#TasmanianLitMonth: Featured Writer – Robbie Arnott

Written by guest curator, Bec Taylor

Robbie Arnott
Photo credit: Mitch Osborne

About Robbie

Comparisons can be controversial but surely this one is for real – Robbie Arnott could be considered the next big international break-out novelist from Tasmania, in the tradition of Richard Flanagan, such is the enthusiasm for his work.

Born in Launceston in 1989 and departing his home shores in his late teens like many young Tasmanians, Robbie now has a clutch of writing awards to his name.

Robbie Arnott’s acclaimed debut, Flames (2018), is a unique and imaginative work of fiction that blends elements of magical realism, folklore, and family drama. Arnott’s vivid writing style and evocative descriptions of the Tasmanian landscape make the novel a compelling and atmospheric read.

Book summary, from Text Publishing

A young man named Levi McAllister decides to build a coffin for his sister, Charlotte—who promptly runs for her life. A water rat swims upriver in quest of the cloud god. A fisherman hunts for tuna in partnership with a seal. And a father takes form from fire.

The answers to these riddles are to be found in this tale of grief and love and the bonds of family, tracing a journey across the southern island. Utterly original in conception, spellbinding in its descriptions of nature and celebration of language, Flames is one of the most exciting debuts of recent years.”

Awards for Flames

Winner, Margaret Scott Prize, Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Awards, 2019

Shortlisted, Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize, United Kingdom, 2019

Shortlisted, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, 2019

Longlisted, Indie Book Awards for Debut Fiction, 2019

Shortlisted, MUD Literary Club, Adelaide Writers’ Week, 2019

Shortlisted, UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, 2019

Shortlisted, Queensland Literary Awards: University of Queensland Fiction Book Award, 2018

Shortlisted, Kathleen Mitchell Award, 2019

Shortlisted, Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, 2018

Longlisted, ALS Gold Medal, 2019

Longlisted, Miles Franklin Literary Award, 2019

Shortlisted, Tasmania Book Prize, Premier’s Literary Awards, 2019

Longlisted, Voss Literary Prize, 2019

Longlisted, International Dublin Literary Award, Ireland, 2020

Robbie’s follow-up, The Rain Heron (2020), explores themes of trauma, redemption, and the impact of violence on individuals and society. The world-building is intricate and atmospheric, with vivid descriptions of the natural world and the characters’ emotional landscapes. The novel also touches on issues such as environmental degradation, social inequality, and the abuse of power.

Book summary, from Text Publishing

Ren lives alone on the remote frontier of a country devastated by a coup. High on the forested slopes, she survives by hunting and trading—and forgetting.

But when a young soldier comes to the mountains in search of a local myth, Ren is inexorably drawn into her impossible mission.

As their lives entwine, unravel and erupt—as myths merge with reality—both Ren and the soldier are forced to confront what they regret, what they love, and what they fear.

Awards for Rain Heron

Winner, Age Book of the Year, 2021

Shortlisted, Miles Franklin Literary Award, 2021

Shortlisted, ALS Gold Medal, 2021

Shortlisted, Fiction, Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature, 2022

Shortlisted, Voss Literary Prize, 2021

Shortlisted, Premier’s Prize for Fiction, Tasmanian Literary Awards, 2022

Shortlisted, Small Publishers’ Adult Book of the Year, 2021

Shortlisted, William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, United States, 2022

Longlisted, Not the Booker, United Kingdom, 2020

This outstanding ABC Australia article by Nicola Heath digs deep into Robbie’s writing. There is a focus on how his work is often described as eco-fiction as his writing is strongly informed by his Tasmanian nature-filled childhood.

While Arnott hopes his writing deepens his readers’ appreciation for the natural world, he’s skeptical of his contribution as an author to alleviating the climate crisis.

“I’m very wary of being a fiction writer who pats himself on the back and says, ‘Oh, I’m bringing these issues to light in a new way. I’m using my artistic skills for that purpose.’ I think that’s a very small drop in the ocean.”

Instead, Arnott believes the answer lies in large-scale systemic change rather than piecemeal individual action.

“We all need to do the same thing as each other, which is to dramatically try to change the world and the way it operates in order to arrest global heating.”

Nicola Heath

His latest novel, “Limberlost,” explores climate anxiety and has received positive reviews, such as this from the Guardian Australia.

Published by Text Publishing

Released 5 October 2022


ISBN 9781922458766

Book summary, from Text Publishing

In the heat of a long summer Ned hunts rabbits in a river valley, hoping the pelts will earn him enough money to buy a small boat.

His two brothers are away at war, their whereabouts unknown. His father and older sister struggle to hold things together on the family orchard, Limberlost.

Desperate to ignore it all—to avoid the future rushing towards him—Ned dreams of open water.

As his story unfolds over the following decades, we see how Ned’s choices that summer come to shape the course of his life, the fate of his family and the future of the valley, with its seasons of death and rebirth.

Limberlost Awards

Shortlisted, Fiction, Age Book of the Year, 2023

Shortlisted, Literary Fiction Book of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards, 2023

Shortlisted, Fiction, Indie Book Awards, 2023

Shortlisted, Dylan Thomas Prize, United Kingdom, 2023

Shortlisted, Adult Fiction Book of the Year, BookPeople Book of the Year Awards, 2023

Commended, Fiction, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, 2023

Longlisted, Fiction, Booktopia Favourite Australian Book Award, 2022

Longlisted, Best Designed Literary Fiction/Poetry Cover, Australian Book Design Awards, 2023

About Guest Curator, Bec Taylor

I’m Bec Taylor, the EY3 – Grade 2 cybrarian* at the International School of Beijing, China. I’m a global nomad with Australian roots and a Chinese family home – all my immediate family have lived and worked in Beijing as international school teachers for many, many years.  

Overly enthusiastic about everything especially children’s literature, Australian Rules Football (go Doggies!) and food, glorious food, I am easily bribed with coffee and dark chocolate. I am a passionate advocate of social justice, female financial literacy, and finding ways to tread more lightly on the planet. Alongside the demands of a busy family and professional life, I enjoy cultivating community through volunteer work that focuses on healthy families.

I am the current Chair of the Chinese international schools reading promotion, the Panda Book Awards. Titles chosen for the shortlists of the Panda Book Awards meet selection criteria that focus on social justice, diversity and inclusion by up and coming authors and illustrators from across the world. There is an added spotlight on titles that feature Asian settings, characters or creators. 

Twitter is my favourite professional development space so please come find me there: @becinthelibrary

The educational hills I will die on are:

  • a child’s right to choose what they love to read,
  • there is serious magic in reading aloud,
  • and the belief that schools are happier, more equitable places with better academic outcomes when the properly funded school library is well staffed with qualified, collaborative and passionate professionals.

*a fancy name that formalises and acknowledges the incredible work teacher librarians do each day to find authentic ways to integrate and explore educational technology in order to capture, expand, and enhance student learning.

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