Melissa Pouliot, when rides inspire the write chapter

What do crime fiction and mountain bike riding have in common?

For Melissa Pouliot, a bestselling crime writer who calls the Sapphire Coast home, they are intrinsically linked. Most mornings Melissa rides the trails of Bournda National Park, racing through eucalypt forests and past Wallagoot Lake to reach the intriguing rocky formation known as Wallagoot Gap at Turingal Head. If you start at the entrance to the park on Sapphire Coast Drive, it’s about a 9km, flat, return ride to Turingal Head on sealed and unsealed roads.

In the afternoons Melissa writes and volunteers as an ambassador for missing persons, inspired by the unsolved disappearance of her own cousin, Ursula Barwick, at age 17 in 1987.

As Melissa prepares to launch her fifth crime novel, FOUND, she shares with us how the bike trails she rides inspire her writing. She also shares with us an excerpt from her new book, and you can see how the ride inspired the write! (Scroll to the end for book launch details in Canberra & Merimbula).

“The morning is warmer than usual and it won’t be long before I won’t need my gloves or beanie beneath my bike helmet. I look to my right and admire the swans gliding gracefully on Wallagoot Lake.

The water is so still it looks like glass. To my left I hear a rustle in the thick bush and wonder if it’s the lyre birds I see from time to time, building their nest, or something more sinister.

I shift gears as I reach a slight incline and look down at my handlebars. Something flashes past my face and my heart skips several beats as wildly look around to see what it is.

It appears again, then multiplies. Butterflies. One, five, ten, twenty. They dance around my head then disappear into the bush. A few moments later they return, then they’re gone again.

They follow me like this as I ride past the boat ramp, along the corrugated dirt road and to the entrance to Bournda National Park. I stop for a drink and admire their quiet presence, wondering if I will be quick enough to capture them on my camera. I’m not.

I keep riding. There’s a steep section and I’m so distracted that I forget to change gears and nearly don’t make it up. The butterflies are still with me when I reach Wine Glass Bay, and they follow me to the steps leading down to Turingal Head beach.

My thoughts flutter to the fifth book I’m writing and by the time I’m back home, I have a new chapter already written in my head.”

Wallagoot Lake, Bournda National Park

Wallagoot Gap at Turingal Head.

Excerpt from FOUND

Ant was ahead of her, gesturing and pointing out things while Andy quizzed him. Occasionally Andy would crouch down, Ant standing awkwardly by his side. Rhiannon walked silently, also in front, and Christine watched a butterfly land on her shoulder. It was bright yellow with small dark spots on its wings. It was a Eurema smilax or small grass yellow butterfly. Quite common, but something Christine had never noticed in the city.

She watched it cling onto Rhiannon’s white cotton shirt with its tiny sticky feet, a slight breeze making its wings move ever so gently. Christine focused on the butterfly to calm her mind. She became transfixed, wondering in her foggy drug-induced mind, if it was a sign from Annabelle.

Annabelle loved yellow. The butterfly was yellow.

Annabelle was here!

She was trying to tell her something. A strong gust of wind dislodged the butterfly and Christine watched with panic as it flew away. She raced after it, convinced it would lead them to Annabelle.

Nobody noticed at first, until Andy called Rhiannon over to show him something and Ant looked back to see Christine running in the opposite direction.

‘Hey, Christine! Where you going?’ Ant called.

Christine didn’t answer, it was taking all her energy to not lose sight of the butterfly which was leading her deeper and deeper into the bush. She pushed through shrubs, she was off the path now, panting heavily from the exertion. She rolled her ankle as she scrambled through the dense undergrowth and pain shot up her leg, but she kept running.

Ant tore after her. ‘Christine, what is it?’

Rhiannon and Andy started jogging after Ant, while Christine dashed and darted after the speeding yellow butterfly, pushing through branches and around trees.

‘Show me Annabelle, show me where you are,’ she whispered hoarsely.

Finally the butterfly stopped. It settled on the flower of a Christmas Bush, its yellow standing out strongly against the white. Christine hunched over, trying to catch her breath.

Within minutes Ant was behind her. ‘What the fuck are you doing?’

‘Shhh,’ she said. ‘Don’t move.’

Rhiannon arrived next; a few minutes later Andy crashed through the forest.

‘Shhh,’ Christine hushed him. ‘Quiet! Don’t come any closer.’

Her eyes remained firmly fixed on the butterfly.

Ant leant in close, clearly annoyed. ‘What. Are. We. Doing. Here?’

Once Andy stopped the loud puffing of a detective who was unfit, overweight and spent far too much time at his desk, Christine spoke. ‘See that yellow butterfly there?’

They all peered amongst the mass of flowers on the bush, eventually making out the tiny yellow shape. ‘Yes,’ they said in unison.

‘It’s a sign from Annabelle! It landed on your shirt when we first arrived, and now it’s brought me here. To this spot.’

Silence.

‘Well? Don’t you get it? Yellow is her favourite colour. The butterfly is yellow. The butterfly has led us to Annabelle. The butterfly is Annabelle! This is where you need to look. Don’t you understand, this is the spot. She’s here, somewhere! Start looking!’

She was crying and shaking, clearly distressed. ‘She’s here, I know she’s here. Have a look, you’ll find her. I’m sure of it.’

Ant stepped in close and wrapped his arms around her.

Andy walked away first, then Rhiannon. Ant stayed and hugged Christine tightly. Through her tears, she stared at the tiny yellow butterfly, before it lifted gracefully off its flower and disappeared deep into the forest, never to be seen again.

Book launch at Muse, Canberra on Thursday, July 27 and Dulcie’s Cottage, Merimbula on Thursday, August 3.

Picnic for the Missing: Melissa and her cousin Ursula loved enjoying picnics together and this inspired Melissa to create ‘Picnic for Missing’ which is a permanent feature of national Missing Persons Week (July 30 – Aug 5).

Melissa is also a Day for Daniel Ambassador which highlights the unsolved case of Daniel Morcombe child safety within our communities.

 

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