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March 22, 2023

Announcing the winners of the 2023 ASA/CA Award Mentorship Program

The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) is thrilled to announce the winners and highly commended entries for the 2023 ASA/CA Award Mentorship Program for Writers and Illustrators!

Winners and Highly Commended


  • Emily Tsokos Purtill
  • Karen Wasson
  • Rhiân Williams

Young Adult

  • Annika Herb
  • Maha Sidaoui

Picture Book Illustration

  • Nisaluk Chantanakom


  • Erin Kaye Hackett
  • Lisa Louden
  • Sarah Morton
  • Emma O’Neill-Sandham
  • Morna Seres

Narrative Non-Fiction

  • Sally Dennes


  • Highly Commended: Maureen Alsop

This program has been made possible thanks to funding from the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund. The 2023 award offers twelve 20-hour mentorships with an experienced author, illustrator or publishing professional to help develop their manuscript or illustration project to a publishable standard. In addition, the winners each receive access to the Pathways to Publishing program, a free ticket to the ASA’s popular Virtual Literary Speed Dating event and one-year’s free membership to the ASA. One highly commended applicant receives six hours of mentoring on the first ten pages of their manuscript or illustration project, as well as access to the Pathways to Publishing Program.

The ASA received 210 applications for the 2023 award and the winners were selected by a panel of assessors including Broede Carmody, Christopher Cheng, Nigel Featherstone, Fiona McGregor, Kate Ryan and Kristina Schulz. The assessors applauded the wonderfully rich range of applications this year, covering a broad array of writing styles, themes and diverse personal stories. Read their full comments below. 

Assessor Comments

Children’s, YA and Picture Book Illustration

“Pleasing to read a range of writing styles and topics / themes being covered. The creators in general appeared to be considering their intended audience when crafting their texts and the approaches covered with themes as divergent as neurodiversity, the heart, and stone turning plagues. In a number of the submitted works personal experience has provided depth and context to many of the submissions and is revealed in the complexity of the texts presented. 

The winning titles chosen are, in the case of the novels, works I wanted to continue to read, or with picture books looking forward to closer exemption of the finished art. They are crafted with skill and attention to detail, whether that be scientific or visual or explanatory …. I would encourage creators when submitting manuscripts to consider taking new and intriguing approaches to their texts as has a been done with some of our winners. 

Certainly hope that these creators can absorb and develop all that they can from their mentors and refine and create wonderful publishable works that kids and adults alike will devour.”

-Christopher Cheng

“Congratulations to all who entered – the manuscripts were engaging, exciting and full of heart. An amazing mix of fascinating tales of people, places, adventures, friendship, family and love – something for every type of reader. It was a strong list of authors showing their diverse and varied talents and their bravery in telling these stories, putting pen to paper, whether personal or imagined. Plus pressing send – another challenge on the path to publication. I enjoyed reading them all.

If I have any advice to offer, it’s to learn as much as you can about the market you are writing in. Read books, follow social media accounts, connect with authors and publishers and learn about the type of books you want to write. Knowledge is important.

Well done for coming this far and best of luck for the next steps in your writing career.”

-Kristina Schulz


“The five writers selected for mentorships in 2023 showed a clear and intriguing core idea, life and risk on the page, and plenty of room for refocussing, or refining, or opening out. All those who submitted work to the program are to be congratulated for their labour to date and their tenacity, and are encouraged to continue seeking ways to develop their projects.

A mentorship program, by design, is aimed at writers who know their work is not yet ready for publication, so it was pleasing to see many displaying a clear-eyed self-reflection i.e. an awareness of their manuscript’s strengths and areas for further development.”

-Nigel Featherstone

“There was a wonderfully rich range of applicants this year. Political thrillers, campus novels, romantic comedies and historical novels were just some of the broad array of genres on display, and the standard of the writing was very high, making choosing difficult. As always though, the award winning writers’ work gripped from the opening paragraphs, holding my attention with utterly unique voices, which took me with them into whatever world they were writing about.

It was interesting that the winners all wrote acutely about the collision between their protagonists’ interior and exterior worlds. These writers showed great psychological insight to bring to life very different characters in vastly different ways – a twelve year old boy struggling with grief who finds transformation through an unusual friendship; a surgeon who has the ability to see her patients’ internal organs and their pain; a woman confined to her apartment after a life altering accident whose past has informed her in complicated ways; an Afghan veteran attempting to return to life after complex trauma; and a sparky unique fourteen-year-old from Western Sydney who is drawn to collect ‘tiny moment of beauty, weirdness, colour and curiousness’ and who attempts to ‘cure’ her mother after she has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital. These writers approached their subjects in highly original but distinct ways, and though their subject matter could be complex and sometimes dark, brought a lightness of touch to their work. The writing was fresh, original and confident.

I congratulate the winners for their outstanding writing and I am excited to see more of these five writers in the future.”

-Kate Ryan


“The highest scoring application by Dennes was a clear winner and I can imagine it reaching publication. It’s exciting reading work like this – not only well written but also highly relevant, the author not getting in the way of the story, an intrinsic sense of pace and tone.

Most of the entries were memoir, perhaps reflecting the current market; some straddled memoir and non-fiction, without meaning to be a hybrid work– essentially accounts of the lives of close family members. A conscious attempt to write a hybrid work would be exciting; it would also increase applicants’ chances if more care was taken with basic grammar and formatting, considering they are submitting at a high level. The most consistent response I had, to pretty much all the entries, was the need for applicants to read as widely and deeply as possible, and to take their cues from their favourite. To practise analysis in their reading: this is how you activate being taught in the most constructive way possible. Also, venturing off the commercial path more in one’s reading will yield more vibrant and unique writing.”

-Fiona McGregor


“The standard of entries this year was incredibly high. A lot of thought had clearly gone into the manuscripts – both in terms of the language on the page, but also the overarching themes and narratives. It was a pleasure to read poets who know how to grab a reader with both hands and make their presence felt long after the final word. 

Maureen Alsop’s Arbor Vitae is a concise collection that packs a big punch. The imagery is fresh and concrete. Lines such as “trauma enters/ the body … like water” illustrate a rich engagement with history, science and philosophy. I have no doubt that poetry publishers will jump at the opportunity to transform this manuscript into a fully fledged book.”

-Broede Carmody

The 2023 ASA/CA Award Mentorship Program for Writers and Illustrators is supported by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.