A Tea break with Mrs B · Interview

A Tea Break with Mrs B: Ned Manning

tea break with mrs b new image

It is a pleasure to welcome Ned Manning to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews for A Tea Break with Mrs B, an author interview series. To help celebrate the release of Painting the Light we sat down for a chat. Thanks Ned!

What is your drink of choice as we sit down for a chat about your new book?

A cuppa would be great. White please!

What inspired you to turn to fiction after your career achievements as a playwright, actor and educator?

This is a story that has been with me all my life. I have tried different ways of telling it, including writing a Mini Series. When I showed it to my friend, the Director George Ogilvie, he said, “this isn’t a film, it’s a life.” That comment has stayed with me to this day. It is a big story that requires a big canvas. It’s ambitious. It’s one of the things I loved about it.  Writing it as a novel has enabled me to let my imagination fly with the characters whist sticking to the facts that frame the narrative.

What are the main themes in Painting the Light?

The main theme of my book is Idealism. A belief that we can all strive to create a better world. This is what drives the central characters as they negotiate their early and mid twenties at a time of incredible upheaval. The choices made by Alec and Nell are all motivated by their ideals, even when they threaten their own personal comfort. Neither is motivated by self-interest.

This notion of self-sacrifice to a greater cause is at the heart of the book. We know about the sacrifices men made during the Second World War, but I was interested in examining the sacrifices made by women. Young women who either served or were left behind. Women who had children to men they hardly knew and gave up whatever dreams they may have had to raise those children as single mothers. Their sacrifice was equally important as that of the men.

What is the significance of the title to the book?

The idea of reaching for the light or searching for light resonates throughout the book. It is an ongoing metaphor but also is expressed by Nell’s passion for painting.

Where did the inspiration for the characters of Nell and Alec come from?

My parents. Whilst the story is rooted in truth and facts, Nell and Alec are inventions of my imagination based upon memories and anecdotes.

How different was the experience of writing Painting the Light, compared to your previous work?

I loved writing this book. I was intimidated by it at times, but I have learnt that the key to writing is just to let go and write. I loved being able to write without the constraints presented by writing for the stage. I could let my imagination run wild and take the characters to wherever I wanted to take them. Structurally it freed me up. I loved working with my publisher and the editors. Being a playwright, I am used to collaboration. I was amazed at the detailed eye really good editors bring to a project. I wish I’d had that kind of editorial (Dramaturgical) help with my plays.

What research was involved in bringing Painting the Light to life?

It’s almost as if I have spent my whole life researching this book. Years before I began writing it, I searched for information about my parent’s lives. Letters, conversations, photographs. I collected every bit of information I could. You might even say it has been an obsession. When I finally settled on the novel as a form, I broadened my research to libraries, books and newspaper articles. The most incredible moment was when I came across a photograph of my mother by Max Dupain in People Magazine in 1936. It blew me away.

Is there anything surprising you discovered from the process of writing Painting the Light?

Yes. Definitely.  Once I sat down to write the book, I found that things like characters and settings just popped into my mind. It was quite thrilling.

The other thing I learnt was not to be daunted by what lies in front of you. There were many times a little voice questioned whether I was up to writing it, but I didn’t let that voice get in the way.

What is one thing that you really hope readers will take away from the experience of reading Painting the Light?

I hope readers are inspired to follow their own dreams. To hang on to their beliefs. To not let expediency dilute their ideals.

How will you celebrate the release of Painting the Light?

Now that’s a good question. It’s possible that I will have a few beers, toast those who have supported me along the way and possibly (probably) shed a few tears.

What does your writing space look like?

I have a study at home, full of books and bits and pieces. I wrote a lot of the book there and at a very special place that has a very special view. I also wrote a lot in the Balmain Library.

What book is next on your reading pile?

The Overstory.

When you are not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Teaching. Hanging out with my family. Walking the dog. Playing sport.

What are you working on writing wise at present?

Since I finished Painting the Light I have been totally consumed with the next stage, getting it out there so I haven’t had a lot of spare time. Any time I have had I have spent writing my Blog and, being a teacher, writing reports of course!

Thank you for the lovely tea break and chat Ned. Congratulations on the release of your new book, Painting the Light.


Painting the Light is an expansive historical Australian novel and a touching and realistic love story set before, during and after WW2. It traces the journey of two young Australians whose experience of the war leads them to rejecting their conservative upbringing and embracing the aims of a fair deal for everyone.

Nell Hope’s dreams of becoming an artist are dashed when Hitler invades Poland. Her grazier father orders her home from Paris, and so she swaps her paint brush for riding boots.

Alec Murray’s loyalist instincts propel him to leave his farm in western NSW and enlist in the AIF to defend Britain against the impending Nazi threat.

They meet in the hyper-charged atmosphere of prewar Sydney and fall in love, but their courtship is cut short when war is declared. Alec is sent to the Middle East where his eyes are opened to a new world. Far from experiencing the romanticism of war as depicted in the art and literature of the day, Alec is confronted by the reality of its horrors. When he returns on leave after two years in Palestine and Greece, he is a changed man. He is determined that if he survives the war, he will do everything in his power to create a fairer and more equitable society. To his relief he finds a fellow traveller in Nell. They are hastily married before he is sent to PNG to fight the Japanese.

Nell discovers she is pregnant and faces the prospect of bringing a new baby into the world alone. Dreams of an artistic career seem long ago.

When Alec is finally demobbed, the couple begin a new life on his farm near Coonabarabran, NSW. He throws himself into local politics and starts to transform Coonabarabran by creating the kind of public utilities he saw in his travels.

Nell discovers she is pregnant again just at the time when Alec receives a call from Labor Party headquarters. A meeting with Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, results in him standing for the ALP in a safe Country Party seat. Their respective family and friends are horrified and turn their backs on the couple.

United in the fight to create a more equitable society and to bring rural Australia into the postwar world, Nell and Alec throw everything into the election. Soon they discover they are fighting against more than their Country Party opponents, but their love and loyalty to each other grow ever stronger.

 Painting the Light by Ned Manning was published on 3rd May 2022Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.


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