The Best Australian Yarn: winners’ tips and triumphs

Alison Wakeham
The West Australian
3 Min Read
Jacqueline MacDonald.
Jacqueline MacDonald. Credit: Phillip Biggs/The West Australian

It still feels surreal to Jacqueline MacDonald that her short story Split Life won $50,000 last year, but there is one thing she is certain of — it has been the best thing to happen to her writing career.

The Tasmanian author took the top prize in The Best Australian Yarn with her dystopian tale about a worker wrestling with doubt as the rich and powerful pay to clone themselves.

It was partly inspired by former prime minister Scott Morrison’s secret takeover of ministries during the coronavirus pandemic.

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The win not only delivered a lot of money, but it gave MacDonald the shot in the arm she needed to reinvigorate her love of writing and the time she needed to get down to work.

“It was all a bit of a shock at the time,” MacDonald recalls. “The main thing is that it has been a real confidence booster, that validation that I am on the right track.

“It has really spurred me on and I have been much more productive. I have been able to reduce the number of hours I work and get the space to write. It has really taken the pressure off.”

MacDonald has written other short stories since her win and some flash fiction but her biggest project has been to dust off a manuscript for a book that she started a few years ago.

She is currently putting together a pitch for the book that she plans to send to publishers.

She also plans to enter The Best Australian Yarn this year. “I’m not expecting lightning to strike twice but it will be nice to take part again,” she says.

“I had a really good experience with it. I have a couple of ideas I’m thinking about but there’s nothing down on paper yet.”

MacDonald’s advice to those planning to enter the competition is to write with passion and feeling.

“It has to be a story that you want to tell or a point you want to make. Find that and go with it, see where it takes you,” she says.

Perth writer Sam Cecins was named runner-up last year for his story A Highway To Call Home, in which a long-haul truck driver reflects on his past and rethinks his future after a message from a daughter he has barely seen.

Sam Cecins is a finalist in the Best Australian Yarn competition. Pictured is Sam in Atwell
Sam Cecins Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

He has begun to shape the outline but knows that the story will change as he progresses.

Like MacDonald, he says he gained a lot of confidence from doing so well in last’s year competition.

“I am always writing because I enjoy it, but it is good to know that it is enjoyed by other people and that it connected with other people,” he says.

“It was definitely energising and gave me the confidence that I was heading in the right direction.”

Cecins is close to the inaugural winner of the competition, David Harris — he was the best man at Cecins’ wedding — and has worked with him on his craft.

He recommends that entrants find other people to workshop their stories with. “It’s really worthwhile having different eyeballs on it.”

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