MAGIC AND THE military come face to face in the stories of Linda Christanty. But although winged horses may fly across the sky in the tales that flow from the imagination of this young, award-winning Indonesian writer, they're also stories in which real bullets are fired and people die - stories inspired as much by her experience as an activist under the Suharto regime as by her childhood and life in contemporary Indonesia. 'Many of my stories are from my experiences,' Christanty says. 'And many are inspired by the political situation around me and the war in East Timor and what happened in 1965 [during Indonesia's anti-communist crackdown] and the kidnapping of activists in Indonesia. 'Now I can write more freely than during the Suharto times because then the media was afraid. Everything was censored by the military but it was also censored by the media. There was no freedom of expression for writers, filmmakers, artists - anyone.' Christanty, 35, has been writing since childhood, concentrating on her favourite form, the short story. Now, she feels it not just as a need but as a responsibility - 'so all those injustices and sufferings are not forgotten, so people can learn and not repeat it in the future. This may be an idealist's dream, but I feel in a world where people are more focused on materialist things there should be this idealist's dream.' Which isn't to say that Christanty sees herself as a crusader, or a recorder of her nation's experience. 'We write only for ourselves,' she says through an interpreter. 'We can't write for everyone.' Censorship meant that a lot of suffering and injustice couldn't be written about during the Suharto years. Indonesian writers now have the chance to express all this, she says. They must take the opportunity while they can. 'This is the best time to write about what happened,' Christanty says. 'As long as there's room to write we have to take that chance because maybe some time in the future they will close it off.' Christanty, a University of Indonesia literature graduate who was born in Bangka, southern Sumatra, was involved in the workers' rights centre PPBI during the Suharto years. From 1993 until 1997 almost every story she wrote was 'politically inclined. They were critical of the government, but it was only for underground magazines. The government was always on the lookout for those who wrote these sorts of stories and who resisted the government's policies. But we had ways to survive.' More recently Christanty's work has reached a wider audience. In 1990, she was one of 10 winners of a Kompas short story competition. Last year, her collection of 12 short stories, Kuda Terbang Mario Pinto (Mario Pinto's Flying Horse), won Indonesia's Khatulistiwa award. The title story is about a soldier's encounter with a woman commander who rides a flying horse - a tale he recounts to a stranger on a train. He later meets the stranger again, along with the mythical commander, when on a mission to kill a supposed terrorist. The story charmed a Melbourne Writers' Festival audience when read in translation during Christanty's guest appearance last month. She says she hopes English speaking audiences will soon be able to read more of her work because the sponsor of her award promised to translate it into English - although this hasn't happened yet. 'I hope people can learn more about Indonesian society from reading my stories. In many ways, people's problems are universal.' She cites as examples war, missing children and even broken hearts, and sees parallels between the disappearance of Indonesians during the Suharto years and the likes of Australia's so-called stolen generation - Aboriginal children who were removed from their parents. Four of Christanty's friends disappeared. Another who was kidnapped but returned has set up an organisation to try to find information about those still missing. 'A big part of what I'm writing now, although it's about what's happening now, is also about the past,' she says. Although she focuses on short stories, Christanty also writes journalism and works as a radio script writer. The show she writes for is a soap opera that tackles serious themes with humour such as race, religion and cultural differences. Nonetheless, she still has to do 'some office work' to make ends meet. Christanty is unhappy about the state of literary criticism in Indonesia. In a recent Jakarta Post interview she warned of the danger of hailing emerging young writers and elevating the second rate, with the inevitable result that readers are disappointed. The development of literary criticism is lagging the development of literature, she says, with vested interests often playing a part in who is praised and who isn't. 'Literary criticisms that aren't written are much more impolite - that is, what people say in their everyday lives. But critics don't have the ability to criticise.' And although she says she's happy to have received an award, she doesn't regard it as a career boost or incentive to write. 'People think these awards are trapped in political games,' she says. 'Then, when I won the award, people were confused because I don't know anybody.'