Writer shares South Amer­i­can tale

Augusta Margaret River Times - - Entertainment - Pierra Wil­lix

Trav­el­ling to South Amer­ica as a back­packer and end­ing up liv­ing in one of the world’s most no­to­ri­ous pris­ons is not an easy in­tro­duc­tion to writ­ing, but for Rusty Young, the ex­pe­ri­ence gave him the im­pe­tus to write his best­selling novel, March­ing Pow­der.

The Times spoke to Young ahead of his ap­pear­ances at events in the re­gion next week, where he will launch his lat­est novel, Colom­biano.

At age 24, as a re­cent law grad­u­ate from Syd­ney, Young said he de­cided to go trav­el­ling be­fore start­ing work at a mer­chant bank.

While trav­el­ling through South Amer­ica with his girl­friend, the cou­ple en­coun­tered other tourists who en­cour­aged them to visit Bo­livia’s San Pe­dro prison, where tours were run by con­victed drug traf­ficker Thomas McFad­den.

“You go to the prison, leave your pass­port and the gate opens and Thomas is there wait­ing for you,” he said.

“We did a one-hour tour for $US5 and at the end he se­lected three of us and let us spend the night there for an­other $5.”

Young said he had al­ways wanted to be a writer but un­til that point had never found a sub­ject to write about.

Af­ter pitch­ing the idea to Thomas, Young was told he could stay in the prison to ex­pe­ri­ence what life was re­ally like liv­ing in­side.

“I agreed to stay in the prison and do re­search but did not ex­pect to spend four months there; in hind­sight that ex­pe­ri­ence gave the book au­then­tic­ity,” he said.

Colom­biano is de­scribed as a re­venge thriller that fol­lows the story of a teenage boy, Pe­dro, who, af­ter wit­ness­ing his father’s mur­der, joins a guer­rilla group to avenge his death.

While work­ing for the US Gov­ern­ment in coun­tert­er­ror­ism in Colom­bia, Young said he came in con­tact with spe­cial force sol­diers, snipers, un­der­cover in­tel­li­gence agents and mem­bers of ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions, but it was the plight of child sol­diers which truly caught his at­ten­tion.

“Those were the most im­pact­ful and gut-wrench­ing sto­ries which re­ally broke my heart,” he said.

“A lot of them had vol­un­teered, join­ing as young as eight years old, and I was in­ter­ested in how chil­dren’s lives were so bad that they con­sid­ered join­ing armed in­sur­gency groups.”

While writ­ing the novel, Young said he met with about 30 or 40 for­mer child sol­diers, which he said gave the fic­tional sto­ry­line a level of au­then­tic­ity.

“There is no way I could have in­vented a plot­line like that with­out hear­ing their sto­ries,” he said.

Young said he hoped the book would also alert read­ers to the preva­lence of child sol­diers.

“When I first went to Colom­bia I didn’t even know there were child sol­diers in that coun­try and most Western­ers are com­pletely un­aware of this,” he said.

“It is a way of ed­u­cat­ing the world about the fact child sol­diers do ex­ist here.

“I also try and made a link be­tween the West­ern con­sump­tion of co­caine and the con­flict in Colom­bia.”

Young will be speak­ing at two events next week, at the Bus­sel­ton li­brary at 3.30pm on Wed­nes­day Au­gust 9, and at the Mar­garet River Cul­tural Cen­tre at 6.30pm.

The Bus­sel­ton event is free, with at­ten­dees asked to RSVP to Bare­foot Books or the Bus­sel­ton Li­brary on 9751 3905 or 9781 1777.

Tick­ets to the other event are $10 and are avail­able from mr­rwfes­ti­val.com/whats-on, by phon­ing 9758 7316 or in per­son at the cen­tre.

Au­thor Rusty Young will be speak­ing in the re­gion next week.

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