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meet the judges of the 2019 rachel funari prize for fiction: danielle binks

Image: Supplied

Image: Supplied

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to our stellar line-up of judges for the 2019 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction. Today, meet writer and literary agent, Danielle Binks.

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The Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction calls for stories by women, female-identifying and non-binary writers. What’s your view on diverse representation in publishing?
Necessary. Intersectional. Overdue. Though I always make a point of saying – it can’t just be talking about diversity of writers and authors, there has to be big changes behind-the-scenes too. That saying (/warning) is true: if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.

What comes to mind when you think of our 2019 theme, ‘fragments’?
So many different avenues – fragmentation of self, to fragment is to break, breaking off pieces of ourselves (pieces of place). Fragments of sound. I love this – it’s both literal and internal. Adore it.

Your short story, Fota, placed second in the 2015 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction. What was the experience like for you? Tell us what you’ve been up to since.
Well it was one of the first pieces that I shared and put out into the world. Before that short story and a few others, my writing experience had been limited to FanFiction – hiding behind a pseudonymous avatar and playing in other people’s worlds. The Rachel Funari Prize pushed me to write my own story, and to have Fota so positively received encouraged me to stop hiding and keep sharing.

Now I’m a literary agent with Jacinta di Mase Management, and I am still writing! I was contributor and editor to the Harper Collins book Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology celebrating Australian youth-lit stories and I may have a little something else cooking.

All of it though, I do put down greatly to that little bit of confidence the Rachel Funari Prize gave me. I stuck my neck out and I didn’t get burnt in the process. Instead I was welcomed and encouraged, and that was everything.

Is there a writer (or writers!) you admire or books that have influenced your work?
Oh, look – I am from a generation of women who I feel very interconnected to, based on our mutual love and admiration for Melina Marchetta. She is our Queen. Looking for Alibrandi, Saving Francesca and On the Jellicoe Road were all very formative books for me – particularly because they were Australian stories, and I saw myself and my world in them. She’s also an author who has taken risks that keep paying off – mixing it up and moving away from contemporary to write high-fantasy series The Lumatere Chronicles and then comfortably moving into more adult spaces – The Piper’s Son is one of my favourite books from her, and her latest The Place on Dalhousie is just as brilliant.

She’s also someone who – each time I come back to her books, I find something new to love and admire. As I get older, I really appreciate that all her stories are about intergenerational women – and as I get older, I find myself having new sympathy and understanding for the older women (the mothers and grandmothers) in her stories, which I just find incredible – the prisms she’s writing that keep reflecting back to me, it’s breathtaking. I truly think she’s been one of our finest authors writing in Australia and everyone should read her, constantly.

What’s the best part of your job as a literary agent? What do you look for when signing an author?
Oh, look – definitely getting a book across the line with a publisher is a high. Especially because it means there will be a book I get to hold in my hands and say “I played a very little role in this being on shelves”. First time you see cover concepts is pretty amazing and never fails to fascinate me. Also flipping to the ‘Acknowledgments’ page and seeing your name, plus a heartfelt message of thanks. That’s priceless.

I am looking for voice. Voice, voice, voice, voice. Story can be whipped into shape; plot can be edited and restructured. Voice you can’t really teach. Voice is more instinctual – you’ve either got it or you don’t; it resonates or it doesn’t. It’s tough.

What is it specifically about Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction – particularly Australian YA and MG fiction – that excites you?
I just love that moment for young people (which is often not “A” moment, but a gradual ascent or collection of moments) when you leave something behind, and are profoundly transformed. That “coming-of-age” tag is so all-encompassing and sometimes overused, but I love it. The author who most poignantly expressed it for me is John Steinbeck (one of my faves) in East of Eden describing what it is for children to go through that transformation. I love the whole quote, but especially when he writes; It is an aching kind of growing.

That’s it. That’s it exactly. Aching and growing.

Is there anything you’re currently working on that you’d like to tell us about?
I am writing a middle-grade book that is all about that aching kind of growing. And activism. Based on both a shining and shameful period in Australia’s past – and how those two things do go together and sit side-by-side.

I’ve also got some author’s books coming out that I’m so excited to grace bookshelves. Particularly as I am moving a little away from just doing middle-grade and young adult, so one of my first adult non-fiction books coming out by an author I rep is March 26 release of A Spanner in the Works: The extraordinary story of Alice Anderson and Australia’s first all-girl garage by Loretta Smith (Hachette) – a historic biography of this amazing woman from 1920s Melbourne who was a star in her time, but whose story was eventually lost to history … maybe because she was a woman living so far outside the parameters of that time, and probably definitely because she was likely queer and existing in those spaces too. I just think it’s magnificent – I’ve been saying it’s Phryne Fisher meets The Great Gatsby in Melbourne but it’s also ALL TRUE!

What are you reading right now?
A real eclectic mix of stuff! Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, Victoria by Julia Baird and Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane and I am loving them all!

What’s on your To Be Read pile?
Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau (I read another Brow Books, Stella Prize-shortlisted title recently – Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin and thought it was pure genius. It pulverized me and I loved it.)

What do you read to feel inspired?
I can listen to Melina Marchetta’s The Piper’s Son on audiobook and it completely reinvigorates me. It’s one of those books that makes me think, “Oh, this is what writing can do – this is why we write.” I also love short stories to give me an adrenaline rush and kick start my creativity. I adore Karen Russell, Margo Lanagan, Etgar Keret, and George Saunders. Ditto listening to The Moth, and This American Life on podcast.

What, in your opinion, is the secret to writing a good short story?
Concentrate more on asking questions than giving answers. You don’t have to have all the answers in a short story, but you do have to provoke questions in readers – always.

What will you be looking for when judging the Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction?
Voice. Always voice.

What does literary success look like to you?
Being proud of the story you put out into the world.

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Entries for the 2019 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction are now OPEN and close 5pm Friday 19th April, 2019. Submit stories up to 2000 words that engage with the theme ‘fragments’. For more information, click here.

The incredible sponsors and supporters of the 2019 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction.

The incredible sponsors and supporters of the 2019 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction.

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