Sea Hearts and The Night Guest win the Barbara Jefferis Award
The award was given at a lovely event last night hosted by the Australian Society of Authors in the foyer of St Barnabas Church, Broadway, at which Tara Moss spoke—and isn't she a brilliant speaker! Better Read Than Dead bookshop sold many, many books, and champagne flowed and the music played and the room was full of friends and colleagues and really, I couldn't have been happier, for my selkies and my self.
Here's my acceptance speech:
Thank you Margaret, Georgia and Dorothy for all your work and consideration as judges of this year's Barbara Jefferis Award. Amy, Tracy, Jacinta, Margaret and Drusilla, it's an honour for Sea Hearts to share a shortlist with your wonderful works. And Fiona, it's great to join you on the podium tonight.
I remember standing in the Friends Room at the State Library when Anna Funder won this award for All that I am, saying to myself "…depicts women and girls in a positive way … empowers the status of women and girls in society—I think I am fairly safe in saying that a story about a bunch of women who spend most of their on-page time moping under seaweed blankets, ignoring the solution to their sorrows that is right under their noses, does not really have a shot at this prize."
Which goes to show you what I know.
I'm more than surprised, and thoroughly delighted, that the judges have seen fit to honour Sea Hearts. I was so pleased when this award was set up. There's an ongoing need to just keep forcibly pushing into the limelight literary works about women, as much as by women. As long as schoolboys are asking visiting authors, "Why would you write stories about … girls?"; as long as the global social and economic costs of domestic violence are outstripping the costs of civil war; and as long as women who try to raise awareness of gender-based hatred are being driven from their homes by online threats of rape and murder, we need to keep on claiming column inches and screen time, and story space and art space, for women's matters, women's minds, women's lived experiences.
Sea Hearts is a story about many different kinds of love, some of them perfectly healthy. But the core kind is an unwholesome infatuation in which both partners surrender their reason. It's a love that's based on very little more than the glamour of romantic love itself, and that insists on holding the loved one at an exoticising distance. Both men and women are afflicted by this wrong-hearted loving, but it's the women who are wrenched from their home under the sea, wrenched even out of their own natural body forms, and kept prisoner on the land because of it.
I wrote this story because there was something about that kind of well-meaning, helpless torture that land men perpetrate on their trans-species wives in Scottish selkie tales that made a mess of pity and rage in my mind a long time ago, and the time had come to poke it with a stick and see what kinds of maggots crawled out.
I couldn't say that Sea Hearts offers any solutions, but it takes a lot of problems between men and women and rather painfully turns them over and over in its hands. And if this turning over can be seen as positive and empowering of women and girls—if it can be experienced, even, as positive and empowering by women and girl readers—I'll be more than grateful.