Two award-winning early career novelists are doing just that. PhD students Katherine Johnson and Eden French share their creative journeys.

Katherine Johnson

For science journalist and published author Katherine Johnson – whose second novel The Better Son was released last year – taking on a PhD through the English program allows her to put her intensive research for her next offering, a colonial story, to good use.

Katherine Johnson

My current novel is historical fiction, so it’s fantastic to be doing it as a PhD because it’s quite research-heavy. It allows me to have access to people with expertise in this area.

Ms Johnson plans to have a draft of her manuscript finished at the conclusion of her PhD scholarship, as well as an exegesis – a thesis which directly relates to the novel and formalises the research involved.

Completing a PhD as well as the novel gives Ms Johnson a structure to keep her writing on track, as well as a less solitary creative experience, she said.

There’s a requirement to be very vigorous in document-keeping, which has been very useful. I also tried several ways of approaching the story, so it’s been valuable to have a supervisor as a sounding board for the telling of a complex colonial story.

Ms Johnson’s first novel, Pescador’s Wake, won a HarperCollins Varuna Award in 2007.

In 2013 The Better Son (under the working title Kubla) won two prizes in the Tasmanian Literary Awards: the University of Tasmania Prize for an unpublished manuscript by an emerging writer and the People’s Choice Award. It also received a HarperCollins Varuna Award in 2013. 

Eden French

English PhD student Eden French burst on the literary scene last year, winning a Goldie award for lesbian literature with her debut novel, The Diplomat, published in America by Bella Books.

Eden French

The Goldies are awarded by the Golden Crown Literary Society to recognise excellence in lesbian literature.

The Goldie was the second award for The Diplomat, which won an Alice B. Lavender Certificate for outstanding debut lesbian fiction last year.

Now Eden's PhD research focuses on the representation of transgender characters in popular romance fiction, and she is working on a novella in tandem with that research.

The work I’m doing in an academic sense is very complementary to the creative component of my life.

“I’m doing less textual analysis and more dealing with the way books are written, how they’re made into products and how they’re sold, and what they mean to people and how they’re received, which as a writer is something you think about all the time anyway.

There’s also the issue of diversity in fiction. I’m looking specifically at romance fiction for this thesis - one of my three novels is a romance novel - particularly because in LGBTQ publishing there’s a huge romantic angle.

“As well as how the literary industry is surviving in the age of new media … there’s also the question of whether the diversity we see in other forms of media is equally represented in literary texts and products.”

Eden is now working on her fourth novel. Her other publications include the novels Reintegration (2015) and Fruit of the Golden Vine (2016).

Like the idea of being a published author? 

The School of Humanities offers three creative writing units through the English program, which will soon form the backbone of a Minor in Creative Writing. There are also options for creative writing topics at the Honours and post-graduate level.