RUBY Murray’s story, Hunting Animals, grew out of an image in a memoir by American naturalist E. O. Wilson in which he writes about a man hunting with a gun on a beach. She is a great fan of his work, and his views about the complexity and beauty of nature.
It is a coming-of-age story set one Australian summer as its 11-year-old protagonist encounters more than she anticipates on the beach. But there was more than simply Wilson’s environmental views at play as Murray wrote the story.
”The other connection that I had in mind was the way, as children, we want to belong to the natural world, often, but not to the adult world, and that it can be hard to see them as connected. For me at that age, the natural world seemed to offer something really concrete and mystifying, in a way that the social world didn’t, because the social world – the world of adults – could seem so crude and strange,” she says.
It’s a very different piece from her first prize-winning story, about war in space, that received a Nestle Write Around Australia award. Eight years ago she won the Express Media John Marsden Prize, and in 2012 her first novel, Running Dogs, set in Indonesia during the 1990s, was published by Scribe.
Murray says she has always written – compulsively in her teens – something that was encouraged by her parents. (Her mother, Kirsty Murray, writes young-adult fiction.) At present she’s at work on a second novel in California, where she spends a large chunk of each year.
She wrote Hunting Animals over a long time, rewriting it frequently. Eventually it was completed between drafts of Running Dogs.
One of the award judges, writer Catherine Ford, says Murray’s story ”picks its way, with fresh insights, through a familiar chronicle: the unrelenting boredom of waiting for something to happen in small-town Australia; and the weird gratifications, and shocks, when something eventually does punctuate the tedium … It’s simply told, flecked with flashes of brittle, sunlit recollection.”
The Age fiction columnist Cameron Woodhead, another judge, says it is ”insightful and well-crafted short fiction with a strong command of the form and a sense of aesthetic completeness”.
First prize was won by Michelle Wright for Maggot; Graeme Simsion was second with Three Encounters with the Physical. The judges also commended three stories – McCaffrey: By an Obituarist by Lucas Smith, The Gift by Enza Gandolfo, and Good People by Rebecca Harrison.
About 850 stories were entered and assessed anonymously after an initial sifting by the Melbourne centre of the international writers’ organisation, PEN.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.