ARA Historical Novel Prize shortlist celebrates the rich tapestry of Australia’s history

The Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA), alongside ARA Group, has today announced the 2020 shortlist for the inaugural ARA Historical Novel Prize.  

The 2020 ARA Historical Novel Prize shortlist is:

  • Master of My Fate by Sienna Brown (Penguin Books Australia): Debut historical novelist, Sienna Brown, tells an unknown coming-of-age survival story about a Jamaican slave transported to New South Wales in the 1830s as a convict. Brown was born in Kingston, Jamaica and grew up in Canada. But it wasn’t until she moved to Sydney that she discovered William Buchanan’s story while working at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks. Brown was captivated by William’s story and the way it intersected with her own cultural background.
  • Shepherd by Catherine Jinks (Text Publishing): One of Australia’s most well-known writers for children and young adults, Catherine Jinks has written a riveting, fast-paced adult historical thriller that brings the brutality and courage of Australia’s colonial frontier vividly to life. Set in rural New South Wales in the convict era, the novel features a young boy hunted down in an ancient land by a brutal killer seeking revenge. Jinks was born in Brisbane, grew up in Papua New Guinea and studied medieval history at the University of Sydney. 
  • Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe (University of Queensland Press): Mirandi Riwoe recreates the experiences of two Chinese siblings struggling to survive on the North Queensland goldfields in 1877. Richly imagined and eloquently expressed, Stone Sky Gold Mountain depicts a past too rarely portrayed in Australian fiction. Drawn to stories of the culturally marginalised, acclaimed author Riwoe explores big questions of identity, racism, colonialism and gender, with richly drawn characters and beautiful writing. Born in Brisbane, Riwoe has studied politics and also holds a PhD in Creative Writing and Literary Studies.

For further information about each of the authors and their novels, please visit 2020 ARA Historical Novel Prize Shortlist.

The winner of the ARA Historical Novel Prize will be announced in Sydney by both video broadcast and live streamed via the HNSA Youtube channel on the evening of Tuesday, 10 November 2020.

The ARA Historical Novel Prize is the most significant genre-based prize in Australasia. It is designed to give historical novelists the opportunity to be recognised in a class of their own — for the first time ever as part of an Australian and New Zealand literary award. The three shortlisted authors are now in the running for an overall first prize of $50,000, with each of the remaining two shortlisted authors set to receive $5,000.

Comments from the Authors

Shortlisted multi-award-winning Blue Mountains author Catherine Jinks said: “At this particular point in time, awards like the ARA Historical Novel Prize are staggeringly important — they give recently published books much-needed publicity. Every single book of mine that has ever really been successful has received some sort of shortlisting or prize. That’s why prize money is so welcome; it has a massive impact on a writer’s income.”

Shortlisted Sydney-based author Sienna Brown said:“It’s exciting to see the ARA Historical Novel Prize come to fruition — it affirms a really terrific and hardworking genre that requires a great deal of research and the ability to create a story embedded in reality, as much as the imagination.”

Shortlisted Brisbane-based novelist Mirandi Riwoe said: “Historical fiction explores and reveals aspects of our past that still affect us today. It can expose the wrongs of the past or illuminate how far we have come. An award like the ARA Historical Novel Prize is essential in supporting and promoting historical fiction as a genre and its authors.”

Excellence in Writing & Depth of Research

Speaking on behalf of the ARA Historical Novel Prize judging panel, Chair Linda Funnell said: “Of the eight outstanding titles on the longlist, the judges have had the challenging task of choosing three to shortlist. Each of these three titles not only demonstrates excellence in writing – the primary criterion for the prize – but depth of research and reader appeal. In evaluating depth of research, the judges sought narratives that seamlessly interwove authentic experience into the lives of convincingly drawn characters. The shortlisted novels present three quite different portraits of colonial Australia, and provide an immersive experience of another time and place.”

HNSA Chair and author Elisabeth Storrs said: “Of the nearly 200 entries received for the prize, it’s thrilling to see these three exceptionally talented authors leading the charge with quality, well-researched literature. These works not only provide entertainment and escapism, but also enlighten readers on our country’s rich tapestry of history.”

ARA Group Founder, Executive Chair and Managing Director, Edward Federman said: “I congratulate the three talented novelists shortlisted for the 2020 ARA Historical Novel Prize. It’s a pleasure to be involved in what we hope will be a long-lasting contribution to the arts, to a genre which has, until now, perhaps not received the attention it rightly deserves.”

The announcement of the shortlist follows ARA Group’s decision to double its funding for the inaugural award, increasing the total prize monies to $60,000 in a bid to celebrate and support authors working across all facets of the literary community whose livelihoods have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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