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.
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’.
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 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.’
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’.
‘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!).
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,
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)
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)
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)
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 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.)
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.
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)
Congratulations to all the longlisted authors.
The shortlist will be announced on 30 April; the winner will be announced on 19 June.
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.
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.
Random House Australia
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.
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.
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.
University of Queensland Press
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.
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.
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.
University of Queensland Press
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The full list of winners is available at Bookseller and Publisher online.
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.
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.
‘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.’
‘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.
‘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.’
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.
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.’
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.
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?
“[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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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)
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)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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”.
All week we’re publishing reviews by Victorian librarians of titles shortlisted for the Premier’s 21. The reviews will be published by category, and today we publish reviews of titles shortlisted to win the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction.
Read what Ballarat Library’s Tara Hossack wrote about Gail Jones' Five Bells (“I couldn’t put it down”); what Loueen Twyford from Wangaratta Library thought of Roger McDonald’s When Colts Ran (“a challenging yet rewarding read”); and what Box Hill Library’s Katie Norton thought of the central character in Rohan Wilson’s The Roving Party (“fascinatingly conflicted”). Yarra Plenty Library’s Blaise van Hecke dubs Dominic Smith’s Bright and Distant Shores “a yarn of epic proportions”; Williamstown Library’s Amanda Peckham calls Craig Sherborne’s Amateur Science of Love “an honest account of dishonesty”; and Jan Wilson from Mildura writes that Kim Scott, in That Deadman Dance, “captures the essence of the place so poetically and exactly that the reader can visualize with certainty the beauty of the untainted Australian bush”.
Tomorrow, we’ll publish librarians' reviews of titles shortlisted for the Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction.
Every day this week we’ll be publishing reviews of each of the Premier’s 21 titles shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. These reviews are not written by professional reviewers though – they’re written by librarians from across the state. Today, we’re publishing reviews of the three nominees for the CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry: Claire Potter’s Swallow, Libby Hart’s This Floating World and Cate Kennedy’s The Taste of River Water. The reviews have been written by Debra Trayler of Casey-Cardinia Libraries, Leonie Clark of Eastern Regional Libraries and Emma Bruty of Darebin Libraries, respectively.
If you’ve read any of the Premier’s 21 titles, we’d like to hear from you too: leave us a snapshot of what you thought of the book, or vote for the book you think should win the overall prize and it might just win the People’s Choice award on awards night, Tuesday, 6 September.
“To win book of the year after being a kid who had issues with reading and writing means maybe I’m not so bad at it,” Anh Do told ABC radio Tuesday. It was a quote reprinted in a report in The Age yesterday claiming that Do, author of the bestselling memoir The Happiest Refugee, wrote the book with the help of ghostwriter Michael Visontay. The memoir won three awards at the Australian Book Industry Awards earlier this week, including book of the year. Marie McCaskill, CEO of the Australian Publishers Association, is cited in the report as saying that ghostwritten books are eligible to win the awards.
In the report, Do explained the process of writing the memoir. Visontay conducted a series of interviews, the transcripts of which became the basis of the final manuscript, which was written by Do. Visontay wasn’t given an author credit but is listed in the book’s acknowledgments and is receiving a percentage of the royalties. The Age ran an editorial in the same issue citing Do’s story, among others, as a credit to the contribution refugees can make to society.
It isn’t often that an award-winning book is credited to more than one writer. There’s something about writing, perhaps convention or reader expectation, that demands a single creative source – even when it’s demonstrably not the case. In the case of autobiography, the lines between writer and subject have long been blurred. But it occurs in fiction too – in general fiction and in literary fiction (to borrow the distinction the Australian Booksellers Association makes in its award categories). Perhaps the most famous example is that of Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov and his wife Vera. In her biography, Vera, Stacy Schiff argued that there is strong evidence to conclude that Vera deserves some co-authoring credit for the work of her husband. Needless to say, she didn’t get it, but Vladimir did dedicate every book he published to her, and his preoccupation with duality, Schiff argues, may be attributable to Vera’s constant guiding presence.
The Booker Prize longlist for 2011 has been released. The judges chose books that include “one former Man Booker Prize winner; two previously shortlisted writers and one longlisted author; four first time novelists and three Canadian writers”. The longlist is:
Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape – Random House)
Sebastian Barry, On Canaan’s Side (Faber)
Carol Birch, Jamrach’s Menagerie (Canongate Books)
Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers (Granta)
Esi Edugyan, Half Blood Blues (Serpent’s Tail – Profile)
Yvvette Edwards, A Cupboard Full of Coats (Oneworld) – this title wasn’t reviewed by any national UK newspaper or magazine, one of four that “failed to make it on to the radar of newspaper literary editors”, according to The Guardian
Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger’s Child (Picador – Pan Macmillan) – the early favourite
Stephen Kelman, Pigeon English (Bloomsbury)
Patrick McGuinness, The Last Hundred Days (Seren Books)
A.D. Miller, Snowdrops (Atlantic)
Alison Pick, Far to Go (Headline Review)
Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
D.J. Taylor, Derby Day (Chatto & Windus – Random House)
The chair of judges, Stella Rimington, commented, “We are delighted by the quality and breadth of our longlist, which emerged from an impassioned discussion. The list ranges from the Wild West to multi-ethnic London via post-Cold War Moscow and Bucharest.”
Previously, The Guardian published a speculative longlist, of which only two made the actual longlist (the first two below). We thought we’d republish it because of what it says about the lotto-like nature of such awards.
Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger’s Child (“the great stylist tackles the whole of the 20th century in a disquisition on poetry and reputation”)
Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending (“At 160 pages this is on the short side for Booker novel, but if Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam could do it …”)
Edward St Aubyn, At Last (“this final instalment brings the semi-autobiographical Melrose saga to an elegant conclusion”)
Ross Raisin, Waterline (“one of the most exciting new voices of the last few years forsakes his native Yorkshire for Glasgow in an extraordinary feat of ventriloquism”)
Belinda McKeon, Solace (“there are usually a few debuts on the list, and this is one of the most accomplished, set against the Irish financial crash”)
Ali Smith, There but for the (“all the usual playfulness, but is this novel mainstream enough for the Booker?”)
Paul Wilson, Visiting Angel (“Manchester-set care-home novel which may appeal to chair Stella Rimington as it turns into a thriller of sorts, though less of a "whodunnit?” than a “who is it?”)
Lloyd Jones, Hand Me Down World (“clever picaresque of an African woman in search of her child”)
Tahmima Anam, The Good Muslim (“unflinchingly political second instalment of a family saga set in Bangladesh)
Shehan Karunatilaka, Chinaman (“match-fixers, terrorists, dodgy government officials and everything you need to know about cricket in Sri Lanka”)
John Burnside, A Summer of Drowning (“mythmaking in the Arctic from a poet with a gift for fictional metaphor”)
Anne Enright, The Forgotten Waltz (“delicately written account of adultery set against the backdrop of Dublin’s property crash”)
Andrew Miller, Pure (“vivid characters, picturesque setting and grand themes on eve of the French Revolution”)
After announcing the shortlists for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards yesterday, today we’re publishing the judges' comments for each title. Click here to be taken to the VPLA page and click on a title to view the comments.
The judges of three of the categories provided us with summaries of their observations.
The judges for the Louis Esson Prize for Drama – Richard Watts (convenor), Wendy Lasica and Jason Whittaker – noted: “The 2011 Louis Esson Prize for Drama attracted 25 entries, ranging from works staged by mainstage companies and independent theatres to intimate radio dramas. The best entries told their stories imaginatively and originally, were intrinsically and uniquely theatrical, and boasted rich and full characters that leapt off the page into the mind of the reader. Many of the works under consideration were reflective, questioning perceptions of self and longing for another time – another life, when dreams still seemed possible. The three shortlisted scripts carry the weight of history yet connect with contemporary audiences in profound ways; all are propelled by strong, authentic voices that resonate in the here and now.
“The judges also wish to commend The Wild Duck by Simon Stone with Chris Ryan, after Henrik Ibsen (Belvoir Street Theatre). Stone’s recreation of The Wild Duck is as brutal as it is precise, stripping bare Ibsen’s narrative, couching its story in contemporary vernacular and behavioural mores, and revealing the stark cost of the quest for absolute truth.”
The judges for the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction – Matthia Dempsey (convenor), Stephen Armstrong and Tony Birch – noted: “In assessing the entries for this year’s Vance Palmer Award for Fiction, the judges were particularly impressed with the quality of the debut novels submitted. Two of these, The Amateur Science of Love (Craig Sherborne, Text) and The Roving Party (Rohan Wilson, Allen & Unwin), made it onto the judges’ shortlist, but the assurance and originality shown in novels such as Stephen Daisley’s Traitor (Text), Favel Parrett’s Past the Shallows (Hachette Australia), Corey Taylor’s Me and Mr Brooker (Text), John Tesarch’s The Philanthropist (Sleepers) and Meg Mundell’s Black Glass (Scribe), augur well for the future of Australian literary fiction.”
The judges for the Prize for Writing by Young Adults – Mike Shuttleworth (convenor), Leesa Lambert and Andrew McDonald – noted:
“The universe of young adult literature continues to expand in interesting and exciting ways. This year’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Award is an opportunity to assess some of these developments – in particular, those books that express and explore the specific aesthetic potential that writing for young people affords. This year, 68 titles were submitted to the award. The committee noted the continuing publication of nuanced realistic fiction, especially dealing with the intersection of identity, gender, family and community. Also evident is the emergence of urban fantasy. We applaud those authors whose work seeks to develop a unique voice and identity within the urban fantasy genre.
“A shortlist of just three titles cannot fully represent the developments and tensions within the broad field of Australian young adult fiction. We therefore note the following titles as important achievements in a year of quality writing and lament that that the shortlist is just that. Inspired by Charles Blackman’s paintings, The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky beguiles readers with a haunting story of memory and loss. Scot Gardner’s chiseled writing charts the dramatic life of a marginalised young man in The Dead I Know. Rebecca Burton’s closely observed story of obsession and desire in Beyond Evie and Laura Buzo’s assured debut Good Oil point to writers with a serious future. Lili Wilkinson showed a light touch, exploiting the tropes of domestic crime fiction in A Pocketful of Eyes. Leanne Hall’s debut novel This is Shyness introduces a boldly imagined world of dark urban fantasy. Rebecca Lim’s impressive novel Mercy blurs a realistic world with a story of angels and romance. Marianne de Pierre’s novel Burn Bright also tells a dark, dramatic story with arresting literary skill.
“Final decisions were not in any way easy, however, the panel agreed warmly on three shortlisted three novels. Each of these novels takes risks with the form of storytelling, show exceptional control of the material, and in doing so challenge notions of what fiction for young people can be.”
The judges for the Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction were Robyn Annear (convenor), Damien Carrick, Monica Dux, Toni Jordan and Stuart Macintyre.
The judges for the CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry were Paul Kooperman (convenor), Bel Schenk and Alicia Sometimes.
The judges in these categories did not provide a summary of their observations, but did provide comments for each of the shortlisted titles.
The Age reports today on Anh Do’s awards win at last night’s Australian Booksellers' Association awards night. The report notes Do was named newcomer of the year, his memoir The Happiest Refugee (for which a Russell Crowe-backed movie has been mooted) was the industry’s book of the year. Do shared the biography of the year gong with Paul Kelly’s How to Make Gravy.
The ABA has two awards for novels, dividing them in idiosyncratic fashion between ‘literary fiction’ and ‘general fiction’. Chris Womersley’s Miles Franklin-shortlisted novel Bereft won the literary novel of the year award while with Kate Morton’s The Distant Hour won the general fiction award.
The Lloyd O'Neil award for outstanding service to the industry was won by pioneering food writer Margaret Fulton. Publishers Allen & Unwin and Scribe won the publisher of the year and small publisher of the year awards respectively.
Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu announced the long shortlist for the 2011 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, which make up the first Premier’s 21. The premier noted the work of the judges, who had the unenviable task of whittling 308 entries down into the final 21. Congratulations to all 308 authors, and especially to the 21 shortlisted writers.
Have you read Rohan Wilson’s bloodthirsty account of the ‘black wars’ in Tasmania, The Roving Party? Do you agree with Cordelia Fine’s take on the science of the sexes in Delusions of Gender? Are you still dreaming of Ireland after reading Libby Hart’s This Floating World? This year, as part of the Premier’s 21 campaign being held in conjunction with the 2011 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, we’re inviting you to vote on the book you think best deserves to win – and to tell us why.
Visit the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards page and check out the list of books shortlisted to win the five category prizes and the overall prize. If you’ve read some of them, vote for your favourite title, and better still you can let us know what you thought of the books you’ve read. The title receiving the most votes will win the People’s Choice award. The winners will be revealed at the awards dinner on Tuesday, 6 September, which members of the public are welcome to attend (click here for information and tickets).
Or else you might just find yourself inspired to head down to your local library, or your nearest bookstore, to procure yourself one or more of the shortlisted titles. We’re hoping you’ll read a one or more and leave a comment about what you thought. If you’re up for a real challenge, why not read every book in a single category, and making your own recommendation as to who should win the category prize? (Needless to say, it won’t sway the judges one little bit.)
So get reading – you’ve got six weeks!
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