Getting to know 2024 DHA shortlistee, Rachel Bowman

DHA2024 Interview Rachel Bowman Samantha Hearn The Dorothy Hewett Award

The Fear of Empty Spaces by Rachel Bowman is an unpublished haunting historical novel that is shortlisted for the 2024 Dorothy Hewett Award. In this mini-interview, Bowman shares what it feels like to be shortlisted and the challenges of writing historical fiction. 


Rachel Bowman's headshot

Rachel Bowman is a Brisbane, Queensland-based writer who strives to create beautiful, sentence-level writing—but ultimately wants to tell a great yarn. Rachel was an award-winning journalist before moving into science communication and public relations. She grew up on a property on the traditional lands of the Ngoorabul people in northern NSW and fell in love with the Western Australian landscape while studying rural journalism at Curtin University. Rachel was shortlisted for the 2023 VarunaNew England Writers Centre Fellowship and the 2024 Fish Short Story Competition. She continues to live with one foot in the city and the other in the country. 


Sandstone 1945. Eight year-old bush kid, Susannah Urqhuart is losing everything; nobody she loves is who they say they are. When her older sister, Isobel, goes missing from a train between Perth and their remote home town of Sandstone, Susannah goes into the bush alone to search for her. She quickly discovers her limitations and that her treasured outback world is more dangerous than she had thought. When their mother succumbs to mental decline their father becomes obsessed with retribution, Susannah is taken to Perth and fears she will never see her beloved home again.  The 2024 Dorothy Hewett Award judges describe The Fear of Empty Spaces as a "haunting historical novel [that] is set in the station country of the east Murchison (Yamatji Country) in the 1930s and 40s. In the story of a missing woman, the novel evokes the hopes and sensibilities, as well as the prejudices and silences, of this era. The novel teases you to think that there is nothing quite as full as an empty space."

UWA Publishing intern, Samantha Hearn, interviewed Rachel about her shortlisting: 

Samantha: How do you feel about being shortlisted for the Dorothy Hewett Award? 

Rachel: Being shortlisted for the Dorothy Hewett Award is a tremendous thrill! I couldn’t quite believe it. My manuscript has had a long gestation and has been through many drafts. I’ve lived with these characters for a long time so it’s very emotional and humbling for my work to be validated in this way. 

I recently attended the launch of the 2023 winner, Kirsty Iltner’s wonderful novel, Depth of Field, at Avid Reader bookshop in Brisbane so it feels great to be on the shortlist with five other accomplished writers for the 2024 award. 

S: What made you consider the Dorothy Hewett Award? 

R: I considered entering the Dorothy Hewett Award for the potential to have my work read, in the first instance. Writing is a solitary craft, and you sometimes wonder if anyone will get to share the story that you’ve worked on so long and hard. It’s very difficult to know if your work is ready for submission to awards or publishers but getting to the point where you have a full length, polished manuscript to send off is a milestone worth celebrating in itself!  

It’s a generous award thanks to the Copyright Agency’s support and the calibre and standing of its judges, UWA Publishing, and the backlist of winners adds to the award’s credibility. 

I also liked the fact that it’s a WA award and my story is set in the state’s amazing landscape. I’m very sentimental about WA, having spent my uni and early career years in Perth and regional WA fromages 18-22. 

S: What are the most challenging components of historical fiction writing? And if any, how did you overcome these when writing The Fear of Empty Spaces? 

R: To me the most challenging part of writing historical fiction is getting the social sensibilities right. People think, act and even speak according to the times they live and I’m always trying to be conscious of that. I love research whether it’s reading old letters and books or searching through photographs of the time for little gems of detail. Of course, the challenge then is to use it lightly on the page. I really have killed a lot of darlings in the process of writing The Fear of Empty Spaces! 


The Fear of Empty Spaces is an unpublished novel manuscript shortlisted for the 2024 Dorothy Hewett Award. The winner will be announced in June. Find out more about Rachel via her website. Find out more about the 2024 Dorothy Hewett Award shortlist including the official media release.

Samantha Hearn is a Curtin University student who is in her final semester of postgraduate studies, completing an MA of Arts, majoring in Professional Writing and Publishing. She has a love for reading, writing and literature (specifically in the fiction genres) and has a passion to work within the publishing industry.  

Samantha Hearn | LinkedIn



Check out our interviews with the other 5 shortlisted writers:

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