Category Archives: Books

Don’t come home: a sample of Tank Water

JAMES Brandt didn’t look back when he got away from his rural hometown as a teenager. Now, he’s returned to Kippen for the first time in twenty years because his cousin Tony has been found dead under the local bridge.

The news that Tony has left him the entire family farm triggers James’s journalistic curiosity – and his anxiety – both of which cropped up during his turbulent journey to adulthood. But it is the unexpected homophobic attack he survives that draws James into a hunt for the reasons one lonely Kippen farm boy in every generation kills himself.

Standing in the way is James’s father, the town’s recently retired top cop, who is not prepared to investigate crimes no-one reckons have taken place. James must use every newshound’s trick he ever learned in order to uncover the brutal truth.

A coming-of-age story and crime thriller with a large and gentle heart.


The prologue of Tank Water

Daniel listened to his son’s idiotic answering machine for the fourth or fifth time, waited for the beep, cleared his throat and went to say everything; but when the right words still wouldn’t come, he threw the receiver down and went for another drink.

Bottles rattled in the fridge door as he yanked it open. He twisted the top off one and threw his head back for the first gulp. From that angle the leftover sausages on the top shelf looked like his best option for tea, but their yellowed skin reminded him of his nephew’s bloated body inside the freezer at the police station.

Even after shutting his fridge the smell was there. It’d been hanging around for days, like there was mortuary fluid on his shoes. Whenever he noticed that sickly blend of chemicals, Daniel couldn’t help but picture the photographs of Tony’s remains before they’d removed him from the river below the Kippen Bridge.

He turned to the sink and washed his hands again, but the mossy scent coming down the pipes from the tank didn’t help. What water did to a corpse — filling it with more death than it seemed to have room for — was the very worst thing he’d seen in twenty-five years of police work. The head, shoulders and most of the torso had been submerged, swelling the guts. The legs were broken and lying at awkward angles, entirely concealed by reeds and the thicket of poplars.

Daniel reached for his beer and flicked the radio on. Music he didn’t recognise unsettled him, but the news would come on in a few minutes. Word was already getting around town. He hoped no one had contacted the Kippen station with the worst of the stories. Tony would probably still be lying there if a jogger’s dog hadn’t sniffed him out. The park below the bridge was known for attracting lonely types, and his nephew certainly fit the bill. Every ten years or so, one of them jumped.

He reached into the bread bin. Only crusts left. Everything else was in the fridge, but Daniel wasn’t game to open that again. Nothing much in the cupboards. He wasn’t in the habit of going into Kippen just for shopping, not since he’d finished up at the police station. Anyhow, there were beers left from his retirement party on the back seat of his car.

As he pushed through the screen door onto the verandah, rabbits scurried off the last patch of lawn by the tap. A cloud of dust in the middle distance partly shrouded his brother inside his tractor cabin, heading for home. Beyond that, already out of the sun’s reach, Deloraine’s homestead blended into the dark furrows that would push up Bill’s cheeky early sorghum crop soon enough.

Daniel sucked at his drink and swirled each mouthful around his teeth before swallowing, testing whether it could somehow be right to head over there and hang around for something to eat. For more than twenty years, Doris had told him to come around for a meal whenever he needed. He had a whole unopened carton of beer to offer.

Sitting up in his cabin, Bill was a bloody wonder. He never let the farm go, even after the worst life threw at him. With the chance of frost right through to November it was dicey to plant so early, but Daniel knew why his brother did things that way. It was like they couldn’t lose no matter how much they gambled. Bill planted crops even if the conditions were all wrong. He loved feeling like a winner in spite of the weather reports, and there was no one out here to overlook your failures. It had been a huge risk, but he’d pulled the tough older brother act and forced Daniel into sowing sorghum on every square inch of Deloraine and The Mulgas, less than a month after little Gregory had died.

Daniel gnawed the inside of his cheek, remembering his own dead boy. The hard work of that huge crop had paid off richly for them, but it had been Daniel’s last full season of farming before he’d pulled the skittish younger brother act, sold the land and applied to become a cop. Harvesting his share of nearly five thousand acres in the solitude of his cabin while he’d sobbed for Gregory had done him in. All that was left of The Mulgas’ perfect cropping country was the home yard.

‘Thank Christ,’ he muttered as though someone was there. His colleagues were right. He’d started talking to himself. Former colleagues. Bill changed gears and the tractor disappeared behind the tall pine trees that obscured the machinery shed at Deloraine. As Daniel watched, he felt the air cool and noticed the gloom of his own house stretching over the field between the homesteads. The unmistakeable shadow of The Mulgas’ water tank steadily covered the dried grass, the gravel laneway and the bare fruit trees along the fence.

He shouldn’t go and bother his brother and sister-in-law. The Mulgas had him in its grasp, and staying in was better than witnessing poor old Bill having to go home to Doris. He’d be trying to disappear into the woodwork even more than usual, and she would be busy with funeral arrangements like it was a bloody dance at the town hall.

Daniel heaved a sigh, drowned it with another mouthful, and prepared to sit with the sorrow in the homestead that once rattled with a wife and kids. There was just one more thing to do before he’d put the lock on the top gate, fetch the beers in and call it a night.

He flung the door open, killed the radio, went for the phone and dialed the number he’d circled in the newspaper next to his son’s photograph. While he waited for the comedy act of Jamie’s message, still with that girlish tone, Daniel finished his beer.

‘You’ve reached James Brandt, journalist at the newspaper everyone loves to hate. I’m not available to take your call at the moment, but please leave me a message if you’ve got the scoop.’

Right off the beep, Daniel spoke.

‘Jamie,’ he said and burped. He wasn’t about to let his son imagine anything had changed. ‘It’s Dad. Look, I’ve been trying to catch you for a few days. It’s just that, well there’s no easy way to say it. There’s been a death in the family. Just call me, son. Funeral’s next week. There’s a couple of things to discuss, but you don’t need to be here.’

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Surface ripples: Tank Water cover reveal

THE COVER OF my debut novel Tank Water is ready to share with the world!

Created by Kim Lock, lead designer of MidnightSun Publishing since 2013, this cover stood out from the group of samples I was sent, and didn’t need much tweaking at all.

Life-giving water captured in tanks comes from rainfall, so the approaching storm in Kim’s design is apt, but it’s also prescient. Facing it is a young person, who could be any one of several characters.

The railway causeway says everything about the rural decrepitude of the novel’s country setting. The person on it is walking into the storm, whereas flocks of birds are escaping in the other direction.

Yet there is hope in the light at the horizon… and the neon-strong pink should flag to those who know me that this work is like just about everything I write: bursting with messages of equality.

Tank Water will be published in October 2021 and is available for pre-order on Booktopia and Amazon.

Pre-ordering assists a book’s launch because pre-ordered purchases are counted in a title’s first week of sales, the strength of which can generate positive buzz about a book… so if you feel like buying your copies ahead of Tank Water’s release, you’ll be helping us!

My novel will also be available in bookshops nationally. Stockists will be able to order it in for you, if you’d like to support your local.

Soon, I’ll be releasing dates on a year-long book tour, with dates in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and more!

See you out there on the road. Meanwhile, thanks Kim (an author in her own right with a new book out this month), you really ‘got’ my story!

The year of independent reading

Wonderful things happen when you open a bookshop. Ours started as a single set of shelves in one corner of the studio-gallery my husband and I created, The Makers Shed at Glen Innes in the NSW New England region. A year on, we’ve expanded, and we’re about to present our first literary award.

But it didn’t just happen by accident. Our resident High Country Book Club courageously joined us on a reading project with a purpose: to decide the best book in a year’s worth of independently-published reads.

When we started out, Richard and I found ourselves explaining a lot about indie books, but these days we barely mention that these titles have not been backed by a traditional publishing/marketing team. This is mainly because what readers want out of a book is the same thing no matter where it sprang from, and that’s a well-told story.

The club kicked off with a visit from London-based author Patsy Trench, who’d come to chat about her new non-fiction title A Country To Be Reckoned With.

This title is Patsy’s search for her great-great grandfather George Matcham Pitt, one of Australia’s earliest stock and station agents. The journey of discovery sheds an engaging new light on the European heritage of Australia.

We moved onto fiction for our next read. New Zealander Jenni Ogden’s acclaimed debut novel A Drop in the Ocean is set predominantly on an island in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It’s the story of an high-achieving American academic who hits rock bottom and decides to relocate to the other side of the world to work at a remote turtle sanctuary. It took me by surprise with its memorable castaways working out their lives on the edge of an ocean wilderness.

The ocean was a major theme of our next title, Nothing But Blue, by American author Diane Meyer Lowman.

The true story of her adventure while working on a German container ship as it sailed from New York to Australia and New Zealand in the late Seventies, this book bravely recreated the perspective of a 19-year-old thrust into several alien environments.

Nothing But Blue and A Drop in the Ocean were published by She Writes Press, one of the world’s biggest joint-venture publishing outfits assisting women to get their manuscripts published.

Australian author Kim Kelly paid us a visit in March to chat about her novel Lady Bird & The Fox and explained how creating the Indigenous protagonist of her book – Annie Bird – also encouraged her to courageously self-publish. After having her first few works published traditionally, Kim sensed her Gold Rush heroine might have languished while waiting for a publisher with enough courage in this #OwnVoices world.

The true story of a beloved dog who endured a spinal stroke was our next read. Nobody Told Me My Legs Don’t Work is a memoir with a difference by American writer Travis C. Yates.

A short but emotional ride, this publication sparked plenty of debate about animal rights and the ethics of domestic animal ownership.

Infants of the Brush by A. M. Watson is an historical fiction that recreates a real-life Eighteenth Century legal case and the gritty, challenging world of the boy chimney sweeps of London.

Amy kindly made us a video outlining the broad research she conducted which underpins the historical accuracy in her novel.

Euan Mitchell’s Feral Tracks brought us all back home with an Australian story about a teenager who leaves homes with a few dollars and some big issues to sort out on the road, as he hitchhikes across the country in search of purpose.

One of Australia’s most enduring self-published titles, this work was a confronting study of manhood in some tough Aussie environments.

English author William Blyghton provided plenty of contrast in his debut novel The House By The Marsh, which is also a study of manhood, but in a very different environment.

A story of grief late in life, this tale of human connection is set in several corners of evocative East Anglia, a county that we discovered was the birthplace of many novels, from works by Patricia Highsmith to Janet Frame.

We stayed in England for our read of Virginia Moffatt’s Echo Hall, a work of historical fiction set across multiple time periods in and around the same imposing home in another remote county of the United Kingdom.

With its ruminations on war and pacifism, Virginia’s intriguing, layered work explores the motivations of several families and their experiences of conflict, both domestic and between nations.

One of our country’s great marriage equality campaigners penned our next read, a very Australian read about human rights.

Shelley Argent’s memoir Just A Mum tells the story of her Brisbane upbringing and explores how this suburban wife and mother became an equality activist in the wake of one son’s coming out, and pushed this necessary social reform all the way to the gripping finale in Australia’s Parliament House.

We ended the year reading The Moor by English author Sam Haysom, a mystery story replete with characters facing enormous moral choices in and around a deceivingly simple wilderness walk.

Another intriguing debut novel, Sam’s book was created during 2015’s NaNoWriMo. (National Novel Writing Month), and published through Unbound. This crowdfunding publisher assists writers in bringing their ideas into life in book form, and is also the stable that Echo Hall sprang from.

All High Country Book Club titles are available for purchase from The Makers Shed, and can be posted to readers within Australia. Browse our online bookshop.

Congratulations to all the finalists in 2019… we’ve been thrilled, frightened, inspired, moved, angered, entertained and encouraged to keep reading by your engaging works of fiction and non-fiction.

Trophy handmade by Richard Moon.

The winner of the High Country Indie Book Award 2019 will be announced during the High Country Writers Festival on Saturday November 30, from 4 to 6pm at The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, NSW, Australia. All welcome!