Scar Town Author Interview

Scar Town by Tristan Bancks

Scar Town is a crime-thriller novel for ages 10+ about a missing father, a drowned town, a buried secret and three friends on a dangerous mission to uncover the truth. Here is an interview I did with the team at Penguin Random House Australia about how I wrote the book, the challenges I faced and what it was that kept me thinking about the story from 2009 to 2023! This interview and more behind-the-scenes on the book is included in the Scar Town teaching materials. I hope you enjoy learning more about the book. There are links below to buy the audiobook, ebook and paper book!

Where did the story come from?

Scar Town is inspired by a short story I wrote in 2009, Adaan. The story was a collision of my love of the movie Stand by Me (adapted from a Stephen King novella), my childhood in the Blue Mountains and a song called ‘Appalachian Springs’ that I listened to over and over while I wrote the short story (and the book). Soon after I published the story, I had the idea to turn it into a novel. I was writing a Tom Weekly book every year plus a draft of Two Wolves and touring for three months a year but, in the cracks, I was thinking a lot about this drowned-town idea. It was a story that wouldn’t let me go. Here’s a note from 2013: ‘On the edge of a town that lays buried, childhood memories twist into monsters and fear turns friend against friend. Shadows and camping and missing people and lost souls and secrets, so many secrets down there. The stories and myths behind this lake. My darkest, creepiest, most page-turning story ever.’

Where is Scar Town set and why?

It’s set in a town called Scarborough, inspired by my childhood Easter holidays in Jindabyne, NSW, where they sunk the old town beneath a lake for a hydroelectric scheme. We would go out fishing and I would look out of the boat and down into the water, imagining the roads and buildings beneath the surface. It scared and intrigued me. Years later, I heard about how, during drought, water levels drop and these drowned towns start to reappear – slowly, the old buildings become visible above the surface. So I wondered, what would it be like if three kids swam out to a house poking from the lake and they found something inside, something scary and mysterious that changed the way they saw their small town of Scarborough as well as their families and themselves.

Is Scar Town personal to you in any way?

All of my books are about me in one way or another. My books Two Wolves, The Fall, Detention and Cop & Robber are fast-paced, exciting reads full of crime and great escapes and near-death experiences, but they are also personal in ways that are sometimes difficult to articulate. Here are some personal aspects of my life that I used in Scar Town to make the characters and the world of the story feel real and authentic and, also, to make it easier for me to write the story: – I had two friends who were twins when I was twelve/thirteen years old. – One of them was obsessed with horror movies. – The other one liked motorbikes. – We used to ride around on pushbikes. – The similarities to my friends end there. Scar Town then becomes the kind of story that we always dreamed of getting ourselves involved in – finding a whole bunch of money or some bones in an old, abandoned house. – I went on holidays to the lakeshore of a sunken town. – My cousins, who I went with, were also my good friends. – My uncle was a manager for a big trucking company. – When I was a kid I always dreamed of being a police officer. This is something you see in Two Wolves (Ben dreams of being a police officer), The Fall (Sam’s father is a crime reporter and police play a key role), Detention (Dan’s teacher Ms Aston is an ex-police officer like my year 9 English teacher) and Cop & Robber (Nash’s mum is a cop).

Scar Town by Tristan Bancks

How long did it take to write?

Um … well … in the case of Scar Town, a very long time. Thirteen years, in fact. The short story was 2009 (the same time that I started Two Wolves) and, in 2010, I decided to try to spin the short story into a novel. I loved the feeling and tone and characters and setting of the story but I didn’t know the ending yet, so I kept coming back to it again and again between drafts of other books. But I had never really written this kind of book before. It was only by writing Two Wolves, The Fall, Detention and Cop & Robber that I learnt the craft skills necessary to do this story justice. In November 2021, during the pandemic, I did NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, where the challenge is to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days). I took on the challenge with some writer friends – Dani Vee, Cristy Burne and Adrian Beck – and we detailed our efforts on Dani’s Words & Nerds podcast. I pushed through major obstacles and, in 2022, really brought the story home.

Why did it take so long?

I think it was not having the ending in mind before I began. I realise that I, usually, have a climactic scene in mind that I am writing towards when I’m creating a novel. But, this time, I had a feeling and a setting and some characters and I was writing the story to see where it led me. Also, the end of the short story was very dark and it felt like too much of a bummer to finish a novel that way. And I needed to turn the story from 2500 words into 50,000 words. It wasn’t quite as easy as I had imagined! I’m always very optimistic at the beginning of the writing process. I figure I’ve written over twenty books now. I should know how to do it. And I’m always so excited about the story that I figure the first draft will be amazing. Not always the case! In fact, I think I have written more drafts of Scar Town than any other book. Maybe ten or twelve?! But I still kept believing that tingling feeling in my gut when I thought about the story. I had to finish it.

What research did you do for the book?

I read and watched videos and gathered lots of images of drowned towns. I visited Jindabyne and Lake Joondalup in WA and lakes in the Blue Mountains and Yamba and Queenstown NZ, all of which gave me details for the setting and sparked scenes in the book. I also spoke with my friend Fleur Ferris (author of Found and Seven Days) who is an ex-police officer. She advises me on police matters on all of my books. And, as Will’s missing dad is an ex-cop, it was particularly important on this book.

How did you come up with the title?

Naming a story is difficult – anyone who has ever tried to come up with a title for a story or a song or a business or a band will know this. At first Scar Town was titled Adaan, the name of the short story back in 2009. Then it was titled Back Harlow Road (a reference to Stand by Me). At one stage it was called Three Dark, Twisted Tales, then The Boy From the Bottom of the Lake, before becoming Scarborough (I often stay with friends in a place called Scarborough in Queensland) and, eventually, it turned into Scar Town. Chicagoans call their city Chi-Town and I have a friend from Edmonton, Canada who calls her city E-Town. So, Scarborough became Scar Town. And the focus on the word ‘scar’ became a key theme in the book. For Will, it’s all about healing the scars of his town, his family, his friends and himself.





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