A book about courage - in war, in love and in life - written by Goulburn author, Nigel Featherstone, has been included in the longlist of the inaugural ARA Historical Novel Prize.
The new prize is among the top five richest literary prizes in Australia and New Zealand, with $50,000 going to the winner and $5,000 going to the two runners up.
The full longlist is:
- Master of My Fate by Sienna Brown (Penguin Books Australia)
- Bodies of Men by Nigel Featherstone (Hachette Australia)
- Shepherd by Catherine Jinks (Text Publishing)
- Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe (University of Queensland Press)
- The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith (Allen and Unwin Australia)
- Damascus by Christos Tsiolkas (Allen and Unwin Australia)
- The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (Affirm Press)
- The Yield by Tara June Winch (Penguin Books Australia)
Mr Featherstone is delighted to be in such good company on the longlist, and is pleased to see attention being turned to historical fiction.
"Longlists are perhaps always going to be somewhat limited, as there's no way eight novels can fully represent the diversity of history, but this particular longlist is wonderful in its variety, exploring Indigenous history, Christian history, war history, and other elements of Australian colonialism," he said.
"The organisers are doing a terrific job publicising the longlist and they are to be congratulated for that."
His book, Bodies of Men, tells the story of two Australian soldiers in Egypt in 1941, and is both a war story and a love story, with an emphasis on finding a different way of explaining what may have been glossed over in the past.
"Through the writing of Bodies of Men I asked the question, what might be some different expressions of courage, ones that we don't often discuss in terms of Australian military history?" he said.
"The writing began when I was a writer-in-residence at the Australian Defence Force Academy at UNSW Canberra in 2013, and was rewritten many, many times back home in my writing room in Goulburn.
"It took six years from conception to publication."
The ARA Historical Novel Prize is designed to give historical novelists the opportunity to be recognised in a class of their own - for the first time ever as part of an Australian and New Zealand literary award.
According to Linda Funnell, the chair of the judging panel, the quality of the 185 entries received was truly remarkable.
"It has been a privilege to see the breadth and quality of historical fiction being written and published in Australia and New Zealand," she said.
"The judging process has been a challenging one, assessing 185 entries for excellence in writing, depth of historical research, reader appeal, and design.
"There are many fine books that did not make it onto the longlist, an indicator of the depth and richness of the field."
Mr Featherstone said that historical fiction is a broad and diverse field, and can help us understand the past in new ways.
"A historical novel is not only about the past and set in the past, it brings to life the past, and interprets it in new and interesting ways," he said.
"I think readers of historical fiction want to experience a world that they didn't previously know, in terms of the larger historical/political/cultural narratives as well as the 'average life in the street'."
The announcement of the longlist coincides with ARA Group doubling its funding for the inaugural award, increasing the total prize monies to $60,000.
ARA Group founder Edward Federman said he recognises the current challenges facing the arts sector, particularly the literary community, and is passionate about amplifying the award's impact on the winning authors.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected the livelihoods of those working across all facets of the literary community, with many Australian and New Zealand authors unable to promote their work or earn a living through appearances or conducting writing courses due to lockdown restrictions and social distancing requirements," he said.
"In light of this, we're hopeful the additional funding for the ARA Historical Novel Prize will not only make a considerable difference to the lives of the winning authors, but also shine a light on the historical fiction genre and the work of all entrants across the Trans-Tasman community."
HNSA Chair and Author Elisabeth Storrs said she is confident the ARA Historical Novel Prize will ensure authors are proud to call their novel 'historical fiction' due to its literary merit, depth of research and reader appeal.
"The 2020 ARA Historical Novel Prize longlist demonstrates the true diversity of historical fiction, and its innate ability to explore bygone eras, to illuminate new interpretations, and to transport readers to a different time and place," she said.
The ARA Historical Novel Prize shortlist will be announced on Wednesday, 28 October, with the prize winner to be announced by both video broadcast and live stream in Sydney on the evening of Tuesday, 10 November 2020.
More information about the prize can be found at www.hnsa.org.au/ara-historical-novel-prize