They say you should write what you know. And, depending on who you ask, they say you should not.
Hunter writers Maree Gallop and Holly Bruce have managed to do both, drawing respectively on years of experience and a deep connection to the local landscape to narrate their winning works of fiction in the 2021 Newcastle Herald short story competition.
While the top gong has been won, there is still time to vote for the people's choice category.
Mrs Gallop, of Adamstown Heights, who has taken out the top prize this year, drew on her years of experience as a mental health and workplace health and safety nurse to pen an emotionally complex tale of a toxic workplace culture and its effect on a struggling young apprentice.
"I guess I have seen a lot of that theme running through different work cultures. I think young people coming into the workforce can be quite vulnerable and sometimes those work cultures can be quite damaging."
SHORT STORIES: Read this year's short story competition entries
Mrs Gallop's story paints a scene of complex power relations and toxic masculinity narrated by an observing nurse.
Her nod from the judges this year levels the score in her literary home after her husband, John Gallop, was highly commended in 2018, alongside that year's winner Ms Bruce.
"There is a bit of friendly rivalry because John and I will often enter the same competition," Mrs Gallop said. Mr Gallop also entered in this year's competition with a piece titled Dawn Patrol. "I thought it was really good, actually," she said.
Ms Bruce, the Herald's 2018 competition winner, returned to the listings this year as the judges' highly commended writer with a moving tale of a son's troubled relationship with his father set on the Hunter's beaches. Ms Bruce, who describes herself as a swimmer and "frustrated surfer", grew up at Eleebana and writes with a local's love of the region. "I ride my bike to the beach every morning," she said, "I spend a lot of time in the water, but I've never been on a surfboard."
As her young surfer struggles with his father's ailing health the city's beaches call to him. "I tend to write about what is going on underneath the surface of people's lives," Ms Bruce said, "That's a bit of a fascination for me. I think what is happening on the surface is often not what is happening underneath. It's the same with the ocean."
Mrs Gallop has been awarded a trove of 50 new books a double weekend pass to the 2021 Newcastle Writers Festival, as well as a Lenovo Tab10 tablet device courtesy of Domayne Kotara.
Ms Bruce has won 10 new books, with a weekend pass to the writers festival.
Edward Bassingthwaighte wins people's choice category with moving tale from the Hunter's beaches
In another nod to the Hunter's beaches, Edward Bassingthwaighte of Hamilton South was another clear popular favourite, taking out the people's choice category for the 2021 Herald short story competition. Mr Bassingthwaighte, a member of the Hunter Writers Centre, described himself as an amateur writer who struggles a bit with confidence and said he was excited to have received the encouragement.
"I spent a lot of time working on it and I got a lot of help from my wife and daughter. They're my editors, they're very tough and very honest," he said.
Mr Bassingthwaighte has also won 10 new books plus a weekend pass to the writers festival.