Saturday, June 03, 2006

'Answered by Fire'

I've just watched part 1 of the excellent 2-part mini-series 'Answered by Fire', which is about the UN Mission to oversee the Independence vote in East Timor in 1999. David Wenham (he played Faramir in LOTR) plays an Australian police officer, part of an *unarmed* international force there to protect the voter registration process and the vote itself, amid violence from Indonesion-sponsored militias.

I remember it being on the news at the time, but seeing this dramatisation, focusing on one UN post in one region of the country, was unsettling and moving. Especially so, given the new wave of violence and political turmoil in East Timor in the past two weeks. The sorrows and the struggles have not yet ended for the East Timorese people; the legacies of colonialism, invasion and occupation, and international politicking have human ramifications, on through the years. Ordinary people, like you and me - fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, young men and women, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. People who have lived most of their lives under foreign rule, who risked being hacked to death or shot or tortured simply to register to vote - but who went, anyway. Ninety percent of East Timorese cast their ballot on the question of independence; over seventy percent voted for it. And then the next nightmare began.

What has this got to do with my writing? It reminds me of why I write what I do - quite serious romances. Stories of people facing very real and difficult circumstances in a world which isn't always right or just, where complexities make shades of grey instead of an easy black and white.
Yes, I enjoy a light romantic fantasy - there's nothing wrong with a bit of escapism! But the stories I'm moved to write aren't light or fantasy. I have to acknowledge, somehow make sense of, the real world out there. To write my belief that the emotions that join us, keep us going through dark days and times, are the strongest, most human aspects of us, giving both courage and the possibility of healing.

Only a few of my stories have world events as backdrops or part of the plots, but even in the 'Darkness' trilogy, set in an outback Australian town, dealing with local events, there's still I think a sense of the town and those events in a broader context and history. At least in my mind, anyway! My outlined 'Shadows' trilogy has a more extensive international context, with part of the action occuring against the backdrop of Central Asian struggles. I did think for a while about making up a fictional country, but I decided that I couldn't do that; that I had to go with the fictional story in a more real context. Which of course means that, in order to do justice to the issues, even in a romance book, I need to do more research.

The second part of 'Answered by Fire' is on tomorrow night; I'll be watching it. It deals with the time after the results of the vote are announced, and the impact on the police officers forced to abandon their post, and the people they'd come to care about, in the violence that follows.

(And please, don't anybody from any of the lucky countries try to tell me that they were 'too busy' to vote in their own elections. It's not an excuse I have much patience for. In some places, people die for the chance of voting; so, as far as I'm concerned, for those who can, voting is a sacred responsibility.) (Here endeth my political comment.)

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