Award Winning author Annette Higgs, who won the 2022 Penguin Literary Prize for her book On a Bright Hillside in Paradise, swapped her career as a lawyer for a novelist just over a decade ago.
The Tasmanian-born writer explains how it was growing up in the country and a fascination with her family history that led her to follow her passion to become an author.
“After decades as a successfu IP lawyer, I still had that unfinished novel in the bottom drawer,
Annette explains. “I decided it was time to take the leap and follow my passion.”
Her decision clearly paid off – Annette’s first novel On a Bright Hillside In Paradise has been highly acclaimed and she even won the prestigious Penguin Literary Prize for her work.
Now, Annette says there is even an Audible version of her book and when she listened to the recording, it felt like she was listening to her story for the first time. Here’s our interview with Annette, a woman who dared to grab hold of her dream and won.
What was the inspiration behind your book?
I was born and raised in Tasmania and On a Bright Hillside in Paradise is a story about where I come from: poor farmers in the back blocks of the north-west coast of Tasmania in the 1870s, building a home in a glorious landscape they came to love.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a published writer.
I was a lawyer for 30 years, but also a great reader, and at one time (briefly) a bookshop owner. When I left the law, I decided to learn how to write seriously, and enrolled in a creative writing degree at the University of Sydney. It took five years to learn the craft and write the novel—possibly the most satisfying project of my life.
You won the Penguin Literary prize, what difference has that made?
The Penguin Literary Prize is awarded to an unpublished manuscript, and not only provides prize money but also publication by Penguin Random House. Winning has been nothing short of life-changing. I’m so grateful that my story can now be read.
Tell us about your family history and what sparked your desire to be a writer.
On a Bright Hillside in Paradise is loosely based on my mother’s family, who did farm under Mount Roland in Tasmania, and who were there when Christian Brethren evangelists arrived and began to convert everyone and baptise them in the local creeks. I’d known the story for years, and thought it was an astonishing moment to investigate what those lives might have been like. The old lady in the novel, Eliza, and her convict husband, were real people.
What was it like listening to the audio version for the first time?
Penguin produces its own audio books, now distributed through Libro.fm, which supports independent bookshops, as well as Audible, the Amazon affiliate. The Penguin audio producer sent me three auditions from voice actors—all were amazing, with little to choose between them. We went with actor Ainslie McGlynn.
We discussed how to render the main characters, since in the 1870s there was not yet an ‘Australian accent’. We decided on a soft, generic south-east England accents for some characters, with an Irish lilt to others (Eliza has an Irish mother). One of the preachers is Scottish—I’d almost forgotten that detail until he first spoke in the audio.
Listening to the audio for the first time was so surprising—did I write that?! The experience was like ‘meeting’ my characters, rather uncanny. When I received the audio link, I listened to the whole book in one day. It was almost as if I was ‘reading’ it for the first time.
You can buy the book here: https://www.penguin.com.au/books/on-a-bright-hillside-in-paradise-9781761049736