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jack_ryder

Fixing the Aurealis Awards - a modest proposal

There's a discussion/shouting match about the Aurealis Award judging going on at the moment, that I'm not going to link to because you all know who you are.

What surprises me though (and I'm probably being very naive here) is that no-one has floated the obvious solution(s) -

So, a little background for those who don't know/care about the current "controversies" - for me there are two:

a) Two judges went public (kinda, sorta) with their dislike of flash fiction and a supporter of flash fiction has accused them of shutting out flash fiction from the judging out of personal bias and generally unprofessional behaviour. No, I'm not going to link to the arguments - anyone feeling I've misrepresented it (or them) can argue in the comments

b)
A graphic novel (at over 120 pages) was nominated and won best Young Adult short story. (The Arrival by Shaun Tan).

To my mind b) damages the credibility of the Aurealis Awards (which are, after all, the local equivalent of the Nebula Awards) more than a).

So, to a) first.

If there is a predominance of flash fiction amongst the eligible works for an Aurealis that year, then a separate award for flash fiction (just one - across all genres) should be instituted. Or maybe have one every year with the provision for a "no award".

My reasoning is, despite some protests to the contrary, an author is doing something fundamentally different in a 500 word story to a 2,000 word or more one. The comment has already been made that flash fiction is more analogous to a haiku, and in poetry competitions there is often a separate award for haikus, or they are ineligible because of length.

But for there to be an award, flash fiction must be a strong and recognisable part of the body of Australian fantastic writing, not just available from a few venues lest it become mere a best of (insert flash fiction website here) award.

Now b), similar solution.

I haven't read everything this year (or even much Australia fantastic writing) but Shaun Tan's The Arrival is a work of genius and it diminishes both it and the Aurealis Awards to be win an award in a category that's not really relevant. Does anyone really believe that the biggest audience for The Arrival is a YA one? And the argument that it qualifies for short story because there are only two words in it (i.e. the title) is ludicrous and diminishes the other, more qualified, nominees for YA short story.

Now, a bit of history here. Apparently there used to be two awards (the Convenor's award and the Peter McNamara award) and one would cover works that added greatly to Australian fantastic literature and the other went to a person that added greatly to Australian fantastic literature. Those awards were collapsed into one, and Bill Congreve won the Convenor's Award this year. And not before time.

However, this does kind of leave works like The Arrival and other non or meta-textual works out in the cold. I'd argue that Deborah Biancotti's Surrender 1: Rope Artist (sort of link) should be in a different category as well because of it's use of web technology.

So, in short, my argument is that there needs to be a Best Other Medium category (and a better name for it) in the Aurealis Awards to take into account The Arrival and Surrender 1: Rope Artist and movies and theatre pieces and television and comics and games and any other medium that could possibly add to the body of Australian Fantastic work.

Yeah, I know, a bitch to judge and it's not comparing apples with apples.

But, you know, we have to start somewhere, and there's going to be more and more work that needs to be recognised that will be outside the currently limited categories of the Aurealis Awards.

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I agree and made the similar suggstion several weeks ago

About flash or other media?

(Got a link?)

both.

The flash one was made in the middle of the actual priginal contentious comment - http://www.asif.dreamhosters.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=186&start=75

Didn't see this.

so Ben Peek's going to kill me now?

Cool!

(and I know it's a typo but priginal sounds like a great word - need to find a good context though - "She gave a priginal glance at his obscenity.")

Why is Ben Peek going to kill you now?

I will kill everyone here if another category is added to those awards. I swear to it. I'm serious here.

Really, really, really serious.

B (the reallys make it serious)


from here

well yeah. except in truth, you can't compare flash to shorts and its not fair to try. And the i was thinking, you can't comapre novellas to shorts ... and then it all spiralled out of control.


you can't compare flash to shorts and its not fair to try

I agree

(I've taken out the "in truth" part because I've read arguments to the contrary. By no means convincing arguments, but vehement enough to convince me of the subjectivity of the position)

I think you *could* find the rare flash beast that truly could compare but ... they are so rare it seems unfair.

What makes a YA tale is an entirely different question to there being no proper place to look at works such as Tan's. If themes are universal, does that make a work not YA? If a publisher is selling very successfuly to a YA market but individual members of the spec fic community don't think that a book is YA, who is right?

I fully agree that we need an alternate category - in lieu of one though, I would rather works were recognised than left behind. And the "They must have been on drugs for making this decision" joke about the whole thing is really beginning to bug me. If the decision about Tan's book is the 'unprofessional' aspect of the awards folks are talking about then they should do what you just did and look for the reasons behind that decision. A Best Other Medium would not only have made decision lines clearer this year, it would open the door to speculative fiction works which are currently seldom given proper recognition at all.

If the decision about Tan's book is the 'unprofessional' aspect of the awards folks are talking about then they

Its not. But its sad everyone has lost their sense of humour. My original comment was also a joke.

Thanks - I rahter suspect I needed the reassurance.
Different people have different senses of humour - all it takes is one person to take a comment seriously that was meant in fun for stuff to get distorted.

What makes a YA tale is an entirely different question to there being no proper place to look at works such as Tan's.

Didn't think I raised that question.

I do take issue with this -

If themes are universal, does that make a work not YA?

What's the relevance of having a separate YA category if it can include every work with universal themes?

If a publisher is selling very successfuly to a YA market but individual members of the spec fic community don't think that a book is YA, who is right?


The Arrival is sold as a children's book. I guess my feeling is that the Aurealis Award for The Arrival could have been an opportunity to expand the audience for it. So now the Aurealis has publically announced that it's okay for teenagers as well. It's still "stigmatised".

I also feel (and I don't think you, specifically, agree with this at all) that it reinforces the belief that graphic novels are more suitable for a younger audience than an adult audience. Which would surprise readers of Maus and Lost Girls.

I agree with you. If the book had been available earlier, maybe it could have been distributed to the SF panel as well (since it clearly belonged there) but it only arrived at the last minute and was only nominated for YA. This is what I meant by marketing - the nomination was a tactical decision by the publisher, rather than anything else.

The Arrival is not sold solely as a children's book - it's being targeted at high school as well (where I've seen it, that's what I've seen it sold as). There are definitely larger sales in both these areas than marketing it as SF, so I can understand Lothian making that choice. I agree with you that it wasn't the best possible choice they could have made in terms of Aurealis. Maybe the larger publishers need guidelines to the awards? The Arrival wasn't the only arguable submission decision, after all, just the most prominent.

I hope I wasn't implying that graphic novels are only suitable for younger audiences. I've let the Jewish Museum in Melbourne know about The Arrival, because I think it's perfectly suited to *their* audience - of all ages. Maus *is* bought for/by younger readers, but not - I think - to anyone younger than mid to late teens (this is from anecdotal teen evidence - I also wonder if that isn't a Jewish community phenomenon - Maus is easier to deal with than some of the other approaches to Shoah and for us that level of horror is an inescapable part of education). Lost Girls is 100% adult. And I think that a book like Tan's is a real exception - how many books are there that cross so many boundaries and make us revise our expectations?

I wasn't saying that YA shuld include every work with universal themes, BTW - I was trying to say that it shouldn't exclude works because their themes are universal. I wrote that note under the influence of a bad case of insomnia, though.

One thing that judging YA has convinced me of is that we really, really, really need more precise guidelines given to publishers and writers and readers as to what makes a work YA. I'm very happy with including works that also operate in other zones - I love it when fiction works across age groups - but obviously there are mixed views on this. The bottom line with The Arrival is that the panel felt it was YA, and any opinion we had on what other readers it might be suited for was irrelevant to judging it as a YA work.

If the book had been available earlier, maybe it could have been distributed to the SF panel as well (since it clearly belonged there) but it only arrived at the last minute and was only nominated for YA. This is what I meant by marketing - the nomination was a tactical decision by the publisher, rather than anything else.

Thanks very much for the clarification - it makes a lot more sense now.

The Arrival is not sold solely as a children's book - it's being targeted at high school as well (where I've seen it, that's what I've seen it sold as). There are definitely larger sales in both these areas than marketing it as SF, so I can understand Lothian making that choice.

I have major issues with its marketing, as I think this book deserves a larger audience. But then, they're the ones with the focus groups and the sales projections and the massive need for risk reduction. I consider it a major work, and it's not being promoted as such.

I hope I wasn't implying that graphic novels are only suitable for younger audiences.

You weren't, I just think it's the implication of the categories The Arrival's been placed in. I was hoping I'd qualified the statement enough so you knew that you weren't included.

I was trying to say that it shouldn't exclude works because their themes are universal.

I agree, I just didn't think I'd challenged that idea, so I couldn't see what prompted the statement.

Unfortunately, whilst I feel that it's the publisher that has misrepresented The Arrival (through the marketing, but not the packaging which is brilliant) it appears that the restrictions on the Aurealis categories have helped in reinforcing that misrepresentation - that The Arrival is aimed at children and young adults and not one of those books:

that cross so many boundaries and make us revise our expectations?

I agree with you. And you agree with me. This is about the third discussion we've had where we find out that - instead of the devil being in the detail - we agree with each other and just started from different premises.

I have issues with how quite a few books are being marketed right now. I'm not sure that all the publicity people are seeing what the editors are seeing - good books get signed up by some of the big houses and then they fade from view.

The only way we are going to get The Arrival seen as a classic is to get people to pick it up and read it. Maybe there needs to be a "Why I love The Arrival" meme? Except that it would mainly reach people who already know.

I was thinking of sending a copy to Tom Spurgeon, a famous comics journalist to get it known in the States, but Eddie Campbell had already send him a copy.

It's going to have a US edition this year, and that's where it may really take off.

I recall arguing a couple of years ago for a best collected work category. And for set-in-stone rules to judge by. Currently there are no rules -- if a panel of judges wants to use tealeaf or chicken entrails divination to select the winners, thats OK.

Seriously, anyone with ideas to improve the awards should be emailing them to the director.

Done. Thanks for the tip.

Cancel the bloody awards for a few years. Then start them up with revised catagories.

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