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Announcing the winners of the 2019 Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers Competition

Writers Victoria is delighted to announce the winners of the 2019 Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers Competition. Now in its eleventh year, the prize supports emerging Victorian writers.


“Reading the fiction entries to the Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers Competition has been a privilege and a pleasure,” said Enza Gandolfo, judge of the Fiction category. “I was impressed by the quality and diversity of the submissions. Ranging from contemporary to historical, social realism to science fiction, there were stories that experimented with form and structure, stories that explored deep emotional territory and those that used humour cleverly. It was heartening to see writers thinking about the political and social issues of our time including sexual abuse, climate change and mental health. The best of these stories were moving and compassionate, letting the characters reveal their experiences (often traumatic) through their interaction with the world around them. Judging a short story competition is always a challenge, all reading is subjective. For me, the best stories are those that stayed with me long after I finished reading them, the ones that challenged, surprised or moved me. They explored what it means to be human: to love, to grieve, to despair and to dream. These were written by writers who understand the power of restraint and of focus, and of the connection between form and content.”

First Place

  • Benjamin Hickey, ‘Acheron’

Judge’s comments: This story about sibling relationships begins on a tram in Melbourne in the 1940s and moves back and forth from the past to the present as the younger sister remembers her older sister, now dead, and one particular day in their childhood. Beautifully written, it evokes both the past and the present, the child and the old woman, and leaves the reader thinking about the passing of time and the impact of small moments. The writer creates a vivid sense of place – the domestic spaces and the worlds outside the characters’ home. They have used dialogue effectively and skilfully to render a sense of class, of the times the characters live in and to give an insight into the familial relationships at the centre of narratives.

Runner Up

  • Pamela Swanborough, ‘The Good Mother’

Pamela is also the winner of the Best Regional Writer Prize. 

Judge’s comments: ‘The Good Mother’ is told through the perspective of the mother, a dog, who gives birth to her puppies only to have them abused by the men that own her. The mother is confused and grieving but also resistant. This is a powerful and evocative story, the mother’s voice compelling. It is also unsettling; the reader is constantly reminded the protagonist is a dog, her enemies like the reader are human, they can’t be trusted. Written with confidence, this perfectly paced story builds tension and challenges our ideas about animal consciousness and emotions.

Highly Commended

  • Alex Fenton, ‘The Girl from Tidy Town’
  • Fiona Taylor, ‘Birdsong’
  • Vicki Long, ‘A Parcel of Crows’


“It was an honour and pleasure to judge the Creative Nonfiction Prize for the Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers Competition,” said Kirsten Krauth, judge of the Non-fiction category. “Across the board, the writing was of high quality, covering a wide span of genre and convention. Themes were woven throughout, especially of childhood experience, the beach, grief, personal journeys and refugee stories. The prize winners and highly commended entries were very different but they all shared the desire to be unconventional and innovative in their use of language and blend of lyric, structural play, memoir, critique, dialogue, sense of place and characterisation. Congratulations to all who entered and I really hope to see you published further in the future. I was incredibly impressed by the standard of your writing.”

First Place

  • Mykaela Saunders, ‘West Footscray Factory Fire (an apocalypse)’

Judge’s comments: The poetic language in this entry is like a force of nature. I was impressed by the rhythm of it, how the writer moves from the backyard to a global vision to an impassioned call to arms about environmental degradation. The sense of place and history are beautifully evocative while being layered with a good dose of despair. Along with technique, I was looking for writing that takes artistic risks and manages a gut-punch, and this delivers.

Runner Up

  • Michelle Tom, ‘Ocean Beach’

Judge’s comments: This entry brings together the writer’s childhood experience in a beach shack with the seismic shifts of the New Zealand landscape, both on the brink of peril. The links made between small-scale and large-scale catastrophe offers a moving and subtle insight into the impact of violence on family life, crossing seamlessly between reflection and research.

Highly Commended

  • Maria Griffin, ‘Girl, Moving’
  • Zahava Doery, ‘Just a Man’
  • Thanasi Bolkas, ‘Temporary Leave’

Judge’s comments: The Highly Commended pieces — ‘Temporary Leave’ (an inmate takes magic mushrooms to escape the daily brutality of prison); ‘Girl, Moving’ (a woman explores the possibilities of the writing process and sculptural space watching a girl on the cusp); and ‘Just a Man’ (an estranged father lives near the sea and waits for a visit from someone in the department with a clipboard) — were emotionally engaging, adventurous in style and structure, surprising at times, and with clear and beguiling voices that I wanted to hear more of. I’m looking forward to seeing what these writers do next!

Congratulations to all the winners! The first and second place entries for each category will be published in the October/November issue of ‘The Victorian Writer’ magazine.

For more information about the Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers Competition, see this page of previous winners. Writers Victoria thanks the Grace Marion Wilson Trust for its support.

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