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2008 Australian Shadows Awards: The Winner

"The Claws of Native Ghosts" by Lee Battersby

(Published in The Beast Within, edited by Matt Hults, Graveside Books)

Lee Battersby is the multi-award winning author of over 70 stories, with publications in Australia, the US, and Europe. He lives in Western Australia with his wife, writer Lyn Battersby, a brood of kids, and a niggling sense of doom. This is the second time Lee has won the Australian Shadows Award, the first being in 2006 with his story "Father Muerte & The Flesh".

Visit the official Lee Battersby blog!

Read an interview with Lee Battersby by the ABC's Gary Kemble here .


Guest Judge Sarah Endacott's Comments:

I suffer from that curious postmodern affliction “the waning of affect”, where nothing turns me on. No Mad Mouse ride, no exploding body part, no dripping fiend sates me. I never jump from my seat at a black cat sprung on a window. I sit dully by when the masked face peers round the door. I do not flinch at a blade flicked on skin. But still I crave more.

Taken on a tour of Wollongong with Robert Hood, a great Australian horror writer, I remarked on the brutal modernism of some of the concrete factories squatting there on the hills, and asked him had he ever wondered if truly one day a giant monster would lurch over? “Daily,” he responded, “and then I imagine a second monster rising up…”

This is what it is to live loyal to horror. More please, but different. This is why it is so hard to write. The writers shortlisted for the Australian Shadows Award managed to press my button:

Lee Battersby - “The Claws of Native Ghosts”
Sara Douglass - “This Way to the Exit”
Jason Fischer - “Rick Gets a Job”
Christopher Green - “Lakeside”
Paul Haines - “Her Collection of Intimacy” 

What a pleasure it was to be flayed by these stories. Battersby sent me into the mind of a jealous, ego-centred brute, for a wild ride I couldn’t exit.

Douglass took me to the “discontented underground spaces” of London’s 1880s railway tunnels, where two gentleman supernatural investigators discover the imprudence of ignoring the superstitious warnings of past cultures.

Fischer’s hero can only just hold back his bile while processing the sluice of human bodies — but can the reader?

Green’s is a very short, evocative and nasty piece. The story moves through childhood’s pain, rejection and loss, which tries to compensate by bringing back something buried but not quite dead.

Haines (typically) leads us inside someone’s house, into their bedroom and into their sex life, then perversely connects sex and death, dependence and obsession, love and murder.

Lee Battersby’s “The Claws of Native Ghosts” fulfilled all the criteria for good horror and terror, and thus wins this year’s competition. His consistent attention to voice, his narrative muscle and unrelenting delving into a mind denied its presumed right to have what it wants, all conspire to make this story resonate. Battersby understands his position as a white writer against a black backdrop by avoiding the usual clumsy attempts at empathising with the Aboriginal, while so many Australian writers mishandle the Indigenous element. To the main character, Dawson, everyone — white, black, woman — is an object, and his lunatic ride to achieve his lusty obsessions carries on, heedless of casualty or hypocrisy. Lee has not so much re-imagined early settled Australia as worked to recreate a psychological constant in human history: the mad man with a weapon, and what he tells his god about what he has done. The dread inexorable march of bloodshed won me over.

Last, I will acknowledge the generous sponsorship of this award by Altair Australia, and Robert Stephenson in particular, for seeing further: that genre writing must continuously self-regenerate, and that awards and honours keep that magic stuff rolling in. I may have started out with that terrible ennui that comes from simultaneously having too much and not enough, but for now, am sated. Well, not really. NEXT!

Sarah Endacott
Editor/Publisher, Orb speculative fiction


Full reports from the 2008 Australian Shadows Judging can be found at the following links:

Shane Jiraiya Cummings
Brett McBean
Chuck McKenzie