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Location, location, location – why Byron Bay is a perfect crime setting

19 Mar

Setting is important in crime novels. Where would Sherlock Holmes be, without the fog-bound London streets? And wouldn’t Scandi-noir be way too cheerful without those long, cold snowy nights?

Byron Bay might not be quite so noir, but it is still a fascinating location. In my new young adult comedy/crime novel, the beauty and the weirdness of the bay become almost another character in the book.

My protagonist, Olivia Grace, is a Gold Coast girl – They could have scrawled ‘here be dragons’ on the map south of Coolangatta as far as I was concerned.

The first time she went to Byron, she thought it was paradise:

Byron Bay, I soon discovered, was a place to conjure dreams. The sweep of the bay to the base of the mountains; the dolphins leaping from water so clear it was barely there. For us, it was nirvana.

But nirvana had a dark side and things didn’t turn out so well back then. Now, Olivia is back. A freshly hatched Private Investigator, she is hot on the trail of a yoga guru who’s a bit of a creep.

Here’s a whistle-stop tour of the mean streets of Byron as trodden by Olivia in ‘The Girl with the Gold Bikini.’

A Byron Bay Yoga Studio

I read recently that Byron has the highest percentage of yoga instructors outside India. Even if that’s not true, it’s believable. Things heat up for Olivia when she heads out to a fictional yoga studio, Lighthouse Bliss:

I park among the bangalow palms and make my way past the flowering lily pond to reception. The usual South American panpipes are playing and lavender wafts from an aromatherapy burner.

Despite this auspicious welcome, Oliva soon discovers that Byron Bay yoga is not for the fainthearted:

Ajay’s Bikini Beach Body Boot Camp Speed Yoga is powerful stuff. Each two-hour class covers all the moves other yoga teachers would take two weeks to fit in. He learnt this form of yoga from an Indian guru, who granted him sole worldwide rights. I guess gurus aren’t what they used to be.

Unfortunately for Olivia, things only go downhill from here…

Ah, Wategos…

Olivia trails the creepy yoga instructor to a large house with an infinity pool, overlooking Wategos Beach.

As I wind past the cabbage tree palms to Wategos, Abbey’s voice is in my head. ‘How good is this place, Ol? Surf and rainforest. It’s paradise.’ Byron Bay is still paradise. Seems like the whole world thinks so too, though.

Despite the crowds, I still think Wategos is possibly the most beautiful beach in the world. Surfing beneath the lighthouse as the sun sets over the mountains is one of life’s magical moments. Which brings me to…

Surf’s up…

One thing you can almost guarantee about Byron is… crowded surf breaks. Olivia used to surf, but she gave it up after a bad experience. Now she’s trying to get back into it again.

I’d forgotten how cutthroat it is out here. One of the men in the line-up is a kind of man-fish thing. His hands are the size of flippers and he gets onto the waves with about two strokes.

The pack takes my measure quickly. Every time I paddle for a wave someone else comes in from in front or behind or materialises out of nowhere.

Hot tip, Olivia – if you want to avoid the crowds, you need to surf in the dark. Which, in due course, she does. And after a surf, where would you head, but…

The Pass Café

For a post surf snack, this has to be the best spot in town.

A bush turkey roams around underfoot while the magpie cocks its greedy eye at a muffin. In Byron, the rainforest, with all its wildlife, comes right to the beach. Jacq and I claim a table with a view of that show-off, the sea.

Mm, and after a coffee, it’s time to move on to…

Jonson Street

At the risk of sounding like our Prime Minister, how good is Jonson Street? You could watch the world go by all day and never get bored.

The pavement is teeming with the usual frenzied mix: hippies down from the hills, European backpackers, spiky-haired Japanese surfers and gold-sandalled blondes in white linen beach wear.

And when you’re ready for some entertainment, there’s always…

Byron RSL

Several years ago, I did Mandy Nolan’s stand-up comedy course, culminating in a performance at the Byron RSL. The experience was so nerve-wracking, I had to get Olivia to re-live it for me…

Sipping a beer, I perch at a table down the back where I can take photos without being noticed. It’s open mike comedy night and she’s just taken the stage. The crowd is a mixture –young hip surfies mingled with your typical middle-aged RSL drinkers.

And of course, a novel set in Byron Bay wouldn’t be complete without a trip to…

The Lighthouse

A northerly wind whips at our hair and flattens the surf to whitecaps. Panting, we look over the cliff edge and see two dolphins, a mother and a calf, below us. I imagine them as the slackers of the dolphin world. ‘I can’t be bothered catching fish. Let’s get takeaways tonight.’ If I was a dolphin, that would be me.

Now that I’ve scoped the town, I can confirm that Byron Bay is the perfect setting for a fictional crime. Particularly if you’re into that of the yoga and surfing variety.

‘The Girl with the Gold Bikini’ is available from your friendly local bookshop, or: Readings, Booktopia, Amazon Australia, US, UK

Ah, those Gold Coast days…

1 Feb

Well, this book has been a loo-ong time coming (what’s fifteen years or so, between friends?). It’s been so long, in fact, that I’ve published five other books, while I’ve been working on it. Some books take longer than others to find their perfect form.

So here it is – release day! It’s been worth the wait. Thanks so much to Wakefield Press for steering this book to publication and to my son, Tim Eddy, for the little video.

I thought I’d post a short extract here to whet your appetite. There is so much of my teenage self in this book – ah, those Gold Coast days…

***

‘The Girl with the Gold Bikini’

Chapter One:

Whenever I see a girl in a gold bikini, I think of Princess Leia. Here on the Gold Coast, gold bikinis are common, so I think of Princess Leia a lot.

Princess Leia doesn’t stand for any nonsense. When the giant slug made her wear that ridiculous bikini, she whipped out her chain and gave it a thrashing. Then she changed quick smart into something more sensible.

Dance with the hottest crowd in town, our stunning waitresses will ensure …

Punching the radio ‘off’ button, I squeeze my car into a metered spot near Cavill Avenue and glance at my watch. Late again. The good thing about working in Surfers Paradise is that the meter maids will be along soon to stick money in the meter. That’s if they don’t recognise my parents’ bombed-out Daihatsu, in which case they’ll know I’m no tourist, but a shameless leech on the system.

I jog up the street, jumping sideways to avoid getting wiped out by a guy with a nine-foot surfboard on his head. A tout calls out from a doorway, gesturing towards his shop. Get your stuffed koalas, didgeridoos and Akubra hats here, folks. Or that’s what I imagine he’s saying. As I don’t speak Japanese it’s hard to be sure.

I nod at the tout. He nods back. Seiji’s All Australian Souvenir Shop and Outback Bar is my regular lunchtime haunt. I don’t buy much but it’s always quiet in there, compared to the hustle bustle of the street. Seiji is nice. He never seems to mind if my ice-cream drips. He’s a good salesman, too.

As I push through the door of Gold Star Investigations I pause to savour the thrill it gives me. Here I am. Straight out of school and already a private investigator in training. It’s funny, though, how when dreams come true they’re never quite what you expect.

I hadn’t thought it would be so hard to work with Rosco. He and I are no strangers. We grew up on the same street in Southport. He was one year ahead of me in school, but we hung out together after hours. Rosco was Luke Skywalker and Han Solo to my Leia. We took turns to play Yoda, and very accomplished in Yoda-speak we were. The force was with us. I misheard this phrase the first time he said it, before I watched the movies, and the horse is with you became our little in-joke.

***

‘The Girl with the Gold Bikini’ is available in all good bookshops and online at retailers such as Booktopia and Readings.

You can read more about the book here.

I’m doing a few events around the place to celebrate the book’s release. You can check them out here. I’ll post more as they come up.

YAY!

2020 Events

21 Jan

February 13: Book Launch for ‘The Girl with the Gold Bikini’

When: 6pm, Thursday 13th of February

Where: The Bookroom at Lennox, 2/60 Ballina St, Lennox Head

RSVP: lennox@thebookroomcollective.com

February 29: Sisters in Crime, Brisbane

When: 12pm

Where: Brisbane Square Library

More information: Here.

March 12: Romancing the Stars

When: 6-9.30pm

Where: Iona College Library, 85 North Rd, Lindum QLD

Bookings: Here.

More events to come…

This tenting life – birds, books and bush

17 May

I’ve spent five of the last six weeks sleeping in a tent. And while I did love staying in a house in Margaret River – thank you Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival! – I was keen to get back in the tent. Living out of a tent is a very immersive experience. There is almost nothing between you and the environment. You hear every bird call, every shower of rain and every wind gust. It seeps into you, this richness. In the house, I enjoyed the soft bed, the hot water and cooking in a proper kitchen. But I missed the birds.

Camping in the middle of Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges

I’ve never been a birdwatcher, but I’m trying. I’ve got binoculars and a bird book and when I see a little brown bird I attempt to identify it. It’s been enjoyable trying to put a name to all those flitting friends.

The other thing about camping is that there is often no phone reception in the places – mainly national parks – where we like to camp. The result of this is that I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve found some treasures here and there, given to me by other travellers or picked up at a roadside stop. I also read on my kindle and listen to audio books in the car. I’ve posted a list of all the books I’ve read and the birds I’ve seen below and chosen a favourite of each.

In a couple of weeks, on May 31st, I’ll be talking at Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in Perth and then from June 13 to 16, I’ll be at Geraldton Big Sky Writers Festival. I’ll make an effort to spruce myself up a bit before then, so I don’t look like I just crawled out of a tent!

Emus at Flinders Ranges

Books read over the last six weeks.

‘The Story of a Marriage’ by Andrew Sean Greer

‘Catching Teller Crow’ by Ambelin and Ezekial Kwaymullina

‘The Third Wheel’ by Michael J. Richie

‘Imaginary Friends’ by Alison Lurie

‘A Widow for One Year’ by John Irving

‘The World Made Straight’ by Ron Rash

‘Dead Parrot’ by John Huxley

‘Women in Black’ by Madeleine St John

‘Longbourne’ by Jo Baker

‘Coming Rain’ by Stephen Daisley

‘The End of all our Exploring’ by Catherine Anderson

‘The Passenger’ Lisa Lutz

‘The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells’ Andrew Sean Greer

‘The Big Twitch’ Sean Dooley

‘Life List’ Olivia Gentile

‘The Lessons’ Naomi Alderton

Favourite book: ‘Catching Teller Crow’ by Ambelin and Ezekial Kwaymullina

Birds sighted (and identified) over the last six weeks.

Pardalote

Hooded plover

Flame robin

Yellow-tailed black cockatoo

Wedge-tailed eagle

Magpie

Sulphur-crested cockatoo

Galah

White-browed scrub wren

Richard’s pipit

Eastern rosella

Crimson rosella

Rainbow lorikeet

Raven

Spur-winged plover

Currawong

Black-headed cuckoo-shrike

Little hawk

Swallow

Major Mitchell Cockatoo

Purple-crowned lorikeet

Superb blue wren

Port Lincoln parrot

Grey shrike-thrush

Hooded robin

Red-eared firetail

Chestnut-breasted shelduck

White-tailed black cockatoo

Kookaburra

Peregrine falcon

Red-capped parrot

Rufous treecreeper

Rock parrot

Red-capped dotterel

Sooty oystercatcher

Pied oystercatcher

Crested tern

Samphire thornbill

Emu

Red wattle bird

Australian bustard

Golden whistler

Silvereye

White-eared honeyeater

Willy wagtail

Brush bronzewing pigeon

Sanderling

Pacific Gull

Silver Gull

Brown falcon

Dusky wood swallow

Mulga parrot

White-browed babbler

Mallee ring-necked parrot

Pelican

Black swan

Butcher bird

Budgerigar

Wood duck

Caspian tern

Elegant parrot

Ibis

Corella

Favourite bird: Major Mitchell Cockatoo

Loving the Apocalypse: Why I wrote a romantic comedy about climate change

20 Dec

2018 has been a big year. In April, my first young adult novel ‘Paris Syndrome’ came out and hot on its heels was my climate change comedy, ‘Melt’. I’ve been having fun doing the rounds, to talk about both books.

With Philip McLaren and Tim Tomlinson at Federal Writers Festival (image by Jessie Cole)

Most recently, I was at the Quantum Words Science Writing Festival in Sydney and the first ever Federal Writers Festival, near Byron Bay. At both of these events, I spoke about why I wrote a romantic comedy about climate change. I thought I’d share a little of that here.

Six years ago or so, I read an article which said that climate change is the most boring subject humanity has ever confronted. To me that was a red rag to a bull. I decided to roll my sleeves up and write a comedy about climate change. And not just a comedy, a romantic comedy.

With climate scientist Lesley Hughes and authors James Bradley and Hannah Donnelly at Quantum Words (image: Writing NSW)

People sometimes look at me like I’m a terrible person when I say I’ve written a romantic comedy about climate change. ‘You think climate change is funny?’ they say. Anything can be funny if you put your mind to it. Humour is a good way of approaching topics that we find hard to contemplate. I’ve read my fair share of dystopian fiction, but I find that there are only so many scorched wastelands I can take. There’s also room for funny climate change love stories.

Climate change is vast, overwhelming and depressing. We’re all to blame and there isn’t an easy solution. That makes it a difficult problem for fiction writers. It isn’t easy to turn it into a story which is small, hopeful and funny. But I’ve done my best.

It’s important to have stories about climate change out there. The more, the better. My book isn’t going to save the world, but it adds to the conversation. I’ve been careful not to harangue the reader. I think novels should be about people who have issues, rather than the other way around.

I’ve always enjoyed writing fish-out-of-water comedies. It’s so much fun placing a protagonist in a situation that they don’t have the skills to handle. ‘Melt’ is the story of Summer. She’s a TV production assistant who, in an unlikely turn of events, ends up impersonating a science superstar in Antarctica. Summer knows nothing about glaciology, penguins or krill and her boss forbids her to talk about climate change.

I put a lot of thought into how to introduce the science. I have a science background, so it would have been easy to overload the book with carbon dioxide and rising sea levels.

Instead I adopted the ‘strip club approach’. In movies, when they have to do an information dump, they always do it somewhere exciting, like a strip club. So, in ‘Melt’, whenever I introduce some science about climate change, I make sure that Summer is sliding backwards on her skis towards a crevasse. Or having a wardrobe failure.

I think comedy can be an effective way to tackle difficult issues. Authors need to woo their audience, not knock them over the head with a message. Climate change is scary, but it’s important to leave the reader with a subtle feeling of hope. Change is possible.

Best wishes for the holiday season and here’s to a fulfilling and positive 2019.  

Acknowledgement:
I would like to thank Create NSW for funding my travel to the Quantum Words Festival.

Sex, Lies and Bonsai – writing the outsider

12 Jun

have you everMy writing desk has a view of the sea. From here, at any time of day, I can see surfers skimming across the waves.  What would it be like, I thought, to live in this town and be scared of the water? To have skin that burns instantly in the sun? To have a rich and imaginative inner life but be so shy that no-one ever gets to know that part of you?

Darling Head, where ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ is set, is a serious surf town – one where the wetsuit is the look on the street and the clothes shops stock only surf wear. The town even has its own lingo – been gettin’ any? is the usual greeting. It is, in fact, very much like my own home town. While I am a keen surfer myself, my kids are not really into it. In a town with such a strong surfing culture, whether you do or don’t surf becomes an important part of who you are.

Into this town I threw Edie – a shy redhead whose father is a former surf champion, a girl who hasn’t been in the water since she was twelve. Edie’s father is the town celebrity, but Edie has spent her whole life feeling like she doesn’t belong. While she escaped to the city for a few years, a failed relationship finds her washed back up in her childhood home.

In search of more money, Edie takes up erotic writing. And of course, there is something much worse than being the water-shy daughter of a surf champion – being outed as an erotic writer in a small town. I’m sure we all know the terror that comes with exposing an intimate part of ourselves to the cruel light of day…

While ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ is a comedy, it is a tender one. It’s about the joy of finding someone who makes you feel like it’s okay to be the crazy mixed up person that you are.  Edie has spent most of her life trying to hide what she sees as her peculiarities. I wanted to see what would happen if she was brave enough to let them all come out.

‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ has become the little book that could. It’s now out with HarperCollins in the UK and HarperCollins in the US . Go little book. This book trailer for ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’, set in my home town, sets the scene.

Some links to buy…

‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ in the US: 

HarperCollins

Barnes and Noble

‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ in the UK :

Foyles

Amazon

‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ in Australia:

Booktopia

Angus and Robertson 

tile sex lies

 

Releasing Wild Books on the Camino

6 Jun

“A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.”
— Henry Miller
The Books In My Life (1969)

bookcrossings pic

I first walked the Camino about two years ago with my husband and two sons. It was an intense experience. We averaged twenty-five kilometres a day for thirty days – no rest days. There were blisters, bed bugs and tears. It wasn’t the most enjoyable walk of my life, but it was memorable. In a large part, the pleasure was about meeting people and the shared experience of doing a walk with such a long history.

This week, I’m going back. We’ll start walking on Sunday. The main reason I’m returning is that I’m writing a novel set on the Camino and I want to refresh my memory, get some new colour and smells for the book.  I’m not doing the whole Camino again, just the section from Leon to Sarria. And I plan to take it a bit easier than last time.

Last week I did a radio interview about my two new books, ‘Paris Syndrome’ and ‘Melt’. The interviewer pointed out that in both books, a book is left behind for someone else to read. She asked me if I had ever done that and, well, I have.

I like the idea of leaving books around for others to pick up as they wish. I helped to set up a street library in my home town, which is a similar principle. It’s interesting to see how often the shelves turn over and what books people leave behind.

This week I came across Book Crossings. It is a community of almost two million people who have released over twelve million books into the wild. Each book is given a special identification number and its journey across the world can then be tracked. I love the image of wild books crisscrossing the globe, making friends wherever they go.

I thought to myself, what better place to release books than on the Camino? You have a multi-national tribe of people, who hopefully have time to read, going past every day. I’ve decided to take some of my books and set them free along on the path. They say that the Camino gives you what you need, so I hope they will find their perfect readers.

 You can follow my Camino book releases on Facebook  Instagram or Twitter.

boots and books

 

Launching…

15 May

 

For those who live in my local area, I would love to see you at one of my events in Lismore or Byron Bay.

On Thursday May 17 (this Thursday) I will be discussing both my recent novels ‘Paris Syndrome’ and Melt at the Lismore Book Warehouse. There is a charge of $5 to cover drinks and snacks.

On Thursday May 31, Author Sarah Armstong will be launching ‘Melt’ in Byron Bay, with a Welcome to Country by Delta Kay. This is a free event (with drinks and snacks! )

RSVPs to both these events are appreciated to help with catering.

*****

Reveiws, reviews, reviews…

‘Melt’ and ‘Paris Syndrome’ have both been getting some lovely reviews, which warms the cockles of my heart on these cool autumn mornings.

Melt

It’s a lovely romp of a RomCom, involving Climate Change, Mistaken Identities and Antarctica! 

Karl Kruszelnicki (Dr Karl) (on Twitter)

I wish I could find more books just like this one!

Bree, One Girl Too Many Books 

Paris Syndrome

YA novelist Lisa Walker has woven a multi-layered story of love and loss… Highly recommended.

Alison Paterson in Magpies Magazine

This is a quirky affectionate read that will have teens laughing one minute and tearing up the next.

Riverbend Books

There are more reviews of both books on my website. 

‘Melt’ release day – write what you know…

2 May

I came to writing after a varied career. I worked as a wilderness and backcountry ski guide for many years, then in environmental education and then in community relations for the national parks and wildlife service.

My life has seeped into my work. My first novel, ‘Liar Bird’ was about a woman working in community relations for national parks – so, yes, somewhat autobiographical… In ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’, my protagonist Edie works at a university dissecting and drawing crab larvae – a position I held myself while I was doing my first degree in Zoology. My third novel, ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing’ features a woman doing a pilgrimage around the ‘Big Things’ of coastal Australia. And I have visited more than a few Big Things in my time…

‘Paris Syndrome’, my first Young Adult novel, is about a young girl in Brisbane who yearns for Paris. I grew up in Brisbane and spent a fair amount of time wishing I was somewhere more exotic.

I think authors often find that the more they write, the further from autobiography they go. Basically you just have to start making things up! Which brings me to ‘Melt’…

I’ve never been to Antarctica and nor have I presented a TV show and yet, this is what my protagonist Summer does. I did research it extensively though. If you’ve never survived an Antarctic storm in the Antarctic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, I can highly recommend it. It helped that I’ve spent a lot of time in snowy environments. I could visualise the hardships and the beauty of living in that environment. I loved being in my protagonist, Summer’s head as she saw Antarctica for the first time…

The sea edge is rimmed with turquoise cliffs of ice. They are brilliant, luminous. I hadn’t dreamed they’d be that colour. My mouth is hanging open again. I shut it. We drop lower and I see black dots on the white. ‘Penguins,’ I squeal.

Rory jabs me hard this time.

‘Ow. Penguins,’ I repeat in a more subdued manner. ‘As you’d expect.’

‘Melt’ is a fish-out-of-water comedy about a young woman impersonating a TV science superstar. She is learning glaciology and climate science on the fly, building a secret igloo, improvising scripts based on Dynasty, and above all trying not to be revealed as an impostor. I had a lot of fun writing it.

‘Melt’ is freshly hatched today and widely available in ebook and paperback worldwide, including through the links below.

Lacuna (paperback) Amazon Australia (paperback and kindle) Booktopia (paperback and ebook) Amazon US  Amazon UK 

It will be launched in Byron Bay on May 31st by author Sarah Armstrong. More details here.

I am also doing an author talk about ‘Melt’ and ‘Paris Syndrome’ at the Lismore Book Warehouse on May 17, 6pm. RSVP to: 66214204

‘Melt’ is on Goodreads here.

LISA WITH MELT 2

 

9 Apr

Sharing this post from the lovely Kim Kelly’s website. Looking forward to being part of the Millthorpe pop-up in May!