Tag Archives: private investigator

Surfing the words to the shore

26 Mar
Surfing at Cape Arid National Park, Western Australia

Writing a book with a surfer-girl heroine has made me reflect on the relationship between surfing and writing in my life. One of my favourite authors, Haruki Murakami, has famously said that everything he knows about writing he has learned from running. For me, it’s surfing.

My surfing and writing journeys both started when I moved to the north coast of New South Wales. The surf was at my doorstep, it seemed a shame to waste it. My hometown is world-famous for its waves. A looming basalt headland captures the big swell and a rocky reef creates smaller waves on the inside. With such waves at my doorstep, what else could I do but buy a surfboard?

So I bought myself a beginner’s surf board – soft and fat. Each time I took it out I challenged myself to stay in the water for a little longer. I floundered around in the whitewash, falling off and getting pummelled by the waves, emerging with nostrils full of saltwater and hair caked in sand. But then I started catching little waves. I glided over the reef. I was hooked.

For twenty years now, I have surfed almost-daily. If I count it up, allowing for times when I was away from home, or the surf wasn’t happening, by even a very conservative reckoning this is thousands of hours immersed in the water.

My process of learning to write was somewhat similar. I got less sand in my hair and water up my nose but the slap downs were still painful. With both writing and surfing, you need to be able to take a pounding and come back for more. It takes hours and hours of thankless practice. You are going to wipe out. Get used to it. I wrote three complete novels before I got my first one published. That’s a lot of words. A lot of practice. A lot of rejections. Every writer and every surfer is different. Different doesn’t mean wrong. You can learn from others, but there’s no point in trying to copy them.

You need to go out as often as possible, no matter the conditions. Some days are good, others not so good, but as long as you keep turning up, you will get somewhere. Once in a while everything goes right. The waves are perfect. The words flow. Those days are rare, but oh so beautiful.

Both writing and surfing are more about the journey than the destination. You don’t surf with the aim of getting to shore. Nor does it make sense to focus on the outcome – the book, rather than the process of getting there. That’s where the magic is. There is always another wave on the horizon, another story to tell.

The Girl with the Gold Bikini is available at your local bookshop, most are now doing deliveries, as well as online at:

Wakefield Press, Booktopia, Readings, Amazon Australia, US, UK

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.