Former local student, Ya Reeves, has made a significant impact with her highly commended entry into the Furphy Literary Award, Pub Raffle.
Among some 850 entries, Ya’s short story captured the attention of the judges, earning her a place among some of the best writers across Australia.
The Furphy Literary Awards invite entries of previously unpublished short stories of up to 5000 words for a first prize of $15,000 in the open category.
Pub Raffle, which can be accessed at the Furphy Literary Awards website, is a story based Ya’s experience of the summer’s bushfires.
She was surprised and humbled to be considered among the best of so many entries.
“It’s pretty overwhelming and unexpected,” she said on a live streamed awards ceremony.
“I wrote this story before I knew about the competition and my friend sent me the competition link.
“It’s been completely unexpected. It means a lot and also I don’t know what it means and that’s kind of the most exciting part.
“I’m sure doors will open for here, I’m not sure what they are and that’s pretty exciting for me. I’m just really excited for people to read about the experience.
“It’s quite humbling.”
Judge, John Harms, introduced Pub Raffle by saying “it’s my pleasure”.
“It’s a fantastic story set during the Australian bushfires last summer in one of those classic, idyllic, Australian towns that we all know so much about,” he said.
“It’s a first-person narrated piece and it seems like the narrator would be probably early 20s, full of life, full of activity.
“The story starts with some surfing, but of course around everywhere are these threatening bushfires.
“Ya Reeves is able to build that tension and that anxiety and that fear and that ‘what do we do?’ element of the whole piece.
“There is a town meeting, people are leaving, they’ve been told they have to leave – ‘are we going to stay, are we not going to stay?’ – it’s around a decision. ‘Where are the fires, what’s our response?’ and the narrator makes the decision to stay with family and other friends.”
Mr Harms was particularly impressed with Ya’s style of writing.
“The author uses a lot of short sentences, like clip sentences with no subject,” he said.
“It’s little bit like a diary, it’s a little bit like notes.
“A lot of sentences start with verbs and this really adds to the pace of the story and the feeling around the story as she is really bringing us into her situation.
“Increasingly the threat emerges, it’s there, they hear of stories of towns that have been saved, they hear of stories of towns that have gone under, razed to the ground.
“The fear is real, it’s existential fear.”
The climax to the story is what thrilled Mr Harms.
“They are in the pub on a Saturday night and there is a raffle. This is the conclusion of the story and I won’t tell you what happens but it’s done absolutely brilliantly,” he said.
“The themes are really powerful, it’s like what do we do in the face of human condition? What part does chance play? Do we just sit back and accept everything or do we act? What’s our state of mind? What’s our state of being? What can we do?
“It throws up lots of magnificent themes, it’s a really, really, terrific story and fully deserving of its place in this award.”
Ya returned to East Gippsland over summer and it was a friend who suggested writing down her experiences which formed the basis of Pub Raffle.
“I was on the hone to a friend who said I should write down some of the things that are happening and I was quite busy at the time because of everything that was happening, so I just took a few notes here and there,” she said.
“It ended up turning into this story and it was quite cathartic to write. It’s basically an exploration of the experience I had while I was there.
“Like everything that has come from someone’s brain, a lot of it is based on things that happened, but it’s obviously fiction because it’s my perspective as well.
“There was a pub raffle, I didn’t win it, I’ve never won a pub raffle, I’m really unlucky in that regard.”
Ya said she grew up with an interest in writing, but that interest was competing with others.
“I’ve always wanted to be writer, when I was a kid I wanted to be one but I kind of pushed it to the side when I figured out that I loved doing a million and one other things as well,” she said.
“To be honest it’s always been a big part of my life, but more recently I think I’ve been studying and so my writing has tended to be towards the more academic end of the spectrum.
“It was quite freeing to pick up a pen and write in this style, a bit of a different style to the academic style.”
Ya put’s her style down to the upbringing she was afforded in East Gippsland.
“A lot my work and a lot of my life I’ve spent in really rural and remote areas and quite deep in the bush, up cliffs and down rivers,” Ya said.
“I grew up in outdoor education and my parents have always been in that field as well.
“It’s definitely inspired a lot of my writing and I feel like the Australian landscape has definitely inspired my writing as well.“
Ya also took inspiration from numerous writers when she was younger, some with a connection to the local environment.
“I was really lucky when I was growing up Alison Lester actually stayed with us as kids because she would speak at the schools my parents were working at. Her writing really inspired me early on,” she said.
“Elizabeth Honey, who I actually wrote to when I was kid, she took me to a play with her, so I started a friendship with her.
“More recently definitely authors like Tim Winton, Cormack McCarthy and in particular Bruce Pascoe is someone who I’ve found captures the real essence of life in East Gippsland. It’s a really particular type of culture and a really particular kind of landscape and I think he captures it so well. He has really inspired my approach to language.”
As for what’s next.
“I have no plans. I’m currently writing a thesis, so that’s the closest I’m getting to writing, but we’ll see. I scribble stuff all the time,” Ya said.