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How I came to write 'Murder in Mt Martha'

Posted by Janice on May 17, 2016 at 1:20 AM

Needing a subject to write about when I enrolled in Novel 1 as part of a Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing, I decided to pick up on a story that had flitted round the edges of my imagination for some years.

The murder of 14 year-old Shirley Collins on 12 September 1953 hit local and interstate headlines when her body was discovered, bashed and partially naked, in the driveway of a holiday home at Mt Martha. Despite interviewing more than 4000 people, the police remained baffled. Questions I had when I first read about this case in the early 2000s included how could this girl have travelled from her home in Reservoir to Mt Martha. The first part of her journey was by train, but even then witnesses were divided as to where she boarded on that Saturday evening. Some said she alighted from the bus she caught in the presence of her foster mother near her home at Reservoir Station, others said she got off the bus at Regent Station and caught a train to the city from there. What was clear was that she did not end up at Richmond Station where her work friend was waiting to pick her up and accompany her to a twenty-first birthday party in honour of one of their colleagues. The party was held at an address in Punt Road. In fact, according to two witnesses, she arrived at North Richmond Station and walked down the Elizabeth Street ramp to Punt Road. One of the witnesses saw her talking to a man in a car. What happened from thereon remains a mystery.

My novel makes sense of this brutal murder, even though in reality I am still puzzled as to what really happened. Writing it was both exhilarating and laborious, as I needed to check - and often re-check because initially my notes were not sufficiently organised – not only the ‘facts’ of the story, but everything else that was going on in Melbourne at the time. I could easily have been waylaid by the Petrov Affair, as it was called. Or by the Hungarian Olympic team’s defection in 1956. Both these stories also lend themselves to fictional treatment. Maybe in the future I shall write about them, but first I would need to do some very serious study about the USSR and its methods leading up to both these events.

As I said, I began writing ‘Murder in Mt Martha’ in 2009 – and finished the first draft - as part of the PWE course. In 2010 I enrolled in Novel 2 and needed a new subject. That year I wrote a police procedural ‘A Body of Work’, introducing two detectives, Angela Micelli and Brendan O’Leary. I am looking for a publisher for this novel, set in Melbourne and Ballarat, the first of a series. At present I am a third of the way through the second in the series, ‘On the Ball’, a story set at the Australian Open Tennis Grand Slam which roves from Glenlyon in country Victoria to Melbourne and as far away as Estonia. Why Estonia? Well, you’ll have to wait until its published, I’m afraid.

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