2020 ARA Historical Novel Prize Longlist: Master of My Fate by Sienna Brown

HNSA, in partnerships with ARA Group, recently announced the eight talented authors, and their outstanding novels, selected in the 2020 longlist for the inaugural ARA Historical Novel Prize. Master of My Fate by Sienna Brown was one of the novels featured in the longlist. We chat with Sienna below about why she entered the prize and what historical fiction means to her. You can also enjoy Sienna reading an excerpt from her book via the HNSA Youtube channel. Subscribe to hear more book readings from the longlist authors in the coming weeks.

Moving from Jamaica plantations to colonial New South Wales, Sienna Brown’s debut novel explores the life of a West Indian convict in a lyrical, eloquent story of rebellion and survival. ~ Paula Morris

What is the value of historical fiction?

“I love historical fiction – it provides a direct conduit to our shared ancestral dreaming, bringing what we call the past, into a living present – which surrounds us, lives on inside us, and it’s our job as writers to capture this. It allows us to open the portal to the evocation of the collective stories we tell, helping us to intuit what life may have been like in a very visceral and intimate way. It’s only then, we can start to understand why people behaved the way they did, and gain a deeper tolerance for the society within which our past selves, dressed up as our characters lived out their lives, and how a ‘perfect storm’ of events could give rise to ordinary people doing exceptional things.”

What does being longlisted mean to you? 

“Being long listed for the ARA Historical Novel Prize is momentous. Most importantly it honours my protagonist William Buchanan and his family, on whose true-life story the novel is based. And recognises that there are many more stories of diversity to be told, when it comes to deconstructing history.  Our collective colonial past is imbued with people like William Buchanan, a man of colour, and I hope his story being recognised, will go a long way to establishing that the early days in the Colony were truly more multicultural than many people realise, or would like to admit, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, not just in the US or the UK, but right here in our own backyard.”

Why did you enter the inaugural ARA Historical Novel Prize?

“There are prizes for all the other genres, but this is the first prize in Australia being given for historical fiction. It’s exciting to see the prize come to fruition— it affirms a really terrific and hardworking genre that requires a great deal of research and the ability to create a story embedded in reality, as much as the imagination. I entered the inaugural ARA Historical Novel Prize because I felt it was important to be a part of that dialogue, part of that landscape, and discover where my book fits within that.”

Why do you think awards like this are important?

“Validation by our peers is really important and awards like the ARA Historical Novel Prize not only provides recognition for the author but hopefully the ability to breakthrough to readers, particularly with such a crowded marketplace. And while connecting with readers is amazing, It’s also about acknowledgement of all the hard work done by the publishers, editors, designers, agents, booksellers, readers, supporters, judges etc to name a few, because an award for one, is an award for all. The best part is, it gives you a greater confidence to continue in the face of the insistent and relentless inner critic, who for a brief moment is silent and one can revel in a quiet mind and get on with the day experiencing contentment.”

About Sienna Brown

Sienna Brown was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and grew up in Canada. But it wasn’t until a move to Sydney that she came across William Buchanan’s story and was struck with a sense of fate – this story of a lost man far from home resonated with her own feelings of displacement. 

A lifelong storyteller and daughter of Jamaican parents, Sienna was captivated by William’s story and the way it intersected with her own cultural background. She is a professional dancer, film editor and documentary director by trade, and worked at Sydney Living Museums, where she first came across William’s story. Master of My Fate won the MUD Literary Prize for the best debut literary novel by an Australian writer. Sienna is currently working on her second novel.

For more information:

About Master of My Fate

William Buchanan lived an extraordinary life. Born a slave on a plantation in Jamaica, he escaped the gallows more than once. His part in the slave uprisings of the 1830s led to his transportation across the world as one of the convicts sent to New South Wales. 

This is a story not only about a boy who fought against all odds in search of freedom, but also about a world not so long ago, when the violence of colonisation was in full force. It is a story of Jamaica, and Australia, but at its heart, it is a story about how one lives a life, whether slave or free man. 

Steeped in history but full of lessons that resonate for us today, William Buchanan’s coming-of-age tale of survival and fate is a thrilling tale told in a singular voice, from a startling new talent in Australian writing.

Buy your copy of Master of My Fate.

The ARA Historical Novel Prize shortlist will be announced on Wednesday, 28 October, with the prize winner to be announced by both video broadcast and live stream in Sydney on the evening of Tuesday, 10 November 2020.

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