LAST year, local writer Jesse Blackadder (pictured) made a journey to Antarctica to research her new novel Chasing The Light, about the first woman to reach the icy continent. The trip also inspired her to write a journalism feature that has recently won her the Guy Morrison Prize for Literary Journalism, a national prize which recognises excellence by a writing student who uses fiction techniques in a work of non-fiction.
Winning prizes is not new to Jesse. She was able to make her Antarctic trip after winning an Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship, which gave her a berth on board the icebreaker Aurora Australis. On her trip, she encountered eight-metre waves, legendary Antarctic dogs, missing artefacts, conspiracy theories of exploration and a continent with a history of being off-limits to females. Her winning journalism feature The first woman and the last dog in Antarctica, looks at the real life history behind the novel and explores the lost stories of the earliest women to travel to Antarctica, including those who applied unsuccessfully to join the great expeditions of the heroic era.
"These women I'm writing about went on a voyage in 1930 and my six-week voyage was not all that different from theirs," Jesse said.
"It was a big ship on a rough ocean, a long way from help and I was lucky enough to have a chance to experience what it was like."
For Jesse, combining her skills as a novelist with her journalistic reporting skills is something that comes easily, and she's happy to be breaking moulds with her unique writing style.
"I've been doing a lot of journalism over the year and it's lovely to get recognised for combining literary work into a field most people don't think of as literary," Jesse said.
"It's written in a story telling style, twining my story and theirs together."
In a world where quick news grabs and social media are causing our use of language to get shorter and sharper, Jesse believes "there's always room for the considered essay".
Jesse wrote her new novel as part of a Doctor of Creative Arts at the University of Western Sydney and received the $2000 student literary journalism prize at the Sydney Writers' festival earlier this year, where she was able to hang out with extraordinary writers she has always worshipped, like Jeanette Winterson.
With her career successfully taking off, Jesse's advice to other aspiring writers is "you have got to persist".
"After you've written something, often there's a long wait until there's a response and things fall into place," Jesse said.
Jesse's future plans include writing a children's book about Antarctica and she's also organising some discussion panels at the 2012 Byron Writers' Festival to help other budding writers.
Her new novel and award winning feature will be published early next year. For more information, go to www.jesseblackadder.com/.