WARNING: the following may contain excessive use of exclamation marks
Submitting to fiction competitions is a rollercoaster of rejection, revision, rejection and more revision. It’s hard to know if your work is enthusiastically received or read with a wince before hitting the delete button. So I was ecstatic to learn I had not one but two stories longlisted for the Peter Carey Short Story Award this year! (You were warned about the exclamation marks.)
Peter Carey’s work has had an enormous influence on my development as a writer. I read his book of collected stories twenty years ago and it transported me to worlds both eerie and familiar, each as fully realised as a novel but short enough to be experienced in a single sitting. At the time I was more interested in drawing and painting than writing, but Carey’s magic-realist and fantasy stories demonstrated the imaginative power of the written word. I decided to focus on writing and ended up landing a job as an advertising copywriter and later a journalist.
I went along to the ceremony at Bacchus Marsh library absolutely certain that I hadn’t won, because surely the winner would have been told in advance. Apparently not. The organisers knew I was coming and wanted to keep it a surprise. When my name came up, it was quite the shock! I was too busy looking after an 11-month old baby to hear the speech properly so asked the head judge, Anne Casey-Hardy, for a copy later.
Here it is:
Iso is an original story about something that affected the whole world. It is driven by a dark exhilarating energy towards a nightmare world where people turn into composites of human and non-human elements. The voice is confident, biting and funny, all the way through. The ultra-macho Virus-deniers are hilarious but they’re having a go, constantly reinventing ever more absurd ways to ‘win’. This is how they cope. Under all the humour lies a hard polished stone of desperation. The story amplifies the way we morphed into sub-humans through lack of contact and human connection. How we turned into couches and furniture, how we lost our minds.
Most of all I like the way this story just keeps rolling, unfaltering, staring down weakness and defiant to the last word. It’s visceral – the mould, bleach, deranged theories, being called a ‘skank’ by a group of beanbags. All the old rivalries, resentments, bitterness and delusions are stronger than the metamorphosis from fully human to remnant human. We are, at our core, our petty selves more than anything potentially heroic or insightful.I find this story masterful and uncompromising. It scores on brio, boldness and ambition, humour, derangement and pathos. It is never judgemental.– Anne Casey-Hardy
(Anne’s book, Cautionary Tales for Excitable Girls, is exceptional by the way. It has exactly the kind of dark energy she describes above, with piercing insight into the world of teenage girls and just the right amount of strangeness. The world is recognisable but off-kilter, which makes it so unsettling. Worth picking up a copy if you haven’t read it.)
Anyway, no blog post about winning an award is complete without a giant novelty cheque, so here it is:
The whole experience left me buzzing for weeks. I spend my day job thinking about climate change and the extinction crisis, and sometimes it gets me down. As it should. I started writing weird/funny short stories as a kind of coping mechanism to keep me going – self-care through creativity. It’s vindicating to know someone else finds these stories entertaining too.
Now to spend the prize money on more books…