Looking forward to the HNSA Conference: interview with Elisabeth Storrs

In just over a month–on September 8–the 2017 Conference of the Historical Novel Society Australasia will be kicking off in Melbourne. And not only do I have the privilege of speaking at the Conference, I also have the honour of being Conference Patron! It’s going to be a great conference, filled with interesting speakers, panels and events, and today I caught up with author Elisabeth Storrs, the program convenor, to tell readers more about it. And, by the way, once you’ve learned what a treat us in store, you can book tickets for the conference here 🙂 

The 2017 HNSA conference is on next month in Melbourne, and there are lots of people–including me!–excitedly waiting for the big day! Elisabeth, can you give a bit of an overview of what to expect at the conference?

Elisabeth Storrs

Over 60 fabulous speakers will celebrate the historical fiction genre, covering eras and events from the Ancient World through to WW2, at the HNSA 2017 Melbourne conference. The programme is divided into three streams. The first will explore the conference theme of Identity: Origins and Diaspora, and also includes interviews with numerous talented authors such as Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Lucy Treloar and you! We’re confident that attendees will find inspiration from such ‘personal histories’. For emerging and aspiring writers, the second stream looks at various aspects of the genre together with the craft of researching and writing. The third stream comprises an academic programme discussing Bio-Fiction and ‘The Lie of History’ that is open for general admission.

Hanifa Deen

We are also conducting an extensive suite of workshops with wonderful tutors including Anne Gracie, Isolde Martyn, Lisa Chaplin, Hazel Edwards, Elizabeth Lhuede and Sherryl Clark giving insights into historical romance, pitching, the business of writing, social media and CYA. Kelly Gardiner and Rachel Franks provide practical tuition on tools such as Scrivener and Trove. Sulari Gentill offers tips on historical mystery, and Rachel Nightingale will demonstrate historical costumes. Greg Johnston gives the lowdown on self-publishing – and who can resist Leif the Viking displaying his array of armour? Additionally, Alison Arnold and Irina Dunn are available for 1:1 manuscript assessments while Gillian Polack is conducting 2 masterclasses on making history come to life through research and writing.

Back by popular demand, we’re running the First Pages Pitch Contest again in which ‘first page’ pitches of aspiring authors will be read anonymously by a narrator (Rachel Nightingale) to industry experts (Alison Green, Mandy Brett and you) who will provide a critique of chosen submissions. The session will provide the audience with a chance to learn what attracts the attention of agents and publishers when seeking new historical fiction. And many thanks to Eagle Books for providing the prize of a limited edition of Mikhail Strogoff by Jules Verne and an original 19th century print of Russian life! The ASA is also kindly offering a free associate membership to the winner.

The theme, Identity: Origins and Diaspora, goes right to the heart of many modern as well as historical discussions and controversies. How did the HNSA committee come up with the theme, and how do you think it will be interpreted?

The committee wanted to explore the theme of Identity: Origins and Diaspora as we believe historical fiction plays an important role in informing current generations as to how national identities have been forged by past struggles, injustices, sacrifice, survival, and clash of cultures. Both Australia and New Zealand are multi-cultural societies with a rich history of migrant stories but both countries have also faced the pain of first encounters between first peoples and colonial settlers which require illumination and interrogation. How historical novelists grapple with portraying these meetings provides fertile ground for exploration. The issue of cultural appropriation will also be up for discussion. As such it was important to secure the appearance of speakers who represented a range of perspectives to reflect this. Our round table discussion at our opening reception on 9th September (after our History with a Twist cocktail party!)

Ngahuia te Awekotuku

features Arnold Zable, Hanifa Deen, Ngahuia te Awekotuku and Gary Crew who will discuss the role of the historical novelist in exploring first encounters in Australasian colonial pasts, the migrant experience underlying multicultural identity, and whether an author’s origins are relevant to the story telling.

There’s a packed conference program, and counting tutors and panel chairs as well as speakers, there are more than 70 presenters. How do you go about sourcing people to be presenters?

Our desire was to provide diversity in the conference line-up by including authors from a variety of backgrounds, particularly indigenous speakers. Fortunately, the success of

the inaugural conference in 2015 placed us in a happy position to be able to run two concurrent streams in 2017 to achieve this vision.

Lesley and Tammy Williams

The first stream of the Saturday programme will continue to highlight the theme with keynote addresses from Lesley and Tammy Williams, authors of Not Just Black and White, followed by panels that will discuss the challenges faced in portraying the meeting of First Peoples with Europeans, and how historical novelists can breathe life into immigrant tales. I chose authors who had produced books that directly addressed one or more aspects of the conference theme such as Nicole Alexander, Maxine Alterio and Kim Kelly.

The remainder of the first stream concentrates on introducing readers and writers to the personal histories of the high profile authors I’ve already mentioned. Insights into the secrets of ‘the long haul’ of producing multiple books or series will be provided by Juliet Marillier, Libby Hathorn and Anne Gracie.

Sulari Gentill

The second stream required further difficult decision making. I chose to separate the sessions into three areas: research and technique, sub-genres, and trends in publishing. I matched authors to the topics using criteria such as prominent reputation, favourable reviews, recommendations from HNSA patrons and committee members, and from among members of our HNSA Facebook group. Again, I hoped to achieve diversity in the panels. And my aim was to present authors who wrote across a range of eras and cultures while also including a few self-published writers with proven reputations. I was pleased to include more Kiwi authors to ensure a greater representation from New Zealand than in our 2015 conference. The result is a wonderful array of panels covering Historical Mystery (Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott, Meg Keneally, Gary Corby), Historical Romance (Isolde Martyn, Alison Stuart), CYA (Alan Tucker, Pamela Rushby, Gabrielle Wang, Wendy Orr), World War Fiction (Julian Leatherdale, Elise

Robert Gott

McCune, Paddy Richardson, Justin Sheedy), ‘The Outlander Effect’ (Belinda Murrell, Felicity Pulman, Ella Carey) The Modern Voice in Historical Fiction (Kate Mildenhall, Melissa Ashley, Greg Pyers), International Fiction (Robyn Cadwallader, Natasha Lester, Prue Batten), Transmuting Research into Compelling Fiction (Barbara Gaskell Denvil, Wendy J Dunn, Stephanie Smee) and Authenticity vs Truth (Pamela Hart, GS Johnston, Tim Griffiths, Kathryn Gauci). And, of course, the weekend finishes with ‘Outside Your Comfort Zone – Writing Sex and Violence’ with less bashful authors Kate Forsyth, Luke Devenish and Anna Campbell.

Kate Forsyth

I thoroughly enjoyed the first HNSA conference, back in 2015, and so did everyone I’ve spoken to who went there. And and I’m sure this one will be even better! But I know that behind the scenes there is a lot of frantic work. Can you tell us a bit about just what it takes to organise a conference of this size and scope, and how has it changed(if it has!) from 2015 to 2017?

Kelly Gardiner

Organising HNSA 2017 is a labour of love for all the committee members who have volunteered 18 months of their lives to bring the event to fruition. In 2015 we only ran one stream and a couple of workshops. 2017 presents two concurrent streams, 10 workshops, 2 masterclasses, 20 manuscript assessment sessions and our inaugural short story contest (with a prize of $500). In other words, the workload has more than doubled. The six committee members have wrestled with website development (our previous website was hacked!), content writing, programming, budgeting, sponsorship drives, marketing, social media streaming, and booking systems to name just a few major tasks. We also have boosted our HNSA blog content to bi-weekly postings and have produced a monthly newsletter. We are also proud to have produced our Imagining the Past podcast series hosted by newly recruited committee member, Kelly Gardiner. On top of all this, we have conducted satellite events in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to help spread the word and also feature aspiring, emerging and established authors who may not have been included on the main conference bill. Frantic is definitely the right adjective!

What are you hoping will come out of the conference?

The last conference gave an opportunity for writers from various stages of their careers to mingle and feel a sense of community. I feel that was one of the major successes of 2015. Our aim is to widen the scope to include readers as well as writers. By presenting a broad programme that hopefully offers something for every historical fiction fan, we hope to build on connections and establish Australasian local chapters as is the case in the UK and USA.

Arnold Zable

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to tell your readers about HNSA 2017. We are super excited that you are our conference patron. I look forward to seeing you in Melbourne. You’ve supported us so well!

More about the Conference:

The HNSA 2017 Melbourne Conference is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University, Melbourne. This celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories in our weekend programme. Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Libby Hathorn, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.

In addition to the two stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses.You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Purchase a ticket and you will be entered in the draw to win a $100 Dymocks Gift Card.

Lucy Treloar

Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry experts, Alison Arnold and Irina Dunn. Our free extended academic programme is open for general admission but bookings are essential.

Our First Pages Pitch Contest offers an opportunity for submissions to be read aloud to a panel of publishers. And we are delighted to announce the introduction of our inaugural HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize!

Visit the HNSA website to purchase your tickets now!

 

Kerry Greenwood

Subscribe to the HNSA newsletter for interviews, reviews and news.

Learn about sponsorship opportunities.

Let’s make a noise about historical fiction!

 

 

Advertisements

My prize-winning poem, Paddock Life

I’m very pleased to report that a poem of mine for children, Paddock Life, has won third prize(poetry category) in well-known children’s poet Jackie Hosking’s annual Poetry and Stories in Verse Competition, the results of which have just been announced!

Congratulations to all the prize-winners and highly commendeds, and many thanks to Jackie for running the comp and always supporting poetry for children!

Below is my poem. Hope you enjoy.

paddock-life-pic

Paddock life

by Sophie Masson

Magpie

She has all the morning alive in her throat,

Silvering the air with a fresh stream of notes,

She’s dressed for a show in her black and her white,

And her song will remain even when she takes flight.

Spiders

The spiders spin their silk all over the place

Patiently weaving fine patterns of lace,

Turning grass clumps to cities and fences to art,

As they work and they wait and they prowl and they dart.

Kangaroo

Over the fence, look! There he goes,

That famous acrobat striking a pose!

Up on two legs, then down on four,

And with the tail, he adds one more.

Blue tongue lizard

From his home in a log the blue tongue clumps out

Like a mini dinosaur he stomps and stalks about,

His tongue flicking in

His tongue flicking out.

Cattle

Knee deep in grass, in the bright golden day,

The cattle are making their very slow way

Down to the dam where they’ll drink and they’ll chew

And they’ll stare and they’ll dream the whole day through.

 

 

Jessica Whitman writes about Wild One

Wild One Blog Tour posterToday, I’m delighted to be part of a blog tour by popular fiction author Jessica Whitman, featuring her new novel, Wild One. In this guest post, she shares an experience many writers can relate to!

My writing ritual is not as glamorous as my heroine

by Jessica Whitman

Before I had kids, I wrote a bit like Kat does in the book. I had a very specific ritual for my writing, and heaven forbid everything was not just exactly so. I had to have a clean house, the right pot of tea (and I always drank out of the same cup), a room solely devoted to my work, a view from my window, loose, comfortable clothes, and glorious, uninterrupted, hours of night time silence. But now, I write catch as I can. The one thing I still do is work at night – which used to be a choice, but now is a necessity. Because I do need uninterrupted hours to really go deep, and it’s just about the only time I can get it.

As for losing my mojo, ironically, having children and having other work, has shown me that writer’s block was really just an indulgence on my part. When your time is severely limited, when you have deadlines to meet, when you are fighting for the hours you need to get your work done, the idea of wasting time sitting in front of a blank screen in pretty much unfathomable. And so I am far more productive since I had kids and jobs to juggle than I was before, when I had all the idle time in the world. The pressure has actually made me a better a writer.

Wild One by Jessica Whitman is published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99, available now.

Thanks to Allen and Unwin, two lucky readers (Australian residents only) could win a copy of the book! Enter by filling in the contact form on my blog, putting in your name and street address(no PO Boxes please). Wild One cover

Read more about Wild One:

 

In the irresistible tradition of Jilly Cooper, Wild One is the second addictively readable novel in the glamorous, scandalous, romance-filled Polo Season series.

When Katherine ‘Kat’ Parker wrote and directed a blockbuster movie she became Hollywood’s ‘It Girl’ overnight – until with one flop she wasn’t. Now Kat is back living in Florida trying to find the inspiration to write what she hopes will be her comeback screenplay.

Despite being an exceptionally talented polo player, Sebastian Del Campo has never shared his famous family’s intense passion for the sport. He has, however, excelled at other polo-related activities – like partying hard and having liaisons with beautiful women.

When Sebastian meets Kat he finds her down-to-earth attitude refreshing. Keen to get to know her better, he regales Kat with stories of his trailblazing grandmother, Victoria, who was a pioneering polo player.

Kat’s imagination is fired by Victoria’s story and she realises she’d make a great subject for a screenplay. Seb agrees and the pair head to Hollywood to seek out funding for a film that could make or break both their careers – and their growing feelings for each other . . .

Wild One is a fun, sexy and entertaining novel about taking a risk to follow your passions in life – and love.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Whitman teamed up with the face of Ralph Lauren, world-famous polo player Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Figueras, to bring to life a romantic trilogy set in the glamorous world of international polo. ‘Nacho’ Figueras is the captain and co-owner of the award-winning Black Watch polo team. The ‘David Beckham of polo’, he has featured on Oprah, 60 Minutes and Gossip Girl, and was voted the second most handsome man in the world by Vanity Fair. Nacho lives in America and Argentina with his wife and their four children.

Where to buy the book:

 

 

 

Thunderbolt Prize winners: Susan Bennett, winner of the Fiction prize

Susan BennettMy final interview with a Thunderbolt Prize winner is with Susan Bennett, winner of the Fiction category in the Thunderbolt Prize.

First of all, Susan, congratulations on your win! Your winning story, Bittersweet, was described by the Fiction judge, Felicity Pulman, as ‘making use of all five senses’ and being  ‘perfectly shaped, with sensual descriptions.’  How did you come up with the central character, Tilly, the food writer? And how did you create the rich texture of the story?

Tilly?  Well, I like my women characters to be strong and complex – flawed human beings rather than representations of ‘the fairer sex.’  And I think in part the story was a reaction to the pretension that is sometimes associated with cookery.  Tilly is a lot less concerned with those aspects than she is with the joyous celebration of life that cooking and food represents.  But as much her food epiphany gains her access to high society, Tilly never stops being the girl who came from nowhere.  Among all of the new found sensuality that food awakens in her, she retains a hard streak and survival instinct that means she’s fully prepared to deal with the man who crosses her, even if she loves him.

In terms of the texture, much of it came from my own experience.  I got into cooking Mexican food in a big way – proper Mexican food, not Tex-Mex.  Living in Australia I couldn’t find the necessary ingredients, so I had to grow them myself.  I ended up with over eighty chilli plants.

I’m inclined to sleepwalk, and my former partner used to catch me wandering out the bedroom door in the dead of night.  When he asked me where I was going, apparently I would answer, “I’m just off to re-pot that chilli.”   On another occasion he reported that I was tossing and turning in my sleep, crying out, “Bugger it!  I’m not re-potting it, I’m not!  I’m not!”  I figure I must have made it outside some nights without him catching me, because I used to find chilli seeds in the bed when I woke up in the morning.  My chilli crop attracted the attention of the police helicopter, but that’s another story.

Suffice it to say that learning to cook Mexican brought a whole new dimension to my love of cooking.

What attracts you to writing crime fiction?

Sometimes I think it’s because I get to bump people off on the page.  A while ago it dawned on me that my stories kept ending with people dying even when I don’t mean them to.  I noted that so far I have killed men by staking them, poisoning them, shooting them and by one other method that probably shouldn’t be mentioned here.  And more than one mother-in-law hasn’t fared too well in my stories.

Crime fiction is an interesting genre because it is so varied, encompassing every style from the very literary to the hardboiled or cosy.  I like the fact that a lot of crime fiction aimed at the mass market is so well-written.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and writing career?

In terms of work I’ve done everything from selling knives and camping equipment to working in technical support in the early days of personal computers.  I’ve spent a lot of time in mercantile agencies (business reporting, credit ratings, debt collection) and in software houses.  I’m at a crossroads at the moment and I’m not sure what my next step will be.

I settled on the idea of writing as a teenager, or more accurately, I was blessed with an inspirational English teacher who encouraged me to aspire to write professionally, and I will always be grateful to her.  She personally selected books for me from the school library in her own time so that I didn’t have to read what the rest of the class was reading.  Unfortunately I think you have to be an adult to appreciate the gift someone gave you as a kid.  I wish I could thank her now and tell her how much it meant to me.

My writing career has probably taken a different path to most in that I started off writing novels then moved on to short stories, whereas many writers tend to do that the other way around.  Writing short stories at first I missed the wriggle space a novel gives you.  On the other hand with short stories, you get to play around stylistically in a way that I don’t think can be sustained over the course of a novel if you want it to be readable.

What do you hope winning the Thunderbolt Prize for fiction will do for you as a writer?

Specifically, the win pleased me because Bittersweet has been written for the general reader.  It isn’t a particularly literary story, and until now I doubted that stories for mainstream readers could win competitions, so that made me happy.

As far as prizes go generally, I have been through every stage I think it’s possible to go through.  At first I only entered competitions because editors, publishers and agents want to see prizes and commendations, and as those are the people I have to deal with, I felt it necessary to go after those prizes and commendations, but I can’t say I enjoyed the experience at first.  I swore off entering for a while because it was just another source of rejection that I found discouraging.

Conventional wisdom has it that we should keep sending our work out, but I’d argue that if rejection is impacting on your ability to work, then there’s a case for taking a break from submitting, so that’s what I did for a while.  It occurred to me that I just wanted a period to develop a relationship with my own work, without worrying what anyone else thought about it for a while.  I asked myself some questions I hadn’t asked before, like why was I writing, who was it for and what did I want to get out of it – me – not anyone else.

It was an interesting and fruitful exercise because my work opened up a great deal more.  It occurred to me that I had been writing defensively.  When I went back to submitting after that hiatus, I started winning prizes immediately, which has had a surprising effect on my writing.  I suppose it’s the encouragement.  My work has opened up even more, become more ambitious.  I feel more confident about realising the potential in the story.

What do you look for in a good story or novel?

One of the drawbacks to being a writer is that you are so accustomed to looking for faults in your own work, it can tend to make you more sensitive to the flaws in other people’s work too.  I’ve been through stages where I can’t read because the smallest misstep spoils a book for me.  You know you’re in trouble if you can’t read Bill Bryson without nit-picking.

I’ll read everything from Charles Dickens (a favourite) to Silence of the Lambs, but the writing always has to be quality.

You have a food blog, http://fudgingthemenu.blogspot.com.au/ How did that start?

Largely to support a cook’s organiser I have developed, but also as another creative outlet.  Cooking and writing come from the same place with me, but that can be problematic.  Cooking is more immediately gratifying than writing – I mean what’s not to love?  First it makes the house smell great, then you get to taste it, then it leaves you feeling happy.  It’s so much more straightforward than writing and a lot less subjective, but if it satisfies the creative urge too much then I’m inclined not to write.

Conversely, sometimes writing satisfies me so much that I don’t want to cook.  That can be a problem too.  Fortunately, wine is always on hand to solve it.

Thunderbolt Prize winners: Madeleine Gome, winner of the Youth Award

Madeleine Gome Author PhotoToday, I am interviewing the winner of the Youth Award in the Thunderbolt Prize, Madeleine Gome.
First of all, Madeleine, congratulations on your win! How did you come up with the idea of your winning story, Scrap Metal?

My story was actually inspired by true events. I was with my dad, picking up our car from the mechanic. We gave the receptionist the numberplate and all he asked for was a credit card. Without needing any proof of identity we were given the keys and sent on our way.

What attracts you to writing crime fiction?
I don’t specifically set out to write crime fiction. I have never been especially attracted to traditional crime stories which follow the investigation of a crime. I’m more interested in characters and relationships, and the flow of words than creating a rigid storyline or structure.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and writing career?
I started writing before I could read, which seems slightly counterproductive. ‘How the Woodcutter Lived’ was apparently my first story. It was about a woodcutter, living in the forest with his partner and their children who got into all sorts of mischief. When I was seven, I wrote my own Harry Potter novella. The spelling was terrible—my parents only managed to translate it into English by reading everything I wrote with a thick Aussie accent! In terms of my writing career, I won the 2014 Hervey Bay Youth Writing Competition and a piece of my non-fiction will appear in an upcoming edition of The Big Issue.
Your mother, Emma Viskic, is also a crime writer(and winner of the fiction category in the inaugural Thunderbolt Prize in 2013). Do you read each other’s work?
Actually, no. My mum is not allowed to give me advice on three things: music, clothing and writing. Our relationship remains intact through a strict separation of powers! She is sometimes allowed to proofread my writing, for clarity and punctuation, but she knows not to comment on the content. I have read one of her short stories, which I loved, but the similarity between our writing was a little unnerving. We both like simple phrases and are interested in characters and relationships.
What do you hope winning the Youth Award will do for you as a writer?
Winning the Youth Award is incredibly thrilling. I have wanted to be an author for as long as I can remember, so receiving validation for my work is very encouraging. I see it primarily as encouragement to continue writing and continue putting my work out there, and to consider writing a viable part of my future and career.
What do you look for in a good story or novel?
I like novels that make me emotionally invested in the characters and their relationships. I enjoy writing which creates characters and situations I can relate to, and that I care about.  I have to want a certain outcome for the characters, and feel involved in their lives. I also love writing that makes me laugh.

Thunderbolt Prize Winners: Tony Sevil, winner of the New England Award

Tony SevilToday, I’m speaking to  Tony Sevil, winner of the New England Award in the Thunderbolt Prize for his short story, The Disappearance of Buck. As well, the story received a Highly Commended citation in the Fiction category.

First of all, Tony, congratulations on your win! How did you come up with the idea of your winning story, The Disappearance of Buck?

Thank you! Back in 2011 I did  an online creative writing course with the NSW Writers Centre. I found the course invaluable and the tutor, Laurine Croasdale, very encouraging.

One of the exercises in the course was to write a personals advertisement for an invented character. I invented the character of Alf Buccal, a competition brickthrower. He was looking for a ‘missus’, someone to settle down with. The exercise was designed to create a character’s voice. I got a bit carried away with the character and the story finished up longer than the guideline wordage.

Who knows where the character came from, but I have always been attracted to people who are passionate about what they do, no matter what that might be. I am a country boy whose family is still on the same property they selected in the 1840’s. I expect I am a bit of an observer and a listener, so I have probably picked up on the patterns of speech and mannerisms of people in rural Australia.

The tutor’s response was very encouraging:

“I laughed so much I nearly fell off my chair. It’s a hilarious piece! Love it!”

So I thought,”Well I think I will hang onto this character, store him away in the back of my mind.”

Tony Sevil's studio

Tony Sevil’s studio

Then earlier this year I saw the promo for the Thunderbolt Crime Writing Competition, and I started to think whether I might be able to weave my character, Alf Buccal, into a crime story. I decided to base the story around his favourite, precious brick, which is stolen. Then it is his search to try and find the culprit.

What attracts you to writing crime fiction?

This is my first attempt at writing crime fiction. It excited me. One part of the plot seemed to lead to the other rather seamlessly. It’s fun to write a mystery story where the reader might wonder “where in the hell is this story going”, especially when it’s just a story about a brickthrower whose special brick is stolen! It is fun to weave the story. Not giving too much away. Perhaps I am a bit of a trickster. I like telling verbally a story in a roundabout way so that people will listen to me!  And perhaps wonder what is coming next.

Crime fiction may not be where my writing future lies, but humour certainly will.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and writing career?

I studied Economics in the early 1960’s. Much later I did a Diploma of Social Science. I have worked in Market Research, Economic Research, public relations. I have been in selling. I have driven a cab and worked in restaurants. Coming from a farming background I have tried my hand at that. I worked and travelled in Europe and Africa for nearly three years. One of the more interesting jobs was taking livestock to South Africa. I was working on a Hereford stud farm in Hereford on the Welsh border. I heard that you could get a job as a stockman on a cargo ship taking animals to south Africa. An opportunity came up and for a couple of weeks I looked after 13 head of cattle, 3 horses and four dogs that were being exported to South Africa. The cargo ship dropped off cargo at the Canary Islands, Ascencion Island and Napoleon’s exile Island of St Helena on the way. Then I worked as a shunter on Rhodesian Railways for around 6 months. There were a number of other non economic jobs I took on.

When I returned to Australia I felt lost and found it hard to settle. Where do I go now? What work do I do? I felt mates from my school and Uni days were getting ahead with their careers, and I was floundering.

I eventually got a job as a public relations officer for a mining company at Gove on the north eastern tip of Arnhem Land. It was an escape for a couple of years. Just another job. Not really a career path.

tony sevil art 1In more recent times I worked as a care worker for what was then The Challenge Foundation in Armidale, which was the most rewarding wage work I have ever done. During this time I was also progressing with my art making things out of found objects. This eventually became a passion.  I have exhibited in commercial galleries and also been in group exhibitions and a solo exhibition at NERAM. I have an exhibition coming up at Gallery 126 in Armidale in November and another solo exhibition at NERAM in September 2016.

All the way through I have written or tried to write. I have had stories and articles published, but I have never , until now, had any fiction published. I tried writing fiction but my stories seemed embarrassingly naïve and stilted. I think I got caught up too much in structure and not enough in letting a story flow. The Disappearance of Buck story seemed to flow rather seamlessly so I feel I may have found my voice in writing humorous fiction.

What do you hope winning the New England Award will do for you as a writer? 

I know I will be writing with a lot more confidence now. I will certainly be more confident about writing tony sevil art 2more humour. I will probably go back over my life and expand on humorous incidents in my life. And drag out half done stories from my drawers and maybe re work them. Perhaps a collection of humorous stories some day. Who knows. The prize has opened up so many possibilities.

I have a rather interesting project going at the moment. I love Facebook-Seeing the art and reading the thoughts of friends from around the world. It is a wonderful way to test the water with my artwork.

I noticed drawings of cute fat cats that I really liked by an Iranian artist from Tehran (who has not been published). I suggested to her that we try and write a children’s book together on cat behavior. She liked the idea and for the last year we have been sending emails backwards and forwards with drawings and text. I wanted a Persian name for the cat. So I asked Bahare if she could come up with some Persian names for me to chose from. I chose a name. But she said it was a female name and she thought the cat was male. So we have chosen the name Homayoun. I asked Bahare to pronounce it so I could possibly work out a rhyme for it. Her husband sent me an audio with the correct pronunciation. With my regular correspondence with Bahare I always now ask her to say g’day to the man with the lovely voice.

There are two aspects of this that appeal to me. Firstly is it possible to collaborate in this way and produce a book? Secondly I like the idea of reaching out to someone on a personal level who is from a different culture and nation to mine.

You are an artist too as well as a writer. How do those two practices work with each other?

I think making art and writing can go well together, especially with the way I operate. With my art I like to have several, sometimes many, projects going at the same time. I like to move freely between projects. If I get to a point in a project that requires more thought I will move to another project and then return to the other one with a fresh eye. Writing seems to fit ok into this ‘routine’. I often write tony sevil art 3early in the mornings. I don’t really sit down and slog away at a plot on the computer. I usually have quite a lot worked out in my head before I tap things into the computer. And these ideas for stories often come when I am working away on an artwork.

The trouble is my mind can get a bit full sometimes and I can get a bit ratty. That’s when I walk or do a little meditation. I always take a break, read the newspaper, start the crossword and have a nap after lunch.

As a reader, what do you look for in a good story or novel?

I am not an avid reader at all. I do read the newspaper from cover to cover. However some wonderful writers have sort of landed in my lap at important times in my life. Back in my school days I remember being mesmerized analyzing some of the set texts. One was Silas Marner, the other two were Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Macbeth. I thought English was up there with my best subject at school but did a bad leaving certificate exam, even though my English teacher in the then 4th year asked me if I was going to study English when I left school. I only got a B. That threw me a bit. So I silas marnerstudied Economics. I got an A in that 🙂

After high school and for a number of years, I cannot recall reading much at all other than the newspaper from cover to cover starting at the back page, the sport page. After  11 years at boarding school I just wanted to party. I did not do much study at UNE but I had some very bright mates. Come essay and exam time I would visit them, pick their brains and often borrow their lecture notes. They didn’t seem to mind.

I don’t like saying it but I don’t seem to have a lot of time to read novels. I cannot read during the day. Perhaps it is my farming background. The day was for physical work. I read at night in bed…sometimes. I usually fall asleep after a few pages. I tend to wind down in bed at night with the Herald crossword. Not the cryptic…

Sometimes I find my mind is working overtime on new ideas for an artwork, working out how I will put something together. I cannot seem to concentrate on reading. My partner suggested we should read your books, Sophie. I said to her perhaps you could read them and tell me all about them!  🙂

However I would like to mention a few books and authors that have made a huge impression on me.  Books seem to have landed on my lap at the right time in my life. I loved The Snow Leopard by Peter snow leopardMathiessen. Other writers I cannot put down include John Steinbeck, and more recent writers, Annie Proulx and Barbara Kingsolver. I love their characters. I love being immersed in the environment of the word pictures they paint. I love their characters.

I was hugely inspired by Nelson Mandala’ autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Years ago I read a historical novel on Ghandi, Freedom at Midnight, by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins, which I really enjoyed. It perhaps canonized Ghandi a bit. But he deserved it.

Tony’s website is here.