Belgium residency chance to get feel of war

TRACEY CHATTERTON
Last updated 23:21 19/06/2013
Anna McKenzie
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BELGIUM BOUND: Anna McKenzie will be soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the Flemish countryside for a new novel.

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Writer Anna Mackenzie will soon be strolling down cobbled streets once trodden by young soldiers who fought at Flanders.

But there will be little time for sightseeing, as she will be scribbling down the sights, smells and sounds her characters would have experienced during World War I.

Mackenzie, a mother of two who writes young-adult fiction, is the first New Zealander to be awarded the writer's residency in Belgium by Passa Porta, International House of Literature, which is offered to writers worldwide.

She applied for the residency while in Belgium last year researching the war novel and has now secured a five-week stay in the Flemish countryside, about 30km from Brussels.

The story, of three young New Zealanders during the war, had been on hold while she worked on a sequel to her recently published fantasy adventure Cattra's Legacy.

Her third novel, The Sea-wreck Stranger, won the Young Adult Fiction Honour Award at the 2008 New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Mackenzie, 50, of Hastings, was inspired to write a historical novel after reading letters sent from the Western Front by her grandfather and his brother.

She said she knew about the horrors of war from her research, but living in Belgium would help her put it into the physical setting. She could walk the cobbled streets, smell the bread coming out of the oven in the corner bakery and hear the trains pulling into the railway station. "All of those details are the things that go into making the background texture of the novel."

The greatest gift would be the uninterrupted writing time, she said.

Even the prospect of cool October weather could not diminish her excitement. "It was wet, cold and miserable in the trenches, so if I'm wet, cold and miserable so be it."

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- The Dominion Post

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