We’re all going to hear a heck of a lot of the ‘t’ word in…
Author Nina D. Campbell has previously written for HerCanberra about finding her dream career later in life and what it’s like to publish a gripping thriller.
So now, we’re turning the tables on this debut author ahead of her In Conversation event this Saturday 21 May at Woden Library.
We sat down with Nina to find out what drove her to write Daughters of Eve, her recently released thriller, how she crafted her Detective heroine and how the #MeToo movement impacted her work.
Give us the one-line/elevator pitch for Daughters of Eve, your recently released thriller.
When we’re losing one woman a week to domestic violence, the Daughters of Eve want to know—what happens if women start shooting back.
What drew you to the character of Detective Emilia Hart? What did you pour into her character from yourself, and what was inspired by others?
I didn’t know it as I wrote, but a lot of Emilia’s character is drawn from my mother who died before I was thirty. She was an incredible and inspiring woman who never walked past a person in need. Our house was a bit of a bohemian haven, with my dad’s paintings competing with the ever-expanding book collection for wall space. I often woke to find strangers asleep on the couch or knocking at the door seeking my mother’s counsel.
When I was ten, I met my first trans person, one of her work colleagues who had turned up to work in a wig and dress. She told me later that she’d been terrified of turning up to a room full of dropped jaws and wide eyes, but my Mum looked up and said something like, “I think we need to go shopping, love. That dress does nothing for your figure.”
At my mum’s funeral, the chapel was standing room only. We had an open mic, and the funeral went for well over an hour as people shared stories of how Mum had helped them when their world was darkest. And that’s Emilia. A woman who carries her own scars but she’s never lost her Hart.
The #MeToo movement had quite an impact on your plot—tell us about that.
I wrote the first draft of Daughters of Eve in 2017, when #MeToo was breaking. The press was focused on Harvey Weinstein’s horrors, but my social media feed was full of disclosures that hit much closer to home. Friends and colleagues raised their hands, some of them sharing stories of abuse that would break the hardest of hearts.
#MeToo got me thinking about the sheer scale of social trauma being carried because of domestic and sexual violence and abuse. I wanted to write a story that didn’t focus so much on the acts of violence, but on the incredible resilience of women who lived full and meaningful lives while carrying the scars of that trauma.
I also wanted to explore our responses to violence against women as a community. How is it that we can drive down the road toll and push back against diseases like cancer, but we appear incapable of stemming the tide of deaths and damage caused by intimate partner abuse and violence. I wanted to look at what might happen if the shoe was on the other foot, and women started killing the men who were committing these largely unpunished crimes.
What has writing this novel told you about our modern attitudes (and advocacy) around violence against women?
I was a women’s officer in the 1990s, so I had a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the issues facing women and as I did the research for Daughters of Eve, I was horrified to learn how little has changed. A recent review into sexual violence and harassment on Australia’s university campuses was disturbing in its similarity to studies done back then.
In the five years since I wrote the first draft, I have felt a rising tide for change. The emergence of voices like Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins has shifted the shame for sexual violence from the victims to the perpetrators, while investigative reporters and Royal Commissions have exposed the scale and horror of systemic and institutionalised abuse and violence. Last year’s March for Justice rallies felt different to me, both in the demographic of the marchers (women and men of all ages) and in the way our outrage was expressed.
The cultural conversation has shifted. You can hear it in the way we talk about violence and see it in our response to events like ‘the slap’ at the Oscars. We’re talking about domestic and sexual violence as a community and on television, in books and on film. Daughters of Eve isn’t a lone voice in the wilderness, it sits within a growing body of work examining the issues and demanding change.
You’ve had an interesting road to becoming a published author. What changed the course of your professional life—and what would you say to others wanting to follow in your footsteps?
I was a professional writer for most of my working life, writing everything from briefings to promotional material to Ministerial speeches. Then a health crisis made me realise I had a finite number of words left to offer the world and I realised I wanted all those words to be passionate and powerful. I cut my hours at work and finally left the public service in 2017 to write full-time.
My advice to anyone who wants to be a writer (or anyone with a dream) is to go for it. Put yourself and your dreams at the top of your to do list and work out your priorities from there. Your job feeds your body, but your dreams feed your soul!
What’s your writing practice like—favourite spots to write, soundtracks, snacks?
I need a cup of tea beside me, Molly dog curled up at my feet (or tucked into the chair behind me) and then I sit at the computer and wait. Social media can be a bit of a trap, so I try not to open a browser for anything other than quick research (I use Google Maps to put myself in locations as I write). If the words don’t come, I’ll use music to get my head in the space—but I write best in silence.
If music doesn’t jag something lose, I’ll usually take Molly for a quick walk. Over the years I’ve learned that a walk can restart my brain like a computer (have you tried turning it off and on again). If a walk doesn’t work, I start writing – anything – because you can edit bad words, but you can’t edit a blank page.
What’s next for you?
I’m almost ready to start writing the next book. I’ve had a few ideas swirling, but readers have said they’d like to hear more from Detective Emilia Hart, so I’m focusing on that challenge.
I’ve got the first three chapters in my head, I just need to make time to write them between promoting Daughters of Eve. It’s the curse of the debut author, needing to make sure you sell enough of the first book to get signed for a second at the same time as you try to write the second. And I’m determined to make her second book as strong a page-turner as her first!
What’s on your To Be Read Pile?
The rule when I’m writing is never to read from the same genre, so I’m dying to get my hands on Sulari Gentill’s The Woman in the Library (coming out on 1 June) and Dervla McTeirnan’s recently released The Murder Rule. Once I’m writing I’ve lined up Sarah Penner’s The Lost Apothecary, Victoria Purman’s The Nurses’ War and Lisa Ireland’s The Secret Life of Shirley Sullivan, Beverley Oakley’s Loving Lily and Lexi Green’s Shatterproof.
You can catch Nina In Conversation this Saturday 21 May from 2 pm at Woden Library.
This is a free event and open to everyone. You can find more information here.