2023 ARA Historical Novel Prize Winners Announced

Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA), in partnership with Australia’s leading essential building and infrastructure services provider ARA Group, is excited to announce the winners of the 2023 ARA Historical Novel Prize.

The winner of the 2023 ARA Historical Novel Prize – Adult Category is Salonika Burning – Gail Jones (Text Publishing).

The winner of the 2023 ARA Historical Novel Prize – Children and Young Adult (CYA) Category is The Bookseller’s Apprentice – Amelia Mellor (Affirm Press).

This year’s winners demonstrates the true depth of talent of historical fiction authors. The winning novels demonstrate the irresistible prose, unforgettable characters, meticulous research, and epic storytelling for which historical fiction is known.

About the Prize

The ARA Historical Novel Prize is worth a total of $100,000 in prize monies. The Prize will award $50,000 to the Adult category winner, with $5,000 awarded to each of the two shortlisted authors. In the Children and Young Adult (CYA) category, the winner will receive $30,000, while the two shortlisted authors will receive $5,000 each.

Chair and Program Director of the Historical Novel Society Australasia, Elisabeth Storrs, said, “The exceptional narratives selected for this year’s ARA Historical Novel Prize underscore the vastness and intricacy of our shared human journey. Drawing from the tapestries of our collective past, both Salonika Burning and The Bookseller’s Apprentice shine a light on the complexities of our human spirit, the fervor of resilience, and the delicate weave of friendships amidst societal upheavals.”

“These narratives are not merely stories; they are poignant reflections of humanity’s trials and triumphs, of the deep yearnings for purpose amidst turmoil, and the undying pursuit of meaning in a world forever in flux. They capture the essence of our shared existence, bridging the chasm of time and place. Through these tales, we are reminded that while the landscapes of history change, the heart of our stories remains eternally relevant, resounding with hope, perseverance, and the eternal quest for understanding,” said Storrs.

The ARA Historical Novel Prize has been made possible through the generous patronage of ARA Group. The ARA Group, and its Founder, Executive Chair and CEO, Edward Federman, are committed to supporting the arts and literature.

ARA Group Founder, Executive Chair and CEO — and patron of the arts — Edward Federman said, “I’m thrilled to recognise the talented authors who have won the 2023 ARA Historical Novel Prize. The Prize continues to underscore the invaluable role of the arts, uplifting the enduring importance and influence of the historical fiction genre, which has gone unrecognised for too long.”

“Our vision for the ARA Historical Novel Prize is twofold: to notably reward the endeavours of this year’s outstanding authors and to spotlight the rich tapestry of historical fiction narratives, honouring entrants from both Australia and New Zealand.”

The Judging Panels

The 2023 judging panel for the Adult category included Dr Robert Gott (Chair), Dr Renée Otmar and Lucy Treloar.

According to the panel, “In Salonika Burning, Gail Jones has created a compelling narrative. The novel is set in the second great Ottoman city of Salonika, a cosmopolitan world in which operations for allied forces had converged. On 18 August 1917, a spark from a homemade stove ignited a fire that blazed for 32 hours, destroying two-thirds of the city.”

“The story is told through the refracted gaze of four real-life witnesses to the conflagration – Stella, Olive, Grace and Stanley – as they strive independently to find meaning and their own place in the world. There is a haunting frailty in their responses, even as they reach for fleeting moments of joy and beauty, through art, romance, love and intimacy. The prose is powerful and poetic, offering a deep and stunning critique of the terrors of war.”

“Readers expecting depictions of horrific trench warfare will find instead an entirely fresh perspective on the First World War, the exquisitely drawn characters and settings, and subtle imagery and writing that distinguishes a Gail Jones novel.”

“Jones asks not only what happened, but how individuals, artists and storytellers, create order from the fragments of destruction. She imaginatively enters and explores the minds of these historical figures with psychological acuity, each character fully inhabited as a strand that, braided with others, tells a greater truth about history, war and its meanings.”

“What at first glance might seem dispassionate, rises from a profound attentiveness to human behaviour, to our individual strangeness and collective responses, and invites readers to wonder and reflect on our own uncertain times. How do we as individuals and communities react in times of crisis? What stories do we tell about them?”

“Gail Jones’s skill is everywhere in this novel: in the fragmentary structure and in the energy that rises from its seeming contradictions. It is at once ruminative and precise, expansive and condensed, cool and intimate. Salonika Burning is an astonishing work of historical fiction, which is why the judges have selected it as the winner of the 2023 ARA Historical Novel Prize in the Adult Category. We are delighted to congratulate Gail Jones on her achievement.”

Due to an actual or perceived conflict of interest Dr Robert Gott recused himself from discussions relating to the inclusion of a particular book on the longlist. He withdrew from determining the shortlist and winner.

The 2023 judging panel for the CYA category included Christopher Cheng (Chair), Dr Craig Cormick and Lauren Keenan.

According to Cheng, “This year the judges are so very pleased to announce that the winner of the Children’s and Young Adult Novel Award Category is The Booksellers Apprentice by Amelia Mellor.”

“In a delightful longlist of impressive and well crafted titles, this book broke through to win. Like the other shortlisted titles it easily accomplished the goal of the awards, that is, the entertainment and education of readers as it contributes to the knowledge of the reader and provides a valid perspective beyond the viewpoint of the historian.”

“Mellor’s wonderfully crafted narrative, woven with magic, is a prequel to The Grandest Bookshop in the World which was also shortlisted for this award in 2021, and, like it’s predecessor, The Booksellers Apprentice will have readers hungry for more.”

“Set in 1871 this title is interlaced with historical facts skilfully crafted throughout, and, as Mellor writes in her historical notes: the characters, even though invented would fit right into the real market … as they could all be found there at different points in history. Mellor’s authorial skill has cleverly deposited the reader into the Victorian era society, where we can easily sense the life and wildness of the original Paddy’s Market (properly called the Eastern Market because it was at the eastern end of Bourke Street), Melbourne’s Coles Bookstore, as well as Billy Pike and Edward Cole.”

“What a gift this unputdownable book is to readers of all ages,” said Cheng.


The ARA Historical Novel Prize has been made possible through the generous patronage of ARA Group. ARA Group provides a comprehensive range of building services and products to major customers throughout Australia and New Zealand. Through its workplace giving program—The ARA Endowment Fund—the company 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.

For further information, visit: https://aragroup.com.au/

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