Warrnambool author Steve Conte describes his new novel as a dark German version of M*A*S*H and already there's offers to have it published in the US, Italy, Holland and Germany.
His first book, The Zookeeper's War was published in 2007 and won the inaugural Prime Minister's literary award for fiction which was then worth $100,000.
His latest work, The Tolstoy Estate, is set on the Eastern Front during WWII at the former estate of Count Leo Tolstoy - author of Russian epic novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
The novel's hero - a German military surgeon - is part of the occupying force that sets up a field hospital at the estate.
It is a war story, a love story, a hospital drama and even a ghost story of sorts, according to Conte, and was released this week in Australia and New Zealand.
Conte remembers the exact moment as a 16-year-old he wanted to be an author.
"It's something I actively decided. I can picture the exact moment when I was sitting at a table at dinner and thinking this is how I want to spend my life," he said.
Conte said he was always interested in story telling, right from a young age, and still remembered having a short story about the sinking of the Titanic published in the school magazine as a six-year-old.
He said his career choice had been difficult in many ways.
When other people are following their dreams they're usually able to get paid along the way.Steven Conte
"When other people are following their dreams they're usually able to get paid along the way," he said.
His first novel - a wartime novel set in Berlin during the bombings of WWII - wasn't published until he was 41 and now at 54 his second novel is coming out.
"I really think I'm on to a bit of a winner here," he said.
"I've got a couple in my bottom draw that have contemporary Australian settings but it seems as though the publishers like my stories of the Second World War more."
He said he had created characters in The Tolstoy Estate that readers were in danger of falling in love with.
While a visit to Berlin in the 1980s had inspired him to write his first novel, Conte said he had not yet had a chance to visit Russia.
Good research about a time and place you can no longer visit - the revolutionary upheaval of 1920s Russia - helped set the scene for the novel.
"A reader really does do so much of the construction of a setting in their own head and a lot of novelistic writing is all smoke and mirrors and getting the reader to do the work for you," he said.
Conte said the book itself was set over a six-week period in 1941 with hero Paul Bauer part of the occupying force that sets up a field hospital at Tolstoy's former estate.
The book reflects on a time when millions of ordinary people lived epic lives over about five or six years.
He said most of us had grown up in a time of relative calm and many of us had lived our lives complacently.
"I've always wanted to grab my readers by the lapel and say 'listen, you've got to understand how unusual it is'," he said.
"For most people in most times in history have lived absolutely on the edge.
"I've wanted to make readers experience that and to some degree we are now experiencing it in real life."
Conte said his novel was similar to Atonement by Ian McEwan and Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.
"I should be so lucky to sell as many copies," he said.
A trip to Russia is now on the cards - when pandemic travel restrictions are lifted, he said.
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