Short Story Fiction - judged by Carmel Bendon
Winner - Julietta Cerin ♦ Exposure
Highly commended - Kelly Boxwell ♦ The Boy
Commended - Maya Linden ♦ The Lide of Water
Judge's Report – Carmel Bendon
The short story is a very particular genre that requires much of the writer and the reader. It has the usual fiction elements of character, setting and plot, but all are in the service of a single point of conflict. It has an economy of words and ideas that are like clear brushstrokes of definition encompassing the essentials of the form while at the same time leaving space for readers to colour in other possibilities.
All the entries were extremely well-written, and most demonstrated a solid grasp of these essentials of the short story form. Such proficiency made the judging all the more difficult. The stories’ subjects stretched from childhood experiences to old age and dementia, friendships, lost loves, domestic violence, male pregnancy, outback misadventure, post-apocalyptic worlds, backyard abortion, bank jobs, death and more. The best stories exhibited daring and innovation in theme or subject or perspective and, in doing so, swept me along with them to a new idea, a different view, a surprise, a heightened emotion, laughter, or an unexpected twist. The shortlisted stories did all this and more, in exceptional writing style.
Exposure is a subtly drawn story of one white woman’s experience in Australia’s centre. It is, indeed, an exposition of the wide gap between white and indigenous culture and life experience in the very heart of Australia’s land and its people. It exposes a disconnection so vast that words fail in the 'immutable pitiless light' of the reality of the situation.
From the Mouths of Babes is, in its form, an interweaving of brief factual statements about the expected development of babies’ acquisition of language and a mother’s understandable concern about her baby’s slowness in this regard but, in its deepest themes, the story shocks with an insight into the grim reality of war.
Outside the Dome is an evocative futuristic imagining of life after an environmental calamity and a child’s hopes for the renewal of the natural world. The bittersweet conclusion is, simultaneously, heartbreaking and hopeful.
The Boy is a gritty story that addresses our middle-class complacency about the extreme harshness of the lives of young boys (and girls) in our society and the transgressions and tragedies that ensue, challenging readers to confront realities that we refuse to see.
Told from two points of view – that of two lovers – and full of exquisitely sensual descriptions, The Life of Water is a love story that compels readers to consider the limits of love, and the point at which love’s cost becomes too much.
Surprising and explicit, Wardrobe of Secrets is a sensually detailed story in which an old woman strives to ‘remember’ herself and the wild girl she once was by recalling and reliving an erotic, tempestuous and violent love affair.
Thank you to all the entrants for allowing me to read and enjoy your excellent works.
Short Story Non-fiction - judged by Jenny Strachan
Winner - Maya Linden ♦ Dust Figures
Highly commended - Jane McGown ♦ My Little Corner of the World
Commended - Louise Martin Chew ♦ Silence
Judge's Report – Jenny Strachan
'Of the thousand experiences we have, we find language for one at most and even this one merely by chance…Among all these unexpressed experiences are those that are hidden and which have given our life its shape, its colour and its melody.' Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon.
There were twenty-five entries in the Non-Fiction genre with the majority in the sub-genre of memoir.
Thank you for trusting me with the very personal and deeply felt parts of your life in the memoirs. These memoir themes included being adopted, copying with a partner’s dementia, obsessive love, drug addiction, being raped, fighting an eating disorder, and living with a brain injury. These stories were very cathartic and as one writer expressed it, '… it’s only while writing this story that the nightmare finally makes sense'.
Other memoirs explored the universal themes of grief, loss, survival, overseas postings, migrant experiences, vagaries of memory, and tracing one’s family.
The essays ranged across historical periods, genealogy, provenance, poets, and The Voice to Parliament.
My key criteria in judging the Non-Fiction Prize were - the story had to be well written with clear prose, a clear voice and an imaginative use of language and imagery, and it needed to remain a pleasure to return to and then start reading all over again.
The successful stories stayed with me and moved me in a way that offered insight into an aspect of life and a connection to a topic of importance that resonated, well after finishing the piece.
The six stories shortlisted are a mixture of memoir and essay.
The winning entry, Dust Figures, explores the overwhelming power of obsessive love and how destructive it can be in our lives. The beauty of this piece is in the poetic writing Later that day, the sharp scent of crushed gold leaf and wet paint; the winter sea grey and opaque, a stained mirror in which I did not recognise my face. The strength is in the raw emotion and honesty expressing the drive of self-destruction balanced out against the writer’s rational self as she cites words of philosophy and feminist theory. This is not a story of empowerment and recovery…not every woman’s truth has to be a positive feminist narrative.
The Highly Commended, My Little Corner of the World, is a lyrical, gentle exploration of a daughter’s love of her mother as she travels through Italy, with the feeling of her mother accompanying her on the trip. The writer transports us through her rich and vibrant Italian migrant experience in Australia as she weaves in and out of Italian cities trying to reconcile the real experience with the imagined.
The Commended, Silence, is an essay on trauma and its place in the lives of our family and how it affects several generations. The title, Silence, is very poignant as it identifies the impact of trauma on nature, animals, humans and collectively race. '…trauma extends outside historical (multigenerational) trauma and systemic discrimination (such as racism) to note intergenerational and collective trauma…impacting smaller groups like families.'
This theme of family trauma was further explored in two of the shortlisted entries: The Soul of Kathleen Josephine Kelly and Twilight Bay, both grappling with the vagaries of memory and the impact of trauma on our lives.
The other short listed entry, Bayanhot Blues, set on the edge of the Gobi Desert, recounts the cross-cultural misunderstandings of an Australian AusAID project co-ordinator and her Chinese counter parts. The writer describes a myriad of cultural experiences with wit and frankness that make for a fascinating story.
It was a great pleasure sharing your memories, passions and interests and these experiences will stay with me for a very long time to come.
Poetry - judged by Judith Beveridge
SPONSORED BY GINNINDERRA PRESS
Winner - Margaret Ruckert ♦ chromasomapoem
Highly commended - Pippa Kay ♦ Marbles
Commended - Lily Nason ♦ Homesick on a Balcony somewhere in France
Judge's Report – Judith Beveridge
Thank you to the Society of Women Writers for the honour and privilege of judging this year’s poetry prize for which there were 44 entries. I enjoyed the variety and vitality of the poems entered. Although most of the entries were in free verse, there was plenty of evidence that rhyme and stricter forms are not an entirely forgotten discipline. Whatever the form being used and with whatever success, I sensed honest voices dealing with real experiences. In judging the award, I looked for poems that made imaginative and inventive use of language, poems that showed a compelling engagement with subject matter, poems that had control over form and structure and poems that demonstrated masterful use of sound, imagery, lineation and rhythm to carry the meaning.
Winner: Chromosomapoem: I chose this poem as the winning entry because of the elegance and sophistication of language and subject matter. It addresses sex differences in a clever and witty manner. The linguistic quality is sustained throughout the poem as well as the use of form which enables the poem to embody and convey its thoughts in a memorable and powerful way. The poem shifts skilfully between historical and personal reflections on the biological and social realities determined by male and female sex chromosomes. The poem is a complex weave of humour and seriousness, executed with bravura and style.
Highly Commended: Marbles: This poem uses the highly challenging sestina form to excellent effect and has avoided the pitfalls of the sestina by being compact and economical. Form and content in this poem are beautifully married and generate an organic reading experience. The poem has as its subject matter the passing on of generational knowledge and experience – grandmother to grandchildren – thus the repetitions embedded in the sestina make it an excellent formal choice. The conversational style, in tandem with the poem’s formal requirements, create buoyancy and power. A tender and finally achieved poem.
Commended: Homesick on a Balcony Somewhere in France, no, not in Paris: This poem travels seamlessly through a wide range of feelings: humour, nostalgia, a sense of aloneness and displacement, as well as an acute awareness of time’s passing, both geologic time and personal time are juxtaposed to great effect. These tones and feelings are embodied in the movement and flow of the cadences and rhythms across the lines. This is a moving, engaging poem.
Short Story Fiction - judged by Jenny Strachan
Winner - Alexandra Dunn ♦ Violet
Highly commended - Paulette Gittins ♦ Forget it Jake
Commended - Julie Howard ♦ Recipes for Sisters and Wives
Judge's Report – Jenny Strachan
I congratulate you all on your Fiction writing because we know that stories are fragile things that can disappear or live on, to sometimes outlast the countries where they were created.
This year’s Fiction entries spanned 2,500 years ranging from Pericles Athens in 5th Century B.C.E. through years of wars and up to the 2022 Covid pandemic.
My key criteria in judging the Fiction Prize were: the story has to stay with me and move me in a way that it offers both insight into an aspect of life and a connection to a character whose fate I care about, well after the story has finished.
The story has to be well written with clear prose, a clear voice for the narrator or protagonist and an imaginative use of imagery. It needs to remain a pleasure to read and re-read, so that I look forward to starting it all over again.
The six shortlisted were all pieces with strong themes and characterisation with a well structured ending, offering the possibility of redemption.
The winning entry, Violet was an outstanding piece and when I first read it, I had to take a break from reading anything else that day. When I came back to it, it moved me even more because of the contrast between the powerful, poetic imagery of the prose juxtaposed against the violent setting, housing a “monster” of domestic violence.
I live within our house as a ghost. Bind my suffering and broken skin, shove all emotions into a little box and survive today … Evidence of past tenants, bleeds across mould stained walls. Motifs scrawled by hand, decorations of time wasted, drug induced stupor, and abject loneliness.
We witness the strength of the young teenage girl, Violet, who finally dials “000”, only to be dismissed by a Police Officer who suggests she is to blame for inciting violence in her father. This powerful story closes on a moment of hope, when Violet realises she has taken the first, vital step to free herself of this abusive relationship. It reminded me of the themes of this year’s Miles Franklin Award, Jennifer Down’s Bodies of Light and how our system fails our children.
The Highly Commended, Forget it, Jake, deals with the universal theme of travelling in order to forget the reality we live in daily. The narrator-traveller is always once removed from the experience, glimpsing life from a bus or train window journeying nowhere in particular on package deals. But when a meaningful event does happen she is impotent, unable to act to save a life. This resonates through the story as we discover she was unable to act to save her brother from a devastating fall through the roof of her family garage and she travels relentlessly to escape the memory.
The Commended, Recipes for Sisters and Wives, is a highly original piece written in the form of recipes for daily life outlining ingredients for survival with some “bake times” of many years. The recipes start with the new baby coming home and then progress through the isolation of post partem, loneliness within an abusive marriage and then trying to care for her children. It reminds us that everyday women wake to prepare the meals of the day using the ingredients they have, whatever bits and pieces to make a meal in the hope that it will turn out well. They know they don’t have everything they want nor need, but make do just to help their family survive another day.
The three other short-listed stories continue with the theme of violence, trauma and living as an outsider.
Two of the shortlisted focus on the trauma of children in Europe during the Second World War. They are narrated focusing on a protagonist whose childhood anguish has affected their current relationship.
Looking for Peace is narrated by a granddaughter of a holocaust victim who is reliving the terror from her nursing home bed, in the hope that death will release her from the horrors of concentration camp memories.
The Past is a Dangerous Friend is narrated by the wife of a man whose past is destroying their marriage. As a boy he was terrorised by the life lived in a Russian internment camp. This prolonged suffering has nurtured in him a blood lust for the sport of killing game.
Ignorant Armies deals with a protagonist who is the “outsider” who doesn’t fit in with the petty criminal activity of his fellow workers. He is trapped by his mortgage in a job he detests where he has to compromise his ethical standards.
The other themes explored in the remaining twenty one entries are: intergenerational stories about the strong bonds between grandparents and grandchildren; boundaries – neighbours, relationships, generations; living as an outsider and displacement; living with dementia; exploits in crime; and changing identities.
A story is a dialogue between a writer and a reader, so thank you all for the conversations.
Short Story Non-fiction - judged by Paula McLean
Winner - Carmel Bendon ♦ Birds of a Feather
Highly commended - Judy Rowley ♦ The Only Way
Commended - Gwen Wilson ♦ Loving in the Shadow of Tito
Judge's Report – Paula McLean
The submissions for this year’s non-fiction entries include the subgenres of nature writing, travel writing, personal essay, and memoir. I read of ghosts and fairies, a former prisoner, birds and dogs and stinging bee therapy, mothers and matriarchs, survivors and families separated by great distances. The settings for the entries spanned the former Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, Australia, Ireland and England, Chennai and sailboats in the Mediterranean Sea.
I couldn’t help but notice in many of the submissions a need to revisit former travels, not surprising given our stay-at-home Covid lives. But what characterised most of the essays was a great desire to express something the writer felt deeply about. I brought to the reading my own experiences and took away with me the often deeply affecting experiences of others. It was the three winning essays, however, that resonated most strongly, drawing me back again and again to look for more. I considered the craft of the writing itself, how the writer incorporated literary techniques such as metaphor, juxtaposition and imagery to enrich their writing, and if the writer avoided common pitfalls such as sentimentality and nostalgia, or awkward transitions of thought. Ultimately the three winning essays I chose demonstrated deep reflection and insight into the topics the writers chose to write about. It was a privilege to read and consider each of the entries for this year’s non-fiction prize.
Poetry - judged by Eileen Chong
SPONSORED BY GINNINDERRA PRESS
Winner - Josephine Shevchenko ♦ Undying the Sea
Highly commended - Colleen Keating ♦ petal by petal
Commended - Mocco Wallert ♦ A Stranger in my house
Judge's Report – Eileen Chong
It has been a pleasure reading this year’s poetry entries to the Society of Women Writers NSW’s 2022 National Writing Competition. Generally, the poems reflected a high level of engagement with the concerns facing us as women in the world today. There were poems that explored themes of war, social justice, travel, family, ageing, nature, and our animal companions. These are poems that engage with history, with the present day, and the unknown future. The writing is generally of a high standard, reflecting playfulness and hefty concerns in equal measure.
The shortlisted poems stood out from the rest because of a fine use of language that demonstrates both expressiveness and restraint. I particularly commend the close observations of both the external world and inner sanctums as exemplified in these poems. These six poems are:
1. Undying the Sea (Winning title)
2. petal by petal (Highly commended title)
3. A stranger in my house (Commended title)
4. Architecture of Chronic Pain
5. Bright New Home
6. Woman to Dog
The winning title, ‘Undying the Sea’, exemplifies the ability of poetry to transport one to a shadowy, parallel world, where anything and everything is possible. The poem must be congratulated for its innovative, startling imagery, such as ‘the bone ferry to Atlantis’, ‘waves like ribs itching off the prow’, and ‘moons rising between your teeth’. The final image of a person unravelling a rainbow scarf of riotous colour is one that lingers, especially because of its unusual, moving beauty.
The highly commended title, petal by petal, addresses a theme familiar to many of us: that of an ageing mother. The writing is evocative and atmospheric, with a sense that time has slowed in what seems like a hermetically sealed space against the backdrop of the pandemic. Prosaic elements of a life are imbued with pathos and significance in the poem, with its short, seemingly breathless lines, anchored by the conceit of the slow blooming and dying of cut flowers in a vase. We witness ‘how slowly blossoms fall’ while ‘we sit like creatures / stranded on rock’.
The commended title, A stranger in my house, movingly depicts a situation too many of us have experienced first-hand—that of the changes that happen to one’s life partner with ageing and/or ill health. The keen sense of loss experienced by both persons is sensitively portrayed, never straying into pity or sentimentality, which is no mean feat given the subject matter. The poem almost comes across as an incomplete sonnet with two missing lines—a poignant truncation of a shared life now ‘live[d] in slow motion mode’, ‘the future a waiting void’.
The three shortlisted poems are varied in style, and demonstrate thoughtful engagement with both form and content. Architecture of Chronic Pain uses the metaphor of a body as a house—one that is deteriorating and transforming into an unbearable prison. Bright New Home tackles the grief of re/dislocation, ending in seemingly helpless protest, yet which is powerful for its very presence. Woman to Dog is a quiet gem of a poem, with its direct, declarative observations of a ‘world now mad-eyed, unnaturally/bright’.
My congratulations to all winning and shortlisted poems, and to all writers who entered the competition.
- Winner: Cindy Broadbent The Artist
- Highly commended: Mo Duggan What Remains
- Commended: Chloe Hillary Gilbert and Esme
- Winner: Kathy Sharpe The Real Social Pioneers
- Highly commended: Melissa Bruce The Posh Bitch from The Big Smoke
- Commended: Cate Whittaker The Forgotten First-Wave Feminist
- Winner: Natalie Cooke Object Permanence
- Highly commended: Julie Thorndyke Doing Their Sums
- Commended: Samantha Johnson New Water
- Winner: Kathy Prokhovnik A Day at the Beach
- Highly commended: Jean Flynn Forty
- Commended: Anna Bay The Tamarillo Tree
- Winner: Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan Frothing
- Highly commended: Susan Steggall Re-Carving an Identity
- Commended: Carmel Bendon The Gift of a Book
- Winner: Joanne Ruppin Night Reunion
- Highly commended: Anne Carson What if the lake …
- Commended: Margaret Ruckert Unconformity
Non-Fiction Essays and Articles
- First prize: Anni Webster An Appetite for Awe
- Second prize: Robyn Elliott Pilbara Boots
- Third prize: Megan Wallens WB Yeats and Yours Truly
- Highly commended: Carol Middleton You Are All Dreamers
- Highly commended: Judith O'Connor Slippery Side of the Street
- Highly commended: Joanne Ruppin Please Don't Tell
- First prize: Fran Collings Paper Nautilus
- Second prize: Paulette Gittins Traumeri
- Third prize: Polly Jude Rewind
- Equal first prize: Helen Thurloe Persistence in Three Languages
- Equal First prize: Joanne Ruppin Stille Nacht and Silent Night
- Highly commended: Susan Fealy The Night Before the Truck
- Highly commended: Shane McCauley Thomas Merton
2015 - Theme: Be Inspired by Giving Women a Voice
Non-Fiction Essays and Articles
- First prize: Pippa Kay Breathtaking
- Second prize: Carol Middleton Dreaming of Freedom
- Third prize: Pauline Harvey The Doctor's Wife
- Highly commended: Chystal Abidin When you travel alone through foreign cities as a young woman
- Commended: Nicola West The Fight
- First prize: Michelle Reidy This Is How A Voice Sounds
- Second prize: Lynne Cook No Words For It
- Third prize: Erica Woolgar Waiting For Mare
- Highly commended: Judith O"Connor Run Rabbit Run
- Commended: Bridget Mckern Lady-In-Waiting
- First prize: Cynthia Rowe Union Rep Ruby
- Second prize: Carolyn Alfonzetti Canary Song
- Third prize: Moira Kirkwood Flowering
- Highly commended: Gail Hennessy Finding The Words
- Commended: Colleen Keating In Search of Hildegard of Bingen
- First prize: Sarah Endacott Shock-Shit
- Second prize: Julie Chevalier An Honour that I"d thought not of
- Third prize: Claire Aman Wrangler
Julie Kearney Killing Him Softly
Suzanne Gaskell Beautiful Boys
Julie Chevalier Little Fires
- First prize: Susan Fealy The Hope Stone
- Second prize: Dr Frances Olive At the Temple
- Third prize: Marilyn Peck From My Bed on Dry Winter Mornings
Gillian Hunt Heartland
Moira Kirkwood Moto (artist to Genius)
Ali Jane Smith Sestina After a Marriage
Lesley Walter In Memoriam (of Vera Newsom)
Winifred Weir Summer Is and Has Been
- First prize: Susan McCreery Beyond Walls
- Second prize: Meg Wallens Caretaker Li and My Sanity Patch
- Third prize: Heather Bird Marked
- First prize: Winifred Weir We have one another now and again
- Second prize: Lesley Walter At the Crossing
- Third prize: Dr Penelope S Cottier A Brief History of Fun