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!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Natasha Lester Interview


Our guest today is Natasha Lester. Natasha worked as a marketing manager for cosmetic company L'Oreal, managing the Maybelline brand, before returning to university to study creative writing. She completed a Master of Creative Arts as well as her first novel, What Is Left Over, After, which won the T.A.G. Hungerford Award for Fiction. Her second novel, If I Should Lose You, was published in 2012, followed by A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald in 2016. Her Mother’s Secret was published by Hachette Australia in March 2017. When she’s not writing, she can be found teaching writing, doing headstands at yoga, or playing with her three children. You can connect with Natasha via her website,

In the lead up to the 2017 HNSA Conference in Melbourne, we thought readers would like to know a few of Natasha's favourite things. Please tell us about your....

Favourite book as a child and as a teenager?

My favourite book as a child was definitely Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. I wanted to be Amy March, with her artistic temperament and blonde curls. When I was a teenager, I feel in love with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and it’s still one of my absolute favourite books. It also probably explains my preference for dark haired heroes a la Rochester!

Favourite author or authors?

Hilary Mantel is a wonderful writer of historical fiction and I am waiting desperately for the third instalment of her Thomas Cromwell series, the follow on to Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. I also love Margaret Atwood, especially her historicals: Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin.

Favourite period of history?

From World War 1 to World War 2. The wars are like catastrophic brackets around a huge time of social change for women and it’s that change that I like to read and write about.

You can see that in A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, where I write about one of the first women to become an obstetrician in New York in the early 1920s, and again in Her Mother’s Secret where I write about the fledgling cosmetics industry and my heroine’s attempts to be a part of both the industry and the reshaping of society’s views towards cosmetics.

The first world war affected everything that happened in the ensuing years, and then the fear of the second world war affected everything that led up to it, so it’s an era ripe for drama, which is why Her Mother’s Secret spans that entire period.

Favourite character in one of your own books? 

Oooh, that’s so hard! It’s usually the heroine I’m currently writing about but, I have to say, seeing all the reviewers writing about how much they love Leo, the heroine in Her Mother’s Secret, reminds me of how much I loved writing her. She’s tenacious and brave and I wouldn’t mind being a little more like her!

Favourite place to write?

At my desk, in my office. I don’t like to go out and about to write; I have everything I need in my office and it’s such a lovely space, with a gorgeous outlook, that it’s hard to find anywhere else that suits me quite as well. As long as I have my cup of tea and peace and quiet, I’m all set to write!

Favourite scene you enjoyed writing?

The scenes I most enjoyed writing in Her Mother’s Secret are the scenes between Leo and Faye. Faye is, I suppose, the villain of the book but she gets all the best lines. She was a gift from the writing muse in that she just appeared on the page one day, and her voice was perfect right from the outset. I began to look forward to her arrival in scenes and I hope readers can see how much I loved writing her character. There’s one scene in particular towards the end of the book where the reader sees another side to Faye, and will I hope, understand her a little more and loathe her a little less in her role as the villain.

Favourite step in the process of writing? 

I love the research—dusty archives are full of unexpected wonders—and I also love redrafting. I find first drafts terrifying as, not being much of a planner, I usually have very little idea what I’m doing or of what the story is. For the second draft, I’m incorporating a lot of the research, plus I now know what the story is and I’m simply trying to make it better, so it’s a much more enjoyable part of the writing process.


Favourite method of writing i.e. longhand or typing?

Definitely typing! My handwriting is so messy that I would never be able to understand a thing if I had to rely on that. It’s hard enough trying to decipher the scribbled ideas that I jot into notebooks, let alone trying to unscramble 110,000 words of manuscript!

Favourite TV program /movie?

I don’t watch a lot of television, and tend to watch series in chunks over the summer holidays when everything is a little more relaxed and I don’t work so much at night. Series I’ve really enjoyed recently have been Mad Men, Poldark, Victoria, and Suits, so a bit of historical and a bit of contemporary.

Favourite comfort food?

Fresh baked bread and butter is so simple but so good. There is a bakery in WA called Yallingup Woodfired Bread and their bread is divine. Every time we go down to our holiday house nearby, we stock up and it’s always very sad when it runs out!

Many thanks Natasha - best of luck with Her Mother's Secret!



1918, England. Armistice Day should bring peace into Leonora’s life. Rather than secretly making cosmetics in her father’s chemist shop to sell to army nurses such as Joan, her adventurous Australian friend, Leo hopes to now display her wares openly. Instead, Spanish flu arrives in the village, claiming her father’s life.

Determined to start over, she boards a ship to New York City. On the way she meets debonair department store heir Everett Forsyth . . . In Manhattan, Leo works hard to make her cosmetics dream come true, but she’s a woman alone with a small salary and a society that deems make-up scandalous.

1939, New York City. Everett’s daughter, Alice, a promising ballerina, receives a mysterious letter inviting her to star in a series of advertisements for a cosmetics line. If she accepts she will be immortalized like dancers such as Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Ginger Rogers. Why, then, are her parents so quick to forbid it?

HER MOTHER’S SECRET is the story of a brave young woman chasing a dream in the face of society’s disapproval.

You can purchase A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald here.

HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017 Conference in Melbourne is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University, Hawthorn. Nastasha Lester will  be appearing on Saturday 9 September in Session 5 from 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.

Early bird registration is 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

HURRY! EARLY BIRD TICKET ALLOCATION IS NEARLY EXHAUSTED.

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 our free extended academic programme includes discussions on Bio Fiction and the Lie of History which are open to all.

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!


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Interview with Maxine Alterio



Our guest on the blog today is Maxine Alterio. Born in Southern New Zealand, she enjoyed telling stories as a child, blissfully unaware that she would one day pursue a writer's life. After completing a Master of Arts at Otago University, she found herself draw to the creative arts and experienced International success with her short stories. In 2007, her fiction book Ribbons of Grace was published followed in 2012 by Lives We Leave Behind. Dividing her time between academic teaching, mentoring and writing, she continues to take on new writing projects and speaks at book clubs, organisations and institutions about her process. 

You can find out more about Maxine through her website or via Twitter or Facebook.

What or who first inspired you to write?

As a child, I preferred words to toys. I was greedy for books, and joined three libraries so I’d never run out of reading material. Although I wrote fictive fragments as a child and into adulthood, only when I attended a Creative Writing Summer School at the University of Otago in 1996 and met like-minded individuals did I begin to take my writing seriously. Encouraged by the tutor, I completed and sent a story to National Radio. Following its acceptance, I submitted stories to literary journals and magazines, contributed to anthologies, and entered national and international competitions, with some success. I’ve had published a short fiction collection and two novels, with a third underway, and I’ve co-authored an academic book on learning through reflective storytelling. For twenty years, I’ve belonged to the same writing group. We meet fortnightly and critique each other’s work, celebrate successes and nourish the writer in all of us.

What was the inspiration for your first historical novel?

Ribbons of Grace had its genesis when I was eleven and holidaying with my family in the small goldfields settlement of Arrowtown. At a New Year’s Eve celebration, I overheard two men discussing an historical incident. “When they laid out that Chinese miner they discovered he was a she.” The comment intrigued me, although I couldn’t fathom what it meant. Forty years on I was ready to write what I thought might have happened.

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

The themes in Ribbons of Grace include concealment, racism, alienation, love, loss and friendship. I’ve returned to such themes in subsequent novels, which suggests that my fascination with them isn’t yet resolved.

Which period of history particularly inspires or interests you? Why?

I’m more curious about other cultures and human endeavour than about a particular period. There is a compulsion within me to explore how characters from different cultural or social groups make sense of traumatic experiences, where their resilience comes from and what aids their psychological recovery. For these reasons I tend to set my novels during or in the shadow of war, although I’m also drawn to settings with an explosive mix of inhabitants.

What resources do you use to research your novels?

Before I start writing, I spend up to a year reading fiction and non-fiction related to the time and place that I want to reimagine in my novel. Sometimes I take notes but I prefer to gain an overall sense of the social, political, economic and historical contexts. For Ribbons of Grace I read about the opium wars in China, economic conditions in Orkney and gold mining in New Zealand.

I also travelled to Orkney, crossing the Pentland Firth in a fishing boat. During my stay I talked to locals and took long, solitary walks in the countryside. On my return to southern New Zealand, I wrote part of the novel in a stone cottage in Arrowtown built by two Orcadian brothers. To walk in the shoes of my characters, I frequented the local cemetery and restored Chinese settlement, and climbed the nearby hills, picking out sites for significant scenes.

For my second novel, Lives We Leave Behind, I studied the memoirs of First World War nurses who served in Egypt and France, and read the diaries and letters of soldiers, nurses, orderlies and surgeons. I also dipped into the body of work known as the ‘literature of crisis.’ I always pin a map of the region(s) I’m writing about above my desk, alongside photos and other meaningful memorabilia. If they’re available, I read old newspapers and listen to oral histories. I also ‘dream’ my way into the era and landscape of a new work.  


Which authors have influenced you?

In no particular order, Shirley Hazzard, Anna Marie Ortese, Kazuo Ishiguro, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Hilary Mantel, George Mackay Brown, Elena Ferrante, Diana Athill, Sebastian Barry, Tim Winton, Alice Munro, Helen Dunmore, David Malouf, Jhumpa Lahiri, Maggie O’Farrell, William Boyd, Anthony Doerr, and recently Viet Thanh Nguyen.

Which methods/ strategies do you employ to write?

I need great swathes of solitude to produce a first full story draft, either at home or in a secluded spot where the landscape has a dreamlike quality. Once I have a draft, I can work anywhere, day or night. I write directly onto a laptop. Usually in the evening I print out and read what I produced the previous day, and make notes to ease me back into a chapter the following morning. I don’t aim for a daily word count. As long as I’m making progress, I’m content.

Is there anything unusual or even quirky that you would like to share about your writing?

While working on Ribbons of Grace, I kept beside me a photograph of an unknown, effeminate Chinese man taken in the 1870s. His presence contributed to the creation of my main character Ming Yuet. Whenever I struck a snag during the writing of this book I talked to him and invariably a solution would appear.

With Lives We Leave Behind, I collected stones of different shapes and colours from beaches near the hometowns of the two main fictional nurse-characters. Each of the eight stones came to represent a significant character in the book. I kept them on my desk throughout the writing process. Midway through a harrowing scene I would sometimes pick one up and wait for inspiration. For me, a physical object can act as a conduit to imagination. 

How long does it take you to write a book?

Usually five years because until 2013 I worked full-time as an academic and wrote fiction in the evenings, weekends and holidays. Now that I’ve re-wired my working life to part-time academic mentor and full-time writer, I hope to pick up the pace. 

Tell us about your next book or work-in-progress.

In 2013, I won the Seresin Landfall Otago University Press Writer’s Residency, which came with six weeks in an isolated bay in the Marlborough Sounds. I arrived planning to work on a second short story collection. The peace and beauty of the place derailed me. On the third morning, I woke with an outline for a new novel set post-Second World War in London and Naples, through to the late 1950s and mid 90s, and a cast of characters demanding attention. I left the residency with three draft chapters and notes for others. Back home, I sought out the writings of female authors with close connections to Italy. In May/June this year, I’ll travel to Naples to visit key locations depicted in this forthcoming book, Wait for Me, and to soak up the atmosphere of the place and its people.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?


Read everything you can get your hands on and read widely and deeply. Listen to podcasts about writers and writing. Attend festivals and conferences. Join a writing group. Learn to take and give constructive feedback. Above all, write, write, write. 

Thanks for joining us, Maxine and for sharing your journey.


Set in Orkney, China and New Zealand, between 1870 and 1895, Ribbons of Grace has three narrators: Ming Yuet, a female Chinese sojourner masquerading as a male gold miner; Conran, an Orcadian stonemason; and Ida, an English settler. The novel traces the relationship between Ming Yuet and Conran, judged by some settlers to transgress sexual and cultural boundaries. An act of violence devastates those directly and indirectly involved. The narrators reflect on their roles leading up to this event and its aftermath, their stories moving between past and present, homeland and adopted country, between the living and the dead.

HNSA 2017 Conference


The HNSA 2017 Conference in Melbourne is being held on 8-10 September 2017. Maxine Alterio will be appearing in the following panel in Session Five on Saturday 9 September at 12.15-1.15 pm.

Immigrant Stories and Diaspora: How Pioneers Adapt and Survive in their New Land

Immigrants have helped build our multicultural nations over many generations. Hanifa Deen explores how Maxine Alterio, Arnold Zable, Vicky Adin and Kim Kelly breathe life into tales of prejudice, hardship, homesickness and adaptation.

Early bird registration is 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

HURRY! THE EARLY BIRD WEEKEND TICKET ALLOCATION 
IS NEARLY EXHAUSTED.

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!



Let’s make a noise about historical fiction!