The 2015 ACT Writers Centre Award winners were announced at the end-of-year Christmas celebrations, held on 17 December in the Main Hall at Gorman Arts Centre, Braddon. Thanks to Robert Piani from artsACT for joining us to announce the ACT Book of the Year Award and People’s Choice. Information on the Book of the Year winners can be found here.
The ACT Writers Centre annual awards include the Marjorie Graber-McInnis Short Story Award, the Michael Thwaites Poetry Award, the ACT Writing and Publishing Awards and the inaugural Anne Edgeworth Fellowship for Young Writers. The winners and highly commended are listed below.
Congratulations to all prize-winners, and thanks to all who attended on the night.
Marjorie Graber-McInnis Short Story Award 2015
Judge: Maureen Bettle
Winner: C H Pearce—‘Torvald’s Year’
Judge’s Comments: This account of how poor Torvald struggles to escape his wretched life below ground is a superb example of speculative fiction. It plunges the reader straight into a dystopian world of ‘suffering’ without any of those explanations and technological details which would detract from the story. For example, the armplant which controls Torvald by linking him to the underworld is artfully slipped into the narrative: we see what it does, and do not need to know exactly how it does it. The passive aggression with which Torvald’s family treats him and the guilt which prevents him from being free and happy are beautifully presented through dialogue. This portrait of societal pressure is a fable for our times, darkly comic, and with a wonderful ironic conclusion.
Highly Commended: Elizabeth Egan—‘Frozen Stiff’
Judge’s Comments: Comedy is hard but lovely when it succeeds. This very Australian yarn about an overworked nurse and the man she encounters in the snow is funny not just because of its racy use of double entendre but also because of the convincing voice of the narrator. We really feel for her while we laugh at her predicament.
Highly Commended: Jennifer Hand—‘Now and Then’
Judge’s Comments: Subtle and understated, this double portrait brings together a young woman with her older self in the mundane setting of a supermarket. The voices of the young and old Mattie are sympathetically presented. They share a wry sense of humour which gives a consistency to the character. The conclusion is positive without being sentimental.
Michael Thwaites Poetry Award 2015
Judge: Melinda Smith
Winner: Penny O’Hara—’Ode to a Papermate Inkjoy 100′
Judge’s Comments: A fabulous tight piece of metaphyics with lots of clever witty angles, none of them overdone. Some arch use of enjambment, including across stanza breaks (“..When / I take you in my hand // there’s nothing lewd about it./And, what’s more, you’re good// around the house”… Under the surface is a thoughtful engagement with the process, meaning and craft of writing. Excellent stuff, perfectly executed, with a great last line.
Highly Commended: Laurence Anderson—’Winter evening on the Monaro’
Judge’s Comments: A lyrical, mysterious exploration of landscape and light. Some great images: The clouds “Each a bruise in its rind of light” is wonderful. There is also some beautiful word music: “Now a moth, you must fall towards the willows/ lit gold like dandelions in the dark valleys”. A passionate yet controlled evocation of the numinous.
Highly Commended: Sarah Rice—’Action (Bus Route 2)’
Judge’s Comments: A personable, compassionate meditation on having and not-having with some sharply observed moments. A homeless man lies “under the nearby oak / in amongst the roots of it/ his feet in the dust/ and his shoulders pressed into the ribbed bark”. Draws together disparate threads into an interesting whole.
Highly Commended: Michelle Brock—’Memorabilia’
Judge’s Comments: A well made Haibun, using techniques from epistolary fiction to convey story. Not a line is wasted and it rewards multiple readings. A great technical achievement.
Z4 Review Writing Award 2015
Judge: Carol Middleton
Winner: Shu-Ling Chua—’Excavate’
Judge’s Comments: Shu-Ling Chua writes about performance in clear prose, giving the reader both essential information and a balanced overview. She invites us into the experience, recreating what she has seen and heard in sharp detail, and then conveys the emotional impact of the work. Her review is succinct, fair and structurally sound.
Publishing Awards: Fiction Category
Judges: Kathryn Favelle and Lucy Nelson
Winner: Craig Cormick—’Uncle Adolf’
Judge’s Comments: The judges delighted in the depiction of small town life on the far south coast, the personal and political battles that can shape a community, and the challenges of aging and raging against the dying of the light.
Highly Commended: Sean Costello—’Capital Yarns’
Judge’s Comments: The judges also wish to commend Capital Yarns for its community engagement and commitment to quality production.
Publishing Awards: Nonfiction Category
Judges: Pippa Carron and Sonja Chandler
Winner: Kristen Alexander—Australia’s Few and the Battle of Britain
Judges’ Comments: This is a very well-researched, well-documented, well-structured and well-written book. It looks at the role of the ’30 or so’ Australians who took part in the Battle of Britain through the lens of the lives of eight young fighter pilots. Each man’s story is brought to life using letters, diary entries, official correspondence, public records and family reminiscence. The eight stories are interwoven and, taken together, give readers a detailed perspective of how this historical battle unfolded. The use of family photos reinforces the ‘everyman’ nature of the pilots and brings home the real cost of war at many levels: individual, family, community and national. It is a book that can be read both for its engaging and sympathetic portrayal of the individual men and for its consideration of a pivotal time in the history of World War II. The writing is always fluid and engages the reader intimately with emotion and pathos. The need to convey accurate information never hinders the flow of the narrative. The author has an exceptional ability to set specific material, such as quotations from original documents, into a broader familial, social and political context, and in this way inform the reader at several levels at once. In addition to the incomparable writing style, this book stood out because of its very high production value, with excellent use of subheadings, maps, photographs, notes, bibliography, contents pages, author’s notes and index.
Highly Commended: Robert Lehane—The Pearl King
Judges’ Comments: This terrifically interesting book documents not only the extraordinary life of James Clark, who became known as the Pearl King, but also provides valuable, synthesised detail about the early years of the pearling and oyster industries in Australia, and later the wool industry. It is clear that a very large amount of research has been carried out and the story of this archetypal self-made man’s life is described with considerable depth of understanding of him, his family and friends, and the society they lived in. The quoted material has been worked in well and the subject matter is depicted in a way that captures the imagination of the reader, making them want to learn more about both this fascinating character and the social and political times in which he lived. The various physical environments were also described in a captivating manner. This book is highly commended for its depth of research, writing style and excellent production value. The many photographs and plates are well placed, and the terrific covers and chapter graphics add a lovely, authentic feel to the book. While the chapters are not too long, some subject subheadings might have helped the reader scan for major dates and topics.
Publishing Awards: Children’s Fiction Category
Judges: Nikki Anderson and Kellie Nissen
Winner: Pauline Deeves—Midnight Burial
Judges’ Comments: Midnight Burial is a work of gothic suspense. Beautifully researched with great historical detail, but accessible to a contemporary audience, the characters are believable and likeable. Midnight Burial is perfectly suited to junior readers and offers great curriculum links.
Highly Commended: Tania McCartney—Tottie and Dot
Judges’ Comments: Tottie and Dot is a charming story which explores friendship and the potential for competition and jealousy. It holds appeal at different levels, whether in the beautiful illustrations, the imagery of the words or the subtle identification with best friends, Tottie and Dot, and their simmering rivalry. Tottie and Dot leaves plenty of room for discussion about the why and how of friendship, fighting and making up.
Publishing Awards: Poetry Category
Judges: Tim Metcalf and Michele Seminara
Winner: John Stokes—Fire in the Afternoon
Judges’ Comments: The reappraisal of John Stokes was welcome. Using a simple and spare palette he lets us see there might be something behind our everyday reality. If he is sometimes elusive this only entices us to follow him through the doors he leaves ajar. Brilliant poems from a stark land steeped in memory.
Highly Commended: P S Cottier and Tim Jones—The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry
Judges’ Comments: P S Cottier and her New Zealand co-editor Tim Jones have assembled an ebullient landmark anthology that attempts to embrace a very broad church indeed. An impressive matrix of ‘big names’ in Australian poetry allows plenty of space nevertheless for the minor poets, who contribute some of the best pieces in the diffuse speculative genre. The poems surprise and delight, lending the anthology a broad appeal.
Anne Edgeworth Fellowship for Young Writers
Presented by the ACT Writers Centre and the Anne Edgeworth Trust
Winner: Louis Klee
The ACT Writers Centre would like to thank Bytes ‘n Colours and Regional Wine and Beverage Merchants for sponsoring the awards night. The ACT Writers Centre is supported by the ACT Government and the Commonwealth Government through the Australia Council.