Today, L.J. LaBarthe is guest posting on my blog talking about the roaring 1920’s of Australia and uncovering the mystery in “Body on the Beach” from the “Under the Southern Cross” anthology for Dreamspinner Press.
L.J. LaBarthe Takes The Floor
My latest release is called “The Body on The Beach” and is set in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1920. It is a m/m romance murder mystery, and is part of the Australian anthology I put together for Dreamspinner Press. The authors involved in this project are Isabelle Rowan, Meredith Shayne, RJ Astruc, myself and newcomer Robyn Walker.
My story covers not only the murder mystery, but the subjects of immigration, the need for absolute discretion by the gay community, fan-tan games run illegally and opium dens. In 1920, Adelaide was as diverse a city as anywhere in Australia. My research has shown that people came from all over the world to start a new life here in this country, and Australia is a huge multicultural nation.
In “The Body on The Beach,” the main protagonist is Billy Liang, son of Chinese immigrants. He was born and raised in Australia, went to university and was elected by his countrymen to be their liaison and spokesperson for the police and local government. This role was traditional in Adelaide at the time; in 1888 until the early 1900s, the spokesman was Chinese businessman Mr. Way Lee.
Billy’s love interest is an Australian man named Tom, who is also Billy’s family lawyer. The two of them live in Billy’s house, and hide their relationship from the outside world. The only people who know about it are Jian, Billy’s butler and assistant, Bessie, the maid and Hui Zhong, Billy’s wife. Many Chinese men married women in order to continue the family line while having lovers of both sexes, this was a tradition, which is shown in China’s history.
The murder itself is based loosely on an unsolved murder from the 1950s in Adelaide, one that has fascinated me for ages. It’s called the Taman Shud case or the Mystery of the Somerton Man. (More information for those interested is here: http://www.policejournalsa.org.au/0004/16a.html)
The history of Adelaide in the twenties fascinates me, particularly as I’m the child of immigrants myself. It was not all doom and gloom—a newspaper article from 24th February, 1912 talks about a celebration for Chinese Day, when the Chinese businesses closed and there would be fireworks and in the evening, a banquet dinner with toasts being celebrated.
Chinese immigrants—and those from Italy, Greece, Romania, Russia, and all over the world—worked hard and contributed to society. The Adelaide Markets, once situated in the east part of the city center, are now on the south side, and still run as they did when they were established by market gardeners who sold their produce there. Those market gardeners were Chinese, Greek and Italian immigrants and the legacy of their market gardens continues today.
Despite the illegal fan-tan games, which ran for years, despite numerous arrests, and the sale of opium, which was illegal and also resulted in numerous arrests, the Chinese community prospered and became as vital a part of the Australian multicultural landscape as any citizen of the country. This is something I touch on in my story as well, the games and the opium were a constant thorn in the side of the police and the businessmen and the spokesperson for the Chinese.
Finally, I want to share some of the amazing photographs from the era, all are public domain and from the State Library of South Australia.
Brighton beach in 1920. This is how the beach where the murder and part of the investigations in “The Body on The Beach” looked during the story.
From 1907, a display of goods from Chinese market gardeners in the East End Markets.
Group photograph of the members of the Kuo Min Tang in Adelaide, 1920.
L. J. LaBarthe can be found in the following places:
“The Body on The Beach” is the latest release from L. J. LaBarthe. It’s a m/m romance and murder mystery, set in Adelaide in 1920. It is part of the “Under the Southern Cross” anthology put together by L. J., which features work from Isabelle Rowan, Meredith Shayne, RJ Astruc, L. J. LaBarthe and newcomer Robyn Walker. The anthology is five Australian m/m stories by five Australian authors and is out with Dreamspinner Press in March/April. Stay tuned to http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=116 for more information.
Ten Facts With L.J. LaBarthe
And now for something completely different. L.J. was kind enough to sit down and offer ten fast facts about her.
1) Complete this sentence: When all the little girls wanted to be princesses, I wanted to be _____________________.
A vet. Or a racehorse jockey. I grew too tall to be a jockey, so I settled for being a vet. And then I discovered how lousy I am at science. So I became neither vet nor jockey.
2) The first R-rated (over 18 – Not X rated) you had ever seen in the theater was? And what was your reaction?
“A Clockwork Orange.” And if I remember rightly, I thought the following. “These seats are bloody uncomfortable. I have short leggies, I can’t reach the floor. OMG this film is looooooong.” Upon reflection, I think this film may actually be the source of my phobia of things happening to my eyes.
3) Favorite cartoon character and why?
Atom Ant. There is no why.
4) What’s the one song on the radio (or your playlist) that no matter what you’re doing, when it starts, you stop what you’re doing and get choked up?
God, I have a lump of coal for a heart, because there isn’t one. There are songs I love, and songs I hate, and songs that make me want to smash the stereo because of my loathing, but nothing that chokes me up.
5) I’m coming over to your place for dinner. What do you cook for me? What is it?
Probably my chicken fettuccine. Which is fettuccine with a tomato and cream sauce with chicken, mushrooms, garlic, chili and basil.
6) Vegemite? Really? What are you people thinking?
Really. We were thinking that Marmite is a travesty upon all breakfast spreads and thus, a spread made from brewer’s yeast is far superior.
7) Where would I go to get an awesome cup of coffee in Australia besides Starbucks? Do you even have Starbucks down there? Do you have any Australia-only flavors you can share?
Australia has a huge café culture, so you could go pretty much anywhere—there are Italian cafes all over the place who make amazing coffee. Most cafes here aren’t part of chains like Starbucks—we do have them, but you’re more likely to get a fucking awesome coffee from one of the many cafes around the place. If you were in Adelaide, I’d take you to Cocolat for coffee. And amazing cake. Or The Chocolate Tree or Bracegirdles.
The coffee chains we have are Gloria Jeans, Hudson’s, Cibo (which, in my opinion, is ridiculously expensive for pretty average coffee, cake and food.), Michel’s Patisserie and Billy Baxter’s to name a few. The best café that we used to hang out at all the time was San Marco, in the city, on the corner of East Terrace and Rundle Street. It’s not there, anymore, which is sadness, as not only did Marco do the BEST cappuccinos in town, their focaccias were amazing and their pastas and pizzas were delicious.
8) What is the thing all the tourists do but the locals wouldn’t be caught dead doing?
Cuddling a koala. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get the stink of koala piss out of your clothes?
9) Do you have any pets? What are they and what are their names? Are they your furbabies?
I do! I have a six year old black and white cat named Castiel. He is indeed my furbaby, though he alternates between being adorable and a little shit. Here is a photo!
10) What is the most bizarre local fair you have? (We have The Mullet Festival which celebrates the hairstyle and the mullet fish. We also have bathtub rowing races. Yeah. People take a tub, put it in the ocean, and try to row to shore without it sinking. I don’t know either.)
The Tunarama. Okay, there are loads of weird and hilarious festivals, but the Tunarama was the one that sprang first to mind.
The Tunarama celebrates… tuna. Yes. There is a tuna throwing competition, where people allegedly from all over the world take turns to toss a bloody huge tuna, as part of “The World Championship Tuna Toss.” The person who throws it the farthest distance wins $3000 and a chance at being the world champion tuna thrower. I don’t know, either.
It’s held in the town of Port Lincoln, and began in 1962. It’s a festival with parades, food, wine, tuna, tuna throwing, fireworks and a dance with a thing called ‘steakorama’ which the website tells me involves eating a lot of steak, drinking a lot of beer and listening to a lot of music.
I don’t know why they call it ‘steakorama,’ to me, that seems like every weekend in Australia.
Anyway, if you or your readers are curious, here is the official Tunarama website, where you can learn all you ever wanted to know about tuna and the throwing thereof. http://www.tunarama.net/