Author Interview: Leigh Straw

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Leigh Straw, author of The Petticoat Parade took some time out to have a chat with Beauty and Lace.

Get to know the author behind the book in this insightful interview:

What inspired you to write about true crime?

I was inspired to write about true crime when researching West Australian history a few years and coming across mug shots of women charged with various crimes in the early twentieth century.

I realised their histories had been largely relegated to the archives and silenced in the history of the state. 

You won the 2018 Margaret Medcalf Award, can you tell us about that?

The Margaret Medcalf Award was created in honour of former state archivist, Margaret Medcalf OAM. The award recognises excellence in research and referencing by researchers using the state archives.

I was really pleased to win this award for my book After the War as I felt the stories of the returned servicemen and their families were being honoured and respected. 

What kind of research do you do before starting a new book?

Primary source research is essential when starting a new book. What do the records reveal? Can stories be developed from the archival evidence? In terms of true crime writing, I canvass police and court records, newspaper stories, and archives directly relating to the field of study.

From there I familiarise myself with any secondary sources (scholarship in books and journals, for example) relating to the topic of the new book. 

How would you describe your lead character, Josie?

Marie Monnier, aka Josie de Bray, was the most famous of the Roe Street personalities. She arrived in WA form France in 1905 and by the 1920s had established herself as a leading brothel madam with plenty of real estate in the red light district and later, further out in Mount Lawley.

She was a larger-than-life identity who was noted for her European fashions, peroxide blonde hair and expensive jewellery. Josie had a fine entrepreneurial mind and was a successful businesswoman at a time when there were few opportunities for women to run businesses. 

Do you prefer ebooks, printed books or audiobooks?

I think all provide a valuable service to people with different reading needs so I think it’s really important that all are available. My personal preference is printed books as I like the feel of a book in my hands and the smell of an old book is something many historians love!

What can readers expect when they read The Petticoat Parade?

The Petticoat Parade tells the story of Madam Monnier and the women who worked on Roe Street and the surrounding precinct in the first half of the twentieth century. It details the history of Perth’s red light district and introduces readers to some colourful characters, like Marie Monnier, and the police and private detectives who also worked the street. Roe Street was an infamous part of the city up to the late 1950s.

The newspapers called it the ‘Rue de la Roe’ and while the street generally quiet during the day it really came alive at night with business, parties and police raids. 

What interests you about the 1940’s?

I’m interested more generally in the period from the 1920s to the 1950s, which the book covers. It was a fascinating period in Australian history with the rise of organised crime, more professionalisation of the police forces (along with the introduction of the Women Police) and social changes which led to debates about crime in society and the place of prostitution, in particular, in the Australian cities. 

What is your favourite part of publishing?

My favourite part is seeing women’s stories brought to life through the printed word and then shared with readers. It’s the connections readers can then draw with the stories they are reading.

My books bring people forward to tell me their own stories and I love that connection. 

Where can our readers follow you?

Readers can follow me on Twitter (@leighstraw)

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