2015 Monash Prize Winner: Justina Ashman

Kate Callingham  

We had a chat with Justina Ashman, who won the 2015 Monash Prize for her story The Space Between.

What were/are you studying when you entered the Monash Prize in 2015?

I was studying a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Creative Writing) at Flinders University.

What made you want to enter?

One of my creative writing tutors told my class about the prize in my first year of uni and I’ve entered it nearly every year since. It’s a great chance to have a story published in a professional magazine and the prize money is great for opening up other career development opportunities you might not have been able to afford — like travelling interstate for internships or writers’ conferences and conventions.

Tell us a little bit about your winning entry.

The Space Between is a reverse chronological exploration of the transition between the familiar and the dystopian, following the relationship of two women as they deal with an increasingly hostile society. I wrote the story when I was studying dystopian fiction at uni — but what fascinated me more than speculative dystopian worlds was the sometimes ignored transitional period between that world and ours. How did we turn from our society into that oppressive future society?

I wanted to explore how small concessions to prejudice can lead to an oppression that never acknowledges its own existence. The erasure of LGBTQI identity — which occurs in the story in a literal dystopian sense and in a slightly more figurative sense in the form of seemingly ‘harmless’ comments and micro-aggressions — is an act of intolerance, and it is those small acts of prejudice cloaked in the veil of good intentions that ultimately lead to the dystopian future in the story.

What have you been up to since winning the prize?

Last year I was wholly preoccupied with finishing my Honours thesis and completing my degree. Now that I’ve done those things, I’m working on expanding my thesis story into an historical romance novel about queer female codebreakers at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

How has winning the prize helped you in your career as a writer?

The publication of my winning story in Kill Your Darlings magazine was my first publication in a professional markets – so that is hugely helpful to my career as a writer. Also I was able to use the prize money to take up interstate career opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford to consider.

Have you got any advice for anyone wanting to enter this year?

Actually, I have three whole pieces of advice for people entering this year!

  1. Be determined. As I mentioned before, I entered the prize almost every year of my undergrad and wasn’t short-listed until last year. You can’t win something you don’t enter, so don’t do what I do all the time and talk yourself out of putting yourself and your work out there.
  2. Competition is fierce and a little luck goes a long way. I met several of the other short-listed writers at last year’s EWF Opening Night and all of them were incredibly talented writers and easily as deserving of the prize as I was. I’m sure there were even more entries that didn’t get short-listed that were also amazing pieces of writing. It’s hard in these kinds of competitions to pin down what exactly is the deciding factor between winning and missing out, but I’m sure luck as a part to play.
  3. Write whatever you want. Don’t bother trying to write what you think the judges want to read, or what you think a winning story should look like. I’ve done that before — it didn’t work. In my experience, you’re always going to write a better story if it’s the story you actually want to write, not the story you think other people want to read. For me, writing about issues close to my heart, about what I’m passionate about and interested in, has always resulted in better writing and stronger stories.

Entries are now open to the 2016 Monash Prize!