2013 AWW Challenge: Poetry and Short Stories

liquid-nitrogenJennifer Maiden’s win of the overall prize for the Victorian Premier’s Prize for her poetry collection Liquid Nitrogen is a boon for Australia’s women poets.  As Paula notes in her roundup of these awards, author Magdalena Ball reviewed this collection, contemplating its themes of waking and politics, and its technique of layering:

Though Maiden’s poetic description of the Carina Nebula alone is worth the price of the book, this building up of smaller things into something larger, powerful, and transformative, is exactly what Liquid Nitrogen does, taking the many cultural, political and literary characters and references, in order to create a complex theory of everything, woven together on a Maiden’s “spinning jenny.” 

Like-a-house-on-fire-kennedyShort stories also garnered recognition in the prize stakes.  Cate Kennedy’s Like a House on Fire was shortlisted for the 2013 Stella Prize and won the 2013 Steele Rudd award for short story collections offered by the Queensland Literary Awards.  It was reviewed by 6 readers for the AWW challenge – If Not, Read, Kathy, Janine, Denise, myself and Belinda – making it our our most-reviewed collection of stories.

This shows that, although winning brings literary recognition, readers are most the most important prize of all.  Happily, there were 33 reviews of poetry collections last year, eclipsing 2012’s count of 7 reviews, and 89 reviews of short stories or short story collections, up from 76 last year – an amazing effort!  Below are some highlights from the year.


Elizabeth Hodgson, Skin paintingPhillip Ellis and Jonathon Shaw blitzed the reviews, with 10 and 8 penned respectively.  Philip paid care and attention to collections by Indigenous authors, including Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s The Dawn is at Hand, Anita Heiss’ I’m Not Racist, But … and Elizabeth Hodgson’s Skin Painting.  The latter, winner of the 2007 David Unaipon award for Indigenous writers, has ‘a level of candour running throughout the whole’, perhaps because it is, as Philip explains, ‘nonfiction poetry, poetry arising out of and engaging with the poet’s lived experience of the world and her life’.

domestic-archaeology-pilgrim-byrneLesbian relationships featured in Limen, reviewed by Sue of Whispering Gums, and Marilyn of Me, You and Books, while Phillip Ellis reviewed Domestic Archaeology, about poet Kelly Pilgrim-Byrne’s conception of a child with her partner.  Dorothy Porter’s lesbian thriller classic The Monkey’s Mask was reviewed by If Not, Read and WriteReaderly, who sums it up nicely: ‘The plotting is smart, the affair is sexy, Sydney is gritty and real, the poems are bitey and sharp – a damned fab book.’

Lilliey-realiaIn terms of other contemporary works, Jon Shaw penned an entertaining review of Kate Lilley’s Realia (in tandem with John Tranter’s Ten Sonnets) in which, piqued by Lilley’s poem “GG” on the sale of auctions from the estate of Greta Garbo, he consulted the list of said items on the web to check her source, and uncovered an image of a collection of irons.  ‘Some liberty taken as befits a poet,’ he concludes, ‘but an honest steal.’

What I enjoyed about Jon’s review is his articulation that poetry isn’t necessarily easy, as he writes, ‘Neither of these books appealed to me much on first contact, but when I came to write about them, even so spottily, I warmed to them both.’  Even if a poem seems difficult on a first reading, persistence with it pays off.  The poem opens up as you get to know it, and might even become a friend.  I look forward to reading your reviews on making the acquaintance of works by Australia’s women poets over 2014.

If you’d like to read the reviews in full, and also look at others that I haven’t had space to mention here, you had head to our Weebly pages:

January – June 2013

July — December 2013


Short Stories

When I look at the pages for our short story reviews, I’m always blown out of the water by the diversity of genres.  They cover speculative fiction, classics and literature, nonfiction, romance, contemporary fiction and historical fiction.  I’ve penned a snapshot of reviews from these genres below.

Caution contains small parts mcdermottReaders of spec fic/fantasy/horror/sci fi were our biggest contributors, with 34 reviews.  As Tsana mentions in her wrap-up of speculative fiction, Margo Lanagan’s collections Cracklescape (reviewed by Mel and Dave) and Yellow Cake (reviewed by Heidi, in her admirably titled Salute Your Shorts feature) were popular with readers, as was Kirstyn McDermott’s Caution: Contains Small Parts (reviewed by Stephanie, Mark and Narelle), while Thoraiya Dyer’s Asymmetry proved the most popular work after Kennedy’s Like a House on Fire, with 4 reviews (from Tsana, Alexandra, Mark and Dave).

letters-george-clooney-adelaideIn contemporary fiction, which includes literary fiction, there were 28 reviews.  It’s hard to go past the title of Debra Adelaide’s Letter to George Clooney, reviewed by Kylie in the Newtown Review of Books.  Although she found it an engaging read, she was disappointed that some of the stories were so similar, especially as ‘one of the attractions of the short story to both writers and readers is the opportunities the form allows for experimentation with structure, voice and narrative’.

great unknown meyerAngela Myer, editor of The Great Unknown, pulled together a selection of stories from some of Australia’s finest writers to unsettle her readers.  Also reviewed by Kylie, it sounds like the book is a corker, with novelist Krissy Kneen opening the proceedings with ‘a genuinely spooky tale about a sleepwalking woman and her watchful husband’.

It was also good to see women of diverse heritage being reviewed, with WriteReaderly commenting on Merlinda Bobis’ White Turtle.  She found it ‘competent enough’, but wasn’t enamoured, and recommended that readers pick up Bobis’ Fish Hair Woman for a more satisfying read.

dear ruth parryRomance stories also featured strongly, with 22 works reviewed.  Many of these were single stories, such as Bronwyn Parry’s ‘Dear Ruth’ (reviewed by Brenda, one of our prolific reviewers, and Jess) and Robin Thomas’ ‘Bonjour Cherie’ (reviewed by Lauren).

There were also two reviews of classics by Sue of Whispering Gums, who pays detailed attention to the use of language and its unsettling effects in Barbara Baynton’s ‘Scrammy ‘and’ and ‘A Dreamer’.  Historical fiction featured twice, in ‘The Convict’s Bounty Bride‘ and ‘The Last Gladiatrix‘, both reviewed by Lauren.  Finally, there was one book of nonfiction, Bush Nurses, reviewed by Marcia.

In all, it seems like reading short stories are an excellent way to sample the diversity of talent in Australia’s women writers.  If you’re pressed for time (as so many of us are!), reading stories is a great way to participate in the AWW Challenge in 2014.

As with poetry, if you’d like to see these reviews in their entirety, please head to the Weebly pages listed below.

January – June 2013
July — December 2013


About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a writer and researcher.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012). My short stories and poetry have been published in OverlandSoutherlyIsland and the Review of Australian Fiction.  You can find more information about these at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

Queensland Literary Award Winners 2013 Announced

Congratulations to all the winners of the 2013 Queensland Literary Awards which were announced last night. Congratulations also to all shortlisted authors.

Here are the category winners:

Fiction book award

Mullumbimby (Melissa Lucashenko, UQP)


Nonfiction book award

Boy, Lost (Kristina Olsson, UQP)


History book award

The Flash of Recognition (Jane Lydon, NewSouth)


Judith Wright Calanthe Award for a poetry collection

Jam Tree Gully (John Kinsella, W W Norton)


Steele Rudd Award for an Australian short story collection

Like a House on Fire (Cate Kennedy, Scribe)


Young adult book award

A Corner of White (Jaclyn Moriarty, Macmillan)


Children’s book award

Don’t Let a Spoonbill in the Kitchen! (Narelle Oliver, Scholastic)







Emerging Queensland author manuscript award

Gap (Rebecca Jessen)

David Unaipon Award for an unpublished Indigenous writer

Heat and Light (Ellen Van Neervan)

Courier-Mail Queensland Book of the Year People’s Choice Award

The Secret Keeper (Kate Morton (A&U)


You can read more about the shortlisted titles here and judges’ comments are here.

AWW reviews of shortlisted/winning titles can be found here and as always, if there are gaps, please help us fill them by sending in your reviews!

Happy reading,

Michelle de Kretser Wins the 2013 Miles Franklin Award for Questions of Travel


Congratulations to Michelle de Krester who has won this year’s Miles Franklin Award for Questions of Travel

Congratulations also to all those longlisted and shortlisted for the award.

Speaking on behalf of the 2013 judging panel, Richard Neville, Mitchell Librarian, State Library of NSW, said the five novels in the 2013 shortlist, were at a surface level “all about families.”

Here is the complete, all female shortlist:

  • Romy Ash – Floundering
  • Annah Faulkner – The Beloved
  • Michelle de Kretser – Questions of Travel
  • Drusilla Modjeska – The Mountain
  • Carrie Tiffany – Mateship with Birds

Romy Ash Flounering  beloved-faulkner  Questions-of-Travel-194-297  mountain-modjeska mateship-with-birds

Richard Neville said of the five shortlisted novels: “Searching for their comfort, the crisis when they fail, escaping their pervasive grasp, or the despair when they do not seem possible – but more deeply these books are about the intersection of people’s lives with national, indeed international, stories and ideas. Each novel approaches its subject from a very different perspective, but all deliver complex, engrossing narratives which persist long after the books are closed.”

Also on the judging panel were: Murray Waldren, journalist and columnist at The Australian newspaper; Anna Low, a Sydney-based bookseller; Craig Munro biographer, book historian, publishing editor and founding chair of the Queensland Writers Centre and Emeritus Professor Susan Sheridan.


Michelle de Kretser

Of Questions of Travel Neville said: “Michelle de Kretser’s wonderful novel centres on two characters, with two stories, each describing a different journey. The stories intertwine and pull against one another, and within this double narrative, de Kretser explores questions of home and away, travel and tourism, refugees and migrants, as well as ‘questions of travel’ in the virtual world, charting the rapid changes in electronic communication that mark our lives today. She brings these large questions close-up and personal with her witty and poignant observations and her vivid language. Her novel is about keeping balance in a speeding, spinning world.”

Questions of Travel has been listed in the following literary awards:

Longlisted, 2013 Miles Franklin Literary Award
Shortlisted, 2013 Indie Awards – Fiction
Shortlisted, 2013 Stella Prize
Shortlisted, 2013 ALS Gold Medal
Longlisted, 2013 Nita B Kibble Literary Awards for Women Writers – 2013 Kibble Literary Award

Michelle de Kretser was born in Sri Lanka and emigrated to Australia when she was 14. She was educated in Melbourne and Paris, and has worked as a university tutor, an editor and a book reviewer. She is the award-winning author of The Rose Grower, The Hamilton Case and The Lost Dog. The Lost Dog, won the 2008 NSW Premier’s Book of the Year Award and was also longlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize and the 2008 Orange Prize for Fiction.

lost-dog-de-kretserr     rosegrower   hamiltoncase

You can read our Miles Franklin longlist review roundup here.

Thanks for all your reviews and keep them coming in!


About Me

I’m a freelance book reviewer, journalist and editor and have worked as a librarian for many years. I’m always feeling guilty about what I ‘should’ have or ‘should be reading.’ I signed up for the AWW challenge in 2012 and this year, as well as doing my own challenge, I will be posting updates about Literary Awards and writing features. I blog over at Wordsville and you can find me on Twitter @PaulaGrunseit

Poetry Roundup Jan-May 2013

In the 5 months of this year, there have been 16 reviews of books of poetry by Australian Women Writers.  This is opposed to the 9 reviews for the whole of last year, so poetry readers are really forging ahead!

Prolific Reviewers

storm_and_honey_Judith_BeveridgeLeading the charge is Phillip Ellis, who posted 11 reviews.  Two of these were of books by Judith Beveridge, whose first collection of poetry, The Domesticity of Giraffes, was released in 1997.  Ellis reviewed her 2005 collection, Rock n’ Roll Tuxedo, referring to it as ‘less about music scenes, and more about a wider vision of the world informed by that same music … the poems in it have a strong sense of energy, a laconic musicality and in many of them an almost prosy, but never prosaic, rhythm.’  Her most recent collection, Storm and Honey (2009) is ‘a cracker of a book’, consisting of a sequence titled ‘Three Fishermen’, and a variety of other poems.  Her work, Ellis writes, is that of ‘a skilled and disciplined poet who is well aware that hard work makes for easy reading’, which I think is an excellent description of what good authors strive to do.

domestic-archaeology-pilgrim-byrneEllis also reviewed Kelly Pilgrim-Byrne’s Domestic Archaeology, published by Grand Parade Poets (manned by poet Alan Wearne).  Pilgrim-Byrne lives in Perth with her partner of 18 years and their 4 year old daughter, and many of the poems are about fertility and conception.  What might normally be considered private becomes very public, deriving, as Ellis notes, ‘much of its power and honesty through the pared-down language.’

Darger: his girlsJonathan Shaw penned two reviews, one being a brief but fascinating account of writer and artist Henry Darger as described by poet Julie Chevalier in Darger: His Girls.  Darger, as Shaw writes, ‘was a reclusive eccentric who lived in poverty and imagined a vast epic in which little girls take on armies and interplanetary beings. Shortly before his death his landlord discovered the bulky volumes of handwritten manuscript, along with the copious illustrations, and recognised a work of weird genius.’  Darger: his girls is Chevaliar’s ‘poetic record’ of her encounter with him.  Describing a prose poem she penned made up ‘entirely of phrases taken from Darger’s writing’, Jonathan writes: ‘it’s full of [Darger’s] cliché, but generates an enormous emotional, quasi-erotic force’.  His other review was on Home By Dark by Pam Brown, whose poems had an ‘elliptical, almost throwaway quality – no assertive rhyme schemes, often no clear prose syntax, mostly no through narrative line.’  He attended her book launch in an Erskinville pub, with the footy turned to silent on the telly, a setting which Pam Brown thought ‘appropriate, given the digressions and distractions of the poetry.’

Edgar The Love ProcessionAs well as pub book launches, there was one in a garden.  Sue of Whispering Gums attended the launch of Suzanne Edgar’s The Love Procession, which was inspired by a painting attributed to Marco del Buono and Giovanni di Apollonio, from the 1440s, which Edgar saw in an exhibition of Renaissance paintings at the National Gallery of Australia.  Sue, who enjoyed the varied nature of the poems, thought the title was appropriate, ‘because the collection is about love – romantic and other – and about procession. About the procession of our lives – about love, life and death, about work and the things that keep us going, about friends and family, about nature that travels with us.’

Indigenous women poets

walker the dawn is at handEllis also reviewed a number of titles by Indigenous authors, including Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s The Dawn is at Hand (1966), published under the poet’s previous name, Kath Walker.  Noonuccal was the first Indigenous woman in Australia to publish a book of poetry, We Are Going (1964), which was an immediate sell-out.  In his review of The Dawn is at Hand, her second volume, Ellis questions poet James Deveny’s comment that the ‘“propaganda-like stuff’ which might be all right for [her campaigning] addresses on behalf of Aboriginal Advancement is not necessarily good for poetry.’  Ellis concludes that the poems are not propaganda, and that they retain their lyricism.  He also muses on this subject in relation to Anita Heiss’ I’m Not Racist, But …., noting that the poems don’t ‘follow party politics, but rather, are informed and infused with a sense of humanitarian compassion and anger.’  The tension between the poetic and the political is the subject of Brigid Rooney’s Literary Activists, which has chapters on Noonuccal and her friend, poet Judith Wright.

Quibbles about Genre

Jacobson, The sunlit zoneThe Stella Prize doesn’t accept poetry, but it did shortlist Lisa Jacobson’s The Sunlit Zone, which was a speculative fiction novel in verse, reviewed by Tsana, Ellen at GoodReads and Bronwyn at Lip Magazine.  If I adhered to these guidelines as well, it would mean removing Dorothy Porter’s iconic The Monkey’s Mask, which is also a verse novel (greatly enjoyed by writereaderly and ifnotread), and another of her works, Akhenaten (also reviewed by writereaderly).  I don’t feel that I can do this because Porter is one of Australia’s best known and loved poets.

Jessica at Cordite Poetry Review writes on the form and history of the verse novel, and notes that Jacobson’s ‘everyday characters confront both the mythical and the scientific implications of a futuristic lifestyle’ and, through this, ‘the poet extends the verse novel into interesting new territory.’  This tension between the past and future is realised in the language which, as Jessica writes, has the effect of holding ‘the magical and the scientific in a constant state of tension, and we oscillate between both possibilities.’

If you agree or disagree with these genre conventions, feel free to comment below!  I also wasn’t able to cover every single collection here, so do take yourself over to our listing of reviews at the Australian Women Writers page.  It’s great to see readers taking an interest in the form, subject matter and sound of Australian women poets, and I look forward to reading many more reviews in my next roundup.

About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a writer and researcher.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012).  My poetry has been published Overland, Verandah and Muse, and won the Matthew Rocca Poetry Prize.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

Announcement of the Kibble and Dobbie Awards longlist

Today the long lists for the Kibble award, for a work by an established woman writer, and the Dobbie award, for the first published work by a woman writer, were released.  This is the first time in the awards’ 21-year history that a long list has been announced, the intention being, as Chairperson and author Bridgid Rooney says, to ensure its writers ‘get the recognition they deserve’.  In light of this, it seems worthwhile to flag which books on the longlist have been reviewed in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and those which readers might like to pick up before the shortlist is announced on 5th June, and the winners on 24th July.

The Kibble Literary Award Long List:

Questions-of-Travel-194-297James reviewed Michelle de Krester’s fourth novel, Questions of Travel, in the Newtown Review of Books, noting her attempts to defy the criticism that Australian literary fiction lacks ambition with ‘a palimpsest of themes’ that include ‘colonialism, ways of knowing, the soft incursion of technology, migration, tourism, the numbing bite of terror and the mean coinage of tolerance’.  However, as the work progressed, he found its ‘declarative prose’ had the effect of boxing in the main characters, Ravi and Laura, and suggested that the author was providing answers to questions, rather than leaving these for the reader to work out.  Kathy, of Play, Eat, Learn, Live, who has undertaken the admirable task of reviewing all books on the Stella Prize’s longlist, found the book took a while to get into, but appreciated the author’s ‘calm, measured, almost somnolent voice.’

beloved-faulknerAnnah Faulkner’s The Beloved has been reviewed by Lauren at The Australian Bookshelf.  As a fellow Queensland writer with an interest in art and disability, Lauren’s review prompted me to order this book from the library, and I hope that it finds other readers too.

Chloe Hooper’s psychological thriller, The Engagement, has a number of admirers, including Bree at allthebooksicanread, Monique at Write Note Reviews, Rebecca at Lit-icism and Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest.  Some, such as Caitlin at GoodReads, were more ambivalent, and her entertaining review is worth a read.  I also found the book a bit of a let-down (despite being a fan of Hooper’s work), for its well-crafted tension seemed to simply dissipate.

my-hundred-loversSusan Johnson’s sensuous My Hundred Lovers elicited a range of delicious responses.  Lara at This Charming Mum described it as ‘deeply moving’ and ‘blunt and unapologetic in its discussion of the unloveliness of the human body and the awkwardness of self-discovery,’ Linda at the Newtown Review of Books writes that the novel ‘remind[s] us of the wonder of our bodies simply drawing breath,’ Kate at The Truth be Told  consumed the book ‘with a passion I usually reserve for expensive wine’, Janine at Resident Judge found it ‘a beautifully written book, expanding love and sexuality to encompass the whole of life and being human,’ while Debra posted a detailed review on the AWW blog and Marg wrote up a readalong hosted by Bree of allthebooksicanread.  I also loved the novel’s concept and its absolutely gorgeous writing, and have long been a fan of Johnson’s oeuvre, but was a little let down by the ending.

Cate Kennedy’s book of short stories, Like A House On Fire, was referred to as a ‘hit-and-miss collection’ by ifnotread, while Kathy ‘whipped through it at a rapid pace, finding it not only beautiful, meaningful and moving but also, not to put too fine a point on it, a bloody good read.’  Janine at Resident Judge was, up until the point of reading this, quite opposed to short-stories, but found herself writing, ‘I don’t think that I’ve ever enjoyed a collection of short stories so much.’  It also prompted Denise at GoodReads to go back to Kennedy’s other works.

Patti Miller’s search for her ancestors in her non-fiction work, The Mind of a Thief , was reviewed by Anna Maria Dell’oso at the Newtown Review of Books, Mel at Migratory Mel and Deborah at GoodReads.  In general, readers seemed to find themselves unsettled by the book, sometimes questioning its style and delivery, and I wonder if any novel about belonging in Australia will have this effect.

an-opening-radokStephanie Radok’s collection of essays, An Opening: Twelve Love Stories about Art, was intelligently reviewed by Kathy, who described it as  ‘telescop[ing] unevenly between [Radok’s] personal reflections and recollections and the wider, more philosophical musings that she engages in with respect to art (particularly indigenous art).’  Radok’s book is on my desk, and I’m planning to review it this weekend.

Mateship with Birds, Carrie Tiffany’s second novel, has been widely and, for the most part, positively, reviewed.  I refer readers to Paula Grunseit’s summary of this in her wrap-up of the Miles Franklin longlist.

Dobbie Literary Award Long List:

Paula also noted six reviews of Romy Ash’s Floundering in her roundup of the Stella Prize longlist in February, and mentions Courtney Collins’ The Burial in this same post.  Adding to this is a review by Kathy, who describes the narrator as telling ‘the story of the bones of the earth, of the tragedy of wanting to live even when life is pain, of the bush and the struggles it holds.’

Jessie Cole’s Darkness on the Edge of Town was reviewed by Lisa Walker, who makes the interesting comment that this is a ‘you’ll read quickly and then wish you’d read slowly because you don’t want it to end.’   Meanwhile, for Shelleyrae, the prose created ‘a haunting melody of loneliness, grief and desire.’

finding-jasperLynne Leonhardt’s Finding Jasper was reviewed by Amanda Curtin, who knew the novel when it was a manuscript, and by Elizabeth at Devoted Eclectic.  Elizabeth found a resonance with the flawed, female protagonist, and felt the book was haunting, the way music might be.

Jacqueline Wright’s Red Dirt Talking and Lily Chan’s Toyo: A memoir, haven’t yet been reviewed for the AWW Challenge.  It would be great to hear some responses to these before the shortlist is announced.

Why do we need awards for women writers?

The short answer is: to redress bias.  This is the bias that leads to more books with male authors being reviewed than female authors, which is catalogued by the annual Vida statistics.  It’s often an unconscious bias, which means that many take the view that male dominance of our culture is universal, when in fact it’s a skewed perspective because women haven’t been able, or even permitted, to contribute their voices.  Even the more well-read among us haven’t been conscious of this attitude, as Elizabeth Lhuede writes in her account of establishing the AWW challenge.

For the long answer, I refer readers to Deborah Copaken Kogan’s eye-opening (and, to continue the bodily metaphors, jaw-dropping) account of her publishing history in which she was denied recognition and had to fight earnestly to be treated as her male peers were.  As she writes, ‘There’s a reason J.K. Rowling’s publishers demanded that she use initials instead of “Joanne”: it’s the same reason Mary Anne Evans used the pen name George Eliot; the same reason Robert Southey, then England’s poet laureate, wrote to Charlotte Brontë: “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be.”‘  It’s also the same reason why Miss Nita Kibble (for whom the award is named by her niece Nita Dobbie) was successful in her application for the position of junior assistant at the Public Library of NSW in the 1800s: her signature was taken for a man’s.

Later, she became the first woman to be appointed a librarian with the State Library of New South Wales and held the position of Principal Research Officer from 1919 until her retirement.  Had her writing been taken for a woman’s, she would never have had the opportunity to offer as much as she did to the library profession.

Until a woman’s name on a book means that she’ll be read with the same seriousness as a man’s, we need the Stella, the Barbara Jefferis, the Kibble, and the Dobbie to increase awareness of, and the audience for, Australian women’s writing.  I’m damn pleased for every writer on this longlist, and hope that many more readers will find their books because of it, both in the lead-up to and the aftermath of the award ceremony.

About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007), about botany and lesbianism, and Entitlement (2012), about Native Title and grief.  A Curious Intimacy was shortlisted for the Dobbie award in 2008.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

2012 AWW Challenge: Short Stories and Poetry

We’re nearly at the end of the wrap-ups of reviews of Australian women’s writing for 2012, which have shown that writing and reading by Australian women is diverse, enthusiastic and unabated.  While poetry and short stories may not be as widely-read as other forms, they offer a huge range of styles and content, just as with the AWW Challenge itself.

Short Stories

Over 2012, there were 76 reviews of 42 works by Australian women writers, including both collections and individual stories.  Speculative fiction featured strongly, with 22 reviews of collections in the Twelve Planets series published by Twelfth Planet Press in Western Australia.  As Tsana notes in her AWW Challenge 2012 Speculative Fiction wrap up, the aim of the series is to publish twelve collections from twelve Australian women writing speculative fiction, and many of the stories have Australian settings. Below is a list of those which have been published and reviewed to date (I’ve included alternative links to Tsana’s where I can, to show how widely they were reviewed):

cracklescapeBad Power by Deborah Biancotti (reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts); Showtime by Narelle Harris (reviewed by Marg); Nightsiders by Sue Isle (reviewed by Tsana, who summed it up as ‘collection full of strong and well drawn female characters’); Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan (who made Sean cry); Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts (reviewed by Dave); Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex (also reviewed by Tsana) and Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren (also reviewed by Dave, who called it a ‘complete success … Creepy, daring and provocative).  The consensus among reviewers was that the Twelve Planets series was a great initiative, and a good way of sampling an assortment of speculative fiction.

Other speculative fiction collections which were reviewed include Isobelle Carmody’s Metro Winds (reviewed by Maree), the gigantic volume Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies by Lucy Sussex (reviewed by Narelle M Harris, who struggled with its size over breakfast), and another Margo Lanagan collection, Black Juice, (reviewed by Marg).

inheritedIn the literary fiction genre, Amanda Curtin’s Inherited was praised for its spare, but haunting writing (see Angela Myer’s comprehensive review), while Janette Tuner Hospital’s new collection, Forecast: Turbulence, was described as ‘exquisitely crafted’ by Rebecca Howden.  Jennifer Mills’ The Rest is Weight was enthusiastically reviewed for the variety of its stories by Sean and ShellyRae, while Bronte mused on the dark undertone of the stories from Brothers & Sisters, edited by Charlotte Wood.  Genevieve Tucker’s tender and sensitive review of Josephine Rowe’s Tarcutta Wake was like poetry itself.  ‘Each story,’ she writes, ‘carries others nesting within it, and they unfold like the precisely engineered wings of migrating birds.’  Fittingly, Black Inc.’s annual The Best Australian Stories made an appearance.  This edition was collated in 2011 by short story connoisseur Cate Kennedy, and was reviewed by Sophie.

Memoir also featured, through Ilsa Evans’ Once a Poner Time (reviewed by Jayne from The Australian Bookshelf ) as did romance – see Kate Rizzetti’s review of URL Love.  It was heartening to see reviews of works by Indigenous authors too, with Jenny writing on Me, Antman and Fleabag by Gayle Kennedy, which was the winner of the 2006 David Unaipon award for unplublished Indigenous authors.  Sally wrote a review of Marie Munkara’s Every Secret Thing, which also won the David Unaipon award, this time in 2008.

Short fiction, as Matthew Lamb, editor of the Review of Australian Fiction has noted, ‘is a concentrated form of writing. It requires a concentrated form of reading. It requires occupying a certain mental space for the duration of the story, reading it in one sitting, as a coherent whole, in order for the effect of that whole to have an impact upon the reader.’
bush-studiesFor this reason, it’s pleasing to see reviewers focussing upon individual short stories as well as collections.  Sue of Whispering Gums was prompted to read the Bush Studies version of Barbara Baynton’s ‘The Chosen Vessel’ before it was edited and re-named to align with The Bulletin’s masculinist bias.  She also reviewed Thea Astley’s ‘Hunting the Wild Pineapple’ and Paddy O’Reilly’s ‘The Salesman’, both stories about tense relationships between men and women.  Jayne of The Australian Bookshelf also picked up some individual romance titles on her eReader (see her reviews of Anne Brear’s ‘A Most Serious Gentleman’ and ‘Caroline and the Captain’ by Maggi Andersen), while James Tierney commented on Barbara Baynton’s harsh story ‘Squeaker’s Mate’.

Such a diverse range of storytelling across all these genres is testimony not only to the talent and elasticity of writers, but also their readers, who willingly engage with any number of characters and settings with ease.  A full list of the collections and stories can be found here.  Meanwhile, collections are already being reviewed for 2013, which is wonderful.


Bronte from Stilts Journal opens her review of Michelle Dicinoski’s Electricity for Beginners with an astute comment: ‘When I ask people if they like poetry I often get told that, no, they don’t understand it. It’s too pretentious, it’s outdated, or it’s just too hard. And I think to myself, what a shame. Poetry can be such a pleasure if you’re willing to give it a go.’  I’m in complete agreement with her and, as she notes, Michelle’s volume is a great place to start.

electricity-beginnersSeven volumes of poetry by Australian women writers were reviewed over 2012, from the historical to the contemporary.  Poet Adam Ford penned detailed reviews of two debut collections, Lisa Gorton’s Press Release and Fiona Wright’s Knuckled, which was also reviewed by Phillip EllisAngela Myer outlined the intriguing story and language of Kristin Henry’s verse novel All the Way Home, Timothy reviewed Dorothea Mackeller’s classic My Country and Other Poems, and Deb Matthews-Zot discussed Heather Taylor Johnson’s ‘feminine and fecund collection’, Letters to my Lover from a Small Mountain TownSkin Painting, by Indigenous author Elizabeth Hodgson, which won the David Unaipon award in 2007, was reviewed by Heidi.

Poetry is a way of sampling both the tiny and the grand through pockets of writing.  The collections reviewed here – often attentively – are testimony to readers’ willingness to focus intently, or to cast their minds wide.  If, like me, you’ve been inspired to head to your local bookstore or library to pick up one of these volumes, you can find the list of reviews here.  Alternatively, you might be taking up the gauntlet to read some new ones and, if so, I’m really looking forward to reading about them in the 2013 AWW Challenge.


About Me

Photo JWI’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007), about botany and lesbianism, and Entitlement (2012), about Native Title and grief.  I’ve also published short stories and poetry, which you can find at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

QLD Literary Awards winners and Melbourne Prize Finalists

(This has been cross-posted from the AWW Blogger site.)

Queensland Literary Award winners

Congratulations to the winners of the Queensland Literary Fiction Awards, including:

  • Siv Parker, Story: David Unaipon Award for Unpublished Indigenous Writer
  • Janette Turner Hospital, Turbulence: Steele Rudd Award for Short Stories
  • Robin de Crespiny, The People Smuggler: Nonfiction Award
  • Catherine Titasey, Island of the Unexpected: QLD Emerging Author
  • Sue Smith, Mabo: Television Script Award
  • Angela Betzien, War Crimes: Drama Script Award
  • Briony Stewart Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers: Children’s Book Award
  • Louise Fox, Dead Europe (adapted from the novel by Christos Tsiolkas): Film Script Award – screen writer

See full list here.

In other news, finalists for the Melbourne Prize have been announced. Winners will be announced November 7th. The finalists include:

Melbourne Prize for Literature 2012

  • Alison Lester
  • Joanna Murray-Smith

Best Writing Award 2012

More information here.

Has anyone reviewed the books by De Crespigny, Goldsworthy or Hartnett for the challenge?

Update from AWW Facebook page: Emma Perry reviewed The Children of the King for the challenge on My Book Corner.

2012 Davitt Award Winners

The Davitt Awards are sponsored by Sisters in Crime Australia and are named in honour of Ellen Davitt (1812-1879) who wrote Australia’s first full length mystery novel, FORCE AND FRAUD in 1865. Awards are given annually to celebrate the best Australian crime writing by women.

This year’s winners were announced at a gala dinner last night (1 September) in Melbourne. Special guest for the evening was one of Sweden’s most highly respected crime writers, Åsa Larsson, who was, according to the interview carried out on the night by Sue Turnbull, inspired to take the Sisters in Crime concept home to Sweden!

The first award of the night was for Best True Crime and it went to journalist and author Liz Porter for COLD CASE FILES in which old cases from Australia, the UK and the US are re-opened in the light of new forensic techniques.

Next came the award for Best Young Fiction book which was apparently fiercely contested. Ursula Dubosarsky’s THE GOLDEN DAY was highly commended by the judges but the winner of this category was Meg McKinlay for SURFACE TENSION

The next award was for Best Adult Novel. Carolyn Morwood’s DEATH AND THE SPANISH LADY was highly commended by judges but the award went to Sulari Gentill for A DECLINE IN PROPHETS. It is historical crime fiction set in 1930’s Australia (and beyond) and it is a delight to read, combining thoughtfully drawn characters, a wonderful sense of time and place and a ripper of a story.

The new category for this year of Best Debut Novel went to Jaye Ford for her novel BEYOND FEAR. Ford is yet another journalist-turned-crime-writer and penned a book with loads of strong female characters and snappy pace which I liked a lot.

The final award of the night was the Reader’s Choice Award. All the books in all the other categories are eligible for this award and all members of Sisters in Crime Australia are able to vote for it (and apparently 550 of us did). This year the award was shared by Jaye Ford’s BEYOND FEAR and Y.A. Erskine’s THE BROTHERHOOD! Both great books.

Congratulations to all the winners and all the writers of the eligible books. Even from my limited reading of the books in these categories I can attest to the fact that Australian women’s crime writing is in great form and it is especially pleasing to see that even within the constraints of the crime genre there is such a wide variety of stories being told with many of these titles crossing over into historical, romance, speculative fiction and other genres.

Information in this post was provided by Vim & Zest Communications and the ever-helpful twitterverse, especially @angsavage to whom I offer a particular thanks for the vicarious thrills provided via #davittawards. This post is a slightly edited version of one first posted at Fair Dinkum Crime

2012 Davitt Awards: How well do you know your crime?

The 2012 Davitt Awards will be announced tonight at a dinner in Melbourne. The Davitts are a national crime writing award sponsored by Sisters in Crime Australia. They are awarded each year for the best crime books by Australian women. The categories are best Adult Fiction, Children’s/YA, True Crime, Debut and Reader’s Choice.

Sisters in Crime Australia named the award The Davitt in honour of Ellen Davitt (1812-1879) who wrote Australia’s first mystery novel, Force and  Fraud  in 1865. Her achievement is extraordinary when it is considered that Wilke’s Collins’ The Woman in White, generally regarded as the first full-length mystery novel, was published only in 1860. Force and Fraud was serialised in the Australian Journal, starting with its very first issue. It begins with a murder and ends with its solution, with red herrings, blackmail, and a dramatic court scene in between.” (From the Sisters in Crime website.) (more…)

2012 Queensland Literary Award Shortlist

(Cross posted from Blogger for AWW draft website on WordPress)

The shortlists for the crowd-funded 2012 Queensland Literary Award were announced recently. Congratulations to all the writers who made the lists, including the following. A number of the books have been reviewed by AWW challenge participants (links to their reviews appear with their names below). 

For a full list of shortlisted books, including children’s books, see here.



Young Adult Book Award

Australian Short Story collection – Steele Rudd Award


Science Book Award

History Book Award

Judith Wright Calanthe Poetry Award

(* denotes books yet to be reviewed)
Are you planning to review any of the above books that haven’t yet been reviewed? 

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