Writers On Writing / Marele Day shares the secret to creating good suspense

We caught up with iconic Australian crime author Marele Day ahead of her Talking Writing event this Sunday for an insight into the thrilling world of crime fiction.

Crime and thriller books really seem to catch the popular imagination.  Why do you think that is the case?

They allow us to safely explore the darker side of what it is to be human, to vicariously cross a line we may think about crossing but rarely do. There’s probably also some appeal in a protagonist whose life is usually more dysfunctional than our own. Good crime fiction has what every novel should have—a secret at the very heart of it, great writing, narrative drive, and reflections on the world around us.

Without suspense, a story can flounder. What is the secret to keeping tension and interest in a work of crime fiction?

First of all, create characters engaging enough that the reader will care about what happens to them as they venture into dark places. Secondly, learn the art of seduction—when to give information and when to withhold. A question mark has the same shape as a hook. Keep readers hooked by drip-feeding enough information to keep them interested, withhold enough to have them wanting more.  

Your novel, Lambs of God, has been adapted into a soon-to-be-released television drama. What has been your experience of this process?

I had initial consultations with the producers, director, scriptwriter and other stakeholders then handed the baby over. My version of the story is the novel; I was very happy for others to do the TV version. It’s like sending your child to school—first choose a school that you think will bring out the best in her, then let the teachers get on with their job.     



Marele Day’s four-book Claudia Valentine crime series won her a Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award.  Her bestselling literary gothic novel, Lambs of God, was published to international acclaim and is soon to be a major TV miniseries. Marele is a highly experienced teacher and mentor, and has served as judge for literary prizes including the Vogel Awards and NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

In 2019, Foxtel will release a television adaptation of Lambs of God, a dark, gothic tale about three nuns living in an isolated convent by the coast and an unwelcome visitor who enters their lives and changes their world forever.

Our first Talking Writing for 2019 will bring together the writers behind the series this Sunday 3 March at 3pm. Internationally acclaimed author Marele Day and screenwriter Sarah Lambert (Love ChildA Place To Call HomeLove My Way) will be facilitated by Suzanne Leal to shed light on how a work is transformed from the page to screen. Find out more and book a spot >


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