Above The Fold has been almost three years in the making. It has been written and rewritten, which my good friend Morris West would approve of. “Rewrite and then rewrite again,” has been the credo of other friends, like Bryce Courtenay, quite different from Morris, but both great storytellers. The book has had other titles, but in the end a clever cover expertly illustrates that it is about newspapers and a journalist. This is my twelfth novel in the past 18 years, autobiographical in places, more so than any other books, particularly in the opening chapters. But the delightful Claudia is pure fiction, and so is much of Luke Elliott’s life. I spent my summers on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, as did my main character, Luke. I wanted to be a journalist, but on being told by one newspaper of my choice that not even copy-boys were employed without a university degree, I took part time jobs like Luke did. Then we both became messenger boys at radio station 2GB, for it was part of the Macquarie Network and produced the most radio drama in Australia at the time. This influx of local drama was an accident of war. The flood of British and American programs had been halted as ships were engaged in carrying more urgent cargoes - food and munitions for embattled Britain; troops and reinforcements in American ships when Japan seemed about to invade us.
Like Luke, at 2GB I learnt how to write radio scripts. Then at eighteen my career was halted when I was called up, as he was. Both of us volunteered to go to Japan with the Occupation Force, and I saw the horror of Hiroshima, and its effect on a child like Kaito, whom we rescued from living in the streets. That is the approximate time in my book where our lives took a different course. Luke joined the army newspaper in Tokyo and covered the war in Korea as a foreign correspondent. I returned to Australia, went back to writing radio scripts until, with television imminent, I went to England with my wife and two young children for the next twenty years, writing television, feature films and stage plays.
Even though our lives took different directions, I thoroughly enjoyed writing about Luke. He is like an “alter-ego” which, according to the Oxford Dictionary, means he’s a close friend or alternative personality. Luke does the things I did, like living close to Chelsea in London, joining nuclear protests, as well as writing about Kaito, in my case for the Financial Review and The Guardian.
Luke also does some things that I might have done, such as writing about Evie Petrov. When we lived in Careel Bay near Avalon in Sydney’s north, we were situated around the corner from where Petrov and his wife had been kept in their safe house.
Above the Fold was enjoyable to write largely because of Luke Elliott’s character. We share so much in outlook that at times it felt like writing about myself.