The Tasmanian Literary Prizes were announced tonight. James Boyce won the Tasmania Book Prize, the biggest pool, for his wonderful history 1835, Rohan Wilson the Margaret Scott Prize for The Roving Party and Katherine Johnson won The University of Tasmania Prize for her unpublished manuscript Kubla. As a judge (a satisfying, time consuming and difficult role), I was asked to speak. Firstly, I spoke about the new prize, a prize for unpublished manuscripts, The University of Tasmania Prize, which has formerly been awarded to the best book by a Tasmanian publisher:
"The University of Tasmania prize has, in the past, been awarded to the best book by a Tasmanian publisher and while the opportunity to offer a prize to an unpublished manuscript is welcome it is sad to see the pool of our publishers dwindle to such a level that it is deemed too small to offer a prize– especially in the face of international mergers between the likes of Random House and Penguin – who will soon have around 25% of all of the book trade internationally. For writers, this means less publishing opportunities - and for the reader it potentially means the loss of the special, effulgent work that is often picked up by small or niche publishers.
That said, it is fantastic that we are finally offering a prize for an unpublished manuscript and acknowledging writers in the earlier stages of their career.
Even with the strictures on entry - and I quote “Writers of theatrical works, literary fiction and non-fiction for adults or children, poetry and graphic novels who have had a limited number of works published have been encouraged to enter” there were a lot of people who entered – and indeed the manuscripts were across a diverse range of genres. That proves a challenge, to put it mildly for the judges.
To be involved in the process of judging a manuscript reminded me of the importance of the editing process -both self editing and professional structural, sub and copy editing. It isn’t quaint to include grammatical clangers in your work, but the inclusion of these clangers did factor in to the judging process.
So, how do you judge a poem against a play, a narrative story against a piece of pointy end literary fiction? In a consultative, reasoned and deductive way. It was a pleasure working with Ross (Honeywill) and Lisa (Fletcher) to reach these outcomes – thank you.
The manuscript prize provides Tasmanian writers with an unprecedented opportunity. $5000 for an unpublished work is not only money, it can also translate into time to write, an editor, an agent or a faster internet connection to send their work off to potential publishers. The winner will have the opportunity to label their manuscript as a winner already – and I expect that this will translate to a tangible publishing opportunity.
It would not hurt in future to refine the definition of ‘emerging’ – and to open it to unpublished authors, not just those with published work already under their proverbial belt. To limit or refine the categorisation is understandable in terms of reducing the work of the judges – but having been part of this process I still call for it to acknowledge the truly emerging writer. To have even reached the stage of having a completed manuscript can sometimes be a lifetime of work for a writer.
I congratulate Leigh (Swinbourne), Katherine (Johnson) and Ben (Walter) on their work – and indeed I congratulate everyone who submitted a manuscript. I wish you all writerly satisfaction – and I wish all us readers more of the pleasure, challenge and inspiration you writers provide us.
Next I spoke, alongside my fellow Judge Ross Honeywill about the judging process. I would have liked to begin with a bit of literary history - and my notes began with noting that the first novel published in what is now known as Australia was, in fact, written by Henry Savery, transported to Van Diemen's Land for forgery. However, the premier beat me to it so I fell back to the fact that not only was the first Australian novel published in Tasmania, but the first novel published by woman was also by a Tasmanian, Mary Grimwade. Then I continued -
Over the last few centuries this writing and reading culture has remained strong and in my view is still thriving. We all know how transformative a good book can be and it is often noted that Tasmania has a higher number of readers and writers per capita.
To be able to offer recognition and support for literature in Tasmania is so important –not just through something as high profile as our literary awards but through editorial support, publication, promotion, ideas sharing, workshops, literary festivals, smaller writing (and reading) groups as well.
This benefits not only the writers but also readers – and the flow on effects to the community as a whole, while somewhat difficult to quantify for policy makers are tangible. Proud to be Tasmanian was the ‘Love this’ slogan on all the stickers when I was growing up – but I reckon it should be, at the risk of being trite ‘proud to read Tasmanian’
Both Ross and I have noted the challenges inherent in choosing ‘the best book’ out of such diverse genres, and how this is not the best way to showcase the diverse range of literary culture in Tasmania. History, natural history, biography and fiction are some genres that have enough books in each category to offer a separate prize. Though – to split up the pool of prize money may prove a challenge – so! Who has a business that could benefit from a gorgeous affiliation with Tasmania’s literary culture? Who wants their name on an intelligent, informative and exciting prize (or magazine, I thought to myself)? Just a thought….
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