Richell prize: Ruth McIver wins literary award for 'unforgettable' crime novel
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.”
The Richell Prize was established in 2015 and is open to emerging writers of both fiction and narrative non-fiction.
Ruth McIver: ‘an emerging writer of considerable literary talent’.