Author, surfer, adventurer, poet, Madelaine Dickie is a woman on the move.
When we first interviewed her three years ago she was elated that her first novel, Troppo, set in Indonesia, had just been published.
Now Madeleine’s next novel is out, Red Can Origami, set in a fictional, Broome-like town, and she’s proud.
“I think this is a better book, I’m really happy with it,” the 29-year-old tells The Starfish over a cuppa in Cott. “I think the characters are a lot fuller than in my first book. A lot is based on different personalities of people I’ve met in the Kimberley.”
Red Can Origami is about a young journalist, Ava, working in the fictitious tropical town of Gubinge in WA’s north-west. She stumbles on a big story, involving a Japanese uranium mining company and a conflict with the local indigenous people. “I think this is quite a serious book, dealing with big issues,” nods Madelaine.
She didn’t have to work hard to research what it was like working in a small country town in our steamy north, having spent several years in the Kimberley.
“After living in Indonesia, my husband Tom and I lived in Broome for four years, then moved to Wyndham for two years. Now we’re in Exmouth.”
“When I first moved to Broome, I thought it was the end of the earth – then I suddenly, realized it was the start of this incredible country. That was a really exciting realization to have because that first year was really tough!”
“I was working in media and communications, for an organisation set up by the Kimberley Land Council,” she explains.
“We loved living up there. We lived in an open plan house, with frogs everywhere.”
In the Kimberley there are so many fantastic indigenous leaders, making huge strides ahead in the native title space, the land rights space.
I feel really privileged and lucky to have had that time working with them, working in media and communications across a number of different native title groups. Those experiences have certainly informed the book and this book is told from a place of really deep respect and good intent.”
Madelaine’s book also has an international element. Thus, she also went to Japan for two months to research her story; visiting the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. (The plant was badly damaged after an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.)
And it was a sobering experience, bussing through the site where the nuclear power plant had erupted.
“You know it was using Australian uranium don’t you?” she says.
“I felt quite uneasy during my tour.”
“I think that’s where that link with Japan comes in; I wanted to explore that element. I think it gives it global resonance as well. Rather thank it just being a WA story, it gives it a bigger audience. Uranium, whether for use in energy or in weapons has the power to impact us all, globally.”
While Madelaine sees Red Can as a “serious book; mining has really impacted my generation,” she says she certainly doesn’t want to preach to her readers.
I think it’s really important to have plenty of voices on the big issues.
I don’t see anything as black or white, there are so many shades of grey in between. And that’s something I really learned working in the Kimberley. I think I try to keep an open mind and weave in as many perspectives as possible in Red Can so there is that balance.”
To further test herself as a writer, Madelaine opted to write her book from an unusual perspective.
“Yes, the whole book is written in the second person – you – as I think perhaps, it puts a little extra responsibility on the reader; it’s ‘you’ – you’re responsible for your choices,” she explains.
“That was a deliberate choice in that sense. And hopefully, it works, not to come across in a didactic way – hopefully, in a subtle, soft and compelling way.
While she acknowledges her book can be heavy in parts, “It’s a dark book – the ending’s terrible!” she says it is also very funny at times. “I use humour a lot in it; living up north involves a lot of piss-drinking and piss-taking!” she giggles.
Red Can Origami, Fremantle Press, is out now.