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VPLA 2024
The Quiet and the Loud

Writing for Young Adults Shortlist

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Title: The Quiet and the Loud

Author: Helena Fox

Publisher: Pan Australia

George’s life is loud. On the water, though, with everything hushed above and below, she is steady, silent. Then her estranged dad says he needs to talk, and George’s past begins to wake up, looping around her ankles, trying to drag her under.

Everything is a blaring, blazing mess. Could Calliope, the girl who has just cartwheeled into George’s world and shot it through with brilliant, dazzling colour, be her calm among the chaos?


Photography by Sarah Walker



Judges’ report

18-year-old Georgia (George) spends most of her time navigating other people’s problems. Home life with her two mums and Gramps is loud and chaotic. Things are no less complicated with her friends. Tess is suffering from postpartum depression and Laz is consumed with environmental angst. George is used to managing other people’s anxiety, but when her estranged father makes contact, George is forced to unpack her own traumatic past. Fox’s prose is at once bold and delicate. Set against the backdrop of the deadly 2019-20 Australian fires, her use of metaphor delivers a beautifully crafted portrait of loss and the redemptive capacities of love. Complex subject matter including family violence and mental illness is explored through an empathetic lens, and tempered by Fox’s poetic lyricism.




When I was small, almost ten years old, I rowed out with my father to the middle of a lake. It was after midnight—owls prowled, lizards hid, and Mum lay sleeping in the tent beside the water.

We’d arrived at the lake in late afternoon, unpacked the car, and set up camp—a big tent for Mum and Dad, a small one of my very own, for me. Mum banged in pegs with a hammer. Dad fluffed around with the fly and guy ropes, swearing. The lake lap-lapped. I clambered over the shoreline, found flat rocks, and skipped them.

At dusk, we three stood at the water’s edge. I held Mum’s hand and we looked out at the lake, the mist, the quiet, fading light. Birds squabbled and settled. The dark dropped in.

Then Mum cooked sausages on the fire while Dad blew up our inflatable dinghy with a foot pump. After dinner, we turned marshmallows on our sticks, watching the skin bubble and blacken. The flames crackled and licked. I crawled into them, listening for stories.

Mum drank her tea. Dad pulled out a beer, hissed the can open. Took a long draw. Mum touched my leg, stirring me. “Time for bed,” she said.

I brushed my teeth with bottled water and spat paste onto the dirt. I kissed Mum and Dad good night, crept into my tent, snugged into my sleeping bag, and went to sleep.

Dad woke me with a shake.
“Georgia!” he whispered. “Let’s go have an adventure!”
I could see his glassy eyes, his toothy grin in the dark. I stared at him, confused. I’d been dreaming of apples, of underwater trees? I glanced left, at the canvas wall—just a few steps away was Mum.

“Don’t wake her,” Dad said. “Come on!”

There was something in his voice, something sparking. Say yes, the spark said. Dad’s eyes glittered.

I sat up, shivered out of my bag, and scooted out of the tent. Dad handed me a jacket. We tiptoed like burglars over to where the boat waited. We lifted the dinghy, laid it onto the water, and clambered in.

Then Dad pushed us out into the nothing.

The lake was inky. Gum trees ghosted the shore. The moon ticked across the sky, and the stars blazed.

I looked up. I felt wrapped in it, inside the immensity, the space and silence all around. But I didn’t have the word for that then— immensity—so I said, “It’s really pretty.”

Dad beamed. “Isn’t it just?” he said.

He rowed us until we were nowhere and everywhere. I dipped my hand into the water, scooped and trickled moonlit drops through my fingers. Dad did too. He rested the oars, leaned over the dinghy side, and looked into the lake. He looked into it so long, maybe the sky fell into the lake and the lake fell into the sky, because then Dad looked like he wanted the lake to eat him up.

He said, “Hey, buddy, you can row back, can’t you? Just head for those trees.” And with a plop and a splash, he hopped into the water and swam away.


Dad hadn’t surprised me like this in a while. It had been months of a sort-of calm, a sort-of easy, a sort-of happy. I’d seen Mum kissing Dad in the kitchen and smiling into his eyes, and it had been a long time since she’d done that.

But all of Dad was gone now.

I could hear him splish-sploshing through the water. I grabbed the oars and tried to follow the sound. The oars knocked my knees, and I lost one. Then I called and called over the solid lump of lake, but the lake didn’t answer and neither did Dad.

I tried to row back with one oar. I slipped in dizzy circles and all I could hear then was the oar clunking at the lake like a spoon on an empty bowl: scrape, scrape, scrape.

I slumped against the boat side. I would die out here, I knew it. Dad had already drowned. He must have. Lakes could swallow you whole, skies too.

I huddled, knees to chin, and cried with the mucky hopelessness of going in circles and waiting to drown, cried over the water and up. My tears clanged the branches of the sorrowful trees and hissed at the stars.

When I took a breath, I could hear I wasn’t alone. Mum stood, shouting and screaming, from the shore.




About the author

Photo by Grace Delaney

Helena Fox lives by the ocean on Dharawal Country in Wollongong, Australia. A novelist, poet and writing mentor, Helena runs creative writing workshops for people of all ages. She is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College in the US, and can be found mostly on Instagram @helenafoxoz, posting about kindness, the sky and the sea. How It Feels to Float was Helena’s acclaimed, award-winning debut novel.

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