In conjunction with its generous sponsor ARA Group, the Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) has announced the three talented authors, and their outstanding novels, selected in the 2020 shortlist for the inaugural ARA Historical Novel Prize. The shortlisted books are:

The ARA Historical Novel Prize winner will be announced in Sydney by both video broadcast and live stream via the HNSA Youtube channel on the evening of Tuesday, 10 November 2020. The winner will receive $50,000 with $5000 to be paid to each of the two remaining shortlisted authors.

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

Sienna Brown reveals a little-known aspect of Australian colonial life: the experience of West Indian convicts, based on a true story. William Buchanan’s early life in Jamaica as the son of a slave and the ‘massa’ of Rock Pleasant plantation starkly illustrates the cruelties and humiliation of slavery. Buchanan’s mother, Stella, is a powerful figure in the narrative and the rhythms of their lives are sharply observed. William’s passionate commitment to the failed slave rebellions of the 1830s leads to his eventual transportation. Narrated by William in a lyrical and brilliantly sustained recreation of Jamaican patois, the novel is a vivid and compassionate portrait of horror and grief, hope and survival.

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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

Tom Clay, the 13-year-old poacher turned convict-shepherd who narrates Catherine Jinks’ novel, knew every plant and animal in his native Suffolk. Transported to New South Wales and assigned to an isolated sheep run in the bush, Clay laments his ignorance of the local flora and fauna: ‘How can anyone live well in a place without knowing it?’ he asks. In Tom’s clear, sharp voice, Shepherd explores the importance of listening to and respecting an ancient land, as well as surviving colonial injustices. Taut and compelling, the narrative is breathlessly fast-paced and finely crafted. Shepherd is imbued with a depth of understanding of the natural world, and powerfully evokes, with unstoppable momentum, the brutality of desperate men.

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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.

Judges’ Comments

Stone Sky Gold Mountain is set in north Queensland’s Palmer River goldfields in the 1870s. For siblings Lai Yue and Ying, who have travelled from China hoping to lift their family out of poverty, it is a place of hunger, theft, harassment, and only slender amounts of gold. When Ying befriends Meriem, a young white woman with her own burden of grief, they develop a complex relationship. Riwoe sensitively depicts the inner lives of her characters, who are struggling to survive in a hostile environment. Eloquent and richly imagined, the novel captures the complexity of diverse cultures thrown together in a violent past, and gives voice to people too often overlooked in Australia’s history.

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