The Wheeler Centre's daily posting provided terrific coverage of the recent awarding of the inaugural Stella Prize to Carrie Tiffany, for Mateship With Birds.
So far this is the best summary given anywhere of Helen Garner's "unexpected...generous and insightful" speech:
....instead of celebrating the concept of prizes, she talked about the ‘terrible anxieties’ they provoke in the potential contenders and their ‘bizarre effect … on people’s idea of their own worth’.
She also spoke of ‘the undeniable fact that every girl who writes needs a bucket of cash to be thrown over her at least once in a lifetime so she can soldier on, and even to make her feel for a while that it’s been worth the torture’.
Garner said she would steer clear of explicitly defending the existence of a prize for women’s writing. But she did talk about the need for its existence, referencing a former writer-husband who told her ‘women can’t be artists’ and gender issues to do with cover design.
‘How wonderful it would be if one day, such a prize no longer had any use. If doctors and lawyers no longer said to me, 'Nice to meet you Helen, my wife’s read all your books.’ If designers no longer reflexively put a vase of flowers on the front of a woman’s book, even a book that is about hypodermics and vomiting and rage.'
‘We know in our hearts that women can write, can be artists,’ she said. ‘But we’re so easily disheartened and sabotaged, even by ourselves.’
The Stella Prize website has posted remarks by Kerryn Goldsworthy, chair of the judging panel, on the winning book:
If you go to Carrie Tiffany’s website and click on ‘Gallery’, it will take you to some images of small, delicate, mysterious sculptures made of plants, creatures and written words. Follow the link from there to ‘Soil Box’ and you can see the most complex and detailed of these sculptures, and read her detailed description of how this artwork was put together. In this account, she writes, ‘Art starts with noticing.’
Her second novel, Mateship with Birds, is a triumph of noticing and, having noticed, of carefully, meticulously assembling the things that have been noticed into a novel that shows, on almost every page, not just an eye for detail, but also a conviction that every detail is in some way connected and that the connections have meaning. Mateship with Birds seems like a natural extension of Tiffany’s sculptures: her skills in the meticulous piecing-together of fragments are apparent in this novel, where she uses several different kinds of text – letters, diaries, homework, nature notes – to weave a single strong narrative showing the interconnectedness of all things, and supported by a broad and generous world view.
Mateship with Birds is a deceptively gentle-looking novel whose calm surface belies its many sharp and frank observations about the world.
Read more, and then please read both of Tiffany's novels: they are both inviting, fascinating works which approach rural life with attention and intensity. The whole Stella longlist is well worth your consideration and invites us all to read more Australian women's writing. I've already earmarked/purchased Michelle de Kretser's Questions of Travel and Courtney Collins' The Burial, but there is plenty of fine reading to be had from that list.