A Canberra writer who wrote about her trauma when her partner came out as transgender has won the coveted Vogel Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.
Emma Batchelor kept a journal when her life was spiralling out of control, after her partner revealed to her that they identified as non-binary.
The pair separated, and Batchelor sunk into depression, but later, when she started to recover, she realised her journal and the emails she had been exchanging with her then-ex-partner were a story others might find useful.
A reader and a writer, she didn't know where to turn for guidance on how to cope with what seemed to be a unique and lonely experience.
So, at the advice of a psychologist, she started keeping a journal.
"The thing is that I couldn't write any of the things I used to write, I just didn't have any capacity, but this was all I could think about all day long," she says.
"I found that writing it in a way that needed to make sense to other people, and to be, I guess, more of an external product than just for me, was really helpful in just helping me think about everything that happened in a different way."
She began showing some of her writing to friends and family, and eventually submitted it for Allen & Unwin's Vogel Award as a work of auto-fiction.
The prize has launched the careers of dozens of Australian writers, including Tim Winton, Kate Grenville and Gillian Mears.
Batchelor has won $20,000, and an advance on her book, Now That I See You, which is being published next week.
She also revealed that she and her partner - who no longer identifies as non-binary and uses the pronoun "she" - have now reunited, and that she has given her blessing for the couple's story to go out to the world.
Batchelor said she had struggled with the ethics of writing a story about someone else's transgender journey.
"It's something that I still feel very morally ambiguous about," she says.
"There is such a culture of cisgender people speaking for transgender people, and I have to acknowledge that this story is probably being published because I am cisgender."
But Vogel judge Stephen Romei said this was one of the things that stood out about Batchelor's story.
"I think it's an ambitious, bold book by a young Australian writer that connects deeply with the uncertain, often angry, times in which we are living," he says.
"The acceptance of non-binary people is something still nascent in our society.
"A lot of people do not accept it, or reject it outright, and with hostility. But this change is not going to change. It is only going to become more common, more public.
"Whether [this book] resonates in years to come may perhaps depend on what happens to us, as a society, in those intervening years."
Batchelor said ultimately she had written the kind of book she would have wanted to read while she was going through her relationship breakup.
"I don't regret telling my story, because I do see it as my story and my perspective of what happened between us," she says.
"I think that was important for me in processing that, and I think it is a challenge for partners. And certainly, I couldn't find the information like this, that would have been helpful to me at the time."
- Now That I See You, by Emma Batchelor, will be published on May 4 by Allen & Unwin.
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