Did you have to research what could take her to that point of not wanting to live and the drugs involved?
I sought advice from psychologists, and GPs about which prescription drugs, or drug combinations, would plausibly cause reactions like nightmares and hallucinations.
Brigitte’s drastic actions were mostly accidental. It’s not hard to imagine how something like this could happen – a patient in pain (physical as well as emotional) being prescribed medications and then abusing them.

10. Can you tell us what is next for Tania Chandler?
I’m putting the finishing touches on my second novel, the sequel to PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE. It’s more crime fiction than psychological thriller, although, like in PDLMH, the characters are more important than the crime. It’s set five years later, on an island in the middle of an inland lakes system where there is no way off after the last ferry leaves for the night. Brigitte and several of the original characters return.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and for such a good read.
Thank you!

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Tania Chandler

Rebecca Bradley

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Tania Chandler to the First Draft hot seat.

Tania Chandler

TANIA CHANDLER is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. Her work was awarded a special commendation in the 2013 Writers Victoria Crime Writing competition. Please Don’t Leave Me Here is her first novel, and she is currently working on a sequel.

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

20150817_121349I start by scribbling copious notes in exercise books (or on napkins in cafes, or scraps of paper while waiting at traffic lights — ideas have an annoying habit of transpiring at the most inopportune times). I try to capture things about character, setting, backstory, images and other sensory elements.

Before I start writing, I try to have a plot outline, which I map loosely to a narrative framework (I find Nigel Watts’s ‘Eight-point story arc’ and Syd Field’s ‘Paradigm’ helpful), knowing that most of it…

View original post 1,226 more words



PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE is a Melbourne based Australian crime novel that goes beyond the confines of traditional crime fiction.

Author Tania Chandler has crafted a moving tale of two distinct plot threads
which ultimately converge to form a singular, broad spanning plot that at once paints a startlingly different picture of lead character Bridget from what readers are introduced to in the first half of the novel while also providing context to the murder mystery that envelops her throughout the present day passages as past events unfold.

PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE has the feeling of reading two books at once, such is
the differentiation from present day Bridget as mother, wife to a cop husband, and homemaker to the more risque young, impressionable woman who uses the nightlife and her good looks to get by. It’s a clever yin and yang effect that links a violent mystery to an unassuming character without compromising plausibility.

Another element I particularly enjoyed was the use of dreams to break-up the narrative, a theme that was maintained throughout both past and present story-lines. It was interesting to see the relevance of these strange dreams come to fruition as the novel progressed; Bridget is a complicated character perfectly written by Chandler.

PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE is a highly enjoyable read that gives readers
a multidimensional look at the lead character through two quite different aspects of life.

Writing ‘Please Don’t Leave Me Here’

PDLMH COVERI wrote most of Please Don’t Leave Me Here between the hours of 5 a.m and 7 a.m. My children were small, I was studying and running a small business from home, so the early mornings were pretty much the only times I had for writing.

It’s hard to pinpoint where the story idea came from. I had this vivid, cinematic image in my head of a serpent tattoo breathing on somebody’s back — I think that was the first thing I wrote, even though I didn’t know who it belonged to at the time. Around the same time, for some reason, I was flicking through my old journals. I came across an entry from the day Kurt Cobain was found dead. I was surprised by how different my memory of that time was compared to what I had written on the actual day in my journal. It made me think about the memories we hold and how they become skewed over time.

The memory of Kurt became an important part of the story. I was also inspired by music, art, books, objects, smells, dreams, snippets of conversations overheard on the tram …

Please Don’t Leave Me Here started as a short story that explored whether or not people ever really change — with age, circumstances, relationships. What remains constant and what shifts? It became a very long two-part short story (part one set in the present and part two set in the past). Still it kept growing, like rice pudding — it always wanted to be a novel.

Ernest Hemingway said: ‘Writing is rewriting’. It’s true — once I had a cohesive draft I rewrote it and rewrote it and rewrote it. And then rewrote it again. And again …

I had a lot of help while writing Please Don’t Leave Me Here. I was lucky enough to have some very clever people around me (a couple of published authors, my writers group, RMIT Professional Writing and Editing lecturers and classmates) who generously gave honest feedback and advice, which was sometimes tough to hear. A lot of tears went into writing this book! Many times I threw up my hands and said I was giving up. But I never could.

Although some parts of the story felt like being in somebody’s nightmare, other parts felt like ‘going home’ to a childhood place. I drew the scenes set in Brigitte’s grandparents’ house from memories of my own grandparents. I loved all my characters (even dreadful Eric Tucker). I also loved the editing process, and felt sad the day the proofs were finished because it meant finally letting go of the story.

Novel research trip

Day 1: On The Road

First location. Really!

Ryan's Hotel, Traralgon

Ryan’s Hotel, Traralgon

I’m thinking more exotic locations for my third novel. New York? Paris? Maybe Detective Aidan could go visit his relatives in Italy …

Bairnsdale Court House

Second location: Bairnsdale Court House

Raymond Island ferry

Raymond Island ferry


I was half-expecting to find Detective Aidan sitting on the porch with a beer in his hand. No — just a koala.


Day 2: The Old Middle-aged Man Woman And The Sea Lakes


Should have bought my swimmers! Almost forgot: It’s not a holiday.


Lakes Entrance







Day 3: The Shining?


Whenever you hear me typing …

 Day 4: The Road

Finally found a location round the back of the island for the shooting scene.

Gravelly Point Road. Very gravelly.

Gravelly Point Road. Very gravelly.


Tea Tree Lane beach







The sea was angry that day, my friends.


Look who’s here. Hooray! Another writer. Amy Jasper.

Day 4: Please Don’t Leave Me Here (had to get that one in)


Bye-bye, my annoying little friend (lay off the potato chips for a while).







And farewell to my imaginary story-friends who will forever live in this place.

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