Chris McGillion is a long-time Mountains resident and author, who has worked for the Sydney Morning Herald and Charles Sturt University. He is now writing a series of intriguing crime novels set in East Timor.
Q: How did you become involved with East Timor?
A: I went for the first time in 2010 to have a look at how a free media was being developed there. I fell in love with the country almost immediately and, Covid aside, have been back every year. I became involved in some local media development initiatives and eventually completed a PhD through ANU into communicating agricultural science to low literacy Timorese subsistence farmers.
Q: Tell us about the first book in your series.
A: It’s called The Crocodile’s Kill and it’s published in America by Coffeetown Press. Babies are being abducted from their homes along East Timor’s southern border with Indonesia. Local villagers believe the babies are being taken by demons and sacrificed to appease ancestral spirits. FBI Agent Sara Carter, on secondment to INTERPOL, is assigned to investigate the case, which could prove to be an illegal international adoption racket. She’s assigned a Timorese police colleague, Vincintino Cordero, but the two have personalities, policing styles and agendas that clash.
Q: Where does the crocodile come in?
A: The local police kill a crocodile, which is the totem central to Timor’s creation myth. Time’s running out before anger over that combines with popular unrest about the missing babies. Our cops have to do something to prevent widespread violence.
Q: You’ve written some well-regarded non-fiction books. Why turn to fiction, and crime fiction at that?
A: I’ve had my fill of non-fiction books as an academic. I’ve always loved a particular type of crime novel – one that uses crime as a device to reveal a sense of place and people. I wanted to do the same with East Timor, especially to an American audience. Prior to The Crocodile’s Kill, there hadn’t been a crime novel set in contemporary East Timor.
Q: Was it difficult turning from non-fiction to fiction?
A: I had to develop a new dictionary in my head. Non-fiction dictionaries are full of nouns and adverbs. I had to compile one with adjectives and verbs. I’m still doing that. The other basic difference is that non-fiction largely ‘tells’ a reader what’s going on, whereas fiction requires the writer to ‘show’ it in such a way that the reader forms their own opinions.
Q: Will there be more novels?
A: Coffeetown Press want another five, which is great. We just need to sort out Australian distribution! On the bright side, Megalong Books in Leura have The Crocodile’s Kill in store.
Q: Where do you live in the Mountains?
A: I lived in Wentworth Falls for over twenty years but moved to Hazelbrook – where I spent my childhood holidays – when I stopped working for Charles Sturt University. Among other things, I wanted a more modern house, with open spaces and light, unlike the two more traditional mountain houses I’d lived in in Wentworth Falls.
Q: What do you like about living here?
A: It retains a sense of community I no longer find in much of Sydney, where I grew up. People are generally friendly and unpretentious. Of course I also love the natural environment and have come to loathe anything high-rise.
Q: What's your favourite place in the Mountains, apart from home?
A: I love Blackheath but I’d probably say Katoomba. Everything you could ever want is there and it has such an eclectic mix of people – young and old, artistic and practical.
The Crocodile’s Kill by Chris McGillion can be purchased at the wonderful Megalong Books in Leura, or online from Abbeys Bookshop in the big city.