There’s an address we’ve been given and, for once, I wish I were driving. But it’s Stephanie behind the wheel of my car and the dirt track is kicking up a reddish cloud as we drive. Shirley Marr’s given us the address, but I’m starting to feel like this isn’t Kansas anymore… or Melbourne.
“It’s Mel-born, Steph. MEL-born.”
“MELL-Beurn,” Stephanie says, trying to twist her lips around the word. “Whatever. When am I going to see a kangaroo?”
“You’ll see one eventually,” I mutter, stretching my neck and wondering where the hell Shirley Marr has sent us to – because even I don’t know where we are. We’re in the middle of nowhere and we’re not getting any closer to civilization.
We pull up to an old shack on an abandoned cattle ranch and chills run up and down my spine.
“No. No. I’m not getting attacked by a psycho ghost again!”
“Calm down, Steph. It’s just an abandoned old shack. There are hundreds of these out here.”
“Calm down? Calm down! You didn’t have Anna try to tear your throat out!”
“It’s just an old house, Steph! There’s no such thing as ghosts!” I say, unbuckling my seat belt and taking one final drink. Steph is frozen in place with the most hilariously disbelieving look on her face. “Well, you know… other than the literary ones we meet.”
“And what is Marr’s new book, Preloved, about?” Stephanie demands.
“Uhhhhhh…let’s just get this over with.”
“No! Kat! Come back!” Stephanie yells, but I’m already out of the car, shutting the door and heading toward the shack. With no choice but to follow, Stephanie slams her door and storms after me toward the dark, gaping entrance of the rundown cattle station.
“Hey sweetheart!” an ethereal voice calls from the back corner of the room. Relieved, we head over and catch our first glimpse of Shirley Marr. She’s sitting in the lotus position with her eyes closed in meditation. She is gorgeous and her city-chic, fresh look is completely out of place in this daggy, old abandoned shack.
“Ready for the interview?” I ask as Stephanie and I awkwardly settle down onto the dusty floor, trying not to be rude. Steph’s in her old, worn jeans and tee, so she’s not too concerned – but my dress pants are definitely going to be ruined.
“YES! I’ve been wanting to know how on earth do you write them?” Shirley asks, opening her big, bright eyes and smiling at us with eager excitement.
“We just write what we see,” Steph replies. “I love your hair by the way.”
I nod in agreement. “Thank you, my lovely ladies. I bought cupcakes,” Shirley says, gracefully extending her hand toward a large platter beside her.
Stephanie smiles and I know Shirley has already won her over, but I’m feeling weird. Very cold, like something’s wrong. Which is hard to achieve because Shirley is like the sunshine and you can’t help but be entranced by her warm, lovely smile.
Stephanie looks at me in frustration before pulling out a pen and pad. Why does she always do that at the beginning of an interview? I don’t know, but I shrug it off as I usually do and try to remember my questions while she asks her first one. “Okay, so, I hear Fury, your debut novel, was inspired after reading Twilight, yet it’s a murder mystery without any paranormal creatures. How did that come about?”
Shirley chuckles and sips on an expresso. Where the hell did she get that from? I look around in confusion before spotting one right in front of me as if it’s been there the whole time. What the…?
“You’ve been listening to the rumour mill, haven’t you?” Shirley replies, taking another sip and winking at me, clearly amused by my confusion. “They’re trying to destroy my reputation as a sirius author. Actually, that fact is true… because I’m pretty sure I spread that rumour myself. Fury was written not because I was trying to emulate Twilight or write any sort of paranormal story. It’s because I made the passing remark that I could write a YA manuscript as someone who had no professional writing background whatsoever, ala Stephenie Myer, and have it published. I know it sounds really cocky in hindsight – considering that the only thing I had ever done previously was write sporadically as a hobby – but in my naivety, it was just something I planned to make happen!”
I bump Steph with my elbow and point to the expressos in front of us. She finally spots them and looks confused, but presses on. “Fury has had an incredible resurgence in popularity, becoming a cult favourite amongst many reviewers, did this surprise you?”
“Totally. I never considered what would happen to Fury once it was published. I was just completely focused on seeing the book becoming a real novel and on the shelf of a real bookstore. At the time that was my one all-consuming goal. So it really shocked me when I chanced upon Goodreads and saw how positively Fury was being received! I think the thing I am most proudest of now is being a “cult favourite” because it has such a positive connotation for me. All my favourite films and novels are mostly “cult classics”.”
I take a sip from the bitter coffee, my face scrunching up and my tongue rubbing against the roof of my mouth to ease the taste. “Eliza, from Fury, is one of the most refreshingly different, complex female protagonists I have ever read. Were you surprised at the reaction readers had to her?” I haven’t finished Fury yet, but so far I love it, so I’m eager to hear Shirley speak about her work. Steph reaches over and clutches my hand, her eyes looking around the empty spaces surrounding us.
“Thank you, that is so kind of you to say. When I was writing Eliza, I wasn’t at all concerned whether she was going to be likeable or a role model. I was just letting her voice develop organically and I just had fun writing from the place my, well, “inner bitch” lay. I was working off the Chris Lilley principle of creating a despicable character that in the end had enough humour and heart to carry them through. I knew that not everyone was going to like her and that most people would hate her! What surprises me is the amount of people that like her!”
I finally know why Steph is looking so scared. There are eyes in this room. I can feel it but I know that’s impossible. Ghosts aren’t real. They’re not, but every hair on my body is standing up and I see something move in the corner of my eye, but when I turn to look it’s gone. Stephanie licks her lips, her voice stammers a little as she asks, “Did you find it difficult moving from a YA Contemporary murder mystery to a YA Paranormal Romance?”
Shirley, ever unflappable, replies while seemingly oblivious to Steph’s mounting terror. “I purposely wanted a challenge. I haven’t told anyone this, but after Fury, I wrote and finished two sequels. But they weren’t any good, I think mainly because I was writing on auto-pilot and being complacent bout it. It wasn’t working at all. It was actually my editor for Fury, Melissa Keil, who suggested that I try my hand at romance. The “romance” in Fury was apparently her favourite thing! So I took a break and a gap year reading and reviewing and hanging out on Goodreads. And when I did start writing, it was challenging, but it felt really natural tapping into my “softer side”. I’m really proud that I’m showcasing a different side to myself with Preloved. It’s branded a “romance”, but it still has that dark streak and I can’t say more, but there’s a reason why I refer to the word romance in inverted commas.”
“What’s your favorite part of being a published author?” Stephanie asks, edging closer to where I’m sitting.
“I think being validated. That what I write is good enough to be read by others. I would still write if I wasn’t published, but to have that confirmation is just the icing and the cherry on the cake. I’ve wanted it my entire life.”
I feel ghostly fingers creeping along my shoulder up to my neck. My entire body shivers in terror. I clamp down on the tingly feeling emanating from my gut. Over Shirley’s shoulder there is, for a brief second, an evil, grinning face. At least I think there was. Maybe.
“How did you come up with the premise for Preloved?” The question just blurts out unexpectedly from my mouth and I’m not entirely sure it was me asking. But it’s not exactly a bad question to ask. Preloved is a story about a ghost. This can’t be a coincidence that we meet Shirley in an abandoned house with a ghost after she’s just written a book about one. I figure there has to be a connection.
“Um, I made a somewhat flippant response (or threat) at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival when I answered “yes” when asked if I was going to “ride the popularity wave and write a paranormal novel”. It was only afterward that I thought about it seriously and I wondered what I could do differently, or how I could re-interpret or change-up about the genre. So Preloved eventuated from that – I wanted to write a PNR that had the feel of an Aussie YA contempt and was deeply grounded in reality. I wanted to write a PNR that non-PNR readers (like me!) could like and relate to. As if writing Fury on the back of Twilight wasn’t dodgy enough – the paranormal genre keeps getting me into trouble.“
Stephanie seems to be thinking along the same lines and starts prodding. “What were the biggest differences between the writing process of Fury and Preloved?” I know what Steph is thinking. Is Shirley doing this? Has writing Preloved changed her in some way? Did something happen to her?
“The process for Preloved was a lot more conscious. I wrote Fury like I was singing into a hairbrush in my bedroom with no one watching, so it was fast and fun and liberating. It was all for myself and I really loved it and I didn’t really care or mind if no one else did. With Preloved I knew EVERYONE was watching. I wanted to address the creative criticisms I had received for Fury and I took to heart. I wanted to write something technically better than Fury, ‘cos now I was treating it as an art and not just a hobby. I didn’t want to lose readers. But all that can be paralysing. So in the end I did the same thing I did with Fury, I just belted the entire thing out in 3 months, so I didn’t have time to think, just to trust myself and write.”
Well, that didn’t help, I think. We needed more detail. Did she somehow invite this thing in by opening herself up? And if she did, what did it want with us? “Yes, but what’s your writing process like?”
“Chaos. I try to plan and take notes and do these pretty cork-boards mapping out scenes and characters with different colours and stuff that proper writers do, but I am shit at it. So what I do is work everything out in my head and then I write it in one take. Beginning to end. It’s 3 months of intense passion and utter craziness. Best not to approach me during this time cos I’m a space cadet and I won’t be any good for conversation.”
“Do you believe in ghosts?” I slap my hand over my mouth. I didn’t ask that question and my voice sounds funny. Deeper. Wrong. Stephanie is staring at me in horror.
I glare at Shirley Marr. She’s got something to do with this, I know it. “What have you done to me?” I demand.
Shirley presses her hands together, closes her eyes and shakes her head in the negative.
“You didn’t do this to me?” I ask.
She shakes her head again.
“Did you bring it here?” Stephanie asks.
Another no from Shirley.
My whole body is shaking in terror. “Was it already here?”
She opens her eyes and shakes her head again emphatically – this time she’s looking right through me, not at me. There is something close to me, I know, and Shirley Marr can see it.
Stephanie, her voice a whisper, asks, “Did we?”
A single, slow nod.
“That’s not right, we couldn’t have, that doesn’t make sense!” Stephanie babbles.
“Oh shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Steph, remember Anna? Anna Dressed in Blood? How she attacked you out of nowhere? It made no sense!”
“Yeah, it did. She was being all bleedy and evil!” Steph replies.
“Yeah, but out of nowhere! And why pick you? She doesn’t attack anyone anymore. Why attack you? Unless maybe one of her victims was hanging around in ghost form.”
Shirley nods, her face deadly serious. “I’m possessed by a ghost?” Stephanie asks, her voice teary and strained.
“Are you easily kidnappable?” the voice comes from me, but it’s not my voice. The horror strikes and my heart beats faster than it ever has before.
Shirley leans forward and looks straight into me with an intensity I never would have guessed. But she’s not really looking at me, and when she opens her mouth, I know she’s not talking to me. “If I wanted to be. Are you trying to come onto me?”
She’s so effortlessly cool. She seems so composed and delicate, but I realize she’s deadly and more than a little awesome. She’s badass.
“No, Steph. She attacked you first… and then she came after both of us. It jumped to me when I grabbed your arm. Anna wasn’t attacking you. She was trying to save you.”
Steph grabs my hand again and squeezes it. “And you, Shirley, you knew that. So you invited us here. I guess you do believe in ghosts.”
“Yes,” Shirley replies gravely, her composure intact while Steph and I freak out. “I came back from a holiday a month ago and I did not sleep the entire two weeks I was overseas. I’m scared of there being ghosts in hotel rooms. So I do (silly) rituals like knock before I enter, leave a Bible open, make sure I order a single bed if I’m by myself… in case a ghost comes and lies down on the empty side of a double bed.”
“You’re scared of them, but you still want to help us?” Stephanie asks.
“C-can you fix me?” I ask in a trembling voice.
“I won’t leave you, Kat,” Stephanie insists, pulling me closer. “We’ll get through this together!”
Shirley smiles again and gestures with her hand for me to step closer to her. I do, but it’s like moving through quicksand. As soon as I’m within reach, she grabs my hand and I feel a tremendous lightness passing through me as the shack shudders and groans around us. There’s a scream that vibrates through the air, it’s unnatural and raw. Just as quickly as it starts, it’s over. Shirley lets go and breathes deeply, beaming with satisfaction and contentment. “That’s it?” I ask. “All done?”
She grins mysteriously. Stephanie and I are so relieved that, quite out of character, we hurriedly hug each other tightly. When we turn back Shirley is gone with a soft breeze, as is every trace of her. There’s nothing left to do, but make our way out of the shack and back to the car.
“Well,” Stephanie says, “That was… crazy.”
“We didn’t even get to say goodbye,” I reply, relaxing into my seat as the bush whizzes past.
“What was that? Is she real? Is she a ghost? What the fuck just happened?”
I don’t have any answers so I just shrug. With nothing keeping us here, Steph starts up the car and drives away. Not even five minutes later flashes in front of us and there’s a loud crash and thump from the front of the car.
“Alright! What the HELL was that!?” Stephanie demands, her hands shaking on the wheel. I don’t think she can take anymore tonight.
I give an almighty sigh of exhaustion and unclip my seatbelt. “C’mon, Steph. You’re about to see your first kangaroo.”
Stephanie blanches and looks like she’s about to be sick as she follows me out of the car into the cool night air. “Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me.”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” I croon. “I won’t leave you, Stephanie!” My voice is a high, mocking falsetto. “We’ll get through this together!”
“I’m going to kill you, Kennedy!” Stephanie roars.
“And here I thought you looooooooooved me!”
Stephanie lunges, trying to pummel the shit out of me, but there’s a sudden eery laughter in the wind. It’s barely loud enough to be heard, but it’s there and it freezes our blood. Hostilities stalled, we both determine that discretion is the better part of valour and make a mad dash for the car, and for home.
We want to give a huge thank you to Shirley Marr for the interview and… er… getting rid of our ghost!
We are giving away two books this time! Today’s giveaway is EXCLUSIVE. One lucky winner will receive a copy of both Fury (Marr’s incredibly rare, cult hit, debut novel) and Preloved by Shirley Marr! Isn’t that fabulous?! Both are signed by Marr.
To enter, please fill out the Raffelcopter form below.
We ask that all entrants be at least 13 years or older to enter.
The giveaway is open to everyone, US and international!
When the winner is chosen, it will be announced here and the winner will be emailed. Please check your email because we are only giving the winner 48 hours to respond! Otherwise another winner will have to be selected.Please enter your email address in the Rafflecopter form and not the comments!