SWF After Party

HMay was packed full of exciting book events, a number linked to the Sydney Writers’ Festival. My SWF week began with the evening announcement of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards at the Mitchell Library. It was a great opportunity to catch up with people and meet new authors.

The other awards evening I attended was the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA). This was a glittering event, particularly this year when we were asked to wear a splash of ruby red to celebrate the 15th awards dinner.

We were spoiled by having Casey Bennetto (creator of Keating the Musical) again as MC. He does an amazing job writing songs about those who present the awards and delivers these as mini-performances. Award presenters included international guests David Mitchell (The Bone Clocks), Michael Connolly (American writer of crime fiction and detective novels, best know for those featuring LAPD Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch), Anthony Horowitz (Sherlock Holmes and James Bond original novels, the Alex Rider teen series, Foyle’s War and Midsummer Murders) and Helen Macdonald (H is for Hawk), who also gave the closing address of the SWF.


2014 Miles Franklin winner, Evie Wyld (All the Birds, Singing) also had her own song and Casey Bennetto wished that he had written one for Marcus Zusak (The Book Thief). He ad-libbed something on the spot, incorporating ‘John Cusack’ to rhyme with ‘Zusak’. Zusak presented his former editor, Celia Jellett from Omnibus Books, Scholastic, with the Pixie O’Harris Award for service to Australian children’s books.

Foreign SoilIt was lovely to meet Josephine Moon (The Tea Chest) and Maxine Beneba Clark, who won the Literary Fiction Book of the Year for Foreign Soil, and I spied legends, Sonya Hartnett (Golden Boys) and Morris Gleitzman (Loyal Creatures) at the next table.

Some other award winners were Judith Rossell, who is snapping up awards, including the Indies, for Withering-by-Sea; Tim Low for Where Song Began: Australia’s Birds and How They Changed the World (Tim was so surprised, he was dumb-struck); and Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen for Tea and Sugar Christmas. Boomerang Books was shortlisted for Online Retailer of the Year.


Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton won ‘Book of the Year: Younger Children’ for The 52-Storey Treehouse and this also won overall ‘Book of the Year’, selected from the winners of each category. Another well-deserved scoop for children’s books.

Andy Griffiths was also a star at the SWF, signing books at the head of an enormous queue for, essentially, a whole day.

Because we are big fans of the Canadian TV series Orphan Black, we went to a screenwriters’ panel at the SWF, where Orphan Black writer, Lynne Coady, was speaking. She looks quite like the multi-role playing star of the show, Tatiana Maslany. Lynne got the conversation to a deeper level by confiding her fear of working as part of a screen-writing team. As an introvert who had been writing literary fiction alone in her basement she was worried how her voice would be heard in a group of, presumably, loud voices. Her vulnerability lit a spark in the panel’s discussion.

Waiting for the PastAnother highlight was hearing three eminent poets, David Malouf, Les Murray (Waiting for the Past) and Ben Okri read and speak about poetry. Moderator, poet/singer-songwriter Kate Fagan enhanced the session.

Another enthusiastic moderator was Davina Bell (The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade see my interview here) who chaired four YA authors in ‘Keeping it Real: Realistic Issues in Teen Fiction’. Authors included international Laurie Halse Anderson (The Impossible Knife of Memory), who intrigued the audience by knitting throughout the session, and Australian Melina Marchetta (Looking for Alibrandi, On the Jellicoe Road), to whom homage was deservedly paid.

Jellicoe Road

ABIA Awards highlight Australian non-fiction reads

The finalists for this year’s Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA) have been announced and it’s looking good for Australian non-fiction reader and writers this year.  The ABIA awards are voted on by booksellers and publishers, rather than literary panels, so rather than focusing on high-brow fiction these awards instead highlight what publishers and bookshops find that readers can’t get enough of.

Real life reads have no shortage of sales but they often get left out in the cold when it’s time to give out writing prizes and awards. Not so with the ABIA awards; not only are two categories  out of seven exclusively for non-fiction reads (biography of the year and a general non-fiction category) but plenty of non-fiction has made its way into lists where you would normally expect fiction to reign supreme.

The Book of the Year for Older Children (age 8 to 14 years), has one such hat-tip to real-life reading in its listing of Lonely Planet’s lively Travel Book, Not For Parents Edition. The book of the year category also has a non-fiction offering in William McInnes & Sarah Watt’s memoir, Worse Things Happen At Sea, a celebration (and occasional commiseration) of Australian day to day family life, which is listed alongside such fiction feasts as Caleb’s Crossing and Foal’s Bread.

Non-fiction is also well-represented in the newcomer of the year (debut writer) category, with 3 of 5 of the new writers penning memoirs. Two of those books,  A Private Life by Michael Kirby and Life Without Limits (written by Australian-born Nick Vujicic who hasn’t left being born without arms or legs get in his way becoming an international inspirational speaker) have also nominated for biography of the year. How-to writing also gets a shout-out in the form of a nomination for container-gardening guide The Little Veggie Patch Co, which I suspect will shortly be responsible for yet another pile of dead pot-plants on my balcony.

The nominess for Biography of the Year will also delight fans of sports-writing with 2 of the 5 finalists, Darren Lockyer by Darren Lockyer & Dan Koch and The Long Road to Paris by Cadel Evans, jostling for first place. Hazel Rowley’s fascinating Franklin and Eleanor rounds out the list of biographies to five.

The finalists for General Nonfiction book of the year are:

There’s plenty there to keep even the most avid booklover reading but if you only have the time to devote to the pick of the crop, the various winners will be announced on May 18 as part of the 2012 Sydney Writers’ Festival.