War Flower by Mary-Anne O’Connor is our Book of the Week. It is a tender, heart-wrenching romance set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. You can read our full review by clicking here.
We adored this read so much that we spoke with Mary-Anne about how she captures the life of history in fiction:
Better Reading: Congratulations on the publication of War Flower – could you quickly tell the Better Reading community what it’s about?
Mary-Anne O’Connor: War Flower is a sixties story about twin teenage girls, Rosemary and Poppy, who escape their conservative parents to have the summer trip of a lifetime and end up falling in love with two young men, Angus and Ben. Each couple finds a way to be together back home but sadly the young men are soon shipped off to Vietnam. The girls are left to pick up the pieces with them on their return and help their new friend, orphaned Vietnamese girl Thuy, to try to adjust too. In a haze of parties, protests, drug and rock and roll, War Flower is a roller coaster and hopefully transports the reader straight into this tumultuous, passionate era.
BR: You’ve said before a lot of your writing is inspired by your family, particularly your relatives that fought in previous wars, which obviously make the stories very personal and heartfelt. Do you think writing with this connection makes it easier or harder?
MAO: It definitely makes it easier as I can weave truth into the fiction and increase the potential for the novel to feel authentic. It is very sad sometimes though, understanding what they endured.
BR: Having Thuy as a main character in War Flower provided a great sense of perspective and balance. Can you tell us about the inspiration for her?
MAO: My next-door neighbor and close friend, Thuy Simpson. She is Vietnamese and she’s an incredibly strong, wonderful person. Thuy really helped me develop this character by sharing her own experiences and insights with me.
BR: How was writing about the Vietnam War compared to writing about the first or second world wars?
MAO: It really surprised me how affected I was by the end- how much the Vietnam Vets moved me. I’m still reeling from the realization of just how much they suffered and how unfairly they were treated: conscription, abuse, little support or respect. It was a terrible travesty. Having the characters try to heal and the women who loved them try to help them do so gave me great scope for story but it also put pressure on doing this generation justice. They deserve so much more than they’ve been given.
MAO: Phew, that’s a tricky one! There’s a bit of each of the twins in me; I can be strong but I can hurt and fall down too. Poppy is very self-disciplined and, as a writer, I also have to be that way, but sometimes I let my hair down too (although not as much as Rosemary!!!). I’m going to say ‘both’.
BR: Music became an important part of the story, and really helped the 60s era come alive. Were you a fan of this type of music before writing the book? Can you recommend a soundtrack for readers while they read it?
MAO: Such a fan!!! I really loved the process of choosing songs for scenes, in fact I blasted it and danced around the house on many occasions- just ask Thuy. 😊 The War Flower song list is available on Spotify. https://open.spotify.com/user/jamesabest123/playlist/179UUW1UNmNt9mI5ayfCYv
BR: What are you plans for your next book – will you continue your theme of stories told against a background of war?
MAO: Yes, after three stories exploring the development of our cultural identity in the 20th century I’ve decided to go back in time to write a series about Australia’s journey in the 19th century. (It’s all very George Lucas really.)
I’m currently writing about the Eureka Stockade, tentatively entitled ‘Southern Crossed’.
BR: Have you read any great books recently that have really stayed with you?
MAO: I’m a massive fan of Rachel Johns, Tricia Stringer and Liane Moriarty but a debut novelist captured me this year too: Darry Fraser. She penned a great, rollicking tale in ‘Daughter of the Murray’, which I loved.