Sunday, May 21, 2017

Interview with Debbie Robson


Our guest today on the HNSA blog is Debbie Robson. Debbie grew up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and has variously given birth to a son in South Wales, a daughter in New South Wales, run an internet dating agency, made dreamcatchers and tested telephone lines. Her poems and stories have been published here and overseas. She is the author of Tomaree, a love story set in Port Stephens, New South Wales, about an Australian GI war bride which was inspired by a memorial erected to 2,000 Australian officers and 20,000 US serviceman who trained there during WW2. You can connect with Debbie via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads and her website where she regularly blogs on writing and history.

What is the inspiration for your current book?

The inspiration for my current work in progress is a secondary character from Tomaree. When I completed Tomaree some years back I knew, even then, that I would one day return to Sarah. She is 38 in Tomaree with a mysterious lover and she helps Peggy, my main character, when she falls in love with a US Army Signalman. In Paris Next Week Sarah is 19, a wealthy but naive young woman.

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

As with my other books I tend to focus on identity. In Paris Next Week identity is a theme but tied in with perception. Everyone around her is not what they seem and by the end of the manuscript (the first in a trilogy) Sarah is paying the price for a lack of self knowledge and awareness.

Which period of history particularly interests you? Why? 

I’m particularly drawn to the twenties, thirties and forties. I feel it is just out of our reach but not so far back that people live completely different lives, as say in the 17th and 18th centuries. 

What resources do you use to research your book?

I use Trove, extensive image searches, primary sources if possible and I particularly enjoy reading fiction that was written around the same time as I am researching. At the moment I am trying to get my hands on a few novels written by Australian women in the early 1920s.

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

I think with this manuscript I am happy to be authentic. In Tomaree and my WWI manuscript only historical accuracy will do. I believe fiction dealing with the world wars does demand it.

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

In Paris Next Week my favourite is Lilith, a secondary character. She is a Russian Jew and very unlike any other character I have written to date.

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

I am a pantser, although I generally know how a book is going to end.

Which authors have influenced you?

William Styron is definitely the all time major influence. I finished Sophie’s Choice and decided I wanted to try and do what he did. He completely removed me from the world that I knew. I still feel the same about his writing thirty years later. Rosamunde Pilcher, Ian McEwan and Paul Auster are also favourites. I started naming my chapters instead of numbering them after reading Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers and I remember marvelling at how each character’s point of view was so different. It is something that I work hard at in each manuscript.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

To all upcoming writers I would say read, read and read. A book a week if you can and don’t stop writing.

Tell us about your next book or work in progress

Paris Next Week is about Sarah Montague and her best friend Louie who are both from wealthy families and are just starting to find their feet and break free from their parents. One of their first major outings at the start of the manuscript is to a famous Sydney nightclub which is raided by the police when they are there.



 In 1942 Peggy Ashburn meets an American soldier, First Lieutenant Tom Lockwood, who is based at the Shoal Bay Country Club, Port Stephens. The attraction between them is immediate and intense and the couple enlist the help of Peggy's neighbour, Sarah Linden, to act as go-between. By 1972 when Peggy arrives back home from the US for the funeral of her estranged mother, her marriage is in tatters and she has a lot of soul-searching ahead of her. When she begins to go through her mother's house she discovers not only a letter that has been lost for thirty years but that her mother kept an incredible secret from her.

Debbie Robson will be appearing in our HNSA Meet the Author satellite event at Sutherland Library, 30-36 Belmont St, Sutherland on 29 May 2017 from 6.30-8.30 pm where she will discuss 'Follow that Horse! All you ever wanted to know about researching, writing and publishing historical fiction' with Isolde Martyn, Elisabeth Storrs, Diane Murray and Julianne Miles-Brown. The event is free but bookings are essential. For more information about our satellite events, please visit our website. Our next Melbourne event is on 18 June 2017 at the Mail Exchange Hotel, 688 Bourke St, Melbourne where Barbara Gaskell Denvil and Lindy Cameron on Ancient and Medieval fiction.

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! Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry experts, Alison Arnold and Irina Dunn. Our free extended academic programme is open for general admission but bookings are essential.

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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