Frontlines was written in Australia and in Canada, but in many ways its roots can be found in the police stations of London, England.
That’s where author Andrew Wagner-Chazalon’s father got his start in policing. Like Palko Rel, a lead character in Frontlines, David Chazalon started policing when he was still a teenager, joining the force as a cadet at 17. And, like Palko, he soon found it was a world rich in characters, humour and excitement.
“My dad was a cop for 20 years, in England and in Canada, and I grew up hearing his stories about life on the beat,” says Wagner-Chazalon. “At first it was the funny things that had happened that day. As I got older, I began to understand more about the serious side of the job, the occasional danger, the frequent tedium.”
The father also showed his son that the world is rich in characters. “My father showed me that people have hidden depths to them. He’d point out a rumpled old man walking down the road and say ‘that’s so-and-so. He owns that entire block of apartment buildings.’”
Those stories took deep root, and their influence showed up years later in Frontlines, Wagner-Chazalon’s first novel.
Wagner-Chazalon is an experienced writer, with numerous non-fiction books to his credit as well as two decades of journalism in newspapers, magazines, online writing and radio. He began writing Frontlines in 2009, during a year-long sabattical in Queensland, Australia. “I wanted to use that time to write something unlike the work I had been doing up to that point,” he says. “I kept writing non-fiction, of course, blogging about Australia and writing freelance magazine and newspaper pieces on everything from Thai cooking to drumming circles on the beach. But I also began writing a novel for young readers.”
In its initial draft, Palko was a secondary character — the tale was told in the first person through the eyes of Mike Graives, a 12-year-old boy who finds a drawing set that gives him some remarkable abilities. As Wagner-Chazalon reworked the story, he switched to third person in order to focus more attention on Palko and his world.
By the time the final draft was completed, Wagner-Chazalon was back in Canada and Palko had become an equal part of the story. The tale switches back and forth between Palko’s world and Mike’s, eventually drawing the two of them together in an exciting conclusion.
“It’s funny, but it wasn’t until the book was published that I really thought about how much my dad’s stories had influenced the book,” Wagner-Chazalon says. “This isn’t a ‘tales my father told me’ book. It’s more a matter of using those stories to shape and build the character, and to understand the way a young police cadet might relate to life as a frontline patrol officer.”
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