Novel sees grey areas of people smuggling
Martin Chambers

After reading How I Became the Mr Big of People Smuggling, you're almost convinced author Martin Chambers has actual experience with people smuggling.

That's because the novel feels like the most authentic piece of fiction you've ever read set in that particular world.

Thankfully, the 56-year-old laughs and says the central premise was completely a product of his imagination inspired by his travels. "I've worked a lot of jobs, some of them in the outback," he says. "That's what interests me as a writer, the outback character of Australia."

While looking around for an idea to talk about life on a cattle station, a chance meeting in South-East Asia after a boat trip prompted Mr Big into being.

"I actually met people who came on to the beach and offered to give me a couple of people and some money to take them to Ashmore Reef," Chambers says.

He adds that while the picture we get of people smugglers from the news is of corrupt opportunists, the meeting showed him another side. "Living in Australia and reading the news here, we get the message it's a completely immoral act.

"Yet here they were on this beach in Indonesia with no qualms whatsoever saying 'This is what we do. This is the best thing we can do for these people'."

Next in the process was the idea of the outback being something of a moral vacuum. "It's not the law that inhibits your behaviour because there's no consequence," the Perth-born author says.

"It's just your morality. There's no lawyer. There's no policeman looking over your shoulder. The isolation of outback cattle stations (where Mr Big is set) is perfect for that."

When fortuitous events in the story put Nick in charge of a thriving people-smuggling business, the book almost seems a wish fulfilment fantasy - of people smugglers who see human beings in need of help rather than of people who only care about money and have no regard for human life.

But from the first page, Chambers blindsides the reader. The event that puts Nick in charge is brutal, shocking and paints him as something far less than heroic.

"I wanted it to be a little bit ambiguous because we're all like that," Chambers says of Nick.

"We're not heroes and villains or good and bad equally throughout our lives."

The West Australian

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