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meet the judges of the 2022 rachel funari prize for fiction: melissa manning

Melbourne-based author, Melissa Manning (Image: Supplied)

Over the next few weeks, we’ll introduce you to the incredible people who make up the judging panel of the 2022 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction. Today, meet author and lawyer, Melissa Manning.


First off, congratulations on winning the 2022 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction! It’s an incredible achievement. Tell us about your winning short story collection, Smokehouse.
Thanks, it’s a huge honour. Smokehouse is an interlinked story collection set in southern Tasmania. The stories focus on turning points, the moments small and cataclysmic that shape who we become. Whilst each story can be read independently, the collection can also be read as a novel in mosaic.

The Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction calls for stories by women and non-binary writers. What’s your view on diverse representation in publishing?
It’s critical. Whilst I’d hope that most of us agree that an inclusive society, which demonstrates respect for all, ought be a given, there’s still a lot of work to be done to break down barriers to entry, and move away from tokenism towards a genuinely inclusive approach. It’s crucial that all of us have an opportunity to read stories that reflect our lived experience, to see ourselves represented on the page. For respect and authenticity, these stories need to come from the sources of deepest knowledge.

What comes to mind when you think of our 2022 theme, ‘aftermath’?
It’s hard not to think of Covid and the way this pandemic has changed how we live.

It also makes me think about what we’re doing to the natural world, our inhumane treatment of refugees, and the continuing rise to political power of megalomaniacs. In that context, it brings to mind the fury I feel at those who should and could choose to lead with kindness but do not; and the sense of impotence inherent in a lack of capacity to impact change on the scale that’s required.

On a more intimate note, it’s evocative of the sadness, strength, and serenity of acceptance, which I’ve drawn from traumatic personal events; and the notion that each of our lives is the aftermath of all that came before.

So, quite a lot to unpack there.

What do you think makes a great short story?
For me, plenty of space for the reader is an absolute necessity. I’m also drawn to assured immersive writing that grounds you as a reader, and provides a sense that you’re in safe hands.

Surprises, which seem inevitable in retrospect are great; and a strong finish to bring it all home is key. My favourite short stories end with a line that leaps off the page and stays with you.

What’s your writing process? Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? And do you begin with a story or a character, or something else entirely?
Definitely a pantser. I usually start with a line, an image, or a feeling. From there the story unfurls as it chooses. I love the feeling of surprise as characters reveal themselves, though I have to acknowledge that my piecemeal approach makes for much more work when it comes to structural edits.

What does a typical day look like for you?
Weekdays I get up early. I spend most of my time at a desk, so I start the day with some yoga stretches then I walk, have coffee and write for an hour or more. After that, it’s work. In the evenings, I’ll either hang with my family, or read. I’m lucky to have a studio at Glenfern. Some nights I head there to write. I spend at least half a day there each weekend.

What’s the best (and worst!) writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Best – read widely and closely and trust your instincts. When the draft is complete, leave it to rest for as long as is required to allow you to re-read with fresh eyes. Read your work out loud – it helps to get the cadence right, as well as to identify necessary edits.

Worst – anything prescriptive about process. We all have our own way and whilst it can be helpful to try new processes, it’s important to come back to what works best for you.

Let’s talk books. What’s the last book you read? What are you currently reading? And what’s on your TBR pile?
Most recent great reads: Fiction – The Furies – Mandy Beaumont, non-fiction – Found, Wanting by Natasha Sholl.

My to be read piles are towers. Some of the most hotly anticipated are Mirandi Riwoe’s new short story collection, The Burnished Sun. Maggie Shipstead’s, Great Circle; and Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee.

What is your earliest literary memory? And did you have any favourite books growing up?
The first book I recall reading was A Pig Can Jig, in prep. I can’t remember much about it, other than I was chuffed to have nailed it so I could move on to whatever was next up the list.

I read and re-read Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair books and adored Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs.

I was the clichéd child who read under the covers by torchlight.

In my teens and early twenties favourites were Of Mice and Men, and The Pearl by John Steinbeck, anything and everything by Tom Robbins, Jeannette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry, and Oranges are Not the Only Fruit. A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth. Uncool as it was, I loved Shakespeare’s, Macbeth.

What will you be looking for when judging the Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction?
Over the years, I’ve read a lot of lovely swathes of writing that ultimately don’t make it as stories, so I’ll be looking for works with a beginning, middle, and end – some kind of change. I hope to be delighted and surprised. I’m very open to experimental works, provided the story is stronger for it. I love lyrical writing but I also love clean, spare prose, and humour. Ultimately, I want to feel immersed, to care about the character/s. I want to sense the writer’s trust in me as a reader, for them to have the confidence not to put everything on the page.

You can follow Melissa on Twitter here and Instagram here.


Entries for the 2022 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction close at 8pm on Friday 15th April 2022. Submit stories up to 2000 words that engage with the theme ‘aftermath’. For all the details, please click here.

The sponsors and supporters of the 2022 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction

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