Writers On Writing / Anna Westbrook on sinking seamlessly into another time


‘I tried to become immersed in the popular culture of the time – music, film, celebrities – to tap into what I imagined to be the psyche and to get a sense of ‘texture’ or zeitgeist.’


Anna Westbrook has presented at conferences and writers’ festivals around Australia and internationally. Her debut novel, Dark Fires Shall Burn, is published by Scribe. She is a lecturer in creative writing and literature at New York University Sydney.

Dark Fires Shall Burn is your first book. What led you to write historical fiction?
I had no plan to write historical fiction but was gripped by the story of the real-life unsolved murder of 11-year-old Joan Norma Ginn in a Newtown cemetery in 1946. Then, as I started digging, I became fascinated with the detail of the direct post-war period and the changes that brought about to Australian society.

What were some of the surprises you turned up in your research process?
Luckily, the 1940s are still within living memory so I had remarkable opportunity to speak with older people who shared anecdotes about experiencing World War II. This, mixed with archival research, gave me a rich lexicon of slang and insight into what was a unique and future-defining cultural moment before the onset of the Cold War.

What’s one key tip for creating a sense of realism when writing historical fiction?
I tried to become immersed in the popular culture of the time – music, film, celebrities – to tap into what I imagined to be the psyche and to get a sense of ‘texture’ or zeitgeist. Newspapers and magazines were an invaluable resource. I wanted the reader to sink seamlessly into Sydney of another time without being overly reminded of period – so there were many edits to make sure the hand wasn’t too heavy.


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