Kerryn Mayne, author of ‘Lenny Marks Gets Away With Murder’ shares details about her novel, the writing process, and the fact that her four-year-old believes her protagonist is a real person.
What was your writing process like for Lenny Marks Gets Away With Murder? Did you have a writing routine or any regular rituals?
What’s the opposite of a routine? Chaos? I think haphazard would be a good description for my writing routine. While writing Lenny Marks, I was on maternity leave with my second child and Melbourne was in one of its many lockdowns. Because of this, we saw very few people and I would take the kids for a walk, come home, put my son to sleep, turn the TV on for my daughter and attempt to write as many words as possible, hoping his nap was long and the TV show held her interest.
This was easier some days than others. I found it really satisfying if I got a chance to do anything writer-like during the day: getting some words down, editing done, or even just tuning in to a writing podcast or author chat. It also kept me away from the housework, which seemed unnecessary and relentless.
How did you first come up with the idea for the book?
Lenny Marks came to me first. A woman who had long ago had something awful happen in her life and how she got up and kept going. It was always meant to be a story about Lenny, and not about what happened to her. I think it’s ended up being both, but ultimately it is about her strength and ability to adapt.
She could be anyone: your neighbour/kids' teacher/regular customer. Lenny doesn’t think she’s anything interesting or extraordinary when she is really both of those things.
The setting and storyline of the book changed a lot (so many drafts!) from the initial writing to the finished product, but I believe I achieved what I set out to do. I love Lenny and I am pretty sure my four-year-old thinks Lenny Marks is a real person, given the way I refer to her as if she lives with us (Lenny that is, the four-year-old definitely lives with me).
What was your big break into publishing?
Getting my book into the hands of the wonderful Beverley Cousins at Penguin Random House was my big break. This was the start of all the good things that have happened.
I was very lucky to have my book referred to Bev by a fellow author, which meant it wasn’t on the bottom of her slush pile (I think that is how it works). Having time to meet other authors, attend events (when not in lockdown), do short courses, watch webinars, listen to podcasts, etc. was all part of the journey for me.
I am unable to describe quite how thrilling it was to be told Penguin wanted to acquire Lenny Marks. I was in a state of disbelief (and continue to be). Shortly after this brilliant news, my daughter vomited on the floor, which was excellent for keeping me grounded. Children, it turns out, have no sense of occasion.
How long have you been working on this book?
If memory serves me correctly (and it often does not) around two years from getting the first words down to having it finished and sending it out on submission. It did not seem like a long time, I needed all those months to reread, do another draft, print it out, cover it in red pen, and draft it again. Repeat.
What was the publishing process like (finding an agent, submitting manuscripts, etc.)?
It was interesting. Lenny Marks is the second book I’ve finished, but the first book that has gone anywhere. The first book, now filed in the depths of my computer, taught me a lot about the submission process. It was ultimately unsuccessful, but I wouldn’t have the insight into the publishing pathways and process so accurately any other way.
That involved a lot of rejection emails – or no emails at all.
You’ve really got to put your best foot forward, throw everything you have behind it, hope for the best, and then just keep typing the next book while you wait. I don’t have an agent, but would love one and that was part of the plan (which is why the plan should never be written in pen, always in pencil).
What most excites you about your book being published in 2023?
EVERYTHING. Even now, well before the release date, the lovely messages from the book community (about how the cover looks, or how excited they are to read it) are just so encouraging and wonderful. It has made me realise that if you love a book you should always let the author know because as creative people, we really fester in self-doubt.
I cannot wait to see my book on a shelf in a bookstore. If you see someone staring at/ squealing or dancing in front of a copy of Lenny Marks in a bookstore – it may very well be me.
Do you have a favourite book or author?
There are a lot of favourites, and the list changes regularly. The solid favourite I have is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I am not a crier and have cried all three times I’ve read it.
It is the most tragic, beautiful, uplifting story written so damn magically it makes me feel incredibly inept as a writer. Also in the top five are Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Boy Swallows Universe. The other two positions change depending on what I’ve recently read.
What inspired you to become a writer?
It was largely other authors. I used to write (back in high school) and loved it, but never thought anything of it and never kept it up. Then we had author Sally Hepworth along to our book club to talk about one of her novels and – long story short – she inspired me to get back into it. Writing is a great hobby – it requires little in the way of equipment and can be done anywhere, at any time. It’s been so great for my mental health and has given me a renewed love of books.
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
I really wanted to cut material at Spotlight. I thought it looked like a lot of fun, and I’ve never got to do it.
If you could go back in time and give your past self one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
Just to back myself. What seems like complete waffle one day will seem better the next. Or it won’t, but there’s always the delete key or the next draft to fix up the waffle.
What is the best writing lesson/ tip you ever received?
There are so many gems over the years, but I especially like the suggestion to just write in cracks of time. If you wait for the perfect scenario to write, you never will. Aim small - even a short burst of 350 words a day will make a book eventually.
And read lots.
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On 9 August 2023, Penguin Random House AU hosted our first-ever in-house author event for Penguin Noir: A Crime Author Showcase.
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An exciting Penguin Random House author showcase on 9 August!
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The debut author also shares the fictional character she’d most like to meet and why she loved Lemony Snicket’s writing as a child.
Plus, find out why he taught himself to memorise an entire deck of cards while researching for the novel.