Announcing the winners of the 2020 Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers Competition

Friday, June 19, 2020
By: 
Writers Victoria and the Grace Marion Wilson Trust

Black-and-white photo of Grace Marion Wilson

Writers Victoria is delighted to announce the winners of the 2020 Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers Competition. Now in its twelfth year, the prize supports emerging Victorian writers.

Fiction

'What a privilege it has been to be trusted with the submissions for this year’s Grace Marion Wilson Short Story Prize,' said Alice Robinson, judge of the Fiction category. 'I found it incredibly gratifying to discover among the entries many that engaged with Australian lives - as they have been lived historically and as they are being lived today - in all their multiplicity. Many of the stories also depicted and responded to Australian lands, ecosystems and climatic realities, showcasing a strong interest in places both named and imagined. The submitted stories were both responsive to the issues relevant to our contemporary milieu, such as substance abuse, multiculturalism and climate change, and also grappled with universal human conditions such as grief, heartbreak, romantic love and parenthood. Charged with the immense responsibility of narrowing the entries down to select the best among them, I found I was drawn to the stories that carried me into their worlds with both literary skill and imaginative acuity. But I want to stress that, as a writer who has been overlooked and rejected much, much more than I’ve ever been accepted and awarded, I say to anyone who submitted to the competition but was not selected this time: keep going. Ultimately, the writers who are recognised are those who keep writing, regardless. I look forward to reading what all the entrants write next!'

First Place

  • Alaina Dean, 'The Mother'

Judge's comments: This story really stood out to me for its impressive command of both style and form. ‘The Mother’ was executed with such imaginative power. At times, as I was reading, I almost couldn’t believe Alaina Dean’s daring – and to feel this, as a reader, is such a delight! To me, this story works because Alaina’s literary skill is so evident - one unquestioningly goes with her as the story unfolds. Haunting and purposefully fragmented, ‘The Mother’ is on one level arguably an account of one woman’s troubled relationship to her body and her fertility. But the narrative is also punctuated by surreal encounters with the abject. I really loved the way these elements worked together, and I applaud the story’s remarkable and inherent beauty and innovation on this basis.

Runner Up

  • Mary Fleming, 'Danny Deserves a Medal'

Judge's comments: This story, an astoundingly comprehensive portrait of a rural town and its inhabitants, told in the first person by Leonard - a pleasingly unreliable narrator - is another example of assured and evident literary skill. ‘Danny Deserves a Medal’ stood out to me among the entries for its implacable and wonderfully colloquial narrative voice and pitch-perfect dialogue. The effort taken to build up the many small details make it such a rich and rewarding read, and the clever narrative arc delivers a chilling ending. This was just such a well-made and well written narrative; I commend Mary Fleming on the obvious work that has gone in to shaping and honing the story in all its elements.

Highly Commended

  • Anne Casey-Hardy, 'Bear Gully'
  • Andrew Drummond, 'The Early Settlers'
  • Liz Walkenhorst, 'Corral'

Judge's comments: The three highly commended stories all demonstrate a level of skill that set them apart. In particular, I was admiring of their rendering of both natural and human-made places; their attention to narrative; and the strong characters they each portrayed.

Non-fiction

'Every person who wrote and entered a work into this year’s Grace Marion Wilson Emerging Writers Competition is to be commended,' said Elizabeth Flux, judge of the Non-fiction category. 'Judging is an extremely subjective process, and as the Non-fiction judge, it was a privilege to have people share their stories and insights with me. This year, entrants wrote of hospital stays, of travels, gave glimpses into their minds, into the things and people that matter most to them, of the best and worst moments of their lives, their family histories. I have something good to say about every piece I read - so how can you even begin to compare experiences? The truth is, you can’t. So, in choosing which pieces were awarded this year I looked to smaller things, and how well they came together - how personality came through on the page, how the style of writing reflected the content being expressed, and how the works stayed with me afterwards.'

First Place

  • Natasha Agafonoff, 'Sexy Nails'

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

Judge's comments: Sexy Nails’ weaves past and present together seamlessly, telling both the writer’s story and her grandfather’s, and shines a light on a specific chapter of history that is not often explored. By grounding the work in the physicality of her fingernails, Agafonoff takes a risky writing bet that pays off, resulting in a piece that is haunting and visceral.

Runner Up

  • Maria Griffin, 'The Pause Between Breath'

Judge's comments: ‘The Pause Between Breath’ is a beautiful and affecting meditation on mortality that uses repetition and medical terminology to great effect. Framed through the lens of breathing, yoga, and the declining health of a beloved pet, this work brings new life to what could otherwise have been a familiar theme.

Highly Commended

  • Cathy Koning, 'Becoming Normal' 
  • Charlie Scott, 'Carrying On'
  • Siobhan Kavanagh, 'Freedom of Mind'

Judge's comments: The three highly commended works vary hugely in content and theme, with some looking backwards, and some very much looking at the now. All three, however, clearly demonstrate the personality of the writers, and are strongly written, generous, and highly original.

Writers Victoria would like to congratulate all the winners, as well as thank everyone who submitted an entry in the competition. 

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.