HUGE ACHIEVEMENT: Gympie Author Janet Lee is excited to launch her debut novel  The Killing of Louisa  in her home town.
HUGE ACHIEVEMENT: Gympie Author Janet Lee is excited to launch her debut novel The Killing of Louisa in her home town. Photography by Bambi

New Gympie author draws rave reviews with 'superb' debut

STEPPING into the shoes of the last woman ever hanged in New South Wales presents a daunting prospect for any writer - let alone a writer working on their first ever novel - but something about Louisa Collins simply struck Janet Lee.

An emerging writer with a lifelong love for books and words, former The Gympie Times journalist Ms Lee was in the midst of a University of the Sunshine Coast Doctorate of Creative Arts thesis when a talk by Last Woman Hanged author Caroline Overington got her thinking.

It was after thorough research about the woman "sentenced to hang after being tried multiple times for the alleged murders of her two husbands” that pictures began to form in Ms Lee's mind.

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"I had this image (of Louisa), and I just thought ... what did that poor woman think for those last minutes on the gallows?,” Ms Lee said.

"I actually wrote the end scene first, and then the rest of the book just flowed from there.

"I've always been a reader, and that's where the writing came in.

"About eight years ago I did a short story workshop and loved it, and just wrote a short story, the next week I wrote another one, then I did a couple of courses at the Queensland Writers Centre.”

Ms Lee said she was initially "terrified” about the inevitable challenges associated with the project, which has netted her the Emerging Queensland Writer category in the 2017 Queensland Literary Awards and acclaim from contemporaries and critics alike.

"I think for me this is fiction, this is a character,” she said.

"The story is already well and truly out there, and I think it's just a different version, a different telling.

"I haven't found any other fiction on her, but it wasn't consciously going 'I have to write this story, it's my flag', it was just that I had this character rattling in my head and I wrote about her.

"There's so much written about Ned Kelly, and then Peter Carey came out with The True History of the Kelly Gang, which is one of my favourite books.

"Robert Drewe came out with Our Sunshine, and both are stunning books in (Kelly's) voice.

"I don't know how historically accurate they are but they're both fantastic in their own right.

"I'm definitely not comparing myself to those wonderful writers, but it's probably that same sort of thing.”

Ahead of an author talk at the Gympie Regional Library this Thursday night, Ms Lee said she was excited to have the opportunity to discuss her work with her own community.

"I spoke at the Brisbane Writers Festival which was a fantastic experience, I really enjoyed the engagement I had with people,” she said.

"I hope I can encourage people to write for the joy of writing and not worrying so much about getting published.

"If you love writing, just do it, which is what I did.

"I began with an image in my head and then this character came to me.”

Janet Lee's talk begins at 6pm this Thursday, September 20.

Gympie Times


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