Full results of 2018 New England Thunderbolt Prize for Crime Writing
Fiction, sponsored by the Faculty of Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences and Education (HASSE), UNE
Judge: Sulari Gentill
There were some wonderful stories entered in this year’s Thunderbolt Prize Fiction category. Some had intriguing plots, some had extraordinary writing and many had both. This is certainly true of the overall winner (Bottom of the Harbour) which drew the reader in with a clever witty style, a distinct and strong voice and a narrative which surprised you more than once. The Highly Commended (An Accidental Death) was remarkable for visceral descriptions which had the reader truly feeling the protagonist’s emotions on a breath by breath basis. Thank you to all those who entered—there was not a story I didn’t enjoy—and my sincere congratulations to all those who shortlisted from a very strong field.
Bottom of the Harbour Scheme, by Nic Lesley, NSW, also Emerging Author winner
An Accidental Death, by Linda Brandon, NSW
The Walk, by Carla Fitzgerald, NSW: really innovative and suspenseful structure.
One Last Job, by Christopher Ryan, NSW: a moving story gently told.
Unjust Desserts, by Kel Robertson, ACT: excellent use of dialogue.
Ricochet, by Ian Iaver, QLD: lovely use of language and description.
The Min Min Light, by Lynn Newberry, NSW: good pace, crisp use of language.
Poetry, sponsored by the New England Writers’ Centre
Judge: Jean Kent
Good poets use words in distinctively individual ways. They can also be quite idiosyncratic in their interpretations of the meanings of words. So it is not really surprising to find that the entrants for this prize for a poem about crime have come up with a multitude of approaches, all of which can be understood to fit the theme. The subjects of the poems range from responses to true crimes recently reported in the media to the offences of psychological harm or a whimsical riff on stealing the sun. Their styles are diverse, and include bush ballads, lyrics, and dramatic monologues.
How do I choose a prizewinner when the types of poems are so different? It is difficult, I admit, to compare a rollicking bushranger tale with a subtle, imagist poem, but I have tried to respect the variety of voices and make choices based on how powerful each poem is, and how well it has been crafted.
For me, three poems stood out. Each one of these was satisfyingly constructed, had engaging content and used language in a fresh, memorable way.
Thank you to everyone who entered the prize. I have enjoyed reading your work and wish you much delight and success with your future writing.
Grey is not your Colour, by Ivy Ireland (NSW)
A sky that ‘is folded hand towels / in the inexpensive hotel lobby’ sets the scene for this poem. From here, its narrative reveals a crime that, at first, seems no more than reckless driving. The tone of the poem is seductive, however, and there is a strong emotional drive that leads into a darker tale of not being true to one’s emotions. The language is so natural and unforced, it feels like thoughts being captured at high speed. Of all the poems entered, this one haunted me the most. I was struck by the genuine desire of the writer to discover something personal and to communicate this in a tone that is both disarmingly intimate and clearly communicative. The fear of living with a ‘held-back heart’ may have begun the poem, but what has resulted is open and moving, a redemption of ‘grit glowing through the grey towel clouds’.
Chiaroscuro, Madgwick, by Phillipa Trelford (NSW—New England)
(Also New England Award winner)
Through imagery of robbery, threat, guilt and attacks on innocence in nature, this poem suggests, rather than tells, of possible crime. There are lovely descriptions – of birds, elms, smoke …and some very striking phrases, such as ‘the wintering branches / arms outstretched … not beggar-like / but accepting of all that has robbed them’. I was impressed by the poet’s restraint and the way these beautifully observed visual details build up a shadowy, suspenseful atmosphere.
Locus, by P.S.Cottier (ACT)
This poem showed great courage in confronting the ugly reality of criminal violence. With its clarity, depth and careful crafting, it was immediately impressive. Its language has a forceful punch to match the fighting and sudden damage it describes and its relentless repetitions are like recurring blows. The final imagery of there being just ‘a tightrope between good bloke and prisoner, such a snip of time’ is apt, and its conclusion – that any street could be the place ‘where death and the men will meet’ – is both emotionally shocking and a clever circling back to the poem’s beginning.
Non-Fiction, sponsored by Moin, Morris and Schaefer
Judge: Pip Cummings
Given the formalities and responsibilities of writing about true crime, the stories submitted in this category displayed a surprisingly broad range of creative expression — from experimental writing to first person accounts, historical narratives, and traditional features reporting. The use of dialogue was rich in many of the pieces, as was a keen and transporting attention to detail; in some cases used to great effect to build suspense and, in several pieces, vividly conjuring an entirely different period in Australian history. In every case, the care taken to faithfully bear witness was evident and commendable — one of the great virtues of strong non-fiction writing.
Sins of the Fathers, by Christopher Ryan, NSW
Sins of the Fathers is a compelling story of a priest, Father Maurie Crocker, whose tragic death by suicide reveals much about the price of taking a stand against the established institutions of law enforcement and the Church, as well as exploring what real charity and mentorship look like in action, the complex manifestations of grief, and aspects of working-class life in Wollongong. Based on primary research via an interview with Crocker's friend and boxing student, Vito Gaudiosi, Sins of the Fathers is rich with the real voices of its subjects.
The Kingsgrove Slasher, by Greg Tuchin, NSW
The Kingsgrove Slasher captures a chilling period in Sydney's history, 60 years ago, when a string of sexually motivated knife attacks were committed against women in their homes while sleeping. The suspenseful story pieces together clues and maps a pattern to the crimes which would eventually snare the perpetrator.
The Bushranger's Lady, by Raymond Clarke, Qld
The Bushranger's Lady is a colourful account of the life of Mary Ann Ward — an Aboriginal woman of the Worimi clan and wife of bushranger Captain Thunderbolt — that elevates her to history's centre stage, and contributes to a more three-dimensional account of the vicissitudes of life on the lam in the early days of Australian colonisation.
Youth, co-sponsored by Little Pink Dog Books and Christmas Press
Judge: Beattie Alvarez
There were a lot of good stories in the submissions this year — with a lot of blood, gore and guns. Each story had merit, but one of the recurring problems was the pacing. A lot of the stories had to rush to fit the end into the word limit and this was detrimental to the overall effect of the stories. The other big one was the punctuation, particularly around speech. I was very impressed at the lack of typos and incorrect spelling of words.
I think that those submitting in the youth category in the future shouldn’t try to be too grown up. Keep it simple, a bit of fun never hurts — and think outside the box!
Laundry Day, by Eva Mustapic, (age 14) WA
Laundry Day is a classic tale of misdirection, with a good dash of intrigue and a hint of the mundane thrown into the mix. Despite being set during one of the most boring tasks on earth (doing the laundry!) the pacing holds the story together for a satisfying read.
Red Hood, by Annie Worthing, NSW
Red Hood is a new take on an old fairy tale. Beautiful imagery helps create a chilling atmosphere, almost becoming a character in itself.
A Senior Sabotage: a true story, by Alice O’Sullivan (13) WA
A Senior Sabotage is a humorous story that doesn't take itself too seriously. It has a great sense of fun and the fact that it was a petty crime was a relief after all the grisly murders.
Emerging Author Award winner, sponsored by Friends of Tamworth Libraries
Nic Lesley, for Bottom of the Harbour Scheme (also Winner, Fiction)
New England Award winner, sponsored by Reader’s Companion, Armidale
Phillipa Trelford, for Chiaroscuro, Madgwick (also Highly Commended, Poetry)