The Committee of the MUD Literary Club is pleased to announce that the winner of the third annual MUD Literary Prize is Master of My Fate, by Sienna Brown.
The MUD Literary Prize is a $3000 prize for the best debut literary novel by an Australian writer, offered by Adelaide philanthropic group MUD Literary Club as part of Adelaide Writers’ Week.
Master of My Fate was chosen from a shortlist that also included The Artist’s Portrait, by Julie Keys; Lifetime of Impossible Days, by Tabitha Bird; Fusion, by Kate Richards, and Heart of the Grass Tree, by Molly Murn.
The judges offered the following comments
Master of My Fate, by Sienna Brown (Vintage): Superbly written and well-researched historical fiction, built around a unique and fascinating sliver of overlooked Australian convict history. The story rolls along at an absorbing pace through its three locations – Jamaica, London and New South Wales – and it’s a vividly drawn tale that would lend itself easily to a screen adaptation.
Based on a true story, Master of My Fate is a novel about one man’s journey to become his own master, from the plantation world in Jamaica, through to eventual freedom in colonial New South Wales.
His name was William Buchanan and he lived an extraordinary life. Born a slave in Jamaica, he escaped the gallows three times. A rebel in the Baptist War of 1831-32 led to his transportation across the world as one of the convicts sent to the Colony of New South Wales.
This is a story not only about a boy who fought against all odds in search of freedom, but also about a world not so long ago, when the violence of colonisation was in full force. It is a story of Jamaica, and Australia, but at its heart, it is a story about how one lives a life, whether slave or free man.
Steeped in history but full of lessons that resonate for us today, William Buchanan’s coming-of-age tale of survival and fate is a thrilling tale told in a singular voice, from a startling new talent in Australian writing.
“An extraordinary achievement, mirroring an exceptional life, Sienna Brown's debut is breathtaking. Rich and lyrical, it pulses with determination, with hope, and with truth.”
KATHRYN HEYMAN, Author Director, Australian Writers' Mentoring Program
“Stripping someone of their humanity because of the colour of their skin, because they have a criminal record, because they were born into the wrong family – as much as Master of My Fate is a book about the past, its themes are disturbingly relevant. So, too, is fighting back.” ELIZABETH FLUX, THE GUARDIAN
“What gives one man the right to own another is the question at the heart of this beautiful meditation on love, loss and liberty through the voice of one who lived it, William Buchanan, lifelong Jamaican rebel forced to become Australian settler. In Sienna Brown’s compelling first novel, Will’s voice is so true, his personality so engaging, his wonder at both the evil and beauty of the world so compelling, his lifelong adventures so heroic, we want to cheer him at every turn. Master of my Fate is a brave and historically grounded addition to the growing body of works examining history through the consciousness of the enslaved.”
"Based on a true story and written by Brown with compassion and creativity, this tale of William Buchanon’s life from slavery to freedom is at once heartbreaking and inspiring. His dawning understanding of being a “chattel” to another man — without any reason except chance — and his rise against this leads him to face his demons and find a hard-won freedom. A powerful and affecting read." BETTER READ THAN DEAD - Summer Reading Guide 2019-2020 - Sylvia’s Pick
Some of my readers' comments
Just finished reading your book, so wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it. The choice to tell the story in his voice was a brave one- however, it worked very well in conveying both the action and his interior life. - Steve-- September 2020, Sydney
I love how you’ve created William’s voice through the grammar and applied it so consistently. I’m entirely absorbed in the world. I care so much about these characters, and I can’t remember ever reading such an evocative portrayal of life as a slave. I love that it’s not all pain and ghastliness; that would be too hard to read. Instead it’s infused with humanity and everyday life so that we can bear to put ourselves into William’s shoes. - Carolyn-- June 2020, Adelaide
Thank you for your novel. I read it in one sitting. The characters resonate so strongly, especially their rich inner lives, how they endure their situations, their precarious place in the plantation hierarchy, and especially how Stella negotiates her way, and then William as a descendant of both sides of slavery. - Emma-- May 2020, Byron Bay
Bravo Sienna, your captivating/riveting book has been my pleasurable dessert between client's. Transported in time/culture, I was anguished and reluctant to read Will's foregone conclusion of a dreadful fate, only to have my heart lifted with his happy ending. The raw exposure you brought to this type of existence, justifies the karma bearing down on the human race of insensitives. I look forward to your book tour with Oprah :). Best of luck & I can't wait to read your next book!! Best always - Reta-- April 2020, USA
I've just finished reading "Master of My Fate" and wanted to say how much I enjoyed it - both as a story and an insight into West Indian Slavery and early Australia. I had no idea West Indians were transported to NSW. What incredible lengths the British went to! Did William end up with his own property or was that poetic licence? Keep writing. - Ross -- March 2020, Melbourne
I really enjoyed reading the book. Its literary quality is evident. The story is wonderful. The language used is superb. An excellent work. - Spase-- February 2020, Sydney
Congratulations on an incredible tale, well told. It drew me in deeper and deeper as I read. I can’t even imagine the extent of the research you must have done - these very different worlds he inhabited, different times, the cultures and language and technologies so unique and specific, yet you managed to make him feel so real and present and like a contemporary, because you write with such empathy and vivid detail.
One of the aspects that most fascinated me was the world of Jamaica, the plantation life - something I’d never come across before. The terrible ’seasoning’, the horror of knowing your children would be born slaves. And then the little ordinary pleasures and joys, and even the comfort of familiarity, however degrading the life. Also, being a devotee of Sydney’s history myself I loved the picture you painted of convict life, the sites and landmarks we know so well being scratched into existence by these men. Hilary - October, 2019, Sydney
I’ve just finished your rather wonderful novel. I didn’t start reading till much later than I had hoped - work kept piling up - but once I began I couldn’t put it down! The characters are strong, bold and their journeys are really well played out. Calla and Stella are great characters - as of course is William. And there are plenty of profound moments within a page-turning story. Excellent! - Fleix-- October 2019, London
Finding William - a short story
August. It was a miserable winter’s afternoon. To top it off, I’d forgotten my umbrella. I dashed across the street to get myself a real coffee. Flat white. Double shot, splash of honey. Huddled under the awning with the other take-away patrons, to watch the typical Sydney deluge pour down. Lowly pedestrians, thoughtlessly sprayed by the BMWs and SUVs roaring past.
The café sat in Queens Square, an enclave for those who plied their trade in the legal profession. Its modern architecture once highlighted in Vogue Living, giving it media weight, among the neighbouring 19th century buildings. Icons of Sydney’s colonial past.
The rain eased, I decided to make a run for it. Darted my way between the red-lighted, windscreen-wiper traffic. Hurried through the twelve-foot wrought iron gates, across the vast pebbled courtyard and opened the solid wooden doors to enter into my workplace - Hyde Park Barracks - a cathedral-windowed, golden hued, sandstone monument.
The day before had left me feeling unsettled...
"To all my readers who have made contact and shared your thoughts, I've been deeply touched by how much William's story has meant to you. For this I thank you. Books truly are amazing!"