When Lucy Campbell slipped into her local grocery store to grab some milk, she never expected to walk out with the idea for her first novel.
"It was Missing Persons Week ... and the milk cartons had photographs of people who'd been missing for years," she says.
"I started to think about, first the families, what it must be like to not have an answer after so long, but also about the police, what they could possibly expect to find if the case is 20, 30 years old, what it would take, all that time later, to find that answer."
Campbell searches for those answers in Lowbridge. It's the story of a sleepy country town and the secrets it holds. The story jumps back and forth, from 1987 to 2018, the timelines connected by the disappearance of two teenage girls, Tess and Jac, and Katherine, a woman who, in the present, becomes fascinated by their story. But, of course, it's never as simple as that. Could the past be caught up in Katherine's own life, 30 years on?
Alongside the crimes, Lowbridge is also an exploration of female friendship. In 1987, there's the group of teenage girls, sassy, troubled, ready to head out into the world after their last year of school. There's also the storyline of a group of women who are trying to set up a women's health clinic in the town, fighting against the locals who believe it will be nothing more than an abortion clinic.
In the present day, Katherine joins the town's historical society, and the older women she meets there help her battle her own demons.
"Female friendships can be complicated," says Campbell. "But at the same time, they're some of the strongest connections you can have, ones that do endure over years and years."
Campbell does a great job with the story of the teenage girls. "I did like looking back on the '80s, that was when I was a teenager so it was kind of fun," she says. "And at the time of writing, I had two teenagers living with me at home so teenagers were sort of very much in the frontal lobe.
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"Yes, there are days when you could kill them on an hourly basis but it's also such an interesting time. They've got that really deep need for independence, really deep, intense loyal friendships.
"I was thinking about that quite a bit while I was writing, remembering what it was like. But then with interconnecting it with the contemporary setting, I didn't deliberately set out to do it that way, it was just the way it came out."
Indeed the book took a few turns, Campbell says.
"I always knew who did it, but I had no idea how. There were many endings, some more plausible than others. It was a mystery to me as well."
Campbell lives in Canberra with her husband and three children. She's worked as a writer and sub-editor, across magazines, non-fiction and newspapers, including The Canberra Times. She was working part-time, writing on Fridays inbetween school schedules and chores.
"It should have been a solid five or six hours of writing but often it would take me three hours to pick up where I left off the previous week and it was so frustrating," she says.
"So I reached a point where I said I have to give this a go or just forget about it."
So she quit work and signed up for the Australian Writer's Mentoring Program and was paired up with James Bradley, the author of Ghost Species.
"He was great, he was so good at clarifying things, he made me look at the things I thought I knew in a different way."
She sent the book off to a literary agent and it was eventually picked up by Ultimo Press. There's a second book on the way.
She's always been a fan of mysteries; growing up she read a lot of Agatha Christie books and she acknowledges the path for Australian authors, in particular, that's been paved by the likes of Jane Harper in recent years. "Jane Harper has done a fabulous job in making us all believe that Australian stories are worth telling."
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