NSW LitLink Fellowships 2017

Congratulations to the recipients of the NSW LitLink Residential Fellowship. Read on for news of fellowship recipients and feedback from our consultants.

This year Varuna received 81 manuscripts from writers living in regional NSW and Sydney surrounds. Two Varuna Consultants provided an independent assessment on each of the submitted manuscripts with each consultant assessing the work without identifying information.

Varuna Consultants for the LitLink 2017 Fellowship award were Mark Tredinnick and Carol Major. Amy Sambrooke, Varuna Creative Director oversaw the selection process.

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.

Recipients of the 2017 NSW LitLink Fellowships are:

Jesse Blackadder, to develop Five Ways to Kill a Fish, a novel about humans and whales, hunting and haunting.

Benjamin Ball, to develop The Simple Difficulty, a novel about an unremarkable scientist who sabotages coal, and with it the indignity of comfort in a coffee-pod world.

Sophie Hexter, to develop her film script W Smith, a film about an outcast who becomes a national hero in the greatest untold Australian story.

Julie Keys to develop Triptych, a novel which tells the story of two different generations of Australian women, one an artist, the other her contemporary investigator.

John Pitt to develop The Kid, a novel about the nearly 13 year old Zayde and the ways Zayde's own freefall coincides with, and ultimately brings him together with social-worker Ed.

On selecting ...
Thank you to our consultants for continuing to be so generous with their time, professional skills and creative insight. Thank you also to all of the writers who submitted their work – it was an extremely competitive field, as you'll read below.

Following is a short statement from the consultants talking about the selection process and the submitted manuscripts. We hope you find this feedback useful.

Reflections from consultant Carol Major
Many of the entries for the 2017 Litlink Fellowship were astonishingly good. It was as if something was circulating through the ether, encouraging head-turning observation.

In the end we chose four novels and one film script. This does not mean there were not very fine short story collections and poetry. Our final decisions were based on hair-splitting choices regarding fresh subject matter, the wholeness we felt developing, and the strength of the voice.

On that note, what held some manuscripts back was voice. In my case I am always asking if this is a voice that would seduce me? Would I sit listening to it and want more? Is it showing something that shimmers, or is it showing me too much of its own self-regard?

There were times in certain manuscripts where an 'I' narrator called too much attention to itself rather than the story unfolding. In other cases the scaffolding of craft construction was too evident, so that this reader became too aware of the author creating the fabric, rather than the fabric itself.

Other works were still in the writer's draft stage. In other words the author was still explaining the story to him or herself. This is an important stage but next comes the reader's draft where the essence of that explanation is shown to the reader. What is presented is the tip of the iceberg where the reader feels the weight of the mountain of thought below.

But these are stages in the journey. It does not mean that those manuscripts that were not selected are not worthy of development. My deepest respect for the effort spent. Each submission always feels like holding a heart in my hand.

Carol Major

Reflections from consultant Mark Treddinick
Thank you for inviting me to share the assessment of this year's remarkable applications for the LitLink Fellowships.

There were twenty projects that could and should have won fellowships. The standard of writing in this year's batch was, as I say, very high. And many fine works have had to miss the cut because we could choose only five. This is not to say that the five Carol and I chose are not the most outstanding. But others—two thrillers; two YA novels; a sassy, comedic contemporary entertainment; a political novel; two fine collections of lyric short fictions collections; three fine collections of poetry; three historical novels; a fantasy, and a memoir—would in any other year have found their way onto the shortlist. In the end we had to choose the most accomplished and finished works, which fulfilled the promise of their forms better than all others. Among the works that almost made it were many at least as well imagined, written and voiced, but with shortcomings, which, ironically, mentorship under a fellowship may well have mended.

Many applications this year, including both the best and the least, engaged with contemporary issues: terrorism, transgender issues, ecological crisis, racism and immigration, drug use, mental disorders, globalization, pandemics, fractious politics, bullying, social disadvantage, race, family dysfunction, solitude and social isolation, the property crisis, the crisis of values among Millennials and Gen Y. Many applications this year very strong on place. Others, including the poetry collections and the short story collections we could not quite find room for, explored literature's timeless and truest ground: the inner life of any human heart—love and loss, desire and longing, grief and hope.

I want to thank Carol Major for the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of her readings and how well she advocated books she loved more than I did and listened to my arguments for books I had favoured. Every applicant should know that Carol and I read every application closely and repeatedly and considered each other's arguments and comments with care. There are compromises judges have to make to reach agreement, and we both made them with grace.

I personally regret that we couldn't include a book of poems in the five fellowships. This year the books (and one film) we chose just made slightly stronger arguments for their place on the list. I suspect it is of the nature of the best short fiction and poetry that they burn on lower heat and make quieter claims for their great beauty. Among the books we nearly chose are, as I say, several poetry collections and a couple of collections that stayed in our calculations right till the end.

The entries this year were truly of a remarkable high standard, and it was an honour to read them. (The reading was sometimes unsettling, even harrowing, because of the intensity of many of the works and the difficulty they so successfully explored.) Many we had to overlook, will without a doubt, if their authors can find the time and money and support to finish them, become acclaimed and commercially successful books.

As will the five works we have selected for the fellowship: each of them masterfully articulated, brilliantly conceived, topical but eternal in subject matter.

Thank you to Amy Sambrooke (and before her, Susan Hayes) for your brilliant administration of the prize and for making it so easy for Carol and me to get our reading and assessment done. And thanks to Carol Major. A joy to work with. You taught me much. And I have rarely enjoyed a discussion about books and writing more: considered, precise, passionate and generous.

Mark Tredinnick

Vera Costello