Moonlight Express has already gone on sale in Gympie.
Moonlight Express has already gone on sale in Gympie. Contributed

A ghost train's travails

GYMPIE author Geoff Barlow's latest novel, inspired by the Valley Rattler steam train, will be launched at Gympie Library next month.

Geoff grew up in a Queensland country schoolhouse, where he spent his spare time reading adventure and mystery stories, and often writing his own.

Encouraged by his schoolteacher dad, he remembers using up a lot of exercise books during his years of primary education, mostly with tales of cliffhanger escapades set in exotic and distant locations.

In his new novel Moonlight Express, Geoff has now returned to more familiar surroundings, with a story of mystery and intrigue set among the rolling hills, rich farmlands and scrub-clad gullies of Queensland's rural south-east.

In 2003, after years of work in legal research and academic environments, Geoff moved with his family to Gympie, where he took up a position as a senior librarian and soon found creative inspiration in the Valley Rattler. The classic steam train seemed to evoke all the atmosphere of an Agatha Christie or John Buchan thriller novel, reminding Geoff of old stories he had heard in the Lockyer and Brisbane valleys, of train whistles heard in remote places, and headlights appearing along disused rail tracks.

The legend of the Moonlight Express suddenly needed telling, and the central character became a ghostly, coal-fired locomotive, running on long abandoned lines and picking up passengers - who never return.

Geoff was keen to write a rollicking yarn in the classic style, so he created his own amateur investigator, a young female lawyer with a bush background, who sets out with some local friends and an eccentric English professor to solve the mystery.

While there's plenty of action and excitement in Moonlight Express, the author explains, it's a thriller in The Hound of the Baskervilles tradition, without the reams of graphic violence and coarse language found in many of today's novels.

Since progressive Brisbane-based publisher Strictly Literary accepted the Moonlight Express manuscript, Geoff has been working on a sequel and prequel featuring the same characters. It's all very different to the work he has previously had published, which includes articles in academic law journals, book reviews in newspapers and occasional pieces in TV magazines.

During the '90s, Geoff also wrote a series of authorised novellas based on the classic Avengers television series, which were published by the show's worldwide fan club, but right now he's happy to write a lot more Queensland-based adventure fiction in his spare time.

Moonlight Express will be launched on Thursday, August 16 at 10.30am, when Geoff will talk about the background to the book and some of the research, places and ideas which inspired it.

The book is already on sale at Collins Booksellers at Centro Plaza, a range of outlets around the country, and on Amazon Kindle.

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