Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Interview with Belinda Murrell

Today we are delighted to welcome Belinda Murrell to the blog. Belinda has been fascinated with history and writing since she was a child. Now she is a bestselling, internationally published children’s and Young Adult author currently writing her 28th book. These include The Sun Sword fantasy trilogy as well as the popular Lulu Bell series for younger readers. She is also known for her collection of historical timeslip novels including The Sequin Star, The River Charm, The Locket of Dreams, The Forgotten Pearl, The Ruby Talisman and The Ivory Rose, which have been recognised by various awards, including Honour Book KOALAS 2013, shortlisted in the KOALA and YABBA children’s choice awards for the last six years, CBCA Notable List and highly commended in the PM’s Literary Awards. Belinda’s latest book is The Lost Sapphire, set in Melbourne during the 1920’s.

Belinda comes from a very literary family, with a history of Australian writers stretching back 180 years. Her great-great-great-great grandfather James Atkinson published his book on Australia in 1826, while his wife Charlotte published the first Australian children’s book A Mother’s Offering to her Children, in 1841. Belinda’s brother, Nick Humphrey and sister, Kate Forsyth are both best selling authors. Belinda’s website is www.belindamurrell.com.au

What is the inspiration for your current book?

My most recent book is The Lost Sapphire, which is a time slip novel for young adults, set in Melbourne during the fabulous roaring 1920s. It was originally inspired by a couple of experiences where I was taken to visit some beautiful historic mansions, which had been abandoned. One of these was in Melbourne and another was in Tenterfield in Northern NSW. With both houses I immediately began wondering about the people who had lived there and why the mansion might have been abandoned.  Then suddenly I seemed to stumble across several derelict houses, all with fascinating stories.

The book is about a modern day teenager called Marli. She is reluctantly staying with her dad in Melbourne for the summer, while her Mum is overseas for work, and she is missing all her friends back home. Then Marli discovers an intriguing mystery… her family is to inherit a grand, abandoned mansion called Riversleigh, on the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne. Marli is fascinated by the dilapidated old house, which has been locked up for years. She sneaks into the gardens where she meets an infuriating boy called Luca who has his own link to Riversleigh. Together they set out to solve the mystery of the old house, and the secrets of the Hamilton family who lived there. With the locked up, overgrown garden there are echoes The Secret Garden, which was one of my favourite books as I was growing up.

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

With all of my time slip books, I am fascinated by the idea of exploring the past, and learning lessons which can help us understand our own time and issues more clearly. The Lost Sapphire is set in the Roaring 20s in Melbourne - a fascinating time where the world shifted. A frivolous era of short skirts, bobbed hair and risqué jazzing, but also of massive social change. The old ways, where on one side of the Yarra River, Melbourne’s aristocrats lived a life of extravagance and wealth, contrasted sharply to life in the slums, just across the bridge,  – of poverty, disease and crime, where 13 year old kids had to work long hours to feed their families. It was also a time where prejudices ran strong. Intolerance of Anglicans versus Catholics. Suspicion and fear of different cultural, social or religious practises. Yet Australian society was very much made up of refugees seeking a better life – whether those fleeing poverty in Ireland or Italy or Scotland, or those fleeing war-torn Europe or the Russian Revolution.

Which period of history particularly interests you? Why?

I have always loved history and historical fiction from Ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome, to Celtic Britain, European history from the Middle Ages, through the French and Russian Revolutions to the first and second world wars. However with my seven historical time slip books for young adults, I have chosen to focus primarily on different periods of Australian history during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I believe it is so important for Australian children and teenagers to have an insight into Australian history and stories.

What resources do you use to research your book?

Research is a huge part of my planning for the books. I can spend months reading old newspapers, magazines, advertisements, history books, diaries, articles on the internet, books written during the 1920s, biographies, letters, and memoirs. I also try to understand the culture of the period by watching historic film clips and home movies and listening to music. Trove, the on-line archive of the National Library of Australia is a fantastic research tool. For this book, I also went to Melbourne to visit historic houses, museums, exhibitions of fashion and clothes, old factories, and ensure that my setting was as accurate as possible. In the name of research I have crawled in the tunnels under the streets of Paris, ridden horses across the French countryside, baked scones in a woodfired stove, made damper in a camp fire, cooked and eaten eighteenth century French feasts, taken archery and fencing lessons, visited remote cattle stations, mustered cattle, and sailed on tiny boats across the ocean. It is not just the grand picture of politics and social change which intrigues me – it is the everyday family lives of ordinary people.

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

As a writer for children and young adults, I believe that it is vital that my books are entertaining as well as allowing the reader to learn about life in the past. So it is important to tread lightly with historical detail. I do months of research to make sure that facts are historically accurate, and that the historic world that I create feels authentic and realistic, but I also ensure that the story is enthralling. 

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

My protagonist from 1922 is Violet Hamilton, a fifteen year old girl, whose mother is dead and whose father is distant, stubborn and conservative. Violet’s life is one of luxury, with boating parties, picnics and extravagant balls. Over one summer, Violet comes to learn about the lives of those who live in the slums of Richmond, just across the Yarra River, and to realise that all is not as it seems for the servants who look after the family – especially new chauffeur Nikolai, a young Russian émigré. Violet must decide what is important to her and to stand up for what she believes in.

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

I think my writing process is a combination of the two. With my publisher, Penguin Random House, I always sign a contract before I start work writing the book, so I need to complete a detailed synopsis of characters, setting, plot and story summary to get them excited. This has to be strong enough to be pitched to the whole editorial, sales and marketing team. So it is essential I have a clear idea of the story before I start. But having said that, the story itself always evolves and improves as I’m writing it. The Lost Sapphire took me over a year to write, although the very first seeds of the idea came to my three or four years before that. It generally takes me about four months to research and plan the book, four months to write a complete first draft, then a couple of months of editing.

Which authors have influenced you?

I love the work of many authors including Kate Morton, Sebastian Faulks, Philippa Gregory, Ian McEwan and Geraldine Brooks, as well as old classics by authors such as Ethel Turner, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and Louise May Alcott.  

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

I have five tips which all begin with P! They are:

Passion – write what you love. Write from your heart. Don’t try to follow trends. Write for yourself and have fun doing it!

Persistence – there are so many writers with talent, who write extremely well. But to succeed as a writer you need bucketloads of determination and tenacity. Succeeding as a writer can only be achieved through lots of hard work over many years!
Practise – write constantly. Write every day. Take a notebook with you everywhere and fill it.

Pack your bags – travel the world and have amazing adventures. Work at various jobs, volunteer, experience life, fill your notebooks with sights, people and experiences. There’s nothing like crawling down in the tunnels under the streets of Paris, galloping a horse across the countryside, sailing down the river on an ancient fishing boat, or climbing the ramparts of a medieval castle to get your imagination bubbling.

Patience - The flip side is sitting at your desk. At some point the book won’t get written unless you sit at your desk and stay there! Just keep chipping away until it’s finished.

Tell us about your next book or work in progress.

This year, I am so excited to be launching a completely new children’s series, (which is set in modern times!) called Pippa’s Island, for girls about 8 to 10 years old, as a step up from my Lulu Bell series.
So Pippa’s Island, is about a girl called Pippa, who moves with her family from London, to a small tropical island on the other side of the world. She has to leave her home, her school and all her friends behind her, which is really tough.

So the series is about making friends, finding your courage and coping with change. It is about also a gang of best friends, who form a secret club, who meet after school in a round tower on top of a boat-house. The girls are lively, fun-loving, bold, brave, creative and happy. But like all kids they have real life problems to face and lessons to learn – making friends, school, sport, squabbles, secrets, getting in trouble, fitting in, fashion, music, naughty pets, family, siblings and all the things that tween girls love and worry about. 

The first two books – The Beach Shack and Cub Reporters will be released in July 2017, with a further two books that I’m writing at the moment, to be released in early 2018. Thank you so much for sharing with us, Belinda. You can find out more about Belinda Murrell's wonderful books here.

HNSA 2017 Conference

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

The Outlander Effect: Parallel Narratives and Time Travelling

The success of the Diana Garabaldon’s Outlander series has inspired authors to delve into the lives of characters through parallel narratives, fantasy and cracks in time. Ella Carey, Belinda Murrell, Gary Crew and Felicity Pulman discuss with Catherine Padmore the challenges of interweaving the tales of two or more protagonists from different periods into their plotlines and themes.

Belinda is also appearing in our free Sydney HNSA Meet the Author event on 29 March 7-9 pm at Mosman Library with Felicity Pulman, Elisabeth Storrs, Lauren Chater and Lynette McDermott. Bookings essential. More details can be found on the HNSA website.

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

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!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Interview with Ella Carey

It's a pleasure to welcome Ella Carey to the blog today. Ella Carey is the internationally bestselling author of Paris Time Capsule, The House by the Lake and From a Paris Balcony, all published with Lake Union Publishing in the US. Paris Time Capsule has been adapted into a feature film screenplay and is agented in LA, and the novels are being translated into several European languages. Paris Time Capsule was released in Australia with Harlequin Australia in September, 2016. 

Ella is a Francophile who has long been fascinated by secret, forgotten histories set in Europe's entrancing past. She has degrees in music, majoring in classical piano, and in Arts majoring in nineteenth century women’s fiction and modern European history. Ella is now hard at work on her fourth novel, an Australian story set in the Melbourne art world during the 1940s, with a working title of Secret Shores. The book is set for release with Lake Union Publishing on September 5th, 2017. Ella has recently moved to Melbourne from Hobart with her two children and two Italian Greyhounds who are constantly mistaken for whippets.

What is the inspiration for your current book?  

I was inspired by several things that all came together- two strands were the true story of the death of a young girl who was sketching on an island in South Australia and the modernist movement in art, writing and life that happened during the 1940s in Melbourne.

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

The theme is very much about authenticity in life and art in the context of the modernist movement in Australia. The book explores the impact of the conflict that existed between generations and across generations in Australian art and politics. The story takes place over a few months in 1946 and dovetails to scenes set in New York in 1987. It’s a dual narrative. 


What period of history particularly interests you? Why? 

I am drawn to this generation of people who lived through the second world war, probably because my parents lived through it. My mother was seventeen when the war broke out. She was about to go to university but instead spent six years in the air force in a Nissen hut on a pilot’s training station at Mallala where she met my father, who was a pilot in the air force. Of course, once the war was over, my mother was married in 1946 and she lost her chance to go to university for good. I think it’s incredibly hard for us to understand the impact of that war.  

What resources do you use to research your book? 

I use books from the library and bookstores! I like to read sources from the period as much as I can, such as letters. With the Australian novel, it was helpful to be able to read Sunday Reed and Joy Hester’s letters to each other because I was able to feel and sense their voices. I read biographies and history books along with novels set and around the era- everything I can get my hands on which relates to the setting. 

Visiting the places in the book has become important to me. For this novel, spending a few days at Anlaby Station made all the difference for me. The current owners of the property shared so much about the Dutton family and the old station’s past. Just walking around the property and in the gardens and around the old rooms in the house made a huge difference. You can feel the past and the history so much by being at a place.  

As for the internet, I do use that as well for visual details- photos of clothing that people wore, fact checking if something comes up along the way as I write.

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

My instinctive response to that, and something I would adhere to after reflection, is that historical authenticity is more important than accuracy. While you need to be careful with accuracy, while accuracy is important and publishing houses have fact checkers to ensure that things are correct throughout the book, I think authenticity is something deeper than accuracy- it’s about being true to the time about which you are writing. If, in general terms, the story, characters and setting are not authentic, or true, then I think nothing works, the story won’t resonate or ring true- in short, readers need to believe that the story seems real, as if it all could have happened- as if it did happen. I think that is at the essence of storytelling no matter what.  

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

That is possibly not as bad as asking me to choose between my children, but it’s hard.  Rebecca Swift comes to mind as soon as you ask that question, so I’ll go with her. She is so determined to stick to her principles and her belief in art and what she loves to do. At the same time, she is a warm, loving human being. She’s suffered in her early years, which gives her a depth of understanding and empathy which I think is interesting for a woman in her early twenties, and she is courageous as well. I think she has many qualities that I admire in people. 

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

I’m a plotter who turns into a panster once I start writing- and it only gets worst with each draft. I do start with a synopsis so that I know I have a story - and then things change as I write. I have had three novels published in quick succession in the last two years and I think it took me about eight or nine months to write each book from start to submission, but then they go into the revision process, which takes another four or so months, then there is a lapse of several months before the book is released, while the book is produced and covers designed. I started Secret Shores in March 2016 and it will be released in September 2017. 

Which authors have influenced you? 

Late nineteenth century women authors- the classics-  especially the Bronte’s for dramatic, tragic love stories, (they are the best kind!). Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are probably my two favourite novels. Anna Karenina is wonderful. I love E.M Forster and Edith Wharton, along with Evelyn Waugh. I admire Hemingway’s style of writing, his spare prose and his use of dialogue. In terms of contemporary writing, I’m enjoying Emily Bitte’s The Strays at the moment. I’m always open to discovering new authors- I love to read. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?  

Don’t give up, do educate yourself on the craft of writing to the highest level which you can achieve, and do not send your work out until you are sure it is the best it can be- you’ll know when it is ready. And surround yourself with people who are supportive of your writing, as much as you can, that is important. 

Tell us about your next book or work in progress. 

My next book is set for release in July 2018. It’s set in the early twentieth century in Europe and London but I can’t tell you much more than that! 

Thank you for sharing your story to publication with us, Ella. You can connect with Ella via Facebook or her website. Ella's books are available on Amazon.

Ella Carey will be discussing Australian historical fiction with Kali NapierGreg Pyers and Dorothy Simmons at our first HNSA Meet the Author satellite event in Melbourne chaired by Gabrielle Ryan on 19 February 2017. She will also be a speaker at HNSA 2017 in September. More details can be found on our satellite events calendar where you will find a link to buy your tickets.

The HNSA 2017 September Conference programme will be announced at this event! Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to hear of early bird registration. Come and hear Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Sophie Masson, Lucy Treloar, Deborah Challinor, Juliet Marillier, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott, Arnold Zable and many, many more! The HNSA speakers' list is available on our website.

Let's make a noise about historical fiction!