Researching Your Own Nightmares…in the Dark

Who’d be crazy enough to go out and search for their worst nightmares? This is where I hesitantly raise my hand. Worse, I’ve been doing it for almost twenty years.

Sanity may not be my strong point. I do have good reason for it, though – at least, the researching-my-nightmares part.

Since I was 12, I’ve been writing down my recurring nightmares until they became the inspiration behind Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer and Necessary Evil of Nathan Miller, the first two books in my Nightmares Trilogy. I don’t think I’m giving too big a spoiler when I say that Caitlin was kidnapped and held captive in a forgotten World War II bunker on the West Australian coast, as you find out about her kidnapping in the first chapter of Nightmares.

In an effort to refresh my memory and photograph some of these underground relics, I’ve been doing some digging – both online and in the field.

I’ve heard of some authors who write books about places they’ve never been. Now, when it’s a fantasy world or another planet, that’s fair enough – but for a contemporary story, set in a very real place? I’d say an author needs to know their characters’ world as well as Tolkien did his. Perhaps not to the extent of creating entirely new languages and styles of writing, along with a verbal history stretching back thousands of years; nor does all of that information have to be included in the book, but it must be in the author’s head or, failing that, in the author’s copious research notes.

I am a researcher. I scope out the terrain thoroughly before sending my characters in. They’re valuable people. If there’s a snake in the woodpile, I know it’s there, even if my Irish/New Zealander hero doesn’t. That means my writing process is punctuated by bouts of research, including field trips with a camera (or three, like yesterday) in hand.

If my gun jams while I’m pistol shooting, a character who uses that weapon will have the same problem. The coral shingle under a fisherman’s feet will tinkle like broken glass, the same as it did for me. And that first sip of barrel-strength, single malt whisky will burn my heroine’s throat beyond belief, as she’s less prepared for it than I was. Like me, she did develop a taste for whisky, though.

Enough of my “why” – time for a little of the “what” I found in this bout of research.

Caitlin’s underground bunker.

There are a surprisingly large number of underground bunkers and tunnels in Australia, which date back to World War II. I’m very lucky, as Peter Dunn has already done a lot of research into this, some of which is documented at his Australia at War website.

When it comes to photographs, though, in most cases I’m on my own.

So far, I’ve visited the tunnels at Rottnest Island and Leighton Battery in Western Australia – both fairly dark and bleak, though well-restored. Both of these are open to the public for tours and I’ll give you a little more detail on these over the coming weeks as my research progresses. I will give you a taste, though – here are some photos of Leighton Battery today:

Six-Inch Gun, Leighton Battery

Six-Inch Gun, Leighton Battery

Bunker at Leighton Battery

Bunker at Leighton Battery










Next up, I believe I’ll be lacing up my steel-capped boots and braving the snakes at Cape Peron, before chasing the more elusive bunkers at Busselton and Albany.

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