TALES of migration and displacement have helped a Yarraville author win the 2013 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.

Maxine Beneba Clarke’s collection of short stories, Foreign Soil, traces the movement of people around the world.

The poet, writer and journalist says the collection traces experiences across different eras.

“I realised over time that I was writing stories about characters who were moving from A to B; there was always a primary character who had relocated for some reason,” she says. “I realised that was the common thread. It is a fairly short book but it required a lot of research.”

The stories of migration and displacement occur from the 1940s to the ’90s and include locations such as Australia, Britain and Jamaica.

Clarke was born in Australia to a Jamaican father and Guyanan mother. Her parents migrated firstly to London as children and then came together to Australia in 1976. She was an avid reader as a child, but something was always missing in the books she read.

“I never saw myself as a character in any book,” she says. “I realised if I wanted that, I had to do it myself; I have this desire to contribute in some way so the children growing up today may see themselves.”

Clarke hopes the $15,000 Premier’s award will help Foreign Soil attract a publisher but knows that even this recognition is no guarantee with publishers so worried about bottom lines.

“There seems to be a feeling that the Australian reading public wouldn’t be interested in our migrant experience,” she says.

Clarke is turning to short stories as both a personal challenge and a chance to develop ideas and explore contemporary issues.

“Writing is my way of digesting what is going on in the world,” she says. 

“I think we are living in a world where we are consuming things in soundbites and I want to explore beyond that.”