Tag Archives: Thrill Seekers


QLA Award winners 2013

QLA Award winners 2013

I was lucky enough to attend the 2nd annual Queensland Literary Awards last night – The People’s Literary Awards after the Newman government, as one of its first acts, cut funding and dismantled the previous Premier’s awards.
Well poo to you Can Do Campbell. It’s better this way. Just don’t send along one of your lackey’s next time and try to muscle in on the action. Handing out a few $15 000 fellowships doesn’t make you a friend of the literary community, I’m afraid.
The minister for just about everything else including the arts, made a quick speech, explaining that he had to rush off to the (not said, but surely felt) much more important Rugby League Awards. I wonder how much money Rugby League received from the state coffers? And hey, aren’t football players PAID? Thousands of dollars every year? Excuse me while I just pop another bottle of Moet and polish the Porsche with it.
Anyway, enough moaning. At least he was forced to read two short stories as part of the process, so we’ve increased his literacy.

Once he left, the mood lightened and we celebrated some truly wonderful writing and the hard work of the organising committee, especially the magnificent Claire Booth who has worked for a whole year as manager, unpaid. Cheers were loudest for the locals and two favourites took out the big prizes, Kris Olsson for the wonderful Boy Lost and Melssia Lucashenko for Mullumbimby. I’m not sure but Melissa could be the first indigenous woman to take out a major fiction prize in Australia. Well done to them both – tireless, inspiring writers.
Cate Kennedy took out the Steele Rudd Short story prize, the only award for short story collections in the country, with her Like A House on Fire.

This year mentorships were given to the shortlistees of the emerging writer categories, both for indigenous and mainstream. A wonderful idea. Mentorships are worth their weight in gold anytime, but especially when you’re just starting out. Well done QLA Committee.
The O’Hara family sponsored the emerging writer prize in memory of their late mother. Three of her daughters took to the stage and honoured the “fight in the dog” of every writer, acknowledging the sheer guts it takes just to finish writing a manuscript let alone getting it published.

My favourite speech of the night was by the winner of the Young Adult Book Award, Jaclyn Moriarty,(A Corner of White) who told us about growing up in a house where pocket money was only paid if you’d filled an exercise book with stories. $1.50. Her wily father then used to win their earnings back with a toy roulette wheel. But what moved me was when she talked about receiving letters from her teenage readers. One thirteen year old wrote, “when I’m feeling bad, I hold one of your books and I feel better.” Jaclyn went on to talk about how important books are because they provide this comfort. That it is through literature that we, perhaps for the first time, or the only time, feel that we are not isolated. And, she went on, this is why literary awards and the prize money they provide, are important too. Because they give writers the time and space they need to create the books that provide this comfort and connection.
She further endeared herself by forgetting to take her prize and then stumbling as she left the podium. She probably thought she’d made a mess of things, but for me, she’d touched the very heart of why we write and read. To find and give that comfort.

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Backtrack lads

Backtrack lads

Recently, I travelled to Armidale on the New England Tablelands of New South Wales to visit the Backtrack school for kids who don’t fit the system.

Backtrack is an organisation that does more than its fair share empowering young people who will otherwise end up on the wrong side of the law. I first learnt of this organisation through my friend Helena Pastor’s work with them as she wrote her forthcoming memoir. She had turned up at their shed every Sunday with a tray of home-baked brownies to help young men complete welding projects as part of the Iron Men Welders scheme.

Since these small beginnings, Backtrack has gone on to host a number of other projects including Paws Up, an award-winning dog jumping squad, Imagine This incorporating the Backtrack school, and Aglads, a farming based initiative. Backtrack’s main mover and shaker, the unstoppable Bernie Shakeshaft, is now at the head of a large group of youth workers, artists in residence (including Helena who is writer in residence) and others, providing employment for a number of ex-clients who have learned to shine under his tutelage.

It was an honour to be invited to their classroom and meet the teachers, Simmo and Helena, and their students. Trey, otherwise known as Ducky, jumped up and shook my hand with a warm smile so I felt welcomed straight away. Freddie, Brady, Hayden, Norm, and Marshall, known as Sheriff for obvious reasons, all introduced themselves and Fred even got up and did some yoga with me. Although he wouldn’t attempt the splits – my ultimate party trick.

We gathered in the office where it was warmer and the couches were comfier and I read “Voices” from Thrill Seekers to them. At first, I was nervous. Only the week before these guys had told their teachers they didn’t like being read to like babies, so I was worried I wouldn’t hold their attention. However, a minute into my reading, I looked up and saw that the phones had been put away, the fidgeting had stopped, and all eyes were on me.

I hadn’t read “Voices” aloud for a long time and was caught off guard by the power of the emotional ending, especially as this story is so closely based on my own experiences. My voice broke and I thought I was going to cry in front of these tough guys. But you know what? They were right there with me. They KNEW how I’d felt. After I’d finished, we all had a chat about ganja and booze and other drugs and freaking out – what to do if someone you know is losing it, or you’re losing it yourself. They’d lived a lot, these young men, and had some great ideas on how to turn things around.

I’d brought along books and signed a copy for each of them. Never was I so glad to give books away, they were so warmly received. I was even happier when some of them sat down straight away and started reading. It was hugely gratifying to see my book being read by the boys who had lived similar stories – who really knew what it was about.

But that wasn’t the highlight of my visit. That came later when we were all helping Sally cook up a delicious lunch of minestrone and chicken fried rice. As we sat in the office chopping veggies, Simmo got out his guitar and we all sang along to Lean on Me by Bill Withers. “Lean on me, when you’re not strong. I’ll be your friend; I’ll help you carry on.”And bugger me but I almost cried again, it was so beautiful. My brother Matty would have been right at home with that bunch of talented young men. Just like I was. Thank you boys! Thank you Backtrack for being there for them.

Edwina and Sheriff

Edwina and Sheriff

Thrill Seekers

Thrill Seekers

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