Women and literary awards

There has been a brouhaha about the three-book short list for the Miles Franklin Award – the list being all male. The year before last, there was also a controversy when the long list was all male, so the judges would have been well aware of what they were doing, in this case. I’m sure the three books on the list are worthy – they are high-end literary and  dealing (at least with Bereft and the That Deadman Dance) with pretty serious issues (When Colts Ran is an outback, male-centred story). But as many other people have said: are male writers really that much better than female writers? Or do men choose what our culture still regards as more weighty, serious, important subjects and treatments, and thus these works are more suited to a culturally prestigious award?

Of the novels that have won the Miles Franklin for the last 10 years, only two are by women – Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire (Hazzard is a very intellectual serious novelist of the old school) and the other was Carpentaria by indigenous writer Alexis Wright – a big and highly ambitious work.

The ten all up are:

* 2010 Peter Temple Truth
* 2009 Tim Winton Breath
* 2008 Steven Carroll The Time We Have Taken
* 2007 Alexis Wright Carpentaria
* 2006 Roger McDonald The Ballad of Desmond Kale
* 2005 Andrew McGahan The White Earth
* 2004 Shirley Hazzard The Great Fire
* 2003 Alex Miller Journey to the Stone Country
* 2002 Tim Winton Dirt Music
* 2001 Frank Moorhouse Dark Palace.

Barbara Jefferis

I have to admit to not having read a single one of the above. I started Dark Palace but hated it. I also started Dirt Music and didn’t get very far with that either. Now I come to think of it, a certain masculine outlook in both books turned me off. I also avoided Truth , after trying to read The Broken Shore, and again not being able to get onto the wavelength of the writer (I know I’m in a minority here).

So perhaps reading the Miles Franklin winner is like eating your greens – you know it’s good for you even if it’s not to your taste. If it’s any consolation to the women who perpetually miss out on the award, I think women writers have a bigger readership than male writers (Tim Winton excepted).

The whole issue of women missing out on major literary prizes was the impetus behind the Orange Prize in the UK and, ironically, there have been rumblings over the last few years over whether there should be a prize based on gender at all (the playing field being so flat now, after all!!) There is a women-only prize in Australia, the Kibble Literary Award (for novels and life writing), and it is quite lucrative at $30,000, but who has heard of it?

There is also the Barbara Jefferis Award for “the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society”. This definition means that male authors can also enter (only one brave male did so last time). G L Osborne won the most recent award with Come Inside. But, sad to say, this award hardly rates national media attention (although the Orange prize is quite high profile). So I guess you could say having such prizes doesn’t really address the problem of womens’ writing being regarded as less culturally significant than mens’.

Hint of freshness about Miles Franklin this year

I think the Miles Franklin Award long-list looks interesting this year. Absent are the mega names that turn up year after year. No Peter Carey, no David Malouf, no Alex Miller, no Helen Garner, Louis Nowra, Kate Grenville, Tim Winton etc. With the dinosaurs away, the small, furry mammals can peep out of their burrows. Okay, Kim Scott won the Miles Franklin back in 2000 with Benang but he’s hardly a household name and Roger McDonald won if for The Ballad of Desmond Kale a few years ago but, on the whole, the list is of newish or low-key writers.

John Bauer and Kirsten Tranter are debut authors and the nominations for Chris Womersley, Honey Brown and Patrick Holland are for their second books. It’s surprising to see Melina Marchetta there – not because she’s not a good writer, she’s a great writer – but because she’s known as a YA author (The Piper’s Son is short-listed for the NSW Premier’s Award under YA).

The long-list

  • Rocks in the Belly, Jon Bauer, Scribe Publications
  • The Good Daughter, Honey Brown, Viking (Penguin)
  • The Mary Smokes Boys, Patrick Holland, Transit Lounge Publishing
  • The Piper’s Son, Melina Marchetta, Viking (Penguin)
  • When Colts Ran, Roger McDonald, Vintage (Random House)
  • Time’s Long Ruin, Stephen Orr, Wakefield Press
  • That Deadman Dance, Dance, Kim Scott, Picador
  • The Legacy, Kirsten Tranter, 4th Estate
  • Bereft, Chris Womersley, Scribe Publications

Aurealis Awards finalists


  • Merrow, Ananda Braxton-Smith, black dog books
  • Guardian of the Dead, Karen Healey, Allen & Unwin
  • The Midnight Zoo, Sonya Hartnett, Penguin
  • The Life of a Teenage BodySnatcher, Doug MacLeod, Penguin
  • Behemoth (Leviathan Trilogy Book Two), Scott Westerfeld, Penguin 


  • The Silence of Medair, Andrea K Höst, self-published
  • Death Most Definite, Trent Jamieson, Orbit (Hachette)
  • Stormlord Rising, Glenda Larke, HarperVoyager (HarperCollins)
  • Heart’s Blood, Juliet Marillier, Pan Macmillan
  • Power and Majesty, Tansy Rayner Roberts, HarperVoyager (HarperCollins)



  • Song of Scarabaeous, Sara Creasy, EOS Books
  • Mirror Space, Marianne de Pierres, Orbit (Hachette)
  • Transformation Space, Marianne de Pierres, Orbit (Hachette)

You can see the full list in all categories here. It’s interesting to look through the categories and the publishers. One finalist, Andrea K Höst’s, novel was self-published. It seems that in the world of speculative fiction, the mainstream publishers – Penguin and HarperVoyager, mostly, stick to YA and to fantasy. The horror and science fiction publishing goes mostly to niche publishers.

Indie book award winners

Indie Book of the Year 2011 is The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do (chosen by independent booksellers).

 Other category winners are:

  • Bereft Chris Womersley – Best Fiction,
  • Rocks in the Belly Jon Bauer – Best Debut Fiction
  • Mirror Jeannie Baker – Best Children’s Book.

Mirror is a picture book is made up of two parts designed to be read simultaneously – one on the left, the other on the right. It’s the story of a day in the lives of two boys – one from inner-city Sydney and the other from a village in Morocco.

SE Asia and Pacific shortlist for Commonwealth Writer’s prize

It’s good to see a collection of short stories on the shortlist for SE Asia and Pacific Best Book – Amanda Lohrey’s Reading Madame Bovary.

Other books I recognise are That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott and of course Lloyd Jones’s Hand Me Down World. Other Australian finalists were Stephen Orr for Time’s Long Ruin and Notorious by Roberta Lowing

Three Australians made it onto the Best First Book shortlist – The Body in the Clouds by Ashley Hay, Traitor by Stephen Daisley and A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill.

Last year Glenda Guest won the regional Best First Book and the overall Best First Book for Siddon Rock.

Indie Book Award shortlist

Last year the winner of the Indie Book of the Year chosen by independent booksellers was Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. Who will it be this year? Chris Womersley? Bereft has had exceptional crits but the books by Anh Do and Paul Kelly have been extremely popular. The finalists are announced in March.


  • Bereft (Chris Womersley, Scribe)
  • Indelible Ink (Fiona McGregor, Scribe)
  • When Colts Ran (Roger McDonald, Vintage)
  • That Deadman Dance (Kim Scott, Picador)


  • The Happiest Refugee (Anh Do, A&U)
  • How to Make Gravy (Paul Kelly, Hamish Hamilton)
  • The Well at the World’s End (A J Mackinnon, Black Inc.)
  • Street Fight in Naples (Peter Robb, A&U)

Debut fiction

  • Rocks in the Belly (Jon Bauer, Scribe)
  • Book of Lost Threads (Tess Evans, A&U)
  • The Legacy (Kirsten Tranter, Fourth Estate)
  • The Old School (P M Newton, Viking)

Children’s shortlist

  • Museum of Thieves (Lian Tanner, A&U)
  • Mirror (Jeannie Baker, Walker Books)
  • The Very Bad Book (Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton, Pan Macmillan)
  • The Legend of the Golden Snail (Graeme Base, Viking).

Dog boy is PM’s favourite

I’m sure it is a bit of a surprise for everyone that Eva Hornung won the PM’s literature award for fiction for her novel about a young boy in Moscow living with a pack with dogs. I’m really pleased, though. Was it Gillard’s choice? There’s a judging panel but this choice seems idiosyncratic. A newspaper article suggested she hadn’t read the shortlist because she was going to get to some of them over summer. I’ve commented elsewhere (see Animal in Fiction piece) about the paucity of novels including animals. So, good on Eva for going there. I haven’t read Dog Boy but my partner has. He says the first third was riveting but he thought the latter part didn’t live up to the promse of the early sections. I hope Eva gets a sales lift from winning the award but I don’t know if it has the oomph of the Miles Franklin. Interestingly enough, the two previous winners of the PM were Steven Conte for The Zookeepers War and Nam Le for The Boat – both mostly overseas set. Perhaps the PM’s Award is setting itself up against the Miles Franklin with it’s Australian setting requirement. Read Dog Boy review here.

Dog Boy creates, in Romochka, a touchingly complex and credible dog boy – cunning, tender, angry, wild, strangely beautiful – as well as a wholly convincing study of how a feral dog-pack works.” – John Burnside The Guardian. Full review here.

Sweet for Sea-Hearts

Congratulations to Australian writer Margo Lanagan for winning Best Novella at the World Fantasy Awards for “Sea-Hearts”. It was announced at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio.

“Sea-hearts” is a heart-rending fantasy loosely based around the selkie legend and was published in the anthology X6 which  includes six novella-length speculative fiction works. It’s edited by Keith Stevenson and published by Sydney-based Coeur de Lion. More info here.

Masala mix

We’ve got the Booker, the Pulitzer, the Commonwealth, Dublin Impac, the Orange and now there is a prize for South Asian writers. The DSC prize is worth US $50,000 and is to “raise awareness of South Asian culture around the world”. It is open to works by authors of “any ethnicity from any country which predominantly features themes based on South Asian culture, politics, history, or people”. South Asia is defined as “India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan”. Interestingly the shortlist includes Atlas of Unknowns by Tania James, a US citizen born and bred. It’s a novel about two Indian sisters, one of whom takes up a scholarship to New York.

Strangely, or perhaps strategically, the shortlist was announced at a “prestigious gala dinner” at Globe Theatre in London. The winner, though, will be announced in India – at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2011. DSC is an infrastructure company. See the DSC prize.

On the Jellicoe Road

For some reason I read Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi when it came out in 1992, YA in a contemporary Australian setting not really being my thing, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Although the book, and the film that followed it, were very successful, it took Marchetta 11 years for her next book Saving Francesca to be published. This was followed by On the Jellicoe Road in 2006. I noticed this book because I was attracted to the cover. Something about it reminded me of country towns with big shady trees, gravel roads and empty school playgrounds. I spent two years of my senior schooling at Leeton in the Riverina and I have a nostalgic pang for the flat land, ­­­big skies and swimming in the Murrumbidgee. I hadn’t twigged until I finally got around to reading On the Jellicoe Road that the book is set in that area.

Nostalgia aside, I loved On the Jellicoe Road. The novel has a complex structure set around a mystery that resolves itself slowly through the eyes of our heroine, seventeen year old Taylor Markham. Marchetta’s brilliance is to make the reader totally accept Taylor’s viewpoint. It’s hard to describe the plot without giving away details that would make the unravelling of the mystery less satisfying. Suffice to say it deals with a modern day group of teenagers, some from a boarding school, some from the town and some from a group of cadets who camp there every year. The various groups are involved in a territory war every summer. Taylor is head of her ‘house’ at the school and she has to lead the school’s group against the townies and cadets. The enclosed nature of the ‘wars’ and the lack of adult interference is expertly handled by Marchetta but we soon find out the wars are a backdrop to Taylor discovering things about her past that for unknown reasons are being kept from her. The pleasure of the novel is all in the unfolding, and in the development of the relationship of the teenagers (or should I say young adults?), Marchetta’s forte. There are really two stories in one – what happens to five friends after a tragedy twenty years before and how this interweaves with the present day characters. I found this relationship cryptic to begin with – it was brave of Marchetta to just go with the story, confident her YA readers will follow Taylor and be patient enough to let the scenario play out at its own pace.

I was surprised, given the many awards Marchetta has garnered, that in Australia On the Jellicoe Road has only won a category of the 2008 WA young readers award. Last year she won the US Michael Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature, an award associated with the American Library Association. Why, I wonder, is Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones categorised as literary fiction, and short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award, and On the Jellicoe Road relegated to YA? Could it be that Silvey’s book has a male protagonist and overtly references literary classics?

Apropos of the cover I loved so much, the B format cover makes the book look like a soft relationships novel for teenage girls and has none of the sense of place and intrigue of the first cover. As a point of contrast, on the cover for Marchetta’s latest book, The Piper’s Son, the publisher has gone 180 degrees the other way – a monochrome photo of a young man walking down a depressing looking inner-city street. It shouts ‘take me seriously’. I checked just in case the book was categorised as adult fiction. But no, despite the protagonist being in his late teens or early twenties, it’s still YA according to Penguin.