We are thrilled for Australian Writers' Centre graduate Miranda Luby for being shortlisted in the 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. This year the competition attracted nearly 4000 entries from 47 countries. Miranda's story, This Here Land, was one of 26 shortlisted and is now in the running for the major prize. Such an incredible achievement, especially when Miranda's self-doubt almost prevented her from entering at all.
Set in regional Australia, “where the bush fringes the back gardens”, This Here Land opens with six-year-old Sam waking up one morning to find his mother missing and his Aboriginal neighbour, Jarrah, there to take care of him.
The inspiration for Miranda's story came from the haunting lyrics of Is That What You Heard, a song written by Australian musician Neil Murray. After seeing it performed in an intimate setting, Miranda was so moved that she felt compelled to write a story. She says, “The honest emotions I felt, drove its creation”.
As a graduate of the Australian Writers' Centre's courses in Advanced Fiction Writing Techniques and Writing Books for Children and Young Adults, Miranda believes the practical skills she gained in both courses assisted her in writing her story.
“I found both these courses invaluable, giving me not just the technical skills, but confidence. The notes and writing checklists I made on structure, voice, point of view and character development are a continuous help.”
“In This Here Land, the protagonist is a six-year-old boy, but the story is written for adults. An understanding of how to use voice and point of view effectively were essential in making sure the prose was authentic and had the desired effect. The story also has a twist, which could only be pulled off with a sound understanding of story structure. I'm sure it was the conscious use of these techniques that I learned in the courses that lead to this story's success.”
Miranda regularly enters short story competitions, finding them the perfect motivation to work to a deadline and complete a story. However, after reading the excerpts of the past shortlisted stories from the Commonwealth Prize, she found herself questioning whether her writing was good enough.
“Thankfully, I'm slowly learning how to defeat that self-doubt goblin of the mind, so I told myself that everyone starts somewhere and there's no harm in giving it a go.”
From fantasy to reality
“I imagined being shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize in the way I imagine winning the lottery and moving to a tropical island – in that, ‘well, it's not completely impossible' sense of imagining something. But I never truly believed it would happen. This story had already been rejected by three other competitions, so I didn't hold much hope for it, even though deep down I truly thought it was good.”
Miranda was in the habit of checking her emails first thing every morning, and was becoming accustomed to the frequent “thanks, but no thanks” responses to her competition entries.
“Rejection comes with the territory if you want to be a writer and these emails have actually helped my thick skin to grow. Still, I'd be lying if I said it isn't slightly demoralising.”
But on one particular morning, Miranda received an email of a different tone. For one thing, it addressed her by name. And it also contained phrases like “I am delighted to let you know that your story…”. At first Miranda's self-doubt kicked in again as she believed it was some kind of mistake (the wrong Miranda, perhaps?), or that the shortlist must be hundreds of people. When she finally accepted that it wasn't too good to be true, she felt “an immense rush of pride, relief, validation and, finally, joy”.
“There is no greater feeling than the sense of achievement that comes from following your passion – despite how scary and hard it is – and being rewarded for that dedication and belief in yourself.”
“I was straight on the phone to Mum and Dad and then I allowed myself an entire day of reading as a reward.”
Well done Miranda! Team AWC are cheering you along every step of the way.
To learn more about the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, check out their website.