HB Creativity is delighted to announce the winner and the runners up of the Instant Hook Literary Award for 2013/4.
The winner is Nathan Downey for his novel-in-progress After Batavia
Runners up are Michelle Lacroix for Set Adrift and Daniel S. Rubin for Floater.
The contest, which asked for entries of a first 250 words of a novel draft or novel-in-progress, attracted a great many ingenious, thought-provoking and dramatically adept submissions from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador. I am certain I have viewed quite a number of fine novels which will hook many a reader in months and years to come!
The remarkable thing about many entries and, in particular, these three, is that they managed to introduce a strong theme, hint at an interesting backstory, and reveal something about the internal reality of one or more character — yet all while moving forward dramatically.
I asked winner Nathan Downey some questions about his inspiration behind After Batavia.
PB: Your entry successfully achieved a number of things at the same time. You brought me very vividly, through the senses, to a place with which I am unfamiliar — Jakarta — while painting an inner portrait of your protagonist and suggesting themes both environmental and socio economic. It seemed to ask many questions and locked the reader into the narrative. What brought you to this story? and whereabouts are you (beginning, middle, or end) of this creative journey?
ND: Far-off places have always captured my imagination. One of my earliest interests was world geography and I’ve nurtured this interest ever since. If I had to pick a literary kindred spirit, it would be Joseph Conrad. I find his works absolutely packed full of a wide-eyed enthusiasm for the exotic (that perhaps equals his pessimism about the universality of human failings). I find my own writing guided by that dualism to a large degree.
Indonesia has been a crossroads for centuries. Arab traders brought Islam to its shores, which mingled with the Hinduism and Buddhism that were already well established there. Later, the whole region was chopped up into European colonies by the Dutch, the British, the Portuguese, and the Spanish. Even today we see a form of neo-colonialism as foreign resource companies vie for the archipelago’s minerals and oil. It’s a land divided on racial, linguistic, religious, economic, and class lines. In one way it’s a fantastically diverse region, and in another, it’s a cruelly stratified nation. For me, this is a fertile setting in which to explore the type of themes that have always fascinated me — post-colonialism, language and communication, sectarianism, and race relations.
I’ve written perhaps a third of the novel. I’ve finished the first draft of the first act. I have more or less the entire story mapped out, but owing to the setting in a different time and place, it’s required a huge amount of research at every turn. (Linguistically, historically, geographically, and so on.) I work full-time as a writer/researcher for an entertainment company, which means I get a ton of writing practice, but I frequently don’t have enough gas in the tank at the end of the day to work on the novel. In the next year or so, I plan on taking a research trip to the region (Indonesia and the Philippines). Following that, a few marathon months of writing should see the manuscript ready to move on to the editing/rewriting stage.
PB: I found your descriptions very cinematic. You begin with the image of a(n) (upturned, dead) chicken’s claws “cracked and burned in the equatorial sun”. Do you think of prose in cinematic terms? Do you find it helpful to do so?
ND: I would say my sense of place comes more from a prevailing aestheticism than from cinematic imagery (although there is certainly a crossover between these two concepts). It’s cliché at this point, but I get a lot of my inspiration from the natural world. The closest analog to a spiritual experience for me comes from witnessing the raw spectacle of nature. The places to which my imagination wanders work vividly on my senses, and I find it easy to put that same level of richness into the places in my writing. I don’t subscribe to Arcadian fantasy — for me the world is both beautiful and savage, both susceptible and indifferent to human machinations. That’s why I find it easy to zero in on something stark and unpleasant like a dead chicken’s sunburnt claws, and a few breaths later, zoom out a little further to describe the lush tropical verdure fringing the swimming pool.
PB: Is it possible to say which comes first for you — character, plot, a feeling about a place or a situation that needs to be conveyed? What motivates you to start tapping on your word processor?
ND: Place definitely comes the most readily to me. It’s hard to divorce place from context, so usually history follows on its heels through my synapses. This particular story arrived quite fleshed-out in my imagination, so character has really been the last stage in this case. In Indonesia, for example, centuries of colonialism have deeply affected the country’s trajectory through history. Even 20 years ago, the scars of history resulted in brutal race riots, particularly against the large Chinese minority in the country. My protagonist is a member of a new private-sector colonial elite, who is insulated — at first — from all this seething tension. The place is real, the history is real, the situation is real. The characters bring to life this complex historical/social/geographical narrative, and they arrived last in the process.
Congratulations again, Nathan! And many thanks to all the participants. We will be repeating this competition — or a variation of it — again this fall/winter coming, so stay tuned for the call for submissions and keep those pencils sharpened! (I know you all use word processors but “keep your computer plugged in” doesn’t have the right ring to it!)