Thunderbolt Prize winners: Lynne Cook, Emerging Author Award

Lynne CookToday, I’m interviewing Lynne Cook, winner of the Emerging Author Award in the Thunderbolt Prize. Her winning entry, Change of Plan, was also Highly Commended in the Fiction prize.

First of all, Lynne, congratulations on your win! How did you come up with the idea of your winning story, Change of Plan?

Thanks, Sophie! The idea for Change of Plan came – as many writers report! –from a news item; in my case, the report of a fatal cliff fall. I wanted to write a completely different outcome for the story, one which acknowledges the strength and resilience of those in dangerous relationships. We read that Pammy has had a less than satisfactory relationship history but – even though the resolution of the story isn’t one I’d generally recommend! – she survives. She acts to take control of her story. It’s very tempting for a writer to put on a (generally ill-fitting) super-hero outfit at times and try to change the course of history …

What attracts you to writing crime fiction?

Who doesn’t love solving a mystery, putting the pieces of a jigsaw together? For me, crime fiction is the writer setting the reader a challenge; the fun (and thrill) is in joining the suspenseful ride of working out just what the hell is going on, predicting the next move. Crime fiction throws up intriguing characters. I love the psychological play.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and writing career?

I’ve worked as an English teacher and have studied and taught German literature too. In the last couple of years I’ve had the opportunity to complete my first novel (Finding the Words), to work on a collection of short stories and begin a second novel. In 2014 I was one of 5 lucky writers to win a place at Varuna, the National Writers House in Katoomba, to take part in the Short Story Focus Week. It was a terrific experience. I’ve also been involved with the South Coast Writers Centre for the past 4 years; a dynamic and creative bunch of people.

 What do you hope winning the Emerging Author award will do for you as an author?

I hope that winning this award will give me the confidence to trust my instincts and voice in writing.  It is wonderful to be able to list the Emerging Author award (and being Highly Commended in the Fiction prize) on my writing CV!

What do you look for in a good story or novel?

I’m into quirky. A character or situation can be, on the surface, accessible, likeable, even predictable. But then the expectations and predictions are subverted. Character layers are progressively revealed; the situation is thrown open to other perspectives. I love also the way humour can deepen the impact of a text, even in its darkest moments.

Thunderbolt Prize winners: Joshua Nash, winner of the Non Fiction prize

Today’s interview is with Joshua Nash, winner of the Non Fiction category in the Thunderbolt Prize.

Joshua Nash is a linguist and an environmentalist. His work concerns philosophical and ontological foundations of language and place, the anthropology of religion, architecture, pilgrimage studies, and language documentation. He has conducted linguistic fieldwork on Norfolk Island, South Pacific and Kangaroo Island, South Australia, environmental and ethnographic fieldwork in Vrindavan, India, and architectural research in outback Australia. He is a postdoctoral research fellow in linguistics at the University of New England.

First of all, Joshua,congratulations on your win! How did you come up with the idea of your winning story, A Nameless Island?

A Nameless Island is a skew on crime non-fiction. I take my present linguistics research project, an island in the South Pacific with a mythical past, and ask what might comprise a criminal act. I arrived at several contradictions concerning what crime may be. The story is a musing on these incongruencies.

What attracts you to writing crime non-fiction?

A friend encouraged me to submit for this prize. Otherwise, I have written little about crime nor have I read many whodunnits. I loathe Inspector Morse type shows.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and writing career?

I am from Adelaide and moved to Armidale for work in October 2014. Professionally I studied as a linguist, but ultimately I am an environmentalist and a nature lover. Writing for me is both a scientific as well as an artistic endeavour. I have developed a corpus of peer reviewed work which straddles anthropology, geography, history, environmental studies, and pilgrimage studies. I am currently working towards finding my feet within more creative work.

You are a respected academic writer as well as a creative writer. How do those two practices work with each other?

Generally terribly. The peer review process in science can often be the one way to knock out most if not all creativity in writing. That said, I have been lucky to get some fringey creative ideas published in scientific journals.

What do you hope winning the Non Fiction prize will do for you as a writer?

Maybe the prize will give me my five minutes of fame in Armidale. It might give me the possibility to become more involved with happenings at the New England Writers’ Centre, which is definitely a good thing. As a researcher I don’t have any student contact at the moment, so I appreciate the contact with others. If I can contribute my expertise in any way, then great.

As a reader, what do you look for in a good book?

Good books show courage. Good writers take risks. Having lots of people not ‘get’ you is a sign you are doing things differently.

Anything else you’d like to add..

I am currently marking 70 third year architecture essays (ok, this is some student contact, though through digital means only). To all students in the world – please learn how to present reference lists and footnotes properly. I cannot overemphasise this point. Good reference lists lead to good marks which lead to a nicer world.

Thunderbolt Prize Winners: Tony Sevil, winner of the New England Award

Tony SevilToday, I’m speaking to  Tony Sevil, winner of the New England Award in the Thunderbolt Prize for his short story, The Disappearance of Buck. As well, the story received a Highly Commended citation in the Fiction category.

First of all, Tony, congratulations on your win! How did you come up with the idea of your winning story, The Disappearance of Buck?

Thank you! Back in 2011 I did  an online creative writing course with the NSW Writers Centre. I found the course invaluable and the tutor, Laurine Croasdale, very encouraging.

One of the exercises in the course was to write a personals advertisement for an invented character. I invented the character of Alf Buccal, a competition brickthrower. He was looking for a ‘missus’, someone to settle down with. The exercise was designed to create a character’s voice. I got a bit carried away with the character and the story finished up longer than the guideline wordage.

Who knows where the character came from, but I have always been attracted to people who are passionate about what they do, no matter what that might be. I am a country boy whose family is still on the same property they selected in the 1840’s. I expect I am a bit of an observer and a listener, so I have probably picked up on the patterns of speech and mannerisms of people in rural Australia.

The tutor’s response was very encouraging:

“I laughed so much I nearly fell off my chair. It’s a hilarious piece! Love it!”

So I thought,”Well I think I will hang onto this character, store him away in the back of my mind.”

Tony Sevil's studio

Tony Sevil’s studio

Then earlier this year I saw the promo for the Thunderbolt Crime Writing Competition, and I started to think whether I might be able to weave my character, Alf Buccal, into a crime story. I decided to base the story around his favourite, precious brick, which is stolen. Then it is his search to try and find the culprit.

What attracts you to writing crime fiction?

This is my first attempt at writing crime fiction. It excited me. One part of the plot seemed to lead to the other rather seamlessly. It’s fun to write a mystery story where the reader might wonder “where in the hell is this story going”, especially when it’s just a story about a brickthrower whose special brick is stolen! It is fun to weave the story. Not giving too much away. Perhaps I am a bit of a trickster. I like telling verbally a story in a roundabout way so that people will listen to me!  And perhaps wonder what is coming next.

Crime fiction may not be where my writing future lies, but humour certainly will.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and writing career?

I studied Economics in the early 1960’s. Much later I did a Diploma of Social Science. I have worked in Market Research, Economic Research, public relations. I have been in selling. I have driven a cab and worked in restaurants. Coming from a farming background I have tried my hand at that. I worked and travelled in Europe and Africa for nearly three years. One of the more interesting jobs was taking livestock to South Africa. I was working on a Hereford stud farm in Hereford on the Welsh border. I heard that you could get a job as a stockman on a cargo ship taking animals to south Africa. An opportunity came up and for a couple of weeks I looked after 13 head of cattle, 3 horses and four dogs that were being exported to South Africa. The cargo ship dropped off cargo at the Canary Islands, Ascencion Island and Napoleon’s exile Island of St Helena on the way. Then I worked as a shunter on Rhodesian Railways for around 6 months. There were a number of other non economic jobs I took on.

When I returned to Australia I felt lost and found it hard to settle. Where do I go now? What work do I do? I felt mates from my school and Uni days were getting ahead with their careers, and I was floundering.

I eventually got a job as a public relations officer for a mining company at Gove on the north eastern tip of Arnhem Land. It was an escape for a couple of years. Just another job. Not really a career path.

tony sevil art 1In more recent times I worked as a care worker for what was then The Challenge Foundation in Armidale, which was the most rewarding wage work I have ever done. During this time I was also progressing with my art making things out of found objects. This eventually became a passion.  I have exhibited in commercial galleries and also been in group exhibitions and a solo exhibition at NERAM. I have an exhibition coming up at Gallery 126 in Armidale in November and another solo exhibition at NERAM in September 2016.

All the way through I have written or tried to write. I have had stories and articles published, but I have never , until now, had any fiction published. I tried writing fiction but my stories seemed embarrassingly naïve and stilted. I think I got caught up too much in structure and not enough in letting a story flow. The Disappearance of Buck story seemed to flow rather seamlessly so I feel I may have found my voice in writing humorous fiction.

What do you hope winning the New England Award will do for you as a writer? 

I know I will be writing with a lot more confidence now. I will certainly be more confident about writing tony sevil art 2more humour. I will probably go back over my life and expand on humorous incidents in my life. And drag out half done stories from my drawers and maybe re work them. Perhaps a collection of humorous stories some day. Who knows. The prize has opened up so many possibilities.

I have a rather interesting project going at the moment. I love Facebook-Seeing the art and reading the thoughts of friends from around the world. It is a wonderful way to test the water with my artwork.

I noticed drawings of cute fat cats that I really liked by an Iranian artist from Tehran (who has not been published). I suggested to her that we try and write a children’s book together on cat behavior. She liked the idea and for the last year we have been sending emails backwards and forwards with drawings and text. I wanted a Persian name for the cat. So I asked Bahare if she could come up with some Persian names for me to chose from. I chose a name. But she said it was a female name and she thought the cat was male. So we have chosen the name Homayoun. I asked Bahare to pronounce it so I could possibly work out a rhyme for it. Her husband sent me an audio with the correct pronunciation. With my regular correspondence with Bahare I always now ask her to say g’day to the man with the lovely voice.

There are two aspects of this that appeal to me. Firstly is it possible to collaborate in this way and produce a book? Secondly I like the idea of reaching out to someone on a personal level who is from a different culture and nation to mine.

You are an artist too as well as a writer. How do those two practices work with each other?

I think making art and writing can go well together, especially with the way I operate. With my art I like to have several, sometimes many, projects going at the same time. I like to move freely between projects. If I get to a point in a project that requires more thought I will move to another project and then return to the other one with a fresh eye. Writing seems to fit ok into this ‘routine’. I often write tony sevil art 3early in the mornings. I don’t really sit down and slog away at a plot on the computer. I usually have quite a lot worked out in my head before I tap things into the computer. And these ideas for stories often come when I am working away on an artwork.

The trouble is my mind can get a bit full sometimes and I can get a bit ratty. That’s when I walk or do a little meditation. I always take a break, read the newspaper, start the crossword and have a nap after lunch.

As a reader, what do you look for in a good story or novel?

I am not an avid reader at all. I do read the newspaper from cover to cover. However some wonderful writers have sort of landed in my lap at important times in my life. Back in my school days I remember being mesmerized analyzing some of the set texts. One was Silas Marner, the other two were Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Macbeth. I thought English was up there with my best subject at school but did a bad leaving certificate exam, even though my English teacher in the then 4th year asked me if I was going to study English when I left school. I only got a B. That threw me a bit. So I silas marnerstudied Economics. I got an A in that 🙂

After high school and for a number of years, I cannot recall reading much at all other than the newspaper from cover to cover starting at the back page, the sport page. After  11 years at boarding school I just wanted to party. I did not do much study at UNE but I had some very bright mates. Come essay and exam time I would visit them, pick their brains and often borrow their lecture notes. They didn’t seem to mind.

I don’t like saying it but I don’t seem to have a lot of time to read novels. I cannot read during the day. Perhaps it is my farming background. The day was for physical work. I read at night in bed…sometimes. I usually fall asleep after a few pages. I tend to wind down in bed at night with the Herald crossword. Not the cryptic…

Sometimes I find my mind is working overtime on new ideas for an artwork, working out how I will put something together. I cannot seem to concentrate on reading. My partner suggested we should read your books, Sophie. I said to her perhaps you could read them and tell me all about them!  🙂

However I would like to mention a few books and authors that have made a huge impression on me.  Books seem to have landed on my lap at the right time in my life. I loved The Snow Leopard by Peter snow leopardMathiessen. Other writers I cannot put down include John Steinbeck, and more recent writers, Annie Proulx and Barbara Kingsolver. I love their characters. I love being immersed in the environment of the word pictures they paint. I love their characters.

I was hugely inspired by Nelson Mandala’ autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Years ago I read a historical novel on Ghandi, Freedom at Midnight, by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins, which I really enjoyed. It perhaps canonized Ghandi a bit. But he deserved it.

Tony’s website is here.

Thunderbolt Prize winners: P.S. Cottier, winner of the Poetry prize

Penelope Cottier

The New England Thunderbolt Prize for Crime Writing is a respected national award for unpublished short-form crime writing in three Open categories: Fiction, sponsored by the School of Arts, University of New England; Non-Fiction, sponsored by The Armidale Express; and Poetry, sponsored this year by the New England Writers’ Centre and the Armidale Dumaresq Memorial Library. There are also three special awards: the New England Award for a writer resident in New England, sponsored by Reader’s Companion bookshop, Armidale; the Emerging Author Award, for an unpublished writer over 18, sponsored by Friends of Tamworth Libraries; and this year, the inaugural Youth Award, for writers under 18, sponsored by Granny Fi’s Toy Cupboard, Armidale.

The Prize, which in 2015 is in its third year, is run by the New England Writers’ Centre, of which I’m Chair, and as the results of the 2015 Prize have just been announced, I thought it would be interesting to interview each of the winning authors, and ask them about their stories, their writing careers, and what they hope winning an award within the Prize will do for them.

Here’s the first of the interviews, with P.S. (Penelope) Cottier, winner of the Poetry category in the Thunderbolt Prize.

First of all, Penelope, congratulations on your win! How did you come up with the idea of your winning poem, Criminals who are no longer criminals?

Thanks Sophie.  I was thinking about the way we incarcerate asylum seekers offshore, including children, and whether this would be classed as a crime in the future (it may already be in breach of various agreements, and lead to inarguable crimes such as murder and rape).  From that I started thinking about laws that had once seemed necessary, at least to some, and which later seemed cruel, pathetic, or simply very odd, and which are now repealed.  These laws include those against homosexuality, witchcraft, eavesdropping, and laws about found treasure which I vaguely remembered from studies in first year law.  Finding out that just walking around at night was once a crime was a total bonus, so far as the poem was concerned. I had a vivid image of all those who had been subject to these laws meeting, as ghosts, outside a court room.

The poetry judge, Les Murray, commented on the evocative nature of your descriptions. How did you go about creating that texture?

I try to put aside too much thought when writing a poem.  I like to have a fairly strong idea of what I will be doing before I start, but when I am writing my best work it is as if I am taking dictation from someone unseen.  Not automatic so much as going through the gears in a manual car without thinking about it.  You only become conscious if you miss a gear.

This intense cruising was more difficult here because of the law lurking around like a bore at a party.  (The sort of bore who wears a ‘funny’ bowtie and can’t wait to assail you with stories of his most awesome success.)  But the poem contains more than a whiff of smell, has some sounds I like, word play, and an element of surprise, co-existing with a strong sense of sorrow.  I think I avoided being too preachy or tedious, despite the research wedged in there.

I’m glad that Les liked it!

Have you written poetry themed around crime before? What attracted you to do so?

I was about to say ‘no’, and then I remembered that a poem that was the joint winner of the Arts ACT David Campbell Prize dealt with a father who had murdered his children.  Again it had a element of the dreamlike to it, while dealing with an unfortunately real situation.  It was called ‘Visitation’ and the dead children appear to the mother in her dreams.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and writing career?

I was born in England, raised in Melbourne and live in Canberra, a place I now love, after a long and intense struggle.  My latest publication is a pocket book called Paths Into Inner Canberra, which is an essay with two poems, looking at notions of nature and the way that wild animals can be found a few kilometres from Parliament House.  (Insert politician joke here.)  It gives me great joy that a piece of writing can be produced and sold for as little as $4, and that Ginninderra Press produces this type of publication.  This book can be ordered here.

Of relevance to this award is the fact that I have a law degree.  I go months without remembering that!  I also have a PhD in Literature from the ANU, written on images of animals in the works of Charles Dickens.

I write as P.S. Cottier, which sometimes stands for Post Script, as I started seriously seeking publication relatively late. (I almost forgot.)  I have had three books of poetry published, co-edited an anthology of poems, and have even stooped to prose fictional and non-fictional, as noted above.

What do you hope winning the Poetry prize will do for you as a writer?

This may sound a little cute, but writing poetry is an end in itself, particularly when someone gets to read it.  I am pleased that the poem is being published, and that I managed to write a poem about law reform and the cruelties of the past (and by extension, the current limitations of the law).

I try my hardest not to think in terms of a writing career.  That probably means my view of poetry is hopelessly romantic.  If I want to have a poem I have finished read, I will post it on my blog at as often as submitting to a journal.

But I will certainly buy something cool with the prize money.

As a reader of poetry, what do you look for in a poem? Which poets have influenced your own work?

Invention and surprise are my favourite aspects of poetry.  I like unexpected combinations of words and play.  Huge slabs of self reflection, or emotions thrown at the reader like sodden hankies, are not my favourite things.

I love Emily Dickinson because she avoids easy translation into a single message.

Byron is a favourite because he lurches between tenderness and sarcasm.

I read as widely as possible in contemporary poetry written in Australia and elsewhere.

On inspiration: interview on Elisabeth Storrs’ blog

An interview looking at the sources of inspiration for me as a writer is up now on historical novelist Elisabeth Storrs‘ blog.

Here’s a short extract:

What is the inspiration for your current book?

I’d like to answer this for two books: my YA novel Hunter’s Moon, which came out in June; and my adult novel Trinity: The False Prince, coming out in October (e-book) and November (print). The first book, set in an alternative world-version of the late 19th century, is inspired by the fairy tale of Snow White, the second, which is also second in my Trinity series, and is set in modern Russia, was inspired by not only the earlier novel (Trinity: The Koldun Code) but also by the enigmatic figure of Rasputin, and also the history of magic in Russia.

Is there a particular theme you wish to explore in this book?

Well both books in a sense—and isn’t that funny, I hadn’t thought of it till now!—are about betrayal, and false appearances.

You can read the whole interview here.