Q & A with Meg Keneally

Q & A with Meg Keneally
21 April 2017

Author, Meg Keneally, is back with the second book of The Monsarrat Series, The Unmourned.

Meg’s career has taken her all over the world, in cities like New York, Dublin, and Sydney. Being back in Australia, she has teamed up with her father, Tom Keneally, and combined Meg’s experience writing the crime beat and covering current affairs for the media, with Tom’s extensive knowledge of Australian history. The combination has produced a fantastic historical crime series that is only just beginning.

On Wednesday 3 May, Meg and Tom Keneally will discuss their latest book, The Unmourned. We were able to sneak in a few questions to Meg ahead of her visit, to ask her about her love of books, writing, and her research for her crime series. 

Why do you write?

I would say because it’s enjoyable, but that doesn’t really come close. It’s more of a compulsion. It has always been something I’ve turned to for therapeutic reasons, long before I had any thought of doing it for a living.

What are you reading right now?

The Good People by Hannah Kent, and I’m also rereading Tom’s book American Scoundrel.

Cover image The Good People and Hannah Kent

What three titles should always be on the shelves of any self-respecting bookshop?

Schindler’s List [Schindler’s Ark], Perfume by Patrick Suskind, and the collected works of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Cover images of Schindler’s List, Perfume, and Complete Works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

How would you describe your latest book?

An adventure with some darker themes running through it. The Unmourned sees the return of gentleman-convict detective Hugh Monsarrat (now with his ticket of leave), and his friend and housekeeper Hannah Mulrooney, the real brains behind the operation. When the superintendent of the Parramatta Female Factory is murdered, Monsarrat and Mrs Mulrooney must find the real killer before an innocent woman is executed. Monsarrat tries to keep his new freedom against the hostility of some of the colony's most powerful people, while Mrs Mulrooney faces blackmail about some hidden aspects of her past.

What was the hardest part of writing your latest book?

The research into conditions at the [Parramatta Female] Factory was confronting at times, especially as my great-great grandmother was an inmate. One story, which stayed with me, concerned a convict woman who was tethered to the floor of a cell for eating weeds. She ultimately died of starvation. It’s hard to read about what some of the women went through without shivering.

Elizabeth Fry reading the bible to convict women at Newgate - National Library of Australia Collection nla.gov.au/nla.obj-135896785

What was the best part of writing your latest book?

Returning to characters who now feel like old friends. I found myself mourning Monsarrat and Mrs M after finishing book one, so it’s good not to have to say goodbye permanently.

What’s the best part of writing a book with your Dad?

I have been around writing all my life but always as an outsider, so it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to be in it with him. And it’s like a personal masterclass watching him work.


Meg and Tom Keneally

What do you love about libraries?

The sense of timelessness you feel when you’re deep in research in a library is almost magical. I’ve done a lot of research in the State Library of NSW and I always emerge happier than when I went in. 

Book your tickets to the Keneally talk at the Library on 3 May 2017.