Monday musings on Australian literature: Best Young Australian Novelists (4)

The current winners of this year’s Best Young Australian Novelists were announced recently. I haven’t seen much publicity, so given I’ve reported on this award for the last two years, I thought I’d do it again this year. It’s a worthwhile award, and one that has seen writers go on to develop good careers.

Just to recap, the award was established in 1997 by The Sydney Morning Herald‘s then literary editor, Susan Wyndham. It’s an emerging writers’ award, open to “writers aged 35 and younger” at the time their book (novel or short story collection) is published. They don’t have to be debut novels, though they often are – like this year’s three winners.

The winners, as announced by Robert Moran, a culture reporter for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, are:

  • Diana Reid’s Love and virtue (winner, $8,000) (see Brona’s review)
  • Ella Baxter’s New animal (runner-up, $1,000; also shortlisted for the 2022 UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing, and the 2021 Readings Prize ) (see Kim’s review)
  • Michael Burrows’ Where the line breaks (runner-up, $1,000; also shortlisted for the 2021 Fogarty Literary Award) (see Lisa’s review)

The judging panel comprised the Sydney Morning Herald’s Spectrum editor, Melanie Kembrey; critic and poet Thuy On; and a 2011 SMH Best Young Australian Novelist Gretchen Shirm (whom I’ve reviewed). The number of awards used to vary, but in recent years they seem to have settled on three. The prize money comes from the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.

The Herald‘s Melanie Kembrey, writing in the emailed newsletter I receive, said of the candidate books:

There were clear recurring thematic interests, including consent, cultural identity and the environment; many were coming-of-age tales; and others experimented with different forms and styles. It was tough selecting the winners and many of the entrants have bright futures.

She also commented on the importance of prizes like this:

It’s tough being a novelist, let alone an emerging one. There are the occasional unicorn stories: novel selected for Oprah’s book club gets adapted into a Hollywood blockbuster and sets author up for life. But these stories are rare. The reality of life as a writer, even more so a new one, is writing around day jobs, trying to flog your manuscript, being at the mercy of publishers, and then releasing your novel and watching this thing that has consumed you disappear into the depths without leaving a ripple.

This is why, she says, this award was created all those years ago.

The winners, briefly

You can find interviews with the three authors in the Robert Moran article linked above.

Diana Reid (26)

According to Kembrey, Love and virtue is “a piercing examination of university campus culture” or, as Brona puts it, “a campus novel about sex, power and consent”. Very today themes, eh? This novel has been making quite a splash amongst bloggers and readers, including Daughter Gums to whom I gave it for Christmas.

Brona said that “It’s an easy, quick read, but layered with oodles of moral grey areas and nuanced, contemporary issues”. She appreciated the way the novel deals with the complexity of consent, and said that Reid “does not shy away from contradictory behaviours or the realities of modern life as seen through the eyes of young adults”, although she did feel it was more a novel for the age-group it’s about than for older readers. Reid wrote this when she was 24, just after she left university.

Ella Baxter (36)

Of New animal, Kembrey says its “caustic tone … will crack you up”. Kim would agree. She loved this book, describing it as “a blackly comic tale about what it is to be alive when everyone around you is dead — literally”. Literally, because the protagonist works in a funeral parlour. Kim suggests that the novel is part of the new genre of “Millennial angst” but, she says, it’s not “as navel-gazing as most of those” and is “highly original”. I am tempted.

Michael Burrows (33)

Kembrey describes metafictional Where the line breaks as “a playful take on academia and history”. Lisa found it an absorbing, unconventional novel that “interrogates the mythmaking that surrounds the Anzac Legend”.  It has, apparently, three narrative threads, which include one focusing on PhD student Matt, and another on his WW1 hero, Alan Lewis. The playful take on academia comes partly through the footnotes which, I’m told, readers should not ignore. It sounds like my sort of book.

These three books appeal to me, as being meaty but not overly earnest. I can’t help noticing, though, that it doesn’t look like a particularly diverse list.

Have you read any of these books?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Best Young Australian Novelists (3)

I’ve posted twice on The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists, last year, and back in 2013. Bill, in fact, chose that 2013 post in his Bill Curates series on this blog.

The award was established in 1997 by the newspaper’s then literary editor, Susan Wyndham, making this year its 25th year. An emerging writing award, it is open to “writers aged 35 and younger” at the time their book is published. It is called a “novelists” award, but is made on the basis of a specific book, which can now include short stories. It seems that the newspaper’s Fairfax Melbourne stablemate, The Age, is involved which is why the name now seems to be, simply, Best Young Australian Novelists. I don’t know when that change occurred.

This year’s winners, as announced by Jason Steger, the current Literary Editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, are:

  • Vivian Pham’s The coconut children (winner, $8,000)
  • K.M. (Kate) Kruimink’s A treacherous country (runner-up, $1,000) (see Lisa’s review)
  • Jessie Tu’s A lonely girl in a dangerous thing (runner-up, $1,000) (see Kim’s review)

The judging panel always includes the papers’ literary editor, so Jason Steger, plus a previous winner, Pip Smith, and another novelist, Peggy Frew. The number of awards made varies, but this year, as last, there were three.

The winners, briefly

Vivian Pham

According to Steger, Pham was a whopping 19 years old when her novel was published last year. Not what you’d call a “late bloomer” then! Her novel is set in the Vietnamese Australian community in Sydney’s Cabramatta. Steger says that while redrafting the novel, Pham came across the idea of “second-generation trauma inherited via the stories and behaviour of the previous generation”. This idea apparently runs through the novel.

Pham says that “You want to know the people that are closest to you. You know something epic has happened to them, to make them the people that they are, and you want to know why that happened.” She agrees with Steger that that novel is “a love letter to Cabramatta”, because “she felt more connection to Vietnam there than in Vietnam, when she spends all her time at her grandmother’s home”.

One of her significant influences is James Baldwin, who apparently “got her into reading seriously and realising that it could change your world”. Her second favourite writer is P.G. Wodehouse!

The judges said that “Pham’s non-judgmental portraits of parents living with trauma, and children struggling to comprehend their parents’ choices, was nuanced and wise”.

K.M. Kruimink

Lisa, as noted above, has reviewed A treacherous country, and described it as having “a playful narrative”. She tells us, as does Steger, that this novel also won the Vogel (unpublished manuscript) Award. It has also been longlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction.

Unlike Pham’s more contemporary work, this novel is historical fiction set in colonial Tasmania. It’s about a young man coming to Tasmania to bring a message to a young convict woman. Originally, Kruimink was writing about the woman. However, she was a new mother at the time that she decided to pick up the work again, and

Because I was in a vulnerable place, it was too emotional for me. It was a sad story and I felt like I couldn’t write about this sad young woman and I decided to write about a silly young man instead.

She thinks she will go back to the young woman’s story, though her next novel is about something very different.

She named Hilary Mantel and Kazuo Ishiguro as writers she likes to read.

The judges loved the voice, saying that she delivered “a stand-out voice – eccentric, funny and deceptively endearing. While the research behind the writing is evident, it is handled with a lightness of touch, and the language itself is truly impressive, ornate, yet controlled and deft”. 

Jessie Tu

Tu’s A lonely girl is a dangerous thing has been making a bit of a splash, having been shortlisted for Readings’ New Australian Fiction Prize and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Multicultural Award, as well as longlisted for the Stella Prize. 

Kim, whose review I linked above, was mightily impressed. She thought it would be another book about a millennial, but found it was much more. “Its real strength,” she writes, “lies in its perspective of an Asian-Australian trying to succeed in a closeted world dominated by the white and the privileged”.

Taiwanese-born Tu was apparently clear from the start what she was writing about, and also believes, says Steger, that “what drives a good novel … is the kind of questions it considers”. For her, loneliness is a big issue – as the title suggests. She says that:

I’ve been trying to think constantly where to seek solace for my feeling that I don’t belong in this world and what I found really comforting was reading stories about women in the past, especially female artists or female writers, and realising that they have also gone through sad, lonely lives. For me to know that helps me understand that this feeling that I have is not at all special.

The judges said that “Tu, with unswerving clarity, draws out many unsettling and compelling questions regarding race, talent, performance, perfectionism, agency and worth”. They called it “provocative” and “uncompromising”, reflecting Kim’s assessment, in fact!

Have you read any of these books?

Bill curates: Best Young Australian Novelists

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.

Writers in Residence: An Online Festival

Program BannerWith information coming from every which way, I’m not sure how I heard about the Writers in Residence online festival. Organised by The Writers Bloc and inspired by Isol-Aid, its aim was to “ask some of Australia’s most exciting emerging writers to read from their new books” and share “what they’ve been reading in isolation”.

It ran from 5pm to 9.40pm on Monday, and involved 14 writers, each on for 20 minutes. All interviews were conducted by Geoff Orton, an English and Geography teacher and a founder of Writers Bloc. The format was that each writer provided some background to their book, did a 10-minute reading from the book, and shared some isolation reading.

I only managed to hear 6 properly, as 5-9.40pm is a pretty difficult time-frame, but I enjoyed what I heard. It looked like there were 50 to 75 people viewing throughout the evening. Here are the writers I watched …

5pm: Shannon Molloy

Book coverMolloy’s book, simply titled Fourteen, was published in March. It is an autobiographical coming-of-age memoir about being a gay teen. It is set in Yeppoon, in regional Queensland, in 2000. Molloy admitted that his story is harrowing, but believes it also has a strong message of hope. He wants kids “to know there is an end in sight”.

The excerpt he read described the annual coral spawn, which he sees as “the best metaphor for Yeppoon”. I understood this to mean that Yeppon is “pretty” but is also “a bit off”. (Apparently coral spawns give off a smell.)  He described how he “became a pastime for bored kids”. “I was there to taunt, to abuse, to bash”, he said.

To write his book, he drew on memories, talked with his mother and siblings, and listened to bad pop music from the era! Pop music, he said, was a way of accessing the outside world, of escaping.

5.20pm Katherine Tamiko Arguile

Book coverArguile’s debut novel, The things she owned, was published in late April. Describing herself as “from all over the place”, Arguile, was introduced by Orton as a Japanese-British-Australian artist and journalist. She explained the title of her book. The things are objects which the protagonist, Erika, inherited from her mother, Michiko. Erika is half-Japanese like Arguile, and the novel draws from her own experience. However, as she stressed, The things she owned is a novel, and Michiko is nothing like her own mother.

The novel is about Erika coming to terms with the death of her mother, which she gradually comes to accept by discovering the stories associated with the things her mother owned. Apparently, the book was the creative component of a thesis for a course at the University of Adelaide. Her research was about “grief and objects”, which is a topic other viewers, like myself, would love to have explored more.

Arguile noted that the things in the book are things she herself owns. These non-fictional objects anchored both her and the story, she said.

Orton commented on the role of the ocean in the book. Arguile replied that it hadn’t been something she’d planned but she’d realised later its strong presence. She referred to the Jungian understanding of water as “something unseen, something that lies underneath the conscious mind”. Makes perfect sense for a book about grief.

5.40pm Leah Swann

Book coverSwann’s novel Sheerwater, which was published in March, is garnering a lot of reviews for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. (I’ve reviewed her short story collection, Bearings). The novel starts with a mother driving with her two young sons. They witness a light plane accident, to which the mother goes to see if she can help. When she returns to her car, the boys are nowhere to be found.

Journalist and speechwriter Swann said the idea had come to her during a road trip some time ago, but that, as the mother of young children at the time, she wasn’t prepared “to go there”. Understandable! When she did decide to do it, she found it easy to write the first draft. She just kept writing, seeing where it would take her. The first draft was 130,000 words, with the final book, four or five drafts later, being around 70,000 words. Like Arguile, she doesn’t plan her books. What she loves about writing is discovering things.

I did note her lockdown reading: Meg Mundell’s We are here (Affirm Press), which she described as “beautiful essays by people who have experienced homelessness”; and Meg Mason’s Sorrow and bliss, whose publication has been delayed until September, because of COVID-19 I believe.

7pm Pip Williams

Book coverThe dictionary of lost words, published in late March, is Pip Williams’ debut novel, though she has written other books. She was one of the reasons I was keen to register for this event as I gave this book to my mother for Easter. She, a retired lexicographer, loved it.

If you’ve heard of the book (see Lisa’s review), you won’t be surprised to hear that she was inspired by Simon Winchester’s The surgeon of Crowthorne. Williams said that she saw that the OED (Oxford English dictionary) was a completely male endeavour, that the lexicographers, contributors, and workers were mostly men, and most of the literature they referred to was by men. It made her wonder whether “words mean different things to men and women, and if they do what does that mean for the OED?”

She talked a little about the OED, and her research (which included reading a lot of the OED). After her reading, Orton asked whether she’d found any “hilarious” words. She had, of course, but decided to share some interesting ones. For example, “teen” used to mean “vexed”, “irritate”, and “teenful” meant “causing trouble or sorrow”. Has this played a role in our word “teenager”, she wondered! She discussed the word “bondmaid”, which went missing from the dictionary, and she shared the word “anythingarian”which describes a person with no belief in anything. Perhaps I, a self-described wishy-washy person, is an “anythingarian”!

Her lockdown reading included another Affirm Press novel, Rachael Mead’s upcoming novel The application of pressure.

7.20pm Sophie Hardcastle

Book coverArtist and writer Hardcastle’s novel Below deck, was published in March and is her first novel for adults. It is divided into four parts, with the last being set in Antarctica. Hardcastle had had, she said, an artist’s residency in Antarctica. She wanted to write a work that explored “climate change and our relationship with the natural world.” She thought that a story of the body being violated could work as a metaphor for the environment being violated. The rest of the conversation, however, didn’t really discuss this aspect further.

Asked, whether the story changed as she was writing it, she said that the bones of the story stayed the same, but because it’s a book about trauma, about the way the body remembers trauma, this did come out more during the writing. She wanted, also, to explore, the myths around rape culture. Orton briefly mentioned synesthesia, which both Hardcastle and her protagonist have, but there was no time to discuss this.

Hardcastle’s lockdown reading included Maggie Nelson’s Bluets and Jenny Offill’s Weather (which reminded her of Max Porter, she said.)

7.40pm Laura Jean McKay

Book coverMcKay’s novel, Animals in that country, was published in late March. It’s another I had bought as an Easter gift, because, not only did it seem appropriate for the times, given it involves a flu pandemic, but it sounded innovative and feminist. Right up Daughter Gums alley! The novel does have talking animals, including a dingo called Sue! McKay had spent time in a Northern Territory wildlife park as part of a writer-in-residence program, and got to know some dingos here. Sue was apparently inspired by an actual dingo.

McKay read from the part of her book where the human protagonist first hears the animals talking, which happens just as a flu is whipping through the country. At the time she was writing it, she feared her idea was a bit too speculative, but as her publication date drew nearer, well, she realised not so much!

McKay’s lockdown reading included Ling Ma’s Severance (which is about a pandemic) and Ronnie Scott’s The adversary.

A well-conceived COVID-19 event. The writers I saw were thoroughly engaging, and Orton managed the technology with aplomb. Will these sorts of events continue post COVID-19?

Writers in Residence: An Online Festival
4 may 2020, 5:00 PM – 9:40 PM
ZOOM Online, organised by Writers Bloc

 

Monday musings on Australian literature: Best Young Australian Novelists (2)

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists award is announced annually to coincide with the opening of the Sydney Writers Festival. Of course, there is no live festival this year, but awards announcements can still go ahead can’t they? I have posted on these awards before, but that was 2013, so I figured I could feature them again, particularly since this year’s winners were all writers of short story collections – and, interestingly, all women.

The Best Young Australian Novelists awards were established in 1997 by Susan Wyndham, the newspaper’s literary editor at the time. Its aim is to recognise emerging writing talent, so is open to “writers aged 35 and younger at the time of publication of their nominated books”. It is called a “novelists” award, but the award is made on the basis of a specific book, which is why writers, like Sonia Hartnett below, can win more than once. I should note, too, that despite the award’s name, short stories have been allowed since 2009.

Ellen van Neerven, Heat and light, book coverIt is not the richest award – though $8000 this year for the winner and $1000 for each runner-up is not bad either – but it carries a good deal of kudos. It has also done well over its 24 years in identifying young writers who have gone on to become serious names in the Australian literary world. Past winners, with links to my posts, include:

Book coverIf you look at the Wikipedia link in the paragraph above, you’ll see that the number of awards made each year varies. In 1997, ten awards were made, but most commonly it seems that around three to four are announced. This year, it was three, as Jason Steger reported. They are:

  • Alice Bishop’s A constant hum (winner)
  • Joey Bui’s Lucky ticket
  • Josephine Rowe’s Here until August. (Rowe has won before for her collection A loving faithful animal, which I’ve reviewed.)

The judges were SMH’s Literary Editor Jason Steger, plus two previous winners, Maxine Beneba Clarke and Fiona McGregor. Steger reports that:

What distinguishes the collections are the strength of the voices and distinctiveness of their characters. The stories are firmly rooted with a solid sense of place and at their hearts a strong sense of compassion for the predicaments of the protagonists and what they are experiencing.

They are all collections I have on my radar, but not in my physical TBR, which is a shame given I like short stories. Anyhow, Steger says that they also made two honourable mentions, Kathryn Hind’s Hitch (about which I’ve written before) and Carly Cappielli’s Listurbia (which I don’t know).

Other emerging writers’ awards

Trent Dalton, Boy swallows universeWhile SMH’s Best Young Australian Novelists is one of the best known emerging writers awards, there are others. Many, like this one, are age-related, such as The Australian Vogel Literary Award which was won this year by Katherine Kruimink, A treacherous country. But not all are. The UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing in the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards suite is for “a published book of fiction by an author who has not previously published a work of fiction that is booklength”. There is no age limit here. Last year’s winner was Trent Dalton with Boy swallows universe (my review), while this year’s was SL Lim with Real differences (Lisa’s review).

I have written about such awards before – about unpublished manuscript awards and emerging/debut fiction awards – so I won’t repeat the information here. However, in her May Six degrees of Separation post, Melinda Tognini mentioned a new award for young writers, the biennial Fogarty Literary Award, which was established last year. It is sponsored by the Fogarty Foundation and Fremantle Press. It is “awarded to an unpublished manuscript by a Western Australian author aged between 18 and 35 for a work of adult fiction, narrative non-fiction or young adult fiction”. The prize is $20,000 cash and a publishing contract with Fremantle Press. Not bad, eh? The inaugural winner was Rebecca Higgie for The History of Mischief, which will be published in September 2020. The next winner will be announced in May 2021.

Do you follow emerging writers’ awards and have you made any exciting discoveries as a result?

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

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?

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.

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, Midnight Promise

    Book cover (Courtesy: Text Publishing)

    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.