KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

On Writing

On winning literary prizes

by Carmel Bird , December 5, 20131 Comment
fountain pen

Image credit: Fumihiro Toda

One of the defining characteristics of life, whether it is the life of a crocus or the life of a capitalist, is competition. The flower that blooms is the winner in a series of contests; the businessperson of the year, likewise. The winner is the one that is recognised, acknowledged, probably celebrated, rewarded one way or another. The silver cup, the blue ribbon. Or perhaps the crown. For there was a time when the winners in society became kings or queens. My first experience of the reward came in the form of a fountain pen—imagine that.

There was, once upon a time, a Melbourne morning newspaper called The Argus, and in it there were poetry-writing competitions for children. I won one of these for a poem about my baby brother chasing chickens. And, make no mistake, the better part of the prize was the publication of the poem. Daily newspapers still exist (just) and so do fountain pens (ditto), but it seems to me that prizes might have taken on a life of their own. Everywhere you look there is a contest of one kind or another. On television they are huge, even foregrounding the paradox of the Biggest Loser who is, of course, the winner. One winner. Winning, even winning the lottery, is a kind of blessing. The winner is for a moment raised up above the herd. And where there is skill involved, other members of the herd are encouraged to strive.

Now, competition more often than not involves judges, other human beings who for whatever reason are deemed to have the skill to select the winner from the eligible entries, be it a cake or a horse or a work of art. Ah—here is a problem. The cakes and the horses are to a certain extent straightforward, whereas the portrait or the novel or the poem about the baby and the chickens will bring into question the matter of artistic or literary taste, and almost always give rise to a certain amount of controversy. I happen to think this controversy is a wonderful and healthy thing. It’s kind of sad when the Miles Franklin doesn’t cause some fights.

There, I have mentioned the big one; but did you know there are over 300 or so short story or poetry competitions that are run over the course of a year in Australia? Amazing, isn’t it—more than 300. From the Charles Darwin University Travel Short Story Award to the Margaret River Short Story Competition to the Blake Poetry Prize and all points of the literary compass, there are opportunities for poets and fiction writers to try out their skills, and for 300 of them to be winners.

I was invited to judge the short stories for the writers’ festival in Albury in 2012. I went to the festival to present the prizes to the anonymous writers. The winner of the short story had also won the Country Style competition—I didn’t know that, of course. The writer was Beverly Lello. She gave a little speech of thanks when she received her prize—and she told another story: Nearly thirty years ago she was a student in my writing class at the Council of Adult Education. She had just had a baby called Heidi, and was nervous about leaving her to come to class. She was very pleased when I said she should bring Heidi with her in future, and that’s what she did. I don’t actually remember much of this, but apparently Heidi still has a copy of the book Heidi, which I presented to her at the end of the course. So Heidi had her prize just for turning up.

Obviously I am a great believer in prizes. I do recall that, way back, I used to run a competition in the class, the prize (judged by me) being a Chinese eggcup. Occasionally I run into writers who still have their eggcups, probably in the back of a cupboard. My Argus fountain pen is here somewhere, I’m not sure where. And I know the poem is lost; maybe that’s a good thing. But it did bloom once, and that remains for me a moment to recollect for its simple sense of achievement.

This is an edited extract from Carmel’s foreword to Award Winning Australian Writing 2013, edited by Adolfo Aranjuez, published by Melbourne Books.

Carmel Bird is the author of literary novels, collections of short fiction, and three books on writing, The most recent being Dear Writer Revisited. She has edited journals and anthologies. In her honour, Spineless Wonders runs the annual Carmel Bird Short Fiction Award.

Her short story ‘Monkey Business’ appears in Issue Nine of Kill Your Darlings 




  • http://Dearstephenking.wordpress.com Shan

    I once entered a ’20 word or less’ competition for a 42″ flat screen TV. I wrote a short poem and won!

West Bank

David Donaldson

Whitewashing occupation? Bill Shorten and the Israel Lobby

Racism and military occupation have no place in the modern world, and are certainly not something looked upon favourably by a majority of Australians. Yet while apartheid, for example, has become a byword for shame and racism, the Labor Opposition leader feels comfortable asserting that some Israeli West Bank settlements are legal. Read more »

Tony Abbott

David Donaldson

Abbott and Brandis’ culture war backfires

What is supposed to happen in a culture war is that conservatives use a controversial issue to drive a ‘wedge’ through the left, forcing a split between factions. In Australia, this usually means pitting Catholic unionists against their socially liberal colleagues in the Labor party. Read more »

climate change

David Donaldson

Australia is going backwards on climate policy

During the Howard years, it was usual for Australia to be awarded ‘Fossil of the Day’ by climate advocacy groups whenever it attended a climate negotiation conference. The award signifies the country that had done the most to hinder climate change negotiations, and Australia has won a pile of them. Read more »

Zoe Pilger

Carody Culver

Girls, eat your hearts out

Middle class hipsters, conceptual artists and third-wave feminists have long been easy targets for mockery, so I admit that I wasn’t expecting anything too groundbreaking when I picked up Zoe Pilger’s Eat My Heart Out, a satirical romp through contemporary London that reads like a surreal mash-up of Broad City, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Less Than Zero. Read more »

Laika, Astronaut Dog

Carody Culver

Houston, we have a fabrication

As someone who doesn’t have children, I’m no less resistant than any of my book-loving friends-with-kids to the charm of a beautiful picture book. So when I spotted Laika: Astronaut Dog by writer and illustrator Owen Davey, with its charming retro-style artwork Read more »

& Sons

Carody Culver

WASPiration: David Gilbert’s & Sons

As someone who’s always secretly aspired to being a WASP (before you mercilessly judge me for this, I should clarify that my desire has less to do with attaining elevated social and financial status than with being able to dress like a character in The Great Gatsby Read more »

American Pickers

Julia Tulloh

Eccentric junk collectors held high on American Pickers

The History Channel’s American Pickers, currently in its sixth season, is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable reality series on TV. It’s not a competition show, it doesn’t exist to objectify people and it isn’t particularly dramatic. So what’s the appeal? Read more »

Justin Timberlake

Julia Tulloh

Pleasantly forgettable: Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience

On 7 March this year, tickets went on sale for the Australian leg of Justin Timberlake’s latest tour, ‘The 20/20 Experience’. All five shows sold out in a few hours. The same day, five new shows were released, with most tickets for these rapidly selling out too. Read more »

BuzzFeed

Julia Tulloh

BuzzFeed quizzes understand me

If you use social media regularly – Facebook, in particular – you’ll have completed a BuzzFeed quiz during the past month. Don’t deny it. Even if you didn’t share your results online, deep down you’re still feeling smug because the ‘What Should You Actually Eat For Lunch?’ quiz confirmed that eating ice cream was, in fact, an appropriate meal for your personality type. Read more »

The Lego Movie

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Nostalgia and today’s family-friendly films

Hollywood has always known the adults are watching alongside the kids, and that to push a film into record profits (as Lego looks set to do with a global box office of $428 million and counting), you need to appeal to ‘kids of all ages’. Read more »

nympho-poster

Rochelle Siemiennowicz

Weirdos on screen: Noah and Nymphomaniac

There are some filmmakers you’ll follow into the dark, no matter how bad the buzz is about their latest work. For me, naughty boy Lars von Trier (The Idiots, Breaking the Waves, Dogville, Antichrist, Melancholia) and strange kid Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) are two filmmakers who can be loved or detested, but never ignored. Read more »

planes

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Notes from a plane

There’s an art to choosing the right film for every particular occasion, and as I nervously sit in a Qantas jet about to take off on a four-hour flight from Melbourne to Perth, the choice seems very important indeed. Read more »

tweet

Connor Tomas O'Brien

The Web as an Empathy Machine

Ad hoc Twitter projects like #RaceSwapExp neatly draw together all that is terrific and all that is terrible about the web as a system. Depending on how it is used, the web can either allow us to retreat into callousness, cliques, and fixed ways of thinking or it can function as the world’s most sophisticated and effective empathy machine. Read more »

Samsung fingers

Connor Tomas O'Brien

‘Fooled’ by technology

As I browsed the web last Tuesday, something struck me: tech companies can no longer pull off compelling April Fools’ Day hoaxes because there’s no longer even the thinnest line delineating sincerity from spoof. Read more »

wifi

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Flight 370 and gaps in the internet

On Twitter the other day, sandwiched between a slew of links to articles about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, somebody tweeted a link to the website for Tile, a Bluetooth-enabled device that can be attached to physical objects, enabling them to be located within a 150-foot range. Read more »

Young Adulthood Books

Danielle Binks

The young adult books of my young adulthood

In March, Penguin Books Australia rereleased Melina Marchetta’s first novel as part of its Australian Children’s Classics series. Looking for Alibrandi was first published in 1992; the first print run sold out in two months, and Marchetta’s debut went on to win the Children’s Book Council of Australia Children’s Book of the Year Award. Read more »

When You Reach Me

Danielle Binks

A children’s lit prize of one’s own

Earlier this year, Readings Bookstore announced the creation of The Readings Children’s Book Prize. The eligibility criteria for the 2014 Prize was specified as ‘a work of published fiction, written for children aged 5–12’. Read more »

The Fault with a Sick-Lit Debate (1)

Danielle Binks

The fault with a sick-lit debate

American author John Green’s young adult (YA) novel The Fault in Our Stars has been a bestselling juggernaut since its release in 2012. Green’s book was somewhat inspired by his friendship with Esther Earl, whose posthumous memoir This Star Won’t Go Out was released in January this … Read more »

music theory

Chad Parkhill

Do music critics need music theory?

Canadian musician Owen Pallett – the man who arranged the strings on Arcade Fire’s albums, co-wrote the soundtrack for Spike Jonze’s Her, and has a bunch of wonderful solo albums – can now add another feather to his cap: that of an engaging music writer. Read more »

Tune Yards

Chad Parkhill

Drips, leaks, and spurts

I’ve spent the last two weeks in a state of perpetual excitement – musically speaking, that is. First came tUnE-yArDs’ new song, ‘Water Fountain’, a joyous, riotous explosion of colour and movement. Then Swans released ‘A Little God in My Hands’, a seven-minute epic of a track … Read more »

Grandma photoshop

Chad Parkhill

Singing out

My maternal grandmother, Merilai Lilburn, recently died in a nursing home in Katikati, New Zealand, of complications arising from pneumonia. She was 82 years old. At the time of her death, I and the other members of our extended family based in Australia Read more »

Community

Stephanie Van Schilt

Diary of a lurker: TV and Twitter

At the end of last month, global information provider Nielsen announced that Australia was to become the third country in the world with the ‘Nielsen TV Twitter Ratings’ service. According to a Nielsen Company press release, the Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings are ‘the first-ever measure of the total activity and reach of TV-related conversation on Twitter’. Read more »

Broad City

Stephanie Van Schilt

Funny Broads

‘All comparisons between Girls and Broad City should be hereto forth banned from the internet.’ I agree with Katherine Brooks. Yet the comparisons continue, ad nauseam, mostly following one of two lines of thought. Read more »

The Carrie Diaries

Stephanie Van Schilt

‘Alive Girl’ TV: The Carrie Diaries

Get ready to feel old: it’s been ten years since the final episode of Sex and the City aired. I’m not talking about the first episode back in 1998, but the final episode – the one before the two questionable movies were released. Read more »