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Bill curates: Best Young Australian Novelists

April 24, 2021

Bill Curates is an occasional series where I delve into Sue’s vast archive, stretching back to May 2009, and choose a post for us to revisit. Today, what I’d like to know is where do all the Best Young Novelists go? Emily Maguire, who’s featured in this post from 2013, wrote one about Gundagai a few years back that was well received (Ok, I criticised some of her truckie stuff), and Romy Ash – I know the name, but where are the others? 

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My original post titled: Monday musings on Australian literature: Best Young Australian Novelists

Back in May, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) announced its Best Young Australian Novelists awards. They have been doing this for 17 years, though I only became aware of them a few years ago. They are usually announced at or to coincide with the Sydney Writers Festival.

The judges this year were Marc McEvoy, SMH Literary Editor Susan Wyndham, and Melbourne author Kristin Krauth whom I’ve only become aware of through the Australian Women Writers Challenge. To be eligible, writers have to be “35 years or younger when their book is published”. So, the award is called “Best Young Australian Novelists” but it is apparently granted on the basis of a specific book.

Zane Lovitt, Midnight Promise

This year’s winners are:

  • Romy Ash whose Floundering was short-listed for this year’s Stella Prize, Dobbie Literary Award, and Miles Franklin Literary Award, among others. An impressive achievement for her debut novel. She has also written short stories, and I’ve read one, “Damming”, which was published in Griffith Review Edition 39. I have not, though, read Floundering. It apparently explores “the menace of a hostile landscape”. I’m fascinated by the fact that the outback continues to be a significant presence or theme in Australian literature. Ash argues that while writing about the outback may seem a cliche, the point is that much of Australia is “not benign”. That surely is the point, and is what makes it so rich with dramatic possibility.
  • Paul D Carter for Eleven Seasons which won the 2012 Vogel Literary Award and was shortlisted for the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing in the 2013 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards. The novel is apparently about “boys obsessed with football and the men who live by its rules”. Sounds like one that would be interesting ro read in the context of Anna Krien’s Night Games which I reviewed last month. Interestingly Carter’s day-job is teaching English in a Melbourne girls’ school.
  • Zane Lovitt whose Midnight promise I have – woo hoo – read and reviewed here. It’s more a collection of interconnected short stories, but there is a loose narrative thread running through it following the career of its  private detective protagonist.
  • Emily Maguire for Fishing for tigers. Maguire, unlike most of the winners, has quite a few books, including three other novels, to her name, and has won the Best Young Australian Novelist award before. She teaches creative writing, and it sounds like she’s well qualified to do so, doesn’t it? Fishing with tigers was inspired by Grahame Greene’s The quiet American, and is about “divorcee Mischa Reeve, 35, whose affair with Vietnamese-Australian Cal, 18, upsets her friends, including Cal’s father, Matthew”.
  • Ruby J. Murray whose Running dogs was, like Carter’s Eleven seasons, also shortlisted for the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing in the 2013 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards. I hadn’t heard of Murray, I must admit, but this book sounds interesting. It’s set in Indonesia, which is a significant country for Australia, and like Maguire’s Vietnam-located Fishing for tigers, it is about an expat Australian aid worker. Murray, who worked in Indonesia in 2009, was horrified at how little Australians knew (know!) about Indonesia despite its importance to us economically and politically, not to mention being a major holiday destination for Australians.
  • Majok Tulba for Beneath the darkening sky. It, like Maguire and Murray’s books, is set outside Australia, in this case, in Sudan. And, like Romy Ash’s Floundering, it was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize. It’s narrated by an 11-year-old village boy and is “about child soldiers in Africa”. It’s fiction. Tulba says he used some experiences he and his brother had, but he was not himself a child soldier. Apparently Sudanese rebels tried to recruit him but he “failed the test – he was shorter than an AK-47 assault rifle“! Lucky him, eh?

They sound like an interesting bunch of authors and books, don’t they? And, I’m rather intrigued that half of them are not set in Australia, which reflects our increasingly multicultural society. It’s good to see our literature recognising this.In 2012, only three awards were made – Melanie Joosten for Berlin Syndrome, Jennifer Mills for Gone (which is waiting patiently in my shelves to be read), and Rohan Wilson for The Roving Party. Past winners have included Nam Le, Christos Tsiolkas, Chloe Hooper and Markus Zusak.

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Bill is right about Emily Maguire. In fact I have read and reviewed the book he mentions, An isolated incident (my review), as has Bill (his review) as you might have guessed from his comment. Moreover, she has a new book coming out this year, Love objects. I also wrote a second post about this award in 2020. But now, over to you …

Have you read any of these authors? If so, we’d love to hear what you’ve read and think.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Meg permalink
    April 25, 2021 08:12

    Hi Bill, like you I have read Emily Maguire and Romy Ash, both books mentioned I enjoyed. I have not heard of the other authors from the Best Young Novelists. Where do they go, I do not know. Maybe there was not enough encouragement and awards to help young authors, and or publicity of Australian authors wasn’t pushed to the forefront of our reading guides.
    I have read Melanie Joosten , Jennifer Mills for Gone Rohan Wilson;, and also Nam, Tsiolkas, Hooper and Markus Zusak.

    • April 25, 2021 09:06

      Thanks Meg. As you’ll know I’ve also heard of Zane Lovitt (and read him). Ruby Murray rings a bell, but the others besides Ash and Maguire, are still unknown to me. You would think they could get a publisher for their next book, after this sort of accolade, but I don’t think it works that way!

  2. April 27, 2021 11:37

    Some more authors for me to read 🙂 I have just read Emily Maguire’s ‘Love Objects’ and thought it was very good.

    • April 27, 2021 19:15

      Oh, that’s good to hear Jennifer. Is it a crime novel like An isolated incident?

      • April 28, 2021 11:24

        No, Sue. It’s not a crime novel. It’s about family and covers a range of issues.

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