The Society’s biennial National Writing Competition, open to female writers who are Australian citizens or permanent residents, aged 18 years or over, members and non-members, closed for entries on 30 June 2021.
Thank you to everyone who entered this year’s competition which attracted a great number of entries from women throughout Australia. Winners were announced at The Society’s literary event held via Zoom on Wednesday 10 November 2021 – congratulations to the winners and to everyone who entered:
Poetry – Judge: Amanda Lucas-Frith
Reading and relishing all of the poems received this year amid Sydney’s ongoing lockdown has been a tonic during this challenging and difficult period.
The experience of surviving and ideally, thriving during the global COVID-19 pandemic is a theme confronted and embraced by many of the poems received this year. One of the primary places women have been able to seek solace away from the domestic sphere—which now encompasses work and home school in its virtual folds—is the natural world, and many of the poems see their speakers responding to the natural environment. From ‘Beach Walk’ and ‘Dandelion Time’, with their exquisite and sophisticated use of lyricism and poetic sound work, to the bright and witty ‘COVID mermaids’, where nature is a site of escape and refuge. In the natural world, the speaker’s mind is freed to recall memories through the rich symbolism and motifs nature provides, or to embrace the moment-to-moment aliveness found in brief slices of freedom.
Places have power and are often storehouses of memory and experience. Places remembered from youth, or returned to in middle or old age, are charted like lost lands in poems such as ‘Forster’, where the speaker returns to trace the mental outlines of family holidays spent at the beach; and ‘Murray Cycle’, with its painterly portraits of the Murray River at different times of day and in different light.
The passing of time, the loss of loved ones and relationships remembered are also prevailing themes running though the poems received this year. In ‘Keats’s Grape’, the speaker recalls a person performing the same ritual through the years—time’s arrow transforming the person across the same moment, but leaving the background unchanged. In ‘Disrepair’, the speaker prunes an old fig tree with rusted tools for their father. A futile gesture, but a gesture that functions at the level of allegory.
Lastly, women unashamedly taking up space and talking back to the life and trajectory set out for them is another prominent theme in the poems received this year. ‘One Women a Week’ bravely and starkly highlights the difficult subject of violence against women. ‘In Conversation with my Cowlick’ is a bright and humorous poem, where the cowlick has more to say than the speaker. Embrace the mess, as that’s where the living happens. And importantly for poets: the art.
Winner: Object Permanence by Natalie Cooke
Highly commended: Doing Their Sums by Julie Thorndyke
Commended: New Water by Samantha Johnson
Fiction – Judge: Hazel Edwards OAM
Congratulations to all the writers who entered. You’ve created something which didn’t exist before. Being commended or winning first place is a bonus. The value of entering a literary contest is finishing your story by the deadline.
A richly observed collection of short stories were entered for the National Writing Competition.
Favoured subjects included de-cluttering memorabilia, symbolic photos as coincidental clues, grief, trekking, women taking murderous revenge on bullying husbands and ‘aloneness’ in later life leading to death.
Often the same subject was approached very differently and the best writing was well structured with a compassionate tone. A serious subject like suicide doesn’t make it a good story. It’s how the story is crafted that gives significance.
There is a difference between ‘therapy’ writing based on autobiographically significance experiences and professional crafting for a prospective reader. Some used similar tragedies or settings for inspiration, but tightly orchestrated the tone, details and potential conflict and made the stories provocative, but also works of art.
My Judging Criteria:
Most judges are also writers so they appreciate the work behind any manuscript. The test of a good story is if it stays with you, and if it reads well aloud.
In general, an interesting range of stories exploring worthwhile concepts but in a few cases, structure would have benefitted from a little re-working. Some needed to get into the story faster, by establishing the conflict earlier, shortening sentences, avoiding repetitions and ‘shaping’ the story more, especially with an emotionally satisfying ending.
A good title is the first clue to a story’s tone, conflict and content. It can be ambiguous but all ambiguities should apply to the story. Too many were generic or just a character name.
Memorable stories have subtext hinting at conflict beneath. Wise to avoid two or three images fighting for attention in the same sentence. Choose one which is significant to the story or the character’s development.
Put the story in context of place, period and conflict in opening paragraph. A few had too much poetic description of setting and little subtext.
Changing viewpoint can be a useful technique to characterise, but some switches needed better choreographing.
Compassion is vital in good writing. Moralistic tone turns off the reader unless it is ‘through’ the character’s viewpoint and adds motivation for actions.
Winner: The Artist by Cindy Broadbent
Highly commended: What Remains by Mo Duggan
Commended: Gilbert and Esme by Chloe Hillary
Non-Fiction – Judge: Dr Susan Steggall
It was an honour to judge the 2021 SWW Creative Non-Fiction competition – and gratifying to see almost forty entries of a consistently high standard. From a long list and then a short list, the process of whittling down the entries has been a difficult task. Ultimately, I was looking for originality of subject matter and, importantly, an ability to engage the reader – in this case myself.
The principal aim of creative non-fiction is to compile factually accurate narratives that not only have the capacity to entertain, as does fiction, but also to communicate information taken from actual occurrences that exist in the natural world as opposed to ‘invented’ from the writer’s mind’. Writing styles in the entries were diverse, across a broad range of themes: memoir and biography; humour and trauma; travel and natural disasters; health issues; social and colonial history. In the best ones, the authors evocatively shared experiences and ideas with the reader.
The six entries chosen for the Short List are strong on human interest and take the reader into worlds that are either very familiar or totally alien. The winning entry, The Real Social Media Pioneers, pays homage to three women pioneers of rural journalism – worthy descendants of the first generation of SWW members. With so many country newspapers closed or threatened with closure this entry contributes significantly to the social history of Australia.
Winner: The Real Social Pioneers by Kathy Sharpe
Highly commended: The Posh Bitch from The Big Smoke by Melissa Bruce
Commended: The Forgotten First-Wave Feminist by Cate Whittaker
Short Story – Fiction
Winner – $500
Highly Commended – $250
Commended – $100
Short Story – Non-Fiction
Winner – $500
Highly Commended – $250
Commended – $100
Winner – $300
Highly Commended – $200
Commended – $100
Winning entries willl also be considered for incusion in The Society’s centenary anthology to be published in 2025.
The Society especially thanks our sponsors for their generous support:
- Ginninderra Press
- Robyn Elliott
- Susan Steggall