‘We each read for our own recipe of delight, and I think an outstanding novel is when we find ourselves delighted in a new, original way.’
Award-winning author and New York Times best-selling fantasy novelist, Alison Goodman, is perhaps more likely to be found promenading in the Bath Guildhall ballroom, or promoting her novels in France rather than here in Australia; it was therefore fortuitous for the HNSA (with only a matter of days before the inaugural ARA Historical Novel Prize competition opening for submissions!) that the current Covid-19 restrictions meant Alison was housebound in Melbourne and happy to answer our questions.
In the latest HNSA interview Alison reveals her thoughts on the ARA Historical Novel Prize and the particular appeal of historical fiction for her.
In your experience as a writer and reader of historical fiction what is its particular appeal?
For me the appeal starts with that sense of walking through another era and imagining what it would have been like to live in that time. Setting is such an important part of historical fiction, so part of the delight is being able to sink into a well-described leather armchair in a candle-lit Victorian room, or experiencing life on a ship in 1820. Another delight is the blending of true historical events into a fictional world—I know how much research goes into such interweavings, and I enjoy it so much when it is done with finesse. I also enjoy characterisation that feels authentic to the era, especially when the obstacles and dilemmas that the characters must face are created from the mores and values of that time.
How do you think a prize such as the ARA Historical Novel Prize helps to raise the profile of historical fiction in general?
To be rather blunt, a new literary award will always need to build its reputation, so a large monetary prize at the outset adds a great deal of excitement and desire, and that will attract publicity which will raise the profile of historical fiction.
What difference would it make to an author’s creative life to win a significant sum of prize money?
It’s an equation that every writer knows: money = time to write. It is extremely hard to make a living as a writer, particularly in Australia, so most authors are attempting to balance their creative life with other ways of earning income. We are always trying to buy ourselves the time to create. A significant monetary prize gives an author a precious interior space where they do not have to worry about their finances (for a while) and the time to give themselves over to their project.
Prize money notwithstanding, what are the additional benefits of entering a high profile writing competition for a published author?
The chance of being shortlisted can definitely help author sales via publicity, and attaining a shortlist can also give an author a precious sense of validation. It can be hard working on a novel for months or years and maintaining that inner drive and belief, yet it is an necessary part of the process. To occasionally receive outside validation that one’s hard work was worthwhile can definitely refuel the artistic soul.
Which sub-genre of historical fiction are you pleased to see is eligible, and why do you feel it is important?
I am very pleased to see historical fantasy is eligible. My latest series is the Lady Helen trilogy, a dark historical fantasy, and I spent a great deal of time researching the Regency era so it is as historically authentic as possible. Overlaid on top of that historical research is an original magic/supernatural system that I developed organically from the era (demons based on the yearnings suppressed beneath the new Regency civility). I know from experience that combining historical research with a magic system is quite the juggling act, so I am so pleased to see that the sub-genre is receiving recognition and is eligible for the prize.
What do you think makes a standout historical novel?
There are so many elements that make up a standout historical novel—character, setting, research, philosophical underpinnings, description, style. . . the list goes on––and it is the author’s unique combination of these that create outstanding novels. We each read for our own recipe of delight, and I think an outstanding novel is when we find ourselves delighted in a new, original way.
Alison Goodman is the author of seven novels including her most recent release Lady Helen and the Dark Days Deceit, the final book in her award-winning Regency supernatural trilogy, and EON and EONA, a New York Times bestselling fantasy duology. She is currently working on a new Regency series with mid-life protagonists and has embarked on a PhD focusing on the Regency era and historical fiction research.
The ARA Historical Novel Prize, for published historical novels by Australian and New Zealand authors, will be worth $30,000 to the winning author. With entries opening on May 1, it is a partnership between generous sponsor, the ARA Group, and the Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA), in association with the New England Writers’ Centre. HNSA is delighted and proud to introduce this initiative, which celebrates the diversity and strength of an increasingly popular and acclaimed genre.
This interview was compiled by HNSA Marketing Coordinator, Lou Greene, winner of the HNSA First Pages Pitch in 2017. Lou has an MA Modern History and has recently completed her dual timeline, debut manuscript, The Book Lovers. Already long-listed in the Richell Awards, Lou is also a recent recipient of an ASA Mentorship Award. Find out more about Lou’s writing from her website, or connect with her via Instagram or Twitter.