Meet the author behind our thrilling Book of the Month, The Nowhere Child!
This debut crime novel about a child gone missing will have you on the edge of your seat until you read the very last page.
Which authors and books have influenced you?
I’ve managed to narrow it down to my top three, which was no easy task! Stephen King, Gillian Flynn and Haruki Murakami. King writes with an amazing sense of nostalgia and draws you into his books like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I re-read It every few years. Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places made a huge impression – all her books are infused with a particular sort of darkness that attracts and repulses at the same time. Then there’s Murakami, who writes with simplicity and effortlessly creates quiet worlds you want to crawl into and live. There’s something mundane, cosy and desperate about his books that I can’t put into words. If I was Murakami, I probably could. Each are geniuses in their own unique way and I try to channel all three while I’m writing. An honourable mention should also go to Enid Blyton, whose books I grew up on. King made me want to write; Blyton made me want to read.
What’s the hardest part of writing a thriller?
The hardest part for me, but also the most important, is putting character before plot. I write with a detailed plan and always work toward a big climactic ending where all the loose strands and puzzle pieces pay off. So, it can be frustrating when you reach a point in your story and a character refuses to do what you want. It sounds a little crazy, but characters take on a life of their own as you flesh them out. For example, you might want a character to run into a burning building to save an old family photo album. In fact, you need them to run into that building because the elaborate third act you have planned won’t work otherwise. But over the many chapters you’ve spent living inside this fictional person’s head, you’ve discovered they’d never run into that burning building and the whole plan gets derailed. I hit these sorts of roadblocks a lot but, difficult as it is, I always choose character over plot.
A lot of people are talking about The Nowhere Child around the world. What’s been the most exciting part of getting a publishing deal?
Reading is a deal you strike with the author: you give them a handful of hours of your life and, if they’re doing their job, you get a good story in return. The idea that anyone – let alone people on the other side of the world – will give their time to read my story, is beyond thrilling. The idea of seeing my words in multiple languages blows my mind! But the most exciting thing about getting the publishing deal is the fact I now get to spend my days doing what I love.
A central part of your book is something called ‘decay theory’ – can you explain it?
I became obsessed with memory one Christmas day a few years ago, when I was talking to my nan, who has aged dementia. She has no idea who I am anymore and I wondered: is her memory of me gone, or has she simply lost the ability to access it? Decay Theory basically suggests we forget things because the memory of it fades as time passes. When we experience something, a neurochemical trace is created, like a thread we tug on when we want to remember it. But over time, if we don’t tug on that thread enough, it fades. That’s why older memories can be stronger than new ones. It might mean that the memories themselves are gone, or, and this is far more interesting to me, it might mean we simply can’t retrieve the memories anymore. So when the thread is gone the memories remain, floating around our head untethered.
The book alternates between Australia and Southern USA. What drew you to Kentucky?
I was really excited to explore the strange and fascinating world of Pentecostal snake handlers, religious fundamentalists who worship God by handling venomous snakes and scorpions. Kentucky is one of only a few states in America where these churches exist, so that was a really practical reason to take the story there. I also spent a little time in Kentucky years ago with my family and had an experience that stuck with me. I went on a walking tour through Mammoth Cave, an expansive system of underground caves and tunnels. Once inside, the tour guide switched off all the lamps. The darkness was so heavy and intense that it stuck with me. Whenever I think about Kentucky I think about that darkness, so I figured: what better place to set a thriller?
Down To Earth Cave, Mammoth Cave National Park | Source: TripAdvisor
And now for the fun questions!
Batman or Superman?
Definitely Batman. He’s complex, deeply flawed and has devoted his life to something insane. I like characters I can relate to.
Who is your fictional alter-ego?
I’m equal parts Ralph and Piggy from Lord of the Flies.
What’s your favourite reading position?
In our sagging old armchair, semi-reclined in the corner of the living room, fire lit, raining outside, dog snoozing at my feet, coffee/beer/wine on the little table beside me.
About Christian White:
Christian White is an Australian author and screenwriter whose projects include feature film Relic. The Nowhere Child is his first book. An early draft of this novel won the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, and rights were quickly sold into fifteen countries.
Born and raised on the Mornington Peninsula, Christian had an eclectic range of ‘day jobs’ before he was able to write full time, including food-cart driver on a golf course and video editor for an adult film company. He now spends his days writing from home in Melbourne, where he lives with his wife, filmmaker Summer DeRoche, and their adopted greyhound, Issy. He has a passion for true crime podcasts, Stephen King and anything to do with Bigfoot. The Nowhere Child is his first book. He’s working on his second.