[5th Feb 2018] – Varuna announces its Publisher Introduction Program for 2018
Varuna is pleased to announce the shortlist for the Publisher Introduction Program (PIP 2018).
This year we selected 25 unpublished manuscripts written by new or emerging Australian writers to send to our eight publishing partners.
From these shortlisted manuscripts, we have asked our publishing partners to each award one writer a PIP Fellowship, which includes a one-week residency, a literary mentor and the guarantee that the writer’s manuscript will be read by one of eight leading Australian publishers.
We thank each of our Publishing partners for taking the time to consider the work of these writers. We also thank Varuna consultants Tegan Bennett-Daylight, Alex Craig, Mary Cunnane and Vanessa Kirkpatrick who assessed the 150 manuscripts that writers submitted to Varuna for the 2018 program. Feedback from our assessors is below.
And the shortlisted writers and their manuscripts are:
Ripe by Natalie Sprite
The Sand by Cameron Hindrum
Stuck by Trish Bolton
Geordie by Susan Coleridge
Heading South by Tina Morganella
Confinement by Sarah Nesbitt
Tattoo by Carmel Reilly
The Phrenologist’s Cabinet by Matthew Russell
Twenty Sixty-Three by Miles Hunt
Penguin Random House
The Skeleton Crew by Andrew Swales
Very Minor Demons by Sara Knox
The All-Star Star Bazaar by Warwick Sprawson
Ugly Lights by Adam Narnst
Don’t Forget Your Reef Shoes by Grace Kirk
Hide and other stories by Su-May Tan
You are Here by Anita Smith
The Simple Difficulty by Benjamin Ball
The Pound Pear by Rosalyn Bent
The Long Life of Abigail by Kathryn Lyster
The Moon Within by Barbara Hill
Steam by Judith Brooks
The Blackbirds by Ali Chigwidden
Reclaiming the Kitchen by Debra Wain
Resistance by Bill Collopy
A Tiding of Magpies by Sally Bothroyd
Most of the some one hundred submissions I read gave clear evidence of the talent and ambition of emerging Australian writers who are, in fact, at various stages of emergence — some having had work already published and/or degrees in creative writing and/or had won prizes or commendations. On the other hand, some submissions were first efforts. Most of the entries displayed energy, imagination, passion and commitment. Inevitably– and regardless of the degree of experience – these were not always yet matched by technical competence, i.e. mastery of exposition and form, and a clear idea (in the way that publishers expect) of the intended audience.
There was a preponderance of fiction, much of it in the crime genre. Unsurprisingly, given the times we are in, dystopian fiction also featured, as did literary fiction and genre novels directly aimed at women. Memoir featured as well, as did some biography and creative non-fiction.
In evaluating submissions I looked for a combination of raw talent (especially as exemplified by a compelling voice) technical skill, market potential, and a sense that the writer was ready and able to work with an editor to take the manuscript to a publishable level – much the same criteria I applied to projects submitted to me when I was a publisher and subsequently a literary agent. Some submissions by beginners met these criteria, while others by entrants further down the track in terms of emergence did not.
Persistence pays. Thus I would urge those who didn’t make it into the final round not to be too discouraged or indeed to throw in the towel completely. There are many successful authors whose manuscripts, for one reason or another, made long trips down the runway to lift-off and publication.
It was an honor and a pleasure to be part of this important program. I thank Varuna’s Veechi Stuart and Amy Sambrooke for the opportunity, and for their efficient administration and hospitality. And I thank my fellow assessors for their good humour and collegiality.
Tegan Bennett Daylight:
I was so grateful for the opportunity to read these manuscripts for Varuna’s PIP program. Between us, we read close to 150 manuscripts of fiction and non-fiction. One of the great privileges of being a reader is hearing people’s stories. Everyone had something they needed to say, and it was an honour to hear them.
I was especially impressed by the hard work and clear dedication to the literature that most of these writers demonstrated. It was humbling to think of so many people quietly working against the tide of everyday business – rereading, editing, writing new material, shaping their stories for us. I would like to congratulate every person who submitted a manuscript to this program, for their dedication, their intellectual labour, and their bravery. Writing is hard, and it is an achievement to have completed a book – whatever the outcome.
We all agreed that voice was the thing we looked for, above almost anything else. To that I would add language. I was most interested in manuscripts that did something extra with language – something beyond simply telling a story. There is a reason we write books rather than make films or paint pictures. Marshall McLuhan said that the medium is the message, and I was most thrilled when I found a writer who was using the language, the actual words themselves, and the way they were arranged in a sentence, to affect the reader.
I’d like also to thank Alex Craig, Mary Cunnane and Vanessa Kirkpatrick. These three readers were patient, creative, courageous and thoughtful – and all fought for manuscripts that they felt deserved extra attention! Writers can be sure their manuscripts were in loving hands here.
An abundance of talent and the ambitious scope of many of the submissions made it an absolute pleasure to review this year’s list.
The twenty-five manuscripts that constitute the shortlist were selected for their compelling voice, their exploration and command of their chosen subject and genre and sheer inventiveness. It was so exciting to see how many writers are taking big risks in world building, style and engaging storytelling. Standouts here included historical fiction, crime – both dark and droll, fantasy, thrillers, short stories as well as some fascinating literary and popular fiction.
Many of those manuscripts on the longlist also had very fine qualities but are in an earlier draft stage, still making the discoveries a writer has to make alone before a manuscript is ready to enter the collaborative process of mentoring and editorial feedback.
Some of the submissions were still finding their way, developing writing skills both on a structural level and on the line, learning about plot, pacing, characterisation, craft, and ‘show, don’t tell’. And then there were those manuscripts that are in search of actual story – too much violence for violence sake, tragedy depicted without context, and first-person voices that are yet to move beyond the terrain of the self.
All this is part of development, and drafting and redrafting, of learning the craft, and it’s inspiring to see the depth of potential among this year’s writers.
It was a pleasure to read the applications submitted for the 2018 Publisher Introduction Program, and it was wonderful to meet with the other assessors for a lively and thought-provoking discussion, facilitated by Varuna’s Creative Director, Amy Sambrooke, to determine the shortlist.
There were many interesting and competitive applications, but for this particular program we needed to assess not only on the basis of artistic merit, but on what we believed would be attractive to publishers. Successful applicants also needed to demonstrate that they would benefit from the writer development that is an integral part of this program.
A well-developed understanding of the book’s potential readership also made the application more competitive. It is worth considering the genre you are writing within very carefully and thinking about the books that have inspired and influenced you: where do you see your own manuscript in relation to books that have been published recently, and does the content of your manuscript fit with your target age group? (This last question was particularly pertinent in relation to young adult fiction submissions.)
Some manuscripts seemed too driven by the writer’s idea – in terms of content, style or plot- of what they wanted to achieve, and may have been more powerfully realised if the writer had allowed the work to take shape in a more organic way. An overwhelming majority of the crime fiction manuscripts submitted had a sexually-assaulted murdered young woman as their focal point, and although this is in line with the current (and enduring) cultural obsession with dead female bodies, I would have found it refreshing for these talented writers to turn their imaginations towards exploring other possibilities within this genre.
Two strong hooks for me into a piece of writing have always been narrative drive and strong characterization – but even more important is that difficult-to-define quality of voice. While voice describes that unique combination of elements that make up a writer’s craft – description, dialogue, characterization, plot, imagery and so on – it eludes precise definition as it is more than the sum of its parts. I think of voice as inhabiting the space between reader and writer: a strong voice engages your imagination, leaps off the page, leads you into a new world, and makes believable what in any other context may seem incredible or even impossible. Many submissions were secure in their craft, yet drew too much attention to their own style or structure, so that the reader was left admiring the manuscript’s beautiful exoskeleton rather than being swallowed whole into the world of story. Overall, it is this immersion that I as a reader was most on the lookout for.
I wish you all the best of luck with your writing.