By Meg Kennedy
What do unicorns, monsters, camping, fake news and carrier pigeons all have in common?
These were just some of the story ideas conjured by Moorabool locals for this year’s Moorabool Young Writers’ Awards and the Peter Carey Short Story Award.
Creative writers across the shire gathered to celebrate the rich writing history of the area earlier this month, as entrants, supportive parents, teachers and the local literary community packed the Lerderderg Library in Bacchus Marsh on the afternoon of Saturday 1 June, celebrating an array of short stories that pulled at the heartstrings, questioned our current reality, and shared the intricacies of what it means to be human.
The Moorabool Young Writers’ Award, judged by Bacchus Marsh young adult author Allyse Near, received more than 150 entries – making it the most successful to date for its second year running.
“This year we had 155 entries from writers aged from six to seventeen. Storytelling develops vital literacy skills, and the Moorabool Young Writers’ Awards gives entrants a chance to demonstrate the breadth of their imaginations,” said Ms Near.
The entries were a variety of stories ranging from unicorns and monsters; to more serious topics such as homelessness and looking at war from the perspective of a carrier pigeon.
Local author and event organiser Jem Tyley-Miller said that the “brave young writers gave it their all to tell a story that reflects what’s inside them, that shows how they see the world around them as only they can, by creating characters that take the reader on an incredible journey in the short space of only a few well-crafted pages,” said local author and event organiser Jem Tyley-Miller.
“Stories can do many things, and when told well, they can light a fire inside the reader, making them laugh and cry and revaluate how they see others different to them. Stories really are magical beasts.”
Peter Carey Short Story Award Judge Nic Low began his speech with a traditional Maori chant and commended all the entrants on their work before announcing this year’s winner – ‘Let’s Talk Trojan Bee’ by Alex Cothren, who had flown in from Adelaide for the ceremony.
Mr Low described ‘Let’s Talk Trojan Bee’ as “a kaleidoscopic piece”, built entirely from fictional quotations spanning Twitter, Fox News, The New York Times, IPCC reports, Breitbart and Infowars.
“Alex tells a tale of climate change and the impact of collapsing bee populations. But the frame quickly expands to encompass migrant workers, border control, far-right conspiracy theories, mass shootings and ultimately civil war. It’s ingenious, timely, and politically and socially astute. It’s also hilarious,” he said.
Alex Cothren received $1000 prizemoney, with runner-up Paige Clark receiving $500 for her story ‘Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’, which Mr Low described as “highly polished.”
“Paige has written and then edited it down to the bone with an angular confidence that frequently made me suck in my breath. This compression gives the piece the air of a time-honed oral history, even of a myth.”
Fellow event organiser and author Wayne Marshall said the awards had taken on “a life of its own” since its beginnings three years ago, having received entries from across the country and by some of “Australia’s most high-profile short story writers”.
“What we’d intended, originally, was something far more simple; a story competition to encourage and foster the wealth of writing talent we have locally. Writing is often hard work; it’s mostly solitary…what writers need, as much as anything, is encouragement and opportunity.”
This year saw the addition of the first Best Local Entry Award, with Ballan resident Bob Carey-Grieve its inaugural winner for his short story ‘Act III’.
Mr Carey-Grieve told the crowd that he was inspired to entry the award after his child entered last year’s Young Writers’ Award.
This year’s awards were also the last for Lerderderg Library’s Natalie Grero, who served as Programs Coordinator at the library and was a pivotal member of the Peter Carey Short Story Award Committee.
“Saturday was Nat’s last day at the library, thus ending her involvement with the awards. Nat was a pivotal figure in making the PCSSA a reality and worked tirelessly to develop the awards. We wish her all the best in everything she does next,” said Mr Marshall.
‘Let’s Talk Trojan Bee’ by Alex Cothren and ‘Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ by Paige Clark will be published in the Spring 2019 issue of literary journal Meanjin.
An extract of ‘Act III’ by Bob Carey-Grieve will be published in the June 25 edition of the Moorabool News.