ALSTONVILLE author Jan Pearson has taken out a prestigious international award for her first book Red Bird Summer.
The manuscript trumped hundreds of other entries to win the International Proverse Literary Prize's Supplementary Publishing Grant offered by publisher Proverse Hong Kong.
Ms Pearson drew largely on her own experiences growing up in Hong Kong to write the mystery thriller, which takes place in a rundown part of the city during the 1970s.
The plot revolves around a very large theft of heroine from the ladies bathroom of the Hong Kong Narcotics Bureau - a place Ms Pearson worked as personal secretary to the chief inspector of police.
"It was in a very run down part of Hong Kong and they had nowhere to store confiscated drug halls and so the ladies toilet in this particular office block was lined like house bricks from knee high to ceiling with blocks of pure 999 heroine," she said.
The book also features the old walled city of Kowloon, a place Ms Pearson visited with her mother who was a voluntary nurse for Red Cross helping to immunise children against cholera, typhoid and smallpox.
Ms Pearson said the city, which no longer exists, was an ancient 12th century fort with no legal jurisdiction.
Drugs, crime, prostitution and poverty were rampant among the city's 33,000 residents crammed into the run-down high rise buildings spanning no more than a few blocks.
"I used to go in there with my mum so I knew this place and I'm able to write about this place," Ms Pearson said.
The book also features a Hong Kong leprosarium, which draws on Ms Pearson's experiences visiting a leprosy colony with her mother.
Ms Pearson said writing was something she had wanted to pursue for years.
"I think I did what a lot of writers do," she said.
"I just sat and stared at a blank sheet of paper or a blank computer screen and did my head in, in the process, not to mention my self-esteem."
"The liberating moment for me, and I'd recommend to anyone who's seriously thinking about writing, take some sort of course."
Red Bird Summer is available at the ABC Shop in Ballina. Ms Pearson's second book, Tiger Autumn, is due out in November.