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Interview

Alli Sinclair p2

Author Alli Sinclair talks about researching her novel Burning Fields…

Alli Sinclair spent eight years in Argentina in Mendoza where she worked as a mountain guide, then Peru, Canada then Australia. She said that after this “I was ready to come home.”
But her travel stays with her. She said that when writing novels, she’d first write an outline in Spanish. She said she switched off the English language part of her brain. She’d write it by hand and it would be about ten A4 pages. Then she read the outline before she started the novel. Then she’d put the outline away. If she was half way through the writing, then she might pull out the outline and read it again.
Her first three books explored her love of dance and its role in other cultures. Her first book was Luna Tango, and was set in Argentina. She had been living there and found there was a culture and history to the tango. Under the Spanish Stars was about flamenco. Her novella, Beneath the Parisian Skies, was about the Russian ballet in Paris in 1917.
She liked it when people told her that her novels were well researched. “I much prefer to do research than write sometimes,” she said.
Ms Sinclair comes up with a story idea, then she does the research, then she makes notes and keeps going on the draft, then does more specific research.
She researched a lot about wartime Australia and the role of women in the war effort, mainly as background for her character Rosie Stanton, who served in the Australian Women’s Army Service, in Brisbane.
Rosie Stanton experiences more freedom and responsibility in Brisbane during the war; it’s a rewarding time, except for an unpleasant experience due to her boss. But when she returns home to North Queensland, things are the same as before the war. She complains about the limited roles available to women. And there are some serious flaws in some of the men there, too.
Ms Sinclair said post-WW2 Queensland was “a difficult time; a transitional time… Just on the cusp of change but not there yet.”
Ms Sinclair also researched cane farming. “Part of my research is the landscape.” She contacted farmers through a cane growers association. “I could be on the phone for three hours. Some of the most amazing stories I’ve been able to incorporate into Burning Fields.”
She also learned about things like how the sugar can was burned to scare off foxes and snakes. She learned how sugar evaporates in the cane so it needs to get to the mill very quickly after it was burnt. “As an author this kind of stuff blows my mind,” but she said she couldn’t put it all in the book.
She also contacted an expert on Italian immigration, who told her about how Italian communities were very close knit in Northern Queensland.
She had a big sheet of all her contacts. “I’ve never had an expert I’ve approached that’s said no.”

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