ENEMY ALIENS AND WOMEN IN WW2 AUSTRALIA

What If You Fly? cover
What If You Fly cover

Como-based author, Camille Booker, drew inspiration from the achievements of real-life heroines to write the page-turning epic historical adventure fiction, What If You Fly?

Heroines like Nancy Wake, Josephine Baker, Elsie Ott, Susan Travers and Eileen Nearne often go overlooked in history textbooks.

“When we learn about war, we so often hear about men, and never much about the struggle and efforts of women,” Booker said. “World War Two would not have been won by the allies without the bravery of such women. These heroines deserve to be honoured for their courage.”

Booker’s fictional lead character, Frances, explores the roles of extraordinary women whose courage, intelligence and determination made a difference to the war.

Booker also explores the difficulties faced by women when 4,700 male Italian Australians were incarcerated in internment camps, subjected to discrimination and open hostility. What If You Fly? gives an account of the suffering of Italian migrants who lived in Australia during World War Two by providing insight into the experiences of ‘enemy aliens’ during a period of international political conflict, a period of our wartime history that has been excluded in many Australian history books.

“Simply being Italian was considered sufficient grounds for internment,” Booker said. “However, fishermen received particular attention because their boats and seafaring experience could constitute a threat to national security since they could aid spies getting in and out of the country. Fishing boats belonging to Italians were confiscated, fishermen had their licenses suspended and many were interned. The story of Frances’ love interest in my book is one amongst thousands of internees. His experience was common to many of the hard-working Italian migrants who lived in Australia, trying to make a new life for themselves. War and xenophobia changed their lives forever.”

The skill with which the author used these tough themes to craft a brilliantly entertaining coming-of-age page-turner is the result of hard work, as many overnight successes will attest when pressed for the key to their success. What If You Fly? was long-listed for the 2019 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. Finessing her manuscript using the feedback from that prize, Booker went on to place second in the 2020 Hawkeye Publishing Manuscript Development Prize, and What If You Fly? was later signed for publication. As the saying goes, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door”.

Booker’s publisher, Carolyn Martinez, encourages aspiring authors to enter competitions. “Many competitions publish long-lists and short-lists in addition to the winner and top place-getters,” Martinez said. “You don’t have to win a competition for it to benefit your career. Any listing in quality competitions evidences that you’re on the right track with your manuscript, and some competitions provide entrants with invaluable feedback.”

Reviews for What If You Fly? include “this is a book that will live on in readers long after they’ve read it, five stars, fast-paced, action-packed, rollicking bildungsroman, compelling.”

What If You Fly? is available now for special edition pre-orders, with the book officially launching into bookstores on 16 October 2021.

HISTORICAL FACTS THAT INSPIRED CAMILLE BOOKER IN HER FICTIONAL NOVEL, WHAT IT YOU FLY?

Nancy Wake was a New Zealand nurse and journalist who joined the French Resistance and later the Special Operations Executive, an organisation known as Churchill’s Secret Army. During the early days of the war, Wake helped save the lives of hundreds of Allied soldiers and downed airmen by escorting them through the dangerous escape routes in occupied France to safety in Spain. In 1943, she was forced to flee France, and when she reached England she worked in the French Section of the Special Operations Executive. After a period of training, Wake returned to France in 1944 to help organise the Resistance before D-Day.

Josephine Baker was born into poverty, grew up fatherless with little schooling and was married for the first time at age 13. Despite all this, at the age of 19 she left the United States to perform as a burlesque dancer in the cabaret halls of Paris. During the war, Baker used her fame and celebrity to spy on Italian and Japanese diplomats, gathering intelligence at parties and relaying it back to the French Resistance.

Elsie Ott made a name for herself in the world of flight nursing and became a true trailblazer for women in the military. During WWII, injured soldiers would have to wait weeks and often months to be sent back home to the U.S. In 1943, Ott was assigned the first ever intercontinental air evacuation, a week-long mission from India to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. With only 24 hours’ notice and no flying experience, Ott served as the in-flight nurse for five soldiers, given only a simple first aid kit to care for them. A week later she reached Walter Reed with the patients, all of them alive.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Susan Travers left behind a pampered life and a wealthy family to train as a nurse for the French Red Cross and then become an ambulance driver. She travelled to North Africa and during the journey she had a brief affair with a Foreign Legion officer. She was then assigned as driver to Colonel Marie-Pierre Koenig and also became his lover. In 1942, with Rommel’s Afrika Korps ready to attack, Koenig ordered all the women to evacuate, but Travers refused to leave, becoming the only woman among at least 3,500 men. Being the Colonel’s driver, Travers led the breakout. She stepped on the gas and broke through the German lines, creating a gap through which the rest could follow.

Eileen Nearne was a heroine of the Second World War, a brilliant and courageous spy who helped liberate occupied France and survived incarceration and torture in a Nazi concentration camp. Only 23 years old, Nearne joined the SOE as a radio operator. In 1944, she was flown in a Westland Lysander and dropped by parachute into occupied France to relay messages from the French Resistance and arrange weapons drops. She talked her way out of trouble several times, but was eventually arrested by the Nazis, tortured, and sent to Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp where thousands lost their lives. She was threatened with execution but never deviated from her cover story no matter how brutally she was treated. In maintaining her silence, she ensured the safety of her SOE colleagues stationed in France.

On the 10th June 1940, Mussolini declared war on Britain. The entry of Italy into the Second World War brought considerable disruption to the Italian Australian community whose presence was seen by the Australian authorities as a serious potential threat to national security. The day after Mussolini’s speech, Italian citizens, particularly men of military age, were rounded up and arrested without charge as ‘enemy aliens’ in all the major capital cities in Australia. As an estimate, over a thousand men were rounded up in Sydney in the first weeks.

These enemy alien captives were summarily fingerprinted; mug shot photographed, strip-searched and had all valuables, including watches and wedding rings, taken at the police station where they were assigned. The conditions in the camps were overwhelmingly inhumane, with most sleeping on hay scattered on dirty, urine-saturated concrete floors. The camps were constructed with barbed wire, armed guards, machine guns with live ammunition, ready to shoot twenty-four hours per day, and floodlights each hour of darkness.

If you’d like to order a copy of the breath-taking novel What If You Fly? you can do so here.

***By pre-ordering you receive a special edition first release moniker.***

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