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This year’s Vogel winner, Christine Piper, reflects on the moment she learned that her book, After Darkness, had won – at five am in New York – and what the prize win means to her.

highlight I got the email at five am. Four fifty-seven, to be precise. I had just returned home from a very long day at The Writers Room in New York, where I have a desk. An hour earlier, working alone in the vast room used by journalists, scriptwriters, memoirists, essayists, academics, poets, short story writers and novelists, I had finally completed the second draft of my novel. It was several weeks overdue, and I still had another two essays and an introduction to write before I could submit my Doctor of Creative Arts thesis to the University of Technology, Sydney. But I was happy with the novel, which was the most important part. Exhaustion and euphoria chased me as I took the lift downstairs, unchained my bike and began the twenty-minute journey home.

The streets of New York are never quiet, not even at four am. As I pedalled through the East Village, college kids stumbled along the road and shopkeepers shuttered their stores before turning home. A mild September wind slicked over me. It was that perfect time of year when heat and humidity wane yet the nights are still warm.

I mounted the steep slope of Williamsburg Bridge. On my three-gear bike, I was panting and reduced to a crawl, while lithe-limbed hipsters on fixies sped past me. Just before I reached the crest of the bridge, I paused to look back. Manhattan, in all its shimmering glory. A city full of possibilities. My husband I had had moved to New York six weeks earlier, two more hopefuls chasing a dream. It was our second time trying. Six years earlier, we’d arrived in the Big Apple but had failed to establish ourselves. This time, I’d won a green card through the Diversity Visa lottery program, and my husband had arranged a job transfer. Our fortunes had changed.

The sky was the colour of slate by the time I arrived home. I showered and prepared for bed, looking forward to a long, rejuvenating sleep. Then I remembered an email I had to send. I crossed to the kitchen bench and flipped open my laptop, then noticed an unread email at the top of my inbox. From someone named Annette at Allen & Unwin. ‘I wonder if I could arrange a meeting with you to talk about your Vogel’s entry?’ she wrote. I froze.

I first heard about The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award when the Helen Demidenko/Darville scandal hit the newspapers in 1995. I was sixteen at the time – a bookish Year 11 student with dreams of being a writer. I’d like to enter that award one day, I thought. Over the years, I read many of the winning titles, and they always reaffirmed my desire to enter. I took creative writing classes during my undergraduate degree, and wrote a novella for my honours project. Then I began working full-time, and hardly ever found the time for creative writing.

afterdarkness250px Sometime during my late twenties, I realised that if I didn’t do something soon, I’d miss my chance to enter the award. Soon afterwards, I was accepted into a Doctor of Creative Arts degree at the University of Technology, Sydney, where I was mentored by Debra Adelaide and Delia Falconer. I began researching and writing a novel about the Japanese civilian internment experience in Australia – a topic I was interested in as my mother is Japanese (although no one in my family was interned). I thought I’d finish it within three years. Four at the most, giving me time to enter the award at least twice before I hit 35. After Darkness took me almost five years to create. When the May 2013 deadline drew near, I was midway through the second draft. I was 34. It was my last chance.

Despite my best intentions to deliver a polished second draft, in the weeks leading up to the deadline, I was feeling unwell and was unable to work on the manuscript as much as I’d hoped. I submitted it to The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award five minutes before midnight, utterly disappointed with what I’d done. ‘I’ve blown my one chance,’ I told my husband.

Then four months later, I got the email. A few minutes before five am. I didn’t get the long sleep I’d hoped for that morning – I didn’t sleep at all, I was so excited about the possibilities. Was I shortlisted? Had I won?

It was another two days before I finally talked to Annette, the publisher at Allen & Unwin, who confirmed that I had won. Several stressful, hectic months followed as I struggled to complete my thesis and then immediately began revising After Darkness for publication.

But I didn’t know that then, as I stood in the kitchen of our Williamsburg apartment, daylight breaking around me. All I knew was hope, and the joy of chasing dreams.

www.christinepiper.com


After Dark is the winner of the 2014 Australian/Vogel Literary Award, for writers under 35. It is published by Allen & Unwin and is available now.

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23 April 2014

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Melbourne bookseller Readings has just announced two new annual book awards, worth $4000 each. The aim? To give more attention and support to new and emerging Australian writers.

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Managing director Mark Rubbo says that despite the high profile ‘instant’ success stories of Hannah Kent, Graeme Simsion and Favel Parrett, it’s generally quite tough for Australian writers to secure an audience and a living for their work.

‘A cynic could argue that there’s good reason first-time authors struggle – they just aren’t good enough – and this might be true in some cases, but anyone familiar with the vagaries of creative recognition knows that excellent works are often overlooked or have limited commercial appeal,’ he says.

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Guest judge Hannah Kent

With this in mind, Readings will launch two awards, judged by guest authors Hannah Kent (fiction writing award) and Sally Rippin (children’s writing award) with experienced bookshop staff,. Usually, award managers ask publishers to submit eligible titles for consideration; these awards will work by invitation. Readings staff will ask publishers to send the required five reading copies for books they want to consider.

The inaugural Readings New Australian Writing Award will go to a work of published fiction, which may be the author’s first or second book. This decision was partly inspired by Readings books division manager Martin Shaw, who said that ‘for many authors it was their second book that was the important one, as if that book failed then their writing careers were often over’.

The shortlist will be announced in October 2014, with the winner announced in November. (Eligible books must have been first published between 1 August 2013 and 31 July 2014.)

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Guest judge Sally Rippin

The Readings Children’s Book Prize will go to a debut or on-the-rise children’s author; the winner must have published no more than four books in the category.

Mark Rubbo said that children’s author and bookseller Emily Gale, who made ‘an impassioned plea’, was instrumental in his decision to include the prize for writing for children. ‘It was harder, she argued, for children’s writers to gain recognition even after their third or fourth book. A prize could make a real difference.’

The shortlist will be officially announced at the Children’s Book Festival on Sunday 23 March, with the winner announced in July. (Eligible books must have been first published between 1 January 2013 and 31 December 2013.)

The announcement comes after last year’s Age Book of the Year awards were held over for 2013. Readings sponsored the 2013 Age Short Story Award, allowing it to go ahead.

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05 February 2014

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highlight Joan Collins announced the winner of the annual Bad Sex in Fiction Prize in London today, presenting the award to American-based Manil Suri for his third novel, The City of Devi.

The winning passage was the climax of a three-way sex scene between all of his main characters, living in curfewed Mumbai under the threat of a nuclear bomb.

Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands – only Karun’s body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.

‘Take The City of Devi home to bed with you tonight and discover sex scenes that the TLS praised as 'unfettered, quirky, beautiful, tragic and wildly experimental’,‘ responded Suri’s publisher, Bloomsbury, who accepted the prize on his behalf. 'As Jane Austen observed: “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other”.’

The Bad Sex Prize has been run by the Literary Review since 1993, and was the brainchild of Auberon Waugh. In 2008 John Updike was awarded a lifetime achievement prize.

You can read the shortlist in full at the Guardian, who polled readers to find out who they thought should take out the dubious honour.

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04 December 2013

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The winners of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards were announced in Brisbane yesterday.

de_kretser__michelle Michelle de Kretser won the fiction prize for Questions of Travel. Her novel, which also won this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award, follows the lives of two very different protagonists. Laura travels the world before returning to Sydney; Ravi dreams of being a tourist until he is driven from Sri Lanka by devastating events.

‘In my early 20s it was the first time I realised travel is so much a matter of privilege,’ she said as she accepted her award. ‘There are so many people in the world who can’t enjoy what we have – the freedom to move across other cultures and enjoy other cultures.’

John Kinsella won the poetry award with Jam Tree Gully, a collection that confronts the legacy of Thoreau’s Walden and explores the nature of our responsibility and connection to the land.

highlightGeorge Megalogenis won the non-fiction category for The Australian Moment, a book that drew on interviews with past Australian prime ministers to help us understand how Australia sidestepped the Great Recession to become the envy of the developed world.

He talked to Annabel Crabb about the book at the Wheeler Centre last year; you can watch the interview online.

‘I wanted The Australian Moment to start a long conversation about our future. In this accelerated information age, it is important to find the time for these debates,’ he told the Australian.

Historian Ross McMullin’s book, Farewell, Dear People, won the prize for Australian history. It contains ten extended biographies of young men who exemplified Australia’s gifted lost generation of World War I.

Bruce Pascoe won the young adult fiction award for Fog a Dox, a story of courage, acceptance and respect about a fox cub raised by a dingo.

And Libby Gleeson won the children’s fiction award for her book Red, a multi-layered novel with the young protagonist suffering from amnesia after a cyclone hits the eastern suburbs of Sydney.

Each winner receives $80,000 tax free, while shortlisted entries receive $5,000.

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16 August 2013

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highlight This week, Amy Espeseth was longlisted for the prestigious Warwick Prize for Writing (UK) for her debut novel, Sufficient Grace, which won the 2009 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, was shortlisted in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, and was longlisted for the Stella Prize. Amy is a writer, publisher and academic who lectures in both writing and publishing at NMIT.

We spoke to her about writing to make sense of her world, why writing always seems impossible, and what she learned from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.


What was the first piece of writing you had published?

It’s hard to remember the first thing I had published, but I do remember my most formative writing partnership. As middle-school kids, a dear friend and I co-wrote musicals for the Barron Buttercups, our all-girl 4-H group, to perform. The work often involved altering the words to traditional American folk songs and 1980s pop songs to extol the virtues of Wisconsin agriculture. The musicals weren’t published, but they were enthusiastically performed to great local acclaim/chagrin. That no scripts survive is both a loss and a mystery.

What’s the best part of your job?

I write to make sense of world. I don’t think I’ve done it yet, but trying to find the reasons and patterns in my past and my place has been very valuable. There isn’t always a reason, but there’s often a pattern.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Writing always seems impossible. It’s sometimes hard to tell whether what is written is good or not, so the process can feel like walking in the dark. I’ve been blessed by having great mentors, editors and writing partners to help me find my way.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

Sometimes, readers will let me know that my book touched them. These brief writers’ festival conversations, cards and letters, and online messages have really touched me.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

Write what you know. That’s the best advice there is.

SUFFICIENT_GRACE_300dpi What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work? A reviewer described my book as ‘like Winter’s Bone and God of Small Things had a baby and adopted it out to Laura Ingalls Wilder.” I thought that was fantastic.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

If I wasn’t writing, I’d love to be a farmer. I can’t stand to have dirt touch my skin, though, so I don’t think it would work out. My childhood dream was to be a dentist.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

The craft of creative writing can be taught, but creativity can’t. As a lecturer, I focus on developing my students’ reading, reasoning, editing and organisational skills. We devour good work and hope it changes us.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Read everything; learn to use semicolons; get a day job.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Whenever possible, I buy my books in physical bookshops. I love to shop at Readings in Carlton. When academic books are out of my reach physically or financially, I’ll try to find secondhand copies online.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?

John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath taught me that the lives of rural people have a significant and honourable place in literature. I’d love to take Rose of Sharon out to dinner and give her a good feed. I suppose we’d talk about home.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

My childhood immersion into the stories and rhythms of the King James Bible seems to affect almost everything I write. The themes, cadences, characters and extended metaphors of the bible – especially the books of poetry and prophecy – remain endlessly fascinating to me.


Amy Espeseth is the author of Sufficient Grace.

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21 June 2013

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MIchelle de Kretser has won this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award for her fourth novel, Questions of Travel (Allen & Unwin).

The win follows several shortlistings this year – for the Stella Prize, the ALS Gold Medal, the Indie Award for Fiction and the Kibble Literary Award.

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Michelle de Kretser: This is her first Miles Franklin win.

De Kretser has won numerous awards for her previous novels (The Hamilton Case, The Rose Grower and The Lost Dog), and her fans include Hilary Mantel, A.S. Byatt and William Boyd, but this is the first time she has won the Miles Franklin.

The book is a double narrative following two characters on very different journeys. Laura travels the world before returning to Sydney, where she works for a publisher of travel guides, while Ravi dreams of being a tourist until he is driven from Sri Lanka by devastating events.

Richard Neville, chair of the judging panel, says that the novel ‘ is about keeping balance in a speeding, spinning world’ and explores questions of ‘home and away, travel and tourism, refugees and migrants, as well as ‘questions of travel’ in the virtual world.’

‘She brings these large questions close-up and personal with her witty and poignant observations and her vivid language.’

The other shortlisted writers were Romy Ash for Floundering, Annah Faulkner for The Beloved, Drusilla Modjeska for The Mountain and Carrie Tiffany for Mateship with Birds.

Some reviews of the book

Frank Moorhouse for the Miles Franklin:

‘This book has a slow narrative full of the sharpness and uses that searching gaze which travel – the displacement from our familiar lives – gives to us. She goes lightly and sometimes aching into what the changing of continent, country, or city, does to our ‘self’.’

Rebecca Starford in Sydney Morning Herald:

‘“To work and suffer is to be at home. All else is scenery.’‘ Adrienne Rich’s quote is aptly found in this impressive novel, which is designed gorgeously in hardcover. Questions of Travel is a grand and intellectual work, a unique study on the essence of modern time, how we travel in it and through it.

Evelyn Juers in Sydney Review of Books:

‘In a recent interview, de Kretser said, ‘I like three-dimensional novels that are like walking down a corridor and you find a niche in the wall or a door might be open and you can go into a room or peer in, and sometimes the door is closed but you know there is a space in there.’ Reading her work is an experience just like that.’

You can also listen to Michelle discuss Questions of Travel on Radio National’s Books and Arts Daily.


Join Michelle de Kretser at the Wheeler Centre on Monday 22 July to discuss Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus with James Ley, in Australian Literature 102.

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19 June 2013

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The Women’s Prize for Fiction has found a new sponsor – it no longer needs the Prince-like moniker of ‘the prize formerly known as the Orange’. After more than 20 sponsors competed to take up the mantle, the board chose Baileys, who signed up for an initial three years.

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Kate Mosse: ‘It is about a celebration of women’s achievements, and to celebrate the best, so why would you stop?’

Novelist Kate Mosse, the prize’s co-founder, said that the cream liqueur company was chosen because they were looking to ‘take the prize to another level, so [needed] a company that was ambitious and had a global reach’.

The Guardian asked Mosse to address murmurs that there is no longer a need for the prize, given its success in raising the profile of women writers, as evidenced by the strength of this year’s shortlist. Hilary Mantel is just one of the writers on the shortlist: she has already won the Man Booker and the Costa, the other two major literary prizes in the UK. Does she need a third?

‘Every single bookseller says it sells books like no other prize, and then the idea is that therefore you shouldn’t do it any more?’ Mosse laughed, talking to the Guardian.

‘But also, it is about a celebration of women’s achievements, and to celebrate the best, so why would you stop? This is a literary prize, this is not politics, but saying visibly, internationally, that there are extraordinary women doing extraordinary things, is even more important now. In a world where you have a 15-year-old shot for wanting to learn to read, because she’s a girl, saying very visibly “women’s creativity matters” is really important.’

This year’s shortlist is:

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

NW by Zadie Smith

The winner will be announced this week.

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04 June 2013

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By Paul Mitchell

highlight It’s been the year of women on the Australian literary award scene – not only was the first Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing awarded, but the Miles Franklin shortlist was, for the first time in its history, all women. (It has been all-men four times.)

Paul Mitchell asks if it’s time to turn our attention to men – not by creating an award for male writers, but one designed to attract male readers to literary fiction.


Award-winning literary fiction titles seem the only ones general readers (i.e. people who don’t peruse the Wheeler Dailies) will even consider reading. So it’s time for an Australian award for literary fiction that engages male readers.

Why? Because, as is well known, men read even fewer literary titles than their female general reader counterparts. And writers – and the publishing industry – need men to read. Immediately. So let’s get an award going and aim high. Let’s aim to get my Dad reading a book of literary fiction.

He once headed off on a fishing trip with a few of his mates. They stopped for lunch at a pub in an outpost country town. He asked the grizzled bar lady for a light beer. The already quiet pub went silent. She shook her head then stared at him. She spoke slowly in the hope he’d understand: ‘And do ya wanna go over the road to the library and borrow a book too?’

No, he just wanted a less-than-macho beer. He may also have wanted to check out the library. But he would likely have searched the non-fiction shelves for a sportsman’s biography or a tale about a racehorse. Or a racehorse’s autobiography. My Dad hasn’t read a book of literary fiction since primary school.

Dad’s a poster bloke for the Men Who Don’t Read Literary Fiction Gang. He’s way outside the target market. So, not unsurprisingly, literary fiction that engages female readers (whether women or men have written it) is given a strong push in the market. At the same time, the Australian education system is constantly trying to find ways to encourage boys to read. And it’s doing a good job. But what should boys read once they’ve finished The Day My Bum Took a Bad Speccie on a Wicked Toad?

Women wrote three of the five favourite books of literary fiction I’ve read over the past two years: A Visit from the Goon Squad, Olive Kitteridge and The Women of Brewster Place. Female protagonists abound, and the books cover many subject areas traditionally (though unhelpfully) seen as feminine. If I look at my reading habits over the last decade, I’m closer to 50/50 when it comes to the author’s gender, and likewise to what might be dubbed the masculine or feminine concerns inherent to these literary works.

But I read the Wheeler Dailies. And, importantly, I didn’t wake up one morning with these books on my bedside table. It’s come about after majoring in works that spoke to my particular male experience through my twenties and early thirties (i.e. heterosexual and sport-loving; frightened yet enthralled by violence; God-haunted, yet drug and alcohol-confused): Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian, Luke Davies’ Candy, Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, Anson Cameron’s Nice Shootin’, Cowboy, Raymond Carver’s oeuvre, and Kem Nunn’s The Dogs of Winter, among many others.

I feel I’m now getting more of what literary fiction can really offer: insights into the variegated nature of male and female experiences, and therefore a fuller understanding of what it is to be human. But, that said, the literary fiction titles that still really get my heart beating are those that speak to me of the male experience.

We don’t need gender wars around literature. But we’ve got them. And when it comes to major prizes – whether gender-based or other, I’m with Richard Flanagan: I’d prefer, as he wrote in the Age, an Australian literary culture that didn’t need them. But it looks like we’re stuck with the award culture and its inherent raison detre: if we hand out awards to certain literary fiction titles, then there will be a trickle-down effect and others will fly off the shelves (or into the e-reader). It doesn’t work in the wider economy and it doesn’t work in publishing. But it will still put 100 The Rosie Projects (I haven’t met a male reader yet who wants to read Rosie) in the bookshop windows – with roses, bike tyres and champagne flutes – while we shove other titles in boxes and send them to the pulp mill. For recycling so that the next award winners can be printed.

Awards, however, won’t be pulped anytime soon. So I look forward to reading the long list in next year’s Award for Male Reader Engagement. Or better title, The Day My Bum Grew Up and Started Reading Literary Fiction.

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28 May 2013

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highlight Micro-fiction writer Lydia Davis won the 2013 International Man Booker Prize yesterday. Celebrated in her native US, though less well known elsewhere, she has published several collections of (very) short stories, most of the stories no more than three pages long – and some of them as short as a sentence, or even a phrase.

Chair of the Man International Booker judges, Christopher Ricks, praised the way her inventive stories ‘fling their lithe arms wide to embrace many a kind’.

In 2010, critic Estelle Tang reviewed Davis’s The Collected Stories – which spans twelve years, four collections and almost 200 stories – for the Australian Literary Review. She’s allowed us to republish her in-depth appreciation here. Maybe it will whet your appetite!


The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis (Hamish Hamilton)

Reviewed by Estelle Tang

Joyce Carol Oates wrote that the short story’s ‘effect is rarely isolated or singular, but accumulative; a distinguished story collection is one that is greater than the mere sum of its disparate parts’. By this equation, The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis stands to stack up as great indeed. The collection spans twelve years, four collections and almost 200 stories. And Davis’s oeuvre does succeed against Oates’ metric, defying mere additive logic to constitute a rare, oblique investigation into our interiors. Not only do her stories flout the conventions of short fiction – Davis forces us to reconsider the meaning of both ‘short’ and ‘story’ – but they also render the relationship between reader and character one of intimate indeterminacy. One only need think of a microscope with the magnification set too high; it’s a marvellously clear view, but what are we seeing?

‘Break It Down’ opens with a man

staring at a piece of paper in front of him. He’s trying to break it down. He says:

I’m breaking it all down. The ticket was $600 and then after that there was more for the hotel and food and so on, for just ten days. Say $80 a day, no, more like $100 a day. And we made love, say, once a day on the average. That’s $100 a shot.

Here we have the ex-lover trying to settle accounts: sifting through memories, assessing their value, palming the change. The necessaries and the lovemaking are easily accounted for, but not everything yields so easily to such categorisation. The narrator (stripped of details like name and sex, constituted only by his or her thoughts, like most of Davis’ characters) begins to include jokes, touches, peaceful dreams in the reckoning, and it becomes apparent that the equation doesn’t really add up: ‘So, I’m thinking about it, how you can go in with $600, more like $1,000, and how you can come out with an old shirt.’

Davis’s earnest, assiduous accountants excogitate, not discuss. Direct speech is scarce, dialogue between two characters even more so. In the monologic ‘Story’, a woman has been trying to track her lover down after a fight; he has been to the movies with his ex-girlfriend instead of coming to visit her. They play phone tag and then she goes to his house, where she sees a car she doesn’t recognise. He comes out and explains why the other woman is there, but she doesn’t understand:

I try to figure it out.
So they went to the movies and then came back to his place and then I called and then she left and he called back and we argued and then I called back twice but he had gone out to get a beer (he says) and then I drove over and in the meantime he had returned from buying beer and she had also come back and she was in his room so we talked by the garage doors.

lydiadaviscollectedstories These internal to-and-fros are heartbreaking, because while the thinkers have put their trust in method and thought, time and time again they train their attention on the wrong object. In ‘Grammar Questions’, the narrator deliberates over how to conjugate a father’s imminent death: ‘In the phrase “he is dying,” the words he is with the present participle suggest that he is actively doing something. But he is not actively dying. The only thing he is still actively doing is breathing.’ Inquiry of this nature may seem cold and avoidant, but it’s clear that the ability of grammar to mirror life’s tracks – present and future and past tenses – is a reassuringly unassailable strand in the narrator’s fraying reality.

In these human experiments, Davis’s narrators impose a control of sorts: the plainest language you might ever encounter in literary fiction. It is as if, by paying each emotion the same courtesy of plain words and studied focus, the narrators might manage to get at the truth. Davis’s preference for plainness has also been observed in her translating work. In the New York Times, Peter Brooks noted that her 2004 translation of Marcel Proust’s Du côté de chez Swann (Davis does away with the ambiguous ‘Swann’s Way’ and titles it The Way by Swann’s) ‘strips away some of the fustian and fussiness’ of Scott Moncrieff’s original. One can, then, comfortably predict that Davis will be faithful to Flaubert, that famous seeker of le mot juste, in her forthcoming translation of Madame Bovary. Davis also admires the writing of Samuel Beckett for, among other things, ‘the plain, Anglo-Saxon vocabulary’; she related in a 2008 interview with the Believer magazine that she used to copy out sentences from his work.

But there’s lineage, and then there’s the singular simplicity Davis has made her signature. Take ‘Problem’, which casts people as variables: ‘X is with Y, but living on money from Z. Y himself supports W, who lives with her child by V.’ Davis’s sentences are so plain, the syntax so unassuming, that when a Romantic, though apposite, adjective surfaces (‘espaliered’, in ‘My Husband and I’), it catches in the maw like old toast. The unadorned account of ‘Problem’, however, presents troubling and complex facts: Y is supporting W, who is living with her child by V. X and Y don’t have children together. W is stuck in New York on account of her relationship with U, whose child lives in New York. It may be a story boiled down to its most basic elements – who does what, with whom – but the problem has by no means been solved, and may in fact have no possible solution. What seems like a simplifying approach actually serves to foreground the entanglement; there’s more to this story, infinitely more.

The Collected Stories contains four of Davis’s seven short fiction collections: Break It Down (1986), Almost No Memory (1997), Samuel Johnson Is Indignant (2001) and Varieties of Disturbance (2007). (She has also written one novel, The End of the Story.) 733 pages of stories shorn of decoration might seem like a tall order (even though the book is blurbed by heavyweights Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers, Oates and Rick Moody), especially in Australia, where none of the individual collections have been released in local editions. But Davis is also a convincing redefiner of the short-story form, offering endless surprising configurations across a confident body of work. In a time when readers of American short fiction bemoan the samey competency that can result from creative writing courses, the multifarious and controversial shapes of Davis’s fictions are undeniably exciting.

Notably, some sentences consist of just one line. Here is the entirety of ‘Samuel Johnson Is Indignant:’

that Scotland has so few trees.

Outrageous, certainly, if you believe that a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Or, if you hold, like Gerald Prince did in the 1970s, that a story should comprise at least three events strung together. ‘Samuel Johnson’, it might be argued, contains only one, or merely the second part of one. But there’s no denying the story’s one-two narrative slug. At the risk of explaining away the miniature’s charm, Davis does much here with little. The stentorian promise of a literary giant’s ire, the bracing colon, the understated denouement: it’s a pleasurable and coherent experience.

Some stories are haiku-like or epistolary; others bring to mind logic exercises or language classes. ‘This Condition’ is a list of aphrodisiacs, pock-marked with commas, and the Hitchens-tickler ‘Index Entry’ (‘Christian, I’m not a’) trades glances with ‘Foucault and Pencil’, which contains no definite or indefinite articles. As might be expected, this array of forms has its heroes and its lesser mates. Some of the shorter, more experimental pieces have the feel of being just ‘scales and arpeggios and five-finger exercises’, as practised by the narrator in ‘Glenn Gould’. For example, ‘First Grade: Handwriting Practice’ consists of the lyrics to ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord’, with a little stage direction (‘turn over’) interpolated before the penultimate line. Diverting, sure, but it reads like an opportunistic epigram.

Nevertheless, as Glenn Gould would no doubt attest, and as Ernest Hemingway famously recommended, the five-finger exercise plays a material role in the performance of a masterpiece. The childhood classroom and pulpy paper called to mind by ‘First Grade’ speak to one of the most startling and funny pieces in the collection, ‘We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters from a Class of Fourth-Graders’. The title doesn’t mislead: much like a sociological study conducted by a grammarian, ‘We Miss You’ is a dryly penned analysis of twenty-seven letters written to young Stephen, who has been in a car accident.

Stephen’s classmates have been enjoined by a doubtless well-meaning teacher to put their most comforting and enthusiastic thoughts to paper. These artefacts are subjected to absurdly objective textual analysis: ‘There is a tendency toward non sequiturs’. The unnamed ‘sociologist’ carries out this research with fastidious attention, and invests the most meaningless details with import. To his or her keen eye, each letter reveals its author’s personality through its tics, level of accomplishment and correctness:

Sally is even more specific, and her letter, though one of the briefest, carries the most powerful, and the darkest, emotional burden: “Hope you are feeling better. Your seat is empty. Your stocking is not finished.” This last sentence is followed by a period, but then, ambiguously, by a lower-case b, so that we cannot be sure whether Sally meant to continue the sentence or begin a new one when she goes on to say, again dwelling on darker possibilities: “But I don’t think it will be finished.”

Davis’s extraordinary commitment to formal experimentation is at its most salient in this, one of the collection’s longest and most strangely riveting stories. As the report goes on, its findings demarcated to four levels of subheadings (‘Overall Coherence’, ‘Formulaic Expressions of Sympathy’, ‘Compound-Complex Sentences’), the letters ever more closely scrutinised, the reader’s attention turns to the driving intelligence behind this odd endeavour. What is being studied, and who formulated the question?

In ‘A Few Things Wrong with Me’, the narrator is trying to ascertain what an ex-lover didn’t like about her. It’s an unpleasant task that brings to mind all her faults, large or small. Labouring at these difficult, unsolvable problems, Davis’s characters fumble through processes designed to procure answers. But there are no epiphanies here, no sparks of inspiration. The aim is far more humble than that. The narrator trusts that this kind of parsing, all this working out, ‘all the answers together may add up to the right one if there is such a thing as a right answer to a question like that’.


Estelle Tang is a writer, and an editor at Oxford University Press, a bibliotherapist at The School of Life and editorial advisor at Paper Radio. She tweets as @waouwwaouw.

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24 May 2013

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The first ever Stella Prize for a work by an Australian woman writer was awarded last night, to Carrie Tiffany for her novel Mateship with Birds.

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Carrie Tiffany: ‘The Stella is important because it helps to address the imbalance in attention given to the writing of male and female authors in Australia.’

In a surprise – and very generous – move, Tiffany announced that she had given back $10,000 of her $50,000 prize money to be distributed among her fellow authors on the shortlist. (Despite, she said, having ‘heavy creditors’.)

‘This is selfish too,’ she said. ‘Because when you give writers money, you’re actually giving them time. And if I can hasten a little the next books from these women, well why wouldn’t I?’

Tiffany told the crowd that the event was special for her in many ways; two of the women on the shortlist had been instrumental in making her career happen.

Her first novel Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living had been ‘rejected by every publisher in Australia’ before it won the inaugural Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2003 – it was subsequently published by Picador, and became an international success.

‘I later learned there was one judge, a woman who literally beat the other judges into submission,’ Tiffany recalled. ‘That woman was Cate Kennedy.’

Once published, that novel was launched by a ‘dear friend’, a writer who had agreed to launch the book ‘only if she liked it, which is how it should be’. She did like the book, and gave a warm speech that Tiffany has often looked back to for comfort over the years. That woman was Michelle de Kretser.

Helen Garner: ‘Every girl who writes needs a bucket of cash’

helen_garner Helen Garner was the guest speaker for the evening, before the prize was announced. As is her way, she gave an unexpected – and generous, and insightful – talk; instead of celebrating the concept of prizes, she talked about the ‘terrible anxieties’ they provoke in the potential contenders and their ‘bizarre effect … on people’s idea of their own worth’.

She also spoke of ‘the undeniable fact that every girl who writes needs a bucket of cash to be thrown over her at least once in a lifetime so she can soldier on, and even to make her feel for a while that it’s been worth the torture’.

Garner said she would steer clear of explicitly defending the existence of a prize for women’s writing. But she did talk about the need for its existence, referencing a former writer-husband who told her ‘women can’t be artists’ and gender issues to do with cover design.

‘How wonderful it would be if one day, such a prize no longer had any use. If doctors and lawyers no longer said to me, 'Nice to meet you Helen, my wife’s read all your books.’ If designers no longer reflexively put a vase of flowers on the front of a woman’s book, even a book that is about hypodermics and vomiting and rage.'

‘We know in our hearts that women can write, can be artists,’ she said. ‘But we’re so easily disheartened and sabotaged, even by ourselves.’

‘Every book on the shortlist was a genuine contender’

Kerryn Goldsworthy, chair of the judging panel, said that the prize received almost 200 entries.

‘Not only was it difficult picking a winner, but it was extremely difficult picking a shortlist,’ she said. It was difficult picking a long list. In fact, by the time we got down to the last 25 books, we were really struggling. And it just got harder as it went along.

‘Every book on the shortlist was a genuine contender for the award. They are all original, they are all excellent, they are all engaging.’

But she reserved special praise for the winner, Mateship with Birds, for its ‘beautiful writing, humour, meticulous craftsmanship, inventive structure, and broad and generous point of view’.

Carrie Tiffany: ‘The Stella is important because of the times’

mateship_birds ‘The Stella is important because it fetes and honours the work of Australian women writers,’ said Carrie Tiffany, while accepting the award. ‘When I sit down to write, there is an anchor that keeps me in place, and that anchor is all of the books that I have read. And on my desk just this morning, there were books by Christina Stead, Judith Wright, Thea Astley, Elizabeth Jolley, Shirley Hazzard, Beverly Farmer, Alexis Wright, Drusilla Modjeska, Helen Garner. My sentences would not have been possible without the sentences of these women, and the others I have read and continue to read.’

‘The Stella is important because it helps to address the imbalance in attention given to the writing of male and female authors in Australia. I think also the Stella is important because of the times that we live in. To write, and to take the work of reading and writing seriously, you must spend a great deal of time alone in a room. You must take yourself away from being looked at.’

‘And yet the pressure for women, I think young women in particular, is to be constantly available for a kind of sexualised visual consumption. To be preened and styled, tanned and exercised, toxically enhanced. The pressure for this has never been greater. For a woman to spend time alone in a room, to look rather than be looked at, means rejecting some of this pressure. It means doing something with your mind rather than your body.’

‘And I hope the Stella can demonstrate to young women that this too has its rewards.’


Tomorrow night, join us for A Prize of One’s Own, a discussion about The Stella Prize – how it came about, the judging process and the shortlist. (And winner!).

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17 April 2013

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highlight It’s been quite a week for Australian literary award shortlists (and a pair of longlists). We share them with you here – along with a reminder about the inaugural Stella Prize, with the winner announced next week.

If you’re looking for something to read next, here’s a selection that might whet your literary appetite,

Commonwealth Book Prize

The Commonwealth Book Prize shortlists were announced yesterday, with five Australian writers shortlisted.

The prize goes to the best first novel published in 2012, with one overall winner and a winner from each of five regions (Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, Caribbean, and the Pacific).

The Australian shortlisted authors are:

Floundering by Romy Ash (Text)

Mazin Grace by Dylan Coleman (UQP)

A Tiger in Eden by Chris Flynn (Text)

The Last Thread by Michael Sala (Affirm)

Beneath the Darkening Sky by Majok Tulba (Penguin)

CBCA Awards

The shortlists for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards were announced this week, too. Here are a few of the shortlists. Visit their website for full details.

Award for Older Readers

The Ink Bridge by Neil Grant (Allen & Unwin)

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)

The Shiny Guys by Doug MacLeod (Penguin)

Creepy & Maud by Dianne Touchell (Fremantle Press)

Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield (Text)

The Wrong Boy by Suzy Zail (Black Dog Books)

Award for Younger Readers

Pennies for Hitler by Jackie French (Angus & Robertson)

Other Brother by Simon French (Walker Books)

After by Morris Gleitzman (Viking)

Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett (Viking)

Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend by Steven Herrick (UQP)

The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk by Glenda Millard (Stephen Michael King)

Award for Picture Books

The Coat by Ron Brooks, illus by Julie Hunt (Allen & Unwin)

Tanglewood by Vivienne Goodman, illus by Margaret Wild (Omnibus)

Herman and Rosie (Gus Gordon (Viking)

Sophie Scott Goes South (Alison Lester (Viking)

Lightning Jack by Patricia Mullins, illus by Glenda Millard (Scholastic)

A Day to Remember by Mark Wilson, illus by Jackie French (Angus & Robertson)

New South Wales Literary Awards

The shortlists for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards were announced today. Here are some of those shortlists.

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction and nominees for the People’s Choice Award

The Voyage by Murray Bail (Text)

The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally (Vintage)

Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears (Allen & Unwin)

Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse (Vintage)

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany (Picador)

Animal People by Charlotte Wood (Allen & Unwin)

Douglas Stewart Prize for Nonfiction

Exile: The Lives and Hopes of Werner Pelz by Roger Averill (Transit Lounge)

Ben Jonson: A Life by Ian Donaldson (Oxford University Press)

Dark Night: Walking with McCahon by Martin Emond (AUP)

The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage (Allen & Unwin)

Double Entry by Jane Gleeson-White (Allen & Unwin)

The Office: A Hard Working History by Gideon Haigh (Melbourne University Press)

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry

Ruby Moonlight by Ali Cobby-Eckermann (Magabala Books)

First Light by Kate Fagan (Giramondo)

Open Sesame by Michael Farrell (Giramondo)

The Welfare of My Enemy by Anthony Lawrence (Puncher & Wattman)

Ladylike by Kate Lilly (UWA Publishing)

Here, There and Elsewhere by Vivian Smith (Giramondo)

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature

Three Summers by Judith Clarke (Allen & Unwin)

The Ink Bridge by Neil Grant (Allen & Unwin)

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)

A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan)

Into that Forest by Louis Nowra (Allen & Unwin)

Unforgotten by Tohby Riddle (Allen & Unwin)

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature

The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon by Aaron Blabey (Viking)

Brotherband 1: The Outcasts by John Flanagan (Random House)

Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend by Steven Herrick (UQP)

A Bear and a Tree by Stephen Michael King (Viking)

The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk: Kingdom of Silk Series 6 by Glenda Millard, illus by Stephen Michael King (HarperCollins)

Dragonkeeper Book 4: Blood Brothers by Carole Wilkinson (Walker Books)

Kibble and Dobbie Longlists

The Kibble and Dobbie Awards announced their long lists for the first time today.

The Kibble Literary Award recognises the work of an established Australian woman writer.

The Dobbie Literary Award recognises a first published work from an Australian woman writer.

Kibble Literary Award

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin)

The Beloved by Annah Faulkner (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The Engagement by Chloe Hooper (Penguin Group Australia)

My Hundred Lovers by Susan Johnson (Allen & Unwin)

Like A House On Fire by Cate Kennedy (Scribe)

The Mind of a Thief by Patti Miller (University of Queensland Press)

An Opening: Twelve love stories about art by Stephanie Radok (Wakefield Press)

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany (Picador)

Dobbie Literary Award

Floundering by Romy Ash (Text)

Darkness on the Edge of Town by Jessie Cole (HarperCollins Publishers)

The Burial by Courtney Collins (Allen & Unwin)

Toyo: A Memoir by Lily Chan (Black Inc.)

Finding Jasper by Lynne Leonhardt (Margaret River Press)

Red Dirt Talking by Jacqueline Wright (Fremantle Press)

The Stella Prize

The Stella Prize winner will be announced next week, on Tuesday 16 April.

The shortlist is:

The Burial by Courtney Collins (Allen & Unwin)

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin)

The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson (Five Islands Press)

Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy (Scribe)

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany (Picador)

We’ll be hosting a post-prize-announcement panel event on Thursday 18 April, at the Wheeler Centre. (With chair Aviva Tuffield, chair of judges Kerryn Goldsworthy, founding patron Ellen Koshland and the first-ever winner. Chaired by Sian Prior.)

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11 April 2013

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This year’s Miles Franklin longllist was announced in an unusual – but thoroughly contemporary – way.

The covers of the nine longlisted books were revealed, one by one, on Twitter, in what Crikey literary blogger Bethanie Blanchard labeled ‘a slow literary striptease’.

The most striking thing, perhaps, about this year’s list?

Eight out of ten of the writers are women – perhaps fitting in the year that The Stella Prize, Australia’s first prize for Australian women’s writing, will first be awarded.

And quite a turnaround from the ‘sausagefests’ of 2011 and 2009. (Last year’s longlist was an equal affair – and of course a woman, Anna Funder, won the main prize, for All That I Am.)

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This year’s longlisted books are:

Floundering by Romy Ash (Text Publishing)

Lola Bensky by Lily Brett (Hamish Hamilton)

Street to Street by Brian Castro (Giramondo)

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin)

The Beloved by Annah Faulkner (Picador)

The Daughers of Mars by Thomas Keneally (Vintage)

The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska (Vintage)

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (Vintage)

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany (Picador)

Red Dirt Talking by Jacqueline Wright (Fremantle Press)

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Congratulations to all the longlisted authors.

The shortlist will be announced on 30 April; the winner will be announced on 19 June.

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26 March 2013

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Today is Indigenous Literacy Day – and time to announce the winner and shortlist for the biennal Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing.

Anita Heiss was announced as the winner this afternoon, in a celebratory event at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum.

She will receive $20,000 in prize money as her prize.

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The shortlisted titles are:

Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss (Random House Australia)

Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane (University of Queensland Press)

The Boundary by Nicole Watson (University of Queensland Press)

The judges of the 2012 prize were Daniel Browning, Meme McDonald and Bruce Pascoe.

Am I Black Enough For You?

Anita Heiss
Random House Australia

am_i_black_enough What does it mean to be Aboriginal? Why is Australia so obsessed with notions of identity? Anita Heiss, successful author and passionate campaigner for Aboriginal literacy, was born a member of the Wiradjuri nation of New South Wales, but was raised in the suburbs of Sydney and educated at the local Catholic school. She is Aboriginal – however, this doesn’t mean she likes to go barefoot and please, don’t ask her to go camp in the desert.

After years of stereotyping Aboriginal Australians as either settlement dwellers or rioters in Redfern, the Australian media have discovered a new crime to charge them with: being too ‘fair-skinned’ to be an Australian Aboriginal. Such accusations led to Anita’s involvement in one of the most important and sensational Australian legal decisions of the 21st-century when she joined others in charging a newspaper columnist with breaching the Racial Discrimination Act. He was found guilty, and the repercussions continue.

About Anita Heiss

Heiss__Anita Dr Anita Heiss has published non-fiction, historical fiction, children’s and commercial women’s fiction, poetry, social commentary and travel articles. She is an Indigenous Literacy Day ambassador, patron of WEAVE and a proud member of the Wiradjuri nation. She co-edited, with Peter Minter, The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature, and her most recent adult novels are Manhattan Dreaming and Paris Dreaming. Her latest book is Am I Black Enough For You?. She lives in Sydney.

From the Judges’ Report

The judges remarked on the compassion evident in this book and the deft weaving of family and national history with an event which has laid a platform for the required standards of Australian debate when discussing Aboriginal identity. This is not a polemical treatise, but a plea for the respect of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians and their histories.

The book invites any Australian into its pages and any who have loved their mother or father (or indeed found them hard to love) will be entranced by the relationships within this family.

It is not easy to remain as measured and open when discussing this aspect of our national character if you have had your identity so consistently assailed as has Anita Heiss. She never attacks her assailants, but invites the reader into her childhood kitchen where her identity was forged.

Purple Threads

Jeanine Leane
University of Queensland Press

purple_threads Jeanine Leane grew up on a sheep farm near Gundagai, and the stories are based on her childhood experiences in a house full of fiercely independent women. In between Aunty Boo’s surveillance of the local farmers’ sheep dip alliance and Aunty Bubby’s fireside tales of the Punic Wars, the women offer sage advice to their nieces on growing up as indigenous girls in a white country town.

The cast of strong Aboriginal women in a rural setting gives a fascinating insight into both Aboriginal and rural life. Farming is not an easy pursuit for anyone, but the Aunties take all the challenges in their stride, facing torrential rain, violent neighbours and injured dogs with an equal mix of humour and courage. Purple Threads uses an irreverent style reminiscent of Gayle Kennedy’s Me, Antman & Fleabag and Marie Munkara’s Every Secret Thing, but offers a unique perspective on the Australian country lifestyle.

About Jeanine Leane

jeanine Jeanine Leane is a Wiradjuri woman from south-west New South Wales. A doctorate in literature and Aboriginal representation from the University of Technology, Sydney followed a long teaching career at secondary and tertiary level. Formerly a Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, she currently holds a post-doctoral fellowship at ANU.

In 2010, the unpublished manuscript of Purple Threads won the David Unaipon Award at the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards and was shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize. Jeanine is the recipient of an Australian Research Council grant which will produce a scholarly monograph called Reading the Nation: A Critical Study.

From the Judges’ Report

Leane has produced one of the most unique works in Australian literature. Many people will read two thirds the way through this novel before realising the family depicted is Aboriginal.

It is a rich, subtle, and beautifully crafted novel. There is no anger or malice in this book, and yet it deals with the period in which Australia’s rejection of Aboriginal people had been made complete.

The judges would not be surprised if this book won any of the major mainstream national literary prizes. The characters are unforgettable, the cold hills of its setting are vivid in the reader’s memory and the family hearth is seductive enough to make anyone wander into a wood stove showroom.

The Boundary

Nicole Watson
University of Queensland Press

boundary Hours after rejecting the Corrowa People’s native title claim on Brisbane’s Meston Park, Justice Bruce Brosnan is brutally murdered in his home. Days later, lawyers against the claim are also found dead.

Aboriginal people were once prohibited from entering Brisbane’s city limits at night, and Meston Park stood on the boundary. The Corrowa’s matriarch, Ethel Cobb, is convinced the murders are the work of an ancient assassin who has returned to destroy the boundary, but Aboriginal lawyer Miranda Eversely isn’t so sure. When the Premier is kidnapped, the pressure to find the killer intensifies …

While the investigation forces Detective Sergeant Jason Matthews to confront his buried heritage, Miranda battles a sense of personal failure at the Corrowa’s defeat. How far will it take her to the edge of self-destruction?

About Nicole Watson

Nicole_Watson Nicole Watson is a member of the Birri-Gubba People and the Yugambeh language group. Nicole has a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Queensland and a Master of Laws from the Queensland University of Technology. Nicole was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Queensland in 1999. She has worked for Legal Aid Queensland, the National Native Title Tribunal, the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency and as a columnist for the National Indigenous Times. Nicole is currently a senior research fellow at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, University of Technology, Sydney.

The Boundary won the 2009 David Unaipon Award.

From the Judges’ Report

This crime novel is set in a part of Brisbane so richly realised that you feel as if you could walk through it with your eyes closed.

The revelation of the crime peels layers off important social events in our history. There is anger and disappointment palpable in the writing, but the reader never stops wanting to know the characters or find the secret to the mystery.

The judges could remember few Australian books which had immersed themselves so deeply in history, but remained so readable.

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05 September 2012

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Premier Ted Baillieu this morning announced the shortlisted titles; pictured, with some of the works' authors.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlists have been announced this morning – and we’ve got all the details, on a dedicated section of our website where you can read all about the books and authors.

If you have an opinion to share, we invite you to contribute your own reviews and comments on individual titles.

We’ve commissioned a crack team of literary bloggers and reviewers to review all 21 titles on our shortlists – watch our website over the coming weeks. The first batch of reviews is in, too.

Right now, you can read:

Andrew McDonald on Doug MacLeod’s The Shiny Guys

Estelle Tang on Vikki Wakefield’s All I Ever Wanted

Sam Cooney on Wayne Macauley’s The Cook

James Tierney on Alice Pung’s Her Father’s Daughter

Jennifer Mills on Kerryn Goldsworthy’s Adelaide

We’ll be updating you on Twitter and Facebook as new reviews roll in.

The 2012 shortlists are:

Award for Fiction

All That I Am by Anna Funder (Penguin) – USA

Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse (Random House) – Sydney, NSW

The Cook by Wayne Macauley (Text) Brunswick -VIC

Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears (Allen & Unwin) – NSW

A History of Books by Gerald Murnane (Giramondo) – Goroke, VIC

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany (Pan Macmillan) – Mitcham, VIC

Award for Non-Fiction

1835: The Founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia by James Boyce (Black Inc.) – Hobart, TAS

Adelaide by Kerryn Goldsworthy (NewSouth) – Queenstown, SA

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia by Bill Gammage (Allen & Unwin) – Turner, ACT

Her Father’s Daughter by Alice Pung (Black Inc.) – Parkville, VIC

The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays by Simon Leys (Black Inc.) – Garran, ACT

True North by Brenda Niall (Text) – Camberwell, VIC

Award for Drama

Boxman by Daniel Keene (If Theatre, Big West Festival) – Spotswood, VIC

A Golem Story by Lally Katz (Malthouse Theatre) – Carlton, VIC

National Interest by Aidan Fennessy (Melbourne Theatre Company and Black Swan State Theatre Company) – Brunswick, VIC

Award for Poetry

Armour by John Kinsella (Pan Macmillan) – York, WA

Southern Barbarians by John Mateer (Giramondo) – Karrinyup, WA

Vishvarupa by Michelle Cahill (Five Islands) – Wahroonga, NSW

Award for Writing for Young Adults

All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield (Text) – Gulfview Heights, SA

The Shadow Girl by John Larkin (Random House) – Carlingford, NSW

The Shiny Guys by Doug MacLeod (Penguin) – St Kilda, VIC

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09 August 2012

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highlight Mark McKenna won the Prime Minister’s Award for Non-Fiction this week for his biography, An Eye For Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark. The judges said, ‘This is a masterful biography, a deeply compassionate portrait of a complex and flawed man.’

Mark is a research fellow at the University of Sydney and the author of several prize-winning books. We spoke to him for this week’s Working with Words.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

I’m almost certain the first piece was published in the travel section of the SMH back in 1984 (I had just returned from Sudan and Europe), followed by another travel piece (on the Soviet Union) in the National Times in 1984.

What’s the best part of your job?

Being alone, writing, lost in whatever my current project is.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Days when nothing seems to work!

manning_clark What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

That’s hard. Two moments I suppose. Winning book of the year in the NSW Premier’s Awards back in 2003 for Looking for Blackfellas’ Point, and of course, just this week, winning the Prime Minister’s Prize for Non-Fiction for my biography of Manning Clark. Otherwise, it’s definitely the correspondence I’ve had with readers about my work.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

The best advice came from David Malouf: ‘I write not to record what I think but to discover what I think’.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself, or your work?

The most ridiculous: That I am trying to be another Manning Clark!

If you weren’t making your living by writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

Teaching full-time, or working in a bookshop.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

Some things can be taught, or at least demonstrated. But writing is a solitary pursuit. Insight cannot be taught.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Learning which advice to accept and which to reject. Follow your own path. Strive for independence.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Mostly offline, in bookshops, especially because they are struggling and if they disappear, so much of our present literary culture will disappear with them.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

I would rather dine with a character from non-fiction. Someone I’ve never known or heard of.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

If I had to chose one, it would be George Orwell’s 1984. It caught me at a particular moment in my life. Sixteen years of age. A novel that was both political and a love story, I identified with the isolation of Winston Smith. Must have been something about growing up in the Australian suburbs in the 1970s.


You can watch Mark McKenna talk about his award-winning book, An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark, in a Wheeler Centre event from last year.

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26 July 2012

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highlight First-time Fitzroy author Graeme Simsion has won the 2012 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript (worth $15,000) for his novel The Rosie Project, about a man with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, searching for his perfect match.

The judges commended the ‘moving and comic novel’ and its ‘remarkable narrative voice’.

Simsion is currently overseas, so couldn’t be there to accept the award last Friday night – but he had a well-qualified stand-in on the night. Ros Walker, who is involved in making his winning story into a film, read a passage from the manuscript and had everyone laughing.

The expert panel of judges comprised author and bookseller Peter Mews; co-founder and creative director of Sleepers Publishing Zoe Dattner; director of Writers Victoria, Roderick Poole; and author Nick Gadd, who won the Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2007.

The two other shortlisted authors were Stephen Samuel, for Strange Eventful History, an original take on the Burke and Wills legend that the judges declared ‘remarkable and chilling’; and Rose Mulready, for The Day We Lost the Moon, her ‘clever, humorous’ novel about a rakish male literary agent enduring the collapse of his marriage, as he becomes increasingly involved with his most successful client.

Here’s a small taste of the three shortlisted manuscripts.

The 2012 Winner

THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion (Fitzroy)

Don Tillman is a 40-year-old geneticist with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome. When he wants to find a partner, he approaches the project the only way he knows – systematically. He creates a questionnaire designed to find the perfect woman – a punctual, non-drinking, non-smoking female who will fit in with his regimented lifestyle. When Rosie appears on the scene, she fits none of Don’s criteria – but she does turn his life upside down. Graeme Simsion’s moving and comic novel, sustained by a remarkable narrative voice and illuminated by dramatic and hilarious scenes, takes the reader on an immensely satisfying journey as Don seeks to find out if he is capable of real love.

The 2012 Shortlist

STRANGE EVENTFUL HISTORY by Stephen Samuel (Clunes)

An original take on an iconic Australian story, Strange Eventful History brings new depth to the Burke and Wills legend. Australian publishing has seen a lot of real and fictional accounts of this infamously ill-fated expedition, but here we read an almost thriller-like account that reveals the inner turmoil of the expedition’s doomed leaders, the pain of John King ‘the one who survived’, and the fascinating re-enactments of the Royal Commission’s inquiry that followed. Written with contemporary flair and the skill of a natural storyteller, Strange Eventful History is a remarkable and chilling novel.

THE DAY WE LOST THE MOON by Rose Mulready (Elwood)

Rose Mulready’s protagonist is a rakish male literary agent enduring a spectacular marriage collapse. From well-observed comic scenes of his emotional unravelling, set in some very familiar inner Melbourne locations, the novel builds in complexity as he becomes more and more involved with his most successful (yet reclusive) literary client. The gradual revelation of this writer‟s life and her newest work brings the novel to a powerful and poetic conclusion. The judges found the writing clever, humorous and engaging, and the entwining of the fictional and ‘real’ narratives very compelling.

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04 June 2012

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We don’t exactly judge a book by its cover here at the Wheeler Centre … but we do appreciate a good-looking book cover, nonetheless.

The Australian Publishers' Association celebrates the best in Australian cover design once a year, with the APA Design Awards. This year’s winners were announced last week; here’s some of them.

Best Designed Book of the Year

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Love Lace: Powerhouse Museum International Lace Award, Powerhouse Publishing, designed by Toko.

Best Designed Cover of the Year

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The Art of Pasta, Lucio Galletto & David Dale, Penguin, designed by Daniel New, artist Luke Sciberras.

Young Designer of the Year

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Hannah Robinson for And Red Galoshes, pictured, Glenda Millard & Jonathan Bentley, Hardie Grant; The Elegant Art of Falling Apart, Jessica Jones, Hachette; Wide Open Road, Tony Davis, ABC Books; and Chasing Odysseus, S.D. Gentill, Pantera Press.

Best Designed Children’s Cover of the Year

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August, Bernard Beckett, Text, designed by W.H. Chong and Susan Miller.

Best Designed Fiction Book

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Love in the Years of Lunacy, Mandy Sayer, A&U, designed by Emily O'Neill.

Best Designed Non-Fiction Book

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Hiroshima Nagasaki, Paul Ham, HarperCollins, designed by Matt Stanton and HarperCollins Design Studio.

Best Designed Literary Fiction Book

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Foal’s Bread, Gillian Mears, A&U, designed by Sandy Cull, gogoGinko, and Yolande Gray.

Best Designed General Illustrated Book

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The Flight Attendant’s Shoe, Prudence Black, NewSouth, designed by Di Quick.

Best Designed Children’s Fiction Book

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Alaska, Sue Saliba, Penguin, designed by Allison Colpoys.

Best Designed Children’s Picture Book

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Ben & Duck, Sara Acton, Scholastic, designed by Nicole Stofberg.

Best Designed Children’s Series

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Star League 1: Lights, Camera, Action Hero!, H.J. Harper, Random House, designed by Nahum Ziersch and Astred Hicks, Design Cherry.

The full list of winners is available at Bookseller and Publisher online.


W._H._Chong_PIC_Size4 In the first of a new event series on the art of book design, multi-award-winning cover designer W.H. Chong will present an illustrated talk on how he turned much-loved Australian classics into art for Text Publishing’s Australian Classics series.

Beautiful Books: How To Design an Australian Classic with W.H. Chong will be held at the Wheeler Centre on Thursday 31 May at 6.15pm. Free, but please book.

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22 May 2012

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Arts lovers around Australia have now digested the news that brand new Queensland premier Campbell Newman has axed the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, as a cost-cutting measure.

The move, which comes during our National Year of Reading, will save the Queensland government just $244,000; the state’s debt is $85 billion.

highlight ‘The most important ramification of Newman’s decision is a symbolic one,’ says the Australian’s literary editor, Stephen Romei. ‘It says this is a government that doesn’t care about books, or writing, or reading. By extension, it says this is a government that thinks the average Queenslander feels the same. I know this is not true. Certainly, it’s a strange decision to make in Australia’s National Year of Reading.’

‘As a decision it comes with an enormous amount of baggage,’ says author Matthew Condon, editor of the Courier Mail’s weekend magazine, Q. ‘It comes with the memory of the cultural vacuum and, in turn, the national laughing-stock that vacuum had made of Queensland more than 25 years ago.’

‘Being an author who has been shortlisted for a premier’s award in the past, I know the most important thing is the kudos of the nomination,’ says fellow Queensland author Krissy Kneen. ‘The prize money is a bonus but it’s not what it’s all about.’

Grassroots awards

Matthew Condon and Krissy Kneen have teamed up, with the support of Brisbane independent bookshop Avid Reader and other industry stakeholders, to establish the Queensland Literary Awards.

krissy_kneen_darren_james-199x300 ‘We’re going to do this as a grassroots movement,’ said Kneen. ‘We are in the process of contacting all the current judges to make sure they are still keen to judge the awards on a voluntary basis.’

The awards will attempt to reward and recognise established and emerging writers across the 14 original categories which constituted previous Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, at a ceremony to be held later in 2012. The organisers hope winners can be announced on September 6, the first day of the Brisbane Writers Festival.

Avid Reader will be the centre for publishers and writers to send their awards submissions, which will close on 6 May.

Bookshop owner Fiona Stager told the Australian that the literary awards added ‘far greater value to Queensland’s collective culture than what they cost’.

Avid Reader has also actively supported the movement for The Stella Prize, a national prize to reward Australian women’s writing.

‘A blow in some sort of culture war’

Earls__Nick_-_credit_Sarah_Garvey ‘In the 90s, when just about every state seemed to have [premier’s literary awards] and we didn’t, it was another contributor to the perception that we were a backwater that hadn’t shifted since the mid-20th century,’ writes Brisbane author Nick Earls on his blog. ‘Peter Beattie’s introduction of the awards in 1999 wasn’t some bizarre act of state largesse – it merely brought us in line with the rest of the country.’

Beattie himself says that the whole purpose of the awards was to try to create a ‘creative culture’ within Queensland.

‘It’s all part of building a culture where creative people are welcome and encouraged – creative industries are one of the fastest-growing parts of the world economy, and this isn’t just about the money, it’s about building up the sort of environment where scientists, game operators, these sorts of people, feel welcome.’

Amanda Lohrey, winner of the fiction prize last year for Reading Madame Bovary, told the Australian that the axing was ‘punitive’.

‘Given the very poor public relations and the damage to the Queensland brand, you would also have to wonder at a government who in the first week found it a priority. That seems to suggest that it is a blow in some sort of culture war. In one gesture they head back to the 50s.’

David Unaipon Award

One of the awards under the former umbrella of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards was the David Unaipon Award for the Best Indigenous Manuscript, the only prize of its kind.

‘It’s important that people understand that the Unaipon award was devised by UQP,’ said University of Queensland Press chief executive officer Greg Bain. ‘In the early 2000s it was brought under the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards which give it a lot more prominence but it’s actually not theirs to axe,’ he said.

tara_june_winch Previous winners of the Unaipon Award include Doris Pilkington, for Caprice, the prequel to The Rabbit-Proof Fence, Larissa Behrendt, for her first novel, Home, and Tara June Winch, for her short-story collection Swallow the Air.

Expressing her disappointment about the axing of the awards, Winch said her win ‘completely changed’ her life.

Playwright Sam Watson says the David Unapion category of the awards was the only recognition for indigenous writers. ‘If we lose the Unaipon award then our writers, our storytellers, our performers will all slip back into the darkness and they will never come forward again.’

‘The prize money may come from the Premier’s Department but the award comes from UQP,’ said Greg Bain. ‘We are pledging to continue publishing the winner of the Unaipon award each year as well as the winner of the emerging Queensland author category.’

Petition for change

Emerging Mackay author Sharon Johnston has started a petition calling on Campbell Newman to reinstate the awards on Change.org, which has collected nearly 3000 signatures so far.

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10 April 2012

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Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap, has been nominated for a Bad Sex Award by the Literary Review. It’s the 19th year the awards have been held to celebrate the worst depictions of sexual activity in literature. Nominated for the award is a passage from Dead Europe, Tsiolkas' third novel, which has been published in the United Kingdom this year (along with Tsiolkas' first book, Loaded) on the back of the success of The Slap.

It’s hardly a slap in the face for the Melbourne writer – Dead Europe has received some admiring reviews, and at any rate there’s always been something, ahem, tongue-in-cheek about the award. Indeed, Tsiolkas is in august company. Haruki Murakami is a nominee, as is Stephen King. Extracts of all the nominees are available on the Guardian website, which on its Woman’s Blog page asks the question, why are men so bad at writing sex?

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28 November 2011

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“[A]lthough the Man Booker can change a writer’s life, a prize is only a prize,” Booker Prize judge Gaby Wood has written in the Telegraph. “It’s not an investigation, it’s not a work of criticism, and it’s not the result of common-or-garden enjoyment, either. There are all sorts of other lives books can have.”

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The judge’s words seem to be a direct response to unprecedented criticism levelled at the Man Booker Prize this year. The prize, worth a little over A$75,000, is arguably the highest-profile English-language literary award. For what it’s worth, Julian Barnes took the honours this year, after having been thrice shortlisted, for his novel, The Sense of an Ending. According to Michael Wood in the London Review of Books, the novel, the chief theme of which is “Englishness”, is “the story of an obtuseness that generally cannot see the damage it does, and yet in a brief moment of illumination grasps the malevolence lurking in what it took to be its quiet life.”

The Booker’s profile is matched, as Guy Rundle points out on Crikey, by its idiosyncrasies. “Everything about the Booker is bizarre,” Rundle writes, “from its name – which fuses current sponsor the Man Group, with half of the original sponsor, Booker-McConnell – to the ever-changing judges, to the degree of anguished debate it draws about the state of the culture”. Much of the Booker anguish this year has been about an alleged dumbing-down of the award, following statements by the chief judgment, former British spy chief (and spy novelist) Stella Riminton, in which she stressed that the judges had prioritised “readable” novels in the shortlisting process: “"We want people to buy these books and read them, not buy them and admire them.”

Jeanette Winterson weighed in impressively on the debate in The Guardian. Under the headline, ‘Ignore the Booker brouhaha: readability is no test for literature’, she writes that the row “is a misunderstanding about literature and its purpose. We are nervous about anything that seems elitist or inaccessible, and we apologise for the arts in a way that we never do for science.”

According to Rundle, the dumbing-down began about a decade ago (and signals the death of “reflexive humanism”). But the Booker’s been odd ever since it was first awarded in 1969. The official website says the prize is awarded to “the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.” Given the Commonwealth is an accident of history nowadays as peculiar as it is irrelevant (Mozambique, anyone?), it should be of no surprise that these two character traits are reflected in the Booker – and yet the table-thumping oddly persists. The Booker is a booster for British publishing (Barnes' publisher is printing an additional 25,000 extra copies of The Sense of an Ending as a result of his win) and, given the inwardness of US literary prizes, the English language – arguably the globe’s most fecund literary language – has hitherto lacked a truly all-encompassing literary prize.

No more, following news that a new prize, dubbed the Prize for Literature, will be set up to reward to reward “quality and ambition”. The prizemoney is still being raised, but an impressive phalanx of writers (including John Banville, Pat Barker, Nicole Krauss and David Mitchell) are reported to be backing the prize.

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19 October 2011

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Last week we reported on the betting frenzy surrounding the lead-up to the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The frontrunner was the Syrian poet Adonis, although there were serious pushes for Philip Roth and Bob Dylan too. In the end, the actual winner, announced on Thursday, surprised everyone. Swede Tomas Tranströmer, a psychologist by profession, known for the still, crystalline quality of his verse, is the first poet Nobel laureate since the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska won 15 years ago. Several of his titles are available in English, and – perhaps not entirely uncoincidentally – a new edition of his Collected Poems has only recently been published. In 1990, a stroke left him mute and able to use only one hand. A lifelong pianist, he continued to play the piano one-handed and will perform on the piano, instead of delivering the usual oration, when he accepts the prize in December.

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The poet’s win has seen the hype machine kick into overdrive, delivering lavish panegyrics about a poet who, until last Thursday, was largely unknown outside Sweden. In the New York Review of Books, Tim Parks explains how the Nobel Prize for Literature works, reminding us along the way of “the essential silliness of the prize and our own foolishness at taking it seriously”. In a comparative review essay in the same publication, Helen Vendler finds parallels between the two most recent poet Nobel laureates, Tranströmer and Szymborska.

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10 October 2011

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The annual game of shadows and mirrors that accompanies the October announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature is in full swing. The Millions, a US online literary magazine, has published ‘An Open Letter to the Swedish Academy’, practically begging that Philip Roth be granted the prize, currently worth in excess of A$1,000,000. The letter’s writer is Michael Bourne, a Brooklyn writer of fiction and literary journalism, who writes, “Can we please stop the nonsense and give Philip Roth a Nobel Prize for Literature before he dies?”

While the stature of Roth’s achievement is undeniable, his position as a writer of great prose isn’t beyond argument. Earlier this year, when Roth was granted the biennial Man Booker International prize at the Sydney Writers' Festival, Carmen Callil, one of the judges, quit over the decision, saying,“I don’t rate him as a writer at all, I made it clear that I wouldn’t have put him on the long list, so I was amazed when he stayed there. He was the only one I didn’t admire – all the others were fine.”

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Detail of the Nobel Prize gold medal, featuring the profile of the Prize’s benefactor, Swedish tycoon Alfred Nobel

While the million-dollar purse and ‘lifetime achievement’ quality makes the Nobel Prize for Literature the world’s highest-profile literary award, like every other prize the Nobel has its fair share of eccentricities. Not least among them is the stipulation by the endowment’s original benefactor, dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, that the prize be granted to a writer who has produced “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. Precisely what an “ideal direction” might be is hard to define – Leo Tolstoy allegedly didn’t win a Nobel because his work wasn’t perceived as being “ideal” enough.

In a recent Guardian online podcast, Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, defined literary worth and cultural importance as the two most significant qualities in deciding on the Nobel winner. In the same interview, Englund acknowledges that European literature is disproportionately represented among Nobel winners, adding that this is a natural consequence of the fact that the Swedish academicians are most exposed to European literature. Englund rejects the charge that Nobels are occasionally awarded on the basis of positive discrimination and adds that the Academy tries to be more inclusive by commissioning special, secret translations of major works by significant authors writing in non-European languages. Many canonical authors, including Tolstoy, Chekhov, Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Nabokov and Borges, are not on the list of winners, which instead features names that have fallen into complete oblivion, like the inaugural 1901 winner, Sully Prudhomme, who was praised at the time for his “poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect”.

There is no shortlist for the Nobel, but this in itself isn’t enough to dissuade publishers from re-releasing certain novels in the lead-up to the announcement and speculators from putting their hard-earned on the rumoured favourites. This year, the 81 year-old Syrian poet Adonis, the pen name of Ali Ahmad Said Asbar, is the odds-on favourite, not just because of his own achievements but also because of the events known as the Arabic Spring. “A combination of artistic excellence and social justice have often played well with the Nobel committee,” writes the LA Times blog, Jacket Copy.

Postscript: the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature.

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04 October 2011

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Kim Scott’s novel That Deadman Dance took out the inaugural Victorian Prize for Literature last night at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards dinner. All five category VPLA category winners – also announced last night – were eligible for the prize.

The category winners were Scott for fiction, Cate Kennedy’s The Taste of River Water for poetry, Mark McKenna’s An Eye for Eternity for non-fiction, Patricia Cornelius' Do not go gentle… for drama and Cassandra Golds' The Three Loves of Persimmon for young adult fiction. Each category winner receives $25,000, while the winner of the Victorian Prize for Literature wins an additional $100,000, making it the richest literary prize in the country.

When accepting the prize, Kim Scott, whose novel about early relations between indigenous and settler Western Australians has already taken out this year’s Miles Franklin award, spoke of the importance of story-telling in bridging the gap between the Australian nation-state and the continent of Australia and its first peoples.

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07 September 2011

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The Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards were announced last night – the same night as the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Among the many category winners were: Amanda Lohrey, who took out the Fiction Book Award for Reading Madame Bovary; Mark McKenna, whose biography of Manning Clark, An Eye for Eternity, took out the Non-Fiction Book Award (he also won the equivalent prize in the VPLA, making it two prizes in a night); and John Tranter’s Starlight took out the poetry category. Click here for a full list of winners.

The Queensland award winners were inadvertently released before the official announcement when a press release containing the winner’s names was sent to media outlets earlier yesterday. Many would have been impressed with Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s response: a second press release apologising for the mishap included a quote from Oscar Wilde: “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”

Our awards wrap for today concludes with news of the release of the Booker Prize shortlist. The shortlisted books are: Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending; Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie; Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers; Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues; Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English; and AD Miller’s Snowdrops. Surprises include the omissionof Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child. For more comment, see the Guardian’s wrap.

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07 September 2011

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Congratulations to Fiona McGregor, whose third novel Indelible Ink was announced winner of The Age Book of the Year Award last night at the opening of the Melbourne Writers Festival. Indelible Ink also won the fiction category, while Jim Davidson’s biography of historian Keith Hancock took out the gong in the non-fiction category and John Tranter won the poetry award for Starlight: 150 Poems (more information). Congratulations to the winners and shortlisted writers.

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26 August 2011

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An Irish author has, by dint of sheer chutzpah, managed a way to be nominated for a literary award before his book has been published. Two weekends ago, Julian Gough posted a plea for help on his website under the title, ‘Help save civilisation by reading a funny book’. Gough asked readers to read and review his forthcoming comic novel Jude in London for the Guardian’s annual Not the Booker Prize.

Publishers are usually understandably loathe to distribute copies of a book before its publication date for intellectual property reasons – which is where Gough’s “save the civilisation” angle came in. Gough claimed that by reading a copy of his book publication, readers would be undermining capitalism.

The Not the Booker Prize is, in Gough’s own words, “the most entertaining prize in the literary calendar; an annual online flame-war-slash-literary-debate that can be very helpful in drawing attention to unusual books. (The prize itself is a mug, worth about £1.50. But the glory is incalculable!)” The only catch is that, as Jude in London hasn’t been published yet and could only be shortlisted if nominated by a reader by last Wednesday. Gough offered to send readers a digital copy of his book. He asked them in return to write a 150-word review of the book before the deadline lapsed.

If Gough’s publisher had reservations about the stunt, they’ll have dissipated by now: it seems to worked a treat. Not only was Gough’s book nominated for the prize – it is now the clear frontrunner for the prize.

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22 August 2011

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The Age has announced the shortlists for its Book of the Year prizes. The prizes will be awarded to books in three categories with $10,000 each (fiction, non-fiction and poetry) with an overall prize to be chosen from among the three, worth an additional $10,000.

The shortlists are:

Fiction

Like Being a Wife, Catherine Harris (Vintage)

The Mary Smokes Boys, Patrick Holland (Transit Lounge)

Indelible Ink, Fiona McGregfor (Scribe)

Bright and Distant Shores, Dominic Smith (Allen & Unwin)

Bereft, Chris Womersely (Scribe)

Non-Fiction

Sydney, Delia Falconer (New South)

A Three-Cornered Life: The Historian W. K. Hancock, Jim Davidson (UNSW Press)

When It Rains, Maggie MacKellar (Vintage)

When Horse Became Saw, Anthony Macris (Viking)

The Many Worlds of R.H. Mathews: In Search of an Australian Anthropologist, Martin Thomas (Allen & Unwin)

Poetry

Sly Mongose, Ken Bolton (Puncher &Wattmann)

Supermodernprayerbook, Susan Bradley Smith (Salt)

This Floating World, Libby Hart (5 Islands Press)

Porch Music, Cameron Lowe (Whitmore Press)

Starlight: 150 Poems, John Tranter (University of Queensland Press)

The winners will be announced at the opening event of the Melbourne Writers Festival, which will also feature a keynote address by US novelist Jonathan Franzen.

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08 August 2011

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Today we finish our week-long series of reviews written by Victorian librarians of books shortlisted for the Premier’s 21. There are five categories, and we’ve published a different category every day. At an awards dinner on Tuesday 6 September the Premier will announce the winners of all five categories. One of these five titles will then be announced as the winner of the Victorian Prize for Literature.

Until then, we’re inviting you to explore all 21 titles. If you’ve read one or more of the titles, write us a review and vote for the title you’d most like to see win the overall prize. The title receiving the most votes will win the People’s Choice award.

Monday we began with reviews of the three poetry books shortlisted for the CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry. Tuesday saw the publication of reviews of the six novels shortlisted to win the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction. We continued on Wednesday with six reviews of non-fiction titles shortlisted to win the Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction. Yesterday, we published reviews of the titles shortlisted to win the Prize for Writing for Young Adults.

Today, Carnegie Library’s Rosemary Pullan looks at Sappho … in 9 fragments, South Yarra Library’s Michele Bence explores the “involving drama” that is Patricia Cornelius' Do not go gentle…, and the State Library’s Des Cowley reviews Raimondo Cortese’s Intimacy, describing it as “a play that explores the simple human connections we are able to make with others.”

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05 August 2011

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All week, we’ve been publishing, category by category, reviews of titles shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. The reviews are by librarians from libraries across Victoria – perhaps the very librarian who checked out that book you borrowed last time you were at your local library.

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Monday we began with reviews of the three poetry books shortlisted for the CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry. Tuesday saw the publication of reviews of the six novels shortlisted to win the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction. We continued on Wednesday with six reviews of non-fiction titles shortlisted to win the Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction.

We continue the series today with reviews of the titles shortlisted to win the Prize for Writing for Young Adults. Frankston Library’s Kimberley Rickard calls Doug MacLeod’s Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher “cleverly written and humorous”; Geelong Library’s Maryanne Hyde thinks Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon “sure packs a big punch”; and St Kilda Library’s Linda Todd writes that, in The Three Loves of Persimmon, Cassandra Golds creates “a fantastical world where the poetry of flowers speak to the heart, where an ornamental talking cabbage called Rose is a true friend, and where pink scented envelopes arrive from beyond the grave.”

And, just as importantly, write us a review of your own and vote for the book you think best deserves to win the overall prize – the richest single literary prize in Australia.

We conclude the series tomorrow with reviews of the three titles shortlisted to win the Louis Esson Prize for Drama.

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04 August 2011

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Today we continue our publication of reviews by librarians that began Monday with six reviews of the titles shortlisted to win the Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction. Check out what Roslyn Irons of Camberwell Library thought of Stephen Foster’s A Private Empire; why Louise Anderson of Preston Library thought Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender will challenge readers' preconceptions; why Moonee Ponds Library’s Letizia Mondello thinks Fiona Capp’s My Blood’s Country is such a fine tribute to Judith Wright; what impressed Sale library’s Marion Silk about Anna Krien’s Into the Woods; why Melbourne City Library’s Aimee Rhodes thought Tim Bonyhady’s Good Living Street was “impressive”; and why, in the view of Hastings Library’s Victoria Matthews, Mark McKenna’s An Eye for Eternity is a “major achievement”.

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03 August 2011

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