Goulburn writer Nigel Featherstone's new novel Bodies of Men sets out to tell a story we don't often hear about in relation to war.
The idea for Bodies of Men came out of a residency he held at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) in 2013.
At first, he said, he didn't know what the experience would lead him to write about, but after reading first-hand accounts of war he became interested in the idea of different expressions of masculinity under military pressure.
"I spent three months there and it has led to so many things," he said.
"The ADFA library is one of the best military libraries in the world. It also has a fantastic literature collection.
"I discovered Peter Stanley's book Bad Characters, which is about soldiers whose files were marked 'character bad' for various reasons such as theft, desertion, or being too drunk to fight.
"This book is all based on what is in the files and I found the facts are much more interesting than many of the usual heroic war stories we read."
Featherstone said he had relatives who had served in the wars, "so I am not insensitive about their contributions".
"But when you read these books, you realise the stories of many soldiers are so much more diverse and complicated and contradictory and I decided I wanted to tell a different war story."
Bodies of Men tells the story of two men, William Marsh and James Kelly.
The story opens only hours after disembarking in Alexandria, in 1941.
William Marsh, an Australian corporal, is caught in a fight with the Italian enemy. He is saved by James Kelly, a childhood friend from Sydney and the last person he expected to see.
The two men are separated and William is sent to supervise an army depot in the Western Desert, with a private directive, ironically to find an AWOL soldier: James Kelly.
"William comes from a military, conservative family, but when push comes to shove, he finds he can't do the job. In contrast, James comes from a pacifist family, but is effective in crisis situations of war," Featherstone said.
Without giving too much of the story away, when the two men later meet up, James is recovering from a motorbike accident, hidden away in the home of a family with secrets.
"James has had an accident, so one of the questions I am asking is, does he really desert and, if so, at what point?" Featherstone said.
"Sometimes men, suffering a kind of fugue state caused by shelling or battle, ended up 10 miles from the front and had no idea where they were, or how they got there. Some of these men were later charged with desertion."
Featherstone said he got the idea after reading a section in Stanley's book where he briefly described a case involving Melbourne man Thomas Chilton.
"Chilton saw action and was wounded at Gallipoli. Despite facing a charge of stealing and receiving stolen goods, he received a promotion," he said.
"In Belgium, on Christmas Day 1918, he gets caught having sex with a Belgian man. He was court-martialed on Valentine's Day and found guilty of a serious misdemeanour.
"He was meant to return to Australia on the next troop transport where he would have ended up at Ingleburn or Holsworthy in military prison, which was far worse than a civilian prison.
"He did not turn up at the docks and rather than pursue him, the authorities marked his file as 'no further action'.
"At the end of this paragraph, Stanley says, 'The Australian Defence Force is clearly happy to forget their gay soldiers, we should not'.
"I read that line and I knew I had my story. So what happened to Chilton? Did he meet up again with the Belgian man? These are questions I turned around in my head."
He had the initial idea, now he just had to write it, and 40 drafts later, we have Bodies of Men, which is published by Hachette.
The book is out now and is available at book stores and online.
Featherstone will officially launch it at the Street Theatre in Canberra on May 16 at 6pm.
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