In her own words: C.M Lance and her new wartime novel

If you Google ‘CM Lance’, you’ll actually find two writers – one is a male who lives in the U.S. and writes about wizards, and the other is a female Australian author. She has been an astronomer, a Unix computer specialist and now a novelist (so, just the usual career path then…). In particular, she loves to write about maritime and military history and the people caught up in these events – such as in her latest book, The Turning Tide.
So, here’s the one-and-only C.M. Lance to tell you all about it:
CMLanceThe Turning Tide is the story of Mike Whalen, who trained as a commando at rugged, beautiful Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, and fought against the Japanese in Timor in 1942.  Now an academic in his sixties, more damaged than he realises, he meets by chance the granddaughter of his old friends Helen and Johnny.

Johnny died in the war, leaving Mike with a burden of secrets. As Mike is drawn back into the life of Helen’s family he’s overwhelmed with memories – growing up in multi-racial Broome, disastrous guerilla missions in Timor, passion in post-war Hiroshima and betrayal in the jazzy fifties. To have any chance of happiness he needs to rebuild his bonds with wartime mates, face 40 years of his own guilt, and confront Helen and himself with the truth.

The idea for the book came from a gradual assembling of elements I thought might cohere, wanting to explore something based on local history, and the desire to write a love story from a man’s perspective. Elements included a memorial to the commandos who trained at Wilsons Prom in 1941-42, and, familiar from my first non-fiction book Redbill, the missions to Timor during the Pacific War and the extraordinary debt Australia owed the Timorese.
I was also intrigued by the relationships between Australians and Japanese, growing up together in the ‘melting-pot’ of Broome, then forced onto opposite sides.

I had no real desire to become a writer, but when I was approaching 50, the story of Redbill – a Broome lugger that worked for Greenpeace – came my way, and sat down and demanded to be written. (As a scientist I enjoyed writing, and in computing it was always a pleasure to try to make obscure jargon comprehensible to all, so both were good training.) I found I loved researching and writing about all the odd connections that actually happened in real life, too bizarre for fiction. However, my main step towards becoming a writer was to read obsessively, all my life.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo write fiction for the first time I had to push myself to move away from the formal style of non-fiction, that demands every statement be backed up with a reference, and become more impressionistic – allowing voice and expression and posture and surroundings to drive the narrative. I had to lighten conversation and make it more colloquial.
A typical day of writing sees words come most easily in the morning, so if I can get into something then it usually flows. However, I still do Internet consulting from home, so more often I end up writing late at night and weekends. My routine is simply to edit whatever I’ve written over the last few days then push ahead a few more paragraphs. Or, even while only partly through a book, start editing again from the beginning. I think of the earlier writers who had to work with typewriters, with every draft a major effort – we are so fortunate to be able to edit digitally! I revise my words dozens of times.
As for what’s next, I have two novels in progress; one a Broome historical novel set in the first two decades of the twentieth century, against the Great War and the influenza epidemic, and the other a contemporary techno-thriller!
For aspiring writers wanting to do it full-time, I’d say read incessantly and question why you respond as you do, good or bad. I’m only a part-time writer, and still enjoy the contrast between the technical and imaginary aspects of my life. Try to write well even if it’s just email or work; make your words crystal-clear and beautiful. Edit and revise, over and over. Leave days or weeks between revisions to clear your head. Have friends you can exchange writing with, and discuss how they struggle with similar or different problems.

And finally, don’t expect to write anything amazing when you’re very young: you need time and experience to understand the wider aspects of life, society, politics, relationships and people. Read history – it’s great stuff, plus it has good plot ideas. If you feel you ‘should’ write but can’t, then don’t. Read more instead. Read all genres, not just those you’re comfortable with. Don’t write to become an author. Write for your own pleasure, not anyone else’s.

The Turning Tide is published by Allen & Unwin and is now available at all good bookshops and online.

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