Lizzie Borden, process, research, Walk
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You have no choice but to take the Bordens with you

Over the Christmas/New Year break I took some extra time off work so I could begin and complete the latest draft of See what I have done.  To make things more interesting, I took the Bordens with me to Tasmania with the hope that distance from my usual writing places would allow me to discover a few more things about them.

I get sea sick. I remembered this as soon as I stepped onto the Spirit of Tasmania. Needless to say I was ill prepared for the night journey out at sea. As we rocked over waves and my stomach swam toward my chest,  I remembered that Bridget and Lizzie had taken ships to and from Europe. Here was a moment to transpose my experience into the book. I clung to the railing, looked down into depth and tried to see the ocean from their point of view.

I wish I could tell you something profound happened.

I managed to take this photo of the sun setting over Bass Strait before I was defeated by the sea:

sun sets over bass strait

So things continued.

Tasmania proved to be exactly what the book needed. Walking around unfamiliar surrounds all day and writing for a few hours each night, I was able to give my characters something new to feast on.

The most surprising revelation for me happened when I was exploring the Tasmanian botanical gardens in Hobart. I came across this magnificent Wellingtonia (California):

botanical tree

How I wanted to climb. This tree was young, around 120 years old, and I thought of ways feet could damage limbs. I thought of Benjamin, how he would tackle this wooden ship of the garden. It’s here I got the idea of how he would prove his merit to uncle John.

Next to this tree was a redwood (although now I question memory…was it a redwood or something else?) and as I skinned the trunk, it occurred to me that I hadn’t considered the type of wood Andrew and Abby’s coffins were made of. I walked on, thought of Mr Borden, his tastes, his thoughts on sturdiness. As a young man, Mr Borden used to be an undertaker. I knew he would’ve chosen wood that  kept dirt out of his heart. And so after ten minutes of sizing up the North American trees in the gardens, I found the coffins.

Small revelations that can only come from exploration.

I admit I became sidetracked throughout the draft. One evening I went out searching for something Bridget could claim as her own. I came across this decomposing rabbit:

decomposing rabbit

This fur and bone wasn’t for Bridget but it was perfect compost material for the next novel (which, by the way, has started to rear its head again. So much to write…)

Neither was this cheese purchase afterward:

cheese glorious cheese

(have I talked about my cheese addiction yet? No? Oh, boy. Aren’t you in for a treat one day…)

Tasmania was full of writing treats – I’ll save the rest for another post – but the most satisfying thing was that this particular draft was completed in a way I hadn’t anticipated back home in Melbourne. I think the Borden’s and I really needed to get away for awhile.

All this to say, don’t underestimate the necessity to take your characters out of their daily routine.

This entry was posted in: Lizzie Borden, process, research, Walk


writer, observer, reader, procrastinator. My debut novel, See What I Have Done, published by Hachette (ANZ), Tinder Press (UK), Grove Atlantic (US), Piper Verlag (German), Editions Payot & Rivages (French), Hollands Diep (Dutch), Edizioni Piemme (Italian), GW Foksal (Polish), Palto Publishing (Turkish), MunhakDongne (Korean) Represented by: Pippa Masson, Curtis Brown Australia Dan Lazar, Writer’s House (US) Gordon Wise, Curtis Brown (UK) SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE (Awards and Some Praise) WINNER OF THE ABIA LITERARY FICTION OF THE YEAR 2018 WINNER OF THE MUD LITERARY AWARD 2018 Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2018 Shortlisted for the Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction 2018 Shortlisted for the Strand Critics Awards for Best First Novel Longlisted for the ABIA Matt Richell Award for New Writers 2018 Longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award 2019 For the originality of its voice and the power of its language and imagery, See What I Have Done deserves to be considered a Gothic classic - THE SATURDAY PAPER See What I Have Done is a meticulously researched and boldly imagined book that crackles with tension throughout. Schmidt's portrayal of Lizzie is haunting and complex, a deeply psychological portrait that forces the reader to question their preconceptions about what women are capable of - for better and worse. Both disturbing and gripping, it is an outstanding debut novel about love, death and the lifelong repercussions of unresolved grief. - The Observer Schmidt is a consummate storyteller whose account of the Borden murders is utterly compelling. - Australian Book Review Schmidt's writing is rich and confident, painting a vivid portrait of a household with something rotten at its core. It's a strong debut that promises much from an original and compelling new voice in Australian literature. - The Guardian There are books about murder and there are books about imploding families; this is the rare novel that seamlessly weaves the two together, asking as many questions as it answers. - Kirkus Reviews [An] unforgettable debut ... Equally compelling as a whodunit, 'whydunit,' and historical novel. - Publishers Weekly Heralds the arrival of a major new talent ... Nail-biting horror mixes with a quiet, unforgettable power to create a novel readers will stay up all night finishing. - Booklist This novel is like a crazy murdery fever dream, swirling around the day of the murders. Schmidt has written not just a tale of a crime, but a novel of the senses. There is hardly a sentence that goes by without mention of some sensation, whether it’s a smell or a sound or a taste, and it is this complete saturation of the senses that enables the novel to soak into your brain and envelope you in creepy uncomfortableness. It’s a fabulous, unsettling book. —Book Riot Eerie and compelling, Sarah Schmidt breathes such life into the terrible, twisted tale of Lizzie Borden and her family, she makes it impossible to look away. —Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train

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