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Monday musings on Australian literature: Eight writers to look out for (2017)

March 4, 2019

Back in December 2017 The Guardian Australia ran an article titled “Eight new Australian writers you should read (according to those who know)”. As the title implies, it lists eight emerging Australia writers to look out for. It’s a serendipitous list compiled by their asking “industry insiders – publishers, editors, festival directors – for their pick of the new cream of the literary crop”. It is therefore not comprehensive nor “scientific” in its creation … but it does provide an interesting guide. I should explain though that these are not all novelists as most lists of emerging writers tend to include.

Given over a year has passed since that list was published, I though it might be fun to see where these writers are now. I haven’t heard of some of them, so this involved a little research. For each writer, I’ll share something from the Guardian, and add some updating commentary.

Luke Carman (recommended by Geordie Williamson, Island)

At the time of this recommendation, Carman had published An elegant young man (Giramondo) and
Getting square in a jerking circle (Meanjin).

Luke Carman, Intimate antipathiesWilliamson writes of An elegant young man:

… has more smarts, more sincere eloquence, more comic savagery, more unrepentant auto-evaluation, than any other title published in this country. The prose may sprawl in gloriously untidy ways but the mind that animates it is succinct, and brutally so. This is not fiction for the reading classes.

Carman was named as a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Novel in 2014. Since 2017, he has appeared in various of Australia’s literary journals, and, most excitingly, his next book Intimate Antipathies is due to be published in June this year. I say excitingly, even though I haven’t read him yet, because it’s a fascinating sounding collection of essays, and I do love a good essay.

Claire G Coleman (recommended by Zoe Pollock, Brisbane Writers’ Festival)

Claire G Coleman, Terra nulliusColeman’s first novel, Terra nullius (my review), was published in 2017.

Pollock says:

Coleman, like so many of our Indigenous writers, demonstrates how acutely our history – most specifically, dispossession and colonisation – is with us in our present day and is not beyond becoming our future. Coleman, a south coast Noongar woman from Western Australia, goes to the heart of Australia’s challenge as a nation – how to universalise the experience of Indigenous people, so that it is something all Australians can understand.

Terra nullius created quite a buzz through 2017 and 2018, and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize in 2018. Coleman’s second novel, The old lie, will be published later this year by Hachette.

Shastra Deo (recommended by Mindy Gill, Peril)

Deo’s publications at the time of The Guardian article were The agonist (UQP), and गुम; or, Lexical gaps (Cordite).

Gill writes that her debut collection, The agonist,

… confirms her place among Australia’s most exciting poetic voices. She writes in persona – a difficult thing to pull off – using the corporeal to explore the human animal in all its beauty and violence. I am in admiration of her work and look forward to watching her star continue to rise.

Gill was certainly on the money with her comments on The agonist, given it won the prestigious ALS Gold Medal in 2018 – quite a feat for a debut work.

Fury (recommend by Amy Middleton, Archer)

Fury’s writings include the following articles Extracting queerness from a narrative of suffering (Archer), Fury against the plebiscite (Overland), and Love and anger: How popular culture sells aggression as romance (Kill Your Darlings).

Middleton writes that

Accessibility is what sets Fury’s writing apart. They are a Melbourne-based writer, spoken word performer, poet and comic artist, with a passion for making complex topics such as oppression, queerness, gender identity, and even love, digestible, illuminating and fun to read (where appropriate!)

Now this one intrigued me, because I only came across Fury a couple of weeks ago – as the writer of an article on Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby in the current Metro magazine, “Australia’s oldest film and media periodical.” On their website, Fury announces that they started working on their first book in 2018, an “experimental graphic novel memoir called I Don’t understand how emotions work.”

Caitlin Maling (recommended by Catherine Noske, Westerly)

Maling’s poetry published by 2017 includes Conversations I’ve never had (Fremantle Press), Border crossing (Fremantle Press), Diego’s head (Cordite).

Noske says that Maling

has a huge list of awards and fellowships to her name, and she currently holds a Marten bequest. With these successes, she is gaining plenty of attention as a poet. But I also love her criticism. … she publishes in academic circles as well as regularly producing essays and reviews.

The awards keep coming. In mid-2018 she was awarded the Patricia Hackett Prize for a “creative non-fiction piece”.

Eddie Paterson (recommended by Marieke Hardy, Melbourne Writers’ Festival)

Paterson’s poetry collections published by 2017 include We will not pay (Overland), Sheep poems (Cordite) and led zeppelin (Red Room Poetry).

Hardy feels it’s unusual to nominate a poet, but that

when a writer such as Eddie Paterson falls across one’s radar the thrilling potential can’t be ignored. …

What’s interesting to me about Eddie’s writing is the visual aspect…

Paterson’s collection, redactor, was shortlisted for the 2018 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry. The judges described it as “a hilarious, politically alive vivid experiment”. But Paterson is not only a poet, but a playwright/scriptwriter and is working on some commissions at the moment.

Peter Polites (recommended by Michaela McGuire, Sydney Writers’ Festival)

Peter Polites, The pillarsBy 2017 Polites had published two books: Down the Hume (Hachette) and Public spaces: Mind Street virus (The Lifted Brow).

McGuire says:

… Peter is a true original: he’s celebrated for writing dark realism in the tradition of the early works of Christos Tsiolkas and Luke Davies, but I think he’s funnier than either of them. … A first generation Greek Australian, Peter’s writing examines the borders of society, both geographical and imagined, and the intersections between queer and ethnic identity. He’s one of the most intelligent writers I’ve ever read…

Polites’ second novel, The pillars, is due for publication in the middle of this year, ie. 2019.

Ellen van Neerven (recommended by Sam Cooney, The Lifted Brow)

Ellen van Neerven, Heat and light, book coverLast but by no means least is the versatile Ellen van Neerven. By 2017, van Neerven had published Heat and light (UQP) (my review), Comfort food (UQP) and Expert (Overland).

Cooney praises both van Neerven’s writing and the positive role she plays among writers. He says that her debut Heat and light (which I also admired)

is an extraordinary work of linked fictions. For me, the central piece of the book, Water, did what the very best writing can do: after reading it, the world around me was different, never to be quite the same again.

Van Neerven has appeared several times here. On her website, she reports that her play swim featured at the Yellamundie First Peoples Playwriting Festival in January 2019, and that she is also working on a novel.

This is a nicely diverse list, including indigenous writers and queer writers, poets, novelists and essayists, women and men, writers with immigrant backgrounds, and so on.

Do you look out for emerging writers, and if so, are there any you’d love to introduce to us here?

34 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2019 11:47 pm

    Coleman and van Neerven are the two I’ve read, I haven’t even heard of the others. Interesting that Polites is in the tradition of early Tsialkos and Luke Davies but without the word ‘grunge’ even hinted at.

    • March 5, 2019 8:17 am

      I had heard of Polites and Carman Bill. Interesting you should mm emotion grunge. I don’t have time to check how but I think there’s a reference to grunge in the Wikipedia article. A link at the bottom at least.

    • March 5, 2019 8:45 am

      Just checked Bill… I remembered correctly. Carman is described as post-grunge lit. If I’d been doing an article on just him I would have gone into more detail but I was trying, perhaps wrongly, to keep the post as tight as I could so didn’t go much into their style or tradition etc.

      • March 5, 2019 9:12 am

        Thanks for checking WG, I read the Guardian article but obviously missed ‘post grunge’. We need one word to describe beat, punk, grunge without having to think up a new one for each generation.

        • March 5, 2019 4:07 pm

          We do … post-grunge is a bit silly-sounding really isn’t it? Then we have post-post-grunge?

          BTW The “post-grunge” wasn’t in The Guardian but in the Wikipedia article so you are excused from missing it. (I mentioned Wikipedia in my first response, but didn’t re-mention it after I checked.)

  2. March 5, 2019 2:19 am

    Thanks for the list. All of these authors sound good or at least interesting. I tend to not read all that many newer books but I would like to read a bit more them.

    • March 5, 2019 8:18 am

      Thanks Brian. What we’d like to do and can manage to do are two different things aren’t they?

  3. March 5, 2019 8:01 am

    I’ve read and admired the two Indigenous writers, but abandoned Luke Carman – if that’s the zeitgeist, leave me out of it.
    I’m more likely to be champing at the bit for new books from writers I know and love. These Silly Season ‘copy-filler’ articles/blog posts about what to look out for in #InsertYear are just part of the publicity machine IMO, playing on FOMO – and I don’t read them, not even #DuckingForCover when my favourite bloggers or reviewers write them. (And GW is certainly no longer a favourite, not after that spiteful hatchet job he wrote a little while ago.)
    It is *always* the book that gets me interested. I look out for new books by authors I know because I know that they are thoughtful people who write about interesting things in interesting ways, but there still has to be an enticing book. (Remember when Marion Halligan, a most beloved author, played in the crime fiction sandpit for a while? O woe!)
    So an emerging writer gets my attention if his/her book has a blurb that interests me. I read plenty of them, too many to list here but will mention Robert Lukin (who’s just been nominated for the NSW Premier’s LitAward) and Michelle Johnston (shortlisted for the Mud Award)… you can find others at https://anzlitlovers.com/tag/debut-australian-fiction/
    And the end of the day, we don’t need to be told which authors to look out for: if they’re any good, their books will turn up in reviews by people that we trust. IMO it would be much better if the limited review space in newspapers weren’t wasted on this sort of stuff.

    • March 5, 2019 8:31 am

      Oh I can’t really agree with you on this Lisa – even though, in practice, like you I rarely read these articles. Most of these authors are published by small publishers… Giramondo, Brow Books… So their books often don’t get noticed. And, their authors are often desperate for feedback. List articles like this can help… How often do we see Finlay Lloyd’s books mentioned in the press and yet they publish some beauties (not that they are in this list, but I’d love to see them there.)

      Of course I love hearing from my favourites, but we do make new favourites all the time too don’t we? I know you do of course because you’ve introduced me to so many.

      • March 5, 2019 8:52 am

        LOL you don’t read ’em either!
        And looking at the comments (so far, ok, not a lot because it’s early in the morning) your bookish readers don’t seem to have taken much notice of the recommendations: Bill’s read two, so has Kate…
        I agree about small publishers, any publicity is good, and emerging writers need all the publicity they can get, but do articles like this translate into sales or library patronage? IMO useful publicity i.e. a review is better.
        Actually, having just browsed through the latest Readings Monthly, I’m inclined to think that getting space in that is probably worth its weight in gold. Every month it tells me what’s new, what the book’s about, advertises launches, and sometimes has reviews (as does their website). From this month’s edition alone, I’ve got 8 books on my wishlist, and noted two that I’ve already got and one that I’ve already reviewed. I would have bought them all there and then but – you know that disastrous day I had at the SLV last Thursday? There’s a Readings bookshop there, and I had a little attack of spendyitis already – on top of half a dozen splurges at Fishpond and the BD…

        • March 5, 2019 4:13 pm

          Haha, Lisa, spendyitis. Love it.

          I guess my point is that while some of us don’t find those articles our favourite way of finding out about writers, different people have different preferences? The Guardian article provided some useful information on why the writers were chosen – some more useful than others, of course – but even what one person finds useful probably differs from another person. It was interesting to see that a few chose poets – and poets get very little air.

  4. March 5, 2019 8:31 am

    Terrific article and well done for remembering to go back and check in! I’ve only read Coleman and van Neerven, both I read when they were listed for the Stella Prize (the importance of prizes, hey?!).

    • March 5, 2019 8:43 am

      Exactly, Kate. Prizes… The long and shortlists provide us with a lot of reading suggestions don’t they? I think most of us have only read Coleman and van Neerven, though Carman and Polites have also appeared in lists. Carman won the won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for New Writing; and Polites was shortlisted for a NSW Premier’s Literary Award in 2017.

  5. March 5, 2019 8:53 am

    I take Lisa’s point, but word of mouth remains crucial to how books find their way to readers and these recommended reading lists can be seen as a form of that — depending on how you feel about the ‘recommender’.

    I’d like to add Magdalena McGuire to this list of writers to watch. Magdalena won the 2016 Impress Prize for what became her wonderful debut novel ‘Home Is Nearby’. No less than Cate Kennedy also thinks Magdalena’s short fiction is stellar.

    • March 5, 2019 9:18 am

      And did you know, Angela, that Magdalena McGuire’s novel ‘Home is Nearby’ has just been shortlisted for the NSW Multicultural Award? https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/home-nearby-magdalena-mcguire. Fingers and toes crossed. There are other great writers on this list, too.

      • March 5, 2019 4:20 pm

        Thanks Julie. I hadn’t seen that award.

        • March 5, 2019 6:59 pm

          I’m just thankful Sue that Magdalena is getting the recognition she so deserves 🙂

        • March 5, 2019 9:14 pm

          I’ve just ordered it from Booktopia but when I can slot it in to read is another thing. It has a gorgeous cover, not that I judge books by such things.

    • March 5, 2019 9:19 am

      Hi Angela, I’ve just looked for Home is Nearby at all my usual sources: *pout* it’s not even at Readings, and only two libraries far away from me. I’ve had to order it via inter-library loan…

      • March 5, 2019 4:21 pm

        Good for you, Lisa, for ordering it. ILL is such a great resource isn’t it?

      • March 5, 2019 6:07 pm

        Lisa, it’s a sad story in a way. Magdalena jumped at the UK publishing deal afforded by the Impress prize; and because the UK edition was later made available through Booktopia, she was unable to secure an Australian publisher. I wa thrilled to see it shortlisted for the NSW Multicultural Award; I hope this makes it more available as a result.

        • March 5, 2019 7:33 pm

          Thanks for explaining that Angela. The legalities of publishing and territorial rights are so confusing – or irritating – or both!

    • Magdalena McGuire permalink
      March 5, 2019 1:12 pm

      Angela and Julie – you are both gorgeous! I’m so lucky to be part of this community of amazing women writers. And I’m looking forward to checking out some of the writers recommended on this list. So far I’ve only read Ellen van Neerven, a writer whose work I much admire.
      AND I have to add that one of my most-anticipated new releases for 2019 is Angela Savage’s latest novel, Mother of Pearl, a vivid and moving portrayal of international surrogacy. I was lucky enough to read an earlier version of the manuscript and it’s truly wonderful. I haven’t read anything quite like it before and I’m really looking forward to seeing it hit the shelves in July. It’s going to do big things!

      • March 5, 2019 4:49 pm

        Thanks Magdalena, and welcome to the Gums. I agree with you re Van Neerven. And, I’m looking forward to Mother of Pearl too. I remember a discussion about her research for this a couple of years ago.

        • Magdalena McGuire permalink
          March 5, 2019 4:53 pm

          Thank you! I’ve been enjoying your book reviews. I read Pachinko on your recommendation, and loved it. Thanks for all your work promoting literature, especially Australian lit!

        • March 5, 2019 7:23 pm

          Thanks Magdalena – and I’m so glad you liked Pachinko!

      • March 5, 2019 6:09 pm

        *blush* You are so lovely Magdalena.

    • March 5, 2019 4:20 pm

      Thanks Angela. Yes, I agree – and probably the greater the variety in word-of-mouth forms the better in terms of literary culture and exposure for all?

      Thanks for the recommendation. I certainly like THIS recommender!

  6. Magdalena McGuire permalink
    March 5, 2019 1:13 pm

    And it’s lovely to hear that you got hold of my book, Lisa. Hope you enjoy it.

    • March 5, 2019 4:49 pm

      She’s assiduous with her reading Magdalena!

      • Magdalena McGuire permalink
        March 5, 2019 4:54 pm

        You are both prolific readers – I’m in awe!

        • March 5, 2019 7:24 pm

          Oh, I am nowhere near Lisa’s output, put I’ll take the compliment all the same!!

  7. Meg permalink
    March 6, 2019 8:20 am

    Hi Sue, I don’t look for emerging writers, I look for good reads. I consider reviews, my own favourite authors, and friends recommendations. I have read Van Neerven and Coleman, and will look out for their novels. I have read Polites, but have no desire to read any more of his novels. Angela Meyer, I think is an emerging writer, and it was on your recommendation that I read A Superior Spectre.

    • March 6, 2019 8:51 am

      Thanks Meg … yes, I think that’s more me too. I listen out for emerging writers (through other blogs, “new writing” awards, etc) but I don’t go specifically looking for them. Seems like most of us have read Van Neerven and Coleman, but only smatterings of others. I’d be interested to try Carman or Polites, but I guess it will be a matter of time.

      Yes, I think Meyer is still emerging given that, although she’s been published before in short fiction, A superior spectre is her first novel. As you know, bloggers love hearing that someone has read a book because we’ve written about it. Not only is it personally pleasing (as it is for anyone, when someone reads a book we recommend), but it demonstrates that blogs play a role in our literary culture.

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