Writer shares South American tale
Travelling to South America as a backpacker and ending up living in one of the world’s most notorious prisons is not an easy introduction to writing, but for Rusty Young, the experience gave him the impetus to write his bestselling novel, Marching Powder.
The Times spoke to Young ahead of his appearances at events in the region next week, where he will launch his latest novel, Colombiano.
At age 24, as a recent law graduate from Sydney, Young said he decided to go travelling before starting work at a merchant bank.
While travelling through South America with his girlfriend, the couple encountered other tourists who encouraged them to visit Bolivia’s San Pedro prison, where tours were run by convicted drug trafficker Thomas McFadden.
“You go to the prison, leave your passport and the gate opens and Thomas is there waiting for you,” he said.
“We did a one-hour tour for $US5 and at the end he selected three of us and let us spend the night there for another $5.”
Young said he had always wanted to be a writer but until that point had never found a subject to write about.
After pitching the idea to Thomas, Young was told he could stay in the prison to experience what life was really like living inside.
“I agreed to stay in the prison and do research but did not expect to spend four months there; in hindsight that experience gave the book authenticity,” he said.
Colombiano is described as a revenge thriller that follows the story of a teenage boy, Pedro, who, after witnessing his father’s murder, joins a guerrilla group to avenge his death.
While working for the US Government in counterterrorism in Colombia, Young said he came in contact with special force soldiers, snipers, undercover intelligence agents and members of terrorist organisations, but it was the plight of child soldiers which truly caught his attention.
“Those were the most impactful and gut-wrenching stories which really broke my heart,” he said.
“A lot of them had volunteered, joining as young as eight years old, and I was interested in how children’s lives were so bad that they considered joining armed insurgency groups.”
While writing the novel, Young said he met with about 30 or 40 former child soldiers, which he said gave the fictional storyline a level of authenticity.
“There is no way I could have invented a plotline like that without hearing their stories,” he said.
Young said he hoped the book would also alert readers to the prevalence of child soldiers.
“When I first went to Colombia I didn’t even know there were child soldiers in that country and most Westerners are completely unaware of this,” he said.
“It is a way of educating the world about the fact child soldiers do exist here.
“I also try and made a link between the Western consumption of cocaine and the conflict in Colombia.”
Young will be speaking at two events next week, at the Busselton library at 3.30pm on Wednesday August 9, and at the Margaret River Cultural Centre at 6.30pm.
The Busselton event is free, with attendees asked to RSVP to Barefoot Books or the Busselton Library on 9751 3905 or 9781 1777.
Tickets to the other event are $10 and are available from mrrwfestival.com/whats-on, by phoning 9758 7316 or in person at the centre.
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