Today Dorothy Johnston joins us to discuss why she chose Queenscliff, Victoria as the setting for her A Sea-Change Mystery Series.
Plus, to celebrate the release of the second title in this series, The Swan Island Connection, we have an ebook copy for worldwide giveaway.
Earlier this year I took part in a Sisters in Crime panel discussion titled ‘Sea change or tree change – crime moves to the coast and country’.
Some readers of mystery and crime fiction welcome different settings and stories set outside the world’s large cities; others need to be persuaded that variety can be a good thing. I remember Peter Corris talking, years ago, about how he had to convince both publishers and readers that Sydney was a valid and interesting alternative to Los Angeles, London or New York. In my own case, I well recall the blank stares which greeted my announcement that I was writing a mystery quartet set in Canberra.
Now I like to think that in Australia we’ve grown up and moved beyond the various types of cultural cringe which decree that one country, one city, one rural location is somehow more worthy of being written about than another. The Sisters in Crime panel would indicate that this is so, and that Australian women crime writers are exploring outwards without needing to be defensive about it.
Still, I’ve had my share of funny looks when I’ve confided that I’ve embarked on a mystery series set in the small seaside town of Queenscliff, Victoria. What crime happens there? What can you find to write about that is substantial enough for one novel, let alone a series?
The answer is, of course, plenty.
I like to quote a former Canberra colleague and fine novelist, Margaret Innes, who said, with a nod in the direction of Joseph Conrad,
‘You don’t have to go all the way to Africa to find the heart of darkness. It may be at the end of your street.’
It seems to me self evident that it doesn’t matter where ‘the end of your street’ happens to be on the world map. I would add that you will probably write a better book if you start by knowing your location well.
I know Queenscliff and its sister town of Point Lonsdale; they are in my bones.
Queenscliff’s police station may be small, as befits a permanent population of less than 1,500, but right next to the town sits Swan Island, home to a secret training base for ASIS operatives and combat troops.
This training base is the subject of The Swan Island Connection, the second in my Sea-Change Series. The story starts with senior constable Chris Blackie, home from extended leave, trying to help a ten-year-old boy who has been threatened, along with his dog, for reporting a gang of boys his own age for stoning and trying to run down a dolphin. It moves by degrees through tentacles of corruption and greed that link the town to the training base.
Though the existence of such a base was denied for years by successive federal governments, Brian Toohey and Bill Pinwell, in their book Oyster: the story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service offer some tantalising details.
‘(On Swan Island) the eager young army officers and NCOs learnt the dark arts of demolition, disguise, deception, sabotage, secret communication, and assassination… In one exercise on Swan Island the incorrect line of fire was set on a Chinese medium machine gun so that tracer bullets shot over the sandhills into the rigging of fishing boats in Port Phillip Bay. Fortunately for ASIS the only complaint made to the media was about the noise…’
There are many local legends and stories about the island, part of which is occupied by a golf club. My favourite story is about my mother and a group of critically endangered orange-bellied parrots.
Each winter the parrots used to fly across to Swan Island from Tasmania and my mother, a keen environmentalist and bird-lover had permission to observe and record them. Sadly, there haven’t been any for the past few years. My mother was allowed to enter the golf club part of the island for this. One day, engrossed in her task, she didn’t realise that the birds had ventured into the forbidden zone. Following them, she was shocked by a loud voice bellowing ‘Stop!’ and three soldiers in combat gear running through the bushes. Mum was a small woman, though by no means a cowardly one. She stood still, clutching her clipboard to her chest, and explained politely that she was tracking the parrots who couldn’t read the Keep Out signs.
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The Swan Island Connection Synopsis:
All children were a mixture of innocence and guile, Chris Blackie thought, but the innocence had been squashed out of Bobby McGilvrey unnaturally young.
A shocking murder rocks the quiet coastal Victorian town of Queenscliff, a place where police work usually entails minor traffic infringements and dealing with the occasional Saturday night drunk.
Local senior constable Chris Blackie and his deputy Anthea Merritt fully expect a murder investigation to be handled by the Criminal Investigation Unit based in Geelong. But they’re blind-sided by the interest shadowy figures from the secret military training base on nearby Swan Island take in the case.
Consigned to the edges of the investigation and fearing an imminent wrongful conviction, Chris and Anthea defy their superiors to follow their own lines of enquiry – at great personal risk.
A worthy addition to Dorothy Johnston’s sea-change mystery series, The Swan Island Connection once again brings Queenscliff to life with intrigue and exacting description.
(For Pity Sake Publishing, 2017)
The Swan Island Connection, will be officially launched in Queenscliff on the 7th of October. Don’t miss the chance to hear Dorothy discuss her inspiration for this gripping work, and grab a signed copy of the next installment in the mystery series! It’s a FREE event but bookings are essential. For those unable to attend the launch…
Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
About the Author, Dorothy Johnston
Dorothy Johnston was born in Geelong, Victoria, and lived in Canberra for thirty years before returning to Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula where her series of sea-change mysteries novels, so far including Through A Camel’s Eye and The Swan Island Connection, is set.
She is the author of eleven novels, including a quartet of mysteries set in Canberra. The first of these, The Trojan Dog, was joint winner ACT Book of the Year, and runner-up in the inaugural Davitt Award. The Age gave it their ‘Best of 2000’ in the crime section. Two of Johnston’s literary novels, One for the Master and Ruth, have been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award. She has published many short stories in journals and anthologies, along with essays in Australia’s major newspapers and she reviews fiction for the Fairfax Press. Check out Dorothy’s website.
We have an ebook copy of The Swan Island Connection by Dorothy Johnston (.epub or .mobi format) to giveaway thanks to For Pity Sake Publishing.
- open worldwide, entries close midnight 8 October 2017
- extra entries for spreading the word via Twitter , Pinterest and Facebook/Google+/Webpage
- the winner will be randomly selected and announced on our Facebook Page
SORRY, ENTRIES NOW CLOSED – see winner announcement.