It is a pleasure to welcome Alli Sinclair back to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews for A Tea Break with Mrs B, a author interview series. To help celebrate the release of The Codebreakers we sat down for a chat. Thanks Alli!
Hello Alli. It is my pleasure to welcome you back to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews. I greatly appreciate the time you have provided to answer a few questions. To begin, what is your drink of choice as we sit down for a chat about your new book?
I do love a cup of lemongrass and lime herbal tea. It helps kick the brain into gear!
Can you give us an overview of your writing career to date?
It’s been quite the journey. My first book, Luna Tango, was published by Harlequin MIRA in 2014 and since then five more books have been published not only in Australia and New Zealand but the US and UK in print, e-book and audio, as well as translated into other languages, including German and Serbian. I’m now working on some screenplays and it’s really fun (and a big learning curve!) to write stories in a different medium.
What kick started the creation of your latest novel, The Codebreakers?
I’d written Burning Fields (2018) and it’s set in 1948 in north Queensland. The heroine had worked in Brisbane in WWII for the Australian Women’s Army Service and I really enjoyed writing about this era. So I decided to set a book about women in Brisbane in WWII and got to Googling articles and one popped up about a female codebreaker who worked for a top-secret organisation called Central Bureau. I’d never heard of this and couldn’t believe no one had written about it before, so I jumped into full-research mode to uncover who these people were and what they did. It was a very long process with lots and lots of research and quite a few dead ends but it was absolutely worthwhile because the information and stories I discovered ended up being the inspiration behind the lovely Ellie and her friends in The Codebreakers.
How different was the experience of writing The Codebreakers, compared to your previous releases?
All my novels require a great deal of research as I love to write stories that are based on a lot of fact but The Codebreakers was a whole other level of research! It wasn’t just the research about the codebreakers and Central Bureau, there were other aspects such as the history of Qantas and Royal Flying Doctor Service and Brisbane in wartime as well as ensuring I kept the timeline of events in the war in order. The biggest thing, though, was the fact I could personally meet and interview the codebreakers and ask them lots of questions to help make the book as authentic as possible. I’m so grateful for these wonderful codebreakers (all in their nineties!) who were so willing to speak with me at length about their experiences and the rollercoaster of emotions they rode during the war and after. It really helped me get a great sense of how my characters acted and felt as I wrote them.
What issues do you explore in The Codebreakers?
I really wanted to write a book that looks at war from a female’s perspective. While many men were overseas fighting, there was still a very real threat of Australia being invaded and the people had to live with an uncertain future. As I was editing The Codebreakers, Covid-19 was starting to take hold on our world. Both my editor and I were surprised how many parallels there were with the characters and their stories in The Codebreakers and what was presently going on in our world. There are lots of examples throughout the book of these parallels, but here’s one thought that Ellie has which could easily pertain to what’s been happening in our world these past twelve months:
Australia lived in a false peace that could be destroyed at any moment. Was her country suitably prepared?
Aside from living with an uncertain future, there are themes about the power of friendship and sisterhood (not only with Ellie and her Garage Girls but also her ex-landlord Mrs Hanley and best friend Kat); working in a male dominated profession and battling against sexism; PTSD; addiction, and dealing with having to “return to the kitchen” after the war and the independence and important work the women did is forgotten and they struggle to adapt to society’s expectations of women’s very traditional roles (note: not all of the Garage Girls accepted this!).
Ultimately, though, this is a story of hope – friends, lovers and self – to find a way forward, no matter how hard the journey is.
Did you have an affinity with a particular character in The Codebreakers and why?
Oh yes, absolutely! I always research thoroughly and talk to experts so I can bring authenticity to my stories but The Codebreakers ended up being so much more than this. I’m proud to call the women and men of Central Bureau who I interviewed as friends and it has been an absolute privilege getting to know them and learn about their lives. This book has been written with my heart and soul and with great admiration for these amazing people. Ellie represents how I see these wonderful real-life Garage Girls: intelligent, strong, independent, caring and with a beautiful soul.
Is there anything surprising you discovered from your research for The Codebreakers?
So many things! The first one that comes to mind is discovering the women worked in a garage at the back of a mansion in suburban Brisbane. Some of the country’s biggest secrets were being worked on yet the neighbours had absolutely no idea. How incredible!
Can you give us an insight into the setting base for The Codebreakers?
Queenslanders live in fear that if they are invaded by the Japanese, the government will decree Brisbane Line and surrender the northern half of Australia. With over 100,000 American and Australian soldiers swarming the streets, dance halls and picture theatres, tension grows between the Allied troops. Brawls breakout regularly between American and Australian troops over treatment of the black soldiers and Americans wooing Australian women. Japanese, German and Italian men are sent to internment camps while their wives and children starve and are ostracised. Young Australian women arrive from their rural homes and undertake non-traditional roles that create conflict with those who possess patriarchal beliefs.
Brisbane’s once stable population is now transient and its lush surrounds and white, sandy beaches are marred by barbed wire, clunky cement bunkers, military vehicles and unsightly planes noisily cutting across the sky.
Charleville is an outback town with endless blue skies and red dust plains. Surrounded by a secret US Army base, the townsfolk are at odds with each other, feeling the pressure of keeping an intense secret that could change the destiny of the Allies.
Individuals and communities must work together as numbers bring strength—an important attribute in an uneasy world. They must confront differences, whether cultural or gender-based, and adapt changes no one can escape. The changing landscapes of city and country reflect the challenges of the people and the only way to freedom is by working together because if they don’t, their freedom—and their lives—could be lost forever.
What was the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing The Codebreakers?
By far the most challenging was bringing all my research together and make sure it matched my characters and fitted in with real-life timelines. I am forever thankful that my editor for helping me with this as this book, by far, was the most complicated one I’ve written!
What is one thing you would like your audience to take away from the experience of reading The Codebreakers?
To know that these women and men existed and contributed so much to our war effort. For decades they’ve had to remain silent about what they did and now the government has lifted the silence ban, they can finally be recognised for their sacrifices and the incredible work they did. I would love for their legacy to live on and not get lost in history.
Can you tell us more about your current involvement in the screen industry?
Ah … yes! I have quite a few projects on the go at the moment and there’s a lot of balls in the air! The past couple of years I’ve been making inroads into the screen industry by working on short film productions and teaming up with producers on various projects (TV and feature film). I’m currently writing the screenplay for The Codebreakers (very exciting!) and also working on a documentary about untold stories of Australian women in history (and of course our female codebreakers are the stars of one of the episodes!). It’s so wonderful to work in different mediums of storytelling.
What book is next on your reading pile?
More research books! I’ll be focussing on Berlin (insert mysterious music …). But my reading for pleasure is Kaneana May’s upcoming release All We Have Is Now (yes, I have an early copy – don’t be jealous! 😉 )
What is next for Alli Sinclair, do you have any works in progress you would like to share with your readers?
My next book is called The Vintage Tea Cup Society and I’m super excited about it! It’s a love letter to women and sisterhood and beautiful tea cups! If anyone is a tea lover and/or adores beautiful tea cups, I’ve set up a Facebook group called The Vintage Tea Cup Society. Please feel free to join us and celebrate all things tea!
I’ll also keep working on my screenplays and delve deep into researching my dual timeline story set in Berlin. So no time to twiddle the thumbs!
Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews Alli and congratulations on the publication of The Codebreakers.
Thank you so much for having me, Mrs B!
They will dedicate their lives to their country, but no one will ever know…
A compelling story about tenacity and friendship, inspired by the real codebreaking women of Australia’s top-secret Central Bureau in WWII. For readers who love Judy Nunn and Kate Quinn.
1943, Brisbane: The war continues to devastate and the battle for the Pacific threatens Australian shores. For Ellie O’Sullivan, helping the war effort means utilising her engineering skills for Qantas as they evacuate civilians and deliver supplies to armed forces overseas. Her exceptional logic and integrity attract the attention of Central Bureau – an intelligence organisation working with England’s Bletchley Park codebreakers. But joining Central Bureau means signing a lifetime secrecy contract. Breaking it is treason.
With her country’s freedom at risk, Ellie works with a group of elite women who enter a world of volatile secrets; deciphering enemy communications to change the course of the war. Working under immense pressure, they form a close bond – yet there could be a traitor in their midst. Can the women uncover the culprit before it’s too late?
As Ellie struggles with the magnitude of the promise she’s made to her country, a wedge grows between her and those she holds dear. When the man she loves asks questions she’s forbidden to answer, how will she prevent the double life she’s leading from unravelling?
The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair was published on 3rd March 2021 by Mira – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Connect with Alli here: