I’m very pleased to have Alison Booth talking about her latest book, A Distant Land, today. I discovered Alison’s writing quite by accident about a year ago – I was at the local library looking for some books for my Mother-in-law to read, when I came across a battered, dog eared copy of Stillwater Creek. I always find well-worn copies of books are a bit like pages of a recipe book which has splatters of food over them – you know it’s a favourite meal or good read. Then I read the back of it. That day, the book came home with me, not to my Mother-in-law! (Although I did let her read it later!)
These books now grace my shelves – Alison’s writing will stay with you, long after you have closed the cover.
Many thanks, Fleur, for the invitation to talk about my new novel, A Distant Land, and to chat to your readers.
A Distant Land, part thriller and part love story, is set in 1971 towards the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. One of the joys of writing a novel set in the past is that it gives you an excuse to delve into history and I’ve had a wonderful time doing this.
At the start of the novel, Jim Cadwallader – a respected correspondent and lawyer – is covering the Vietnam War as it spills over into Cambodia. However he plans to return home to Australia for good, for there’s something important he wants to tell his childhood friend Zidra Vincent.
Zidra has defied gender stereotypes of that time to become a journalist, working for the Sydney Morning Chronicle and covering the moratorium marches. Her Aboriginal friend Lorna Hunter is a university student in Sydney, under the scrutiny of the security intelligence organization, ASIO. It is when Zidra spots a man she has never seen before with an expensive camera photographing Lorna during an anti-war demonstration that she begins to unravel the story that will make her journalistic career.
There’s been a huge amount written about the Vietnam War, but there hasn’t been all that much Australian fiction in this context. If you search on Trove at the National Library website you’ll see this. I’ve always been fascinated by this war. It involved conscription, which affected consecutive birth cohorts of Australia’s young men – and their families – over the period 1964 to 1972. Some of you may have a friend or relative who was involved in this war – perhaps in the army, or called up (or not) in a birthday ballot, or maybe one of the many who demonstrated against the war towards its end.
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 Australia’s forces withdrew in 1972, the war represented the longest major conflict in which our country had participated.
Much of the novel’s action is based in Sydney and the coastal town of Jingera – that fictional village halfway between Sydney and Melbourne. In the book there’s also a section set in Cambodia, where Jim is reporting on the war. There he witnesses first-hand the creation of a power vacuum that the Khmer Rouge was later to fill.
If you would like to read more about the background to the novel, there is a link to some interviews and other material on my website: http://www.alisonbooth.net/interviews
You will have already guessed that The Distant Land of the title is Indochina. This book is the third – and final! – novel in the Jingera Trilogy. Some of you may have read the first two books, Stillwater Creek and The Indigo Sky. If so, you will know that the main characters Zidra, Jim and Lorna grew up in or near Jingera. It’s the place that is a sanctuary to each of them. It’s the place that they still view as home.
One of the peculiarities of the way I write is that the last few scenes of each novel always present themselves to me first, as visual images. Then I work out how to get there. These scenes for the trilogy have invariably involved Jingera and its environs. Several reviewers have suggested that the Jingera countryside is like an extra character in the books. This is probably because a variant of this place is in my past too! It is a landscape that is a part of me – and perhaps many of you too feel a part of similar landscapes in this beautiful country of ours.
But you don’t need to have read the first two books of the Jingera trilogy before reading A Distant Land. It’s pretty much self-contained, and I do hope you enjoy it.