Drawing from the past

Author and history lecturer Leigh Straw.

LEIGH STRAW loves the dark corners of history.

The local author, an associate professor at Notre Dame Fremantle, has released a regular stream of crime thrillers over the last decade; but what makes her works stand out is that most have been non-fiction.

Her latest release The Ballroom Murder follows that theme, exploring the shooting of Cyril Gidley on the ballroom dance floor of Government House in Perth in 1925.

Gidley had been shot by his former fiancee Audrey Jacob, a Fremantle woman who lived with her parents and siblings on High Street. 

The inclusion of the historical context in the ‘Notes’ at the back of the book lets the drama flow like a crime story. 

Straw has been researching and teaching crime history for a few years after getting hooked exploring the tale of the murderer in her own family. 

She’s drawn to the stories of women involved in crime (or policing it) and said she took two years researching Gidley and Jacob’s story, fitting it in around her full-time work.

“I wanted to figure out for myself why Audrey Jacob shot her ex-lover dead,” she said.

“Once I start writing, it’s not as long, as I tend to not procrastinate and just get it done,” she said, noting the writing itself took one year. 

 “Very few writers can devote all their time to writing so when you feel frustrated because you are juggling work and writing or work, children, family life and writing, there’s many other people in the same place as you. 

“The key thing is to make the most of the time that you get to write – use it to the maximum degree!”

Straw said the key element of writing a crime story (she’s also got a couple of genuine thrillers amongst her 14 titles) is “setting up a story that captivates the interest of the reader but allows them to make up their own minds too.

“Books are like my children; I don’t have favourites. I like each of them for the journey they took me on at the time. The last two books with Fremantle Press have been such fun to talk about though!”

Straw said being a historian, the best part of writing the book was piecing together the full story of the shooting from the remaining archival evidence. 

Her next project is something she’s been wanting to do for a long time. 

“I’m writing a book on the Kennedys during the summer of 1944 at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. This was the summer that changed their lives and took Jack Kennedy to the White House.”

The Ballroom Murder
Leigh Straw
Fremantle Press

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