Monday, November 8, 2010

2010 Prime Minister's Literary Awards.

And the winners are:

Fiction winner

Dog Boy Eva Hornung

Dog Boy by Eva Hornung

In a deserted Moscow apartment building four-year-old Romochka waits for Uncle to come home. Outside the snow is falling, but after a few days hunger drives Romochka outside, his mother's voice ringing in his ears. Don't talk to strangers. Overlooked by passers-by, he follows a street dog to her lair in a deserted basement at the edge of the city. There he joins four puppies suckling at their mother's teats. And so begins Romochka's life as a dog.

The author

Eva Hornung is an award-winning writer of literary fiction and criticism. Her many awards include The Australian/Vogel Literary Award, the Nita May Dobbie Award, the Asher Literary Award, and the Steele Rudd Literary Award. She has been shortlisted for many more including The Age Book of the Year, NSW Premier's Literary Award, Victorian Premier's Award for Fiction, the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Eva lives in Adelaide.

Judges' comments

To the ancient folkloric and literary traditions of children lost, then raised and nurtured in the animal world, Eva Hornung brings her own compassionate and contemporary outrage at the treatment of refugees and outcasts. Dog Boy is a testing but triumphant feat of the imagination. Hornung challenges us to believe that an abandoned child in a decaying city in deep winter can sympathetically enter the small, embattled but protective society of a dog pack. The resonances of the novel are bleak and unsettling, but the resolution is both shocking and apt, the experiment and the manner of its telling have a compelling assurance. The winner of the 2010 Fiction Awards is a remarkable work of international standing.

Non-fiction winner

The Colony: The History of Early Sydney Grace Karskens

The Colony: The History of Early Sydney by Grace Karskens

The Colony is the story of the marvellously contrary, endlessly energetic early years of Sydney. It is an intimate account of the transformation of a campsite in a beautiful cove to the town that later became Australia's largest and best-known city.

From the sparkling beaches to the foothills of the Blue Mountains, Grace Karskens skilfully reveals how landscape shaped the lives of the original Aboriginal inhabitants and newcomers alike. She traces the ways in which relationships between the colonial authorities and ordinary men and women broke with old patterns, and the ways that settler and Aboriginal histories became entwined. She uncovers the ties between the burgeoning township and its rural hinterland expanding along the river systems of the Cumberland Plain.

This is a landmark account of the birthplace of modern Australia, and a fascinating and richly textured narrative of people and place.

The author

Grace Karskens teaches Australian history at the University of New South Wales. Her groundbreaking book The Rocks: Life in Early Sydney won the 1998 NSW Premier's Award for Local and Regional History and established the author as a leading historian of colonial Australia. As Project Historian for the world-renowned Cumberland-Gloucester Streets Archaeological Project (1994-1999) she combined history and archaeology to explore the lost world of the Rocks neighbourhoods in her book Inside the Rocks. She has also written local histories and is a regular contributor to journals on topics ranging from convicts to museums to grave-robbers.

Judges comments

The Colony is a marvellous story grounded in the landscape—from pre-history to successive transformations of the colony from campsites to towns, from garden plots to huge land-holdings.

Tracing and exploring the sense of place is the backbone of Karskens' narrative. Always present in Karskens' story is the Indigenous population, a dynamic, pervasive presence, a presence with victories as well as defeats, of shapers as well as of the dispossessed.

Karskens' scholarship is rich in the exploration of what she lovingly calls ‘the city of words’ – the work of fellow historians, archaeologists, geologists, museologists, and art and architectural historians. Karskens' own voice is a confident one, balanced, perceptive and startling in its simplicity and directness as she challenges received wisdom.

The Colony deserved this year's award for its high literary quality and originality. As a fine history, it is a story which also informs the present and gives us signposts for the future. The narrative is enthralling in its detail and exciting in the picture it draws of the great, brave achievement that the colony was from its earliest days.

Young adult fiction winner

Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God Bill Condon

Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God by Bill Condon

I have this annoying problem that gives me a lot of trouble: a conscience. Neil Bridges attends a Catholic boys' school in which teachers rule with iron fists and thick leather straps. Some crumble under the pressure but Neil toughs it out, just as his Vietnam-bound older brother has done before him. He has to be a man, after all. But at sixteen, how can he be sure of himself when he's not sure of anything else?

He loses a friend and finds another, falls in love and unwittingly treads a path that leads to revenge and possibly murder.

The author

Bill Condon's young adult novels, Dogs (2001) and No Worries (2005) were Honour Books in the Children's Book Council Book of the Year Awards. No Worries was also shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Prize in the 2005 NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

Daredevils made the long-list in the inaugural Inky Awards, Australia's first teenage choice awards. Give Me Truth is Bill's most recent young adult novel for Woolshed Press. Before devoting himself to novels, Bill had a long and successful career as a writer of short stories, plays and poetry for young people. His work encompasses many genres and he has close to one hundred titles to his credit. He lives on the south coast of New South Wales with his wife, the well known children's author Di (Dianne) Bates.

Judges' comments

Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God is a poignant, funny and deeply insightful rite of passage novel. Set in 1967, the author makes it seem contemporary, skilfully employing a nuanced first-person narration.

Neil Bridges attends a Catholic boys' school where classmate Ray (Zom) is accused by a Brother of stealing a wallet and is expelled after a fight with his accuser. Neil knows who stole the wallet, but refuses to tell. Ray's father is so ashamed that Ray is cut off from his family—save for his older sister Sylvana.

Neil falls in love with Sylvana, but, implicated in Ray's disgrace, his loyalties and motives are deeply conflicted. The pain of first love, and the morality attached to individual life choices, is evoked with real empathy.

Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God also portrays the strength of ordinary families and the love even between warring brothers. There's a poignant hint too, of more loss ahead, in Neil's brother Kevin's conscription for the Vietnam War. Condon declines to indulge in historical revisionism, while the economical prose attains a rhythm that is almost poetry.

The short, chiselled chapters ensure that not a word is wasted. Condon is a writer of considerable craft who eschews the flamboyant in search of deeper truths.

The winner of the 2010 Young Adult Fiction Award is a work of tremendous honesty and integrity, exploring moral issues pertaining to the rite of passage experienced by teenagers. Judges were enormously impressed with the way the writer canvasses these concerns in a concise, emotionally charged novel.

Children's fiction winner

Star Jumps Lorraine Marwood

Star Jumps by Lorraine Marwood

A poignant verse novel depicting the joys and heartbreaks of a farming family as they struggle to cope with the devastating effects of long-term drought. Told through the eyes of Ruby, day to day farm life involves playing in grassy paddocks with siblings, doing jobs and helping out, and witnessing birth, death and sacrifice. The family is devastated when they have to sell-off some of their herd, but in the spirit of hope it is Ruby who tries in her own small way to help the family by making miniature bales of hay.

The author

Lorraine Marwood was born and raised in rural Victoria and has lived for most of her married life on a dairy farm with her husband and their six children. Lorraine is an award-winning poet who has been widely published in literary magazines across Australia, as well as magazines in the UK, USA, New Zealand and Canada. She has also published several children's novels and collections of poetry.

Lorraine is the Australian editor of the UK literary magazine Tears in the Fence and is a writer of poetry ideas and teaching plans for The Literature Base. Lorraine was also the recipient of a May Gibbs mentorship in children's writing. Her titles with Walker Books Australia include Ratwhiskers and Me, published in 2008 and Star Jumps, which was shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards 2010, Lower Primary Category and received a Notable mention in the Children's Book Council of Australia Awards, 2010.

Judges' comments

Lorraine Marwood's Star Jumps is a verse novel set on a dairy farm, and is a lyrical portrait of rural life seen vividly through the eyes of Ruby, the youngest of three siblings. Star Jumps is the favourite game of Keely, Connor and Ruby, a game they play among the marshmallow weed when their work is done; and is also a metaphor for the joy of life, for the here and now.

As prolonged drought threatens to take the farm and Dad has to sell many of the best stock, Ruby makes a list of the things they can do to help and comes up with mini hay bales made from the grass around the fences. Ruby tells the family's story in a voice which offers us a child's view of a changing world.

This is a moving evocation of home and family bonds, and the rhythms of farm life, and explores the effect of drought on all of these things. Star Jumps speaks with a natural poetry and unfussy richness, offering the reader evidence of the power of individual action and of hope in a small, perfectly inscribed way.

Star Jumps was selected as the winner of the 2010 Children's Fiction Award for it is a deceptively simple work with enormous resonance which, in the verse novel format, both evokes a place with warmth and great empathy, and enters into the world of the child with lucid charm and clarity. Star Jumps takes the reader into the lives of a family at a moment of change, sharing with the reader joy, fear and hope. It was the ‘surprise package’ in the list and the voice in which it is written is appealing, authentic and irresistible.

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