Accepting the shortlist certificate from Rosemary Sayer, Chair of Writing WA

Accepting the shortlist certificate from Rosemary Sayer, Chair of Writing WA.

Last Thursday, after an agonising three-and-a-half month wait, the winner of the 2014 City of Fremantle-TAG Hungerford Award was announced at Fremantle Arts Centre.

The winner was ‘Troppo’, by Madelaine Dickie, which will be published next year. ‘Troppo’ is set in Indonesia, and explores Australian and Indonesian relationships. It sounds as if it will be an exciting read, and especially relevant given the tension between the two countries at the moment.

Although my novel, ‘Ida’s Children’, didn’t win, my first reaction after the announcement was relief—finally, the wait was over and I could make plans. I don’t know about the other shortlistees, but I felt as if I’d been in limbo for three-and-a-half months, unable to edit my novel or send it out to other publishers. Once the decision was announced, at least I could move forward again, and get started on ‘Plan B’.

I must admit, once the relief—and the three champagnes I drank afterwards—wore off, I felt a little deflated, although I’m getting used to feeling like that in this business. On each page of my novel, I’d tried my hardest, and put in the best effort I could, yet it obviously wasn’t enough to get me over the line. 

At first, I chastised myself for feeling disappointed: I’ve had to cope with much bigger disappointments, tragedies even—the sudden death of my sister in a car accident, and the premature loss of my father from dementia—and I knew this was relatively minor in the scheme of things.

But in the end, I simply gave myself permission to feel disappointed and let it come as it needed to. I allowed myself a little crisis of confidence:

I’m not cut out for this.
I’m a middle-aged woman who’s never written before, what on earth made me think I could do it?
My story’s already been told a million times …
It’s just a boring tale told by a boring woman …

And it passed, as I knew it would, and perspective returned. I started to see the positives and that being shortlisted was only a good thing: it means my story at least has the makings of a good novel.

This is life and we can’t script it. Not everything turns out as we’d like it to—and how boring would it be if it did? I firmly believe everything happens for a reason, but we can’t always see the reason at the time. It took many years for the good things that came from my sister’s death to gradually unfurl, for example.

I’ve learnt that what might seem like a disappointment at the time, often just means it’s not meant to be—it’s either not the right time; or it’s not what I’m meant to be doing; or it’s because something better is waiting in the wings. It might take years for the reason to reveal itself; or it might be waiting just around the corner.

On Wednesday night, I went to Koorliny Arts Centre to hear Brooke Davis speak about her novel, ‘Lost and Found’ (which I reviewed here). She told us that when her publisher read her book, she immediately phoned Brooke’s friend and said, ‘If I don’t get to publish this book, I’ll cry’.

That’s what I want—I want someone to read ‘Ida’s Children’ and ring me up and say, ‘I loved your book and if I don’t publish it, I’ll cry’.

Maybe that’s too much to hope for, but maybe it’s not. I hope I missed out on this award because there’s someone else waiting for ‘Ida’s Children’, someone wanting a book like mine to arrive on their desk.

Maybe, I’ve missed out because ‘Ida’s Children’ isn’t quite ready. Maybe it’s a matter of taking a little more time to work on it, to dig a little deeper and bring out that something special in it. Maybe I’ve just got to bring out my polishing cloth and shine that nugget I know is at its core, so that someone will love it just as much as I do.

Yesterday, I didn’t feel like doing much, so I tucked myself away with Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’ and read the messages of support and encouragement as they came in. Thank you to everyone who emailed or messaged or commented on Facebook—the messages were like an embrace each time my computer went ‘ding’ and kept me buoyant.

By last night, I already felt better and couldn’t wait to get back to Ida and make a start on ‘Plan B’. So I did—that’s how I spent my Friday night, up in the attic with Ida and the kids, reading and revising!

I’m not going to give up writing, nor am I going to give up on Ida, not yet anyway. I believe in my book. I’m going to take the validation that this shortlisting has given me and run with it. I can write submissions to agents and publishers saying that ‘Ida’s Children’ has won me a Varuna residency and a shortlisting for the 2014 Hungerford Award. Hopefully these commendations will help give my story a leg up and onto a publisher’s desk.

I don’t know what’s in Ida’s future, but I’ll just keep trying to ride the highs and flow with the lows until my book finds a home. I’ve only sent it to a couple of places so far, and I’ll need a wad of rejections before I give up.

Someone is waiting for Ida and the kids—I’ve just got to be patient.


Here is an excerpt from ‘Ida’s Children’, read by Kate Hall at the Award announcement. (Thank you, Kristen Levitzke, for the recording.)

And here are a couple photos from the night.

TAG Hungerford

Writing group selfie—Kristen Levitzke, me, Emily Paull.

With my son, Sam.