Meet the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award Shortlist (Part 1): Emily Maguire & Mark O’Flynn

On the 18th June the shortlist for the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award – an award now in it’s 60th year – was unveiled to the public. And what an exciting shortlist it was, with all five of this nominated authors shortlisted for the very first time! It was also great to see many of the smaller presses getting some attention too.

Speaking on behalf of the judging panel, State Library of NSW Mitchell Librarian, Richard Neville, said: “Yet again the shortlist celebrates the diversity of voices and approaches to writing about Australian life. None of these novels draw on familiar tropes of Australian literature – yet each brings a distinctive pitch of truth and insight into the Australian experience.”

To find out a little more about this year’s shortlisted authors and their books, we asked each of them a handful of questions about their experiences being shortlisted, their memories of the award, and what winning would mean for them. So without any more carry on – meet your 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist!

Emily Maguire – An Isolated Incident

Synopsis: An intriguing exploration of two women, a murder, and media and masculinity set in a tough regional town.

Congratulations on your shortlisting. What does the Miles Franklin Literary Award and being shortlisted mean to you?

Thank you! I’ve followed the Miles Franklin Award for decades, always borrowing or buying the shortlisted entries so I could read them in time for the announcement. It’s such a thrill to see my own name on one of those lists.

What are some of your memories of the Miles Franklin – any favourite past winners or shortlisted works?

So many. I was delighted when Frank Moorhouse won for Dark Palace in 2001. His Edith Campbell Berry trilogy, of which Dark Palace is the second book, is phenomenal and very important to me as a writer and personally. More recently, Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance is a book I borrowed from the library because it was on the shortlist and I found it so moving and so innovative that I immediately bought a copy of my own. I’ve since had to replace it several times because I push it on others to read so often. Oh, and I read and adored Sofie Laguna’s Eye of the Sheep before it was published and when it won in 2015 I was almost as happy as if I’d won myself.

How important do literary awards like the Miles Franklin continue to be for the writing community (and readers) in Australia?

As a reader I love prize lists because they introduce me to books I might not otherwise find and they provide an excellent focus for passionate discussions about books and literature and Australian culture and society. As a writer, the loveliest thing about having my book shortlisted for prizes like the Stella and the Miles Franklin has been the extension in the life of the book itself. Novels that aren’t bestsellers out of the gate tend to disappear from bookshelves within 3 months or so. Yet, here we are a year out from An Isolated Incident’s publication and it’s once again out there being read. It’s marvellous!

What would winning the Miles Franklin Literary Award mean to you? How do you feel it would benefit your practice?

Like most Australian writers I need to do a lot of work that isn’t writing in order to pay the bills and prize money buys writing time, so that alone would make a huge difference. Other than that, it’s hard to say. I spent years on this book with no thought of prizes and I’m deep in the the guts of another book now with the same lack of expectation. Recognition like this is so, so, so lovely but then you have to get back to work and I don’t think anything external makes that any easier, or makes the writing any better. However celebrated and fabulous you feel in the moment, soon enough you’re alone again, clacking away on the keyboard hoping like hell it all turns out okay.

An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire is available through Pan MacMillan Australia

Mark O’Flynn – The Last Days of Ava Langdon

Synopsis: A warmly empathetic portrayal of a misunderstood but spirited outsider who refuses to concede to society’s conventional expectations.

Congratulations on your shortlisting. What does the Miles Franklin Literary Award and being shortlisted mean to you?

The Miles Franklin Award is an absolute game changer for a writer, including me. To be shortlisted already gives recognition to work that otherwise would not have received such attention, and this adds up to a feeling of being profoundly humbled. I am immensely grateful.

What are some of your memories of the Miles Franklin  – any favourite past winners or shortlisted works?

I remember being very moved by David Malouf’s The Great World, and also Elizabeth Jolley’s The Well. More recently Tim Winton’s Breath changed the way I looked at his work. Going back a bit I’ve enjoyed [Peter] Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, [George] Johnstone’s My Brother Jack, and Patrick White’s Riders in the Chariot, among many others.

How important do literary awards like the Miles Franklin continue to be for the writing community (and readers) in Australia?

Awards are critical for the writing community, more for the vote of confidence rather than the remuneration, although that is of course hugely welcome. They are both a guide and a standard, reflecting the robust health of the literary community and the range of what is being written in Australia.

What would winning the Miles Franklin Literary Award mean to you? How do you feel it would benefit your practice?

I can’t really think too closely about this, but I recognise it would have the immediate effect of buying some time in which I could write with some greater freedom and perhaps confidence, and less a sense of isolation. While I am mightily please to have been shortlisted, the recognition that comes with the Miles Franklin Award would mean the earth.

The Last Days of Ava Langdon by Mark O’Flynn is available through University of Queensland Press

Perpetual is Trustee for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. The Award was established in 1954 by the estate of My Brilliant Career author Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin to celebrate the Australian character and creativity. For more information on the award visit the Miles Franklin Literary Award website.