The winners of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards have been announced in Brisbane, with Michelle de Kretser taking the gong for best work of fiction. It’s Ms de Kretser’s second major gong for her novel Questions of Travel, after it won the Miles Franklin award earlier this year. The winners of the literary awards were chosen from a shortlist of 29 books spanning six categories ::::
Journalist George Megalogenis won the non-fiction category for The Australian Moment, while Ross McMullin’s book, Farewell, won the prize for Australian history. Bruce Pascoe won the young adult fiction award for Fog a Dox, while the children’s fiction award went to Libby Gleeson for her book Red.
John Kinsella took out the poetry category with his work Jam Tree Gully. Each winner receives $80,000 tax free, while shortlisted entries receive $5,000.
Back in June Ms de Kretser won the 2013 Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s most prestigious literary prize. Judges praised the novel as “witty and poignant”.
The chair of the judging panel, Richard Neville, said it was difficult to choose a winner from the first all-female shortlist in the award’s history.
“The judging process itself is exhaustive and exhausting… this year there was intense discussion on the winner,” Mr Neville said. “Michelle’s novel is a novel of great ambition and great wisdom. It’s dealing with all, so many issues that Australian society’s talking about and it’s just a wonderfully written, engaging novel.”
Born in Sri Lanka but educated in Melbourne and Paris, Ms de Kretser is also the author of The Rose Grower, The Hamilton Case and The Lost Dog. She has worked as a university tutor, editor and book reviewer.
Gently Highlighting the Suffering of Asylum Seekers
Ms de Krester says she wanted to individualise the suffering of asylum seekers through her main character Ravi – Ravi dreams of being a tourist until he is driven from Sri Lanka by devastating events – Ms de Kretser says she doesn’t want to be seen as righteous.
“I wanted to tell an individual story because when we think of refugees, whether we are sympathetic towards them or not, we tend to think [of them] as a bloc,” Ms de Kretser said. “I hope that what my book does is to present an individual story and to point out that every refugee is a human being with their own very particular story to tell. What I have really tried to do is tell compelling stories without being didactic. The people in my book are very flawed and human people, I hope the readers are moved by them as people.”
Ms de Kretser says Questions Of Travel took about three years to write – four if counting lost time moving from Melbourne to Sydney with her partner.
“The people I am really grateful to are the people that loved my book before it was a book, when it was just two or three laconic files in a computer,” she said. “There are other people who have a lot of faith in my work and I owe them everything.”