Feeling Like Your Writing Isn’t “Good Enough”

When I was eight years old my father took me to the local skating rink. I hired a pair of roller-skates and did my best, hanging onto the wall and trying not to fall over. I was starting to make progress when a girl about the same age as me coasted past and said with maximum-level snark: “Why have you got skates, if you can’t skate?”

I didn’t know this girl and was quite shocked and hurt by her remark. I thought: “Maybe she’s right. I’m making a fool of myself. I should give up.”

Evidently her words have stayed with me as it’s now thirty years later and the memory of what she said, and how I felt about it, still stings a little.

Unfortunately, to this day, I continue to place too much value on what other people think of me and my abilities.

Recently, I’ve had a few wins with my writing. One of my short stories was commended in a competition. I also won a writing prize for a non-fiction piece I wrote. These successes were a lovely surprise, made me happy, and for a little while, made me feel validated. Someone “important” – the judges in a writing competition – thought what I’d written was worthwhile.

However, my elation was short-lived. Because a few days later I received a rejection. This time, someone didn’t think my skills as a writer were good enough. I let this feedback upset me to such an extent that my triumphs were quickly forgotten.

Why do I measure my self-worth as a writer by what others think of me?

Plenty, if not all writers struggle with imposter syndrome and self-doubt. A writer might receive discouraging feedback after pitching their work to a publisher and feel like a failure. Another writer might receive bad reviews for their latest novel and wonder if it means the end of their career. Or perhaps for some writers, it’s not rejections or the opinions of others guiding their feelings of self-worth but something from within – a voice inside their head telling them they’ll never be good enough.

Sometimes when you feel like your writing isn’t good enough, it’s an indicator you need to improve. Maybe you’ve received professional feedback on your manuscript letting you know it’s not ready, and highlighting areas to work on.

Most of the time feedback on my writing is given constructively and I’m grateful to receive it. However, there have been occasions when feedback has been more critical than constructive. And as we know from reading comments on social media or published reviews, there are also occasions when people are mean for the sake for being mean.

I know that focusing only on the negative reactions to my writing rather than the positive and helpful responses is unhealthy. And I know that how I respond is my choice. I can choose to stay awake all night dwelling on it and second-guessing myself. Or I can do a self-check – is the negative feedback actually helpful? Is there anyway I can improve? If not, I can acknowledge the simple fact that not everyone will like what I’ve got to offer, allow myself to feel disappointed for a little while, then get over it.

Best-selling author, Jeff Goins, offers some great, slightly tough-love advice in his blog post Why Your Work Never Feels Good Enough:

“Let’s name this. It isn’t humility; it’s low self-esteem, and it’s unattractive. Please stop it. This feeling of never feeling good enough is common. I’m not sure that it ever fully goes away. But as a creative, you have to learn how to deal with it, or it will destroy you.”

It’s true that even your closest friends will lose patience with you if you’re a mopey-moper all the time (without a valid reason, of course).

Like all creative pursuits, writing is a never-ending learning process. Even some of the best writers – award-winning authors – still don’t feel good enough. It’s about attitude. I know if I want to succeed, I need to develop a thicker skin and not allow rejections or unhelpful feedback have such a profound impact on how I view myself and what I’m capable of achieving.

Even though the little girl at the skating rink hurt my feelings, I didn’t give up roller-skating. I kept practising. And I got a lot better. I even progressed to rollerblades. And I had fun doing it.

By not giving up, I developed confidence in my own ability. I believed that if I kept trying, I would improve, and eventually my self-doubt went away.

While I wouldn’t be any good on skates these days, applying this same mentality to my writing is the only way forward. By continuing to write, I’m becoming a better writer.

And when that next rejection, criticism or snarky comment comes my way (which it will) I’ll just roll with it.

Mystery of the Month – The Search Party

Sixteen-year-old Sadie is missing, lost somewhere in the woods. Her friends form a search party to find her. After all, they know her best – if they can’t find her, no one can. Detective Inspector Robin Fleet is heading up the police operation when he receives an urgent phone call. They’ve found the kids. And there’s a dead body.

These gripping opening scenes immediately hook the reader before we flash forward to the teens, who take turns telling us what happened in the woods. Information is revealed sparingly as we learn more about their friendships and realise they all had a motive for wanting Sadie to disappear. Abi was jealous of Sadie’s beauty, Cora wasn’t happy when her ex-boyfriend Mason started dating Sadie, Fash had a crush on Sadie that had recently become complicated, and Luke, Sadie’s twin brother, always felt like he was living in her shadow. As the search party treads deeper into the forest, their secrets go along with them, and as the trees close in, they fear they are not alone.

The Search Party is the latest crime release from British author Simon Lelic, who has now penned six suspense novels as well as a series of crime fiction books for younger readers. A story that could easily have become complicated with so many alternating points-of-view, it moves along at a snappy pace with short chapters and cleverly placed reveals so the reader is always eager to find out what happens next.

The forest setting is a perfect choice for a twisty thriller – the search for Sadie becoming increasingly difficult as the rain beats down and the characters feel both isolated and exposed, and as if they’re going around in circles. A dramatic climax plays out on the beds of a rushing river, where Fleet chases down the one person who can solve the mystery of Sadie’s disappearance.

The characters are well-drawn and believable – teenagers who feel suffocated living in a small town where everyone knows everyone, some alienated by their parents, others subject to violent behaviour. But at the core of the story are familial relationships and loyalties. I particularly appreciated the relationship between Fleet and his soon-to-be ex-wife Holly, who share a fondness and understanding despite knowing their marriage is over; and Fleet’s relationship with his estranged mother.

With a real page-turner of a plot and complex characters who are all hiding something, The Search Party is flawless suspense-writing that you’ll race through in a matter of hours.

The Search Party by Simon Lelic is published in Australia by Penguin.

Standout Simile:

The rain had dwindled to a mist. With no breeze to disturb it, it hung in the air like a dying breath.

How finding the right setting can inspire your storytelling

Some of my favourite books are famous for their memorable settings. Jane Eyre’s gothic, gloomy Thornfield Hall is the perfect place for Jane to fall for the enigmatic Rochester; and the remote island on the South Devon coast provides a threatening backdrop for the doomed cast of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. These are books where the setting is so integral to the plot and its characters that you couldn’t imagine the story happening anywhere else. It’s because of the setting being exactly as it is that the plot unfolds and the characters respond in the way they do.

It’s been said that Charlotte Bronte was inspired to write Jane Eyre after hearing about a mentally ill woman confined to an attic in Norton Conyers, after she visited the North Yorkshire manor in 1839. Soldier Island and the grand art-deco hotel that features in And Then There Were None were based on Burgh Island and it’s real-life hotel.

Like many writers, I also love to explore old buildings and learn their histories. It’s a great way to get ideas for stories. Who lived there and what were their lives like? Was anyone born in this room? Did someone die? Did someone fall in love? Did they get a phone call or a letter that changed their lives, while standing in this very hallway? In the way that a character behaves the way they do because of their past experiences, the same goes for locations. They have a history that will be informed and affected by the people who have lived there, or passed through that space over time.

My short story The Sound the Sea Makes, a historical mystery, was inspired by the tragic past of the Bustard Head Lighthouse on Queensland’s central coast. When researching Queensland lighthouses for my contribution to Lighthouse – An Anthology, I found a book called Lighthouse of Tragedy by Stuart Buchanan, which describes the history of the lighthouse in considerable detail. In 1887, Kate Gibson, the lighthouse keeper’s wife, disappeared from the cottage. After an exhaustive search of the surrounding bushland, Kate’s teenage daughter discovered her body lying against a tree, her throat slit by a razor. The death was deemed suicide. This story intrigued me and I began to speculate. What had driven this woman to take her own life, and in such a gruesome fashion? Was it really suicide, or could she have been murdered?

Kate Gibson was buried in the Bustard Head Cemetery along with many others who lived and died at the lighthouse, and the opening scene of my short story takes place in a very similar cemetery. While my story is entirely fictional, the idea of a beautiful, isolated lighthouse with a morbid past stirred my imagination and inspired me to write The Sound the Sea Makes, which will be published as part of Lighthouse – An Anthology.

Lighthouse – An Anthology is a unique multi-genre collection of short stories that celebrate lighthouses. From sci-fi and fantasy to romance and crime – and everything in between – Lighthouse features exciting voices from emerging and established Australian writers.

It is now available for pre-order at the limited time price of $0.99. Secure your copy now or find out more at https://lorikeetink.com/lighthouse

Mystery of the Month – The Safe Place

When we meet Emily Proudman she is pretty much screwed. She’s lost her temp job, stuffed up her latest audition, pissed off her parents, and is struggling to scrounge together enough money for a few groceries. But then her handsome, super-rich former boss, Scott, saves her from being hit by a bus. He offers her a job. Not just any job, a dream job. A live-in housekeeper – working for his wife and looking after their daughter in a beautiful estate on the French coast. Ooh la la!

But as we all know, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Emily arrives at ‘Querencia’ and is immediately bewitched when she sees the “two huge whitewashed castles standing sentinel over a fairy kingdom”. Scott’s wife, Nina, informs Emily that their 6-year-old daughter, Aurelia, is unwell. Her skin can’t be exposed to the sunlight. She doesn’t speak. And she’s prone to sudden outbursts of aggression. However, Emily soon becomes fond of her charge, and develops a firm friendship with Nina.

Emily knows she isn’t allowed in the main house, but one day decides to have a little peek. What she discovers is strange and baffling. Things get even more disturbing when a group of hikers stumble onto the property and Nina suddenly becomes hysterical. It’s clear this family is hiding something, but Emily doesn’t realise just how disturbing that something is until she’s so firmly entrenched there’s no possible way she can escape.

‘Querenica’ is the perfect setting for a psychological thriller. No phone reception. No internet. An idyllic, secluded property bordered by a forest – a smokescreen for something sinister. It’s a place where anything could happen, and no one would ever find out about it. The setting also acts as a perfect conflict for Emily – she’s finally found a place where she feels happy, something she hasn’t experienced in a long time. Does she really want to mess it all up?

The narrative alternates between three point-of-view characters, the action unfolding in the present day with flashbacks to the past. This works well and there’s some tragic reveals as we learn more about Scott and Nina’s relationship. Anna Downes has written well-rounded, complex characters, evoking sympathy in the reader for them when they do things they shouldn’t do. Emily is wide-eyed and innocent with a propensity to over share – qualities that means she easily succumbs to the charms and manipulations of Scott and Nina. Her journey from a clumsy Bambi into an empowered Belle makes for a very interesting read.

While the story is a little slow to start with, it’s necessary in order for the reader to fully appreciate the explosive finale, and the horrifying moment Emily realises the safe place she’s come to love couldn’t be more unsafe.

I recommend listening to The Safe Place on Audible. It’s wonderful listening to Anna Downes, an experienced actor, read her own story.

The Safe Place by Anna Downes is published by Affirm Press.

Standout Simile:

Hundreds of special little moments – smiles and frowns and exclamations – are being thrown into the air like bridal bouquets, and I am the only one catching them.

An update on my writing journey

I’m not sure I’ve ever written a blog post about my “writing journey”, certainly not one specifically stating it’s an update on my writing journey. I’m not sure anyone will be that interested – I’m an unpublished writer, not a published writer with a wealth of experience and advice to offer others. And it’s true that no-one cares more about their writing journey than the writer themselves.

However, if for no other purpose than for my own posterity, this is a blog post with an update on my writing journey!

I’m rewriting my manuscript…again!

For the past few years, I’ve been writing a cosy mystery, The Princess Murders. However, after receiving professional feedback, I’ve decided to rewrite it as a psychological thriller. I’m halfway through the rewrite and I’m happy how it’s progressing. I think I’ve made the right decision.

I’ve gotten some positive feedback on my manuscript!

I entered a manuscript competition, Publishable, run by the Queensland Writers Centre. While I wasn’t shortlisted or longlisted, I did receive feedback on the first 50 pages of my work. This feedback was mainly positive and encouraging. I was pleased because in the past I’ve had less-than-positive feedback on the opening chapters of my manuscript (in its cosy mystery form) and have since completely rewritten those chapters. The fact that the readers at Publishable liked my new opening chapters was good news as it lets me know I’m on the right track.

I’ve joined a writer’s group!

You may have seen my last blog post where I talk about how much I appreciate my wonderful writers group. Being part of a writers group has improved my writing no end. It’s made me more productive, more discerning, and a better writer.

My short story was highly commended!

This month I received the exciting news that my short story “Sit Tight” was highly commended in the Stringbark Tales With a Twist Award. The story has been published as part of the anthology Just Alice. It can be purchased as an e-book or hard copy from the Stringybark website. It’s great to see competitions like these run by writers who support other writers and want to see them do well.

Another short story will be published later this year in a very special anthology!

Thanks to the wonderful writers in my writers group, I was invited to write a short story to be part of a special “Lighthouse Anthology”. I’m very proud of the story I’ve written. It’s a historical mystery/thriller set in Queensland in 1887 about three sisters, one of whom has gone missing. It’s one of several fantastic stories and I feel very lucky to be included along with them. I’m looking forward to the anthology being published by Lorikeet Inc later this year.

I’ve also had rejections!

While I’ve had some wins, I’ve also had countless rejections. When that happens, I always feel really disappointed. I question whether I’m delusional. Perhaps my writing is truly terrible and I can’t recognise that fact. However, after allowing myself to feel disappointed for a day or two, and then reminding myself of those past wins, I try to get back into the swing of things. So far, I haven’t given up. I don’t intend to.

How’s your writing journey going? Please let me know in the comments below.

Mystery of the Month – Inheritance of Secrets

When Juliet’s grandparents are savagely murdered she is forced to consider the possibility her grandfather may have been a war criminal.

Juliet, a successful fiction writer, is left shaken and disturbed by the sudden, brutal murder of her beloved grandparents – the people who raised her. Her father died when she was young, her mother abandoned the family shortly afterwards and then her older sister ran away. Feeling totally alone, Juliet manages to track down her estranged sister, Lily, who is convinced the people who murdered their grandparents have been following her. They want Karl’s engraved signet ring, believing it has links to a Nazi leader.

Flashback to Germany, 1943. We meet Juliet’s grandparents, Karl and Grete, as they hurry to find shelter during an air raid. Told from Karl’s point-of view, we follow his journey as he escapes post-war Germany and befriends a man who encourages him to emigrate to Australia. Karl agrees, intending for Grete to join him when she is able to leave Germany. Things start to get really interesting once Karl is aboard the Fairsea –are all the passengers who they claim to be?

The dual narratives work successfully as Juliet pieces together what happened in Karl’s past that made him the target of someone very dangerous. Karl’s story moves more slowly, giving the reader time to absorb the historical details and imagine the hardships of post-war life – losing your loved ones and leaving everything behind for an unknown future in a strange land. Juliet’s storyline is fast-paced; she and Lily find themselves on the run, wearing disguises to evade the bad guys, desperate to find out the truth. The story culminates in an action-packed, nail-biting finale.

Sonya Bates, a published children’s book author, has written an impressive debut adult novel. Part historical fiction and part thriller, it’s full of unexpected twists and turns. Juliet is believable as the unlikely heroine who finds herself caught up in the dangerous past her grandfather tried so desperately to escape. Family ties, loyalty, greed, and the heart-breaking impact of war on future generations are thoughtfully explored in this solid page-turner that will have you eager for more.

The Inheritance of Secrets by Sonya Bates is published by Harper Collins.

Standout Simile:

My heart pounded with questions and emotions tumbling over each other like seaweed tossed in the surf, reaching out towards answers, then being tugged relentlessly back into the turmoil.

How Joining A Writers Group Improved My Writing

Joining a writers group is the best thing that’s happened to my writing. I’ve been wanting to join a writers group since I started taking my writing seriously (several years ago now). And my wish came true! I was invited to join a local writers group with four lovely, talented writers. I’m so lucky they asked me to be a part of their group. Here’s why.

I’ve got more motivation to write.

Since joining a writers group, I’m writing more than ever! We share a chapter of our work-in-progress each month, enter the monthly Furious Fiction competition run by the Australian Writers Centre, and encourage each other to enter short story competitions. Writing as part of a group who support and encourage each other to keep going has increased my output tenfold. The added bonus? The more you write, the more you learn and improve. I’ve noticed my writing has improved more in the past few months than it has in the past few years.

I’ve learned so much from giving and receiving feedback.

I’ve now got four experienced writers giving me feedback on a chapter of my work each month. When you’ve read what you’ve written so many times you’re barely processing the words anymore, having other sets of eyes on your work can really help you see it in a different light. It’s amazing what the other writers have picked up in my story that I never would have noticed or considered. My story is so much the better for it. I’ve also learned from reading their writing, about their creative processes and techniques.

I brushed up on my grammar and punctuation.

Confession. I had no idea what an en-dash or an em-dash were until the lovely ladies in my writers group explained them to me. Now, while I certainly wouldn’t call myself an expert on all things dashes, at least I’m no longer incorrectly using hyphens! While I thought I was pretty savvy with grammar and punctuation, it wasn’t until I met the expert proofreaders in my writing group that I realised I still have a little way to go. I’m so thankful they’ve saved me from embarrassing myself by submitting work with dodgy formatting and flaws.

I’ve learned that other writers are just like me.

We’ve all got similar doubts about our writing, the same anxieties about submitting our work and the same dreams and aspirations. And through our love of all things writing, we’ve formed a lovely friendship. Anna, Jodie, Kylie, and Lane: I’m so lucky to have met you. Thank you for inviting me to be part of your group, for sharing your work with me, and for your invaluable advice and support.

(A big shout-out also goes to my long-distance writing buddy, Sarah Fiddelaers, who I also share writing with, as well as our ups-and-downs of receiving professional feedback and contemplating multiple re-workings of our entire manuscripts!)

Lots of writers talk about how it can be a lonely business. But you don’t have to do it alone if you don’t want to! There’s plenty of writers groups out there. While I was fortunate enough to be invited to join my writers group, and even more fortunate when it turned out to be the perfect group for me, there are plenty of places you can find the group for you. Check the writers centre near you (for example, Queensland Writers Centre) or search online for a virtual writers group. And if all else fails, why not start one yourself?

Are you in a writers group? Let me know your favourite thing about being in a writers group in the comments below.

Mystery of the Month – Who We Were

An invitation to a high school reunion drops into your inbox. How do you feel? Are you excited to catch up with old friends? Curious to see how your life compares to theirs? Or does the mere thought of high school strike fear into your heart?

The graduates of Macquarie High are experiencing the full gamut of emotions when they receive an invitation to their twenty-year reunion. But there’s something more sinister going on. Because they’re also receiving threats — ominous yearbook entries written by someone who knows their personal information and details of their most private thoughts. Someone is holding a grudge against these former school friends. Someone dangerous.

B.M. Carroll’s Who We Were features a cast of seven main characters and alternates between their points-of-view. The multi-person narrative is becoming ever-popular in the psychological thriller genre and makes for enjoyable reading when it’s done well. And it’s done very well here. Annabel, the most popular girl in school, is now a mother of three children. Nerdy Katy has since reinvented herself and is the instigator of the reunion. Luke isn’t the type of guy to get hung up on the past. High school bully, Zach, swears he’s changed after meeting his wife and becoming a doctor. Melissa, a successful businesswoman, can’t forget her first love, Jarred… but he’s now Annabel’s husband. Grace doesn’t want her children to be the doormat she was at school. And Robbie, who was brutally bullied by the popular kids, has been living rough and hasn’t seen his family in twenty years.

Yearbook entries from the past are used to great effect, comparing each character’s school persona with their present day selves. While twenty years has certainly made a difference, not everyone has managed to cast off those high school labels. While some are eager to demonstrate how much they’ve changed, others are simply unable, or unwilling, to behave differently. Who We Were is a fascinating exploration of how the social relationships of high school can have repercussions lasting long into adulthood.

The author cleverly inserts a few shady characters into the individual narratives of each main character to keep the reader on their toes, wondering — could it be them? Are they the person sending the threats? While this is a quick read with a great hook, punchy language, and plenty of tense moments, it also touches on serious issues such as mental health and teenage drug use. The nail-biting showdown between the perpetrator and their intended victims leads to a satisfying, although tragic, conclusion.

Who We Were is a page-turning story about second chances, misunderstandings, revenge, and what happens when your life doesn’t turn out how you expected it to when you were in high school. It’ll have you thinking about your own school years and wondering if you’d do anything differently. Would you?

Who We Were by B.M. Carroll is published by Allen & Unwin.

Standout Simile:

He can’t stop. It’s like scratching a scab. He’s bleeding but he has to keep gouging.

3 Questions Writers Often Ask Themselves

Writing a book! Doesn’t that sound like fun? You can invent a story, make up some characters and send them on a thrilling journey in a fictional world you’ve created. Or maybe you have an important idea, feeling or message you want to share with the world. To be able to write is truly a wonderful gift. And yet too often, writers find themselves wracked with self-doubt and frustration. If you’re looking to get published one day, or even if you are a published author, you may find yourself asking one or more of the following questions.

Will I ever finish this book?

It seems to be taking years. Because it is taking years. And just when you think you’re finished, you find a massive plot hole. Then the rewrites take longer than the initial writes. You wonder if you’ll ever write another book because this one is taking so long to complete.

Unfortunately, it appears the only way to finish writing your book is to keep going until you finish writing it. The Self-Publishing School offers 8 Actionable Steps to Finish Your First Draft, including having a schedule, setting realistic goals and avoiding burnout. Plenty of writers have said it took them years to write their first novel, but with persistence, they all got there in the end. So don’t give up!

Why am I doing this to myself?

You might ask yourself this question when the rejections are coming in thick and fast but the acceptances are few… or never. There’s nothing quite like that awful sinking feeling after you get a rejection, where you question yourself and wonder if you’ll ever be capable of producing something worth reading. Or perhaps you’ve read work by other amazing writers (and there are a lot of them!), both published and unpublished, and think you’ll never be as good.

This insightful blog post What To Do When You Hate Your Own Writing at Writing and Wellness talks about the two times it’s normal for writers to hate their own writing. It’ll make you feel a bit better reading about other writers who feel the same as you. And again, with hard work and perseverance, your writing will get better and you’ll start to feel more confident in your abilities.

Who is going to read what I’ve written?

Congratulations on completing a polished piece of writing! But what happens when you send it to publishers and agents and don’t hear back? Or when someone gives you feedback that isn’t constructive and you lose the will to show your work to anyone else? Who is going to read what you’ve written when you don’t even want to read what you’ve written, and you’ve run out of family and friends to ask? Should you give up?

Paul Angone talks about his own experience as a writer trying to get published in an article on The Write Practice called How to Keep Writing When No One is Reading. He states you can’t be a writer only motivated by success or by being published (because unfortunately, there’s no guarantee those things will happen).

“You know you’re truly a writer when it’s simply something you can not NOT do.”

Sound like you? If it does, then I’m sorry, but it looks like you won’t be able to give up. You’ll have to push through the rejections, self-doubt and and never-ending rewrites. Keep writing stories and remember why you started in the first place. Because you enjoy it. Writing IS fun and as cliched as it sounds, if you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect anyone else (agents and publishers included) to believe in you?

Mystery of the Month – The Understudy

They all want their daughter to be the star of the show — but how far are they prepared to go to see their precious angel in the spotlight? The Understudy is a collaboration between four internationally bestselling authors — a psychological thriller about a group of stage-mothers set in a London performing arts school.

Serial Box, a digital platform, approached Sophie Hannah (author of the new Poirot novels) to write a story to be published as a series of audio and e-book episodes. They gave her the opportunity to hand-pick the other authors she wanted to work with, and she chose B A Paris (Behind Closed Doors), Clare Mackintosh (I Let You Go), and Holly Brown (Don’t Try To Find Me). Now in print format, The Understudy features each author writing from the perspective of one of the four women whose daughters attend the Orla Flynn Academy.

Kendall Donovan has brought daughter, Ruby, to the exclusive school, leaving behind their fancy home in America. She’s determined that no one learns the real reason they left in such a hurry. Carolyn Mordue despises Ruby after what she did to her daughter, Jess, the most talented girl at the academy. Now she’ll stop at nothing to ensure Jess secures the lead role in the show. Workaholic and perfectionist, Elise Bond, is focused on her elite business to the detriment of daughter, Sadie. And Bronnie Richardson is the wardrobe mistress who seems like the perfect mother — she has a great relationship with her daughter, Bel — but like all the other mothers, is hiding a secret.

Their lives are thrown into chaos when new student, Imogen Curwood, arrives at the school. Coincidentally (or not) on Imogen’s first day, Jess receives a terrifying threat in her locker. Carolyn immediately blames Ruby — last year, Ruby got into trouble for bullying Jess. The two girls have sorted out their differences but their mothers remain at loggerheads. When more threats appear, each more terrifying than the last, the women take matters into their own hands. Especially since Adam Racki, the scarf-wearing, Shakespeare-quoting school headmaster, doesn’t appear to be listening to their concerns. Amidst the rivalry and finger-pointing, the women all agree on one thing — something is seriously wrong with Imogen, who at times seems almost spooky — and they worry their daughters may be in danger.

These are characters you’ll love to hate: all four women are bitchy, selfish and hateful (Bronnie less-so), and they are all highly judgmental of each other — from their parenting skills, what they wear, and how they choose to live. By novel’s end this judgment has turned into suspicion and paranoia as they question if one of them might be dangerous. The individual voices of each character are at times hilarious, particularly Elise, who you can easily imagine rolling her eyes at everything that happens. The story really takes off when the women decide to get their hands dirty and do their own investigative work.

This story would make a fantastic television mini-series — it’s like Desperate Housewives meets Mean Girls meets Big Little Lies. Despite the overall tone of the novel verging on highly-entertaining melodrama, it also touches on serious topics such as bullying, suicide and drug addiction. The four authors must have thoroughly enjoyed conspiring together. The Understudy is a real scream.

The Understudy by Sophie Hannah, B A Paris, Clare Mackintosh, and Holly Brown is published in Australia by Hachette.

Standout Simile:

Beside me, Carolyn scrambles onto the stage like a pregnant woman getting out of a pool, and Bronnie and Adam are up too, and all that’s missing are the torches and pitchforks.