Congratulations to the winners, highly commended, commended, other shortlisted and all entrants in this year’s National Writing Competition!
Here are the results:
Short Story Fiction – judged by Jenny Strachan
Winner - Julietta Cerin ♦ Exposure
Highly commended - Kelly Boxwell ♦ The Boy
Commended - Maya Linden ♦ The Lide of Water
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.
Short Story Non-fiction – judged by Carmel Bendon
Winner - Maya Linden ♦ Dust Figures
Highly commended - Jane McGown ♦ My Little Corner of the World
Commended - Louise Martin Chew ♦ Silence
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.
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.