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Episode 11

The ABL Podcast is officially a teenager, and what a fantastic episode to usher our way into double digits! Join hosts Veronica and Darren for a whole stack of industry news, book reviews, and an amazing, thought provoking interview with Historical Fiction author G.S. Johnston who gives us insights into the art of bringing the past to life. There's also discussions about the importance of history as a tool to help understand ourselves in the present, as well as some great quotes to leave your world a little more magical!


What inspired you to write/this book/these books?

For many years, I’d known of the internment of Italian men into concentration camps during WWII.  Over a very long period of time, I kept hearing more stories of this.  One evening my next-door neighbour gave me a folder of documents from the National Archive which detailed the internment of her Italian parents.  They had been living in Australia for over twenty years and when Italy entered the war, her father was interned solely because he was a man.  There were no accusations against him.  But the interesting thing was that about 18 months later, her mother was arrested on charges.  This was interesting for two reasons; people had “dobbed” her in for involvement with local fascist groups.  But also as she was female – not many women were interned.  So it all got me thinking.

Is there anything specifically Australian about your book/books?

Most of my novels have been set in Europe so Sweet Bitter Cane, set in Far North Queensland, is a bit of an anomaly.  I think it’s an important story as most people are horrified to know of the internments, but also that there were concentration camps in Australia, detaining many people, both from Australia, and people transported here from Europe as prisoners of war.

What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

The fact people have taken time to read and review my work is compliment enough.  But in one review on Goodreads a person said she was shocked to find I was male – I took this as a compliment.

As a writer, are you a plotter or a pantser or somewhere in between?

For me it has to be somewhere in between.  I try to kick off with a good idea of where I want to go with the plot, at least the major turning points.  I then plot out what will happen within each quarter, otherwise I waste a lot of time and words.  But it has to have room to move and for things to develop, especially the finer details of character and the story.  The manuscript I’ve just finished gave me a lot of problems in the last quarter.  It took over a year of writing and rewriting different things to finally return to my original idea.  So in this case I planned, abandoned that to “pants” and then went back to the original idea in the plan.  Anyhoo – it has to be organic.

How much research is involved in your writing?

As I write mainly historical fiction, there is an endless amount of research.  I usually try and get the big issues of the period in place first, especially those historical events that brought on the story.  I then start to write, ignoring the smaller details, just trying to get a cohesive plot.  Then I start the next round of research to find the details of life.  With Sweet Bitter Cane, I spent months trying to find out what food would have been available and if Italian people had started to make their own food or had just got used to the local foods.  I read the local newspapers of the time to see what was sold at the markets, found recipe books, talked to a food historian.  In the end there was evidence to suggest it was a mix of both.  But finding out was a lot of work.

What’s the most useful writing advice you’ve been given?

And as the little-known Victorian poetess, Christabel La Motte, succinctly said, “A writer only becomes a true writer by practising his craft, by experimenting constantly with language, as a great artist may experiment with clay or oils until the medium becomes second nature, to be moulded however the artist may desire.”  You just have to write and write.  And write.

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Click below to learn more about this author's spectacular literary work!

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