With her background as an Australian diplomat based in Indonesia and East Timor, Nore is ideally placed to write about East Timor’s independence. Her debut novel places two female characters against the background of this political maelstrom. Join us as we discuss the evolution of Gunfire Lullabies.
What is your experience as a diplomat?
I became a diplomat in my twenties, posted in New Zealand then Jakarta. It was unusual to get this placement without postgraduate qualifications, but I had a degree in Asian studies and was fluent in Indonesian. I focussed on political issues rather than economic or consular concerns.
From 1997-1999, with two young children, I was in Indonesia and East Timor. I covered President Suharto’s downfall and East Timor’s independence. Living through and reporting on these events inspired me to write Gunfire Lullabies.
How much of Gunfire Lullabies is fact versus fiction?
I tried to remain accurate to the politics and timing of events to provide context for the novel, but the story itself – the characters and personal interactions – are fictional.
The book begins in Indonesia with the president being forced to step down. This sets the political stage for change in East Timor. For 23 years, East Timor was a noose around the necks of the Indonesian and Australian governments – a massive human rights problem. The international community made funding for Indonesia contingent on East Timor’s independence, putting the Indonesian government under pressure.
The book then moves to East Timor, which becomes a battleground for the Indonesian nationalists, who want to maintain control over East Timor, versus the modernists, who want to get rid of it. The Timorese were stuck in the middle.
Can you please share the blurb for Gunfire Lullaby?
Jakarta, 1998. Junior Australian diplomat Ava Vuyk is on her first overseas posting when she’s assigned the conflict-ridden issue of East Timor with its twenty-three year independence struggle. The new Indonesian regime announces a vote in which the East Timorese will choose their future, but the military and local militia oppose it, launching a brutal campaign of terror and destruction. Amid the turmoil, Ava must decide whether she’ll gloss over the spiralling violence as her domineering ambassador demands, or report the truth in the hope the Australian government will intervene.
In East Timor, teenage farmer Isabel is kidnapped by militia leader Gabriel as his sex slave after her brother escapes into the jungle rather than join his group. Alone but hopeful, she waits to be rescued. When a human rights group asks her to spy on Gabriel, she’s seduced by the promise she’ll be reunited her with her family.
Gunfire Lullabies is a gut-wrenching fictionalised account inspired by real life events that won’t fail to fascinate and enthral.
How did you choose your two protagonists?
I wanted to humanise the political conflict from the points of view of two women caught in the middle of it. Their lives are also in personal crisis, and I explored their struggles for freedom and truth. Neither of them wields much power, but they both try to influence the outcome of the crisis. They learn who they are in a man’s world. Ultimately, it’s a feminist story.
The women come from opposite ends of the spectrum. Isabel, an East Timorese farmer, is kidnapped by the head of the militias, who’s at the behest of the Indonesian nationalist intelligence services. She waits to be rescued, and in the meantime has to decide whether to spy for the independence side.
Ava reports on the views of the Indonesian government and locals about East Timor as well as the situation on the ground. She relays the views of the Australian government back to them, despite not always agreeing with them. The Australian government attempts to mute her, but her conscience won’t allow her to be silenced. Concurrently, her marriage is failing, and she meets someone else.
What did you do after you left East Timor?
In 2002, I returned to Canberra and kept working on East Timor, then I did a stint as Kevin Rudd’s senior advisor and press secretary. From there, I transitioned into corporate communications, and I now work in nutritional therapy.
That’s a radical shift. What prompted that change?
I’ve always had an active interest in health, and after suffering some health problems, it ultimately became my job . I run my own business now. It’s all about service. I joined the public service to do something meaningful, and that’s still what drives me today.
My speciality is gut health and people with complex and chronic illnesses. They may have been to see other health professionals but haven’t been helped and I give them a roadmap to normal health.
Do you have any tips for authors – particularly those wishing to fictionalize real events?
In this genre, which I call contemporary historical fiction, nobody wants a lecture about what happened. Character is everything. I could have written something five times longer to include a broader historical and political focus, but I had to limit the novel to what was relevant to my characters.
Also, never give up. You can’t please everybody, so in the end tell the story you think needs to be told. It’s important to strike a balance between listening to professional advice, taking that on board, learning and editing your story, but also remaining true to the story you want to tell.
In my case, I had two publishing offers for this book, but they didn’t work out. In the end, I decided to self-publish rather than go back through that process again and compromise my story.
I have begun writing another novel set in Holland during WWII when it was occupied by Germany. My parents were Dutch and grew up there at that time. It’s another gritty story, this time about family dynamics, abuse and the value of life set against a backdrop of a passive people pushed to the brink by cruelty and starvation.
You can follow Nore on:
Book sales link: Books2Read, Amazon
I had the pleasure of working with Nore through Brightside Story Studio.
Next time: Marcie Maxfield on Identity and the Expat Spouse and her fabulous debut, Em’s Awful Good Fortune