The University of Queensland Fiction Book Award shortlist

Ghost River cover

Ghost River

Tony Birch

UQP

About the book

The river is a place of history and secrets. For Ren and Sonny, two unlikely friends, it’s a place of freedom and adventure. For a group of storytelling vagrants, it’s a refuge. And for the isolated daughter of a cult reverend, it’s an escape. Each time they visit, another secret slips into its ancient waters. But change and trouble are coming – to the river and to the lives of those who love it. Who will have the courage to fight and survive and what will be the cost?

About the author

Tony Birch is the author of Blood (UQP, 2011), which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. He is also the author of Shadowboxing (2006), and two short story collections, Father’s Day (2009) and The Promise (UQP, 2014). Tony is a frequent contributor to ABC local and national radio and a regular guest at writers’ festivals. He lives in Melbourne and is a Senior Research Fellow at Victoria University.

Judges' Comments

This is a tough coming of age novel about two young misfits and outsiders and the itinerant, alcoholic men who are part of their family. Set by the Yarra River, this novel is a kind of dark twisted Huckleberry Finn. The novel is nostalgic and there is a deep if somewhat ambivalent sense of yearning for a lost world. It’s a novel about the forgotten, the ghosts of a place and of a river which is a ghost itself. There are flashes of humour amidst the bleakness.


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Between a Wolf and a Dog cover

Between a Wolf and a Dog

Georgia Blain

Scribe Publications

About the book

Ester is a family therapist with an appointment book that catalogues the anxieties of the middle class: loneliness, relationships, death. She spends her days helping others find happiness, but her own family relationships are tense and frayed. Taking place largely over one rainy day in Sydney, and rendered with the evocative and powerful prose Blain is known for, Between a Wolf and a Dog is a celebration of the best in all of us — our capacity to live in the face of ordinary sorrows, and to draw strength from the transformative power of art. Ultimately, it is a joyous tribute to the beauty of being alive.

About the author

Georgia Blain has published novels for adults and young adults, essays, short stories, and a memoir. Her first novel was the bestselling Closed for Winter, which was made into a feature film. She has been shortlisted for numerous awards including the NSW and SA Premiers' Literary Awards, and the Nita B. Kibble Award for her memoir Births Deaths Marriages. Georgia's most recent works include The Secret Lives of Men, Too Close to Home, and the YA novel Darkwater. In 2016, in addition to Between a Wolf and a Dog, Georgia also published the YA novel Special. She lives in Sydney, where she works full-time as a writer.

Judges' Comments

Georgia Blain has written a novel for our time. She pulls apart the notion of family and loyalty, ethics at work and in the media. Between a Wolf and A Dog explores the dimensions of human relationships. It is a book of searing emotional truth, a story about the value of ordinariness. This is a richly rewarding and profoundly moving story.

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The Midnight Watch cover

The Midnight Watch

David Dyer

Penguin Random House

About the book

Sometimes the smallest of human failings can lead to the greatest of disasters. As the Titanic was sinking slowly in the wretchedly cold North Atlantic, she could see the lights of another ship on the horizon. She called for help, but there was no response. Just after midnight the Titanic began firing distress rockets. The other ship, the Californian, saw these rockets but didn't come. When the story of the disaster begins to emerge, it's a question that Boston American reporter John Steadman cannot let go. As soon as he lays eyes on the Californian's captain and second officer, he knows a story lurks behind their version of events. Based on true events, The Midnight Watch is at once a heart-stopping mystery and a deeply knowing novel – about the frailty of men, the strength of women, the capriciousness of fate and the price of loyalty.

About the author

David Dyer grew up in a coastal town in NSW. He trained as a ship's officer at the Australian Maritime College, travelling Australia and the world in a wide range of merchant ships. He graduated from the college with distinction and was awarded a number of prizes, including the Company of Master Mariners Award for highest overall achievement in the course. David's research for The Midnight Watch took him to many and varied places around the world including libraries and sites of interest in New York, Boston, London and Liverpool.

Judges' Comments

This is historical fiction at its best! Dyer’s style is highly readable with a literary sensibility. Based on a notorious event, it’s a fascinating look at what is the most famous maritime disasters of all time. Dyer’s investigation and the author’s passion for historical detail don’t cloud the narrative and he has written an emotionally complex depiction of how power and class complicated the tragedy. Dyer has cleverly interwoven historical people with fictionalised characters to create a richly rewarding and surprising tale.

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One cover

One

Patrick Holland

Transit Lounge Publishing

About the book

The last bushrangers in Australian history, James and Patrick Kenniff, were at the height at their horse thieving operation at turn of the 20th century. When a policeman and a station manager go out on patrol from tiny Upper Warrego Station and disappear, Sergeant Nixon makes it his mission to pursue the gang, especially, Jim Kenniff, who becomes for him an emblem of the violence that resides in the heart of the country. One is a novel of minimalist lyrical beauty that traverses the intersections between violence and love. It asks what right one man has to impose his will on another, and whether the written law can ever answer the law of the heart?

About the author

Patrick Holland is the award-winning author of books including Navigatio, The Source of the Sound, The Mary Smokes Boys, Riding the Trains in Japan and The Darkest Little Room. His work has been published internationally. He lives in Brisbane, Australia.

Judges' Comments

This is historical literary fiction set at the turn of the last century and, in a way, it’s a satisfying western. The Kennif brothers are the last bushrangers in Queensland hiding out in the ranges around Roma and Carnarvon. Patrick Holland is an author writing at the height of his powers. One has a musical cadence in style with a religious intensity set in a harsh and unforgiving landscape. Patrick Holland’s personal connection to the story allows him to write a narrative rich in authenticity of detail and emotion. It’s a pursuit novel but also a morality tale and a bleak look at race relations on the frontier.

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The Natural Way of Things cover

The Natural Way of Things

Charlotte Wood

Allen & Unwin

About the book

Two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in a broken-down property in the middle of nowhere. Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be there with eight other girls. The Natural Way of Things is a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted. Most of all, it is the story of two friends, their sisterly love and courage.

About the author

The Australian newspaper has described Charlotte Wood as "one of our most original and provocative writers”. She is the author of five novels and a book of non-fiction. Her latest novel, The Natural Way of Things, won the 2016 Indie Book of the Year and Indie Fiction Book of the Year prizes as well as the Stella Prize and has been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Literary Award and the Miles Franklin Award. It will be published in the UK and North America in 2016. Charlotte was also editor of the short story anthology Brothers and Sisters, and for three years edited The Writer's Room Interviews magazine. Her work has been shortlisted for various prizes including the Christina Stead, Kibble and Miles Franklin Awards.

Judges' Comments

There is a controlled authorial anger underlying this novel as Wood digs deep to expose the sexist, violent, misogynistic nature of contemporary society. It’s a novel which is dystopian but also rooted in reality as it explores the historical and contemporary treatment of women. Wood has created complex and multi-layered characters. The Natural Way of Things is a novel which is deeply unsettling. It provokes a visceral response in the reader and skewers our society in a compelling fashion.

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