Tuesday, March 20, 2018


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!

Kerry Greenwood
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.

Conference Program Friday 8th – Sunday 10th September

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. 

Arnold Zable
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.

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.'

Lucy Treloar
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.

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?

Kate Forsyth
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.

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
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?

Melissa Ashley
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.
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 Johston, Prue Batten, Kathryn Gauci, Kelly Gardiner, Hazel Edwards, Eleanor Limprecht, Rachel Franks and Lisa Chaplin

Anne Gracie
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 Australian Sociey of Authors 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, March 27, 2017

Interview with Kate Mildenhall

Today we’re delighted to welcome Kate Mildenhall to the HNSA blog. Kate is the author of Skylarking, published by Black Inc. in 2016. She is a writer and teacher. She has taught in schools, at RMIT University and State Library Victoria, and has volunteered with Teachers Across Borders delivering professional development to Khmer teachers in Cambodia. Skylarking is her debut novel, and is based on the true story of Kate and Harriet, best friends growing up on a remote Australian cape in the 1880s, and the tragic event that befalls them.

Skylarking was named in Readings bookstore’s Top Ten Fiction Books of 2016 and longlisted for Debut Fiction in The Indie Book Awards 2017. Kate lives in Hurstbridge, Victoria, and is currently working on a new novel.

You can learn more about Kate on her website, or connect with her via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

What is the inspiration for your current book?

Skylarking is inspired by a grave I stumbled upon during a camping trip. The grave belonged to Harriet Parker, a young woman growing up at a remote lighthouse on the Australian coast in the 1880s. Skylarking reimagines the lives of Harriet, and her best friend Kate, and the tragedy that befalls them.

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

When I first learned more of this story, I was struck by the fact that although our lives were over 100 years apart, and incredibly different, the nature of friendship, of growing up, of dealing with desire and envy – these elements of a young woman’s life were timeless. I might have been Kate or Harriet. So I’ve tried to tease that out – the nature of friendship, of women’s lives that have so often been left out of the historical record.

Which period of history particularly interests you? Why?

The story of Skylarking really found me, and as such, I became immersed in the period of late 19th century Australia. I loved the research – I could have gone on forever. While my focus was always on the intimate lives of Kate and Harriet, and their life in the light station, I also felt a responsibility to acknowledge the colonisation and dispossession of Aboriginal lands and people at this time, which is ongoing.

What resources do you use to research your book?

I had my first big breakthrough using the NLA’s magnificent website TROVE, where I discovered the original newspaper reports of the incident that occurred near the Cape St George lighthouse. These articles gave me plot, and character voice, and spine-tinglingly – my title. I read spidery handwriting in diaries of young Victorian women, climbed lighthouses and read manuals and logbooks of light keepers. The staff and fabulous resources of State Library Victoria were enormously helpful. I also read the books that I imagined my protagonist might have read. Also a lot of late night googling of recipes, photographs, school curriculum, how to get on a horse…

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

Well, in the case of Skylarking, it was authenticity. Although, I did angst over this for much of the writing process! Historical accuracy would have involved me telling the history of an extraordinary lighthouse and all the strange occurrences then, and the many additional characters who were around, and I was really so obsessed with Kate and Harriet’s story that I had no room for the epic that it otherwise might have become! At some point, the true story of Kate and Harriet disentangled itself from history, and became a story I was telling, a fiction. I knew, when I finished the book, that this is the way it happened for my Kate and Harriet.

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

Oh, Kate. I was inside her head for so long, and she really became part of me. Of course, we all leave little bits of ourselves in our characters (it didn’t help that I shared a name with my protagonist!), and I share some of Kate’s flaws and dreams. I did have a bit of a crush on the fisherman McPhail for a time, too – is that normal?! I also grieved deeply for what I had to write in the novel, and for how it impacted Kate –  but I can’t say anymore than that without a big spoiler!

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

In my vast experience of having written one book, I can definitely say pantser! There was a real urgency I felt in getting Skylarking down, and it helped that I had a skeleton plot, and characters from the true events. I’m now writing my second novel, a different beast altogether, and I feel like it’s an entirely new process. This time, I’m trying to be a bit more of a plotter – although I’m not sure how it will work!

Which authors have influenced you?

In this particular work; Maragret Attwood, Geraldine Brooks, Hannah Kent, Kelly Gardiner – I pored over these novelist’s books and authors’ notes to see how they had approached the difficult ground of writing historical biofiction. In general – Tim Winton, Joan London, Cate Kennedy.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

Get the words on the page. Read a lot, and widely. Find a network of other writers – to buoy you up, share writing and advice, and commiserate with.

Tell us about your next book or work in progress.

My new novel tells the story of a mother forced from her home and looking for a safe place for herself and her kids. It’s a contemporary novel and it’s my way of exploring some of the ideas and political issues that have confronted me over the past few years.

Kate and Harriet are best friends, growing up together on an isolated Australian cape in the 1880s. As daughters of the lighthouse keepers, the two girls share everything until a fisherman, McPhail, arrives in their small community. When Kate witnesses the desire that flares between him and Harriet, she is torn by her feelings of envy and longing. But one moment in McPhail's hut will change the course of their lives together.

Inspired by a trued story, Skylarking is a stunning debut novel about friendship, love and loss, one that questions what it is to remember and how tempting it can be to forget.

Thanks for sharing your journey with us Kate. All the best for your next book!

You can buy Skylarking here.

HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017 Conference in Melbourne is being held on 8-10 September 2017. Kate Mildenhall will be appearing at the following panel Session Two on Sunday 10 September at 10.00-11.00 am.

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.

Early bird registration is now open for the HNSA 2017 Conference. You will receive 15% off the full price for our weekend programme.  The same discount also applies for tickets to our opening reception

This celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing our theme, inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories. 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. And there are two calls for papers in our free extended academic programme.

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!

Visit our website to take advantage of our early bird discounts. Hurry before the ticket allocation is exhausted!

Let’s make a noise about historical fiction!