2016 / Sunday

The queen of crime is a plotter now

Jack Books

Candice Fox: from pantser to plotter. Photograph: John Heweston

Candice Fox: from pantser to plotter. Photograph: John Heweston

Every writer has that low moment.

Some are really low, such as Stephen King’s near-death experience in 1999. But for others, a series of events can affect creativity or confidence, leaving their future in question.

Candice Fox’s low point came at the very start of her career, a confluence of a eleventh hour rejection of her manuscript and PhD application, an impending divorce, no job and moving back in with her parents. Now, just a few years later, the self-described crime writer, academic and cat lady, has had three books published internationally with two more on the way, co-authored with international best seller James Patterson.

Growing up in Bankstown, where her mother cared for foster children, normality was never part of the Fox household, “My mum had six kids and then she fostered other kids as well,” Candice says. “Sometimes we would have 12 or 13 kids with us at a time. It was just insane”. With so many kids spending as little as two days or as long a year in the household, she lived in a home with a mini-van rather than car and everyone wore clothes donated by strangers.

Candice Fox became a true crime fan at the age of seven. “Yeah, pretty inappropriate,” she says with a laugh. “I know it was that age ‘cause I went to school and started telling my friends about all the stuff I read and I got into trouble.” Her interest quickly became a passion. “I was just weirdly curious about how you could dispose of a body. Why was I thinking about disposing of bodies?”

With this background, it is quite surprising to learn that she initially started a career in the Royal Australian Navy straight out of high school. “Why’d I join the Navy? I didn’t think I was clever enough for uni,” she says, “and the recruiting videos are very good.” She had considered a career in the NSW Police Force but she chose the Navy, wanting to travel. “What was my time there like? Awful,” she laughs again. “I joined as a direct entry officer, a Midshipman. If you’re a Midshipman, you’re the lowest ranked officer but you’re one above the highest ranked sailor, so everybody hates you”. She left the Navy after 18 months.

Then, finally pursuing university qualifications, she studied for a Bachelor of Arts (Creative Writing) with Honours, a Bachelor of Education and a Masters of Writing, Publishing and Editing, “I was thinking maybe I could get into publishing and be a editor or something. I didn’t see being an author as a career. I’m still looking for a career.”

An avid writer as a child, by 18 Candice Fox had written several short stories and her first novel, a vampire thriller inspired by Anne Rice. She followed with a multi-genre, multi-plot 260,000 word “monster” (the average manuscript only has 45,000 words), a sequel and an action thriller. None of these novels were published, helping her amass nearly 2000 rejection letters over the years. At one point, Hades was about to be published by an independent UK publisher, only to have the plug pulled at the last minute. “I got that news and went, ‘well, I don’t have anything anymore’,” she says. “I don’t have a husband, I don’t have a job, I don’t have a PhD, I don’t have a published manuscript.”

However, she found her luck quickly turning around having taken a job as a creative writing tutor at the University of Notre Dame Sydney. She was able to find a new PhD supervisor who also introduced her to her agent and Candice Fox’s once fledging literary career was back on track, leading to her debut novel, Hades.

The idea behind Hades did not come from classic crime fiction or even true crime, but a figure in her own life. “My partner and I were living in the Sunshine Coast Hinterlands,” she says. “At the local tip there was this guy there, old with a ponytail, he used to sit in this garden area that he made out of all this discarded stuff and he used to sit there with all these other scary characters. Kind of a scavenger, definitely an influence for Hades. I liked him, I thought he was scary and interesting.”

An important aspect of the novel’s success was the mysterious character of Eden Archer, part detective, part killer, and all mystery. “Eden was a bit of a mystery to me,” she says. “I could view her from the outside, through Frank, and not really have to think about what was going on in her mind. Fit, fabulous, stylish, she’s just everything I admire and everything I would want to be…except a serial killer obviously.”

Hades was published in 2014 and was followed up with Eden later that year. Both novels won the Ned Kelly Award and were listed for a Davitt Award in 2014 and 2015. The third novel, Fall, was published in late 2015. All three novels are best-sellers and have already acquired a fan base overseas. “I think that there are Australians who compete very well overseas; in Germany, in particular, they love Australian crime fiction, they’re mad for it.” It was this type of international attention that scored Candice Fox her next writing job – working alongside American James Patterson, the world’s biggest selling author.

“Working with James Patterson? It’s great,” she says. Being based in Sydney, she was forced to work via email correspondence with the Florida-based author. But the greatest challenge was not their means of communication. “I’m a pantser as they say; I don’t plot, I work by the seat of my pants,” she says. “He plots a lot so we do multiple outlines that demarcate what will happen in each chapter before we write anything.” She says this new method has changed her into a plotter, “It’s revolutionised the way I write”.

With Black and Blue and Never Never, both co-authored with JamesPatterson, due out in June and August 2016 respectively, as well as two planned novels with a 2017 and 2018 release date, it’s safe to assume that Candice Fox has finally found that safe and stable career she was searching for.