Thanks, Annie, for having me as a guest on your blog. I love the cover of your latest novel, Kakadu Sunset. It reminds me of our trip there a few years ago, and can’t wait to read the story.
Like you, I love all the wonderful aspects of Australia and Australian life, and all my novels are set here. My latest story, Murder, Mayhem & Men On Pause, is set in Brisbane, and although I grew up in Sherwood, I focus a lot on New Farm with its fascinating mix of old houses and modern unit blocks. In this excerpt Ellie Cummins arrives at the old building she’s been hired to re-design:
‘Thank God the sun’s shining. Still cold though.’ Ellie parked outside a three-storey red-brick building in New Farm. A huge Poinciana tree bowed leafless but graceful limbs over the road and footpath. The rain of the day before had refreshed everything. Even the adjoining houses, wide-verandahed timber Queenslanders, remnants of a more genteel era, appeared to sparkle in the sun. Paintwork looked bright, roofs clean. Even the gardens, some lovingly tended, others left to run a little wild, seemed almost Spring-like with their glossy leaves and winter blooms.
This building actually existed when I was a teenager, but I don’t know if it still does. I visited there quite a few times because the only writer I had met lived in the top unit, or ‘flat’ as it was called in those days. The tiled foyer, wide, sweeping staircase with timber bannister worn by years of hands gripping its smoothness, the views across Brisbane and down to the river - some memories stay in the mind forever, and it’s not surprising the place should come so vividly to mind when I needed it.
Setting is such an important element in stories. Not only does it create the scene in the reader’s mind, but when viewed through the eyes of the characters it gives an insight into their emotions, and sometimes their backgrounds. In this scene, Ellie and her friend Cass are secretly following Ellie’s daughter Miranda as she tries to find a street kid who might have information they need.
They’d worn sneakers, but their footsteps sounded loud in the still, crisp night air. The pavement was bitumen, broken and uneven in places, and they stumbled in their haste, grabbing each other for support. At an old brick building that formed one corner of the entrance to the alleyway, they stopped. Ellie looked around the corner. Dark though the street had been, the alleyway was darker. She took two paces forward, closed her eyes for a moment to let them adjust to the greater darkness, then opened them. Rubbish bins, industrial size. Boxes - some cardboard, some timber. Garbage lay in windswept piles against doorways and obstacles. The smell of rot hung in the air – timber rot, food rot, and, Ellie was sure, body rot. And the acridity of stale urine.
Cass stayed behind her, closer than a shadow. Ellie was tempted to switch on her torch, but didn’t want to betray their presence.
They moved cautiously, slowly, trying to see where Miranda had gone. Cockroaches scurried in the garbage, making it seem alive. Ellie hoped it was cockroaches. Better them than rats. She remembered rats from her childhood – the derelict house across the road that swarmed with them, the way they boldly ran across in the night and invaded her home in their search for food. The council rat-catchers with their fox terriers that ferreted out the rats and bit their necks and killed them. Blood dripping. Limp furry bodies. Nightmares. She shuddered.
Halfway down the alleyway her trepidation turned to gut-shrivelling fear. Miranda had disappeared.
‘Are you scared?’ Cass whispered, so close the back of Ellie’s neck prickled.
‘No,’ Ellie hissed. ‘I’m pissing my pants because I like the warmth.’
The words were barely said when she felt sorry for their harshness. She turned to apologise, and found her mouth wouldn’t work.
Nothing would work - her mouth, her legs, her arm that should have been lifting up to point out to Cass the dark shape coming down the alleyway after them.
I like to use real places whenever I can in my stories, and have been delighted when readers contact me to tell me that was their beachside village, or they’d been to that art gallery, or they’d never look at that particular building in the same way again because of what I’d written about it.
Murder, Mayhem & Men On Pause
A bankrupt husband.
A marriage on the rocks.
A cop more sexy than the legal limit.
Just when Ellie Cummins is free to shed her corporate wife image, she finds the body of a young woman in an apartment she’s been hired to re-design. Her fledging business depends on this contract, so she tries to ignore the long-buried grief the trauma exposes.
When Ellie learns that her daughter has a personal connection to the victim, and the police have no leads, she and friends Cass and Kandy decide to investigate the murder. But Brisbane’s alleyways are dark and their detective skills dubious, so how far will they go for justice?
Kandy once lived a hard life on the streets, but will uncovering her husband's secret life destroy all she’s achieved since then? And solid, dependable Cass isn’t as content with her life as she seems.
And is the cop who responded to their call more interested in Ellie than the investigation?
For the three friends, it's a time of change and self-discovery. And the realisation that life, like love, doesn’t play fair.
Sandy is offering a free e-book of Murder, Mayhem & Men On Pause. To be in the draw, just comment on this post with the name of one of her three contemporary romances.