Children’s picture book among the 2021 Colin Roderick Award Longlist announced
Eureka! by Mark Wilson is the first children’s picture book to be longlisted for the Colin Roderick Award.
The award is one of Australia’s oldest literary awards and attracts an entry list larger and more diverse than any other literary prize in the country. This year, the award received 200 entries, which has been narrowed down to a longlist of fifteen.
Chair of judges Dr Leigh Dale said that the “longer-than-normal longlist” reflected both the quality of this year’s books, and the incredible range of entries that had impressed the four judges.
“We have books for children and a book of poetry; literary fiction and genre fiction; we have memoir and short stories, popular non-fiction and works with a more academic style,” she said. “But even having opted for an extended longlist of fifteen, there were books that we really regretted not being able to include.”
None of the longlisted writers have previously won the Award, therefore this year’s winning author will be taking home the prize and medal for the first time.
The award was founded in 1967 and recognises the best original book, in the judges' opinion, that was published in Australia in the previous calendar year for the first time. Submissions must deal with any aspect of Australian life and can be in any field or genre of writing, verse or prose.
The prize is valued at $20,000 and is coupled with the silver H.T. Priestley Memorial Medal, both presented by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies. The Foundation is based at James Cook University and is funded through the generosity of the late Professor Colin Roderick CBE, his late wife Mrs Margaret Roderick, as well as donations and membership from the general public.
Nine months of careful reading has produced a longlist with some famous names, including Garry Disher, Jane Harper, Sofie Laguna, and Louise Milligan. Milligan’s Witness is non-fiction, while Consolation, Infinite Splendours and The Survivors, by Disher, Harper and Laguna respectively, are all in some sense thrillers, albeit of very different kinds.
Incredibly, three writers have jumped into the longlist with their first ever novel: Jessie Tu for A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing, Tobias McCorkell for Everything in its Right Place, and Nardi Simpson for Song of the Crocodile.
Simpson, a member of the band Stiff Gins, is an educator and musician as well as a writer; so too is Anna Goldsworthy, longlisted with her second novel Melting Moments. Another second-time novelist is Stephen Conte, whose first book, The Zookeeper’s War, won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Fiction.
Two books on the longlist have already won awards: Kirli Saunders’ Bindi, a collection of poems that reads as a diary of an eleven-year-old, collected the Daisy Utemorrah; Elizabeth Tan’s second short story collection, Smart Ovens for Lonely People, won Best New Australian Fiction from Melbourne bookshop Readings.
Three works of non-fiction round out the field: Australian army VC winner Dan Keighran and Tony Park’s Courage under Fire, Stephanie Convery’s After the Count: The Death of Davey Brown, and Grantlee Kieza’s biography Banks.
The shortlist will be announced on the 2nd of August, with the winner’s name revealed at the annual dinner of the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies in October.
Steven Conte, The Tolstoy Estate. [Harper Collins Publishers] Conte’s expansive and impressive book focuses on a dedicated reader of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, who happens also to be a surgeon in the invading German army in the winter of 1941. His clashes with the dedicated keepers of Tolstoy’s house and memory are tempered by their shared love of the writer.
Stephanie Convery, After the Count: The Death of Davey Browne. [Penguin Random House] Convery shows the empathy of a participant and the diligence of a scholar in her sensitive and intelligent discussion of the sport of boxing. She opens out the reasons why the effects of contact sports are taken for granted, with disastrous consequences for participants.
Garry Disher, Consolation. [Text Publishing] Disher’s crime novels use vivid but economical descriptions of life as seen through the keen eyes of Constable Paul Hirsch. Hirsch notices every twitch and flicker of life in town, every misplaced rock and stick in the bush, as he slowly untangles the web of crimes large and small in ‘his patch’ of rural South Australia.
Anna Goldsworthy, Melting Moments. [Black Inc.] A powerfully cohesive novel that traverses the life of its protagonist, Ruby, from childhood to old age. Closely focused on human emotion – spikes of weakness, acts of kindness – the book is subtly written and finely tuned, showing wisdom and compassion in depicting characters with humanising weaknesses.
Jane Harper, The Survivors. [Pan Macmillan Australia] Harper’s trademark has been rural noir but here she turns to the sea, where lives are lost and secrets are hidden. Part thriller, part mystery, this story depicts family conflicts and small-town relationships that have, until now, protected the guilty and the innocent in equal measure.
Daniel Keighran and Tony Park, Courage under Fire. [Pan Macmillan Australia] A frank and briskly-paced memoir of an Australian Victoria Cross winner that emphasises the difference between war as it is presented by Hollywood and the media, and war as it is lived by soldiers in training and combat – the latter a world in which ‘death comes easy, efficiently, and with no fanfare’.
Grantlee Kieza, Banks. [ABC Books: an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers] We all learned about Banks at school, but Kieza manages to combine some very thorough research with an engaging style and sympathy for a very original man of his time. Banks may be one of the best-known early European scientists to have visited Australia, but this is an engaging re-introduction to him.
Sofie Laguna, Infinite Splendours. [Allen & Unwin] Beginning in a perfectly pitched child’s voice, this novel at first seems like a meditation on how ‘promising childhoods’ might not be fulfilled. The narrator becomes a troubled and troubling adult, sustained only and largely in secret by his art; the novel builds to a crescendo that will leave many readers reeling.
Tobias McCorkell, Everything in its Right Place. [Transit Lounge] With a lively working-class male protagonist dispatched to an elite private school, and its visceral evocation of Melbourne, this ironically titled novel will recall Christos Tsiolkas’s Barracuda for some readers. It shows the distances and disconnections that can limit family life and friendships.
Louise Milligan, Witness. [Hachette Australia] Milligan shows in brutal detail the emotional and physical toll on those who appear as witnesses in legal proceedings arising from crimes of sexual assault. Essential for those who want to understand why courtrooms might at times fail to deliver justice, the book describes a world in which only winning matters.
Kirli Saunders, Bindi. [Magabala Books] Appealing to younger readers and hockey players, Bindi is a sequence of well-crafted and lively poems about family and school life. A late set of poems on the family’s experience of bushfires, and well-crafted drawings, add emotional weight to a finely produced book.
Nardi Simpson, Song of the Crocodile. [Hachette Australia] Set in the fictional town of ‘Darnmoor’, ‘Gateway to Happiness’, Simpson’s novel is both epic and domestic, with finely crafted writing to match. It presents a detailed, loving portrait of an Indigenous family living in rural Australia that culminates in a terrible and misguided reckoning for a history of racist violence.
Elizabeth Tan, Smart Ovens for Lonely People. [Brio Books] Tan’s writing mixes originality and philosophical seriousness with humour that is often droll or ironic. The title story will have special appeal for those tiring of the new fashion for domestic electrical appliances to have minds of their own, and a tendency to patronise their users.
Jessie Tu, A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing. [Allen & Unwin] Which classical musician wouldn’t want to win a scholarship to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra? A thoughtful, smart young woman who doesn’t want to live in Donald Trump’s America! With its adventurous protagonist, this book fizzes with verbal energy and insight.
Mark Wilson, Eureka! A Story of the Goldfields [Hachette Australia] is a children’s picture book that tells the story of a family formed on the Victorian goldfields in 1851. The daughter of an English immigrant meets a teenage boy from Canton, against the background of the conflict and violence that culminate in the Eureka rebellion.