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Shared awards at PM’s literary night of nights

12 November 2016 171 views No Comment

Shared awards at PM’s literary night of nights.

“Malcolm Turnbull was a good boy and did as he was told.” — so one of the judges of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards told me, in jest I hasten to add, after there were dual winners for the third year in a row. The point is that, unlike Tony Abbott in the fiction award three years ago, Turnbull did not use his prime ministerial prerogative to make a “captain’s call”. I understand the judges agreed to split the history prize between Geoffrey Blainey’s “The Story of Australia’s People” and Sam Lipski and Suzanne Rutland’s “Let My People Go” and the nonfiction award between Sheila Fitzpatrick’s “On Stalin’s Team” and Karen Lamb’s biography of Thea Astley. I believe the same happened with fiction, which had a separate judging panel. The prize was shared by Charlotte WoodÃ’s The Natural Way of Things and Lisa Gorton’s The Life of Houses. The judges agreed these two very different novels were equally worthy. So any conspiracy theorists who want to muse about Turnbull favouring the granddaughter of a former Liberal PM should settle down. Gorton’s novel is terrific, as is Wood’s. It was also pleasing to see the PM linger at the awards night in Canberra, after his embarrassingly brief appearance last year.

My feeling on the shared prizes is that the $80,000 on offer in each of the six categories does make it easier for the judges to agree on having two winners, as even half the prize is serious money. But that’s not a complaint: it’s wonderful that this prizemoney is available to our writers. The dead heats meant the biggest cheques went to the poet and the writers for younger readers, which is a nice result: Sarah Holland-Batt (poetry, The Hazards), Meg McKinlay (young adult fiction, A Single Stone and Sally Morgan (children’s books, Sister Heart). Congratulations to all.

Stephen Romei, “a pair of ragged claws”, The Weekend Australian, November 12-13, 2016, review, Books, p 17.

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