So, folks, it’s been a long time between drinks. I just realised that I haven’t posted anything on this blog since last June. LAST JUNE! Seems like a different world, a different me.
I’ve popped online to share some wonderful news, but I promise I’ll also get on top of this much-neglected site and start posting more regularly. Again. Or something.
So, about a month ago, the Norma K Hemming Award shortlists were announced. The Hemming, which I won in 2014 for Rupetta, was established in 2010. The award aims to recognise and reward works that ‘excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class or disability in a speculative fiction work’. These are aims close to my heart, so it was a huge honour to find that Winter’s Tale had been shortlisted for the short works category.
Oh! An update! Winter’s Tale is a children’s novel, illustrated by Shauna O’Meara and published by Twelfth Planet Press in 2019. The story is about Winter, a young person who has been in the foster system all of their life—ever since they were a blue baby found in a fruit box—but never found a family that quite fit. The story follows Winter as they meet a new family who lives in a strange and magical city. The work is beautifully illustrated by Shauna O’Meara, with images that are as strange and thrilling as they are magical. Shauna has effortlessly captured the queerness of Winter, and of the world they inhabit, where the streets and buildings rearrange themselves every night and the Blue Hare haunts Winter’s waking dreams of belonging.
Winter is a queer character, and [spoiler alert] so are their new parents, Bo and Fox <3.
For queer people, especially queer youth, and their families and friends, and those others who would use their words and power to hurt them, these stories are significant and important and necessary.
Context: why queer stories matter
In November 2016, it finally—finally—became legal in Queensland for same-sex couples to adopt a child.
A 2005 paper published by the Australia Institute reported that 35% of Australians believe that queerness—in this case, homosexuality—is immoral. In rural Queensland, where I live, and where Winter’s Tale—if you squint—might be set, the rate of reported queerphobia is over 50%. In my voting electorate, 50.7% of people voted against marriage equality. During the debate, I received hate mail both at home, and at my place of work (by email and in my inbox). Mail that equated queerness with pedophilia and other criminal activities. This widespread and largely unchallenged homophobia/queerphobia is no doubt a contributing factor in the high rates of suicide among queer youth, especially those living in rural and regional areas of Australia, who are six times more likely than straight youth to commit suicide. 85% of queer youth, according to one recent survey, had experienced violence or harassment in the previous year. 85%.
Queer youth are six times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual, cisgender peers.
And in 2020, to add insult to injury, a writer we once thought was maybe—just maybe—an ally, then suspected wasn’t quite as woke as she had previously seemed, revealed that she’s a transphobic fool. Frightened of sharing a bathroom, or a gender, with some of the most vulnerable members of our queer community.
A queer could weep. Has wept.
These are sobering facts and figures, and point to the widespread and largely unaddressed prevalence and very real dangers of queerphobia throughout Australia and the world.
A story like Winter’s Tale cannot rescue queer youth on its own—no work of art can do that—but it can contribute to the ongoing efforts of legislators, social justice workers, artists, teachers, community workers and families to nourish and protect our queer youth.
The Hemming short works shortlist
The various amazing works on the Norma K Hemming shortlist for short works (in alphabetical order by author surname are:
JS Breukelaar’s ‘Like Ripples on Blank Shore’, is the novella at the heart of her collection Collision: Stories (Meerkat Press). Which … well, for starters, how can you not be intrigued by a story whose title is a line from Radiohead’s ‘Reckoner’? You cannot! In a great interview, Breukelaar says that ‘the inspiration [of a song/music] is at a deep, subconscious level—at least for me less inspiration than oxygen’. ‘Like Ripples on a Blank Shore’ is an amazing short story from a superb collection. Go. Buy it now.
Grace Chan’s ‘The Mark’ is from Verge 2019: Uncanny, published by Monash University Press. This story was also nominated for the 2019 Aurealis Awards Best Horror Short Story. Over on her blog, Grace shares that the story ‘is a psychological horror story inspired by the Capgras delusion. It explores themes of womanhood, powerlessness and madness. It’s also a little ode to such works as The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace.’ It’s an amazingly astute and thrilling story, beautifully executed. You can find a copy online here.
Shauna O’Meara’s ‘Scapes Made Diamonds’ was published in Issue 280 of Interzone. And it’s a totally AWESOME and DEVASTATING story, which may have made me cry. Shauna drew on her experiences as a vet to create the deeply felt and empathetic exploration of human-other relations in this story. Love, sacrifice, queerness, aliens. What more could you possibly want? You can find the whole amazing issue online here.
Angela Slatter’s ‘The Promise of Saints’ from A Miscellany of Death and Folly (ed. Mark Beach, Egaeus Press) is luminous tale, spined by Angela’s vital and always engaging style, and marked, too, by her striking aesthetic, which so often combines powerful but dark femininity, the haunted and the haunting, and the threat and pleasures of violence. One of Slatter’s many works of marvellous strange distinction. Get yourself a lavishly beautiful copy here.
Marlee Jane Ward’s ‘Rats’ from Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOZYA Stories (Walker Books). This is the first story in the collection, and it’s a really strongly imagined and emotionally appealing story about a queer homeless protagonist who lives underground–one of the Rats–but falls for a surface dweller. It’s much more than just a romance, however; things get complicated when her friends and family are caught and placed in captivity. Want to know more? You’ll have to read the book!
The 2020 Hemming Award winner
So, by now you have a goodly pile of to-reads in your pile. May I add one more?
The final work on the shortlist, and this year’s winner of the short works category, is Shauna and my book, Winter’s Tale (Twelfth Planet Press). So, you know …
You can buy a copy directly from Twelfth Planet Press for yourself, another for your queerest child-friend, and another for your sister and your brother and your mother and your pop. That would be super nice!
Congratulations Nike and thanks for sharing this brilliant list. I've only read 'Rats' (which I loved), so I'm excited to have more!
Thank you, Angela! It is an amazing shortlist, with a real diversity of stories! I loved 'Rats', too. Marlee Jane Ward is amazing! If you haven't already, you should also check out the long works shortlist and joint winners; I'm aiming to do a follow-up post on those when I finish reading. Lisa Fuller's Ghost Bird is mind-blowingly good; it won the David Unaipon Award when it was in manuscript form in 2017, was shortlisted for a CBCA, and just recently also won the 2020 Young Adult Book Prize (QLA Awards), so ... winning all the awards (and rightly so). (I haven't yet read the other winner, which is Elizabeth Bryer's From Here On, Monsters, but the title alone is fantastic).