Fremantle Press writers David Whish-Wilson and Portland Jones have written their way onto the ARA Historical Novel Prize longlist

Only Birds Above by Portland Jones and The Sawdust House by David Whish-Wilson are both in the running to win Australasia’s richest genre-based literary award. The ARA Historical Novel Prize is worth a total of $100,000, with $50,000 awarded to the adult category winner and an additional $5,000 awarded to each shortlisted writer.

The Sawdust House takes us to a jail in 19th century San Francisco, where celebrated boxer – the Irish-born Australian James ‘Yankee’ Sullivan – shares his incredible story as he awaits his fate.

David Whish-Wilson said as a reader, Australian historical fiction has been a great teacher, and as a writer, it is therefore a special honour to be on a longlist that celebrates the contributions of fellow writers, working to bring the old stories to life. He said, ‘When approached with respect, and humility, historical fiction becomes a means of writing into those vast silences of forgotten, misrepresented, ignored or neglected stories. Immersed in these story-worlds, we sense the kinship of fellow-feeling, the randomness of fateful moments, or the tragedy of missed opportunities. We emerge back into our own time, alive

to the same truths, moments, hauntings and regrets that shape our own story, and of those around us.’

Only Birds Above is the story of blacksmith Arthur Watkins, whose service with the 10th Light Horse Regiment in the Middle East in World War I forever changes him and the fates of his entire family.

Portland Jones said she was honoured to be longlisted for the ARA Historical Novel Prize. She said, ‘It is simultaneously exciting and humbling to see my work in such amazing company. I believe that in honouring those that came before us, we seek to both understand our present moment and navigate the hazards of the future. Because of this, in the current era of uncertainty and change, the work of the HNSA is of even more importance, and I am extremely grateful for their support of historical fiction.’

The 2022 judging panel for the Adult category included Angelo Loukakis, Madison Shakespeare and Meg Keneally. Of this year’s longlist, Angelo said that ‘The novels selected for this year’s ARA Historical Novel Prize Adult Category Longlist draw on a wide range of eras, epochs and places in human history. Towards telling their story, each author on the list has focused on aspects of past experience in their own imaginative way, delivering a well-written and satisfyingly readable narrative.’ The other novels on the longlist are:

The shortlist will be announced on 28 September and the winners will be announced on 20 October.

The ARA Historical Novel Prize has been made possible through the generous patronage of the ARA Group.

Only Birds Above and The Sawdust House are both available in all good bookstores and online.

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