72-year-old publishes debut novel – winner of inaugural CAL Scribe Fiction Prize

In August 2009, Scribe launched the CAL Scribe Fiction Prize for an unpublished manuscript by an Australian writer aged 35 and over, regardless of publication history. The winner received $12,000 and a book contract from Scribe.

Maris Morton, born in 1938, has never had a book published before and was thrilled to win the inaugural CAL Scribe Fiction Prize with her debut novel, A Darker Music, to be published in October 2010 by Scribe.

Maris said of the win: ‘Winning the CAL Scribe Prize has made what seemed to be an impossible dream come true. I’m still pinching myself. Winning has given me an added incentive to go on doing what I love best: telling stories!’

Maris currently lives in Uki in rural NSW but has worked in various jobs around Australia including as an English teacher, shearers’ cook, shed hand, artist, art restorer and director of an art gallery, as well as raising two children. She has had a lifelong love of reading and a desire to write. But, she says, she never had the confidence to and it was only when she reached a crossroads in her life in the 1980s that she finally put pen to paper. At 72, she will finally see her dream realised.

A Darker Music has been a long time in gestation and was her third attempt at a novel. ‘A lot of people knew I was trying to write a book, it’s been a twelve-year effort, so I’m not an overnight success, far from it!’ She did a fair amount of research into merino wool production and the viola, as one of the central characters was a musician before she abandons her music to live on the sheep stud.

Maris says she has accumulated a lot of stories over the years. ‘I have been single for most of my life and people talk to me.’ She is now at work on another novel.

The inaugural CAL Scribe Fiction Prize for writers over 35 attracted 534 entrants, with the eldest born in 1919 (90 years old), while 22 entrants were born in the 1920s and 64 in the 1930s. The standard was very high and it was a tough task to narrow the longlist down to just three manuscripts and then to choose a winner. Aviva Tuffield, Fiction Acquisitions Editor at Scribe, says: ‘The judging process was quite lengthy and the judges admired all of the ten longlisted manuscripts.’

It was a very tight contest in the end — almost a dead heat between the three shortlisted works — but after much wrangling and negotiation the three judges agreed that Maris Morton’s work was the standout. The judges were Kerryn Goldsworthy, Mark Rubbo, and Aviva Tuffield. Of the winning manuscript, judge Mark Rubbo said: ‘It has a strong narrative and personally I found it was an extremely satisfying read.’

Both Meg Mundell’s Black Glass and Jane Sullivan’s Little People were highly commended and will also be published by Scribe in 2011.

The Scribe Fiction Prize is running again this year, with entries now open for the 2011 edition.

Many writers only find the time and have acquired the life experience to write fiction later in life. This prize recognises that there are many examples of late bloomers when it comes to writers, certainly in terms of getting published. Youth is already celebrated in so many ways, and Scribe wants to support writers who are emerging or still going strong in their prime.

About A Darker Music

‘This is an evocative story layered with mystery, longing and regret. Set on a sheep stud in WA the rural landscape is a background for a narrative that succinctly shows what the human heart can endure. Passion can extend beyond human love. It can fill our soul.’ — Nicole Alexander, author of The Bark Cutters

When Mary Lanyon takes on the job of temporary housekeeper at Downe, a famous Merino stud, she is looking forward to staying in a gracious homestead with the wealthy Hazlitt family. The owner’s wife, Clio, has been ill, and Mary’s task is to get the house back into shape in the lead-up to the wedding of the only son and heir, Martin.

When she arrives, however, Mary realises things are not right. Clio Hazlitt rarely ventures from her room. The house is shabby, redolent of dust and secrets. As a friendship develops between the women, Mary discovers answers to the questions that have puzzled her: What is the nature of Clio’s illness? What has caused the grim estrangement between Clio and her husband? And why did Clio give up playing music, when she says it meant so much to her?

A Darker Music is a gripping mystery that takes you into the heart of rural Western Australia, and into one family’s troubled past.

Published by

Clayton Wehner

Clayton is the founder and managing director of Boomerang Books. In a past life, Clayton worked for 12 years as an intelligence officer in the Australian Army and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is a graduate of the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Royal Military College Duntroon and holds a BA (Hons) in Political Science and a Master of Management Studies (Human Resource Management) from the UNSW. He is also a trained Indonesian linguist and served with the United Nations in East Timor as an interpreter/translator.