Be Brave and Write: The Richell Prize

Hachette Publisher Robert Watkins had a chat with writer and editor Brodie Lancaster about The Richell Prize, why mentorship and money are both a dream when you’re trying to write a manuscript, and being brave in your writing.

RW: What made you submit to the Richell Prize last year?

BL: I think I was drawn to the benefits of the prize on offer; it wasn’t just offering mentoring or money, but the combination of both. Those two things made writing a completed manuscript seem really achievable. My writing style is not, like, book-length longform projects, so the option to submit narrative non-fiction essays also made the submission requirements totally realistic for me.

When you were judging the applicants last year, how much consideration did you and the other judges give to the submissions that you thought Matt Richell would’ve responded to?

RW: I think definitely for me – when considering each of the longlisted works – I was considering what I though was in line with Matt’s ‘personal taste’. But I also knew that he read very widely and voraciously. I personally think he would have been impressed with the entire longlist—let alone the works that were chosen for the shortlist.

When you entered the prize, why did the ‘mentoring’ aspect of the prize appeal to you?

BL: The concept of writing a book is so massive and overwhelming to me, and something that I never could’ve imagined would be a reality, that it’s essential to have someone who can help me navigate the process. The prize money would’ve really helped with dedicated, focussed time spent working on a book, but even that luxury doesn’t help you do the damn thing. It’s the combination of both, hand-in-hand, that I think is really essential.

You’ve been mentoring Sally since she won the prize last October—what has that process been like? Is it different to your usual working relationship with a writer?

RW: The beauty of having the opportunity to work with Sally on her manuscript at this stage is that she has the opportunity to receive critical feedback as she forms the manuscript. As a general rule—particularly with fiction manuscripts, we wouldn’t work with an author until the manuscript was complete. Hopefully what this has afforded Sally is the opportunity to take her novel further in a shorter period of time—and effectively ease any ‘writerly concerns’ she might have about the shape the book is taking. I think this process will do the final draft of Closing Down the world of good. At the end of the day, I think the relationship Sally and I have is not dissimilar to the relationship with any of my authors, she just happened to receive that feedback even earlier than most.

One of the reasons I loved your manuscript, Brodie, is that you have such a unique and relatable voice. When you were submitting your entry—is that something you had considered? Who would read your book and why?

BL: Hey, thanks! I was conscious of it, for sure. A large component of my entry was work that I had published elsewhere. One of the websites I’ve written for a lot is Rookie, which is a website for teenage girls, so having a relatable tone is especially important there. One of the things I’ve learned from writing for Rookie is to find links between my own personal experience and the rest of the world, including pop culture, to help readers feel less alone and understand that a lot of the things they’re thinking or experiencing are universal. Another thing Rookie taught me is that it’s not just teenage girls who read and relate to the writing on the site. So, while my book is not expressly for teenagers, I hope that they read and take as much from it as any gross old person does.

LAST QUESTION! What are you hoping to see from this year’s entries? What styles or ideas do you hope emerging Australian writers are exploring in this, the year of our lord, 2016?

RW: My advice to new and emerging writers is, and will always be, BE FUCKING BRAVE. I want to read stories from diverse voices. I need to know that writers of all varieties of backgrounds and upbringings have the opportunity to be heard. I want to read crazy inventive narrative non fiction exploring any and all topics. I want to know people are still keen to break new ground with daring and disruptive fiction. Write the story you are ready to tell, don’t hold back.

LAST QUESTION! Your book No Way, Okay Fine! Is being published by Hachette Australia next year—is this a dream come true? What do you hope readers will get out of it?

BL: I really hope my book makes readers laugh and think, and that it gives them “me too!” moments, which is what my friend Sinead says to describe that feeling you get when you really connect to a thing you’re reading. I hope people find stuff in my book that makes them be like ugh I wish this weren’t a book so I could copy and paste it and tweet it and then they remember they can type it out on Twitter. That’s the thought that’s motivating me as I finish writing the dang thing!

Robert Watkins is a Publisher at Hachette Australia.

Brodie Lancaster is the editor of Filmme Fatales, a zine about women and cinema, and a senior editor at The Good Copy, a writing studio in Collingwood. She has written for Rookie, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Vulture and other publications. Her first book, a pop culture memoir called No Way! Okay, Fine!, will be out next year with Hachette.

The Richell Prize closes on June 1st.  The prize is open to previously unpublished writers – got three chapters of your manuscript? That’s all you need of the work itself. Submit that and a synopsis and you’re in the running to win $10,000 and a 12-month mentorship with Hachette.

Please read the Submission Guidelines and Terms & Conditions.