Six months on: Queensland Literary Award winners share their work

With entries closing soon for the 2022 Queensland Literary Awards, we talk to a pair of last year's winners about what they're working on now. 

Siang Lu and Kali Napier took home prizes at the beautiful 2021 awards ceremony in September. Siang's manuscript, The Whitewash, took out the coveted Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer, and will be released later this year by UQP. Kali is a published novelist who won a Queensland Writers Fellowship – giving her time and money to work on her next exciting project. Here, Siang and Kali tell us about what it means to win, how they still get writer's block, and the books they've been reading. 

Siang and his biggest fan, his son, James, at the 2021 Queensland Literary Awards, 9 September 2021, image by Joe Ruckli

What have you been working on since you won your Queensland Literary Award in September?  

I've been working on page proofs for my novel, The Whitewash, which will be out this August with UQP. And I'm currently working with an exciting creative agency, O'Creative, for a project codenamed The Beige Index, which we're targeting to launch in the second half of this year.

I've been listening to The First Time Podcast. It's been such a great resource for answering questions I never knew I had about the writing/publishing journey.

Siang entered the Glendower Award in 2020 and then again in 2021 (success!) (Siang at the 2021 Queensland Literary Awards, 9 September 2021, image by Joe Ruckli)

Which books by an Australian author have you recently loved?

I really enjoyed Katherine Collette's The Competition, which captures the foibles of a hilarious cast of misfits at a public speaking competition. Any book that contains the following line should be an instant recommend: "My mother says you're better off facing your fears. I mean, she's my biggest fear and I see her every day." 

And Fiona Robertson's If You're Happy is a fine short story collection. Set in locales as varied as the United States, New Zealand, Scotland, Australia, Afghanistan and more, her collection is rife with weather squalls and insightful looks into the inclement lives of mothers, fathers, and their missing or missed children. If you're a reader who is searching for something to dip into alongside the morning coffee, this book is the answer. 

Every year three writers are awarded Queensland Writers Fellowships, which are each worth $19,500 (Kali Napier, Ella Jeffery and Tabitha Bird at the 2021 Queensland Literary Awards, 9 September 2021, image by Joe Ruckli)

What have you been working on since you won your Queensland Literary Award in September?  

Since being awarded a Queensland Writers Fellowship to write a short story collection, I haven’t written a single story – but I have drafted about 30,000 words and journalled twice that number. Without doubt, more resolutions can be found in my journals than in the multiple fiction works, none of which have endings. 

It wasn’t until January, when I undertook a short course in retelling the Snow White fairy tale, that I realised every short story I’d begun writing was yet another version. The tale’s narrative arc, motifs, and themes appear to be one of the archetypal story threads of my life. And I haven’t yet found its resolution …

No wonder I’d struggled and felt defeated by “writer’s block”, when I was repeating the same story but expecting a different result. 

Instead, I shifted perspective, and viewed my activity through the mirror of another tale – Persephone’s mythic journey to the Underworld. I accepted where I was, and the work that needed to be done before I was ready to return to the surface. Creativity has its seasons: the sprouting of story seeds, the rapid flourishing of words on the page, editing the story for submission and publication, and restoration and replenishment. 

I needed a deeper understanding of the craft of fairy tale retellings, how they help make sense of our own stories, and how to generate original works. I enrolled in a longer workshop series through the Storied Imaginarium. By May I will have generated five new short stories: halfway to meeting the outcomes of my Fellowship project

Kali at the 2021 Queensland Literary Awards, 9 September 2021, image by Joe Ruckli

Which books by Australian authors have you recently loved?

The book I’ve most recently loved by an Australian author is The New Wife, a novella by Kirstyn McDermott. It begins where the Bluebeard tale leaves off and ties up loose threads. What I particularly enjoyed was that while it delves deeper into the darkness of the bone-chilling original, there is a greater sense of resolution. Bluebeard’s last wife and potential murder victim is not rescued by her brothers. Nor does her revenge come from a place of fear. Rather, her choices bring healing for the wounds inflicted by her late husband. 

What I also love about this novella is that it is the second in a series of six written by McDermott, published by an independent press based here in Meanjin Brisbane. Brain Jar Press is using an exciting mode of publication, with a staggered release of McDermott’s novellas as chapbooks or ebooks. The final one is titled Winterbloom, and I really hope it retells Snow White. 

Looking forward to seeing Siang and Kali's new books for sale soon! (the 2021 Queensland Literary Awards, 9 September 2021, image by Joe Ruckli)

Thanks, Siang and Kali! Can't wait to see what you write next. Remember that entries in the 2022 Queensland Literary Awards – including the Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer and Queensland Writers Fellowships – close on 29 April. Learn how to enter here.

The Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer is supported by Jenny Summerson through the Queensland Library Foundation. Queensland Writers Fellowships are supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland and State Library of Queensland.

Siang Lu was the 2021 winner of the Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer for The Whitewash (August 2022, UQP). His fiction and literary reviews have appeared in Southerly and Westerly, and he has written for television on Malaysia's Astro network. He holds a Master of Letters from the University of Sydney. He has been the program manager for a global, multi-million-dollar initiative to deliver cutting edge AI solutions to the legal industry. He is based in Brisbane, Australia, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 

Kali Napier lives in Meanjin Brisbane, on the unceded land of the Yuggera People. Her short fiction has been published in Australian and international literary magazines and anthologies, was twice-shortlisted in the 2020 Australian Shadows Awards, and has been listed for several unpublished short story competitions. Kali has been awarded funding from the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland’s Individuals Fund, and holds a research master’s degree in creative writing and a coursework master’s degree in writing, editing, and publishing from The University of Queensland. 

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