2014 Barbara Jefferis Award Winners

The Barbara Jefferis Award is offered biennially for the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society.

Without further ado, here's the press release in all it's glory:

It is with great pleasure that the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) announces that Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts (Allen & Unwin) and Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest (Penguin Books) have been named joint winners of the Barbara Jefferis Award 2014.

This is the first time that the Barbara Jefferis Award has been split between two titles. The winners will each receive $25,000, with $1000 being awarded to each of the shortlisted authors.

This year’s award was judged by Margaret Barbalet, Georgia Blain and Dorothy Johnston, and the shortlist included Amy Espeseth (Sufficient Grace, Scribe), Tracy Farr (The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt, Fremantle Press), Jacinta Halloran (Pilgrimage, Scribe), Margaret Merrilees (The First Week, Wakefield Press) and Drusilla Modjeska (The Mountain, Vintage, Random House Australia). In choosing their shortlist, the judges were impressed in each case by the author’s strong, original voice, and authenticity of the female characters and the stories they inhabit.

The judges made the following statements about the winning titles:

Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts, set in a remote fictional village, reminiscent of a Scottish island, leapt out at all three judges as a superb, enduring story of lives changed in a small fishing community. Full of sensuous detail of the sea, the rocks, the wind, the weather, it makes hypnotic reading, a world of its own that engulfs the reader. Lanagan takes an old myth and gives it a unique flavour, drawing a tale that is both intensely of its time and moment, but also explores idealisation, history, miscegenation and loss.

Brilliantly original, and perfectly achieved, Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest defies simple classifications. The story that unfolds when Ruth, a woman in her mid seventies, living alone, is suddenly provided with a carer, is told with every nerve alive to the possibilities of misunderstanding and betrayal, and at the same time with great empathy. The appearance of a mysterious night guest, and its re-appearance at crucial moments, provides not only suspense, but also a complex metaphor for the beauties and dangers of the imaginative life.

In assessing the 72 entries submitted, the judges noted the breadth of contemporary Australian fiction, and the ambitious range of books finding their way into publication, including a number of debut novels of real originality. While self-published titles where accepted, including books published digitally, the majority of applications were submitted by publishers, and in print format.

Currently in its sixth year, the Barbara Jefferis Award is paid from the Barbara Jefferis Literary Fund, established by a bequest from Barbara Jefferis’ husband, much-loved film critic John Hinde. Barbara Jefferis was a novelist, a founding member of the Australian Society of Authors and its first woman President. The award has previously been won by Anna Funder, Helen Garner, Rhyll McMaster, Kristina Olsson and GL Osborne.

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