2019 Academic stream abstracts

Abstracts and speakers for the panels of the conference Academic stream, Sunday 27 October.

9am - PANEL 1


In her 2017 Reith lectures, Hilary Mantel, speaking about the life and death of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second and most infamous wife, argued that, “you can tell the story and tell it. Put it through hundreds of iterations. But still, there seems to be a piece of the puzzle missing”.[1] Following in the wake of the popular Showtime series The Tudors (2007-2010), there has been an increased interest in these gaps in Anne Boleyn’s story from a perhaps unlikely group of readers: young women and teenage girls. As Mickey Mayhew has recently shown, a cyber subculture fandom has emerged around Anne Boleyn in which she becomes an avatar of marginalised femininity.[2] Taking on Natalie Dormer’s performance of Boleyn in The Tudors as the definitive representation, this construction of Boleyn posits that she was both celebrated and punished for her proto-feminist agency and forthright sexuality. Alongside the development of Anne Boleyn fandom, a new subgenre of Boleyn historical fiction emerged: Young Adult (YA) novels in which her story is taken out of time and rewritten as a contemporary high school drama. In this paper, I will focus on Hannah Capin’s The Dead Queens Club (2019) and Dawn Ius’s Anne and Henry (2015), arguing that these novels make literal what Boleyn’s fandom posits: that the story of this early modern queen has something to say about gender, power and sexuality to twenty-first century girls. These novels sit at the border of historical fictions, both looking to the past for their narratives at the same time as they translate the past directly into the present. They suggest that not only does history repeat, but its ability to signify only becomes more acute.

Stephanie Russo is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of English at Macquarie University. She has published widely on early modern and eighteenth-century women’s writing, and is the author of Women in Revolutionary Debate: Female Novelists from Burney to Austen. She is currently writing a monograph on the literary afterlife of Anne Boleyn.

[1] Hilary Mantel, “The BBC Reith Lectures: The Day Is for the Living,” BBC, 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08tcbrp.

[2] Mickey Mayhew, “Skewed Intimacies and Subcultural Identities: Anne Boleyn and the Expression of Fealty in a Social Media Forum”” (London South Bank University, 2018).

In this paper we analyse a number of recent works of historical biofiction that take as their focus figures who exceed normative female  gender boundaries in some way, either through their possible criminal activity and/or their sexuality or gender identity: Pip Smith’s Half Wild (2017) about the many identities of Harry Crawford; Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites (2013) about Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman executed in Iceland; and Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done (2017), about the infamous Lizzie Borden.

In tandem with the novels, we examine interviews and other authorial paratexts to address a number of key questions: What drew the authors to render these historical figures in fiction? How do their representations compare with others of the same or similar figures? What ethical or creative challenges do such portrayals present for writers and readers? Have recent understandings of gender affected the ways in which these authors construct their stories and characters? How might we contextualise the recent interest in these and similar historical biofictions?

Interrogating the nexus of gender and criminality as portrayed in these novels sheds light on the contemporary interest in characters whose lives seem to subvert the expectations of femininity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

Kelly Gardiner and Catherine Padmore  both teach in English and Creative Arts at La Trobe University.

The memorial turn in historical fiction: The Australian home-front novel of World War II as case study

The Australian home-front of World War II novel provides an interesting case study for how historical fiction – particularly that set during World War II – in the last ten to twenty years has gradually become more self-aware, more conscious of its contemporary construction, and the lens of hindsight authors apply when reconstructing major historical events and time periods. Through the example of the (female-focused) Australian home-front novel, this paper will examine the genre’s evolution from contemporary social critique (of its time) to memorial artefact for the purposes of reflection and remembrance, to its present-day iterations as commercial historical romance/crime fiction and/or self-conscious metahistorical fiction (historiography metafiction). This paper will also consider how collective memory, memorialisation, and contemporary perceptions of the past impose, intentionally and unintentionally, upon the structure and style of the ‘home-front novel’ as the act of writing becomes further removed from the time period under consideration. Working within set historical, geographical and thematic boundaries, the Australian home-front novel – spanning from the 1940s to the present – provides a workable sample size to examine this memorial evolution, which could be applied to historical fiction more generally. As a class of novel, that is primarily concerned with issues of gender roles, expectations and upheaval, socio-economic class, and the ‘dangers’ of women’s sexual liberation, this paper will also consider how the framing and presentation of these genre tropes has shifted or evolved as a result of generational recollection, the subjectivity of memory, the tendency towards nostalgia for the time period (1940s), and second- and third-wave feminism. Finally, the paper will consider the notion of ‘romancing the home-front’ and whether the Australian home-front of World War II will remain as a site of historical contention and narrative discovery for novelists to return to and re-examine, or whether the Australian home front is on its way to becoming the backdrop for nostalgic romance fiction only.

Dr Melanie Myers is a sessional academic at the University of the Sunshine Coast whose research interests include Creative Writing/pedagogy, historical fiction/biofiction, Queensland women writers/writing, and American Southern literature and drama. Her fiction and articles have been published in Kill Your Darlings, Arena Magazine, Overland, Hecate, M/C Journal and the Griffith Review. Her doctoral novel Garrison Town won the 2018 Queensland Literary Awards Glendower Award for an Emerging Writing and will be published as Meet Me at Lennon’s (UQP) in September 2019.

This paper analyses the links between revisionist historiography and queer poetics from the perspective of creative writing, paying particular focus to the writing of male-male desire in gay historical biofictions as a mode of queer (un)historicism and homohistorical expression.

Exploring four biographical fiction novels, I discuss how the writing of gay historical biofictions – as a process of both historical enquiry and historical revisionism – allows for a reinterpretation of the archive to reveal the occluded, repressed, persecuted and ultimately complex homosexual past through the fictionalised narratives of real (queer) historical figures. In The Master (2004), Colm Tóibín speculates on the introspective and self-repressed sexuality and failed intimacies of Henry James; in The Whale: A Love Story (2016), Mark Beauregard draws upon the letters written between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne to paint an intimate (and historically contentious) homosocial and homoerotic relationship; in The Untouchable (1997), John Banville writes a complex roman à clef about an art historian, double agent and homosexual character based on Cambridge spy Anthony Blunt; and in Valiant Gentlemen (2016), Sabina Murray tracks the life of Roger Casement, the Irish nationalist whose ‘sexual deviance’ was played against him in the high treason case that led to his execution in 1916.

The creative acts of revisionist and unveilist historical biofictions enable the creative writer to challenge the dominant (re)constructions of the past to combat historical erasure and voice/document LGBTIQ+ people, experiences, and issues that have been neglected or even repudiated in historiography until recently. Furthermore, in the resistance to authoritative history and through the restoration of queer (bio)histories, writers are able to write beyond the prejudices of the past to navigate the socio/psycho-political issues of the present and future. As Lambert (2016) states, that in “representing ‘queer’ stories, [we] illuminate how important it is to provide a space for marginalized voices to be heard, documented and shared whilst simultaneously suggesting that such voices have the potential to resonate with the embodied experiences of all, thus generating a space for collective social change” (576).

In today’s shifting and transformative climate in LGBTIQ+ rights, it is an important moment for writers of historical fiction to contribute to this ongoing powerful discourse of identity, agency, and social and cultural progress.


Lambert, K. “‘Capturing’ Queer Lives and the Poetics of Social Change”. Continuum, vol. 30, no. 5, 2016, pp. 576-586. 

Jonathon Ball is a PhD candidate in English & Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle. His research is focused on queer poetics/‘homotextuality’ and the historical novel. His PhD exegesis and novel explore (re)presentations of queer identity in historical fiction, particularly concerning expressions of homosexuality, homoeroticism, male-male desire, homosociality and non-heteronormative experiences in contrasting historical and cultural contexts.

11.10am - Panel 2

Genre & the discourse of history (CHair: Kelly Gardiner)

The culture we live in shapes us. We also shape the culture we live in. Stories we tell play critical roles in this shaping.

Historical fiction and the past it tells of have specific and important elements that derive from our cultural views and our personal views. The world that the writer builds for the story not a simple set of decisions about whether the hairstyle should be Grecian or a cap should cover the hair, whether the muslin should be sprig muslin, or whether clothes must be changed to go shopping. The acts of making conscious decisions about the world in which the story is set and the filling-in-the-gaps between these decisions take a writer into story space. Readers read from story space – writers enter it to write.

Story space has important cultural ramifications, especially for the way we see history. In this paper I will discuss how cultural and personal material is carried into our fiction using the very building blocks that create story. When a type of story (such as the Regency romance) becomes very popular, those building blocks help us share culture: the material that is carried into the novel by the writer is carried out again by the reader. Different types of novels use different types of building blocks, and different periods and places do likewise. Novels set in Regency London will be used to illustrate how these differences can operate and to illustrate some of their effects.

Character types, dress and other components that create historical fiction also create a ‘feel’ for a period and place in readers. How the building blocks of story (especially in historical fiction and historical fantasy novels) lead readers into interpreting history in a particular way is critical to interpreting cultural roles that historical novels can play.

If a writer creates a world using the right set of building blocks, regardless of the amount of actual history involved, the reader is likely to consider it authentic because of the way building blocks echo each other across different novels within a genre.

Gillian Polack wrote History and Fiction: Writers, Their Research, Worlds and Stories and co-wrote The Middle Ages Unlocked. Her other published work includes, novels, short stories and articles. Gillian teaches writers and has PhDs in Creative Writing and in Medieval History.

Long neglected in anglophone scholarship, prehistoric fiction (i.e. novels and short stories set in the prehistoric past) has recently received serious attention that is both welcome and overdue. As yet unaddressed, however, are certain aspects of the genre that present the most theoretically productive challenges from the perspective of narrative theory. This paper examines three interrelated problematics under the headings voice, form and narrative situation: the challenges of developing a narrative idiom suitable to the prehistoric lifeworld; the relationship between the narrative structure, formal conventions and stylistic devices of the text and the modes of storytelling used in prehistoric societies; and the implications for narrator and narratee of a text that tells the story of a world before text. A small number of novels are selected to demonstrate the variety of strategies used to negotiate these issues: J.-H. Rosny’s Eyrimah, Johannes V. Jensen’s The Long Journey, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s Reindeer Moon, Jim Crace’s The Gift of Stones and Margaret Elphinstone’s The Gathering Night. Underlying all three problematics is the key question of distance between the reader and the world of the narrative. My claim is that the central task of prehistoric fiction, to immerse the reader as thoroughly as possible in a prehistoric Umwelt, places two contradictory demands on the text: to foster a sense of intimacy between the reader and the narrated world, and to preserve the strangeness and difference of that world. The relative efficacy and limitations of the strategies deployed by the texts under discussion demonstrates the trade-offs necessitated by this overarching problem domain. The unusual conditions and constraints that obtain in prehistoric fiction cast new light on longstanding problems in the study of narrative.

Joshua Mostafa is a doctoral candidate at the Writing and Society Centre, Western Sydney University. His creative practice explores the interstices of prose and metrical poetry, of narrative and the lyric, and of the written and the spoken word. He lives in the Blue Mountains.


The time-slip novel has been identified by many scholars as a sub-genre of fantasy that is “more prominent… in children’s (literature) than in mainstream fantasy” (Nikolajeva 53). The classic English children’s time slip novel affords the implied reader the experience, via the focalised character, of a history that is frequently associated with the protagonist’s personal family history, and in which the child protagonist “learn(s) something significant about themselves” (Wilson). Nikolajeva notes the relative lack of agency of the protagonist of the classic children’s time slip novel, who may not change past or present, nor move objects through time. While the English time-slip story has been the primary interest of scholarship on the sub-genre; more recently, scholarship has focused on time slip as an expression and interrogation of nationalism and national identity (Coslett; Marquis), which is of particular interest to a study of how the genre has emerged and developed in a colonised nation such as Australia.

As part of my broader research into Australian children’s fantasy fiction, I am making a focused study into the nature of time and history in Australian time slip fiction, and in particular how Australian children’s authors have been influenced by Aboriginal concepts of time and history as iterative. In these novels, history may indeed be changed and objects transcend chronological Western time.

This paper will look at the development of Australian time slip from the publication of Nan Chauncy’s highly influential 1960 novel Tangara, to more recent examples, including Kate Constable’s Crow Country (2011) and Carole Wilkinson’s Inheritance (2018). I will consider how the mechanics and conventions of the time slip historical novel have been employed to explore our recent and ancient (repeating) history in order reveal the cost of Settler life in Australia to Aboriginal people displaced – and worse – by colonisation.

Finally, I will also consider how the Australian children’s time slip (historical) fantasy has frequently been used to explore the possibility of Settler Colonial Australians learning from Aboriginal and Settler history in order to forge their own relationship with Country, comparable to and even inspired by, but also clearly distinct from that of Aboriginal Australians.


Cosslett, Tess. ““History from Below”: Time-Slip Narratives and National Identity.” The Lion and the Unicorn 26 (2002): 243-53. Print.

Marquis, Claudia. “Haunted Histories: Time-Slip Narratives in the Antipodes.” Papers : Explorations into Children’s Literature 18.2 (2008): 58-64. Print.

Nikolajeva, Maria. “The Develoment of Children’s Fantasy.” The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature. Ed. James, Edward and Mendlesohn, Farah. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 50-61. Print.

Wilson, Kim. “Living History Fiction.” Papers : Explorations into Children’s Literature 20.1 (2010): 77-86. Print.

Judith Ridge is currently writing her PhD thesis on Australian children’s fantasy fiction. Judith is a teacher working in Western Sydney. She has previously worked as an editor and critic specialising in children’s and young adult literature.  She is the contributing and commissioning editor of The Book that Made Me (Walker Books 2016).

Historical novels have the ability to provide unique insights into untold histories. In this paper, I examine ways in which the historical biofiction of Jessica Anderson’s 1975 novel The Commandant seeks to find truth through fiction. Anderson used historical sources and her own keen insight to create a rich and complex portrait of Patrick Logan, a man who is immortalised in folklore as one of Australia’s greatest tyrants. The themes of authority, abuses of power and how the colonial past shaped Australia’s identity had great resonance to Anderson’s contemporary readers and are still relevant in the present day. I argue that in the case of The Commandant, historical fiction offered the opportunity to tell a story that had been excluded from mainstream official histories in favour of dominant hegemonic interpretations. Anderson subverted the traditional biofiction of a man of importance by feminising the masculine history of Patrick Logan and the Moreton Bay convict settlement and telling much of his story from the point-of-view of the soldiers’ female family members. I focus on her fiercely forensic approach to historical research and how she applied this to her writing practice to produce a work of historical biofiction that shines a light on a foundational period of Australian history.


Merran Williams is currently completing her PhD at La Trobe University, which is made up of a historical novel and an exegesis. She was previously a writer/producer specialising in documentary and worked as a journalist for 10 years. Merran now teaches media and communication at La Trobe.

1.50pm - Panel 3

War & Conflict (Chair: Catherine Padmore)

The Champs de Mars ‘Massacre’ of 17 July 1791 was one of the key events of the French Revolution. It contributed significantly to the radicalisation of the Parisian masses and, by so doing, instigated and/or accelerated the so-called Second Revolution of 1792, the collapse of the French monarchy, and the creation of the First Republic. As such, it can be said to have brought about, as the philosopher Alain Badiou would have it, ‘the Idea of Communism’. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Massacre has been included in many fictional accounts of the Revolution, although it has very rarely been treated with the prominence that it would seem to warrant. I have made this event – the bloody suppression of non-violent anti-monarchist working and lower middle-class petitioners in Paris by the French National Guards – one of the central events of my own creative account of the Revolution, a work in progress which fuses the genres of historical fiction, the epic, and literary non-fiction. In this presentation I would like to briefly review some of the depictions of the Massacre in fiction and cinema, and also present a fragment of my own work in progress.


Ali Alizadeh is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Monash University. His books include a novel about Joan of Arc, The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc. He’s currently working on a novel about the French Revolution, and lives in Melbourne.

While it is easy to be blinded by the vast sums spent by the Australian government on the centenary of World War I, there was also a lot of activity at the community level: a “near perfect storm of Anzac historical consumption”, as historian Anna Clark puts it.[1]   Alongside everything from commemorative fun runs to hand-knitted poppies, there was also a serious war books boom.

This paper will focus on the numerous Australian novels which make up part of this boom, and show how, perhaps contrary to expectations, commercial, mass-market historical romances consitutute a lion’s share of the latest wave of novels.  These are period dramas, with lush, enticing covers, and yet they offer more than just a love affair with the nation’s most sacred narrative.  Novels such as Karly Lane’s If Wishes Were Horses (2017), Pamela Hart’s The Soldier’s Wife (2015) and Mary-Rose MacColl’s In Falling Snow (2012) raise questions about the nature of historical recollection, foreground the war’s female workers, and shed light on the war’s long and difficult aftermath.  In doing so, they also invite us to reconsider some of the scholarly assumptions often made about Australian readers of war literature: that they are naïve, narrow-minded, nationalist. For all their often formulaic plots, these novels imagine readers capable of re-engaging with the memory of the Great War in different ways and at a number of levels: personal, local, regional, global.


Dr Christina Spittel is a Senior Lecturer in English and Media Studies at UNSW Canberra, and an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow. She is the co-editor of Australian Literature in the German Democratic Republic: Reading through the Iron Curtain (2016) and her first book, The First World War in the Australian Novel is forthcoming with Sydney University Press (2020).

[1]     Anna Clark, “Trench Warfare: The Honest History Book” Sydney Review of Books 19 September 2017: https://sydneyreviewofbooks.com/trench-warfare-the-honest-history-book/


While expressing concern that the fact of Nigerian civil war literature may eventually overwhelm its creative integrity, leading first generation Nigerian literary critic, Ernest Emenyonu had made the thought-provoking call in 1991 for Nigerian civil war creative writers “to allow a reasonable period of time to lapse before they can objectively write about the war, no longer as active combatants in the conflict, but as writers who bring their imaginative vision to bear on the important events in the history of their people” to enable them produce works that are more aesthetically pleasing and artistically rewarding.” Based on this observation, Emenyonu concludes that the “the great Nigerian war novel is yet to be created.” This paper takes on the idea of ‘historical and emotional distance’ and its place in the preservation of the artistic and aesthetic dignity of narratives based on significant incidents of the past. We have hinged our analyses on two African female novelists of the same professional generation but of different biographical backgrounds. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of the globally-acclaimed Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) was born seven years after the Nigerian war (1967-1970) ended, in 1977, and therefore is adjudged to have no direct physical connection to the tragedy. On the other hand, Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, author of Roses and Bullets (2008) and a quasi-combatant participant in the war, allowed nearly five decades to elapse, to be able to find the necessary psychological detachment to produce something several rungs aesthetically higher than mere straightforward re-rendering of the war. What strategies does each of these highly historically-conscious authors devised to escape the factualization of history that have constrained the artistic consciousness of their predecessor artist? How have their different realities of artistic distance contributed to their different individual objectives of fictionalizing history? To what extent can it be said that their sensitivity to historical truth strikes an appropriate balance with artistic integrity?


Ezechi Onyerionwu is at present completing his PhD at Birkbeck, University of London. He is a Nigerian literary critic, biographer  and co-author of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Aesthetics of Narrative and Commitment (2009) and author of Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo: Life and Literature (2017). His scholarly interests is in 21st century Nigerian literature and life-writing.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s novel Arus Balik (Cross-Currents) (Hasta Mitra, Jakarta 1995) is set at the time of the first European colonial incursions into the Southeast Asian region. It highlights the importance of the effect of the Portuguese attack on Malacca in 1511, and the subsequent forays along the coast of what is now Indonesia in pursuit of the lucrative spice trade. Although the Portuguese presence is crucial to the plot, the novelist is primarily engaged with the machinations of the various antagonists, and the accompanying social and cultural changes occurring within the coastal states of Java at that time. This engagement is consistent with his analysis of the development of nationalist politics in the country, a politics seen very much as a crucial battle between the moral qualities of integrity and the dignity of common humanity and self-serving interests which in his perspective have laid the very conditions for colonial domination and subsequent oppression under such regimes as the New Order (1965-1998). Pramoedya’s novels in general present a pattern of behaviour observed throughout history, which sets up an ongoing battle between freedom and oppression, a key feature of post-colonial societies generally. One particularly effective way he emphasises this conflict is through the role, and the treatment, of the artist. As a prisoner for many years under the Suharto regime, he experienced the destruction of his manuscripts, the banning of his books, and for a considerable time, the denial to him of writing materials. This paper will discuss how the role of the artist in his fiction is reflective of the struggle for freedom in Indonesia, and how that struggle is central to the role of cultural, religious and economic forces in the region over the centuries. It will focus on certain episodes in Arus Balik where the struggles of dancers and sculptors (through the characters Idayu and Borisrawa), and the attempted destruction of their legacy is indicative of a wider conflict of the external and internal battles for cultural and territorial control.

Jennifer Mackenzie is a poet and reviewer focusing on writing from and about the Asian region. She has a Masters degree from the University of Melbourne, Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Arus Balik: A Meditation on Historical Fiction. Her follow up to Borobudur and Other Poems (2012), Navigable Ink, is forthcoming.

The Academic Stream is being held on Sunday 27 October, 2019.

Tickets to sessions in the academic stream are FREE to HNSA conference attendees. Seating is limited, so  please book.


Building EA, Western Sydney University, Parramatta South Campus
Cnr Victoria Rd & James Ruse Drive
Rydalmere, NSW.

Latest news & interviews


Join the HNSA Community

Our foundation partner

Our partner

Historical Novel Society

Our Sponsors

HNSA Newsletter Updates

Subscribe to our newsletter for interviews, reviews, news and more!