Bully tale rules the playground
Age short-story award winner Michelle Wright. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
WHEN Michelle Wright's school friends lined up for sausage rolls and suchlike at lunchtime, she would scurry off to the toilets where she would consume her own lunch. As the daughter of Sri Lankan migrants she was keen to fit in, ''but it would have been sticking my head above the parapet to say I was having curry sandwiches''.
She used some of that feeling of difference and exclusion in writing Maggot, the story that has won this year's Age short-story award. She wins $1000.
It tells of the bullying of Margot, aka ''Maggot'', and is seen largely from the point of view of Carmel, a curry-sandwich-eating girl known as Kamahl.
Maggot is only the second story Wright has written.
But Graeme Simsion, who won second place for Three Encounters with the Physical, is in a very different place in his writing career. In June, he won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript and, in February, that first novel, The Rosie Project, will be published. The sale of overseas rights to 32 countries has earned him more than $1 million. And third-place winner Ruby J. Murray, with Hunting Animals, had her first novel, Running Dogs, published in May. The judges also commended three stories: McCaffrey: By an Obituarist by Lucas Smith, The Gift by Enza Gandolfo and Good People by Rebecca Harrison.
One of the judges, writer Catherine Ford, said Wright's story had technical flair and a ready grasp of the dynamics, the psychological requisites and the pitilessness of short-story writing.
''Her characters … say and do devastating, heartbreaking things to each other. Her bully-boys and girls play at dangerous games. Her victims get hurt … Maggot is a prickly, provocative and moving story.''
Wright, who works in the community development office of Whitehorse Council, said children would always find some point of difference: ''A sense of empathy doesn't develop until later in adolescence.'' Another judge, Age theatre and fiction reviewer Cameron Woodhead, described Wright's story as a poignant, clear-eyed and considered example of how empathy could be reinstated through artful fiction.
There were about 850 stories entered into the competition and the judges were Catherine Ford, Cameron Woodhead and I.
The stories were assessed anonymously after an initial sifting by the Melbourne centre of PEN, the international writers' organisation. The three prize-winning stories will be published in Life & Style in January.
he saw the word m o n g d r a t z e r!
(sort of melted chessboard shape across each table's corner)
(beer giving a sense of unfathomability: to germany: morning)
& colours, patterns, a clock telling new
the time green trees in october,
blue sky, moon how mild
is a question passing statues, over pretty fans of stones
summer blowing away its memory in the grass
or so he thinks
& after an old building through chestnut leaves
the spitting image of his last housemate smokes
while fossicking in a narrow bin before she goes on
their eyes meet
strap of the heavy laptop bag pushing at his chest
Words fan out like green fronds, or drop
like cold grenades into my insides.
How would it be not to hear,
nor want you to speak
words that melt on me decidedly
and throw into the air the ropes
of a graspable love that doesn’t stop
here or there or anywhere.
What would it say to be true.
Whatever, made in words is silence
we sleep in, having told each other
just enough, not enough, too much.