I usually find it difficult to sort out my literary influences, but with Liar it became clear to me that the book was shaped by my years of obsessively reading Patricia Highsmith, Walter Mosley and Jim Thompson. The little I know about writing a psychological thriller I learned from them.
Alternative Private Schools
I went to an alternative high school in Sydney, the Australian International Independent School. We called our teachers by their first name, didn’t have uniforms (rare in Australia), were taught international and peace studies. It was awesome. But also weird. I’ve always wanted to explore the tensions between the wealthy kids who’d been kicked out of Kings or Ascham or wherever and the rest of us. The high school in Liar is an imaginary NYC school, but it was influenced by my own experiences.
Lying when I was a kid
Liar grew from my own experiences as a liar. When I was a kid I made up romantic tales of my derring do in the wilds of the Northern Territory, of my parents meeting during the Spanish Civil War (never mind that they weren’t born then). I don’t think anyone believed me. My stories were too outrageous and I wasn’t very convincing. Didn’t stop me though. I’ve since discovered that many of my fellow novelists were liars as kids. It got me thinking about the connections between lies and stories, the reasons we lie, and what it would be like to lie about everything. How would you live such a life? Why would you live like that?
NEW YORK CITY
Writing about NYC in a USian voice
Liar is my first book set entirely in the US with no Australian characters. Although I’ve lived on and off in NYC for ten years, more than half that time was spent back home in Sydney. I don’t know NYC or the USA or USians the way I know my own city and people. Finding my way into the rhythms of my characters’ language was by far the hardest part of writing the book. Writing in someone else’s vernacular is astonishingly difficult.
Watching sitcoms like Friends and Seinfeld and Hollywood movies set in NYC, I imagined that the city would be full of huge apartments with views of Central Park. Ha! NYC apartments are mostly microscopic. Bathrooms with half tubs, sinks that stick out over the toilet. Bedrooms that fit a single bed and nothing else. Kitchens with showers in them. Zero storage so that things are kept under tables, in the oven, hanging from the ceiling. I wanted to write a New York book that captured the claustrophobia of living there.
The Wild in the City
NYC is hyper urbanised. It stands for modernity, post-modernity and wherever it is we’re living in now. NYC is overcrowded, full of insanely tall buildings, yellow taxis, and the stink of city living: garbage, urine, vomit, car fumes. In summer it’s one of the stinkiest places in the world. Yet right smack dab in the middle is one of the most gorgeous parks in the world teeming with wildlife. Then there’s Inwood at the top of Manhattan which is even wilder. The Bronx zoo is enormous and half wilderness/half zoo. The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and Prospect Park are another oasis of flora and fauna. I’ve always found the hard and fast distinction between city and country unsatisfying. Nature is everywhere. I spent my childhood in Sydney watching tiny lizards scurrying all over the backyard, crows, cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets flying overhead. NYC is no different. Nature and wilderness and city co-exist.
You can find further discussion of how I came to write Liar and the influences on it on my blog. The full list of posts is here.