The Herald and The Age name best young novelist for 2021
The Herald and The Age name best young novelist for 2021
Celebrating the 25th year of the Best Young Australian Novelists Awards, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have named first-time author Vivian Pham as the Best Young Australian Novelist, with two fellow first-time writers, Jessie Tu and K.M. (Kate) Kruimink, as runners-up.
All three novelists were praised for the strength of the voices and the characters around whom their narratives revolve. Their settings are very different: Pham’s debut, The Coconut Children, is set among the Vietnamese community in Cabramatta in the 1990s. Jessie Tu’s A Lonely Girl Is a Dangerous Thing follows the main character’s eventful life in Sydney and New York up to around the time of Donald Trump’s inauguration, and K.M. Kruimink’s A Treacherous Country is a historical novel set in Tasmania in the 1840s. All three novels deliver moments of great tenderness, great bleakness and great humour.
The Best Young Australian Novelists Awards were established by former Sydney Morning Herald literary editor Susan Wyndham to recognise emerging writing talent. The awards are open to writers aged 35 and younger at the time of publication of their nominated books
The judges were Miles Franklin-shortlisted novelist Peggy Frew, previous Best Young Australian Novelist Pip Smith, and Books Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Jason Steger.
“Over 25 years these awards have consistently identified the rising talent in Australian writing. And this year is no different,” says Steger. “In Vivian Pham, Jessie Tu and Kate Kruimink we have chosen three novelists who give every indication of being part of the literary scene for a long time. That’s something we should all celebrate. And we should all read their books.”
The winners receive prize money thanks to the Copyright Agency: Vivian Pham will receive $8000, with Kate Kruimink and Jessie Tu each receiving $1000.
Copyright Agency CEO Adam Suckling says, “The Copyright Agency is delighted to support the Best Young Australian Novelists for 2021. This important Award recognises exceptional and talented young writers and our support for the prize money is critical to developing their careers.
“Previous Young Novelists have made their mark on the Australian literary landscape and we look forward to hearing more about this year’s winners.”
Pham began her novel when she was in Year 11. It was published last year when she was only 19. The Coconut Children is about Sonny, 16 years old and living with her parents in Cabramatta, and her former childhood friend and next-door neighbour Vince, also Vietnamese Australian, who has just been released from two years in detention. He is tough, handsome and lost; she is gentle, funny and quietly obsessed with him. Sonny’s father is a loving parent and has survived a traumatic escape from Vietnam; her mother is loud, grating and demanding. Vince’s father is a traumatised violent drunk; his mother brow-beaten but loving.
The judges commended Pham’s non-judgmental portraits of parents living with trauma, and children struggling to comprehend their parents’ choices as nuanced and wise. They said, “It’s work one would expect from a writer far beyond Pham’s very young years. Each of us eagerly await the future development of this remarkable new voice and firework of a talent.”
Pham is now studying philosophy and creative writing at Western Sydney University. While The Coconut Children was going through the editing process she wrote 30,000 words of another novel, inspired by her surprising, second favourite novelist, P.G. Wodehouse. She is also co-writing an “allegorical self-help book” with the co-founder of an agricultural start-up.
Tu migrated from Taiwan with her family at the age of five. Her debut novel, A Lonely Girl Is a Dangerous Thing, is in many ways a confronting book. The main character, Jena Lin, is a former child prodigy violinist who has deliberately and controversially turned her back on her life as an acclaimed soloist. She is scraping by, playing casually with orchestras, uncertain of her musical career, and sexually active and promiscuous.
The judges said, “Tu, with unswerving clarity, draws out many unsettling and compelling questions regarding race, talent, performance, perfectionism, agency and worth. A provocative book, skilfully written, that burns with an uncompromising power.”
A Treacherous Country tells the story of Gabriel Fox, newly arrived in Tasmania from England on a mission – to find one Maryanne Maginn, who was transported as a young girl, and to deliver to her a letter from Mrs Prendergast, the mother of Gabriel’s beloved, Susanna. Once in Tasmania, however, he is beset by difficulties, major and minor, involving a stolen horse, two new-fangled harpoons he has been lumbered with, a mysterious French-speaking “cannibal” and drama in a whale hunt.
The judges said Kruimink delivered “a stand-out voice – eccentric, funny and deceptively endearing. While the research behind the writing is evident, it is handled with a lightness of touch, and the language itself is truly impressive, ornate, yet controlled and deft. The reader cannot help hoping desperately for loveable, hapless Gabriel Fox to fulfil his bumbling mission and for the tenderness of his heart to be rewarded. Like Gabriel – who, despite his many abject misadventures in a wet, dark and cold Van Diemen’s land, maintains a delightful buoyancy and sweetness of spirit – this is a book that works its crooked charm to lasting effect.”
The three novelists will discuss their novels at Sydney Writers’ Festival on Saturday, May 1.
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Friday, 23 April, 2021