Richell prize: Ruth McIver wins lit­er­ary award for 'un­for­get­table' crime novel

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Stephanie Con­very

When Ruth McIver learned two weeks ago that her novel had won the $10,000 Richell Prize for Emerg­ing Writ­ers, she had trou­ble keep­ing the news to her­self. “It’s been a lit­tle weird know­ing,” she told Guardian Aus­tralia. “I don’t have a good poker face.”

To add to the dif­fi­culty, McIver felt that her lit­er­ary luck had changed very sud­denly. Hav­ing been a writer for a decade with a cou­ple of novel drafts un­der her belt, she en­tered a swathe of com­pe­ti­tions – some­thing she did ev­ery year. But this time, her work started to place.

Her first man­u­script, for a WA-based crime pro­ce­dural called Noth­ing Gold, was a run­ner up in the Banjo Prize run by HarperCollins. Her sec­ond man­u­script, I Shot the Devil, also a crime novel, won her a one-week res­i­dency and men­tor­ship with Af­firm Press ed­i­tors at Varuna writ­ers’ house. When I Shot the Devil ap­peared on the Richell Prize short­list, lit­er­ary agent Jac­inta Di Mase signed McIver off the back of it.

Now, I Shot the Devil has won the Richell Prize and McIver has been awarded $10,000 and a 12-month men­tor­ship with pub­lisher Ha­chette Aus­tralia.

“Ev­ery­thing’s hap­pened re­ally quickly for me. In the space of a month, ev­ery­thing’s changed,” McIver said. “It was just the right time, the work was ready and there’s some­thing about it that res­onated.”

The Richell Prize, sup­ported by Ha­chette Aus­tralia, Guardian Aus­tralia and the Emerg­ing Writ­ers’ fes­ti­val, was es­tab­lished in 2015 and is open to emerg­ing writ­ers of both fic­tion and nar­ra­tive non-fic­tion. More than 660 en­tries were re­ceived for this year’s prize, whit­tled down to a longlist of 19 and what the judges called a “re­mark­able” short­list of five “com­pelling voices”.

Judg­ing the prize were Ha­chette pub­lisher Vanessa Rad­nidge, author Han­nah Richell, Emerg­ing Writ­ers’ fes­ti­val direc­tor Will Daw­son, and Gavin Wil­liams of Ade­laide’s Matilda book­shop. McIver’s novel drew united praise from the panel, who called it “a dark and un­for­get­table lit­er­ary noir” that showed “an emerg­ing writer of con­sid­er­able lit­er­ary tal­ent. At­mo­spheric and chill­ingly en­ter­tain­ing, this was a novel that ev­ery sin­gle judge wanted to read more of.”

A free­lance writer and PhD can­di­date at Curtin Univer­sity, McIver en­tered the prize with the novel she was writ­ing as part of her the­sis in cre­ative writ­ing – a crime novel in­spired by a black widow mur­der she knew of as a child in the US.

I Shot the Devil is set in a fic­tional town in Long Is­land, New York, and the story com­prised of a dual nar­ra­tive: a jour­nal­ist in 2010 in­ves­ti­gat­ing a se­ries of crimes in her home town – “a pretty fa­mil­iar trope”, McIver said – and a sec­ond nar­ra­tive, weav­ing in and out of the first, a me­moir called Res­i­dent Alien, told from the per­spec­tive of 1994, from some­one close to the crime.

“It’s pretty noir, very dark,” McIver said. “I didn’t just base it on one crime, though there is one quite sen­sa­tional crime that it is loosely based on.”

The prize money has come at just the right time, as McIver had just run out of schol­ar­ship sup­port for her stud­ies and had been feel­ing the eco­nomic crunch. “It’s pretty scary ac­tu­ally,” she said. “You’ve still got all the work to do but then you’ve got to get a job. So this has come in re­ally, re­ally handy.”

McIver was based in Western Aus­tralia un­til a year ago, when she moved to Mel­bourne. Also a poet, in 2014 she self-pub­lished a novel in verse, and was in­vited to pitch Noth­ing Gold to pub­lish­ers at the Bloody Scot­land crimewrit­ing fes­ti­val.

McIver is al­ready work­ing on her third man­u­script and is plan­ning an­other novel-in-verse. Crime fic­tion is firmly her lit­er­ary beat – even the novel in verse was crime-themed – but while McIver is “unashamed” of em­brac­ing the genre, she is not rul­ing out tak­ing a de­tour. “I re­ally like writ­ers that rein­vent them­selves with each novel, you ac­tu­ally don’t re­ally know what it’s go­ing to be,” she said. “I do like that idea of not be­ing con­fined to a genre.”

Pho­to­graph: Alamy Stock Photo

The Richell Prize was es­tab­lished in 2015 and is open to emerg­ing writ­ers of both fic­tion and nar­ra­tive non-fic­tion.

Pho­to­graph: Sup­plied

Ruth McIver: ‘an emerg­ing writer of con­sid­er­able lit­er­ary tal­ent’.

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