Ballard pens first novel journeys from Vietnam War to the Peace Country

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It is a long way from the Vietnam jungles of the late 1960s to the bee yards and farms of Crooked Creek.

Former Crooked Creek resident James Ballard  makes the journey in his first published novel titled Poisoned Jungle.

“I would call it semi-autobiographical,” Ballard said. “I chose to put it in fiction form. I have always read a lot of literature and I liked the flexibility of writing it as a novel rather than a memoir or a non-fiction book.

“At the time I started (the book) I was still in touch with a couple of guys I knew in the war and in just talking with them, sometimes we remembered things a little differently. If I wrote it as a novel — if my memory didn’t match somebody else’s then it wasn’t going to be an issue.”

Ballard first started writing seriously about seven years ago, right around the time he was easing into retirement from his bee-keeping occupation in the Crooked Creek area.

The novel follows the main character Andy, a medic, and his journey through the war, the difficulties of re-entering society and finally a move to northern Alberta where bees and the rural surroundings brought about some healing.

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Ballard said the depiction, including the timeline, is quite accurate to what his experience was, however, many of the characters were composites.

“Probably the one that is the most factual in the book would be the character of Sammy (the main character’s best friend during and immediately after the war) outside of the medic himself.” Ballard said. “And I stay in touch with him ever since the war.”

“To a certain extent the writing was cathartic in the sense that I have thought about the war, read a lot about the war — many aspects from the history to the psychological ramifications—so after all these years writing about the war, in one sense, I am getting to say what my thoughts are on the experience, not just on my own perspective but through what others experienced as well. It is so multi-faceted. There are so many aspects, so many repercussions from war.”

He said he enjoyed exploring the psychological impact of war, not just on participants and the innocents that get caught up in it, but how war ripples through society.

“Everybody fantasized about the date of return because we were doing 12-month tours so you kind of lived for that day and hoped to get to that day,” Ballard said. “Then when it came, I think we built up these fantasies in our head that everything would go back to normal and all would be perfect. As the novel depicted, things really spiraled out of control for Andy and that is pretty autobiographical with the way, the way the trauma impacted the character was very similar to my story.”

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Ballard explained there was a difference between Vietnam and those who returned from earlier wars like World War 2,
which included many of his compatriots fathers.

While the horrors of battle were the same there wasn’t a moral quandary.

“With Vietnam that was certainly different for us and I think that added to our adjustment problems,” Ballard said.

“At the time, like the demonstration at the Travis Air Force Base, when I wrote about that, that is pretty autobiographical. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I was pretty numb. The demonstration itself didn’t penetrate that numbness but it was one of the more painful aspects in retrospect. Simply because it was, like I wrote, our first lesson in what being a Vietnam veteran was going to mean and I think there is no question in my mind, it made the transition much more difficult and the psychological problems much more severe.”

During the 1970s there were several Vietnam War demonstrations at the base, located in Fairfield, Calif.

Ballard, who now lives in Edmonton, said he hopes this summer will allow things to return to more of a routine so he can get the novel into local book stores and do some readings at the library and other areas in the Peace.

He added he is grateful for the local writers group.

“I’ve been involved in several writers’ groups and I must say the one in Grande Prairie out of the library was the most enjoyable of all of them. I kind of miss that too. It was really a nice way to help with the writing in the early stages.”

The book is available at most major online book stores and there is a link to sites it can be purchased at the bottom of each page of the author’s website james-ballard.net.

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