Varuna Fellowship: How to Maximise Your Chances

Expert on Varuna Writers’ House opportunities and writer, Biff Ward, shares her wisdom on how to submit a winning application.

Varuna House.jpg

Photograph by: Bette Mifsud

Varuna is the National Writers’ House in Katoomba. It’s a two-storey home that was built by writer Eleanor Dark and her husband, Eric Dark. Gifted to the state of NSW by their descendants, it has been operating for twenty-five years as a place for writers to have uninterrupted writing time in an extraordinarily beautiful and historic setting.

Varuna is funded to provide thirty Fellowships a year—five in particular categories and twenty-five general. A panel of peers (writers who have previously been awarded a Fellowship) selects these thirty Fellowships each year. Panel members serve for three years—their ‘reward’ is a free week at Varuna for their own writing purposes.

I have just completed three years on the selection panel and am writing this info sheet out of what I have learned for the benefit of applicants.

In your submission you are asked to provide up to 50 pages of your work (consecutive pages from your manuscript) and a cover sheet. Your cover sheet should include the following details:

  • The name of your manuscript
  • A Logline (1-2 line description of your project)
  • A brief synopsis of the work (approx. 200 words)
  • Brief outline of your intended work plan while at Varuna, bearing in mind that a Fellowship will normally be taken some months after your application (approx. 100 words)
  • Brief outline of previous writing experience, if it includes previously published works please identify the publisher or journal (approx. 100 words)

My tips are:

  • Make sure you have a strong start to your piece of writing. (Each year for the last three years, we have had at least 150 submissions. It’s a lot of reading and the more you can grab a selector’s attention from the outset, the more likely you’ll end up being considered.)
  • Make your log-line concrete and memorable. (At various points during the selection process, selectors are looking for short-hand ways to refer to a particular manuscript, so a log-line such as ‘Jane sets out to find her brother by tricking her blind uncle and then becomes a shock-jock’ is far more memorable and useful than abstractions such as ‘An odyssey through betrayal, loss, denial and love’.)
  • Abide by the formatting guidelines. (Failure to do so can be irritating to selectors – not a good outcome.)
  • Be realistic in your ‘work plan while at Varuna’. Take the timeline into account – you will be working on this manuscript months after applying. Provide an overview of the outcomes you imagine two weeks at Varuna would give you.
  • Do not ‘sneak’ your name into the application. (The selecting is done blind – if your name appears anywhere, you could irritate a selector and you may be disqualified.)


Applications open: 16 June 2017

Applications close: 30 July 2017

Applicants advised of result: 30 September 2017

Fellowships taken up: usually January to May the following year, though other dates can be negotiated.

More details can be found on the Varuna Writers’ House Website.

Biff Ward


Biff Ward is the author of the literary memoir, In My Mother’s Hands, which was short-listed for the NSW Premier’s Douglas Stewart Literary Prize for nonfiction 2015, long-listed for The Stella Prize 2015 and winner of the Canberra Critics’ Circle Award 2014 for nonfiction.

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