Queensland Literary Awards 2015 – still time to vote

After its recent tumultuous history, the Qld Literary Awards are growing from strength to strength under the banner of the State Library of Queensland and a bevy of eminent sponsors.

The 2015 shortlists have just been announced and the winners will be revealed at the Awards Ceremony on Friday 9th October in Brisbane.

Some categories showcase Queensland authors. These include the Queensland Premier’s Award for a Work of State Significance

Shortlisted authors are:Heat and light

The impressive Ellen van Neerven  for Heat and Light  (University of Queensland Press)

Zoe Boccabella  Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar  (Harper Collins Publishers)

Mark Bahnisch  Queensland; Everything you ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask  (NewSouth Publishing)

Anna Bligh  Through the Wall: Reflections on Leadership, Love and Survival  (Harper Collins Publishers)

Libby Connors  Warrior  (Allen & Unwin)

Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award

Imogen Smith  Araluen

Elizabeth Kasmer  Aurora

W. George Sargasso

Kate Elkington  Wool Spin Burn

 Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards

Andrew McMillen

Megan McGrath, Program Coordinator at the Brisbane Writers Festival

Michelle Law

Rebecca Jessen

Sam George-Allen

It is impressive how these state awards nurture and promote Qld authors.

The Qld Literary Awards are also notable for their support of Indigenous authors with the David Unaipon Award for Unpublished Indigenous Writer –

Andrew Booth  The First Octoroon or Report of an Experimental Child

Mayrah Yarragah Dreise  Social Consciousness Series

Patricia Lees with Adam C. Lees  A Question of Colour

Other categories celebrate the finest Australian writers (and some illustrators) across the country.

These include the

Griffith University Children’s Book AwardNew Boy

Meg McKinlay  A Single Stone  (Walker Books Australia)

Tasmin Janu  Figgy in the World  (Omnibus Books)

David Mackintosh  Lucky  (Harper Collins Publishers)

Nick Earls New Boy (Penguin)

Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley Teacup (Scholastic Australia)

There was a strong selection of novels, picture books and others to whittle down into a shortlist this year.

Griffith University Young Adult Book AwardAre You Seeing Me

Darren Groth  Are You Seeing Me?  (Random House Australia)

Justine Larbalestier  Razorhurst  (Allen & Unwin) This won the Aurealis spec fiction award for Horror Novel.

Diana Sweeney  The Minnow  (Text Publishing) This was a CBCA Honour Book.

John Larkin  The Pause  (Random House Australia)

Jeri Kroll  Vanishing Point  (Puncher and Wattman)

I have read these except for Vanishing Point and so am now keen to read this also. It’s great to see a publisher I know for its poetry publishing YA.

University of Queensland Fiction Book AwardSnow Kimono

Amanda Lohrey  A Short History of Richard Kline  (Black Inc)

Joan London  The Golden Age  (Random House Australia) Reviewed here

Mark Henshaw  The Snow Kimono  (Text Publishing) Reviewed here

Malcolm Knox  The Wonder Lover  (Allen & Unwin)

Rohan Wilson  To Name Those Lost  (Allen & Unwin)

University of Queensland Non-fiction Book Award

Brenda Niall  Mannix  (Text Publishing)

Don Watson  The Bush: Travels in the Heart of Australia  (Penguin)

Anne Manne  The Life of I: The New Culture of Narcissism  (Melbourne University Press)

Annabel Crabb  The Wife Drought  (Random House Australia)

Karen Lamb  Thea Astley: Inventing Her Own Weather  (University of Queensland Press)

University of Southern Queensland History Book AwardCyclone

Carolyn Holbrook  ANZAC, The Unauthorised Biography  (NewSouth Publishing)

Angela Woollacott  Settler Society in the Australian Colonies: Self-Government and Imperial Culture  (Oxford University Press)

Christine Kenneally  The Invisible History of the Human Race  (Black Inc)

Agnieszka Sobocinska  Visiting the Neighbours: Australians in Asia  (NewSouth Publishing)

Sophie Cunningham  Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy  (Text Publishing)

University of Southern Queensland Australian Short Story Collection – Steele Rudd Award

Nic Low  Arms Race and Other Stories  (Text Publishing)

Nick Jose  Bapo  (Giramondo)

Ellen van Neerven  Heat and Light  (University of Queensland Press)

Christos Tsiolkas  Merciless Gods  (Allen & Unwin)

J.M. Coetzee  Three Stories  (Text Publishing

State Library of Queensland Poetry Collection – Judith Wright Calanthe Award

Susan Bradley Smith  Beds for All Who Come  (Five Islands Press)

Robert Adamson  Net Needle  (Black Inc)

David Brooks  Open House  (University of Queensland Press)

Lucy Dougan  The Guardians  (Giramondo)

Les Murray  Waiting for the Past  (Black Inc)

Thanks to the State Library of Queensland and supporters, including those who sponsor and give their names to specific awards.

And vote now until 5pm Friday 18 September 2015 for

The Courier-Mail 2015 People’s Choice Queensland Book of the YearNavigatio

 Nick Earls Analogue Men

Patrick Holland Navigatio

Inga Simpson Nest

Kari Gislason The Ash Burner

Zoe Boccabella Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar

John Ahern On the Road…With the Kids

David Murray The Murder of Allison Baden-Clay

Mary Lou Simpson From Convict to Politician

Review: The Martini Shot by George Pelecanos

9781409151340This is George Pelecanos’s first collection of short stories and once again demonstrates his consummate class, not just as a crime writer, but a writer.

The title piece is the longest of the collection but Pelecanos saves it for last. The preceding stories are a blend of what makes Pelecanos great. Stories about the street, with all the grit, soul, flair and despair that lives there.

The standout piece is Chosen. A short story that originally appeared with the eBook of The Cut and is pretty much Spero Lucas’s origin story. The piece is about Spero’s adoptive parents and how he and his brothers came to be adopted. Pelecanos tells it from the father’s perspective and I have to admit to having a few tears in my eyes at the end of the story. There was no crime in this piece. It was just life; pure, simple and beautiful. And what Pelecanos manages to capture and convey so well in all of his writings.

The title story was a whole lot of fun. Set on a television production Pelecanos was able to weave in his experiences on shows like The Wire and Treme into a very cleverly plotted murder story. There were some great in-jokes as well as a couple of scathing portrayals but at the same time a story with heart.

This is a great showcase of George Pelecanos’s tremendous talents and I can’t wait for the next novel.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard

9780061242922Elmore Leonard is known for his fantastic crime novels and his cool, crisp dialogue but he started out writing westerns way back in the 1950s. This collections showcases his western short stories and his immense talent as a writer.

I think it is easy to pass Elmore Leonard off as a writer of crime novels that have been turned into countless films and television adaptations but you would only do that at your own peril. Yes Elmore Leonard has become known for a few of his own tropes; brilliant dialogue, idiotic crooks, plots involving schemes that unravel and precise prose but these tropes fit the crime genre perfectly. Reading Leonard in another genre shows a completely different side to his writing and I think in many ways it is even better.

The Western genre is of course the precursor to the modern American crime novel. The lines between right and wrong are blurred by lawlessness and greed but there are still heroes and villains, both of which are not easily decipherable which makes for very interesting characters. The landscape has more significance and there is a minefield of politics to explore; post-Civil War, race, slavery, Native Americans, immigration, government, Mexico. Issues still alive and kicking today.

In many ways Elmore Leonard’s crime novels are more Westerns than mysteries. His favourite hero/protagonist is often a US Marshall and that is directly born from his western stories. What I found most interesting about Leonard’s western writing was that he explored more themes. His western stories are much more political than his crime novels. Dialogue also takes a back seat, or more correctly his dialogue becomes more prominent in his later writing. This maybe because he was still learning his craft but I suspect it is more reflective of the understated nature of the western genre. Leonard is also much more descriptive in his western writing and again I think this is because there is more significance on the landscape in the genre. Which only proves, even in his early days, Leonard was a master writer who knew his craft like few other writers.

Buy the book here…

Review – Redeployment by Phil Klay

9780857864239What an amazing book! This is a firm candidate for my book of the year already and it is beyond doubt the best collection of short stories I have ever read. I literally could not put this book down but at the same time wanted each story to last as long as possible. I went into total procrastination mode today before reading the final story because I was not prepared for this book to end but resistance was futile.

I first read the title story of this collection in last year’s Fire & Forget. It was one of the standout pieces in a standout collection. I knew at the time reading Fire & Forget that the contributors in the collection were destined for big things. And Phil Klay not only reaffirms that but announces himself in a massive way with his first book.

I have blogged a couple of times here that short stories are not usually my thing. Often there is a story I wish there was more of or a story that leaves me unsatisfied. But absolutely every story in Redeployment was spot on. This was writing as close to perfection as I have ever read and I want to read the book again right now.

I am a big reader of war fiction. They are stories I am drawn to, that seem to resonate with me more than any other fiction. What I loved about Phil Klay’s collection was that each story resonated in a different way. One of the unique aspects to Klay’s collection are the different points of view he conveys in his stories. It is impossible for me to highlight one story and I don’t wish to go through each story one by one because that would spoil the magnificent reading experience.

Klay covers stories about soldiers in action and soldiers coming home. Soldiers wounded in action and soldiers haunted by the fact they saw little or no action. We read about a Marine chaplain, a Marine in Mortuary Affairs, a Foreign Affairs officer sent to Iraq to help rebuild. And through all these stories Klay shows the war in all its messy permutations and consequences, the good and the bad, the humanity and the inhumanity. He even explores the art of telling these stories and the different ways stories can be used and told, hidden and untold.

Every story packs an emotional intensity not only rare in short stories but rare in longer fiction too. Imagine the emotional wallop of The Yellow Birds with the frank and brutal insight of Matterhorn distilled into a short story and you get close to the impact each of these stories makes on their own. Put together as a collection and you have something very special that will be read (and should be read) by many long into the future.

Buy the book here…

Review – The Tenth of December by George Saunders

9781408837368I don’t read a lot of short stories. As whole I find them unsatisfying and would much rather sink my teeth into something longer. All though in saying that I am a massive convert to serial fiction where you get to read 100-200 pages of a continuous story every 3-4 months. There has been a lot of buzz about George Saunders’ latest collection of stories and after receiving a strong recommendation to give him a go I did exactly that.

The first story, Victory Lap, was amazing. The way Saunders got into the head of the three characters so quickly and fully was something to behold. It is a powerful and dark story, told very delicately, that really kicked off the collection well. Saunders followed this up with Sticks, a really shorty story consisting of only two paragraphs that again packed a punch that belied its size. My other favourites in the collection were Escape From Spiderhead, which is about an unusual experiment conducted on prisoners and the powerful The Semplica-Girl Diaries which lures you into some absolutely biting satire.

The writing is amazing but by the end of the collection my feelings about short stories bore true again. I felt unsatisfied and wanting more exploration of the ideas Saunders was bringing up and commenting on. As a writer I can see that he is a masterful storyteller, as reader I just wanted a bit more to sink my teeth into.

Buy the book here…

Player Profile: Maria Takolander, author of The Double

takolander-blog-author-photo-by-nicholas-walton-healeyMaria Takolander, author of The Double

Tell us about your latest creation:

The Double is a book of short stories. The stories range in their subject matter from rural Australia to northern Europe and beyond, and from the dark past of the Soviet era to a terrifying vision of the near future. The stories are bold and original, unnerving and unforgettable.

9781922079763Where are you from / where do you call home?:

I am the only Australian-born member of my family. My parents and my sister were born in Finland, and then migrated to Melbourne. I now call Geelong home.

When you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?:

I always wanted to be a writer. I think it had something to do with learning English as a second language when I was very young, and feeling like an outsider in Australia for quite a long time. As a result, language and the world never seemed ‘given’. Writing gave me the opportunity to ‘get to know’ language
and the world better.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?:

The Double! I worked on it very intensively, and I had an excellent publisher supporting me.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?:

I’m not fussy about where I write. I write wherever I can–at the kitchen table, in the train, at my daughter’s desk. All I need is my laptop and some time. Quiet, of course, also helps.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?:

I love the poetry and prose of Jorge Luis Borges  for its thrilling ideas, cool irony and lavish language. His writing reminds me that it’s exciting to be alive in a world that we don’t understand but that offers experiences of such intellectual and emotional intensity. JM Coetzee’s work is also brilliant. His writing evokes the suffering and complexity that unavoidably comes with living.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?:

I’ll single out Enid Blyton’s The Wishing Chair. It was so wholesome and otherworldly, and I loved the idea of a magical escape. I think the book also intuitively represented for me the power of books more generally to facilitate
mesmerising flights of fancy.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?:

Feeling like an outsider, I have always strongly identified with Gregor Samsa! In more romantic moments, I saw myself as Jane Eyre.

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?:

I play with my young son, who loves books and imaginative play. Who wants to live solely in this world, when you can also inhabit so many others?

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

I love Finnish comfort foods and drinks, so I’d say Karelian pasties and milk.

Who is your hero? Why?:

My mum. She is an incredible survivor. Her family were exiled from their homes during the Finno-Russian war during the Second World War, and they endured significant hardship and privation. Nevertheless, my mother is the most loving and joyful person I know.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?:

Finding readers for books, which are about probing the surface of things, in a society that’s increasingly content with surfaces.

Allen & Unwin gets Short-y

While I have been cocooned away in chilly Canberra studying, Allen & Unwin has been busily launching two new digital lists, mirroring recent developments at fellow digital pioneer Pan Macmillan where Momentum’s titles are already making waves on bestseller lists.

First up, early this month, Allen & Unwin shorts arrived. The Australian publisher has just published five short fiction ebooks: Charlotte Wood’s Nanoparticles (which I had already read in last year’s Get Reading anthology), Tom Keneally’s Blackberries, Alex Miller’s Manuka, Peter Temple’s Ithaca in my Mind and Christos Tsiolkas’s Sticks, Stones.

“Some of Australia’s best-loved novelists also write great short stories,” the publisher writes on its website.

“They can be hard to find, but now digital publishing offers new opportunities for short form writing.”

So true. How wonderful for authors that they can finally make money from short forms, and how equally brilliant for us that we can buy them individually rather than having to buy a whole collection.

The A&U publicity material says “For less than the price of a cup of coffee, you can download a story on the train to read on the way to work.”

This I can vouch for too. I read two Kindle Singles this week, and knocked them over in less than an hour each. A&U has prices its shorts at $1.99 each (although Booku.com is offering them for $1.81 here).

Did I mention I’ve been locked away with my MacBook and a bunch of journal articles for the past couple of weeks? It’s end of semester crunch-time at university, and the research proposal for my Social reading, long form journalism and the connected ebook project was due in last week, with a presentation on it coming up this Wednesday. I mention this because it’s all about short form non-fiction ebooks. You can take a look at my slides on Prezi (a very clever zoomable presentation software program I find much more fun than PowerPoint) here.

Back at Allen & Unwin, the publicity department had just finished their teaser campaign for the shorts, when it was time to move on to promoting the next phase of their digital strategy: reviving works by classic Australian authors like my cousin Miles Franklin (OK, first cousin twice removed, but still!).

Both My Brilliant Career and My Career Goes Bung are on the list.

A&U’s House of Books also includes classic titles by Thea Astley, Alan Marshall, Eleanor Dark, Dymphna Cusack, Katharine Susannah Pritchard, Xavier Herbert, Kylie Tennant, Marcus Clarke and Henry Handel Richardson.

The PR tagline for the list is “Good books never die in the digital age”. I’m hoping that more childhood favourites, many of which are out of print, will come back to life in this ebook era.

More recent works by Blanche d’Alpuget, Nick Earls, Andrew Riemer, Judith Armstrong and Rodney Hall are also being revived.

The first 30 titles will become available in June 2012. Additional titles will be added to the list each month thereafter. Print lovers will be able to buy physical copies via print on demand technology. The books will be listed at between $12.99 and $19.99.

Apologies for the appalling headline pun. Couldn’t resist.

Will Digital Publishing Bring Back the Short Story?

Digital publishing gives authors, publishers and agents lots of exciting opportunities that they do not have in print. The ability to play around with form is perhaps one of the most interesting. Not only have we seen interactive books, book apps and ‘vooks’ since digital publishing began to take off a few years ago – we’re also seeing a massive increase in the amount of short stories and shorter works available.

The blog TheNextWeb reported last week that Ars Technica (a popular and very detailed tech blog) made more than $15,000 in 24 hours on the Kindle store by releasing the 27,300-word review of Apple’s latest operating system on the Kindle store as an ebook. The review was available for free on Ars Technica (all 19 pages of it), but it still made thousands of dollars for the blog.

Although Amazon (as always) isn’t willing to talk numbers for their curated Kindle Singles program, the fact that it’s still going (and bringing in around three new works per week) means that it must be making headway. And that’s only through the curated program. A brief flick through any ebook store’s pages and you’ll come across thousands of shorter works (or collections of short works) from self-published authors (see Blake Crouch’s collection above). Most are priced very low – between $0.99 and about $4.99 – but considering their length this is a far more profitable and reasonable amount of money than the low-priced full-length self-published novels.

It’s not just ebook vendors that are making these shorter works available. Boutique publishers like the Atavist and Longreads are putting longer works of non-fiction into the hands of readers. They’re doing it in different ways – the Atavist provides editorial feedback as well as curatorial work, while Longreads is a kind of archive for longer form journalism on the web. But both are ultimately aiming squarely at the attention spans of a newer generation of time-poor readers. Longreads even gives readers the option to filter the archive by the amount of time available for reading (less than 15 mins, 30-45, 45-60 and 60+).

The availability of shorter works of fiction and non-fiction to readers is a boon for publishers and vendors alike. It creates viable price points for work that is either simultaneously available for free or would otherwise not be able to be sold for any amount. The overheads associated with traditional publishing have long ruled short stories (and even anthologies) out of mainstream publishing houses in all but the most popular or worthy cases.

Of course there are problems associated with this brave new world. If shorter works and longer ones are all mixed in together on an ebook vendor’s store, how is a reader supposed to know that they’re not paying $2.99 for a novel rather than a 10,000-word short story? Although vendors are trying to get around this by getting publishers to include page-length information in their metadata, a cursory look of the reviews on some of the better selling shorter works on the Kindle store shows that some readers are not getting the hint.

Publishers and ebook vendors will have to work closely to ensure that readers are informed about their purchases before they lay money down – and before the confusion becomes a problem that puts readers off entirely. Readers, concurrently, will hopefully soon learn that ebook stores have all kinds of work available and make a point of checking the available metadata before purchasing.

Not every experiment in form will work. Not every experiment will produce something that works as content or makes money. But early evidence seems to be suggesting that people are willing to part with (small amounts of) money to buy shorter works of fiction, non-fiction and longer form journalism, and this can only be a good thing in this era of newspapers and magazines failing and the race to the bottom for pricing ebooks.

Sound off in the comments if you’ve read any interesting bits of short writing in the past few weeks that you’d like to share, or any other thoughts on the future of reading.