In the fiction of the four authors chosen as The Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelists for 2017 there runs a common thread of home, be its construction as a place of retreat and safety or as a source of trauma, oppression or persecution.
Rajith Savandasa returns to his childhood home of Sri Lanka in Ruins to pick apart middle-class prejudices during the end days of civil war.
Jennifer Down, at 26 the youngest of our writers, takes us inside a friendship group that substitutes for family but fractures with the loss of one of its own in her debut work, The Magic Hour, particularly distinctive for its Melbourne setting.
Julie Koh is a gifted satirist who pours her personal feelings of social and economic estrangement into a collection of dark magic surrealist short stories, Portable Curiosities.
By contrast, Josephine Rowe's A Loving, Faithful Animal, describeshow the trauma of war casts a long shadow over the interior life of a familyandreverberatesintoadulthood.
It is the 21st year of The Herald's awards, established by its former literary editor Susan Wyndham to recognise emerging writing talent, and they are open to writers aged 35 and younger.
Our winners were selected from a stellar field of 25 entries by myself and fellow judges Michelle de Kretser, winner of the Miles Franklin Award 2013 for Questions of Travel, andMatt McGuire, deputy director of the University of Western Sydney's Writing and Society Research Centre.
What the judges say: "Down displays a striking gift for social observation in Our Magic Hour, her tender and vivid exploration of friendship, family and the emotional turbulence of being young."
Work in progress: Pulse Points, a short story collection to be published in July.
Awards: Shortlisted for NSW Premier's Award for new writing 2017, shortlisted for 2014 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.
Day job: Part-time in retail
Our Magic Hour grew out of a series of vignettes and character sketches Down created around three 20-something friends, Audrey, Katy and Adam.
Writing was a hobby "more than anything else" - an outlet for teen anxieties while she studied French, Japanese and political science at the University of Melbourne.
When the writing impulse took over Down studied professional writing and editing in RMIT's revamped TAFE course under the tutelage of Carrie Tiffany and Toni Jordan, and continued to flesh out her story about the ''atomised way in which young friends connect to each other in an uncomplicated way".
Katy was the most fully formed character of the trio, a tricky thing since it is her death in the book's first nine pages that becomes the catalyst for Audrey's emotional free-fall.
"By the end of it I felt like I knew the other characters as well as Katy but in the beginning it was about how much of Katy I should put into the story and what were the most important parts of her to leave with the reader."
Down wasn't interested in the whys and hows of suicide but rather in showing its aftermath.
"I understand people's desire to want to know why someone chooses to take their own life but I also think it's very rare that we get those neat answers."
Our Magic Hour takes its name from an eye-catching fluorescent art installation in Melbourne by the New York artist Ugo Rondinone that Down used to gaze upon driving back and forth on the Punt Road.
"It's a message of making the most of this hour or minute," says Down. "At other times I would be stuck in traffic for 40 minutes at a time and thinking, 'Is this it? Is this really my magic hour?' - that feeling of relentlessness when bad shit keeps happening. I'm not superstitious, it's just the way the universe works at times."
What the judges say: "Ruins deploys complex characters and multiple perspectives to create a compelling, faceted portrait of a family and a country in the aftermath of Sri Lanka's civil war."
Work in progress: Another Name for Gold, the story of a migrant.
Awards: Shortlisted for the ALS Gold Medal and the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction.
Day job: Part-time content producer for Telstra
Savanadasa moved to Melbourne from Sri Lanka to study engineering at RMIT and it was in Australia that he followed the end to Sri Lanka's bitter 25-year civil war in 2009 and became serious about producing literary work.
"What was interesting about that was I felt I had a clearer view of what was going on. I could also read the changes from two different perspectives - the old me and the new me - and having these manifold perspectives made it difficult to talk about where I came from.
"I couldn't capture it simply, and with a few words express whether this place was good or bad, tragic or wonderful. The best way I could do that was with fiction."
Ruins is written from the perspective of five members of one middle-class family, from Sri Lanka's Buddhist Sinhalese majority, as the army is making a final assault on the Tamil-Hindu dominated north.
There's Latha, the family's servant, Anoushka, a 16-year-old high-school student and punk-rocker, Lakshmi, the proud matriarch with a secret, Niranjan, the spoiled party-boy son recently returned from study in Australia, and Mano, the newspaper editor and family figurehead.
"The only resemblance to reality is that the background of Latha, the servant in the book, is based on that of Yasa, who is still my parents' help in Sri Lanka.
"That isn't to say she's treated the way Latha is, and in fact my parents treat her far better than most would - but at the same time she is part of the Sri Lankan underclass, which means she has no autonomy - and the middle class fail to comprehend the injustice of it all.
"The Sri Lankan middle class only recognises a certain rigid identity, and the hierarchies based on those identities have remained in place for a long time and are hardly ever challenged," Savanadasa says.
"That's what I've tried to do by writing from perspectives with diverse genders, ages and sexualities, and in some way tried to reclaim the Buddhist philosophy, the basis of Sri Lanka's national religion, as one that accepts and equalises of all those identities."
What the judges' say: ''Portable Curiosities is a blazing collection of short stories. As inventive as she is satirical, Koh has a ready wit which she sets loose on a range of targets including foodie culture, misogyny and modern multiculturalism."
Work in progress: A short, absurdist novel and libretto for a satirical opera, Chop Chef.
Awards: Shortlisted NSW Premier's Literary Awards 2017, the Steele Rudd Award 2016 for Australian short stories and Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction 2016.
Day Job: Tender writer
When Koh tried writing her first novel, she fantasised that it would be so successful Oprah Winfrey would one day interview her about it.
The novel failed. Koh became a lawyer, quit to return to fiction and then found creeping success writing short stories that were picked up by small publishers and literary journals.
"I call my writing a dark art because it's subversive and darkly humorous - a kind of black magic," Koh says. "A famous piece of writing advice is to 'murder your darlings'. For me, that's not just about cutting unnecessary words but also about slaying your own demons."
The first story she wrote for Portable Curiosities, her debut collection, was Inquiry Regarding the Recent Goings-On in the Woods, an assignment she did in 2010 for an online short-story course taught by the British writer, Dr Stephen Carver.
"He predicted I'd meet resistance because of my experimental style but that I should push forward anyway. 'You may not sell,' he said, 'but you will be read'."
One of Koh's favourites is the Cream Reaper, about a fleet of ice-cream vans that cruise around Sydney selling an ice-cream that has a 50 per cent chance of killing you when you eat it.
Sight, the story about a young girl who can see ghosts with her third eye, which is located on her belly, is partly based on anecdotes relatives in Malaysia told her about ghosts that walk up walls and have no feet.
The intersection between the surreal and dark irony is the book's "sweet spot". The feeling of being an outsider, and "of watching the world go crazy" informs the book's dark humour, says Koh.
"Portable Curiosities is very Sydney - a book largely about living in an increasingly status-conscious society, within a political culture that has become alarmingly conservative, within an economic system that privileges the wealthy. It's a book that examines that great Australian dream of conforming to the mainstream."
What the judges say: "A Loving, Faithful Animal is a compelling portrait of a family's attempts to deal with the aftermath of the Vietnam war. It is pitch perfect. I couldn't put it down."
Awards: Longlisted Miles Franklin Literary Award 2017
Work in progress: Short-story collection, Horse Latitudes.
Day Job: Freelance non-fiction writer
The narrative emerged from Rowe's long-standing preoccupation with the Vietnam War, in which her father was a conscript, and its emotional aftermath.
''I definitely resist A Loving, Faithful Animal being read as autobiography, but it does draw upon a molten core of emotional and situational truths. I've often wondered about the narrative quiet surrounding the intergenerational effects of the Vietnam War - in Australia, at least."
Rowe started taking writing seriously when she had her first poem published in the literary journal Overland during her teens.
"By then I was living alone in a dilapidated St Kilda apartment, filling notebooks, eating not much - feeling a dizzying sense of agency as stories and poems took shape."
Rowe's admission to the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa and the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford were turning points.
While the IWP residency allowed her to work solidly on finishing her second short-story collection, Tarcutta Wake, the Wallace Stegner Program in California helped bring the first novel together.
"Going in I thought maybe, if I really put my shoulder to it, it would [grow into] a substantial novella, and much longer than anything I'd attempted.
"But as it slowly took shape it became obvious that to tell it fairly, to do justice to its characters, I was going to have to open it up much more, that Ru alone would not be able to carry it. It still rests on the slender side for a novel, but it seems enough of a wonder for somebody who only a few years ago insisted they'd never write one."
Meet the Sydney Morning Herald Young Novelists at the Sydney Writers' Festival at 11.30am, Saturday, May 27. swf.org.au