Katherine Firkin on writing The Girl Remains

The Girl Remains is the story of a baffling cold case set in a seaside town on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Three teenage girls venture out for a night of mischief, but only two return. For almost 20 years the case remains a frustrating mystery which is highlighted by conflicting witness statements, timelines that don’t add up, and even a false confession. But when human remains are found on an isolated back beach, Detective Emmett Corban is called in to reopen the investigation. Will his team finally be able to explain what happened to 15-year-old Cecilia May?

When I first began thinking about the story, I knew that a small coastal town was the perfect setting for this creepy story. I wanted somewhere with an intimate community feel, where the locals would know each other, and where neighbours would think they knew each other’s business. This dynamic creates a very unsettling environment when something goes wrong. It leaves town locals wondering: was there a monster living amongst us all along?

I chose the coastal town of Blairgowrie because it’s a place I know well. I was lucky enough to have a childhood friend whose parents had a beach home there, and so I spent many holidays exploring the area. It was also a place I went to as a teenager, and continue to go back now as an adult. When I think about Blairgowrie, I think of the striking moonah trees, and that hit of tea-tree that you get the moment you near the coast.

It was important to me that the three girls at the centre of the story – Cecilia, Gypsy and Scarlett – all had very different and definite personalities. Cecilia is lively and athletic, Gypsy is quiet and more serious and Scarlett is a bit of a rebel. What they all have in common though, is a fear of sharing their secrets. All three are hiding things from each other, and from adults around them. This end up directly hampering the investigation, as police never get the full story about what was going on between them all at the time.

The story is told as a police procedural, and although it’s fictional, it was very important to me that the methodology my detectives use is accurate for the times. So during the early writing stages of the manuscript, I consulted with a lead detective involved in a notorious real-life missing child case on the Mornington Peninsula area back in 1991. We had long discussions about the type of surveillance police would conduct on a suspect and how they might almost ‘trick’ the target into talking or leading them to evidence. We also discussed the role of the media in police investigations – both the ways reporters can hamper efforts, and also how they can help.

These are all key elements of The Girl Remains, and I hope you enjoy reading it!

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