Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 25, 2012

2012 Commonwealth Writers Prize shortlist

The Commonwealth Writers Prize shortlists were announced yesterday.  There are just two categories: the Commonwealth Book Prize and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.   On May 22nd, regional winners for each prize will be awarded in five regions: Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, Caribbean, and the Pacific, and and the overall winner will be announced at the Hay Festival on 8 June.

I was interested to see the judges’ criteria (pity about the grammatical howler LOL).  The underlining of the criteria is mine:

Commenting on the shortlisted entries, chair of the Commonwealth Book Prize, Margaret Busby said,Being a prize for first novels, the judges were looking for potential and promise from the entries. We certainly found what we were hoping for with some consummately accomplished writing from some very interesting writers. Lively debate amongst the judges raised comments on wonderful language and confident characterisation and often challenged us to overcome our prejudice on what makes a novel.’

Congratulations must go to the Text Publishing Company who have three of the four Australian titles on the shortlist, and to UQP who published Jeanine Leane’s collection of stories.  Leane was the winner of the 2010 David Unaipon Award for Indigenous Writing.
The Ottoman MotelThe Vanishing Act Me and Mr Booker Purple Threads

This is the shortlist for the Book Prize.  I am disappointed to see that there are no Kiwis on the list.  I can’t claim to be an authority on New Zealand debut fiction and I don’t know when the cut-off dates for eligibility are, but I think that Hamish Clayton’s Wulf (published 2011) would have been a worthy contender:

The Wandering Falcon, Jamil Ahmad (Pakistan), Hamish Hamilton (see my review)

Patchwork, Ellen Banda-Aaku (Zambia), Penguin Books, South Africa

Rebirth: a novel, Jahnavi Barua (India), Penguin Books India (see my review)

The Sly Company of People Who Care, Rahul Bhattacharya (India) Picador (see my review)

The Ottoman Motel, Christopher Currie (Australia), The Text Publishing Company

A Cupboard Full of Coats, Yvvette Edwards (UK), Oneworld Publications

The Book of Answers, CY Gopinath (India), HarperCollins India

Jubilee, Shelley Harris (South Africa), Weidenfeld & Nicolson

The Dancing and the Death on Lemon Street, Denis Hirson (UK), Jacana Media

The Vanishing Act, Mette Jakobsen (Australia), The Text Publishing Company

Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, Shehan Karunatilaka (Sri Lanka), Random House India

Purple Threads, Jeanine Leane (Australia), University of Queensland Press

Sweetheart, Alecia McKenzie (Jamaica), Peepal Tree Press

The Town that Drowned, Riel Nason (Canada), Goose Lane Editions

Dancing Lessons, Olive Senior (Canada), Cormorant Books

The Sentimentalists, Johanna Skibsrud (Canada), William Heinemann

The Dubious Salvation of Jack V, Jacques Strauss (South Africa), Jonathan Cape

Me and Mr Booker, Cory Taylor (Australia), The Text Publishing Company

Pao, Kerry Young (UK), Bloomsbury

This is the shortlist for the Short Story Prize.  Kiwis shortlisted include Adrienne Frater, Emma Martin, Carl Nixon and Sarah Quigley and just one  not one Aussie, because Nic Low has corrected the CWP press release to let us know that the inclusion of ‘Rush‘ makes five Kiwis not four! (See comments below).  I am not sure how any of these stories can be sourced, but clearly these are authors to look out for :

Morrison Okoli (1955-2010), Jekwu Anyaegbuna (Nigeria)

Flight, Jayne Bauling (South Africa)

The Queen’s Blessing, Edyth Bulbring (South Africa)

Devil Star, Hazel Campbell (Jamaica)

Brothers, Adrienne Frater (New Zealand)

Like a Heart Maybe, but Cold, Chris Hill (UK)

The False River, Nick Holdstock (UK)

Radio Story, Anushka Jasraj (India)

Rush, Nic Low (Australia, New Zealand, see Nic’s comment below)

Elbow, Khadija Magardie (South Africa)

Two Girls in a Boat, Emma Martin (New Zealand)

Glory, Janice Lynn Mather (The Bahamas)

The Dolphin Catcher, Diane McCauley (Jamaica)

Friends, Sharon Millar (Trinidad and Tobago)

The Ghost Marriage, Andrea Mullaney (UK)

If These Walls had Ears, Carl Nixon (New Zealand)

Next Full Moon We’ll Release Juno Bridget Pitt (South Africa)

The Crane, Sarah Quigley (New Zealand)

Drums, Mahesh Rao (UK)

Ammulu, Poile Sengupta (India)

Another Dull Day, Sreejith Sukumaran (India)

So there you are – more books to add to the TBR!


  1. A wonderful tautology! It seems the powers that be thought the Commonwealth Prize(s) a bit of a tautology too, for they have shelved the traditional Best Book Award and just retained the Best First Book Award which has been re-badged as the Commonwealth Book Prize. It means, for instance, that books like ‘That Deadman Dance’ by Kim Scott might not in future get the overseas readership they deserve – and we, here in Oz, won’t receive tips on the finest overall books from other Commonwealth nations too. Seems a shame. John


    • Yes, it is a pity, maybe they are short of funds because of the GFC? I can’t think of any other reason for doing it.
      By coincidence, I have just read BookSexy’s review of That Deadman Dance, and she comments that she can’t understand why it hasn’t had widespread international attention (a la Peter Carey). While I’m not sure how much attention the CWP gets, at least it was one of the few to venture beyond the US and the UK authorial pool.
      Ah well, it’s up to us as bloggers to keep spreading the word, I guess!
      PS I missed the tautology – it was the dangling modifier that amused me!


      • The official reason for the change was that last year was their 25th year, and they wanted to change their focus to help emerging writers,, as opposed to already established ones.

        The short stories are all unpublished manuscripts – anyone from the Commonwealth can enter via their website.


        • Thanks re the info on the short stories, but hmm, do we believe the official line? Has the surplus money that was given to the established authors gone into the prize pool for the newbies?


  2. I’d like to add my congrats to UQP and, particularly to Text. They have been publishing some terrific works. It is exciting to see us Aussies continue to punch above our weight in the Book stakes. Surprising to see just one in the short story shortlist though.


    • I agree. Often it’s the indie publishers who are willing to take risks with new authors…
      As ‘Queen of the Short Story Review’ here on ANZ LitLovers, (where would I be, without your guest reviews?!) you’d have a much better idea of the strength of Australian short story writing than I do, so I note your disappointment.
      PS BTW Talking of short story writers, did you know that Alan Collins (whose ‘Thousand and One Nights at the Ritz’ you reviewed here) is soon to be featured on ABC RN? No dates yet, but I will let you know as soon as I hear from Ros.


      • Yes I have been waiting with great anticipation to hear when the ABC RN feature is going to be on. Loved that short story collection as well as his other works which Ros was kind enough to send me.
        One day [in my spare time] I’m planning an article about the modern day Australian notion of ‘home’ and Collins’ work will be very handy for that.


        • Oh that sounds good! I should send you Chi Vu’s novella (the one I just reviewed) – amongst other things it has some pertinent thoughts about ‘home’ from a refugee POV … I think (remembering your magic realism in 8 States of Catastrophe) you’d appreciate her use of surrealism as well.


  3. Another point to the kiwis for the short story prize list – I’m a NZer! The stories are all unpublished, but I think there’ll be an anthology of winners produced which will hopefully get distro in Australia / NZ.


    • I’m so sorry, Nic, I just took the info from the CWP press release. Congratulations, and do let me know when the anthology is available and I’ll do a quick promo for it here.
      Best wishes! Lisa


  4. I really like this list. I’m delighted, in particular, to see more acclaim for some of our MAL Prize favourites – Wandering Falcon and Rebirth in particular. And Chinaman is superb. Looking forward to discovering some of the others.. Pao, in particular..


    • Me too, Mark, I know now everything can win but I was disappointed that Wandering Falcon and Rebirth was passed over for the MAL and this gives them another shot at a prize and all the good publicity that goes with it.


  5. […] to donate a copy of Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane, which has just been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize.  (I have a copy of this on my TBR and will be reviewing it […]


  6. […] by indigenous author Jeanine Leane.  This collection of short stories was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and is published by UQP (University of Queensland Press) who kindly donated it as a giveaway for […]


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