Flinders creative writing PhD student and first-time novelist, Hannah Kent, has been named the inaugural winner of the Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award, comprising a $10,000 cash prize and a $2000 mentorship.
Ms Kent received the award – for the development of an unpublished manuscript in the genre of adult literary fiction or genre fiction – for her manuscript Burial Rites, based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir, who in 1830 was publicly beheaded in Iceland for the murder of her employer.
Described by one judge as a “complex, evocative and powerful tale that contains startling observations on the human condition”, Ms Kent’s winning manuscript was selected from a field of more than 400 entries.
“I was introduced to Agnes’ story when I lived in Iceland as a 17-year-old,” Ms Kent said.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about what it must have been like for her to become such an outcast in the small community she had grown up in. Burial Rites is my attempt at trying to understand this woman and why she’s been portrayed the way she has,” she said.
Describing her reaction to the win as “completely overwhelmed, in disbelief and very, very shocked”, Ms Kent expressed her gratitude to Writing Australia and to her supervisor, Dr Ruth Starke.
“I couldn’t have done it without her; she’s been really instrumental in helping me get the manuscript to where it is now.”
The award was established by Writing Australia – a national literature organisation comprising five state-based writers’ centres (SA, the ACT, NSW, VIC and TAS), formed in January this year.
Director of the SA Writers’ Centre, Barbara Wiesner said Ms Kent’s manuscript was considered “the most promising of all the entries”.
“We’re confident this development opportunity will assist her to realise her dream of developing this work into her first published novel,” Ms Wiesner said.
Ms Kent said she was particularly looking forward to the opportunity of working with a mentor.
“I’m incredibly excited about the prospect of working with a published Australian author who can look at my work with fresh eyes and give me feedback and advice based on their own experiences,” she said.
She hopes to submit the manuscript, which is currently at the second draft stage, in late 2012 as part of her PhD.