Nina Kenwood wins the 2018 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing

Congratulations to Readings staff member Nina Kenwood for being named the winner of the 2018 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing!

Kenwood’s winning manuscript, It Sounded Better in My Head, was selected from more than 200 entries, and will be published by Text next year. As the winner, Kenwood will also receive $10,000 in Prize money, and she joins two other Readings employees to be honoured by this Prize: Leanne Hall, who won in 2009 for her novel, This is Shyness, and Fiona Hardy, who was shortlisted in 2016 for her novel, Rosebud.

We chatted with Kenwood about the news, and the authors who inspire her.

Tell us about your book, It Sounded Better in My Head.

My book is a coming-of-age novel, set in the summer between high school and university. It’s about a hyper-analytical, insecure 18-year-old girl who is struggling to deal with various changes happening in her life: her parents are splitting up, her best friends are in love, her future is uncertain and she has feelings for someone who is all wrong for her. She has to come to terms with her body, her desires, her flaws, and the thing that scares her the most: being vulnerable. Oh, also, it’s sometimes funny. (I hope?) It’s called It Sounded Better In My Head.

Which YA authors inspire you when you sit down to write?

I love the way Cath Crowley writes friendships in Words In Deep Blue, the way Emily Gale writes about families in The Other Side of Summer, the way Kate O’Donnell writes about feeling lost in Untidy Towns, and the way Clare Atkins uses structure and changing point of view in Between Us. I love the sense of humour in Emma Chastain’s Confessions of a High School Disaster. I love how Nicola Yoon builds romantic tension in The Sun Is Also A Star, and how Erin Gough does it in Amelia Westlake. I love how Claire Christian writes about vulnerability in Beautiful Mess. I love the way Alice Pung writes about everything, but especially school and privilege. I love the voice in Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give.

Obviously, I think Melina Marchetta is the gold standard of young adult fiction. And nobody writes a first kiss scene better than Rainbow Rowell.

Finally, I am lucky enough to work with two stars of Australian YA: Gabrielle Williams and Leanne Hall, both of whom have enviable careers and amazing books, and give me plenty to aspire to.

Who was your favourite author when you were a teen?

John Marsden. I read all of his books, and I was completely obsessed with his Tomorrow series. Before he started his school in country Victoria, he held writing camps for teenagers on his property and my best friend and I went to one together when we were 15. It was an amazing experience, a little bit of which made its way into my book. At the camp, John read a piece of everyone’s work and gave them feedback. I remember he said he liked my writing although he thought it was bit too melodramatic (I had written a very angsty short story with Death as a character).

Tell us about a book that made you want to write.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep. She captures the experience of feeling awkward, anxious and out of place so well, and she takes the social dynamics of high-school very seriously, while still being wry and funny. I remember thinking: ‘This is the kind of book I want to write someday.‘

I’ve adored all of Sittenfeld’s work since that novel, and I highly recommend her debut story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, which I gulped down in one afternoon and am already planning to read again.

A big congratulations to the four writers who were shortlisted alongside Kenwood: Davina Bell (The End of the World is Bigger Than Love), Catherine Jinks (Shepherd), Pamela Rushby, (Hattie or a Thousand Miles up the Nile) and Emily Spurr (Black Dog, Small Bird). Text will also be publishing Bell’s novel in 2019, and you can read more about all of the shortlisted works here.

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This Is Shyness

This Is Shyness

Leanne Hall

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