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Richard E. Lewis was born and raised on and off in Bali where he developed his love for reading, writing and surfing. He has published three novels. With “Bones of the Dark Moon”, Richard, having experienced and witnessed the troubled times of Bali in the sixties, delves into the socio-political turmoil of the year 1965 and the mass murders occurred in Bali, wrapping them up into a fictional tale that will have you turning page after page.
Richard, how did you become a writer? In the 1960s in Bali, I grew up reading for my entertainment. We didn’t have electricity, much less TV way back then. I read anything I could get my hands on. Books were pretty rare, not too many tourists leaving them behind. I started writing my own stories early on. How did the idea of “Bones of the Dark Moon” come about? It was already there since I was a kid. The mass murders of 1965, which is the main topic of the novel, is a part of Indonesian’s national psyche. It has to do with Gestapu (as it is called in Indonesia). Prior to 1965 there was a political power struggle between the Indonesian Communist Party, and the conservatives, including most of the Armed Forces. Then on the night of 30 September 1965, six Army generals in Jakarta were kidnapped and murdered by a rogue element of the Presidential Guards in what appeared to be a coup attempt. The conservatives blamed it on the KPI, and mass killings of Communists and leftists and a large number of innocent people started.
“…maybe a member of the communist party, more likely a member of a union or a land reform organization. Completely legal too. He was almost certainly taken out and killed without trial. This sort of scene repeated itself countless times in Bali.”
What elements did you want/try to include in the novel and why? What happened, why it happened, and what are the consequences that linger to this day. For the latter, half the story is told from the perspective of a middle-aged Balinese man whose schoolteacher father disappears in 1965 and is never found. Why this title? What does it refer to? To this day, development excavations (or high tide erosion) along Bali’s coastlines, on remote and quiet coconut groves, will occasionally reveal bones from mass burials of victims. A lot of people in the east Bali town of Klungkung where I lived were murdered and thrown into the ocean, their corpses food for sharks. I haven’t surfed any of those eastern black sand breaks. I just don’t want to. What is the profile of the reader you wrote it for? Anybody who wants to read it! I didn’t have any specific audience in mind, although obviously people interested in Indonesia and Bali would hopefully be attracted to the story. Was there anything, apart from the writing of the novel for you and your readers, which you wanted to achieve with “Bones of the Dark Moon”? I’m pretty much a story-teller, not a historian or philosopher. But I did want to present a balanced perspective as I saw it during those events (which I lived through as a boy); between the official Indonesian government version of national heroes rising up and saving the country from the perils of communism and the conspiracy (and some academic) versions that it was all masterminded by the CIA.
In western societies, events which include mass killings like the one that took place in 1965 are usually, when the socio-political context allows, revisited and even taken to justice, is that the case in eastern or more specifically in this case Indonesian societies? If not, why not in your opinion? It’s still a very sensitive topic. A few years ago the renowned Ubud Readers and Writers Festival was dedicating a large portion of its program to 1965 and healing and reconciliation, but the government came down hard and told the event management, no way.
You have grown up and lived most of your life in Bali, right? Do you consider yourself Balinese? Why? Why not? (Do you speak Balinese?) Yes, I was born in Bali and raised here but from age six I attended boarding schools in Java and then Malaysia. No offense to foreigners married to Balinese or converted to Balinese Hinduism, but I reckon the only Balinese who are Balinese are the Balinese. To me, it’s more than ethnicity or culture. You have to be born into it, to the clan and the ancestral heritage and the ancestral temples and the ancestral gods. Tell us a bit about your background growing up in Bali. My parents moved to Bali early 1950s. We lived in east Bali, under Mount Agung. At age six, I started attending boarding schools in Java and then Malaysia, returning home for school breaks. I was a beach rat from a young age. Family friends (the Australian-English director of Bali’s leprosarium) had a bungalow among Kuta’s coconut groves, where the Hard Rock Hotel is now. I spent as much time as I could there, playing in the surf. The local kids my age would use bamboo and bits of wood, as kids do, but I body surfed. We didn’t have any idea about board surfing (although I’m sure some village elders would have remembered the days of Bob Koke’s pre-WW II hotel in Kuta, and his Hawaii style surfing).
What or how is your relationship with Balinese surfers? I’m acquainted with the elder generation of Balinese surfers, some of whom have passed. Not so much with the younger generation. Bali got crowded early, so I traveled a lot to outer islands to find spots and surf alone, rather than surf at home. Although any older surfer experiencing today’s crowds probably longs for the pre-surf school crowds of twenty years ago.
Are Balinese, in your experience, interested in the events described in Bones of the Dark Moon? They lived through it. Some don’t want to relive it, some want justice, some want reconciliation. For the younger millennium generation, though, there’s a sense that that’s ancient history.
You have seen Bali change immensely since the days when you were a kid, how do you see Bali’s future? It seems to me that Bali’s future is tied to the future of this whole earth of ours. Global warming, pollution, overdevelopment, too much greed and too little resources (including waves).
Are you goofy or regular? Regular. I saw my first surfboard at Kuta in 1970 or so. No idea the sport existed. Next day I had a carpenter make me a board out of a plank of teak with a skeg attached. The thing weighed a hundred pounds. I got my first surfboard a few years later. I learned to surf at Kuta, and then moved out to the reefs, way more Nusa Dua than Uluwatu. The 70s were the golden era of Bali surfing, plenty of spots still to be discovered around the island. The 80s and 90s were the golden era of surf exploration in the outer islands. Countless unknown and unnamed adventurers went off without fanfare and with only a nautical chart and a compass to see what they could find, leaving no traces. I was fortunate to have a fishing boat and spent a couple of decades cruising the eastern islands. The first years I had the boat in Benoa, I’d start off at Serangan Island. This was before the lagoon was land-filled and the bridge was built. Serangan was unknown; you couldn’t see it from anywhere and was probably the hardest surf spot on the island to access.
“When you’re seeing this from the boat, nobody wanted to waste their time sitting in the dinghy with a camera.”
Where do you usually surf these days? Around home on the east side. Traffic drives me nuts. What used to be a leisurely drive to, say, Impossibles, for an afternoon surf now consumes most of the day. My aging body’s been battered, with knee and back and shoulder surgeries. One day on a longboard, needing a crane to hoist me to my feet, I realized it’d be easier to take off standing up. Hence the SUP I ride one these days. I’m not a full convert, I still wish I could go prone, but I want to be surfing waves, too. I’ll say one thing about SUPs—they keep you fit. You get caught inside on a large day, you have to do the full circuit. Custom hand-tied leashes are the best.
“Lakey Peak, before it was “discovered”. We were the only ones there. I think this was the last year we had to ourselves (us being me and two friends on the boat). Next year there were ten guys and the year after that thirty. We never went back.”
Do you have a writing system, schedule, routine? How was your publishing experience? Read a lot. Write a lot. I’m one of those few who have been published the traditional way with an agent and a big book publisher (Simon and Schuster) but that traditional world of publishing has been upended by the Internet and self-publishing. It is very hard to make a living at it. Or even get noticed. What other novels of yours are available to the public? What are they about? “The Flame Tree” (about an American son of medical doctors in Java and set against the backdrop of 9/11) and “The Killing Sea” (about the tsunami that devasted Aceh), both published by Simon and Schuster and available from Amazon. Where can people get a hold of a copy of Bones of the Dark Moon? Ask at Periplus or Ganesha Bookstore, and also your Nusa Surf Shops! Or you can contact me directly via Facebook.
Anything you would like to add about “Bones of the Dark Moon”, writing, growing up and living in Bali, or surfing? Sometimes I recall being parked in a boat off a world-class wave, nobody around, having had a session and now taking a break and reading a book while perfect waves still reeled 0ff. If I knew then what would happen with charter boats and camps and resorts and crowds, I’d be out surfing until I couldn’t paddle anymore.
Richard E. Lewis born and raised in Bali. “Bones of the Dark Moon”: a novel that delves into the mass murders of Bali in 1965 and into the Balinese culture.
“Bones of the Dark Moon” is a fictional novel based on true historical events. Jumping back and forth in time, Richard takes us through the trials and tribulations of distinctive Balinese, Indonesian and Western characters swept by the socio-political changes and events of Bali and Indonesia’s troubled times of the year 1965 and today’s. A web of characters and events where romance, espionage, intrigue, family secrets, love, deceit, redemption, and even surfing develop in as a unique way as the Balinese society of yesterday and today themselves, giving us a better understanding of Balinese past and present traditions, culture, and idiosyncrasy.
If you like historical fictional novels and you are interested in Bali’s rich society and how it coped and copes with societal and political changes, get a copy of “Bones of the Dark Moon”.
You can get a copy of “Bones of the Dark Moon” directly from Richard, or support our work as well by purchasing from our shops or from our e-shop.