In conjunction with its generous sponsor ARA Group, the Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) has announced the nine talented authors, and their outstanding novels, selected in the Longlist for the 2023 ARA Historical Novel Prize – Adult Category. The longlisted entries include:
- Limberlost – Robbie Arnott (Text Publishing)
- The Fire and the Rose – Robyn Cadwallader (HarperCollins Publishers Australia)
- Nimblefoot – Robert Drewe (Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Random House)
- The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies – Alison Goodman (HarperCollins Publishers)
- Salonika Burning – Gail Jones (Text Publishing)
- The Sun Walks Down – Fiona McFarlane (Allen & Unwin)
- Iris – Fiona Kelly McGregor (Pan Macmillan Australia)
- The Settlement – Jock Serong (Text Publishing)
- The Bookbinder of Jericho – Pip Williams (Affirm Press)
The ARA Historical Novel Prize Shortlist will be announced on Wednesday 27 September 2023. The winners will be announced on 19 October 2023.
THE JUDGING PANEL
The 2023 judging panel for the Adult category included Dr Robert Gott (Chair), Dr Renée Otmar and Lucy Treloar.
According to Dr Robert Gott (Chair), “There were 103 entries in the Adult category of this year’s ARA Historical Novel Prize. This speaks to the appetite of both writers and readers to explore ideas through historical fiction. The longlist is indicative of the depth and breadth of the best of these works. The longlisted authors exercise wit, wisdom and insight, exploring our species as we demonstrate the best and worst of ourselves, in periods ranging from the thirteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.”
“Each of the longlisted books stayed with the judges long after they’d been read. The strength of each of them lies in their prose, whether it be lyrical or devastatingly brutal, or both at once. These books represent the very best in historical fiction writing. They are radically different, one from another, which is proof enough of the riches to be found in this genre. Each of them is a work of outstanding quality.”
Limberlost by Robbie Arnott
About Robbie Arnott
Robbie Arnott’s acclaimed debut, Flames (2018), won a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Novelist award and a Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Prize, and was shortlisted for a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, a New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award, a Queensland Literary Award, the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction and the Not the Booker Prize. His follow-up, The Rain Heron (2020), won the Age Book of the Year award, and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the ALS Gold Medal, the Voss Literary Prize and an Adelaide Festival Award. He lives in Hobart.
In the heat of a long summer Ned hunts rabbits in a river valley, hoping the pelts will earn him enough money to buy a small boat.
His two brothers are away at war, their whereabouts unknown. His father and older sister struggle to hold things together on the family orchard, Limberlost.
Desperate to ignore it all—to avoid the future rushing towards him—Ned dreams of open water.
As his story unfolds over the following decades, we see how Ned’s choices that summer come to shape the course of his life, the fate of his family and the future of the valley, with its seasons of death and rebirth.
The third novel by the award-winning author of Flames and The Rain Heron, Limberlost is an extraordinary chronicle of life and land: of carnage and kindness, blood ties and love.
A Quote from Robbie Arnott
“I’m thrilled that Limberlost has been honoured in this way, and that a story of kanamaluka has resonated with the judges.”
The Fire and the Rose by Robyn Cadwallader
(HarperCollins Publishers Australia)
About Robyn Cadwallader
Robyn Cadwallader lives among vineyards in beautiful Ngunnawal country. Her first novel, The Anchoress (2015), was published internationally to critical acclaim. It won a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award and was nominated for the Indie Book Awards, Adelaide Festival Awards, ABIA Awards and ACT Book of the Year Award. Her second novel, Book of Colours (2018), won the ACT Book of the Year Award, a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award and was shortlisted for the Voss Award. A non-fiction book based on her PhD thesis about virginity and female agency in the Middle Ages was published in 2008. For further information, visit:
About The Fire and the Rose
England, 1276: Forced to leave her home village, Eleanor moves to Lincoln to work as a housemaid. She’s prickly, independent and stubborn, her prospects blighted by a port-wine birthmark across her face. Unusually for a woman, she has fine skills with ink and quill, and harbours a secret ambition to work as a scribe, a profession closed to women.
Eleanor discovers that Lincoln is a dangerous place, divided by religious prejudice, the Jews frequently the focus of violence and forced to wear a yellow badge. Eleanor falls in love with Asher, a Jewish spicer, but their relationship is forbidden by law. When Eleanor is pulled into the dark depths of the church’s machinations against Jews and the king issues an edict expelling all Jews from England, Eleanor and Asher are faced with an impossible choice.
Vivid, rich, deep and sensual, The Fire and the Rose is a tender and moving novel about how language, words and books have the power to change and shape lives. Most powerfully, it is also a novel about what it is to be made ‘other’, to be exiled from home and family.
A Quote from Robyn Cadwallader
“I am delighted and grateful to be included in the long list for the ARA Historical Novel Prize; I think of the nomination as a prize in itself. The ARA Historical Novel Prize is an important affirmation of the significance of historical fiction in Australian literary culture. Historical fiction helps to bring history into contemporary imagination and the continued conversation between past and present offers an eye toward a more hopeful future.”
Nimblefoot by Robert Drewe
(Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Random House)
About Robert Drewe
Robert Drewe is the author of eight novels, four books of short stories, two plays, two memoirs and four other works of non-fiction. His work has been widely translated, won national and international prizes and been adapted for film, television, theatre and radio. For further information, visit:
At the age of ten, a small boy from Ballarat named Johnny Day became Australia’s first international sporting hero. Against adult competition he wooed crowds across continents as the World Champion in pedestrianism, the sporting craze of the day.
A few years later, in 1870, he won the Melbourne Cup on a horse aptly called Nimblefoot, winning the hearts of British royalty and Melbourne’s high society. And then he disappeared without a trace.
Robert Drewe picks up where history leaves off, re-imagining Johnny’s life following his great Cup win. In doing so he brings us an adventure story, a coming-of-age classic, a man-hunt, a thriller – but most of all, a rollicking good yarn.
Johnny Day is a character who couldn’t be invented, but in the masterful re-imagining of his life Robert Drewe shows storytelling at its best, and lays claim to Johnny Day’s rightful place in Australia’s illustrious sporting history.
A Quote from Robert Drewe
“It was a surprise and an honour for my novel Nimblefoot to be long-listed for the 2023 ARA Historical Novel Prize.”
“I’m more than delighted that such an award exists to showcase our history, which has been a constant bee in my bonnet ever since I began my novel-writing career with The Savage Crows in 1976. Let’s face it, for a writer of fiction — and a historical backdrop has also influenced my other novels Our Sunshine, The Drowner and Whipbird — you can’t go past our unique and fascinating past for conflict, tension, challenges and compelling characters.”
The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman
(HarperCollins Publishers Australia)
About Alison Goodman
Alison Goodman is a Melbourne- based author of historical and fantasy fiction. Her other novels include the Dark Days Club trilogy, an award- winning mix of Regency adventure and dark fantasy, and Eon and Eona, a New York Times bestselling fantasy duology published in twenty countries. Alison has recently completed her PhD, focusing on historical research and the Regency era, and can dance a mean English contra dance. She is fueled by coffee and roast potatoes and will travel a long way for a good scone. For further information, visit:
About The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies
Welcome to the secret life of the Colebrook twins: unnoticed old maids to most, but unseen champions to those in need – society be damned.
Lady Augusta Colebrook, ‘Gus’, is determinedly unmarried, bored by society life, and tired of being dismissed at the age of forty-two. She and her twin sister, Julia, who is grieving her dead betrothed, need a distraction. One soon presents itself: to rescue their friend’s goddaughter, Caroline, from her violent husband.
The sisters set out to Caroline’s country estate with a plan, but their carriage is accosted by a highwayman. In the scuffle, Gus accidentally shoots the ruffian, only to discover he is Lord Evan Belford, an acquaintance from their past who was charged with murder and exiled to Australia twenty years ago. With Lord Evan injured and unconscious, the sisters have no choice but to bring him on their mission to save Caroline. What follows is a high adventure full of danger, clever improvisation, heart-racing near misses, and a little help from a revived and rather charming Lord Evan.
And so begin the beguiling adventures of the Colebrook twins …
A Quote from Alison Goodman
“I am beyond thrilled that The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies is on the long list for the 2023 ARA Historical Novel Prize. Writing historical fiction is a balancing act between deep historical research and the creativity and demands of storytelling in contemporary times. We try to conjure, in that balance, both an authentic sense of history and a reflection upon today’s society. A great deal of effort and skill is employed to bring about such alchemy and it is fabulous to have such a prestigious award that recognises and celebrates historical fiction in Australia.”
Salonika Burning by Gail Jones
About Gail Jones
Gail Jones is one of Australia’s most celebrated writers. She is the author of two short-story collections and nine novels, and her work has been translated into several languages. She has received numerous literary awards, including the Prime Minister’s Literary Award, the Age Book of the Year, the South Australian Premier’s Award, the ALS Gold Medal and the Kibble Award, and has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the International Dublin Literary Award and the Prix Femina Étranger. Originally from Western Australia, she now lives in Sydney.
About Salonika Burning
MACEDONIA, 1917. The great city of Salonika is engulfed by fire as all of Europe is ravaged by war.
Amid the destruction are those who have come to the frontlines to heal: surgeons, ambulance drivers, nurses, orderlies and other volunteers. Four of them – Stella, Olive, Grace and Stanley – are at the centre of Gail Jones’s extraordinary new novel, which takes its inspiration from the wartime experiences of Australians Miles Franklin and Olive King, and British painters Grace Pailthorpe and Stanley Spencer. In Jones’s imagination these four lives intertwine and change, each compelled by the desire to create something meaningful in the ruins of a broken world.
Immersive and gripping, Salonika Burning illuminates not only the devastation of war but also the vast social upheaval of the times. It shows Gail Jones to be at the height of her powers.
A Quote from Gail Jones
“The ARA Historical Novel Prize is unique in Australia – a recognition that novelists contribute in significant if oblique ways to the crucial business of historical imagining. It’s a great honour to have Salonika Burning included on this list.”
The Sun Walks Down by Fiona McFarlane
(Allen & Unwin)
About Fiona McFarlane
Fiona McFarlane is the author of the novel The Night Guest, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, and a collection of short stories, The High Places, which won the International Dylan Thomas Prize. Her short fiction has been published in the New Yorker, Best Australian Stories and Zoetrope: All-Story. Born in Sydney, Fiona teaches creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley. For further information, visit:
About The Sun Walks Down
In September 1883, the South Australian town of Fairly huddles under strange, vivid sunsets. Six-year-old Denny Wallace has gone missing during a dust storm, and the whole town is intent on finding him. As they search the desert and mountains for the lost child, the residents of Fairly – newlyweds, landowners, farmers, mothers, artists, Indigenous trackers, cameleers, children, schoolteachers, widows, maids, policemen – explore their own relationships with the complex landscape unsettling history of the Flinders Ranges.
The colonial Australia of The Sun Walks Down is unfamiliar, multicultural, and noisy with opinions, arguments, longings and terrors. It’s haunted by many gods – the sun among them, rising and falling on each day that Denny could be found, or lost forever.
A Quote from Fiona McFarlane
“I’m honoured to have been longlisted for the ARA Historical Novel Prize, in the excellent company of all the other nominees. The Sun Walks Down is both a love letter to and a critique of Australian historical fiction, and I think that’s a reflection of all the messy and multiple ways our understanding of the present can arise out of readings and misreadings of the past. Novels, as a form, are also messy and multiple, so they seem particularly well suited to exploring the stories we tell ourselves about what we were, are, and could be.”
Iris by Fiona Kelly McGregor
(Pan Macmillan Australia)
About Fiona Kelly McGregor
Fiona Kelly McGregor has published eight books, most recently the photoessay A Novel Idea, and essay collection Buried Not Dead, which was shortlisted for the Victorian Premiers Literary Awards. Other books include short story collection Suck My Toes/Dirt which won the Steele Rudd Award, and the underground classic chemical palace. Her novel Indelible Ink won Age Book of the Year and was published in French translation by Actes-Sud. McGregor is also known for a substantial repertoire of performance art, which has been seen internationally. She has held residencies at Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris, Carriageworks, Sydney, and the BR Whiting Studio, Rome. When in Sydney, McGregor lives and works on Gadigal land. For further information, visit:
Who is Iris Webber?
A thief, a fighter, a wife, a lover.
A scammer, a schemer, a friend.
A musician, a worker, a big-hearted fool.
A woman who has prevailed against the toughest gangsters of the day, defying police time and again, yet is now trapped in a prison cell.
Guilty or innocent?
Rollicking through the underbelly of 1930s sly-grog Sydney, Iris is a dazzling literary achievement from one of Australia’s finest writers. Based on actual events and set in an era of cataclysmic change, here is a fierce, fascinating tale of a woman who couldn’t be held back.
A Quote from Fiona Kelly McGregor“It’s such an honour to be longlisted for this award. History is so important. We don’t know who we are until we know what we’ve come from. Australia’s queer history has barely been represented in fiction; it has always been there, hidden yet intertwined with everybody else’s history. It’s exciting to be alive at a time when we can finally exhume these relevant, urgent stories.”
The Settlement by Jock Serong
About Jock Serong
Jock Serong’s novels have received the ARA Historical Novel Prize, the Colin Roderick Award, the Ned Kelly Award for First Fiction and, internationally, the inaugural Staunch Prize (UK) and the Historia Award for Historical Crime Fiction (France). He lives with his family on Victoria’s far west coast.
About The Settlement
On the windswept point of an island at the edge of Van Diemen’s Land, the Commandant huddles with a small force of white men and women. He has gathered together, under varying degrees of coercion and duress, the last of the Tasmanians, or so he believes. His purpose is to save them—from a number of things, but most pressingly from the murderous intent of the pastoral settlers on their country.
The orphans Whelk and Pipi, fighting for their survival against the malevolent old man they know as the Catechist, watch as almost everything proves resistant to the Commandant’s will. The wind, the spread of disease, the strange black dog that floats in on the prow of a wrecked ship…But above all the chief, the leader of the exiles, before whom the Commandant performs a sordid dance of intimacy and betrayal.
In The Settlement, Jock Serong reimagines in urgent, compelling prose the ill-fated exploits of George Augustus Robinson at the settlement of Wybalenna—a venture whose blinkered, self-interested cruelty might stand for the colonial enterprise itself.
A Quote from Jock Serong
“I’m so delighted that my novel, The Settlement, has been longlisted for the ARA Historical Novel Award. As the debate around the Voice referendum becomes more strident, the misinformation more brazen, it’s vital that we ground our thinking in deep historical context. Australian novels help us to make that synthesis between our past and the essential concerns of our present and future. This award shines a light on that act of imagination and empathy where we place ourselves in the lives of others, long ago, in order to understand how today’s Australia came to be. Who are we, really, if we disregard the past?”
The Bookbinder of Jericho by Pip Williams
About Pip Williams
Pip Williams was born in London, grew up in Sydney and now lives in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia with her family and an assortment of animals. She has spent most of her working life as a social researcher, studying what keeps us well and what helps us thrive, and she is the author of One Italian Summer, a memoir of her family’s travels in search of the good life, which was published by Affirm Press to wide acclaim. Her first novel, The Dictionary of Lost Words, based on her original research in the Oxford English Dictionary archives, was published in 2020 and became an international bestseller. The Bookbinder of Jericho is her second novel, a companion to The Dictionary of Lost Words, and again combines her talents for historical research and beautiful storytelling. For further information, visit:
About The Bookbinder of Jericho
In 1914, when the war draws the young men of Britain away to fight, it is the women who must keep the nation running. Two of those women are Peggy and Maude, twin sisters who work in the bindery at Oxford University Press in Jericho. Peggy is intelligent, ambitious and dreams of studying at Oxford University, but for most of her life she has been told her job is to bind the books, not read them. Maude, meanwhile, wants nothing more than what she has. She is extraordinary but vulnerable. Peggy needs to watch over her.
When refugees arrive from the devastated cities of Belgium, it sends ripples through the community and through the sisters’ lives. Peggy begins to see the possibility of another future where she can use her intellect and not just her hands, but as war and illness reshape her world, it is love, and the responsibility that comes with it, that threaten to hold her back.
In this beautiful companion to the international bestseller The Dictionary of Lost Words, Pip Williams explores another little-known slice of history seen through women’s eyes. Evocative, subversive and rich with unforgettable characters, The Bookbinder of Jericho is a story about knowledge – who gets to make it, who gets to access it, and what is
lost when it is withheld.
A Quote from Pip Williams
“We write about the past to excavate stories buried in the rubble of history books and archives. I do it to understand a little more about how we came to be and where we might be heading. I hope my stories will be read and enjoyed, and that the ideas they contain might live beyond the page. Being considered for the ARA Historical Novel Prize – Australia’s most significant recognition of historical fiction – makes that more likely. I am thrilled, and humbled, that The Bookbinder of Jericho can sit alongside these other books that have so enriched our reading lives.”
ABOUT ARA GROUP
ARA Group provides a comprehensive range of building services and products to major customers throughout Australia and New Zealand and – through its workplace giving program, The ARA Endowment Fund – plays a proud and positive role in the community.
The ARA Endowment Fund currently donates 100 per cent of the interest earned annually to The Go Foundation, The Indigenous Literacy Foundation and The David Lynch Foundation.
ARA Group has also sponsored the Historical Novel Society Australasia’s biennial conferences since 2017, is Principal Partner of Sydney Writers’ Festival, the Melbourne Writers Festival, the Monkey Baa Theatre, the National Institute of Dramatic Art, Crown Sponsor of the Taronga Zoo and Significant Partner of the Story Factory.