Winner of the Patricia Hackett Prize for short fiction and Australia Council Emerging Writer Grant recipient, Bronwyn Rodden has launched into cyberspace with her novel The Crushers. The book is a mystery set in the Blue Mountains, and Bronwyn tells FOCUS about writing the story…
The Blue Mountains for me are full of stories. I grew up in Sutherland, and when I was young my elder sister, Clare, sometimes took me to stay at the old hotels up there. We would catch the train, change at Central and then start the adventure, winding our way up into Katoomba, then walk along the escarpment in crisp eucalyptus laden air.
I was intrigued with the juxtaposition of the rugged landscape and the somewhat faded glory of the old hotels that clearly had a glamorous past which, in these days of casual travelling, will never come again. And then there was the plain looming in the west, the beginning of the wilderness for many Australians, a place of loneliness and fear.
The major towns of the Upper Blue Mountains – Katoomba, Black Heath, Victoria Falls – are filled with a strange mix of people: escapees from the city, locals going back generations, ferals, hippies, tourists, gourmets and those who service them, arty types and country people who have, for one reason or another, moved off their land into town.
For me, it is rich in narrative possibilities and for a short time I lived there, but the cold winter drove me out.
Added to this was a visit to an exhibition of historic crime scene photos that had become separated from their files at the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney by historian, writer and filmmaker, Ross Gibson. I was particularly moved by one photograph of a body in a cave in the Blue Mountains, and my first Blue Mountains novel was born.
I’ve named it The Crushers after the mining history of the place – that was the actual name given to it, as the place where stones were crushed for use in building the railway. I checked with Ross Gibson about using this photo as an inspiration and assured him I would treat the image with care. As there was no story associated with the photo, I immediately tried to find it – to ensure that I would not inadvertently use the actual story.
I did find it – or at least, I feel it must be the story – by sorting through microfiche from the 1940s and 1950s in the State Library. I therefore had my starting point – the place I would not take my victim – and it had to be crime fiction.
Crime fiction had always attracted me, as a vehicle for bringing up issues that were unpalatable in other genre. Look at the wide range of social issues in PD James, Minette Walters or Ian Rankin’s books. And so The Crushers was born and, having worked with several strong women managers, I felt compelled to create a female police detective as my central character.
In 2009, my manuscript for The Crushers was selected for the prestigious Queensland Writers Centre/Hachette Publishers Manuscript Retreat (it had already gone through one manuscript assessment process with Peter Bishop from Varuna, the Blue Mountains Writers Centre). In the wonderful rainforest of Queensland, I worked with an editor from Hachette to improve the novel further. Having done this, the book then went on to various levels of decision making in the multinational publishing house, but in the end was not taken up by them.
So, I decided to find out about e-publishing, and Kindle came to mind. It was surprising how many people I knew had Kindles and enjoyed reading that way. Kindle books can also be read on PCs and Macs with their free software, and then downloaded as well into a printed form. So I went ahead and learned how to publish myself, and now it is up and on sale on Amazon.
I have only just begun to scratch the surface of possibilities in my first book in this series set in the Blue Mountains and have started on my second, Orphan Rock.
I now live on the wonderful Mid North Coast and feel extremely lucky to be in such an idyllic setting. Perhaps the move will inspire me to set future novels in a gentler climate!