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Kimberley Starr, author of The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies

Kimberley Starr's novel, The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies (University of Queensland Press), has psychologist Madeleine Jeffries returning to Brisbane 20 years after a child disappeared, an event she was on the periphery of as a teenager. Now a number of similar disappearances have occurred. She has to deal with her past, as well as the case at hand.I asked author Kimberley Starr about her novel, and about her favorite books.

Some people prefer an era of writing; Kimberley Starr said she liked the Modernists.

Ms Starr’s favorite titles included The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises; plus The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot, and the work of EM Forster and Henry James.

Emerging in the decades before 1914, Modernism encompassed new artistic and literary styles, with artists rebelling against late 19th century literary forms, and trying to present what they said was an emotionally truer picture of how people really felt and thought.

Modernism gained momentum in the 1920s, and by the 1930s was well-entrenched in the literary establishment.

I asked Ms Starr about her crime reading, too – and about her own novel The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies.

READERSVOICE.COM: When you were researching crime and thriller novels for The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies, which titles did you find most helpful and what techniques did you learn from them?

KIMBERLEY STARR: I enjoy many books by British crime writers including Minette Walters and Ruth Rendell.

I don’t know that I learned many techniques from them though; novels by these women follow crime fiction conventions and as I was not setting out to write a genre novel, my research did not necessarily encompass such books.

RV: This is a big question, but can you talk a bit about how you engineered the plot of The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies?

KS: In brief, I started with the teenaged sections and realised later on that I needed an adult voice to contextualise them.

The plot wasn’t really engineered at the start so much as allowed to grow; it was more an organic than a structural process.

Once I had a substantial body of material together, I realised this was the story I was trying to tell.

RV: To what extent is writing crime thrillers about planting questions in the reader’s mind? Is plotting a series of questions leading somewhere?

KS: I hope my novel planted questions in people’s minds to the extent of giving them something to think about but largely, the first part of this particular questions is well outside my scope, I’d rather leave issues like that to people who’ve written more than one novel, and more tightly within the genre… As for plotting being a series of questions leading somewhere, I do think that’s an interesting way of looking at it, particularly in terms of a series of questions. I often ask “what if…?” when I’m writing.

I don’t always know where I’m going, though!

RV: I read a Ruth Rendell novel recently, The Rottweiler, and she seemed to use the crime story as a pretext to describe people’s lives in an English town, which I liked.

Is describing life in Brisbane your main motive with The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies?

KS: I also enjoy Ruth Rendell, particularly in her other incarnation as Barbara Vine.

I wouldn’t dare guess at what her motives are for writing, but it would be too simple to say that describing Brisbane was why I wrote; it was certainly a big part of what I wrote.

I write for lots of other reasons; because I have to, mainly… otherwise I don’t think I could have stuck at this trying to get published business for so long!

RV: Can you talk about the research you undertook for the novel? What sort of people did you interview, or reading did you do, and how long did it take?

KS: I’m not sure how long it took as I didn’t do my research in big chunks but rather in bits here and there as it became apparent to me that there were things I needed to know.

Although I discussed elements of the plot with certain people, most of my research was the more traditional sitting-in-a-library kind… I read a lot of books a bout criminal psychology, and then that research that was more important; the going places and the thoroughly inhabiting them, and the working out how best to describe them so other people might get a sense of them too.

RV: Can you talk about the schedule you had when writing the novel? Did you allow a certain block of time to finish it, or a certain amount of time each day?

KS: I wrote when my son was sleeping. I didn’t have a finishing time in mind, because I thought I’d finished it several times.

Each time, I took it out later and realised there was more work that would make the story richer.

This is a big part of the drafting process for me.

RV: Will you stick with the crime thriller genre or try another one with your next book about numismatics?

KS: I wasn’t consciously writing a crime genre book this time and my next novel doesn’t necessarily even have a crime in it; I hope this won’t disappoint anyone!

I try to write believable characters and to explore ideas, my next novel will be about obsession.

RV: Can you think of any out-of-the-way sorts of books, fact or fiction, people might be interested in?

KS: My favourite out-of-the-way books are probably unfindable by other people; I like to go to antiquarian bookstores and buy books about old-fashioned sciences and things like phrenology.

I have one nineteenth century phrenology textbook that includes the image of a man who looks exactly like Kerry Packer!!

[An Australian media magnate along the lines of Rupert Murdoch]

I’m sure there’s a novel idea for me somewhere in these books but I haven’t found it yet.