HNSA Colleen McCullough Writing Residency


Winning a writing residency is a huge honour; the value of time to fully immerse in one’s work-in-progress immeasurable. Winning the inaugural HNSA Colleen McCullough Residency for an Established Author gifted me the most fabulous, productive, idyllic week on Norfolk Island. Can it only be just weeks ago when the world was so very different?

I’ve been flat out ever since, so, for a moment, I’m just going to look back, enjoy and relive that amazing experience.

From the moment I applied for the residency, I knew exactly where and what on Norfolk Island I wanted to visit and why – the historic precinct of Arthurs Vale in Kingston where I hoped the roofless, windowless shells of crumbling buildings would help me to reimagine and recreate the ruined buildings in my work-in-progress – a French village destroyed in WW1.

Flying into the island, the land was said to be drier than usual but everywhere we visited we found sublimely picturesque scenes, from the majestic seaview clifftops to forests of thousands of Norfolk Island Pines stretching to the blue, blue skies. Magnificent Morton Bay Figs, with their massive roots, line part of the Headstone Road, surrounded by rolling farmlands and darkened forests all inviting exploration. Island time and pace is absolutely different from the mainland. No-one is rushed, the speed limit is 30-50 kph. The town of Burnt Pine is quiet, serene and friendly. Cafés shut in the early afternoon, supermarkets at 6pm, but my head and body quickly calmed to the new pace and picture perfect space.

I’d made up my mind before I left home that I was going to make the absolute most of my experience. I took my swimsuit, good camera (that I’d had no time yet to master) and three novels. I also went armed with a clear plan for my writing time, reading and rest. I swam and snorkelled multiple times in the beautiful waters of Emily Bay where the fish are curious and the water is warm. I took photos of superb sunrises and sunsets. I read all of those three novels. I exceeded my wordcount goal by over 2500-words, added new scene ideas to my journal, and, in the inspirational setting of Arthur’s Vale, wrote a small, devastating moment in my character’s story that I was never expecting to find. Gold!

Every morning, I awoke at sun-up to delight in and capture the colours streaking the sky on my camera. Our accommodation was brilliantly located and overlooked the national park where hundreds of white terns swooped from the treetops to soar serenely on the breeze. Looking back, I marvel that I looked away long enough to write any words at all.

Part of the residency prize was our very own private tour of Out Yenna, once home to one of Australia’s most renowned authors, Colleen McCullough, along with the chance to view her personal library, which is usually off-limits to visitors. What an incredible treasure house of history books, crime novels, medical and surgical tomes, encyclopedias, cookbooks, art books and classics. Bookcase after bookcase, set out in categories, orderly and arranged. Colleen’s meticulous research was clearly based on some of the rare and valuable resources held in her personal library. I took time to view the bibliography for her novel Morgan’s Run and it ran to many, many pages. I can only imagine the length of the bibliographies for her Roman series.

My other favourite room was the conservatory, where Colleen did most of her writing, with its psychedelic chairs and magnificent Mexican agate table. Ferns tumble from the ceiling and you have to weave your way through the foliage as if in an exotic oasis. Ric Richardson, Colleen’s husband assured us, when we’d met in the same room earlier in the week, that this was where Colleen mainly worked, though Colleen’s actual office is nearby.

To do the rest of the house justice would encompass an entire travelogue, so I’ll just share a snapshot of my residency outcomes; both the work and the leisure:

  • 6000-words written
  • 3 scenes planned
  • 3 novels read
  • 6 swim/snorkels
  • 2 radio interviews: Thanks to Pines FM 99.9 and Radio Norfolk 89.9
  • thinking time
  • nature appreciation time
  • silence appreciation time
  • great food, company and creative bliss!

My grateful thanks and appreciation to the Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) and sponsors: Baunti Escapes, Burnt Pine Travel and the McCullough Estate, for an incredible, productive and inspiring experience that has undoubtedly added to my work-in-progress and continuing writing journey.

Thanks too to my fellow traveller and winner of the Emerging Writer residency, the very talented Sally Colin-James, for fabulous company and conversation!

Details of the 2019 HNSA Colleen McCullough Writing Residency can be viewed at: https://hnsa.org.au/conferences-events/2019-conference/hnsa-colleen-mccullough-residency.


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