Shortlist for the Overland Victoria University Short Story Prize

We received more than 600 entries for the first ever Overland Victoria University Short Story Prize for New and Emerging Writers. Many of these were of an exceptionally high standard and it was a difficult task for the four judges to narrow the list, which they read blind. Nevertheless, after much reading and debating, they have selected a shortlist of 19 outstanding stories.

Winning stories for the $8000 prize will be announced Tuesday 20 November and published in Overland’s final issue for this year.

Overland and Victoria University are very pleased to announce the 2012 shortlist:

‘Zone of Confidence’

‘Because I’m crazy jealous of the sea, babe, I’ve taken your motor-bike and I’m racing north up the Queensland coast, keeping the storms away from you and trying to catch just one glimpse of your tiny white sail.’

Claire Aman lives in Grafton NSW. Her work has been published in Best Australian Stories 2008, New Australian Stories 1 and 2, Escape (Spineless Wonders), Island, Southerly, Heat, Griffith Review, and read on Radio National. In 2011 she had a story shortlisted in Australian Book Review’s Elizabeth Jolley award.


‘Frank O’Hara’s Animals’

A young girl stops time as she navigates the endless and quiet battles of suburbia.

Tara Cartland is a Melbourne-based fiction and nonfiction writer whose work has appeared in Voiceworks and The Big Issue. She currently contributes to and works for an environmental charity.

‘The Other Ah-Por’

‘The Other Ah-Por’ speaks of a young woman’s struggle with the decay and mortality that is embodied in her beloved grandmother’s decline.

Silk Chen is a new writer from Melbourne, with short fiction and memoirs published in Wet Ink, Etchings and the 2011 Williamstown Literary Festival Anthology. She also received the 2010 Varuna Fellowship for Writing Retreat. Currently, she’s working on Saigon Belle, a book-length manuscript inspired by my mother’s life.


‘Remembering Ludwig’

King Ludwig of Bavaria, lover of swans, disappears.

Mieke Chew lives in Melbourne. She is a freelance writer and the editor of Higher Arc magazine. She recently completed her honours thesis on László Krasznahorkai at the University of Melbourne. Her current fixation is Hungarian literature and novels without page breaks. By day she is the Development Manager at Phillip Adams BalletLab.


‘Harlem Jones’

His Dad’s long gone, the dickhead principal kicked him out of the Comprehensive, the coppers won’t quit hassling him, his Ma’s nagging’s doing his head in, his best mate’s a piss-head slacker, his brother’s gone down for beating on his ex and his new job nets him less than the pension … but this time it’s not just Harlem Jones that’s angry: it’s half of fricken England.

Maxine Beneba Clarke, a West Indian-Australian poet, has recently fallen for prose. She feels guilty when she remembers the good times with Poetry, but if they’d both calm down a little they’d realise she’s writer enough for two. Maxine’s short fiction has appeared in Harvest, Page Seventeen and Verity La. She has recently completed her first collection of short fiction, Foreign Soil.


‘The day the world stayed the same’

For Damien O’Hara, an Australian tour leader working in Vietnam, September 11 2001 is just like any other day.

Melissa Fagan has been (among other things) a nanny, tour leader, swimming instructor, English teacher and editorial assistant. She is currently a Brisbane-based writer and editor, and MPhil candidate in Creative Writing at UQ.



What saves you is not what you expect.

Anna Hedigan: after graduating in arcana only men in the Czech Republic care about and a slightly more useful writing course at RMIT, Anna slid into reviewing and arts journalism as a regular contributor to Radio National’s Book Show, the programs of the Australian Ballet & other bits and bobs. She is currently hoping to scale the vertiginous mound of her novel on medieval Italian painter Cimabue. She blogs at The Moral Highground.


‘The cushion phase’

Fran, an interior designer, whose best friend and business partner, Gaz, has recently died, works through her loss via the prophylatic power of cushions – ‘You seem to be building your house up; cushioning it, so to speak,’ comments her therapist.

Hilary Hewitt writes prose and poetry in Sydney’s inner west and works as a building designer. She is currently completing her first novel which was shortlisted for the 2012 HarperCollins Varuna Awards for Manuscript Development. One of her short stories has been selected for the coming edition of Famous Reporter.


‘Bachelor Brothers’

‘Bachelor Brothers’ is a story about Frank and his brothers, a rural family, who speak their own language.

Hayley Katzen’s play Pressure Point was produced at the Byron Bay Community and Cultural Centre Theatre, and her short stories and essays have won competitions and appeared in Australian and American journals and anthologies. She lives and works on a cattle farm in northern New South Wales and is currently enrolled in an MFA at City University of Hong Kong.


‘The rabbit facts’

Facts about the plague are hidden, covertly tucked away inside my father’s disintegrating mind.

Julie Keys lives in Gerringong on the NSW south coast. She works as a Registered Nurse and has had a few short stories published




‘Sucker’ is the story of a teenage runaway who has a baby in the most unlikely of places – a retirement village, revealing that life and death are not as far apart as they seem.

Melanie Kinsman has recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Adelaide. Her interests include young adult fiction, media studies and cultural studies. As a writer she enjoys exploring the notion of ‘voice’ in fiction.


‘The things I will keep’

Returning to tidy up after her mother’s death, a woman finds comfort and unexpected attachment to the things her mother has kept.

Melissa Manning was born in Tasmania and has lived in London and Hungary. Having worked as a lawyer since the 1990s, she is currently studying creative writing at RMIT. Melissa lives in Melbourne with her husband and their three children and spends her ‘spare’ time working towards finishing her first novel.


‘Motel California’

And still those voices are calling from far away, wake you up in the middle of the night.

Toby McCasker is a Sydney-based musician, journalist, and writer. He is also Hysteria magazine’s managing editor and serial laughing miserablist. He also scribbles for AskMen, triple j magazine, Hyper, and others. He can only sing in the company of no-one.

‘Down Came A Blackbird’

Four-year-old Toby is at risk, as his aunt discovers during a visit when she witnesses disturbing behaviour in her sister, who is struggling to cope, and blinkers on her brother-in-law, all of which compels her to take unaccustomed responsibility.

Susan McCreery is a short fiction writer and poet from Thirroul, NSW. Her stories have appeared in various publications including Island, Sleepers Almanac No. 7, Escape, Page Seventeen and Award Winning Australian Writing (2010 and 2012). Story awards include the 2009 Julie Lewis Literary prize and the 2011 Carmel Bird Short Story prize.


‘Ariadne on Naxos’

‘Ariadne on Naxos’ draws on the myth of Theseus and the minotaur to explore a young woman’s awareness of her own disappointment and doubt.

Clare Ridgway-Faye is 29 and lives in Northcote. She is a teacher of literature and classical studies, and also enjoys knitting and walking her dog. This story was inspired by her recent travels in Greece.


‘A family album’

Spanning the crucial decades of the twentieth century, ‘A family album’ tells the story of a family in seven vignettes which expose the truth behind their photographs.

Francesca Sasnaitis is a Melbourne-born writer and artist, currently based in Sydney, where she is completing an MA in Culture and Creative Practice at the University of Western Sydney. Her poetry most recently appeared in Visible Ink 23, Verandah 27 and ETZ 02.


‘The orphan Christmas’

A long way from home, three young couples spend Christmas together.

Kate Sherington is 26 and works in book publishing. She recently returned to Australia after spending two years in London. Her short stories have been highly commended in the State Library of Queensland Young Writers Award and published in the One Book Many Brisbanes anthology.


‘The Waves’

Caught between the mysterious death of her beloved father and her mother’s Alzheimer’s, a woman discovers that the only thing more mysterious than memory is truth, which surges, retreats, and drowns like the sea.

Imogen Smith is a writer, editor, PhD student and tutor at QUT. Imogen’s PhD is on relationships between Australian short stories, literary journals and technology. She was recently awarded a Varuna Fellowship for her first novel, The Month at Araluen. When she’s not working, Imogen rides her bike in the hills around Brisbane.


‘Killing Floor’

‘Killing Floor’ examines how an adolescent is fascinated and repulsed by the mysteries of violence he is invited to understand.

John Turner’s short fiction has previously appeared in the online magazines Philament and Islet. He lives and teaches in Sydney.


Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

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    1. Honestly, it could have been longer! It was hard to get it this short. On your other point: I have heard that writers are generally great looking people.

      1. heh! (of course i wasn’t meaning anything so superficial as great looking physically, although that too now you mention it). even more excellent, then, to think that’s the shortest possible shortlist you could come up with. so: go oz short story writers!

    1. What can we say, they were read blind!

      Worth noting though that the majority of entrants were women (around 70 per cent).

  1. Mark, next time there’s an *all* male shortlist for a major literary award, make sure you go ‘Wow, where are all the female writers or poets?’ Sorry, I can’t bring myself to add that many question marks…

    1. Sorry Penelope – I’ve got nothing against works being judged on their merits. I pointed out what appeared to be an anomaly and had it explained to me. Still a poor result for the male entrants but that just means we have to do better. I congratulate all the shortlisters and I look forward to reading some great short stories.

  2. Have a look at the Varuna alumni stats and you’ll see a similar demographic split. Perhaps there are just many more women than men writing fiction just as there are more women readers of fiction than there are men. I’d like to see the national stats on commissioning editors. Whatever, the stories were read blind and the best made the cut. Congratulations to the short listers. I had intended to enter but lost my mojo.

    1. Boris, you may be right in saying it’s demographics. But if you break down the shortlist – two male writers shortlisted from 180 and 17 female writers from 420 – it could just mean that women are writing better short fiction than men! We have some work to do……

      1. Hi Mark,

        I actually wasn’t saying the outcome of the competition was a matter of simple demographics. Clearly, it isn’t and that it is how it should be. I was, however, making broader point about the readership of fiction and its relationship to the quantity of writing produced in Australia. It seems to me that there is, in fact, a gender factor at play here but I don’t have any hard data to back that up. I am sure they exist in the Neilson figures.

        The point I made about Varuna was based on anecdotal evidence. I have had a few Varuna awards, fellowships, residencies etc. and have always been struck by the 90:10/F:M mix of alumni, for example. This is not a value judgement (I don’t know why I even need to say that) but from a simple business perspective it would make sense if the gender mix of editors and judges reflected that of the writers and, probably, the readership.

        Is there an difference between the way men and women read and write fiction? I’d say there is and there is a significant body of critical literature (e.g. French, post-structural, feminist) that goes to this point.

        This is probably not the best forum to get into this debate because the initial purpose of the post was to notify the results of the competition. I just wanted to clarify that point.

        1. Thanks Boris – I appreciate you taking the time to explain. And I say again – congratulations to all the short listed writers. I hope we get to read more than just one or two in Overland. Over to you Editors – what about making them available online after winner has been announced? Such a wealth of talent out there.

  3. There was a pool of stories and 19 were elevated above the rest – end of story. Best of luck to those selected!

  4. The lack of men, is not an issue, the issue is quality. If the quality of the short listed is high then why the discussion on gender? I would apply the same values if there were 17 men and 2 women short listed.

  5. Woot and wahoo! Congratulations to all involved – writers and judges: phew, what a marathon, and still the steepest hill to climb. I love the way you’ve done this shortlist — really honours these writers and gets them ‘out there’, even if not all of them can be the prize-winner. Excellent work (as usual).

  6. Can anyone tell me the definition of ‘Emerging Writers’ as regards to this competition please? It seems nearly everyone on the shortlist is anything but ’emerging’!!

    1. The guidelines are here. The competition uses the fairly traditional definition of ’emerging writer’: ‘Entrants are eligible only if they have not, by the close of the competition, published a single-authored print book (in any genre or form) via a commercial publisher with effective national distribution – that is, distribution in all states. Writers who have published in multi-authored works, in self-published books or in exclusively electronic form are still eligible.’

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