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Tara Moss on creating a private eye who knows how to sew

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Tara Moss on creating a private eye who knows how to sew


Dead Man Switch marks a pivot to historical fiction. Moss sees the novel as a bridge that links crime fiction, the genre in which the former model made her name as a writer, and her non-fiction and research work. We meet Walker, as streetwise as she is seductive, heading off to her late father’s private detective agency in Sydney’s CBD in 1946. Walker is a former war correspondent, whose photojournalist husband is missing, presumed dead, and she deals mainly in cheating spouses. The war might be over, but the novel is deeply interested in its wreckage.

Tara Moss has returned to fiction with a witty new heroine named Billie Walker.

Tara Moss has returned to fiction with a witty new heroine named Billie Walker.Credit:Berndt Sellheim

Moss grew up listening to her Oma and Opa’s haunting stories about World War II. They were born in the Netherlands and her Opa was forced to work in a munitions factory in Berlin before he managed to escape.

PI Walker is, as one international publication described her to Moss’s delight, “a staunchly feminist, champagne-swilling, fast-driving Nazi hunter”. She prefers the title Ms and recognises that “feminine intuition” is actually just rational deduction and the mystery of her single status is not the one she wants to solve. Feminity and strength exist together. Walker is both hard-boiled and handy with a needle and thread.

Moss says: “Feminine skills are bloody important, but because they’ve been feminised, they’ve often been undervalued. And I wanted to give a hard-boiled twist on a character who does the things we value in fiction. She is flawed, but heroic. And yes, she also darns her stockings.

“Just because she was doing a job where mostly it’s men working, I didn’t want her to be Billie Walker living in a man’s world.”

Tara Moss' 12th book is set in Sydney in 1946.

Tara Moss’ 12th book is set in Sydney in 1946.

Sewing is something that Moss herself has taken up with gusto, not just for novelistic research but also in a bid to live more sustainably. Moss is a great lover of vintage fashion, particularly 1940s clothing, for its mix of masculine and feminine tailoring, and she is a patron of the Australian Sewing Guild.

She says: “The stories that are in clothes are also of interest to me and I guess that’s why Billie has that interest. Because I think it’s not superficial. It actually tells a story.

“She needs to be able to slide into the pub but she also needs to go into that ballroom in black tie and not look like she’s the odd one out.”

Dead Man Switch, Moss’s 12th book, comes two decades after her 1999 thriller debut Fetish, which launched a series featuring the part-time model and forensic psychology student Makedde Vanderwall.

What has Moss discovered in two decades of writing?

“I guess I’ve learned that I’m a writer and that writers are all different. We all work differently, we all look different, we all write differently and we all have a different authorial voices,” Moss says.

Just because she was doing a job where mostly it’s men working, I didn’t want to her to be Billie Walker living in a man’s world.

“It’s my passion. It’s what I love, and what have I learned about myself is that I need to write. It’s part of me and storytelling is part of me, and I’ve found ways to keep myself forever interested by challenging myself to try different genres and different stories and different characters, and throwing myself into different research, and sticking to my motto of ‘life is too short to live the same day twice’.”

Or to wear heels that you can’t run in.

Dead Man Switch is published by HarperCollins at $32.99

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