Fogarty Literary Award winner returns to her years spent in a small town in the American desert for her winning manuscript The Skeleton House

Katherine Allum won the 2023 Fogarty Literary Award at the Edith Spiegeltent at ECU on Thursday 25 May. Allum receives a $20,000 cash prize from the Fogarty Foundation and a publishing contract with Fremantle Press for her winning manuscript The Skeleton House.

American-born and Allum worked on her novel as part of an MA at City, University of London. Living and working during Covid from a tiny one-bedroom flat, which she describes as having a ‘one-butt kitchen’, she wrote at a 100 square centimetre Ikea table in the combined living/dining room, unable to scoot her chair out for fear of disturbing a shelf of books and her espresso machine.

Allum found that staring at a work laptop for seven to eight hours a day took the shine off the privilege of spending extra time staring at a different laptop to do writing. But she said, ‘All the grand, beautiful things done in this world are done by tired people making time out of nothing.’

The Skeleton House is a work of literary fiction set in a small town in the Nevada desert. The novel follows Meg, mother of two and married to Kyle. He is the husband everyone thinks is perfect but tension rises as Kyle builds his dream home and Meg’s desire for autonomy and freedom resurfaces as does a secret from the past.

Allum said the manuscript began as a question and an image. Her question was what if someone like her – a self-described introspective writer geek and weird homeschooled kid, who spent her final school years in a small American town in the desert – had terrible bad luck, lacked support and found herself stuck. Allum said her image was, ‘Crickets and creosote. A teenage boy and girl on a red quad bike, roaring down a dirt road into nowhere, their pale throats exposed as they holler to the thick indigo desert night. They disappear and the sun rises. There’s a skeleton house, its timber frame silhouetted against the dawn sky.’

Executive Chairperson of the Fogarty Foundation, Annie Fogarty AM, was surprised to learn that Katherine was already connected to the Award. In 2019 Katherine was visiting Texas when her partner, the writer Michael Burrows, had to return to Australia to accept his shortlisting for the Fogarty Literary Award for Where the Line Breaks. Annie Fogarty said, ‘We all watched from afar during Covid as Katherine led the cheerleading squad for Michael who went on to be named one of The Age / Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Novelists. All the while she was working hard on The Skeleton House and planning their move to Australia.’

In a twist of fate, Michael had already been asked to present the shortlisters with their certificates on stage during the ceremony. Annie said, ‘We are absolutely delighted to help another inspiring writer make the leap from manuscript to published book and even more delighted to see Michael cheering his wife on.’

Fremantle Press CEO Alex Allan said, ‘Once again the Fogarty Award is doing exactly what it was designed to do. Not only is Katherine a talented writer with an amazing manuscript but her drive and her support for others makes us even more excited to be working with her. She epitomises the literary leadership that is so important to the values and mission of the Fogarty Foundation.’

Allan said The Skeleton House is scheduled for publication in 2024, while shortlisted writers Prema Arasu, Josh Kemp, Patrick Marlborough, Karleah Olson and Emily Paull will work with publisher Georgia Richter and Cate Sutherland to further develop their manuscripts.

The award was judged by Fremantle Press publishers Georgia Richter and Cate Sutherland and 2021 Fogarty Literary Award winner Brooke Dunnell.

The Fogarty Literary Award is for Western Australian writers aged 18 to 35. The winner receives a cash prize of $20,000 and a publishing contract with Fremantle Press. Since its inception in 2019, nine previously unpublished writers have released books, with two – Josh Kemp and Michael Burrows – going on to win major national literary prizes.

The Fogarty Foundation was established by Brett and Annie Fogarty in 2000 to support and provide educational and leadership opportunities for young people across the spectrum of the Western Australian community.  The Foundation believes that supporting people who are leading in their studies, profession or the community, will enable positive change for the whole of the society.

About the winner: Katherine Allum was one of those ‘weird homeschool kids’ growing up, and was rarely seen without pen, paper and a library book. American-born, she moved frequently during childhood and finished her hybrid education in a small town in the desert. She completed her MA at City, University of London, where she wrote the first draft of her debut novel. She lives in Perth with her husband, and she does her best story plotting while swimming.

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