Thursday, September 11, 2014

Interview: Amy Dale (Author of THE FALL)

Amy Dale was born in Sydney is the Chief Court Reporter for the city's highest selling daily paper, The Daily Telegraph. She reported the Simon Gittany case from his arrest in August 2011. After reporting on every day of the trial and its dramatic verdict, she travelled to Canada to speak with Lisa Harnum's family and friends. She joined the paper as a journalist in 2006 and in that time has reported on sport, police and business. She became the senior court reporter in 2011 and covers the state's most high profile trials and anti-corruption inquires.

Amy was kind enough to stop by the blog to answer some questions about her book THE FALL.

- Read my review of the excellent true-crime book, THE FALL, here. Out now!

(Josh) What was it about the Gittany case that made you want to write a book about it?

(Amy) I decided quite early on in the case that I wanted to write a book about it. The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, who I work for, gave the trial very prominent coverage but I still felt there was so much more to be written. The level of public interest in Lisa Harnum’s tragic ending and Simon Gittany’s intense control over their relationship was astronomical. It was so much more than I had ever seen in any criminal trial I had covered previously. Having covered the case against Gittany from the start I thought I was in a good position to go behind the headlines and delve further into the story.

THE FALL goes beyond the courtroom and the crime to expose some of the prolonged torment partners experience as victims of domestic violence – be it physical or emotional. How important was it to lift the lid on Lisa’s turbulent time with Simon prior to and in the events leading to her untimely death?

I felt it was extremely important and one of the most crucial parts to include in the book. I think so many of Lisa’s loved ones hope that if anything is to emerge from the intense coverage of her death it is a greater knowledge of the warning signs of domestic violence.  I wanted the book to paint a picture of Simon and Lisa’s relationship from the very start, to show how he drew her into his world and kept her there until it was too late for her to escape from his clutches. While the trial explored some parts of their relationship in its early stages, obviously it focused mainly on the final few days (and the events which formed a part of the prosecution case). Yet clearly the alarming signs that Lisa may be in danger started to form much earlier than that. For those who loved Lisa, I think they hope her story serves as a cautionary tale for those who may be in a similar situation themselves, or know somebody who is in an abusive relationship.

The Fall: How Simon Gittany killed Lisa HarnumI liked the matter-of-fact retelling of the case. The delivery was without prejudice and allowed the reader to formulate their own opinion without being told which side to pick. As the evidence was complied and the trial progressed, the witness statements and judicial process paved a clearly cut path leading to the guilty verdict. Knowing all that you did prior to writing the book, how important was it as an author to maintain this almost neutral ground throughout the writing process?

This was actually not as difficult for me as I first imagined it would be. I think it’s because I’ve been a court reporter for more than four years, so am very used to remaining neutral in all cases I cover. This can be hard at times, especially the longer you report on a trial and get to know the people involved, but it’s the most important part of my job to provide balanced coverage of what is said in court, and only that. That being said, it was really enjoyable to write in a style that is so different to my everyday reporting structure.

Lisa’s iPhone was critical in providing insight into her troubled relationship as well as showing a strong bond with her mother. Was it always your intention to provide both sides of the iPhone evidence? The good with her mother, the bad with Simon? How do you think this helps to balance Lisa’s character?

I wanted to include every piece of evidence possible in the book. This also meant presenting the defence case, and Simon’s steadfast denial that he essentially kept Lisa his prisoner inside their apartment. As Justice Lucy McCallum said in her verdict, there were periods in the relationship when both Lisa and Simon Gittany placed restrictions on the other’s movements and interactions, and these constraints were willingly accepted by the other. I also felt the text message exchanges showed the difficulties Lisa’s family, especially her mother, faced in trying to get a handle on the struggles in the relationship when they were living so far apart. As a reporter covering the trial, I found the text message exchanges between Lisa and Simon incredibly insightful and occasionally quite heartbreaking. In some of them I really felt you could hear the pain and despair she was feeling in her wish to be completely accepted and understood by him. I found some of Simon’s replies quite telling. In some of the messages you could see she was trying to reach out to him for an affectionate reply, but instead she would be met by a cold and cruel response.

If you could sell THE FALL in one sentence, what would it be?

It goes behind the scenes of one of Australia’s most captivating court cases, and tells the chilling story of a woman betrayed by the person she wanted to trust most of all.

Given the broad exposure to true crime you have, are you thinking of writing any more books?

Absolutely. I have a few ideas presently floating around in my head. Writing The Fall definitely confirmed my love for books, and while the days around deadline were very stressful, and swimming in content like this quite draining, I found the entire process incredibly worthwhile.

I thought, in THE FALL, you showed great promise for writing courtroom thrillers – do you think you’ll try your hand at crime fiction at some stage?

That’s very nice of you to say! I would certainly love to give fiction writing a go in the future. Writing is one of my greatest loves in life, and the part of my job I take the most joy from. I certainly hope there are more writing opportunities on the cards.

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