Ned Manning spotlights his debut novel at Book Cow

Having played a significant role in the Australian art scene as an actor, writer and educator, Ned Manning published his first novel, painting light, earlier this year. Manning joins Barbie Robinson in a discussion about the novel on Wednesday evening, September 21 at Book Cow in Kingston.

Loosely based on his parents’ experience during World War II, Manning says he wanted to focus on how women were affected during that time; how they waited for their husbands to return from the war, often men they barely knew who then returned as very different people.

“It’s not a story of war per se, but of how war affected this generation,” Manning says.

paint the light follows Nell and Alec, who both dream of escaping the paths their families have laid down for them. Soon, Hitler’s mission sends them in directions they never intended; Nell returns home and Alec enlists to join the war effort. The pair meet and share a wartime romance; their experience together and apart makes them want to make the world a better place, even if it means losing their family.

Manning was partly motivated by a desire to know more about his mother, her life, and what she went through. He never had the chance to tell her about it as she died when he was young, while her father only briefly touched on those times but never mentioned the horrors they endured.

The lived experiences of people back then ultimately changed the way they would interact with their future families. The horrors they witnessed, the feeling of living with a stranger, and the lack of support for returning soldiers all played a part, but it was the family unit that suffered.

“Baby boomers were determined to treat their children differently. I know that’s true for my generation, I’m behind the baby boomers and I wanted to be around a lot more than my parents ever were for me,” he says.

Much of the feedback Manning has received since the release of his novel is that it has empowered the children of parents who lived through the war to understand what they went through and the lasting impacts it left behind.

“A story of a woman in the countryside, she told me that her father left when she was 18; he was sent to New Guinea. He wanted to be a lawyer, he came back and suffered from PTSD, which was never recognized, and he eventually became an alcoholic. He had intelligence, but he was still drunk. The book helped her understand the impact of the war on him.

Manning is looking forward to returning to Canberra as he has a lifelong connection to the capital. His parents bought property in what was then bushland near the Manuka telephone exchange. He also spent time teaching at Watson High School and started his acting career here.

“My first acting job was at Canberra REP; I was the worst Romeo in the history of Romeo and Juliet. My professional career started in Canberra with the Fortune Theatre, then I eventually found an agent and moved to Sydney,” he says.

Canberra’s connection is still strong with many of her family and friends residing here. He found the Book Cow in Kingston while visiting, having taken the train and wandered into the bookstore where he connected with the team.

While writing his first novel, Manning enjoyed exploring the character’s inner monologue, something he hadn’t been able to delve into before. He laughs admitting he didn’t realize he could have dialogue in the novel when he first sat down to write it. The process is quite different from that of writing a play.

“You have limited players; you can’t run a train in the book. I found it liberating in a way. Your imagination can run wild with a book.

Although the book is based on historical events, most of the characters are fictional though influenced by people he knew.

Manning won’t read excerpts during his Book Cow appearance because he’s found that most attendees at literary events are more interested in writing tips.

Find Ned Manning chatting paint the light at Book Cow, Kingston, Wednesday, September 21 at 5:30 p.m.; eventbrite.com.au

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Irene B. Bowles