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And The Winner Is...
Jon Weaving

I liked Tony Lintermans’ ‘The Great Man and Three Chickens’ for its braggadocio similes, Catherine Ford’s ‘Empty’ for its unforced delivery and the beauty of its structure, and to Patrick West for ‘Cruelty’, biopsy of a deranged mind, I gave a big fat elephant stamp
Sydney Smith, Write On

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Book Description

When Jon Weaving compiled And The Winner Is..., an anthology of Nillumbik Shire Council's Alan Marshall Short Story Award, he also wrote a practical book about Writing.

The anthology itself is unique. As well as the prize-winning stories, both in the Open and Youth sections, it incorporates interviews with the authors on their craft, judges’ comments and biographies of the authors. It is a full history of the Alan Marshall Award.

As importantly, it is a handbook for creative writing. Using each year's winning stories to illustrate his points, Weaving guides us through the making of a work of fiction. He discusses character, imagery, metaphor, dialogue and other components of successful storytelling. He teaches us the 'one-percenters,' those little things that make the difference in our writing.

And The Winner Is... is an enjoyable anthology. It could make you a winner.

ISBN 1876044152
Published 1997
175 pgs
And The Winner Is... book sample

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1985 Popular & Literary
Garry Disher Poor Reception
Trevor Wilson The Vegetable Gardeners
Sally Savige Le Raconteur

1986 Length & Definition
Clinton Smith Last Act
Elaine Thomson I Remember

1987 Imagery & Description
Gillian Mears Relics of the Past
Simon Lancaster Dischord

1988 Dialogue
Graham Evans Regrets

1989 Subject Matter & Theme
Catherine Ford Empty

1990 Creativity & Being Different
Patrick West Cruelty

1991 Starts
Jane Watson The Diving God

1992 Characters
Tony Lintermans The Great Man and Three Chickens
Jacki Allen Drifting

1993 Structure
Christopher Thompson If You Sleep You Die
Adam Hinkley The Haircut That Changed My Life

1994 Learning to write
Susan Hampton Oblivion
Archimede Fusillo The Voice In-between
Seonaid Porter The Road Taken
Afterword: Awards & Judging

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And The Winner Is…
Writers and judges discuss what makes a winning story, by Jon Weaving
Robert Verdon
Muse, No. 170, February 1998

Like the compiler, I wondered what it was about some of these stories that made them ‘winners’. Many appeared flawed. I found myself thinking about the non-winning entries, but of course none are included.

In this rather didactic anthology of Nillumbik’s Alan Marshall Short Story Award, Jon Weaving ponders the question of how stories are to be judged. His approach brought certain questions to my own mind. Why should Gary Disher’s 1985 story ‘Poor Reception’, centering on a guilt-ridden man who seems to regard the whole of humanity as ‘perverts’, be regarded as worthy of an award, for example? It gives us no reason to accept the outlook of the protagonist as plausible. (Disher himself later said ‘I can do much better now’.)

Other stories are remarkable. Gillian Mears’ ‘Relics of the Past’ (1987) portrays a woman who has been scarred by an inability to get close to her bumbling father, now dying. She is left with the mere relics of this painful relationship and the regret of his ageing mother. As we read, we are compelled to confront our own mortality.

Patrick West’s ‘Cruelty’ (1990) begins with the frightening statement, ‘I have always had a great capacity for cruelty’. It is an eccentric piece whose central character apparently suffers from a strange disassociation from the world she inhabits, and whose actions seem aimless. It bears the mark of eighties’ social pessimism. As she says, ‘My eyes shoot rays out and over the steaming traffic of the indigo remains of the city. I see it. It doesn’t see me. I am leaving it.’ She drives from Melbourne almost to Cairns, then simply turns round and goes home.

I think that many writers who read this book - and they are likely to be its main audience - will be struck by an analogous arbitrariness in relation to the awarding of this (and maybe any) literary prize.

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Sydney Smith
Write On, April 1997

These are collected stories by the winners, since 1985, of the Eltham Alan Marshall Short Story Award. Introducing each year’s winners are bio-notes on the writers, their comments on the experience of writing, and potted tutorials by Jon Weaving on some aspect of the short story form. A few winners were left out as Jon was unable to find them to gain their permission for inclusion. The little tutorials seem adequate as signposts pointing newcomers in the right direction. I agreed with all his points, and heartily agreed with his piece on the narrative connect-a-bits: he said, she answered, it howled forlornly.

The stories themselves varied widely as to approach and content. I liked Tony Lintermans’ ‘The Great Man and Three Chickens’ for its braggadocio similes, Catherine Ford’s ‘Empty’ for its unforced delivery and the beauty of its structure, and to Patrick West for ‘Cruelty’, biopsy of a deranged mind, I gave a big fat elephant stamp. Special mention to Adam Hinkle’s funny prose cartoon ‘The Haircut That Changed My Life’.

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Jon Weaving

Once, as a child, I was determined to cook something. It was going to be a cake, that much I knew, but I had no idea what kind it was possible to make because I didn’t know what was in the cupboards. I remember snuffling under benches, each thing I came across trigering a whole new direction of possibilities that I laid in a huge and very messy array across the kitchen. My mother quite calmly returned the lot, replacing it all with a single canister of flour which, she pointed out, was the basic ingredient without which there could be no cake.

Dear Helen,
Back in 1987 you judged the Eltham Short Story Award, and at the risk of being seen as living proof of our pasts loping along behind and just waiting for a chance to haunt, I’m hoping for a small amount of help with a book I’ve been commissioned to write.

When I wrote this opening paragraph of a letter to Helen Garner I did so with more than a little trepidation. Not only was her latest book The First Stone turning sods of controversy, hijacking her name from the literary pages into those of the general news and, quite obviously, keeping her extremely busy, but here I was asking her to be flour for a cake of someone else’s making.

Which is exactly what I would have to ask of thirty-one busy writers in total, both winners and judges and all of them, collectively, the central ingredient without which this book would be impossible.

The response I got to my initial requests was quite amazing. Eighteen of the twenty-one award winning writers agreed immediately to allow publication of their winning stories and to be interviewed about themselves and their writing. The other three have, I’m sure, simply dropped off the edge of the planet and could not be contacted. Of the eleven different writers who have judged the Eltham award, one (Lance Loughrey, co-judge in 1985/6) was untraceable, but again the response from the others was that they would be happy to be a part of this book. Which meant at least that there could be a book.

But the problem of what it would actually be about still skittered, off from the edge of me and just out of reach.

Again from my first-approach letter to Helen Garner,

I would like to do a book about writing, about awards, about their value, the subjectiveness of art, judging (and what judges look for) and about some of the technical/craft aspects of short story writing that are used to evoke specific images and responses. A book about the winners and judges themselves, from their development as writers down to the way in which they physically work.

I don’t imagine the finished product to be a mongrel cross between a ‘how-to’ manual, the Personal Best andYacker series, but I am convinced that a book like this, while concentrating on this one award (and therefore meeting Elthams requirements for a celebratory publication) would be a hell of a lot more interesting to write and to read. Christ! I never was any good at just taking the money and doing a runner along some easier path!

This was the book’s ‘definition’ then, presented in basically the same way to everyone I approached, but if I could spell the sound that is made when a cold shiver runs up one’s spine and escapes the mouth as an expression of foreboding I would write it here.

For it must have appeared that I had a clear understanding of what this book was going to be, its direction and purpose. The reality was quite different. Other than the broadest possible definition of a book about writing and awards, the thing I seemed best able to define was what the book wouldn’t be. And the more I thought about that the less accurate and likely even that seemed.

Before me, in flashing neon, was a single line from Jenny Lee’s 1992 Judge’s Report in which, contextually, she touched on the limits of an editor.

What I cannot do, she said, is give purpose to a work that has none.

Purpose - It became obvious to me that defining one at this stage, before interviewing the writers, would be a mistake. To do so would focus the direction of my questions too narrowly, limit possibilities and risk leaving unearthed gems as just that.

So I asked everything and will be eternally indebted to those writers who not only put up with that too-much, too-broad, somewhat directionless and unprofessional approach, but who also gave of themselves so freely and with such care and effort as to make this book possible.

Even now I’m not sure why this approach made me so uncomfortable. Normally I’m perfectly happy to start a piece of writing from one simple, broad idea, cruising along a myriad of tangents, producing many, many more words than I could ever use and eventually stumbling across a purpose. In fact it’s only ever after that ‘tour of discovery’ that I feel I have any sort of grip on ‘purpose’ at all.

But in this case, despite the completion of interviews, the sorting, sifting and weighing of gems, there was still no clear direction to be seen. I was back in my mother’s kitchen, surrounded by a strew of ingredients, but unnervingly bereft of the single, workable and reassuring recipe that I thought by now I should have discovered. I felt almost fraudulent at having asked so much of all those who had agreed to help with the book.

It was all so messy.

In fact I probably tried for that ‘tight’ definition of purpose a dozen more times, reading again and again the responses to my long lists of questions before I spotted the hole I was in for what it truly was: A cage. Quite simply, I was beating myself over the head searching for one reason for this book’s existence, one purpose behind reading it and such singularity just didn’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t exist. I had locked myself into one way of thinking, something I have counselled writing students against time and time again.

So why do we read? What expectations and desires, perhaps subconscious, are triggered whenever we enter into contact with a writer?

Gerald Murnane expects to learn something of a particular human experience when he reads a piece of short fiction. Of his judging he said, ‘I stopped reading many a story as soon as I had become convinced that I would learn from it nothing of value to me.’

Garry Disher talks of being instructed in the craft of writing. ‘I like to learn to write by reading other writers.’

Michael Dugan says, ‘Insight.’

Achimede Fusillo is concious, when reading, of stopping and taking note of how a particular thing has been achieved.

Gillian Mears is a little more specific in that she looks at how other writers structure a book; how the narrative is formed and maintained.

Tony Lintermans talks of his liking for, ‘....stories that are wells full of light and wisdom.’

This desire to learn something from a piece of writing reared up time and time again in the comments of writers, from both the well-established and the emerging and regardless of age. Surely then we can make the leap to the liklihood that if learning from a piece of writing is important to these successful writers, then showing something through their own work is equally so?

The purpose of this book then? I doubt I could find one more appropriate than showing. The showing of even some of the attitudes, opinions, preferences, intentions and physical work methods of such a wide range of Australian writers will, I’m certain, become ‘wells full of light and wisdom’ for those interested in writing, regardless of their relationship with it.

For those seeking the more specific showing of techniques, there are also ten short sections each focusing on a particular aspect of and approach to the writing of stories. And of course there is the simpler but no less important showing of eighteen award-winning stories themselves - stories to be analysed critically with regards to winning qualities or, if the reader so chooses, to be read for no reason other than pure entertainment. Perhaps this purpose of showing is best seen as the provision of a series of doorways through which the reader is free to remove anything he or she feels may be of value.

I am obviously still in that messy kitchen, only now I’m convinced it is the only place to be. If for no other reason than to make me more comfortable with this I have clipped a sentence from Helen Garner’s reply to my initial letter and pasted it on the wall.

The book sounds really good - nice and messy - fresh and original - good on you.

The highlighting is hers, the responsibility, should too much of what it emphasises stain the pages of this book, is mine.


Housekeeping - The Shire of Eltham Alan Marshall Short Story Award was first run and won in 1985. Initially established to honour and remember former Eltham resident Alan Marshall, this annual award of one major prize for an open section and one for young, ‘local’ writers (the Shire President’s Award), has actually undergone very few changes. The most notable of these would be the increasing of prizemoney and the removal, in 1987, of ‘entry conditions’ wording which indicated a ‘popular, narrative story in the style of Alan Marshall’ was being sought.

These changes, a long-term financial commitment to the award by the Shire of Eltham and the organising committee’s early decision to employ only the best possible literary names as judges, resulted in the perception of this prize shifting from that of local to national.

There have also been so very few grumblings associated with the Eltham award. In ten years and from a pool of nearly three and a half thousand entries, a total of three letters have been recieved from affronted entrants. One disliked a particular judge’s reported comments, another found the commendation offered him insulting and the third made accusations of shamful copyright breach when her story was not returned... as per the clearly stated conditions of entry. Of slightly more interest was the poking forth, in 1986, of what was perhaps the closest thing to a controversy.

In 1985 co-judges Clem Christensen and Lance Loughrey awarded the open prize jointly. When in 1986 those same judges again could not arrive at a point where a single winner awaited them, they decided on a three-way split of, in effect, a first and two equal second places. The organising committee of the time however, stated that to advertise one major prize but not award it, in two consecutive years, was ‘not a good way to project the prize’ and the decision of the judges was overturned in favour of a single winner. A letter after this date, from Clem Christensen to those organisers, included the clear message that he, ‘...did not wish to have any further dealings with the short story prize.’

As it turned out though, Lance Loughrey simply could not be contacted, Clem Christensen, despite that letter, was happy to talk to me (though his ill-health did eventually make interviews impossible) and Clinton Smith, the award winner judged ultimately by the organising committee rather than by the judges, said simply, ‘I think the committee got it right.’ All in all so very little change and turmoil as to make any detailed historical analysis of the award’s development and management a complete waste of paper.

As for the stories appearing in this book it should be noted that there was none of the usual editorial privilege and subjectiveness with regard to selection and ordering. The omission of three winning pieces for example (two Open and one Shire President’s Award) was not a matter of choice, rather it was a simple consequence of being unable to contact those particular writers. The decision to present the works chronologically had, again, very little in common with choice. To do otherwise might well have implied some order of quality, an order of quality each reader should be entitled to make for themselves if they are so inclined.

So the stories are simply gathered according to the year of their award and preceeded by information on the relevant writers and judges and, where possible, the winner’s responses to the questions - How do you write? What do you find hardest about writing a short story? Why do you write? These questions were chosen because of our seemingly bottomless curiosity about writers’ work habits, problems and reasons and to show us, in conjunction with the stories, at least a little of each author before they give voice of a different kind in later sections.

Each grouping of stories is also accompanied by a short chapter dealing with an aspect of creative writing suggested by that particular year’s authors, judges or stories themselves. These comments are not meant to form a comprehensive ‘handbook’ on writing, they are prompts, and as with the rest of this book the views and opinions, unless specifically quoted or attributed, should only be read as mine.

Of course none of the writers were compelled to even answer my invitation, let alone answer in a particular way. Some have chosen to say more than others, either in general or on a specific matter, and in a very small number of instances chose to say nothing at all. Those gaps, thankfully very few, that occur throughout this book do so then not as a result of some judgement of worth, but purely because of circumstance.

It is also unlikely that these stories would have been each writer’s first choice for publication had I asked for either a favourite story or a standard anthology piece, a likelihood supported by the comments of more than a few authors but perhaps best encapsulated by Garry Disher’s reference to his 1985 winning story.

I no longer consider ‘Poor Reception’ to be very good. It’s not bad, it’s dependable and worthy enough, but I can do much better now.

It is this sort of honesty, offered up so readily as both a learning tool for readers and, in the case of the writers themselves, a preparedness to be seen rather than merely presented, that kept me in the messy kitchen. It was just... worth it.

There are specific things to be learnt about particular writers and stories, our desire to ‘know’ is sated, but it is what they are.saying, what they are showing us is possible, that is to the fore because the writers have not so much defined themselves, but rather some of the ideas and beliefs that result in ‘themselves’.

Rather than telling us only that writer ‘A’ thinks a certain thing, the unique combination of beliefs, stories, work habits and comments from young, not so young, well-established and emerging writers provides us with possibilities and prompts, knowledge and insights, arguments and questions far beyond the range likely from the views of a single writer or a collection of writer’s ‘profiles’.

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