I didn't want to disrespect the real events of this tragedy or play down the incident, so I made up characters and gave them a romance that wasn't necessarily part of the actual event (in fact there is dispute as to if there was a romance at all in the real version).
My character took on real traits from Alick Mclean and as a result, is very much a part of the book.
Through these letters I formed a bond with Alick Mclean. Knowing the terrible outcome of that night back in November 1920 I found it hard to believe the man who wrote these letters could be the same man who was responsible for such a horrific crime.
His letters back home to his mum and his sister were so full of Aussie larrikin and warmth that it was impossible not to like him.
He was also a hero and a well respected soldier, awarded a DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal).
One of the letters in the collection was from his commander who wrote to him whilst he was in hospital recovering from the injuries that would eventually send him back home and end his war--the loss of his eye. It spoke of his commanders great respect and admiration for Alick as a soldier and also as a friend.
Alick Mclean was well loved. Before the war he played football and he also sang and MC'd at church fundraising dances held at various halls around the district. He was thought of as an intelligent, quiet, well balanced man. From his letters while he was overseas, he always spoke well of his Mum and sister and always included a special note for his young niece, to whom he always sent his love.
This is what prompted me to write my book. There was so much more to this man.
What happened to Alick Mclean to turn him from a brave, well respected man from a loving family...into someone who could brutally kill a young woman and then take his own life?
I wish I could have given the real Alick and Gertie a love story--there was conflicting evidence about this in the inquest, following their deaths. Some say they had a brief relationship of some sort, while others say there was none. It made me sad to think there wasn't some kind of background that if not to justify, then at least provide some kind of reason as to why it happened. This is why I wrote my book. I needed, (and that's probably selfish on my part) a way to make this somehow make some kind of sense.
I do not condone what Alex did--no one could, but I can't help but feel a need to try and tell a little bit of Alex's story too. The only portrayal of him is through the newspapers and rightly so considering the circumstances, it paints a picture of a monster--a cold blooded killer who took a beautiful young woman's life and then ended his own.
But there was so much more to Alick Mclean. So much that lead up to this event. I felt a need to try and explain some of the circumstances that may or may not have led to that horrific event. It doesn't excuse it...it doesn't make him any less guilty...but this was Australia just after the most devastating and brutal war modern civilization had ever experienced. Over 61,900 Australian's lost their lives and more than 152,000 were wounded. To simply survive this war, to come home alive, was amazing enough...to come home wounded, to have undergone sometimes primitive surgery and months of rehabilitation in Army hospitals...to simply come home and be expected to fit into normal, every day life after years of experiencing all that death and misery, was asking too much of these men.
There are days when I think I cannot stand to hear another scream, another grown man sobbing like a small child for his mother. Times when I can’t remember what it’s like to smell anything but blood and filth and death all around me .
Excerpt from the original manuscript Poppy's Dilemma.
This was a time when PTSD, now a condition which is taken seriously and soldiers are able to obtain help for, was labeled as shell shock and often looked down upon and persons thought of as weak if they suffered from it. Society of the time was a melting pot of disaster waiting to happen, especially in rural areas where men were often expected to simply, get on with it and no one spoke of anything that might bring about some kind of shame or scandal.
There were also other influencing factors at play in society following the first world war. All these men who had been away fighting for their country for so many years were now returning home to find they didn't necessarily have a job.
They went from having a purpose, being sent off by their communities with grand farewell dances and being written about in the paper like heroes, to coming home and discovering they no longer fitted in.
There was also a strong divide between the men who went away to fight and those who did not, causing unease and often leading to fighting and attacks between veterans and civilians.
There was so much more to the Alick Mclean, and while he couldn't tell his story, I hope that I've somehow given a small, albeit fictional glimpse, into his life as well as life in rural Australia during WW1.