2019 Fogarty Literary Award longlist: Ben Mason

Ben is longlisted for the Fogarty Literary Award for his collection of contemporary short stories, Home Invasion. He’s the founder of the Bunbury Writers Hub and the Bunbury Writers Group.

Here he talks about giving up his career to write full-time, the state of the nation and how getting an earful from an established author set him on the right path to publication.

Describe your manuscript in your own words.

Home Invasion is a short story collection that examines the class clashes in modern Australia. Alongside that, it also explores the notion of choice. There is a narrative in our society that states we make and are responsible for our own choices disembodied of context. Using my characters and their situations, I’m basically asking, is this true? And if so, how and to what extent?

Three stories in one sentence: a house wife leaves for yoga and discovers a homeless family in her front yard; an out-of-work miner packs up his life to road trip across the continent— but doesn’t tell his partner why the desperate rush; and a young mother fleeing domestic violence realises kidnapping her daughter was the easy bit.

What inspired you to write it?

A child protection worker told me about a kid the department had consciously given up on because he was too hard. The person wasn’t happy about the decision, but they weren’t apologetic about it, either. They were exasperated. This boy was really young and they just left him on the streets and said, “Visit if you need food.” That’s nation–state failure and every one of us as Australians has to cop that. That riled me up enough to want to write a story about it.

All my stories are seeded in those little moments of epiphany. It’s like I can glimpse — for a moment — the horizon of the story. You only realise how hopeless that is when you try and express it. Most of the work is research and re-writing and editing.

How long have you been working on it?

I’ve quit a career and been writing more or less full time for five years. Most of that time has been spent on two novels. But a chance encounter with A.S. Patric at a writing festival ended up with me being given some in-between the eyes advice. He basically benched me, gave me a spray for trying to take high flying marks — The Great Australian Novel — asked me to play the percentage game — magazines, journals — and then said, “Now get your arse back out there.” So the short answer is one year. However, I have used both scenes and characters from my novels, and even re-wrote from scratch one of my first short stories.

What does it mean to you to make the longlist of the 2019 Fogarty Literary Awards?

Look, there’s something insane about writing imaginatively every day, for years, pretty much in secret, in isolation. I don’t believe anyone can do that and not question your own self-worth. You have to create a boxing persona who spruiks you to yourself, telling yourself that your words are the greatest ever written. Which is even more insane.

This is like turning around and realising there’s some people in your corner, cheering you on, letting you know to keep sticking at it.

Read an extract from Home Invasion

Even though I haven’t seen Connor in over ten years, he still shadows my life like an old fascist statue that lingers over a people that once lived under an authoritarian regime. I find myself speaking to him in unguarded waking moments, or I wake from sleep troubled at his presence.

First, I’ll tell about the morning we got fired from work, then later that night, when Connor almost took a machete to the head, and then finally, Connor’s car getting smashed up.

But before that, you’ll need some expository details. And I’ll say some words about what happened after. If an age may happen in a night, like a ferocious revolution, then it’s violence is given sense by the build up before it, and what then followed.


We lived in Rowtown: this wire cage that meant our bodies never travelled outside the main roads of the postcode, some kind of fringe area that blurred the distinction between suburb and country town. And our minds didn’t go much further. That’s important to understand.

If Melbournians ever heard of our hood, it was because they saw the signs for its exit on the freeway while they headed east to the wineries and nature walks of the Dandenong Ranges, or south towards the waves and holiday houses on Phillip Island and the Mornington Peninsula, or then again, maybe even on the six o’clock news if a drug deal went bad, or somebody killed in a car accident. We were nowhere and nowhere was our world. Later, my inner city private schooled mates would call it the sticks or the Bronx.

My parents moved here chasing a promotion and got stuck here by middle-class aspirations. They both grew up on rural farms and fled their homes and schools when they were fifteen. They met in the city but returned to the country for lifestyle reasons. They moved around with Dad’s job as a fire fighter. When they returned to Rowtown, they had country people fears of the city. I wasn’t allowed to even cross the road until well after my other primary school mates. My parents boasted about their own childhoods, riding around on their bikes all day until teatime, something accusatory implied in their tones, as if I was the one in control of the facts of life. Much to the derision of mates, I never owned a bike or learnt to ride until I was ten. Yet, they were oddly proud about some things. I’d catch them on the phone rattling off foreign last names and countries, bragging that the whole world went to my school or played in my football team.

Later, it was 2004, our last year of high school, and the end hurtled so fast and so close that the wire dissolved and we tasted freedom like the dry dirt that catches your throat in the summer winds, freedom like the sunny day we were finally allowed to engage with after merely observing from the inside of a pent-up classroom, freedom that is about as sure footed as stepping into the air off a cliff — which at that time was the point — but at a later time the consequences of which will make themselves known as sure as a set of jagged rocks.

Coming out of high school, I don’t think I was sure if Connor Petrov was my best friend so much as the person I spent the most amount of time with. We’d been more or less close through friendship groups and the drift of schooling. He was built like a brick shithouse: 6’3, over a hundred kilos and a chest you couldn’t completely see without turning your head. He used to have boyish good looks — green eyes and blonde locks that hooked behind his ears. But he’d started keeping his hair close with gangster lines shaved on the side.

Local gossip pegged us for two young men being caught in a rip of toxic masculinity. Out of our friendship group, we were the only ones leaving high school without a map. We didn’t have apprenticeships lined up, or family businesses to move into, or aspirations for the business courses at university. Rumours spread about us — about people we bashed, drugs we took, or girls we harassed — like warnings about a contagious virus. Far from doing anything to stem their flow, we brandished our reputations like junkies showing off track marks. We were caught in a rip, but it was no different from the same one that swept up everyone else in Rowtown. It was a distinct set of material conditions defined by the place that we lived, and the prevailing attitudes, values and beliefs that entailed. Rowtown was a place where good and bad was black and white. People got up and went to work in factories, trades, the local shopping centre, or maybe lower-level management at the skyscrapers in town. Connor and I swam against that with every ounce of our strength. We took one look at what society offered and responded with raised fingers and a fuck you. Even now, I believe, it was more than toxic masculinity, stupidity and ignorance.

About Ben

Ben founded the Bunbury Writers Hub, the Bunbury Writers Group and hosts quarterly spoken word nights. His fiction, poetry and essays have been published in magazines and journals, including Brain drip, Grok and Swinposium. Ben is this year’s winner of the 2019 Margies Poetry Slam as part of the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival. His work has been listed and commended in national fiction competitions, including The Margaret River Short Story Competition and The Katherine Susannah Pritchard Prize for Short Fiction. He has been the joint winner of The Bunbury Fringe Prize for his spoken word. His spoken word poetry was well received as part of a headline show at The Bunbury Fringe Festival. As well as dabbling in slam poetry, acting and editing, Ben sings with the local folk and sea shanty group, The Anchormen, who perform across Western Australia.


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