Holy Crumbs! It's The Age Short Story Award 2011

on Saturday, December 3, 2011
KAPOW! Take that, crappy year of extreme sadness. Following eleven months of tragedy, fear and disappointment, December has swooped in and delivered a knockout blow of super awesomeness to 2011. Not only did my first ever piece of published fiction, The Prisoner of Babel, appear in the wonderful Sleepers Almanac Volume 7, but HOLY AMAZEBALLS(!!!) my short story Crumbs has just won the 2011 Age Short Story Competition. Kind of hard to believe, given that the short story is a form with which I am profoundly uncomfortable (as evidenced by only one - now two- of the 175 posts on this blog being about short fiction).

Of course there are the masters: Bruno Schulz, Daniil Kharms, Edgar Allen Poe, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, JG Ballard, Alice Munro, Robert Walser and pretty much every Yiddish writer that ever lived. But other than these dark fabulists I have struggled to read, let alone appreciate, much of the stuff, even when it was written by authors that I otherwise love (I'm looking at you Don Delillo and E.L. Doctorow!). If reading them presents a challenge, writing them is even harder. At least in long form you can overstep your mark and be forgiven. With short stories there is a crushing pressure to fully contain a world in less than ten, or in my case three, thousand words.

Luckily my background is in punk music so I've learned to think of short stories accordingly - blistering bursts that do the work of a Pink Floyd epic in the time it takes Roger Waters to play the first bar. Not that it's greatly helped my literary output. The vast majority of stories I have written are dismal failures. Two, however, appear to have worked. Thankfully they account for two of the three I've ever submitted for publication. And Crumbs is actually a modified version of the prologue to a novel I've been working on for five years so arguably it does not count.

For what it's worth, I do have a holy trinity of stories that I think anyone who loves to read ought to hit up at some point in their life. First is Kafka's In The Penal Settlement, a story that is just as harrowing as any of his novels. Next is Edgar Allen Poe's The Telltale Heart. Probably the greatest meditation on the nature of guilt, you're at least likely to recognise it from the classic Simpsons Diorama episode. And finally there's the saddest of them all, the absolutely heartbreaking Bontsche The Silent by I. L. Peretz. Also, if you like story collections that are thematically linked or that form a tenuous narrative, I'd recommend Bruno Schulz's Street of Crocodiles, Jim Crace's Continent or, most recently, The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad.

As for me, I'll just be content with my two little additions to the sea of stories. You can read The Prisoner of Babel in The Sleepers Almanac Volume 7, available at all great bookstores in and around Australia and New Zealand. Please pick it up and help support independent Australian publishing (plus you might just find your next favourite author amongst the thirty two wonderful people in the book). Crumbs will be published in The Age newspaper on the first Saturday of January 2012 in the Summer Reading lift out. You can read the announcement here.

Hopefully this will give me a much needed kick in the arse to finish the book!


elise bialylew said...

HI Bram,

Wow! congratulations on your short story..just stumbled upon your blog via the sunflower website...Look forward to reading your stuff..
Mrs. Jensen et al would be proud


The Bookworm said...

Hi Elise,
Thanks. I actually thought of Mrs. Jensen when I got the call - the poor suffering woman had to read countless pages of dross that I submitted over and above the requirements. Not as bad as poor Mrs. Auster that I forced to read the two 'novels' (one 15 pages, the other 16) that I had written over the summer holidays as I was about to go into year 8.
Hope all is going well with you. Deb G tells me that you too have come to the dark side and eschewed respectability in favour of artistic pursuits.

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