Lizzie Borden, process, research
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Will the real Lizzie Borden please stand up

This past week I have been talking about Lizzie a lot. When this happens, she tends to dig deep holes in my mind, leaves a trail of herself behind. I’ve been dreaming of her again: there she is at the end of my bed, there she is eating a scone, eating jam, there she is at my breakfast table, there she is holding my hand. That warmth. It wakes me.

I was in Sydney last week. I blame that trip for Lizzie’s return. Every time I thought about Lizzie, how I wrote my book, all that, I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling that pinged at the the base of my neck: what part of Lizzie is me and what part of me is Lizzie?

Let me explain: I think it’s natural for writers to inject some of their own experiences into their work, give their characters some real life meat. This is definitely true for me when writing about the Bordens. I needed to find a way into that family and as I started to think about why someone would kill a family member (spoiler alert: I straight up believe Lizzie is guilty. Did she commit both crimes? Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. Did she do one of them? Possibly. Maybe. I don’t know. Did she know the crimes were going to happen? Yes. So that’s guilt, right?).

I think of love. Always. Who has it, who doesn’t. When I was carving out a space in my mind to fit Emma and Lizzie’s sisterhood, I started thinking of my brother and our childhood. The heartache that can come from growing up. This was key to understanding what a segment of their relationship might have been like. But that’s where similarities end – the rest belongs to fabrication.

Or so I thought. The more I thought and spoke about Lizzie and Emma, the more I realised an awful reality: I am in this book. Not all of me (I hate axes, naturally) but just enough for me to know that over ten years, Lizzie helped herself to some of my memories.

I know what you’re thinking. I agree, it’s very dramatic. No, I don’t really think I’m Lizzie. This is all make believe. But it can be uncomfortable to be told that your character(s) are slightly unhinged (because they are, and that’s what I wanted) and at the same time be thinking, ‘Shit. Does that mean I am too?’

Over the course of the book, my characters do and say (some) things based on experiences either myself or a friend, a family member  has experienced, heard, or retold to me. I will now tell you four things that are mine:

When I was younger my father had to kill two of our  roosters because they attacked my brother and me on a regular basis.

When I slept in Lizzie’s bedroom, I traced my fingers over book spines, looked out her window, looked into the yard where they say her aunt killed the children. I walked in and out of Emma’s room, stood in doorways, got to thinking what it would be like to share such a small space with someone I hated, what that might do to me.

Once or three times between grade 5 and 6, I saw a small, shadowy figure stand at the end of my bed in the middle of the night.

I used to sometimes lean up against closed doors and listen. I still do from time to time. The guilt of it.


Here’s hoping Lizzie will stay put tonight.







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


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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