The art and craft of telling true stories

Zoe Ferguson 

From childhood to adolescence to adulthood, it penetrates our lives every day. It’s in conversation, it’s on the radio, it’s on television and it’s in print and online. It’s the telling of stories.

One form of storytelling is literary journalism, a form that reports with narrative techniques and stylistic strategies. Encompassing a range of mediums, literary journalism is an umbrella term for works including long-form features and profiles, essays and creative non-fiction.

Awarded annually, the Guy Morrison Prize recognises excellence in literary journalism and, in particular, celebrates the works of journalism students. This year’s winning piece, Through the Doors, by Fran Cusworth, a writing student at La Trobe University, is an 8,500-word exploration of Fran’s mother’s journey through dementia and death.

Guy Morrison

Guy Morrison

Through the Doors took her two months to write, followed by many more hours refining and turning into a formalised piece.

“The emotions of my mum’s death overwhelmed me. I purged myself by writing it all down. It shocked me how much time it consumed but at least I got it off my chest. My mum really encouraged me as a writer,” she says.

Literary journalism, according to Fran, is all about the story. “What grabs me when I read something great is the story  – its beginning, middle and end and the journey in between,” she says. “Our world is more complex than ever, and we need long spaces to explore that complexity and really go into it in a more leisurely and careful way,” she says.

Sue Joseph, a senior lecturer in journalism and creative writing at UTS, describes literary journalism through memory and sensation.

“How I describe it to my students is: if you can read a story, and remember it like a film, it’s probably literary journalism. I want it to keep going – hopefully people will always want to read; and reading makes you quiet and peaceful. I think the more frantic life gets with everything being so quick, the more people will look for that silent, quiet moment,” she says.

Award-winning feature writer Jane Cadzow, who judged this year’s Guy Morrison Prize for Literary Journalism, with the winner, Fran Cusworth.

Award-winning feature writer Jane Cadzow, who judged this year’s Guy Morrison Prize for Literary Journalism, with the winner, Fran Cusworth.

The judge of this year’s award, Jane Cadzow, agrees. She believes that the first step in writing a good feature article is to “have a really good subject. Not everyone is going to be interested in every subject, but if it really interests you then do it,” she says.

Jane won her second Magazine Feature Writing Walkley Award for Magazine Feature Writing last year for her article The world according to Bryce about Bryce Courtenay. It was a piece she worked on for more than a year.

She says it’s a hard art to master. “I must say, it doesn’t get any easier. It’s just as hard for me now as it is when I first started,” she says.


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