What inspired you to write Fromelles?
My publisher, Andrew Kelly! He thought it was a fascinating story and I agreed. Ideas for my non-fiction books often come from someone else. I actually think it is not a bad thing to start from a point of ignorance with non-fiction for young people. That way you don’t assume any knowledge, the way you might if you were a real expert in the topic.
Did Fromelles change much between the initial idea and the final book?
The main ‘facts’ section is a chronological recounting of the events, so that didn’t change much.
The bodies of the missing soldiers from Fromelles were found while I was researching, so that became a bigger and more immediate part of the story.
My ideas for the fictional pieces changed. At first I was going to write from different people’s points of view as I did with Black Snake: The Daring of Ned Kelly, but then I decided it would be more powerful to follow the experiences of one fictional soldier.
How long did it take you to do the research for Fromelles?
I’m not sure. I usually fit the early research around writing another book. So I started researching back in 2008, but that doesn’t mean it took three years of solid research. I continued to research it when I got a chance while I was writing Sugar Sugar. Once that went to press, early in 2010, then I gave Fromelles my full attention.
How did you gather your research for Fromelles?
I started reading the books people have written about the battle after the event. Then I started delving into the primary sources that were written down at the time, by the people who were involved in the battle or those who were close observers. The sort of things I looked at were the official history of Australia in World War I, the official history of the 5th Brigade, memoirs and diaries of soldiers, and their army service dossiers.
Did you come across any obstacles when gathering research or writing Fromelles?
The hardest thing was trying to get information about the Germans. We really do write history from our own point-of-view.
As a writer of non-fiction how can you ensure that all your information is correct?
You can’t. History is always subject to personal interpretation. Even the primary sources are biased towards the personal view of someone who was subject to the emotions and propaganda of that time. Information can be omitted, misinterpreted or intentionally misrepresented. History is always someone’s idea of what happened.
Fromelles is such a tragic event in Australian history, did you find it difficult to not become emotionally engaged in writing the story?
What I tried to do was channel the emotions I felt into the fictional pieces, and report the facts without too much personal opinion. It was hard though, and I don’t think anyone will have any doubt what my feelings are.
What is it that attracts you to writing non-fiction?
There are plenty of real-life stories in history that are amazing and need to be told. I like the idea of introducing young people to history.
Do you prefer writing non-fiction or fiction?
I like to write both. Nothing happens in one of my novels, not even the smallest event, without me having to make a decision. It can be an exhausting process that takes a year or more. So when I’ve finished a novel, it’s a relief to write non-fiction where I draw the story from the historical facts. However, by the time I’ve finished that process, I often feel constrained by the truth, and I’m usually itching to get back to making up stories again!
What do you think you will write next?
I am currently writing a new book, set about 400 years after the first series.