'The most extraordinary battle... absolute savagery'
IF PETER FitzSimons' books are as entertaining as his talks, it's no wonder they're best-sellers.
Peter first rose to fame in Australia as a rugby test player. He is the biographer not only of World Cup winning Wallaby captains Nick Farr-Jones and John Eales, but former Opposition Leader Kim Beazley, boxer Les Darcy, aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, war heroine Nancy Wake and Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson.
The author's fascination with military history and the men and women who actually fought has inspired a number of his books - the biography of "the most decorated heroine of the Second World War", Nancy Wake; accounts of Tobruk, Kokoda, Gallipoli and his latest, Victory at Villers-Bretonneux.
"I feel at my best if I'm telling quintessentially Australian stories," he told an audience at Tweed Heads Library.
"I love colour and movement and passion. I find it in writing fabulous stories.
"I want scenes and emotions. I want to make it feel like a novel."
Peter nominates Charles Dickens as "the greatest writer that's ever been".
In Peter's non-fiction books, he uses the devices of fiction - putting the reader in the moment, the scenes in the present tense, and the focus on people.
Sights, sounds, smells and fine detail "make the skeletons dance", he says of his writing style.
Of Nancy Wake, he says she joined the French Resistance and finished the war as a modern-day Joan of Arc.
When he began her biography, she was 91 years old, with her "spirit and exuberance" still intact.
"I must say we had a few blues early on," Peter admits.
When researching his books on WW1, Peter said he was outraged by the horror at Fromelles.
It is estimated there were some 5500 Australian casualties on the first day - the greatest loss in a single day in Australia's history
Of Villers-Bretonneux, Peter says: "I'm stunned by how strong the story is.
"It was the most extraordinary battle. There was absolute savagery."
The book tells the story of Anzac Day 1918, when in Villers-Bretonneux, the Australians are called on to save the town and the entire battle. Victory at Villers-Bretonneux is the third and final instalment of Peter FitzSimon's Great War trilogy - comprising Gallipoli and Fromelles and Pozieres.
It tells the story of how Australian soldiers saved a small French village and, essentially, prevented the Germans from winning the war. Peter brings to life an array of Australians; men who survived other campaigns such as Gallipoli, Fromelles and Passchendaele, including well-known figures such as Pompey Elliott.