The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

The Shepherd's Hut

This was my favourite Tim Winton novel yet. The voice of Jaxie Clackton was raw to the bone. The sort of ‘no holes barred’ writing that grabs you by the goolies and won’t let go. It was compulsive, repulsive, exhilarating, eviscerating reading. I was dragged on a gut-wrenching journey with Jaxie – his pain, his wonder and his fears. His voice is still ringing in my head. Fintan was like a modern-day hermit who has fallen off the righteous path and been left in the arse-end of nowhere to contemplate his sins. His words were jarring, but  struck home:

‘–I suspect that God is what you do, not what or who you believe in.’

And then of course, Jaxie’s response, ‘That’s all jumblyfuck to me …’

What profane, profound honesty. No dissimulation. Nowhere to hide. In The Shepherd’s Hut Tim Winton brings his characters to life with incredible, visceral, biting words. It’s like he’s carving the novel out with a knife. I laughed out loud, I was shocked and surprised, I winced and cringed and recoiled as I read.

I appreciated the fact that questions were left unanswered and not all threads were tied up in a neat bow. That’s life, and boy, can Tim Winton write life.

This novel made me think long and hard about my own writing, especially with regards to depicting characters with more clarity, honesty and authenticity. I’m not sure it is something I can do, but I’m going to at least attempt to bring more of that to my writing.

Funnily enough, one of the first things I did after finishing the book was hunt on the internet to see if Tim does any workshops. I couldn’t find any. I looked for podcasts and interviews. Very limited. His writing of course leaves you wanting more. That is his gift. As a writer you want to unpack and understand it. As well as being gifted, I think what makes Tim Winton so extraordinary is the nakedness of his writing. He strips humanity bare. So much truth. Awesome.



‘Book of Colours’ by Robyn Cadwallader 

Book of Colours‘All of life’, mediaeval life, was here in this book. If you are interested in medieval history, and particularly in reading richly textured and immersive historical fiction, this is the novel for you. Robyn Cadwallader does a wonderful job of illuminating the imagined lives of limners’ in 14th century London. She successfully interweaves multiple perspectives and, it seems to me, reveals the joys, the heartache and the suffering of her fictional characters with real tenderness and care. I loved the bittersweet love story at the core of this book and the resilience of the people depicted. The ‘Book of Colours’ was both disturbing and enervating.

I must admit to a particular fascination for mediaeval ‘books of hours’, so this was a novel that sat close to my heart; I read it slowly, savouring the detailed and vivid descriptions, enjoying Robyn Cadwallader’s masterful craftsmanship and the rich images she created through her words. Beautifully written. This is not a book to be rushed!

Normal People by Sally Rooney

The Fragments by Toni Jordan

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Scrublands by Chris Hammer

Check out some 2019 unpublished manuscript competitions!

battle-black-blur-260024I thought I’d write a quick blog about competitions open for unpublished novel manuscripts in 2019, some run out of Australia, some overseas. Apart from anything else, I wanted to note them down as a means to keep them fresh in my own mind, and maybe enter a few! I have written information to the best of my knowledge at the current time, however details of these competitions may change so do not hold me responsible if they do.  (Unfortunately, I’ve neither time nor inclination to put them down in any particular order; I might get to that at a later date, but please bear with me in the meantime!):

  • First off the blocks is the Richell Prize. I mention this one because I entered it last year and got long-listed (hurrah!), but not short-listed (boohoo!). For those fortunate to make the grade, I think it would be a fabulous opportunity. What they say about it: ‘The Richell Prize was established in 2014 by Hachette Australia in partnership with The Guardian Australia and The Emerging Writers Festival to assist emerging writers who are looking to take the next step in their career. Offered annually, the Prize is open to unpublished writers of adult fiction and adult narrative non-fiction. Writers do not need to have a full manuscript at the time of submission, though they must intend to complete one.” Need to submit three chapters, novel synopsis outline, statement about how it will further your writing career. Prize:12 months mentorship with Hachette and $10,000. Last year opened 6th April – closed 9th July.


  • The Banjo. This is a new competition (as of last year) run by HarperCollins. What they say: ‘We’re looking for exciting new Australian voices telling the sorts of stories that we love to read – from sweeping family sagas and lush romances to dark and gritty crime, twisty psychological thrillers, rich historical dramas and contemporary romantic comedies.  We’re looking for stories that make us laugh and make us cry.  Stories that keep us reading late into the night.  Stories that make our pulse race.  Stories we just can’t put down.’ Last year it ran 23 March – 25 May, so presumably it’ll be similar the year. Prize: the chance to win a publishing contract with HarperCollins, with an advance of $15,000.  Two runners-up receive a written assessment of their manuscript by HarperCollins. Writers need to have a full manuscript at the time of submission.  Applications also need to include a synopsis of approximately 500 words and a 200-word biographical statement. 


  • Penguin literary prize writing competition. What they say:’The Penguin Literary Prize endeavours to find, nurture and develop new Australian authors writing in the areas of literary fiction, and is a nod to Penguin Random House’s literary heritage as the great Australian house of literature.’I can’t find a great deal of information on this, but previous it ran October/November and included a $20,000 prize. Need to submit: complete manuscript, 300 word synopsis, one page pitch summary.


  • Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award. What they say:’The KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award seeks to support writers of adult narrative fiction and non-fiction in the development of their unpublished manuscripts.’ When: Last year it ran mid-Jan to end March. To enter, you must have a current full-year (12 months) KYD Membership at time of submission. The winner previously received $5000 in prize money and a year’s mentorship.


  • State Premiers’ literary competitions. As you may be aware, the different states in Australia run various writing competitions, some for unpublished manuscripts. Some are run biennially, some don’t seem to offer unpublished manuscript awards. Here are links that may prove fruitful: Victoria, Queensland, South Australia


  • Killer Nashville Claymore Award. This is run in association with Kensington Books and is an America-based competition. What they say: ‘ Every year, the Killer Nashville Claymore Award assists new and rebranding English-language fiction authors to get published, including possible agent representation, book advances, editor deals, and movie and television sales. Over $3,000 worth of prizes are given away each year, but to us, the publishing and movie deals—and the careers they build—are the end game.’ Submit: The contest is limited to only the first 50 double-spaced pages of unpublished English-language manuscripts containing elements of thriller, mystery, crime, or suspense NOT currently under contract. Cost: $40 Deadline: 1st April 2019. 


  • Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger. What they say: ‘For 20 years the CWA has been encouraging new writing with its Debut Dagger competition for unpublished writers. The submissions are judged by a panel of top crime editors and agents, and the short listed entries are sent to publishers and agents.The Debut Dagger is open to anyone who has not yet had a novel published commercially. All shortlisted entrants will receive a professional assessment of their entries. Winning the Debut Dagger doesn’t guarantee you’ll get published. But it does mean your work will be seen leading agents and top editors, who have signed up over two dozen winners and shortlisted Debut Dagger competitors.’ Submit: the opening of a crime novel not exceeding 3,000 words and a synopsis of up to 1,500 words. Closes: 28 February 2019. Cost: £36. Prize: £500 for the winner.


  • First Novel Prize is organised by First Novel Prize is organised by
    Daniel Goldsmith Associates Ltd . Their website is not particularly clear about entry dates or how to submit, so good luck! What they say: ‘Judged by a leading literary agent and an adult fiction commissioning editor at a large international publisher, the prize is an opportunity for writers to expose their work as well as win one of the three attractive prizes: £1,000 for the First Winner, £250 for the Second Winner and £100 for the Third Winner.What to submit: If your manuscript is in English, unpublished or self-published, of any adult genre and over 50,000 words, you are welcome to enter it in our competition. Please note that non-fiction, children’s fiction, young adult will not qualify for entry. Cost: £25


  • Spotlight First Novel Competition. What they say: ‘Spotlight First Novel Competition is our way of celebrating and encouraging new writers. Every year we profile the winner and offer them transitional support.The competition also has a well documented knack of highlighting the writers of the future. So far, no less than seven of our shortlisted writers have gone on to mainstream success.’ Deadline: 14th February 2019 Entry Requirements: A one-page synopsis and first page of novel. Entry fee: £16.00


  • Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Award This competition is run by the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation. What they say: ‘The foundation was created to allow us to share our love of adventure writing with the world.’ What to also bear in mind: ‘We expect an adventure story to:
    • Take the reader on an epic journey, exploring new horizons – be they historical or geographical
    • Explore the themes of courage, endurance and resourcefulness
    • Allow readers to connect with a different reality or culture’

    Prize: The winner will have their manuscript published by Bonnier Books UK, in a publishing deal with a writer’s advance of £15,000. In addition, each of the shortlisted writers will receive three months of one-to-one manuscript development with literary consultant, David Llewelyn, intended to help each writer reach the standard necessary for submission to agents and publishers. Dates for submission: 7th January – 1st March 2019 Submissions must exceed 50,000 words in length.


  • Yeovil Literary Prize. Organised by the Yeovil Community Arts Association. What they say: ‘ This is your opportunity to enter four very different categories of writing. Aspiring writers throughout the world should enter this prestigious writing competition.
    • All genres are welcome.
    • Agents and Publishers regularly search our winner lists for new talent …

    From small beginnings the Yeovil Literary Prize has nurtured many hundreds of aspiring writers. 2019 heralds the 17th competition, and we have a reputation to maintain now as writers worldwide share their work with us.’ Entry fee for novel: £12 Open 1st January – 31st May 2019 15,000 words, including synopsis (not a blurb) and opening chapters Prizes: 1st £1000,   2nd £250,   3rd £100.

Flapping my wings and preparing to take flight …Nanowrimo is fast approaching

Book Swallows Reader


Takeaways from the RWA Conference in Sydney

As ever there was so much to learn and so much to take away from this year’s RWA conference. It was a great opportunity to meet up with my writing friends, be inspired by fabulous authors, have a go at pitching our own ideas and learn from industry experts. I found Alex Adsett and Joel Naoum’s session on the pros and cons of a traditional approach to publishing or taking the indie path most valuable. Read about the key ‘takeaways’ of my fellow Upcoming Famous and Fabulous Writers.

RWA Conference Takeaways


Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett

Wimmera by Mark Brandi