Australian author Jock Serong has won the inaugural Staunch Book Prize for his “extraordinary” thriller On The Java Ridge (Text Publishing).
The Staunch Book Prize was founded by screenwriter Bridget Lawless last January to celebrate thrillers in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.
Serong, a former lawyer based in Victoria, Australia, was crowned the winner of the prize at an awards ceremony in central London on Monday (26th November) for his fourth novel which was published by Melbourne indie press Text Publishing last year. The prize includes £2,000 and a glass trophy.
Lawless told The Bookseller that the judging panel – which also included agent Piers Blofeld and actor and writer Doon MacKichan – were “unanimous” on selecting the winner.
“The writing is exemplary,” She said. “The story is strong, well structured and cleanly told, the characters completely believable. Those things were without question. But really it was that it affected us all in the same way.”
“The work feels so relevant and timely – much like Staunch Book Prize,” Lawless told The Bookseller. “The subject reflects real things that are happening before our very eyes, but handled so skillfully, and fictionalised so cleverly, that it reaches us in a way that a documentary or news report now struggles to, because we’ve become inured to it. We’re invested in the characters and their fate in a particular way, and there’s a perfect tension between what we know, and what the characters don’t.”
“This is an extraordinary thriller by a writer with a true talent for storytelling. Jack’s first-hand knowledge of the ocean, and the real life scandal of Australia’s treatment of migrants, shows just what happens when desperation, greed and political expediency collide.”
The prize has, however, attracted controversy with some saying it is damaging to crime writing, and CrimeFest did a u-turn on its offer of a complimentary pass and panel appearance for the winner.
Lawless confirmed that the panel hoped to run the prize again next year and said she is looking for sponsors or funding. “We started off being heavily criticised by some crime writers for launching a prize in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered. But throughout the year, we’ve seen individual supporters, readers, writers, publishers and activists get behind us completely.”
The author beat off five other nominations from the shortlist revealed earlier this month: Anna Porter’s The Appraisal published by Canadian independent ECW press, East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman (HQ), If I Die Tonight by A L Gaylin (PRH) along with The Kennedy Moment by Peter Adamson, published by Oxford independent Myriad Editions, and Cops and Queens by US writer Joyce Thompson, who is currently seeking a publisher.