2016 Richell Prize winner Susie Greenhill

Susie Greenhill won the Richell Prize in 2016 with ecological love story The Clinking; a rare and affecting piece about extinction, grief and the warming climate.

We talk to Susie about the progress of her manuscript and gaining confidence to write full-time.

What affect has winning the Richell Prize had on your writing career?
When I won the prize I’d only completed a couple of chapters of the novel, so these past months – after the disbelief and delirious joy of winning wore off – have just been devoted to writing.  For now, the prize means my partner and I have been able to stretch out our finances enough for me to concentrate on writing for a while, and it has given me the confidence to mumble and blush a little less when asked about my work.  That sounds trivial, but truthfully any injection of confidence is hugely important for a writer, and I feel like it’s filtered through my work, and my life, in an almost tangible way.

Can you tell us a bit about your winning manuscript, The Clinking?
In the past I’ve described The Clinking as a kind of ecological love-story. The novel traces the experience of a biologist working on climate-influenced extinctions, as he watches the world he loves and knows intimately unravelling around him, and the journey his wife and daughter take into the south-west wilderness after he disappears.  The story is set in Tasmania at the end of a period of fragile equilibrium in the not-too-distant future – when the seas glow blue with bioluminescent life, and the skies are filled with exotic birds from all over the world.  As well as the main narrative, a series of micro-stories about endangered species, places and ecosystems form prologues to every chapter.  They’re small love stories between humans and nature – an orphaned boy is raised by orang-utans at the edge of a Sumatran forest, a free-diver searches the oceans for sharks, the children of a Polynesian village mourn the loss of the coral garden that sustained them.

Are you working on anything else we should know about?
I’ve been working on a collection of short fiction, Seven Stories, with a group of Tasmanian writers as part of The Dewhurst Jennings Institute. There are some exceptionally talented emerging writers working on our island right now – Ben Walter, Michael Blake, Adam Ouston and Robbie Arnott just to name a few, and it’s lovely to be able to collaborate with them and see their writing begin to be celebrated at a national level.

Could you share with us your working habits and tips for completing a manuscript?
The Clinking is my first novel so I’m mostly just figuring things out as I go along.  In some ways I’m approaching each chapter like a short story, a form I feel reasonably comfortable with now, and that seems to bring a kind of freshness to the narrative and makes the daunting scope of a novel feel more manageable somehow.

I think working habits are very individual. I find writing in different places helps – at cafes, in gardens, at the library, even just moving to different spaces in the house seems to shift my perspective enough to regain some momentum when I need it.  And walking, swimming in the sea, any kind of movement always helps with inspiration.

For me, writing is half work – researching, endless editing, arranging notes on scraps of paper into patterns on the floor – and half a kind of alchemy, letting the words pour out and write themselves in an almost subliminal way.  Trying to find the time and space for those two very different processes among the demands of everyday life is always a bit of a challenge.

Do you have any advice for emerging writers thinking about entering this year?
Well, I could so easily not have entered…I never dreamed I would win, although I guess I did have a certain faith in the story I was telling.  So yes, my advice would be if you have a manuscript then absolutely enter it.  It’s such a generous prize, and one worth supporting.  One of the many things I like about the Richell is that they publish their long-list, which is really helpful for emerging writers as there is generally no light shone into the space between winning a prize – or being accepted for publication – and receiving no response at all. A published long-list extends the reassurance a literary prize can provide to the widest possible number of entrants.

As far as the writing itself goes, the only tip I would give is to just be true to yourself. Write what obsesses you, amuses you, crushes you, transports you – whether it’s thematically or just in terms of the language you use. That’s what the world needs more of, and it’s usually the kind of writing that shines.

Read more about the Richell Prize on our website; read more about Susie’s story on The Guardian.