Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 10, 2014

2014 Barbara Jefferis shortlist

The Nobel Prize for Literature was announced today, and I’m pleased to see that my good friend Stu has reviewed at least one of the winner’s books so I recommend that you visit his blog to find out more about Patrick Modiano.

But not to be overshadowed, I hope, here’s news about one of my favourite awards –

The 2014 Barbara Jefferis Award has just announced its shortlist for 2014, and I’m pleased to have read and enjoyed so many of the books!

Amy Espeseth: Sufficient Grace (Scribe) (on my TBR
Tracy Farr: The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt (Fremantle Press) see my review and Meet the Author here.
Jacinta Halloran: Pilgrimage (Scribe) see my review
Margo Lanagan: Sea Hearts (Allen & Unwin)
Fiona McFarlane: The Night Guest (Penguin Books) see my review
Margaret Merrilees: The First Week (Wakefield Press) see my review
Drusilla Modjeska: The Mountain (Vintage, Random House Australia) see my review

I’m glad I don’t have to choose between them, there is some really great reading here!


  1. Many thanks for the mention Lisa

    • Who else in the English speaking blogging world but you would have already reviewed the winner?
      Winston’s Dad is the best blog around for translated books!

  2. Good to see your post on the shortlist, Lisa. It was a strong field – over two years, so you’d expect that. The judging was fun, and an educational experience!

    • And well done you for choosing a list like this:)

  3. Interesting to see Fiona McFarlane’s book on this list. It suggests that the judges were quite liberal in interpreting “presenting women in a positive way” I’m glad about that. Looking forward to hearing the judges’ comments.

    • Yes, this is always one of my favourite awards, and I’ve discovered some great authors through its shortlists. In a perverse way I’m kind-of disappointed in this list because I know all these authors already!

      Interesting also to see that although this year for the first time they accepted self-published entries, none of these are self-published. I wonder if they’ll comment on that in their report? (see

      (I recently broke one of my cardinal rules and reviewed a self-published book – it was by an author whose work I already knew well through the usual publication channels. It was good, and I enjoyed it, but I think a publisher and an editing team would have fleshed it out more and it would have been longer and more complex. Editors IMO are the unsung heroes of the publishing industry and I’d like to see them properly credited on the verso page along with everything else, not just in thank you pages at the back of the book.)

      • Have you read this, by the way? One of the Nobel judges talking about writers’ grants and creative writing courses.

        • Yes, I have, and I’m pleased he’s had to courage to toss this view out for discussion.

          I think that a lot of what is called literature today is not. It is pseudo-storytelling, sadly ordinary, and often dreadfully dull. I am tired of recycled versions of Misery 101, Grief 101, Child Abuse 101, Fractured Thoughts of Abused Women 101, Men are All Bad 101, Inarticulate Men of the Australian Bush 101, Navel-gazing Human Relationships 101, Being Different 101 etc., etc., etc. I take one look at the publicity blurbs of books like this and dismiss them out of hand because these dreary books don’t teach me anything about life that I couldn’t learn from reading the tabloids. (Which is where I suspect most of the plot and characterisation comes from). I think that writers rarely learn to write anything worthwhile by hanging around with other wannabe writers…

          But (sticking just to accessible books as distinct from the more challenging writing of Gerald Murnane or Brian Castro et al) if I read a book like Amanda Curtin’s The Sinkings, or Annabel Smith’s Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, or Paddy O’Reilly’s The Wonders, or Peter Carey’s return to form with The Chemistry of Tears, or Jennifer Mills’ Gone, or Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, or Rowan Wilson’s stunning To Name Those Lost which I am currently reading, these are memorable books that make me think differently about people and about significant issues. That’s what literature is, no matter what style it’s written in. I can’t comment about whether these authors are graduates of writing schools or living hand-to-mouth between jobs or not, but it’s quite clear to me that all of them have stepped away from any intellectual comfort zone that they were ever in.

          Having said that, I do think that there is value in grants which give writers time and space to write in. The days when Helen Garner could go and write in peace in the State Library are over, dearly as I loved it, the SLV is now as noisy as a staff canteen, and so are university libraries. There is nowhere quiet any more.

          I agree with what he says about American literature being too insular, and the people who nominate American writers for the Nobel Prize too obviously haven’t read anything much from the rest of the world because they have no idea how lame their favourite US authors are. There are exceptions, of course there are, but these are not the ones whose names keep cropping up.
          I also agree with what he says about African writing: I find it has a raw energy and authenticity that rarely disappoints. I haven’t read enough Asian authors to have an opinion about that.

          • A very comprehensive reply! I agree with much of what you say. You probably also read Jane Sullivan’s piece in “The Age” recently about The Kingdom of the Midlist. It was quite a shocking figure she gave about the portion of the market that is now taken up by the best-sellers and the inevitable result that we are all reading the same small group of books.

            • Aagh! I missed the article by Jane Sullian (who always writes such good stuff!) – it must have been when I was marooned in Queensland without The Age! Thanks for alerting me to it because I was able to read it online, and I also chased up the one by Mel Campbell..

              These two articles made me think of a scathing review by Helen Elliot of a rather soppy book that achieved far more attention than it deserved, her thoughts certainly confirmed what is said about the bestsellers sucking the publicity oxygen away from much better books.

              Without ever intending to make a space for myself in the Australian literary sphere, I have come to realise that I have to be selective about what gets publicity here. I find it very interesting that I come under quite a bit of pressure to review debut authors, and I do have a soft spot for them, but the mid-listers do seem to be on their own, and if I didn’t stumble on their new books in bookshops, I wouldn’t know a thing about them.

              • I really do hope more mid-listers will start self-publishing. That is one way they can continue to have a presence- forever, not remaindered.

                • I’m not sure about that. I remember when I was having my Iris Murdoch phase that her later books – when her publishers were too intimidated to edit her – were overlong and very messy.

                • Yes, I remember reading “Jackson’s Dilemma” and noticing that a character had blue eyes early on and brown eyes later. And I was never quite sure what Jackson’s dilemma was. That was when I started to wonder if all was well with Iris’ mind. In general, though, I’d be prepared to rely on the judgment of authors I know I’ve admired before.

  4. A very stimulating discussion. Thank you Gert and Lisa!
    With regard to the Barbara Jefferis Award, there were not nearly as many self-published books as I anticipated – a small handful amongst the 72 entries, the vast majority of which were submitted by the big publishers. (A comment I make in my own post about the shortlist.) With one exception, the self-published books were poorly written. I felt for the author of the ‘exception’ because to me she clearly had talent, and I thought her novel was more original and accomplished than many of the mainstream published ones. It needed a good editor, both in structural terms and line-by-line, and in the end could not compete for a place on the shortlist.

    To move away from the award, and make a more general point: I’m an advocate for digital publishing and digital self-publishing; it’s given me, personally, a way to think about the future, and the possibility of taking advantage of opportunities that simply did not exist ten years ago.

    But it saddens me that the world of indie publishing is overwhelmingly dominated by so-called popular, commercial fiction (as you say in your comment, Gert). As you rightly point out, Lisa, very little of it could be called literature, or aspires to be. My values and the things I care about when it comes to books seem largely irrelevant in this ‘brave new world’. It saddens me because I have a vision (still) of digital publishers taking risks and being adventurous, publishing fine literary works that could not find print publishers, able to do so because of the much lower production costs.

    • The problem lies with the filtering process. At the moment, there are still publishers one can trust to produce worthwhile books rather than popular commercial fiction, whereas digital self-publishing is so cheap and easy there are literally thousands of titles available and as you found, Dorothy, in the judging process, a lot of it is dross, and there doesn’t seem to be any way of filtering that out.
      So, in general, and of course there are exceptions, it’s still the case that we have a better chance of finding a better book to read through selective use of publishers’ catalogues.


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