Sue Whiting's new novel Missing follows the mysterious disappearance of a mum in Panama

Stanwell Park author Sue Whiting with her latest teenage novel "Missing". Picture: Adam McLean
Stanwell Park author Sue Whiting with her latest teenage novel "Missing". Picture: Adam McLean

Stanwell Park author Sue Whiting has written her 65th book, Missing, a poignant missing person’s case aimed at tweens and up.

The novel – which hits bookshelves in March – centres upon the mysterious disappearance of 12-year-old Mackenzie Da Luca’s mother, who vanished without a trace in the jungles of Panama.

The former primary school teacher said the book’s themes may be quite strong and emotive but overall it’s about resilience.

“Life is both good and bad and through books it’s a great way, a safe way, to prepare our kids for the times when life doesn’t go to plan,” Whiting said.

“It [had] to be a story about resilience, and to show that even though something really tragic can happen in your life … it does get better and it will be okay, you’ll be able to bear it. Humans are made to be resilient, which is the main thing I wanted to get across.”\

I thought ‘how creepy is that’, they don’t know I’m on the other side of the world just watching their every move.

Sue Whiting

The idea for the story came several years ago when researching her previous ghostly thriller, Portraits of Celina. Whiting was astonished to discover there were more than 35,000 missing persons cases each year in Australia and the heartbreak to families left behind.

She then gave herself the challenge to write a mystery for middle-grade readers in the most honest way she could and that was not overwhelming.

But this wasn’t the only challenge for the author. Deciding to set part of the story in the small town of Boquete in Panama – a country she had never been before – also proved interesting.

Many Google searches uncovered the unique location – full of English-speaking expats – which seemed a feasible place for her biologist mother to disappear in.

By chance, Whiting was able to be put touch with another author’s sister who happened to be living in the town who could help with spelling and authenticity. She then stumbled upon a 24-hour live CCTV camera set up by the local council which streamed all of the happenings from the town square – including celebrations for Panama Independence Day.

“I was able to sit here in my study in Stanwell Park and watch what was happening in this town day and night,” she said.

“I thought ‘how creepy is that’, they don’t know I’m on the other side of the world just watching their every move.”

From the initial idea to putting pen to paper did take some years, however Whiting advised writing was not to be rushed – especially for aspiring writers wanting to get published.

When not getting her own children’s books and teenage novels published she is looking over other people’s manuscripts and helping them break into print.

“Give it time and make sure it’s as good as it can be. Don’t rush, take your time,” she said.

“And then once you’ve written one book, or maybe two books, and you have a bit of a body of work you need to network.”

Whiting also suggested reading as much as you can to be immersed in language and keep persevering because being an author is a tough occupation.

Her next publication will be a children’s picture book, illustrated by Annie White, called Beware the Deep, Dark Forest.