Book Launch: Crackenback by Lee Christine

My last in-person book event was March 2020 so it was curious that my next in-person one was March 2021 almost to the exact day. Also wonderfully coincidental, both of those events were to celebrate the release of a new book by Aussie author Lee Christine. I didn’t get to do a write up of the first event because the world broke soon after and my attention was diverted elsewhere, but this time I am excited to share my adventures (I may still write up the other launch, we’ll see what happens).

The book launch was held at Belmont Library in Lake Macquarie and we were told by wonderful host Julie that it was also their first event since COVID put a stop to in-person events. Lee was in conversation with Jamie Lewis about her new book Crackenback, set among the Snowy Mountains and it was a delightful couple of hours to learn about how it came about.

Jamie Lewis in conversation with Lee Christine at Belmont Library

Crackenback isn’t a sequel to Lee’s previous book Charlotte Pass it is a standalone novel, however a few of the characters might be familiar. Lee told us she tried to not put too many references to Charlotte Pass in there, but there are a few vague mentions given the same detective is involved; as Jamie put it, it’s a separate story but part of the same world Lee has created.

Jamie spoke with Lee about given Australians love the outdoors so much, it’s only fair our serial killers would too and Lee told us how real life killer Malcom Naden was the main focus of her research. The way he lived for so long on the run, how he was resourceful, hardened, and knew how to live off the land was the information she needed for the story. She also spoke about how our National Parks are so vast and so intimidating themselves that they are often the perfect place to hide out and become victim to.

Lee spoke about the characters in Crackenback and how small actions give us insight into who they are, and how sometimes even the slightest thing can change a reader’s view of a character. This is why she was so careful in how her villain was portrayed and how the other characters behave too. They are all counterpoints to one another, reminding readers of the stakes and relieving some tension for the reader.

Jamie brought us back to the landscape and how it is a point of tension itself within the book, and how it and the weather is like another menacing character to contend with. Lee described the area around the Snowy Mountains as being dotted with huge granite boulders and snow and wind, ice, mist and fog all adding to the perilousness of the place. It also heightens the sense of claustrophobia of being trapped in the lodge with no way out without succumbing to the elements.

Lee’s book with our complimentary merch.

When the issue of setting a novel in 2020 came up Lee told us her worries about whether to mention the COVID issue. Luck was on her side because there was still a snow season and the police kept working so her story was realistic, but there was also a worry that including a mention of the pandemic would not only date the book, but be a turn off for those who had lived through it and didn’t want to then read about it. With Lee’s books used as an entertaining escape, people wouldn’t want to read about their daily lives and in the end there is only a brief and vague mention as recognition.

Jame mentioned that there is a lot playing with reader’s minds in the book. The aim of writing, Lee said, is wanting the readers to be emotionally invested in her characters. She needs readers to worry so much they will wonder how the characters will get out of the situations she puts them in. With crime stories we know there are goodies and baddies, ultimately knowing how it will go, but it’s the how in between – as Jamie said it’s the playing with reader emotions. Jamie also mentioned there are strong themes of revenge and second chances, Lee agreed and said with second chances there’s always a chance of hope which is important. There are also themes of fate and the intrusion of the past which make this a beautifully complicated sounding story.

The conversation carried on to cover how characters are named and the importance and fun that can be had with secondary characters before Lee and Jamie discussed how tough it was writing parallel story lines. Exposing readers to what was happening at the lodge while also what is happening with the police meant there was a need to keep readers informed but the police one step behind. This, Lee said, was another chance to worry the reader if the two would ever converge or if it would be too late.

As the afternoon drew to a close Lee teased us with information about the third book, set in the same region and another crime to solve. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I’ll be attending the book launch for that book as well!

Crackenback is now available for purchase, as is Lee’s previous book Charlotte Pass. If you love books filled with intrigue, mystery, a touch of danger on all sides as well as a plot that keeps you guessing that Charlotte Pass is for you. I have yet to read Crackenback but based on what I heard this weekend and what I have heard from others it’s a thriller that sounds just as compelling.

You can purchase Crackenback via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Author Info

Website | Twitter | Instagram

 

Coffee, Cake and Contemporary Women’s Stories

Saturday was my big bookish day and after I had spent my morning up at the Wallsend book sale, I headed down to Lake Macquarie for a coffee, cake and books event in the afternoon. The event was held in a cute little café opposite the lake in Warners Bay and there was a wonderful view of the water from the tables. The authors in conversation were Trish Morey, Fiona McArthur, and special guest for the day Cathryn Hein with Jaye Ford as interviewer. Julie from Lake Macquarie libraries welcomed everyone and said that the event was the first of hopefully many like it. For a first time event it was well attended, the tables were full and there were delectable nibbles provided before and during the event from the café. The authors themselves were lovely as well. I’d met most of them at various other things before and being able to enjoy their conversations, their friendship and their stories was special and not only allowed you to get to know these talented women a bit better, but gain an insight into their craft.

Jaye, Cathryn, Trish, and Fiona

Jaye started the afternoon off introducing everyone and explained that this was part of their Summer With Friends Tour that herself, Trish and Fiona were doing, this time with an extra friend in Cathryn. Jaye spoke to each of the authors about their latest books, their inspirations and how the story developed. Trish explained how her latest book, One Summer Between Friends, got to be set on Lord Howe Island after a holiday there reminded her of its beauty. With a desire for a small town type setting, a place where everyone knows everything and you can’t easily escape, Lord Howe was the perfect location. She explained how she wanted to test the boundaries of friendship, wanted it to be fractured and see if it could be put together again. Trish also explained how life imitating art in her own world helped to make her book stronger because she was able to put personal experience into it. The hands on research she used didn’t change her story a great deal, she explained, but the detail and emotion she was able to now include was based on her real reactions, something which I thought was brave and amazing.

Fiona’s book, The Desert Midwife, came from a previous version which had been rejected from the publisher but had now been reworked into something similar but new. Jaye spoke with Fiona about the concept of love at first sight and Fiona admitted she knew three people who’d experienced the phenomenon, herself included with her own husband. This notion is explored in her novel and how a woman is able to cope when her loving husband suddenly no longer remembers her. Jaye asked about Fiona’s research and we heard stories of travelling around communities near Uluru and how interactions with the communities influenced Fiona’s story. She spoke about midwifery and how she always likes to promote that birth is natural, how if left to nature it usually sorts itself out and she joked that often midwives instruct doctors on better ways to do things. Their conversation turned to Fiona’s new endeavour into indie publishing with her book Midwife on the Orient Express and she expressed how nice it was to be able to select her own cover, keep the title she wanted and how she had been inspired by others, like Cathryn, who had gone out on their own.

Cathryn’s own story, Eddie and the Show Queen – the fifth in her series set in the Levenham’s area, goes to some emotional places but it is one filled with humour too. Jaye spoke to Cathryn about how she came up with her ideas for the various, amusing fundraising solutions in the story and Cathryn admitted it was the most fun she’d had coming up with all of those options. Bringing it back to the dual tones, Jaye asked how it felt to write both emotions and Cathryn said she enjoyed the contrast between the two. She said it wasn’t real if people were happy all the time and if she can make herself cry when she’s writing it, that’s good. Being the fifth book in a series, Cathryn spoke about how after writing the first – Rocking Horse Hill – she wanted to explore the stories of more characters. She explained how she comes up with the titles and then writes the book to that title. Cathryn explained with this new one, Show Queen was originally Show Girl but in an international market Show Girl means something different entirely and so she changed it.

Jaye spoke with the women about creative blocks, Cathryn explaining how some medical issues recently had halted her creativity, but she was slowly gaining it back as she got better. She explained the fear she had when she couldn’t write, she told us writing was her dream and not being able to write was horrible. One thing that really resonated with me was Cathryn saying that “100 words a day gives you a book in the end” which I think I might need to paint in large letters on my wall. It is a wonderful piece of advice and one I know I need. Trish spoke about how writing intense books was hard when her own life had become intense with family issues and so she needed to write a different kind of book, this also included not writing about sex all the time. Fiona told us that in the beginning she had trouble finding the time to write with children and a husband to care for and so she found some hours in the early morning that were all hers. Between 4:30am and 6am there was time no one wanted her for anything and it allowed her to write. Now she had retired she has all day which is even better. Fiona also offered some more fabulous advice telling us “if you keep going, eventually you get there”. Another for my wall.

Jaye spoke with the women about their routines and how they started their days, where their writing process took them. From long walks to doing Sudoku and taking afternoon naps there were numerous routines to get the brain kicked into gear and allowing time for plot points to be nutted out. Cathryn reminded everyone that you have to be disciplined because it is a business, and Jaye invited each author to talk about their writing process and how they gain their ideas and start planning (a plotter), or whether they make it up on the fly (a pantser). Trish acknowledged everyone has a different process, she likes to start with a ‘what if?’ situation and a character then venture into a story. Fiona is a pantser, and while Cathryn admitted she too is a pantser, she also mentioned that she needs to know how her story starts and she needs a crisis moment before she can start.

By now we’d all been served our afternoon tea and cakes and the audience was able to ask questions. There were some great questions like further clarification on the plotters vs pantsers and how do you start a story in the first place. Fiona sees her scenes like one would a movie and she builds on that first scene, Cathryn told us that the story takes as many pages as it takes to tell the story, whatever that length may be, as long as it doesn’t bore the reader.

Another question from the audience was how to identify and keep track of continuity. Fiona told us that when you start you don’t know your characters well, but you get to know them as you write the book. You get the story out then you can go back and fix it later. Trish said you need to keep your characters grounded, you give them a description at the start and use it as a reference and do the same for personality, find words and titles that go with the characters. I loved Cathryn’s approach, she mentioned she finds three things for her characters: something physical that sets them apart, some verbal tick/saying that is theirs alone, and a gesture that identifies them.

The two hours flew by and I easily could have sat there listening for two hours more. A whole lot more was spoken about, laughed about, and explored but I wrote eight pages of notes and to recap the afternoon in its entirety would be never ending. I will say though, if you ever get a chance to go to an event similar to this I insist you do; it is so wonderful to be allowed access into this world where authors discuss their work, their inspirations and to see the friendships and support that have formed over decades. I was entertained, I was moved, I was inspired not only in my writing but in many other ways too. It was a wholly delightful afternoon.