Varuna: how to maximise your chances

This is a piece I wrote for ACT Write magazine about how to maximise your chances when applying for a Fellowship residency with Varuna Writer's House. I was a Fellowship selector from 2013-2015. 

Varuna is the national Writers’ House in Katoomba. It’s a two-storey home that was built by writer Eleanor Dark and her husband, Eric Dark. Gifted to the state of NSW by their descendants, it has been operating for twenty-five years as a place for writers to have uninterrupted writing time in an extraordinarily beautiful and historic setting.


Varuna is funded to provide thirty Fellowships a year – five in particular categories and twenty-five general. A panel of peers (writers who have previously been awarded a Fellowship) selects these thirty Fellowships each year. Panel members serve for three years – their ‘reward’ is a free week at Varuna for their own writing purposes.


I have just completed three years on the selection panel and am writing this info sheet out of what I have learned for the benefit of applicants.


In your submission you are asked to provide up to 50 pages of your work (consecutive pages from your manuscript) and a cover sheet. Your cover sheet should include the following details:

  • The name of your manuscript

  • A Logline (1-2 line description of your project)

  • A brief synopsis of the work (approx. 200 words)

  • Brief outline of your intended work plan while at Varuna, bearing in mind that a Fellowship will normally be taken some months after your application (approx. 100 words)

  • Brief outline of previous writing experience, if it includes previously published works please identify the publisher or journal (approx. 100 words)


My tips are:

  • Make sure you have a strong start to your piece of writing. (Each year for the last three years, we have had at least 150 submissions. It’s a lot of reading and the more you can grab a selector’s attention from the outset, the more likely you’ll end up being considered.)

  • Make your log-line concrete and memorable. (At various points during the selection process, selectors are looking for short-hand ways to refer to a particular manuscript, so a log-line such as ‘Jane sets out to find her brother by tricking her blind uncle and then becomes a shock-jock’ is far more memorable and useful than abstractions such as ‘An odyssey through betrayal, loss, denial and love’.)

  • Abide by the formatting guidelines. (Failure to do so can be irritating to selectors – not a good outcome.)

  • Be realistic in your ‘work plan while at Varuna’. Take the timeline into account – you will be working on this manuscript months after applying. Provide an overview of the outcomes you imagine two weeks at Varuna would give you.

  • Do not ‘sneak’ your name into the application. (The selecting is done blind – if your name appears anywhere, you could irritate a selector and you may be disqualified.)


Applications open:16 June 2016

Applications close: 30 July 2016

Applicants advised of result: October 2016

Fellowships taken up: usually January to May the following year, though other dates can be negotiated.