Tag Archives: fiction

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

Four of my fictional female detective crushes

7 Mar

In honour of International Women’s Day tomorrow, I’d like to give a shout-out to the fictional female detectives who inspired my own teen PI, Olivia Grace.

Olivia’s PI crushes …

Nancy Drew – The first Nancy Drew book was published in 1930. Since then, there have been over 500 books, five films, three television shows and a number of computer games. It’s safe to say that Nancy is a bit of an institution.

My Nancy Drew collection

Nancy Drew is one of Olivia’s role models.  Her grandmother gave her her first Nancy Drew book when she was ten and followed up with more volumes at every birthday and Christmas thereafter. As Olivia says:

‘Ever since, I’ve imagined myself roaming the streets, helping out the good guys, bringing down the bad guys. Wiggling out of scary moments with some girl-power ingenuity. Nancy Drew has style and chutzpah, not to mention a snazzy sports car. I have none of these, but what the hell. There’s nothing to stop me trying.’

Veronica Mars – Veronica Mars is an American teenage mystery drama, which first aired on television in 2004. Veronica is a sassy smart-mouthed heroine, who has also taught Olivia a lot. Despite watching the complete series of Veronica Mars, however, Olivia isn’t quite sure if she’s going to cut it as a real PI…  

‘Rosco can’t expect a super sleuth on my salary, but a girl who’s learned all she knows from Nancy Drew and Veronica Mars might not be what he had in mind either.’

Veronica Mars

My own PI crushes

I have always liked a gutsy, fast-talking PI heroine who gets herself into and out of messes with panache. Here are two more of my favourites.

Corinna Chapman – Nimbin-born baker and reluctant PI, Corinna lives life with gusto. She is featured in the seven Earthly Delights books created by Kerry Greenwood. Kerry is also the author of the Phryne Fisher mystery series, now immortalised in the movie Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears.

Stephanie Plum –  Stephanie Plum is a character created by American author Janet Evanovich. She is a bounty hunter, described as a combination of Dirty Harry and Nancy Drew. The author has said she is “incredibly average and yet heroic if necessary.” There are 24 Stephanie Plum novels, plus a movie.

There is no shortage of fabulous female detectives in fiction and drama today. My own PI, Olivia Grace, might not have a magnifying glass like Nancy Drew or a long-lens camera like Veronica Mars, but she’s still ready to do whatever it takes to solve her case. She’ll even disguise herself as a meter maid in a gold bikini if she really has to.

Who are your favourite female detectives in fiction?

‘The Girl with the Gold Bikini’ is now available from your favourite bookshop and online locations including Booktopia, Readings and Amazon (Aus) (US) (UK). Read reviews on Goodreads here.

Heading West

1 Apr

Well, it’s not long now until we pack up the car and start the big drive across the Nullarbor to Western Australia. I think it might be around, oh, fifty hours’ drive from here to there. Luckily, we have a few weeks and plenty of amazing places to see on the way.

I’ve lined up a few writerly events while I’m over there and look forward to meeting lots of new readers and writers.

First up is Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival, from the 3-5 May. I’m doing four events on at the festival, including a workshop on flash fiction, which should be fun. After that, I’ll be sticking around for the Young Readers and Writers Festival. Not to mention doing some surfing.

Next, I’ll head up to Perth, where I’ll be talking at the Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre on ‘Spinning Boring Thread into Comedic Gold’ on May 31st. It’s part of the Sundowner Series and I gather there’s wine involved, which is always nice.

Lastly, I’ll head further north to Geraldton for the Big Sky Readers and Writers Festival from June 13-16. I’ll talk about my novel ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’, and do a reading at a high tea with cake and scones – big yay for that one! Also hope to do some snorkelling on the beautiful Coral Coast while I’m up there.

Never having seen much of WA, I’m beyond excited. If you’re in West Australia, or you’re headed that way, I hope to see you there!

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.

‘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!

A touch of Paris in Brisbane

8 Apr

I first heard of Paris Syndrome a few years ago. The condition is a form of culture shock and is particularly experienced by Japanese tourists who become distressed when Paris doesn’t live up to their romantic expectations. It was a strange idea to me, that people could have such an idealised view of Paris that they would fall sick when it failed to deliver. Yet, it is true. Few other cities come with such a wealth of fantasies attached.

Paris is the City of Love, after all, the most romantic place in the world. It is easy to believe that it’s a city full of accordion players and elegant women walking poodles but, as wonderful as the city is, that is not the reality of Paris today.

A few years ago, I dragged my family along on a Parisian literary pilgrimage. We drank café au lait at the Café de Flore, where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir used to hang out discussing existentialism. We browsed the bookshelves in the historic Shakespeare and Company bookshop, where writers can sleep for free among the books while working on their novel. We strolled around Victor Hugo’s house, where he wrote Les Misérables, and gazed out at the manicured park and chimneyed apartments outside. In Paris, I felt that I was at the centre of something – in a place where ideas are the lifeblood.

So I was very tempted to write a novel set in Paris, but, well, it seemed a little obvious. I decided to subvert that idea. The jarring clash between reality and imagination which causes Paris Syndrome was more interesting.

I grew up in Brisbane, which has its own charms – it’s warm, liveable and not too big – but it sure ain’t Paris. The character of Happy came to me. A Brisbane girl who dreams of walking the streets of Montmartre. Of skipping stones in St Martin’s Canal. Of popping into a photo booth in the Metro and flirting with an eccentric Frenchman. A girl who is so crazy about the movie Amélie, that she imagines when she gets to Paris her hair will morph into an elfin bob as she rides her scooter past the Arc de Triomphe.

So, while I do adore Paris, I decided to set ‘Paris Syndrome’ in Brisbane. Instead of the Seine, Happy has the Brisbane River. Instead of the Eiffel Tower, she has the much smaller replica which sits outside a café in Milton. Gradually she starts to realise that problems aren’t solved by changing locations. Life unfolds wherever you are.

You can read more about ‘Paris Syndrome’ over on my website.

IMG_1085 (002)

Where it all started – at Amelie’s greengrocer in Montmartre

paris syndrome cover low res

‘Paris Syndrome’ release day and launch

18 Mar

It’s always a moment of mixed emotions when a book goes out into the world, but ‘Paris Syndrome’ is particularly special.

‘Paris Syndrome’ is my first book with a young adult protagonist. The first novel I ever wrote, which will never see the light of day, was a young adult fantasy, but I turned to adult fiction after that. Many years ago, a publisher said to me, ‘You know, you have a great voice for YA.’ I never forgot that, and at last decided to give it another go. I have always loved reading young adult fiction. Things seem closer to the bone and that adds extra power to the story-telling.

So today my protagonist Happy goes public. She’s a quirky Brisbane girl who’s obsessed with Paris. I loved writing her story and hope she goes well. Bon anniversaire Happy! If you live in my local area, I’d love to see you at the launch.

And if you’d like to watch a 15 second book trailer with some accordion music to get you in a Parisian mood click here

My story ‘Romantic’ in the Review of Australian Fiction

8 Dec

RAF_VOL16_ISS_5My story ‘Romantic’ appears in the Review of Australian Fiction this week, partnered with a story by Emma Ashmere, ‘Seaworthiness’. Emma’s first novel, ‘The Floating Garden’ came out this year and you can find my review of it here.

The Review of Australian Fiction is an online magazine that aims to support Australian fiction by publishing stories by established writers partnered with an emerging writer of their choice. In 2012 I was published in the RAF as an emerging author, introduced by Venero Armano and three years later, I am now honoured to be able to introduce Emma.

The Review of Australian Fiction operates by passing royalties on to the authors of the stories so you can subscribe, happy in the knowledge that you are keeping an author in coffee!

Read a preview here.

 

A rediscovered slice of Sydney’s history – ‘The Floating Garden’ by Emma Ashmere

29 May

the floating gardenThe Floating Garden is the debut novel by Northern Rivers local, Emma Ashmere. It is set in Sydney in the 1920s, where the arches of the Harbour Bridge are still making their way through the air towards each other. Down below in Milson’s Point, a colony of misfits are losing their homes as construction proceeds.

The Floating Garden interweaves the stories of two women. Ellis is an eccentric who runs a boarding house for women and girls while Rennie is an artistic Englishwoman in an unhappy marriage. When Rennie plucks up the courage to leave her abusive husband, she finds a temporary home in Ellis’s guesthouse, which is about to be demolished.

Both women look to each other to provide security – Ellis needs money, while Rennie needs a bolt-hole to hide out from her husband. As her Milson’s Point home disintegrates, Ellis relives her escape to Sydney at the age of sixteen. Her unlikely saviour was the charismatic, scheming theosophist, Minerva Stranks. She also hints at a troubled liaison in the past with Minerva’s protégé, the fragile Kitty.

I loved so many things about this book, but the characters were especially delightful. Ellis has many secrets, not least of which is her anonymous authorship of a controversial gardening column under the name of Scribbly Gum. The flamboyant Rennie hails from a life of privilege and has a hard time adjusting to her new circumstances in the poorer part of town. Her effort to blend in and cope with her situation provides a subtle touch of humour. I also enjoyed learning more about theosophy – a spiritual belief system which was very popular in the 1920s.

An early review has compared this book to Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet and there certainly are some similarities. Both books explore the wider events in society through the lens of the people affected and both focus on a working class group of colourful individuals. Like Tim Winton, Emma Ashmere has a fine hand with exuberant Australian types.

The author has a PhD focusing on the use of marginalised histories in fiction and her novel does a superb job of bringing this fragment of our past to attention. The Floating Garden is a beautifully written, gently humorous and highly detailed slice of history. It also has an absorbing story-line which kept me turning the page.

This is my third review for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.