A born traveller, Geelong local Alli Sinclair worked as a mountain climbing guide in Peru and Argentina in her early twenties. Alli recalls that she felt like she was home when she arrived in Argentina, and her book Luna Tango is her love letter to the country. Alli’s books have been translated into many languages and are read around the world. With international travel currently restricted, Alli recommends armchair travelling through books as a fulfilling alternative. After starting her family in Canada, Alli moved back to Australia so her children could experience the same opportunities she had taken for granted growing up. Australia is a very lucky country, Alli tells me, especially now that there are many different cultures living here that we can experience and learn from.
Alli’s sixth and most recent book, The Codebreakers, explores the story of female codebreakers during World War II. The Codebreakers is more than a WWII story, but also about loyalties, and the power of women and female friendships. “I love writing about women who buck the system,” Alli tells me. After writing Burning Fields, set in 1948 Brisbane about a woman working in the Australian Women’s Army Service, Alli searched for other Brisbane women for inspiration for her next story. A tiny article about female codebreakers popped up, and Alli went down the rabbit hole researching this story. Alli says it is important for writers to write the story that appeals to them. “You’ll spend a lot of time with the book, so make sure to write from the heart.”
When Alli learned that the men worked in a huge mansion while the women worked out of a garage at the back of the property, she knew that this story had to be told. After six months of research, Alli then met real-life codebreaker Coral and some of the other women all in their 90s who worked as codebreakers. They had excellent recall of their time working with the Central Bureau, and Alli could see the look in their eyes as they went back in time.
“When you come across a story idea that hasn’t been done before, it’s pure gold,” Alli says. The more she learned from the codebreakers the more dedicated Alli was to share their story. These women were sworn to secrecy for 50 years after their service, and Alli’s book explores the effect that keeping such a secret has on their relationships. Coral married her husband who also worked for the Central Bureau, while other women moved overseas and tried to move on. “I love writing about women who buck the system,” Alli tells me, and The Codebreakers immortalises the legacy of these “tough as tacks” women for generations to come.
Along with fellow writer T.M. Clark, Alli runs an annual writer’s retreat called Writers at Sea. Traditionally the retreat would sail to the Pacific, but during 2020 the program was moved online and dubbed ‘Shipwrecked’. In 2021, the program will be held in Cairns and by the end of 2022 Alli hopes it will return to the sea. Writers at Sea is open to writers of all experience levels.
Alli will continue writing books and is also working on film and TV projects throughout 2021 and beyond. She’s at the tail end of the publicity tour for The Codebreakers and says, “Most writers are just happy to sit and write our book, but I love doing talks and inspiring people in different ways.”
Story: Steph Downing. Photos: supplied.