Newspaper article News Mail Bundaberg Qld.

Marsden's Darker Side

Newspaper article News Mail Bundaberg Qld.

Marsden's Darker Side

Article excerpt

Michelle Gately

MOST plane journeys are spent reading, sleeping or staring blankly at the in-flight entertainment.

But not if you're John Marsden.

His latest novel, South of Darkness, marks the giant of teen fiction's first foray into the adult market and was conceived mid-flight when John was "kind of bored".

Set in the late 1700s, the story follows Barnaby Fletch, a young homeless orphan living on the streets of London.

On hearing about the paradise of Australia from a former convict, Barnaby sets out to get himself transported.

In a time when almost every part of the world is connected through the internet, John said the only modern comparison he could make to European settlement was a trip to Mars.

"The mindset's so different now," he said.

"The whole planet is pretty much mapped and explored and we know everything that's everywhere.

"That takes a lot of mystique ... and a lot of the tension out of life.

"But there's something very different about those days where they had no idea what lay over the horizon."

He described it as "extraordinary" to think people could go into "such an unknown future with not too many reservations", likely with the knowledge they'd never see their homeland again.

Add to that months spent at sea on a rodent-infected ship with fellow prisoners and John said the chances of surviving to see Australia were even slimmer.

"A lot of the convicts were terrified, but some were looking forward to it," he said.

"They were sort of thinking anything would be better than the life they knew so they were prepared to take the risk.

"Of course, most of them had no choice."

A large part of the novel is also set in the slums of London and explores the British legal system which saw convicts transported to the other side of the world.

Researching the novel, John found the judicial system of the time "fascinating" and spent hours reading trial transcripts.

But he was surprised to find there were far more acquittals than now and those found guilty were rarely sentenced to long prison terms.

"You either got transported or you got fined or you got flogged or you got hung and they were about the four main choices," John said. …

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