Red Air book Cover. Image: supplied.
Red Air book Cover. Image: supplied.

War correspondent who covered 17 different conflicts, pens novel set in Afghanistan

By Shaun Smillie Time of article published Nov 22, 2020

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The ideas have come to Hamilton Wende in his dreams, they have been sparked by the animals residing in his garden and triggered by the things he has seen in war zones.

For 25-odd years Wende has travelled the world as a war correspondent, he has covered 17 different conflicts, and in between he has written books.

It is his experience in war zones that he drew on while writing his latest novel, Red Air.

The novel is set in Afghanistan and centres around ageing CIA operative Al Morris who is kidnapped by warlord Azmaray Shah. The reason for that kidnapping is an article that Morris’s son Danny wrote, where he unwittingly betrays Shah and this leads to his son Turan’s capture.

The journalist is forced to save his father, and deal with the guilt of a fractured relationship. He joins a rescue mission run by the US Marines.

“So it's about a parallel story about two fathers and two sons, and the conflict in Afghanistan, I wrote it with the kind of idea of looking at the emotions of the marines in battle,” explains Wende.

The book took seven years to write, including a spell where Wende was bed-ridden following a back operation.

Red Air book Cover. Image: supplied.

Red Air came to him while on an assignment for National Geographic in Afghanistan in 2012. Once again he chose fiction as the medium of his story telling, because he wanted to delve into the emotions of the characters he was writing about.

“There is a beautiful orchestra in fiction, where you can bring in the internal thoughts of people,” is how he puts it.

So far, Wende has written 11 books, of which two are works of fiction set in Afghanistan.

But some of his books aren’t set in far off places. And there is one book, where the baddies aren’t AK47-welding Afghani warlords but evil hadedas that stalk the skies of Joburg in service to their king.

Image: supplied.

The goodie in this book is a Parktown prawn, and the hero is Arabella, a girl, who because of magic is forever 11 years old.

Wende’s two Arabella books were written for his children.

File image.

“We were renovating the house and our children were sleeping on mattresses in the living room and we were cooking supermarket meals and microwave ovens and that sort of thing and they were miserable in the garden. It was just a messy chunk of broken concrete and mud,” explains Wende.

“I started writing about Arabella who gets a magic mongongo nut all the way from the Kalahari and she can turn into a butterfly. And the garden is beautiful and filled with flowers and she goes on adventures.”

Wende does admit that the fiction part of his writing is an important coping mechanism.

“I've felt it's quite important not to get completely emotionally wrapped up in some of the wars that I've covered, and to keep the kind of world of magic, the human world of the subconscious alive,” he says.

Like the rest of us, there was another war Wende had to deal with recently. This involved that virus and a lock down that put foreign assignments and travel on hold.

Locked away in his home in Joburg, Wende was able to knock out 40 000 words on the latest of what is turning out to be the final instalment of the Arabella trilogy.

Then there is Red Air, which Wende is very happy with. The book is available on Amazon and in several independent book stores. There will be an online launch coming up.

Wende is expecting to be heading into Africa soon. Ethiopia is exploding, there is trouble in Mozambique. But somewhere between all that, there will be those other stories that he will have to find time to write too.

The Saturday Star

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