Monday, August 21, 2017

Interview with Cheryl Hayden

Cheryl Hayden is a researcher and novelist with a passion for 16th Century Cornwall.   Her novel, A Christmas Game, examined the plight of the rebel Cornishmen during and after the 1549 Prayer Book Rebellion. She is currently a PhD candidate at Flinders University, writing a fictional account of the life of Tristram Winslade.  Cheryl was born and raised in Melbourne and now lives in Brisbane where her sub-tropical garden is a major diversion when creative blockages strike.


What is the inspiration for your current book?

My 2012 novel, A Christmas Game, and my current work-in-progress are both inspired by a little-known period of rebellion that occurred in Cornwall during the early modern period, from 1497 to 1648.   Initially, my interest in Cornwall stemmed from my family’s mining heritage there – they were tin miners working in the very dangerous but incredibly spectacular area just north-east of Land’s End – very Poldark!  After researching that history and writing a still unpublished novel, my interest took off towards rebellion.

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

Issues of identity and homeland seem to be a common thread in my work. I was fascinated from a young age about my ancestors being ‘Cornish’ but didn’t understand what this meant until I undertook an M.A. in Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter. The Cornish are Celtic, and do not consider themselves to be English, and many native Cornish today still regard Cornwall as a separate nation. It has long been a fraught issue and for a novelist there is a great deal of scope for developing great characters and a lot of conflict with which to surround them.  


Which period of history particularly interests you? Why?

The 16th Century is my particular focus. We are all familiar with the Tudor monarchs, but what we often don’t see is the plight of people on the receiving end of their increasingly nationalistic policies.  My characters are fighting against the imposition of religious reform. In A Christmas Game, they are resisting the religious reforms introduced by Edward VI in 1549 and their protest leads to out-and-out war against their own king.

What resources do you use to research your book?

I read as much as possible – serious texts that delve into primary sources. I also use the UK National Archives online data base, as well as the Cornwall Records Office online catalogue. Devon also has online databases. More and more material is being digitized, so as the years roll by, there is more and more available. I also visit the places I write about. I’ve been to Cornwall five times now, and know it well.  On my last visit, I visited the 16th Century home of the Winslade family, who feature in A Christmas Game and in my work-in-progress.  

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

Authenticity is a complex idea – can anything that is a reproduction or a representation ever be authentic?  As for accuracy, if we’re talking about events occurring on specific dates, then it depends on how significant the event or the date is.  My aim is to be totally across my subject matter and the setting and to have a thorough understanding of my characters. I want my readers to feel confident that I am taking them on a credible journey into the past that will withstand historical scrutiny of my key themes and critical events.  

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

In A Christmas Game, I think I probably love Margh Tredannack best. He is a young man, just married, who joins a protest against the introduction of the English Language Prayer Book mainly because he has just completed his military training and thinks it will be a bit of fun to go off with his friends. When the whole thing spirals into war and treason, he must manage his terror and try to keep his men safe. Then, having lost everything, he must pick up the fragments of his life.  Jenna is equally inspiring. She is utterly terrified for most of the novel, and is truly brave and loyal.  

Which authors have influenced you?

Myriad authors including Peter Carey, Umberto Eco, Patrick White, Hilary Mantel, Michelle de Kretser, Richard Flanagan, Alan M. Kent, Daphne du Maurier and A.S. Byatt.  

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

Learn to write. Do courses, join groups and enter competitions. Read great writing, whether it be journalism, short stories, fiction or non-fiction. Be gracious about receiving constructive criticism and use it to hone your skills. Finally, be true to the story that is in your heart and give it your best shot.

Tell us about your next book or work in progress.

My work in progress is part of my PhD in Creative Writing. It returns to 16th Century Cornwall to follow the true life story of Tristram Winslade, who in 1595 wrote to King Philip II of Spain urging another Armada. Tristram’s life is emerging as an expectedly sensational roller-coaster. His father and grandfather appeared as real life characters in A Christmas Game




Margh Tredannack is living in newly wedded bliss on his father’s estate in western Cornwall. Miles away, near the banks of the Tamar, Jenna Rosewarne is promised to a loathsome cousin. In the summer of 1549, their worlds collide as the Cornish rise in protest against Edward VI’s English language prayer book. All of a sudden they are on the road to catastrophe, waging war against their own King. Trust, grief and despair bind them together, but does it count as love? And is it enough to save them?       

You can connect with Cheryl via Facebook or Email her to purchase your copy of A Christmas Game.


Cheryl Hayden is presenting a paper in The Lie of History: How the Mirror of the Present Shapes the Past for its Own Purposes in the HNSA Academic Programme on Sunday 10th September.

There is no question that we are constructions of our own times, and the writing of history is always shaped by those who recount the past for their own purposes. How does the mirror of the present day reflect and dictate the telling of history? Do we filter a version of history that tells more about us than the times of long ago through what we choose to reveal and erase? Dr Wendy J Dunn will discuss these questions with panel members Drs Glenice Whitting, Diane Murray, Gillian Polack, and Cheryl Hayden.

Presentation of all papers will be followed by a discussion between Prof. Josie Arnold and Christopher Raja on the same topic.

Abstract: Knit Two, Drop Four: Finding lost heroes in the holes of history’s knitting by Cheryl Hayden (PhD candidate, Flinders University)

Across the western world globalisation is creating renewed nationalist fervour, and with it, renewed interest in the historiographies from which nations draw their identities. The Tudor dynasty in 16th Century England is today being analysed and glorified throughout popular culture, confirming in the minds of the English and their diaspora, of the ‘rightness’ of the Protestant reformation and the victory of the nation state over the backward, evil threat presented by Catholicism. Is it possible, today, to unpick this entrenched historiography to repatriate the stories of those who suffered for this cause?

Entry to the academic programme is included in the price of a weekend or day ticket but please book your place because seating isrestricted. 

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!

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