Introducing Karleah Olson whose manuscript, A Wreck of Seabirds, has secured her a place on the Fogarty Literary Award shortlist

Karleah Olson is a PhD candidate at Edith Cowan University, where she is studying Australian coastal gothic literature. It’s clear that her studies have influenced the creativity behind her manuscript A Wreck of Seabirds. The Fogarty Literary Award judges said her tightly written, atmospheric gothic YA novel evocatively captured the natural environment and explored the depths of human emotion.

Read more from Karleah below or tune in when Brooke Dunnell interviews her for the Fremantle Press podcast. You can subscribe on your favourite podcast app.

Describe your manuscript in your own words.

A Wreck of Seabirds follows young adult protagonists Briony and Ren who meet on the shore in a small coastal town. Briony is keeping herself and her life in a sort of limbo, waiting and hoping for the return of her missing older sister. Ren had spent his childhood in the same town but left as a teen after the loss of his brother. He has returned to care for his father, whose health and memory are rapidly declining. Ren has a complicated relationship with his father, and struggles being back in the town and the house that holds so many ghosts of his past.

This narrative is fragmented and told concurrently with two other stories: Aria and Sarah—Briony’s older sister—who become trapped on an isolated island off the coast, and young Ren and Sam, who struggle with their changing family life.

My intention was for these stories to be layered over each other, to feel as though they occur not only in the same place, but at the same time. What I hope this achieved is a complete story that pulls the reader in and out of the flow of each one, much like the constant ebb and flow of the ocean.

What inspired you to write it?

I wrote this novel as part of a PhD thesis about entrapment and liminal space in Australian Coastal Gothic Literature, so it is above all inspired by those concepts, and by the Gothic in general. If you’re looking for it, you’ll see that each of the protagonists in this story are trapped in one way or another, whether physically trapped on an island, or emotionally trapped by an experience of loss or grief.

It is also largely inspired by coastal landscapes. I set the novel in a fictional town, because I wanted it to feel more isolated than where I live here in Perth, but many of the descriptions and locations come straight from places I see every day. I’m so lucky to live and to have grown up here and to have always had this relationship with the coast and the ocean – but as beautiful as it is on a good day, it can also be dark, and wild and emotive, and I really wanted to capture that.

What does it mean to you to make the shortlist of the 2023 Fogarty Literary Award?

It means the world to me to make this shortlist. I’m very close to the end of my postgraduate experience at ECU; my thesis should be submitted by the end of the year. I undertook a PhD in the first place because I wanted to write a novel, I have done since I was a kid, and I thought that doing it this way would allow me to commit to that and finally get a manuscript out there. Being shortlisted for the Fogarty has really confirmed for me that it was all worth it. Above all, it has given me the confidence to call myself a writer, even though I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. It still feels a bit surreal, but even just making the shortlist is incredible.

To find out if Karleah has won the award, join us at the Fogarty Literary Ceremony on Thursday 25 May at The Edith Spiegeltent at ECU. Tickets are free and available from Eventbrite:

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