19 March 2018

The Stella Interview: Claire G. Coleman on Terra Nullius

Claire G. Coleman is shortlisted for the 2018 Stella Prize for her speculative fiction novel Terra Nullius. In this special Stella interview, Claire shares some thoughts about the process of writing and how the novel came to be.


What was the genesis of Terra Nullius?

I had been searching for a way to invoke empathy for First Nations Australians in the minds of white Australia. In 2015 I travelled to the town where my grandfather was born, in the middle of our ancestral country in the deep south of Western Australia. There I was exposed to family history materials I did not know existed and met family I had only heard of.

There was an opening ceremony for a memorial to a massacre on my ancestral country. The idea that became Terra Nullius must have been incubating for a while because at around the time of the memorial opening the idea came to me all at once. This was the story I had to write, the story I had been looking for: it almost wrote itself.

There are speculative fiction elements to your novel – were there any books or authors in that genre who inspired you?

I have been a fan of speculative fiction for as long as I have been reading. A particularly strong influence was War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, which shows powerfully what happens when a technologically advanced culture meets one less well armed.

I like older speculative fiction, from the days before genre existed as we know it, when novels were just novels. They did not put literary fiction on one shelf, general fiction on another shelf and science fiction elsewhere. 

Who are your favourite female writers? 

I am a big fan of Sheri S. Tepper, who sadly left us recently. She wrote powerful works of speculative fiction but was shoehorned into the sci-fi box. believe her status as an author was adversely affected by that decision by her publisher and the booksellers.

Dorothy Porter was fantastic, too: her verse fiction pulls you in and doesn’t let you go. Never have I read verse fiction as powerful as hers.

Where do you go to write?

A lot of my writing has been done while travelling. Terra Nullius was drafted in its entirety while moving around the continent in a dodgy old caravan. Therefore I suppose it could be said I have gone everywhere to write. Lately, because I have not actually been on the road, I have done a lot of writing in parks.

Can you tell us what you’re working on next?

I have recently signed a contract with my publisher for two more novels. I am about to start editing the first of those, and about to start the drafting the second. I am also continuing to write essays and opinion pieces and some poetry.


Claire G. Coleman is a writer from Western Australia. She identifies with the South Coast Noongar people. Her family are associated with the area around Ravensthorpe and Hopetoun. Claire grew up in a Forestry’s settlement in the middle of a tree plantation, where her dad worked, not far out of Perth. She wrote the manuscript for Terra Nullius, which won the SLQ black&write! Fellowship, while travelling around Australia in a caravan.

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