WORDLY Interview - Penguin Prize Shortlist
My manuscript Found Again was shortlisted for the Penguin Literary Prize 2020. I am a graduate of Deakin University, former editor for WORDLY, and a former Deakin Writers member.
Julie Dickson had a chat with me over on the WORDLY magazine website.
Please find the chat below!
What was the inspiration behind your manuscript?
I love writing about the Australian bush—a unique, beautiful, and (at times) dangerous place that I feel deeply connected to—and I love exploring grief and loss in my writing. Grief never exists as just one thing, and it can manifest in so many different ways. I wanted to pull apart some of the narratives surrounding the loss of a child and how parents are supposed to react. I think society places a lot of unfair and unrealistic expectations on women, particularly mothers, and so I wanted to explore some of this.
What is your manuscript about?
Found Again is about a little boy, Frankie, who goes missing in the Australian bush after a family picnic gone wrong. The story centres on his mother, Tessa, and follows her as she comes to terms with his death and tries to rebuild her life. The story examines what can happen when we lose the people most important to us, and explores some of the expectations mothers are subjected to. A mediation on grief and loss, I like to think that Found Again ultimately tells a story about hope and new beginnings.
How long did it take you to write the manuscript you submitted? Did you encounter any challenges along the way?
It took me about two years to write it and lots and lots of different drafts! The first draft was very different from what it is now—it was about a magical ocean and had Tessa ‘walking’ through the waves to try and heal! Rewriting is always a challenge, and there were many times when I completely hated what I was writing, when I wanted to quit and throw it all in the rubbish bin. But I kept going because, despite all of that, I felt that I needed to write the characters inside of me. I wanted to do them and their story justice. I hope I did.
What made you decide to submit to the Penguin Literary Prize?
I very nearly didn’t! In the end, I decided to submit because there was nothing to lose! I told myself to send the manuscript in and then just forget all about it. I never expected to be shortlisted and, if I’m being honest, I still can’t quite believe it. To have this kind of validation is life-changing and, whatever happens, this is going to keep me buoyed for quite some time. I’m absolutely honoured to be on the shortlist alongside other writers that I admire. It’s such a thrill! I keep saying, whatever happens, we’ve all won.
How did you find out you had been shortlisted? What was your reaction?
I was just scrolling through my phone when the email came through. I saw that it was from Penguin and thought, oh yep, another rejection …When I read the contents of the email, I started to shake. I called my partner straight away and started crying. He kept asking what was wrong, and I couldn’t get the words out! I was completely shocked!
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
I don’t know that I’m really qualified to give advice as I’m still aspiring myself, but I think that it’s so important to read and write as much as you can. Books are the best way to learn (and they’re so much fun too!). So yes, read as widely as possible, engage with your local writing community, and no matter what, keep writing.
There are good days and bad days (and sometimes really bad days), but if you love the way writing makes you feel, hold onto that.
The other thing that keeps me going is that I’m writing for the story and not for any kind of external validation or publication. Of course, having a book published is the dream, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the best reason to write. It’s a tough, competitive industry, and all the rejection can really hurt (even though it’s never personal!)—I tell myself that the writing, the story I’m telling, is enough. It has to be.