2021 ARA Historical Novel Prize – Adult Category Longlist

In conjunction with its generous sponsor ARA Group, the Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) has announced the nine talented authors, and their outstanding novels, selected in the Longlist for the 2021 ARA Historical Novel Prize – Adult Category. The longlisted entries include:

The judges also awarded two books a Highly Commended honour:

The ARA Historical Novel Prize Shortlist will be announced on Wednesday 22 September. The winners will be announced at the HNSA virtual conference on 22 October 2021.

The Judging Panel

The 2021 judging panel for the Adult category included Nicole Alexander (Chair), Carmel Bird and Roanna Gonsalves.

According to Nicole Alexander, “The 2021 ARA Historical Novel Prize Adult Longlist highlights the distinctive and compelling voices writing within the genre. These richly imagined books give new interpretation to difficult histories, reflect different levels of complexity, and address personal and social aspects of humanity. Tales of greed, conflict, dispossession, love, justice and resilience encompass colonialism, Indigenous culture, environmental destruction, intergenerational trauma and the place of women in society.”

The Tolstoy Estate By Steven Conte

About The Tolstoy Estate

In the first year of the doomed German invasion of Russia in WWII, a German military doctor, Paul Bauer, is assigned to establish a field hospital at Yasnaya Polyana – the former grand estate of Count Leo Tolstoy, the author of the classic War and Peace. There he encounters a hostile aristocratic Russian woman, Katerina Trubetzkaya, a writer who has been left in charge of the estate. But even as a tentative friendship develops between them, Bauer’s hostile and arrogant commanding officer, Julius Metz, becomes erratic and unhinged as the war turns against the Germans. Over the course of six weeks, in the terrible winter of 1941, everything starts to unravel…

About Steven Conte

Steven Conte’s debut novel, The Zookeeper’s War, won the inaugural Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction. It was also shortlisted for the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book and for the 2007 Christina Stead Award for Fiction. The novel was published in the UK and Ireland and translated into Spanish. For further information, visit Steven’s website.

“Due to some recent work on my Italian, the word that springs to mind at the news of The Tolstoy Estate’s longlisting for the ARA Prize is “splendido!” Bravo Edward Federman and the team at ARA for sponsoring such a generous award, as well as the HNSA for its support of great antipodean literature.”

Steven Conte

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

About A Room Made of Leaves

What if Elizabeth Macarthur—wife of the notorious John Macarthur, wool baron in the earliest days of Sydney—had written a shockingly frank secret memoir? And what if novelist Kate Grenville had miraculously found and published it? That’s the starting point for A Room Made of Leaves, a playful dance of possibilities between the real and the invented.

Marriage to a ruthless bully, the impulses of her heart, the search for power in a society that gave women none: this Elizabeth Macarthur manages her complicated life with spirit and passion, cunning and sly wit. Her memoir lets us hear—at last!—what one of those seemingly demure women from history might really have thought.

About Kate Grenville

Kate Grenville is one of Australia’s most celebrated writers. Her international bestseller The Secret River was awarded local and overseas prizes, has been adapted for the stage and as an acclaimed television miniseries, and is now a much-loved classic. Grenville’s other novels include Sarah Thornhill, The Lieutenant, Dark Places and the Orange Prize winner The Idea of Perfection. Her most recent books are two works of non-fiction, One Life: My Mother’s Story and The Case Against Fragrance. She has also written three books about the writing process. In 2017 Grenville was awarded the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. She lives in Melbourne. For further information, visit Kate’s website.

“Historical novels open the door to the past for so many readers – I’m honoured to be in the company of so many strong works of historical fiction.”

Kate Grenville

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray - River of Dreams by Dr Anita Heiss

About Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray – River of Dreams

The powerful Murrumbidgee River surges through town leaving death and destruction in its wake. It is a stark reminder that while the river can give life, it can just as easily take it away.Wagadhaany is one of the lucky ones. She survives. But is her life now better than the fate she escaped? Forced to move away from her miyagan, she walks through each day with no trace of dance in her step, her broken heart forever calling her back home to Gundagai. When she meets Wiradyuri stockman Yindyamarra, Wagadhaany’s heart slowly begins to heal. But still, she dreams of a better life, away from the degradation of being owned. She longs to set out along the river of her ancestors, in search of lost family and country. Can she find the courage to defy the White man’s law? And if she does, will it bring hope … or heartache?

About Dr Anita Heiss

Dr Anita Heiss is an award-winning author of non-fiction, historical fiction, commercial women’s fiction, children’s novels and blogs. She is a proud member of the Wiradjuri Nation of central New South Wales, an Ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, the GO Foundation and Worawa Aboriginal College. Anita is a board member of University of Queensland Press and Circa Contemporary Circus, and is a Professor of Communications at the University of Queensland. As an artist in residence at La Boite Theatre in 2020, Anita began adapting her novel Tiddas (S&S, 2014) for the stage. Her novel Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms (S&S, 2016) set in Cowra during World War II, was the 2020 University of Canberra Book of the Year. Anita enjoys eating chocolate, running and being a ‘creative disruptor’.

For further information:

“Being longlisted for the prestigious 2021 ARA Historical Novel Prize is an extraordinary moment in my long writing career. Recognition for Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray is not only recognition for my writing, but for the Wiradjuri heroes, stories and language that readers get to learn about and love as much as I do. For me, truth-telling in historical fiction is not only essential but a strategic way to engage reads of all backgrounds, and this longlisting suggests that perhaps that strategy may just be working, and for that I am also overwhelmingly grateful.”

Dr Anita Heiss

The Last Convict by Anthony Hill

About The Last Convict

Oxford 1863: Young Samuel Speed sets a barley stack alight in the hope it will earn him a bed in prison for the night. He wants nothing more than a morsel of food in his belly and a warm place to sleep off the streets. What he receives is a sentence of seven years’ servitude, to be served half a world away in the penal colony of Fremantle, Western Australia.

When Samuel boards the transport ship Belgravia, he is stripped of his clothing and even his name, and given regulations of when to rise, eat, clean and sleep. On arrival at Fremantle Prison, hard labour is added to the mix and he wonders if life can get any worse. The only solace he finds is a love of reading, which allows the likes of Tom Sawyer and Oliver Twist to become his lifelong friends.

Samuel is granted a ticket of leave in 1867 and full freedom in 1871, but what sort of life can a man forge for himself in the colony, with no skills, no money and no family? Will it be the beginning of the life he has always dreamed of, or do some sentences truly never end?

About Anthony Hill

Born in Melbourne in 1942, Anthony Hill is the author of 20 books, many based on historical fact. They include the award-winning Soldier Boy (2001) about the youngest known ANZAC, and the companion book Young Digger (2002, 2016), concerning a French war orphan smuggled to Australia at war’s end. Other military novels are The Story of Billy Young (2014) and For Love of Country (2016). Anthony’s historical novel Captain Cook’s Apprentice won the NSW Premier’s young people’s history prize in 2009. His current work is about Matthew Flinders and the voyage of HMS Investigator, the first to circumnavigate Australia 1801-03. For further information, visit Anthony’s website.

“I’m honoured to have The Last Convict long-listed for this award. For 14 years I’d been wanting to write the story of Samuel Speed, widely accepted as the last transported convict to survive in Australia. He lived until 1938, not long before I was born. For years I couldn’t get beyond the few official records of his conviction, transportation to Fremantle in 1866, freedom in 1871 and death, until I found an interview Speed gave to a Perth newspaper before died. At last the character I’d long imagined began to come to life. I’m pleased other readers have felt the same.”

Anthony Hill

The Glass Harpoon by Robert Horne

About The Glass Harpoon

When Matthew Larkin comes to South Australia in 1842 to join his brother James, many people say he is not cut out for life on the frontier. Charming and chaotic, he seems more born for poetry and the salons of London than the rough life of building a new colony. But it is his very difference that wins the heart of Lucy Bray, the smart and impulsive niece of the Governor. When Matthew meets eccentric lower-class schoolteacher and friend of the Kaurna people, William Cawthorne, he becomes enthralled by the culture of the Aboriginal people and earns the disapproval of other colonists. While Matthew believes that Europeans can live alongside and share with the Kaurna, who have been made British citizens after all, many colonists have other plans. When the brothers move to their holding in the north of the colony, sheep are taken by Aboriginal people while overlanding from New South Wales. Tensions between groups of colonists rise and shooting parties begin. It is a battle for the existence of an ancient culture and for the soul of the new colony. When Matthew is injured Lucy is desperate for news and, even though forbidden by her uncle, she makes an epic solo ride to the North to find out what is really happening away from the town. What awaits her there will change her life forever.

About Robert Horne

Robert Horne has been hooked on books and story-telling ever since reading Dickens, the Brontes and Captain Marriott as a child and early teenager. After studying a BA at the University of Adelaide he became a public servant and a teacher of Classical Studies and English. He has been greatly influenced by the cosmic scope and telling detail found in the works of Homer. It was in 2010 when reading tales of early interaction between settlers and the Kaurna people of the Adelaide plains that Robert found the inspiration for his second novel, The Glass Harpoon – it was an idea that wouldn’t go away. Robert has a Masters and Doctorate in creative writing and is currently working on his third novel. For further information, follow Robert on Facebook.

"It is a significant breakthrough event for me personally to be longlisted for this prize. The novel has taken about seven years to research, draft, to restructure the chronology and finally rewrite in a tone pitched between modern and early-Victorian speech. It has been a journey to gain attention for some of the key historical issues raised and I thank the judges so much for this recognition. It was a joy to tell the unique story of the conflict between humanitarians and profiteers in early South Australia through the passions and struggles of three young colonists. I have in part drawn on handed-down stories from both black and white sides, so the novel is also an implicit call for the inclusion of more oral accounts in our official histories. Thank you again."

Robert Horne

Our Shadows by Gail Jones

About Our Shadows

Our Shadows tells the story of three generations of family living in Kalgoorlie, where gold was discovered in 1893 by an Irish-born prospector named Paddy Hannan, whose own history weaves in and out of this beguiling novel. Sisters Nell and Frances were raised by their grandparents and were once closely bound by reading and fantasy. Now they live in Sydney and are estranged. Each in her own way struggles with the loss of their parents. Little by little the sisters grow to understand the imaginative force of the past and the legacy of their shared orphanhood. Then Frances decides to make a journey home to the goldfields to explore what lies hidden and unspoken in their lives, in the shadowy tunnels of the past.

About Gail Jones

Gail Jones is one of Australia’s most celebrated writers. She is the author of two short story collections and eight novels, and her work has been translated into several languages. She has received numerous literary awards, including the Prime Minister’s Literary Award, the Age Book of the Year, the South Australian Premier’s Award, the ALS Gold Medal and the Kibble Award, and has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the International Dublin Literary Award and the Prix Femina Étranger. Originally from Western Australia, she now lives in Sydney.

The task of imagining history beyond our own - with interest, curiosity and genuine engagement - is both a moral obligation and an intellectual adventure. The ARA Historical Novel Prize honours such texts and I’m delighted Our Shadows is among those longlisted.

Gail Jones

The Madwoman's Coat by Ian Reid

About The Madwoman’s Coat

1897: Isabella Trent is found murdered in an Australian asylum cell. Why did she die? Who is the killer? What is the meaning of the ornate motifs that Isabella has secretly embroidered on a man’s frock coat?

Years earlier, young Lucy Malpass leaves her home town in Staffordshire for London, where she is drawn into a community of artists and socialists around William Morris and his family. Before long there is not only a prospect of fulfilling work but also a glimpse of reciprocal passion. Then her high hopes gradually begin to unravel.

There seems to be a link between Lucy and Isabella, related somehow to an old Icelandic tale. But what exactly is this link, and what can it explain about their closely held secrets?

About Ian Reid

Ian Reid grew up in New Zealand and has lived for many years in Perth. The Madwoman’s Coat is his fifth historical novel. He is the author of 15 books — mainly fiction, poetry and literary criticism — and editor of several more. Ian’s work has been widely published, winning international recognition including the Antipodes Prize and being translated into five languages. He is an Adjunct Professor in English and Literary Studies at the University of Western Australia. For further information, visit Ian’s website.

“There’s a wonderful sense of public affirmation in being longlisted for such a prestigious award. And beyond that, it’s exhilarating to be associated with the ARA Prize because it celebrates the great value of imaginary time-travel. Too much contemporary fiction seems cramped within the here-and-now, tending to reinforce current attitudes and assumptions. By inventing characters and episodes set within a well researched framework of times past, authors of historical novels can help readers to see aspects of our own world from a new perspective.”

Ian Reid

The Burning Island by Jock Serong

About The Burning Island

Eliza Grayling, born in Sydney when the colony itself was still an infant, has lived there all her thirty-two years. Too tall, too stern—too old, now—for marriage, she looks out for her reclusive father, Joshua, and wonders about his past. There is a shadow there: an old enmity.

When Joshua Grayling is offered the chance for a reckoning with his nemesis, Eliza is horrified. It involves a sea voyage with an uncertain, probably violent, outcome. Insanity for an elderly blind man, let alone a drunkard. Unable to dissuade her father from his mad fixation, Eliza begins to understand she may be forced to go with him. Then she sees the vessel they will be sailing on. And in that instant, the voyage of the Moonbird becomes Eliza’s mission too.

About Jock Serong

Jock Serong’s novels have received the Ned Kelly Award for First Fiction, the Colin Roderick Award and the inaugural Staunch Prize (UK). He lives with his family on Victoria’s far west coast. For further information, visit:

“The pressures we face in the present, and the ever-increasing torrent of new demands on our society, mean that we risk being severed from the lessons of our past. What can the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries - or the thousands of generations of our Aboriginal heritage - possibly tell us about living in the here and now? Plenty, as it turns out. The Uluru Statement from the Heart echoes the Yirrkala Bark, and before that, the Petition to Queen Victoria. The unsung, the unresolved and the unknown will continue to haunt us all, and we must keep talking. It feels like we’re experiencing a genuine reappraisal of Australia’s past across multiple art forms, and in particular fiction. To have a small part in these conversations is a privilege, but a daunting one. So I’m very grateful for this longlisting, but I take it as a reminder to tread respectfully.”

Jock Serong

The Silent Listener by Lyn Yeowart

About The Silent Listener

In the cold, wet summer of 1960, 11-year-old Joy Henderson lives in constant fear of her father. She tries to make him happy but, as he keeps reminding her, she is nothing but a filthy sinner destined for Hell. Yet, decades later, she returns to the family’s farm to nurse him on his death bed. To her surprise, her ‘perfect’ sister Ruth is also there, whispering dark words, urging revenge. Then the day after their father finally confesses to a despicable crime, Joy finds him dead – with a belt pulled tight around his neck. For Senior Constable Alex Shepherd, investigating George’s murder revives memories of an unsolved case still haunting him since that strange summer of 1960: the disappearance of nine-year-old Wendy Boscombe. As seemingly impossible facts surface about the Hendersons – from the past and the present – Shepherd suspects that Joy is pulling him into an intricate web of lies and that Wendy’s disappearance is the key to the bizarre truth.

About Lyn Yeowart

Lyn Yeowart is a professional writer and editor with more than 25 years of experience in writing and editing everything from captions for artworks to speeches for executives. Her debut novel, The Silent Listener, is loosely based on events from her childhood growing up in rural Victoria. She is now happily ensconced in Melbourne, where there is very little mud, but lots of books. For further information, visit:

“I am utterly delighted that The Silent Listener has been long listed for the ARA Historical Novel Prize! The HNSA does brilliant work promoting historical fiction and its various sub-genres, including their support of novelists with this prize and the new CYA Historical Novel Prize. It’s such a terrific way of generating interest in both history and novels, and I am immensely grateful to the judges, HNSA, and ARA. Congratulations to all of the long listed novelists in both categories – I now have a whole new TBR pile!”

Lyn Yeowart

Highly Commended

THE TULIP TREE BY SUZANNE MCCOURT​

About The Tulip Tree

Henryk reached out to embrace him, formally, awkwardly. How rarely they’d touched since childhood, thought Adi, as he sank against his brother, how clumsy their love.

Brothers Henryk and Adam Radecki’s relationship is one of fraught love and jealously. Henryk, unhappily married, becomes a rich and successful industrialist, while Adi, a devoted vet, finds and loses love. Their bond is tested throughout their lives, from the 1920s, against the background of Poland’s tragic and tumultuous relationship with Russia, through war, revolution and invasion, until 1954 in the Snowy Mountains of Australia.

Adi’s wife and son are at the heart of this riveting tale, in which family secrets threaten to tear lives apart. Caught up in momentous events, each character reminds us of our power to survive extraordinary times, of the moral choices we make and the dramatic turns our lives can take.

About Suzanne McCourt

Suzanne McCourt grew up in a fishing village on the South Australian coast, the setting for her debut novel The Lost Child (Text Publishing, 2014), which was longlisted for the 2015 Miles Franklin Award. Her novella, The Last Taboo: A Love Story, shared first prize in the 2016 Griffith Review Novella Competition. Suzanne’s new novel, The Tulip Tree, is set against the background of Poland’s tragic and tumultuous relationship with Russia. It was published by Text Publishing in June 2021. For further information:

HIGHLY COMMENDED​​

LUCKY'S BY ANDREW PIPPOS​

About Lucky’s

Lucky’s is a story of family.
A story about migration.
It is also about a man called Lucky.
His restaurant chain.
A fire that changed everything.
New Yorker article which might save a career.
The mystery of a missing father.
An impostor who got the girl.
An unthinkable tragedy.
A roll of the dice.
And a story of love – lost, sought and won again (at last).

Following a trail of cause and effect that spans decades, this unforgettable epic tells a story about lives bound together by the pursuit of love, family, and new beginnings.

About Andrew Pippos

A former journalist, Andrew Pippos has a doctorate in Creative Writing and tutors at the University of Technology, Sydney. Lucky’s is Andrew’s debut novel. For further information:

ABOUT ARA GROUP

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ARA Group provides a comprehensive range of building services and products to major customers throughout Australia and New Zealand and – through its workplace giving program, The ARA Endowment Fund – plays a proud and positive role in the community.

The ARA Endowment Fund currently donates 100 per cent of the interest earned annually to The Go Foundation, The Indigenous Literacy Foundation and The David Lynch Foundation.

ARA Group has also sponsored the Historical Novel Society Australasia’s biennial conferences since 2017, is Principal Partner of Sydney Writers Festival, the Monkey Baa Theatre, the National Institute of Dramatic Art, and Presidential Partner of Taronga Zoo.

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