Today we have the pleasure of finding out a little more about Alli Sinclair and her writing. I have recently finished reading The Cinema at Starlight Creek and I hope to get a review up in the next couple of days. it was a beautiful story of small towns, big dreams, the cinema industry and the struggles of women fighting for their place in their industry.
Hi Alli, welcome to Beauty and Lace and thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
Thank you for having me!
When did you know you wanted to be a writer? And how did you go about pursuing it as a career?
My first memory of storytelling was when I was four-years-old and I was lying on the bed with my nanna. We would look at the blank wall in front of us and pretend we were directing a movie and we’d tell each other stories about the adventures our characters went on. That has always stuck with me and every time one of my books is released, I think of my nanna and how she encouraged me to read widely and write my own stories.
It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties when I was interviewed by a radio journalist about living in South America that writing fiction could be something I’d like to pursue as a career. The journalist had asked me why I hadn’t written about my adventures as I seemed to be a natural storyteller. I had no answer for him! Not long after I saw an ad in a travel magazine asking for people to submit a 500 word story, so I wrote one about my mountaineering expeditions. It was selected and published and as soon as I saw my name in print, I got a huge buzz! Not long after I enrolled in a part-time creative writing course and from there it was years and years of practicing my writing skills, completing manuscripts (three which will never see the light of day!) and working towards finding a literary agent and publisher. It was a long road until I signed my first publishing deal—ten years—but every step along the way was worth it because I have met some amazing people who love stories just as much as I do.
The Cinema at Starlight Creek is your latest novel, can you tell us a little about it?
The Cinema at Starlight Creek is a tale about how far we are willing to go to follow our dreams. It’s a celebration about finding the strength within one’s self and digging deep to discover what—and who—really matter in our lives. The characters recognize social injustice and find the courage to fight for the rights of others, including themselves. As we follow the two main characters—Lena Lee in the 1950s Hollywood timeline and Claire Montgomery who is a location manager on a TV series in north Queensland in 1994—we discover that although these women were born decades apart and live on opposite sides of the world, they face similar struggles and challenges to achieve their career goals, keep their hearts from being broken and be true to themselves and others.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Inspiration can come out of nowhere for me, and I actually have way more ideas than time to write them!
The Cinema at Starlight Creek I was inspired by classic Hollywood movies. I grew up on them and 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.
As for the character of Claire Montgomery in the 1994 storyline, 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.
Are any of your characters based on real people?
I don’t normally base my characters on real people but they can certainly inspire the type of characters I write about. For example, Lena Lee in the Hollywood storyline of The Cinema at Starlight Creek. She is considered “ancient” at the grand old age of twenty-nine, but she refuses that to dictate her career. She’s feisty and determined like Mae West, who made her Hollywood debut in her late thirties. The same with Lucille Ball. She had just turned forty when I Love Lucy went to air for the first time. Both these women refused to be put into boxes by executives and they created their own path, just like Lena. They were also intelligent and business savvy and their success made Hollywood sit up and take notice.
Oh, and many of my friends and family swear the really nice or good-looking characters are based on them so I just smile and nod and let them think that is so!
The Cinema is a big part of the book, is it based on a real cinema?
The cinema is very real in my head! It’s actually a combination of some of my favourite art deco cinemas I’ve visited around the world. It was really fun designing it and imagining Claire’s astonishment when she sees it for the first time.
Historical novels require pretty intensive research, can you tell us about how you research?
Research is one of my favourite parts of writing. I love discovering little treasures that can be woven into the storyline or help make a character more authentic.
Documentaries, non-fiction books, and the internet are where I start my research. The real gems, though, are when I get in touch with an expert in the area I need information on or I find someone who has first-hand experience in the era I’m writing about. Most people enjoy talking about their experiences, so it’s never difficult to get answers to my questions.
Part of my research for The Cinema at Starlight Creek was working on the set of a short film and also a well-known TV drama. They were amazing experiences and just the inspiration I needed!
Dual timelines make for twice the lead characters, did you have a favourite lead to write?
Ah, depends on what day it is! I enjoyed both storylines and both lead characters as they each have their own journey to go on. Although they are born decades apart and are working in different parts of the screen industry—one as an actress and the other as a location manager—their paths are quite similar. They have dreams they want to accomplish but the challenges are the same in the male-dominated industry they work in.
You often have dual locations in your books. What far off places would you love to write about next?
I’m keen to set a book in India as it’s a country I’ve loved since first went there twenty-five years ago. I currently have a story idea brewing so here’s hoping I get to write about this wonderfully complicated and colourful country!
I’d also love to write a story set in Berlin. I went there for the first time a couple of years ago for the German release of one of my books. Berlin is visually stunning and has a complex history and a very strong artistic bent. I love it so much I’m returning there later this year and I’ll be researching an idea I’d like to develop. Who knows where it may lead?
Do you always travel to the places you write about for research purposes?
Definitely! I like to think of the settings in my books as a character that influence how other characters behave. For example, in The Cinema at Starlight Creek Claire arrives in the small country town in north Queensland for the first time and feels like she’s returning home. She’s spent her entire career travelling from place to place but has never felt like she does about Starlight Creek. This feeling of belonging in a town she’s never been to makes her question her goals in life and also changes her view on relationships.
Writing about places I know also helps bring authenticity to the story. Details such as a hidden alleyway or the way the light hits the river that weaves through the city or what a particular food tastes like … they all help bring life to the story.
Is there anything new you’re working on that you can tell us about?
I’m currently working on next year’s book that is set in WWII in Brisbane and post-war London. It’s been really fun immersing myself in these eras and I’ve learnt so much. I’m really looking forward to sharing it with you all next year!
Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Read, read, read. Read across different genres and study what works and, just as importantly, what doesn’t work, in a book. Connect with other writers because the friendships you make will help you through those moments of self-doubt. Enrol in courses, critique other people’s work (because you will learn a lot helping others finesse their work). If writing is your passion, don’t give up. There will be days when the words don’t flow and you’ll wonder why you’ve chose to do this but on the days when the words pour like liquid gold onto the page, you’ll remember the joy of creating new worlds and characters you will fall in love with. If you have dreams about being published by a traditional publisher then remember you only need one “yes” and it could be just around the corner so you can’t give up. It will be worth it!
Thanks for your time Alli, it was lovely to finally have you here at Beauty and Lace.
It was a pleasure, Michelle. Thank you for having me!
The Cinema at Starlight Creek is available now through Harlequin Mira and where all good books are sold.