Adelaide author S. J. Morgan spoke to Sisters in Crime’s Vice-President, Robyn Walton, about her debut crime novel, Hide (MidnightSun Publishing).
Hello, S. J., and congratulations on the publication of your first novel for adult readers.
Hi Robyn – and thanks for inviting me to answer some questions about Hide for the Sisters in Crime Australia website.
Most of Hide is set in Wales, in Swansea and Cardiff, in the early 1980s. This is a part of the world, and a time period, that you know well?
Yes, it is. Both my parents grew up in mining areas of the South Wales valleys, so Wales has always felt part of my DNA. I went to Swansea University when I left school and that’s where I met my partner, who was from Cardiff. We lived in Cardiff for a number of years after graduating and I still visit there regularly. The grungy flat in Swansea which features in Hide is based very closely on the flat I lived in as a student: it overlooked the city and was situated off Constitution Hill. It was cold, damp and in a very bad state so it was quite cathartic to conjure those memories for Hide.
The story is told in the first person by a young man, Alec Johnston. Who is he and what is his life like when the narrative begins?
Alec is a bit of a lost soul. Going to uni was his moment of freedom, his chance to leave the family home, but it didn’t work out for him, so he finds himself aimless and rudderless in Swansea. His friends from home have all dispersed or got jobs and his friends in Swansea have continued with their student lives, so Alec has no real friends and no sense of where his life is going. He’s actually pretty vulnerable, although he doesn’t realise it at the time.
Minto is a fierce, menacing character. Can you tell us a bit about him and how you came to write such a person?
I don’t know where Minto came from, but he appeared fully formed in my mind. Strangely, it was only after I’d written about him that I came into contact with someone involved with the bikie community. That person was, visually, just like the Minto I’d had in my mind. So much so that now I’m not sure where the real description ends and imagination begins.
And Sindy, what do your readers say about her? What emotional responses does she provoke?
I think Sindy invokes conflicting emotions: both in the reader and in Alec. On the one hand, she is naïve and vulnerable; but on the other she’s apparently needy, irritating and weak-willed. I hope she’s an intriguing character. She is (sadly) experienced beyond her years yet retains a disarming innocence, and it’s this innocence which makes Alec want to protect her – thus setting him on the path for a whole heap of trouble.
Difficult experiences in Swansea keep on driving Alec home to his parents’ house in Cardiff. Sometimes Sindy goes there too. How are Alec’s parents responding to all this?
Alec’s parents are also quite vulnerable and at a crossroads in their own lives. Alec’s dad has just retired from the Navy so has gone from being hardly ever at home to being always-at-home. And his mum is having a crisis of her own, perhaps brought on by Alec leaving the family nest. This, maybe, helps to explain why they’re happy for Alec to come home so often – and for Sindy to occasionally be part of it. She provides something that’s missing for both Alec’s parents.
Daniella is Alec’s recently acquired girlfriend. It’s easy to imagine her giving up on him. Why does she retain a place in your story?
Daniella is smart and feisty, but she also has a soft spot for Alec, which makes her more forgiving of him than she might otherwise be. She finds his vulnerability intriguing, and even though she sometimes worries she might be being duped she senses that Alec is more messed-up than manipulative. Meanwhile, from Alec’s point of view, she provides the safe haven he craves, the stability that’s been missing in his life. They each provide something the other lacks.
The dramatic action shifts to outback Australia. What led you to that location choice?
It was the outback scenes that initiated the book for me. These were the chapters I first wrote and the ones that changed the least during the editing process. As an outsider, the Australian outback has always felt iconic to me and, when I finally got to experience it as a traveller, I found it inspiring. I was struck by the isolation, the vastness and the potential menace of such a setting. It was also while we were travelling through the outback that we were overtaken by a thunderous roar of motorbikes: The Coffin Cheaters. I have no doubt that the image is one which helped develop the story of Hide.
S.J., are there more things you’d like to tell us about Hide?
The ending changed completely from the original one I wrote. I liked my ending and it was only when an editor suggested that it wasn’t a good ending that I began to look at it again and consider alterations. In the meantime, however, MidnightSun offered me a contract so I thanked my lucky stars that I’d kept the original ending and not messed around with it! However, at the point I met with my publishers and came to the structural edits they broached the subject with me and said: “We think you need to change the ending.” So, with much trepidation, I did. It was unnerving, having to make such a major alteration but I am now much, much happier with the book’s conclusion.
You’ve had previous success writing for young adults and children?
Yes, after many years of rejection, I was lucky enough to be offered a publishing contract by MidnightSun Publishing for my Young Adult novel Heaven Sent. That was in 2016, though the book didn’t come out until 2018. I actually wrote Heaven Sent after Hide so they’ve come out in reverse order. Heaven Sent is very different to Hide – it’s about a young girl called Evie who lives with a number of challenges, including scoliosis. She meets an enigmatic stranger, Gabe, who believes he was sent to ‘save’ her. But Gabe isn’t all he seems, and the story is about her discovering who the real Gabe is – and ultimately about finding out who she really is too. It’s a mix of romance, high school drama and mystery, all set in the Adelaide Hills.
We can buy Hide online?
Hide is available from bookshops in Australia and New Zealand. It can also be downloaded as an e-book. Online, it’s available through Booktopia here: https://www.booktopia.com.au/hide-s-j-morgan/book/9781925227581.html
If you’d like further details about me or my writing, you can check out my website at: https://www.sjmorgan.com.au/