'The danger you have to negotiate is not the dimpled coyness of the past – it is its obscenity.' So argued Hilary Mantel, taking aim at ‘grumbling’ in literary circles about historical fiction. ‘Chick-lit with wimples’ it ain’t, she says. Taking up the debate are Melissa Ashley and Liam Pieper, who have written about periods ranging from Nazi Germany to 19th century Ireland. They talk to Ashley Hay and tackle the question: can we engage with the present without revisiting the past?

Please note: Annabel Abbs and Hannah Kent will no longer be appearing at this event.

Liam Pieper (Australian)

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Liam Pieper is an author, award-winning fiction writer, journalist and Fairfax columnist. His 2014 memoir, The Feel-Good Hit of the Year was shortlisted for the National Biography Award and the Ned Kelly Best True Crime award. This was followed by Mistakes Were Made, a collection of essays that make up a craven apology for writing a memoir. He was co-recipient of the 2014 M Literary Award, and was the inaugural creative resident of the UNESCO City of Literature of Prague, where he completed his first novel The Toymaker.

Melissa Ashley (Australian)

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Melissa Ashley is a fiction writer, poet and academic who teaches creative writing workshops at the University of Queensland. Melissa is the author of the historical fiction, The Birdman’s Wife about the extraordinary life of 19th century bird illustrator, Elizabeth Gould, wife of John Gould, the ‘father’ of Australian ornithology. Melissa has published articles and stories in The Lifted Brow and The Age among other publications. She is currently working on a historical novel based on the life of a 17th century French fairy tale author.

Ashley Hay (Australian)

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Ashley Hay's latest novel is A Hundred Small Lessons. Her earlier work has won accolades in Australia and abroad, most recently the 2016 Bragg UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing. She has been longlisted for awards including the Miles Franklin and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and shortlisted for awards including the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Kibble. Her previous novel, The Railwayman's Wife, received the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies' Colin Roderick Award, and People's Choice at the NSW Premier's Literary Awards. It was published in the UK, the US and in translation.