Welcome to Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series. Here to share a pot of tea and to chat about her brand new book, The Cinema at Starlight Creek, is Alli Sinclair.
Alli Sinclair, an adventurer at heart, has won multiple awards for her writing. She is Australian and has lived in Argentina, Peru and Canada, and has climbed some of the world’s highest mountains, worked as a tour guide in South and Central America and has travelled the globe. She enjoys immersing herself in exotic destinations, cultures and languages but Australia has always been close to Alli’s heart. Alli hosts retreats for writers and presents writing workshops around Australia, as well as working in film on international projects. She’s a volunteer role model with Books in Homes and is an ambassador for the Fiji Book Drive. Alli’s books explore history, culture, love and grief, and relationships between family, friends and lovers. She captures the romance and thrill of discovering old and new worlds, and loves taking readers on a journey of discovery.
Hello Alli. It is my pleasure to warmly welcome you to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews. Thank you for joining me for Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series. To set the mood for our tea infused interview, what is your preferred beverage, tea, coffee or other? And side accompaniment, scone, cake or other?
Ah, it depends on what time of the day: morning would be coffee with almond milk and some freshly baked bread topped with avocado with a dash of lemon juice but if we’re meeting in the afternoon then a lovely cup of lavender and mint tea and a scone with jam and fresh cream. My tummy is rumbling now!
Can you tell us what genres you write for and how many books you have had published?
My books are a mix of genres and are dual timelines rich in history and culture with a contemporary twist. I’ve written five novels and two novellas. The novellas are Dreaming of Spain and Parisian Dreams and are free downloads as they are the lead-ups to the novels Under the Spanish Stars and Beneath the Parisian Skies. Then there’s Luna Tango, Burning Fields and The Cinema at Starlight Creek—with more to come, I’m happy to say!
The Cinema at Starlight Creek has just been released. Can you describe it in just a sentence?
1950s Hollywood glamour meets 1990s rural Queensland when the hopes and dreams of two women—born decades apart—are challenged in a male dominated society.
How long did it take you to write The Cinema at Starlight Creek?
I find the writing usually doesn’t take long—about four months with some very long days and working every day of the week but the research and plotting took about three months. Then of course there’s the editing phase …. So all up, about ten months from opening up my word document and writing the first sentence to sending it back to my publisher ready to go to print. Hitting the send button for the last time is always the scariest!
Where did the inspiration for your two lead characters, Claire Montgomery and Lena Lee come from?
I grew up on a steady diet of Hollywood movie classics thanks to my mum and grandma. I fell in love with all the Hollywood greats, including Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Doris Day, Gene Kelly, Dean Martin, Ingrid Bergman, Mae West … I could go on but I’ll spare you! There’s something magical about that era. I did a lot of research about Mae West as she was an amazing business woman who fought for the rights of those in Hollywood without a voice. I knew then and there that Mae would be the perfect role model for my Lena Lee.
As for Claire Montgomery, she’s a culmination of some wonderful women I’ve met in the screen industry who have worked so hard to make a name for themselves. They’re clever, resourceful and inspiring—all the qualities Claire possesses.
Can you tell us about the research process to bring The Cinema at Starlight Creek to life? How did you incorporate this research into the narrative?
In a way, I’ve been researching the Hollywood storyline all my life as I’ve watched countless Golden Age movies over the years. When I started writing the 1950s storyline it evolved just like a movie of that era with all the drama, style and glamour you’d see on screen.
Although the movie research was fun, it was the behind the scenes of real life Hollywood that really added authenticity to the characters and storyline. Back then Hollywood was largely influenced by the Hays Code—a government-backed organisation that dictated what could and couldn’t be seen on screens. They dictated how long a couple could kiss on screen, how much skin could be shown, even whether a romance was permitted (the original ending to Casablanca was changed from Rick and Ilsa getting together because the Hays Code said no to a woman having an affair getting her happily ever after with her lover).
It wasn’t just the Hays Code that influenced what was screened. After WWII there was a new threat—the Cold War—and the fear of Communists infiltrating the USA was at an all-time high. Actors, screenwriters, and directors who were seen as Communist sympathisers (often there was no evidence) were put onto the Hollywood Blacklist. If someone was unfortunate enough to be on the list, their career in Hollywood was over as no one would employ them. It was a horrible, scary time for many.
The 1994 storyline that takes place on a set of TV miniseries meant I got the chance to spend time on the sets of a couple of well-known Australian TV dramas. I learnt about the different aspects of filming both in front of and behind the camera and these experiences fuelled a desire to become more involved in writing for the screen. Fast forward to a year after my initial research and I’ve now worked on a short film that will be released internationally and I’m working with a production company on two documentaries I’ve created. My main character, Claire, has dreams to become a documentary producer so I find it rather amusing that life sometimes imitates art!
What ingredients do you feel are necessary to compose a successful historical fiction based novel?
A love for the era you’re writing about is the biggest ingredient needed and a very close second is the desire to research as much as possible to bring authenticity to the storyline. One of the most frustrating things when writing an historical novel is when timelines don’t marry up with what you’re writing. I’m a stickler for being accurate with the historical aspects of my story so when I find something that ties in beautifully with the story, it is pure magic (and a big relief!).
The Cinema at Starlight Creek is a dual time period novel, did you find one time period easier than the other to write? How hard was it to link the two time frames together?
I adore writing dual time period novels and I especially love the challenge of weaving the two stories together to make one full, rich story. I find having a comprehensive outline is a must because then I can see where the stories intersect and how they can push the other story forward. I write one timeline then then other so I can concentrate on the “voice” and era of each story but I’m also looking where I can plant seeds that will bring the stories together in the end.
Setting is always a strong feature in your novels, can you tell us more about the settings featured in The Cinema at Starlight Creek?
I’ve returned to the sugarcane fields of north Queensland once more because there’s something magical about this region (Burning Fields was also set in north Queensland). I daresay my love for this setting has a lot to do with me being Victorian so anywhere that is tropical and warm and green is going to appeal!
I’m also a sucker for Art Deco cinemas so it was no surprise that I chose one of these as the focus of this story. Whenever I’m in one of these cinemas I always think about all the secrets told, loves lost and found, and moments of joy with friends and lovers experienced in these beautiful buildings.
And, of course, there’s 1950s Hollywood which was so much fun to write about. I’ve looked at countless photos and watched plenty of movies from this era so it was easy for my to conjure up the perfect settings. Plus the fashion for my characters was a delight to write about!
If The Cinema at Starlight Creek made it to the big screen, who would you like to cast?
Oooh … such a tough choice! For the 1994 story Chris Hemsworth as Luke Jackson and Abby Earl for Claire Montgomery. And for our beautiful Hattie Fitzpatrick I’d cast the wonderful Noni Hazlehurst. Then I will selfishly add another Hemsworth, Liam, as Reeves Garrity and Jenni Baird for Lena Lee.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading The Cinema at Starlight Creek?
So much of the story is about following dreams and I would love nothing more than to have readers be inspired to discover and pursue their own dreams and wishes. I’d also like readers to take a moment to think about sexism not just in the film industry, but across the board. I’m glad it is being spoken about and called out these days but we still have a way to go and the only way things will change is if we keep the conversation going.
How will you celebrate the official release day of The Cinema at Starlight Creek?
I’ll spend some time on social media joining in the celebrations and I’ll also need to reach my 2000 word count for the day to meet my next deadline. Once that’s done then it will be out to lunch with my local author friends and a nice dinner with the family. Not quite the rock’n roll lifestyle but authors aren’t exactly known for trashing hotel rooms (but we can be loud in bars when we’re together and we love a dance!).
Is there a genre you haven’t tried writing yet, but want to in the future?
I have an idea for a series for kids but have yet to find the time to sit down and work on it. One day I will!
Do you have any advice for the aspiring writers out there?
Read as much as you can; join writing organisations where you will meet like-minded people (for me it was Romance Writers of Australia and Writers Victoria); read craft books and attend workshops but remember that not everyone’s way of writing will suit so it’s up to you to find out what works best and don’t be afraid to experiment. Lastly, never give up. If this is your passion, if it’s what makes you happy, then keep going even on the hard days. I’ve never heard a writer say they wished they’d stopped but I’ve heard plenty of people who have said they wished they’d kept going.
What is next on the horizon for Alli Sinclair? Do you have any writing projects you would like to share with us?
I’m currently writing next year’s book which is single timeline, so that’s a bit different for me! It’s set in the 1940s-1960s and I’m really excited about it as it will unveil some lesser known aspects of Australian history. The topics I’m writing about are also the basis of two documentaries I’m working on so it’s going to be great to see them come together in different mediums.
What 2019 book releases are you most excited to read?
If you could slip back in time, what era would you travel to and why?
I would love to be in West Berlin in the 1970s when David Bowie and Iggy Pop were there. It was such an amazing time for artists. When I was last in Berlin I did a David Bowie tour and went to the studio where he recorded his Berlin Trilogy albums and also to his old apartment. It was really easy to imagine what it would have been like back then and it was history in the making, for sure.
Finally, wrapping up our tea themed interview, who would you most like to share a pot of tea with?
That’s a tough one! But, given my previous answer, I’d love to have shared a pot of tea with David Bowie. He was an amazing trailblazer and was his own person while also inspiring others to follow their own paths. His music transcends generations and decades and he always gave the impression of having a wicked sense of humour. Oh the stories David Bowie could tell!
Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews for Tea with Mrs B Alli. Congratulations on the publication of The Cinema at Starlight Creek!
Thank you so much for having me and wow, you make the perfect cuppa and scones!
A heart-stirring novel of loss, love and new hope set against the glamorous backdrop of 1950s Hollywood and a small Australian country town.
How far would you go to follow your dream?
Queensland, 1994: When location manager Claire Montgomery arrives in rural Queensland to work on a TV mini-series, she’s captivated by the beauty of Starlight Creek and the surrounding sugarcane fields. Working in a male-dominated industry is challenging, but Claire has never let that stop her pursuing her dreams-until now. She must gain permission to film at Australia’s most historically significant art deco cinema, located at Starlight Creek. But there is trouble ahead. The community is fractured and the cinema’s reclusive owner, Hattie Fitzpatrick, and her enigmatic great nephew, Luke Jackson, stand in her way, putting Claire’s career-launching project-and her heart-at risk.
Hollywood, 1950: Lena Lee has struggled to find the break that will catapult her into a star with influence. She longs for roles about strong, independent women but with Hollywood engulfed in politics and a censorship battle, Lena’s timing is wrong. Forced to keep her love affair with actor Reeves Garrity a secret, Lena puts her career on the line to fight for equality for women in an industry ruled by men. Her generous and caring nature steers her onto a treacherous path, leaving Lena questioning what she is willing to endure to get what she desires.
Can two women-decades apart-uncover lies and secrets to live the life they’ve dared to dream?
The Cinema at Starlight Creek by Alli Sinclair was published on May 20th by Mira – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Connect with Alli here: