Above the Fold

Peace, Pacifism and Peter Yeldham

Peter Yeldham's done a lot in his life. He's shared an office with Spike Milligan. (Yes, that Spike Milligan.) He's written for the BBC, the ABC, for television and radio. He's an award-winning and nationally celebrated Australian story-teller. Across the decades, he's turned to war and its horror as a source of inspiration for his many novels. But unlike so many war narratives of the current age, Peter's work never celebrates violence. In fact, most of the drama in Peter's books is away from the battlefield. It's the human action that dares you to read on. Scandalous romances, international intrigue, or the heart-breaking journey of refugees. It's this, well-researched, human face of his narratives that has made him one of the countries most enduring authors.

Here's what some readers have said:

"...really interesting history, especially about the atomic bombs and bomb testing in Marling I hope to read this book a second time." Robyn on Above The Fold

"The story flows easily with Yeldham’s fluent writing style. I found it to be an entertaining and thought-provoking read. 4★s." Mary on Above The Fold

"Yeldham’s story is a beautiful tribute to the Lost Generation, an intensely moving novel that will haunt the reader long after the final page." Erin on Barbed Wire and Roses

"Yeldham has a strong reputation as a historical novelist as well as a writer for film and television. Dragons in the Forest will no doubt make that reputation stronger still." Dorothy Johnston on Dragons In The Forest

Find more of Peter's work at our store.

Five Rules for Writing Historical Fiction

With the second season of the Outlander series now gripping the world, and with the re-release of not one but two of Peter Yeldham historical fiction novels only days away, it seems fair to say that historical fiction is now very much in vogue. It seems we’ve monkey-swung from sparkly vampires (Twilight) to titillating BDSM (Fifty Shades of Grey) to re-examining our collective past. In truth, historical fiction never really went out of vogue. Technically speaking, the vast majority of Shakespeare’s works were historical fiction. It could be said even our most basic folk lore (Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, etc.) are a kind of proto-historical fiction that harkens back to a generic fairytale time tinged with nostalgia.

Still, there’s never been a better time to be a historical fiction author, and we’re thrilled to publish quite a few. But before you put pen to paper, you might want to consider a few critical tips that we’ve learned from reading our award-winning authors.

Researching and Reading Research is obviously incredibly important when writing historical fiction. There’s no quicker way to alienate a reader than to make them stop believing in the authenticity of the world you’re trying to create. So research and read. A lot. Read historical accounts of the time, and even dig into other historical fiction that’s focussed on similar eras of history.

Researching and Talking If you’re able to actually talk to living survivors of your chosen historical era, don’t be shy in asking to sit down and have a chat. A minute in conversation can illuminate areas that history books simply can’t tell you. The colour of the wallpaper, or the smell of a place, or the daily, mundane routines that shaped their (and your characters) lives.

Researching and other reading An extremely helpful tip comes from Elizabeth Gilbert, award-winning author of Eat, Pray, Love, as well as critically acclaimed historical fiction The Signature of All Things. While it’s valuable to read history books, it can be even more helpful to read documents, novels or journals that were written in the specific time period that you’re setting your work in. This will tell you so much about the lexicon of the age, along with the concerns, dialogue and details of your characters.

Know when to stop researching This is the trickiest bit. Some historical novels feel more historic than novel, and can be too dense a read to be truly pleasurable. Always remember that your novel still has to operate under the same laws as any genre, and needs to create a compelling story with intriguing characters. The research will only take you so far. If you’re on the right track, you’ll usually feel a mounting sense of excitement as you’re researching, and there will simply come a point where you’re desperate to write. So write! The research will be there when you need it, and you can always return to hunt for extra details.

Be Authentic to the Politics of the Time …while not being too offensive to modern sensibilities. This is tricky, and most complicated around gender politics. Times past are often incredibly violent places to write about, and women are often treated abhorrently. It’s important to be authentic to this, and not create a rose-tinted version of the past that readers will find too sickly sweet. On the other hand, every reader has a line, and so much of narrative is frequently about the under-dog becoming a hero. Claire in Outlander is a classic example, who is subject to the subjugation of her time, but constantly subverts the gender norms for wonderfully entertaining results. Peter Yeldham often places an under-dog at the centre of the story, who is able to see with greater moral clarity than most of his peers.

Don’t know where to start reading? Why not try Peter Yeldham’s fantastic historical fiction around World War 2 in Above the Fold . Or if you’re in the mood for more sparkly vampires, you might be interested in Jennifer McDonald’s take on how Edward Cullen brought about a spiritual awakening in her memoir Vegetarian Vampires. Then again, you may be more into the Fifty Shades of Grey trend and want some page-turning romance. In that case, try Winterflood’s Passion by Diana Thompson.


Inspiration in Familiar Places

There’s a strange kind of fear around the idea of meeting ones heroes. I think it’s probably because we spend so much time building these people up in our minds that the reality never truly meets with the expectation.  I’ve never really had much time for ‘heroes’. Certainly, there are people whose work I’ve enjoyed, people who I’ve often dreamt of becoming. But my fascination with them never lasts long. When there’s so much out there to be read, watched, listened to and enjoyed, who can waste that precise time focusing on the creator. I’d much rather bask in the glory of their creations. There are occasions where I’ll read a novel or a short story and thought to myself, ‘this is how I want to write’. There are some authors who perfectly capture everything you wish you could, setting a benchmark for your creation. Generally I see these people as more of an inspiration than a hero, I guess some would say that’s the same thing, but I feel that there’s a great divide in using someone’s work as a bench mark and idolizing someone for more than just their work.

I’ve known Peter Yeldham my entire life. I didn’t realise he was an author until I found a copy of Without Warning on my parents bookshelf when I was 13. I read through it quickly, devouring it as fast as I could. I absolutely loved it; to this day I still remember it vividly. I didn’t read another of Peter’s books until I started working at For Pity Sake Publishing. Above the Fold was a beautiful novel. The way it used the Northern Beaches (my home for the first 19 years of my life) as one of its base settings was incredible. I’ve never had the experience of reading a novel set in a place I know so well before, and it really just brought the story to life. However, it was A Bitter Harvest that really changed something for me. This book moved me so profoundly that I doubt I will ever fully recover. It is truly one of the most magnificent and touching books that I have ever read. It’s beautifully tragic, even thinking about it now is bringing a tear to my eye. A Bitter Harvest changed something for me. As I read this novel and fell in love with the characters and embedded myself in the time period, I thought of Peter, this man that I have known my whole life. I thought about how he had been able to weave these unique characters from thin air. Now, I know this sounds like something that every writer does, but I can’t stress how much of a feat A Bitter Harvest is. The book is 578 pages long, and spans over three generations of the Patterson/Muller family. The characters are deep and challenging, you finish the book feeling like you’ve made lifelong friends, their lives affecting you in a way you can’t comprehend.

And here’s where we come back to heroes. For me, it’s almost impossible to really idolize someone that I’ve never met. There are too many variables, questions about their lives that I desperately want answered. And there’s the fear, the fear that one day I will meet said hero and they won’t live up to my expectations. That’s the beautiful thing about Peter Yeldham, a man that I’ve known my whole life, someone that I’ve spoken to and formed a real life connection with. Reading Peter’s work I think, ‘this is it, this is how I want to write’, Peter’s life and his writing is something that I aspire to, something that I will spend the rest of my literary career working towards.


Originally posted on The Musings of a Blackie