Recently I read Promises by local Adelaide Hills Author Peter Winter. Following that I met up with him for coffee and a chat after school drop off. It was a lovely chat, and I should thank the cafe staff for not throwing us out because my youngest was being a rambunctious rapscallion. We chatted about what I do and a lot about the book, and what I thought of it and where it came from. Things that I couldn’t have put in a review and questions that would be too spoilerish for an interview. I had been meaning to write questions for this interview for the week leading up to that coffee but life got in the way. Instead I thought about all we had discussed and formulated the questions when I got home.
So grab yourself a cuppa and sit back to discover a little more about Peter Winter, his experiences with Vietnam and his novel Promises.
What turned your hand to writing?
I have always been an avid letter writer, ever since my days boarding at Roseworthy Agricultural College (1962 – 65) and particularly during my time in the Army. In 1970 – 71 when in Vietnam I wrote home constantly, in great detail and with vivid descriptions, expressing all that I was feeling and witnessing. That correspondence was published as a book in 2003, titled The Year I Said Goodbye. (Wakefield Press).
It seems loneliness and separation were the catalyst for my desire to write back then, whereas with Promises I really just wanted to tell a story of relationships, during a time of conflict. I must add that I don’t like the title author, as I really lack the professional attitude needed. I am happy with the tag “story teller”.
How much of the novel is based on your own experiences?
Promises is based loosely on my early years; when I was in my twenties. On completing Roseworthy, I had plans to work overseas, but in the very first ballot in 1965 my marble was drawn and I was conscripted into the Army (and was sent overseas, but not quite in the way I had planned). I actually enjoyed my two years National Service so much that I signed on, completed 21 years and resigned in 1986 at the rank of major.
Many of the military activities and actions in the book are from my experiences or written from factual accounts. Similarly, the emotional distress and confusion that is the returning soldiers legacy is very real. The aftermath of war on the soldier and his family is well documented and the physical and emotional scars linger a lifetime.
Are any characters based on actual people?
Yes, Rowan treads in my footsteps. The Padre, known by the soldiers as JC is based on a RC Army chaplain I met during my National Service. Aldy too is a mirror of an aboriginal soldier I served with in Vietnam. Most characters come from my imagination, although no doubt I recalled people I have met over time. I’d say the only character who is completely fictitious is Priscilla.
Can you tell us a little about your debut novel?
Promises is a love story centred around Rowan, a 20year old lad from the country, who, by chance, befriends a young, artistically talented, wheel-chair bound Priscilla. Their friendship develops into her first romance and with his encouragement she finds a determination and a confidence that had previously been restricted by her disability.
However as their love blossoms, Rowan is conscripted into the Army and is sent to fight in Vietnam. As he and his closest mates come to grips with the horrors of the war, Priscilla too faces conflict at home, but she uses her artistic talents to help her face the loneliness and separation.
The story also focuses on the relationships between Rowan and his estranged Dad, Priscilla and her mother and Priscilla and an eccentric old German artist who takes her under his wing. The mateship between the soldiers is very unique. All characters and their lives are intertwined while Rowan is overseas.
On returning from Vietnam, Rowan is confused and disillusioned and his love for Priscilla is in jeopardy.
I can’t tell you any more, because it might spoil the ending!
What made you select the locations?
The locations were obvious for me. I was born and educated in Adelaide. My mother lived in Blackwood and my eldest son was educated at Blackwood High School. Horseshoe Bay, near Port Elliot, was and still is a favourite swimming spot and I even visited Windy Point on occasions in my courting days.
I travelled to the Eyre Peninsula to research the location for Rowan’s family homestead, White Hill, and to visit the surrounding countryside and the townships of Tumby Bay and Cummins. There have been many changes and developments since the 1960s, so I called into libraries and local museums to recall how life was back in that era.
The Vietnam locations are from my personal experiences.
Is there a sequel being considered?
I need to get through all the current promotion and marketing for Promises, before I can consider another novel, however I must admit I enjoyed being with my characters day after day for the two years it took to write the story and I’d really like to continue with a sequel, although they’d be at least ten years older and times and attitudes will have changed. I have the basic outline for a reunion, and I left a few “tags” in Promises that will help me continue with the story line. I can’t give any detail yet, though many who have read Promises have made it clear how they’d like to see the sequel develop and have even suggested some ideas. It’s really lovely to think that many have become so emotionally attached to my characters that they need to know what has become of them.
Did you plot it out first or make it up as you went along?
Promises came to me in a strange way. Two years ago, during one of my many sleepless nights, instead of counting sheep I began trolling through episodes of my youth. As you tend to do while waiting for sleep, my mind drifted in and out….between fact, fiction and fantasy. By early morning a story had formed and several characters had been introduced. In the nights that followed I added to these imaginings and soon I had a complete story, with timelines and all. The problem was that I couldn’t rid the story from my mind, so I decided to write it down. The moment I began to do so, the words flowed and about 900 hours later I had completed the first draft.
From then on I just refined the story and with the help of friends, willing to read my rough copy, I soon had something that even if I do say so myself, was pretty good.
Tell us of your journey to publication.
Even when I had a fourth draft, I didn’t consider getting the story published. At best I thought I could get several copies printed and give them to my family, just for interest sake. However, I read an article in The Courier about Peter Murray Books and his Hahndorf Publishing Academy so, on spec, I called in to his shop front and spoke to Peter about my manuscript. I was really surprised when he accepted it, right then and there. He arranged for an editor to read and correct my scribbles and then created a wonderful cover and over the last 6 months both Peter and his staff have encouraged and supported the project tremendously. I had a launch at Windy Point early in August and have been receiving comments from readers and reviews, which are all very encouraging. I’m now about to have the second hundred books printed and extend the promotion and marketing. I am expecting Herron Books, the distributor for Murray Books, to get Promises into all good book stores very soon.
Thanks for talking to us Peter, good luck with the marketing and I can’t wait to see it in book stores.
I devour books, vampires and supernatural creatures are my genre of choice but over the past couple of years, I have broadened my horizons considerably. In a nutshell – I love to write! I love interacting with a diverse range of artists to bring you interviews. Perhaps we were perfect before – I LOVE WORDS!