Award belongs on Papas’ shelf

(l-r) Hungerford Award award-winner Maria Papas with shortlisted authors Sharron Booth and Joanna Morrison. Photo supplied.

PERSISTENCE has paid off for Karrinyup author Maria Papas, who won the lucrative City of Fremantle Hungerford Award on Thursday – a decade after first making the shortlist.

Papas pockets $15,000 and a publishing contract with Fremantle Press for her winning manuscript I Belong to the Lake. 

The author submitted her novel just 20 minutes before entries closed and hopes her win will inspire aspiring writers to not give up and keep plugging away.

Fremantle Press publisher and Hungerford judge Georgia Richter said this year’s winning novel was moving, subtle and skilful.

Leukaemia

“I Belong to the Lake explores a family’s experience of childhood leukaemia,” she says.

“It’s about the bond forged by two teenagers hovering on the periphery of their siblings’ illness and it captures some of those unseen long-term changes wrought in families affected by cancer.”

Set in Lake Clifton, just south of Mandurah, the novel is told from the perspectives of Grace, a nurse, who runs into Nate, a boy whose family lived nearby. 

The connection they had as teenagers – both sidelined and made to witness the progression of their siblings’ leukaemia – is reaffirmed in adulthood.

Papas said too often literature and cinema represented cancer as a neat trajectory or plot point – a disruption that was to be overcome.

“In our family we have had the very intimate experience of watching loved ones be treated for cancer and I wanted to write about paediatric cancer in a way that honoured the very fragmented and often disorientating nature in which such an experience is commonly lived,” Papas says. 

“What happens to siblings, for example? How does one retain a sense of wonder even in the midst of such heavy hospital treatment? Can families impacted ever leave the shock or trauma behind? These are the questions that kept me going as I wrote.”

Judged anonymously, the biennial Hungerford Award is in its 30th year and is presented to an emerging WA writer for their first full-length, unpublished work of fiction or narrative non-fiction.

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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