My Favourite Australian Authors of 2014

2014 was a huge year for Australian authors. There seems no better time, January being our month of Australian Stories, to reflect on my favourite Australian authors of 2014.

So many Australian authors had career defining years in 2014, but these are a few that made a huge impact with their work both on and off the page.

Confused about the concept? So am I, but we’ll get there.


SonyaSonya Hartnett

I’ve bored everyone with my constant proclamations that Sonya Hartnett’s Golden Boys was the best novel of 2014. It’s an amazing book that we’ll be hearing more about as the awards season heats up. Hartnett also gave us The Wild One, teaming up with Lucia Masciullo to produce of the most beautiful picture books of the year.

She was also the subject of a wonderful piece by Stephen Romei in The Australian, where she gave the best quote about childhood I’ve heard for a long time. ‘‘Children live in a very animal world, one that’s constantly on the verge of war. You look at childhood and think, how do any of us survive that sort of shit?’


MaxineMaxine Beneba Clarke

Not content with producing Foreign Soil, one of the most exciting short story collections of the last few years, Maxine Beneba Clarke was called upon to be the voice of many defining moments of 2014.

From her pitch perfect portrait of the late Matt Richell to the dignified protest to Tony Abbott at this year’s Australian Book Industry Awards, Maxine had an incredible, inspiring 2014.

Foreign Soil was a standout, and her highly anticipated 2015 book The Hate Race promises to be even better.


1413331355077_wps_72_epa04446950_Australian_noRichard Flanagan

Okay, okay, I know Richard Flanagan didn’t release a book in 2014, but he still had a pretty solid year, no? His 2013 novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North narrowly missed out on the Miles Franklin, before winning the first truly international Man Booker and sweeping into Australia to not just win a Prime Minister’s Literary Award, but also give his prize money to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, one of the most important charities around.

He also gave a performance on Q&A during the Sydney Writer’s Festival that elicited a 11pm phone call from my mother to discuss what a genius he is.

Last but not least, Flanagan had this to say on the subject of giving money to important causes. ‘Money is like shit, my father used say. Pile it up and it stinks. Spread it around and you can grow things.’

Absolutely brilliant.


OmarOmar Musa

Sometimes you read a book and you lose sleep hoping that everyone else realises how good it is. Omar Musa’s Here Come the Dogs was that book, and while it should have been talked about more, those who read it couldn’t stop singing its praises.

2014 saw Omar Musa emerge as one of Australia’s most important voices, speaking with passion on issues like immigration, sexuality and violence. He speaks, and writes, with a firm, eloquent authority we can all learn from. Already an accomplished spoken work performer, you’ll be hearing a lot more about Musa in 2015.


Brooke DavisBrooke Davis

Being a novelist is a romantic profession. Millions try, and millions fail. It’s a tough job. So what inspires people to want to be writers?

Stories like Brooke Davis’, and her journey to becoming one of Australia’s bestselling authors of 2014.

Embarking upon her novel Lost and Found as part of a PhD and a form of catharsis after the death of her mother, Davis spent five years writing it, combining teaching with working part-time at a Perth bookshop (shout out to Beaufort Street Books).

The novel was a hit at the year’s London Book Fair, rights being sold into 25 countries and translated into 20 languages for its overseas release. She also showed off her acting chops in some re-enactments on Australian Story.

That’s a pretty handy year. And just in case you weren’t sure, Lost and Found is a wonderful, emotional read, even better than the story behind it. Nice year Brooke.

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EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Maxine Beneba Clarke, poet and author of Foreign Soil, in conversation with Andrew Cattanach

Grab a copy of Foreign Soil here

foreign-soilForeign Soil

by Maxine Beneba Clarke

Winner of the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award 2013.

In this collection of award-winning stories, Melbourne writer Maxine Beneba Clarke has given a voice to the disenfranchised, the lost, the downtrodden and the mistreated. It will challenge you, it will have you by the heartstrings. This is contemporary fiction at its finest.

The book is called Foreign Soil. Inside its covers, a desperate asylum seeker is pacing the hallways of Sydney’s notorious Villawood detention centre, a seven-year-old Sudanese boy has found solace in a patchwork bike, an enraged black militant is on the warpath through the rebel squats of 1960s Brixton, a Mississippi housewife decides to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her son from small-town ignorance, a young woman leaves rural Jamaica in search of her destiny, and a Sydney schoolgirl loses her way.

Grab a copy of Foreign Soil here

Maxine Beneba Clarke, author of Foreign Soil, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

9780733632426The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Maxine Beneba Clarke

author of Foreign Soil

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born and raised in Sydney, schooled in Sydney’s outer West (Kellyville and Baulkham Hills), before going to University on the South Coast (Wollongong). But now my home is in Melbourne’s West. I’m Australian, but of Afro-Caribbean heritage. In many ways, I feel like I’m a global citizen. Africa, England, the Caribbean and South America are all a part of my family’s migration journey.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I wanted to be white: because almost everyone around me was, difference was frowned upon and I felt my blackness was the bane of my existence. When I was eighteen, I wanted to be right, because I was young and arrogant and ‘invincible,’ and ‘knew better’ than everyone around me. When I was thirty, I wanted to be wise, because by then I had realised that wisdom was the greatest asset you could carry with you in life.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That the world would eventually sort itself out. That good would eventually triumph – that there was an intrinsic and innate sense of justice inside every one of us that would gradually lead to some kind of universal understanding about humanity, and about what we owe to each other as human beings. I truly believed that my generation was more in tune, would be smarter, would be more compassionate, would act with both head and heart on issues like climate change, world hunger and asylum seekers. That we were destined to clean up the mess our well-meaning parents seemed to be making around us. How tragically wrong I was.

Maxine Beneba Clarke

Author Maxine Beneba Clarke

4.What work of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc –  had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Picasso’s Guernica.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a fiction collection?

Short stories are true soul-food. They allow you to capture a reader in a short time, they allow you to tease with possibility. They entice the reader to engage long after the story has finished. Short stories let you start a dialogue and, I believe, have the potential – much more so than longer fiction – to bleed into the life and consciousness of the reader. How does the story end? What’s going to happen to the angry black kid after he throws that Molotov? Does the young red-haired lawyer turn her car around and drive back to the Detention Centre? Will that scared little boy ever return to Mississippi and if he does, what kind of welcome will he find?

6. Please tell us about your latest novel.

In Melbourne’s western suburbs, in a dilapidated block of flats overhanging the rattling Footscray train lines, a young black woman is working on a collection of stories.

The book is called Foreign Soil. Inside its covers, a desperate asylum seeker is pacing the hallways of Sydney’s notorious Villawood detention centre, a seven-year-old Sudanese boy has found solace in a patchwork bike, an enraged black militant is on the warpath through the rebel squats of 1960’s Brixton, a Mississippi housewife decides to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her son from small-town ignorance, a young woman leaves rural Jamaica in search of her destiny and a Sydney schoolgirl loses her way. The young mother keeps writing, the rejection letters keep arriving…

Foreign Soil was the winning manuscript of the 2013 Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, and is written in English, broken English and accented English.

Grab a copy of Foreign Soil here

97807336324267. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope readers come away from Foreign Soil with more compassion, care for, and connectivity to, people pushed to the fringes of society. I hope their hearts are fuller, and more generous. I hope the book shifts something in them, in some way, for the better.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I admire risk-takers and trailer-blazers. I admire writers who don’t shy away from the difficult, or the heartbreaking, or the overtly political. I like writers who tell it like it is, who are curious, daring and generous with their emotions. I like to read writers who leave a little of themselves in each of their works, because I know how difficult and emotionally taxing that is to accomplish. I like to read work from writers who push forms and genres to the limit. I like writers whose characters are so real you could reach out and hug them, (or slap them, as the case may be). I like contemporary fiction and non-fiction, and try to read a lot of Australian writing. Recently, I’ve enjoyed reading work by Jamaica Kincaid, NoViolet Bulawayo, Jeff Sparrow, Chris Abani, Josephine Rowe, Tony Birch, Alice Pung and Jesmyn Ward. But oh, the list could go on.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I want to write. I want to always be articulate enough to start the conversations I’d like to start, and to hopefully have the privilege of always having those conversations find their way to the shelf. I’d like an ongoing dialogue with my readers. Writing is in many ways such a solitary pursuit, and I’d love for it to be a social one too, as it’s very much my way of digesting what’s going on in the world, making sense of things. I hope also though, that readers get pleasure from reading my work, that it’s something they do enjoy reading.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Keep writing. And keep learning. And most of all, keep submitting and editing. If you want to make a career out of it, look at writing as a marathon, rather than a sprint. Passion is key, but restraint and pace are also crucial in the long-term, or you burn out. And read. For Christ’s sake, you have to read. Read as much as you can, and then re-read as much as you can, and then dissect what it is you love about the books you do read and love.

Maxine, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Foreign Soil here

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