Jennifer Down wins the 2018 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction

The winner of the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction in 2018 is Pulse Points by Jennifer Down.

The Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, now in its fifth year, is awarded to a work of fiction by an Australian author. Authors’ first and second works of fiction are eligible for the prize. The Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction is one of three literary prizes that Readings awards each year, the other two being the Readings Children’s Book Prize and the Readings Young Adult Book Prize. Each of these prizes exists to celebrate the work of early-career Australian writers, and over the past five years eleven authors have been awarded prizes across the three categories of the Readings Prize.

This year, almost ninety works of Australian fiction were considered. The judging panel, made up of four Readings booksellers, was joined by award-winning author Tony Birch as guest judge and Readings’ managing director Mark Rubbo to decide upon a winner from a shortlist of six books. The judging criteria was focused on selecting books that were highly original, and experimented with form or language. The six books the judges selected for the shortlist were the ones that surprised us, kept us on our toes, and those we felt to be the most innovative of all the books considered.

This year’s shortlist was incredibly strong. The range of books represented on this shortlist was broad – it included books set in the country and city, books that experimented with literary styles, and books that showed great emotional depth. Choosing just one winner from this shortlist was a hard task, and involved a lot of deliberation. Jamie Marina Lau’s Pink Mountain on Locust Island is a dream-like, rapidly paced, pulpy novel that challenges concepts of language in contemporary Australian fiction. Moreno Giovannoni’s The Fireflies of Autumn brings together lessons learnt and passed down through generations. Robbie Arnott’s Flames is a fantastic, genre-bending adventure. Tracy Sorensen’s The Lucky Galah is historical fiction from a wonderfully unexpected perspective. And Shaun Prescott’s The Town is a brilliantly written, surreal, and unique literary novel.

There are fourteen short stories in Pulse Points. These stories are all very different to one another, but each deals in the moments of everyday life that sting. In the story from which this collection takes its name (and the first in the collection) a couple travelling along a country road come across a lifeless body. In another, a woman travels to Yamanashi, Japan, to revisit the location of her brother’s suicide. In a third, a woman tangles herself in an affair with a student as her partner attempts to recover from addiction. These are the sorts of stories that leave bruises behind.

All of the stories in this collection are examples of the extent to which empathy can be employed in fiction – Down looks at human emotion under a microscope in each of these stories, but always does so with care and compassion. To read a story from Pulse Points is to feel it, too. As well as being impressed by Down’s masterful use of emotion in her writing, the judging panel also appreciated the great attention to detail throughout the book. These stories are set all around the world, with characters from all sorts of backgrounds, but every incident feels authentic – it’s clear that she researched these places and situations comprehensively.

Pulse Points is a subtle, elegant and accomplished short story collection. It stood out to the judging panel for its emotional maturity and complexity. Down’s ability to make a reader feel what her characters are feeling is remarkable.

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Jennifer Down said of her win that ‘[i]t’s a profound honour to receive this year’s Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction – and it’s no less an honour to be in the company of five other writers whose skill and approach to storytelling I greatly admire. Readings Carlton was where I used to go between classes at uni; it’s where my first book was launched; and where I still feel so much at home, so this feels extraordinarily special. I’m very grateful to this year’s judges, and to Readings for championing new Australian writing in the way only an independent bookseller can.’

As this year’s winner, Down will receive $3,000 in prize money. Pulse Points joins a stellar line-up of previous winners of the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, including three novels – Sam Carmody’s haunting The Windy Season; Zoë Morrison’s profound Music and Freedom; and Stephanie Bishop’s wonderfully crafted The Other Side of the World – and Ceridwen Dovey’s unforgettable short-story collection, Only the Animals.

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Pulse Points: Stories

Pulse Points: Stories

Jennifer Down

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