Publishing deal after Byron writer short-listed for prize

WHEN she was growing up on the south coast, Emily Brugman was catching waves from a young age.

Surfing has been a constant theme in her life and has had a major impact on her writing.

Her grandfather was a Finnish migrant who worked as a fisherman off the coast of Western Australia in the 1950s and '60s.

Ms Brugman, now based in the Byron Shire, has secured a publishing deal and has been short-listed for a prestigious literary prize for young writers.

"You slowly find what you're interested in," Ms Brugman said.

"I grew up surfing, so that was a natural direction for me to take."

Until recently she wrote a column, Curious Species, for surfing magazine Tracks and the ocean is a strong feature in her current fiction project.

"Because of my family background and my upbringing, I like to write about those wild landscapes," she said.

"I start with the ocean or surfing, then the story focuses on the people around that."

Ms Brugman was one of four young female writers nomin­ated for the 2020 Vogel Literary Award.

Previous recipients of the prize, Australia's richest award for an unpublished manuscript by writers under 35, include novelists Tim Winton, Kate Grenville, Danielle Wood, Gillian Mears, Andrew McGahan and Rohan Wilson.

While Ms Brugman didn't take out the top honour, which went to Katherine Kruimink, this year, being a Vogel short-lister opens plenty of doors for writers.

"It's pretty exciting to be short-listed," she said.

Being short-listed was particularly special given last year was the third time since the Vogel was launched in 1980 the judges declined to award the prize.

Ms Brugman has meanwhile secured a publishing deal with Allen & Unwin, a milestone that resulted from her position on the shortlist.

"I've known for a while about the short-listing and about my publishing deal," she said.

"You spend all this time and all these years writing and not knowing if it's ever going to see the light of day and then to find out it is good enough, it's such a confidence boost.

"You're always questioning yourself, whether people will like it, and you've just got to have that kind of persistence.

"Somehow, you've just got to continue on with it."

Her manuscript is a fictional collection of interconnected short stories, inspired by the life of her grandfather and other fishers on the Houtman Abrolhos archipelago, 60km offshore from Geraldton, WA. The work, five years in the making, emerged during her honours year at Southern Cross University.

"I'll be working on it for the next several months to submit in March 2021," she said.

"If all goes to plan it will be published in March 2022.

"I've got about 45,000 words and I need to get it to 60,000."

Ms Brugman is also working on long form essay, an anthology of surf and ocean writing commissioned by Fremantle Press.

"My essay is a series of interviews with people who've had extraordinary experiences with the sea: women ocean swimmers who've been swimming at Byron Bay for more than 20 years, a sailor who had a pretty frightening experience in the disastrous 1998 Sydney to Hobart, and a surfing couple where he got into trouble and she saved his life."

Ms Brugman relocated from Sydney to Byron Bay in 2016 to enrol in a Bachelor of Arts at SCU after having studied writing and cultural studies at the University of Technology Sydney.

"I wanted to spend some time immersed in writing and I thought the best way to do that was an honours year," she said.

"It proved valuable.

My work was still in its infancy."

She has also been working at Byron Writers Festival as festival administrator since 2018.