Novel focuses on Rimutaka Incline
Alife bookended by the Rimutaka Incline’s birth and demise is told in a new historical novel. Camborne author Irene Swadling, 75, based her selfpublished novel Cross Creek Return on the railway that once crossed the Rimutakas from Upper Hutt to Featherston.
The novel’s main character, George Mead, is born in time to see the track opened in 1878 and lives long enough to witness its closure in 1955.
In between, the novel charts major events in New Zealand history, such as Queen Victoria’s 50th jubilee in 1887.
A tragic accident on the incline is also recorded: in 1880 two carriages were blown off the tracks in 200kmh winds. Four children were killed and 13 adults wounded.
‘‘I needed something dramatic for the story, so I used that historical event,’’ Swadling said.
Swadling had George Mead’s sister die in the accident, and also has characters experience premonitions and psychic visions about that and other events.
Historical detail was important in the novel, but plot, character and themes had to take centre stage, Swadling said.
‘‘You’re not writing a history, you’re writing a novel.’’
Swadling used much of her family’s history in the novel. George Mead’s grandfather came from Britain to Nelson on the ship Clifford in 1842, just like Swadling’s great-great-grandfather.
Family artefacts pop up in the book’s pages.
Swadling saw the final journey on the Rimutaka line aged 17, because her parents insisted she be part of the historic occasion.
In the 1990s while working as a schoolteacher, Swadling wrote an unpublished children’s story, Marvellous Mont Cenis, about the Fell engine that once pushed carriages up the hill.
In 2008, while Swadling’s late husband Harry was being treated for cancer, she took a creative writing course at Victoria University, which inspired her to write a full novel.
Swadling wrote her first draft on a Whitireia diploma course, but was advised to throw out the book and start afresh when she enrolled in the graduate diploma. That drastically changed the book’s style.
Swadling did most of her research before writing her short story, but got herself into the engine room of a steam train before writing Cross Creek Return.
‘‘I got the experience of the head and the way the firemen stoked the engine, so when I came to write it I could just feel it.’’
Swadling’s wide range of interests gives her inspiration for her books, which include the 2006 children’s mythology Legends of Aotearoa: New Zealand Birds.
She sings in two choirs, walked the Milford track aged 72, was once lady captain of Island Bay Surf Lifesaving Club, and became fluent in Maori in her 40s.
‘‘I’m a Jill of all trades. My life is full on.’’ she said.
‘‘I’ve got heaps of stories in the bottom drawer that I might get out and look at.’’
Cross Creek Return, $ 28 at Paper Plus Porirua or the Fell Museum, Featherston.