Truly it’s amazing how quickly the time flies, but let’s not dwell on that and get down to business, In February the longlist for the Stella Prize was announced, as was the shortlist for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Check out the Awards section at the end if you are interested in these.

February fun

Karen Viggers, The orchardist's daughterIn February the year really starts – holidays over, workers well and truly back at work, and families managing kids back at school. And yet, we all managed to keep up a decent level of reading, with 47 Literary and Classic reviews posted. (Close to last February’s 51.) Here are some highlights:

  • Our most reviewed authors were Kelly Rimmer and Karen Viggers with four reviews each for, respectively, The things we cannot see and The orchardist’s daughter.
  • Our top reviewer spot was shared by four people who each posted four reviews: Ashleigh Meikle (The Book Muse), Brona (Brona’s Books); Cloggie Downunder (GoodReads): and Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest).
  • Around 8% of the works reviewed were published in 1919 or before, while nearly 35% were for books published this year, in 2019. Wow, we do get onto new releases very quickly, don’t we!

The Classics

Four reviews in February were for classics: Ethel Turner’s The story of a baby (1896), Henry Handel Richardson’s The getting of wisdom (1910), Mary Grant Bruce’s Back to Billabong (1919), and Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967). Ethel Turner’s The story of a baby is the oldest, and the only 19th century one, so I’m choosing it this month:

Ethel Turner, The story of a babyBrona says that The story of a baby is

a rather sad, and unexpected excursion into young love, an early marriage and societal expectations about gender roles. In this short story, Turner also took a rather nostalgic look into the changing face of Sydney and its outer suburbs in the late 1890’s.

I particularly liked her comment on enjoying Turner’s depiction of her times, which are long removed from ours:

I do love these glimpses into a time gone by. What looks old-fashioned and parochial to our modern eyes was once modern and new to those who lived it. It’s a good reminder that our modern times will one day be considered old-fashioned to future generations. It’s an idea I wish I could impart to B21 and B18, who seem utterly oblivious to history and their place in it.

Multicultural NSW Award

During February, the shortlist for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards was announced. One of the categories for this award is the Multicultural NSW Award, which has existed since 1980, albeit under different names. It’s particularly interesting because it is not form-specific – the works can be fiction or non-fiction, poetry or drama, or film, television or radio scripts. It also does not require that the writers themselves come from multicultural backgrounds – though in the history of the awards the majority do. The important thing is the content: the works must deal with, or further our understanding of, migrant experience, cultural diversity or multiculturalism in Australia.

For us at the Challenge, the books eligible for this award come under our Diversity label, and are covered by our Diversity editor. We define Diversity broadly, to cover indigenous, LGBTQIA, disability and multicultural issues. But, there is one idea that underpins these apparently different issues, and it is nicely expressed by Fatima Measham who said, essentially, that not (reading and) writing about those “outside” the mainstream results in “a patently false construction of our society”. This, of course, is an anathema for those of us seeking true equality in our world.

Magdalena McGuire, Home is nearbyFive of the six shortlisted works are by women:

  • Eileen Chong’s Rainforest (poetry collection drawing on her “Singaporean Chinese heritage and her Australian life”)
  • Melissa Lucashenko’s Too much lip (novel about an indigenous family’s fight to protect their country, in northern NSW)
  • Magdalena McGuire’s Home is nearby (novel about a young Polish art student who comes to Australia as a refugee during the 1980s)
  • Sisonke Msimang’s Always another country: A memoir or exile and home (memoir about the effect of South Africa’s apartheid and its aftermath)
  • Sofia Stefanovic’s Miss Ex-Yugoslavia (memoir about being caught between two cultures, after the distintegration of Yugoslavia)

Three of these books – Chong’s, Lucashenko’s and McGuire’s – have been reviewed for the Challenge but not this month, while the memoirs by Msimang and Stefanovic have not been reviewed at all. Anyone interested?

Melissa Lucashenko, Too much lipMeanwhile, the book most recently reviewed for us, up to February anyhow, is Melissa Lucashenko’s Too much lip. It was reviewed by Aislinn Batstone, back in November. She starts her review with:

So much powerful social commentary has been tucked into the framework of this rip-roaring story. Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip could be a hardboiled detective novel with Kerry Salter as the tough, flawed heroine – plenty of sex, swearing and crime, much of it committed by the heroine herself. But Lucashenko and her heroine are Indigenous Australians and Lucashenko not the kind of author to limit herself to a rip-roaring story.

(I’m reading it now, and so far I’d agree!)


Stella Prize 2019 longlist

Of course, all of the Stella Prize longlist works are by women The list is:

  • Jenny Ackland’s Little gods (novel)
  • Stephanie Bishop’s Man out of time (novel)
  • Belinda Castle’s Bluebottle (novel)
  • Enza Gandolfo’s The bridge (novel)
  • Chloe Hooper’s The arsonist (non-fiction)
  • Gail Jones’ The death of Noah Glass (novel)
  • Jamie Marina Lau’s Purple Mountain on Locust Island (novel)
  • Vicki Laveau-Harris’ The erratics (memoir/Finch Publishing)
  • Bri Lee’s Eggshell skull (memoir)
  • Melissa Lucashenko’s Too much lip (novel)
  • Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic (essays)
  • Fiona Wright’s The world was whole (essays)

Jenny Ackland, Little godsAll have been reviewed for the challenge, so for this post I’ll share one that was posted in February, Cass Moriarty’s review of Little Gods. She rushed it up her TBR list after its longlisting. She concludes her review with:

This novel perfectly depicts the natural curiosity, wonder and inventiveness of childhood, the deep and lasting effects of grief, and the poignancy of the myth of stability offered by family.

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2019 shortlist

There are seventeen categories, but I’ll just share those most relevant to my area of the challenge (in addition to the Multicultural one above). They are:

The Christina Stead Prize for Fiction (2 of the 6, by women)

  • Stephanie Bishop’s Man out of time
  • Michelle de Kretser’s The life to come

The Douglas Stewart prize for Non-Fiction  (4 of the 6, by women)

  • Sarah Krasnostein’s The trauma cleaner
  • Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s The erratics
  • Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic
  • Alexis Wright’s Tracker

The UTS Glenda Adams Prize for New Writing (2 of the 6, by women)

  • Jamie Marina Lau’s Pink Mountain on Locust Island 
  • Tracy Sorensen’s The lucky galah

Maria Tumarkin, AxiomaticAll of these have been reviewed for the challenge, so again I’ll share one that was posted in February – for a book that was also longlisted for the Stella – calzean’s review of Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic. Her review is short and sweet, and concludes with:

Her writing is unique, enquiring, empathetic and personnel. A book of topics to think about.


About Me

I am Whispering Gums and I read, review and blog about (mostly) literary fiction. It was reading Jane Austen when I was 14 years old that turned me on to reading literary fiction/classics, which is why I am here today doing this round-up! Little did Jane know what she started!

My love of Aussie literature started with Banjo Paterson’s ballads and Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians in my childhood. But, I didn’t really discover Australian women’s writing until the 1980s when I fell in love with Elizabeth Jolley, Thea Astley, Olga Masters, Helen Garner and Kate Grenville. Ever since then I have been included a good percentage of Australian (and other) women writers in my reading diet.