You are involved in organising the inaugural Historical Novel Society Australasia conference, to be held in Sydney on March 20-22 this year. What is one thing you are personally looking forward to at the conference, and what makes this thing particularly special to you?
The HNSA conference will be the realisation of a vision that started back in 2012 to organise a forum for historical fiction lovers to celebrate the genre. HNS’s founder, Richard Lee, has pledged support to HNSA to help it develop a regional presence and establish a ‘third’ conference in addition to HNS’s current UK and US events. We plan to hold the event biennially while rotating the cities in which it will be held. I’m personally looking forward to meeting all the wonderful people with whom I’ve been corresponding who are attending from far and wide: New Zealand, US and Ireland, as well as those from interstate Australia. I’m also very excited to finally meet all the authors who have generously agreed to appear on our program. We have over 40 speakers, so there will be a lot to talk about.
You have had a novel published by Sydney-based Murdoch Books, followed by a novel published as an independent author and, more recently, have signed a three-novel deal with Amazon’s Lake Union imprint. Could you tell readers a bit about the progression of these publishing arrangements and how they have worked for you?
I wrote my first novel, The Wedding Shroud, over a period of ten years and was thrilled when my agent finally secured a contract with Pier 9 at Murdoch Books. It was like a dream come true. Unfortunately it was released in the same week Borders collapsed and the book industry was thrown into a spin. Luckily, the digital revolution had begun. When circumstances lead to Pier 9 being taken over by Allen & Unwin, I decided not to assign the rights and self-published the book internationally. I then released the sequel, The Golden Dice, in 2013. ‘Going indie’ was fantastic as I was freed of restraints and could choose how to market my book aggressively using pricing strategies that were then frowned upon by traditional publishers (but are now being adopted by them). I also discovered a huge readership in the States. Altogether, my books have received over 300 reviews on Amazon, and over 2000 readers have added them to their Goodreads lists. As a result of this, Amazon’s publishing imprint, Lake Union, approached me out of the blue and offered me a three book deal to re-release The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice in April this year, with the third book in the trilogy, Call to Juno, being released in April 2016. This is a fantastic opportunity for me, as Lake Union will produce a print run for release in American bookstores. The novels will also be translated into seven different languages and be produced as audiobooks.
For those unfamiliar with your novels, how would you describe your fiction?
The Tales of Ancient Rome trilogy is set in the early Roman Republic but, more importantly, it explores the civilisation of the Etruscans. These people were incredibly sophisticated compared to their Roman neighbours who were still fighting turf wars when Etruria had already established a vast sea faring empire. Etruscan women were afforded independence, education and sexual freedom compared to their Roman and Greek counterparts. As such they were considered wicked and decadent. The Wedding Shroud tells the story of Caecilia, a young Roman girl married to an Etruscan nobleman, Vel Mastarna, to seal a truce. Determined to remain true to ‘Roman virtues’, she finds herself faced with conflicting moralities while slowly being seduced by the freedoms her husband offers her. The Golden Dice continues Caecilia’s tale after war is declared. I also introduce two other female characters: Pinna, a Roman tomb whore, and Semni, an Etruscan artisan. As such, my books explore themes of destiny versus self-determination, and tolerance versus prejudice, while accenting the lives of women in ancient history.
What advice do you have for independent authors or for traditionally published authors who want to be proactive about how their books are published and publicised?
I believe that the snobbery that has existed amongst publishers and authors alike concerning self-publishing needs to be banished. The advent of improved digital technology, publishing portals, and savvy marketing strategies means that an author doesn’t have to wait to ‘be discovered’. They can make success happen themselves. However, this means running a professional business. An indie author has to be publisher, printer and publicist as well as a writer. I now understand the value of the backlist. I am still selling copies of The Wedding Shroud even though it was published in 2010. If I hadn’t produced a version myself, it would have been long forgotten. Also, writing a series means that readers can enter at different access points. This leads to cross-selling between titles. Lake Union understands this. That’s why I was prepared to enter into a traditional publishing contract again.
Who are a few of your favourite historical novelists, and what makes their novels stand out for you?
My favourite historical novelist is Mary Renault. Her prose is lyrical and compelling. When I read The Persian Boy and The King Must Die as a school girl, I was immediately hooked on the idea of writing about the ancient world myself. I also enjoy Hilary Mantel for the effortless manner in which she establishes the pathology of her characters within the historical framework of Tudor politics. More recent favourites are Hannah Kent, Alice Hoffman and Madeline Miller.
Other than historical fiction, what kinds of fiction do you most enjoy reading and why?
Of late, I’ve enjoyed reading Henning Mankell’s Wallander series. It is dark and nuanced yet easy to read. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time at the moment for reading, due to organising the HNSA conference.
What is next for you as an author?
I am currently writing Call to Juno to a deadline which has required me to be extremely disciplined. I have finished the first draft and am now refining the manuscript. I really enjoy the editing process, so I’m feeling a little more under control. Facing the blank page every morning and knowing I needed to produce a certain word count by night was very daunting.
Elisabeth Storrs’s author website: www.elisabethstorrs.com
HNSA conference website: www.hnsa.org.au