Monday, January 30, 2017

Interview With Dorothy Simmons

We are pleased to welcome Dorothy Simmons to the HNSA blog today. Born in Northern Ireland, Dorothy moved to Australia after graduating with an M.A (Hons) from Edinburgh University and a Diploma of Education from Queens University, Belfast. As an English teacher and published author of both young adult novels and short fiction, her life has always revolved around words and the worlds they open up. In 2014, she completed a PhD in Creative Writing at Melbourne University and now combines writing with sessional tutoring at La Trobe University. Her latest novel, Living like a Kelly, was published in September 2015.  

You can connect with Dorothy via Facebook and her website.



What is the inspiration for your current book? 
The immediate inspiration for Living Like A Kelly was, quite simply, an old woman’s face. In the historic courthouse building in Beechworth, there is a photograph of Ellen Kelly with two of her grandchildren. Looking into those deep set eyes in their nest of wrinkles and imagining how much they had seen… that was the moment I knew I’d write her story. I have been fascinated by myths and mythmaking all my life and there would be no Ned Kelly myth without his mother. 

Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book? 
The novel formed the creative component of a PHD in Creative Writing, illustrating its critical thesis, Myth and Meaning. My enquiry was into the subjective nature of mythmaking and how stories made through individual memory and imagination might become the myths of a whole society.  I was also interested in adding a woman’s voice to a predominantly male narrative. 

As a migrant to Australia, I am particularly interested in the colonial experience: how you cope when everything you’ve taken for granted all your life no longer applies, how you adapt or don’t adapt, how you create a new tradition.    

What resources do you use to research your book? 
My primary resources were books: historical documents such as those available in the State library, secondary sources such as the books arguing for or against Kelly as well as histories of the period: the outstanding one being Ian Jones’ Ned Kelly: A Short Life.  I was also lucky enough to have Ian Jones’s personal advice and support; with him, I have explored the various Kelly sites in and around Beechworth.  

What is more important to you: historical authenticity or accuracy? 
This is a difficult distinction.  The definition of historical authenticity contrasts historical actuality with historical myth or fiction. Yet does not the myth become real as people believe in it and act accordingly? Whose fact is accepted as the fact of the matter, and how do we go back to check? Suffice it to say that I think the historical novelist has a responsibility to stay true to the facts in so far as they are known… and where they are not known, to imagine within the bounds of historical credibility. 

Which character in your current book is your favourite? Why? 
My favourite character in Living Like A Kelly would have to be Ellen herself.  After that photographic encounter, I discovered a headstrong, horse mad little girl from the North of Ireland…very much like myself.  On the other side of the world, she grew into a woman of courage and resourcefulness, who may have loved not wisely but too well... but who didn’t give in.  

Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? How long does it generally take you to write a book? 
As an historical novelist, to some extent your plot is already there; it is difficult to imagine a Ned Kelly novel without his trial and execution. Interest, therefore, is as much in the weaving of the web as its length and breadth. For that same reason, you can’t fly by the seat of your pants either; there is the matter of historical conscience.  

How long did this book take you to write?
How long a book takes to write depends very much on circumstances; writing the novel as part of a degree, for instance, ties you to an academic program. Other factors include availability of resources, expenses, work commitments... and how long the story has been percolating away in your head.  Simplest of all, your life may get in the way.  Without undue interruptions or delays, however… a year sounds like a reasonable space.   

Which authors have influenced you? 
Authors of influence include Hilary Mantel (inside Cromwell’s skin), Tim Winton’s The Riders (going back to go forward), Kate Grenville (how circumstances shape us) and David Malouf's An Imaginary Life and Ransom (concerning mythmaking). 

What advice would you give an aspiring author? 
Believe you have a story worth telling. Give it time. Draft and redraft; if it’s worth telling, it’s worth telling as well as you possibly can. 

Tell us about your next book or work in progress. 
My next book, Of Breath and Blood, is out there at the moment. Set in Parramatta Female Factory, it centres around the 1827 riot.  

Thanks for joining us Dorothy to tell us about the inspiration behind Living Like A Kelly. Best of luck with your next novel.



Living Like A Kelly
Greta, Victoria, 1911 

A thunder storm forces journalist Brian Cookson to seek shelter at a roadside cottage; he is taken in by three little girls and the old woman they call Gran. Cookson starts to explain that he has to write a story about Dan Kelly and Steve Hart of the Kelly Gang being alive and well in South Africa. The old woman spins round and glares. 
“Lies, lies, lies!” 
Cookson is dumbfounded. 
“But how can you know?” 
“I am his mother.” 
Here is the journalist’s story, not in South Africa – here, standing right in front of him.  But will she tell it? Will she ever trust a newspaper man with the truth about living like a Kelly? 


Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Dorothy. Dorothy will be discussing Australian historical fiction with Ella Carey Dorothy Simmons and Gabrielle Ryan (Chair) at our first HNSA Meet the Author satellite event in Melbourne on 19 February 2017. More details can be found on our satellite events calendar.

 Visit our website to purchase your tickets to HNSA 2017 in Melbourne now!

Let's make a noise about historical fiction!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Interview with Kali Napier

We would like to welcome to the blog emerging author Kali Napier, whose debut novel, An Emu War, set in Western Australia 1932, will be released by Hachette Australia in February 2018. Kali is a Brisbane-based writer of historical fiction. She was selected to participate in the QWC /  Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program in 2015, and in 2016 two of her manuscripts were longlisted in the Bath Novel Award. She is currently undertaking a research degree in creative writing at The University of Queensland. You can connect with Kali via FacebookTwitter and through her website.



What is the inspiration for your current book?  
My book An Emu War is set in Dongara in Western Australia, in 1932. I have a personal connection to Dongara, as well as to other towns mentioned in the story: Perenjori, Caron and Geraldton. The character of Ernie Hass was sparked by my great-grandfather, George Frederick Otto Wetters, who was briefly a butcher and shop proprietor at Dongara. I discovered his connection when researching our family history through Trove newspaper articles. I also discovered he’d been a bankrupt, so I’ve made my character, Ernie, a bankrupt too.  Everything that I unearthed about George I put into my story to learn more about who he might have been, in a fictitious way. 

Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?  
The central theme is of belonging, to family and place. I also explore notions of protection, and what this might entail: keeping secrets and making sacrifices. 

Which period of history particularly interests you? Why? 
Even though my story is set in the Depression years, my favourite period to read about is the late Victorian/Edwardian era. I love the whole fin-de-siecle aesthetic, the shifting of ground beneath the status quo. I hope to set my novel-after-next in 1910, amid the crumbling tenure of colonialist society. 

What resources do you use to research your book?  
My major source is Trove, for newspaper articles. I have found nuggets of plots and wonderful contemporary expressions, such as ‘I don’t care a twopenny damn’, which I’ve worked into my book. I also read non-fiction histories, and other novels set during the time period. Last year, I made a research trip to Dongara and visited the Irwin District Historical Society, museums, and spoke with local oral historians and older residents about life in town in 1932. 

What is more important to you: historical authenticity or accuracy?  
Authenticity. Histories require accuracy, but historical fiction requires a suspension of disbelief. And what is accurate is not necessarily believable. 

Which character in your current book is your favourite? Why?  
I have two favourite characters and neither is one of the four point-of-view characters. Lorna Fairclough is the wife of Ernie’s rival, and comes across as brash, and though she has suffered in her past, she is proactive in getting what she wants. Ernie’s daughter Girlie befriends a young Yamatji girl called Ruby Feehely who is certain of her place in the world, yet has so much to lose from being dislocated from it. She’s a little cheeky too. 

Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? How long does it generally take you to write a book?  
I’m a light plotter, in that I’ll sketch out the major turning points of the novel and character motivations, but the flesh of the story comes when writing. With my current book, the first draft took me two months. However, I’m still working on rewrites a year later! The first manuscript I ever wrote took me five months to write the first draft as I researched as I wrote. 

Which authors have influenced you?  
There are two kinds of authors who have influenced me: those who have influenced me as a writer and those who have influenced my writing. Of the former, my mentor Kim Wilkins has been instrumental in helping me work out what kind of writer I want to be. And when I was younger I tried to emulate the ‘writer’s life’ of my writing idol, Lisa St Aubin de TerĂ n.  

Of the latter kind of author, Kate Forsyth, Joan London, Sarah Waters, Emma Donoghue, Hannah Kent, Esther Freud, Elizabeth Gilbert have all made an impact, among many others. 

What advice would you give an aspiring author?  
Writing is essential of course. But if an aspiring author wants to ‘emerge’, my advice is to focus on ‘being’ a writer.  A little like building the field of dreams. I enrolled in a creative writing course at university and visualised my book on the N shelves of libraries and bookshops. I added ‘writer’ to my profession on LinkedIn and answered the question of ‘what do you do?’ with ‘writer’. I immersed myself in the Australian publishing industry, following and making connections with other authors, agents, publishers on Twitter and via book reviews on my blog.  

My big break came via the QWC / Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program in 2015 and the relationship I formed with my publisher as a consequence. Relationships are key.  

Tell us about your next book or work in progress 
My work-in-progress is set across three time periods: 2010/1, 1950s/60s, and 1940s. It is a loose retelling of Hansel and Gretel set amid the petty crime of Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. 

An Emu War
1932. Ernie and Lily Hass, and their daughter Girlie, walk off their wheat farm and move to coastal Dongarra. Ernie steps into local businessman, Bill Fairclough’s patch. Lily befriends Bill’s wife, Lorna. Girlie forms a friendship with an outsider. Into this web of new alliances and animosities comes Lily’s brother, Tommy, suffering from shell shock, and sparks the unravelling of secrets that hold together Lily and Ernie’s marriage, with tragic consequences.  

Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Kali. Good luck with your new book!

Kali will be discussing Australian historical fiction with Ella Carey, Greg Pyers, Dorothy Simmons and Gabrielle Ryan (Chair) at our first HNSA Meet the Author satellite event in Melbourne on 19 February 2017. 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, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott, Arnold Zable and many, many more! Our speakers' list is available on our website.

Let's make a noise about historical fiction!