2019 Judges: Maxine Beneba Clarke & Rebecca Starford
NON-FICTION: Winner – ‘Normal’ by Bryce Groves (Year 10, Quakers Hill High School, NSW)
MAXINE: ‘Normal’ is a poignant exploration of life in the foster-care system, and a gentle exoneration of the things many children take for granted. The conversational tone of the narration is warm and engaging, and complements the at-times challenging subject matter. The author successfully explores the way in which their living circumstances influence many different aspects of their life, always returning to the central idea of what constitutes Normal. (‘I live in a, well, semi-stressful household and have to deal with everyday issues like Family and Community Services, and having government employees come to our house to inspect it. That’s my normal.’) This piece of non-fiction is brave, thoughtful and illuminating.
REBECCA: What struck me most profoundly when reading Bryce’s memoir was the authenticity of his voice. ‘Normal’ takes a recurring question of what is a ‘normal’ childhood and sets it against his experiences growing up in the foster-care system with his other biological siblings. And despite his evident and longstanding challenges, mostly at the hands of others and their preconceptions and prejudices about the kind of young man he might be, the tone of the piece is never angry. Instead it is warm and inviting, drawing the reader in and encouraging them to see Bryce’s life – and their own – in a different light. This is a compelling, thoughtful and memorable piece of non-fiction.
FICTION: WINNER – ‘Ovals, Ovals’ by Faye Velasquez (Year 10, Footscray City College, VIC)
MAXINE: This story uses sophisticated language to explore themes of migration, displacement, friendship, family and community ties. Line by line, the writing is lyrical and evocative, without being laboured. The relationships between the characters are complex and nuanced, and many of their quiet moments of interaction are emotionally stirring. (‘Before you left, Nay held your cheeks in her palm and gently dug her thumb into the creases of your frown. You watched her imitate your jutted lip. It may have made you angry if you hadn’t noticed that her eyes were cloudy.’) This piece of short fiction is original, engaging, and accomplished.
REBECCA: This is an impressive, original story that is confident in the use of the experimental form and the different approaches to storytelling. There is genuine emotion and feeling generated between these characters and their complex relationships, and the author writes with an assured tone. It is refreshing to read such an accomplished story that presents ideas of migration, family, belonging and community with originality and energy.
General Judging Comments from Maxine:
It was an honour to be a judge for the inaugural Kill Your Darlings School Writing Prize. Many of the entries successfully tackled ambitious themes, such as migration and refugees, mental health, sexism and misogyny, environmental destruction, and voluntary assisted dying. Apocalyptic speculative fiction was a common genre choice – and these pieces tended to be testimony to the concerns of young people about political and social unrest, housing instability and environmental destruction. The strength of the writing on the longlist, and the breadth of themes explored, shows that the future of Australian writing is indeed in good hands.
Congratulations to all students who submitted work for the prize, and thank you to all teachers who supported their students to enter. Writing, structuring, editing and submitting a work for consideration is a daunting task even for published writers. May this accomplishment be an early step in the literary careers of Australia’s future novelists and non-fiction writers.