2019 Shortlist & Longlist

Robert Drewe’s The True Colour of the Sea wins 2019 Colin Roderick Literary Award

True colour of the sea banner.

2019 Roderick Award winner

Multi-award-winning author Robert Drewe has added the 2019 Colin Roderick Literary Award to his collection with his short story compilation, 'The True Colour of the Sea'.

The judges of the Colin Roderick Award have just moved one step closer to finding a winner, today announcing a shortlist of just five books. Winners of the award, founded in 1967, receive a cheque for $20 000 and the silver H.T. Priestley Memorial Medal.

The Roderick Award is Australia’s most capacious book prize: it welcomes entries from authors and publishers of books for children and young adults, along with drama, fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry, and even self-help and reference books. The winning book can be in “any field or genre”, but it must have been published in Australia in the previous calendar year.

Early winners of the Roderick Award reflected this breadth: these books include biographies, histories, poetry, and a work of literary criticism. The first novel to win was Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, in 1988. Nevertheless, this year’s shortlist is dominated by fiction.

Dr Leigh Dale, chair of the judging panel, said that she had found it “a real struggle” to leave off some fine works of non-fiction from both the shortlist and the long list. “I was pleased, though, that there is a collection of poetry on the shortlist, and a book of short stories”, said Dr Dale, adding that the judges had been conscious of recognising the breadth of the Award’s terms when reading entries.

That poetry collection is Judith Beveridge’s Sun Music: New and Selected Poems, a book that Beveridge’s fellow poet Geoff Page has described in the Sydney Morning Herald as “mandatory for anyone interested in Australian poetry over the last four decades or so”.

Another well-known author to make the shortlist is Robert Drewe, whose short story collection The True Colour of the Sea encompasses Australian experiences past and present in moments that are funny, sad, serious, and funny again.

Another writer with a strong track record, John Tesarsch, has been shortlisted for his novel Dinner with the Dissidents, a gripping spy story that links 1970's Russia with contemporary Australia.

Gail Jones is the only former winner of the Roderick Award to make this year’s shortlist, with her novel The Death of Noah Glass, which has already been shortlisted for several other major prizes this year. Jones took the cheque and silver medal in 2015 with A Guide to Berlin.

The final book on the shortlist is by first-time novelist Trent Dalton, a Brisbane journalist who has commented on the semi-autobiographical elements of his story. His Brisbane thriller, Boy Swallows Universe, has already attracted a lot of media attention.

Dr Dale said that the judges were now rereading the shortlisted books, to make sure that choice of “the best original book” as the Award demands was being made on solid ground.

Sun Music: New & Selected Poems

Judith Beveridge
Sun Music: New & Selected Poems
(Giramondo Publishing

Boy Swallows Universe cover

Trent Dalton
Boy Swallows Universe
(Harper Collins)

The True Colour of the Sea cover

Robert Drewe
The True Colour of the Sea

The Death of Noah Glass cover

Gail Jones
The Death of Noah Glass
(Text Publishing)

Dinner with the Dissidents cover

John Tesarsch
Dinner with the Dissidents
(Affirm Press)

This year's field for the Colin Roderick Award presented the judges with a huge challenge. The panel chair, Dr Leigh Dale, commented that all four found reading fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir and other genres, and then comparing books across these genres, testing but exhilarating.

Given the breadth of the Roderick Award’s terms of reference – any book published in Australia is eligible – it was bound to be hard to decide on the best books. And as discussion continued and some ruthless pruning was done, even coming up with a long list of fifteen books was challenging. One judge who had been nicknamed "magnanimous" for what colleagues felt was excessive kindness described letting go of impressive books as "torture".

There are some famous names in the long list, including Judith Beveridge, Robert Drewe, Gail Jones and John Tesarsch, and writers whose work has attracted attention more recently, such as Jessie Cole, Jane Harper and Avan Judd Stallard.

And the Roderick long list for 2019 includes two books that have recently won other major prizes: Melissa Lucashenko's Too Much Lip took out the Miles Franklin Award while Behrouz Boochani's No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison won the Victorian Prize for Literature.

Some books might be new to readers, like Krissy Kneen’s Tasmanian Gothic novel Wintering, Helen Lewis’s memoir/biography The Dead Still Cry Out, Helen Nellie and Margaret O’Brien’s autobiography Simply Ing, or even the memoir by fashion designer Alannah Hill, Butterfly on a Pin.

“In addition to being a crucial step along the path of finding the winner, the longlist recognises the breadth of the Award”, said Dr Dale. “We have listed some books that might otherwise fly a little under the radar. We wanted to draw readers’ attention to them – every book on the longlist is special, and the authors and publishers have all done very well to have their book recognised from such a large field.”

She added, “We aren’t influenced by whether it’s a famous author or long-established publisher, we just read for quality, as the terms of the Award demand.”

But the judges were not giving anything away about the content of the shortlist, and certainly not the name of the winning author, merely encouraging readers to check the long list, sample the books, and watch the website of the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies (FALS) at James Cook University for updates.

Congratulations to all of our 2019 longlisted authors!

Sun Music cover

Judith Beveridge
Sun Music: New & Selected Poems
(Giramondo Publishing
No Friend but the Mountains

Behrouz Boochani
No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison
(Pan Macmillan Australia
Staying: A Memoir

Jessie Cole
Staying: A Memoir
(Text Publishing
Boy Swallows UniverseTrent Dalton
Boy Swallows Universe
(Harper Collins
The True Colour of the Sea coverRobert Drewe
The True Colour of the Sea
The Lost Man coverJane Harper
The Lost Man
(Pan Macmillan Australia

Butterfly on a Pin

Alannah Hill
Butterfly on a Pin
(Hardie Grant Publishing)

The Death of Noah Glass coverGail Jones
The Death of Noah Glass
(Text Publishing

Wintering classKrissy Kneen
(Text Publishing)

The Dead Still Cry Out cover

Helen Lewis
The Dead Still Cry Out: The Story of a Combat Cameraman
(Text Publishing)

Too Much Lip cover

Melissa Lucashenko
Too Much Lip
(UQ Press)

The Biographer’s Lover cover

Ruby Murray
The Biographer’s Lover
(Black Inc. Books)

Simply Ing cover

Helen Nellie and Margaret O’Brien
Simply Ing
(Magabala Books)

Spinifex & Sunflowers cover

Avan Judd Stallard
Spinifex & Sunflowers
(Fremantle Press)

Dinner with the Dissidents cover.

John Tesarsch
Dinner with the Dissidents
(Affirm Press)

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