“Follow After Me” is the new book from Australian author, Allison Marlow Paterson. It uniquely blends historical detail, modern social issues and young love in a rural Australian setting and was written to engage young adult readers. I interviewed Allison about “Follow After Me” and to find out more about her writing journey and what it takes to write historical fiction.
NLK: How did your writing journey begin?
AP: Slowly … I first imagined I could write the story of my grandfather and his four brothers when I was studying at university. I completed an assignment in which I used a selection of the five hundred letters that my ancestors had sent from the Western Front. Over thirty years later, my adult title “Anzac Sons: the Story of Five Brothers in the War to End All Wars” was accepted for publication by Big Sky Publishing. It took thirteen years to research and write and involved a trip to the Western Front. I’m very grateful that BSP saw the value in telling this story and liked my writing. The journey with BSP has taken me from adult to children and now the YA readership. Better still, the team at BSP continue to like my writing!
NLK: How did your working life as a teacher help you to write books for children and teens?
AP: Being a teacher has immensely helped my writing career. I was a teacher-librarian in a range of schools for twenty-four years. I hung out with great books and kids all day! By night I reviewed books for Magpies Magazine – and still do. These experiences help me to understand the qualities of great books and the various needs of the reader and the market, including curriculum opportunities. Having said that, I write about what inspires me and what feels right.
NLK: You were awarded the May Gibbs Fellowship in 2017, how did the fellowship help with the writing of “Follow After Me”?
AP: A May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Creative Time Fellowship gifted me four weeks of writing solitude in Canberra. I am so grateful for this opportunity as it allowed me to research and write in the galleries of the Australian War Memorial, capturing the atmosphere and engaging all the senses – to see such responses as the emotional effect a simple painting has upon visitors. Brendan Nelson describes it as being the soul of the nation. Many school children visit the Australian War Memorial and it struck me that we have very little literature that incorporates this significant national monument in our writing. It fitted that it would play a major role in this story of remembrance.
NLK: Can you please explain how you approached the research phase of writing “Follow After Me”, especially for the thread of narrative set in 1914?
Follow After Me is based on the World War One experiences of my ancestors, the Marlow family. Of six brothers, five went to war, only two made it home. The Anzac characters are based on each of the brothers. The characters have been developed as accurately as possible owing to a collection of over 500 letters and postcards which the men sent home from the Western Front. The thread of 1914, prior to the men heading off to war, comes from my childhood memories of playing in the old homestead which was their family home. It was stuck in a moment in time. When my great-uncle left there in the 1970’s he left behind the furniture, clothing and even the food in the pantry. It was easy to visualise those moments when the family learned of the war and when the boys told their mother they had enlisted. It felt very real to me. I needed to be in their mother’s voice for these chapters; I felt I owed it to her to tell her story.
NLK: What do you most hope that readers enjoy or take away from “Follow After Me”?
AP: My hope is that the young adult reader will further appreciate that the actions and qualities of the Anzacs led to a legend and a defining spirit; an appreciation of what it means to be Australian. I hope they can acknowledge that the tragedy of war has a generational impact, including the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. I also hope that the themes of self-esteem and personal growth are inspirational – that our choices in life can easily be influenced by others and that peer pressure has a powerful and often negative impact that can be overcome by digging deep into your own values. Recognition of the healing power of family, sense of place and belonging are also key themes that I hope will resonate with the reader. Ultimately, I hope that it inspires, informs and connects the reader with their past.
NLK: Have you any writing advice for emerging writers?
AP: Self-doubt leads to procrastination and truly stifles creativity. Don’t let it master you – sets goals and celebrate successes, believe in your work, surround yourself with people who believe in you and write your words, let them flow … and don’t compare yourself to others.
NLK: What advice would you give to anyone crafting historical fiction for the first time?
AP: Research! Truly immerse yourself in the period – non-fiction and fiction books, movies, maps, Trove, the National Archives, museums – recreate the world in your mind and stay true to the facts. Ground your writing in the period with historical objects that existed and events that were occurring about the characters.
Read an excerpt of “Follow After Me”
(Author note: a change of character name to ensure I don’t create a spoiler, but this is my favourite piece, the one I can’t read aloud … ‘Jimmy’ is returning home after three long years of war.)
He skirted the town, avoided the road and set off to follow the worn path along the creek. The crisp fragrance of the spring morning filtered down the valley from the native pines of the forest, blending with the abundance of eucalypts and their sweet mint aroma. Jimmy stopped to breathe in the familiar fragrance which he had longed to savour for three years.
This was where he needed to be.
This was home.
Jimmy traipsed as far as he could until the track gave way to a wall of lignum. He weaved between the tangled branches to emerge into the sunlight. Shading his eyes, he paused to admire the majestic forest that rose on the distant ridge, ancient trees unscarred by war. The post and rail fence of earlier years greeted him and he hoisted himself over the top to make his way across the paddocks that glowed with a good season of wheat. The homestead was in view, the home paddocks dotted with the ewes and their young lambs. He had missed the shearing, but the harvest would arrive soon enough.
Towards the forest, on the rise, was the old scar tree, standing majestically in the paddock on its patch of earth that had never seen cultivation. As he approached, the sounds of the bellows in the forge and wood being cut cried out from the behind the sheds. It was washing day. The sheets and towels fluttered in a gentle flight on the line that stretched from the house to the trunk of a redgum.
At that moment, Sarah stepped from the washhouse with the laden cane basket resting on her hip. Jimmy saw her turn to him. Her basket tumbled to the ground, the freshly washed clothes spilling onto the earthen path. He raised his hand to wave.
About the Book
In 1914, Evie’s dreams are destroyed when the shadow of World War I descends. Her sweetheart, eighteen-year-old Tom Windridge, leaves the family’s farm to serve in the war with his four brothers. Before he goes, Evie gives Tom a small key as a good luck charm – the key to her heart.
Evie’s spirit is shattered when she learns Tom will not return. Grappling with religious differences and the conscription debate, Evie abandons her values and ambition when wooed by the local priest’s charming, yet controlling nephew. Fate intervenes to unlock a new beginning for Evie when Tom’s older brother, Jack, returns from the Western Front with the missing key.
In a parallel narrative, Evie’s great-granddaughter, Lizzie, is dealing with the social challenges of becoming an adult in 2018. In her final year of high school, she suddenly rejects her friends, her study and her principles to start a potentially life-changing relationship with Brandon, a narcissistic football player who conceals his predatory intention. Nick, a fellow student, secretly protects Lizzie, but an altercation with Brandon fills her with shame and regret. A century on, the tiny key once again unlocks the way forward.
“Follow After Me” is an empowering young adult novel about finding a lost part of yourself in the spirit of the people who came before you. It is a beautiful story about serendipity, hidden stories and invisible bonds that time will never erase.
About Allison Marlow Paterson
Allison is the author of the 2016 ABIA and CBCA notable title “Anzac Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front:, the children’s version of the adult title “Anzac Sons”. Her children’s picture books “Granny’s Place” and “Shearing Time” are inspired by childhood memories of life on the farm. “Australia Remembers: Anzac Day, Remembrance Day and War Memorials” was published in 2018 and is the first in a series.
Allison was a recipient of a 2017 May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Creative Time Fellowship which directly contributed to the publication of “Follow After Me”. Previously a teacher-librarian, Allison now works full-time as a writer and presenter in schools.
Connect with Allison