Tag Archives: NSWPLA

SWF: My Day 1

The Sydney Writers’ Festival is off and running. I’m having a soft entry: just one event yesterday and none today, and  I don’t expect to see Walsh Bay until tomorrow morning.

Yesterday’s talk, Craig Munro: Under Cover, was at the State Library, just next door to the Mitchell Library, scene of last night’s awards ceremony. Craig Munro was in conversation with Rachel Franks from the library, talking about Under Cover, his memoir of three decades working as an editor at University of Queensland Press.

I’m lucky enough to have earned my living as an editor, and I have never found the work less than interesting, whether in the book trade, on a children’s magazine (that was the best!), or in the publications section of a government department. But it’s not glamorous, and I struggle to see why anyone not an editor would be interested to hear one of us talk about it. However, a respectable crowd turned out for this talk, and seemed to like what they got.

What we got was some tips about self editing (‘the most important thing is to create distance from the initial writing’), advice on how to write a pitch for a publisher or agent (spend at least a week honing it), information and opinions about the changing face of publishing (paper books are here to stay; a poetry book is best-seller in Australia if it sells 400 copies), and glimpses of famous authors (David Malouf and the underrated Barbara Hanrahan are the only two writers Munro has dealt with whose manuscripts arrive at the publisher pretty well word perfect).

The best thing about the session was the readings that topped and tailed it. The first told of the author’s first meeting with David Malouf, in which they worked out the name for Malouf’s first novel. The second, with brilliant timing, told the story of the infamous NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Dinner of 1985, at which the book people gathered in the Intercontinental Hotel grew unruly during Morris West’s sermonical Address (the poet Martin Johnston shouting ‘Bullshit!’ at one point), Nadia Wheatley criticised Premier Neville Wran’s housing policy when accepting her award from him, and Wran himself reverted to Parliamentary behaviour and called on someone to put a bun in the mouth of one rowdy interjector. The passage should be read aloud at the start of each Awards evening, to remind us all that slide shows, civility and smiling decorum may not always be preferable to honest ill temper and rowdiness. Craig Munro’s manifest pleasure in reading it to us cast a different light on his own quietly courteous, considered manner.

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Night

I’d love to go to the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards again one of these years, but $60 for a cocktail event is a stretch even for people who drink alcohol, and it’s way out of my range for hors d’oeuvres, sparkling water and speeches. Maybe I’ll get a freebie one of these years as a designated blogger, but for this year, as for the last couple, here’s how the evening went as gleaned from Twitter (Noting by the way that Twitter account @NSW_PLA has been silent for five years, and the facebook page ‘NSW Premier’s Literary Awards‘ for nearly three, I put my faith, mainly, in #PremiersLitAwards).

In the lead-up, there was a flurry of good-luck messages from publishers, seven tweets from one publisher lobbying for votes in the People’s Choice Award, and at least one person wondering if the recent Australia Council cuts to literary magazines would lead to an ‘interesting’ evening.

The first tweeter of the evening, a book editor from Text Publishing, turned up about 10 to 6, and a little later the State Library account posted a moody photo of the crowd gathering upstairs at the Mitchell Library, and we were away.

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Twitter was fairly tightlipped during the night – nothing about what anyone was wearing, no jokes, and little from acceptance speeches. Maybe that’s what happens when it’s a cocktail event rather than a dinner. However, here’s what I’ve got. Links are to either my blog posts about books or the State Library’s listings of the awards.

Just before 7 the State Librarian officially welcomed everyone. The Welcome to Country included didgeridoo, but no one tweeted the name of the welcomer(s). Ross Grayson Bell, senior judge (I guess that’s what used to be call Chair of the Judging Panel), spoke briefly, saying that the Awards reflected the diversity of Australian writing (and so foreshadowing a major theme of the evening). Wesley Enoch delivered what Twitter said was an inspiring Address: among other things he said that when you are feeling your lowest is when you should make more art, and spoke of ‘storytelling for a nation that is in want of a memory’ (Wesley Enoch is a Murri man).

In a welcome departure from recent practice the Premier Mike Baird himself presented the awards. He spoke of J D Salinger, and said that ‘stories remind us why we’re here, what we’ve forgotten, and help us to inhabit other worlds’, echoing Wesley Enoch’s words. Jennifer Byrne took over as MC and the announcements (what she called a ‘rollcall of excellence’) began.

Multicultural NSW Award ($20,000) went to Good Muslim Boy by Osamah Sami (Hardie Grant Books). He gave a ‘very funny and memorable’ acceptance speech. No details.

Indigenous Writer’s Prize (a new biennial award worth $30,000). Of the shortlisted books I’d read only Inside My Mother by Ali Cobby Eckermann (Giramondo). The prize was shared between Dark Emu  by Bruce Pascoe (Magabala Books) and Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven (University of Queensland Press), which must be wonderful books.

Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting ($30,000).  The Bleeding Tree, Angus Cerini (Currency Press in association with Griffin Theatre Company). I knew I should have subscribed to the Griffin.

Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting ($30,000). Of the shortlist, I’ve seen only Last Cab to Darwin, and though it had many good things about it, it would have surprised me if it won. The winner was the fourth episode of Deadline Gallipoli, ‘The Letter’, written by Cate Shortland (Matchbox Pictures) and screened on Foxtel, so bad luck for us non-subscribers.

The Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature ($30,000) went to Teacup, written by Rebecca Young & illustrated by Matt Ottley (Scholastic Australia). The Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature ($30,000) was won by Alice Pung’s Laurinda (Black Inc.).

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry ($30,000). Again, I’d only read one book, Joanne Burns’s brush (Giramondo). It won!

Of the shortlist for the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction ($40,000) I had once again just one book under my belt, Magda Szubanski’s wonderful Reckoning: A Memoir (Text Publishing). Once again, it won. I was doing well. Mike Baird held Magda’s phone for her so her mother and brother could hear her acceptance speech. Someone tweeted at this point that a number of award winners spoke of their family histories and ‘complex journeys to Australia as displaced persons’.

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing (a mere $5000) went to An Astronaut’s Life by Sonja Dechian (Text Publishing). Christina Stead Prize for Fiction ($40,000)went to Locust Girl, A Lovesong by Merlinda Bobis (Spinifex Press), a post-apocalyptic novel. One tweeter congratulated her for helping us ‘care across borders’. The People’s Choice Prize, which is restricted to the grown-up novels, went to The Life of Houses, Lisa Gorton (Giramondo).

The Special Award (for which, if money is involved, the amount is not easily discoverable) was given to Rosie Scott, described by Susan Wyndham on Twitter as ‘admired author, supporter of young writers, asylum seekers, refugees, many social causes’.

The book of the year (again, monetary value not easily discovered) went to Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe. Accepting his award, he said to the people in the room, ‘I want to hear your story, because I would be spellbound.’

Then the State Library account tweeted the hashtag #BestSpeechesEver. So those of us pressing our noses against the glass wall of Twitter know what we missed out on. It was all over bar the reading – oh, and the many pictures of underdressed young women that began appearing with the Awards hashtag during the night.

 

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2016 Shortlist

I love the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. As a country boy at heart, I’ve had the best time when I’ve attended the awards dinner, just gawking at the Writers, including the ones I can claim as friends or – once – a relation. This year’s short list was announced this week. You can see the full list with judges’ comments on a pdf press release from the State Library, and you can click through to notes on the list on the State Library’s website here.

In case you missed it in the press (as I did), here it is, not as a dreaded PDF or requiring you to click back and forth, but with added links to my blog posts on the shamefully few I’ve read (or seen).

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction ($40,000)
Ghost River, Tony Birch (University of Queensland Press)
Locust Girl, A Lovesong, Merlinda Bobis (Spinifex Press)
Clade, James Bradley (Penguin Random House)
The Life of Houses, Lisa Gorton (Giramondo)
A Guide to Berlin, Gail Jones (Penguin Random House)
The World Without Us, Mireille Juchau (Bloomsbury)

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing ($5,000)
Fever of Animals, Miles Allinson (Scribe Publications)
An Astronaut’s Life, Sonja Dechian (Text Publishing)
Relativity, Antonia Hayes (Penguin Random House)
In the Quiet, Eliza Henry-Jones (HarperCollins Publisher)
When There’s Nowhere Else to Run, Murray Middleton (Allen & Unwin)
Hot Little Hands, Abigail Ulman (Penguin Random House)

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction ($40,000)
The Nashos’ War: Australia’s National Servicemen and Vietnam, Mark Dapin (Penguin Random House)
One Life: My Mother’s Story, Kate Grenville (Text Publishing)
Across the Seas: Australia’s Response to Refugees: A History, Klaus Neumann (Black Inc.)
Reckoning: A Memoir, Magda Szubanski (Text Publishing)
Island Home, Tim Winton (Penguin Random House)
Small Acts of Disappearance, Fiona Wright (Giramondo)

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry ($30,000)
Brush, Joanne Burns (Giramondo)
Eelahroo (Long Ago) Nyah (Looking) Möbö-Möbö (Future), Lionel G. Fogarty (Vagabond Press)
The Hazards, Sarah Holland-Batt (University of Queensland Press)
Fainting with Freedom, Ouyang Yu (Five Islands Press)
Terra Bravura, Meredith Wattison (Puncher & Wattmann)
Not Fox Nor Axe, Chloe Wilson (Hunter Publishers

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature ($30,000)
Tea and Sugar Christmas, Jane Jolly & Robert Ingpen (National Library of Australia)
A Single Stone, Meg McKinlay (Walker Books Australia)
Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars, Martine Murray (Text Publishing)
The Greatest Gatsby: A Visual Book of Grammar, Tohby Riddle (Penguin Random House
Teacup, Rebecca Young & Matt Ottley (Scholastic Australia)
Flight, Nadia Wheatley & Armin Greder (Windy Hollow Books)

Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult’s Literature ($30,000)
Battlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo, Brian Falkner (Pan Macmillan)
Freedom Ride, Sue Lawson (Black Dog Books)
Laurinda, Alice Pung (Black Inc.)
Welcome to Orphancorp, Marlee Jane Ward (Seizure)
The Peony Lantern, Frances Watts (HarperCollins Publisher)
The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and his Ex, Gabrielle Williams (Allen & Unwin)

2016 Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting ($30,000)
Boys Will Be Boys, Melissa Bubnic (Sydney Theatre Company)
Broken, Mary Anne Butler (Currency Press)
The Bleeding Tree, Angus Cerini (Currency Press in association with Griffin Theatre Company)
Battle of Waterloo, Kylie Coolwell (Sydney Theatre Company)
Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday, Roslyn Oades (Malthouse Theatre)

Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting ($30,000)
Last Cab to Darwin, Reg Cribb & Jeremy Sims (Last Cab Productions)
Deadline Gallipoli, Episode 1, Jacquelin Perske (Matchbox Pictures)
The Secret River, Part 2, Jan Sardi & Mac Gudgeon (Ruby Entertainment)
Deadline Gallipoli, Episode 4: “The Letter”, Cate Shortland (Matchbox Pictures)
House of Hancock, Katherine Thomson (Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder)

Multicultural NSW Award ($20,000)
Shining: The Story of a Lucky Man, Abdi Aden & Robert Hillman (HarperCollins Publisher)
The Other Side of the World, Stephanie Bishop (Hachette Australia)
The Principal, Episode 1, Kristen Dunphy (Essential Media and Entertainment)
Good Muslim Boy, Osamah Sami (Hardie Grant Books)
We Are Here, Cat, Thao Nguyen (Allen & Unwin)
Vera: My Story, Vera Wasowski & Robert Hillman (Black Inc.)

Indigenous Writer’s Prize (New Award) ($30,000)
Ghost River, Tony Birch (University of Queensland Press)
Inside My Mother, Ali Cobby Eckermann (Giramondo)
Dirty Words, Natalie Harkin (Cordite Publishing Inc.)
Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe (Magabala Books)
Heat and Light, Ellen van Neerven (University of Queensland Press)
Not Just Black and White, Lesley Williams and Tammy Williams (University of Queensland Press)

The awards are announced on 16 May, no longer at a dinner but at an exclusive cocktail event, at the start of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. I’m hoping to have read a couple more by then. It’s a big list.

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards night, 2015

The New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards were presented last night at the State Library. At one stage I thought I might be able to go as a handbag, but it turned out handbags had to pay their own way, so you won’t see a pic of me in cocktail attire on Twitter. But speaking of Twitter, it’s now possible to participate in such events by proxy and non-simultaneously. Here’s my version of the evening.

The earliest interesting tweet was from someone worrying about the dress code. I could have told her not to worry. This is an event for writers, and though some of the pics that began to appear at hashtag  at about 6 o’clock were decidedly glam, there were plenty to put the worrier’s mind at ease.

Uncle Allan Madden did the welcome to Country, playwright Ross Mueller delivered the Address (in which, as well as saying some wise things about the arts he made an AFL joke or two and commented, amicably I hope, on recent events to do with literary awards in Queensland), Acting Premier and Arts Minister Troy Brampton spoke briefly, so did Richard Neville the Mitchell Librarian, and the show was on the road.

John George Ajaka, NSW Minister for Multiculturalism, announced the winner of the biennial Prize for Translation and the inaugural NSW Early Career Translator Prize. Brian Nelson won the former, and Lilit Zelukin the latter. Few if any other literary awards include prizes for translation, so these are a win for all translators.

Multicultural NSW Award. I saw Donna Abela’s Jump for Jordan at the Griffin Theatre Company last year with the wonderful Alice Ansara, and would have been happy to see it win. The winner, Black and Proud: The story of an AFL photo by Matthew Klugman and Gary Osmond, is a book I hope to read.

Of the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting shortlist I’d only seen Brothers Wreck by Jada Alberts, featuring Hunter Page-Lochard’s terrifying performance of a young man on the edge of self-destruction, at Belvoir. The smart money was on Tom Wright’s Black Diggers, about World War One’s Aboriginal soldiers. The smart money had it right.

The Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting was taken out by The Babadook by Jennifer Kent. I’m glad on two counts: it’s good to see a genre piece being gonged, and this film in particular has been much more honoured abroad than at home. Jennifer Kent’s acceptance remarks were recorded on Twitter as mentioning the joys of libraries.

The Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature was shared by Tamsin Janu’s Figgy in the World and Catherine Norton’s Crossing, both published by Scholastic Omnibus.

The Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult Literature went to The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty, who shared some letters from her readers..

(At about this point in the evening, the ABC Book Club’s Twitter account decided that the embargo was lifted and revealed the remaining winners. This would have been the moment to lay bets on David Williamson.)

The favourite for the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry was surely David Malouf’s  Earth Hour, which happens to be the only shortlisted book I’d read. It won. David was described on Twitter as ‘wonderful’, ‘amazing’ and an ‘Australian icon’. A text sent to me from the room described him as ‘ever gracious and lovely’.

How do people possibly choose among the range of books shortlisted for the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction? Intimate memoir, passionate court reporting, grand history, cultural essays: it’s a lot harder than apples vs oranges. However, choose the judges did, and gave the gong to Don Watson’s The Bush. In accepting the prize he said, no doubt with his usual gloomy demeanour: ‘You need encouragement when you’re young, but also when you’re old.’

The UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing: I’ve just finished reading Omar Musa’s Here Come the Dogs (blog post to come after the book group meets) and was backing it to win. The actual winner, An Elegant Young Man by Luke Carman, is a worthy recipient of whom I am a fan, though I expect the judges did some soul searching when they realised he was the only white man on the shortlist. Omar Musa congratulated Luke on Twitter within minutes.

The Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, generally regarded as the big prize of the night, went to The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw, who compared writing a novel to running a marathon.

The special award was given to David Williamson. The State Library’s tweeter described his work as laconic. Is that the sound of pedants writhing? Laconic or not, the tall man is giving his prize money to the Ensemble Theatre to ensure the production of new Australian work. [Later: My mistake. The tweet in question said iconic, not laconic. I’m not sure how DW is iconic, but that description fits him better than the other.]

The book of the year went to Don Watson for The Bush, who Twitter said was dumbstruck.

Voting for the People’s Choice Prize, which is restricted to the grown-up novels – so Helen Garner and Biff Ward aren’t in the running – closes at midnight on Thursday. The prize will be announced on Friday.

So there you have it. Congratulations all round. People in the room acknowledged the Auslan signers. I acknowledge the tweeters. It was almost like being there.

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Shortlist announced

A bit late for anyone who wants to read the whole short list before the winners are announced next month, but the (very long) short list for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards has been announced. You can see the full list with judges’ comments on a pdf press release from the State Library.

Here’s most of it – all except the translator – with links to my blog posts on the few I’ve read, all of which have me nodding my head in agreement with the judges. (Maybe it will take grandchildren to bring me back up to date on children’s lit.)

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
Only the Animals, Ceridwen Dovey (Penguin Australia)
In Certain Circles, Elizabeth Harrower (Text Publishing)
Golden Boys, Sonya Hartnett (Penguin Australia)
The Snow Kimono, Mark Henshaw (Text Publishing)
The Golden Age, Joan London (Random House Australia)
A Million Windows, Gerald Murnane (Giramondo Publishing)

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing
The Tribe, Michael Mohammed Ahmad (Giramondo Publishing)
Foreign Soil, Maxine Beneba Clarke (Hachette Australia)
The Strays, Emily Bitto (Affirm Press)
An Elegant Young Man, Luke Carman (Giramondo Publishing)
Here Come the Dogs, Omar Musa (Penguin Australia)
Heat and Light, Ellen van Neerven (University of Queensland Press)

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non‐fiction
The Europeans in Australia, Alan Atkinson (NewSouth)
Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power 1799‐1815, Philip Dwyer (Bloomsbury)
This House of Grief, Helen Garner (Text Publishing)
The Reef: A Passionate History, Iain McCalman (Penguin Books Australia)
In My Mother’s Hands, Biff Ward (Allen & Unwin)
The Bush, Don Watson (Penguin Books Australia)

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry
A Vicious Example, Michael Aiken (Grand Parade)
Devadetta’s Poems, Judith Beveridge (Giramondo)
Kin, Anne Elvey (Five Islands Press)
Wild, Libby Hart (Pitt Street Poetry)
Unbelievers, or The Moor, John Mateer (Giramondo)
Earth Hour, David Malouf (University of Queensland Press)

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature
The First Voyage, Allan Baillie (Puffin Books)
Rivertime, Trace Balla (Allen & Unwin)
Figgy in the World, Tamsin Janu (Omnibus/Scholastic Australia)
The Duck and the Darklings, Glenda Millard & Stephen Michael King (Allen & Unwin)
Crossing, Catherine Norton (Omnibus/Scholastic Australia)
The Adventures of Sir Roderick the Not‐Very Brave, James O’Loghlin (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult’s Literature
Book of Days, K.A. Barker (Pan Macmillan Australian)
The Road to Gundagai, Jackie French (HarperCollins Publishers)
Are You Seeing Me? Darren Groth (Random House Australia)
Razorhurst, Justine Larbalestier (Allen & Unwin)
The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Cracked, Clare Strahan (Allen & Unwin)

Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting
The Code Episode 1, Shelley Birse (Playmaker Media)
Upper Middle Bogan Season 1, Episode 8: The Nationals, Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope (Gristmill)
The Babadook, Jennifer Kent (Causeway)
Fell, Natasha Pincus Story by Kasimir Burgess and Natasha Pincus. (Felix Media)
Please Like Me Season 2, Episode 7: Scroggin, Josh Thomas
Once My Mother, Sophia Turkiewicz (Change Focus Media)

Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting
Brothers Wreck, Jada Alberts (Currency Press)
The Sublime, Brendan Cowell (Melbourne Theatre Company)
Jasper Jones, Kate Mulvany (adapted from a novel by Craig Silvey) (Barking Gecko Theatre Company)
The Trouble with Harry, Lachlan Philpott (TheatreofplucK Belfast/MKA New Writing Theatre)
Kryptonite, Sue Smith (The Sydney Theatre Company)
Black Diggers, Tom Wright (Queensland Theatre Company)

Community Relations Commission for Multicultural NSW
Jump for Jordan, Donna Abela (Griffin Theatre Company)
Black and Proud: The story of an AFL photo, Matthew Klugman and Gary Osmond (NewSouth Publishing)
Refugees, Jane McAdam and Fiona Chong (UNSW Press)
I, Migrant: A Comedian’s Journey from Karachi to the Outback, Sami Shah (Allen & Unwin)
The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama, Julie Szego (Wild Dingo Press)
Once My Mother, Sophia Turkiewicz (Change Focus Media)

Congratulations and good luck to all of them, and may the judges’ eyes and brains enjoy a rest.

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards night

Last year I didn’t attend the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards Dinner because it cost too much. Tonight’s presentation was a lot cheaper, being not a dinner but a cocktail event. But for the first time in many years I had read almost none of the short-listed books, so decided it didn’t make sense to attend.

However, I’m loath to let the occasion go completely unremarked in this blog, so here I am, reporting from afar.

For a moment it looked as if the event itself was superfluous. This tweet appeared almost two hours before the doors of the Library opened:

Was it a hoax, or a leak? The link was dead. I stayed tuned to Twitter. Once Ross Grayson Bell had delivered the address and a couple of tweeters had found each other, the announcements came thick and fast.

Hakan Harman announced the joint winners of the Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural NSW Award as The Secret River, Andrew Bovell’s play based on Kate Grenville’s book, and Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser. I’ve wanted to see/read both.

Of the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting shortlist I’d only seen Medea, Anne-Louise Sarks and Kate Mulvany, but didn’t expect it to win, though glad it was shortlisted. Van Badham’s Muff won. I haven’t seen it, but if the play is as good as her MCing of the March in May in Belmore Park yesterday it definitely deserves the prize.

I’d seen four of the six shows on the Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting list. My money was on Kim Mordaunt’s The Rocket, though it would have been nice to see A Moody Christmas score a victory for comic writing. Devil’s Dust by Kris Mrksa won, completely appropriate for a prize named after old Com Betty Roland.

The Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature list included some familiar names. It was won by The Girl Who Brought Mischief by Katrina Nannestad, which I haven’t read.

The Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature went to Zac and Mia by Amanda Betts.

The Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry went to Novelties by Fiona Hile, who will be reading at Sydney University on Wednesday.

None of the subjects addressed in the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction list grabbed me by the throat: a 50 year old mystery death, a larrikin cricketer, an actor’s memoir, a ‘horrible history’ for grown-ups, a bit of war history, and – the one I would have chosen on the basis of the subject alone – the excavation of a dark family past. So I was glad when Boy, Lost: A Family Memoir by Kristina Olsson shared the award with Rendezvous with Destiny (the one about war and diplomacy) by Michael Fullilove.

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing: Though I’d read none of the listed books, I had extra-literary reasons to cheer for one of them. It didn’t win. The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane took home the bacon. I look forward to reading it, as well as the other.

The pre-emptive tweet had taken much of the suspense out of the next couple of awards (whatever wins the novel prize is generally reported as having scooped the pool, even if it’s not book of the year).

Michelle de Kretser’s Questions of Travel, which has been beckoning from my bedroom bookshelf for months, won the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, but not the People’s Choice, which went to The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay. It did win Book of the Year, so Michelle de Kretser took home three prizes. It couldn’t happen to a nicer person.

The special award went to Rodney Hall. I love this award, because every year someone who has worked long and hard and generously in literature is honoured. This one continues that tradition. According to the tweeters he gave a rousing and topical speech in defence of funding for the arts.

And in less than two hours it was all over till next year.

NSWPLA Dinner: I wasn’t there

Just in case anyone was wondering after my post deliberating whether to shell out $150 for the pleasure of attending and blogging the presentation dinner for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards: I didn’t shell out.

I thought I might storify the event from afar, and went so far as to register on the storify site and explore how to do it. But apart from a couple of images of the fabulously lit-up Mitchell Library reading room, and the relaying of this solitary comment by a winner

the tweeters confined themselves pretty much to telling us who won what. I couldn’t even tell if David Ireland, recipient of the special award, was there.*

Today’s newspapers didn’t give us much colour and movement either. The Sydney Morning Herald printed an abridged and edited version of Kathryn Heyman’s address, and a piece by Susan Wyndham listing the winners, with some detail about the Book of the Year, Ali Cobby Eckermann’s Ruby Moonlight. (That’s the only one of the prize-winners I’ve read. It’s a brilliant book.) Stephen Romei in the Australian focused on David Ireland, who it turns out wasn’t there, but wrote a ‘typically idiosyncratic acceptance speech’ which was read out by his agent.

Did George Souris keep up tradition by mispronouncing at least one person’s name? Did any prize-winner except Tim Soutphommasane say anything memorable? What was idiosyncratic about David Ireland’s speech? Was the food OK? Did everyone behave themselves? We may never know.

* But if you’re interested, the State Library of NSW did storify the event, here.

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2013

The 2012 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Dinner  seems like just last week, yet it was actually last week that this year’s short list was announced. The list is up on the web site of the State Library, which now administers the awards.

I’ve read one of the novels with my book group (less than enthusiastic blog post here) and liked the look of another one so much I gave it to someone twice – for Christmas and then for her birthday. I haven’t read any of the non-fiction, though I have bought a copy of one. I’ve read one of the poetry books (here) and enjoyed being read to by a number of the other listed poets. Regretfully I’ve read only one of the books for children or young people (which I loved, here). I’ve seen a production of one of the playscripts (here) and one of the TV scripts (here). I haven’t read any of the ‘multicultural’ titles.

Today I received an email invitation to the Awards Dinner. Should I buy a ticket? It costs as much as about 15 nights at the movies or two cheap seats at the Opera – nearly half as much as one of the flash seats for Carmen on the Harbour. Last year I had a horse in the race, if a book by a niece counts as a horse, and the cost was immaterial. This year …?

Favel Parrett’s Past the Shallows

Favel Parrett, Past the Shallows (Hachette Australia 2011)

1psI had three compelling reasons for fast-tracking Past the Shallows to the top of my TBR pile. Favel Parrett is a friend of my novelist niece, Edwina Shaw, and Edwina gave me the book as a Christmas present (‘Read it and weep,’ she said). I met Favel at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards dinner last year, for this book was shortlisted, and was charmed. And I’ve recently signed up with the Australian Women Writers Challenge to read a certain quota of AWWs in 2013. And there was an additional softener: it’s short.

awwbadge_2013 The book tells the story of three brothers and their father, who makes a marginal living as a dubiously legal abalone fisherman in southern Tasmania. The action unfolds in the long shadow cast by the death of the boys’ mother in a car accident some years earlier, and is seen in alternating chapters through the eyes of the two younger brothers, Miles and Harry. It’s Tim Winton territory: brothers growing up with the splendour and terror of the sea, in a family racked by emotional turmoil. Maybe I shouldn’t put the mockers on a young writer by saying so out loud, but I found the people and the world of this novel more convincing, more demanding of my compassion, than I ever have Winton’s; and the writing is more direct, draws attention to itself less, and allows for broader sympathies. The father is violent, irrational and dangerous, but neither the boys nor we lose sight of the grinding forces and bitter blows that have made him that way. The ocean is a place of pleasure and exhilarating challenge – Miles goes surfing with the eldest brother, Joe, while Harry hunts for treasures in the tidewrack. But it’s also the site of hardship, as in Miles’s exhausting work on his father’s abalone boat, and terror, especially in a climactic storm scene. You could probably read the book as a meditation on the ocean, with the human story there just to keep us reading: Favel Parrett writes about surfing, seamanship and heavy seas with a kind restrained precision that manages to suggest, and – very occasionally – explicitly invoke something like awe.

I haven’t mentioned the boys’ ages. It’s a measure of the book’s fineness that we’re not told how old they are until maybe halfway into the story. Instead, we’re left to work it out for ourselves from their preoccupations, their different strategies or dealing with the poverty and neglect, and their different degrees of vulnerability and protectiveness, innocence and savvy, openness and quiet desperation.

Terrible things happen in this story, and there are a number of revelations about terrible things in the past, but for me the book’s emotional power doesn’t lie there so much as in the brothers’ mutual tenderness, and even then not so much in the big moments – which are operatic in scale, but not overblown in the telling – as in tiny, poignant gestures.

My copy has half a dozen stickers on the cover boasting of prizes and shortlistings. I concur with all those judging panels. It also has pages of notes up the back for book groups. I didn’t read them: does anyone really want to have a questionnaire waiting for them when they emerge back into the shallows from deeps like this?

NSWPLA and NSWPHA Dinner

I didn’t expect to attend a NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Dinner this year. For a while back there it looked as if the awards might go the way of the Queensland equivalent, but the Liberal Party-approved panel’s unpublished report must have come down in favour of continuation, because here they were again last night, six months late, run by the State Library rather than the Arts NSW, charging $200 [but see Judith Ridge’s comment] for a book to be considered, and sharing the evening with the History Awards, but alive and kicking. And pretty special for me, because I got to go as my niece’s date, my niece being Edwina Shaw, whose novel Thrill Seekers was shortlisted for the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing.

The dinner was held in the magnificent reading room of the Mitchell Library. Not everyone approved of the venue – I was in the Research Library in the morning when a woman complained very loudly that she had driven the four hours from Ulladulla only to find the Mitchell’s doors were closed for the day so it could be converted into a banquet hall. She must have been placated somehow because she stopped yelling, but there were other problems. None of the shortlisted books were on sale – Gleebooks had a table at this event for years [but see Judith Ridge’s comment], as the Library has its own shop, which wasn’t about to stay open late just for us. And library acoustics aren’t designed for such carryings-on: the reverberation in the vast, high-ceilinged room made a lot of what was said at the mike unintelligible at the back of the room. But those are quibbles. It’s a great room with happy memories for a good proportion of the guests.

Aunty Norma Ingram welcomed us to country, inviting us all to become custodians of the land.

Peter Berner was the MC. He did OK, but organisers please note: the MC of an event like this needs to be literate enough to pronounce Christina Stead’s surname correctly.

The Premier didn’t show up. Perhaps he was put off by the chance of unpleasantness in response to his current attack on arts education. The awards were presented by a trio of Ministers, one of whom read out a message from the Premier saying, among other things, that art in all its forms is essential to our society’s wellbeing. But this was a night for celebrating the bits that aren’t under threat, not for rudely calling on people to put their money where their mouths are.

The Special Award, sometimes known as the kiss of death because of the fate met by many of its recipients soon after the award, went to Clive James – whose elegant acceptance speech read to us by Stephen Romei necessarily referred to his possibly imminent death. He spoke of his affection for New South Wales, of his young sense that Kogarah was the Paris of South Sydney, and his regret that he is very unlikely ever to visit here again. He also said some modest things about what he hoped he had contributed.

After a starter of oyster, scampi tail and ocean trout, the history awards:

NSW Community and Regional History Award: Deborah Beck, Set in Stone: A History of the Cellblock Theatre
The writer told us that the book started life as a Master’s thesis, and paid brief homage to the hundreds of women who were incarcerated in early colonial times in the Cellblock Theatre, now part of the National Art School.

Multimedia History Prize: Catherine Freyne and Phillip Ulman,  Tit for Tat: The Story of Sandra Willson
This was an ABC Radio National Hindsight program about a woman who killed her abusive husband and received  lot of media – and wall art – attention some decades back. Phillip Ulman stood silently beside Catherine Freyne, who urged those of us who enjoyed programs like Hindsight to write objecting to the recent cuts.

Young People’s History Prize: Stephanie Owen Reeder, Amazing Grace: An Adventure at Sea
This book won against much publicised Ahn Do on being a refugee (The Little Refugee) and much revered Nadia Wheatley on more than a hundred Indigenous childhoods (Playground). It not only tells the story of young Grace Bussell’s heroic rescue of shipwreck survivors but, according to the evening’s program, it introduces young readers to the ‘basic precepts of historical scholarship’. It also looks like fun.

General History Prize: Tim Bonyhady, Good Living Street: The Fortunes of My Viennese Family
A member my book group rhapsodised about this book recently, comparing it favourably to The Hare with Amber Eyes. It’s a family history, and in accepting the award Bonyhady told us it had been a big week for his family because the lives of his two young relatives with disabilities would be greatly improved by the National Disability Insurance Scheme introduced by the Gillard government.

Australian History Prize: Russell McGregor, Indifferent Inclusion: Aboriginal People and the Australian Nation
This looks like another one for the To Be Read pile. Russell McGregor acknowledged Henry Reynolds and Tim Rowse as mentors.

After a break for the entrée, a creation in watermelon, bocconcini and tapenade, it was on to the literary awards:

The Community Relations Commission Award: Tim Bonyhady was called to the podium again for Good Living Street, but he’d given his speech, and just thanked everyone, looking slightly stunned.

The newly named Nick Enright Prize for Drama was shared between Vanessa Bates for Porn.Cake. and Joanna Murray-Smith for The Gift. Perhaps this made up to some extent for the prize not having been given two years ago.
Joanna Murray-Smith said she learned her sense of structure from the Henry Lawson stories her father read to her at bedtime. As her father was Stephen Murray-Smith, founding editor of Overland, she thereby managed to accept the government’s money while politely distancing herself from its politics. She lamented that her play hadn’t been seen in Sydney and struck an odd note by suggesting that the Mitchell Library and a similarly impressive building in Melbourne may have been the beginning of the Sydney–Melbourne rivalry: I wonder if any Sydney writers accepting awards in Melbourne feel similarly compelled to compete. Vanessa Bates couldn’t be here, so her husband accepted her award, with his smart phone videoing everything, perhaps sending it all to her live.

The also newly named Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting (and I pause to applaud this conservative government for honouring an old Communist in this way): Peter Duncan, Rake (Episode 1): R v Murray
Peter Duncan gets my Speech of the Night Award. He began by telling the junior minister who gave him the award that he was disappointed not to be receiving it from Barry O’Farrell himself, because he had wanted to congratulate Barry on the way his haircut had improved since winning the election. At that point we all became aware that Peter Duncan’s haircut bears a strong resemblance to the Premier’s as it once was. He then moved on to congratulate the Premier for instituting a careful reassessment of the Literary Awards and deciding to persevere with them. He expressed his deep appreciation of this support for the arts. (No one shouted anything about TAFE art education from the floor. See note above about this being an evening to celebrate the bits that aren’t under threat.)

The Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature: Kate Constable, Crow Country (Allen & Unwin)
I hadn’t read anything on this shortlist, I’m embarrassed to confess. It looks like a good book, a time-slip exploration of Australian history.

The Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature: Penni Russon, Only Ever Always (Allen & Unwin)
Again, I hadn’t read any of the shortlist. But Bill Condon and Ursula Dubosarsky were on it, so this must be pretty good! Penni Russon’s brief speech referred to the famous esprit de corps of Young Adult writers: ‘You guys are my people.’

There was break for the main course to be served, and for about half the audience go wander and schmooze. I had the duck, the two vegetarians on our table were served a very fancy looking construction, only a little late. Then onward ever onward.

The Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry: Gig Ryan, New and Selected Poems
Again, I hadn’t read any of the shortlisted books, but wasn’t surprised that Gig Ryan won, as this is something of a retrospective collection. She speaks rapidly and her speech was completely unintelligible from where I was  sitting (like some of her poetry). However, someone tweeted a comment that got laughs from the front of the room:
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The Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction: Mark McKenna, An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark
Another lefty takes the government’s money, and a good thing too.

The UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing: Rohan Wilson, The Roving Party (Allen & Unwin)
I know nothing about this book. Rohan Wilson is in Japan just now. His agent told us that when she asked him for an acceptance speech ‘just in case’, he emailed back, ‘No way I’ll win – look at the calibre of the others.’ The three writers on my table who were in competition with him seemed to think it was a fine that it had won:

Favel Parrett and Edwina Shaw respond to not winning the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing

Favel Parrett and Edwina Shaw respond to not winning the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing

The Christina Stead Prize for Fiction was almost an anti-climax. It went to Kim Scott for That Deadman Dance. We had a small bet going on my table, and I won hundred of cents. Kim Scott’s agent accepted on his behalf.

There was dessert, layered chocolate and coffee cake, then:

The People’s Choice Award, for which voting finished the night before, went to Gail Jones for Five Bells. She was astonished, genuinely I think, and touched that her book about Sydney as an outsider should be acknowledged like this. I haven’t read the book yet, but I’m also a bit astonished, because what I have read of her prose is not an easy read.

Book of the Year: Kim Scott, That Deadman Dance. No surprise there!

No surprise, either, that the award to Clive James overshadowed all the others in the newspaper reports.

I believe that the judging panel for next years literary awards has had its first meeting. The dinner will move back to the Monday of the week of the Writers’ Festival, where it belongs.

Added later: Edwina has blogged about the evening.