Monday, April 2, 2018

2017 HNSA MELBOURNE CONFERENCE


Join our celebration!

On the weekend of 8th – 10th September 2017, the Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) is holding its Melbourne conference at Swinburne University, Hawthorn, exploring the theme of Identity: Origins and Diaspora. Our full programme can be found at our website. Hurry to take advantage of Early Bird Registration before our allocation of tickets are exhausted!


Kate Forsyth

Over 60 fabulous speakers

In a celebration of the historical fiction genre, our three day informative and interactive weekend program will showcase over 60 speakers discussing writing craft, research, inspiration, publishing pathways and personal histories. Among these are acclaimed historical novelists such as Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott, Arnold Zable, Gary Crew, Melissa Ashley, Kate Mildenhall, Juliet Marillier, Pamela Hart, Kelly Gardiner and Libby Hathorn.

History with a twist...

Our opening reception will be held on Friday 8th September where attendees will celebrate  Kate Forsyth’s Beauty in Thorns with plenty of prizes. There will also be a lively round table  in which Arnold Zable, Gary Crew, Hanifa Deen and Ngahuia te Awekotuku will discuss our theme, in particular, the role of the historical novelist in exploring first encounters in Australia and New Zealand’s colonial pasts, the migrant experience underlying those nations’ multicultural identities, and whether an author’s origins are relevant to the story telling. 


Three concurrent streams

The conference program on September will consist of three streams. The first will continue to explore the conference theme and include interviews with a number of talented authors. The second stream will deal with research and writing craft; the third will consist of an academic programme. 

Our guest author is Kerry Greenwood, author of the Phryne Fisher Mysteries, who will provide insights into her novels, her writing processes, the TV adaptation of her series, and other aspects of her stellar career.


Kerry Greenwood

Exploring our Australasian national identity

Other panels exploring our theme in our first stream include 'First Encounters and Our Colonial Past' with Lucy Treloar, Deborah Challinor, Nicole Alexander and Andrew Peters, followed by 'Immigrant Stories and Diaspora: How Pioneers Adapt and Survive in their New Land' with Kim Kelly, Arnold Zable, Maxine Alterio and Vicky Adin. And Natasha Lester, Robyn Cadwallader, Elisabeth Storrs and Kathryn Gauci will explore 'Venturing Forth: Exploring Historical Fiction beyond National Boundaries and Australian History.'

Time travelling, world wars and parallel narratives
Our second stream on Saturday will canvas various aspects of research, sub-genres and the writing craft. Wendy J Dunn, Barbara Gaskell Denvil, Stephanie Smee and Rachel Le Rossignol will discuss 'How to Transmute Research into Compelling Historical Fiction' while Paddy Richardson, Elise McCune, Justin Sheedy and Julian Leatherdale ponder 'World at War: The Appeal of 20th Century Historical Fiction.' 'The Outlander Effect: Parallel Narratives and Time Travelling' will see Belinda Murrell, Felicity Pulman, Gary Crew and Ella Carey discuss the challenges of weaving tales of two protagonists from different time periods into the plots and themes.

Deborah Challinor

'First pages' pitch contest

Our Saturday programme will end with our very popular First Pages Pitch Contest where an actor will read aloud chosen submissions from aspiring authors to industry experts who will provide a critique. The session will also provide other attendees with a chance to learn what attracts the attention of agents and publishers when seeking new historical fiction. Entrants will remain anonymous other than the winner. Our judges are Alison Green (Pantera Press), Sophie Masson (Eagle Books), Mandy Brett (Text Publishing). Rachel Le Rossignol will act as narrator. You can enter the Pitch Contest here.

Personal histories 

The first stream on Sunday sees two Personal Histories sessions where Kate Forsyth explains why she delved into adult historical fiction after writing acclaimed fantasy novels for children and young adults while Deborah Challinor reveals where she obtained the inspiration for her three historical series, numerous standalone novels, and non-fiction books?

Award winning author, Sophie Masson, who has more than 50 novels published in Australia and internationally, will be asked what drives her passion for writing and love of history, while Lucy Treloar will explain what she thinks attracts readers and critics to her writing after her debut novel was released to a whirlwind of local and international acclaim.
Lucy Treloar

In 'The Long Haul: Writing Successful Series and Multiple Books', Juliet Marillier,  Libby Hathorn and Anne Gracie will reveal how they maintain momentum. And what keeps the spark of inspiration from being doused.


A much anticipated panel will be exploring the appeal of historical mysteries in which Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott, Meg Keneally and Gary Corby will ponder why readers are attracted to the addition of history to murder and mayhem, and the challenges novelists encounter when creating detectives who lack modern crime kits.

Sulari Gentill

Sub-genres and the writing craft

Our second Sunday stream will continue to highlight issues relating to the writing craft. Alan Tucker, Gabrielle Wang, Wendy Orr and Pamela Rushby will tell us why writing CYA fiction is not an easy option. Isolde Martyn, Lisa Chaplin, Alison Stuart and Anna Campbell will tease out whether there is a difference between historical romance and historical love stories. As a treat, Kate Mildenhall, Melissa Ashley, Greg Pyers and Luke Devenish will discuss the 'Modern Voice in Historical Fiction'. Should an historical novelist cater for the tastes of 21st Century readers by introducing modern expressions and dialogue in their novels? Is it valid to introduce current sensibilities to characters who would otherwise have been constrained by their own societies?
Anne Gracie


Pathways to publication

Our final sessions for Sunday will include 'Pathways to Publication', Lindy Cameron talks to agent Clare Forster and publishers Alison Green and Mandy Brett on the expectations of agents and publishers when looking for the next big thing in historical fiction.

Writing outside your comfort zone - sex and violence

And you will not want to miss out on our concluding panel where Kate Forsyth, Luke Devenish and Anna Campbell will read some of their saucier excerpts as well as provide tips on writing 'Outside the Comfort Zone: Writing Sex and Violence.'

Super sessions

There are ten skills-based super sessions running concurrently with the main conference program on Historical Mysteries, Historical Romance, Children and Young Adult Fiction, Pitching to Publishers, Social Media, Scrivener, Self-Publishing, Family History, Trove, and the Business of Writing. Attendees will gain the benefit of tutors such as Sulari Gentill, Anne Gracie, Isolde Martyn, Elisabeth Storrs, Elizabeth Lhuede, GS Johnston, Prue Batten, Kathryn Gauci, Kelly Gardiner, Hazel Edwards, Eleanor Limprecht, Rachel Franks and Lisa Chaplin
Kelly Gardiner

Transforming research and the clash of armour

Dr Gillian Polack is offering two masterclasses focused on how to weave research into convincing and authentic historical fiction. There also will be interactive sessions on armour with Matt Curran (Leif the Viking) and historical costumes with Rachel Le Rossignol. There is also a chance to have your manuscript assessed  by industry experts, Kylie Mason and Irina DunnBook your appointment here.

Academic programme

HNSA is conducting a third stream which will give academics the chance to answer a call for papers in two topics: 'Bio-fiction: Can you Defame the Dead?' and 'The Lie of History'. Successful applicants will then present their papers. General admission is free to all attendees to enjoy listening to these fascinating discussions but spaces are limited so please reserve a space. More details about the academic sessions are available here.

Inaugural HNSA short story contest

HNSA is excited to announce the establishment of its inaugural short story contest with a prize of $500! Many thanks to Eagle Books for sponsoring the prize and to Sandra Gulland agreeing to act as judge. The winning entry and two other short listed stories will be published in Backstory ezine. The Historical Novel Society is also offering a free membership to the winner. You can enter the contest via this link.

Conference dinner

Robert Gott
Last but not least, don't miss our conference dinner where you can enjoy highlights of the day with your fellow attendees while eating a delicious meal and listening to our dinner speaker Robert Gott.

You can buy tickets to our conference and learn more about our speakers via our website www.hnsa.org.au. Book now to take advantage of early bird registration. 

Let's Make a Noise about Historical Fiction!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Interview with Elisabeth Storrs


Our guest today is Elisabeth Storrs who graduated from University of Sydney in Arts Law, having studied Classics. Her curiosity piqued by an Etruscan sarcophagus depicting a couple embracing for eternity, she discovered the little known story of the struggle between Etruscan Veii and Republican Rome and the inspiration to write the Tales of Ancient Rome Saga which has been endorsed by Ursula Le Guin, Kate Quinn and Ben Kane. Over the years Elisabeth has worked as a solicitor, corporate lawyer and corporate governance consultant. She is the former Deputy Chair of the NSW Writers’ Centre and one of the founders of the Historical Novel Society Australasia.

Feel free to connect with Elisabeth through her website or Triclinium blog. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter @elisabethstorrs, Bookbub and Pinterest. Subscribe to her Monthly Inspiration newsletter for interviews, reviews and giveaways.

The Wedding Shroud, The Golden Dice and Call to Juno are available here.

In the lead up to the 2017 HNSA Conference in Melbourne, we thought readers would like to know a few of Elisabeth’s favourite things. Could you please share with us what is or was your favourite –

Book as a child and as a teenager?

As a young child I loved Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, and Hugh Lofting’s whimsical Dr Dolittle series with its charming illustrations. As a teenager, I was transported by Gone with the Wind. I read it so often the paperback fell apart. I loved the fact Scarlett was so flawed. Other favourites were H Rider Haggard’s She. I also devoured Jean Plaidy’s books including those she wrote as Victoria Holt. Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre remain as perennial favourites of mine.

Author/authors?

My favourite author and inspiration is Mary Renault. From the moment I read The Persian Boy I fell in love with the poetry in her prose. She engendered a desire in me to write about the ancient world. Other favourites are Patrick Susskind, Jim Crace and Margaret Atwood. I am a bit of a nerd so I have to mention the Roman poet, Vergil, whose rendering of the tragic love story of Dido and Aeneas in The Aeneid contains some the of the most poetic language I’ve ever read.

Period of history?

The early Roman Republic and Etruria in C5th and C4th BC. When ancient Italy is mentioned most think of Rome as the dominant culture. Yet the Etruscans had built a sophisticated and extensive civilisation well before the Romans were fighting turf wars with other Latin tribes. At one stage Etruscan kings ruled Rome. At its height, Etruria and its settlements extended throughout the modern regions of Umbria, Tuscany and Lazio and also dominated trade routes stretching from the Black Sea to northern Africa.

The Etruscans have held my attention for over fifteen years of research. They afforded independence, education and sexual freedom to their women at a time when other parallel societies repressed females. This liberal, mystical and cosmopolitan society inspired me to write the Tales of Ancient Rome Saga which chronicles the events of a ten year conflict between Republican Rome and Veii, a city described as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Etruscan world. It is the tale of two lovers who are blamed for starting a war, and the journey of three women to survive a siege.

Character in one of your own books?

Such a difficult question. I love my three female protagonists: Semni, an Etruscan artisan, and Pinna, the ‘night moth’ prostitute who plies her trade in the graveyards of Rome; but it is Caecilia with whom I have lived the longest. She lies at the heart of the saga. She is a young Roman girl married by politicians to an enemy Etruscan nobleman to seal a truce. Determined to remain true to ‘Roman virtues’ she grapples with conflicting moralities as she is slowly seduced by both her husband and the freedoms his world affords her. In The Wedding Shroud, she is an intolerant, stubborn 18 year old thrust into an alien world. She often makes unlikeable choices due to her naivety and being manipulated by others. Some readers find her petulant and frustrating but I wanted her to be imperfect as well as courageous. In The Golden Dice and Call to Juno, she matures into a complex, confident woman who chooses her husband over her birthplace. Caecilia lives under constant threat. She is considered a traitoress by her people yet is not fully trusted by her adopted city. Each challenge I forced Caecilia to face had to be overcome within the limited framework of power available to women of those times. I loved finding reserves of strength within her throughout her journey from being Rome’s pawn to Veii’s queen.


Scene you enjoyed writing?

The very first scene of The Wedding Shroud when Caecilia stands quaking under her orange wedding veil as she is led to meet her ‘enemy’ bridegroom. I rewrote those first paragraphs dozens of times before I was happy with them. I wanted my readers to feel the sensation of being trapped; how her senses were heightened by fear.

Place to write?

I write at my kitchen table which drives my family crazy because I’m so messy. I like the cosiness of the room and the fact I can see my garden. However, my favourite day of the week is Wednesday when I sit at my local cafĂ© and write after a huge mug of coffee and fruit toast.

Step in the process of writing?

I find the blank page very intimidating. Writing the first draft is demanding. That’s why I absolutely love editing. I like being able to refine my work and mould it. ‘Murdering my darlings’ is always hard but it’s essential to be as brutal with the ‘pen knife’ as I can.

Method of writing i.e. longhand or typing?

I used to write first drafts in longhand but I’ve taught myself to now type directly into Scrivener to save time. However, if I’m really struggling with a concept, I will pick up a pen as I find the physical act of writing on paper helps free up ideas.


TV program /movie?

'The Bad Seed' is my all time favourite movie – it’s a B-Grade Black & White film about a perfect little girl suspected to have homicidal instincts that she may or may not have inherited. Simultaneously chilling and corny!

Comfort food?

Mashed potatoes – lots of butter and salt.

Many thanks, Elisabeth!


"An elegant, impeccably researched exploration of early Rome and their lesser known enemies, the Etruscans. The torments of war, love, family, and faith are explored by narrators on both sides of the conflict as their cities rush toward a shattering, heart-wrenching show-down. Elisabeth Storrs weaves a wonderful tale!"  Kate Quinn, author of The Empress of Rome Saga.

Four unforgettable characters are tested during a war between Rome and Etruscan Veii.

Caecilia has long been torn between her birthplace of Rome and her adopted city of Veii. Yet faced with mounting danger to her husband, children, and Etruscan freedoms, will her call to destroy Rome succeed?

Pinna has clawed her way from prostitute to the concubine of the Roman general Camillus. Deeply in love, can she exert her own power to survive the threat of exposure by those who know her sordid past?

Semni, a servant, seeks forgiveness for a past betrayal. Will she redeem herself so she can marry the man she loves?

Marcus, a Roman tribune, is tormented by unrequited love for another soldier. Can he find strength to choose between his cousin Caecilia and his fidelity to Rome?

Who will overcome the treachery of mortals and gods?

HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017 Melbourne Conference is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University. Elisabeth Storrs will be appearing in Session Five on Saturday 9 September at 2.15-3.15 pm in the following panel:

Venturing Forth: Exploring Stories Beyond National Boundaries and Australasian History 


Kelly Gardiner discusses with Robyn Cadwallader, Natasha Lester, Prue Batten and Elisabeth Storrs why some authors prefer to discover worlds beyond their native shores and ancestral history.


Elisabeth is also conducting a super session with Elizabeth  Lheude in Session Four on Sunday 10 September at 12.30-1.30 pm on 'Building an Author Platform: Social Media Basics for Historical Novelists.'

Finally, Elisabeth will be appearing at Sutherland Library on 29 May 2017 at 6.30 - 8.30 pm in our Meet the Author satellite event with Isolde Martyn, Debbie Robson, Julianne Miles-Brown and Diane Murray in 'Follow that Horse: All you wanted to know about researching, writing and publishing historical fiction.' The event is free but bookings are essential.

HNSA 2017 is a celebration of the historical fiction genre which will showcase over 60 speakers discussing inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories in our weekend programme. Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Libby Hathorn, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.

In addition to the two stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses. You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry expert Irina Dunn. Our free extended academic programme is open for general admission but bookings are essential.

Our First Pages Pitch Contest offers an opportunity for submissions to be read aloud to a panel of publishers. And we are delighted to announce the introduction of our inaugural HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize!




Let’s make a noise about historical fiction!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Interview with Debbie Robson


Our guest today on the HNSA blog is Debbie Robson. Debbie grew up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and has variously given birth to a son in South Wales, a daughter in New South Wales, run an internet dating agency, made dreamcatchers and tested telephone lines. Her poems and stories have been published here and overseas. She is the author of Tomaree, a love story set in Port Stephens, New South Wales, about an Australian GI war bride which was inspired by a memorial erected to 2,000 Australian officers and 20,000 US serviceman who trained there during WW2. You can connect with Debbie via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads and her website where she regularly blogs on writing and history.

What is the inspiration for your current book?

The inspiration for my current work in progress is a secondary character from Tomaree. When I completed Tomaree some years back I knew, even then, that I would one day return to Sarah. She is 38 in Tomaree with a mysterious lover and she helps Peggy, my main character, when she falls in love with a US Army Signalman. In Paris Next Week Sarah is 19, a wealthy but naive young woman.

Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?

As with my other books I tend to focus on identity. In Paris Next Week identity is a theme but tied in with perception. Everyone around her is not what they seem and by the end of the manuscript (the first in a trilogy) Sarah is paying the price for a lack of self knowledge and awareness.

Which period of history particularly interests you? Why? 

I’m particularly drawn to the twenties, thirties and forties. I feel it is just out of our reach but not so far back that people live completely different lives, as say in the 17th and 18th centuries. 

What resources do you use to research your book?

I use Trove, extensive image searches, primary sources if possible and I particularly enjoy reading fiction that was written around the same time as I am researching. At the moment I am trying to get my hands on a few novels written by Australian women in the early 1920s.

What is more important to you: historical authenticity or accuracy?

I think with this manuscript I am happy to be authentic. In Tomaree and my WWI manuscript only historical accuracy will do. I believe fiction dealing with the world wars does demand it.

Which character in your current book is your favourite? Why? 

In Paris Next Week my favourite is Lilith, a secondary character. She is a Russian Jew and very unlike any other character I have written to date.

Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? How long does it generally take you to write a book?

I am a pantser, although I generally know how a book is going to end.

Which authors have influenced you?

William Styron is definitely the all time major influence. I finished Sophie’s Choice and decided I wanted to try and do what he did. He completely removed me from the world that I knew. I still feel the same about his writing thirty years later. Rosamunde Pilcher, Ian McEwan and Paul Auster are also favourites. I started naming my chapters instead of numbering them after reading Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers and I remember marvelling at how each character’s point of view was so different. It is something that I work hard at in each manuscript.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

To all upcoming writers I would say read, read and read. A book a week if you can and don’t stop writing.

Tell us about your next book or work in progress

Paris Next Week is about Sarah Montague and her best friend Louie who are both from wealthy families and are just starting to find their feet and break free from their parents. One of their first major outings at the start of the manuscript is to a famous Sydney nightclub which is raided by the police when they are there.



 In 1942 Peggy Ashburn meets an American soldier, First Lieutenant Tom Lockwood, who is based at the Shoal Bay Country Club, Port Stephens. The attraction between them is immediate and intense and the couple enlist the help of Peggy's neighbour, Sarah Linden, to act as go-between. By 1972 when Peggy arrives back home from the US for the funeral of her estranged mother, her marriage is in tatters and she has a lot of soul-searching ahead of her. When she begins to go through her mother's house she discovers not only a letter that has been lost for thirty years but that her mother kept an incredible secret from her.

Debbie Robson will be appearing in our HNSA Meet the Author satellite event at Sutherland Library, 30-36 Belmont St, Sutherland on 29 May 2017 from 6.30-8.30 pm where she will discuss 'Follow that Horse! All you ever wanted to know about researching, writing and publishing historical fiction' with Isolde Martyn, Elisabeth Storrs, Diane Murray and Julianne Miles-Brown. The event is free but bookings are essential. For more information about our satellite events, please visit our website. Our next Melbourne event is on 18 June 2017 at the Mail Exchange Hotel, 688 Bourke St, Melbourne where Barbara Gaskell Denvil and Lindy Cameron on Ancient and Medieval fiction.

HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017 Melbourne Conference is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University. 

This celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories in our weekend programme. Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Libby Hathorn, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.

In addition to the two stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses. You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry experts, Kylie Mason and Irina Dunn. Our free extended academic programme is open for general admission but bookings are essential.

Our First Pages Pitch Contest offers an opportunity for submissions to be read aloud to a panel of publishers. And we are delighted to announce the introduction of our inaugural HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize!




Let’s make a noise about historical fiction!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Interview with Luke Devenish




Luke Devenish joins us today. Luke is an Australian playwright, novelist, screenwriter and university lecturer. His Ancient Rome-set historical fiction novels, Den of Wolves and Nest of Vipers, were published by Penguin Random House in Australia and New Zealand in 2008 and 2010, respectively, and later translated into Spanish, Serbian, Russian and Turkish international editions. His latest novel, the Australian Gothic mystery The Secret Heiress, was published by Simon & Schuster in Australia and New Zealand in April 2016, with a second edition released in January 2017. From 2001 to the end of 2007 he held a number of key creative roles, including Script Producer, on television juggernaut Neighbours, where he oversaw some 1,500 episode scripts. He was Script Executive on Something in the Air, and has written or script edited on Home & Away, SeaChange and Nowhere Boys. His plays have been produced by the Malthouse Theatre, the Queensland Theatre Company, the Adelaide Festival, the Sydney Festival, and NIDA, among others. He has taught creative writing subjects for AFTRS, RMIT, Monash and NIDA. Since 2013 he has lectured and coordinated 1st Year undergraduates of the BFA Screenwriting degree at the University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts. You can connect with Luke via his website.

What is the inspiration for your current book?

A little weirdly, perhaps, it was a billboard for a Philippines telenovela that I found myself being repeatedly driven past when I spent some time working in Manila back in 2011. It had an image of a rather malevolent, if beautifully dressed, older woman standing like a puppet master over a group of unwitting little girls. It really stuck in my mind. I had no idea what the TV show was about, but when I got the title, Munting Heredera, translated into English (Little Heiress) suddenly a story started assembling itself in my head. It was a story that was wholly my own – I never saw an episode of the TV show! I remain very grateful to that billboard.

Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?

Secrets and the consequences of keeping them. All the main characters are sitting on secrets of some type or other, and the consequences of choosing to withhold information, for good reasons or for bad, are explored at length in this story.

Which period of history particularly interests you? Why?

I enjoy the past, full stop. I find all eras fascinating but I am especially drawn to late Victorian times. People living then were at the very cusp of the modern age – indeed they were alive for so much extraordinary technological, economic and social change occurring all around them. For some people, young people for instance, this was the most exciting of times. For other people, those who had grown up perceiving the world in one way, only to be forced, thanks to change, to perceive it in another, the times were very challenging indeed. This lead to a lot of conflicting ideologies. I think the parallels between that era and are own quite compelling.

What resources do you use to research your book?

The old fashioned kind: books, books and more books. I read a lot of history, cherry-picking details that add authenticity when I weave them into my own writing.
What is more important to you: historical authenticity or accuracy?
Story and character come first and foremost, of course, but I work hard to achieve authenticity via carefully chosen details intended to convince the reader that they are indeed in the past. Good research makes the authentic details accurate as a matter of course.

Which character in your current book is your favourite? Why?

There are a pair of servant girls, Ida and Biddy, equally weighted in story terms, but separated by seventeen years in time, that I hold with equal affection in my heart. Ida for her happy contempt for all those in authority, along with her dogged determination to get to the bottom of things that bother her. Biddy for her cheery optimism in the face or adversity and her winning ability to fib herself into – and out of – a fix.

Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? How long does it generally take you to write a book?

Both. I very carefully plot it out before hand, start writing, and then get bored about a third of the way in when I begin craving some surprises. That’s when I start pantsing it, in order to keep the possibilities that come with spontaneity open.

Which authors have influenced you?

I love Philippa Gregory’s approach to historical fiction, and have been very influenced by choices she’s made in some of her books to place marginalised, little known or even wholly fictional figures at the centre of familiar historical events. This allows for completely new perspectives to emerge, freshening up material that might otherwise feel somewhat well-trodden. Hilary Mantel does this too, to similarly great effect. I love Joy Dettman’s Woody Creek series of novels for being so compelling and addictive, and for creating such a brilliant pantheon of Aussie characters, that take us through multiple books and several generations of social crises and change in 20th century rural Australia.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

Stick with it. Write what’s in your heart and keep writing until it’s out of there. Be disciplined. Be brutal in allocating time to doing it. Turn off your perfectionism for the first draft – stop spending those hours agonising over word choices and instead just aim to fill up the page. You can go back and pretty it up later. And don’t think the world owes you anything just because you do all those things. Think of the work itself as your reward and the thing that most sustains you. Write because you love it, not because you want to be the next Kate Morton. It’s the true obsessives who end up getting published; those for whom the idea of not writing is unthinkable.

Tell us about your new book.


The Secret Heiress took me three years, and as many drafts, doing it on trains and snatched moments and summer so-called ‘holidays’. Too long! I wear several hats as a writer, and one of them is playwright. I’m currently in a mood for short, sharp projects, so for the last twelve months or so I’ve been writing plays. No books just for the moment, although of course I’ll go back to them.


A fabled house. A fabulous fortune. Beautiful, identical twins...

Dark shadows fall across the golden summer of 1886. Naive country girl Ida Garfield longs to escape the farm.  When Miss Matilda Gregory, the elegant mistress of Summersby House, offers Ida employment as a housemaid, Ida leaps at the chance. Yet it’s not for her servant’s skills that she’s wanted. It’s her inquisitiveness...

Miss Gregory is found dead before Ida starts her first day. Fearing her one chance of bettering herself lost, Ida comes to the funeral, hoping that someone else from Summersby will still want her.
Someone does. Handsome blond Englishman Mr Samuel Hackett is the late Miss Gregory’s fiancĂ©. He expresses a keen need for a housemaid – and a friend. But Miss Gregory’s will brings to light an extraordinary deception and a terrible wrong from the past. Summersby has a secret heiress, whose name is also Matilda Gregory...

A strange, ethereal girl with an irrevocably broken memory...
Who is this mysterious heiress, and why is Ida bound forever to the truth?

Many thanks for joining us, Luke. Great to hear about the inspiration behind The Secret Heiress

You can buy Luke's books via these links:

HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017Conference is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University Melbourne. Luke will be appearing on Sunday 10th September in the following panel:

The Modern Voice in Historical Fiction
Writing styles have altered over the years. Should an historical novelist cater for the tastes of 21st Century readers by introducing modern expressions and dialogue in their novels? Is it valid to introduce current sensibilities to characters who would otherwise have been constrained by their own societies? Authors Kate Mildenhall, Melissa Ashley, Greg Pyers and Luke Devenish discuss with Eleanor Limprecht  how historical novels have changed over time, and how they approach writing authentic characters true to their period.

The HNSA conference is a celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories in our weekend programme. Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Libby Hathorn, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.

In addition to the two stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses. You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry experts, Kylie Mason and Irina Dunn. Our free extended academic programme is open for general admission but bookings are essential.

Our First Pages Pitch Contest offers an opportunity for submissions to be read aloud to a panel of publishers. And we are delighted to announce the introduction of our inaugural HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize!


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Interview with Libby Hathorn


We are honoured to welcome Libby Hathorn to the HNSA blog today. Libby is an award-winning author of more than sixty books for children and young people. Translated into several languages and adapted for stage and screen, her work has won honours in Australia, United States, Great Britain and Holland. She wrote Way Home illustrated by Greg Rogers which won the Kate Greenaway Award UK; her first YA novel Thunderwith was made a movie by Hallmark Hall of Fame; and her opera libretto ‘Grandma’s Shoes’ won her an AWGIE. She has also acted as Judge for NSW Premier’s Awards and for various poetry awards. 

Libby has been an Australia Day Ambassador for more than 20 years, visiting country towns to celebrate Australian literature, especially poetry; and was an Ambassador for the National Year of Reading in 2012. In 2003 she won the Centenary Medal; and in 2014 the Alice Award given to an Australian woman writer ‘who has made a distinguished and long term contribution to Australian 
literature.’ 

Her most recent novel is Eventual Poppy Day (Harper Collins), shortlisted SWW Biennial Awards. Her most recent picturebooks are: Incredibilia (Hardie Grant Egmont) shortlisted Queensland Premier’s Awards, 2016; A Soldier a Dog and a Boy (Hachette) CBCA Notable Book, 2017, and Outside (Hardie Grant Egmont) CBCA, Notable Book 2016, soon to be a children’s opera with music by Elena Katz Chernin. 

You can connect with Libby via her website and blog, Facebook and Twitter @poetrywizard. Her entire book list is available here.


What is the inspiration for your current book?

My current books are inextricably linked, for out of my World War 1 novel, Eventual Poppy Day, based on the war record of my mother’s brother Maurice who fought both at Gallipoli and at the Somme, came Maurice’s brother Albert’s story in picturebook form A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy.

Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?

Strange to say it occurs to me that it’s a theme I’ve been exploring most of my writing life and that is the importance of kindness; the small acts of kindness that bind us. In Eventual Poppy Day following my uncle’s war record linked to a contemporary boy Oliver, the need to belong is also explored. And in A Soldier a Dog and a Boy, the importance of a reaching out for connection. 

Which period of history particularly interests you? Why?

I am increasingly interested in Australian colonial history and especially in female figures in history who up until recently have gone largely unsung. For example,  in my novel Georgiana; Woman of Flowers I tell the story of Georgiana Molloy, our first female botanist.

What resources do you use to research your book?

Libraries are of course invaluable and I like to dig and delve through archives of major ones and smaller local ones, eg for my next novel Asylum there’s a treasure trove to be found in my local library. Also art galleries can be surprisingly informative and I find I am very visual and it helps to ‘see’ the times I am researching. I like to visit small museums that have lovingly hoarded both records and realia that can contribute so much to the detail in the storytelling. I like to visit the terrain and be in the landscape if at all possible so for Eventual Poppy Day and A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy I visited the brothers’ childhood home in the Kyogle Casino area and travelled to the Western Front to the Somme and to the grave where 21 year old Maurice lies. For my historical novel The Painter I spent many hours in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and for Georgiana, Woman of Flowers time in Western Australia both in the Batty Library but also travelling to Augusta and the site of her home there. Online resources are a miracle of information where a trail can be followed so seemingly easily, and I am making increasing use of this powerful resource.

What is more important to you: historical authenticity or accuracy?

I think both are important but the whole idea of an historical novel is that as the writer you can take certain liberties with imagined sequences of events tying them in carefully as you can to actual events.

Which character in your current book is your favourite? Why?

Maurice the soldier and my uncle, who left his dairy farming life in northern NSW for what he thought to be an adventure and from family stories and accounts, actually ‘grew up’ through the horrors of war on foreign soil, only to lose his life at Messines Ridges at 21 years old. He is an ‘amalgam’ of the uncles I knew in my early life, laconic, often humorous, hard-working, great story tellers and lovers of poetry and song, and many of them dreamers at heart.

Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’?

My stories usually begin for me through poetry, that is a line of poetry that repeats enough for me to write it down for further thought. I’m a collector of phrases and ideas that in some way involve deep emotion and the novel begins as a journey of discovery and once undertaken, a plot seems to reveal itself.

How long does it generally take you to write a book?

Even short texts like picture books take me quite a time from inception – on average about a year. So Outside (soon to be an opera with Elena Katz Chernin’s brilliant music)  a poetic text was returned to over several months as was A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy set in World War 1. My historical novels such as Georgiana: Woman of Flowers and Eventual Poppy Day were written in bursts over something like 4 years each.

A soldier far from home, a boy orphaned by war and the stray dog that brings them together. 
A powerful story of the Somme illustrated by Phil Lesnie. 

Which authors have influenced you?

Childhood influence were many and varied from Australian May Gibbs and her bush fantasies to English Charles Dickens’ enthralling reads. Later, novels such as Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career and Larry Durrell’s Alexandrine Quartet were influential. However,  Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s remarkable novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude was a life-changer for me as a writer.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

Without doubt aspiring writers should look for the subject matter that is first and foremost meaningful to them, to the extent months or even years of a life might well be spent in the writing. Then, after the first flowering or let’s say inspired bit, there needs to be a certain doggedness to bring the novel to fruition, that is completion. This may mean sharing your work in a writer’s group or seeking advice from a trusted few. But it does mean the solitary refining and refining until it can be ‘let go’.

Tell us about your next book or work in progress.

My next novel Asylum begins in 1880’s but switches to the present time. Its first setting is in the Asylum for Destitute Children in Randwick where there was a breakout of 40 boys which I am currently researching mainly through Randwick’s Bowen Library archives. There was also the death of a 9 year old boy who was beaten badly and this death resulted in a parliamentary inquiry. It’s harrowing reading but fascinating especially since the very grand convict built asylum still stands handsomely on part of the Prince of Wales Hospital grounds to this day. There is a small graveyard within the grounds with a long list of small children’s names. And as a writer I think it important that at least some of its history should be told through fiction based on fact. 

Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, Libby.


It is 1915, and 18 year old Maurice Roche is serving in the Great War. A century later Maurice’s great great nephew, 18 year old Oliver is fighting his own war- one against himself. As Oliver reads more of Maurice’s war diary, he discovers that despite living in different times there are similarities; doubts heartbreak, and the finding courage to face the darkest of times. 


HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017 Conference in Melbourne is being held on 8-10 September 2017. Belinda Murrell will be appearing in the following panel in Session Four on Sunday 10 September at 12.30-1.30 pm.

The Long Haul: Writing Successful Series and Multiple Books

Juliet Marillier is the author of 6 historical fantasy series and has a total of 21 books to her name. Libby Hathorn has written over 60 Children and Young Adult (CYA) books which include historical novels among them. Anne Gracie has written 3 series, 20 novels and numerous novellas. How do these novelists maintain momentum? And what keeps the spark of inspiration from being doused? Catherine Padmore explores the stories behind these award winning authors.


HNSA 2017 is a celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories in our weekend programme. Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Libby Hathorn, Deborah Challinor, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.

In addition to the two stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses. You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry experts, Kylie Mason and Irina Dunn. Our free extended academic programme is open for general admission but bookings are essential.

Our First Pages Pitch Contest offers an opportunity for submissions to be read aloud to a panel of publishers. And we are delighted to announce the introduction of our inaugural HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Interview with Robyn Cadwallader


Today we are delighted to welcome Robyn Cadwallader to the blog. Robyn is an editor and writer who lives in the country outside Canberra. She has published poems, prize-winning short stories and reviews, a poetry collection, i painted unafraid (Wakefield Press, 2010) and a non-fiction book about virginity and female agency in the Middle Ages. Her first novel, The Anchoress was published to critical acclaim in 2015 by Fourth Estate (Aust), Faber & Faber (UK), Farrer, Straus & Giroux (US), and Gallimard (France). It was awarded a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award for fiction, was shortlisted for the Indie Book Awards, the Adelaide Festival Literary Awards and the ACT Book of the Year Award, and was longlisted for the ABIA Awards. In response to the government’s shameful policies on asylum seekers, Robyn commissioned and edited a collection of essays and analysis by prominent lawyers and activists, We Are Better Than This (ATF Press, 2015).

You can connect with Robyn via her website and blog, Facebook, Twitter @robyncad and Instagram RobynCadwallader.

What is the inspiration for your current book?

I first found out about anchoresses when researching for my PhD.  I was so fascinated by the idea of women choosing to be locked away, that — even though it seemed unlikely material for a novel — the idea wouldn’t let go of me. When I visited some of the few anchorholds still standing in the UK, I began to imagine one women in her cell, wondering what it would be like, why she was there, how she would survive. She became Sarah in my novel.

Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?

There are several interwoven thematic strands in the novel, that emerged via writing about the experience of one anchoress. I’m very interested in the ways in which religious, philosophical and medical teaching from the ancient world through to the Middle Ages constructed the female body as sinful and dangerous, and required it be controlled. It’s the story of patriarchy, of course, and it’s writ large in the imagery of an anchorhold, where a woman is literally sealed into a stone cell, described as dead to the world, and instructed not to look out at the world. The novel explores the ways that the body is nonetheless resistant to control and Sarah discovers that her sensual life, and those of the ordinary village women who visit her, lead her toward God. A sub-theme (is there such a thing?) that I really enjoyed writing about is the variety of ways in which the written word can be used —to encourage, to control, to tell stories and even as a means of resistance, to blackmail the church.

Which period of history particularly interests you? Why?

I can become fascinated in whatever period I read, I think. But the Middle Ages, and specifically England in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, grabbed my attention via the literature. Many people (my uni students among them) assume that medieval literature is dry, dusty and always religious, but the stories are vibrant, gutsy, often funny and bawdy. The literature opened up the culture and history for me. It’s fascinating to read about the fourteenth century, a time on the cusp of the Renaissance, but such a gruelling time of famine and climate change, near civil war, plague and a peasants’ rebellion against the crown that almost succeeded. Somehow, people still survived (well, some of them) and created.

What resources do you use to research your book?

Apart from Julian of Norwich’s writings, there are no primary texts by anchoresses. So, I read the many rules written for these women, primarily the thirteenth-century Guide for Anchoresses or Ancrene Wisse, that reflects the contemporary attitude toward women as it offers advice on the inner and outer life of an anchoress. Beyond that, I visited anchorholds and their remains in the UK, I read archaeological evidence about anchorholds, theological writing about women from the early Church Fathers and some later medieval theologians; documents such as cartularies, manor court rolls and statutes; rules of life for monasteries and priories along with maps of villages and priories. Secondary material included descriptions of villages and village life; the creation of manuscripts and a thousand details of medieval life for the nobility and peasantry.  I also found feminist and literary discussions of anchoritic life especially helpful for giving me ways to understand the significance of the primary material I was reading.


What is more important to you: historical authenticity or accuracy?

Authenticity, for sure. We can’t know absolutely what life was like in the past, and whatever we read or write about the past, we do so through the lens of the twenty-first century. It can’t be otherwise. So, while I work hard to be as accurate as possible, my primary interest is in writing an engaging and thoughtful story. I think of my writing as a kind of conversation between myself and the past.

Which character in your current book is your favourite? Why?

Of course I love Sarah, the main character of The Anchoress. I spent so long inside her head, after all! But Eleanor, the little girl who visited Sarah, is my favourite. She has such natural spunk and curiosity, and best of all, she draws out the reclusive scribe, Ranaulf. When I began writing, my own thought was that the village children would be naturally intrigued by this woman locked away where they couldn’t see her: why would she be there? What would she do all day? When was she coming out? I didn’t plan any further than that, but Eleanor kept coming back, and slowly she became incredibly important to Sarah. She was easy to write, as if she insisted on being in the novel in exactly the same way that she insisted on chatting with Sarah; she was always simply ‘there’.

Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? How long does it generally take you to write a book?

I’m a thorough pantser. No idea where I’m headed beyond a vague sense of the story’s general shape. I love the feeling of writing something completely unexpected that takes the story in a different direction from what I had imagined. Even better, is coming back to a scene or image that had seemed random and perhaps irrelevant, to the connections it makes to other areas of story and character.  My image is the familiar one of driving down a country lane, this time in my old VW beetle with terrible headlights, able to see only a few metres ahead of me; all I can do is trust that by the time that ground is covered, the next few metres will come into view. It doesn’t always happen and sometimes it’s overwhelming, sometimes I end in a ditch, but it’s the process that I trust.

Which authors have influenced you?

As a writer of historical fiction, I have to say Hilary Mantel, primarily, for her capacity to write about history with such wit and such strong characters, not an ounce of history-speak. I also love Jim Crace’s approach to historical fiction as well. They both grasp the authority and creativity of the writer first of all, unconstrained by the idea of writing about history. I know Mantel takes accuracy seriously, but she can push outside that when she wants to, and it works so well. I’m in awe of them both.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

Be wary of any advice that is absolute, any do, don’t or should. So, this is what I tell myself: read, write and write some more. Be brave, take risks. Trust yourself. I’ve found that writing historical fiction, I have to continually be aware of the dangers of being stifled and falling into ‘history-speak’ (see question 8), that slightly artificial way of writing and story telling. I try to stretch out my literary arms and write with some freedom, letting the characters be people, not historical mouthpieces. 

Tell us about your next book or work in progress.

My next book is set in early fourteenth-century London and tells the story of a group of secular illuminators of medieval manuscripts.



From a remarkable new Australian author comes THE ANCHORESS, a story set within the confines of a stone cell measuring seven paces by nine. Tiny in scope but universal in themes, it is a wonderful, wholly compelling fictional achievement.

Set in the twelfth century, THE ANCHORESS tells the story of Sarah, only seventeen when she chooses to become an anchoress, a holy woman shut away in a small cell, measuring seven paces by nine, at the side of the village church. Fleeing the grief of losing a much-loved sister in childbirth and the pressure to marry, she decides to renounce the world, with all its dangers, desires and temptations, and to commit herself to a life of prayer and service to God. But as she slowly begins to understand, even the thick, unforgiving walls of her cell cannot keep the outside world away, and it is soon clear that Sarah's body and soul are still in great danger ...

Telling an absorbing story of faith, desire, shame, fear and the very human need for connection and touch, THE ANCHORESS is both mesmerising and thrillingly unpredictable.

Many thanks for sharing your journey with us, Robyn. 

You can purchase Robyn's books via these links: 
The Anchoressi painted unafraidWe are Better Than This and Three Methods for Reading the Thirteenth-Century Seinte Marherete.

HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017 Conference in Melbourne is being held on 8-10 September 2017. This celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories in our weekend programme. Robyn Cadwallader will be appearing on Saturday 9 September in Session 2.15-3.15 pm.

Venturing forth: Exploring Stories beyond National Boundaries and Australasian History
Kelly Gardiner discusses with Robyn Cadwallader, Natasha Lester, Prue Batten and Elisabeth Storrs why some authors prefer to discover worlds beyond their native shores and ancestral history.

Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.

In addition to the two stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses. You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry experts, Kylie Mason and Irina Dunn. Our free extended academic programme is open for general admission but bookings are essential.

Our First Pages Pitch Contest offers an opportunity for submissions to be read aloud to a panel of publishers. And we are delighted to announce the introduction of our inaugural HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize!





Let’s make a noise about historical fiction!