Luke Devenish joins us today. Luke is an Australian playwright, novelist, screenwriter and university lecturer. His Ancient Rome-set historical fiction novels, Den of Wolves and Nest of Vipers, were published by Penguin Random House in Australia and New Zealand in 2008 and 2010, respectively, and later translated into Spanish, Serbian, Russian and Turkish international editions. His latest novel, the Australian Gothic mystery The Secret Heiress, was published by Simon & Schuster in Australia and New Zealand in April 2016, with a second edition released in January 2017. From 2001 to the end of 2007 he held a number of key creative roles, including Script Producer, on television juggernaut Neighbours, where he oversaw some 1,500 episode scripts. He was Script Executive on Something in the Air, and has written or script edited on Home & Away, SeaChange and Nowhere Boys. His plays have been produced by the Malthouse Theatre, the Queensland Theatre Company, the Adelaide Festival, the Sydney Festival, and NIDA, among others. He has taught creative writing subjects for AFTRS, RMIT, Monash and NIDA. Since 2013 he has lectured and coordinated 1st Year undergraduates of the BFA Screenwriting degree at the University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts. You can connect with Luke via his website.
What is the inspiration for your current book?
A little weirdly, perhaps, it was a billboard for a Philippines telenovela that I found myself being repeatedly driven past when I spent some time working in Manila back in 2011. It had an image of a rather malevolent, if beautifully dressed, older woman standing like a puppet master over a group of unwitting little girls. It really stuck in my mind. I had no idea what the TV show was about, but when I got the title, Munting Heredera, translated into English (Little Heiress) suddenly a story started assembling itself in my head. It was a story that was wholly my own – I never saw an episode of the TV show! I remain very grateful to that billboard.
Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?
Secrets and the consequences of keeping them. All the main characters are sitting on secrets of some type or other, and the consequences of choosing to withhold information, for good reasons or for bad, are explored at length in this story.
Which period of history particularly interests you? Why?
I enjoy the past, full stop. I find all eras fascinating but I am especially drawn to late Victorian times. People living then were at the very cusp of the modern age – indeed they were alive for so much extraordinary technological, economic and social change occurring all around them. For some people, young people for instance, this was the most exciting of times. For other people, those who had grown up perceiving the world in one way, only to be forced, thanks to change, to perceive it in another, the times were very challenging indeed. This lead to a lot of conflicting ideologies. I think the parallels between that era and are own quite compelling.
What resources do you use to research your book?
The old fashioned kind: books, books and more books. I read a lot of history, cherry-picking details that add authenticity when I weave them into my own writing.
What is more important to you: historical authenticity or accuracy?
Story and character come first and foremost, of course, but I work hard to achieve authenticity via carefully chosen details intended to convince the reader that they are indeed in the past. Good research makes the authentic details accurate as a matter of course.
Which character in your current book is your favourite? Why?
There are a pair of servant girls, Ida and Biddy, equally weighted in story terms, but separated by seventeen years in time, that I hold with equal affection in my heart. Ida for her happy contempt for all those in authority, along with her dogged determination to get to the bottom of things that bother her. Biddy for her cheery optimism in the face or adversity and her winning ability to fib herself into – and out of – a fix.
Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? How long does it generally take you to write a book?
Both. I very carefully plot it out before hand, start writing, and then get bored about a third of the way in when I begin craving some surprises. That’s when I start pantsing it, in order to keep the possibilities that come with spontaneity open.
Which authors have influenced you?
I love Philippa Gregory’s approach to historical fiction, and have been very influenced by choices she’s made in some of her books to place marginalised, little known or even wholly fictional figures at the centre of familiar historical events. This allows for completely new perspectives to emerge, freshening up material that might otherwise feel somewhat well-trodden. Hilary Mantel does this too, to similarly great effect. I love Joy Dettman’s Woody Creek series of novels for being so compelling and addictive, and for creating such a brilliant pantheon of Aussie characters, that take us through multiple books and several generations of social crises and change in 20th century rural Australia.
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Stick with it. Write what’s in your heart and keep writing until it’s out of there. Be disciplined. Be brutal in allocating time to doing it. Turn off your perfectionism for the first draft – stop spending those hours agonising over word choices and instead just aim to fill up the page. You can go back and pretty it up later. And don’t think the world owes you anything just because you do all those things. Think of the work itself as your reward and the thing that most sustains you. Write because you love it, not because you want to be the next Kate Morton. It’s the true obsessives who end up getting published; those for whom the idea of not writing is unthinkable.
Tell us about your new book.
The Secret Heiress took me three years, and as many drafts, doing it on trains and snatched moments and summer so-called ‘holidays’. Too long! I wear several hats as a writer, and one of them is playwright. I’m currently in a mood for short, sharp projects, so for the last twelve months or so I’ve been writing plays. No books just for the moment, although of course I’ll go back to them.
A fabled house. A fabulous fortune. Beautiful, identical twins...
Dark shadows fall across the golden summer of 1886. Naive country girl Ida Garfield longs to escape the farm. When Miss Matilda Gregory, the elegant mistress of Summersby House, offers Ida employment as a housemaid, Ida leaps at the chance. Yet it’s not for her servant’s skills that she’s wanted. It’s her inquisitiveness...
Miss Gregory is found dead before Ida starts her first day. Fearing her one chance of bettering herself lost, Ida comes to the funeral, hoping that someone else from Summersby will still want her.
Someone does. Handsome blond Englishman Mr Samuel Hackett is the late Miss Gregory’s fiancé. He expresses a keen need for a housemaid – and a friend. But Miss Gregory’s will brings to light an extraordinary deception and a terrible wrong from the past. Summersby has a secret heiress, whose name is also Matilda Gregory...
A strange, ethereal girl with an irrevocably broken memory...
Who is this mysterious heiress, and why is Ida bound forever to the truth?
Many thanks for joining us, Luke. Great to hear about the inspiration behind The Secret Heiress.
You can buy Luke's books via these links:
HNSA 2017 Conference
The HNSA 2017Conference is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University Melbourne. Luke will be appearing on Sunday 10th September in the following panel:
The Modern Voice in Historical Fiction
Writing styles have altered over the years. Should an historical novelist cater for the tastes of 21st Century readers by introducing modern expressions and dialogue in their novels? Is it valid to introduce current sensibilities to characters who would otherwise have been constrained by their own societies? Authors Kate Mildenhall, Melissa Ashley, Greg Pyers and Luke Devenish discuss with Eleanor Limprecht how historical novels have changed over time, and how they approach writing authentic characters true to their period.
The HNSA conference 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, 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!