Panel Spotlight – Strong Females versus Survival of the Fittest

How good is this year’s HNSA Conference? It’s 1.45 pm on Sunday 27 October. I’ve enjoyed another round of networking over lunch and I’m on the home stretch. Having tried–and failed–to clone myself, I’ve already been faced with some tough choices between the many fabulous panels on offer. Now I have another lineball decision ahead of me. It’s not getting any easier….

Stream 1: Survival of the Fittest – Challenging Interior and Exterior Landscapes

Setting is an integral part of the architecture of enthralling fiction. Historical novels in particular benefit from the writer’s ability to transport their readers to another time and place by constructing a credible story world, filled with richly textured detail that serves character and plot. Try to imagine Wuthering Heights without those brooding Yorkshire Moors… Moby Dick without its brutal, churning sea … or Ben Hur without those creaky, stinking galleys—or that unforgettable chariot race in the ruthless snake pit of the Roman Circus. 

Stephanie Parkyn, Rachel Leary, David Whish-Wilson, Lisa Chaplin

So how good is the prospect of hearing Lisa Chaplin chair an all-star panel, comprising Rachel Leary, David Whish-Wilson and Stephanie Parkyn on creating characters battling internal fears in a fight for survival against nature and man? Challenging settings are pivotal to each of these authors, from the stark beauty of the Australian landscape to the lawless streets of 19th Century San Francisco and again, that diabolical ocean. With honours in Cultural Geography amongst her many credits, writer/performer, Rachel eats this stuff for breakfast, as does former valuable insights into the interplay of man and landscape. I can’t wait to learn how these talented authors exploited their respective settings so as to test their characters and maximise the emotive power of their work. 

Boom! Too easy. I’m on my way, with three minutes to spare.

But wait, how could I forget? Murphy’s Law: there’s another brilliant panel scheduled at the same time.

Stream 2: The Feminine Mystique – Writing Strong Female Protagonists

After decades where Hollywood blockbusters hinged on macho male leads, feisty, complex female protagonists are now filling cinemas and cramming bestseller shelves. In one sense, it’s surprising it’s taken this long. Didn’t the powers-that-be ever read Gone With the Wind? Scarlett O’Hara is one of historical fiction’s most fascinating characters. The me-too age, it seems, has also rung in the ascendency of the strong female protagonist.

While that’s good news for writers of contemporary women’s fiction (Liane Moriarty, you go, girl!) female protagonists can pose unexpected complications for the historical novelist. Accuracy is the sine qua non of the modern historical novel. How can a writer be true to their period of interest–most likely involving a plethora of restrictions upon women and children–without importing anachronisms that could undermine their story’s credibility? Put simply: if you want your female main character to be kicking butt, how can you contrive this without flying in the face of your era’s prevailing cultural norms? 

Juliet Marillier, Elizabeth Jane Corbett, Kirsty Murray, Sophie Masson

Whoops! This is starting to ring a lot of bells. Maybe Sophie Masson AM–our Conference Patron, no less–and her panel can help. Well, I’d be surprised if they can’t. The award-winning Sophie will facilitate a discussion with historical fantasy writer Juliet Marillier, Elizabeth Jane Corbett and Kirsty Murray. I’ve attended one of Juliet’s workshops, and loved her dry wit and extensive mythological knowledge. As a multi-award winning author of children’s historical fiction, Kirsty’s the perfect pick to unlock insights into times when children were expected to be ‘seen and not heard’, and I’m also keen to hear how Elizabeth crafted Bridie, the fifteen-year-old heroine of her debut historical novel, The Tides Between

This panel sounds the ideal opportunity to gather hints on how to optimise my female protagonist, while remaining true to the spirit of her day. Then all I need do is to place her in a range of artfully crafted interior and exterior landscapes that challenge her to the max and—

Congratulations, conference organizers, you’ve done it again! 1.49 pm, and I’m back where I started. I may as well just spin around and start walking, because either way ‒ seriously ‒ it’s all good. 

Sharon Barba

Sharon Barba majored in ancient history at the University of Western Australia and combines her love of history with travelling to exotic destinations featuring fabulous food, wine, shopping… and the occasional donkey. Her current WIP is a historical series about the Gracchi, the Kennedy brothers of Republican Rome.

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.

Enjoy a delicious meal at our conference dinner on Saturday 26 October where Anna Campbell will entertain us. You’ll also hear who’s won this year’s ARA HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize, and the HNSA Colleen McCullough Residency.

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