I am delighted to welcome Felicity McLean to my blog today to participate in my 4×4 interview. Felicity is the author of the amazing The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone.
Lets find out a little about the book before we begin:
‘We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song and when one came back, she wasn’t the one we were trying to recall to begin with.’
Tikka Molloy was eleven years old during the long hot summer of 1992, growing up in an isolated suburb in Australia surrounded by encroaching bushland. That summer, the hottest on record, was when the Van Apfel sisters – Hannah, the beautiful Cordelia and Ruth – mysteriously disappeared during the school’s ‘Showstopper’ concert, held at the outdoor amphitheatre by the river.
Did they run away? Were they taken? While the search for the sisters unites the small community, the mystery of their disappearance has never been solved. Now, years later, Tikka has returned home and is beginning to make sense of that strange moment in time. The summer that shaped her. The girls that she never forgot.
Brilliantly observed, spiky, sharp, funny and unexpectedly endearing, THE VAN APFEL GIRLS ARE GONE is part mystery, part coming-of-age story – a perfect summer chiller with a dark shimmering unexplained absence at its heart.
Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? So without further ado, let’s find out what Felicity has to tell us about her book.
Four key characters in your book and why they are important:
Tikka Malloy is our (slightly unreliable) narrator in The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone.
Eleven-and-one-sixth years’ old, Tikka is in that murky territory, caught between being a kid and being an adult. Balanced between knowing and not knowing. Because of her age Tikka is often forced to rely on second-hand information or neighbourhood gossip when it comes to details about the disappearance of the three Van Apfel sisters.
At the same time, Tikka is very close friends with Hannah, Cordelia and Ruth Van Apfel and so she knows far more about their disappearance than many of the adults investigating the case. Tikka carries dark secrets about the Van Apfel girls.
2. Cordelia Van Apfel
Everyone has something to say about Cordelia Van Apfel. The middle sister. The beautiful, enigmatic one.
True to her name, Cordelia is her (Lear-like) father’s favourite. She’s also the one most likely to rebel. Cordelia stokes much of the action in The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone – whether it’s feuding with her father, or raising eyebrows over her questionable relationship with the new teacher in town.
3. Mr Van Apfel
Mr Van Apfel is a big man with big hands, and a big ole’ temper to match. A devout believer, Mr Van Apfel ferries his wife and three daughters to the Rise Up service at the Hope Revival Centre each Sunday, and it’s his extreme religious fervour that marks Mr Van Apfel as an outsider within the close-knit community of Macedon Close.
4. Mrs McCausley
Mrs McCausley never misses an opportunity to look down her nose at her neighbours in Macedon Close, the way her house stares down from the rise of the nearest crossroad. As the local Tupperware salesperson, Mrs McCausley is a constant supplier of neighbourhood gossip for Tikka.
Four pieces of music that you listened to when writing or which make you think of your book:‘
- I Can’t Give Everything Away’, David Bowie:Bowie’s final (genius) grapple with the inexplicable mystery of it all was released while I was writing my novel which is, itself, about the inexplicable mystery of it all.
- ‘Today’, Smashing Pumpkins: On the surface an upbeat ode to teenage invincibility, underneath something much more sinister. This song was on high rotation while I wrote and not just because it was released in the early 1990s, when my novel was set.
- ‘Antichrist Television Blues’, Arcade Fire:Mr Van Apfel may not have been the antichrist, exactly. Nevertheless, he was a very naughty boy.
- ‘Exit Music (For a Film)’, Radiohead: The lyrics say it all, really.
Four places that remind you of your book:
- My childhood home
I grew up in a fringe suburb of Sydney, backing onto national park wilderness. Like Tikka’s house, our place had no back fence standing between us and many long hours down in the scrub, climbing trees or building dens or sweet-talking older siblings to walk us to the river.
During the writing of The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone I visited my childhood home. And yet I found I didn’t need to be there to conjure up the landscape. It was as vivid in my memory as it was in reality.
2. The valley
While the valley in The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is similar in geography to the valley where I grew up – there are some differences, too. My hometown never had an eerie, unexplained stench that was only mitigated after three virgins vanished there. In fact, nobody ever went missing that I know of. There were never any unexplained mysteries.
Still, I’ll never be able to visit that valley again without looking over my shoulder for the Van Apfel girls…
3. My kitchen table
The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone was mostly written at my kitchen table, and generally between the hours of 5 am and 7 am. Because it’s only when my kids are asleep that I can find enough clear space at the table to work.
4. Every small town, the world over
From Scotland to Wisconsin to southern Sydney: a small town is a small town is a small town. Whether they’re rural or suburban, privileged or poor, small communities are surprisingly – wonderfully – universal. In many ways, my novel is a celebration of this.
Four films that convey the atmosphere you want to achieve in your writing:
1. Picnic at Hanging Rock, directed by Peter Weir
Dreamy, ethereal, and deliberately ambiguous. Peter Weir’s masterpiece achieves everything I attempted to do with The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone. If only I could pin those pan pipes down on the page…
2. The Virgin Suicides, directed by Sophia Coppola
Sophia Coppola’s adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel is a beautiful, haunting elegy to suburbia and loss. I love everything about it, from the sunshine-dappled screen shots, to the soundtrack (which is mostly by French electronic band, Air).
3. Lost in Translation, directed by Sophia Coppola
Essayist Robert Hahn applauds how Sophia Coppola uses chiarascuro – the art of contrasting light and dark – so effectively in Lost in Translation. Placing the tragic alongside the mundane, the terrifying beside the laughable, was something I tried to do in The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone.
4. Blackrock, directed by Steven Vidler
While Aussie film Blackrock fictionalises a true crime (the murder of schoolgirl, Leigh Leigh), my novel is entirely invented. Both stories, however, are small town tragedies, and the effects reverberate throughout the community.
And then if you can say, what’s next for you.
I have another novel in the works. However, it’s not a sequel to The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone. The mystery of the missing Van Apfel sisters will remain unsolved forever…
Huge thanks to Felicity for sharing her 4×4 with us today.
THE VAN APFEL GIRLS ARE GONE by Felicity McLean is published by Point Blank, an imprint of Oneworld, hardback £14.99
Felicity McLean was born in Sydney Australia. She graduated at Sydney University with a BA in English and Australian literature and worked as a book publicist before embarking on a freelance career. Her journalism has appeared in The Daily Telegraph , The Courier Mail
and the Big Issue , among others, and she has ghost-written celebrity autobiographies. THE VAN APFEL GIRLS ARE GONE is her first novel. She lives with her English husband and two young children in Australia.