The winners of NSW Premier’s History Awards were announced last week and the week before that the Queensland Literary Awards were presented. Women writers were very successful at both awards. Over the last month Challenge reviewers have written about two of the winning books but there are other histories, biographies and memoirs which are clearly of high quality but have not received reviews for the Challenge.
NSW Premier’s History Awards
The Australian History Prize was won by a book that has received glowing reviews by Challenge participants this year. Debut author, Janet Butler, won the prize for her account of the travails of World War I army nurse, Kit McNaughton in Kitty’s War: The Remarkable Wartime Experiences of Kit McNaughton. “This is a brilliant study of the heroism and tragedy that marked a war so terrifying that even a women as brave as Kit McNaughton could not bring herself to full record it”, said the judges.
We received a well written and thoughtful review of this book in the last month. “[T]he writing is superb”, says Christine Brett Vickers. “I was lost inside this book for several days.” I think that has been the experience of everyone who has picked up this book.
Christine Brett Vickers is a psychoanalyst and historian researching the history of psychoanalysis. In her review Christine picks up on Janet Butler’s suggestion that McNaughton possibly suffered from what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder. Christine shares a little about the attitudes of the time towards to those who had been mentally damaged by war and relates this to the suffering that McNaughton probably silently endured for the rest of her life.
This is an important book, a tale of one woman, told seamlessly and with compassion. It is a journey into war and into the psyche of a personage of another time and place, and yet one that is also part of our formation. It deserves a place alongside Pat Barker’s War Trilogy, Regeneration.
The General History Prize was won by Saliha Belmessous for her book, Assimilation and Empire: Uniformity in the French and British Colonies, 1541-1954. The judges described this book as an “ambitious and scholarly book” that is a “major contribution to the comparative history of the British and French empires from the sixteenth to the twentieth century”. This book has not been reviewed for the Challenge yet.
Patti Miller won the NSW Community and Regional History Prize for The Mind of a Thief. The judges said that this book is “written with style and empathy, conveying a strong sense of place, identification and reconnection”. This book has been reviewed this year by Deborah Biancotti, Anna Maria Dell’oso and Melissa Phillips.
Jackie French had the honour of have not one, but two books shortlisted for the Young People’s History Prize. She won this prize with her book, Pennies for Hitler. The judges described this book as a “complex rendering of life in the Battle of Britain and of the experiences of a Jewish refugee, and immerses young readers in a variety of lesser-known experiences of war”. While Challenge reviewers have reviewed some of Jackie French’s other books, this book is still waiting for a review.
Women authors won every prize on offer for books at the NSW Premier’s History Awards. Perhaps next year we will no longer be tweeting under #premiershisawards. The only category women did not win was the multimedia category but women were well represented in the short list with the television documentary, Utopia Girls, and the Sydney Living Museums blog, The Cook and the Curator: Eat Your History. The winner was First Footprints: Super Nomads (episode 1) directed by Martin Butler and Bentley Dean.
Queensland Literary Awards
Women writers also did very well at the Queensland Literary Awards. The winner of the University of Southern Queensland History Book Award was Jane Lydon for The Flash of Recognition: Photography and the Emergence of Indigenous Rights. The judges’ citation says, “[t]his is an elegant treatment of a challenging and difficult subject. This is genuine and engaged scholarship so skilfully handled that the intricacies of the subject are made accessible”. This book is yet to receive a review for the Challenge.
The University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award was given to Kristina Olsson for her memoir, Boy, Lost. The judges’ comments convey the exceptional nature of this book. “Exquisitely written and achingly intimate, this is a significant book which sets a new benchmark for memoir”.
Jessica White reviewed Boy, Lost this month. She explains, “[t]he memoir is an imagining of the circumstances of Yvonne’s life, while charting the impact of that missing child upon Yvonne and her other children”. Jessica remarks:
Some readers and critics might quibble with the fictional elements of memoir, but all memory is, in one way or another, a fiction – we can never reconstitute memory exactly as it happened. My impression of this work is that Kris, through conversations with family members and attention to photographic records, evokes personalities and events with sensitivity.
We quite rightly focus on the achievements of authors at book awards, but we should also remember the volunteers who make them happen. The people behind the Queensland Literary Awards have to put in extra effort each year to raise funds to make the Awards possible. It must be an added anxiety for the organisers to have to plan an event without knowing whether they have the necessary funding to hold it. For the second year their supporters made these Awards happen through their donations.
And on a lighter note, this photo shows the amount of reading that one of the judges for the NSW Premier’s History Awards was required to do. However, she was rewarded with some literary gold in that stack!
Other books reviewed over the last month
Reviewers this month wrote well and helped us gain a deeper appreciation for the book under review.
Sian Campbell enjoyed Vanessa Berry’s memoir about teenage girl pop culture in the 1990s in her book, Ninety 9. Sian regards the “personalised, Australian perspective” of the book as “an important addition to the non-fiction that already exists on the counterculture movements in the 90s”.
Ninety 9 also captures perfectly how it feels to be a teenage girl, when you assert your identity through fashion sense and cultural capital, and when being the only one to like a certain band is lonely but being one of many to like a certain band is infuriating.
In the spirit of the book, Sian finishes the review with a selection of her favourite music from this era – nice touch! So in the spirit of Sian’s review I am playing Sian’s tracks while writing this post.
In My Skin by Kate Holden is a memoir about heroin addiction and prostitution. This immediately gives the impression that it would be a dark and depressing read, but Challenge reviewer, Erin Golding found more in this book:
What sets this story apart is its eloquent writing – Holden brings a writer’s eye to her life which offers a different perspective on drug addiction and prostitution. Holden is able to see the beauty in the darkness that is her life, and this is portrayed on every page of her memoir. Even though her story is sad at times, it is still very touching to read.
Golding concludes, “[d]espite the ‘negative’ subject matter this memoir is a story of empowerment. And it’s beautifully written! A must read.”
The Challenge received the first review of Melissa Bellanta’s award winning book, Larrikins: A History. In this book Bellanta explores the changing cultural history of larrikins in Australia from 1870. “The frequent references to current events (Cronulla, hoodies) kept the tone of the book light, without detracting from the nuance of her analysis”, commented the reviewer, Janine Rizzetti.
There is more…
Look out for the announcement of the winners of the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards which will be announced today. The shortlist is here.
As always, there were more reviews which I could not fit into this overview. I encourage you to browse through all the reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs received in the first half of the year, and those received since the beginning of July.
I’m Yvonne Perkins. For the last few years I have been working as a research assistant on a variety of historical projects one of which was an investigation of the history of teaching reading in Australia. Currently I am researching the beliefs, religious or otherwise, of soldiers who served in World War I. In my spare time I enjoy reading history and writing about it on my blog, Stumbling Through the Past. I can also be found @perkinsy on twitter.