This year Varuna received 64 manuscripts from writers living in regional NSW and the greater Sydney area. Three Varuna Consultants provided an independent assessment on each of the submitted manuscripts with each consultant assessing the work ‘blind’ (ie without identifying information).
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 2015 LitLink Fellowships
Fiona Britton for her collection of poetry Internal medicine, a reflection on the markers of identity, commenting on modern love and recounting personal responses to death.
Donna Cameron for her fictional novel Moondarrawa, a uniquely Australian, sensuous and magical, contemporary tale of love and grief
Joanne Riccioni for her short story collection Can't Take the Country Out of the Boy, which examines everyday human relationships on the cusp of change through the spotlight of chance events and encounters.
Diana Sweeney for her film script Saturn Return telling the story of Sofia Marten who half way through her twenty-ninth year discovers that she is at an astrological crossroad
Lisa Walker for her YA fiction Paris Syndrome, in which a Paris-obsessed Brisbane teenager must find a cure for Paris Syndrome, learn to deal with grief and loss, and figure out which Alex she loves – the girl or the boy – before the summer ends.
On selecting …
Varuna Consultants for the LitLink 2015 Fellowship award were Deb Westbury, Helen Barnes-Bulley and Carol Major. Thank you our 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 and who make the task of selection simultaneously delightful and torturous. Following is a short statement from each of the consultants talking about the selection process and the submitted manuscripts. We hope you find this feedback useful.
Reflections from consultant Carol Major
Our five winners took in fiction, short stories, poetry, young adult fiction and a screen play. It is not often that we capture all categories. The judges make their selections separately and then we meet to discuss. This time there was little disagreement. We had all placed the winning entries at the top of our lists.
What made them stand out so clearly?
We chatted about the elements. These included the orientation of the narrator so that the reader was thrown into scene with a vivid sensibility. We were there, on edge—feeling all of the narrator’s tension. It was impossible to look away.
In a collection of poems it was sustained metaphor that looped back on itself so that the observed became the observer and we were brought to tears with the anguish of a young man lost.
There was also the charismatic charm of a young girl’s voice that delighted the listener—and in other cases a complexity that added depth and meaning to the subject matter. The author was doing more than simply telling a good story well—but revealing aspects hitherto unseen.
In all cases there was a wholeness of the vision. Everything hung together to deliver a particular effect.
‘Focus’ was a word continually mentioned in our discussions. And among those offerings that had admirable elements, lack of focus and integration is what held them back. In a brilliant work everything speaks to everything else.
In this regard Jack Hodgins comments in A Passion For Narrative are well worth remembering (and apply to poetry and other forms as well.)
‘Always the goal in revising is to achieve a more powerful whole, all of whose parts are dependent on one another and necessary for the desired effect. The hope is to honour (and preserve) the imagined perfect story’s natural integrity. In the works we admire, it is impossible to imagine the actions separate from the characters, the setting and atmosphere separate from the voice and style, the structure anything but what it is, or the theme isolated from any of the elements that are interwoven to create the total form.’
Jack Hodgins, A Passion For Narrative, pg 241-42.
Reflections from consultant Helen Barnes-Bulley
Critics talk about the writer’s “voice”, and so it seems important to examine what we mean by that. It can be interpreted in a number of ways, but it seems to me that it includes those aspects of a text that are crucial to its appeal to the reader, and its literary success. The voice takes in just about everything that matters in a piece of writing – its intention, motivation, its philosophical and intellectual position, its ideas and themes and of course, the ways in which these are explored and expressed. Structure, character, language, style, rhythm, tone – these are some of the crucial elements in a piece of writing, and the discrimination and dedication with which the writer employs these are vital to a reader’s response.
What you are writing has to matter to you.
Whether a memoir in a single voice, poem, short story, essay or novel with a range of characters, these all belong to the writer and it is the power of the writing, the conviction, the talent with structure and language, the emotional and intellectual engagement it can engender, that will lead us on. Compulsion and passion drive a narrative, of whatever kind. The compulsion has to be there, but the skill to realise the vision driving it has to be great enough to take the reader and hold him or her until the end.
Reflections from consultant Deb Westbury
Thankyou for your efforts everyone. This time around I wondered if the standard of Oz creative writing has improved overall, or if our writers are saving their best work for us to read at Varuna. I like to think that there is some accuracy in both observations.
We noticed too, that there was a satisfying range of concerns and genres represented in the list overall and in the final selection. Having said this, I return now to the pages of notes that I wrote during each sitting and find myself making the usual observations. Some of them are listed here so that, if you wish, you may reflect on their relevance, or not, to your submission.
~ overwritten, slow paced
~ some light and depth in the writing, some life and insight
~ good family history memoir, not suitable for general consumption
~ this writing self conscious, straining for affect, the narrator / protagonist hard to identify with
~ some of these poems / stories make you wonder about their reason for being
~ good dialogue / conversational tone well observed
~ historical details well researched but the voice not congruent with time and place
~ promising, would benefit from mentoring
~ poetry with no poetry in the actual language
~ adequately written but the plot over-contrived
~ original imagery, engaging characters, good dialogue, publishable
~ contemporary, relevant, engaging and credible narrator, well paced, good dialogue
~ seductive and very skilful use of language adding up to not much – not evocative of feeling, similar tone throughout
~ the plot seems unduly complicated for this age group (under 10)
~ closely observed insightful human studies, confident voice, satisfying range of emotion, could do with an editor – expression a little clumsy here and there
~ a worthwhile story though not well-written
~ individual components make for rewarding / interesting reading – for me, doesn’t hold together as a work of art
This is a summary only, at least in part because some observations are oft-repeated. What works well does so in the ways it usually does, and falls short also in the usual ways. You might be interested to know that each consultant read the same manuscripts without knowing who or where they came from, and without talking to each other during the process, yet were unanimous in their nominations of the first 5 m/s.
For your interest, I am including this extract of a review by James Ley (S.M.H. 13-14 June 2015):
“In critic James Wood’s first book of essays, “The Broken Estate” (1999) themes include the evocative power of metaphor and finely observed detail, and the way the small instances of recognition generate the human sympathy he sees as fiction’s valuable essence.
He conceives of fiction, in particular, … as an utterly free space, where anything might be thought, anything uttered.”
I can only agree!
Good luck and best wishes,