Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript 2013

The $15,000 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript is open to all Victorian writers who have not previously had a work of fiction published. Two shortlisted runners-up will receive professional assistance in the form of a mentorship, provided by Writers Victoria.

Entries for the Award for an Unpublished Manuscript 2013 have closed. Find out more about the 2014 Award here.

The 2013 winner was announced at the launch of the Emerging Writers' Festival on Thursday, 23 May 2013.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards are administered by the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas, and the program includes five further prize categories – Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry, Drama and Young Adult – each with $25,000 in prize money. Winners in these categories are eligible for the overall $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature, the most valuable literary award in the country.

2013 winning entry

Maxine Beneba Clarke – Foreign Soil

Foreign Soil is a collection of contemporary short stories that takes us from Footscray to Kingston via Villawood and London in tales of the dispossessed, the newly arrived, those seeking refuge and those realising they are in need of it. The writing in this manuscript is unusual in its striking immediacy: it is lively, fresh and natural.

Maxine Beneba Clarke

Maxine Beneba Clarke

Maxine Beneba Clarke is an Australian writer of Afro-Caribbean heritage. She is a slam poetry champion who has performed her writing across Australia, including at the Melbourne Writers Festival, Melbourne International Arts Festival, the Arts Centre and the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival. Maxine’s short fiction, essays and poetry have been published in Overland, the Age, Big Issue, Cordite Poetry Review, Harvest, Voiceworks, Going Down Swinging, Unusual Work and Peril.

2013 shortlist

Naomi Bailey – A Field Guide to Birdwatching in Bad Weather

A Field Guide to Birdwatching in Bad Weather is the story of a woman who leaves her family to pursue an obsession with birds after finding out she is terminally ill. Her twitcher journey takes her to dangerous and far-flung places – settings that are brought to vivid life in the text. The voice of this work is assured, powerful and poetic.

Naomi Bailey spent her early life in country Victoria. After graduating from the University of Melbourne, she worked in the community sector, the law and with Amnesty International in New York before returning to Melbourne where she now lives. She is currently completing a PhD in Sociology. Her work has been published in the Age and she was the recipient of the Penguin-Varuna Development Fellowship in 2011. A Field Guide to Birdwatching in Bad Weather is her first novel.

Emily Bitto – The Strays

The Strays follows the emergence of an unconventional, avant-garde circle of artists in the 1930s calling themselves the Melbourne Modern Art Group. Told with all the anxiety and caution of an intimate outsider, the narrative deftly weaves together the past and the present in a complex and compelling exploration of belonging, loyalty and ambition.

Emily Bitto is in the final stages of a PhD in creative writing at the University of Melbourne, where she is also a sessional teacher and supervisor in the creative writing program. Her writing has appeared in a number of Australian publications, including Meanjin, Heat, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Australian Literary Review.

Highly commended entries

· Kirsten Alexander – Dreams
· Beverly Almeida – Hijrotic
· Matt Davies – Fire and Icecream
· Leah De Forest – The Borrowed River
· Vince Leigh – Baroque Days
· Stuart McCullough – Goodsir

Judging panel

Francesca Rendle-Short (Convenor): Novelist, essayist and academic. Francesca’s most recent book Bite Your Tongue was shortlisted for the 2012 Colin Roderick Literary Award.

Sam Twyford-Moore is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He is the current Director of the Emerging Writers’ Festival.

Paddy O'Reilly has published two novels, a novella and a collection of short stories. She has won a number of short story awards and her books have been shortlisted for various prizes.

What the judges said

This year the judges received 131 manuscripts, a surge in numbers for this award. Many of the manuscripts weren’t ready as complete sustained works, needing time to find a true form and voice; others, while well developed in the first half, fell down in the later sections as the narrative became scrambled. In some cases the attention to detail, including at the level of the sentence, was lost part way through the manuscript.

The manuscripts on the commended list showed great promise and the judges wanted to single them out for special mention. Some were at an early stage of development but had impressive flair, while others had been more intensively worked and were closer to final draft. All need the guiding hand of a good editor.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Unpublished Manuscripts is an award for literary merit in an unpublished manuscript. The judges see it as an exciting award that supports the development of an emerging writer, an award to assist that writer to develop a manuscript and take it to a new level of excellence. The monies and prestige associated with the award offer the opportunity for an emerging writer to work toward an enduring literary career.

All three shortlisted titles had clear strengths, which made them stand out from the rest, whether that was the quality of the prose, the treatment of the subject matter and structure of the narrative, or the assured voice of the work. The decision was difficult and involved much discussion, however, the judges were finally unanimous in their decision regarding the three shortlisted titles and in awarding the winner.

About Foreign Soil

Foreign Soil is a manuscript that stood out for its immediacy. All three judges on the panel wanted to read more from this emerging writer whose stories exhibited a unique freshness and individuality. The urgency in the telling of these stories of diaspora and migration, together with the arresting prose, was a winning combination. Maxine Beneba Clarke is an exciting new voice in the Victorian literary landscape.

Last year’s winner

Graeme Simsion was last year’s winner of the Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. His winning work The Rosie Project was bought by Text Publishing and was published in Australia in February this year. The Rosie Project will soon be available around the world, as publishing rights have been sold in more than 30 countries.