DISCLAIMER: Spoilers ahead. If you’d like to read this book it is available from Ultimo Press here
Lowbridge is a beautifully crafted crime fiction set across two timelines. A grieving mother, Katherine, moves to her husband’s small hometown of Lowbridge, that at first seems sleepy but reveals a dark and tragic past. She begins investigating a cold case of a schoolgirl who disappeared one afternoon and was never seen again. The deeper Katherine delves into the secrets of Lowbridge, the more she learns about the town, herself and the people closest to her. This book has completely blown me away and is definitely worth the read. As someone who doesn’t usually read crime mysteries, this book has ignited my newfound passion for the genre. The writing style is simple and smooth, the story flowing so well it almost poured off the pages. The drama and mystery had me on the edge of my seat and once I got into it, I simply could not put it down.
Unlike my previous book review, I didn’t do a single piece of research before diving into reading this story. I wanted to have a clear mind to form my own opinions and ideas without being influenced by past projects and motivations of the author. When I started the book, I instantly knew it written by an Australian due to the beautiful bushland imagery created in the first few chapters, before it later being revealed that it is set outside of Sydney.
This story intertwines two timelines, that are three decades apart to create a story with overlapping characters and themes. The author did an amazing job navigating telling a story across two eras – which I’m sure is no easy feat.
I thought every character was really well written and each had likable and dislikeable qualities about them, reflecting different personalities and flaws that made them more human. I think I would especially have liked to meet Tess, Luisa and Sim as teenagers, the three were extremely interesting and diverse characters that made their relationships with each other interesting. Because the book is told from two perspectives across two timelines, we really got to know Tess, and she should be the focus as the victim whose case we’re trying to solve, but we only got a glimpse of Luisa and a mere mention of Sim in later years. I felt it would have been very fulfilling to truly get to know the pair 30 years later and explore their relationships with Lowbridge and the people in it a bit more after the death of their best friend – especially Sim, who had a small mention at the end, but we didn’t get a reunion with Luisa, her feelings after the case were solved and all the elements linked to her. There’s so much there that’s been left unsaid.
I had the amazing opportunity to speak with the author, Lucy Campbell, about her experience writing Lowbridge. She was kind enough to give some amazing writing tips as well…
Sarah: What inspired you to write a book of the crime fiction genre?
Lucy: [It] wasn’t a genre I was necessarily planning to write. I was working in a communications roll at … ANU, doing Monday to Thursday… I used to love writing fiction, but I’ve sort of just let it fall by the wayside over the years, but I decided on those Fridays I had off that I would get back into the writing.
I was just writing sort of general bits and pieces that were never meant to see the light of day by anyone, they were purely for me. And then I was down at the local shops and on the Canberra milk cartons they have photos of missing people. And some of them were of people who had gone missing decades ago and some of them were more recent, and it sort of really got me thinking. First of all, how you can just disappear like that. Secondly, what it would do to family and friends. And thirdly, what the police could possibly hope to find some years later that could give them new insights into the case and that was sort of the start of Lowbridge.
But I really did not intend to write a mystery, it just was the interest… sparked by those photos of missing people.
How did you come up with Tessa’s story and her case? And the trio of the girls?
Lucy: Originally, my very first draft I had it set in a city and that wasn’t going to work, I wanted it to be in a country town, that sense of isolation and the sense for Katherine and Jamie… going somewhere, where at least for her, people weren’t going to know them.
The dual timelines, just as I was flicking back and forth to what had happened in the 80s and what was happening now, it just made sense to do more alternate chapters… it was getting a bit convoluted and so I decided for the structure it needed to be contemporary and in the past.
Developing the stories along the two timelines… I was a teenager in the 80s so I could kind of remember things that we’re happening there and the language, fashion, the fun and the music. But also sort of the undercurrent of things that weren’t quite so pleasant and fun…
The contemporary timeline had to be pre-COVID… [and] it made sense to make it… a woman around my age with a teenage daughter, roughly of the age of the child who had gone missing, so that she would have those interests and the parallels between the cases.
Was it challenging to write the dual timelines?
Lucy: I would love to be an organised person with my writing but I’m not. It’s very messy and chaotic… I had actual post-its and notes on my phone and loose scraps of paper. It starts off just this enormous mess and then gradually… it’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle. When you first look at the pieces nothing makes sense and when you start moving things around you can gradually piece it together. But I think it’s as much of a mystery for me a lot of the time as it probably was for the reader. I was kind of looking at it going “Now, how do I make this work?” And you shuffle things around to a previous episode or timeline and there’s a lot of back and forthing in it.
What did the original manuscript look like? What didn’t end up in the story?
Lucy: I did a lot of background dumping that didn’t make it into the book… it sounded like [a narrator] … it was just a way of getting things down and writing them… and as I went through it I kind of realised this isn’t how you do it. Firstly, you don’t have it in that format, three pages of information for the reader to sort through, it’s got to be more subtle than that, you’ve got to weave it through the chapters.
I went through a really good program called the Australian Writer’s Mentoring Program with an author called James Bradley. He was so good at saying to me “why have you got this here?” or “maybe you should expand on that” or “your dialogue’s clunky” or “can we have a bit more information?”. Really good points… all of those things I was too close to see, so it’s really handy to have someone stepping back and asking those questions on where you’re going with it.
Are you yourself from a rural area?
Lucy: We lived for ten years in Mittagong, in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. As I was writing… this bushland I was describing is the place I used to go walking and running.
I kept it fictional because I wanted that creativity and the imagination I could use on the surroundings but it was very loosely based on the time that we spent there.
That was very much the picture that I had.
As someone who is from a small rural town, I thought Lucy aced the close-knit community where people don’t want to talk.
What other pieces of your life are in the book?
Lucy: At the time I had two teenagers living at home, my daughter who is now at Newcastle, and my son, who is in his last year of school. It was really interesting to watch them and see those really deep connections that you have with your peers and your friends at that age and that was sort of what I tried to weave into it.
Those friendships are so vital. You know your kids are getting up to things that teenagers have got up to for forever and you really have to hope that they have the right people around them to look after them and that they will look after their friends in turn because it is a risky age. And as a parent there’s not a lot that you can do but stand back and watch things happen and hope.
Lucy and I discussed the similarities shared by teenagers in both the 80s and today. How the party scene in the book could have been an exact replica of a party happening this weekend.
Lucy: When I look back on things in the 80s from my own party days there was so much that we put up with that I think kids wouldn’t today, which is fantastic. But there are a lot of societal norms that we just went along with which thankfully have changed but it was quite interesting to look back and think about what happened then and things that happen now.
In some ways we’ve come such a long way and in other ways things have hardly changed at all.
What was the hardest scene for you to write? This book has a lot of serious and dark themes.
Lucy: You want to get the dark themes right. Those scenes weren’t necessarily the hardest but I would have gone over them and over them. The prologue because I really wanted to set the scene of what happened there – the attack on Jacq, and some of the conversations between Katherine and Julianne Dawes, Tessa’s mother.
You want to get grief right, you don’t want to sort of be cheap with that and make it less than it is.
Big scenes I spent a lot of time rewriting, reading aloud, going back again and having to do a fair bit of research around how people coped with a missing person in their life and that grief, and sexual assault and that sort of thing too.
How did publishing your first novel change your writing style as a previously established writer?
Lucy: I haven’t written anything in fiction before so that was all new and I really enjoyed the process of it… when I was writing I was really hopeful that something would come of it, but I certainly wasn’t expectant.
It was really just the thrill of the journey along the way, the editing and proofreading and talking to my publisher… I know a lot of writers can be quite precious about their work and having things changed and I made a very deliberate effort to see it as a collaborative affair. I knew that my editor, copy editors and proof-readers wanted to make it as good as I possibly could. So I really enjoyed that process of it.
Initially, the very first draft I got back, which would have been from my mentor and he sort of had all these notes on it. [He] texted me and said “It might look like a lot but don’t panic”. I instantly opened it and went “Oh my god! It’s a disaster!” But it was actually quite enjoyable working my way through all of that, thinking about all these comments that various people said along the way.
And of course, I asked the most important question of whether there were any future instalments planned?
Lucy: I am working on the second one.
I got a two-book deal with Ultimo Press which was fantastic and it just means that I have the freedom to sit and write now. Hopefully, [the book] should be coming out next year… it will be another mystery, it’s quite different.
The second book isn’t a sequel, as Tessa and Katherine’s stories are finished, but after absolutely flying through Lowbridge and loving it, I personally cannot wait to read Lucy’s next book! It’s sure to be as mysterious and page-turning as Lowbridge.