The Lieutenant was inspired by a real story hidden for two centuries in the pages of a couple of shabby blue notebooks stored in a London manuscript library. The notebooks belonged to William Dawes, a soldier in the first days of the Colony of New South Wales, and they record his efforts to learn the language of the indigenous people of Sydney. Between the lines they reveal an extraordinary friendship - warm, playful and respectful - between him and one of his teachers, a young indigenous girl called Patyegarang.
Reading the conversations in the notebooks - what she said, what he said - you long to know who these two remarkable people were, who could reach out across gulfs of difference and form a friendship that still blazes off the page two centuries later. Those conversations were the starting-point for the novel. I didn't change any of the words in those conversations, but tried to draw a picture of the circumstances in which they might have happened.
This is a novel, but it stays close to the historical events. They bring up issues that are still with us. How do we value difference, and learn to communicate across it? How do we learn how to listen as well as speak, and how do we respond when life presents us with a moral choice that leaves no room for evasion?
The Lieutenant has been an enormously popular book in Australia (where it featured on many prize lists and is a school text), the UK, the US and Canada. It's been translated in many languagers, including German, French and Greek.