Where The Line Breaks is the debut novel by UK-based West Australian academic Michael Burrows. On its cover, it’s described as “an ambitious and original novel – a literary puzzle, an engrossing war story and a captivating tale of love and obsession.” Sounds enticing! We got in touch with Michael to ask him about his book.
What’s Where The Line Breaks about?
It’s about two men from two very different times, coming to terms with what it means to be a hero, and questioning the truth about love, war and masculinity. One storyline follows Alan Lewis through the First World War, from embarkation, through Gallipoli to the battles of the Eastern Front.
The other storyline is set in modern-day London, where Matthew Denton writes a thesis arguing that Alan Lewis is the Unknown Digger, Australia’s legendary war poet. In the footnotes of the thesis, Matt’s own story is revealed.
How did this book come about?
I was searching for a way to combine two of my favourite things – poetry and war stories – then in 2013 I travelled to Gallipoli for Anzac Day and began to wonder what an Australian war poet would look and sound like. The rest came from there.
The main character in your book is Matthew, “a starry-eyed Australian completing his PHD in London.” Is he very much like you?
Matt’s physical journey, from Perth to London, is very similar to mine, but I think after that we’re very different – Matt tries his hardest but is often thwarted by his stubbornness and inability to back down. I think I’m a lot more laid back, and crucially for the sake of all my relationships, I know when I’m wrong, and how to apologise.
When did you move to London and what were you studying there?
I first moved over in 2012 to work at the Olympic Games, then after travelling around Europe I returned to London and started my Masters in Creative Writing at City, University of London in 2015. I wrote the first draft of my novel on the course.
I was hoping to be back in Perth for the launch of the novel, but I’m still in London because of the difficulty in travelling at the moment. As the UK comes out of lockdown, and travelling starts to become easier, I’m looking forward to getting back to Perth as soon as possible.
Did you enjoy the writing process? What was your daily routine?
I wrote the first draft of the novel as part of my Master’s degree, which was great because I had published authors guiding me, and deadlines to help push me along. My fiancée is also an author, and we were both writing books at the same time, so we often read each other’s work and suggested ideas. It’s wonderful having someone who knows what you are going through, in your corner cheering you on. I found writing very early in the morning, from 5am until 6am for example, to be really productive. I’d then go to work for the day and then edit in the evenings. Long days, but worth it in the end.
What advice would you give to anyone contemplating writing a novel?
Do it! Stop reading this and go pick up a pen! The hardest thing I found about writing the book was getting started, but once I did, I knew I had to keep going until it was finished. If no one else is going to tell the story you want to write, then you need to do it!
What was the most challenging thing for you about writing the book?
Part of the novel is written in the form of an academic thesis, and that was hard to find the right tone for – most academic writing isn’t very thrilling to read – so I had to do a lot of editing and rewriting to create a thesis that sounded sufficiently professional, while also being entertaining to read.
Who would Where The Line Breaks appeal to?
I think there is something in the novel for everyone, because it’s not just one genre – it’s a historical novel for people who like that, but it’s also very much a novel about modern day love, as well as a literary mystery.
Can you see it being made into a movie? If so, who would play the starry-eyed Australian?
Absolutely, although it might be hard to fit the entirety of the First World War into the space of a movie, so maybe a miniseries would work better. In terms of casting – both the main characters are young starry-eyed Australian’s out in the world (and the average age of the original Diggers was around 24), so I think an up-and-coming young star on the rise would be perfect.
What’s next for you Michael?
I’m working on my next novel, a story about the early years in the settlement of Western Australia and the myths and legends surrounding bushrangers. I’m trying to incorporate folk music, another passion of mine, into the story too. Hopefully it will be finished soon!
Where The Line Breaks, by Michael Burrows (Fremantle Press) is out now.