NATURAL BORN storyteller

Seaford author, Amy Suiter Clarke, has written two gripping psychological thrillers: Girl 11 (2021) and Lay Your Body Down (2023). Girl 11 has been translated into twelve languages and published in fifteen countries around the world. When it was published, Amy was hailed as an overnight success, but nothing could be further from the truth. She’s been building stories since she was twelve years old.

Born in small town Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Amy was home-schooled by her mother, who was a teacher. Her father was an ordained minister for most of her childhood. Both parents were members of a non-denominational Christian Evangelical church. Amy attended several times a week. She completed her last two years of high school at a junior college which, in the United States, forms the first two years of university.

“As a child, I often escaped into a world of fantasy. I’d lay awake at night and dream of far off worlds and what I’d do in them. I had a paper round when I was about twelve and I’d think of stories while I was delivering newspapers. Then I’d come home and write them down,” she says.

Her first story was about a thirteen-year-old girl who escaped The Titanic. Amy went to the local library to do the necessary background research. Within a couple of years, she was commandeering her Dad’s computer to write 25,000-word stories.

In her young teenage years, Amy was influenced by her favourite books and initially modelled her own stories after them, much like fan fiction. She was always intrigued by mystery stories. Even now, she loves to read mystery/thrillers, with a dash of general fiction, queer fiction, memoir and non-fiction thrown in.

When Amy went to university, it was to study another passion.; she completed a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre at University of Northwestern in St. Paul. She spent a few years acting and waitressing before finding the life of an actor wasn’t really for her, but that experience was useful in her writing career because developing a character was a major part of her theatre practice.

Her long held dream of going to the UK came true when she was accepted into the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing at Kingston University in London. She was one of the youngest people in the program at only 21. She really wanted to write young adult fantasy, but her professors weren’t keen on that so she transformed her first novel into literary suspense instead.

While in London, Amy met her husband-to-be at a global megachurch, though they no longer belong to that church. Marriage followed shortly after meeting. At the end of her studies, they decided to move to his native Melbourne.

Photos: Gary Sissons

Amy’s first novel got her a literary agent in 2015. The book was out on submission for a year, but no editors at publishing houses bought it. She didn’t know that could occur. She wrote a second novel and the same thing happened. Having spent a couple of years on each book, that was very discouraging, but not enough to stop her writing. Her patience and perseverance paid off.

In 2021, her debut novel, Girl 11 was published in New York. In a counterpoint to her previous experience, she says, “It sold out within three weeks which was astonishingly quick.” It was an immediate success receiving high praise from readers and critics alike. The story follows a true crime podcaster tracking a serial killer who is counting down to his youngest victim. It’s a masterful, twisty, page-turning nail-biter.

Her next novel, Lay Your Body Down, published in 2023, is steadily gaining success. It’s a gripping psychological thriller about a young woman who has broken away from her cult-like small town church. She returns for the funeral of her former boyfriend. His accidental hunting death doesn’t add up and she decides to get to the bottom of it.

Some elements of Lay Your Body Down are close to the bone as Amy comes from a small town and went to a church where patriarchy dominated the narrative and impacted the lives of the female parishioners, Amy included. She found the experience traumatising. This novel comes from a deep knowingness.

The novel she’s writing now isn’t a thriller. It’s more character-driven. Her protagonist is a non-violent sociopath. “The key question in this book is about the character’s fundamental misbelief about the world and how that belief took hold. Also, where along the way, the character had opportunities to reconsider that misbelief, but instead chose to reinforce it,” she says.

Writing is not her challenge, it’s finding the time. “I’ve always had to fit my writing in between other things,” she says. Now, she’s juggling her day job in Marketing Communications and wrangling toddler twins. So she writes the day when they are in childcare, and one weekend day where possible.

One of her Master of Fine Arts professors, author James Miller said, “A good writer needs talent, perseverance and rage.” Amy has all three. “Rage, anger and frustration have always powered the stories I tell. Not that they are angry books, but there needs to be an issue at the heart of the story that makes me angry and that has to change for the writing to be interesting for me,” she says. It’s certainly interesting her readers.

Peninsula Essence – January 2024