News / 5th August 2021
Rural thriller wins esteemed writing prize
Former Coonabarabran resident James McKenzie Watson has taken out one of Australia’s most prestigious writing awards.
Recently announced as the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize winner, Mr Watson said his novel, Denizen, was inspired from growing up in Coonabarabran and the very real gap that exists between mental health services available in the bush compared to the city.
The son of Coonabarabran local Trish Watson, and Professor Fred Watson, Mr Watson works as a critical care nurse in Dubbo, but has a passion for writing.
His short stories have been recognised in competitions including the International InkTears Flash Fiction Contest, the Newcastle Short Story Award and the Grieve Writing Competition, and featured in publications such as Baby Teeth Journal and Brave Voices Magazine.
Mr Watson also co-hosts a fortnightly writing and health podcast ‘James and Ashley Stay at Home’ with author, Ashley Kalagian Blunt.
Denizen is a psychological thriller centred around what Mr Watson describes as an “unstable” eight-year-old boy. The book depicts the youngster committing “an awful act” and how that returns to haunt him in his adult years.
Mr Watson said he didn’t set out writing the novel with that particular theme in mind.
“That sort of came about organically, as I was writing it,” he said.
“I guess what started it, was I was homesick and thinking about the bush a lot - and it evolved from there.
“At the time, I was living in Sydney and I thought about how people there don’t really know about how difficult it is to access important services in the bush.”
Mr Watson said winning the award has meant writing has become a viable career option for him and he is looking forward to working on further novels.
“I’m so excited and honestly can’t believe it has happened,” he said.
“But this is the kind of thing that can kick start a writing career.”
Mr Watson’s award-winning novel is currently in the editing stage, with publication expected mid 2022.
Mr Watson was unsure what his next project would entail, but said he’d like to continue to illuminate different mental health struggles.
“I’d love to keep writing about mental health and give some people who have never even considered the issues something to really think about.”
The novelist said he is still in touch with his roots and continues to visit Coonabarabran regularly.
“My mum still lives there, so I visit at least once a month.”