Thursday, December 11, 2014

Prue Batten: The Path Less Travelled and Indie Publishing

Our guest post today is by Prue Batten, author of The Gisborne Trilogy who is appearing on the The Path Less Travelled: Indie Publishing and the Freedom to Explore on Sunday 22nd March 2015.

Prue is a former journalist who graduated with majors in history and politics, and is also a farmer, dog owner, gardener, kayaker and embroiderer.

Initially a writer of historical fantasy, in 2012 her third novel, A Thousand Glass Flowers, won a silver medal with the Readers’ Favorites USA Annual Book Awards. In the same year, her first historical fiction, Gisborne: Book of Pawns (Book One of The Gisborne Saga), was awarded an honourable mention in the Golden Claddagh Book Awards USA. Set within the turbulent twelfth century the same book received an honourable mention in the RONE Awards USA in 2013.

Book of Pawns and Book of Knights (Books Two and Three of the saga) have ranked in the Top 100 of biographical fiction on since July of 2013. Book of Kings, the third and final novel in the trilogy, ranked in the Top 100 of biographical fiction in the UK within its first 24 hours of publication and all three books continue to rank unbroken. She is currently working on her new novel, Tobias, the story of a twelfth century minstrel and a broken life, due to be released in 2015.

You can find Prue on Twitter and Facebook and her website where you will find all of her books.

Here’s Prue’s post:

I have been asked to take part in a panel discussion on the The Path Less Travelled: Indie Publishing and the Freedom to Explore in celebration of the inaugural HNSA conference in Sydney in March 2015. Part of this involvement is to guest post for the HNSA blog and I thought the best post I could offer was indeed that path less travelled, and that the best people from whom to gain information were those successful historical fiction writers who have chosen to think outside that very traditional and narrow square.

It is that visionary, exciting, forward-thinking move that has enabled good independent writers to prove beyond measure that they haven’t needed the tick of approval from the mainstream system. Quite simply, they have something credible, entertaining and MARKETABLE and which has resulted in legions of readers who wait impatiently for the next book from those writers.

In my own case - being independent has indeed given me the freedom to explore. In respect of The Gisborne Trilogy it would never have seen the light of day if I had submitted mainstream, because it is based on a character from history, perhaps a legend (who knows) and one that is from an unfashionable timeframe (according to mainstream) and is not the blood and guts style of historical fiction of someone like Bernard Cornwell. But not only that, I took my protagonist far from the traditional Robin Hood canon. I would have received a short rejection slip, end of argument.

That said, the books have ranked unbroken in’s Top 100 for biographical fiction for over 16 months and with all seven of my books, both historic fantasy and historic fiction, they trundle along quietly winning awards and rankings without the massive publicity machine of the mainstream system behind them. To me, that indicates that readers will seek out good content in the genre of their choice. The publishing method means little.

In a more diverse sense, I think self-published authors are unafraid to pursue the path less travelled because they have absolutely nothing to lose. That IS the path less travelled. We can visit any timeframe from ANY angle, ungoverned by an editor-in-chief or a marketing department.
The authors contributing to this post have always been exceptionally professional in their approach. They employ editors, beta-readers, cover designers and manage the marketing programme with professional diligence which is why their readership grows exponentially.

From Alex Martin, author of the most wonderful World War One Saga – Daffodils and its sequel, Peace Lily:

‘Being 'out there' in the public eye is both brave and foolhardy but readers are the best judges of whether a book works. Agents and publishers, as far as I can see, want books that sell. Indie writers have more freedom to write stories that move them, where they can bare their souls, reach out to kindred spirits and touch hearts, if they can, without trying to fit a particular genre, and it gives me immense satisfaction to know that I have achieved that. It is here that genuine exploration can occur, without the mercenary ties of making it pay (though very welcome!) and I think it is here that future great writing will be found, not exclusively of course, but the licence of independence gives creativity an unfettered playground in which to chase that elusive muse… It is the future.’

From Steven M McKay – high rating and best-selling author of a Robin Hood derivative, the superb Wolf’s Head series:

‘My debut novel, Wolf’s Head, was rejected by about a dozen agents and would never have seen the light of day if it wasn’t for self-publishing. Apparently there was no market for another re-telling of the Robin Hood legend, but the fact it sold close to 20,000 copies within its first year suggests readers thought otherwise...
As for the freedom self-publishing brings? Well, I started off with a plan to write a trilogy, but as I wrote the second book I realised I needed to add one more. I’m sure a traditional mainstream publisher would either have wanted me to keep to the original three-book plan, or, more than likely after the success of the first book, demanded I string the series out over an unlimited number of novels, milking the sales as much as possible regardless of how well the stories read. I set my own deadlines for when I need to deliver a book, without someone telling me what I need to do and when.’

I might add that Steven was invited by Amazon to be part of their indie presentation at the London Book Fair and that he was one of the first English indies to be invited by to release his series in audio.

From Lucinda Brant, Australian author of Georgian romances, with a huge following in the UK and Italy and who made the NY Times and USA Today Best Seller lists as an indie author:

‘It has given me the independence to stick by my convictions to write books set in the Georgian era and know there is a viable market. I have been able to focus on the 18th Century before the French Revolution, a period I love and know most about and that is a wonderful freedom to have. I can write characters, situations and outcomes the way I want them, not the way an editor tells me I must, or in a way they think "will sell". I not only have the freedom to explore, but also the freedom to direct all aspects of the process, from the creative pen to publication. From writing what I want, to having what I want on the covers, to employing translators, and choosing who will narrate my audiobooks… It has also provided me with the financial freedom to "give up the day job" to write full time and make a living. What could be better than that?’

Lucinda is a prime example of the quality of an indie author – someone I consider a quiet achiever. She has won medals and awards in the United States and her books rank in Top 100’s across the globe. Her Pinterest account, a visual homage to the eighteenth century, has even secured media attention in the USA.

From Gordon Doherty, best selling author of the acclaimed Strategos series:

‘Being indie can be an advantage and offers significant creative freedom. Also, readers seek out good stories rather than ones tagged as 'indie published' or 'mainstream published'. 

From the mega-selling author of Marius’s Mules and The Ottoman Cycle as well as standalone historical fantasy books, the incomparable SJA Turney:

‘For me, I would say that I began my publishing journey with both a Roman military novel and a historical fantasy, so I was lucky to enter the scene already exploring more than one literary path. However, had I been tied to a book deal with a traditional publisher, I suspect I would have had to work exclusively on one or both series from then on. Instead, I launched into a third series purely because I read about an event that fascinated me and wrote three extra as-yet-unpublished standalones because the mood took me. Just the other day I shifted my anticipated novel plan up half a year simply because I had a wonderful idea for a standalone book and wanted to write it. Without the freedom self-publishing has granted me, I doubt these extra books - each of which explores new periods, themes and styles - would ever have seen the light of day.’

Simon has an immense global following and is often mentioned in the same breath as Ben Kane, Douglas Jackson and others. He, too, left his day job behind a long while ago and his success proves that in the mind of the reader, the content is the important thing, NOT the publisher.

But perhaps the most powerful view is one from a former Random House author with a plethora of titles to her credit and a longstanding position as an elegant writer in the literary style. Ann Swinfen has leaped from strength to strength since becoming indie and has the experience of both sides of the publishing world. And a jaw-dropping experience it is too:

‘After years of being told There is no market for historical fiction, I turned my back on my agent and traditional publishing, and joyfully embraced the indie world. Here I have set up my own imprint, Shakenoak Press, and publish in both paperback and Kindle format. I am free to choose my period and genre – the genre is literary historical and, so far, the periods have been first, sixteenth and seventeenth century. I am in control of the whole process, from cover design to pricing, and most recently have enjoyed the wonderful experience of working with a distinguished actress, Serena Scott-Thomas, on the audio book of The Testament of Mariam. My books which were allowed to go out of print by Random House are available once more, while my five historical novels are also doing well. To say, as so many traditional publishers do, that There is no market for historical fiction is a myth. There is a flourishing market for historical fiction of every type.’

I would like to finish this post by quoting Ann once more. She spells out the position of we, the indie writers, very eloquently – 

‘Once, it might have been ‘the path less travelled’. Not any more. We have donned our travelling cloaks, seized our staffs and our knapsacks, and we are out there, exploring whole new worlds of historical fiction. We’re free, and we’re loving it!’

Many thanks to Prue for taking the time to garner the opinions of so many fabulous indie and hybrid authors for this piece. Thanks also to those very same authors for sharing their views. I found them inspirational. 

As a ‘hybrid’ author who has found freedom by diverging onto the indie path, I am very much looking forward to chairing the Path Less Travelled panel with Prue and GS Johnston. We’ll also be joined by Felicity Pulman who has dipped her toe successfully into self-publishing at times. The world of publishing is changing rapidly and the flexibility and freedom now afforded to authors is an exciting one!

Elisabeth Storrs, author of the Tales of Ancient Rome series.

Book of Kings by Prue Batten


In this final book of The Gisborne Saga, Gisborne, spymaster and valued knight of Richard Lionheart, is beguiled into a fierce duel in which his wife and son are thrust round the board in a brutal game of revenge.

Is it the Knights Templar who seek to avenge their own? Or is it Eleanor of Aquitaine who claims Gisborne is a traitor to England? Or is it someone from Gisborne’s own cadre?

Trust is the only commodity of any value at a time when life could end with the flight of an arrow, but can Gisborne be trusted enough and will his wife and son survive his obsession?

Prue Batten will be appearing at the 2015 HNSA Conference in the following panel:

22 March 2015

12.15-1.15 pm Session Four
The Path Less Travelled: Indie Publishing and the Freedom to Explore
The self-publishing revolution has given authors the opportunity to reach readers directly and break through the constraints of writing about eras that are only deemed ‘marketable’. Elisabeth Storrs discusses how and why Prue Batten, GS Johnston and Felicity Pulman chose to go off the beaten track to find their readership.
For more information on all our panels, please visit our site for programme details. And you can buy your tickets here.

You can also sign up to the mailing list to be the first to keep up to date with breaking news on the HNSA conference in 2015. 

Please consider visiting us on
Twitter and Facebook to help us spread the word! 

Here’s a tweet you might like to use:

The Path Less Travelled by @pruebatten on #indie publishing on #HNSA2015 blog @histnovsoc #histfic

The freedom to explore @pruebatten on #indie publishing on #HNSA2015 blog @histnovsoc #historical

Register now for the #HNSA2015 conference! Let’s make a noise about #historicalfiction

And please take a look at our FREE BOOK OFFERS!

The first 30 ticketholders to purchase a ‘Standard’ Whole Conference Ticket will receive a free copy of either The Lace Balcony by Johanna Nicholls, The King’s Shadow by Barbara Gaskell Denvil or The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans.

All ticket holders will receive a Momentum ebook bundle in celebration of Felicity Pulman’s launch of Unholy Alliance.

The first 50 fully paid ticket holders will receive a copy of Sherryl Clark’s new book Do You Dare – Jimmy’s War in celebration of her launch. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Barbara Gaskell Denvil: A few of my favourite things....

The next author in the ‘Few of my favourite things…’ 2015 HNSA Conference interview series is Barbara Gaskell Denvil who is participating our panel discussing What is it about the Tudors? An exploration of the phenomenon of ‘Tudorphilia’ on Sunday 22nd March 2015.

Barbara Gaskell Denvil

Barbara has been a writer all her life. Born in Gloucestershire, England, she soon moved to London and quickly built up a career publishing numerous short stories and articles while also working as a literary reviewer and critic for ‘Books and Bookmen’, a literary editor, publishers’ reader, and television script writer.   She then spent many hot and colourful years sailing the Mediterranean and living in various different countries throughout Europe. When her partner died, she moved to rural Australia where she still lives amongst the parrots and wallabies, while writing full time. With a passionate interest in the late medieval and Tudor periods of English history, she has now published three novels set in this era.  Satin Cinnabar is self-published on Kindle, while Sumerford’s Autumn and The King’s Shadow are published in Australia by Simon and Schuster, and are available both online and in all Australian bookshops.   All three are novels of adventure, mystery and romance with a strict adherence to historical accuracy.

You can find more about Barbara’s books here

You might also like to follow her blog where she writes fascinating posts about her research. And connect with her on Facebook.

Barbara, please share with us what is or was your favourite…

Book as a child and as a teenager?
My earliest memory of loving any particular book was with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and that youthful discovery was sheer delight. I still consider it a remarkable book, and most of the rest of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series is equally brilliant (though some more than others!) My love of mystical fantasy was born – and continued, for as a teenager I was immediately split between the pleasures of the Regency romance – especially Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer which was an absolute joy for those bursting hormones – and the more thoughtful genius of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I still believe that the magic of Middle Earth is unsurpassed, whereas Georgette Heyer also remains an occasional pleasure when I’m feeling despondent. Reading Tolkien when despondent would certainly not lighten the spirits – whereas the Marques of Vidal surely does. Soon afterwards I read Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series and that set me off with a passionate love of historical fiction. I’ve moved on to a thousand other books and some of them have become huge favourites, but those early experiences remain in my heart. I was unaware of being influenced at the time, but I now realise that I most certainly was.

The list would be too long. I admire anyone who has written a book from the heart in whatever genre, but my two particular passions are historical fiction and fantasy. Dorothy Dunnett is the pinnacle for any lover of history along with Mary Renault – whereas there is also the absolute wealth of non-fiction to explore; a beautiful as well as necessary bottomless pit for writers of historical fiction. For non-fiction I greatly admire Annette Carson and Ian Mortimer, but there are many others. One of my greatest loves is Shakespeare, and most of the classics are amazing, but I also love a hundred of the new authors, especially those who are branching out in the worlds of fantasy.

 Satin Cinnabar

Period of history?
My time-machine would be kept very busy. I have loved so many eras – the Regency – the Tudor – the Vikings – the Restoration – and of course, not only am I fascinated by all these eras and their amazing characters, but I would also be determined to discover the truth of all those historical mysteries we are now left with. The huge characters of the past grip me most. What was Henry VIII really like? How about the incredible Earl of Rochester? The Duke of Wellington? Shakespeare himself? Oh I could go on and on. I hope Amazon delivers my time-machine as soon as possible, I’m waiting impatiently! But my very first turn of the dial would take me back to 1483. That would be my absolute dream and I would love to meet Richard III and discover as much as possible about him. He is a minor character in my new book The King’s Shadow – while his presence is a major part of the background. The late medieval is such an intriguing period in history and definitely my favourite.

Character in one of your own books?
Without a doubt, my favourite character in my own books is Jasper, better known as Vespasian, who called himself after Emperor Vespasian for various reasons, the hero/villain in my novel Fair Weather. He was enormous fun to write and I came to know him very well. In the end I felt he was writing himself. He is by no means a normal romantic hero, and that makes him more interesting to me. However, I love all my characters, even the villains. Ludovic is the young handsome hero of Sumerford’s Autumn, and I loved to write about this arrogant young man who experienced such difficulties and suffering that throughout the book he grows and matures. Then there is Andrew, my hero in The King’s Shadow. He is very different to Ludovic, for Andrew is not a handsome man but he is highly skilled, very confident, mysterious and definitely unusual. Meet him, and you know you are safe, whatever challenges you face.

Sumerford's Autumn

Scene you enjoyed writing?
Now that’s really hard, simply because I enjoy them all. Sometimes, which sounds really awful, I most enjoy writing the sad scenes or the horrible scenes – simply because I get extremely engrossed and try very hard to express the emotions I feel myself. For instance, the bitter suffering so many people experienced – from battle, disease, the abuse of their families and monarchs and the harsh conditions of everyday life. The terrible pain of the past is really not appreciated by so many comfortable folk today. So I almost feel a duty of care to those who suffered long ago, as if I need to explain properly what they went through so that we can truly sympathise with them, and appreciate the improved conditions we have now. I think it sad when I read a book which describes the awful truth of the Plague with just a couple of lines – usually getting the symptoms wrong – and diminishing the appalling pain. So I try to write the truth about these things. I feel I owe it to those long gone. In both Sumerford’s Autumn  and The King’s Shadow there are scenes of suffering or torture, violence and pain, and I don’t relish writing about these things, I simply feel I must. But both books also have scenes of considerable romance and loving, and those are much more fun to write.

Place to write?
My eyes are very bad, so I cannot use a tablet. I have a large screen desktop – and behind my desk is a large window looking out on the swathes of trees, bushes and flowers in my garden – resplendent with parrots, cockatoos and other wildlife. I encourage birds and wildlife into my garden and I can write about England 500 years ago while gazing out at Australian beauty at the same time. All this distracts me from the real world. Escapism! I confess to being an escapism addict.

Step in the process of writing? E.g. researching, drafting, editing etc
Very slow steps, I’m afraid. The research is a permanent affair and has been for years, but while I am writing it is common for some small question to arise, so I need to look up and confirm the facts. So off I go to the bookshelves, I find the right one – or switch to Google and the net – and I’m lost for an hour or more. I do tend to write for 7 or 8 hours most days when I can, but I also re-write over and over and over. Every word matters to me. Then once the book is finished, I try and leave it a month or so in order to gain a somewhat more detached and objective point of view, and then I start again. I re-write from the beginning to the end. Then off the manuscript goes to my beta-readers, members of my family and others who are kind enough to read and give me criticism and feedback, and also to some who are historical experts on the relevant era. When those reports come back then it’s ‘here we go again’ – the last re-write. I edit as I go along, but luckily the publisher also has a wonderful editor as well. So from beginning to end (and I write long books) it usually takes an absorbing 7 to 9 months.

Method of writing i.e. longhand or typing?
Oh, definitely computer. I can enlarge the print and increase the back lighting which really helps because of my poor eyesight. As for those old days of the typewriter – gosh – I used to tear up pages over and over – or ruin them with huge splodges of liquid white. I love my computer, even though I’m no technological expert. Sometimes it drives me mad but I couldn’t write without it.

TV program /movie?
I’m a Game of Thrones fan – yes, it has many faults, but I’m in love with the characterisation and the absorbing unpredictability. I have a million favourite films, but perhaps The Lord of the Rings trilogy stands out in recent years. Escapism again, and so full of atmospheric magic. I am most interested in the transposition of word to film.

Comfort food?
Must I confess? Sadly I run to all the bad things. Mashed potato, cream cakes, fresh crusty bread with lots of butter, and puddings with custard. And – of course – that greatest bliss of all – chocolate. But I like the real thing; dark and rich and intense. I must also admit to being overweight – whereas for practically all my life I was skinny with a very high metabolism. I still ate everything and it didn’t affect me. Now it does! But my greatest comfort isn’t food at all – it is escapism into the amazing atmosphere and intrigue of the past and the joy of making that past come alive on the page.

The King’s Shadow

Andrew Cobham is a man of unconventional behaviour, his home is unusually grand, and he answers no questions. But as he keeps his own secrets safe, so he works to uncover those of others.

It is 1483 and King Edward IV sits England’s throne, but no king rules unchallenged. Often it is those closest to him who are the unexpected danger. When the king dies suddenly without clear cause, then rumour replaces fact – and Andrew Cobham is already working behind the scenes.
Tyballis, when orphaned young, was forced into marriage with her neighbour, a bully and simpleton. When she escapes his abuse, she meets Andrew Cobham, and gradually an uneasy alliance forms. This is a friendship which will take them in unusual directions as Tyballis becomes embroiled in Andrew’s work and the danger which surrounds him.
Eventually it is a motley gathering of thieves, informers, prostitutes and children that joins the game, determined to help Andrew uncover treason. Abduction, murder, intrigue and political subterfuge come to a climax as the country is thrown onto the brink of war.
But meanwhile within the privacy of their domestic life, Andrew and Tyballis discover something neither had planned.

Barbara will be appearing at the 2015 HNSA Conference in the following panel:

9.45-10.45 am  Session Two
What is it about the Tudors?
The world’s appetite for historical fiction set in Tudor times continues to grow. What is it about this particular royal house that is so compelling? Are publishers ‘playing it safe’ by not encouraging novels set in other eras? What impact has Tudor fiction had on the popularity of historical fiction as a genre? Natalie Grueninger, Wendy J Dunn, Barbara Gaskell Denvil and Lauren Mackay will explore the phenomenon of Tudorphilia.

For more information on all our panels, please visit our site for programme details. And you can buy your tickets here.

You can also sign up to the mailing list to be the first to keep up to date with breaking news on the HNSA conference in 2015. 

Please consider visiting us on
Twitter and Facebook to help us spread the word! 

Here’s a tweet you might like to use:

Here’s a few favourite things for Barbara Gaskell Denvil on #HNSA2015 blog @histnovsoc #histfic

Register now for the #HNSA2015 conference! Let’s make a noise about #historicalfiction

And please take a look at our FREE BOOK OFFERS!

The first 30 ticketholders to purchase a ‘Standard’ Whole Conference Ticket will receive a free copy of either The Lace Balcony by Johanna Nicholls, The King’s Shadow by Barbara Gaskell Denvil or The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans.

All ticket holders will receive a Momentum ebook bundle in celebration of Felicity Pulman’s launch of Unholy Alliance.

The first 50 fully paid ticket holders will receive a copy of Sherryl Clark’s new book Do You Dare – Jimmy’s War in celebration of her launch. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Help us reward our authors! It's Pozible!

The Historical Novel Society Australasia is proud that our conference programme for 20-22 March 2015 includes fabulous speakers who have very generously agreed to support the society with this inaugural event. Among those appearing are Kate Forsyth, Sulari Gentill, Toni Jordan, Nicole Alexander, Blanche D'Alpuget, Sophie Masson, Colin Falconer and many, many more. Visit our website to see the entire list. 

Our philosophy is that all writers deserve to be paid for their time so we've created a Pozible campaign to raise money for speakers' fees. We would love it if you would consider donating by visiting our Pozible campaign page here. Help us ensure our keynote speaker and presenters are monetarily rewarded for appearing at the HNSA conference.

Those donating $30 will go into a draw to win a free copy of one of the historical novels from the following authors.

Nicole Alexander: The Great Plains
Toni Jordan: Nine Days
Isolde Martyn: The Golden Widows
Belinda Murrell: The River Charm
Goldie Alexander: Body and Soul: Lilbet's Romance
Craig Cliff: The Mannequin Makers
GS Johnston: The Skin of Water
Johanna Nicholls: The Lace Balcony
Prue Batten: Gisborne-Book of Pawns
Kelly Gardiner: Goddess

Winners will be drawn at the conclusion of a successful Pozible campaign. Help spread the word to ensure the campaign target is met!

Sharing the news of our campaign and conference would be greatly appreciated. Here is a tweet you might like to use!

Donate to #HNSA2015 #Pozible campaign to reward all its conference speakers! #crowdfunding #histfic @HNSAustralasia

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Johanna Nicholls: A few of my favourite things...

The next author in the ‘Few of my favourite things…’ 2015 HNSA Conference interview series is Johanna Nicholls who is participating in our Tall Tales and True: How Storytellers Imagine History panel on Saturday 21st March 2015.

Johanna Nicholls

Johanna comes from a theatrical family. She was a journalist and magazine feature writer in Sydney, Melbourne and London. In television she worked as a researcher/writer and Head Script Editor of Drama at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Johanna has lived in England, Italy and Greece. Her home is an 1830 convict-built sandstone cottage in Birchgrove, Sydney where she is currently writing her fourth Australian historical novel. Her first saga, Ironbark, was published by Simon and Schuster in Australia and New Zealand in 2009 and 2010. Ghost Gum Valley was published in 2012 and 2013. The Lace Balcony is her third novel to have been translated into German and published in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

You will find a list of all Johanna’s books here.

Johanna, please share with us what is or was your favourite…

Book as a child and as a teenager?
As a child I had problems learning to read. When books were read to me I created vivid pictures in my head (a process that later proved invaluable as a drama Script Editor in TV and also because I always ‘think in pictures’ when writing novels). Little Women was a milestone – the first book I ever read by myself.

As a teenager I read at random everything in Dad’s theatrical library from Shakespeare to circuses. (A biography of 19th century English tragedian Edmund Kean inspired me to dramatise his final stage performance in my second historical novel, Ghost Gum Valley). I also read ‘hot books’ from the local library (no doubt tame by Fifty Shades of Grey standards as seduction scenes were left to the imagination ending with ‘…..’ My dream to write books was spurred by young Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse, Ruth Park’s Poor Man’s Orange – and the publication of my first short story at 17.
 Ironbark by Johanna Nicholls

I have too many author friends to risk naming contemporary favourites. Jane Austen’s novels sit on my shelves like old friends waiting to be re-read. I am bemused by the obsession to name The Great Australian Novel. There are so many great Australian novels that rank under the umbrella of that title. The first Australian historical writers to inspire me were Eleanor Dark (The Timeless Land) and Henry Handel Richardson. I recently re-read The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney to see if it had the same impact as on first reading – it did!)

Period of history?
The past has always been a magnet for me. I’m passionate about Australian history. In school it seemed dull compared with British and European history – until my Dad convinced me our history is unique. Although our recorded European history is short in time, it’s rich in diversity, legends and untapped narrative veins. For me researching, writing and mentally living in the 19th century is as exciting as fossicking for gold. Our colonial era’s surprising range of nationalities led me to explore diverse cultural backgrounds of those who came willingly – or in chains. Romany gypsy Keziah Stanley is central to Ironbark. Characters in all my novels spring from every corner of the British Isles, Ireland, the German lands, America, India, France, Corsica, Greece – and in The Lace Balcony from Prussia and the Isle of Man.

Character in one of your own books?
My characters are like my children – I can’t play favourites. In the writing of each book I ‘give birth’ to a new set of headstrong people who prove determined to live their own lives, despite my well-laid plans for them. I feel like a parent who knows what’s best for their children – but they go their own sweet way. I can’t make any characters fall in love against their will. For instance in The Lace Balcony, the beautiful young courtesan, Vianna Francis, known as the notorious ‘Sydney Venus’, has been trained to exploit powerful, wealthy men. Love is out of the equation – until Felix L’Estrange and Mungo Quayle, two young rivals from childhood, become obsessed with possessing her.

While researching Vianna’s background I was intrigued by the parallel between the lives of historical courtesans – and modern young women. Respectable women in society often had arranged marriages and by law relinquished fortune, property and custody of children to their husband. In contrast, leading courtesans in the demi-monde, chose their own lovers, controlled their fertility as well as their destiny – but often paid a high price for their ‘modern’ freedom.
 The Lace Balcony by Johanna Nicholls

Scene you enjoyed writing?
To be honest, all of them – or they wouldn’t end up in the final draft of the published book. If I’m not enjoying the writing journey, I can’t expect my readers to be engaged in my characters’ lives. But I particularly enjoy writing scenes from both female and male perspectives; scenes in which fictional characters interact with historical figures. In The Lace Balcony this includes the autocratic NSW Governor Ralph Darling, emancipist entrepreneur Mrs Mary Reibey, Captain John Piper, the ‘Prince of Australia’, and the notorious Commandant of Moreton Bay, Captain Patrick Logan.

I am fascinated by the early emergence of the Australian identity and our peculiar sense of humour. I enjoy writing scenes with veins of humour – dark gallows humour, romantic comedy of errors, or ghostly ‘hallucinations’ – to balance the brutal events of the penal colony era. I don’t want to telegraph plot twists, but there is a chain of events in The Lace Balcony, that culminates in complex choices. I had no idea what was going to happen next until the images and words shot up on my computer screen as rapidly as if I were watching a movie. None of the central protagonists, Vianna, Felix or Mungo, knew the outcome. Neither did I.

Place to write?
I envy writers like my husband, Brian Nicholls, who can write anywhere, on the back of envelopes in coffee shops, in transit on planes, or in the Outback. I’ve been known to pass friends and family in the street, because I’m totally absorbed inside my ‘writer’s bubble’ playing out scenes in my head. My central creative space is the home office in my convict-built sandstone cottage, seated with a view of the garden and no activity to distract me except visits from a magpie who has adopted my garden. For hours each day I am locked in front of my computer screen, book-ended by two walls of research books, and knee-deep in boxes of research I never quite finish filing.  

Step in the process of writing? E.g. researching, drafting, editing etc
I begin when the central idea for a book won’t leave me alone. Initial stages of research are often like playing blind man’s buff, reading fascinating documents, biographies, and newspapers – not sure where they will lead me. I haunt the Mitchell Library, the Caroline Simpson Library and Research Centre, my local Balmain Library and fire off emails to historical sources. The most difficult early decision is to pin down the precise span of years that will pay off the central story to best advantage. It is a temptation to go off on a tangent, excited by some avenue that later needs to be reined in to avoid pulling the central narrative off kilter.

The initial exploration of characters makes me nervous – until the moment they leap off the page and I know they are leading their own lives. First drafts are ‘white heat writing’ – I am burning to get it down. I wear my ‘editor’s hat’ on later drafts. 

Some authors use a team of researchers. I love to do my own. There’s nothing like standing in the place where history was made. Old buildings ‘speak to me’ of the past. I visit precious colonial buildings that have survived being demolished; hamlets and ghost towns off the back roads of Australia, and for The Lace Balcony, Moreton Bay, the Illawarra and the magical Isle of Man.

The editing process is a blessing when given sympathetic, fresh insight from an editor. The trick is to remain true to my characters. By this stage it’s their lives, their story more than mine. The most difficult moment is letting go of the manuscript to the printer. I feel like a surrogate mother who has born a child knowing it must be given up for adoption – and loved by others, but I feel an acute sense of loss …until that glorious moment when I see ‘the babe’ in book stores. It is also a thrill to hold copies of the German editions of my books – in which my characters can speak fluent German – although I can’t.
 Ghost Gum Valley by Johanna Nicholls
Method of writing i.e. longhand or typing?
Longhand I use only to jot down bedside notes that wake me during the night. I bless the inventor of the word processor because I cut and polish endlessly. All three of my sagas were initially longer than the published versions. I understand Charles Dickens wrote many of his books in serial form and was paid by the line. In retrospect I wonder if some of his books wouldn’t be more engaging to today’s readers if he had had a good editor on board.

I am totally awed by the creative energy of previous centuries of authors forced to write in longhand. I understand Goethe rewrote the two parts of the Faust story over a period of some fifty-seven years in which he produced a massive body of literature. How much more would he have written with a computer?!      

TV program /movie?
I love contemporary gritty Australian and British TV series which contain veins of humour, and leave something to the imagination. (I don’t enjoy watching a gory autopsy while I’m eating pizza). But creations of past eras like Downton Abbey, are a prime magnet. Classic movies such as Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Caddie, Streetcar Named Desire, Turn of the Screw, Wuthering Heights, Shakespeare in Love, Wake in Fright – and every version of Pride and Prejudice brings fresh insight. Future classics? Gosford Park and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

Comfort food?
Any meal shared with good friends, family and laughter. I’m no prize cook. At home I live on salads, fish and vegetables galore. Eating out I vote for Mediterranean. My son and daughter-in-law, actors Nicholas Cassim and Niki Owen, make Greek and Italian dishes to rival any restaurant.  

Johanna has kindly agreed to donate a copy of The Lace Balcony in our Pozible campaign. Please consider making a pledge to assist us to monetarily reward our authors.

 The Lace Balcony by Johanna Nicholls

Vianna Francis, known in the colony as ‘The Sydney Venus’, is a notorious young mistress in keeping to a former gentleman convict, who uses her to entice wealthy men to his gaming tables.

A woman of mystery, Vianna is a magnet for scandal. Was she the mistress of a Royal duke? A lady’s maid who learned the tricks of the world’s oldest profession when in service to a Parisian courtesan? Or the widow of a young man executed on the gallows? Men of high rank are determined to possess this passionate, mercenary beauty.

The L’Estrange half-brothers were born only months apart. One brother is an idealistic dreamer, the other a volatile adventurer. And the rivals have two things in common – a fatal attraction to get-rich schemes that run afoul of the law -- and their obsession with Vianna.

Johanna will be appearing at the 2015 HNSA Conference in the following panel:
 21 March 2015

11 am-12 pm Session Three

Tall Tales and True: How Story Tellers Imagine History
How do historical novelists weave history into fiction? What draws an author to choose a particular era, and what research do they undertake to bring past times to life? Jean Bedford talks with Isolde Martyn, Johanna NichollsJuliet Marillier and Craig Cliff about these choices.

For more information on all our panels, please visit our site for programme details. And you can buy your tickets here.

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And please take a look at our FREE BOOK OFFERS!

The first 30 ticketholders to purchase a ‘Standard’ Whole Conference Ticket will receive a free copy of either The Lace Balcony by Johanna Nicholls, The King’s Shadow by Barbara Gaskell Denvil or The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans.

All ticket holders will receive a Momentum ebook bundle in celebration of Felicity Pulman’s launch of Unholy Alliance.

The first 50 fully paid ticket holders will receive a copy of Sherryl Clark’s new book Do You Dare – Jimmy’s War in celebration of her launch.