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Western Australian Premier's Book Awards - 2014 Judges' Report

Children’s Books

Baby BedtimeBaby Bedtime - Mem Fox; illustrator Emma Quay
(Penguin Group Australia)
Mem Fox is a master of the genre and her poetic rhyming text about the progression to bedtime is perfectly complemented by Emma Quay’s exquisite illustrations. A wonderfully tactile book – its soft pillowy cover has patterns and textures sourced from vintage fabrics and charity shops - this lullaby is destined to become a bedtime classic.

Light Horse BoyLight Horse Boy - Dianne Wolfer; illustrator Brian Simmonds
(Fremantle Press)
This masterful mix of fact and fiction explores the actions of the 10th Light Horse throughout the course of World War I.  Symbolic of the ANZACS, a simple farmer and his horse from rural Victoria join the fleet from Albany to Cairo and thence to Gallipoli, later remaining in Egypt to guard the Suez Canal. Life in the trenches and the desert is vividly depicted in words, and illustrated by evocative charcoal drawings, a range of documentary material and fictional letters that capture the sweep and drama of the fighting which contrasts with intimate details and private emotions of those at war and at home.

My Super HeroMy superhero - Chris Owen; illustrator Moira Court
(Fremantle Press)
Employing humorous, catchy rhyming verse and action sounds (kaboom, kabam, kapow, kasplat) the author evokes familiar ‘superhero’ qualities. The bold, lively illustrations enhance the text with unexpected twists, depicting 12 masked superheroes in animal form. Varied design and visual clues add interest, while through clever word-play and an outstanding synergy between words and pictures this book delivers its meaningful message with humour, warmth and charm.

Stay Well SoonStay well soon - Penny Tangey
(University of Queensland Press)
With her frantic mother’s attention focused on caring for Stevie’s increasingly sick older brother, Stevie has to work out how to negotiate troubling, changing relationships at home, at school and with Lara, the feisty girl in the hospital. Stevie is soon in trouble with everyone, and fighting depression while trying to retain her own voice and personality. In turns poignant and funny, this heart-warming novel of family and friendships captures the heartache of growing up and moving on.

The AwapThe Swap - Jan Ormerod; illustrator Andrew Joyner
(Little Hare Books)
A simple yet masterful tale exploring the issue of sibling rivalry where a jealous sister, Caroline Crocodile, tries to swap her baby brother with hilarious results. Gradually she realises that perhaps he is perfect after all and all ends happily. Exuberant illustrations complement the text beautifully, adding colour, humour and interest.

Voilet VanishesViolet Vanishes - Ursula Dubosarsky; illustrator  Annie White
(Hachette Australia)
This slim chapter book for beginner readers is a perfect example of the genre and ticks all the boxes – good use of alliteration, lively text, colourful illustrations, realistic characters and a satisfying conclusion. Violet’s mum takes her to see a magician but Violet unwittingly becomes the star of the show.


Digital Narrative

Afterdeath - Evangeline Than and Gareth Lockett
(Red Alpha Pty Ltd)
Afterdeath combines the evocative art of a comic book, with a haunting soundscape and a puzzle-filled purgatory to explore in some quaint way life after death.

(Universe Creation 101)
AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS is transmedia storytelling at its finest, borrowing the best of existing narrative techniques across a range of media, harnessing these to tell a compelling story about mortality and materiality in a playful but meaningful manner.  AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS is held together by a luscious audio story, not dissimilar to radio plays in their heyday, but now updated with interactive pathways, bespoke online locales and a series of beautifully designed interactive web pages.

Neomad - Stuart Campbell and Wah Cheung
(Big hART)
Neomad combines the best storytelling techniques from webcomics, episodic televisual shorts and community-based interactive design. Driven by the input of 40 young people in the Ieramugadu (Roebourne) community, Neomad playfully evokes the importance of stories of the land and being. For the Love Punks and Satellite Sisters who inhabit this wonderfully imagined future, connections to the past, to the land, and to each other, are always paramount.

Nothing you have done deserves such praise - Jason Nelson
(Turbulence, New York City)
Nothing you have done deserves such praise is an interactive game-like critique of a social media culture, saturated in responses and affirmations. The game itself is compelling enough to keep playing, even as the game world oozes false praise that eventually begs the player to ask exactly what they’ve earned or achieved both in-game and in the world around them.

#PRISOM - Mex Breeze and Andy Campbell
(Mex Breeze Design and Dreaming Methods)
#PRISOM seduces and repels in the same instant, situating a ‘player’ within a gameworld of seeming transparency but in actuality a harsh digital realm of endless surveillance. Neither pulpit nor pleasure, #PRISOM forces players to make choices rendering the harsh reality of a surveillance culture inescapable. This is a powerful interactive work, with a political message that is all too clear (in both senses).


All the Birds SingingAll the birds, singing - Evie Wyld
(Random House Australia)
A measured and unsettling mystery which interweaves, in alternating chapters, the disturbing and sinister events taking place on a remote island farm off the coast of Britain and the protagonist’s youth in rural Australia. Jake Whyte lives, by choice, on the edge. The edge of civilisation. The edge of sanity. Mysterious animal deaths trigger memories of past trauma. There is no neat resolution in Evie Wyld’s poetic novel but it does end with intimations of both hope and love.

ElementalElemental - Amanda Curtin
(UWA Publishing)

From the bleakness of the wind-swept north-east coast of Scotland, to the light-filled days of WA today, this atmospheric historical novel spans a century and several generations. Meggie Tulloch, Fish Meggie the former 'gutting girl', is writing the story of her life for her grand-daughter. Recapturing the past to make sense of the present, she suffers the pain of remembering. Extensively researched and vividly written, Elemental creates an evocative sense of different landscapes and periods as well as engaging and psychologically complex characters.

EyrieEyrie - Tim Winton
(Penguin Group Australia)
Holed up in a seedy Fremantle high rise, Tom Keely is disgraced, disillusioned and divorced. A cynical and self-pitying lapsed idealist, Keely’s chance meeting with a childhood acquaintance and concern for the welfare of her young grandson turn his attention to the problems of someone even more worn down and dislocated than himself. Winton’s  grittiness and distinctive dialogue combine with flashes of dark humour and an unexpected tenderness.

The life and loves of Lena GauntThe life and loves of Lena Gaunt - Tracy Farr
(Fremantle Press)
A novel which reads like an elegant memoir, this is the story of Dame Lena Gaunt, the 20th century's first theremin player, and a discreet heroin addict well into her 80s. Tracy Farr's powerful, sensuous writing brings the rhythm and movement of both the ocean and music to a life rich with art and colour, ambition, love, and indescribable loss.

The life and loves of Lena GauntThe Narrow Road to the Deep North - Richard Flanagan
(Random House Australia)
In this ambitious and very moving novel, Dorrigo Evans, a retired Australian doctor recalls his youth which is often at odds with his well-crafted, heroic media profile, built on his leadership as an officer in the POW camps on the Thai-Burma Railway. Our expectations are constantly undermined by Flanagan’s unsettling and visceral narrative, with its psychologically and ethically complex exploration of war and its devastating aftermath. The novel contests idealized Australian myths of heroism and mate ship forged in war by revealing the reality of trauma and damage.

Coal CreekCoal Creek - Alex Miller
(Allen & Unwin)
The impending tragedy towards which the narrative moves is mooted early in Alex Miller’s masterly novel. It is nonetheless shocking when it finally occurs. Set in the Queensland outback in the middle of last century the story seems much older, even timeless. The clash between town and country, indigenous Australians and white farmers, the educated and the illiterate and law and honour forms the background to an unlikely and heartbreakingly delicate love story.


Boy LostBoy, Lost: A Family Memoir - Kristina Olsson
(University of Queensland Press)
Boy, Lost is a painful, resonant and exquisitely written memoir. Employing extraordinary intimacy, love and humanity, Olsson draws the reader progressively into the unfolding and intriguing story of her brother’s abduction. In doing so Olsson examines the role and circumstances of women, children and their families in post-war Australia, and reveals how such loss resonates through the generations.

Broken NationBroken Nation - Joan Beaumont
(Allen & Unwin)
Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War is a sophisticated, well-integrated and highly readable account of Australian's experience of World War 1. Beaumont presents this ‘portrait of a nation’ under duress particularly well, expertly balancing and interweaving military history and political analysis with the personal stories of both those who fought and those who kept the home fires burning.

Citizen EmperorCitizen Emperor - Philip Dwyer
(Bloomsbury Publishing)
Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power 1799-1815 is a stunning achievement. Immensely readable, authoritative and comprehensive, this masterful biography contextualises the man into his place in history – both politically and culturally. Dwyer easily draws the reader into the complexity, circumstances and machinations involved in the creation and exercise of power.

Night GamesNight Games: sex, power and sport - Anna Krien
(Black Inc)

Night Games is an insightful, multifaceted journey through the off-field culture that is ‘footie’. Original, necessary and revealing, Krien’s closely observed and juxtaposed details deftly drive her narrative forward, creating a complex and compelling drama.

Out of the MountainsOut of the Mountains: the coming age of the urban guerrilla - David Kilcullen
(Scribe Publications)
In Out of the Mountains, Kilcullen analyses the escalating trends of population growth and coastal urbanisation in the digital age. One of the world's most respected experts in counterinsurgencies, he argues that these patterns will necessitate a profound change in our thinking about city planning, communications and how best to deal with the threat of conflict. Citing compelling case studies and drawing upon highly personalised experience Kilcullen reaches a series of conclusions that cannot be disregarded.

The forgotten rebels of EurekaThe forgotten rebels of Eureka - Clare Wright (Text Publishing)
This is revisionist history of the best and highest order. Wright brings women into the male dominated ‘legend’ of Eureka, while men become husbands and fathers. Her detailed and well-researched scholarship is matched by equally fine, impassioned writing, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka is an original and compelling and essential reworking of our national narrative.


Hotel HyperionHotel Hyperion - Lisa Gorton
Introduced by a quotation from a 15c manuscript describing the effects of a kind of magic lantern, the poetry in Gorton’s second volume also transports readers to magical worlds. By turns witty and wonderful, her poems explore past and future, memory and myth. Varied in form and frame of reference, this volume is endlessly fascinating.

Six different windowsSix Different Windows - Paul Hetherington
(UWA Publishing)
The six sections of this collection range widely in time, place and theme, moving from reflections on youth in ‘corrugations’ to meditations mainly on women in ‘Findings, Keepings’. Hetherington's constant theme is art, his narrator reminding us of how ‘finding words’ demands ‘a looking about/to bring something back/a scent or something dragged from the ground...’

Stone Scar Air WaterStone Scar Air Water - Judy Johnson
(Walleah Press)
Johnson's long, supple, first-person poems often dramatise historical events to great effect. Thus, in her highly praised ‘Da Vinci's Winged Glider’, the Renaissance artist/scientist dreams of a fictitious half-sister who jumps off a cliff, perhaps a manifestation of his sexuality and certainly an expression of his working in both imaginative and rational modes: ‘Torn between gut and aerodynamics, he decides on a half-florin bet both ways.’

UnearthedUnearthed - Tracy Ryan
(Fremantle Press)
In this marvellous and moving collection of elegies and elegiac poems, Ryan draws on poetic traditions and appeals at once to intellect and emotion. Referring both to a past love through the dreams that bring him into her present domestic life and to the concerns of that life, the poetry takes us deep into its hauntings and its celebrations, of poetry itself as well as of the poet’s experience.

WalkingWalking: new and selected poems - Kevin Brophy
(Five Islands Press)
A major collection of new poems opens this substantial volume which confirms Brophy’s place as a leading Australian poet as it traces the trajectory of his poetry. Measured, and always intelligent, these poems soar above the ordinary lives and concerns they focus on to allow an insight into the poet’s inner life.

XnXn - Carol Jenkins
(Puncher and Wattmann)
Xn is a formula for multiplying any number by any integer to demonstrate its mathematical possibilities. Analogously, Jenkins manipulates materials by metaphors, often scientific ones (a lined page is ‘nothing but cellulose/perhaps a gram of ink, a slip of graphite’). Her opening poem promises a rewarding experience when it announces, ‘Yes, it is you I am writing to.


Forget Me Not - Tom Holloway
(Currency Press)
The writing of the life-time damaged victim of abuse is most moving. The playwright takes risks in this creation and does not opt for any easy or comfortable solutions, and the time shifts work most effectively in three dimensions for live performance. The inarticulate protagonist is memorable and much more than a current victim headline.

Maggie Stone - Caleb Lewis
(Caleb Lewis)
An accessible stage work that does a great deal more than present a very recent and perhaps peculiarly Australian cross- cultural clash, it is both specific and universal by equal degree. It feels as if it was tailor made for the lead, Chris McQuade and it is wise, shrewdly humorous, tough and compassionate. Fine performance writing with only an occasional longeur.

Prompter - Sam Fox and Patrick Pittman
(Hydra Poesis)

This powerfully theatrical piece makes intelligent use of electronic media. The strong structure and emotive personal story lines, set against a range of contemporary issues concerning aid and military intervention are well plotted.

The Beast - Eddie Perfect
(Anti-Semantic Pty Ltd)

Rambunctious, iconoclastic – even at times a bit smart-arsed – but full of energy from a writer-performer winking knowingly (and insultingly) at his presumably well-dressed audience. An odd creature that as live theatre demands some innovative staging - certainly at the commencement - but its savage indignation offers performers an invitation to slap faces. A little overheated and a mite self-satisfied but effectively provoking.

The Bull, the Moon and the Coronet of Stars - Van Badham
(Currency Press Pty Ltd)

This play is an excellent example of strong theatrical writing. Drawing on ancient Greek myth, but neatly contextualised into the present, it is a gripping narrative of love and desire, and inventive in its demands on staging and acting.

The Secret River - Andrew Bovell
(Currency Press)

Bovell brings his experience and knowledge of stagecraft to bear on this very successful adaptation of the novel by Kate Grenville.  Its focus on a small number of characters, enclosed by the space of their settlement as well as the stage, brings sharp focus to the issues of occupation and exploitation that both the play and novel explore.

Western Australian Emerging Writers Award

FracturedFractured - Dawn Barker
(Hachette Australia)

A gripping psychological thriller that explores mental illness and grief. The author writes about a devastating subject with poise and sensitivity and draws attention to post-natal depression and the impact it has on families. The story is compelling and suspenseful with the reader aware that something terrible is unfolding and, like the main characters, coming to terms with how and why such an event occurred.

Letters to the end of loveLetters to the End of Love - Yvette Walker
(University of Queensland Press)

This is a beautifully written and intelligent epistolary novel that works as an extended meditation on the nature of love, sexuality, art, illness and identity. It uses three alternating historical time frames and locations to explore both the historically specific social circumstances of sexual relationships and the universal need for intimacy, understanding and compassion in the face of illness, abuse and injustice. Written with a painter’s eye for visual detail and composition, and with a musician’s ear for the cadences of language, Letters to the End of Love integrates its extensive research into three carefully crafted stories.

Salt StorySalt Story: of sea-dogs and fisherwomen - Sarah Drummond
(Fremantle Press)

This is a very engaging narrative, narrated in a series of fragments, about the life of fisherwomen/men in the south west of Western Australia. A highly absorbing and enjoyable book, it blends fascinating factual information, poetic descriptions of seascapes and landscapes, sensorial richness, local yarns, character sketches, Aboriginal lore, and humour. It has the veracity of first-hand knowledge and the wisdom of experience; and although it has a political agenda, it never descends into mere polemic. It’s an artful book that wears its artistry lightly. A wonderful achievement.

Stella's SeaStella’s Sea - Sally-Ann Jones
(UWA Publishing)

A subtle and well written novel about loss and a mother’s grief for her daughter. Enjoyable and moving, the story takes place between the present and flashbacks of the past, with the relationship between the two central characters unfolding slowly as they learn to trust each other. There is great use of the natural world and sense of place to anchor the story.

Western Australian History Award

A town is born: The story of Fitzroy Crossing A town is born: The story of Fitzroy Crossing - Steve Hawke
(Magabala Book)

Here, Hawke brings the Sixties with all its fire and ferment, controversy and change, back home to the Aboriginal people of the Eastern Kimberley.  Using government sources and interviews with Aboriginal participants, he demonstrates that current arguments that the displacement of Aboriginal people from pastoral stations in the 1960s was due to the advent of equal wages are wrong.  Instead, for the most part, Aboriginal people - fed up with conditions on the stations and with the prospects of a better, freer life elsewhere -left of their own accord, building in the process a strong and resilient culture in the small Kimberley town of Fitzroy Crossing.

Kerry Stokes: Self-made ManKerry Stokes: Self-Made Man - Margaret Simons
(Penguin Group Australia)

Writing unauthorised biographies presents authors with great challenges. The big one Margaret Simons faced in this fascinating biography of a very public–and private–man, being Stokes’s resolute refused to cooperate with her. But, with her journalist’s eye for the good story and her skill in ferreting out hidden histories, she ‘got beneath his skin’, so to speak.  So we read about Stokes’ difficult private life, his striving for wealth, the way he managed and manages his public image and, in a brilliant analysis, his life as a media mogul, wheeling and dealing his way to power. The book pulls no punches about Stokes, but is not a hostile biography, and one even gets the impression that Simons came to admire her subject.

Koombana DaysKoombana Days - Annie Boyd
(Fremantle Press)

Just three years after it was built for the Adelaide Steamship Company’s Northwest run, the ship Koombana sank in a cyclone with all on board lost. In this book Annie Boyd tells the ship’s story, from birth to death, and in a quite superb piece of research, traces and describes all who sailed on that fateful journey. Koombana Days also shines a bright light on early twentieth-century Western Australian, particular North-Western Australian history, society and culture. A very fine piece of historical research and writing.

Seeking WisdomSeeking Wisdom: a centenary history of The University of Western Australia - Jenny Gregory
(UWA Publishing)
This publication is an important new history of Western Australia’s first, and many would say, pre-eminent university. An eclectic group of accomplished authors have contributed their expertise on a wide range of subjects, from internal preoccupations such as the buildings and grounds, student life, teaching, research and governance, to the university’s impact on the wider community through its research and teaching in the arts, science and engineering, health, business and law. The writers’ depth of knowledge of and love for the university comes through strongly. The many photographs are an integral feature of the book, providing a visual illumination and reinforcement of the text.

The Marriage KnotThe Marriage Knot: Marriage and divorce in colonial Western Australia 1829-1900 - Penelope Hetherington
(UWA Publishing)

Pen Hetherington is a respected Western Australian historian and The Marriage Knot builds on her earlier work on the social history of Western Australia. Marriage was a far from simple, straightforward process in nineteenth-century Western Australia. Religion, class and race all influenced marriage laws and practices, complicated by the demands of the colonial powers in London that legislation conform to the principles of English marriage law. And, contrary to the popular belief that happy life-long marriages were the norm, Hetherington shows that bigamy, violence, infidelity, desertion and separation were not uncommon. This meticulously-researched publication will likely become the standard reference work on marital matters in colonial Western Australia.

PerthPerth - David Whish-Wilson
(NewSouth Publishing)

One of a series on cities of Australia, Perth captures the essence of the Western Australian capital better than many books have done. Whish-Wilson uses the city’s isolated setting, its climate, its topographical features and its modern urban landscape, imposed on a much older physical and cultural environment, as starting points for a musing exploration of Perth’s human history, and of the literature that it has inspired. The author’s memories of his youthful adventures around the city and river will resonate with local readers, while newcomers will learn a lot.

Writing for Young Adults

Alex as WellAlex as Well - Alyssa Brugman
(Text Publishing)

Alex As Well is a moving, confronting story that explores issues of gender, sexuality and identity with compassion and honesty.  Alex was born intersexed and raised as a boy but now wants to become a girl.  His/her story is gripping and covers the journey towards a new self, as well as dealing with his/her parents’ failing marriage, a new school, decisions about hormone medication and the responses of peers. Narrative tension is tight and the text never falters. Funny and powerful, this unique book tackles a brave subject in a very accessible way. 

Joyous and MoonbeamJoyous and Moonbeam - Richard Yaxley
(Omnibus Books)
Joyous is an intellectually disabled man with a wise, deceptively simple philosophy of life. Ashleigh, AKA Moonbeam, is fifteen and she isn’t coping with the disintegration of her family. She meets Joyous when she begins community service at his sheltered workshop, and the story unfolds through his delightfully original accounts, Moonbeam’s journal entries, his mother’s letters, and dialogues between the two protagonists. A gentle tragicomedy about friendship, the consequences of choice, cruelty and adversity, resilience, compassion and hope. As Joyous tells Moonbeam, life is joyous when we learn to ‘massage the bad bits to discover the good bits’.

Life in Outer SpaceLife in Outer Space - Melissa Keil
(Hardie Grant Egmont)

In their last year of school, Sam and his three geeky friends endure bullying by the ‘cool kids’, until charming new girl Camilla arrives and shifts their world in a positive new direction with her creativity and zesty friendliness. As the friends support each other through testing events, horror film buff Sam learns that life and falling in love can’t always be seen in terms of a movie. Keil’s witty dialogue and creation of unique, believable characters make Life in Outer Space a wonderfully satisfying read, perfectly pitched at a young adult audience.

My Life as an AlphabetMy Life as an Alphabet - Barry Jonsberg
(Allen & Unwin)

This is a delightful novel structured in 26 chapters, one for each letter of the alphabet. Candice Phee, aged twelve, is honest to a fault, and not quite normal. She has a warm heart and good intentions, and her quest to bring love and laughter to those in her life makes delicious reading. The voice of the quirky protagonist and the themes of family, friendship and belonging combine in this gem of a book.

The Incredible Here and Now The Incredible Here and Now - Felicity Castagna

The summer Michael turns fifteen his beloved older brother, Dom, is killed. In a series of vignettes, the novel explores his coming of age, as his life echoes with grief and love. Set in the gritty world of Parramatta, Western Sydney, this book is beautifully written, rendering place, family, community and identity with deceptive simplicity and tender elegance. A superb story of a young man finding his way in a difficult and complex world.

You Don't Even KnowYou Don't Even Know - Sue Lawson
(Black Dog Books)

You Don’t Even Know opens with a young man, Alex, in an induced coma following an accident. Alternative chapters segue between the present and the past as his memory gradually returns and the circumstances of his tragic story are revealed. A strong, independent, athletic, ‘straight A’ student, Alex has been bullied at home and at school. When his beloved four-year-old sister Mia dies, Alex is plunged into debilitating psychological and emotional pain, from which he slowly emerges through the help of an unusual relationship with his dying roommate, Mackie, and Sam, his psychologist. Heartfelt and skilfully written, with utterly convincing characters, this is an emotionally intense drama that will have the reader riveted to the very last page. 

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Page last updated: Friday 19 September 2014