15 August 2017

Meet the 2017 John Marsden Prize Shortlist – Fiction

In 2017, over 630 secondary school students from across Australia entered The John Marsden & Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers. Fifteen talented young students made it on to the shortlist in categories of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

In the lead-up to announcing the winners at the 2017 Melbourne Writers Festival, we’re introducing you to each and every young writer on our list. First up, meet our fiction writers!

Catherine Wang, The Colour Red

Why do you write fiction?
I don’t consider myself as a devoted writer and I didn’t write many stories before The Colour Red, so I don’t really have a concrete answer. However, I’ve always really found it quite interesting and incredible how writers could use their own experiences and transform them into stories which could shape and influence people’s lives. The books that I love have all strongly affected me as a person, and I suppose that would be quite a significant reason for me to write, to connect with others through the expression of my own personal experiences and emotions.

Who are your favourite writers? What are your favourite books?
I don’t have a favourite writer, but there are books which I really enjoy reading. The Harry Potter series is one of my favourites because of the world and characters created by J.K Rowling, and the sense of nostalgia I always feel when I read the books. It’s amazing how she managed to produce such a compelling story which people of all ages are capable of enjoying, and is one which I always love to read. Another favourite of mine is The Silver Donkey which I read when I was younger. Though simplistic and fairly short, the story is beautiful and in my opinion, deeply profound and touching. I also find Animal Farm to be a great read, one which is intelligent and thought-provoking.

Can you tell us a bit about The Colour Red?
The Colour Red is a short story which explores the relationship between a Chinese immigrant couple in Australia. Narrated from the wife’s perspective, the story revolves around the marital issues in which this couple is having, struggling to communicate and at a loss as to what the nature of their relationship is and has become. Temporary hope for their relationship is reignited when the wife discovers she is pregnant, but she soon comes to the realisation that their marriage is irreparable.

Why did you choose to write it?
The Colour Red was actually written for a school task, but I was then encouraged by my Literature teacher to submit this for the John Marsden and Hachette writing competition. Before I wrote The Colour Red, I had just finished reading Cate Kennedy’s collection of short stories, Dark Roots. Much of her stories were concerned with loss and relationships, and I wanted to convey this in my own short story because I understood how relationships can easily fall away and people drift apart. I was also inspired significantly by my own Chinese heritage and culture and the experiences of my own parents who are immigrants themselves as I wanted to incorporate an important aspect of my life.

Rose Forrest, A Stretching Summer

Why do you write fiction?
I write fiction because it’s what I love. I have always been fascinated by literature and how it can temporarily distance you from reality, and so around ten years ago the transition for me from reading a lot to writing was almost seamless. I love being able to create characters that are unfamiliar to me at first, but that I gradually get to know and love as they shape themselves throughout the story. Writing fiction for me is a way for me to experiment with language in order to figure out different ways to create meaning, and it’s one of my favourite things to do!

Who are your favourite writers? What are your favourite books?
J.D. Salinger is definitely one of my favourite writers – I love his short stories, especially “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”, and I also love his book “Catcher in the Rye”. I also recently read “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, and I loved it. “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte is also another one of my favourites, and I’m also a fan of Stephen King, especially of his books, “It” and “Joyland”, and another favourite would definitely be Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief”.

Can you tell us a bit about A Stretching Summer?
My submission focuses around the experiences of a girl in a small town in rural Australia that is experiencing a drought. It’s a coming of age piece: the story focuses around her experiences with growing up and planning for her school dance and discovering her interests and navigating relationships, all in the context of a small town suffering from the lack of rain.

Why did you choose to write it?
I wrote my piece because I thought that it would be interesting to place aspects of the experience of growing up and ‘coming of age’ into a context in which I have no personal experience – I have always lived in the city, and have never experienced a severe drought, and so it was interesting for me to try and place myself in that situation, and interject real feelings into a situation in which I had limited knowledge about. I enjoyed creating my character and developing her voice and deciding who I wanted her to be, whilst also trying to create a sense of small town community and establishing her connection to her family, all within a context that I had no personal experience with, but that I could imagine and create.

Lydia Schofield, Graffiti

Why do you write fiction?
I write fiction because everything is completely up to me. I can create characters that are going through the things I am and they can help me sort out my thoughts and worries. I can also write about completely random things and have fun with different situations and characters.

Who are your favourite writers?
Some of my favourite writers are Roald Dahl, Rainbow Rowell, Sarah Kay, John Green, and Neil Gaiman.

Can you tell us a bit about Graffiti?
My story is about Nell, a teenage girl who is fed up with the homophobic attitudes of her classmates. Through graffiti, she confronts one someone who is making the kind of comments that she is so angry at as well as finding a way to spark a connection with her crush.

Why did you choose to write it?
I chose to write it because I was stuck for ideas and surrounded by graffiti. My school has a bit of a problem with graffiti at the moment and most of it is negative and offensive. I wanted to make a situation where something good could emerge from graffiti.

Lilian Cao, The Western Dog

Why do you write fiction?
The long answer – I write fiction for myself. Creating characters and stories is sometimes the most truthful way I can quantify my abstract experiences. My thoughts and feelings get so muddled in my brain, and writing fiction gives me the clarity and catharsis I need in the process of unloading some of that weight. The short answer is because writing is fun and I think it’s pretty neat.

Who are your favourite writers? What are your favourite books?
My recent favourite books have been Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles and E.H. Gombrich’s (non-fiction) The Story of Art – because even though my knowledge is still spotty, I love art history. Standouts from my childhood are Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and – what can be traced back to being one of the first graphic novels that ignited in me a lifelong love and passion for illustration and comics – Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano’s The Dream Hunters. Since I’ve gone down the path of mentioning graphic novels, I can’t forget Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods, and Jillian Tamaki’s Super Mutant Magic Academy.

Can you tell us a bit about The Western Dog?
The Western Dog is about a girl living in the chaos of Guangzhou, then in the serenity of Yunnan. It’s about a girl and her mother, a father and his daughter, and the dregs of a romance that existed during a tumultuous time in China’s history.

Why did you choose to write it?
Most of this story is fabricated, but a lot of the characters are drawn heavily from the people in my life. I wanted to be genuine in representing the tension, frustration, and love in my relationships. Looking back on it, knowing who and what I’ve drawn on to create my characters, I have an awareness of how much the characterisation in my story reflects on my attitudes and relationships at the time when I wrote it. I think it’s valuable to be able to vividly reconstruct those parts of my mind.

Leyla Boztas, Endo/symbiosis

Why do you write fiction?
​I think writing in general is such a great way to explore and understand ourselves and the people around us – it’s very cathartic to capture events, feelings and thoughts in exact words.​ I especially like fiction’s ability to relay common human emotions and struggles across infinite circumstances and landscapes – no matter how different or removed from yourself the work is, there’s always something to connect with.

Who are your favourite writers? What are your favourite books?
​Right now, I am loving reading various works by Maxine Beneba Clarke, Alice Pung, Roxane Gay, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Jeffrey Eugenides, Tennessee Williams.​ In terms of books, I’ve really enjoyed Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, Whiskey Charlie Foxtrot by Annabel Smith, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey and currently for VCE, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

Can you tell us a bit about Endo/symbiosis?
​My short story, Endo/symbiosis, is centred around a young woman faced with a difficult decision. Having trouble conciliating two cultural identities, she makes sense of her situation through biological terminology.

Why did you choose to write it?
It was actually an assignment for Year 12 English Literature​, based around using themes and techniques from Cate Kennedy’s collection of short stories, Dark Roots. My lovely lit teacher suggested that I enter it into this competition and here we are!