2020 ARA Historical Novel Prize Longlist

In conjunction with its generous sponsor ARA Group, the Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) has announced the eight talented authors, and their outstanding novels, selected in the 2020 longlist for the inaugural ARA Historical Novel Prize. Longlisted entries include:

  • Master of My Fate by Sienna Brown (Penguin Books Australia)
  • Bodies of Men by Nigel Featherstone (Hachette Australia)
  • Shepherd by Catherine Jinks (Text Publishing)
  • Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe (University of Queensland Press)
  • The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith (Allen & Unwin Australia)
  • Damascus by Christos Tsiolkas (Allen & Unwin Australia)
  • The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (Affirm Press)
  • The Yield by Tara June Winch (Penguin Books Australia)

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.

You can watch the video broadcast of the longlist announcement below.

Master of My Fate by Sienna Brown

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.

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.

Judges Comments
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

Bodies of Men by Nigel Featherstone

About Nigel Featherstone
Nigel Featherstone is an Australian writer who has been published widely. His works include the story collection Joy (2000), his debut novel Remnants (2005), and The Beach Volcano (2014), which is the third in a series of novellas. He wrote the libretto for The Weight of Light, a contemporary song cycle that had its world premiere in 2018. He has held residencies at Varuna (Blue Mountains), Bundanon (Shoalhaven River), and UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy. He lives on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales.

 

About Bodies of Men
Egypt, 1941. Only hours after disembarking in Alexandria, William Marsh, an Australian lieutenant at twenty-one, is face down in the sand, caught in a stoush with the Italian enemy. He is saved by James Kelly, a childhood friend from Sydney and the last person he expected to see. But where William escapes unharmed, not all are so fortunate. William is sent to supervise an army depot in the Western Desert, with a private directive to find an AWOL soldier: James Kelly. When the two are reunited, James is recovering from an accident, hidden away in the home of an unusual family – a family with secrets. Together they will risk it all to find answers. Soon William and James are thrust headlong into territory more dangerous than either could have imagined.

Judges Comments
Set during and after the Second World War, this is a tender and beautifully written love story that challenges ideas about fathers and sons, masculinity and war.

~ Colin Falconer

Shepherd by Catherine Jinks

About Catherine Jinks
Catherine Jinks was born in Brisbane, Australia in 1963. She grew up in Papua New Guinea and later studied medieval history at the University of Sydney. After working for several years in a bank, she married Peter Dockrill, a Canadian journalist, and lived for a short time in Nova Scotia, Canada. She is now a full-time writer, residing in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales with Peter and their daughter Hannah. Catherine is a four-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction. In 2001, she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.

About Shepherd
Tom Clay was a poacher back in Suffolk. He was twelve when he was caught, tried and transported to New South Wales. Now, assigned to a shepherd’s hut out west, he is a boy among violent men. He keeps his counsel and watches over the sheep; he steers clear of blowhards like the new man, Rowdy Cavanagh. He is alert to danger, knowing he is a foreigner here – that the land resists his understanding. The question is: how fast can he learn? Because a vicious killer named Dan Carver is coming for Tom and Rowdy. And if Tom can’t outwit Carver in the bush – and convince Rowdy to keep his stupid mouth shut – their deaths will be swift and cruel.

 

Judges Comments
Shepherd is a powerful evocation of brutality in rural NSW during the 1840s. Told in the unsentimental voice of a young poacher transported for life, Jinks has crafted a taut and compelling work of historical fiction.

~ Kirsty Murray

Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe

About Mirandi Riwoe
Mirandi Riwoe is a Brisbane-based writer. Her novella The Fish Girl won Seizure’s Viva la Novella prize and her debut novel, She be Damned, was released in 2017. She has been shortlisted for Overland’s Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize, the Josephine Ulrick Short Story Prize, the Luke Bitmead Bursary and the Stella Prize; and longlisted for the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize and the CWA (UK) Dagger Awards. Her work has appeared in Best Australian Stories, Review of Australian Fiction, Rex, Peril and Shibboleth and Other Stories, and she has received fellowships from the Queensland Literary Awards and Griffith Review. Mirandi has a PhD in Creative Writing and Literary Studies.

About Stone Sky Gold Mountain
Family circumstances force siblings Ying and Lai Yue to flee their home in China to seek their fortunes in Australia. Life on the gold fields is hard, and they soon abandon the diggings and head to nearby Maytown. Once there, Lai Yue gets a job as a carrier on an overland expedition, while Ying finds work in a local store and strikes up a friendship with Meriem, a young white woman with her own troubled past. When a serious crime is committed, suspicion falls on all those who are considered outsiders. Evoking the rich, unfolding tapestry of Australian life in the late nineteenth century, Stone Sky Gold Mountain is a heartbreaking and universal story about the exiled and displaced, about those who encounter discrimination yet yearn for acceptance.

Judge Comments
Mirandi Riwoe recreates the experiences of two Chinese siblings struggling to survive on the North Queensland goldfields in 1877. Richly imagined and eloquently expressed, Stone Sky Gold Mountain depicts a past too rarely portrayed in Australian fiction.

~ Kirsty Murray

The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith

About Dominic Smith
Dominic grew up in Sydney, Australia and now lives in Seattle, Washington. He is the author of four novels, including The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, which was a New York Times Bestseller and a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Sold into more than a dozen countries, the novel was chosen as a best book of 2016 by Amazon, Slate, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Kirkus Reviews. In Australia, the novel won the Fiction Indie Book of the Year Award from the Independent Booksellers Association and was named the Literary Fiction Book of the Year as part of the Australian Book Industry Awards. His other novels include: The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre, The Beautiful Miscellaneous, and Bright and Distant Shores. Dominic serves on the fiction faculty in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and has taught at the University of Texas at Austin, Southern Methodist University, and Rice University.

About The Electric Hotel
Dominic Smith’s The Electric Hotel winds through the nascent days of cinema in Paris and Fort Lee, New Jersey–America’s first movie town–and on the battlefields of Belgium during World War I. A sweeping work of historical fiction, it shimmers between past and present as it tells the story of the rise and fall of a prodigious film studio and one man’s doomed obsession with all that passes in front of the viewfinder. For nearly half a century, Claude Ballard has been living at the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel. A French pioneer of silent films, who started out as a concession agent for the Lumiere brothers, the inventors of cinema, Claude now spends his days foraging mushrooms in the hills of Los Angeles and taking photographs of runaways and the striplings along Sunset Boulevard. But when a film-history student comes to interview Claude about The Electric Hotel–the lost masterpiece that bankrupted him and ended the career of his muse, Sabine Montrose–the past comes surging back. In his run-down hotel suite, the ravages of the past are waiting to be excavated: celluloid fragments and reels in desperate need of restoration, and Claude’s memories of the woman who inspired and beguiled him.

Judges Comments
From the Lumiere Brothers first demonstrations of moving pictures in Paris to early American movie houses and the battlefields of World War I, this is a prodigiously researched journey through the birth of cinema and one man’s doomed obsession with his muse.

~ Colin Falconer

Damascus by Christos Tsiolkas

About Christos Tsiolkas
Christos Tsiolkas is the author of six novels, including Loaded, which was made into the feature film Head-On, The Jesus Man and Dead Europe, which won the 2006 Age Fiction Prize and the 2006 Melbourne Best Writing Award, as well as being made into a feature film. His fourth novel, the international bestseller The Slap, won Overall Best Book in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2009, was shortlisted for the 2009 Miles Franklin Literary Award, longlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize and won the Australian Literary Society Gold, as well as the 2009 Australian Booksellers Association and Australian Book Industry Awards Books of the Year. Christos’s fifth novel Barracuda was shortlisted for the ALS Gold Medal and the inaugural Voss Literary Prize. The Slap and Barracuda were both adapted into celebrated television series. Christos’s acclaimed collection of short stories, Merciless Gods, was published in 2014 and his critical literary study On Patrick White came out in 2018. He is also a playwright, essayist and screen writer. He lives in Melbourne.

About Damascus
Christos Tsiolkas’ stunning new novel Damascus is a work of soaring ambition and achievement, of immense power and epic scope, taking as its subject nothing less than events surrounding the birth and establishment of the Christian church. Based around the gospels and letters of St Paul, and focusing on characters one and two generations on from the death of Christ, as well as Paul (Saul) himself, Damascus nevertheless explores the themes that have always obsessed Tsiolkas as a writer: class, religion, masculinity, patriarchy, colonisation, exile; the ways in which nations, societies, communities, families and individuals are united and divided – it’s all here, the contemporary and urgent questions, perennial concerns made vivid and visceral. In Damascus, Tsiolkas has written a masterpiece of imagination and transformation: an historical novel of immense power and an unflinching dissection of doubt and faith, tyranny and revolution, and cruelty and sacrifice.

Judges Comments
Visceral and immersive, Damascus delivers a flesh and blood Paul of Tarsus, placing him within his historical period, a time of slavery and violence when Christianity was a minor sect in a pagan world.

~ Linda Funnell

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

About Pip Williams
Pip was born in London, grew up in Sydney and now calls the Adelaide Hills home. She is co-author of the book Time Bomb: Work Rest and Play in Australia Today and in 2017 she wrote One Italian Summer, a memoir of her family’s travels in search of the good life, which was published with Affirm Press to wide acclaim. Pip has also published travel articles, book reviews, flash fiction and poetry. In The Dictionary of Lost Words she combines her talent for historical research with beautiful storytelling. She has delved into the archives of the Oxford English Dictionary and found a tale of missing words and the lives of women lived between the lines.

About The Dictionary of Lost Words
In 1901, the word bondmaid was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, Esme spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of lexicographers are gathering words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day, she sees a slip containing the word bondmaid flutter to the floor unclaimed. Esme seizes the word and hides  it in an old wooden trunk that belongs to her friend, Lizzie,  a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world. Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. She begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.

Judges Comments
In her character’s observations of, and later role in, the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, Pip Williams elegantly demonstrates the unconscious biases in how language is codified. Set at the time of the women’s suffrage movement in England, it reclaims and celebrates women’s language.

~ Linda Funnell

The Yield by Tara June Winch

About Tara June Winch
Tara June Winch is a Wiradjuri author, born in Australia in 1983 and based in France. Her first novel, Swallow the Air was critically acclaimed and won numerous literary awards. In 2008, Tara was mentored by Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka as part of the prestigious Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. Her second book, the story collection After the Carnage was published in 2016, and was longlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for fiction, and shortlisted for the 2017 NSW Premier’s Christina Stead Prize for Fiction and the Queensland Literary Award for a collection. She wrote the Indigenous dance documentary, Carriberrie, which screened at the 71st Cannes Film Festival and toured internationally. The Yield won the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Award, Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, the People’s Choice Award and Book of the Year at the 2020 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

About The Yield
In English, the yield is the reaping, the things that man can take from the land. In the language of the Wiradjuri yield is the things you give to, the movement, the space between things: baayanha. Knowing that he will soon die, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi takes pen to paper. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. Albert is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind.  August Gondiwindi has been living on the other side of the world for ten years when she learns of her grandfather’s death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened with all she tried to leave behind. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company.  Determined to make amends she endeavours to save their land – a quest that leads her to the voice of her grandfather and into the past, the stories of her people, the secrets of the river.

Judges Comments
Bringing together Indigenous Australian history, the Wiradjuri language, the tragedy of dispossession and its consequences, The Yield is a powerful elegy for what has been lost and a testament to the strength of what survives.

~ Paula Morris

 

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