WA lawyer turned-writer Lisa Ellery‘s first novel, crime mystery Private Prosecution has just been published. Born and raised on a farm near Esperance, Lisa studied law at UWA, then established her own law firm in Kalgoorlie. When not working and running marathons, she’s busy writing stories. She chats to The Starfish.
Lisa, congrats on writing your first novel. What’s it about, in a nutshell, and where is it set?
This story is set in Perth. It is about uber-confident junior prosecutor, Andrew Deacon, who finds himself on the wrong side of the law. A one-night stand with the lovely Lily Constantine implicates him as a suspect for her murder. Andrew’s obsession with finding the truth and getting justice for Lil soon results in his suspect – respected criminal barrister Sam Godfrey SC – fighting back. Sam directs his considerable power to inflict pain upon Andrew of both the physical and reputational kind. On the run and in mortal danger, with his relationships with friends, family and work colleagues left in tatters, Andrew must find his way back from a position of powerlessness and vulnerability to make those responsible for Lil’s death pay.
How did you come up with the idea for this?
Before starting, I had a very basic idea about a shallow young man going on a quest to find out who killed his one-night stand. Once I started writing, the rest of the ideas started to come.
How long, roughly, did it take you to turn it from the seed of an idea into a published novel?
About four or five years I think. I was not writing full-time. I was working long hours running my business, and only managed to take a look at the story on occasional weekends and on a week-long writing retreat I did once.
Your protagonist is a lawyer, like you! What made you decide to make the character a male? Did this pose any particular challenges?
No, it wasn’t difficult. I wouldn’t even describe it as a conscious decision. That’s just how the character came out.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I live and work in Kalgoorlie–Boulder, 600 kilometres inland from Perth. I have been a lawyer there for the past two decades and have run my own law firm for the past 13 years. I now employ about a dozen staff so that definitely keeps me busy. I don’t work in criminal law. I much prefer contracts.
Have you always loved writing?
Always. It takes a lot of practice to get good at it, and I have definitely done a lot of practice.
Who are your favourite authors?
As far as crime goes, I love reading anything by Dave Warner. I’ve just finished reading Zoe Deleuil’s The Night Village and am now officially a big fan of her work.
How do you find the time to write as well as running your own law firm? Are you very disciplined?
This is an area that I’m not doing very well in. I have committed to not working weekends any more and try to devote my non-work time to a combination of sleep, exercise, time with family and friends and hobbies. In practice, I’m finding that once I’ve finished the first three I don’t have much time for writing. I am working on how to achieve a better balance.
Did any of the colourful individuals around Kalgoorlie influence your portrayal of any of the characters in your book?
Andrew really does bear very little similarity to anyone I know. I truly don’t know where he came from. Same goes for every character in the book bar one, who draws very heavily from a good friend (I’ll leave you in suspense as to which character that might be, though I’m sure you can work it out). My friend did approve the draft before it went to print.
Before you wrote the book, did you already know exactly how it would end or did the characters have a mind of their own along the way?
Definitely the latter. I find that once I start writing, an ideas factory shudders into motion in the back of my mind. So while I’m writing the ideas I have, the ideas factory is coming up with new ones. Commonly the ideas factory will come up with a place to take the story that requires a wholesale rewrite of what’s happened before, but that’s just the process. I wish I could take credit for having the whole convoluted plot of Private Prosecution in my head before I started. I am quietly excited that people might read it and think that I really am that brainy.
The book’s had lots of praise. How satisfied were you with the end result?
I love this book. From the very early drafts I knew I was writing something that was working. It was my first attempt at writing crime. I tried to explain to friends and family that I was writing something good. They were politely supportive. All the great reviews prove I wasn’t just imagining it!
Was it a little nerve-wracking, submitting your manuscript to the publisher?
No, I submitted it on their public portal and it didn’t cross my mind that they’d actually read it. Turns out someone is casting through all that stuff. I like to imagine it was like a scene from a chick-lit book about a publisher, where someone bursts into the open-plan work area and announces to everyone they’ve got something.
Are you already working on your next novel? If so, what’s it about?
Yes, I’ve written 10,000 words of my next novel and again I’ve started with just a single germ of an idea. I’m very happy with the idea so I don’t plan to tell you about it until I’ve written it, but it’s going to be based in Kalgoorlie–Boulder.
Private Prosecution, (Fremantle Press) is out now.