First, I’d like to thank Readings for having us here tonight. Independent booksellers, like Readings, are such an important supporter of new Australian writing.
It’s great to be part of this Melbourne launch of the 2019 Margaret River Short Story anthology, We’ll Stand in That Place and Other Stories.
But first, I have a confession. I must admit that when I was asked to launch, I was prompted to check back to see that I had submitted at least two stories over the years to this prize—none of which even made the longlist.
I promise I’m not bitter about this, but I did wonder whether those stories I submitted were actually any good. And having read back over those stories, I can confirm that they were most definitely not any good. So I’d like to thank those erstwhile judges for their wisdom in not selecting my stories, and for saving me from myself.
Unlike my efforts, the stories in this collection are very good. And I’m so pleased to see some of the authors here tonight, and we’re fortunate that three of them will soon read extracts from their works.
This annual collection was first published in 2012, and in each year since it has published the best stories of the Margaret River Short Story Competition.
In the most recent competition, there were over 240 entries from which a longlist of 47 stories were selected. Michelle Cahill then had the pleasure of reading some superb entries, and the more troublesome task of selecting a shortlist and prize winners. Having judged a few short story competitions, I know this is a tough job, and having read the collection, I think any number could have been the winner.
Like some of you here, I’m sure, I started writing short stories thinking it might be an easier task than tackling a novel. What I quickly learned, however, is that there is immense discipline and precision required in the short form—not a word can be wasted.
I was inspired by stories like Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff and A Beautiful and Terrible Thing by Chris Womersley. And my first novel, Wimmera, began its life as a short story.
But that doesn’t mean the shorter form should ever be seen purely as a stepping stone. In fact, perhaps the reverse is true. In this sense, I’m reminded of the famous quote from the novelist William Faulkner where he said:
‘Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.’
And he’s got a point.
Michelle has written a beautiful introduction to this book, and I won’t dare compete with it. But to me, one of the consistent themes in this collection seems the concept of home. Because home is not always four walls and a roof, but often something made of people, of feelings, and connection. From stories like Mark Smith’s ‘A Concreter’s Heart’, to ‘Somebody’s Baby’ by Jenni Mazaraki, we see the idea of home explored in its absence, its discovery, and its loss.
And with that, I’d like to introduce the winner of this year’s prize, Kit Scriven. In his stunning story, We’ll Stand in That Place, we have a bereft protagonist walking the streets of St Kilda, struggling with the death of his true love, Andy. Through the character’s vivid observations, we see grief and beauty reflected in the commonplace. The imagery is textured, deeply symbolic, laced with emotion, but elegantly rendered with a light touch that places this story, deservedly, as the winning entry. And it’s one of those pieces that only gets better with each read.
I’d now like to introduce Justine Hyde.
In Justine’s story, Emotional Support, we see again a protagonist struggling with the loss of their partner. But this is a very different story from Kit’s. What I especially loved about this piece was its use of humour which isn’t used solely as light relief (although funny), but instead contrasts with the character’s grief and anxiety, intensified all the more by the claustrophobia of a plane cabin.
Lastly, I’d like to introduce Emily Brewin.
In her piece, A Twist of Smoke, a mother struggles with her two young children, and is tempted by the attentions of a young barista. I really enjoyed reading this—and what this story does especially well, is pace and tension. I found myself drawn into the scenes, onto the dancefloor of a smoky bar, wondering just what might happen next.
Would you please welcome Emily.
I’ve always found one of the hardest aspects of short stories to do well is the ending. I once heard a beautiful description of the best endings being those which don’t require a clever twist, but instead offer a kind of gateway, through which a reader might see the world a little differently. And I think all the stories in this superb collection do that in their own way.
So I’d now like to end the formal part of this event, but in doing so I’ll offer an opening, a gateway of sorts, in hoping that you’ll all stick around for a drink.