Nelson connections craft book

SARAH DUNN
Last updated 13:00 23/01/2014

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Porirua author Irene Swadling had an instant flash of recognition when she visited the Maitai River.

Her historical fiction book, Cross Creek Return, focuses on the Rimutaka Incline Railway and is partly set in colonial Nelson. The self-published book was launched in December at Featherston's Fell Locomotive Museum.

"There's a scene where my character skips rocks in an area where the [Maitai] river forms into a sort of pool, and that could be it right there," she laughed.

The life story of her protagonist, George Mead, aligns with that of the railway, as Ms Swadling wanted George to have attended the line's opening in 1878 and to take a last ride before it closed in 1955. She said the Rimutaka railway and the Fell trains that ran on it appealed to her because of their complexity.

"It was a real feat of engineering to keep those engines running for 77 years."

Ms Swadling said the settlement of Cross Creek, for which the book was named, existed only to service the trains: "It was cold, desperate and cut off."

She crafted the book's Nelson connections out of those of her own family. In Cross Creek Return, George's grandfather arrives in Nelson on the same ship that brought Ms Swadling's real life great-great grandfather, Benjamin Lusty, into the area. Mr Lusty married a widow whose husband, Isaac Smith, was killed in the 1843 Wairau Affray. His corresponding character spent time camping on the banks of the Maitai before acquiring a farm in Richmond, counselling a character also named Isaac to stay away from the Affray.

"It's pure fiction, but I've tried to tie it to my understanding of Nelson," Ms Swadling said.

The book is available through Page & Blackmore. There will be a launch event at the Alma Turner Library this Friday from 12pm.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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