How a Serial Hobbyist Became an Accidental Crime Novelist - Hope 103.2

How a Serial Hobbyist Became an Accidental Crime Novelist

Successful Australian crime writer Sulari Gentill shares her approach to crafting "the grand lie" of storytelling.

By Katrina RoeFriday 29 Jul 2022Hope Book ClubCultureReading Time: 4 minutes

Australian crime writer Sulari Gentill never wanted to be a novelist.

She said there was no plan, no grand design. In fact, it happened quite by accident.

The author of the new hit novel The Woman in the Library was a lawyer and a “serial hobbyist”. She would pick up a hobby, do it intensely for six months and move on to something else.

“I’ve done ceramic doll making and lead-lighting and welding and I can pregnancy test your cows,’ Sulari joked. “You name it, I’ve done it.”

“I started writing in much the same way. I’d finished the welding course and I was looking for something to do and I thought: ‘Oh well I’ll write a novel’.”

Sulari only planned to write “a novel”. One. Fast forward a decade and fourteen books later and she can’t imagine doing anything else.

Hope 103.2 is proudly supported by

Sulari only planned to write “a novel”. One. Fast forward a decade and fourteen books later and she can’t imagine doing anything else.

“Very quickly it was like breathing properly for the first time in my life. I realised that it was what I should have always been doing, it just took me a long time to figure that out. I realised that I didn’t want to do anything else, so I wound back my legal practise and I’ve been a full-time writer for several years now.”

Australian crime author Sulari Gentill

Source: Sulari Gentill Facebook

Sulari said crime writing was a brilliant way to talk about more serious issues while readers were “distracted” by the murder. Her Rowland Sinclair novels explore Australian politics and society in the 1920s. Her new book, The Woman in the Library, explores the nature of friendship, the power of words and how life imitates art.

In The Woman in the Library, fictional Australian author Hannah Tigone is writing a murder mystery about four strangers who happen to be in the Boston Public Library at the moment a woman is murdered. Her scream brings them together, but one of them is the murderer.

In another layer of the same story, Hannah is also corresponding with a mega-fan called Leo, whose detailed emails become increasingly concerning. As the book progresses, Hannah worries about the lengths her biggest fan might go to for a good story.

Sulari was writing the tenth Rowland Sinclair novel, set in Boston, when the idea for The Woman in the Library sparked.

She was corresponding with a writing friend in Boston, who had agreed to be her legs and eyes and ears in Boston so she could “write a novel set in Boston with some authenticity”.

“He was also sending me menus and maps and photographs and weather reports. And then he started taking footage of things like sidewalks, so I could see how the snow piled up on the sidewalk in winter. And then one day there was a murder about two blocks from where he was staying. And he thought, ‘Sulari’s a crime writer, it might be helpful for Sulari to know what crime scene tape and coroner’s vans look like in America.’ So he took himself down to the crime scene, after the body had been removed, and he filmed it.”

When she opened the video file, her husband happened to be standing behind her. He said, “Gee, I hope Larry’s isn’t killing people so he can send you research”. Sulari instantly realised this would be a great premise for a book.

While she is enjoying the popularity of The Woman in the Library, Sulari admits it feels surreal to suddenly be an “overnight success” after fourteen books.

“All the time, this kind of success is what you hope for and what you dream about, but funnily enough when it happens it still takes you completely by surprise and it’s a little surreal. It feels almost unreal.”

In this bonus episode of the Hope Book Club podcast, Sulari Gentill talks about:

  • The fun of playing with the conventions of murder mysteries
  • Setting a book in a city you’ve never been to
  • Why Australian crime fiction is so successful right now
  • Her writing process
  • The dilemmas created by COVID-19 for writers
  • What she’s writing next

We hope you enjoy this bonus episode of The Hope Book Club – because life’s just better with a book!

Listen now in the player above as successful Australian crime writer Sulari Gentill shares her approach to crafting “the grand lie” of storytelling.

Feature image: booktopia.com.au