'A novel that grips the heart as well as the mind; that you want to read more than once; that makes you feel you have gone on an extraordinary, illuminating and thoroughly immersive journey into the past...'
Each of us has our own idea of what makes a stand out historical novel. In this interview, award-winning author and HNSA conference patron, Sophie Masson, gives her views on the subject and explains why winning the NSW Premier's Literary Award had a significant impact on her life. She also gives some practical advice to those considering entering the ARA Historical Novel Prize competition.
In your experience as a writer and reader of historical fiction what is its particular appeal?
I think, speaking as a reader first, that it is to do with the fact that it is a richly immersive genre that both offers escape and insight: escape because we are voyaging into another time than our own, the ‘past is a foreign country’ idea, which can be both exciting and challenging in terms of your assumptions, just like travel to another country; insight because the best historical fiction not only gives you a window into another time, it may also reflect back on your own. It gives you a sense of perspective, as a reader; and as a writer, it challenges you to step outside the comfort attitude zones of your own time, whilst also keeping that strong sense of engagement for contemporary readers through your characters.
How do you think a prize such as the ARA Historical Novel Prize helps to raise the profile of historical fiction in general?
I think it is a very exciting development: a major recognition of the quality of a richly diverse and popular genre, which will showcase the wonderful historical fiction being published in Australia and New Zealand today.
As a winner of a major literary prize yourself, what difference did it make to your creative life to win a significant sum of money?
When I won the Patricia Wrightson in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards for my historical novel for children, The Hunt for Ned Kelly (Scholastic Australia), it made a very big difference—not only because the money substantially boosted my income that year, it also helped to buy me more writing time for the next book. And the prestige of the prize meant that the book was in the public eye for quite a while, with the lingering effects of that still going on nearly ten years down the track. The book has continued to sell really well, has been reprinted several times, and has recently come out in a brand new edition with a beautiful new cover.
Prize money notwithstanding, what are the additional benefits of entering a high-profile writing competition for a published author?
It is always worth entering a major award like the Historical Novel Prize, not just because you might win or be shortlisted, but because it is an opportunity to have your work read and considered by excellent judges. And in the case of the Historical Novel Prize, the fact it has a focus on one genre and not just a general ‘Fiction’ tag, means it is even more of an opportunity for writers in that genre.
What do you think makes a standout historical novel?
A novel that grips the heart as well as the mind; that you want to read more than once; that makes you feel you have gone on an extraordinary, illuminating and thoroughly immersive journey into the past.
What are the benefits for a publisher in submitting entries to a high-profile writing contest with significant prize money?
It is a great opportunity for a publisher to submit books to a major award, and to have the possibility of having their authors and books showcased. It’s very exciting for publishers to know about a new literary award, especially one as substantial as the Historical Novel Prize.
The New England Writers’ Centre is administering the entry process for the prize. Why do you see this as an opportunity? And what advice can you give to entrants?
As the Chair of the New England Writers’ Centre, I am delighted we have been able to help support the inauguration of such a major new literary award as the ARA Historical Novel Prize. As a dynamic regional cultural organisation, we see this as a great opportunity for us to be part of a wonderful event, which we believe will become an important part of the literary calendar in both Australia and New Zealand, and we look forward very much to seeing the range of work that will be entered.
Our advice to entrants is twofold: make sure that your work is of the highest standard of production, whether you submit your book in print or in digital versions; and make sure you follow the guidelines carefully and supply all the required information within the nomination form.
And we wish everyone the best of luck!
About Sophie Masson
Sophie Masson AM is the award-winning author of over 60 books. Her historical novels include War and Resistance (Scholastic Australia, 2019), Black Wings (The Greystones Press, 2018) and Jack of Spades (Eagle Books 2017), shortlisted for the 2018 Davitt Awards. Sophie is also a founding partner and Publishing Director of acclaimed boutique publisher, Christmas Press. A former Chair of the ASA and current Chair of the New England Writers’ Centre, Sophie received an AM award in the Order of Australia this year, for significant service to literature as an author, publisher and through service to literary organisations. Sophie is the HNSA's Conference Patron.
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.