Collaboration between Historians and Novelists versus the Writing for the Silver Screen

I really hate having to choose. I’m actually terrible at it. That’s why I run my life by routines. I do the same things at the same times (almost) every day. Removing the choice to do things means they actually get done. I make the decision once, then act on it without revisiting it. Turns out you can write a novel like this. Or get fit. Or get the garden under control. Or train the dog. 

On the other hand, I love conferences. The smorgasbord of ideas on offer, the networking, the showbags and giveaways. Being in a room with all ‘my’ people. Breaking out of routine. Wonderful!

Only trouble is, conferences are all about choosing. I’ve been inching my way through the conference program making choice after choice – some very painful too. But the very last session on the Sunday is a dead-easy choice to make. Phew!

Gay Hendrickson, Gillian Polack, Meg Keneally

Stream 1 Walking Side by Side: collaboration between historical novelist and historian

The session is about the working relationship between writer Meg Keneally and local Parramatta historian Gay Hendriksen. Together they dug into the township’s history, traced the footsteps of Meg’s characters, located potential murder sites and generally shared their history-geekiness.

No decision needed!

First of all, Meg Keneally and Gay Hendriksen, interviewed by Gillian Polack, who is herself an historian, are you kidding?! Of course I’d choose to listen to these three women! Secondly, I have worked as a professional historian myself in the past and the intersection between these fiction and history is endlessly fascinating to me. This seems like a session tailored exactly to my interests. I even did my undergraduate history degree at Western Sydney University, including studying the local history of Parramatta and I used to be a student-guide at the Orphan School when it was full of pigeon poo and ghosts. In fact, perhaps I’ve bought my conference ticket, flights and accommodation just to hear this session!

But, for the sake of completeness I should check the concurrent session, right?!

Malla Nunn, Jesse Blackadder, Kelly Gardiner, Mira Robertson

Stream 2 The Silver Screen: scriptwriting and adaptations

This session is about writing screenplays. More and more historical novels are being adapted for the screen. Think Game of Thrones, Outlander, Miss Fisher… 

Kelly Gardiner will discuss the difference between script writing and the process of writing a novel with Malla Nunn, Mira Robertson, Jesse Blackadder. What do scriptwriters do to keep the level of complexity of characters and themes from the novel? How are intricate plots condensed? And perhaps most importantly for us writers, what elements are producers searching for when considering a story?


Although I’m an avid watcher of historical drama, I’ve never considered writing it or for it. When I bring up the planned renovations to our house, my partner always tells me I’ll have to ‘sell the film rights first’. I always laugh at him and dismiss the idea out of hand. As if! But maybe…I’ve been told my writing is very ‘cinematic’. Could I write for the screen? Perhaps I should go to the session to see what the panellists have to say about this. 

Oh damn. Back to a decision! Do I go with my existing obsessions about history and fiction or do I branch out into a possible future of Hollywood A-lister parties and private jets? 

It is possible you’ll see me on the day, still hesitating between these sessions, just like all the others. Whichever I end up going to, does someone want to go to the other session and meet afterwards to swap notes??

This panel spotlight was written by emerging writer Jennifer Mapleson. She is working on her first novel of historical fiction and is part of the Four Centres Emerging Writers Program in WA. She teaches English and Literature to teenagers and in another life was a professional Historian. This is her second trip across the Nullarbor for the HNSA Conference.  


Once again, historical fiction writers and readers can gather for a three stream program on the weekend of 26-27 October including our extended Academic stream on Sunday 27 October. This time there’s also a Craft & Publishing program on Friday 25 October with craft workshops, masterclasses and manuscript assessments with top class tutors. Our Guest of Honour is Jackie French. Keynote speaker Paula Morris will address our theme: History Repeats.

Among the 60 acclaimed speakers are patrons Kate Forsyth and Sophie Masson, Catherine Jinks, Ali Alizadeh, Lucy Treloar, Pamela Hart, Nicole Alexander, Jane Caro, Alison Goodman, Kelly Gardiner, Michelle Aung Thin, Meg Keneally, Majella Cullinane and so many more.

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