Three writers of young adult fiction have been selected as the winners of the 2020 Affirm Press Mentorship Award in partnership with Varuna, which focused on YA and middle grade fiction submissions for the second year.

The three writers – Kate Maxwell, Emma Lord and Emma Pignatiello – will be awarded a week’s residency and manuscript development at Varuna House in the Blue Mountains in November. Meg Whelan and Coral Huckstep, Editor and Assistant 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 writers.

Three distinct and intriguing stories make up this year’s winners:

Foundling by Kate Maxwell
Ling is the last of her kind, kept captive by a sadistic trader and forced to use her abilities to grow his business and influence. But Ling’s magic is beginning to fail. When a chance to see her almost-forgotten homeland is dangled before her, Ling jumps at the opportunity – even knowing that only death awaits her. But her history might not be all it seems … A richly realised fantasy world with touches of Tamora Pierce and Leigh Bardugo, Foundling is addictive reading from the very first page.

Anomaly by Emma Lord
Consumed by grief over the loss of her father, seventeen-year-old Piper thought things were bad before the deadly pandemic hit. Now it’s an end-of-days dumpster fire; she’s alone, facing starvation, and struggling with violent new abilities she can’t control. Anomaly has all the hallmarks of gripping YA sci-fi, but it’s the voice that is most exciting in this text, as well as a pace that has the ability to both quicken the pulse and slowly reveal points of intrigue for the reader.

The Bone Painter by Emma Pignatiello
On the island of Adelpha, a place where most art and magic are forbidden, Temi makes a decent living as a ‘Bone Painter’. But when Temi finds herself at the centre of a murder investigation of a rival Bone Painter, she takes on a client she would normally refuse … Set in an intriguing world with a complex protagonist and a dark, compelling plot involving magic, deception and serious crime, The Bone Painter is a new breed of YA fantasy.

Varuna assessors Shivaun Plozza and Kristina Schulz assessed the 148 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.

Meg Whelan, Affirm Press kids list editor, said: ‘Thank you to everyone who took the time to apply for this program. There were some really wonderful options to choose from, but the three winners stood out for their fantastic world-building, strong characterisation and snappy pacing. We are so excited to work with these authors to develop their manuscripts.’

Now in its sixth year, the Affirm Press Mentorship Award has already resulted in four highly regarded published works: Paula Keogh’s Stella Prize shortlisted lyrical memoir The Green Bell, Sonia Orchard’s outstanding novel Into the Fire, Angela Williams’s literary memoir Snakes and Ladders, and most recently, Katherine Tamiko Arguile’s exquisite debut novel The Things She Owned.