The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

The Aus­tralian / Vo­gel’s Lit­er­ary Award for an un­pub­lished manuscript by young writer, which this news­pa­per, the bread­maker, and pub­lisher Allen & Un­win started in 1980, has an im­pres­sive hon­ours board.

An ob­scure 21-year-old from Western Aus­tralia was an early recipient, in 1981 for An Open Swim­mer. Tim Win­ton has won a few more prizes since. Other win­ners in­clude Kate Grenville, Brian Castro, Mandy Sayer, Gil­lian Mears, Tom Flood, An­drew McGa­han, Eva Sal­lis (now Hor­nung of Dog Boy fame), Kris­tel Thor­nell, Ro­han Wil­son and, yes, Helen Demi­denko. What I like most about the Vo­gel, of which I’ve been a judge for the past four years, is that it is awarded to writ­ers we are yet to know. I’ve judged lots of awards and one of the chal­lenges lies in the fact the au­thors and their works are known. I ex­pect this is par­tic­u­larly true of the Miles Franklin, which I’ve yet to judge (but my hand is up!).

With the Vo­gel, ev­ery writer and ev­ery book-to-be is new. Read­ing them re­minds me of the pas­sion, in­tel­li­gence and in­no­va­tion of Aus­tralian lit­er­a­ture. Win­ton and Grenville can de­liver that any day of the week, of course, but see­ing it in de­but manuscripts is ex­cit­ing.

The other as­pect of the Vo­gel I value is that it is not a win­ner-only prize. Quite a few manuscripts that make the short­list end up be­com­ing books, of­ten at the judges’ rec­om­men­da­tion. Some are pub­lished by A&U, some by other pub­lish­ers, such as Romy Ash’s Floun­der­ing (Text) and Stephanie Bishop’s The Other Side of the World (Ha­chette), both of which are ter­rific.

Only this week I was de­lighted to see Ben Hob­son’s To Be­come a Whale land on my desk. I liked it a lot when it was in Vo­gel con­tention last year. An­other from the same short­list that is about to come out is Anna Daniel’s comic Girl In Be­tween. Other re­cent ones in­clude Gretchen Shirm’s When the Light Falls and Sam Car­mody’s The Windy Sea­son.

And so to this year’s short­list, which in­cludes an un­usual con­tender: a mil­i­tary his­tory. The other four are nov­els, rang­ing in sub­ject mat­ter from a jus­tice min­is­ter’s daugh­ter who be­comes pen pals with a death row in­mate, to a jour­nal­ist son re­turn­ing to his fam­ily prop­erty, and the har­vest, as his fa­ther ails, to a comin­gof-age story in­volv­ing a 14-year-old boy and his soldier brother, to, fur­ther from home, an in­trigu­ing take on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Franz Kakfa and Max Brod.

Fol­low­ing are short extracts from each, es­sen­tially the open­ing pages. With the his­tory one I have cho­sen the pref­ace be­cause it well ex­plains the idea be­hind the book.

The prize, worth $20,000, will be an­nounced at A&U’s Syd­ney of­fices on Wed­nes­day, with writer and TV star Ben Law host­ing cer­e­monies.

Good luck to all.

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