on 01 July, 2014

NSW LitLink Residential Fellowships & Unpublished Manuscript Award 2014

Congratulations to the recipients of the NSW LitLink Residential Fellowship.

This year’s LitLink Awards had the largest number of manuscript submissions of any round yet receiving 65 manuscripts from writers living in regional NSW and the greater Sydney area.

Three Varuna Consultants provided an independent assessment on each of the submitted manuscripts with each consultant assessing the work ‘blind’ (ie without identifying information). Consultants selected the manuscripts to award Fellowships through criteria that included high quality of writing, uniqueness of voice, potential for further development and the ability of the writer to engage in a meaningful way with future readers.

Varuna Consultants for the LitLink 2014 Fellowship award were Deb Westbury, Helen Barnes-Bulley and Carol Major. Following this news item is a short statement from each of the Consultants talking about the selection process and the submitted manuscripts. We hope you find this feedback useful.

Recipients of the 2014 LitLink Fellowships

Frances Olive: Fabulous Tales, A series of poetic short tales for children and lovers of children's literature

Susan Reynolds: The Art of Red Mud, A story set in the Northern Rivers area that speaks of Art, Love, Lies, Forgiveness and of Becoming Famous

Sharon Dean: The Incredible Vanishing Banana Poet, The true story of an Australian banana farmer who overcomes trauma and isolation to become a world-famous haiku poet

We are not able to name the fourth recipient of the LitLink Residential Fellowship at this stage, as their manuscript has also been shortlisted for the LitLink Unpublished Manuscript Award.

Shortlist for the 2014 LitLink Unpublished Manuscript Award

Varuna Consultants also shortlisted five writers for the LitLink Unpublished Manuscript Award, the winner of this award will be selected by Northern Rivers Writers Centre and will be announced at the 2014 Byron Bay Writers’ Festival.

The selection criteria for this award included high quality of writing, uniqueness of voice and the potential for future publication.

The five writers shortlisted for the Byron Bay LitLink Unpublished Manuscript Award are:

Bruce Nash: Empty Beach, A novel that re-imagines the coastal landscape

Gary Ovington: Iranian Elegy, An Iranian gay love story: where does sadness end and joy begin?

Eileen Naseby: Don’t Go Near the Water, What do you do when your child goes missing?

Joshua Lobb: Remission, A massively over-populated novel, about forgiveness, loneliness, grief and embarrassment in regional Australia

Greg Woodland: Pangs, To bite or not to bite is the question Bob wrestles with when long-buried needs for love and family threaten his world

The winner of the Byron Bay LitLink Unpublished Manuscript Award will be posted on Varuna News 2 August to coincide with the Byron Bay Writers' Festival public announcement.

Honourable Mentions awarded to manuscripts of merit and potential.

Varuna Consultants also nominated the following five manuscripts to receive an honourable mention.

Rebecca Poulson, Killing Love, Memoir of homicide of 3 family members and familial violence

Linden Hyatt, The Air Between Trees, A novella set in Tasmania, Sydney, Poland and New York state, in times from 1968, framed by the homecoming in 2008 of a man returning with his seven-‐year-old American daughter

Geoff Gates, The Copyart Murders, A literary crime story about an Australian writer in France

Clinton Caward, The Pretender, A novel about entitlement, envy and racism on a militarised island dominated by Buddhist extremists

Fleur Ferris, Jolted, Sometimes exposing the truth is worse than living the lie

Thank you to Arts NSW for supporting the LitLink Awards and to our cultural partners Northern Rivers Writers Centre and the Byron Bay Writers Festival.

Congratulations to the winners and best wishes to all of the writers who submitted manuscripts for the 2014 LitLink Awards.

From the Varuna Team


LitLink Award 2014: Carol Major

We are always struck by the range of imaginative thinking presented via the LitLink Award. Our final list stretched across biography, young adult concerns, post modern and modern fiction, and a beautiful collection of children’s stories that through their hypnotic rhythm will enchant adults as well.

What drove our choices remained the same. We were looking for that fusion between vision, fresh observation and an irresistible voice that takes the reader into a particular world. Of course those who are not on the list will be disappointed and want to know what held them back. At times it was agreement between judges. Competitions are always fraught things. Yet on the whole the same issues came up to tip the scale one way or another. I hope drawing attention to a few might be of use.

First and foremost is being aware of a reader. So many times I scribbled in the margin of a manuscript: Who is listening to this? What audience does the author have in mind? At Varuna we frequently refer to Writer’s Drafts and Reader’s Drafts. A Writer’s Draft is where the author is still working out what he or she wants to say. Feelings tumble out, perhaps a character begins to take form—the story line develops. The Reader’s Draft begins when the author seeks to communicate the wholeness of that journey to a listener with the aim of creating an effect. Think of what happens at a dinner table when you decide to relate an event. You want to engage listeners and this means having a voice that compels them to listen, and listen for some time. Think of those voices that make you switch off: the person who seems to know all the answers or perhaps the one who seems to be simply talking to himself.

Also consider the literary form chosen. A few interesting manuscripts that caught our attention faltered because they were trying to extend themselves into the longer format of a novel, or an extended piece of creative non-fiction, when the voice and dramatic tension could not sustain the journey. Consider whether your particular vision would be better served applied to a television script, an essay or a poem.

On the matter of form, be aware of what a novel does in comparison to essay. A great novel does not seek to defend a point; rather it explores a world. As eminent writer, Eudora Welty points out, “The zeal to reform, which quite properly inspires the editorial, has never done fiction much good. The exception occurs when it can rise to the intensity of satire, where it finds a better home in the poem or the drama.”

In this regard, some manuscripts were a bit too earnest in their concerns and the intentions of the author too easily felt. When authors try to push a point, it follows that they will be at pains to include only those things that support that argument. A great novel takes readers (listeners) into a world filled with questions and shades of grey. At the end they will close the cover and ponder these things for themselves.  


 NOTES TO WRITERS LITLINK 2014 by Deb Westbury

My stepson surprised us all when he nominated ‘writing’ as his preferred work experience placement for year 10 at Katoomba High School. He’d somehow formed the impression that all writers did was to hang out in coffee shops chatting to other writers – or else lounged about with pen in hand staring dreamily into space. Fortunately, he was happy to be packed off to do carpentry, as his English teacher had suggested!

And so, it’s back to the couch for me, at least partially buried under a heavy fall of small dogs and manuscripts – another exhilarating day on the mountains!

Because I like to read all the manuscripts as close together, in time, as possible, it can be pretty hard work (the young man still doesn’t believe this). My reason for this approach to the task is that it gives me a sense of the entire project, like listening to a choir of 65 voices; these writers at this time and place.

In this way, each MS. in its turn is held up to those before it for ‘comparison and contrast’, (yes, English teachers have much to answer for!).

Soon, it’s as if all these writers are in the same room with me, each intoning the virtue and necessity of their own proposal.

Some of them are recognizable in this (much abbreviated) list from Margaret Atwood:

‘To set down the past before it is all forgotten . . .To please myself . . . To reward the virtuous and punish the guilty; or the Marquis de Sade defense, used by ironists – vice versa . . . To thumb my nose at Death . . . To make money so I could sneer at those who formerly sneered at me . . . Because to create is human. Because to create is Godlike. Because I hated the idea of having a job . . . To justify my failures at school. To justify my own view of myself and my life, because I couldn’t be a ‘writer’ unless I actually did some writing . . . To rectify the imperfections of my miserable childhood. To thwart my parents . . . Graphomania. Compulsive logorrhea . . . Because I had books instead of children . . . To create a recreational boudoir so the reader could go into it and have fun (translated from a Czech newspaper) . . . To speak for those that cannot speak for themselves . . . To bear witness to horrifying events that I have survived . . . To celebrate life in all its complexity . . . To give back something that has been given to me.’

(Margaret Atwood, pp xix-xxi: “Negotiating With the Dead – A Writer on Writing’. Virago Press, 2003).

I find them all likeable and worth listening to. After a while they go home and I’m alone with the creative work itself and questions such as – How close is what is achieved here to the writer’s expressed intention / ambition?

Creative Writing is, after all, an art form - To identify an original and arresting idea for a work is good, but the real work, the test, if you like, is finding / having the means to tell it. How to fashion with words as your medium, a portal through which your reader is drawn to accompany you.

After this comparing and contrasting, weighing and testing – we three emerge from our private dens with our big and small piles, our lists of ‘yes’s’, ‘nos’ and ‘maybes’ to meet with Jansis O’Hanlon, our ‘fearless leader’ at Varuna.

The questions now get much pointier – How can the LitLink awards best support the work we have come to see at this time as most successful? Is the work ready to go directly to a publisher? Perhaps the work is in an early draft form with obvious potential for the kind of development the programme can support. Sometimes the manuscript is already in its final stages and simply needs a boost over the finish line. Maybe it is a worthwhile exercise in storytelling that might find its ideal form in another medium. And, while we take seriously into account the marketability of each project, we are mindful that Varuna’s commitment is to support the best writing – not to second guess the marketing departments of major publishers. It is important work and we honour you for your efforts. At this point I’ll leave you with this quote from Kenneth Rexroth: ‘Against the ruin of the world the creative act is the only defence.’ Thankyou writers, and good luck.


LITLINK 2014: SOME REFLECTIONS by Helen Barnes Bulley

As judges, and as writers ourselves, we are conscious of how much effort and dedication goes into the creation of any literary work and so we are aware of the commitment the writers have made in submitting the work to t LitLink.

The qualities that make a work stand out are generally the same in any genre: the passion for the story, the originality of ideas, the credibility of the voice, the structure and development of the work, that crucial ability to elicit reader engagement and sustain it to the end, and of course the quality of the writing itself – its tone, its colour and mood, and its freshness, and freedom from cliché. It is always a delight to read work that relishes the opportunities offered by our language in all its varied voices.

The major challenge for a writer is to find the language that will be appropriate for the subject. Sometimes writers have an interesting story to tell but have yet to discover the best way of telling their story. There is no time frame for such a thing: some will manage to hear the right voice very early on; others may labour for a long time before achieving it. Some fine books have been written very quickly; others have taken twenty years. There are no rules, really. Writing is a way of life.