Andrew Nette is the first of our Unpublished Manuscript Fellows. He begins his time at the Wheeler Centre today. He took time out of his re-drafting to answer a few questions for us.
Can you give us a pitch for your unpublished manuscript, Cambodia Darkness and Light?
Cambodia, 1996, the long-running Khmer Rouge insurgency is fragmenting, competing factions of an unstable coalition government scrambling to gain the upper hand. Missing in the chaos is businessman Charles Avery. Hired to find him is Vietnamese Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan. But Avery has made dangerous enemies and Quinlan is not the only one looking. Teaming up with Heng Sarin, a local journalist, Quinlan’s search takes him from the freewheeling capital Phnom Penh to the battle scarred western borderlands. As the political temperature soars, he is slowly drawn into a mystery that plunges him into the heart of Cambodia’s bloody past.
How did you come to write Cambodia Darkness and Light?
I started writing what would become Cambodia Darkness and Light in the mid-nineties while working as a journalist in Vietnam and making regular trips to Cambodia. I was too caught up with trying to make a living to put much of a dent in the book.
Nearly 10 years later I sat down and started reading through some old notes and thought, this story has been inside me for a decade. It’s now or never. So in early 2008, I quit my job and moved to Cambodia for a year with my partner and our then two-year old daughter. I freelanced as a journalist and wrote the first draft.
What made you set the manuscript in Cambodia?
I’ve been fascinated with Cambodia ever since I first visited in 1992: the history, the people, the contrast between the wild-west atmosphere of Phnom Penh and the rough but incredibly beautiful countryside. Things happen there that you couldn’t make up if you tried. I always thought Cambodia would be an excellent setting for a crime novel. But I also wanted to capture the broken country that was Cambodia in the nineties, to write about those people trapped in the cracks between two periods of history, the choices they made and what they did to survive.
When did you hear about your shortlisting for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award?
I was in the shower when the Wheeler Centre rang. The message said please call back. I was so nervous I stood in front of the phone for several minutes before I dialed the number.
What do you do when you’re not writing and how do you fit it into your life?
I’m currently revising the manuscript for Cambodia Darkness and Light in preparation for submitting to publishers, so there’s not a lot of time for other things at the moment. There’s also my blog, Pulp Curry, which explores crime fiction and film from Asia and Australia. I started it to publicise my writing, but it seems to have taken on a life of its own. When I’m not doing all that, I’m trying to work my way through the couple of hundred unwatched films stacked in the lounge room, reading and spending time with my partner of twenty years and our daughter. I’m also a pretty keen gardener.
Making time to write when you have a job, a child and a partner is a constant juggling act, no surprises there. There’s a lot of discipline involved, writing nights after work, on the weekend, whenever I can, really. That’s why this fellowship is such a bonus.
How will you use your fellowship?
Finish the edits to Cambodia Darkness and Light then start a new Quinlan book. The second one is also set in Cambodia in the lead-up to the 1997 coup. It feels strange to be thinking about a second book when you haven’t got the first one published. But you’ve got to have faith. I’ve also started writing short stories featuring an Australian veteran of the war in Afghanistan who has fallen into a life of crime. I may work on these if I get the chance.
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