From the mountains to the sea: Lee Christine

The three novels in my Snowy Mountains crime trilogy, Charlotte Pass, Crackenback, and Dead Horse Gap are set in and around the small towns and ski resorts of New South Wales, an area I’m very familiar with.

So, when it was time to pick up my pen and begin drafting my next novel, I felt it was important to give my readers a strong sense of place once again. I love setting my books in real places, especially if I know the location well and feel confident that I can do it justice. The more I thought about setting a novel in my hometown, the more convinced I was that the time was right.

Newcastle has changed enormously since the closure of BHP twenty-five years ago. The heavy rail line, once a barrier between the harbour and the city, has been replaced with a trendy light rail. The business precinct has shifted west, and luxury apartment blocks now line the waterfront. In Glenrock, I decided that I wanted to capture both the old and the new Newcastle at this particular point in time. The city is the second oldest in Australia, settled directly after Sydney, and thankfully much of its Victorian architecture has been preserved.

I found the process of setting a novel in my hometown both exciting and daunting. This was the town where I’d gone to school, played sport, partied, worked, and raised a family. People I knew would read this novel even if they hadn’t read any of my others simply because it was a local story. Despite the nerves, I ploughed on.

For those unfamiliar with Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, Glenrock State Conservation Area where the novel begins is a 534 hectare tract of coastal land five kilometres from the Newcastle CBD. The area contains a rainforest, a creek and cascades, a freshwater lagoon, and long stretches of unpatrolled beach. It is popular with mountain bikers, hikers, and with surfers who come to surf ‘the leggy’.

Glenrock has an interesting history. Mary Bryant is said to have beached there on her way to Timor after escaping from Sydney’s penal colony and stealing the Governor’s boat along with several others. After making it back to Timor, she reported finding a freshwater lagoon and “good burning coal.”

A scout camp presently nestles on the slope above the lagoon, the portion of land on which one of the country’s earliest coal mines was built, gifted to the scouts when the mine shut down in 1932. Mining relics lay scattered amongst the thick bushland, hikers pass capped off ventilation shafts when walking the trails, and the remains of an early railway line that carried coal along the coast to the harbour can still be seen in the cliff face. Overgrown gunners’ bunkers are perched on the ridgeline from when the army took over the scout camp in World War II.

There was much for me to learn about Glenrock’s history despite the many times I have visited the area over the years. The story begins when a judge is found murdered on the banks of the lagoon in the early hours of the morning, the topography presenting an immediate challenge for local police who move quickly to set up an exclusion zone before Homicide arrive from Sydney. Police do have one stroke of luck though. The facilities at the scout camp include bunk style accommodation, two full kitchens, and two halls and are the perfect place for Homicide to set up their command centre. In real life, the scout camp is used for leadership training.

I hope you enjoy Glenrock.

More info here.