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Wilson the Margaret Scott Prize for The Roving Party and Katherine Johnson won The University of Tasmania Prize for her unpublished manuscript Kubla.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 Firstly, I spoke about the new prize, a prize for unpublished manuscripts, The University of Tasmania Prize, which has formerly been awarded to the best book by a Tasmanian publisher: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prize to an unpublished manuscript is welcome it is sad to see the pool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are finally offering a prize for an unpublished manuscript and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.
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 $5000 for an unpublished work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.
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
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.
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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