Alison Booth has completed her Jingera trilogy which started with the memorable Stillwater Creek. She joined me to answer Five Quick Questions . Do click on the links to learn more about Alison and her work.
1. A Distant Land is set in 1971 towards the end of Australias involvement in the Vietnam War. Did you choose one particular battle or event or place your narrative within a broader context?
Theres been a huge amount written about the Vietnam War. But there hasnt been all that much Australian fiction in this context, as a search on Trove at the National Library reveals. My new novel, A Distant Land, is part thriller and part love story. Its also about ambition and friendship, and its placed within the broader context of the Vietnam War. The distant land of the books title is Indochina. Inevitably the conflict of the Vietnam War spilled over into adjacent countries like Cambodia and Laos. While much of the novels action is based in Sydney and the coastal town of Jingera, theres also a section set in Cambodia, where one of the main characters Jim Cadwallader – is reporting on the war. There he witnesses first-hand the creation of a vacuum that the Khmer Rouge was later to fill. Because the novel is set in 1971, I had to research various issues around that war. Issues that saw Australians become increasingly divided. Should the country be at war at all? Should there be military conscription? Did people have the right to take to the streets and protest in the moratorium marches? And just how far was the security intelligence organization, ASIO, prepared to go to silence the protesters?
I talk a bit about the novel on youtube
2. What was the most difficult aspect of writing a work of fiction cemented in historical fact?
The historical research was very time-consuming, but I love reading history so this makes the research a pleasure. Of course I worry that Ive got the background facts right, so I also have to do a lot of checking after the initial drafts are finished. Stillwater Creek was set in the late 1950s, The Indigo Sky in the early 1960s, and A Distant Land around a decade later. So it was a challenge making sure that there was consistency across the books, as well as within each one. I would say that this was definitely the most difficult aspect!
3. The Vietnam War is sometimes termed the forgotten war. What made you decide to base a novel around it?
In part it was because the time period fitted in with the development of the characters Zidra, Lorna and Jim. They are adults by the start of A Distant Land, and therefore influenced by what was happening in Australia at the time. In addition Ive always been fascinated by this war. It involved conscription, which affected consecutive birth cohorts of Australias young men – and their families. The Vietnam War was also a very long conflict: active Australian engagement in Vietnam was to last a decade. By the time the last of Australias forces withdrew in 1972, the war represented the longest major conflict in which our country had participated.
4. A Distant Land is the final volume of the Jingera trilogy. How difficult will it be for you to let go of your characters, particularly the engaging Zidra?
Very difficult! Having lived with them for seven and a half years, Im reluctantly letting them go like a parent seeing her children leave home. However its time for them and me – to move on. To avoid empty nest syndrome, Ive begun working on a different project set earlier in Australias history. Ive had this in mind for a long time. Indeed, for the past decade Ive been sporadically reading the historical material relating to this period. And the main characters have now arrived and unpacked, and are starting to reveal their personalities.
5. Will you be touring this year to promote A Distant Land?
Yes, from late June. I love meeting readers. As events are organized, they will be posted on the Random House Australia website.