South Coast comes to life in Katoomba author Trevor Shearston's new novel, The Beach Caves

Whenever Trevor Shearston walked into his writer's shed in Katoomba last year, he was transported to the New South Wales south coast.

The hidden nooks of the coastline near Batemans Bay is the setting for the acclaimed author's latest novel, The Beach Caves, about an archaeological dig in the early 1970s that ends in a police investigation and upends the lives of all the people involved.

While the novel came to life in Shearston's Katoomba shed, the memories that helped shape it go right back to his childhood.

The Shearston family - mum and dad and three kids - would leave their Beverly Hills home in Sydney for the long car trip down the coast during the Christmas school holidays.

"It was a major expedition back in those days. It was an all-day trip and the road at the end of it was a nightmare," he said.

Although they stayed in cabins with "with no facilities, no power, no anything", Shearston said "it was just a magic place".

"It's one of my spiritual homes. I love the place and have been back there so many times I can't remember."

As an adult, Shearston lived in Moruya on the south coast for nine years - "so I know the south coast really well".


The swampy highlands of Papua New Guinea can also claim credit for helping inspire The Beach Caves. Shearston worked there as a teacher in 1973-74 when archaeologists near Kuk Swamp found evidence of early agricultural drainage systems. Shearston knew the Australian National University experts working on the site and visited the dig with his schoolchildren.

"All those threads come together in my head [when I'm working on the novel]," he said.

With an isolated setting and a small cast of characters, tension is ramped up in The Beach Caves when professional and marital rivalries come into play as the dig's significance grows.

Author Joan London described the novel as "an archaeological thriller that has a real sense of lived experience. Written with beautiful exactitude by a natural writer."

While he might be a "natural", that doesn't mean the process always comes easily for the Katoomba author. He started a draft of The Beach Caves 10 years ago, "which didn't work".

"The beginning 30,000 words just went," he said.

In the meantime he wrote and published his last novel, Hare's Fur, about a Katoomba potter and his unexpected connection with three runaway children.

When he returned to The Beach Caves, the writing started to flow.

"I was less emotionally involved in it and was able to come at it with a much more dispassionate eye."

The one constant in all his writing is the small shed next to his Katoomba home.

"That's where all the work gets done, in that funny little space," he said.

"It's a practised habit of shutting out the world when you walk through the little door of your office. You are now in the world of The Beach Caves and the argument you were just having with your son, or the fact the bower birds have just ripped out all your lettuces, vanishes to the back of your head and you are completely immersed in this new world."