On Saturday morning, the Richard Wherrett Studio of the Rosyln Packer Theatre packed a full crowd. As excited audience members filtered through the wide doors, clutching their half-read books, and chatting away to strangers beside them, festival volunteers urged them to leave no gaps in the seating.\r\n\r\nOur guest for the day was John Marsden, author of the hugely popular Tomorrow Series. Having sold over two-and-a-half million books worldwide, Marsden is introduced by Cath Keenan as \u2018Australia\u2019s most successful writer for young people.\u2019 But today, he is here to discuss his latest venture: his first novel for adults.\r\n\r\nSouth of Darkness follows the journey of a young, convict boy, named Barnaby Fletch. Barnaby spent his childhood as an orphan on the streets of London, and believes he can find a brighter future in the new, penal colony of Australia. He thus sets out to be transported as a thief. However, Barnaby soon finds there are more challenges he must struggle to survive, before he can ever reach \u2018paradise\u2019. (You can buy South of Darkness here.)\r\n\r\nMarsden's first adult fiction novel, 'South of Darkness'...\r\nThe Shift From YA to Adult Fiction\r\nSo why, after twenty-eight years, writing for children and young adults, has Marsden now turned to adult fiction?\r\n\r\nAccording to Marsden, the change did not come as any conscious decision.\r\nI tend to write on impulse,\u201d he said.\r\nHe then proceeded to tell the story of going on holiday with his wife, and beginning South of Darkness on the plane. When the plane landed, Marsden found himself shutting the laptop quite reluctantly, and turned to his wife to say, \u2018I think this one is actually working.\u2019\r\nI couldn\u2019t wait to get to the hotel and open the computer\u2026 So our holiday took a very different turn!\u201d he laughed.\r\nWhen asked what makes this novel for adults, Marsden confessed to being unsure of the marked difference.\u00a0\r\nThe only obvious things are the language patterns and vocabulary are slightly different.\u201d\r\nAmong the other distinctions Marsden added, was a different way of dealing with certain issues, such as sex.\r\nNot because of any reasons of censorship, but because of my own prudishness, I don\u2019t write explicit sex-scenes much,\u201d he reflected.\r\nResearch for South of Darkness\r\nWhen asked what sort of research was involved, Marsden revealed that the novel was partly born from a lifelong love of history and reading. When it came to focussed research, however, Marsden relied heavily on first hand accounts of early, colonial Australia. Theses helped immensely in portraying the right \u2018vibe of the time\u2019. He also credits Children of the Desert, by G\u00e9za R\u00f3heim, as the source he referenced most often, when providing Barnaby\u2019s observations of Indigenous tribal life.\r\nThemes of South of Darkness\r\nIn discussing the novel, certain themes emerged, that Marsden wished to explore. These included the following:\r\nThe Myth of the Innocence of Childhood\r\nMarsden spoke (on multiple occasions), of the misconception that children are inherently innocent. In contrast, Marsden asserted that what we perceive as innocence is actually ignorance. He also further suggested that children do not like being ignorant, and are constantly seeking a deeper understanding of life. This is a sentiment that is certainly expressed in the novel.\r\nAs I got older I was becoming increasingly embarrassed by my ignorance of the world\u2026\u201d \u2013 Barnaby Fletch in \u2018South of Darkness\u2019, Chapter 24, p183.\r\n\r\n"Children can be generous. They can be gentle. They can be kind\u2026 But they can also be cruel. They can be mean\u2026 They can be treacherous\u2026 So, they\u2019re just like us. They can have a whole range of personality traits.\u201d\r\nThe Myth of the Benevolent Beauty of Nature\r\nMarsden expressed a belief that people have a tendency to over romanticise nature. To demonstrate this, he shared a story about travelling through the Northern Territory with his colleagues. When they stopped by a billabong to share a drink on their final night, a flock of ducks could be seen, congregating on the other side.\r\nThere was just wild scenes going on,\u201d he told, \u201cducks chasing each other, drakes raping ducks, feathers flying\u2026 squawks, and yowls, and all kinds of things... And the person next to me took another sip of her glass, and sighed, and said, \u2018Isn\u2019t nature beautiful?\u2019\u201d\r\nIn South of Darkness, Marsden wanted to challenge this mindset, and show that nature (and humankind) are multifaceted.\r\nThere is beauty in nature, there is peace in nature, but there\u2019s also savagery.\u201d\r\n\u00a0The Myth that One Culture is More Wholesome or Brutal than Another\r\nIn South of Darkness, young Barnaby is, at times, struck by the brutality with which Indigenous men treat women of the tribe. However, at the same time, the Indigenous people find just as much brutality in European culture. Particularly in the flogging punishments, administered to convicts. Marsden commented on this, advocating that he didn\u2019t want to portray either culture as any more wholesome or barbaric than the other. Instead, he wished to show the potential for all humans to be capable of great kindness, and yet, great savagery.\r\nI don\u2019t think that you can single out any special group over time as being somehow endowed with more spirituality than, perhaps, any other group.\u201d\r\nOne of our favourite authors, John Marsden. Image Credit: Stuart McEvoy for The Australian.\r\nAdvice for Writers of Historical Fiction\r\nSo, what if you are planning your own Historical Novel? What advice does John Marsden have for you? Well, before the event came to a close, I asked him this very question. Here was his response:\r\nThe research is really, obviously, important, but you\u2019ve got to not let that overwhelm the book. It\u2019s got to be woven into the book so subtly that the reader doesn\u2019t realise that they\u2019re being\u2026 educated at the same time as they\u2019re reading.\u201d\r\n\r\n"One of the joys for me in reading, is reading a book where the writer knows what they\u2019re talking about, and they have an expertise that I don\u2019t have. Even if they use terms that I don\u2019t even understand, I still find that really satisfying\u2026 Just something about knowing that you\u2019re in the hands of an expert\u2026 and that we\u2019re able to get an entr\u00e9e into that world by reading these books.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u00a0"I also think it\u2019s important to avoid imposing modern ideologies onto different societies and different eras\u2026 And you also, obviously, have to avoid the language\u2026 The number of times the word \u2018ok\u2019 is used in films or books that are set hundreds of years ago is just ridiculous!\u201d\r\n\r\n\u00a0"It\u2019s got to be authentic.\u201d\r\n***\r\nWriter\u2019s Edit would like to thank Sydney Writers\u2019 Festival for the array of wonderful events hosted, and for providing us with access to them. Looking forward to next year\u2019s already!