22 August 2016

Meet the John Marsden Prize Shortlist: Fiction


This year, over 250 secondary school students from across Australia entered The 2016 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 2016 Melbourne Writers Festival, we’re introducing you to each and every young writer on our list. First up, Fiction!


Niamh McConney – Like Sleep to the Freezing

 Why do you write fiction?

When I was younger I always loved reading, and I guess a lot of that interest lead me to writing my own material. Lately I haven’t been able to find as much spare time to write, but sometimes an idea will strike me and I’ll know that I have to try and make it into something. I really enjoy focusing in on specific characters and their different personalities or situations. I’ve always loved making stories up—not  even good stories, really, but just as amusement for myself or others, and that can sometimes lead to me being actually inspired.

Who are your favourite writers? Or your favourite books?

Recently I finished reading ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess, which I really enjoyed. I really like fast-paced, intense books at the moment, and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ just immediately drew me in. Alex’s character fascinates me, and I love the way Burgess plays with language throughout the story. A few of my favourite books in the past have been ‘Dark Eyes’ by William Richter and ‘Rain’ by Virginia Bergin. Right now I’m working my way through ‘Robopocalypse’ by Daniel H. Wilson.

Can you tell us a bit about your shortlisted John Marsden Prize submission?

‘Like Sleep to the Freezing’ is a story about an aging woman who lives alone in her family home in the outback. The story shows the process of how she eventually loses her memory, all the while writing notes for herself to remember essential information. The title is actually a reference from a song by Hozier, ‘Cherry Wine’, and in the song he uses ‘Like Sleep to the Freezing’ to describe his significant other’s love as sweet and blissful, or merciful, whilst also being cruel and tragic and heartbreaking, which perfectly sums up Rosemary’s eventual memory loss.

Why did you choose to write it?

Originally I had no intention of entering into the John Marsden and Hachette Australia Prize, but my teacher mentioned it in class and I had just recently started planning a rough story for an idea I had. It worked out, I guess. My final draft (or as close to final as I could manage) was finished right around the deadline for entries. I think the idea originally stemmed from some speculating I had been doing about death and aging after seeing an old man in a shopping centre.

  IMG_0375Brandon Young – Reality Runner

 Why do you write fiction?

I write because it’s awesome. I love taking readers on adventures through places they’ve never seen before, building fantastical new worlds and interesting characters. It’s like playing the role of god with endless possibilities. There’s something fun about setting up characters and conflicts and watching it all play out.

Who are your favourite writers? Or your favourite books?

My favourite writer is Brandon Sanderson, not only for his writing but the effort he puts into helping new writers develop and grow. I especially enjoy his writing podcast, “Writing Excuses,” which I’d recommend to any emerging writer. Some of my favourite books include the first two instalments in “The Stormlight Archive” by Brandon Sanderson, “The Name of the Wind” by Pat Rothfuss, and a bunch of others including Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” and the “Harry Potter” series. I’m also deeply engrossed in the new Star Wars canon, and enjoy reading those.

Can you tell us a bit about your shortlisted John Marsden Prize submission?

My submission is “Reality Runner,” which is a story about a guy whose job it is to escort irritating nobility around the galaxy. However, when he realises this particular delivery is actually the shapeshifter who killed his father, he ends up scrambling to take him down. In writing this story, I experimented with several elements I’d never used before, such as time travel and multiple realities. I also wrote this in first person, which is something I’ve not done for many years. Finally, there is a nice little twist at the end that hurtled out of nowhere, and was a nice surprise as I’m normally a heavy outliner. The story is set in the same galaxy as my current work-in-progress (albeit a slightly outdated version), which also let me expand my universe and dig up possible future story ideas.

Why did you choose to write it?

I chose to write this story for a couple of reasons. For one, I enjoy writing shorter works set in unexplored areas of my current project’s galaxy. As I said before, this plays wonders generating story ideas for future novels. Above all, I wrote this story because I thought it was a cool idea that could potentially be both fun and entertaining. I’m not the kind of writer who tries to hit you over the head with a message. My first purpose is always to entertain; readers are going to take away what they want from it, based on their own experiences and mindset at the time. So I just tried to make it a quick, fun read!

 EmilyWinterEmily Winter – Tortoise Man

Why do you write fiction? I think that first and foremost, the reason I write fiction is that I perceive everything in the world as a story. I’m an observer; I try and take in as much of my surroundings as I can, and when I write, I guess it’s really just all the thoughts and themes that surround me in real life, bubbling over, melding together to form fiction.

Who are your favourite writers? Or your favourite books? Well. Where to begin? I’m an avid reader of a rather broad range of young adult ‘realism’ fiction, in particular, books such as Nona and Me, by Clare Atkins, which I’ve read at least six times, Walking Naked, by Alyssa Brugman, and Fat Boy Saves World, by Ian Bone. The authors that I gain the most inspiration from however are probably Markus Zusak, for his unique, effective way of writing, and Mandy Hager, especially in her book Dear Vincent, for her fearless handling of disaster, and the way she authentically captures character and emotion.

Can you tell us a bit about your shortlisted John Marsden Prize submission? Why did you choose to write it?

In truth, at first Tortoise Man was no more than a submission for a grade. It was my English assignment for Term 2: write a 600-word story inspired by a poem written by one of your classmates. From my chosen poem, Kicked Out, I was able to glean the theme of loss, and this then linked to age, as I guess as we near the end of our lives, contacts, proactivity, and memory begin to fade away. I began to lay the foundations for my old man: Bernard Kent. (Though his name is never mentioned in the story). I knew from the start, I think, that his loss would be of a childhood home, and perhaps the security he’d kept in the back of his mind; that his carefree earlier years were tied to a place that he could simply revisit and find nothing had changed.

AProcessed with VSCOcam with hb2 presetbigail Strangward – Marmalade

Why do you write fiction?

I write fiction because I like to create things. Like when an artist paints or a musician records a song, writing fiction is creating something new, something that didn’t exist before. It’s my creative outlet – arranging the words within the sentences within the paragraphs within the pages to make something new and entirely imagined.

Who are your favourite writers? Or your favourite books?

My taste in books is all over the place! I’m currently immersed in a lot of Young Adult fiction, reading books by authors like Rainbow Rowell, Gabrielle Williams, Steph Bowe, Annabelle Pitcher, Sonya Hartnett, Stephen Chbosky, and of course John Green. I’m also a huge fan of Markus Zusak and The Book Thief, Anthony Doerr and All The Light We Cannot See, and Nadia Wheatley. And I still have a deep love for hugely popular fantasy series – I can’t help it! Harry Potter, The Mortal Instruments, The Inheritance Cycle …I could probably go on forever. I read everything. It’s all over the place, honestly.

Can you tell us a bit about your shortlisted John Marsden Prize submission?

The piece I submitted is called “Marmalade”. It’s about an elderly woman named Maddy, and focuses on one afternoon of her life when a young boy comes to visit her. The story is based upon a series of conversations between the boy and woman, and the entire story is ambiguous due to its ending.

Why did you choose to write it?

I have a friend who is an ex-teacher and also a writer, and every two weeks we exchange a topic and write a piece based upon the topic. It can be anything – a word, a genre, an idea, a quote. And the topic for that piece was – marmalade! I tend to take the topics not too literally, and the idea just sort of spirals out from one little thing, until marmalade became more metaphoric than literal within the story.

Jordan AmosJordan Amos – While You Were Sleeping

Why do you write fiction?

I love reading fiction, it can take you to a completely different place in a single line. That’s also what happens when I write. It creates this separate place—which feels to me, almost like a little home—that I can keep revisiting in my head.

Who are your favourite writers? Or your favourite books?

My favourite writer—hands down—has to be Laini Taylor. Her series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is beautiful and intriguing. Her characters are compelling, and the world she has created is magical, yet utterly believable. It makes me want to travel to the places she has written about.

Can you tell us a bit about your shortlisted John Marsden Prize submission? Why did you choose to write it?

I had written ‘While You Were Sleeping’ after being terrified by a documentary on sleep paralysis. I was intrigued by the phenomenon and looked further into it, only to discover that the condition has actually caused mass hysteria in community’s such as Zanzibar, Africa, where sleep paralysis was believed to be a demon called the Popobawa. The fear of the evil being, sparked witch hunts and had other terrible effects on the community. I was inspired to write about this horrific epidemic, and the effect of hysteria.

Keep an eye on the Express Media blog for more interviews with the ten remaining Nonfiction and Poetry writers of The 2016 John Marsden & Hachette Australia Prize!