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The Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Novelist of the Year
or The Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelists of the Year ; or The SMH Best Young Australian Novelists of the Year
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The Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelists Awards were started in 1997 to showcase emerging Australian writers.

Latest Winners / Recipients

Year: 2021

winner y separately published work icon A Treacherous Country K.M. Kruimink , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2020 19090323 2020 single work novel historical fiction

'Set in the 1800s, Gabriel Fox is newly arrived to Van Diemen’s Land from England. Drawn by the promise of his heart’s desire and compelled to distance himself from pain at home, Gabrielle is on a quest to find a woman called Maryanne Maginn. His guide, a cannibal who is not all he seems, leads him north. As Gabriel traverses this wild country, he uncovers new truths buried within his own memory.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

winner y separately published work icon The Coconut Children Vivian Pham , Sydney : Sydney Story Factory , 2017 23273319 2017 single work novel

'Sonny and Vince have always known each other. It took two years of juvie, a crazy mother (her), a violent father (him) and a porn stash for them to meet again.

'Sonny is in her last year of school and with protective parents she is forced to watch the world from her bedroom window. She has a habit of falling hopelessly in love with just about anyone. Vince is handsome, brash, a leader in the gangs, who became a legend after he was taken away by juvenile justice two years ago. Now, Vince is back. One problem – they have not been friends since they were children. Growing up in the vertigo of 1990's Cabramatta, of households which harbour histories and parents who are difficult to love, they stumble upon each other once more.

'While sharing the ugly and scary details of Western Sydney in this time, Vivian Pham also illuminates the beauty, hope, possibility, kindness and love that can spring from small gestures and strong friendships.' (Publication summary)

winner y separately published work icon A Lonely Girl Is a Dangerous Thing Jessie Tu , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2020 19295097 2020 single work novel

'Jena Chung plays the violin. She was once a child prodigy and is now addicted to sex. She's struggling a little. Her professional life comprises rehearsals, concerts, auditions and relentless practice; her personal life is spent managing family demands, those of her creative friends, and lots of sex. And then she meets Mark—much older and worldly-wise—who bewitches her. Could this be love? When Jena wins an internship with the New York Philharmonic, she thinks the life she has dreamed of is about to begin. But when Trump is elected, New York changes irrevocably and Jena along with it. She comes to learn that there are many different ways to live and love and that no one has the how-to guide for any of it—not even her indomitable mother.

'A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing unflinchingly explores the confusion of having expectations upturned, and the awkwardness and pain of being human in our increasingly dislocated world—and how, in spite of all this, we still try to become the person we want to be. It is a dazzling, original and astounding debut from a young writer with a fierce, intelligent and fearless new voice.

Source: Publisher's blurb.

Year: 2020

winner y separately published work icon A Constant Hum Alice Bishop , Melbourne : Text Publishing , 2019 15633442 2019 selected work short story

'Before the bushfires -- before the front of flames comes roaring over the hills -- the ridges are thick with gums.

'After the fires, the birds have gone. There is only grey ash and melted metal, the blackened husks of cars.

'And the lost people -- in temporary accommodation on the outskirts of the city, on the TV news in borrowed clothes, or remembered in flyers on a cafe wall.

'A Constant Hum grapples with the aftermath of disaster with an eye for telling detail. Some of these stories cut to the bone; others are empathetic stories of survival, even hope. All are gripping and beautifully written, heralding the arrival of an important new voice in literary fiction.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

winner y separately published work icon Lucky Ticket Joey Bui , Melbourne : Text Publishing , 2019 17064005 2019 selected work short story

'IN the comic-tragic story ‘Lucky Ticket’, the narrator, a genial disabled old man, sells lottery tickets on a street corner in bustling Saigon. In ‘Mekong Love’, two young people in a restrictive society find a way to consummate their relationship—in an extraordinary tropical landscape.

'In ‘Abu Dhabi Gently’, a story of dreams and disappointment, of camaraderie and disillusionment, a migrant worker leaves Vietnam to earn money in the UAE in order to be able to marry his fiancée. ‘White Washed’ depicts a strained friendship between two students in Melbourne, the Vietnamese narrator and a white girl.

'What does it mean to be Asian? What does it mean to be white? And what makes up identity? In Lucky Ticket, Joey Bui introduces a diverse range of characters, all with distinctive voices, and makes us think differently about mixed-race relationships, difficulties between family generations, war, dislocation and identity.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

winner y separately published work icon Here Until August : Stories Josephine Rowe , Collingwood : Black Inc. , 2019 15891844 2019 selected work short story

'A masterful collection of horizons and departures, heartbreak and seduction, from an internationally acclaimed Australian author.

'These superbly crafted stories follow the fates of characters who, by choice or by force, are travelling beyond the boundaries of their known worlds. We meet them negotiating reluctant partings, navigating uncertain returns or biding the disquieting calm that often precedes decisive action.

'An agoraphobic French émigré watches disturbing terrorist footage as she minds a dog named Chavez. A young couple weather the interiority of a Montreal winter, more attuned to the illicit goings-on of their neighbours than to their own hazy, unfolding futures. A Melbourne writer of real-estate listings reflects on the stifling power of shared history as she wonders what life might be like over the fence. Other stories play out in places just beyond the brink of familiarity: flooded townships and distant lakes, sunlit woodlands or paths bright with ice, places of unpredictable access and spaces scrubbed from maps.

'From the Catskill Mountains to Snowy Mountains, the abandoned island outports of Newfoundland to the sprawl of an Australian metropolis, this scintillating collection from one of Australia’s most gifted writers shows us how the places we inhabit shape us in ways both remote and intimate.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

Year: 2019

winner y separately published work icon The Biographer's Lover Ruby Murray , Collingwood : Black Inc. , 2018 13766962 2018 single work novel

'When a young writer is hired to put together the life of an unknown artist from Geelong, of all places, she thinks it will be just another quick commission paid for by a rich, grieving family obsessed with their own past.

'But Edna Cranmer was not a privileged housewife with a paintbrush. Edna’s work spans decades. Her soaring images of red dirt, close interiors and distant jungles have the potential to change the way the nation views itself.

'Edna could have been an official war artist. Did she choose to hide herself away? Or were there people who didn’t want her to be famous? As the biographer is pulled into Edna’s life, she is confronted with the fact that how she tells Edna's past will affect her own future.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

winner y separately published work icon Flames Robbie Arnott , Melbourne : Text Publishing , 2018 12263652 2018 single work novel

'FROM its opening sentence Robbie Arnott’s debut novel reveals a world as old as storytelling itself.

'A young man named Levi McAllister decides to build a coffin for his twenty-three-year-old sister, Charlotte— who promptly runs for her life. A water rat swims upriver in quest of the cloud god. A fisherman named Karl hunts for tuna in partnership with a seal. And a father takes form from fire.

'The answers to these riddles are to be found in this tale of grief and love and the bonds of family, tracing a journey across the southern island that takes us full circle.

'Flames sings out with joy and sadness. Utterly original in conception, beguiling in its descriptions of nature and its celebration of the power of language, it announces the arrival of a thrilling new voice in contemporary fiction. (Publication summary)

winner y separately published work icon Coach Fitz Tom Lee , Artarmon : Giramondo Publishing , 2018 13862345 2018 single work novel

'Tom Lee’s first novel is about a young jogger who is in a relationship with an older woman. She is both his coach and his mentor. Coach Fitz, as he calls her, seeks to instil a philosophy of running which combines ‘controlled intensity’ with a curiosity about places and their histories. A country boy, he is fascinated by the landscapes of the city beaches and parks through which they travel. And he has his own obsessions – with exercise routines, ancestral legacies, outdoor gyms, horse-racing, weather conditions and inner-city eating habits. Then, suddenly, their relationship falls apart, over the issue of sex – and he becomes a coach and mentor in turn, to a young man this time, as he attempts to orchestrate an ideal expression of his emotional, athletic and intellectual urges.

'Coach Fitz is an exploration of the outdoor mentality that plays such a dominant role in the Australian psyche. It is remarkable for its observations about landscape and physical exercise, embedded in the training routines and dialogues of the runners. But most of all it is about the emotions and aspirations of youth, and the complications these engender.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

Year: 2017

joint winner y separately published work icon Our Magic Hour Jennifer Down , Melbourne : Text Publishing , 2016 9200478 2016 single work novel

'All night Audrey woke again and again, and every so often Nick would be awake, too, and their bodies would shift into new shapes, and once Nick reached for her as if in a panic, and once Audrey thumped to the kitchen half-awake and stuck her head under the tap to drink, and once she turned over to face Nick, who was open-eyed, and they began to kiss in a dream, bodies just coming to, and she saw the dull shadows from the streetlights pass over his face as he came, and he covered her body with his and she felt his breath in her hair, and they held each other, and the whole time they never said a thing.

'Audrey, Katy and Adam have been friends since high school—a decade of sneaky cigarettes, drunken misadventures on Melbourne backstreets, heart-to-hearts, in-jokes.

'But now Katy has gone. And without her, Audrey is thrown off balance: everything she thought she knew, everything she believed was true, is bent out of shape.

Audrey’s family—her neurotic mother, her wayward teenage brother, her uptight suburban sister—are likely to fall apart. Her boyfriend, Nick, tries to hold their relationship together. And Audrey, caught in the middle, needs to find a reason to keep going when everything around her suddenly seems wrong.

'Evocative and exquisitely written, Our Magic Hour is a story of love, loss and discovery. Jennifer Down’s remarkable debut novel captures that moment when being young and invincible gives way to being open and vulnerable, when one terrible act changes a life forever.' (Publication summary)

joint winner y separately published work icon Ruins Rajith Savanadasa , Sydney : Hachette Australia , 2016 9188590 2016 single work novel

'In the bustling streets, overcrowded hospitals and glittering nightclubs of Colombo, five family members find their bonds stretched to breaking point in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war. Latha, the family's servant of two decades, questions her allegiances following the tragic death of her nephew ...Anoushka, a sixteen-year-old high-school student, tries to win back a friend while keeping her punk-rock credentials hidden from her parents ...Lakshmi, a proud matriarch, is haunted by images of missing boys while struggling with the selfish disregard of her own children ...Niranjan, recently returned from Australia, is ready to get his start-up off the ground but keeps getting distracted by stoner friends and petty squabbles ...And Mano, the head of the family, feels increasingly impotent under the pressure of government intimidation and his wife's scorn ...As the five leave Colombo to travel to an ancient city, the generations collide and long-held prejudices are revealed. For this family, with one foot in the old way of life and one firmly in the new, nothing can ever be what it once was.' (Publication summary)

joint winner y separately published work icon Portable Curiosities Julie Koh , St Lucia : University of Queensland Press , 2016 9186918 2016 selected work short story

'A biting collection of stories from a bold new voice. A young girl sees ghosts from her third eye, located where her belly button should be. A corporate lawyer feels increasingly disconnected from his job in a soulless 1200-storey skyscraper. And a one-dimensional yellow man steps out from a cinema screen in the hope of leading a three-dimensional life, but everyone around him is fixated only on the color of his skin. Welcome to Portable Curiosities. In these dark and often fantastical stories, Julie Koh combines absurd humour with searing critiques on modern society, proving herself to be one of Australia's most original and daring young writers.' (Publication summary)

joint winner y separately published work icon A Loving, Faithful Animal Josephine Rowe , St Lucia : University of Queensland Press , 2016 8994781 2016 single work novel

'Your father. His head is a ghost trap. It's all he can do to open his mouth without letting them all howl out. Even so, you can still see them, sliding around the dark behind his eyes …

'It is New Year's Eve, 1990, and Ru's father has disappeared again. Haunted by the horrors of the Vietnam War, Jack has been an erratic – and at times violent – presence in his family's life. Meanwhile, Ru's sister, Lani, is constantly fighting with their mother, both suffocated by the small country town where they live. And then there's Les, Jack's brother, destined to be on the periphery, but harbouring his own desires.

'As each of the five reckons with the past, what emerges is an incandescent portrait of one family forever scarred by war. Tender, brutal, and heart-stopping in its beauty, A Loving, Faithful Animal is a hypnotic novel by one of Australia's brightest talents.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

Year: 2016

joint winner y separately published work icon Hot Little Hands Abigail Ulman , Melbourne : Hamish Hamilton , 2015 8344068 2015 selected work short story

'This exceptional collection of stories is about young women of different ages, from their early teens to their late twenties, coming to terms with what it means to desire, and be desired, with funny, surprising and sometimes confronting results.

'Ulman first made her mark with the story Chagall's Wife in Meanjin; this collection shows that she's a young Australian writer to put alongside Ceridwen Dovey, Nam Le and Fiona McFarlane. ' (Publication summary)

joint winner y separately published work icon When There's Nowhere Else to Run Murray Middleton , Crows Nest : Allen and Unwin , 2015 8484816 2015 selected work short story

'In one way or another, isn't everyone on the run?

'A survivor of Victoria's Black Saturday bushfires takes asylum with old friends in the Dandenong Ranges. An editor-in-chief drives his sister halfway around the country to an east-coast rehabilitation clinic. A single mother flies to Perth with her autistic son for one last holiday. A father at the end of his tether tries to survive the chaos of the Sydney Royal Easter Show. A group of young friends hire a luxury beach house in the final weeks of one of their lives. A postman hits a pedestrian and drives off into the night.

'When There's Nowhere Else to Run is a collection of stories about people who find their lives unravelling. They are teachers, lawyers, nurses, firemen, chefs, gamblers, war veterans, hard drinkers, adulterers, widows and romantics. Seeking refuge all across the country, from the wheat belt of Western Australia, the limestone desert of South Australia, the sugarcane towns of Queensland, the hinterland of New South Wales to the coastline of Victoria, they discover that no matter how many thousands of kilometres they put between themselves and their transgressions, sometimes there's nowhere else to run. (Publication summary)

Works About this Award

The Big Short Susan Wyndham , 2016 single work column
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 14-15 May 2016; (p. 8)
Urgent Voices Linda Morris , 2015 single work column
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 23-24 May 2015; (p. 24)
Young Novelists Speak with Original Voices Linda Morris , 2015 single work column
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 23-24 May 2015; (p. 17) The Canberra Times , 23 May 2015; (p. 13)
The Best Young Australian Novelists Marc McEvoy , 2013 single work column
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 25-26 May 2013; (p. 28-29)
'In a strong year for emerging writers, The Sydney Morning Herald shines a spotlight on six winners with extraordinary stories, writer Marc McEvoy.'
Dark Arts Marc McEvoy , 2012 single work column
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 19-20 May 2012; (p. 30-31)