Hot favourite for Stella Prize

By Rhonda Dredge

Booksellers are already reporting increased sales for titles on the long list of the 2016 Stella Prize for women’s literature.

The list, which was announced last month at a gala evening by novelist Alice Pung, includes well-known authors such as Gail Jones, Debra Adelaide and Amanda Lohrey.

Some titles have already sold out at retail stores but the list of 12 gives a plug to lesser-known authors who are just stepping out to have their voices heard.

Ms Pung spoke to the gathering of literati about the kind of characters that drove good fiction, rejecting the idea that they needed to be built from the ground up.

“I go out into the fruit market and write about anyone,” she said. “I take pedestrian folk and turn them into literature.”

The Stella Prize team has an office in the Nicholas Building yet, like most CBD businesses, their brief extends beyond the confines of the city.

Characters favoured by authors are more likely to be those facing adversity and ostracism on the land or in the suburbs than highfliers in management or global finance.

The Stella Prize highlights the missionary fervour of literature which presents writers as valiant chroniclers of lives, diminished by farm duties, hidden by prejudices, driven by discrimination or trashed by the march of history.

Yet the sea of faces, in what has now been labelled Melbourne’s new Middlebrow, did not reflect these hardships. Middlebrow readers see novels as prompts for social occasions and the girls were out in their gold frocks to sip on pinot gris.

The light reflected off the mirrored walls and the steps to the stage were in shadow, the drama of the setting expunging memories of long hours at laptops.

Missing were the asparagus rolls described so lovingly in one of the hot favourites for Melbourne’s top literary prize for women, Debra Adelaide’s nostalgic novel, The Women’s Pages. The prize will be announced in April.

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