Entries will be closing soon for the 2012 City of Rockingham Short Fiction Awards, so whip out a selection of your finest short fiction and get involved.

For those of you who may be geographically challenged, or perhaps a little ‘east coast’ (and as a native of Adelaide I have been the victim of this kind of scarring cultural profiling), just south of Perth, on the south-western point of Cockburn Sound, lies the picturesque city of Rockingham, which is rapidly establishing itself as a regional artistic hub. And 2011’s inaugural City of Rockingham Short Fiction Awards helped to cement that reputation. This year the awards are back offering more than $2000 in prizes across three categories.

As with the 2011 prizes (which showcased the artwork of Derrick Carroll), this year’s competition takes its visual theme from the work of WA artist, Julie Silvester, in particular her 2004 work ‘Spring Breakers: Trigg’.

The City of Rockingham Short Fiction Awards are free to enter and are open to all Australian authors, with entries falling into three categories: Open, Over 50s, and Young Writers (open to writers aged 12-17). Entries close Friday 12 October. For full details see the City of Rockingham website and get involved in one of Australia’s seriously up and coming literary awards.

Speakeasy caught up with Oz writer, awards coordinator and WA local Lee Battersby to discuss the upcoming Rockingham Short Fiction Awards. If you’re considering entering the competition you won’t want to miss what Lee has to say.

Speakeasy: Can you please tell our readers about the City of Rockingham Short Fiction Awards, how they came about and what they mean to the local community and the wider literary community?

Lee Battersby (LB): The City of Rockingham Short Fiction Awards originated as a result of feedback from the local writing community via a series of workshops conducted in 2010. The Rockingham region is expansive, and local arts practitioners can feel isolated. The establishment of a short story competition was seen as an ideal way of bringing together aspiring authors in the Rockingham region around a common goal, with a view to building their capacity to practice their chosen art.

The competition is supported by a series of workshops conducted by professional authors during the submission period, and the process climaxes during the City’s literary month in November, along with a number of events surrounding National Novel Writing Month, all designed to inspire aspiring authors to connect with each other for mutual support, guidance and advice.

In its inaugural year the competition attracted a significant number of entries from outside the region, which had the double benefit of not only promoting Rockingham as a hub of creativity to a national audience but also providing local writers with a national benchmark for their work: several Rockingham entries won awards, and seeing their work successfully compete at a national level is a great fillip for the confidence of writers in the region.

In its second year we expect the competition to continue to act as a flagship for the City’s Literary Programme and to grow as a credible avenue for aspiring authors to add a nationally recognised writing prize of genuine merit to their artistic CVs.

Speakeasy: Can you tell us something about Julie Silvester’s artwork and how it was selected?

LB: The City of Rockingham has a wide-ranging art collection, and is committed to providing a platform for cross-form arts practices. By using images from the art collection to provide the central theme of the competition we expose those pieces to a wider audience than may see them otherwise, and we enable local artists to view the collection in a co-operative, creative way, rather than simply as passive consumers.

The image used in the 2011 Short Fiction Awards was a haunting, earth-toned piece entitled ‘The Eviction’, by Derrick Carroll. It was important, therefore, to select an image for the 2012 Awards that provided a contrast to that work, in order to encourage entrants to create a story from a different narrative viewpoint, and to provide exposure to the different ‘moods’ of the City’s art collection. Julie Silvester’s artwork ‘Spring Breakers: Trigg’ fulfilled those requirements as well as being a work of high quality in its own right.

Speakeasy: Do the judges look for anything in particular, beyond reference to the theme art, regarding genre, local content, author profile etc.?

LB: The judge for each year’s competition is a professional writing industry member of long standing, and entries are judged ‘blind’ –that is, all identifying details such as name and address are removed before the entries are passed to the judge. That way, the only frames of reference upon which the judging decision is based are the literary and craft qualities of the story itself. Likewise, the identity of the judge is kept secret until the announcement of the winners, to preclude the possibility of entries being influenced by the judge’s professional background or any possible personal relationship between the judge and an entrant.

We simply ask entrants for their best work based on the theme, and trust the professional ability of our judge to identify the stories of the highest general quality when deciding upon winners in each category. That way, the judging process is based as fairly as possible upon the written merits of the stories themselves.

Speakeasy: Who is the competition open to? Are there any types of writers that you would particularly encourage to enter?

LB: The City of Rockingham Short Fiction Awards is open to all writers in three

categories: Open, Over 50s, and Young Writers (12-17). There is no entry fee, and eligibility is restricted only in that employees of the City of Rockingham and their family members are ineligible to enter.

The 2011 competition attracted entries from every state in Australia except Tasmania, and we’re hoping to better that in 2012. We feel our prize selections are exciting enough to attract writers of all levels, but as a community organisation we are always especially excited to see work from aspiring artists. The Over 50s category is a specific point of difference from other writing competitions, and we definitely encourage writers from that particular age group to enter.

Speakeasy: Can you offer any information about previous prize winners and their work?

LB: 2011 Competition judge Tehani Wessely said of the entries received: ‘With such a darkly intricate artwork to draw inspiration from in “The Eviction”, it’s hardly surprising that stories were evocative, compelling, disturbing and engaging. While many writers took a very literal interpretation of the work, others used it with a light touch, with satisfying results in both areas. While many works were very well-written, some were let down by a lack of true story, being instead mood pieces or vignettes. A very short story is possibly one of the hardest types of writing to execute well, as in a limited space there is still a need for plot, character and good writing. Rarely can any one of those three elements stand well enough on its own to create a good story – almost always, all three are required. The very best of stories uses all three seamlessly and integrates them into a work that makes it impossible to tell which of the three are doing the hardest work in making it great!’

As advice on how to approach entries for this year’s competition I think it would be difficult to go past Tehani’s advice.

2011 winners came from WA, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, so it’s fair to say the theme resonated with writers from across the country, and we’re hoping that this year’s image will do the same.

Speakeasy: Is there anything else you would like to mention to our readers?

LB: It’s encouraging to see the Rockingham region being recognised as a hub of creative expression, and the quality of programmes created within the region resonating with so many literary practitioners across the country. By creating a strong regional base for the literary arts in an area not traditionally associated with authorship we hope that writers across the country will be encouraged to think of Rockingham as a viable source of artistic inspiration, and ally the region’s literary growth to their own.

Julian Thumm is a freelance editor and writer. He has degrees from The University of Queensland and The University of Adelaide. He has worked with the Australian Journal of Communication, The University of Queensland Press, and Corporate Communication International through The City University of New York. He is currently based in Brisbane.

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