Bookmarks: Jock Serong wins the Staunch Prize
By Jason Steger
Updatedfirst published at
No violence, please, we’re Staunch
The Staunch prize was set up by screenwriter Bridget Lawless in Britain to award writers of crime fiction “in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered”. It has its supporters – and its detractors. Scottish writer Val McDermid, for example, says she won’t stop writing about acts of violence against women until they no longer occur; she writes about them partly to draw attention to that very violence and misogyny. This week Australian novelist Jock Serong, best known perhaps for The Rules of Backyard Cricket, was the inaugural winner for his novel On Java Ridge, which has at its heart the horrors of Australia’s refugee policy. Serong said he was shovelling in breakfast cereal when he heard and “nearly fell off my chair”. His novel is not a conventional thriller. It grew out of an image Serong had in his mind of a woman surfing a coral reef – Serong’s an enthusiastic surfer and edited Great Ocean Quarterly during its brief but stylish life – and “I built outwards from there”. He wasn’t thinking particularly about gender when he wrote the book – it turned into a fierce critique of Australian policy and attitudes towards asylum seekers. Although he won a Ned Kelly award for his first novel, Quota, Serong doesn’t really consider himself a crime writer. His latest novel, Preservation, is historical fiction about the survivors of the wreck of the Sydney Cove in 1797 on the Preservation Isles just off Tasmania.