Sunday, May 14, 2017

Interview with Libby Hathorn


We are honoured to welcome Libby Hathorn to the HNSA blog today. Libby is an award-winning author of more than sixty books for children and young people. Translated into several languages and adapted for stage and screen, her work has won honours in Australia, United States, Great Britain and Holland. She wrote Way Home illustrated by Greg Rogers which won the Kate Greenaway Award UK; her first YA novel Thunderwith was made a movie by Hallmark Hall of Fame; and her opera libretto ‘Grandma’s Shoes’ won her an AWGIE. She has also acted as Judge for NSW Premier’s Awards and for various poetry awards. 

Libby has been an Australia Day Ambassador for more than 20 years, visiting country towns to celebrate Australian literature, especially poetry; and was an Ambassador for the National Year of Reading in 2012. In 2003 she won the Centenary Medal; and in 2014 the Alice Award given to an Australian woman writer ‘who has made a distinguished and long term contribution to Australian 
literature.’ 

Her most recent novel is Eventual Poppy Day (Harper Collins), shortlisted SWW Biennial Awards. Her most recent picturebooks are: Incredibilia (Hardie Grant Egmont) shortlisted Queensland Premier’s Awards, 2016; A Soldier a Dog and a Boy (Hachette) CBCA Notable Book, 2017, and Outside (Hardie Grant Egmont) CBCA, Notable Book 2016, soon to be a children’s opera with music by Elena Katz Chernin. 

You can connect with Libby via her website and blog, Facebook and Twitter @poetrywizard. Her entire book list is available here.


What is the inspiration for your current book?

My current books are inextricably linked, for out of my World War 1 novel, Eventual Poppy Day, based on the war record of my mother’s brother Maurice who fought both at Gallipoli and at the Somme, came Maurice’s brother Albert’s story in picturebook form A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy.

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

Strange to say it occurs to me that it’s a theme I’ve been exploring most of my writing life and that is the importance of kindness; the small acts of kindness that bind us. In Eventual Poppy Day following my uncle’s war record linked to a contemporary boy Oliver, the need to belong is also explored. And in A Soldier a Dog and a Boy, the importance of a reaching out for connection. 

Which period of history particularly interests you? Why?

I am increasingly interested in Australian colonial history and especially in female figures in history who up until recently have gone largely unsung. For example,  in my novel Georgiana; Woman of Flowers I tell the story of Georgiana Molloy, our first female botanist.

What resources do you use to research your book?

Libraries are of course invaluable and I like to dig and delve through archives of major ones and smaller local ones, eg for my next novel Asylum there’s a treasure trove to be found in my local library. Also art galleries can be surprisingly informative and I find I am very visual and it helps to ‘see’ the times I am researching. I like to visit small museums that have lovingly hoarded both records and realia that can contribute so much to the detail in the storytelling. I like to visit the terrain and be in the landscape if at all possible so for Eventual Poppy Day and A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy I visited the brothers’ childhood home in the Kyogle Casino area and travelled to the Western Front to the Somme and to the grave where 21 year old Maurice lies. For my historical novel The Painter I spent many hours in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and for Georgiana, Woman of Flowers time in Western Australia both in the Batty Library but also travelling to Augusta and the site of her home there. Online resources are a miracle of information where a trail can be followed so seemingly easily, and I am making increasing use of this powerful resource.

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

I think both are important but the whole idea of an historical novel is that as the writer you can take certain liberties with imagined sequences of events tying them in carefully as you can to actual events.

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

Maurice the soldier and my uncle, who left his dairy farming life in northern NSW for what he thought to be an adventure and from family stories and accounts, actually ‘grew up’ through the horrors of war on foreign soil, only to lose his life at Messines Ridges at 21 years old. He is an ‘amalgam’ of the uncles I knew in my early life, laconic, often humorous, hard-working, great story tellers and lovers of poetry and song, and many of them dreamers at heart.

Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’?

My stories usually begin for me through poetry, that is a line of poetry that repeats enough for me to write it down for further thought. I’m a collector of phrases and ideas that in some way involve deep emotion and the novel begins as a journey of discovery and once undertaken, a plot seems to reveal itself.

How long does it generally take you to write a book?

Even short texts like picture books take me quite a time from inception – on average about a year. So Outside (soon to be an opera with Elena Katz Chernin’s brilliant music)  a poetic text was returned to over several months as was A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy set in World War 1. My historical novels such as Georgiana: Woman of Flowers and Eventual Poppy Day were written in bursts over something like 4 years each.

A soldier far from home, a boy orphaned by war and the stray dog that brings them together. 
A powerful story of the Somme illustrated by Phil Lesnie. 

Which authors have influenced you?

Childhood influence were many and varied from Australian May Gibbs and her bush fantasies to English Charles Dickens’ enthralling reads. Later, novels such as Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career and Larry Durrell’s Alexandrine Quartet were influential. However,  Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s remarkable novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude was a life-changer for me as a writer.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

Without doubt aspiring writers should look for the subject matter that is first and foremost meaningful to them, to the extent months or even years of a life might well be spent in the writing. Then, after the first flowering or let’s say inspired bit, there needs to be a certain doggedness to bring the novel to fruition, that is completion. This may mean sharing your work in a writer’s group or seeking advice from a trusted few. But it does mean the solitary refining and refining until it can be ‘let go’.

Tell us about your next book or work in progress.

My next novel Asylum begins in 1880’s but switches to the present time. Its first setting is in the Asylum for Destitute Children in Randwick where there was a breakout of 40 boys which I am currently researching mainly through Randwick’s Bowen Library archives. There was also the death of a 9 year old boy who was beaten badly and this death resulted in a parliamentary inquiry. It’s harrowing reading but fascinating especially since the very grand convict built asylum still stands handsomely on part of the Prince of Wales Hospital grounds to this day. There is a small graveyard within the grounds with a long list of small children’s names. And as a writer I think it important that at least some of its history should be told through fiction based on fact. 

Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, Libby.


It is 1915, and 18 year old Maurice Roche is serving in the Great War. A century later Maurice’s great great nephew, 18 year old Oliver is fighting his own war- one against himself. As Oliver reads more of Maurice’s war diary, he discovers that despite living in different times there are similarities; doubts heartbreak, and the finding courage to face the darkest of times. 


HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017 Conference in Melbourne is being held on 8-10 September 2017. Belinda Murrell will be appearing in the following panel in Session Four on Sunday 10 September at 12.30-1.30 pm.

The Long Haul: Writing Successful Series and Multiple Books

Juliet Marillier is the author of 6 historical fantasy series and has a total of 21 books to her name. Libby Hathorn has written over 60 Children and Young Adult (CYA) books which include historical novels among them. Anne Gracie has written 3 series, 20 novels and numerous novellas. How do these novelists maintain momentum? And what keeps the spark of inspiration from being doused? Catherine Padmore explores the stories behind these award winning authors.


HNSA 2017 is a 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, Libby Hathorn, Deborah Challinor, 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!

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