Culture Street

Rebecca James is the author of the bestselling novel Beautiful Malice and most recently Sweet Damage. She lives in Canberra with her partner and four sons.

Sweet Damage is published by Allen & Unwin and is available now from all good bookstores.

Can you describe your latest book in five words?

Guy, agoraphobic girl, horrific secrets.

What was the inspiration for the story of Sweet Damage?

I started thinking about anxiety and agoraphobia and how the idea of a person who’s basically  trapped in a house had a great deal of narrative potential. I then started thinking about how a lot of people regard mental illnesses like agoraphobia. Sometimes people can see mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety,  as a weakness, a failure. They think ‘buck up, be strong, get over it,’ when the reality is that these are complex and very real mental illnesses. It’s not possible to ‘get over it’ through a mere effort of will.

I thought it would be interesting to narrate most of the story from Tim’s perspective – a well-meaning but slightly insensitive guy who is completely baffled by Anna’s situation, her inability to leave the house. That was the basic set-up and then I had to put Tim and Anna under a whole lot of pressure and create a big mystery and lot of twisty plot elements to keep readers guessing and turning the pages.

Your first book, Beautiful Malice, was an international publishing sensation, published in 52 countries. Is it hard to follow up such a successful book?

You definitely feel more pressure when you’re writing for an audience (and here I include the publishers) who have expectations. When I was writing Beautiful Malice I had nothing to lose, and there’s a certain freedom in that. I could take the characters and the story anywhere I wanted. While writing Sweet Damage I was always conscious that a certain type of book was expected of me (a YA/crossover psychological thriller to be precise) and that can make the writing process a bit trickier.But on the other hand, it’s lovely to know that people are anticipating and looking forward to your book. I guess it can be a bit of a double-edged sword, like so many things in life.

 Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?

Read a lot. Read some more. Never stop reading. Enjoy what you’re reading but also try to think about it critically. Approach writing in the same way.

What is next for you?

I’ve started my next book and it’s looking like it might turn out to be another psychological thriller. But I’ve only written approximately 346 words (just over one very lonely page) so that could change - anything could happen! In the beginning it always seems impossible that the first few pages will ever grow into a complete book, but I know that if I keep working on it, word by painful word, it’ll eventually happen. (To be honest, I sometimes wish there was some kind of magic secret shortcut). (That only I knew about).

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