Emergence by SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition

From thousands of entries, judges, Alice Pung and Christos Tsiolkas, have chosen 30 stories to be included in this year’s anthology. The title of the collection refers to both emerging writers and the desired theme: writers were invited to pen a non-fiction memoir with ‘emergence’ as their starting point.

The winning entry, ‘The usual’, by Tessa Piper is a disturbingly raw commentary on young girls and the male gaze. This story sits above the others as a deserving winner. In the foreword the judges remark on this piece and single out four others for commendation. My concern is that those other four then run consecutively after the winner … what then of the other published entries? Are they merely gap-fillers? The foreword (unwittingly) gives the impression that the entries have been published in descending order of merit. Pity the sixth … and the 30th.

Let’s assume then that the first five entries are good (they are) and give the remaining 25 a chance to shine. ‘Mah jong instructions for life’ plays with structure, using rules and strategy of the tile and dice game to mirror Vanessa Yenson’s health battle. Similarly, ‘Unplugged’ has an unusual form, as Hannah McPierzie deals with deafness, with silence rendered by blank space on the page.

Fittingly, the Emergence stories emerge from diverse backgrounds. Many of the stories deal with childhood, sexuality and relationships with parents and/or the wider/whiter community. There’s trauma and survival and, above all, there’s undeniable talent in all the entries.

Reviewed by Bob Moore

SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition

Now in its third year, the anthology features stories by thirty emerging writers, each speaking to the theme of ‘Emergence’ and each offering a unique snapshot of contemporary Australia. Judged by Alice Pung and Christos Tsiolkas, the stories explore themes such as sense of place, family, loss, culture, sexual awakening and the abiding connections to people and place that make us who we are. Told with utterly fresh perspectives and a rich vein of literary talent, these stories are an invitation into the unique worlds of everyday Australians.

Hardie Grant and SBS champion the voices of a diverse Australia, and support the discovery and development of emerging talent to contribute to Australian storytelling.

The Empty Honour Board by Martin Flanagan

Martin Flanagan grew up in northwest Tasmania and was sent to boarding school at the ridiculously young age of 10. This memoir, concentrating on his school years, doesn’t name the school, and teachers are given pseudonyms. It was a boys-only Catholic boarding school and one quarter of its teaching staff were convicted of sexual abuse. Flanagan wasn’t among those sexually abused, but the culture of bullying by both teachers and fellow students affected every student. He wishes he’d done more, describing himself as a ‘mute witness to other kids’ pain and humiliation’.

His six years at the school are ranked as the worst of his life. His first three years were marked by bullying and living in terror of being singled out by the brothers for punishment. The final three years were better, but his heightened responsibility also found him having to witness the aftermath, and subsequently report the abuse of younger students.

Corporal punishment in his school years – late ’60s to early ’70s – was marked by the sting of a cane. The rector, given the name ‘Herman’ by Flanagan, ‘moved like a black chess piece carrying its own brand of silent terror’. Flanagan had his older brother, Tim, as his protector and found joy in sport. (A career as an award-winning sports journalist followed.)

Flanagan wishes he was braver then – but he was so much younger than his contemporaries. He fills his empty honour board with the names of those students who displayed bravery by standing up, either for themselves or others. His writing is gentle yet powerful. The Empty Honour Board is a memoir masterclass.

Reviewed by Bob Moore



Martin Flanagan was born in 1955 and graduated in law from the University of Tasmania in 1975. He has written many books, a play and two film treatments. From 1985 to 2017, he wrote for the Melbourne Age on sport and other subjects.

Do Penguins’ Feet Freeze? by Natural History Museum, London

Have you ever wondered how polar bears stay warm? What about why there are dark spots on the moon? How about if dolphins talk to each other? What about if something lives at the bottom of the ocean? Well now there is a book which can answer these questions and so many more for you! Hailing from the team at the Natural History Museum of London, Do Penguins’ Feet Freeze? is a quirky collection of questions and answers focussing on the natural world.

I’ve always wondered why rain has a distinct smell, thanks to this book I have learnt that the scent is known as petrichor, and it is made when oils from plants combine with a special molecule called geosmin. Geosmin is made by special algae and bacteria. As it turns out our noses are especially sensitive to it when it combines with the plant’s oils, and that is why we can smell petrichor every time it rains.

Each page in this book poses a new question about the natural world and then answers it with fun images and informative text.

It is fun, real and perfect for curious young minds who have lots of questions about the natural world which surrounds us. They will be excited to share the new things they learn with everyone around them which to me is a win-win for any adult out there looking for a new read for their bedtime repertoire!

Reviewed by Sophie Bowe
Age Guide 6+



Wild and weird Q&As about the natural world that show that facts can be stranger than fiction!
Do Penguins’ Feet Freeze? is a wonderfully weird collection of questions and answers about our natural world, written by the expert team at the Natural History Museum, London.

Packed with colourful images throughout, this book reveals:

  • Why do rabbits eat their own poo?
  • How do polar bears stay warm?
  • Can dolphins talk to each other?
  • Why does rain smell?
  • How clever is an octopus?
  • Which animal has spines in its throat?
  • Why do goats scream and faint?
  • Will an asteroid hit Earth?
  • Why are flamingos pink?
  • Do birds sneeze?
  • Why do honeybees dance?

… and many more cool and quirky facts that prove nature is often stranger than fiction!

Recommended for families and readers ages 9+.

Consumed by Greg Buchanan

Seventy-year-old Sophia Bertilak was a famous photographer. Her most famous photograph, the photo that launched her career, was an accident. When Sophia was 17, she was given a camera for her birthday and went to the woods, photographing everything. One photo was of a man and a young girl. A girl who had been missing for three years. A girl who was never seen again after the photo. The other shot was taken from above a pipe in the ground. When the photo was developed, it revealed an eye looking back from beneath the earth.

In the present day, Sophia is the victim of what the police believe to be a tragic accident. Living on her own, back on the farmstead she grew up on, it appears that she has been consumed by her two pet pigs.

Cooper Allen is a forensic veterinarian who is tasked with the investigation and autopsy of the pigs. Although the police believe it to be an accident, Cooper becomes infatuated with Sophie. Against the wishes of the police, she starts to investigate Sophie’s life. Strange evidence suggests that Sophia’s death may not have been an accident after all.

I admit to being lost and confused a few times, but perseverance is rewarded with an ending that is hard to see coming. The structure of the narrative is well written, with emails and voicemails used to progress the story and flesh out the characters. Buchanan creates an eerie miasma that shrouds the story, pervading Consumed with a sense of suspense and confusion.

Reviewed by Neale Lucas



Greg Buchanan is a BAFTA-longlisted writer for interactive and screen. His debut novel Sixteen Horses was selected for BBC Two’s Between the Covers and Waterstones Thriller of the Month. He is a best selling author of novels, video games and more.


Visit Greg Buchanan’s website 

Immortal Longings by Chloe Gong

After her breakout YA success with These Violent Delights, Chloe Gong has delivered her first adult urban fantasy novel.

Immortal Longings is set in San-Er, a gritty, overpopulated metropolis where citizens are offered a yearly chance for fame and fortune – they can sign up to a Hunger Games-esque battle to the death. The two main characters, Calla Tuolemi and Anton Makusa, both have separate, conflicting motives to fight in the games, but they still team up to navigate their new sea of deadly enemies.

The heart of Immortal Longings is the sci-fi element of body jumping. This is a pretty common practice in San-Er, which leads to some really interesting world-building setups. Like ‘How do you treat your birth body when you know it could be invaded at any second?’ Or ‘How do you perceive gender if you are constantly swapping your physical form?’

Chloe Gong takes advantage of this fascinating concept and uses it both to develop the world and strengthen the characters.

Anton and Calla are based on the Shakespearean personas in Anthony and Cleopatra, so their relationship is layered and full of rivalry. Each character is prickly and unwilling to back down, so it is fun reading when their personalities clash. Also, the twisting, turning plot was a highlight of the book for me. It felt like every chapter introduced a new game-changing revelation. The action was well written and fast paced, but still easy to follow. The only issues I ran into were the massive info-dumps of history and lore that took up whole pages. This narrative choice felt a little clunky to me.

For fans of Chloe Gong and epic, Shakespearean drama, this latest offering is an absolute winner!

Reviewed by Rachel Denham-White



Chloe Gong is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Secret Shanghai novels, as well as the Flesh and False Gods trilogy. Her books have been published in over twenty countries and have been featured in the New York TimesPEOPLE, Forbes and more. She is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she double-majored in English and International Relations. Born in Shanghai and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, Chloe is now located in New York City, pretending to be a real adult.


Visit Chloe Gong’s website