Novel fo­cuses on Rimu­taka In­cline

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

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.

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