For some time I’ve flirted with the idea of a tree change but, being a rather cautious (and lazy) person, wishing and wondering and collecting the occasional real estate pamphlet is about as far as I’ve gone. Instead I came up with an altogether less stressful idea – I invented my own town and then peopled it with a mixed assortment of interesting characters – some of whom I’d be happy to have next door and some whom I most definitely would not, just to give it colour. The result has been the Nell Forrest mystery series (published by Pan Macmillan’s Momentum Books), with the latest instalment, Forbidden Fruit, released just last month. The books feature the fictional country town of Majic, on the outskirts of Melbourne, and Nell Forrest, a middle-aged divorced mother of five girls who has a habit of stumbling into an array of nefarious doings and then, sometimes only barely, stumbling back out.
I’ve been writing books for about fifteen years now but one of the greatest compliments that I ever received from a reader was the news that, the evening after finishing one of my books, she was idly contemplating hosting a barbecue for the weekend and began mentally listing those she would invite. Halfway through, she realised that she’d included several of the characters from the book itself. The fictional characters. In the short amount of time that it had taken her to read the story, they had become her friends. And I know exactly what she means (I even developed a sort of crush on a male character I wrote once, and the ending – especially pairing him up with someone else – was a little like being dumped). Every time I finish writing a book, I experience an oddly nauseous mix of elation and regret. It’s impossible to even contemplate a new project until I go through a period of recovery, of separation. I mope around the house, eat copious amounts of chocolate, and make complicated calculations regarding the sun and the yardarm and a glass of wine. Although experience tells me that turning my book hangover into a real one doesn’t help. At all.
But that’s also why I’ve enjoyed writing the Nell Forrest series so much. Starting each new book has been like re-visiting old friends, catching up with what’s been going on in their lives, accompanying them as they move forward. It’s a reunion of sorts. Sure, there’s always a few characters best avoided (and if they turned up at the door, just ring the police. Don’t let them in), but Nell Forrest – well, she’s the sort that I’d invite to a barbecue. And I knew I’d have to write her that way if she was going to stay around (Hercule Poirot is not the type of protagonist I’d be able to have in a series). As both a reader and a writer, I like to connect. But Nell is more than a connection – she’s a friend. I might not have her phone number but I know where she lives. It’s a lovely little town just a stone’s throw from Melbourne where eccentricity meets rural pragmatism and then sits back to enjoy each other’s company. Just like I enjoy Nell’s. She’d know when to give me space if she knew I was moping, or drop in with buckets of chocolate (we’d probably even go retro and have a fondue, with strawberries and bananas and marshmallows), or help me with the sun/yardarm calculations and then say ‘what the hell, let’s open the bottle regardless – and make it champagne!’ In fact, I think I’ll start collecting those real estate brochures again…
To win a copy of Forbidden Fruit, Book 3 in the Nell Forrest Mystery Series, leave a comment on this post with your name and email address.
“This time it’s personal … The last thing Nell Forrest expected when she tried to plant a tree was to unearth the skeletal remains of a former resident. Now her new backyard is swarming with police, there’s a television news crew camped next door, and once again she is smack in the middle of a murder investigation. And the timing is dreadful. Two of Nell’s daughters are about to give birth and she is surrounded by new in-laws with agendas of their own. But it soon becomes clear that this time the investigation is personal – so personal that enquiries bring her long-estranged father back into the family fold, and the answers shed some very uncomfortable light about the proclivities of her parents when they were young. Who would have thought that the little country town of Majic had ever been such a swinging place to live?”
“Welcome to the sleepy town of Majic, where neighbourhood watch is a killer … For Nell Forrest, life in the little town of Majic is not going smoothly. One of her five daughters has just swapped university for fruit-picking, another is about to hit puberty, while a third keeps leaving aggrieved messages on the answering machine. On top of all this, her mother is infuriating and it’s only been a matter of months since Nell lost her husband of twenty-five years. It’s no surprise, then, that she is even struggling to write her weekly column. But the floodgates of inspiration are about to swing open, almost knocking her out in the process. Murder and mayhem, arson and adultery, dungeons, death threats and disappearances are just around the corner. Despite Nell’s abysmal aptitude for investigative work, she manages to shine the light on the local Richard III Society and that’s when things really start to heat up. Throw in some suspicious widows, nosy neighbours, a canine witness, plus a detective who is getting a little closer than he should, and it’s clear that nefarious doings are well and truly afoot. “
“There are secrets in the sleepy town of Majic, where the past trips over the present … and then looks the other way. The country town of Majic is about to celebrate a milestone. It’s been 150 years since the founding father, Petar Majic, rode into the bush after a liquid lunch, vowing to build a house at whatever spot he reached by sunset. However, what happened next isn’t quite what town legend would have you believe. A minor act of cemetery vandalism lands local columnist and amateur detective Nell Forrest right in the path of historical inevitability. An apparent murder-suicide leads to the unveiling of a century-old scandal and a trail left by a trio of long-dead women. Nell’s investigations are hampered both by the arrival of the handsome district detective and by her family – whose dramas almost eclipse that of the town itself. With directionless daughters, unplanned pregnancies, a spot or two of adultery and an ex-husband who wants her house, Nell barely has time for the case, let alone the energy to keep her wits about her at the same time. And Nell will need her wits about her as the mystery of Majic begins casting its shadow into the present day, putting Nell and her family in grave danger. In the end, Nell must decide whether it is a tale of epic fortitude, or treachery and ill-gotten gains, before the past catches up with her.”
The Nell Forrest Mystery Series can also be purchased from
Ilsa Evans was born in the Dandenongs, east of Melbourne, in 1960 and enjoyed a blissful childhood that has provided absolutely no material for writing purposes. Fortunately adulthood served her better in this regard. After spending time in an eclectic range of employment, from the military to health promotion to seaside libraries, she returned to tertiary studies and completed a doctorate on the long-term effects of domestic violence in 2005. She has now settled into an occasionally balanced blend of teaching, public speaking and writing and lives in a perpetually partially renovated house, not far from where she was born, that is held upright by a labyrinth of bookshelves.
Ilsa is the author of twelve books in a variety of genres, including the three books in the Nell Forrest Mystery series. She also contributes to several newspapers and online journals on social issues and won the Eliminating Violence Against Women (EVA) Award for online journalism in 2011.