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Rhiza Press blog is the place to keep up to date with all the goings-on in the world of Australian books for Adult and Young Adult readers.
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The Story Behind Out of the Cages

2018 view from the walk By Penny Jaye, Author of Out of the Cages

I remember exactly where I was when the story for Out of the Cages caught my attention.

I was living in Nepal. My husband worked for an international health and development organisation and our family was based in Pokhara. That day I had been drinking tea – hot, spiced and sweet – in my Nepali friend’s house and she was sharing a small photo album with me. Most of the people in her photos I recognised, younger versions of my friend’s family; her parents, her neighbours, her children so tiny and cute. But there was one young woman pictured that I didn’t recognise, so I asked my friend about her. My Nepali language wasn’t perfect then, but I understood enough to know that this girl was no longer around. She’d gone to the river to wash clothes and she’d never returned. The family had no answers, she’d just disappeared. 2018 walking in the fields

Nepal is a beautiful country. Beautiful in scenery and in its people. But like every country, it holds heartbreak and one of these is the experience of those who have been trafficked. Every year thousands of people – women, men and children – are trafficked across the border. They are sold into slavery in India, in China, Thailand, Dubai, some even make it to Australia and are caught up in domestic service, visa-less, illegal and trapped. A significant proportion of those trafficked from Nepal, especially the young girls and women – prized for their fair complexions, find themselves sold into the brothels of India. The girl in my friend’s photograph may not have been trafficked. She may have been swept away by the river, or just decided not to come home. No one knows. But the questions in her story were the stimulus for this story. 

I began researching and writing Out of the Cages while we were still living in Nepal. As I read local newspaper articles, met with trafficking survivors and visited rehabilitation homes, I learned more about the stories of these young girls who disappear. There have been other books written about this topic – Sold by Patricia McKormick is one, Rosanne Hawke’s Mountain Wolf another. But I wanted to tell the story of the return. Of those girls who have been trafficked, sold, broken and used, but somehow escape. What does freedom feel like if you’ve forgotten how to feel? Can hope be grown again when you’ve been taught Nepal2it doesn’t exist? And friendship – what happens to friendship when the truth about the past is hard to unravel?

Writing Out of the Cages was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It stretched me from my comfort zone both as a writer and as a person. There are some parts of this story I hated writing. And yet I knew I had to write it: to honour those who have survived, those who fight day in and day out for freedom. And for those who remain trapped, unseen and unheard, this book is my prayer. That one day we will see a world that won’t accept slavery as common place, and those who have been captives will be finally set free.

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Finding the Australian Outback

0 Oodnadatta track HawkeBy Rosanne Hawke, Author of Finding Kerra

The seed idea behind Finding Kerra sprang from my childhood, growing up in the semi-outback of central Queensland. My father was a grazier and we lived about ten kilometres from a hot, little town called Banana, where I attended a one-teacher school. I rode to school on a converted cattle truck and it took an hour to pick up all the kids from the neighbouring properties. I was the first one on in the morning, and fortunately, the first one off in the afternoon.

Some of the events in Finding Kerra happened in my childhood: drawing on a windmill platform (I never told my mum, of course), riding horses (didn’t tell Mum that I fell off), a haystack fire in winter, helping with a muster, nearly drowning in a dam. But the setting for Finding Kerra came from my love for the Australian Outback that has increased ever since I rode the Ghan (and a bus) through the desert to Darwin when I was fifteen.0 camel cup2 Hawke

Some years ago, my husband and I took a road trip up past Port Augusta, Beltana, Farina and Marree. We even went to the Camel Cup at Maree to watch camels race and stayed at a station for a few nights. Since then we have travelled up that way again and further north up the Oodnadatta and Strzelecki tracks, Coober Pedy, Uluru and the Alice. More northern treks are planned. Maybe more stories will appear too.

One of my favourite memories of the outback as an author is speaking on School of the Air. I was talking about Mustara and Ernest Giles’ trek to Perth. Students replied interactively that0 Dog Fence Hawkethey had ridden camels and one boy had seen Ernest Giles’ tree where he left a saddle. I was moved that these kids who couldn’t play with each other still had a school community online.

I love the space and atmosphere of the outback. I like to be able to see the horizon and the further away the better. What some call ‘empty spaces’ I think are places full of the magnificence of creation; at Uluru I felt the awe of sitting in a natural cathedral. When I lived in Pakistan, it was this space and huge sky that I missed. Now I live in rural SA. People here still drive utes and lift a finger in greeting as they pass, and the outback is only a day away. Finding Kerra is my attempt at catching a small part of the Australian outback for those who can’t make the trek and for those who will be inspired to go.

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Catriona McKeown on 'Writing Skeletons'

CatrionaMcKeownI have skeletons in my closet. Do you?

They’re not particularly nice ones. Springing to mind are words like 'anxiety', 'addiction', 'anger', 'depression', 'regret', 'lack of forgiveness', 'financial destruction', 'infatuation', 'fear'. I guess no skeleton is nice, no matter how big the closet is; I mean, they are all about death, decay and an acute lack of life, after all.

But before you roll your eyes and move on to the next story, these clichéd skeletons I’m talking about are skeletons within my world. They are worse than any of the other skeletons you’ve heard about before. They come with a story, every one of them. They’re real stories of real devastation, of real experiences, of real people. You know, there’s that one about—oh but hang on, you don’t know.

You don’t know because they’re my skeletons, in my closet. You’ll only know about them if I crack the door open. If I invite you into my closet to sit for a bit, to look around, to see the hurt and feel the pain, then you’ll know. You’ll know some of the story and understand why they’re my skeletons, and why I’ve been hiding them.

They say to write what you know.

So, should I crack the door open to my closet and let people in, just for a moment?

They say writing is therapeutic.

So, should I write the skeleton down and allow the healing to come to us both?

They say writing gives life.

So, if I write it, will it live again in my mind and in yours?

And so, I write.

 

You can follow along on Catriona’s writing journey through her website, on Facebook, Twitter and even on Pinterest. Her debut novel, The Boy in the Hoodie, comes out 1 November, 2017. 

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A Chat with C T Wells, author of The Kingdom of the Air

WellssmallRHIZA PRESS: Tell us about the your name, C.T. Wells - real name or pen name?

WELLS: Well, yes, it’s real. They’re my middle initials. My first name is Peter, and I get called ‘Pete’  but there are too many Peter Wells out there ranging from dead rock stars to writers of economics textbooks, so I had to go with something else. Initials seemed to work for the likes of Tolkien, Lewis and Rowling, so I thought I’d try that. Oh, and Herbert George Wells went with initials too.

RHIZA PRESS: No relation?

WELLS: Not that I know of.

RHIZA PRESS: So tells us about the new novel, The Kingdom of the Air...

WELLS: It’s a historical thriller, set in 1940 during the Battle of Britain. It centres on a young Luftwaffe pilot called Josef Schafer, who is shot down over England. He is captured, but then he’s sent back to occupied France with a specific job to do for the Special Operations Executive.

RHIZA PRESS: So given that he’s a German, why does he help the British?

WELLS: I can’t tell you that. Its classified. Readers will see how they apply some leverage...

RHIZA PRESS: Aviation plays a large part in the novel. Would you call it a techno-thriller?

WELLS: Maybe a “retro-techno-thriller”, if there’s such a thing. I don’t understand modern technology enough to write a contemporary techno-thriller.

RHIZA PRESS: So did you have to do a lot of research to set the story in 1940?

WELLS: Yes. I usually write with another screen open to check my facts as I go. I don’t want to be a slave to historical accuracy, but it is important to try to be true to time and place. Anachronisms and historical errors can really derail a story.

RHIZA PRESS: But details give a ring of authenticity to the story, right?

WELLS: Sure. I like to know things like the brand of a cigarette or the calibre of a pistol. Or whether wildflowers grow in Normandy...

RHIZA PRESS: What drew you to that era?

WELLS: When we read a novel of this sort, it’s essentially so we can escape from our ordinary life. I find there’s something compelling about the thirties and forties. Close enough to be relatable, but far enough to be escapist. Everything from the styles of that period to the overwhelmingly high stakes of the second world war is engaging for me. Of course, there are some cool planes to write about too!

RHIZA PRESS: The Kingdom of the Air is set against a backdrop of war and espionage in a time of fear and violence. Would you say it is a dark story?

WELLS: It’s certainly set in a grim time of history, and it tries to be real about that,  but it also explores how character can prevail under those circumstances. I think there is a redemptive element to it. It’s essentially an action story, but hopefully readers find some head and heart in there as well.

RHIZA PRESS: You said “heart”... does that mean romance?

WELLS: Yes, but it’s tough for relationships to develop when you’re on opposite sides of a war.

RHIZA PRESS:  The Kingdom of the Air has won some awards – The Caleb Award and The Clive Cussler Adventure Writer’s Competition. Does this make it literary fiction?

WELLS: It’s not necessarily setting out to be something like that. I hope it’s a smart thriller. A gripping story, but maybe there’s something to think about as well.

RHIZA PRESS: And the title, The Kingdom of the Air, is that a reference to The Battle of Britain?

WELLS: Yes, but it’s also a phrase from the Book of Ephesians in The Bible. It alludes to the death and rebirth theme in the story.

RHIZA PRESS: Speaking of death and rebirth, is it true that you nearly died during the publication of the novel?

WELLS: Yes, it is true. I was in Jakarta and on my way to Las Vegas for the Adventure Writers’ Competition Awards and my taxi got hit by an out-of-control  dump truck. My son and I were in a bad way with internal injuries. We had emergency surgery, followed by several weeks in hospital. But we’ve pulled through OK. We’re very thankful to be alive, but it was a very close call.

RHIZA PRESS: Well, we’re all pleased that you’re still here. This is the first novel you’ve published. When did you start and how did you write it while working full time?

WELLS: It took nearly five years from inception to publication. But even if you’re time-poor, you can still produce a thousand words a week. If you do that for two years, you’ve got a full length manuscript. The thing is, you have to keep believing in the story over that period of time. Even Stephen King says he has to write fast to outrun self-doubt.

RHIZA PRESS: Well the story seems to be gathering plenty of interest now. And what’s next for you? Anything else in the works?

WELLS: I’m half way through the sequel now.

RHIZA PRESS: Thanks for sharing with us and all the best for The Kingdom of the Air.

 

The Kingdom of the Air comes out 1 April. 

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