Winning an award for a short story or a poem is recognition that readers loved your work. Having that work subsequently published in a book is even more exciting. Award Winning Australian Writing is an anthology dedicated to exactly this: allowing award winning Australian writing to go further than the eyes of judges. The ACT Writers Centre’s Marjorie Graber-McInnis Short Story Award receives a stack of submission every year. In 2011, Robyn Cadwallader’s piece, The Day for Travelling, won this annual prize, and most excitingly, her piece is now being published in Award Winning Australian Writing 2012. To celebrate, the Centre has organised two things. Firstly, we had a lovely Q&A session with Robyn, who told us about the lives that have found themselves in her writing, her home in Murrumbateman, and her love of writing in high school.
ACT Writers Centre: Congratulations on both your winning the Marjorie Graber-McGuinness Short Story Award, and your selection in Award Winning Australian Writing. Could you give our readers some sense of what your story is about?
Robyn Cadwallader: Thanks! Two reasons to celebrate.
The story is about a woman who lives alone on the Australian coast and has recently been diagnosed with a serious illness. Early one morning she sets out in her small boat with the intention of not returning to land; as she rows, she reflects on her decision.
ACTWC: Where did this story come from?
RC: Many years ago, a friend of my eldest daughter told her that her grandmother had decided that when she felt it was time to die, she would take her boat out to sea. I know nothing more about that woman, but it was such a remarkable idea, and the image of a boat to carry the dead, or the exiled, has so many echoes of various kinds in literature, that it has stayed with me.
ACTWC: At what point did you decide to enter into the ACT Writers Centre Awards?
RC: I don’t remember exactly. I think that it had been in my mind after the previous year’s awards.
RC: I wrote from my home in Murrumbateman, where we have a few acres, and I’m very lucky to have a room of my own. That’s the easy part of the answer. Figuratively — I try to settle into myself and let go of plans and decisions about what I’ll write. I usually start with an image or a character that I have glimpsed doing a simple action, like the woman getting into the boat, and I follow where it leads. Sometimes I do a series of writing exercises, just playing around with words, and when I have a pile of these, I look for threads. That kind of writing is fun and keeps my conscious mind out of the way; the next step is harder. I especially like the image of writing fiction as driving along a country road at night in a car with weak headlights (like my old VW beetle), and I know there is a distance to go, but all I can see is the next few metres.
ACTWC: How long ago did you start writing, and what was the first story you penned about?
RC: I always loved writing, and I wrote poems and stories in high school. I think the first story I wrote was in year 7, a version of Wind in the Willows, and then I went through a patch of writing teenage angst stories, though two fantastic English teachers encouraged me to broaden out and write about other things as well. Thank goodness for the treasure of great English teachers.
To further celebrate Robyn’s publication in Award Winning Australian Writing, we have five editions of the 2011 Award Winning Australian Writing to give away. If you’d like a copy, simply email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and postal address. We’ll draw five names on Thursday, October 25th. If you’d like to grab a copy of the 2012 edition for yourself, or perhaps in lieu of the festive season, featuring Robyn’s short story (we have it on good authority it was the Editor’s favourite) pre-order is available on the AWAW website: http://www.melbournebooks.com.au/awaw2012.html