NSW LitLink Residential Fellowships 2018

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2018 NSW LitLink Residential Fellowship. Read on for news of fellowship recipients and feedback from our consultants.

This year Varuna received 46 manuscripts from writers living in regional NSW and Sydney surrounds. Two Varuna Consultants provided an independent assessment on each of the submitted manuscripts with each consultant assessing the work without identifying information.

Varuna Consultants for the LitLink 2018 Fellowship award were Carol Major and Michael Mohammed Ahmad. Amy Sambrooke, Varuna Creative Director oversaw the selection process.

Consultants selected the manuscripts to award Fellowships through criteria that included high quality of writing, uniqueness of voice, potential for further development and the ability of the writer to engage in a meaningful way with future readers.

Recipients of the 2018 NSW LitLink Fellowships are:

John Bailey for The Throb of Unreal Times, a novel based on the life of Hetty Green and Ned Green.

Tatiana Bonch-Osmolovskaya for Our Girl in Panama, a short novel about a heroine who discovers a propaganda operation under the cover of an academic project in Moscow, 2013.

Tresa Ponnor for Abracadabra!, a film script about an aspiring child magician who realises that there are some things in this world that she can't control with magic.

Maria Sakellariadis for Aunty Vita in the Underworld, YA fiction about a retired magical polymath who apprentices her niece to save the world as a wealthy academic throws the gates of Hades open.

Jacqueline Wright for Beauty and Menace, a novel considering the question 'what would you do if innocent photographs of your children posted on social media went viral?'

Feedback from Dr Carol Major:
It was a pleasure teaming with Dr Michael Mohammad Ahmad to judge the LitLink submissions. Our discussions were rich. Choosing the winning submissions from the top tiers of both our lists came down to agreement on those projects we believed would gain most benefit from a Varuna residency.

The final list includes a film script, a young adult novel, two works of fiction, and a more experimental piece that juxtaposes plotlines from two historical eras.

What guides my own decisions to rate a submission in the top tier?

Authenticity of purpose is a key ingredient—in other words, something has struck the writer's imagination and they need to wrestle with it. They have been amused, or horrified, or curious, or just plain befuddled, and they want to take the reader on that same journey, not necessarily to an answer, but to the same felt place.

Crafting is also essential, but the crafting should serve the journey's purpose. Consider the brilliant technician who plays a musical instrument to perfection but leaves you feeling flat because they are not communicating with an audience. More than once I wrote in the margins of my judging notes, 'Why is this narrator telling this story? What is his or her intent? Is he or she aware of a reader?'

Originality also guides my decisions. This does not mean the topic needs to be original, but that it is explored in a way that contributes fresh insight. This is particularly important in genre fiction, which has a known formula. I want to see that formula throw up something unexpected and new.

Having said this, I do want to congratulate every single writer who put in a submission. As I begin reading a manuscript my heart always squeezes, knowing the effort, knowing how often writers tear things apart and begin again—knowing how difficult a journey this is and how brave.

Feedback from Dr Michael Mohammed Ahmad:
As a writer, editor and teacher who has been working in the Western Sydney arts sector for the past fifteen years, I considered it a great privilege to be invited to assess this year's applications for a fellowship at the Varuna National Writers' House.

After assessing 46 applications, I was inspired by the enthusiasm, passion and energy of writers from all stages in their literary careers. The manuscripts that were submitted represented an impressive range of genres, including science fiction, memoir, autobiography, historical fiction and fantasy; forms, including novels, short stories, vignettes, poetry; and narratives, from the local to the national to the international to the supernatural.

This is not to say that there weren't some concerns: I was saddened to discover that there were only three applicants from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and no Indigenous applicants in this round. For any potential future applicants from such backgrounds who may be reading this reflection, I strongly encourage you to apply for this residency in upcoming rounds. Varuna is committed to supporting you and creating a safe, comfortable and empowering space for you to develop your writing at the National Writers' House.

Taking this issue into serious consideration, the greatest challenge during this assessment round was ensuring that the successful applicants reflected the diversity of contemporary Australian culture and literature without resorting to tokenism. During the assessment meeting, we had difficult but respectful discussions about who had an important story to tell, who was qualified and entitled to tell it, and who would make the most out of this residency and fellowship. The conclusion was an unwavering agreement that the five successful applicants are in a brilliant position to positively and significantly shape the future of Australian literature. The strength of this year's successful applicants is the diversity that they will bring to the house as a group – not just in terms of cultural identity, but also in terms of age, gender, ability and most importantly, the kind of writing they will produce.

Congratulations to this year's successful applicants – may your time at the house be filled with critical thought, complex ideas and the development of an original contribution to knowledge.

Salaam alaikum.

Vera Costello