Friday, November 16, 2018

Save the Date of the HNSA 2019 Conference!


We are delighted to announce that the next conference of Historical Novel Society Australasia will be held in Sydney on 25 to 27 October 2019, in historic Parramatta.

We’re equally delighted to announce our new partnership with Western Sydney University’s Writing & Society Research Centre and the School of Humanities & Communication Arts, which will host the conference on its Parramatta South campus. The Writing & Society Research Centre is committed to fostering public discussion around literature and writing and supports many community initiatives, particularly in western Sydney, including projects that encourage young and emerging writers and writers of immigrant background.

Now in its third year, the HNSA conference will once again feature leading and emerging writers from New Zealand and Australia, in a celebration of historical fiction for readers and writers.
For updates on the program and early bird registrations, sign up for our newsletter,  visit our HNSA website, follow us on Twitter and Facebook or join us on our Facebook Group

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Let’s make a noise about historical fiction!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Shortlisted Stories from the HNSA 2017 Short Story Competition

In addition to the first and second prize winners, there were four shortlisted entries in the HNSA 2017 Short Story Competition. Here (in no particular order), we feature the two remaining stories:

Denise Ogilvie is a short story  writer and novelist. Her children's fantasy,  The Luchair Stones, was published by Phoenix Yard Books (London) in  2014. Denise enjoys writing fictional stories of growing up in Australia during the nineteen fifties and sixties, a time of great change. She is currently writing her first adult novel, Once When We Were Young — a story of conscription,  love and the aftermath of the Vietnam War.  When not writing Denise lives with her husband in Bayside, Melbourne. Here is how her shortlisted story begins:

Fetes de Ramparts

Caen station fills with tourists, all jostling for seats on the train to Pontorson. The July morning is warm, promising another long, cloudless summer day in Normandy. A young man climbs the steps, pressing through the crowded aisle of beleaguered passengers forcing too large bags into too small overhead shelves. He settles into a seat next to the window. An old woman opposite. She perches a large basket on her knee. The smell of fresh, warm bread takes him back to his childhood. Read more...

Before training to be a teacher, Errol Bishop worked as a printer in various locations in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and New Zealand. Married to Karen, also a teacher, they taught in various locations — from the tip go Cape York, to the Queensland/New South Wales border. Now in semi-retirement, they live in Queensland's South Burnett region. Errol has had a number of short stories published. His historical novel, Ghost Galleon, was inspired by the Stradbroke Galleon legend. Here is how his shortlisted story begins:

Seize the Day

James McFarlane eagerly absorbed the sights and sounds of Australia as the ship made its way up the Mary River, towards the town of Maryborough. Almost three years earlier he had left Glasgow aboard a clipper bound for America but as he travelled westward across the vast continent, he became disillusioned with the mood of the American people. Like James, many Americans wanted slavery abolished, but James feared that wasn't going to happen without conflict. Read more...

Monday, May 28, 2018

Shortlisted stories from the HNSA 2017 Short Story Competition

In addition to the first and second prize winners, there were four shortlisted entries in the HNSA 2017 Short Story Competition. Here (in no particular order), we feature two of them:

"Again" by Belinda Lyons-Lee

Belinda Lyons-Lee is an emerging MG, YA and adult author of fiction inspired by nineteenth century history. She is also partial to adding magic, steam and time travel if the occasion calls for it. Belinda started volunteer work with marginalised young people on the streets when she was seventeen. Since then she’s become an English teacher who enjoys matching children with the right book and then talking about it endlessly when they've finished. She’s been doing this in various secondary schools for over fifteen years. She has a Masters of Writing and Literature (majoring in Children's Literature) from Deakin University and is dabbling in an online course on Bibliotherapy. 

While Belinda has written a number of manuscripts, she has had various short stories published over the years in a variety of forms. Her article titled, ‘What is success as a writer?’ was published in the 2017 August/September edition of The Victorian Writer magazine. She has recently been offered a place in the ACT Manuscript Development Program, Hardcopy, taking place in Canberra during 2018. Travels and connections in the UK and Australia continue to be formative in Belinda’s writing and the history, landscape, architecture and ancient stories of these countries provide ample inspiration. Here is how her shortlisted story, 'Again', begins...

She stood in the octagonal room where she could see, as if in the middle of a spider's web, through the doorways and windows of each of the six rooms to the outside beyond. First at one window, then the next, there he was again, pressing his cupped hand above his eyes to peer in. She stood with each hand on the youngest two children's chests, their backs against her thighs and pressed down hard, willing them to be still. Desperate for them to be quiet. Read more...


"The Letter" by Chris Childs

Chris has a passion for recreating nineteenth century Australian stories that have long disappeared from our memories. Her writing is influenced by academic studies in psychology and history and fuelled by a fascination with mystery and crime. She likes to blend fact and fiction to bring her characters and events to life. Chris has had a number of short stories published in on-line journals and anthologies. She won first prize in the 2015 Henry Lawson Literature Awards and 2017 Words of Wyndham local short story winner. Chris is also an enthusiastic reviewer of Australian historical fiction for Historical Novels Review. Here is how her shortlisted story, "The Letter", begins...

I try not to retch at the sickening stench of boiled cabbage. The queue is moving slowly but no one complains. Nightmares of starvation, and worse, still visit us in our sleeping hours, even though many years have passed since then. Food at Broadmeadows migrant camp is bland and stodgy; generally a combination of overcooked mutton, lumpy mashed potatoes and my old enemy boiled cabbage, but it is enough to keep us alive. Read more...


Monday, May 21, 2018

Transit - by Lauren Chater, which won second place in the HNSA 2017 Short Story Prize

Today we shine a spotlight on Lauren Chatter's short story, "Transit", which won second place in the HNSA 2017 Short Story Competition and was recently published in Swinburne University's literary journal Backstory.  

"Transit" was inspired by the actions of two men, Jeremiah Horrocks and William Crabtree, who were the first to record the transit of Venus which took place in 1639. Chatter's story takes the focus away from the men and places it on an unknown woman, a servant within Carr House. Recently orphaned, she’s had no choice but to write to her family and beg for a position. Exhausted and unfamiliar with manual labour, she little realises this amazing moment in history is unfolding in the dim little attic at the top of the stairs. 

"I love that idea – that history can be taking place right in front of us but we’re so concerned with our own problems we miss the significance.' Chatter explained when asked about the story. 'I think it’s comforting to know that the world goes on no matter how bad things can seem."

A poignant story of poverty and missed opportunity, Transit conveys the drudge and weariness of it's young protagonists' life and reminds us of the unique and oft times overlooked perspective of women throughout history. Here's how it begins:

Carr House, Lancashire — 1639
"Eliza Stone was hot. Moisture pricked beneath her arms. A bead of sweat inched its way down her neck, coming to rest in the small of her back. The flames in the kitchen furnace writhed. She felt their breath upon her face, melting her skin. It made her think of hell and of Papa. He had talked a lot about hell in his final weeks. Eliza had done her best to comfort him, assuring him that the fears were merely fancy but by the time he died, his face bloated and swollen, she felt so exhausted by grief that she did not much care where he went at all." Read more...


Lauren Chatter writes fiction with a particular focus on women's stories. After working for many years in a variety of media roles, she turned her passion for reading and research into a professional pursuit. In 2014, she was the successful recipient of the Fiona McIntosh Commercial Fiction scholarship. In addition to writing fiction, she established the Well Read Cookie, a blog which celebrates her love of baking and literature. She lives in Sydney with her husband and two children. The Lace Weaver, her first novel, was published by Simon & Schuster. She is currently working on her second novel, Gulliver's Wife, and Well Read Cookies, a non-fiction book based on her popular blog.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Call of Stars - Eleanor Limprecht's winning entry in the HNSA short story competition

Today, we shine a spotlight on the winning story in our HNSA 2017 Short Story Competition. 

Eleanor Limprecht's short story, "The Call of the Stars", was originally written as part of Long Bay, a novel based on the true story of a young woman named Rebecca Sinclair who ended up in Long Bay Women’s Reformatory in 1909 for manslaughter. Rebecca Sinclair was - with her husband Donald Sinclair - performing illegal abortions. 

"The Call of the Stars" was originally a chapter in the novel written from a different perspective - one of the other characters whose life was affected by Rebecca and her husband’s actions (we don’t want to give too much away here). Limprecht became fascinated by this character and his profession as a linotype operator for the Sydney Morning Herald. She spent weeks researching linotype machines, which are now obsolete and was a tiny bit devastated when everyone who read Long Bay told her the chapter didn’t fit. Eventually she reworked it into a short story and submitted it to the HNSA short story prize. She was delighted when it won. 

"I often write my way into a story, and end up with quite a bit that goes unused," Limprecht explained, 'so this was a rare instance of that unused writing finding a new life elsewhere."

"The Call of Stars" is a tragic, deeply affecting story that brings to light the tension between poverty and unwanted pregnancy and women's lack of choice before reliable contraception. It was recently published in Swinburne University's literary journal BackstoryHere's how it begins...

"He woke at the usual time, before dawn. Andrew closed his eyes again, pulling the coverlet beneath his chin. When he woke the second time he could hear Lucy and the children trying to be quiet in the other room. He sat and stretched, rubbing his eyes, smelling the urine from the chamber pot and the smoke from the woodstove. He stood and opened the window, breathing in the salt air from the harbour and feeling a breeze ruffle his hair." Read more...


Eleanor Limprecht is the author of three novels: The Passengers, Long Bay and What Was Left, which was shortlisted for the 2014 ALS Gold Medal. She also writes short fiction, book reviews and essays for various publications, including Best Australian Stories 2015. When not writing or reading Eleanor teaches as a casual academic at UTS. She was born in the United States and lived many places including Germany and Pakistan. She now lives in Sydney with her husband and two children.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Australia's Gold Rush and Colonial Architecture by Michael Beashel

Our guest author today is Michael Beashel. Michael is Sydney-born and his Irish forebears immigrated to New South Wales in 1863 and settled in Millers Point. He spent his youth in Bondi, is married with adult children and lives in Sydney’s inner-west.

Michael was head of Asset Development for a global accommodation services company registered on the NYSE and has made his mark in some of Australia’s iconic construction companies. In Sydney, he has restored government buildings such as the Customs House and the Town Hall, and completed commercial buildings in the private sector. In SE Asia, he managed a construction division that built apartments and hotels in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City.

This industry—its characters, clients, trades people, designers and bureaucrats—provides rich material for his writing. He has an eye for the emergence of Sydney’s built form, from the early days of the colony to the present, and a love of construction. He says about his writing, ‘It’s a passion. I revel in using the building industry as a tapestry to weave a great tale seasoned with historic facts and memorable characters. Human shelter is an essential need and I suspect people have a fascination for understanding its context and construction within their societies. Australia still is a young country but there are many, many outstanding building stories.’

Michael holds a B. App. Science (Building) from Sydney’s UTS and is a member of the NSW Writers’ Centre. Michael finds his excitement in the design and construction industry, military history and Rugby. He’s sailed in Herons but leaves the racing and honours to other family members!  Unbound Justice is his first novel and the sequels Unshackled and Succession complete the Sandstone Trilogy. You can connect with Michael via Facebookwebsite and blog.

Shelter is the third human need and it’s essential for civilisation to thrive. In genre fiction, the building industry has not been used much as a context although bestsellers like the Pillars of the Earth paint vivid stories and characters against the backdrop of monumental building construction. The intent of my writing is to celebrate the building industry in nineteenth century NSW using where possible historic examples of major works. Architecture of the European period, the Renaissance and early to middle 20th-century America has been given due attention. However the architects of colonial New South Wales, post Greenway, and the contractors who executed their designs are often not given the credence they deserve.  

The time period for The Sandstone Trilogy was chosen because it represented a profound change in New South Wales’s history. The first two books date from 1850 to 1857 and highlight the massive expansion of the colony due to the Gold Rush. Wool was certainly adding to the colony’s income but it was the gold that created the explosion.

Liverpool St facing Hyde Park 1849
According to JM Freeland in his Architecture in Australia, a History, ‘the newly rich men of means wanting large and substantial warehouses and offices; town councils wanting magnificent city halls befitting their new-found place in the sun; the churches with coffers filled by affluent respectability- seeking parishioners wanting larger and proper Gothic edifices; the publicans wanting imposing palaces in which to milk a sybaritic clientele and tens of thousands of people just wanting a home—all this created a splendiferous boom for the building fraternity.’ 

The price of labour and the cost of building materials increased exponentially because of the sheer demand for them. Additionally those tradesmen who were less passionate about their chosen careers were happy to join their fellow gold seekers and try their luck. This sudden ‘vacuuming’ of tradesmen from New South Wales, especially Sydney building sites, created demand for less skilled tradesmen and also promotion for others who would not have normally risen to high ranks at such an early age.
Skinner's Family Hotel, George & Hunter Streets

It cannot be overemphasised how much the gold rush affected New South Wales and Victoria.  JM Freeland says that “Australian architecture left its innocence behind when gold was officially discovered in May 1851. The immediate effect of the turmoil on architecture was negative. Building virtually stopped. It was in these conditions that many of these substantial business firms of today were founded. In the period 1851 to 1860 the population of Australia trebled to 1.2 million people. Victoria from 76,000 to 540,000!”

One of the fascinating sources has been a compilation of drawings done by Joseph Fowles and printed by himself in Harrington Street in 1848. St Patrick’s Church in Charlotte Place (present day Grosvenor Street) was dedicated in March 1844. Between King and Market Streets in Pitt Street stood the Royal Victoria Theatre. “The fronts are bold and lofty faced with fine brick with massive stone dressings and cornices. The spirited proprietor Mr Moffit deserves great credit for the liberality with which he has contributed towards ornamenting the city.”

Markets and Police Court, George St
On the social front, one reference written in the era was Mr James Inglis’s account of Sydney and its people. Mr Inglis was a member of the NSW Legislative Assembly in 1885. He wrote a book called, “Our Australian Cousins.”  It was in effect an early example of a traveller’s blog.

York Street was the place to live, especially between Sydney Town Hall and Wynyard square. The merchants’ palaces were selling for £30,000 to build.

Shop windows were small and mean. The structure of each shop jutted out into Pitt and George streets. Horses were hitched to posts and the horses were called walers.
Customs House

The taxi cabs were elegant, light in draft, roomy and comfortable. They were above the average and the horses sleek and well groomed. The taxi driver charged four shillings per hour, nine pence for a quarter of an hour.

Sydney electoral roll “a narrative on the visit to land colonies 1843.”
Present state of Australia 1851 by Melville Henry.
New South Wales, its past and present, 1849 by John Patterson
British Parliamentary papers “Colonies Australia” 1854 Volumes 12 and 17.
Recollections of Sydney 1850, John Mortimer
Impressions of Australia illustrated, Australian magazine Volume 2 1851
London Journal of immigration illustrated 1848
Sydney takes shape, a collection of contemporary maps from foundation to Federation 1977 Paul Ashton and Duncan Waterson
The origins of the Master builders Association of New South Wales, 1873 to 1889
The Evolution of the Wooden Ship: Basil Greenhill, Sam Manning
The collected evidence from Clive Lucas’s Stapleton and partners.
Sydney’s roads- Rosemary Broomham’s “Vital Connections”
History of Australia by Manning Clark Volumes Three and Four from 1824 to 1888.
Images from State and Mitchell Libraries of NSW

John Leary boards ship in Ireland in 1850, a young carpenter ambitious for a new life in Australia. He sails with revenge in his heart—his beloved sister has been raped by her landlord, William Baxterhouse, who escapes on another ship with even grander plans for success in New South Wales. In Sydney, hard workers like Leary and ruthless newcomers like Baxterhouse find a city fired by the Gold Rush and dedicated to creating the finest buildings in the colony. Leary has a double motive to make his construction company succeed: he has fallen in love with the beautiful Clarissa McGuire, whose family despise him, and Baxterhouse continues to rise in wealth and influence, seemingly untouchable. Meanwhile another woman, Beth O’Hare, is in love with John Leary, and he makes some hard choices—including a climactic showdown with Baxterhouse.

Unbound Justice is the first novel in The Sandstone Trilogy:  a new, magnificent view of nineteenth-century Sydney from the ground up.

Thanks for sharing your insights with us, Michael. Congratulations on the trilogy.

 You can Michael Beashel's books on Amazon and via his website.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Gillian Pollack's wrap up of her HNSA Conference masterclasses

Dr Gillian Polack is a Medieval historian and has PhDs in both History and Creative Writing. She researches how history and fiction interface and has a strong interest in how genre narratives operate. She has also been a reviewer, critic and non-fiction writer and an award judge. Gillian's latest novel is The Wizardry of Jewish Women which was nominated for best novel in the 2017 Ditmar Awards. She has also released a volume of her research for the book in History and Fiction (Peter Lang, 2017) Eighteen of her short stories are in print and she has edited two anthologies and an historical cookbook.  One story won a Victorian Ministry of the Arts award and three more were listed as recommended reading in international lists of world’s best stories. She has received two writing fellowships at Varuna, arts grants, and a Ditmar award for her work. Her  book, The Middle Ages Unlocked: A Guide to Life in Medieval England 1050-1300 is co authored with Katrin Kania. Gillian ran two masterclasses during the HNSA 2017 conference. Here is her wrap-up of those sessions. 

I was very lucky in the writers who joined me for it – they were thoughtful and pushed to understand more about how they can write history into their fiction, ways of doing it well, and they thought a great deal about the implications of their work. That’s why I’m writing a report on it. Their work was useful for other writers. Let me tell you about it.
None of the writers were beginners. Not all of them wrote historical fiction. This meant that, for my preparation, I read tens of thousands of words. Then I pulled their work together and looked at what participants knew and did and how they expressed it. The background I called on was my own work as an historian, as a fiction writer and as a researcher into the culture brought (intentionally or not) into novels and other long narratives. 

I focussed on genre, because the decisions writers make are different depending on the genre they’re writing in. I wasn’t asking the participants to learn principles, but to apply them to their own work and to discover what this led to. At its simplest, we looked at what made up a piece of telling detail in a part of their work and what uses that information had for the reader and how to make it work more effectively. At its most complicated, we talked about ethics and how historical fiction is interpreted by readers.

Because this teaching is directly related to my research, it can go in a number of directions, depending on the writers and their needs. I look at simple techniques like building telling detail and how to bring a scene to life for readers, but in the classes we also looked at story space.Story space is difficult to explain in a single paragraph for me at this moment in my research. This is because the story space I teach isn’t the same as the story space that’s written about. "Normal" story space is the place where readers go in their minds to live the tale.  My story space is where writers go to write the tale. When writers know how to move into it and use it cleverly, it can make a big difference for their writing.

Story space is a very powerful tool. Using it to focus discussion, we talked about ways of reducing research time, understanding the path the novel is taking and how it fits into genre. How writing within genre works from story space and how this relates to how one sells a novel. Story space was especially important for the writers in the second class. We explored their needs as writers and each one left with an understanding of what they can do with story space. They can enter and leave it and use it to navigate and to make decisions about ethics, research, characters, historical background and the story itself. 

In the first class, we didn’t talk directly about story space as much, although it was there, in the background, most of the time. We focussed on how history is presented, especially in the case of silencing some groups, and presenting some characters as hollow or as echoes. Story space played a role, but a key focus became how to handle history ethically. We talked about how our fiction reflects Australia’s cultural history, and how, unless we personally examine the culture we carry with us we’re in danger of giving some very poor gifts to our readers through feeding them our assumptions without knowing. One of the students helped us understand these issues through giving us some very illuminating anecdotes: each participant in these classes had as much to give as to learn. Their thoughts and stories assisted a great deal in underlining why writers need to know who they are and where they come from and what they bring to their fiction.

What emerged from both classes was a need to be aware that history can be told in a way that will hurt because characters who come from a particular background often fall into stereotypes, and that this affects our broader culture when we modify the historical record in this way.Story space and the culture we carry into our writing work together to help solve these problems. It’s never going to be easy, but it’s possible to evaluate the relationship of wider culture, the culture we carry, and the needs of our novel, and making the most appropriate decisions for our fiction. 

Every really good writer balances this deep reflection with writing techniques. This is why we also talked about the difference between history and novels. What decisions have to be made in order to write a good novel? What history is one actually producing? How is this history seen by historians?The second half of each session was mainly spent on looking at the work of the individual writers in the class. My historian side was much in use, and we talked about several historical periods and their sources and what different ways there are to interpret them. We also talked about how to depict history so that it comes to life and where to find examples of writing styles and how to locate and use telling detail. 

There was so much to say and so much everyone wanted to hear. What was sad was that I lost my voice in the middle. Over a week later and my voice still has its moments. The writers were worth it, however. Hard-working and thoughtful. I almost forgot the fact that I was croaking and whispering in turn, because the questions were so interesting and their reflections so worth hearing.I was very lucky in the authors who chose to do the masterclasses. There are some very good novels in our nearish future.   Note: The subject is big and it’s complicated and a blogpost doesn’t do it justice. I’ve written on several aspects of the background I drew on for the masterclasses (ie I’ve written about my own research), in my academic work (History and Fiction was easily the most useful single work for most of the writers), and in blog pieces (such as some of those here ). For further information, read Wendy Dunn's interview with Gillian Pollack.