In a week when I really needed some good news, I was absolutely thrilled to learn that my short story, ‘The Black Feather’, has been long listed for the 2020 Peter Carey Award.
The award is named in honour of Bacchus Marsh’s most famous son and is administered by the Moorabool Shire Libraries. Although Peter Carey is probably best known as a novelist–he is one of only two authors to win the prestigious Booker Prize twice (for 1988’s Oscar and Lucinda and 2000’s True History of the Kelly Gang)–his big break as a writer started with a short story collection, The Fat Man in History (1974). Prior to this, Carey had made three attempts to write a novel; in his interview with Paris Review (Issue 177, Summer 2006), he says, ‘I had been trying to build grand palaces, and now I was building little sheds and huts. If they fell down and rotted it didn’t matter.’ Although he subsequently abandoned short story writing, ‘addicted to the dangers and pleasures of the novel’, the award immortalises Carey’s coming of age as a writer.
The 2020 Peter Carey Short Story award committee writes: ‘It goes without saying that 2020 has been a year unlike any another. And so we were delighted to receive well over 300 entries for this year’s award – our highest number of entries yet – from writers all across Australia. It is a fantastic tribute to both the ongoing influence of Peter Carey, and the strength and resilience of the Australian short-storytelling community.’
My longlisted story, ‘The Black Feather’, is set in Cairns in the 1920s and based on a true story, told by my late grandmother. Not a nostalgic kind of family story, but the kind of family story that makes you feel ashamed nearly 100 years later. I was inspired to write it by something someone said (possibly Storyland author Catherine McKinnon) about trying to imagine the child in the adult they became. The story is narrated by nine-year-old Ruby, an imagined version of my grandmother. Ruby has an older sister, Maudie, as my grandmother did. While writing the story, I had photos of the real Ruby and Maudie propped up on my desk, including the one above of the girls at a costume party in the early 1920s, their outfits sewn by my great-grandmother, the ‘villain’ of the story.
The shortlist for the Peter Carey Award will be released late-May and the winners announced in an online ceremony on Sat 13 June. Given the calibre of writers on the longlist, I don’t expect to win. But I’m delighted to be among them:
Alice Mantel – ‘Once Were Three Sisters’
Allanah Hunt – ‘The Doll’
Allee Richards – ‘Tight Lines’
Andrew Roff – ‘Bock Bock’
Angela Savage – ‘The Black Feather’
George McElroy – ‘Company’
Charlotte Guest – ‘Flight Mode’
Deborah Wardle – ‘Love Letters’
Jenni Mazaraki – ‘Caravan’
Joseph Earp – ‘The Cockatoo’
Katerina Gibson – ‘Preparation’
Mirandi Riwoe – ‘What Would Kim Do’
Morna Seres – ‘The Boy on the Blue Bike’
Myles McGuire – ‘Youth in Chiaroscuro’
Rebecca Slater – ‘Prawn Fishing with Medusa’
Samantha-Ellen Bound – ‘Splinter’
Scott Limbrick – ‘Flames’
Tanya Vavilova – ‘Jobs Galore’
I’m taking the opportunity posed by Mirandi Riwoe’s inclusion on this list to mention her recently released novel, Stone Sky Gold Mountain. Set in northern Queensland in the late-nineteenth century, this exquisitely written and illuminating novel is told from three narrative points of view: sister (though masquerading as a male) Ying and brother Lai Yue, who flee their home in China to seek their fortunes on the Australian gold fields; and Meriem, a young white woman whom Ying befriends when circumstances force them to abandon the diggings and head to Maytown. The brutality of the story is offset by moments of tenderness, and the harshness of life, especially for outsiders, is vividly evoked. Highly recommended reading.