2023 ARA Historical Novel Prize Winners

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 2022 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).

For further details, visit:

Salonika Burning by Gail Jones

(Text Publishing)

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 ARA Historical Novel Prize, the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the International Dublin Literary Award, 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 a generous and important one, and I feel deeply honoured to accept it, especially given the excellent field of books with which Salonika Burning was listed.  In my view, imagining historical experience is a dimension of ethics – understanding that the lives of others are as irreducibly complex as our own.”

Judges Report

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 Bookseller’s Apprentice by Amelia Mellor 

(Affirm Press)

About Amelia Mellor

Amelia Mellor began her writing career as her secondary school’s resident playwright in Year 11. As part of her creative writing course at the University of Melbourne, she completed a thesis on the reinvention of the Industrial Revolution in children’s fantasy literature. Her debut novel, The Grandest Bookshop in the World, has won an Australian Book Industry Award, an Indie Book Award, a NSW Premier’s Literary Award and a Booksellers’ Choice Award. When she isn’t writing, Amelia enjoys hiking, gardening and drawing. 

About The Bookseller’s Apprentice

Return to Amelia Mellor’s magical Melbourne in the prequel to best-seller The Grandest Bookshop in the World.

Twelve-year-old Billy Pyke has a talent for sorting things out, whether it’s his chaotic family home or the busy book stall at Paddy’s Market. In 1871, the market is the loud, smelly, marvellous heart of Melbourne, and Billy is delighted to work at the book stall there for the eccentric Mr Cole. When his new friend Kezia warns him of a sinister magician called the Obscurosmith, Billy can’t believe her stories of magical deals gone horribly wrong – until he sees them happening. And the night that the Obscurosmith crosses a terrifying and dangerous line, Billy realises something: if he wants the Obscurosmith stopped, he’ll have to do it himself.

Award-winning author Amelia Mellor delivers another race-against-time adventure in this action-packed prequel to The Grandest Bookshop in the World. Loaded with tricks, riddles, magic and mayhem, The Bookseller’s Apprentice is perfect for Mellor fans and newcomers alike.

A Quote from Amelia Mellor

“To have The Bookseller’s Apprentice celebrated through this award as the best work of children’s historical fiction this year is just glorious. I take the historical research seriously, and I take the artistry of the writing seriously – even as I take a bit of fantastical poetic license or crack the odd pun. It’s extremely gratifying to receive the immense praise for my efforts that this award represents. Thank you for elevating my interpretation of Australian social history and for championing historical fiction by Australian voices.”

Judges Report

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.

About the ARA Group

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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