Western Sydney University writers win prestigious novella prize

Two Western Sydney University students from the Writing and Society Research Centre have been named joint winners of Seizure’s prestigious Viva La Novella prize, Australia’s only stand-alone novella competition.

Carly Cappielli and Joshua Mostafa, both doctoral candidates at the Centre, were named joint winners – notching up the first literary prize of their writing careers.

Carly Cappielli’s novella, Listurbia, is described as ‘fiction for the Buzzfeed generation’. Told entirely in lists, Ms. Cappielli’s work is both formally inventive and emotionally potent. Set in Sydney’s western suburbs, Listurbia is about memory, forgetting and only finding peace in the present by confronting the ghosts of the past. Listurbia was written as the creative component of Ms. Cappielli’s Master of Research.

Carly Cappielli, author of Listurbia.

“I wanted to see how far I could take the idea of using lists to tell a story. During my research I read Joe Brainard’s I Remember, which is essentially ‘just’ a list of memories but it’s incredibly moving and ends up telling a story of sorts as well, which was one of the inspirations for Listurbia,” said Ms. Cappielli.

“I also wanted to set the novella in western Sydney because I’ve grown up here so can write about things that people from other places probably wouldn’t know about, and secondly because I feel like western Sydney is not a traditional or romantic setting, especially not for experimental fiction, but I think it can be.

“My study at Western Sydney University was vital in writing Listurbia. I had access to amazing resources and support. My supervisors Chris Andrews and James Gourley were wonderful and gave me lots of ideas and direction during both the research and writing stages.

“My advice to up and coming writers in western Sydney would be to write what you know (like lots of people say) but also to be specific. By that I mean, pay attention to little things that might seem unimportant (like your own funny thoughts and idiosyncrasies) because these are what make your characters and their worlds come alive. And don’t be afraid to experiment!”

Joshua Mostafa’s novella, Offshore, creates an unnervingly real near-future world where the systems we rely on have fallen apart. Filled with dry wit and pacey action, Offshore tells the story of a Sydney academic, who is relaying his story from a detention centre as he and his fellow detainees plan an uprising.

Joshua Mostafa, author of Offshore.

Mr Mostafa’s creative practice explores the interstices of prose and metrical poetry, of narrative and the lyric, and of the written and the spoken word.

“I actually started writing Offshore on the train one day, so it started with the idea of a character and story. Then, as I read a lot of Novellas, I thought it might be a good challenge to experiment with prose and poetry in this form,” said Mr. Mostafa.

“The story does also explore, in a way, a rage at the political class not living up to their obligations when it comes to international refugees – so there is a political message. But for any story to have a political message it has to have a story that has a life of its own, which is what I’ve tried to do here.

“For up and coming writers from western Sydney, I would encourage them to fully realise how vibrant their community is and how many new things can emerge from such a melting pot.”

Both books are available from all good bookstores and from Seizure Online .

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