The way in which Polites has readied himself to write the novel could explain his exquisitely understated, tight prose. He disappears briefly, returning with a shoebox packed with loose sheets and slips of paper. There were hundreds of individual pieces, some scribbled on receipts, others on torn scraps of lined exercise books, and everything in between – clearly the first writable material, snatched whenever inspiration has abruptly taken him. He gestures to the nearest wall. ‘I’ll arrange them all there, and then I’ll cut them into a story. The one for Down The Hume filled up the whole wall. Like literally a satellite map. There’s a narrative underneath all that, and that forms.’
Likely best known for his 1982 novel Schindler’s Ark, which was later adapted into Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning Schindler’s List, Thomas Keneally has been penning a crime thriller series set within Australia’s formative colonial years. Collaborating with his daughter, journalist Meg Keneally, the author has seamlessly blended his encyclopaedic knowledge of our convict forefathers with Meg’s ‘sharp, journalist mind’ to craft the world of the titular Hugh Monsarrat, the Keneallys’ answer to Sherlock Holmes.
‘The surge of technology into our lives hasn’t replaced what we used to do with our time – it’s on top of it, so I’m forever hearing from people who only get to read novels on holidays now. And there, perhaps, is where the novella comes in. It goes deep, but it doesn’t go long. It offers some of the commitment and satisfaction of a novel, but it’s the length of an evening or a domestic plane flight. If the novella didn’t exist, this would be a great time to invent it.’