Stella Prize Longlist Announced

stella-logo-largeThe longlist for Australia’s first women’s literary prize, The Stella Prize, has been announced.*

From almost 200 original entries, the Stella Prize judges — writer and critic Kerryn Goldsworthy, author Kate Grenville, actor and creator Claudia Karvan, bookseller Fiona Stager and broadcaster Rafael Epstein — have selected 12 books for the longlist.

In alphabetical order, they are:

  • Floundering by Romy Ash (Text Publishing)
  • Mazin Grace by Dylan Coleman (UQP)
  • The Burial by Courtney Collins (Allen & Unwin)
  • The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny (Penguin/Viking)
  • Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin)
  • Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth (Scribe Publications)
  • The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson (Five Islands Press)
  • Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy (Scribe Publications)
  • Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)
  • The Mind of a Thief by Patti Miller (UQP)
  • An Opening by Stephanie Radok (Wakefield Press)
  • Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany (Pan Macmillan/Picador)

Criteria for The Stella Prize are that the works be “original, excellent and engaging.” It is an “eclectic longlist,” according to the judges, one “that reflects the breadth of imagination, knowledge and skill in contemporary Australian women’s writing.” The longlist includes works of several genres, including short stories, speculative fiction in verse, fantasy and nonfiction: “stories from the past and from the future; stories of children at risk, of racial tension, of world travel, and of unimaginable danger and loss.” (You can read more about books on the longlist on The Stella Prize website).

Given the interest in books by Australian women by participants in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, it’s surprising to discover that only six out of the 12 books on the Stella Prize longlist have been reviewed for the challenge. (Paula Grunseit gave a wrap-up of some of those reviews on the AWW blog.)

Longlisted books still to be reviewed are:

  • Mazin Grace by Dylan Coleman which won the David Unaipon Award in 2011#
  • Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth, which won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2009#
  • The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson which was shortlisted for the same prize that year#
  • Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy
  • The Mind of a Thief by Patti Miller and
  • An Opening by Stephanie Radok.

#Source: AustLit News

For the Stella Prize judges, these books are “reading treasures,” books that represent the best of the best Australian women’s writing. Their absence from AWW’s review lists suggests that quality books by Australian women still aren’t coming to the attention of readers — even avid readers, like the hundreds of bookbloggers participating in the AWW challenge, readers strongly motivated to discover new works by Australian women.

The Stella Prize aims to help to change that.

The shortlist will be announced on Wednesday March 20, and the prize itself will be awarded in Melbourne on the evening of Tuesday April 16.

Book giveaway: Scribe Publications, in conjunction with AWW, is giving readers a chance to win books by several Scribe authors, including two authors longlisted for the Stella Prize, Cate Kennedy and Amy Espeseth. Details can be found on the Australian Women Writers blog. Entries close on February 28.

*Note: This is a modified version of a blog post which first appeared on HuffPost Books.

The House of Memories by Monica McInerney: carefully crafted & moving

Following a tragic accident, Ella O’Hanlon flees to the other side of the world in an attempt to escape her grief, leaving behind the two people she blames for her loss: Aidan, the love of her life, and Jess, her spoilt half-sister. (From publisher’s summary.)

house-memoriesI felt uneasy through a fair bit of this book. At first I wasn’t sure whether I was being played with, but then I realised the story line is pretty straight forward. It ranges over a number of different points of view and deftly incorporates a variety of styles. There’s the first-person narrative of the brittle main character Ella; the stage-managed diary entries of her narcissistic younger half-sister, Jess; the folksy-jolly emails of her step-brother Charlie; and the heartfelt letters of her estranged husband Aidan.

The aspects that unnerved me, I discovered, were carefully crafted: I was meant to feel that way. Just as I was meant, slowly, to come to see the complexity behind the tragic events that provide the background to this story.

Last year, as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I came across a genre-bending category: “family drama with elements of crime” – the kind that Wendy James and the controversial Caroline Overington do so well. I’m not sure this book fits: it’s perhaps not dark enough; but almost. The story portrays characters who act and react badly, who have been driven to extremes by circumstances, who don’t or can’t always see things from others’ points of view. It’s moving and uneven; uneven not through lack of writerly skill, but because the narrations of the characters – and the characters themselves – aren’t always what they seem.

Who will enjoy The House of Memories? People who love reading about Aussie ex-pats in London and imperfect, blended families; and readers who don’t mind being stretched emotionally in a way that resolves with a sense of hope, if not happiness, at the end.

~

Thanks to the publishers for supplying a review e-copy via NetGalley
The House of Memories, Monica McInerney
Published: September, 2012
Publisher: Penguin Australia, Michael Joseph
ISBN: 9781921518645

The real challenge: taking AWW into 2013

It has been a great year for the Australian Women Writers challenge, and a great year for Australian women’s writing – or has it?

For the challenge, certainly.

More than 370 people signed up to read and review books by Australian women throughout 2012. Word started getting out to bookshops – Abbey’s in Sydney created a window display for International Women’s Day. Reviews rolled in and continued all year. So far over 1350 reviews have been linked to the challenge, with more coming every day as people wrap up their year’s reading.

The challenge was so successful, the system broke down – there were too many reviews to read. The over-stretched “Mr Linky” system made it difficult to see new ones, or to find books in genres that readers were looking for.

A few months ago a team of book bloggers joined me to create an AWW team with the aim of making improvements and continuing the challenge into 2013. We shifted to a new website, changed the way review links were uploaded, found help to write code to create a more user-friendly “review listings” website. The site now features titles sorted by genre and a page of recent releases. Behind the scenes, we’ve been busy working to make this process as automatic as possible for next year.

Then something happened. Or maybe it had been happening all year, and I didn’t notice. The AWW challenge started getting serious attention.

Huffington Post Books invited me to write a blog on Australian women’s writing. Then last week on Overland journal, Jane Gleeson-White announced 2012 as The Year of Australian Women Writers – thanks to the Stella Prize and the AWW challenge. A journalist from Women’s Agenda rang me for an interview. Bookseller & Publisher on Twitter invited me to report to them on the impact of Australian women’s writing. I created a survey to collect some stats which so far has attracted over 550 respondents. (If you haven’t yet taken it, please do: it’s open to anyone and only takes 2 minutes.) On Friday night Tara Moss featured on Radio National Drive’s Twitterati segment with Julian Morrow and mentioned the challenge.

And now this: Daily Life’s Clementine Ford has included the AWW challenge as one of The 20 greatest moments for women in 2012. The challenge is in great company!

So that makes for a great year for Australian women writers and their work, right?

If you take a look at what First Tuesday Book Club came up with as a list of the Top 50 books by Australians this year, you’d have to wonder.

First Tuesday Book Club's Top 50 Aussie Books 2012

First Tuesday Book Club’s Top 50 Aussie Books 2012

James Tierney kindly created this pie chart to show the results. Of the 50 books listed, only 16 are by women. Of the 15 female authors (Christina Stead is mentioned twice), 10 of the writers are dead. That compares to 34 male writers – 20 living of whom are living.

Four times as many living Australian male writers than female writers appear on First Tuesday Book Club’s list of Top 50 Aussie reads.

Voted by the general public.

After over a year dedicated to reading books by Australian women, I can state the lack of awareness exemplified by this result isn’t due to the quality of Australian women’s writing. Before last year, I couldn’t have been certain about that. Now I am. Fantastic books by Australian women are out there – the AWW challenge has proved that. They are quality books in all genres – including romance, crime, fantasy, as well as literary, nonfiction, history, memoir and biography. They are books for children and adults. There are prize-winners and light holiday reads. These books represent countless hours of the efforts of very talented women who deserve to be well known and loved by readers in their own country.

The problem is awareness. It’s the same issue as I faced in mid 2011 when I went to my local library, asked for books by Australian women and the library staff on duty couldn’t come up with the name of one living author.

So what can we do?

First you can sign up for AWW 2013 challenge and encourage your friends to do so. Even if you don’t review books, there’s a “read only” option. Check out the review listings and the 1350+ reviews of books read already for the challenge, find something that looks interesting. Participate in the challenge by recommending them to your book group, chat about them via social media (on Twitter use the #aww2013 hashtag), or on the AWW Facebook page. Comment on the reviewers’ blogs and show them there’s a community of readers who are interested in Australian women writers and what they have to say. Talk to your local librarians, book shops and English teachers. If they’re not familiar with books by Australian women, get them to check out the challenge website.

This is the real challenge for 2013. Getting the word out there.

Such activism can and will have positive results. Last year Readings Bookshop reviewed 72 crime novels, only 15 of which were by women and only 2 of which were by Australian women. I contacted them behind the scenes and was horrified to discover the people in charge of the reviewing were women. This year, they’ve just put out their own list of Top 50: 50 Great Books By Australian Women. What a difference a year can make when we actively set out to challenge our gender bias – our gender bias, men and women’s.

Let’s hope next time Tuesday Book Club – or anyone else – asks for a Top 50 list of Aussie Reads, books by living Australian women writers will be among the first to spring to readers’ minds.

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