Pre-lockdown Blackheath author Ava Barry could be found working tables at Frankly My Dear coffee shop in Katoomba when she wasn't working on her latest novel. Because being an aspiring writer, working in hospitality has been a big part of her life.
But something amazing happened in 2020 - the book she has been working to get published for a decade was picked up. And reviewers are now holding her in the same company as renowned author James Elroy - one of her heroes.
"I could not believe that," the 32-year-old author told the Gazette.
Since then other reviewers have piled on generous praise.
BookPage said: "Windhall is Barry's first novel, and it is one heck of a debut. She nails her protagonist's first-person voice and vividly channels the Hollywood vernacular and vibe both past and present."
And John Copenhaver, award-winning author of Dodging and Burning adds it's a "gorgeous, bedeviling, and compulsively readable debut not to be missed fans of historical mysteries and Hollywood lore".
The book celebrates old Hollywood. It switches between the current day and 70 years ago. An investigative journalist looks back on a Hollywood starlet's unsolved murder from the 1940s, just as a copycat murder occurs.The journalist races to piece together the murders as the book timeshifts between the past and the modern day.
Despite garnering so much positive response to the novel, Barry, has no plans to stop waitressing and washing plates at the Katoomba cafe.
At the moment the cafe is closed because of the extended lockdown and she is missing the interaction, but she said as an author, she has become very comfortable being in her own head for extended periods of time.
After finishing a film studies degree in 2010, Barry, worked as a script reader for Bold Films and Intrigue Entertainment and an editorial assistant for Zoetrope: All-Story, Francis Ford Coppola's literary magazine. She said she "got to sit next to the jacket that Ryan Gosling wore in Drive" but unfortunately there were no "charming meet cute" moments with Ryan Gosling, any other actors or producers during her life in Los Angeles that led to a screenwriting job. She was also waitressing in a Chinese restaurant back then too.
After travelling the world she met her Australian professor partner and moved in with him in the Blue Mountains about seven years ago (she has dedicated the book to him). And while she loves it here (apart from the bushfires) she calls the book "her love letter" to the Golden Age of Hollywood and to "home" where her family still live.
Barry calls Windhall her third novel - but won't ever release the first two. So while publishers say she is now working on her second novel, it's actually her seventh. She has learnt the power of being ruthless with her words and knows when something she has written is actually worth publishing and what should remain firmly in the bottom drawer.
When I ask her if she wants a film deal for the pacy Windhall she says it wouldn't work, but her next book, in contrast, would adapt easily to the big screen.
The book is published by Pegasus Crime and is now in stores. It is also available online. See avabarry.com.