Three writers of middle grade fiction have been selected as the winners of the 2019 Affirm Press Mentorship Award in partnership with Varuna, which focuses on Young Adult and Middle Fiction manuscripts for the first time.

The three writers – Sarah Armstrong, Jacqueline Mohr and Nicola Wardley – will be awarded a week’s residency and manuscript development at Varuna House in the Blue Mountains later this year. Davina Bell and Meg Whelan, Commissioning Editor and Editor with the Affirm Press kids team, will attend to provide in-depth manuscript development and feedback as well as to establish ongoing relationships with the winners.

Three very different stories for middle grade readers make up this year’s winners.

Big Magic by Sarah Armstrong
After a circus trick goes wrong and eleven-year-old Tulsi’s magician mother Merry disappears, Tulsi has just one week to learn enough magic to rescue Merry from a parallel universe – a world where Tulsi has never been born, and which holds the key to saving their circus. Big Magic has all the makings of a grand middle-grade fantasy adventure: great characters, a vivid setting, fascinating magic and very high stakes.

The Mysterious Affair of the Cocoa Bean by Jacqueline Mohr
Twelve-year-old Lotty Gold Worthington has a taste for the macabre and the mysterious, so when she discovers the body of a family friend, she’s convinced it is up to her to solve his murder … even though everyone else insists it was an accident. Set in 1953 in an expatriate Australian community within Papua New Guinea, The Mysterious Affair of the Cocoa Bean is a middle-grade historical mystery with a fantastic cast of characters and an intriguing setting.

I Can’t Even by Nicola Wardley
When Alex’s mum leaves for a health retreat in the wilds of Tasmania, Alex is pretty worried. Which isn’t that unusual: Alex is always worried. But when her mum fails to come home at the end of the weekend, Alex’s worst fears are realised. How is she meant to find her mum, handle her sister and get ready to start high-school all in one week? With an outstanding voice and plenty of humour, mystery, family drama and self-discovery, I Can’t Even is a contemporary middle-grade with a lot of potential.

Varuna assessors Melina Marchetta and Nancy Conescu assessed the 128 manuscripts that were submitted for the award from writers across Australia, and the Affirm Press editorial team selected the three winning manuscripts from a shortlisted selection.

Davina Bell and Meg Whelan said, ‘We are thrilled to be partnering with Varuna once again, this time with a focus on books for young readers. The quality of submissions we received was extremely high, and it truly was a challenge to pick three from the shortlisted fifteen titles.

‘We’re very much looking forward to working with the successful authors and think that with genres like contemporary, mystery and fantasy all covered, we are set for a fascinating week at Varuna.’

Now in its fifth year, the Affirm Press Mentorship Award has already resulted in two highly regarded published works: Paula Keogh’s Stella Prize shortlisted lyrical memoir The Green Bell and Sonia Orchard’s outstanding novel Into the Fire, which has received glowing reviews after being published earlier this month. A third book, Snakes and Ladders by Angela Williams, is a literary memoir about the Australian prison system and will be published in 2020.