SET FOR LOVE WORDS: DENISE RAWARD

IT BE­GINS IN NORTH QUEENSLAND, BUT ALLI SINCLAIR’S LAT­EST RO­MANCE IS MADE FOR HOL­LY­WOOD

Life & Style Weekend - - MAGAZINE | BOOK CLUB - THE CINEMA AT STARLIGHT CREEK Alli Sinclair HARLEQUIN $29.99

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.”

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