Brooke Dunnell presents: crime novelist Karen Herbert says spreadsheets can help you wrangle a rogue plot

The Fremantle Press Podcast
The Fremantle Press Podcast
Brooke Dunnell presents: crime novelist Karen Herbert says spreadsheets can help you wrangle a rogue plot

Speaking to Brooke Dunnell on the Fremantle Press podcast, novelist Karen Herbert says she didn’t know how the narrative was going to pan out until the end of her writing. Karen says, ‘The story started with chapter four … It was really one of those stories that evolved as you write them. I didn’t know who shot Darren until almost the very end.’

Karen’s debut novel The River Mouth is a riveting murder mystery of an unsolved case of fifteen-year-old Darren Davies which resurfaces ten years later when Darren’s mother’s friend is found dead with DNA that matches Darren’s. Darren’s mother Sandra begins to question everything and everyone she knows and discovers that her small town holds some big secrets. The River Mouth is currently being optioned for the screen. Karen’s book follows a series of viewpoints that switches between timelines. In this interview, Karen explains how she did this intentionally to ‘unfold clues and hints and events to what happened before.’ She tells us how she began writing the chapters and ‘realised that in order to tell the story in the way I wanted to tell it, I had to have two points of view.’ Karen says to keep track of her changing timelines and clues throughout the novel she used Excel. ‘I had this spreadsheet. Across the top I had ‘storylines’ and down the sides I had ‘chapters.’ And then in each little cell, I had the things that happened.’

Topics discussed

  • Using a spreadsheet to plot a narrative
  • Writing about social issues
  • Writing as a career
  • Balancing a day job and writing time
  • Balancing a day job and writing time

Books, authors and other stuff mentioned


The Fogarty Literary Award

About the host

Brooke Dunnell is the author of the short story collection Female(s and) Dogs, which was a finalist for the 2020 Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award. Her short stories have been recognised in competitions including the Bridport Short Story Prize 2019 and the Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize 2017, and have appeared in The Best Australian StoriesNew Australian Stories 2, The Big Issue fiction edition and other anthologies. Brooke has worked as a creative writing mentor, workshop facilitator and judge in various creative writing competitions. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Western Australia and lives in Perth. Her novel, The Glasshouse, won the 2021 Fogarty Literary Award and will be published in November 2022.

Connect with Brooke at or on Twitter @TheSpineLabel or Instagram @Brooky.Brooks.

About the guest

Karen Herbert is the author of The River Mouth (2021) and The Cast Aways of Harewood Hall (2022). She spent her childhood in Geraldton on the midwest coast of Australia, attending local schools before moving to Perth to study at the University of Western Australia where she attained a Bachelor of Commerce and Master of Science in Applied Psychology. Karen has worked in aged care, disability services, higher education, Indigenous land management, social housing and the public sector, and is a graduate member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. She is a Board Member of The Intelife Group and Advocare, and President of the Fellowship of Australian Writers (WA). Karen lives in Perth, Western Australia with her husband, Ross, and the occasional fledgling.

Connect with Karen at or on Facebook @karenwhittle-herbert, Twitter @herbert_whittle or Instagram @herbert_whittle

Original music

‘Letter to a Daughter of St George’, from the Meat Lunch E.P.: Songs from Floaters. Written by Alan Fyfe. Performed by Trevor Bentley (guitar and vocals – @trevormb) and Chris Parkinson (harmonica). Produced by Blake Carnaby of Nuglife studios with impresario work by Benjamin P. Newton.

Sound engineering

Aidan D’Adhemar, Fremantle PA Hire

Produced by

Claire Miller and the Fremantle Press Marketing and Communications team

This podcast was produced in Walyalap in Wadjuk Boodja, on the lands of the Noongar people.

Books discussed

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