For the past several years, I have had the honour of being one of the judges of Emerging Author Category of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. Judging this award is always exciting and challenging, calling on each of us to reconsider – each year – what it is the award should be looking for in a manuscript and its author. This year, we’ve decided on three manuscripts for the shortlist, each of which is markedly different.
The shortlisted authors are:
- Matthew Lamb for Down to the River (a formally experimental novel about a man who returns to the rural Australian town of his childhood)
- Nikki McWatters for The Desert of Paradise (a memoir: the tale of a young rock-band groupie in Australia during the 1980s)
- Noel Mengel for RPM (a novel about a young man coming of age in rural QLD for whom music is both a comfort and a dream of escape)
Of course, the Emerging Author panel – although I think it’s definitely one of the most important awards – is only one among a suite of categories. You can view the whole list at the QPLA website here. Some highlights – personal and readerly – include the shortlisting of writers like Krissy Kneen for her memoir, Affection, Mark Tredinnick for The Blue Plateau, and Mary-Rose MacColl for The Birth Wars, all in the non-fiction category (Mary Rose’s book is also shortlisted in the ‘Advancing Public Debate’ category). It’s AWFUL when two or more people you adore and admire are up against each other – I can’t look!
Steven Lang has been shortlisted in a field made up of some of the strongest of Australia’s male writers, for his novel 88 Lines About 44 Women. It seems highly unlikely he’ll beat out Coetzee, Carey, Miller and Castro for the gong, but it’s an impressive field to be listed with and a wonderful recognition of Lang’s second novel. Although each of the novels on the shortlist is arguably a deserving piece of work, I’m once again bemused that no fiction by female authors was considered of equal merit. Of course, I wouldn’t want to see a work included just because it was by a woman, but it seems to me that far too often literary awards are (still) dominated by male authors. Can men really be (on average/on the whole) better writers than women, or is ‘our’ definition of good writing – writing of literary merit – still subtly but insidiously informed by outdated masculinist notions of literature?
Richard Yaxley gets a shortlisting for his (self-published!) young adult fiction, Drink the Air, as do the power duo of Justine Larbalestier (Liar) and Scott Westerfeld (Leviathan). A really exciting YA shortlist: I don’t envy the judges who had to weigh up the relative merits of these wonderful novels.
I’m also delighted to see Peter Boyle’s book of poetry, Apocrypha, on the shortlist alongside Jennifer Maiden (Pirate Rain), Les Murray (Taller When Prone) and Maria Takolander (Ghostly Subjects). Boyle’s collection is a surprising and inventive book, something akin to Calvino’s Invisible Cities in its playful reimagining of the cities and citizens of the past. I’ve just been reading Apocrypha, and will no doubt have more to say on it soon, but in the meantime here’s one of his earlier poems, from the simply magnificent book of poems Museum of Space. This poem (‘Of Poetry’) is one of Boyle’s ars poetica – a wonderful tradition in which poets reflect on the art of poetry. Early examples from Horace and Aristotle are part of a long-lived tradition of both critical and playful attempts to describe the poet’s craft. Boyle’s is at once typical of the form, and a fresh vision. I particularly love the imagery of the 2nd and 3rd lines, which both suggests a poem with two hands, and a poem as open-handed.
Great poems are often extraordinarily simple.
They carry their openness
with both hands.
If there is a metaphor lounging in a doorway
they step briskly past.
The boom of generals
and presidents with their rhetoric manuals
will go on sowing the wind.
The great poems are distrustful of speech.
like someone very old
who has only a few hours left of human time,
they gaze into the faces around them –
one by one
they kiss love into our mouths.