Some of the authors nominated for this year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Awards share their advice for new writers, for finding inspiration and on the habits and rituals that keep them writing …


What’s your best advice for new writers? 

Liz Tynan, winner of the Australian History category for Atomic Thunder: The Maralinga Story (New South Publishing)

Read well, nurture your writing heroes, learn from them.  Always write with clarity and simplicity, a la Orwell. I cannot stand overly dense, convoluted writing, and I encourage new writers to consider how they make their work as accessible as possible (my day job involves teaching academic writing).

Wendy Orr, joint winner of the Children’s category for The Dragonfly Song (Allen & Unwin):

Read widely and write widely – don’t be afraid to fail. Being brave enough to risk failure is the only way to write not just the best book you can, but the book that only you can write.

Dianne Touchell, shortlisted in the Young Adult category for Forgetting Foster (Allen & Unwin):

Writing is a bit like dating: prepare for a lifetime of tedium, anxiety, rejection, self-doubt and unwanted advice.  But be brave. Do it anyway. Write those words. Good ones, bad ones, doesn’t matter. Just do it. And get up and leave if he starts cleaning his ears with his car keys.

Sebastian Smee, shortlisted in the Non-Fiction category for The Art of Rivalry (Text Publishing):

Write, read, walk. Be wild and bad mannered if you need to be. You need to break out of other people’s expectations, their limiting narratives, and date to create your own.

Anthony Lawrence, winner of the Poetry award for Headwaters (Pitt Street Poetry):

Read everything you can get your hands on – read everyone and anything and you will find what’s worthwhile falling through the big filter bag of your engagement with poetry. We learn to write by reading widely. And while you’re reading, keep writing. Practice. Practice. Rewrite and then do it again. And again. And then read some more.


Do you have any writing habits you can share?

Charlie Ward, shortlisted in Australian History for A Handful of Sand: The Gurindji Struggle, After the Walk-Off (Monash University Publishing):

My father used to say ‘apply your fundament to the chair’. Seems to work for me.

Tamsin Janu, shortlisted in the Children’s category for Figgy and the President (Scholastic Australia):

When I’m in the middle of writing I try not to check my phone, even if it’s buzzing, until I’ve finished the scene or chapter I’m working on. Which can be difficult!

Claire Zorn, shortlisted in Young Adult for One Would Think the Deep (UQP):

I have a play list which forms the soundtrack to my stories, kind of like a musical score to a film. I have specific songs for certain scenes and other songs which I play on repeat. I find the soundtrack to be a shortcut into the world I’m building, or the easiest way to get into a character’s head.

Thornton McCamish, shortlisted in Non-Fiction for Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead (Black Inc):

The only useful habit I can recommend is a willingness to redraft. Some people thrive on spontaneity, but the things I’m happiest with in my work tend only to come after chiselling away at the paras much longer than seems remotely reasonable. The other essential habit, of course, is forcing yourself to move on.

Eileen Chong, shortlisted in the Poetry category for Painting Red Orchids (Pitt Street Poetry):

I like to read widely, and make notes of my questions and emotional responses. I keep a notebook for this purpose, and I also like to write down phrases of poems which resonate deeply with me. I use a lot of epigraphs in my work; I feel like poetry is not written in isolation but in dialogue with the world.


Where do you find inspiration?

Liam Ferney, shortlisted in Poetry for Content (Hunter Publishers):

I mostly write about things from the culture so whether that’s something I see on social media or something that is in the media or something I see or something I read or I hear. Otherwise, the world itself is full of wonder and sometimes it’s just a mad scramble to get it down.

Josephine Wilson, shortlisted in Fiction for Extinctions (UWA Publishing):

I write about people, events, and ideas that trouble me, that I want to understand, and that I think might matter in some way.

Anthony Lawrence:

In 1980 I met the poet Domnhall Na Greine in a bar in Cork city. We were drinking pints of Murphys and talking about John Montague. I asked him where he found inspiration, and he wrote ‘poetic fuel is everywhere, like the busy tail of a wren at large’ on the back of a coaster. I still have that small endorsement of wonder, and I’m reminded of it whenever I step outside, knowing that at any moment something extraordinary will surface from the ordinary.

Tom Griffiths, shortlisted in Non-Fiction for The Art of Time Travel: Historians and their Craft (Black Inc):

As a historian – a teller of true stories – I immerse myself in the archive! I listen for the voices of the past, and especially the silences. I also pay close attention to how the past is in the present.


Some of the world’s best known authors have writing rituals and superstitions they observe. What are yours?

Mark O’Flynn, shortlisted in the Fiction category for The Last Days of Ava Langdon (UQP):

I am not particularly OCD about such rituals, but I certainly believe in writing everything by hand to begin with. I also kept a pair of Eve Langley’s (the real life character upon whom Ava Langdon was based) thongs, which I discovered in her derelict hut. These became a good luck talisman for me. I worried when they were out of my possession for a time. Perhaps that does make me slightly OCD.

Steven Amsterdam, shortlisted in Fiction for The Easy Way Out (Hachette):

I don’t think I have any. If I came up with one, would I have a bigger profile?

Joel Deane, shortlisted in Poetry for Year of the Wasp (Hunter Publishers):

I don’t have superstitions, but I do have a belief. I ask myself: What if this book was your last book? Would you be happy with that? If the answer is no, I won’t write the book. They have to be worth the sacrifice.


Winners of the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards can be found here.

Article courtesy of Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Media contact: Emma Noble, Noble Words Communications: 0432 899139 |

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