What inspired you to write Two for the Road?
One of the interesting aspects about the tow industry is that it represents the dark workings beneath every city – cities would grind to a halt without tow trucks to remove accidents, breakdowns and cars in clearways. They are people who most of us will at some time of our lives come into contact with and in difficult circumstances. But unlike other emergency services, some are people who prefer to live outside the law – there’s a sort of bushranger mentality.
My characters are often inspired by people I hear about second-hand, occasionally by someone I meet, but most often it seems to be someone telling me a story about someone else. Perhaps it’s a comment they made or a brief description of the person that gets me curious. Something starts fermenting and I start to wonder what made that person the way they are and so then I start to make up a story for them.
The idea of setting a book in the tow truck industry was inspired by a story my dad told me years ago about the time his car broke down on the freeway and his descriptions of the tow-truck driver who picked him up. Soon after this, I was in a traffic jam and saw two drivers pull up on opposite side of the road and race to the accident scene – as if their lives depended on it. I loved the drama and from that point a story started to emerge in my mind about a woman who has to take over her father’s tow truck business and the characters and challenges she might encounter.
My father’s story also set me off thinking about this tow-truck driver who later evolved into Kingi; the gentle but a little bit scary tattooed towie who has proved very popular with female readers. My oldest son described a woman he worked with as being hugely overweight, spending much of her day on internet dating sites and exuding a strange fruity aroma. I was immediately intrigued. Who is this woman and why the fruity odour? So this brief description became Avril for whom I was able to find a perfect match in Harrison; a man who loves her as is.
Later I began to research the industry, heard lots of tall tales but true, and became influenced by characters I met. So, gradually, the plot began to build around the characters.
How did you research the industry?
While I create characters and plots I would never presume to try to ‘make-up’ what might go on in this tight-knit industry. So, talking to tow truck drivers was an essential part of the background work.
I began by interviewing a contact, Jim, who has worked in a country town for more than 30 years. My approach is always just to tell people what I’m trying to do and ask for their help – I lucked in with Jim. He loved to tell stories and I love to listen. Many of the fictionalised situations in the book were based on/inspired by his stories and the character of Al has inherited Jim’s dedication and belief in himself as rescuer. The line ‘We’re the most efficient rescue service in the world – all you have to do is hit something’ came from Jim.
Next I approached a local tow-truck company and had interesting conversation with a ugly looking bloke that went along the lines of:
‘Hi my name’s Amanda and I’m a writer…’
‘That’s good, cause I’m a reader’
‘Nah. Whaddya want?’
It was fairly much downhill from there with effing this and effing that (him, not me). I explained that I was writing a story about a woman taking over her father’s tow-truck company. His response was: ‘Couldn’t happen.’ I asked why and his response was so disgusting I won’t inflict it on you. I spent and hour or so with him but I didn’t get too much out of that exchange except to have experienced the ugly side of the business. Invaluable for the character of Eddie!
I spoke to several other drivers by phone including a woman (yes, there is such a thing) who runs a company with her husband towing cars out of the Nullarbor. One of the titbits she gave me is that it’s not unusual for wealthy tourists to simply give the company their car in lieu of payment – it ain’t cheap to be towed out of the Nullarbor!
Next, I tried another walk-in to a big yard where I met Wayne and Scott. The yard had been the location of a TV series about the industry back in the ‘70’s so Wayne was primed and ready. He runs dozens of trucks all over the city and north. He spent some time with me and gave me newspaper cuttings about violent crimes, stand-over men, bikies etc involved in the industry. I talked to some of the drivers around the yard and was then offered the opportunity to ride around with some of the drivers and check it all out.
Make no mistake towies are VERY tough men – they have seen and heard things that would have us in counselling for the rest of our sweet lives. To give you an example: I asked one of the drivers if it was confronting arriving at the scene of an accident. He agreed that it was and started to explain. After a moment I realised that the accident itself wasn’t confronting – it was the opposition drivers! I asked what sort of threats other towies made. ‘Oh,’ he said casually, ‘You know, usual stuff – kill your family, burn your house down.’ It’s a wild industry full of wild characters, stranger and scarier than fiction.
How long did it take you to write Two for the Road?
The idea had been in my mind for more than a decade but once I had finished The Olive Sisters it was calling out to me and I wrote it fairly solidly over about two years. Depending on what other work I was doing to earn a living in between the myriad duties of being a solo parent I might spend between one and three days a week, perhaps four or five hours a day on it. I know some authors can work a ten or twelve hours a day – I’m full of admiration! While I love it, I also find it tiring, so five hours solid writing is about my maximum.
What was the most difficult aspect of writing Two for the Road? Did you suffer ‘second novel’ syndrome?
I enjoyed the experience of writing this second book – it was a joy to write. I had much more fun, partly because I felt more confident as a result of the success of ‘The Olive Sisters’ and the many encouraging emails I had from readers telling me how much they enjoyed the book. But also because I had learned a huge amount from the writing, rewriting and editing of the first one that I was able to apply to the second.
I found writing the first one quite a torturous experience, full of self- doubt and angst. The first one actually took around five years but I usually tell people it took three because people are so shocked that it could take so long!