Writers On Writing / Sulari Gentill on writing Historical Fiction

“It is events, people, eras and the stories hidden in them that move me to write.”

You were a successful lawyer before your writing career began. What inspired you to pursue writing as a career?

I didn’t really pursue a career in writing as much as I began writing as momentary diversion, which I expected fully would pass and become one the many hobbies I’d taken up and lost interest in over my life.  But it didn’t pass. Writing seemed to me as natural as breathing, and once that first literary breath is taken it’s hard to stop. Trying to make it my career was really my only option.

How important is the distinction between fact and fiction when working in the historical fiction genre? What elements of history do you concentrate on in your writing process?

Both fact and fiction are elements of the story, and in a well-written novel they should work seamlessly to propel the narrative forward. Of course, you don’t have the option of changing history while fiction is ever malleable. I tend to concentrate on people in history and in story, what they might have thought, how they might have felt, for what they might have been willing to fight. I’m particularly interested in the people who might have been forgotten in the greater historical accounts… those just out of the focus of the historical lens.

Who are some writers of historical fiction that inspire you?

I’m not really inspired by writers as much as I am by history itself. It is events, people, eras and the stories hidden in them that move me to write. But I have loved the work of Barbara Erskine, Malla Nunn and Jesse Blackadder.


Sulari Gentill is the author of ten published novels, including the Rowland Sinclair Mysteries, a series of historical crime novels chronicling the life and adventures of her 1930s Australian gentleman artist, and the Hero Trilogy, based on the myths and epics of the ancient world. Sulari has contributed articles to a number of magazines and blogs, including Inside HistoryNewswrite and the Southerly. She has collaborated with National Gallery of Victoria to write a short fiction which was produced in audio to feature in the Fashion Detective Exhibition, and thereafter published by the NGV in both print and digital form. Sulari’s first novel was shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize – Best First Book. She won the 2012 Davitt Award for Crime Fiction, was shortlisted in 2013 Davitt Award, the NSW Genre Fiction Award, 2012 Boroondara Literary Award, and the 2013 Scarlett Stiletto Award. She was offered a Varuna Fellowship in 2010. Her latest publication, A Murder Unmentioned, was shortlisted for both the 2015 ABIA Award in the Best Adult Book by a Small Publisher category, and the 2015 Davitt Award. In 2015 was appointed as an ambassador of the Emerging Writers’ Festival and the Eminent Writer-in-Residence at the Australian Museum of Democracy. Sulari has featured as an author and a masterclass presenter at a large number of literary festivals and events.

Join Sulari Gentill for her online course for writing Historical Fiction, 21 July to 27 July. Enrol here >>

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