Through a Camels Eye

"Crossing The Rip" by Dorothy Johnston - Part Two

Celebrated crime writer Dorothy Johnston, author of works such as The Swan Island Connection and Through a Camel's Eye continues her short story 'Crossing The Rip'. Missed the first part? Catch it here! And have you got your entry in for our short story competition yet?

The light was dull, the bay flat and grey, but there was a gap on the horizon, a hole between the clouds, with yellow and pink shining out of it. It seemed to Elspeth, waiting for the ferry, that if she stared long enough at the horizon she might pass right through the hole and out the other side. The girl taking tickets let her on even though she only had three dollars, and this unexpected kindness gave her heart.

Elspeth thought of what she’d learnt in the museum, hugging the knowledge to her sides as though it were her own secret, not just information that had been sitting there waiting for anyone to find. She looked up at the sky again, noting that the tear had widened. Now it seemed as though Simon Bantree might be waiting on the other side. Elspeth wondered if he’d looked up and seen his murderer before he died, and for the first time she felt sorry for him. She also felt so hungry that she began to wonder what the ferry did with its garbage and thought about walking around the cafeteria to see if any food had been left on plates.

A pilot boat passed them, moving swiftly, an orange arrow in the dusk. Elspeth was surprised to realise that she’d been gone all day. She could no longer make out where the water ended and the land began, and thought again of her ancestor crossing in his row boat, in the days when there had been no ferries, no container ships or pilots to guide them. The pilot approached a big ship, orange too, exactly the same colour. The small boat drew right alongside and they stayed like that, fixed like a mother and her baby for such a long time that Elspeth began to believe they would never separate. It disturbed her, like those bridesmaids and their escorts, with their hands flung out in a rhythm.

While they were docking, Elspeth remembered seeing the rug with the blue and purple pattern a second time, in the back of a mini van. There’d been quite a lot of cars in the parking area behind the pier, so that meant it was probably a Saturday or Sunday, but she could not remember which. The mini van had been white, but then they nearly always were.

By the time she left the ferry, it was already practically dark. In fact, it would have seemed dark to a person walking outside from a lighted room. But Elspeth had her night eyes, having stood in mist and drizzle on the upper deck. She walked all the way from the terminal to the parking lot behind the pier, no longer feeling tired or hungry, but filled with a strange inward light. Her hands glowed like those phosphorescent toys that seemed to belong to an age and kind of person she had never been. She recalled feeling envious of a girl who’d brought one to school, and the recollection brought nothing but contempt.

A white mini van was parked under the lighthouse, away from street lights, up against the tea-tree. A man was opening the door. Elspeth stood in the shadows watching.

There was something about the man that she felt she ought to recognise. His shadow was square-shaped. Could it be Mr Mahood? Mr Mahood was short, with broad shoulders and wide hips for a man. But Mr Mahood drove a big Toyota Landcruiser that Billy said was worth sixty thousand dollars. His wife drove a new white Hyundai and as soon as his kids were old enough, Elspeth knew they’d all have cars of their own.

Elspeth drew nearer to the van. She’d thought that she’d been moving silently, but now that she was quite close, the man suddenly straightened up from where he’d been arranging something in the back, and looked her in the face.

It was a stranger, somebody Elspeth had never seen before. His expression was blank underneath a beanie pulled close around his head.

‘Hello,’ he said. ‘Where are you off to?’

‘Nowhere,’ Elspeth said.

The man’s voice was mild, like water flowing from a tap that was neither hot nor cold.

Elspeth thought of the tea-tree all around them, the dark caverns and tunnels. The man was young and not very big.

‘What have you got in your van?’ she asked him, taking a step sideways.

‘Just my fishing gear.’

Elspeth felt soothed by the man’s voice, and very tired. She almost asked if he had anything to eat.

‘Did you catch anything?’ she asked, taking another step.

The man laughed and said in a soft voice, ‘Not yet.’

He took two quick steps towards her. Elspeth dived under the bushes.

She knew the place, having built cubbies there since she was five years old. She knew the steep drop down, where the tea-tree made a roof and where she could run bent double.

Torchlight parted and destroyed the cover of leaves and branches over Elspeth’s head. Down near the ground the undergrowth was thick and the man’s torch scarcely penetrated. Elspeth’s hands glowed. She scurried like a rat.

Dread made her arms and legs so heavy that, after the first rush, she felt that she could scarcely lift them. She knew she should have run back along the road to the nearest house. Her secret way was slow, and even if she yelled her lungs out nobody would hear her. Elspeth sobbed with fear and anger, for having gone anywhere near the van, for choosing the wrong way.

For what seemed like a long time after that, she thought of nothing but running and falling. A branch tore at her mouth and she swallowed blood. But then she was out and there was only the street to cross, and she was she was on the other side and climbing the dark porch of her own house, beating on the door and yelling.

Elspeth ate a bowl of cornflakes, but went on feeling hungry, not only in her stomach, but in every other part as well. She noticed that the policeman had strange-coloured eyes, and that his cheeks hung down as though he expected everyone to disappoint him.

The policeman made phone calls, then asked Elspeth to go back to the beginning and tell him everything again. When she described the tea-tree tunnel, he looked annoyed and frowned.

Elspeth’s mother stood with crossed arms in the doorway and a face full of spite. The twins half hid behind her in their matching dressing gowns. Only Billy was fully in the room with her. Billy kept his face blank, but when the policeman asked Elspeth something for the third time, he got up and fetched her a glass of water.

‘Why didn’t you tell us about the body straight away?’

‘I was scared.’

‘Of what?’

Elspeth couldn’t say, everybody knew I hated Simon. She made herself not look at Billy.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said.

The phone rang in the hallway. When their mother came back from answering it, there were red lines along her cheekbones and her eyes looked as though they’d been polished.

The policeman closed his notebook, frowned again and said, ‘That’ll be all for now, young Miss.’

For the rest of that night, Elspeth felt detached from what was going on, from whether the policeman had believed her, and the fact that her mother shut herself in her room and did not come again.

There was a soft knock on her door; Elspeth knew that it was Billy. She rolled over in her narrow bed and squeezed her eyes shut.

In the silence of the house after Billy gave up and went away, between the wood and plaster of its walls, Elspeth returned to her holes and tunnels in the tea-tree, crouching there, cold and hungry and afraid to move. She tried to summon Harry Tregear as a comfort, and went over her discoveries in the museum. Harry had been sentenced and convicted for stealing a rabbit, though he was only nine.

Elspeth felt exhausted, yet afraid to sleep.

The fear didn’t leave her after she got up next morning and went off to school. The past could not be relied on, and she didn’t see how she could prevent herself from repeating her mistakes.

Over the next few days, Elspeth saw quite a lot of the police. She stepped warily around her mother, and was careful not to say anything to set her off.

For a short while, at school, she found herself a heroine, especially among kids like herself, who’d been bullied by Simon. They knew about child molesters. They’d had it all drummed into them. But Simon had seemed indestructible.

They were sober, the children, Elspeth and Billy too, when they heard the driver of the mini van had been arrested. Their small sisters, though conversant with Simon’s cruelty, as well as the dangers of talking to strangers, were content to leave it there, that a menace had been lifted. This relief that the tyrant was dead - none of them dared speak about it to grown-ups - kept the children close, and closely gathered around Elspeth, who was touched by the magic of deliverance. She had run away and then come back. She had had the presence of mind to recall the colours of a rug.

Though Elspeth did not turn away from the attentions of the other children, she did not encourage them.

Billy cornered her in the backyard one afternoon, knowing, with the instinct he had for an advantage, that Elspeth was scared to hide under the fig tree. She was crouched down in the open by the fence.

Billy squatted beside his sister, near enough to touch.

‘What did he look like?’

Elspeth moved away and scratched in the dirt with a stick.

She said without turning round, ‘Did you ever want to kill him?’

‘No.’

Elspeth thought again about how Simon had left Billy alone. ‘What’s Mum doing?’ she asked.

Billy was relaxed. Her questions hadn’t bothered him. Brother and sister sat in a silence which gradually lost its threat.

Finally, Billy said, ‘I wouldn’t have done it.’

‘Done what?’

‘Picked up the rug and looked.’

Elspeth wanted to ask her brother how he knew what he would, or would not have done. But she understood, even as she began to form the question, that Billy would not have been the least bit bothered by the wedding party; he would not have needed to go and sit by himself near the gun emplacement. The whole chain of events which followed would never have happened to him.

It seemed pointless to say any of this. Elspeth thought of things growing in dark places where she couldn’t see, but where torchlight might pick out her form. She thought of roots grown huge in torchlight, whose sole purpose was to trip her up. It made her sick to think how she’d once played in the bunker, running up and down the filthy steps, how she’d been deaf to the twins calling out to her to come back.  She heard their shrieks behind her, then ahead, then knew the shrieks were real, and coming from the house.

‘Elspeth!’

Elspeth sighed and wondered for the millionth time why it fell to her to break up her sisters’ fights, when Billy was much better at it.

He confounded her by jumping to his feet in one smooth movement, saying, ‘I’ll go.’

Elspeth looked at her brother with surprise, then sat back and crossed her legs.

After a while, Billy came back to the fence. He didn’t say what he’d done to shut the twins up, and Elspeth didn’t ask. They watched the kitchen light come on behind closed curtains.

‘Dad’s not coming back,’ Elspeth said.

‘How do you know?’

‘I just do.’

Billy was looking at her oddly, not in a Billy way at all. Elspeth realised that this was because he couldn’t dismiss her opinions as easily as he had before.

When he repeated his question, Elspeth said, ‘Mum knows.’

She waited for the words to sink into her own brain as well as Billy’s, who’d never had to think about what it meant to be replaced. And indeed, he might not be. If her father kept in touch with any of them, it would be his son.

‘Why doesn’t she tell us?’

‘She’s scared to.’

‘I’ll find out where Dad is,’ Billy said. ‘I’ll go and bring him home.’

Elspeth would have liked to say, ‘I’ll come too’, but she didn’t. She thought that Billy would have to make his own mistakes.

The two children stood up. Elspeth went to their mother, while Billy waited for a moment then followed her indoors.

New Release from Dorothy Johnston - 'The Swan Island Connection'

October release of ‘The Swan Island Connection’

The second in Dorothy Johnston’s sea-change mystery series

Release Date – 7th October, 2017: Award-winning Australian author, Dorothy Johnston, has announced the release of the second novel in her sea-change mystery series, The Swan Island Connection.

Set in Queenscliff on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, The Swan Island Connection follows on from Through a Camel’s Eye, published in April 2016 by For Pity Sake Publishing.

Senior Constable, Chris Blackie and his deputy, Anthea Merritt, are confronted by a shocking murder that rocks the small coastal town. Criminal Investigation Unit detectives are brought in from Geelong, as Chris and Anthea become increasingly uneasy about the interest shown in the case by shadowy figures from the secret military training base on nearby Swan Island. Consigned to the edges of the investigation in their own town, the two local constables pursue individual lines of enquiry which proves a dangerous course of action.

Political commentator, Brian Toohey said this about The Swan Island Connection;

‘Dorothy Johnston has delivered an intriguing blend of social observation and crime fiction in her latest novel set in Queenscliff, Victoria. The story is spliced with a sharp sub plot involving the nearby training base for the Australian Secret Intelligence Service. Another strong contribution to the reputation of the nation’s novelists.’

The Swan Island Connection will be launched by Garry Spry, Hon. President of the Queenscliff Historical Museum, and the former State Member for Bellarine (1992-2002) at the Queenscliff Brewhouse on October 7th at 4pm. RSVP for this free event by the 4th of October: info@thebookshopatqueenscliff.com.


 

Dorothy Johnston was born in Geelong and lived in Canberra for thirty years before returning to Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula where The Swan Island Connection and its predecessor, Through a Camel’s Eye, are set.

Johnston is the author of eleven novels, including a quartet of mysteries set in Canberra, the first of which, 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 also been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award.

Through a Camel’s Eye, was recently mentioned in the commendation list of the Sisters in Crime 2017 Davitt Awards.


 

Pre-orders of The Swan Island Connection are available from the For Pity Sake Shop.

Anecdotes on 'The Swan Island Connection'

For Pity Sake is thrilled to bring a new Dorothy Johnston mystery to readers. In 2016, Through A Camel’s Eye delighted readers as it told the story of police officers Chris Blackie and Anthea Merritt investigating a murder in the small town of Queenscliff. You can buy Through a Camel’s Eye here.

You can now pre-order the next in Dorothy’s sea-change mystery series – The Swan Island Connection – once again featuring local constable Chris Blackie and his deputy, Anthea Merritt. Inspired by real Queenscliff folklore, The Swan Island Connection sees Chris and Anthea consigned to the edges of a shocking murder investigation that somehow involves the secret military training base stationed on the island just off the coast of their peaceful town.

Here, author Dorothy Johnston shares some anecdotes of living in Queenscliff, where local residents must share their town with shadowy military agents.

Though the existence of a secret training base on Swan Island 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’ offers 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’s a special kind of snail that lives in the seagrass of Swan Bay. Because the bay is so shallow, it’s an important fish nursery and the baby fish eat the snails. Marine scientists didn’t know why the snail numbers were decreasing. They did a study and found that the lead in the bullets has been turning all the snails into males. I don’t know the end result of this, but I’d hope that those organizing target practice would find other, safer ways than firing into the water.

Local legends date from the time when regular army personnel were allowed to have their families living with them on the island. One woman recalls a birthday when she was a small girl, how she and her friends had gone for a walk in their party dresses and came upon a soldier in full combat gear lying in the marram grass. Another incident involved a night-time exercise, with trainees climbed across roofs and one inadvertently jumping down onto the family dog.

Part of the island is occupied by a golf club and 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. My mother, a keen environmentalist and bird-lover used to observe and record them. Sadly, there haven’t been any for the past few years. My mother was given permission 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.

Where Were You When the Page Was Blank?

Authors sometimes grumble about their editors, and the question I’ve chosen as a title for this post is one I’ve often heard authors repeat.

But I’m pleased to say that I have a wonderful editor for my new novel, titled The Swan Island Connection. This novel is a sequel to the first of my sea-change mysteries, Through a Camel’s Eye, which was published in April by For Pity Sake Publishing

The editor’s name is David Burton. David, an editor with For Pity Sake, is also an award-winning playwright and theatre director, whose plays include April’s Fool, Orbit and The Landmine Is Me. He has written a memoir titled How to be Happy.As an editor, Dave possesses that rare quality, (rare in my experience), in that he takes the trouble to see into an author’s mind, think about where he or she is trying to get to, and how he might help them to arrive.

Dave read what I am now calling the Dog’s Breakfast Draft (DBD) of The Swan Island Connection and wrote a nineteen page report. When I first saw the report, I felt daunted. There must be an awful lot wrong with the manuscript, I thought, to require this many pages. But the report, while critical, is constructively so, and that makes all the difference. In tone it is far from negative, and is full of helpful ideas and suggestions. And the very fact that someone who know what he’s talking about has paid such close attention to my DBD has given it, and me, a whole new lease of life. Thank you, Dave!

The Swan Island Connection will be my eleventh novel to be published. The first was in 1984, and since then I’ve run the gamut from good editors to woeful. Amongst the good I number Jenny Lee and Lois Murphy, and amongst the woeful, who shall be nameless, the lesbian separatist who read my book about the British atomic bomb tests at Maralinga. This was not, on the face of it her subject, and she made no effort to meet me half, or even a quarter of the way. Another was the editor who used to ring me at 6 PM, just before she left the office, to discuss editorial points that required thought and concentration. At the time this editor was assigned to me, I had a four-year-old and a baby who wouldn’t sleep, plus a deadline for the manuscript. One horrible evening I shouted at her down the phone, ‘Don’t you realise it’s jungle hour!’ I’ve felt ashamed of that outburst ever since.

Then there was my New York editor whose publishing company had bought the first two of my Sandra Mahoney Quartet (mystery novels set in Canberra, where I lived for thirty years). This editor, though I respected him, and of course felt grateful that my books were going to be published in the United States, insisted that I change all my galahs to parrots, all my jumpers to sweaters, and that I massage the text in various other unsavoury ways in order to make it more attractive to an American readership.

Recalling all that, I’ll say again – thank you, Dave!

And thanks to Bill Whitehead the cartoonist for reminding me how much I like Dickens.

 

 

 


This blog was originally posted on Dorothy Johnston's website, on the 12th of August 2016.

Conjuring Compelling Atmosphere in Crime Fiction

In Dorothy Johnston’s Through A Camel’s Eye, the author provides a consistent stream of arresting, enigmatic images. The book, like its cover, offers dreamy glimpses into the internal lives of a quiet country town and its hard-working policemen. The ability to capture and harness a moment, almost pressing pause on the action to create a picture, is a cornerstone of great noir and crime writing. It is the poetic foundation of Nordic noir, popularised by Larsson, Mankell and others. Despite the fact it doesn’t have as cold and snowy a climate as Switzerland, Australia still provides fantastically eerie frozen moments if the right author is there to pick them out. Such is the case with Johnston’s Through A Camel’s Eye. Through a Camel's Eye

The book’s opening is a clear demonstration of this skill:

“In the pale green twilight, a woman was leading a young camel round a paddock. Camilla Renfrew stopped on the seaward side of the fence to watch. The woman was wearing jeans, a T-shirt, riding boots, and looked distinctly youthful too. Her short hair caught the light and glowed green-gold. She seem intent on what she was doing and did not glance in Camilla’s direction.

It was a trick of the twilight, Camilla thought, to make of fading a lasting brilliance, stretching the day out longer than it had any right to be. And this girl, with her long legs, striding with her long-legged beast, drawing him behind her on a rope - across a paddock in which new growth was just beginning to make its way through last year’s dead grass - this too, was a trick of the light, to hold the scene taut in an attitude of praise.”

There’s a lot going on here. Notice the twice mention of ‘green’ in the first paragraph. Once in reference to the twilight, the other in reference to the woman’s hair. We only get one mention of the fact that we’re in a coastal area with Camilla resting on the ‘seaward’ side of the fence, but the ocean feels present here, through the repetition of green. This adds a flavour to the dead grass as well. There’s sandy soil in the mind’s eye - even though sand is never mentioned.

The second paragraph is just two sentences. The second sentence paints a picture - conjuring the woman, the beast, the rope, the grass, the light, all in a single breath. Its a layered image, and the rhythm of the sentence supports this, building up clauses before holding it ‘taut’. The idea of ‘taut’ and the whole scene being a ‘trick’ also inevitably gives the image an uneasiness and tension. It is a crime novel after all, and even though this is a woman watching another woman walk a camel, there’s some sense of danger coming, some false pretence to the scene.

It is also, of course, beautiful. It’s a beautiful picture. But much like a good food writer will never write the word ‘delicious’, Dorothy never describes it as ‘a beautiful sunset’. Instead, she opts for clear and precise details. It gives us not only what the scene looks like, but what it feels like too.

An early introduction to character draws an instant and immediate image from the concentration on fine detail:

“…men who, when they age, age suddenly, shrinking and shrivelling, a thousand fine lines appearing all at once, their skin drying and flaking as though at the switching off of an internal sprinkler system.”

This poetic construction of nothing more than a gentleman’s skin creates a powerful image of character. We feel we not only know something about how this man looks, but how he feels, and his relationship with his age.

Such imagery and poetics is blistered across Dorothy’s work, making it readable and immensely enjoyable. Any lover of great crime will enjoy Through a Camel’s Eye. You can purchase a copy here.

The Gentle Pleasures of Writing Crime

It’s been just a few weeks since the launch of Dorothy Johnston’s new novel Through A Camel’s Eye was launched, and it’s already made big splashes with readers across the country. Recently Dorothy sat down with Barbie Robinson from Artcetera on FM 92.7 Canberra to talk about how she wrote the book, the importance of place in crime fiction, and future plans for the series. You can play the interview below. [audio mp3="http://forpitysake.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/DJ-interview-with-Barbie-Robinson-Artsound.mp3"][/audio]

 

You can also check out Dorothy’s full story about camel theft here, read our in-house review of Through A Camel’s Eye here, or purchase it here.

 

 

'Through a Camel's Eye' - Book Review

Dorothy Johnston’s new novel Through a Camel’s Eye is no simple crime mystery. There’s an absence of gore and horror, but something else is present. An eerie sense that waves crashing along the shore in the distance masks the sounds of misconduct; that the abundance of trees keeps the wrongdoings out of sight. Set in the small town of Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria, Johnston masterfully demonstrates how small towns can have a peaceful, serene appearance that disguise an ugly, confronting reality. The story centres on Anthea Merritt, who has just graduated from her training as a police officer and is forced into a small town as her first job. She quickly discovers the only work she will be assigned are menial tasks, with the long-term residents of the town scoffing at her newcomer status.

Her professional relationship with her boss, Constable Chris Blackie, is awkward. It is painfully obvious he prefers to work alone, and the presence of a young female cramps his style. So when a camel disappears from its paddock, Chris assigns the tedious task to Anthea. As she investigates, the residents of the town look at Anthea as if she is crazy; she is met with ridicule, and she settles into a melancholy about the direction her life has taken.

It is only when the coat of Margaret Benton, a woman who has gone missing, is discovered in a sand dune near the missing camel’s paddock that the situation brewing in Queenscliff takes an interesting but very dark turn. The two officers are forced to put aside their reservations to solve these confounding mysteries.

As Anthea and Chris begin to investigate both incidents simultaneously, the race towards the discovery of the camel and the circumstances around the missing woman are proving harder than anticipated. As they attempt detective work, the lack of authority that comes with a police department comprising of two individuals is a huge hindrance – their influence and resources are limited.

Through their questioning of those who live in this small sea side town, they encounter eclectic, strange, and intriguing characters. From the mute recluse Camilla Renfrew, to the rebellious teenagers bored of their repetitive surroundings, to the deceptively average personalities of the everyday citizen – the potential list of suspects is endless, presenting a confusing array of possibilities.

Johnston, however, takes this to a deeper level. Rather than just assembling clowns for entertainment, she focuses on the idiosyncrasies of these individuals and explores the sickness that can grow in the mind, both in the frantic blur of the city and the isolation and campiness of small towns, where not a lot changes and privacy is a foreign concept. She treats each character as their own person; complicated, flawed and relatable. She captures how anxiety and trauma are like an invasive hand in the mind, kneading its way in and twisting the psyche into various states of panic and delusion, opening doors one wishes would remain closed.

Due to the nature of the town and its inhabitants, particular details of this case, however small and irrelevant, are picked up by keen-eyed observers. A new person becomes a subject for discussion and a strange facial expression is a curious matter; all details that would most likely be missed in the frenzy of city streets.

Despite all the quirky characters and the backstories, I found I related most to Anthea, who embodies all the reactions, irritations, joys and questions that I would have if I were her in her shoes. On the surface, she may appear ordinary, but, along with Chris Blackie, they are revealed as multidimensional through Johnston’s masterful inner dialogue and well developed characterisation.

A mark of a great crime mystery is the tension it creates in the reader. Solving the confounding mystery of the camel and the missing woman catapulted me all the way to the end, posing the questions: Who stole the camel? Who murdered Margaret Benton? Are the incidents connected?

The best part of this novel were how, on the surface, Anthea and Chris seem ordinary and their jobs seem less significant than those who work in areas with higher crime rates. But the way they are written provides an alternate story. Characters that reflect real people make you feel as if you are standing right there in the story, experiencing what they are seeing and feeling. Johnston achieves this, as well as exploring hard-hitting issues like post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety in an authentic way.

The Port Lonsdale Camel Theft

Writing Through a Camel’s Eye is inextricably linked, for me, with the experience of coming home. I was born in Geelong, Victoria and my parents built their house at Point Lonsdale, at the tip of the Bellarine Peninsula. When I was in my teens I left home to go to university in Melbourne, and in the late nineteen seventies I moved to Canberra, where I was to remain for the next thirty years.

Through all my years away, Point Lonsdale, small sister town to Queenscliff – the two are practically joined at the hip - became the place of my heart, the place I retreated to in my imagination when the real world got too much.

When I returned to help care for my mother in her last years, I felt first of all the joy of home-coming, each day a revelation, then a flood – once unleashed there was no stopping it – of youthful memories.

Out of this rush of memory and imagination the first of my sea-change mysteries was born.

One memory was of a story I first heard in the 1960s, about a group of young men from the Point Lonsdale Surf Life Saving Club, who stole a camel from a circus camped at the bottom of the club house stairs. This story, part of Point Lonsdale folklore, gave me the beginning of Through a Camel’s Eye. Chris Blackie and Anthea Merritt, the two police constables who are my protagonists, are drawn into searching for a missing woman almost by accident, having been presented with the task of finding a stolen camel and restoring him to his rightful owner.

I’d already written four mystery novels when I embarked on my new one; a quartet set in Canberra, one for each of the four seasons. I knew this book was going to be very different, but there was still some research to be done.

I’d driven past the police station in Gellibrand Street, Queenscliff, countless times, but still felt nervous when I knocked on the door with my notebook in my hand.

I’m comfortable about taking a fair amount of ‘poetic licence’ when creating characters, but I still needed to know what Queenscliff constables were likely to do in certain circumstances, how far their responsibility extended, or could be stretched, and some basic facts.

The police officer I spoke to the day I nervously knocked on the door was very helpful. If he treated some of my questions with wry amusement, then he showed no more than a hint of this, and politely set me on the right track. I was able to thank him for his help again, very recently. Imagine my surprise when I found him running a vegan restaurant in Geelong’s CBD!

Through a Camel’s Eye is what I would call a character-driven mystery; I spend a fair amount of time exploring my main characters’ personalities and psyches, and I make no apology for that. It is also about a domestic murder – grave, endemic in our society, often over-looked. I hope readers will appreciate both the gravity and the novel’s light side. I’m thrilled that it’s being published, and would like to thank everyone who’s been so supportive – my family and friends and the wonderful team at ‘For Pity Sake’.

Buy your copy of Through a Camel's Eye here!

 

Dorothy will be appearing at The Book Bird in Geelong West on the 6th of May. Booking is essential, RSVP to info@thebookbird.com.au or by calling (03) 5224 1438 to reserve your spot!