Peter FitzSimons, author of Batavia, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |February 17, 2011

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Peter FitzSimons

author of Batavia, Kokoda, Tobruk, A Simpler Time, Nene and many more…

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

This question reminds me of a great book I read recently, and as a matter of fact, I wrote it – A Simpler Time. I was born and raised on a citrus orchard at Peats Ridge, the youngest of seven children, and after going to Peats Ridge Public School, went boarding at Knox Grammar School.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve I wanted to be a writer and Prime Minister and play cricket for Australia and win Wimbledon and take over our farm. At eighteen I wanted to be a writer and Prime Minister and play rugby for Australia. At thirty, I wanted to write, all day long, and into the night. And I do . . .

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That the fount of all goodness was the Liberal Party, and the root of all evil was the Labor Party.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

When I was fourteen, my brother lent me his tape of bob Dylan’s greatest hits, starting me on a lifetime’s passion for his songs and poetry – and I’d like to think some of that spirit has infused me. When I was 24 a friend told me she was going to be published in the herald in a reader’s column, and I decided I wanted to be published before her, so I wrote a story on rugby and my life changed. When I was 31, the TV personality Liz Hayes invited me to afternoon tea to meet a friend of hers, Lisa Wilkinson. Nine months later I married her. (Lisa, I mean.)

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book?

Royalty cheques.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

It is nothing less than the greatest story in the history of the world, and I am not tossing that off as a glib phrase. Let there be criticism by all means of the way I have treated the story, but let there be no doubt about the wonder of the story itself. In one tale you have seafaring, mutiny, shipwreck, murder, sex slavery, medieval battles, rescue, redemption and revenge.

It is nothing less than a true, adult’s only version of Lord Of The Flies. One thing that drew me to it is that while it is a hundred times better story than the titanic, it is not one-thousandth as well known. So I decided to tell the story in a different way . . .

Do I sound a little obsessive? I hope so – for I did get obsessed as I was writing it. There never has been, and never will be, a better pure story. And it all happened in Australia, four hundred years ago!

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

Make people aware that Australian history is as fantastic as it is fascinating. If ever you hear someone say Australian history is boring, the only explanation is that they just haven’t explored it enough yet!

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

My three heroes are Muhammad Ali, Bob Dylan and Nelson Mandela. Ali and Mandela for moral courage, Dylan for his sheer genius. All of them for the passion with which they have lived their lives.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I have written quite a few Australian no.1 best-selling non-fiction books. I would love to do an international best-seller. And I would like to see my three fine children turn into fine adults.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Get width of experience in your life. To be a writer you need to have something to say that others will care about and if you can have had experiences that your readers have not, it will help. Read as widely as you travel, and try to write with the same spirit.

Peter, thank you for playing.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, was published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

Follow John: Twitter Website


  • Susan Richards

    November 11, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    I have just finished reading ‘Batavia’, and I can honestly say that it is the best book I have ever read.
    I was one of those people who found Australian history boring, thank you Peter for writing this book, and allowing me to take my first step into exploring Australia’s fascinating history.

    • Cec Quinnell

      January 13, 2012 at 11:17 am

      Susan, I too loved Batavia as I have Peter’s other books that I have read I love his writing style. Read the first chapter of any of his books & you know he is an Aussie. A fair dinkum one. I knew the story of The Batavia before reading his book but I nearly stopped reading it a few times as it is a ghastly yarn. But I kept going & am so glad I did. Amazing. I know a few people who have read it & not one of them has a bad word to say about it.

  • Raymond Conder

    December 21, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    Dear Peter, it is wrong for you to call yourself an atheist. There is no such thing. Nobody can be an atheist. Impossible. Nobody talks more about God than you do. Why are you forever talking about a deity you say does not exist. If God did not t exist as far as your belief is concerned you would not be talking about Him. According to the Bible (twice stated) the fool has said in his heart there is no God. Who wants to be called a fool? A fourth grader knows you cannot have creation without a creator, design without a designer. Who needs to get saved today in a book bloogers paradise?

    • Ted Bowles

      August 1, 2013 at 4:11 pm


  • LLO

    May 25, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    I just finished Batavia today on a flight from Sydney to Darwin. Wow wow wow! 34 years ago my parents migrated to Perth, Australia and as a nine year old I entered grade 5 and began learning about Western Australian history in Social Studies. I was mesmerised by all of it – Dirk Hartog, William Dampier, Rats Nest (Rottnest) and of course the Batavia. But little did I know about the full and sordid story of the Batavia. Thank you Peter. Thank you very much. It is, as they say, a ripping yarn.

    • Martin G.

      September 8, 2012 at 1:04 pm

      One of my kids gave me the book for fathers day.
      It certainly is one of the greatest stories in the history of the world.
      It’s a fantastic read!

  • Sumner Berfg

    November 11, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    I just finished reading Batavia in two sittings! It was very interesting and gave me a lot of insight into what things were like back in the 1600 on some of the sailing vessels sailing to unknown parts of the worlds. Congratulations Peter on a well written and enjoyable book to read.

  • Mrs. Glenys Andrich

    January 18, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    I would like to ask some information by email.

  • james walker

    May 9, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    peter, i drive a lot but read slow, i am listening to your books, loved batvia, on last disc of kakoda, have reserved toburk, i am starting to bring the CDs into the house to listen to have you thought about a Gollipoli ,

  • Ted Bowles

    August 1, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Dear Peter. Just finished your book. Simpler Times. What a great read. You are a lucky man to have had the such strong ,loving parents. It really touched me as I have no family. I was born in ’46 so somewhat older than yourself. But I could relate to the things you spoke of.Was a bit pissed off with all the religious bits in it, and nearly gave up on it. But in the end you came good and confirmed your non belief which gladdened my heart. I’ve also come from a religious background but am now free of it. I’ve also read Eureka which I also thoroughly enjoyed. Good luck to Peter. Hope to meet you one day. Regards TED

  • John watkins

    November 11, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    Peter just finished my 4th FitzSimons book they include inorder Les Darcy Batavia , Kokoda and now Eureka. There is a great story [also out of WA] about Australia`s greatest prison escape and I reckon you could do some justice this story. The Catalpa and the 6 Fenian prisoners. Peter I urge you to have a look at this one Regards John Watkins

  • John watkins

    November 14, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Into my 5th PF book and Batavia , Kokoda Eureka in that order and brilliant . After reading Batavia I went on a Dutch sailing ship out of Fremantle up to the Abrolhos Islands and went ashore at 3 islands . Actually saw the stone forts built by the Dutch soldiers on West wallabi Island. Three ships went up all dutch tall ships . I travelled and worked on the Oosterschelde and a 12 day journey. This was all inspired by reading Batavia.. I urge Peter F to have alook at the `Catalpa` story out of WA and if he`s looking for international subject I believe this could be thre one.

  • Vic Belbin

    July 2, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    Having read Peter’s responses to the question above, I feel that if anything he has undersold himself. His writing style does not dictate what conclusions a reader will come to, but carefully nurtures you along a path that provides ample evidence and insight to argue any conclusion you might arrive at, A brilliant style of writing that hold a reader spellbound until the last word. Both Batavia and Ned Kelly are brilliant reads. The others will have to wait a short time before I can comment of them, but read them and make comment I most certainly will.

  • Robert Axten

    February 9, 2015 at 5:13 am

    Dear Peter, I have just completed your wonderful book on Ned Kelly.Thankyou. Firstly, I was impressed with your fine[and essential] tribute to the Doyen of all things Kelly, Ian Jones. I have not had the privilege to meet this great man but I have his book, A Short Life and I treasure it. There are so many people who have written on Ned over the years so what does one more bring to the muddied waters ? I am not aware if a `tough guy~ has written before about the toughest of tough guys, let alone a tough guy with such intelligence and sensitivity , [ All Neds traits] I brand you a tough guy because your sporting career would have demanded a rare expectation of this both physically and mentally. The sensitivity, shared between you and Ned eventually led to his downfall [McIntyre, et al ] I am sure that you are no stranger to walking in the shoes of your subject and as an empath, build a bridge for us ordinary folk to explore our own sensitive side. This process is fragile. If we eulogise or romanticise ,we are lost. You do neither.There are too many examples in your book for me to list here. Suffice it to say that your book makes a difference. I often use a feeling state to judge a book. If when I Finish a book I feel that I have come to the end of a journey with a trusted companion, then the book has made a deep impact on me. Yours has. This book deserves its place on the shelf of every Ned Kelly enthusiast. Finally , I loved your closing tribute to this exceptional man. If I tried forever I could not have improved on it .Thank you Peter Fitz Simons.

  • John Searle

    September 17, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    Hi, Peter. I’m a writer living in Mosman. Looking for subject matter after retiring, I found your advice to writers and had a go. The result is ‘An Idiot’s Tale’. 160 thou pages of autobiography mixed with history. Not sure what to do next as every thing I’ve written until now has been commissioned (ads mainly). If you have any further suggestions, please let me have them. Thanks once again for the advice. John Searle. PS Go the Wallabies! I’ll be wearing my John Eales autographed guernsey with pride.

  • l

    October 29, 2015 at 9:32 am

    peter..just heard your short interview last night on why us kiwis will “choke” on sunday morning (nz time)…..cant see it myself but you can send me your next novel as compensation when we take home that cup and all will be forgiven…incidentally i’ve read ‘batavia’ and ‘nancy wake’ and they were excellent…dont know how you find the time!
    lynn scott…Canterbury and All BLACK supporter…….Go The AB’S

  • levin .New Zealand

    October 29, 2015 at 9:40 am

    peter…just heard your comment last night that new zealand will choke on sunday morning nz time..cant see it myself but you can post me your next novel as compensation and we (nz) will forgive you…incidentally i’ve read Batavia and Nancy Wake….both excellent!dont know how you find the time..cheers..
    lynn scott…all black and canterbury (nz) supporter.

  • Mic RUMLEY

    March 16, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    Dear Peter you style of writing is truly Australian and our history to a T but now I am sure you are well overdue to put your skills onto the big screen so that so many more people can see our history.

  • Michael Murray

    June 13, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Peter, Just finished reading Charles Kingsford Smith and Those Magnificent Men. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and realised I knew very little about Kingsford Smith, Lawrence Hargreave and other pioneers of aviation. Great educational read for myself and now realise they were truly remarkable people of their time and of the great contribution Australians made towards Air Travel in a very short period of time. I agree with you and say yes Badgerys Creek Airport should be named after Lawrence Hargreave.

  • April 25, 2018 at 5:06 pm

    Peter, love your work, have a dozen or so of your books. I would be very happy to see you write something about our Outback working women, as they are the most strongest bunch of dedicated people who fought against all sorts of harsh conditions to raise large families and survive in those lonely, isolated areas of the outback. Then to top it off by having high numbers of their sons (the cream of our families) killed off in wars etc, without any complaints. Hope you get my drift on this subject. Feel free to e-mail me if you want to discuss this any further. I am a 5th generation Australian.

  • Jane Hughes

    March 18, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    I read Nancy Wake, what a woman! An amazing story told in an interesting way.
    I have also read Batavia. I’m not necessarily interested in shipping tales, but I found this story fascinating! Well told!
    Thank you for writing these stories.

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