Overland magazine and the Malcolm Robertson Foundation are very pleased to announce that Lauren Foley’s story ‘K-K-K’ is the winner of the inaugural Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize.
In reading through the hundreds of entries to the Neilma Sidney Prize, we were not only looking for quality writing but also for originality and an engaging narrative. Those stories that stood out to us often employed description in a way that appeared effortless, yet brought to life both the familiar and the unknown. The stories that lingered with us were those that had a creative take on the notion of ‘travel’, or reoriented our perspectives in an unexpected way. We were particularly cautious of those stories in which the exotic ‘other’ was sought out simply for its otherness, or seemed to exist primarily to provide colour to the traveller’s narrative.
Finally, the winning story, Lauren Foley’s ‘K-K-K’, impressed us not only with its unexpected interpretation of the theme, but also its strong narrative voice and confident, accomplished prose. To effortlessly weave humour into what is essentially a story about displacement and different forms of violence – the lateral and indirect as well as the explicit – is no small feat. Its most powerful attribute is the way it transforms an otherwise familiar suburban context – train stations, footpaths, the mundane public journeys for day-to-day chores – into a source of anxiety and fear. Through the eyes of this young refugee and her family, the reader sees Australia as if for the first time. It is not a sight easily forgotten.
This year’s Overland Story Wine Prize submissions yielded a superb collection of hotly contested favourites and we judges were blessed with an exciting long- and shortlist. For us, the best of these stories honed in on a moment, relationship, mood or even with precision and attention to the finest evocative detail, some managing to also traverse deep issues and spans of time – and all in fewer than 800 words.
The broad stroke was particularly strong in the shortlisted story ‘417-BVB-820’ by Lauren Foley.
Squiggly Arse Crack
The stories of motherhood are clear-eyed and complex. They tell of struggle and satisfaction, particularly in infancy. Lauren Foley, in the gorgeously titled ‘Squiggly Arse Crack’, has Tara declare that ‘there is nothing she has ever done better than carry and bear Squig’. – Fiona McFarlane, author of The Night Guest
This is the third annual anthology of short stories selected from entries to the Margaret River Short Story Competition. Although the competition is open to entries from all over Australia and beyond, it’s good to see strong regional organisations providing infrastructure and publishing opportunities independently of Melbourne and Sydney. The short story lends itself to a focus on private life, to significant moments in the lives of characters or the trajectories of relationships, and this collection is no exception. People in these stories come to new understanding of themselves and each other through illuminating moments on beaches, in restaurants, on aeroplanes and in gardens. – Kerryn Goldsworthy, Sydney Morning Herald
With 24 stories gathered together, the collection is hugely diverse. Maybe the strongest unifying feature is the calibre of the narratives. There didn’t feel to be any that did not deserve their place on the competition shortlist.
There is however a danger in such a large collection of overindulgence – that feeling when you have gobbled too many stories in an anthology in one sitting and failed to fully appreciate each delicious bite. The size of this collection was initially my one, rather paltry and trifling gripe. Sometimes less really is more. However, on reflection I think this potential detractor has been avoided through carefully considered compilation. Editors Richard Rossiter and Susan Midalia have curated the narratives brilliantly. There’s often a change of gears between stories – for example, placing Lauren Foley’s Sqiggly Arse Crack, a humorous exploration of maintaining identity despite encroaching motherhood, next to Bedtime Stories by Linda Brucesmith, a ghostly tale exploring the gulf between the world of children and the grownups. Although both stories tackle a similar theme of the relationship between mothers and children the difference in tone, genre and style ensures the stories showcase, rather than overshadow, one another. There is a wider design arc over the entire collection. As Rossiter outlines in the introduction ‘this selection of stories encompasses a wide range of moods and modes as writers engage with issues to do with childhood, young adulthood, middle age, old age and death.’ Arranged neatly into these stages of life the stories work independently but also on a larger architecture that is satisfying and effective. – Sarah Schofield, The Short Review
Award for the best title in the bunch should have gone to Lauren Foley for her story “Squiggly Arse Crack”, which is a story about the disorienting feeling of being a new mum and having no time for yourself. The character oscillates between concern about the loss of her status as ‘woman’ and her fierce love for her child. The narrative voice in this piece is funny, matter of fact, and beautifully consistent. – @BatgirlElimy
A mother of a different kind is Tara in Lauren Foley’s entertainingly titled “Squiggly arse crack”. This is a bright, breezy story about an older single mother enjoying her “staycation”, that is, a brief shopping expedition away from her beloved child, Squig. To ensure she doesn’t change her mind about leaving him with her friend, she “sashays” out the front door without looking back, “pretending her neck is in an Elizabethan collar or pet lampshade”. This is just one of the stories that departs from the resigned or melancholic tone that seems to be more common in short stories. – @whisperinggums
The Trouble With Flying is the third anthology published from winning entries to the Margaret River Short Story competition. As such, this handsomely-produced book, is an eclectic mix of stories from WA-based writers, and Australian writers, more broadly. There are many forms of trouble in this collection: the trouble with children, the trouble with parents and the elderly, the trouble with the bush and the city, the trouble with love, sex, sickness and death. Most of the writers here have found fresh angles on their chosen themes, while others take us off on strange and new paths. What they all have in common is accomplished writing that engages and interests. – @bookwoods
Lauren Foley in “Squiggly Arse Crack” also deals with the theme of new motherhood, but in a totally different vein. This is a clever story, and a funny, quirky one. The language is especially clever, mimicking that of a baby with its rhythms and its inanities, and yet managing to further the storyline at the same time: “’Ooh Baba! Two Baba! You Baba! Zoo Baba!’ whatever she hollers Squig settles swiftly to her sounds, (Ding dong) Trump, trump, trump—a knocking at the door. ‘Rat-a-tat-tat.’ Poking her face over Squig’s crib. Clump, clump, clump as she stumbles over the labyrinth of baby junk, unpacked possessions, and discarded gift wrap.” (p.75) Infantile regression in motherhood is suggested by the use of baby talk throughout the story. And the highs and lows of new motherhood—its passion and its stressors–are depicted once again in this story, but through the use of humour this time.
The new mother’s obsession with changing nappies and cleaning bottoms is highlighted obliquely with delicious irony, through the theme of the mother’s burgeoning figure—her “arse crack”– introduced in the very first sentence and developed later on in relation to the baby’s nether regions: “Do you think Squig’s bum looks big in this?” (p.76). The hurried pace to this story is suggestive of the mother’s harried day, ever subjugated to the whims of her new master, the baby: “Unlocking her car she’s reminded of a Facebook meme from the other day: ‘You know your life has changed when…going to the shops by yourself is a holiday’—motherhood.” (p.78) – @Anneofthesky
Growing Up Baby
There is a strong voice at work in this story and some good ideas. As well as reworking elements of The Little Prince by French writer Antoine de St Exupery, the writer’s love of language is evident in their exploration of both an English and Gaelic Irish vocabulary.
– Carol Lefevre, Campbelltown Literary Awards judge and author of Nights in the Asylum
This One Time …
Connor Tomas O’Brien announced the winners of two special South Australian prizes, which were kindly sponsored by the SA Writers’ Centre. Connor is the director of Digital Writers’ Festival and incoming designer of Voiceworks. Before revealing the names of the SA winners, Connor drew attention to the need for a national writing community in Australia, where stories beyond the cities are valued and read by all.
The SA prizes were awarded to Lauren Foley for her piece ‘This One Time…’ and Maria Solecki for her piece ’A Crack in the Cupboard’. These writers were ranked the highest in their state, and have won 1-year memberships to the SA Writers’ Centre.