LIKE many of his novels, author David Whish-Wilson’s latest crime fiction book True West started with a single image.
“In this case, the image was of 17-year-old Lee Southern fleeing Geraldton in a jerry-rigged tow-truck, driving south through the bush in wildflower season, headed for Perth with one eye over his shoulder in search of his pursuers,” Whish-Wilson, of Hamilton Hill, said.
“The development of my character, Lee Southern, coincided with a desire to explore a pretty unrepresented, in fiction at least, part of WA history: the rise of radical nationalism in the 1980s and how that played out in Perth’s streets and suburbs.
“Lee has had a very tough upbringing since his father is preparing him for the war that he believes is coming to Australia. The narrative explores, from the inside, his journey of learning what really lies at the heart of all the dogma and ritual.”
Using former WA neo-Nazi group Australian Nationalist Movement leader Jack van Tongeren’s memoirs as part of his research into this dark 1980s era, the Curtin University creative writing lecturer said he chose to write novels set in the recent past because the resonances of these periods were clearly visible today.
“It has been a sad thing to observe, worldwide, the rise over the past decade in particular of various strains of far-right extremism, and how in some countries these views have been incorporated into government policy as a way of garnering votes,” he said.
“I wrote True West with far-right extremism in mind to explore a time when the more extreme positions of some of these groups hadn’t yet been camouflaged and dressed-up to appeal to a broader public.”
Blessed with a tiny writing studio in Fremantle’s West End, with room for only a desk and swag on the floor, Whish-Wilson said he found Perth an endlessly fascinating place.
“True West is set partially in Fremantle, the Perth CBD, Nollamara, Subiaco, Mt Lawley and plenty of other locations that all possess their own distinct sense of identity,” he said.
“The Perth landscapes, light and big sky are all perfectly conducive to the kind of stories that I like to write.”
He already has plans for a new crime novel with Southern as the central character.