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Death In July

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Crime writers, readers & fans, join us for a day of panels, debates, author signings & readings featuring Angela Savage, Ellie Marney
Leigh Redhead & many more guests.

Friday 4 July 6pm – launch
Saturday 5 July 9am- Spm- Festival

 Museum of Democracy at Eureka, Stawell Street, Ballarat

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Convict Jack

Buy your copy of Convict Jack from our BOOKSHOP NOW

Jack Dorrington was caught thieving and sentenced, with his mum, to 7 years transportation to New South Wales. Young readers will like the story of Jack’s experiences and adventures on a voyage across to the other side of the world. Young lads who had never ventured outside of the teeming city were exposed to grosser details of seasickness, burial at sea and even the slave ship sighted in port.

The incidents range from rat-catching to the humour of  being scrubbed clean  to the  squashed sleeping quarters  providing a sense of the real challenges on-board and the resilience of Jack. The stormy scenes and the basic food are offset by the growing relationship between the boys  and the gruff crew. 

This book is one of the few examples of writing which provides a view of the forgotten ‘convicts’ in those years of transportation from England to New South Wales, that is the children.

The Hall – Episode 7

Anne Philomena nearly fell over the dreadlocked twin huddled in her doorway. She had stayed until almost dawn watching the fire and the people both inside and outside the barricade which the SES folk had quickly thrown up. She’d seen the mayor and that dreadful chief engineer Robertson who was forever blathering on to the press and anyone who’d listen about the folly of pumping money into buildings that were past their used by date. But they had not been together so she decided they had not been colluding on this occasion, and while the engineer could have been responsible for the explosion and the fire, the mayor did not have the brains to execute anything so terrible.

“Dear, you look terrible,” she said as she reached over the twin to open her door. “Where’s your, ” she almost said twin but stopped herself just in time, “girlfriend?”

As the boy struggled to his feet she could see he’d been crying. She took his arm and led him to the couch in her living room where he usually sat hand in hand with the dreadlocked girl.

“Where’s …” She tried again.

“Melanie,” the boy whispered and a fresh lot of tears rolled down his cheeks.

“Melanie,” Philomina repeated and waited.

“I can’t find her. I went back for Jeremy. I thought she’d be outside.” He took a big sniff and wiped his face on the ragged sleeve of the sloppy Joe he was wearing.

“Outside?” Surprise, shock and pity all together ran through her. “You were inside when the fire started? Did you start it?”

“No!” The boy cried out, the hurt and pain evident in his face. “No, it was our home. We all had our own little nests in parts of the building the council officers didn’t often search. We were up on the gantry above the stage, Melanie and me.” Tears poured down his cheeks as he said the girl’s name. We took turns at watching out in case that ranger took it into his head to come around late at night. He’d done it a few times some of the others said but not since Melanie and …”

Anne Philomena put her arm around his heaving shoulders. “He came last night?” she asked once the gush of tears had subsided.

“I don’t know. It was Jeremy’s turn to be on watch. When the explosion happened I told Melanie to get out and went in search for him but the fire was everywhere. I could hardly breathe. I couldn’t find the little door on the basement level we usually used to get in and out. I was running around like a mad thing till a window blew out and I got through it.”

He was shaking now as well as crying. Anne Philomina ran to her bedroom and returned with the doona from her bed which she tucked around him. “I’m going to get you a hot drink. Then we can work out what to do. I’ll ring Doris McCreedy. She’s the practical sort. She’ll know how to mount a search for your friends without arousing the suspicion of the authorities.

As the milk heated she rang Doris McCreedy.

“Can you come to my house? The boy with the dreadlocks is here. He can’t find his girlfriend. They were asleep in the hall.”

“Put the kettle on. I’m on my way. I’ll pick up bread for sandwiches in case we have to feed the search party.”

The Hall – Episode 6

There were two police cars in the car park when Octavius arrived back at the town hall. Two uniform policemen were standing at the bottom of the staircase and a man in a dark navy suit Octavius immediately assumed was a detective was talking with the CEO on the landing leading to the executive offices and board rooms.

“What do you know about the door of the drinks cupboard, Campinelle?” Antony Grogon demanded as soon as Octavius put his foot on the bottom rung of the staircase.

Octavius stopped and took a deep breath while he decided how he would handle this new situation. “Locked as it usually is I presume,” he said as casually as he waved his keys to show Grogan hed just arrived at work. “Do you need it opened?” he asked.

“It’s been broken into,” Grogon growled presumably to impress the plainclothes detective.

“Has anything else…?” Octavius started but Grogon cut him off.

“Where’s the mayor?”

“In his office, I expect. It’s not often he gets here before me but I didn’t go to bed until four. The fire!”

“He’s not in his office.”

“Then I expect he’s still at the hall, or he’s gone home for a sleep.” Octavius was trying hard to sound convincing.

The detective’s interest in the mayor and his drinks cupboard went up a notch. “He was there? At the hall. You saw him?

“I didn’t see him but I know he was there.  I rang him just after I heard the explosion. He told me…” Octavius paused for just a second trying to remember exactly what Bryson had told him. He couldn’t, but that didn’t stop him. “I know he was there. He was on the news talking to a reporter…” As soon as he’d mentioned the news he knew he’d said too much. The mayor had made something of a fool of himself. But the detective had more questions.

“Where was his son last night?”

“His son?” Octavius managed a puzzled look.

Grogon intervened. “You know his son. You went to school together.”

“We went to the same school but I hardly know him. Not my type.” The detectives raised eyebrow made him regret his last remark. He covered as best he could with, “He had different interests, different friends.”

“Was he with his father last night?” The detective was obviously ignoring Octavius’ professed ignorance of Patrick Andrews’ whereabouts.

Octavius adopted his most exasperated expression and shrugged his shoulders. “How should I know? I already told you I didn’t see the mayor except on the television news. Now if you will step aside I need to clean the coffee machine and get it ready. Hell want his coffee when he gets here.” He ran up the second flight of stairs and disappeared into the kitchen leaving the detective and the CEO to ponder the likelihood that the mayors son might have had a hand in whatever had triggered the fire in the hall during the night.

The Hall – Chapter 5

Octavius knew Monday was going to be a bad day. He’d got to bed at 4am but he’d not been able to sleep. The flames, the noise, and the rumours he’d been told by the firey and the SES man had played on his mind. In the end, he’d got up, showered, made vegemite toast and headed to the office expecting to have plenty of time for the normal routine of emptying rubbish bins and ash trays, clearing the mess on the mayor’s desk, fetching the mail and cleaning the coffee machine, but his plans were shot by the sight of the mayor slumped over his desk, his right hand clutching an empty glass which Octavius knew without smelling it had contained whisky.

That presented another problem. The drinks cupboard was supposed to be kept locked at all times on orders of the Antony Grogan, the Chief Executive Officer with he and Octavius having the only keys, a policy put in place following that dreadful council meeting six months ago, just after Coralee Bryson had served her husband with divorce proceedings. He’d let fly at Doris McCreedy who was airing her opinions about the Council’s disregard for the city’s heritage from public gallery. His remarks caused red faces on the faces of the male councilors and a strongly worded protest from Faye Dunkley and Sarah Wittenden Jones, the two women on the council. There was also a barrage of letters to the editor of the Ratabel Recorder by other members of the public gallery. Bryson’s excuse that he had drunk more than usual due to the shock of losing his soulmate of twenty five years did not wear well with all who knew about his fillandering.

Octavius was faced with a dilemma. Should he remove the glass and restore the bottle, wherever it was, to the drinks cupboard before the rest of the staff arrived for the day? Or should he report the issue to the CEO?

There was no point taking the bottle back to the drinks cupboard. It was empty. When he went to remove the glass Octavius noticed that the hand that held it was covered in  the dried blood and cuts. In the board room he found the reason why. The splintered door of the drinks cabinet was hanging by one hinge. There was no possibility of pretending nothing untoward had happened. The best he could do was get Bryson on his feet and out of the place before the CEO arrived, and he had at most forty minutes to do it.

He put a double dose of grounds into the coffee maker and turned it on while he ran around emptying the bins and the over full ashtray. He’d have to spray the deodoriser as soon as he had Bryson on his feet so he could hide the fact that he’d been in the town hall chambers overnight. As soon as there was enough coffee in the pot to fill a cup he turned the machine off. With luck it would be cool enough so he could wash it as soon as he got back.

He replaced the whisky glass with a heavily sugared mug of coffee in Bryson’s hand. “Drink up,” he ordered

“What … Where? What’s going on?” Bryson muttered then opened his eyes. “Don’t you dare give me orders, you jumped up little office boy. I’ll have your…”

Octavius stood his ground on the other side of the desk. “If you prefer to be branded a drunk who smashes open drinks cupboards, then that’s fine with me.”

He took one step in the direction of the door before Bryson realised the mess he was in. “My car… I don’t know where I left it.”

“You can’t drive. I’ll take you. Quick. We’ve got to be out of here before the rest of the staff arrive.” He hauled the great bulk of the mayor on to his skinny shoulders and half dragged, half steered him down the stairs to his little moke. Pushing him into the passenger seat was more difficult but he had the door closed and was driving out of the still empty car park before the forty minutes was up.

The Hall – Chapter 4

For the life of him Bryson could not remember what his attacker looked like. All he knew was that he had been called an arsonist in front of a crowd of people who were now all looking at him as if he had started the fire in the hall. Part of him wanted to shout, “I had nothing to do with this. I am not an arsonist,” but his more rational self told him to remove himself quickly before he was recognised as the mayor of Ratabel and someone recalled any of the disparaging things he’d said about the hall. He shouldered his way clear of the crowd, ran down Hayden Lane, around into Langer Street and back up to where the barricade had been parted to allow access to the media van.

Luck was with him. Just as he arrived, puffing and red in the face, the reporter turned towards him.

“Mr Mayor,” Edmund St John Peterson said as he directed the cameraman to capture Bryson’s arrival.

“Just been told. Got here as fast as I could,” Bryson puffed obligingly. Sweat from the heat of the fire in front of him and his own exertion was running down his cheeks from his forehead.

“The police notified you?” Peterson asked in his usual supercilious manner.

“Should have,” Bryson gasped again to stress the effort he had undergone to do his mayoral duty on this occasion. “My assistant -another gasp -phoned me.” He took out a none to clean handkerchief and wiped his brow. “Had to park blocks away.” He shoved the handkerchief back into the pocket it had come from making a mental note to consign it to his laundry bag when he got home. “This is a tragedy!”

“But I thought,” Peterson paused to let the sarcasm in his voice register with Bryson and the viewing audience who would be bombarded with the destruction of the controversial hall with their cornflakes. He was relishing the thought that his coverage would find its way on to all the metropolitan stations before the morning was out. “You were not enamoured by this building. In fact you had been recommending demolition.”

“Disposal!”

“Same thing, I would say,” Peterson could even see himself on the nighttime current affairs programs, answering questions for the glamour hosts.

“How dare you interpret my words. Disposal does not mean demolition. It means that the council is involved in … Forget it. You’ll twist my words whatever I say just as you usually do. I am not going to discuss council business here on the edge of this disaster.”

He turned and fled, struggling as he went to ponder how much damage this encounter with Peterson had done him.

The Hall – Chapter 2

As soon as he was out of sight of the police car, Bryson parked his car and got out. He could see people disappearing down a lane opposite. One of the lanes of Ratabel being made notorious by that shyster Gerard O’Dowd. The stories he was spinning about bodies with limbs chopped off, prostitutes strung up, and mysterious bags of gold were all a figment of his imagination but it did fill in the tourists’ nights. It was a shame someone at the Arts Department hadn’t come up with the idea first. Then all the tourist dollars could have gone into the Council coffers instead of lining O’Dowds pockets.
No time to think about that now. The people ahead of him led him across Thomson Street, down another lane, across Starck Street, into yet another lane. He was struggling to keep up, tripping and stumbling on the rough broken surface. The pile of complaints on his desk flashed into his mind. Perhaps all those whingers had something to whinge about. He’d get Octavius on to them tomorrow.
More people were brushing past him. The loafers had been a bad idea. He should have worn trainers. Too late for that now. He hadn’t expected to walk so far. By the time he reached Lilley Street he could feel blisters coming where his toes were being rubbed by the stitching on the shoes. His feet wanted to stop but he couldn’t. He forced himself down the length of Lilley Street into Taylor Square where his path was blocked by another barricade. People were three deep in front of it.
He shouldered his way between two young blokes. “Out of the way. I need to get through.”
They moved obligingly, but the short dumpy woman in front of them was not budging.
“Madam,” Bryson said in his best mayoral voice, but it had no effect. “Excuse me,” he said as he pushed a bit more forcefully.
“Get your hands off me,” she growled without turning her head to look at him. “You can see all there is to see above my head.”
“I need to get through. I’m the mayor…
She spun round in an instant. “This is your fault. You have let this hall fall into disrepair. You’ve done nothing to protect it. You’ve let squatters into it, and vandals. There’s been no security. I’ll bet there wasn’t even a smoke alarm…”
He’d never met her before but he knew instantly who she was. Doris McCreedy! The bane of the council receptionists. Anything amiss anywhere and she was on the phone giving vent to her fury over council neglect. At least she wasn’t accusing him of blowing the hall up.
She wasn’t, but someone else was. He had taken flight looking for a spot further along the barricade where he could attract the attention of police superintendent Digby or Tom Acheson, the fire chief, who were bound to be lurking ready to answer questions from the press. He’d make himself available for an interview too. He was never one to let a photo opportunity go begging. In his haste to get to where he could see a media truck pulling into the square at the direction of a cop in a yellow waterproof, he had not noticed Anne Phillomena Percival.
“Arsonist,” she spat.

The Hall – Chapter 3

The notion that older grey haired women are invisible appealed to Anne Philomena and since her retirement from the physics department of the university, where she hardly noticed anyway, she had been using her invisibility effectively. She could observe, photograph, and make notes about council desecration of Ratabel’s heritage at will. If she was seen, she was paid no attention. She was just another dotty old lady in a cardigan who had been sold a mobile phone with a camera in it by some enterprising salesman. Occasionally a council officer would chuckle to himself as he thought about his gran’s fuzzy photos. Then he would dismiss her from his memory.

But her photos were anything but fuzzy. In fact they were the very same photos which appeared on the Rescue Ratabel website, on Facebook and on the fliers which went up faster than council officers could tear them down on lamp posts, shop windows, and bus shelters all over town. The message was hers too, as was the sharp and memorable design which was being worn on the Tshirts of Team Rescue Ratabel.

Despite the urging of the Team she left her design unsigned. She had no need for recognition but she did need the Team. And what a team they were. A little hard to contain at times, and a bit unpredictable, but they could all be relied upon when it came to plastering the town with posters and standing in front of bulldozers. There were the twins, at least that’s how she thought of them, both dreadlocked and pasty skinned and not relation really, but they could have been in their identical jeans with identical rips at the knees and their over-washed sweaters. They were always so hungry she felt obliged to cook up a big pot of Team soup or a stew.

Doris McCreedy was a regular too in Anne Philomena’s Gilchrist Steet lounge room, although she didn’t bother with the soup. She’d been an army logistics officer in another life and knew every street and lane in Ratabel. It was due to her planning that the Rescue Ratabel fliers were so effectively distributed. She also manned stands at public events and could coerce a donation out of anyone. The money paid for paper, ink and sticky tape, and occasionally some Krispy Kreme donuts to munch on after the soup.

There were a host of others too who came when they had some time to spare, or when there was a possibility of some excitement. And that, Anne Philomena knew as she watched the flames leaping from what had once been the roof of the hall, would be tonight. There was no time to lose. She disappeared into the crowd before that pompous Bryson Andrews creature could deny her accusation. There was the website to be attended to before the council techs could produce a sanitized version of what had happened, and a whole new batch of posters to be produced.

There’d be no donuts or soup until the population of Ratabel had been told who the real vandals in this town were.