Beechworth author Robert Barclay has been nominated for both the 2022 Miles Franklin Literary Award and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for his book The Diary of Katy Yehonala.
Mr Barclay, who “writes better than he lives” spent much of his adult life in and around Asia, before moving back to Australia and realising his desire to tell important stories he felt should be heard, sharing themes that had universal interest.
The book is the first of a four-part literature series ‘The Butterfly Dynasty’ which explores themes including child sex trafficking, the collision of modern with ancient China and women’s ascendance.
The Diary of Katy Yehonala introduces Katy Yehonala, a descendant of the Dowager Empress Cixi, and born into the violence of the Chinese Revolution and its aftermath.
The story follows her development as a young woman learning about love and life in England, then later in Australia with her husband.
The romantic keys of a piano accompany her narrative from her increasingly famous daughter, Clara, a youthful piano virtuoso known universally as the Jade Princess.
The sequel, and the second in the series of four, describes how Katy follows her murdered husband’s steps to Cambodia where his charity operated, taking her daughter Clara, to discover answers to questions she had read in his unfinished manuscript. Who is the young village girl, Chavy, trafficked for sex, why are Cambodia’s political corruption and human trafficking trade so dangerous to foreign nationals and what are the father–complexes she and her daughter both share?
“For this series, I have invented three women symbolising the transition of Chinese history Mr Barclay said.
“So, for example, Katy’s mother represents traditional China before Mao and the disciplines of Confucian piety. Katy herself lives through the Cultural Revolution, born into one world and then living through another which replaced the old traditions.
“Clara represents the New China, sassy and well–educated, talented and becoming centre–stage in the world yet, like all Chinese, having 5000 years of demureness built-in.”
According to Mr Barclay, telling stories matters.
“We live in a world where the distractions of technology for technology’s sake dominate and diminish our lives,” he said.
“But stories do the opposite; they enrich the world.
“It is possible to change the world, one word at a time, and the stories I am telling need to be told.
“What is curious to me is the degree to which characters in so many stories are representations of the writer, whether the retelling of personal experiences under various disguises, and that also includes genders, or representations of unfulfilled dreams.
“I found writing is the literary version of the psychoanalyst’s couch.”
Interestingly, like in his books, Mr Barclay himself founded a charity called The Sunlight Foundation to assist with the plight of any children affected by sex trafficking.
The inspiration for both his charity and novels came about from seeing firsthand the war-ravaged villages of Vietnam and Cambodia and the children affected during the Vietnam War, where he received two commendations for bravery.
“I see examples like this all the time in my own writing,” he said.
“I discovered I’m probably better at writing than living.
“In a way, writing is a wonderful way to create characters to live your life for you, doing the things you wish you had done or dealing with situations differently.
“It’s like a second chance at life!”
The third book of the Beechworth author’s series, The Body Shop, is due for release in March 2023.