"A STEP in the door" is how former Northern Star editor Russell Eldridge described his win in the Byron Bay Writers' Festival/Varuna Unpublished Manuscript Award competition.
His win for his novel, Shame, was announced at the festival on Saturday morning by former festival director Jill Eddington during the session, Bursting on to the page: fabulous first fictions.
"I'm absolutely thrilled to win, stoked in fact," Mr Eldridge said.
"It was totally unexpected, and it's a great boost.
"I've already had a meeting with a publisher here at the festival and he gave me some really good feedback."
Mr Eldridge said while the win did not guarantee his book would be published, it was "a step in the door".
The book is set in South Africa, where Mr Eldridge was born, in the early 1960s and tells the story of a boy who overhears a terrible secret.
"It's a story that's played out by a family who live in a lane, in a period when apartheid is really starting to crunch people," Mr Eldridge said.
"There's elements of truth in the book and it's somewhat drawn from my childhood."
Mr Eldridge's win follows a residential mentorship with the Northern Rivers Writers' Centre where his manuscript was accepted for a fellowship to Varuna.
Mr Eldridge will spend two weeks at Varuna re-drafting and refining his manuscript.
"They put you in a room and feed you and it's very quiet and you can get a lot of work done," Mr Eldridge laughs.
A journalist and editor for many years, Mr Eldridge said that since retiring he had been bursting with stories to tell.
He had been forced to re-learn the craft of writing, as writing a book was very different to writing as a journalist.
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