Catching a Judge’s Eye: An Interview with Nicole Alexander, Panel Chair

The judging panels for the two categories of the 2021 ARA Historical Novel Prize consist of eminent authors and publishing professionals. We thought it might be useful for entrants to understand what catches a judge’s eye by interviewing the Panel Chairs. This month, we spoke to Nicole Alexander, Chair of the Adult category.

Nicole Alexander’s novels, poetry, travel, creative writing and genealogy articles have been published in Australia, America, Singapore, New Zealand, Germany and Canada. She is the author of ten bestselling historical novels, set predominantly in Australia. Nicole’s debut novel, The Bark Cutters was shortlisted for an Australian Book Industry Award and she holds a Master of Letters in creative writing and literature. Her most recent novels are The Cedar Tree and Stone Country.

The other judges for the Adult category are Carmel Bird and Roanna Gonsalves.

What is the appeal of historical fiction?

Great fiction transports the reader. Historical fiction adds that wonderous time-travel element. It introduces and illuminates a particular period from the past exposing lives and untold stories whether based on real events or highly imagined. It allows the reader to engage with and ponder worlds that we can never fully comprehend. And it is that step back in time, into the unknown that is so enticing. William Faulkner in Requiem for a Nun, wrote, ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’ And we remain hungry for it.

Why do you think awards like the ARA Historical Novel Prize are important?

The ARA Historical Novel prize celebrates a genre that recognises the essential importance of making history accessible. Only a writer of historical fiction understands the importance of research, the sleuthing required, the depths we must go to ensure authenticity in the creation of a compelling story. It’s important to recognise and support those writing in the genre, while simultaneously promoting historical fiction to a wider audience. We are indebted to the ARA Group Founder, Executive Chair and Managing Director Edward Federman for his generous patronage.

Why did you decide to accept the invitation to be a judge?

Culture is the soul of a country. In one hundred years someone may well be reading (or downloading) a selected work from this year’s entries. That’s a worthy legacy to be part of.

What do you think makes a standout historical novel?

A careful balance of research and creativity that immerses the reader in time and place. As readers we want to be drawn into highly conceived worlds with strong narratives that address cultural norms, customs and other details that depict the period. A work may not necessarily be relatable to modern life however it should fully engage us as if we were within the pages.  

2021 ARA Historical Novel Prize

The 2021 ARA Historical Novel Prize is open for submissions. Take advantage of our Early Bird rate of $35 by submitting your novel by 14 May 2021. The entry fee will increase to $50 after 15 May. The contest closes on 14 June 2021.

The HNSA, in partnership with our generous sponsor, ARA Group, has expanded the ARA Historical Novel Prize to include a category for outstanding Children and Young Adult (CYA) literature bringing the total prize monies to $100,000. Only in its’s second year of operation, it’s now the richest genre based literary award. The winner of the Adult category Prize will be awarded $50,000, with an additional $5,000 to be awarded to each of the two shortlisted authors. In the Children and Young Adult category, the winner will receive $30,000, while the two shortlisters will receive $5,000 each.

For more information, please visit the prize page.

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