Skip to content

Winners of the 2011 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

July 8, 2011
National Library of Australia, photo taken by ...

NLA, 2004 (Image courtesy John Conway, via Wikipedia, using CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Brought to you straight from the afternoon presentation with Caroline Baum in the National Library of Australia Theatre:

  • FictionTraitor, by Stephen Daisley
  • Non-fictionThe hard light of day, by Rod Moss
  • Young adult fictionGraffiti moon, by Cath Crowley
  • Children’s fictionShake a leg, by Boori Monty Pryor and Jan Ormerod

This afternoon’s panel discussion followed the formal announcement and presentation of the awards this morning. The afternoon session, chaired by journalist and broadcaster Caroline Baum, involved a panel of three winning authors (Stephen Daisley, Rod Moss and Boori Monty Pryor) and one shortlisted author (Laura Buzo).

Baum led off her discussion with a question to the authors about their use of technology. It turned out that they were generally a conservative lot though Pryor did admit to having, and using, a laptop. A later question from the audience brought the response from Moss that while he did not use technology in a sophisticated way he was happy for publishers to apply whatever technology they saw fit to get the works out there. Our audience member was wanting more though. Perhaps aware of the recent apps for TS Eliot’s The waste land and Jack Kerouac’s On the road, he was hoping the authors were thinking more imaginatively about using technology in the creative process rather than for distribution after the fact … but these authors were not quite there yet it seemed.

Another question Baum asked was to Stephen Daisley on writing about place. She said that roughly 50% of authors writing about foreign places say they must visit a place to write about it, while the other half argue that visiting the place isn’t necessary. Daisley admitted that he had not visited all the places he’d written about in his novel Traitor, which of course led Baum to ask how one can write about a place without going to it. Daisley’s answer? One word: Google!

I won’t summarise the full discussion, but will mention one other issue Baum raised, and that was to do with indigenous Australians and the problems they – and we – are facing. Pryor (an indigenous Australian) and Moss (whose book is about his experience as an artist working amongst indigenous Australians) answered along similar lines. Moss suggested that he had no “answer” but that what is missing is “genuine friendship” between black and white Australians. Pryor said that it was up to each person to make their own journey but that a true recognition of the special nature and importance of indigenous language, land, art and storytelling would have a ripple effect. In other words, what I “heard” them both saying – and what I’ve heard others say – is that more important than such things as health and education programs is, simply, the showing (or, should I say, feeling of) real respect. Not lip service, not a “send them here, send them there” attitude, but a true respect for the people and their culture. From that all else should logically flow. A sobering but not negative conclusion to what was a fascinating hour or so spent in the company of some very thoughtful people.

Postscript: Some interesting changes are occurring in the literary prize community. This year the Miles Franklin award and the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards included prize money for the shortlisted books too. This is, don’t you think, a great step, recognising, if in a small way, that such awards do have a strong subjective element. So, in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards the overall prize money remains the same in 2011 as it was last year: $100,000 for each of the four categories. But this year the winning book in each category will win a tax-free prize of $80,000, and each short-listed book (to a maximum of four in each) will receive $5000. I do hope the winners are happy with their reduced purse!

26 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2011 16:17

    You were there! Did you get to meet the authors?

    • July 8, 2011 17:08

      Not the way you did at Miles Franklin! They spoke and then sat at signing tables which of course doesn’t allow much time for talk. It was great to hear them talk though.

      • July 8, 2011 18:31

        Still, how wonderful to be there! Caroline Baum is a good interviewer, I think.

        • July 8, 2011 22:11

          Yes, she was (is), and as she’s a good friend of one of my reading group friends, I did get to chat to her!

  2. July 8, 2011 20:14

    Wow! When they decide to give a monetary prize, they go all out! That’s fantastic. It’s also wonderful you were able to attend the actual announcement. Was it a public event, or were you asked to go on account of your fabulous reviewing skills?

    • July 8, 2011 22:13

      I wish! I think the public could RSVP to attend but I received notification as a Friend of the NLA.

  3. July 9, 2011 02:17

    How cool you got to attend! It sounds like a fun afternoon. And waht a great idea to spread the award money out a little. Seems like $80,000 for the winner is still a good amount of money. I certainly wouldn’t turn it down!

    • July 9, 2011 08:21

      It was. Authors are usually fun to listen to aren’t they? At least I have rarely been disappointed in an author event, even when the guest was the taciturn Coetzee!

  4. July 9, 2011 02:59

    Thanks for the “live” report!

    Hope that you can attend next year!

    • July 9, 2011 08:22

      I will certainly try if I’m in town. It was great being able to see/ hear several authors.

  5. July 9, 2011 03:44

    Re. She said that roughly 50% of authors writing about foreign places say they must visit a place to write about it, while the other half argue that visiting the place isn’t necessary.

    Then let them be thorough with their Google-fu if they don’t want critical and offputting reviews about things that, to them, probably seem very minor, but to the reviewers loom huge. I was reading the Dublin Review online last week and came across a reviewer castigating seven shades of hell out an American author who had written a book set in Ireland and kept mistaking one piece of scenery for another. And there were other sins: the language was wrong as well, said the reviewer. And the Katherine Mansfield book that Lisa reviewed a little while ago — not the latest one, but the one in which Mansfield went American and described herself as “ornery” — was reviewed elsewhere, by a Kiwi, who said that the author had a character looking at a ship in a way that was physically impossible, given the shape of the harbour it was sailing from.

    And then the reviewer is unhappy, and the unhappiness sticks to the reader, me, who is now not inclined to ever read either of those books.

    • July 9, 2011 08:42

      This gets to the nub of that fact versus truth (in a way) issue. I don’t agree with that level of nitpicking in reviews and rarely worry about such inaccuracies myself when I’m reading fiction. Why should I read a novel set in my suburb and be critical because, say, an intersection is described as having a roundabout when in reality it has traffic lights but read a novel set in a suburb in Bonn and love it because I didn’t “know” that city and so missed some physical inaccuracy? I don’t care, when reading fiction, whether or not that intersection is really a roundabout or not. I care how well the novel/story is written on terms of language/style/structure, what the author is telling me, and whether the book is internally coherent. If it’s set in a German city it needs to convince as a German city but I don’t need it to match reality. If I want reality I’ll read a history or travel guide. You feel differently? Or, you feel those critics have thrown you off?

      • July 9, 2011 10:59

        No, that was too strict of me. I felt it in this case because the authors of both books were pretending to be historical persons, Katherine Mansfield one, and Gerard Manly Hopkins the other, and if you were just pretending to be your own fictional character in fictional Bonn then have your leeway and your vagueish Bonn, but if you’re pretending to be a specific person, and swearing that you will give me an insight into that person — your own special insight, which you have gained and felt and learnt and loved your way into, through your special and adoring attention to their life and being — then you might as well take the time to work out whether they’re walking out of a village or out of a river, otherwise I see that you’re wading through illusions and murk and (if the Irish reviewer can be believed) your own complacent and misty self-satisfaction, and I wonder where else you were wrong about this person, whose thoughts were shifted and shaped not only by events in their lives but also by sights they saw every day, and I think: You don’t know them after all, and you don’t know that you don’t know, you’re guessing, you don’t care as much as you said you did, and your insight: where’s that?

        And it depends on the book, and the level of detail in the book, and what the author means to do with that detail. The Man Who Loved Children was criticised by some American reviewers who believed that Stead’s characters’ spoken American was off, and Randell Jarrell grinned at the amount of time she spent on her Washington/Baltimore setting — he felt it was excessive — but the fact that she’d visited the place gives her descriptions a felt depth that you wouldn’t get out of a Google map, or even necessarily if you read blogs by locals, or Googled a local newspaper. The wind currents here, for example, the “rivers of warm and cold temperature”:

        “The two little girls, in new coats, were joyous: they loved the old home with its trees, lawns, wildernesses, old barnyards, old cow and horse paddocks, and dependencies; they loved the autumn, with its blotched valleys, the rivers of warm and cold temperature flowing in the air, the smell of burning leaves, the half-raked lawns and the stilling brooks.”

        The fact that the hot and cold don’t merely blow around, they move in rivers. Stead works with that kind of felt description, her book wouldn’t be the same book if she didn’t have the amount of — that — in it. If I wrote about a place I would want to visit it because experience throws off stereotypes, and it gives you detail, like those air-rivers, it hands you things you didn’t know you needed or wanted, and I think — for example — if I decided to write a book set in Las Vegas, and I’d never been here, what a hash I’d make of it, because the news that comes out of the place refers perpetually to gambling and the Strip and the shows, and so on — but not the constant distant mountains lacy with grey, or the clouds piled above them, or the cockroaches that run across the streets at night, all of which would be everyday-essential to anyone who lived normally, in Vegas, in a suburb, as my character would probably do. And when I saw those things I’d have ideas that I wasn’t having when I was just thinking, “Ah well, gambling, casinos, showgirls” — I’d see other possibilities, and new ideas would branch out of me, etc, and what are books made of but words and ideas?

        On the other hand it doesn’t really matter what kind of beach Camus’ Arab was killed on, and what the water temperature was, and what kind of fish were swimming around offshore, and whether the surf was good that day or not.

        • July 9, 2011 14:34

          Wow DKS, that’s thorough and I agree with pretty well all of it. Your last two examples – Las Vegas and The outsider are cogent. But still, re the KH and GMH books, because they are fictional representations I would be wondering all the time what is “fact” and what has the author imagined regardless of whether I discovered some specific wrong facts. I would never quote anything I read in those books as facts but would use them to give me another perspective or sense of their subject.

      • July 9, 2011 11:30

        I see your point about perspective Sue, and know that I would miss every inaccuracy about suburban settings in Germany too. But if an author chooses to set a story in a real place, and they name it, then I think they should get it right. I want the details to be right, and if they aren’t (and I notice that they’re not, that’s another big step) then it spoils my enjoyment of the rest of the story. I don’t necessarily mean it to, but it just does. Google does make it especially easy to get these little things right. I just finished reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a YA book that won the Caldecott Medal a few years ago. It is a combination of text and graphic novel, and is set in a Parisian train station in 1931. Last night I spent some time watching video interviews with the author who described the rather extraordinary lengths that he went to to achieve authenticity in setting, in things such as what particular tools Hugo would need to do certain jobs, and other items used in the book. His process seemed slightly OCD to be honest, but he made an outstanding book, and I think that a firm grounding in reality helps the best flights of fancy take off. It helps suspend my disbelief that the imaginary world of the story can take place.

        Of course an author can choose to set a story in a fictional setting, or an unnamed setting and not have to worry about such things. Actually I don’t usually like the unnamed setting, as I will always have a thought not too far submerged wondering where the story is set and trying to work it out. It forces me to watch for tiny clues for setting. Hugo Cabret did this to a certain extent. We knew it was a Parisian train station but it wasn’t til about 3/4 of the way through that it became very obvious which train station it was. Of course my fascination with Paris is strong enough that I couldn’t relax til I knew which one it was.

        I think I envy your more laid back approach. I don’t think my approach is conscious, although I am aware of it. I just don’t know how I could change it.

        • July 9, 2011 14:49

          Different brains I think. I must say I’m rather glad of my laidback approach!! But I also admire the brain that can take that sort of detail in. I tend to be looking at different things. I look, for example, at the language describing the place – what imagery has been used, what rhythm, and therefore what sense is the author conveying – rather than whether it sounds accurate. Looking at DKS’s eg re Las Vegas, it’s quite likely that the language used by an author who has been there will have a depth and freshness that will attract me and so the accuracy from the fact that they’ve been there will, if they’re a good writer, result in a better result. But, on the other hand, depending on what role place is to play in a work Google may be good enough, eh?

  6. July 9, 2011 09:44

    A couple of years ago, my stepmother looked up from a Sunday travel section of the NY Times and said she was disappointed to learn that Stendahl had invented the tower in The Charterhouse of Parma. It did not then occur to me to remark that he had made up his Roman Journal out of the whole cloth, having been in Paris during the time supposedly covered by the narrative.

    The novel does set expectations of accuracy that the epic and drama do not. It seems to me that the expectations increased through the 19th Century. One finds early on Stendahl comparing Scott unfavorably to Mme. de Lafayette, on the grounds that emphasizing verisimilitude by accumulation of details is inferior to concentrating on the emotions of the characters. Late in the century one has Mark Twain’s devastating essay “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses”, in which Twain is very clear on such points as what one can see at 50 or a hundred yards.

    No doubt that anyone who has a ghost of a chance of being hired to teach literature knows this stuff cold. I don’t and I don’t, but these are my impressions on the matter.

    • July 9, 2011 12:30

      Clearly I’m with Stendahl … it’s not that I think fiction should be willy nilly inaccurate but nitpicking on details seems inappropriate and, worse, mostly irrelevant. Then again, it does depend on the case. What the normal person can see at 50 or 100 yards might be a critical thing in a crime novel and if the author gets it wrong that might completely throw the credibility of the story (unless we’ve been told the witness, say, is blind as a bat or has superhero vision!) but whether there really is a tower in Parma may be completely irrelevant to whether the story works. Even realism doesn’t have to be factual I believe, it just has to be realistic, wouldn’t you say?

  7. July 9, 2011 11:04

    Sue, this commentary about authentic settings deserves to be a whole blog post!

    • July 9, 2011 11:33

      And that was before I threw my rather lengthy 2 cents worth in Lisa!

    • July 9, 2011 14:38

      It’s certainly looking that way isn’t it, Lisa!? I did think the question was interesting – it would have been great to have had it teased out a little more by the authors but she only put it to one author. I’m going to try to remember the question for next time I go to an author event where the author/s write about places not their own.

  8. July 9, 2011 11:33

    How fantastic that you were there for the announcement! Sounds like a great afternoon, with interesting discussions. I think it’s a great idea to give the short listed authors a prize too as recognition. $80,000 is still large enough to be useful for the winner.

  9. July 10, 2011 03:00

    You’re right, and I think I was influenced by the fact that the “what has the author imagined” sounded rote and plain in both cases, and the wrong details and the Americanisms were the icing on the cake, or the cream of complacency inside. The difference between those authors (or: what I imagine those authors to be, seeing that I haven’t read either of their books, and for all I know they are magnificent, towering, marvellous) and a Stendhal, is that Stendhal has energy and humour and daring and a great faith in emotion and love, and if the cause of that emotion and love can be furthered by the existence of a big tower where there isn’t a big tower then it’s absolutely right to have that big tower there. Conviction trumps the nonexistance of towers. Mervyn Peake forgets one of his characters’ first names halfway through Titus Groan and it doesn’t matter, because the character is so steadily and solidly represented otherwise.

    But that “verisimilitude by accumulation of details” George mentions can have value too, and environments can be vehicles of emotion — look at Les Misérables, for example, and Hugo roaring lustfully and in depth over the grandeur of the sewers and the sewer-workers, or there’s that one chapter of his that’s a burst of news headlines: this happened, that happened, see, details, spreading, spreading, here and there, the world so very, very busy, and here’s my single story, a speck in all that stew of events, a contribution. It depends on the book.

    • July 10, 2011 09:42

      It sure does … Glad we’ve settled that, with a lot of great examples in between. As in most creative activities, there aren’t hard and fast rules are there, just the creators’ intuition/sensitivity to what’s needed – and sometimes we agree that they get it right while others times they miss the mark. The onus is on we readers to be intuitive and sensitive too I think.


  1. 2011 Awards Round-up (6): Wins, Shortlists and Nominations « Kinna Reads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: