Sam van Zweden




Let’s get up to speed

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Hello! It’s been… too long. I’m sorry. So very much has happened. Let’s get up to speed.

What’ve you been up to?

It’s been a busy time. I’ve been cross stitching, and walking the dog, and learning to drive. In more writing-related news though:

  • Back in October, I went to Ubud (Bali, Indonesia), where I spent a lot of time in a pool and read a lot of books, and also attended the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. It’s a magical festival in an absolutely bonkers setting—there’s jungle everywhere, and monkeys looking to loot your belongings, and teeny tiny lizards that make a lot of noise, and bigger and scarier lizards that are determined to poop on you from your ceiling if they can get there. It’s humid and the people are so kind and curious. It’s cheap, and the food is very good. I was lucky to see some faves at the festival including Lindy West, Kate Richards, Yotam Ottolenghi, and Fiona Wright. New faves include Raymond Antrobus, Lemn Sissay and Lindsay Wong. I came back with a lot of books. I’ve compiled my tweets and ‘grams from the festival, so you can catch up if you want.
  • While in Ubud I was lucky to sit at the edge of the jungle with Lindy West, eating some kind of magical coconut pancake and chatting about Zelda and Stardew Valley for a while. Then it got serious and we discussed her latest book, The Witches are Coming. West is actually as much of a dreamboat as she seems to be from her writing. I wrote this interview up into a profile for the Saturday Paper.


You probably know by now that I’ve been working on a manuscript for a very long time. It started as my Honours work at RMIT in 2014, and grew from there. After almost a year of rejections and dead-ends, things have finally started to fall into place.

  • In December it was announced that my manuscript, titled Eating with my Mouth Open, won the 2019 KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award.
  • The manuscript has been acquired by NewSouth Publishing, a nonfiction-specialising publisher based in New South Wales. It will be available in book stores in August 2020—that’s just six months away!

The publication process is in full swing, and it’s full of surprises and new things to learn. I’m posting regular updates on Twitter, Instagram, and I’ll be blogging more regularly in the lead-up to publication.

Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Awards shortlisting

lmcwa-text-250x118 I’m entirely thrilled to share that I have been shortlisted for the Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Awards, in the narrative nonfiction category. This shortlist is packed with talented people, and I’m humbled to be in the fabulous company of some of my favourite Melbourne writers including Else Fitzgerald, Laura Stortenbeker and Alice Bishop.

The title of the essay that I’ve entered may sound familiar – it was also shortlisted for the Lifted Brow & RMIT non/fictionLab Experimental Non-fiction Prize in 2016, and since then has been significantly expanded for this competition. It’s about self-harm, body image, the ways people read one another’s bodies and finding peace with permanent scars. It’s fragmented and it was difficult to write, and it’s a piece that I’m proud of. This LMCWA shortlisting is lovely and validating, and I hope that the piece will find a good home in the near future.

Congratulations to everyone on the shortlist – this in itself is a big achievement, and worth celebrating in its own right.

The award winners will be announced on 8 December – best of luck to all!

Awards They Are A-Happenin’

We are well and truly in awards season, and it’s a fantastic place to be! I’m having my attention called to a heap of books that I probably wouldn’t otherwise pick up or consider. I’m swelling with pride and happiness for all the writers who are getting the recognition that they deserve.

In this “pride” category, I’m particularly thinking about yesterday’s Miles Franklin shortlist announcement. I’m proud because it’s made up entirely of women, and I’m proud because I feel like it represents a real breadth of writing – the Miles Franklin has been criticised in the past for over-representing rural, historical narratives. I’m proud because three of the women on this shortlist are debut novelists. Sometimes awards come round, and get given, and I think “NO! That doesn’t represent my feelings at all!”. This year’s Miles Franklin shortlist does represent my feelings. It’s in line with what I think is important, and the stories that I think should be appreciated. The winner of the 2013 Miles Franklin award will be announced on the 19th June.

In other award news, for the second time ever in history (ever), there is no winner for the 2013 Vogel Award. The Vogel Award is for an unpublished work by a writer under 35. It’s a brilliant prize, because it helps to foster promising young writers. The judges have said that they just couldn’t find anything among this year’s entries that deserved the prize. I’ve been thinking about what this decision (or lack of…) means for writers, and the state of the industry – what are the causes of being in this position?

Does no Vogel award mean that all the good books have been published? Does it mean that the really gutsy, complex stuff is being written by people over the age of 35? I suspect that the Vogel this year has simply suffered from what I like to call “The Scholarship Effect”. You know how schools offer scholarships (or any organization, really, and anything that appears to be hard to get), but you don’t bother applying for them, because you imagine all these other, far more worthy applicants waiting in the wings? And then you do apply, and you get it, because you were wrong. I think that might be what’s happened with the Vogel. Maybe there were people worthy of the award that just didn’t know about, or have the confidence to enter the Vogel Award this year.

Also, there are thin years and there are fat years. In keeping with Geordie Williamson’s comments on B+P, maybe it’s just a lean year.

Either way, just because the Vogel judges didn’t think anything contained the “special quality” they’re looking for, doesn’t mean there’s not still stacks of great books to read – as evidenced by all the amazing prizes recently awarded, and about to be awarded soon. There’s still time to read the whole Miles Franklin shortlist before the announcement in June – GO!

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