Aileen Westbrook won the 2018 Monash Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing, taking home $4,000 for her story ‘Mistook’, chosen from over 340 entries. The judges were captured by the piece, stating, “It’s impressive to see a story meld poetry, direct address in the second person, and a fragmented sense of time, all in the service of such a moving end.”

We spoke to Aileen about her winning piece and advice for 2019 applicants. 

What were you studying when you entered the Monash Prize in 2018?

I was studying archaeology, and on a wild impulse, enrolled in a first year creative writing subject at Macquarie University. It was such a joyful thing to be able to play around with words – intoxicating! My story ‘Mistook’ was born from a class exercise.

What made you want to enter?

I would never have had the courage to enter the competition, had it not been for the encouragement of inspiring lecturers from Macquarie Uni’s English Department!

Tell us a little bit about your entry.

‘Mistook’ is prose poem – a hybrid creature that took on a life of its own. It concerns a school girl who finds herself in an impossible situation – what will she do with her baby? Writing ‘Mistook’ was a strangely beautiful thing to do – even if shot through with sorrow. It was like finding my own natural voice that I’d not spoken before. It was almost a rising-up, a condensation, of stories I’d heard during my childhood. These swirling, behind-the-doors stories, hushed up, told of terrible damage wrought by the church on its flock. Also, at the time of writing, horrifying evidence was emerging from Australia’s Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse in Institutions. ‘Mistook’ is an elegy to those wounded children.

What have you been up to since winning first prize?

Writing! Short stories, poetry, microfiction. Working up the courage to submit pieces! I had a wonderful opportunity to engage in a mentorship with Verge, Monash University’s Writing Journal. My story, ‘The Silk Hook,’ will be published in Verge’s ‘Uncanny’ Issue, 2019.

How has it assisted you in your career as a writer?

The prize gave me the confidence to keep writing. EWF continues to be incredibly generous in opening up writing opportunities for me. ‘Mistook’ was published in Kill My Darlings. What followed was a fantastic Verge mentorship, pushing me to write outlandish things. This month I performed my work with other emerging writers in Between the Covers, in Sydney. It was truly inspiring to engage with a community of writers and publishers who are fiercely in love with language, writing and telling stories.

Have you got any advice for anyone wanting to enter this year?

Go for it. Write something special that cuts us open with words. Be brave!

Entries to the Monash Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing close 14 April. Enter now!