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meet the judges of the 2020 rachel funari prize for fiction: eleni hale

Author Eleni Hale (Image: Supplied)

Over the next few weeks, we’ll introduce you to the incredible people who make up the judging panel of the 2020 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction. Today, author Eleni Hale.

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The Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction calls for stories by women and non-binary writers. What’s your view on diverse representation in publishing?
Without diverse representation we are robbing readers of unique and authentic Australian stories while artists from marginalised groups are silenced. I think a level of censoring continues. It’s something that judges and “decisions makers” need to think about. In particular, we talk about gender, race, disability but not class discrimination, which crosses all these paradigms.

What comes to mind when you think of our 2020 theme, ‘future’?
So much is happening in society right now, from severe weather patterns and climate change to political impotence and underhandedness. A growth in social media and the rise of voices not previously heard. The world is transforming faster than ever but where is it all going? I can’t wait to read how writers interpret this theme.

What do you think makes a great short story?
Authenticity leaps off the page. I love when people write bravely and honestly about something they care about.

What’s your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you begin with a story or a character?
A bit of both. I begin as a pantser with a “magic moment”, usually an incident, and I follow it from there. Ten or twenty thousand words in I need to regroup and will look at what I’ve done and consider how to proceed. Then… I plot.

You’ve previously worked as a journalist for a major Australian newspaper. What inspired you to make the jump from reporting to writing fiction? Do you miss reporting?
I have always written fiction on the side. Once I had kids the natural course was for fiction to take centre stage. It was something I could do between sleeps and at play centres and still feel like I was moving towards a goal. I’m someone who enjoys work; fiction fills the gap. That said, Stone Girl was written on the train on the way to work prior to having kids.

Congratulations on all your success with Stone Girl. It’s a wonderful (and at times, brutal) novel and your winning the Readings Young Adult Book Prize last year was well-deserved. You’ve spoken publicly about spending your teen years in the ‘90s as a ward of the state in Victoria. How much of yourself and your experiences did you put into Sophie and her story? Why was this an important story for you to tell?
Thank you very much. Stone Girl is a fictional novel but I borrowed heavily from my time as a teen growing up in group homes. It was the book I had to write before I could move on to another topic. Since its release I’ve felt freer in my writing; less tied to the ghosts of the past. I met many people in the homes and I’ve thought about them so often since. Sophie, the protagonist, was how I imagined one life.

Which brings me to my next question: Is it important for writers to always (and only?) write what they know?
I’m torn on the issue. On the one hand, I believe that as long as lived-experience stories are encouraged and are not silenced or replaced by others and as long as those who write about a life they have not personally experienced do due diligence and research, then anyone should be able to tell a story that inspires them. We are writers; follow the thread that pulls, right?

On the other hand, I have been disappointed by the representation of homelessness and foster care in many novels. Heavy-handed stereotypes are too often thrown about, with a difficult childhood used as a plot device to show characters can’t be trusted or, worse, are pathetic. Some of the strongest, most empathetic and proudest people I’ve met have experienced homelessness so this representation is insulting. I wish people would not write so thoughtlessly about issues they don’t understand. Not all writers can sensitively depict lives that aren’t familiar to them but, perhaps, it’s important not to exclude those who can.

Do you have another novel in the works? Is there anything you’re working on you’d like to share with us?
I am well into my second manuscript. More soon…

What does your working/writing day look like?
I have two precious writing days per week. I have young kids so it can be difficult to steal extra time. I place great value on keeping the story in my mind so I try to find an hour on other days. I’ll set myself a short task like to work on a chapter or fix a plot hole. It doesn’t always happen but the intention is there.

Let’s talk books. What’s the last book you read? What are you currently reading? What’s on your TBR pile? And what do you read to feel inspired?
My current read is Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done and on audio I’m listening to Liane Moriarty’s The Hypnotist’s Love Story.

My TBR pile threatens to topple any day now.

I love reading books that surprise me. A unique voice, original turns of phrases and unexpected twists. I love honesty and to be shocked. Some books pull me in with extraordinary writing while with others it’s more about an intriguing storyline. Of course, the combination of these two things make for the perfect novel!

Is there a writer or writers you admire or books that have influenced your work?
There are many contemporary writers whose work I deeply admire. But it all began for me with MJ Hyland and Kafka. All of MJ Hyland’s book are incredible. Her writing and characters leap off the page and stay with you long after.

Kafka’s Metamorphosis had a profound impact on me when I first read it.

What do you read to feel inspired?
Everything from news to novels and articles.

What will you be looking for when judging the Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction?
I will be looking for writing that has a voice and knows how to use it. Stories that make me feel something about the characters and the events.

What does literary success look like to you?
To make a living wage from doing something I love would represent ultimate success for me. More time to write.

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Entries for the 2020 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction are now OPEN and close 5pm Friday 17th April, 2020. Submit stories up to 2000 words that engage with the theme ‘future’. For more information, click here.

The sponsors and supporters of the 2020 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction (L-R: Lip, Scribe Publications, Pan Macmillan Australia, Writing NSW, Emerging Writers’ Festival, Writers Victoria, Kill Your Darlings, Fremantle Press, Affirm Press)

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