ACT Writers Centre

A FINE SETTING FOR MURDER: an interview with Sulari Gentill


In 2015 Sulari Gentill was the first to participate in the ACT Eminent Writer-in-Residence Program, an initiative of the ACT Writers Centre in collaboration with the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House in Canberra.

Sulari Gentill is author of award-winning Rowland Sinclair Mysteries, a series of historical crime fiction novels set in the 1930s about Rowland Sinclair, the gentleman artist-cum-amateur-detective. The first in the series, A Few Right Thinking Men, was shortlisted for Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book. A Decline in Prophets, the second in the series, won the Davitt Award for Best Adult Crime Fiction. Miles off Course was released in early 2012, Paving the New Road was released in late 2012 and was shortlisted for the Davitt Award for best crime fiction 2013. Gentlemen Formally Dressed was released in November 2013. A Murder Unmentioned, the sixth book in the series released was released November 2014 and was shortlisted for the 2015 Ned Kelly Awards Best Crime Novel and the 2015 Davitt Awards Best Adult Book. The next instalment in the Rowland Sinclair series, Give the Devil his Duewas release at the end of 2015. Under the name S.D. Gentill, Sulari also writes a fantasy adventure series called The Hero Trilogy. Visit Sulari at website.


ACTWC: What attracted you to the 2015 Eminent Writer-in-Residence Program?

Sulari Gentill: Honestly if I didn’t know better, I would think EWIR Program had been designed specifically for me. My writing, at its heart, is about democracy and Australian democracy in particular.  The opportunity to work in the nation’s capital in a building which housed the political players of the time was ideal. The timing was also perfect—I had just completed the seventh Rowland Sinclair novel and was mulling possibilities for the eighth. The events I hoped to feature in the new book involved the government of the day and the newly elected Attorney General—Robert Menzies. As a writer I don’t really plot, I just gather ideas and allow them to form naturally into a story. The Museum of Australian Democracy (MOAD) at Old Parliament House was a brilliant place to gather ideas. Indeed, I amassed so many I feel quite greedy.


Can you tell us a little about your experience of the residency? What was your typical day?

Physically, I’d leave the Gorman Arts Centre for Old Parliament House in the morning, work there most of the day, rifling through documents, listening to audio histories, talking to MOAD staff or simply absorbing the atmosphere of the house. I’d catch the bus back to the Gorman Arts Centre late in the afternoon, grab some takeaway as I passed through the CBD and then spend the evening writing in the ArtSit—often till the early hours of the morning. But of course the residency was about much more than what I did physically. I had, in that month, not only the time to mull over story, but the mind space to give myself over to it completely. My days at Old Parliament House were spent pursuing every passing storyline and echo of past intrigue—doggedly, without the need to break off the chase to attend to the usual obligations of work and family. Back at the ArtSit I indulged in having nothing to do but write. For someone who has always snatched time from a crowded life, it was a strange and glorious chance to be writer and nothing else.


Canberra certainly makes this type of residency experience fairly easy. How else do you think the city impacted on your time here?

Canberra’s layout with institutions like MOAD, the National Library, the Art Gallery, the National Archives and the National Portrait Gallery etc all within walking distance of each other is a researcher’s dream. I happened to be in the Capital during our most recent change of prime minister so I was also able to absorb an atmosphere of political skulduggery from a very proximate location! As a writer who uses political history as a setting for murder, I could not possibly have asked for more. Moreover Canberrans are extraordinarily polite and kind—complete strangers helped me find buses, ensured I got on the right one and even gave me rides back to the ArtSit. I felt very at home.


Sounds like you had a terrific time in Canberra. What’s next for you?

I did indeed have a brilliant time in Canberra. Several projects have lined up to demand my attention since then.  I’ll start the eighth Rowland Sinclair Mystery, the background of which I researched at MOAD-OPH, in January, with a submission deadline of 30 March 2016. Till then I’m working on the first book of a new historical trilogy, polishing a short story I’ve written for Clandestine Press’ And Then… anthology, and playing with the illustrations for a children’s book inspired by and written in the Gorman Arts Centre ArtSit. I do hope to do some painting over the next months, both on canvas and walls. And of course there’s Christmas, school holidays and the other wonderful distractions of life.


The 2016 Eminent Writer-In-Residence Program will be open for applications in March. For more information visit our website here.


The ACT Eminent Writer-In-Residence Program is supported by the ACT Government through artsACT. The ACT Writers Centre acknowledges the assistance of the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House and Ainslie + Gorman Arts Centres.

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