Indie Book Awards 2016

Charlotte woodThe 2016 Indie Awards presentation, hosted by Allen & Unwin in North Sydney, was filled with warm goodwill, packed with authors, booksellers, publishers and industry professionals.

Independent booksellers do an incredible job in reading and hand-selling Australian literature. They ensure that excellent books that could otherwise be overlooked, reach readers – and these books often go on to become best sellers and recipients of literary awards. Indie bookstores are regarded with great affection by authors and publishers, as are the staff of Leading Edge Books, led by Galina Marinov, who organise the awards.

Some former Book of the Year winners are The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, All That I Am by Anna Funder, The Bush by Don Watson and Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.

The Indies are the annual vanguard awards and give a strong indication of which books are valued by both the experts and readers. The awards began in 2008 and are growing in stature. In a mark of esteem by the industry, booksellers announce the winners in each category.

The 2016 Fiction winner is Charlotte Wood for The Natural Way of Things (A&U), which I reviewed here. This portrayal of women who have been involved in sexual scandals and are mysteriously incarcerated in the Australian desert is generating vigorous discussion with readers. It is a unique and important novel and it also won overall Book of the Year. Elegant Charlotte Wood was clearly moved in her acceptance speech, recognising the encouragement of booksellers during her career and regarding the award as a high honour.

Magda Szubanski’s memoir Reckoning (Text Publishing) won the Non-Fiction category. There is much to ponder in this well-written book, including the impact of what happens in childhood on the years that follow: particularly in Magda’s case, the secret of her sexuality. Having a father as an assassin is also a fascinating angle.

Salt creekDebut Fiction was won by a very appreciative Lucy Treloar with Salt Creek (Pan Macmillan) from a strong field which included Rush Oh! and Relativity and the Children’s award was won by the prolific Aaron Blabey with The Bad Guys Episode 1  (Scholastic), a change from his extremely popular picture books such as Pig the Pug (which was shortlisted last year).

A new category this year is the Young Adult award. It is certainly worth separating this category from Children’s. The inaugural winner is the very deserving Fiona Wood for Cloudwish  (Pan Macmillan). See my review about Cloudwish in the Weekend Australian: Cloudwish

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/ya-fiction-fiona-wood-rosanne-hawke-julie-murphy-rebecca-stead/news-story/adcead8f4a48206533f04d6789984d1f 

Both the Australian and the SMH reported on this year’s Indies Award.

And more can be found about the Indies Awards here.

Thanks to all the organisers and those involved.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Blistering Australian Literary Fiction

Some Australian female authors are writing blistering literary fiction. Two recent standouts are The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (A&U) and Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett (Picador).

Natural Way of ThingsI was fortunate to hear Charlotte Wood in conversation with Ailsa Piper just after I finished reading The Natural Way of Things. This is a searing story about a small group of women who have been incarcerated in the Australian desert. All these women have suffered sexual assault.

Charlotte Wood explained that she had to air the outrage from situations where women have experienced this abuse and spoken out. In many cases they have been left to languish while the male perpetrators have not been penalised or only received the equivalent of a rap over the knuckles. This reminds me of a well-known footballer who admitted to witnessing the group molestation of a young woman and did nothing about it and was later reinstated as a darling of the rugby league fraternity and media. It is beyond belief. Wood has spoken widely about cases she particularly draws on, such as the girls from Parramatta Girls Home who were sent to the Hay Institute in country NSW.

The Natural Way of Things is an extraordinary novel. I have never read anything like it and will remember it always. If you are avoiding it because of the dark content, you may be surprised that it may not be as black as expected. Beauty is threaded throughout the writing. Although harrowing, the book is ultimately empowering of women.

Rush OhKnowing that Shirley Barrett’s Rush Oh! is about whaling in Twofold Bay, out of Eden in NSW, didn’t endear me to reading this novel but a trusted bookseller was so enthusiastic about the book that I plunged in. The novel is absolutely fascinating. It is told from Mary’s point of view. She is the eldest daughter of head whaler, George Davidson (based on a real man) and seems to be falling for new rower and former preacher, the mysterious John Beck.

Much of the story is based on fact, including the pod of Killer whales, led by Tom, who round up humpbank whales to help the men hunt them. The Killers are regarded with respect and affection and are believed to be the reincarnated spirits of Aboriginal whale men.

There’s lots of tension, superb storytelling and an engaging voice.

Either of these novels would make a thought-provoking Christmas gift for discerning readers.