The Readings New Australian Fiction Prize shortlist 2021
We are delighted to announce the six talented emerging authors shortlisted for this year’s Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Readings Doncaster manager and chair of judges, Kate McIntosh, shares the judges’ choices.
Each year, a few honoured staff members from Readings are assigned the task of reading and selecting what they consider to be six of the best new novels or short story collections from debut and second-time Australian authors. This year, the four of us – Danielle Mirabella (book buyer at Readings Hawthorn), Jackie Tang (Readings Monthly editor), Jess Strong (digital content manager) and I – had the difficult task of whittling nearly 60 titles down to a shortlist.
In a world full of uncertainty, it is reassuring to know that writing in this country is just as outstanding as ever. Which, of course, made it exceptionally hard to choose! With lockdown raising its head several times during the judging process, however, it was a great privilege to always have a pile of books waiting to be critiqued, enjoyed and ultimately, judged.
From our top candidates, using a democratic process of debate, compromise and tears, we eventually managed to single out our final six, and we wish to congratulate Ella Baxter, Paige Clark, Briohny Doyle, Andrew Pippos, Nardi Simpson and Adam Thompson on being our shortlisted authors for 2021.
These six books cover many aspects of Australian life, from our past, to our present and even what it might look like in the future. They all do it in their own individual way, and we found ourselves challenged, delighted, and intrigued by their unique visions. It was surprising just how broad the scope of the stories were, each of them important in their own way, providing an insight into who we are as a society.
Narrowing the list down to just one winner is going to be an even more herculean task, so we are very fortunate to be joined by our managing director, Mark Rubbo, and by Elizabeth Tan, the winner of last year’s prize for her brilliant and highly original collection of short stories, Smart Ovens for Lonely People.
The winner will be announced during the month of October, which gives you just enough time to read all the books on our shortlist and to decide for yourselves which you would choose as the very best new Australian fiction of the year.
New Animal by Ella Baxter
This confident and gritty debut about a young make-up artist working in a mortuary takes the reader places they will never expect. Witty, emotional and raw, Amelia’s story is also laugh-out-loud funny, somewhat bizarre (in a good way), and unlike anything else you have ever read.
She is Haunted by Paige Clark
With this cohesive and tantalisingly interlinked collection of 18 stories, Paige Clark presents her readers with a unique voice and a spirited way of expressing each character’s narrative. Covering themes of family relationships, grief, intimacy and connection, this mercurial yet relatable work of fiction will instantly appeal.
Echolalia by Briohny Doyle
Heartbreaking from the very beginning, this beautiful, nightmarish, fearless story grips you and will not let you go. As the world outside disintegrates, so too does the mind of a young mother, causing her to do the unthinkable. Be warned, at times this story is hard to read, but while it can be disturbing, it is also invigorating, intense and deeply moving.
Lucky’s by Andrew Pippos
When Lucky moves to Australia in a flow of post-war migration, he takes over a Greek-Australian café – one of those iconic features of Australia’s mid-century dining landscape. As we get to know Lucky and the community around him, a picture emerges of family, love, survival and identity. Andrew Pippos brings these characters to life in a way few first-time authors could and has created a charming, familiar delight of a novel, full of hope, fortune and fate.
Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson
A multi-generational story of music, life, unfulfilled possibilities and the connection to family and land, all set in a fictional but all too recognisable regional Australian town. Skilfully written, interweaving systemic racism, fear and violence with determination, endurance and community, this uplifting song of a book is both essential and inspiring.
Born Into This by Adam Thompson
Engaging and thought-provoking, this collection of short stories is set in Tasmania and filled with unforgettable characters. As an examination of masculinity, a showcase of life as a First Nations person in a specific time and place, and a reminder of what we are losing and have lost, both in the natural world and culturally, these tales are a triumph. While they might start off feeling self-contained, by the end the message is loud and clear – and it is certainly not one to be missed.