One of Australia’s favourite historical novelists Nicole Alexander will be at Vinegar Hill Memorial Library on Thursday, March 31, for a live author talk centred on her new book ‘The Last Station’.
Nicole last visited The Hills in 2019 to promote her then latest novel ‘Stone Country’, one of her many historical fiction works set in rural Australia.
FOCUS caught up with the well loved author, ahead of her author talk, to get an insight into her writing and research process, talk about her inspiration for her latest novel and why she loves historical fiction! Here’s what she had to say:
Q: Due to COVID, author talks have moved mostly online over the last few years. How did you find this shift? Did it impact how you communicate with your fans?
A: My last novel was released in March 2020. A few days before I was due to commence a 3 state tour we went into lockdown and every event was cancelled. Twenty-four hours later I was planning a Facebook live event to launch The Cedar Tree. I was one of the first novelists in Oz to do an on-line live launch and I have to say it was pretty nerve-wracking. I contacted a handful of libraries/bookstores that were part of the cancelled tour and they helped promote my Facebook event, which was wonderful. From that point on I embarked on a crash-course in lighting for Zoom and Skype author talks, and even managed a TV appearance via Skype with the assistance of the TV producer and my mum, working in tandem, on the correct lighting and makeup. It was definitely a leap into the unknown however I was able to speak direct to hundreds of readers via online events so it ended up being a very positive and rewarding experience.
Q: Why should people attend your author talk on March 31?
A: As humans we’re all about society, what better way to come together than by sharing stories, especially Australian stories that shine a light on our wonderful country.
Q: How did the idea for ‘The Last Station’ come about?
A: I really wanted to spotlight a time in Australia’s history when the vagaries of mother nature and the wheels of progress literally conspired to ruin lives and livelihoods. There seemed no better period to set the story than during Australia’s last age of innocence, before The Great War and during the dying days of the paddle-steamer trade on the Darling River. Following the trajectory of a family that goes from absolute wealth and power to poverty in a span of twenty years was also very appealing.
Q: What was the writing and research process like for ‘The Last Station’?
A: Firstly I embarked on background reading from the 1840s on and then more specifically from the 1870s onwards, basically a general reading of the time and place – turn-of-the-century, western NSW and NSW – which included the history of the area as well as the environment (flora & fauna) and geography. Then once I started writing I drilled down on specifics required for the narrative, which included a mix of historical articles – newspapers, histories etc., family & district histories (pioneering accounts) and academic papers such as a recent archaeological maritime survey of steamer wrecks in the Darling. I also studied 1900s parish maps of Bourke and surrounding districts, as well as rural properties, the descriptions of the 1890 Great Flood, the rise and fall of the paddle-steamer industry, & the development and politics of NSW in relation to South Australia and the Murray-Darling. Lastly comes in-the-field research, which involved trips to Bourke, Brewarrina and the parts of the Darling River. It was a very time-consuming process but invaluable in terms of ensuring a richly imagined setting.
Q: What drew you to the historical fiction genre?
A: I have always loved Australian history; the past can teach us so much about the present and the future.
Q: Are there any particular authors or books that helped shape your writing career?
A: I have always been a huge fan of Ernest Hemingway. I read his novella The Old Man and the Sea in my teens and without realising it at the time fell in love with one of the great themes in literature, man versus nature. That theme is invariably present in my novels.
Q: What advice do you have for those wanting to pursue a career in writing?
A: Writing is all tenacity and discipline, then, reading, reading, reading and writing and redrafting until your work shines like a pearl.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m currently sorting through ideas for my next novel.
For more information and to book your place for Nicole’s author talk on Thursday, March 31, visit https://www.thehills.nsw.gov.au/Upcoming-Events-Activities/An-Evening-with-Nicole-Alexander.