For those of you who haven’t yet heard the news, I’d better start with the announcement that last week Carrie Tiffany‘s novel, Mateship with birds, was announced the winner of the inaugural Stella Prize. Unfortunately, the book is still on my TBR but with its also being shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Award and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, I need to get a move on.
Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, back to Stella and Carrie. When she was announced as the winner of the Prize, Tiffany, according to tweets on the night, immediately advised that she would return $10,000 of the $50,000 prize to be shared among the remaining shortlisted writers: Courtney Collins (The burial), Michelle de Kretser (Questions of travel), Lisa Jacobson (The sunlit zone), Cate Kennedy (Like a house on fire) and Margo Lanagan (Sea hearts). She wanted to recognise, I believe, the co-operative spirit of the Stella Prize, and the fact that women writers are supportive of each other. Go Carrie, I say.
Now to the “friends” part of this post’s title. In addition to the above gesture, she also said on the night that:
The Stella Prize is an opportunity to fete and honour writing by Australian women. When I sit down to write I am anchored by all of the books I have read. My sentences would not have been possible without the sentences of Christina Stead, Thea Astley, Elizabeth Jolley, Beverley Farmer, Kate Grenville, Gillian Mears, Helen Garner and the many other fine Australian writers that I have read and continue to read.
What a great list of writers. I first read all of these women, except Christina Stead, in the 1980s, and was blown away by the quality of their writing. Not only do they all tell wonderful stories but, as Tiffany implies, they write great sentences. You can have the best story in the world but if you can’t write a good sentence you’re not going to get far.
And sentences are clearly important to Tiffany, because in addition to mentioning them in her acceptance speech, she referred to them in an interview conducted by the Stella Prize team the day before the announcement. She was asked why she became a writer, and she said:
More than anything I wanted to become a reader and I’m pleased to have achieved that. In my early twenties I worked as a park ranger in Central Australia. I live in Melbourne now and work as a farming journalist. I started writing fiction ten or so years ago. I don’t remember any momentous shift, just a hankering to make some sentences of my own.
She was right to follow that hankering because, from what I’ve read and from the awards she’s won and been listed for, she too can write great sentences, can write in fact, like the women she named, brave sentences that take risks … I look forward to reading Mateship with birds.