What inspired Facing the Flame?
I come from a generation where men fought bushfires, even men like my dad, who lived in suburbs near the bush. One of my earliest memories is of smoke-filled air and the knowledge that Dad was up in the Blue Mountains 'facing the flame'.
People must wonder 'why do you live like that?', instead of in a suburb where water always gushes out when you turn on a tap and the firefighting is done by strangers. But the bush is too much part of me to leave it. Drought and bushfire frighten me, but facing them means being part of the most profound realities and challenges of life.
How did you research for the book?
I lived it. This book is set in 1978, and the bushfires in it are based on two local fires I fought early that year. One was to save a friends' house, and we used the techniques Flinty McAlpine does in the book, as well as McLeod tools and the green wattle branches, so absorbed in defeating the fire that we didn't realise it was midnight until the fire front was conquered and we found ourselves many kilometres from the firetruck, with no torches. We found our way back by the flares of still-burning bark, the moon and stars hidden by smoke. Incidents from other fires have been added, including the Canberra and Deua fires of 2003, when the air was soot black, and even torchlight couldn't penetrate the ash, and the sky burned red and orange flames above us.
Do you base your characters on anyone in particular?
Yes, both heroes and villains. Some, like the blind Lu Borgino of the book, who can find her way through the smoke when those with sight are suddenly helpless, are inspired by close friends, although it is probably best to not give too much away!
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? How do you get around it?
Writer's block comes when you haven't thought enough about the world you are creating.
Cure: trash what you've done. Go for a walk; think. Have a cup of coffee; think. Put on the music that moves you most, and keep thinking. Then sit down and write, and don't give yourself a piece of chocolate till you have written 1,000 words.
Who are your favourite Australian authors?
I was brought up on Mary Grant Bruce, Judith Wright, and Oodgeroo of the Noonuccal. At seven years old I was corrupted by The Magic Pudding and decided I was going to live in a tree in a market garden with all the fruit and vegetables I wanted to eat. Dad introduced me to Thomas Keneally's work when I was 10. I discovered Manning Clark, Geoffrey Blainey and Patrick White myself: books with razor clarity of phrase and insight. Kerry Greenwood is my 'emergency author'. In case of flu, surgery or tragedy, grab one of her books to see you through.
What sparked your interest in becoming an author?
I wanted to write books since I was three and discovered they were created by humans, not plucked from trees like mangoes. At six I learned that when you write a book you can create exactly the universe you want to roam in, where good and evil get exactly the fate you think they need. There is nothing like the sense of power in creating a world that readers will want to get lost in, and will never quite return.
Has your dyslexia helped shape the way you write?
'Dyslexia' is just a useful word to cover all the many, many reasons why someone who has no other intellectual problems finds reading and writing hard. I'm not very good with traffic signs either (please don't tell the RTA). I get lost in car parks, can't spell or even realise when I have misspelled a word I do know.
But the same 'fault' in my brain's wiring also means I speed read, and absorb, analyse and collate data like a human computer. And I never forget anything – which is not the same as remembering everything, because I may not have been paying attention at the time.
There's a myth that dyslexics are dumb. We're not. We just need to be taught more efficiently.
Facing the Flame plot
Heartbreaking and powerful, Facing the Flame is a story of the triumph of courage and community, and a love for the land so deep that not even bushfire can erode it. Set in 1978, the book follows the storyline of Lu Borgino, who has been recently blinded, Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara, a promising young medical school student, and Jed Kelly, who must now revisit a menacing horror from her past.
The book is the perfect read for anyone who loves immersing themselves in Australian fiction. Gripping, emotional and moving, Facing the Flame is a great book to curl up with on a warm spring night.