Alice Robinson wins the 2019 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction

We are delighted to announce that the winner of this year’s Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction is Alice Robinson, for her novel, The Glad Shout.

On hearing the news, Alice said, ‘I am absolutely elated to have been selected as the winner of the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction in 2019, a huge honour considering the incredible calibre of the books and writers on the shortlist. I wrote The Glad Shout while deep in the trenches of early parenthood, when the writing was both a saving grace and an added complexity; to have the book appreciated, given all of that, feels extra meaningful. To have it recognised and supported by Readings, beloved local bookshop since childhood, is even more meaningful again.’

Now in its sixth year, the prize was imagined as a way of drawing attention to and supporting the work of Australia’s emerging literary writers. Over the years, it has grown in esteem, and is now an anticipated date in the annual prize calendar. As Jennifer Down, our 2018 winner and this year’s guest judge, puts it, ‘In a relatively crowded literary ecosystem, the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction is vital for early-career authors, allowing their work to reach a greater audience’.

Unlike many prizes, there is no submission process for publishers to undertake: the judging panel, made up of four Readings booksellers, simply considers all the first and second novels and collections of short stories that are released by commercial publishers in the eligible period, using a set of criteria determined at the beginning of the process. It’s a year-long commitment for the panel, which culminates in a meeting to decide on the shortlist of six books, followed by a second meeting to decide the winner. The prize is also unique in its consideration of both first and second works, acknowledging the length of the ‘early career’ status in the creative field.

The books on this year’s shortlist were diverse in their themes, styles, and moods. From a sassy satire of gender politics (Inappropriation), to an elegy for the Black Saturday disaster told in short story form (A Constant Hum), to a work exploring what it means for humans to live with nature in an age of extinction (The Flight of Birds), to a genre-bending time-slip novel (A Superior Spectre), to a collection of short stories written with the precision of a master of the form (This Taste for Silence), to the winner itself, The Glad Shout, an exhilarating novel that raises urgent questions about how we will experience the near future of our climate crisis, the shortlist provides a unique snapshot into new writing in Australia.

Read this group of books, and you will learn that our emerging writers care about our past, our present, and our future; they are committed to the practice of writing itself, and what it can bring to the debates of our age; they value the critical importance of research; they are engaged in honing the technical proficiencies of their craft, and; they always push the boundaries of our expectations.

And now to the The Glad Shout, our unforgettable winner for 2019. In the very near and very imaginable future, a cataclysmic storm has sent floodwaters through Melbourne, and we meet Isobel, Shaun, and their toddler Matilda, as they seek refuge in a stadium where help and security are promised. Quickly, matters deteriorate, and their safety becomes compromised. In alternating chapters, we learn about the Isobel of the past, and the circumstances that have led her to the present.

While the story is on face value a work of climate emergency fiction that unfolds as a pacey disaster thriller, at its core is a story of a mother and her daughter, and the limitless love that defines that relationship. What would you do, under immense pressure, to ensure the survival of your family? Would you run, or would you hope help will come? What becomes of the relationship that produced your child, and does it matter anymore? These are not hypothetical questions for many refugees around the world right now.

Alice-Robinson-HeadshotPhotograph by Jessica Tremp

Jennifer Down had this to say of the novel: ‘ The Glad Shout is a harrowing but beautiful examination of motherhood, survival, and love. Robinson’s writing is finely attuned to the psychology of its characters, for whom she shows great tenderness. The effects of the climate emergency in the proximate future are rendered terrifyingly real in this cinematic and beautifully paced novel’.

There is just so much to admire in the writing of this novel. Its sense of character, time, and place is faultless. Robinson has a wonderful feel for the Australian vernacular in her dialogue: these are people we know, or might be already. Her narrative development of the situation’s growing urgency is incredibly well handled, and tension builds to an almost unbearable crescendo in the final pages. Alongside this, a second storyline set in the past is just as compelling. In both time periods, the characters get on with the business of everyday life, serving as a powerful reminder of our own inaction: the acceptance of incremental change that leads to the book’s crisis mirrors our current moment, in which we continue to create and maintain our pathway to climate catastrophe at the same time as we begin to acknowledge it as such.

This book is an historical marker for our future. It will make you think and worry, much like it did our Managing Director and fellow judge of the shortlist, Mark Rubbo, who was so moved by Alice’s book that, ‘[he] thought Readings should help pressure the government to take a more proactive stand on tackling climate change’, and supported our staff with paid leave to attend the recent Climate Strike on September 20. There can be no greater endorsement of the power of Alice’s writing, and the vital qualities of this work of literary fiction.

Congratulations, Alice! Your book broke our hearts, just as it made them sing. We simply cannot wait to read what you have in store for us next.


Alice Robinson receives $3,000 in prize money. This year’s judging panel was Alison Huber (head book buyer and chair of judges), Amanda Rayner (senior staff member, Readings Carlton), Chris Gordon (Readings’ programming & events manager) and Sharon Peterson (manager, Readings St Kilda). They were joined at the shortlist stage by our managing director, Mark Rubbo, and 2018’s winner, Jennifer Down.

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