Indie Book Awards 2015

 

BushLast night I was fortunate to attend the Indie Book Awards. It was a great evening, hosted by Hachette Australia in Sydney. These awards are organised by Leading Edge Books, who support independent bookshops (see more about them in last weekend’s AFR and in this interview with Galina Marinov). The shortlists and winners are voted by staff at Australia’s 170+ indie bookstores; widely read and discerning readers who have a strong sense of which books are the standouts and what readers should buy and appreciate.

The Indie Awards are also the first of Australia’s slew of literary awards for the year and a valuable predictor of what is going to appear on shortlists across the country. They have a strong record of picking winners in their seven-year history, including last year’s overall winner, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, which of course went on to win the Man Booker Prize and jointly win the Prime Minster’s Literary Awards.

http-::www.boomerangbooks.com.au:Golden-Boys:Sonya-Hartnett:book_9781926428611Winner of the Fiction category, was Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (Penguin Australia), which I reviewed for the SunHerald. Sonya wasn’t able to attend because of house renovations but she sent a memorable thank-you speech that brought the parlous state under her house to life.

The Bush by Don Watson (Penguin Australia) beat a strong field in the Non-Fiction category, which included Helen Garner’s This House of Grief (Text), Where Song Began by Tim Low (Penguin) and Cadence by Emma Ayres (ABC Books HarperCollins), who graciously attended. Her book, with its strong music background, looks fascinating. The Bush also won the overall Book of the Year award.

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke (Hachette Australia) was the popular winner of the Debut Fiction. This was a strongly contested category, which included Emily Bitto’s The Strays (Affirm Press). (See my review here.) http-::www.boomerangbooks.com.au:Foreign-Soil:Maxine-Beneba-Clarke:book_9780733632426

The Children’s and YA shortlist spanned a picture book, Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic); a YA novel, Laurinda by Alice Pung (Black Inc) (see my interview with Alice here) and two completely different novels for primary aged children, The 52-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton (Pan Macmillan) and Withering-by-Sea, the deserving winner by author-illustrator Judith Rossell (ABC Books, HarperCollins). (See my review here.)

A distinctive aspect of the evening was the announcement of the winners by booksellers from Sydney as well as interstate. This set the tone of the Indies as an award with special synergy and respect between authors, publishers and booksellers.

Withering by Sea

The Golden Age where children are gold

Golden AgeIn lists of best recent books Joan London’s The Golden Age (Vintage/Random House Australia) has featured as stand-out Australian fiction, alongside Ceridwen Dovey’s  (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin) Only the Animals. I had already read Only the Animals and just had to read The Golden Age to see what the fuss is about.

http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/holidays-the-chance-to-read-short-fiction-poetry-ya/2014/12

Joan London has written a reflective narrative set mainly in 1954 about children who are recovering from polio in a Perth convalescent home. The sprawling house where they are cared for, the Golden Age, with its verandah, corridors and wards for Boys and Girls, is as powerful a building as Tim Winton’s house in Cloudstreet.Cloudstreet

The children almost seem to be on an educational holiday camp, with diverse company, activities and good food and care. Those who stayed for Christmas ‘seemed much happier than those who returned at bedtime, exhausted, silent, distant and alone’. The Golden Age becomes a microcosmic utopia or refuge – for a time – outside the children’s own often-difficult lives, an irony considering their precarious, damaged health and mobility.

The children tell their ‘onset’ and other stories: Elsa collapsed riding her bike home after tennis, Ann Lee needs to recover and walk after her failure to water the thirsting brumbies. Thirteen-year-old Frank Gold comes from a musical family, writes poetry and loves Elsa. His Hungarian migrant experience parallels that of some refugees whose arrival in Australia is almost as fraught as their past. Frank’s first Australian Christmas is spent in a polio hospital. And, like returned servicemen, the children often feel displaced when they go home.

Hanging GardenChild protagonists are powerful yet often unnoticed in literary fiction. They shine in Patrick White’s The Hanging Garden, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi and much of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (note the ‘gold’ in the title). The Golden Age continues this trend and it is also part of a cache of recent important novels about children which feature gold as a symbol and in their titles. These include Sonya Hartnett’s Golden Boys

https://twitter.com/joylawn1/status/521161281097592834 and Ursula Dubosarsky’s poignant YA novel, The Golden Day. Gold is clearly a powerful motif in literature and is intrinsically linked with children. Children are gold.Golden Day

Joan London’s other novels are Gilgamesh, which won the Age Book of the Year for Fiction in 2002 and was long-listed for both the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Orange Prize and The Good Parents, which won the 2009 Christina Stead Prize for fiction. Her two awarded short story collections, Sister Ships and Letters to Constantine have been published in one volume, The New Dark Age.

New Dark Age