The Australian Newspaper talks Serpent Song

The Australian Newspaper. 26 June 2017. Exclusive Article written by Brad Norington, Associate Editor and NSW Political Editor of The Australian Newspaper.

Such a great privilege to be page 5 girl in The Australian this week. Many thanks for the wonderful article about Serpent Song.

In case you missed it, the complete story can be found at BRAD NORINGTON. Or follow Brad on twitter @BradNorington

What’s particularly pleasing about Brad’s article is that it highlights a process super important to me about story development.

Integrity in storytelling.

Here’s what he said … When Toni Grant finished the first draft of her first book, a crime thriller that takes its female police heroine from Sydney to Rome, and rekindles an old flame, she handed it to her husband.

His first comments after reading the manuscript were blunt, if well intended: the NSW Police Force would not send solo detective Francesca Salucci to the ­Italian Riviera to investigate the death of a local bikie.

“It would definitely not happen … that’s just impossible, this is ­unrealistic,” he told his wife.

Hubby should have some idea. He is an ex-cop with 23 years’ ­experience but he also happens to be the NSW Police Minister and former deputy premier Troy Grant. To help the scenario work, Grant asked his wife what might be so special about Detective ­Salucci that she would need to be sent to Rapallo, Italy?

Toni Grant recalls: “The other thing he said to me was, ‘what squad does she work for?’ I said, ‘It’s a squad that I’ve made up in my head’. He said, ‘that squad doesn’t even exist’.”

Yeah, I remember that day clear as a tolling Venetian church bell.

It’s terrifying showing anyone that first draft. Dealing with critical feedback at any level is tough. Choosing the right person to read the book at this stage is possibly the most critical step in the story telling process.

I wanted and chose my husband to read the initial outline of the book because of his policing career. The methodologies used by detectives in high end investigations were important to me in creating authenticity throughout that aspect of the story. He had, after all, been an investigator in the Major Crime Squad of the NSW Police. I have not.

Husband or no, I found my vulnerability increased tenfold during this time.

My creative heart and soul were laid out in a 30, 000 word draft. Hours upon hours of hard work and research were limited to a small number of typed pages. Granted, some parts of the story were more defined that others. However the basic scaffold, the structure, was there.

I’d spent days, even weeks, working on my characters. Just tell me … am I heading in the right direction?


Reality hit me like a bullet to the chest. ‘This is ­unrealistic.’ You know, you can tuck your tail between your legs and run away. Or you take the comments on board.

Take a minute. Take a breath. Think about it. Take the emotion out. Do I want this project to be the very best it can be? If so, proceed.

My message to you. The steps to success.

Remember it’s your story. You write whatever you like. Adhere to the comments or not. It’s totally up to you. You’re the storyteller. You have the power?!

1.Filter the commentary.

2.Decide what’s relevant.

3.Make it work in your story.

So, if I want to develop an overarching investigative squad that meshes together traditional counter-organised crime teams to form one unit within the NSW Police Service, I will.

And I’m going to give them increased legislative power and funding, thank you very much. Overseas trips for my detectives to hunt for links and networks between international crime bodies to murders in Australia, not a problem.

If this new outfit sources detectives from across state boundaries because they’re the best person for the job, well, that’s definitely going to happen. Maybe, in future books, I might even bring in a detective from an overseas jurisdiction. You know, just to help out and rock the boat a little. We all love a little tension within the old investigative team.

This is fiction baby. Anything can happen. And it probably will.

But, I’m not completely stupid or even narcissistic. In the mean time, I’ll work on a strategy to make it sound real. How do I justify this squad to my reader? Some of my readers will be members of the police family.  I want to make my story convincing enough that they don’t react the same way as my husband.

In my mind that would be bad. Very bad. I respect the profession too much to make light of the nuts and bolts of policing.

I want my readers to think my proposal is credible. To bring them along for the ride and not get hung up on the technical. No writer wants to wave the red flag that stops the flow of the story.

So I blend.

I take a little of what is the truth. I bend it into a fictional tale. Places are real, my characters are not. However, there are certain personality traits recognisable in people we know (I hope). The three sentences about the Police Minister being a total dick, is not real. I’m still apologising for this one! I’m sorry babe. Again.

The names of the organised crime gangs in Serpent Song are definitely fictional. That the Chinese and Italian mafia would work together with an outlaw motor cycle gang in illicit drug development and distribution … completely made up. However, do the research. Certain behaviour traits of organised crime gang members, their habits and personality types are real and do exist.

And so on, and so forth.

Now you’re having fun! I can’t think of a better way to push you forward to keep writing, but for the words of Brad Norington.

This is fiction. There are no rules.  Toni X