SET FOR LOVE WORDS: DENISE RAWARD
IT BEGINS IN NORTH QUEENSLAND, BUT ALLI SINCLAIR’S LATEST ROMANCE IS MADE FOR HOLLYWOOD
There’s something about cane fields that gets Victorian author Alli Sinclair’s creative juices flowing. After the success of her last novel Burning Fields, set amid north Queensland cane country in the aftermath of World War Two, Alli found she just couldn’t leave the setting.
“There’s something about cane fields I find quite romantic, apart from the toads and the foxes,” she laughs.
“I think north Queensland is a gorgeous part of the world. I’ve got family there so I’ve been many times — not quite a local but I’ve been visiting for a couple of decades.”
Alli’s latest novel The Cinema at Starlight Creek shifts the action to 1994 when television location manager Claire stumbles on a small town art deco cinema, well past its glory days, but perfect as a setting for the mini-series she is working on.
It is owned by the reclusive Hattie and, as Claire does her best to negotiate permission to film there, she encounters Hattie’s enigmatic grand-nephew Luke — and a town mysteriously divided.
As the narrative unfolds, we are transported to entirely another world, Hollywood, 1950, where aspiring actress
Lena Lee is looking for her big break in an industry dictated by men, at a time when Hollywood is riven by political and censorship battles.
There are more than a few echoes of the modern-day Metoo movement in both plot lines, although Alli says she wrote the novel well before the issue gained currency.
“The two narratives deal with different times and different types of screens but there were similar issues that came through in both,” she says.
“The Metoo thing happened about a year
after I’d written the novel so it sort of tied in. Actually I was glad to write the book before all that broke in the media.”
Alli is notorious for the wholehearted research she puts into her novels. For the story of Claire, she went on set on a real-life television production.
“I spent time talking with actors and the crew. The director really took me under his wing so I was very lucky to have had that first-hand experience of how it all works,” she says.
For the Hollywood storyline, Alli drew on old-fashioned research and imagination, fired by her lifelong love of Hollywood classics.
“I grew up on all the old movies thanks to my nan and my mum,” Alli says. “I heard all their stories about going to the pictures every week and what a big part of life it was.
“I love the old cinemas from that time, a lot of them were that classic art deco architecture. I’m a big art deco fan, so it made sense to have an art deco cinema at the centre of the novel.”
It helps that Alli’s stories play out like a movie in her head when she writes.
“I’m so passionate about those old films and I’ve watched so many classic movies that the storyline really played out like a 1950s movie I was watching,” Alli says.
“It was such an interesting time in the industry then too. There was so much homophobia and the black-listing of people suspected of being communist, and there was a lot of censorship as well.
“I was keen to get these lesser-known things into the story as well, a bit of the darker side of the era.”
Fans of Alli’s earlier novels will recognise her deft hand at combining two evocative storylines and weaving an engaging tale of loss, love and hope.
Her novels are now firmly on the radar after Burning Fields picked up two nominations at last year’s Australian Romance Readers Association’s annual awards, including Best Romance of 2018.
While Alli was honoured, she’s already knee-deep in work on her next novel, another World War II story, this time set between wartime Brisbane and London.
“There’s something about World War II stories,” she says. “I’m drawn to the stories of everyday people who really don’t set out to do amazing things but they do.
“I’ve been speaking to people as part of my research and I really want to get these stories down before it’s too late.”
And, in a case of life imitating art, Alli has also been offered work with the television production team she observed, developing documentary material.
“From every manuscript I write, there’s always something new to learn and different ways to push yourself,” she says.
It’s probably not quite what she had in mind but may well provide her with a rich seam of material for stories yet to come.
“I GREW UP ON ALL THE OLD MOVIES THANKS TO MY NAN AND MY MUM. I HEARD ALL THEIR STORIES ABOUT GOING TO THE PICTURES EVERY WEEK AND WHAT A BIG PART OF LIFE IT WAS.”