Monday, April 2, 2018


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 Book now to take advantage of early bird registration. 

Let's Make a Noise about Historical Fiction!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Interview with Vicky Adin

Vicky Adin is a New Zealand historical fiction author. She writes social history stories inspired by the true stories of immigrants who undertook hazardous journeys to find a better life. As a genealogist in love with history, these immigrants and their ancestors drive Vicky’s stories.

Vicky lives in Auckland, New Zealand. She holds a Master degree with Honours in English and Education. Three words sum up her passion in life: family, history and language. She has combined her skills to write poignant novels that weave family and history together, inspired by real people, with real experiences in a way that makes the past come alive.

When not writing you will find her reading historical novels, family sagas and contemporary women’s stories, caravanning or cruising with her husband and biggest fan, or spending time with her children and grandchildren. She also likes walking and gardening.

What is the inspiration for your current book?

My novels are inspired by true genealogy stories. The story of Gwenna is loosely based on my Welsh great-grandmother, who was a sugar boiler and confectionery maker. Her first husband went missing in mysterious circumstances, and she raised her only son to take over the business. I say loosely, because she never left Wales and Gwenna’s story is set entirely in New Zealand.

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

Overcoming the odds. My main characters are working class women, who live in patriarchal times, when the law and societal expectations worked against them. They are not the famous women of the time who fought the establishment. They are the stalwarts who kept doing what they must and making the best of what they had, and in the process became better than they were. Thanks to them New Zealand became an egalitarian society and New Zealand women were the first in the world to be granted the right to vote in 1893.

Which period of history particularly interests you? Why?

I love anything from the Georgian era through to the Edwardian era and especially the Victorian, and I’m particularly fascinated by the pioneering women of New Zealand. These women and their families left their homelands in search of a better life. They came to a new country that was rough and raw, and built a life worth living. 

After the signing of The Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, a few long-term settlers started to arrive but by the 1850s the European settlers still only numbered 28,000. After the Land Wars with the Maori in the 1860s the population spread to the Provinces and by the 1870s people began arriving in their thousands. Still a British colony at this time, New Zealand offered land, work, and opportunity, which people grasped with both hands. They were prepared to work hard to have something they could call their own.

What resources do you use to research your book?

New Zealand history is easy to access through books, photographs, and websites. Papers Past is my favourite. It’s an online repository of the newspapers of the time and tells of life as it happened. Museums, NZ Archives, and libraries abound, and because immigrants told their stories, and were handed down, many people can still remember their grandparents and their stories. Facts need checking but the essence is all I need to begin with.

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

Authenticity first. Getting the ‘feel’ of the time is so important. Although, when I need facts, accuracy is essential. I need to know what happened and when, but sometimes events can be manipulated a little to fit. I do a lot of research beforehand and then do extra research as I go along to make sure things like the drinks they consume were available, that a particular piece of equipment had come into use in every day life, or when electricity replaced gas and so on.

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

It has to be the title character, Gwenna. She is totally driven to fulfil her father’s dreams, but doesn’t see how strong she is. She’s young and naive and worries she will fail, and in the process can’t see what is right before her eyes.

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

A ‘pantser’ without doubt. My husband describes my writing as joining the dots. I have a few facts and ideas with gaping holes in between which I fill in. I research the history of the time and build my character to live amongst the facts. They often surprise me. It takes me around a year from start to finish. I do a lot of research beforehand and then research as I go along.

Which authors have influenced you?

A long time ago, I enjoyed reading Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt/Phillipa Carr novels. Those stories hooked me on historical fiction. I didn’t know it was the same author until years later. Barbara Erskine was another. I love the time-slip aspects of her novels. 

I recently received a B.R.A.G medallion – a reader’s award – for my novel ‘The Girl from County Clare’, and one reader compared my writing to that of Catherine Cookson. I couldn’t have been more pleased. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Cookson many years ago too, and have gone back to reading them again. More recently, I’ve been inspired by the works of Diana Gabaldon and Deborah Challinor.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

Write what you love, and what you have a passion for. And edit until you bleed. Pay for a good editor – or a series of good editors, and a good cover designer.

Tell us about your next book or work in progress.

So far, I’ve written five stand alone novels based upon similar themes, but I’m told I need to write sequels about what happens next for most of them. The question is, which one?
 I’m thinking of one that links the characters from ‘The Girl from County Clare’ with the characters from ‘Gwenna’. There’s a mashing process going on in my head right now, but I’ll never run out of heroines while there is history. 

Amid the bustling vibrancy of Auckland’s Karangahape Road, Gwenna Price’s passion is making sweets. Her Pa had great plans for the family confectionery business when they emigrated from the valleys of Wales looking for a new life, but he died all too soon. Gwenna promised she would bring his dreams to life instead - and she would, if it wasn’t for her domineering stepbrother, Elias. With him in charge, it would be a matter of time before the business collapsed.

Falling in love with the cheeky and charming Johnno opens up other opportunities, but every step of the way Gwenna is thwarted. If not by Elias, then by Johnno’s father and the restraints of a society with strict Victorian values, but Gwenna is irrepressible. Nothing will stand in her way.

Throughout the twists and turns of love and tragedy, Gwenna is a young woman with uncommon courage, determination and ambition in an era when women were expected to stay at home. There are people who love her and those who are willing to help her achieve her goal but, blind to anything that distracts her from creating her legacy, Gwenna risks losing the one thing that matters to her the most.

“Inspired by a true story from the author’s homeland, Gwenna is a fascinating insight into life in Auckland at the turn of the 20th century.”

You can buy Vicky's books on Amazon or directly from her website 
Connect with Vicky on her websiteblogFacebook, LinkedinGoodreads, and Pinterest 

HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017 Melbourne Conference is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University. Vicky Adin will be appearing in Immigrant Stories and Diaspora: How Pioneers Adapt and Survive in their New Land.

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! Purchase a ticket and you will be entered in the draw to win a $100 Dymocks Gift Card.

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, July 21, 2017

Writing Non Boring History with Hazel Edwards

Our guest today is Hazel Edwards. An Australian author of over 200 books, Hazel was awarded an OAM (Order of Australia) for Literature in 2013. Best known internationally for There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake, recently she has been writing historical ‘faction’ for young readers and also runs workshops for adults on ‘Writing a Non Boring Family History or Memoir’. Each birthday, she writes a personal story for her two grandsons. Her memoir Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author (Brolga) includes chapters on the realities of juggling historical research, writing and family life. Her‘Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop’ is touring with the Anzac Stories Behind the Pages travelling exhibition 2017-18, currently in Qld libraries. You can connect with Hazel via her website, Twitter and Facebook.

What attracted you to writing about real heroes?

History is a kind of ‘looking glass’ where you check out personalities from the past and work out ways they are relevant to you NOW.

A children’s author’s role is to craft those facts to entice young readers. I became interested because there were so many children who knew little about the ‘extraordinary’ so–called ordinary people from their own families and cultures. They only saw misbehaving ‘celebs’ like footballers in the media, not real heroes whose qualities were worth admiring.

Why are anecdotes important to ‘hook’ young reader interest?

I call it ‘Anecdultery’.  Anecdotes are mini stories, usually humorous, but real. When surgeon Weary Dunlop broke his nose playing rugby, it’s said he put a toothbrush up his nose and kept playing. (That appeals to 10 year old football fans.) Using a pair of socks, he demonstrated to medical students, how to sew up a patient. They remembered the surgical sewing skills learnt, and so do the ten-year-old readers who read on to learn more about an heroic doctor.

Writing about REAL people, is different from creating fiction. But it’s also like becoming a literary detective, sleuthing the facts, but then making a story which will appeal to that aged reader. And often to their families who find junior history a quick overview to a subject which provides a context. Grandparents often buy the factual book, supposedly for their offspring but really for themselves.

What is faction?

I use the term FACTION which is part way between fact and fiction and used to make the story more dramatic.  But if the brief also includes appealing to a ten year old reader, I have to decide on viewpoint, and include zany anecdotes likely to interest.

What are the challenges of crafting history for young readers?

Whether to tell in chronological order is a challenge. I prefer to start with the most dramatic and then flashback. With the commissioned Weary Dunlop book, I started with the idea of using his Melbourne statue as the symbolic structure. I took a photo with my 10 year old alongside the tall statue because he typified the potential readership. Since Weary was a rugby player, I was going to use his ‘feet’ as one chapter, his surgeon ‘hands’’ as another, the Buddhist peace sign for an ‘ideas’ chapter and because he cast a long shadow, that would shape another chapter’s content. But the publisher wanted it rewritten in chronological order with emphasis upon childhood So I rewrote but included the research photo.I decided to make the major theme his resourcefulness as an ex farm boy in ‘making do’ and creating surgical equipment in the camps. 

What are the challenges you faced writing about non-fictional heroes?

You need to do lots of reading to find an ‘angle’ or a theme from which to present the person. Another challenge is how much of the ‘real’ detail do you include.  I think the flaws of heroes should also be indicated, and the real difficulties they faced. But it’s debatable how much emphasis should be placed on tragic events, like Edith Cowan’s father being hanged for the murder of her step mother. Or the children and pets who died in the Titanic sinking. Weary was tortured in the prisoner of war camps in WW11 but it was his leadership and doctoring skills which saved him and others.   

Always a dilemma to decide is what should be included and how it should be written about. Over-dramatising is not appropriate. It’s a fine line between making something dramatic and retaining interest and yet stressing the qualities those tragic events might have brought out in your character. For example, when Edith Cowan’s mother died, the seven-year-old girl was sent to a boarding school in faraway Perth (WA), her father remarried, shot his second wife and was hanged when Edith was 17. But Edith was also the first female member of parliament, and is a notable woman on a $50 banknote. Her educational reforms affected the subsequent lives of many families.

Then there are the remaining relatives of your characters who will read your book. Often people will come up to me and say they worked with ‘Weary’ in hospitals, and tell me extra stories. Usually they agree the book is a genuine portrait of the man and are very grateful to him for his persistence which saved lives. Even if he did annoy authorities at times. Similarly for Fred Hollows. The single-mindedness necessary to achieve significant things, often upsets small minded people who can’t see beyond the bureaucratic rules and regulations.  Edith Cowan used charm but persistence too. Stoicism is a common trait as well as risk-taking.

I wanted to write about female heroes next, so I asked for a woman as the next Aussie Heroes subject, and was given Edith Cowan, the first woman elected into parliament and who has a Western Australian university named after her. She is on our Australian $50 note, so I started with the idea of a ’notable’ woman because most kids are interested in money. Then there was the legal problem of whether we could copy a bank note as a possible cover. 

Another challenge was choosing the visuals for Edith. In the photo fashion of the times, Edith always looked sternly formal, which was off putting for young readers. Was it better to use the newspaper political cartoons satirizing her as a ‘housewife’ in the parliament or the ‘hard nut to crack’ brooch she gave to her supporters on getting elected as the first woman into an Australian parliament? Visuals matter for young readers.

To what extent do book covers matter?

A lot. But this is often a publisher or marketing department decision. Illustrations inside also matter and I’d prefer these to be photos, but often there are copyright or fee issues.

Do you think that heroes such as Professor Fred Hollows and Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop are as exciting and inspiring as superheroes such as Superman and Batman?

They can be, it’s just that often students haven’t been told about them in the same way as the multi million dollar PR budgets of film companies can ‘market’ a fictional hero. 
Once kids are introduced to ‘real’ people, they are more ‘inspired’ to try themselves. And often I’m asked ‘ was this real?’

I’d like to see more easily available stories about inspirational people who are NOT footballers behaving badly on the front pages on newspapers. Young people see ‘celebs’ as aspirational for ‘being in the media’ rather than doing something.
A hero is one who benefits the community in which he or she lives, solves a problem, discovers an answer or is a good example by their actions.

From a writer’s perspective it’s easier to portray ‘action’, so the sports heroes rather than the scientists or thinkers, tend to be written about.

I’d like to see more books and TV series portraying ‘real’ local heroes who may include fire-fighters, cancer cell researchers or even those who on a daily basis look after others, at their own cost. I’d also like to see more historical heroines portrayed and realistic writing about how they juggled families, jobs and community problems.

Why do you provide discussion notes for your books?

Because teachers will be more inclined to use the book in the classroom, but also an important readership is grandparents and parents who often share with the child. And the fact that the subject of the book was a contemporary whom they knew personally, makes history real for the child.

Do you always write books or have you experimented in writing history in other formats?

Titanic Dog is an animation from the dog’s viewpoint of the Titanic sinking and the issue of courage. 
Enact is a collection of classroom playscripts, based on REAL Australian women, which can be performed, humorously, in the classroom and elsewhere. Each has an ‘elastic’ chorus, enabling everybody to be involved. The value of a play is that the actors think about the content as they rehearse and perform, parents are often involved as audience or with costumes, and all find out about ‘Real’ people from the past, in an entertaining way. Recently I was invited to speak to the Victorian Medical Women and their first president was Dr Constance Stone about whom I wrote in the play QVH as she founded the first hospital for women in Melbourne:the Queen Victoria Hospital.

Antarctic Close Up is part of an Australian National Museum series, where each story is based around a piece of memorabilia from their collection. Mine was the telescope from the Mawson 1912 Antarctic expedition which belonged the John Close (hence the title). But it is ‘faction’ because a contemporary 10 year old boy had to be included but there were none. So I made it a time jump story via a web-cam, today’s equivalent of the telescope. Since I’d been an Antarctic expeditioner in 2001, I was also able to include my on-the-ice experience as participant-observation research.

Fake ID, now an e-book, is a YA novel with a family history mystery theme and a teen sleuth. On the day of her Gran’s funeral, Zoe discovers Gran had fake ID for years. Historical refugee links to 1956 Hungarian revolution and Melbourne Olympics and much research help from a genealogist. Fiction but factual settings and refugee dilemmas. It would be timely to have an international TV series on Heroes, with each culture contributing several episodes, but aimed at a general children’s audience. Often adults enjoy an easy introduction to a period or a persona via kids’ history books or programs.

On the day of Gran’s funeral, teenager Zoe finds Gran’s ‘not to be opened until after my death’ package. So she opens it.

Turns out, Gran was not just Madga, she had other names too. And other lives. 

Together with her hockey-nerd mate Luke, Zoe goes on a digital journey of discovery to find out who her Gran really was. 

Hazel's books are available as follows:

Hazel Edwards is conducting her workshop Authorpreneurship: The Business of Creativity on Sunday 10 September at HNSA 2017 in Melbourne. Attendees will receive a copy of Hazel's Authorpreneurship: The Business of Creativity. The cost of the super session workshop is only $20 for conference attendees. Purchase of a ticket entitles the participant to enter into a giveaway draw for a $100 Dymocks Gift Gift. You can purchase your ticket here.

The business of creativity is changing, not just in the formats in which ideas are presented internationally, but in how authors perceive themselves. ‘Author’ is the brand which can be overwhelming if there’s just you.

Today a creator needs to be an ‘Authorpreneur’: an originator and an entrepreneur. Apart from creating words or images for  specific audiences, this means learning the marketing, publicity, technological, legal and entrepreneurial skills to establish and maintain self-employment in the business of ideas.

Even if a VERY small business. Just you.

Hazel offers strategies for beginners, mid-list and highly experienced creators needing to adapt to a fast-changing, digital, global industry. It’s about sharing ideas so you can work effectively at what you most enjoy creating and providing ways to help sell your work for longer, in varied new formats and to larger audiences. Great ideas won’t reach audiences unless the creators can stay in business and survive financially.

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! Purchase a ticket and you will be entered in the draw to win a $100 Dymocks Gift Card.

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!

This interview is based on answers originally published in The Looking Glass and Hazel was questioned by Dominique Twomey 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Interview with Kim Kelly

Kim Kelly has penned six works of Australian historical fiction, including the acclaimedWild ChicoryandJewel Sea. Noted for a style that is ‘colourful, evocative and energetic’ (Sydney Morning Herald) and for her ‘impressive research’ (Daily Telegraph), Kim’s writing shines a light on forgotten corners of the past, exploring Australian cultural iconography with humour and heart. ‘Why can’t more people write like this?’ said the Melbourne  Age. Born and raised in Sydney, today Kim lives on a small rural property in central New South Wales just outside the tiny gold-rush village of Millthorpe, where the ghosts are mostly friendly and the verandah posts nicely preserved. Kim is also a respected book editor with twenty years’ experience in the Australian publishing industry, and is a literary consultant for Varuna, The National Writers House. 

What is the inspiration for your current book? 

The inspiration for Jewel Sea found its spark one rainy afternoon a couple of years ago. I was idly trawling Goodreads, looking for some new Australian history to entertain me, and up popped a book called Koombana Days by Annie Boyd. I don’t know if it was the photo of handsome sailor lads on the cover or the whisper of magic in the name of their ship, Koombana, but I knew almost straightaway I would write a fiction inspired by this true tale. 

Here was Australia’s own Titanic tragedy, a luxury steamship lost to the forces of nature, and yet, history nerd that I am, I’d never heard of it. Here was a story that unfolded off the coast of Western Australia – a place I knew very little about but would soon discover was filled with amazing history, of the pearl and cattle industries and the frontier conflicts of the Kimberleys. Very early on in my research I also discovered there was a cursed pearl said to have been aboard the ship when she went down. I mean, it doesn’t get much more tantalising than that for me.  

I love the surprise of discovering new places in history or seeing something familiar afresh there, so Jewel Sea was a wonderful research odyssey for me, a journey I couldn’t wait to embark upon once that first flash of story had captured my imagination. 

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

All my historical fictions look at some element of Australia’s past through dual lenses of love and politics, and in Jewel Sea these focus in on the themes of theft, greed and dispossession, in many and varied guises. I’m particularly interested in how ordinary people experience the big, iconic events of history, too. There are no kings and queens in my stories – just people trying to live and love and, hopefully, learn something along the way.  

Which period of history particularly interests you? Why? 

Most of my stories are set in early twentieth century Australia, and I’m drawn to these decades for a number of reasons. Australia was moving from colony to nation; our political divide – and its red-team-blue-team idiocies – was not only forming but quickly ossifying; war and depression inflicted terrible wounds on the national psyche, but arguably also shaped the tenacity in our character. Interesting waves of immigration also occurred over this time, as well as the burgeoning of Aboriginal political identity – so many rich veins of both cultural expansiveness and hideous bigotry to mine. But possibly of greatest significance, this was the Australia of my grandparents – the people whose lives inspired me first, as a child, to want to know where I come from.   

What resources do you use to research your book?  

Because I try to take the view of the ordinary person in the street, I use a lot of primary sources that show me the lived, social history of the period. I’m a mad Trover – I’m sure I write novels just as an excuse to read masses and masses of old newspapers. Photographs, audio and film archives and oral histories are often hugely useful to me too in trying to not so much reconstruct a facsimile of the past but to get a feel for the heart of my characters: their concerns, the rhythms of their daysBut probably the richest little treasure stash I have is one I carry around all the time in my own heart: family stories, the myths and legends that make me – and so often inspire my curiosity, calling me to explore a period or event more broadly. 

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

I always say I write historical fiction in order to attempt to do something constructive with all my research. I’m an absolute Australian history and politics junkie – just can’t get enough. As I said above, I’m a Trove-aholic too, so research is just a part of my every day. I love to build my research as I’m writing, and to have that research inform and sometimes steer the direction of the narrative, to keep the thrill of discovery alive – and hopefully make it all compelling for the reader too. 

As for the facts, I reckon they must be stuck to, especially in terms of dates and well-documented events and characters. But it’s the question marks and blank spaces between the facts we historical fictioneers are mostly so attracted to – the what-ifs – and I reckon, so long as we stick with plausibility, and keep a measure of respect for our subjects as fellow human beings, we can do whatever we like inside those questions. 

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

I never have favourites as such – all my characters are significant to me, pieces of me, reallyJewel Sea was the first time I tackled a real character from history in any depth, though – a pearl dealer called Abraham DavisHe’s not a well-known character, history doesn’t have too much to say about him, and it was a tricky line to tread attempting to fill in the gaps of his character in order to bring him to life. A challenge I enjoyed, although it was a little nerve-wracking – so much so that I tracked down one of his descendants to warn him I’d done the deed, and had included some not-so-flattering conjecture on his dealings. Thankfully that relative took it well – phew. 

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

All of my stories begin with the voices of the characters. I write mostly first-person stream-of-consciousness, so the characters have to drive the whole show.  Without them there is no impetus, no launch pad. I don’t plan my plots – again because I love the surprise  of discovery – but I do sketch out my rough history timeline so that I don’t wobble off from the necessary facts as I go. I sort of also know where I’m going to end up, too, when my characters set out. I just don’t know how they’re going to get there. 

Which authors have influenced you? 

Reading as a teen was where my novel-writing dreams really took flight. Picnic At Hanging Rock and Power Without Glory, two iconic Australian tales, switched me on not only to the idea of wanting to write big narratives one day myself, but to the idea that Australia and Australian history are fascinating places to explore. 

I’ve got to say I do love a story with a sense of humour. Playfulness in voice and narrative approach are big draws for me. One of my perennial favourites there is Liz Jensen’s War Crimes for the Home. I also love stories that place love at the centre of the universe – not necessarily in a romantic sense, but in an uplifting sense. The older I get, the less interested I am in reading any grim exploration of the darkness of humanity for its own sake. We’re living in dark times – maybe we should be throwing each other ropes out of the mire, or at least valuing those who attempt to. One of my recent love-favourites is Anita Heiss’s Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms for its ability to range into tricky political terrain with compassion and joyfulness.  

What advice would you give an aspiring author? 

Respect your work enough to invest in it – time, money and tears. Build your skills all the time through reading and thinking about your work. Study the work of others you admire, steal their magic and make it your own. Know that there is no end to this learning and thieving and reinventing, and that success is not seeing your name on the cover of a book. Success lives brightest in the completion of each piece of work and in your perseverance against the knowledge that nothing you do will ever be truly finished. Success is your white-knuckled and tender-hearted courage to do this thing despite all your reasons not to. Don’t count your worth by the measures of others – ever. Let love and curiosity drive your ambition, let them take you to places you haven’t dreamed of yet. Value those who tell you that your work means something to them – value their criticisms and their every compliment too – because they are your gold.  

Tell us about your next book or work in progress

 I have three manuscripts on the go right now: a Cold War story, a gold rush tale, and one about orthopaedic surgery across the first half of the twentieth century. There’s a mixed batch! I’m about to begin another on travelling performers during the years of the First World War – just for something different again. Heh. I have far too many stories to write; not enough years left on earth to see them written.  

Jewel Sea

March, 1912, a sultry Indian summer hangs over the west coast of Australia and aboard the luxury steamship SS Koombana, three tales entwine.  Irene Everley longs to leave her first-class fishbowl existence, secretly penning a gossip column as her life spirals out of control into soulless liaisons and alcohol, the long shadow of a tragedy clouding her view.  James Sinclair, an investor on his way to Broome is not the man he says he is but can he be trusted?  Abraham Davis, a wealthy dealer whose scandalous divorce is being dragged through the press, prepares to take the gamble of his life: to purchase an infamous, stolen pearl along the journey north.  Perfectly round, perfectly pink, this pearl comes with a curse and with a warning – destroying all who keep it from returning to the sea.  

Based on the true story of the loss of the luxury steamship Koombana to a storm off the coast of North-Western Australia, Jewel Seais a tale of fatal desire, theft and greed – a story of kindred spirits searching for courage and redemption. 

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Kim Kelly will be appearing at the HNSA 2017 conference in the following panel: 

Immigrant Stories and Disapora: 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.

Kim will also be appearing at our Sydney satellite event at Gordon Branch of the Ku-ring-gai Library on 26 July 2017 at 6-8 pm with Justin Sheedy, Michelle Morgan and Winton Higgins. More details via our website.

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! Purchase a ticket and you will be entered in the draw to win a $100 Dymocks Gift Card. 

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!