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The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2016: ‘it was from the reading’

Read Thursday, 28 Jan 2016

The winners of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards were announced last night at a garden party on the lawns of Parliament House. Awards were presented in the categories of Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing for Young Adults. The People’s Choice Award (voted by you) was also announced, as well as the Victorian Prize for Literature – worth $100,000, and awarded to the best title by an Australian writer published in 2015.

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Photo of the winning writers, with Michael Williams, Catherine Andrews and Martin Foley
Back row (left to right): Gerald Murnane, Miles Allinson, Michael Williams, Catherine Andrews, Martin Foley, Alan Loney. Front row: Mireille Juchau, Mary Anne Butler, Marlee Jane Ward

MC Denise Scott opened proceedings with vibrant spirit, welcoming guests before lambasting one of 2015’s publishing sensations – mindfulness colouring books for adults. ‘I only bought books on the bestseller lists,’ she explained, ‘and let me tell you, my colouring in has improved out of sight’. And on the lonely life of a writer – ‘a nightmare!’ – she had this advice to offer:

I have written two memoirs, and both times, I spiralled into such a fit of depression, despair and self-loathing. I was forced to ask the question many of you today have asked: how? How can you drink wine while you are curled up on the floor in the foetal position? And the answer is, of course, a bendy straw.

Photo: MC Denise Scott
MC and sommelier Denise Scott

Victoria’s Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley paid tribute to the breadth and impact of work that contemporary writers produce, lauding ‘the breaking down of the silos between different art forms’ and making particular mention of video games. Noting that of the 21 shortlisted titles, 11 were written by Victorians, Foley said the awards were important not just for ‘that sense of hard-to-define notion of excellence’, but for ‘giving emerging writers, emerging talent, a kick-along’.

The People’s Choice Award

First up, Miles Allinson was announced as the winner of the $2,000 People’s Choice Award for Fever of Animals (which was also shortlisted for the Award for Fiction). Allinson’s metafictional work finds its narrator in Europe on the trail of a Romanian surrealist; the judges called it an ‘assured, inventive exploration of love, loss, creativity and identity’. Allinson thanked the computerised voting system, his editor and his wife.

‘It was from the reading’

Catherine Andrews
Catherine Andrews: ‘you see the world through somebody else’s eyes.’

Introducing the main suite of awards, Catherine Andrews – representing Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews – spoke emphatically not only of the shortlist, but of the role of writing and literature generally. With a nod to Neil Gaiman, she said, ‘your books are little empathy machines. They put you inside somebody else’s head. You see the world through somebody else’s eyes. I came back from my break completely rejuvenated and ready, and it wasn’t from the rest: it was from the reading. The obsessive, uninterrupted reading.’

Across everything that I read, these are some of the common themes I identified: identity, loss and grief. Parenthood, childhood and siblings. Humanity, inhumanity, forgiveness, love and hope. Retribution, illness and recovery. Beginnings and endings. Cruelty, renewal, heart-ache, adventure, invention and survival; the ordinary and the extraordinary. We could call all of that the compendium of the human condition.’

The Prize for Fiction

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction went to Mireille Juchau for her third novel, The World Without Us – a story of secrets and survival, family and community, loss and renewal.

Marlee Jane Ward, Michael Williams, Miles Allinson, Mary Anne Butler and Mireille Juchau
Marlee Jane Ward, Michael Williams, Miles Allinson, Mary Anne Butler and Mireille Juchau

In their report, the category’s judges called Juchau’s book ‘a triumph on every level … where the smallest actions reveal the hearts of her characters, and mirror the hearts of all of us.’

‘It’s infinitely valuable,’ Juchau said of the prize.

The Prize for Non-fiction

Something for the Pain – Gerald Murnane’s memoir, in which he recounts his boyhood obsession with horse races – was awarded the Prize for Non-fiction.

It gives me great satisfaction after all these years to be able to say that I’ve made some decent money from horse racing.

‘You expect me to say something deep and profound about my reasons for writing this prize-winning book,’ began Murnane. ‘All I’ll say is that I heard from my publisher Michael Heyward about 20 years ago that I would be able to write this book if I ever just sat down and did it. And for 20 years, he nagged me, and the reason I wrote it was to get him off my back. The only other thing I’ll say is that it gives me great satisfaction after all these years to be able to say that I’ve made some decent money from horse racing.’

The Prize for Drama

The ‘beautifully plotted and moving’ emotional journey of Mary Anne Butler’s play Broken – which the judges praised for its ‘tension, sadness and humour’ – took the Prize for Drama.

Accepting the award, Butler said the prize money ‘will buy me nine months, if I’m frugal, of uninterrupted writing, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.’

‘I really want to thank those theatre companies that choose to program Australian, particularly new Australian works, because writing a play is so much easier when you know you’ve got a production looming, i.e. deadline,’ Butler continued. ‘As a regionally-based writer, it’s very difficult for a play to get a national presence, and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards have given Broken such a presence.’

The Prize for Poetry

Denise Scott and Alan Loney
Alan Loney: ‘I don’t usually allow my books to be submitted for awards’

‘I don’t usually allow my books to be submitted for awards,’ said Alan Loney upon receiving the Prize for Poetry, for Crankhandle. ‘It’s been an interesting, and shall we say, very confirming sort of experience all the way along the line.’

‘This book was never submitted to the publisher for publication.’ It was submitted to Cordite Poetry Review’s managing editor, Kent MacCarter, as a sort of heads up – ‘this is the sort of stuff I’m getting up to now’ – not even as a submission for the magazine. MacCarter, said Loney, responded by saying that not only did he wish to publish it, but as the first of a series of books from new imprint Cordite Books.

Prize for Writing for Young Adults

Marlee Jane Ward won the Prize for Writing for Young Adults, for Welcome to Orphancorp – a brutal and surprising story of a rebellious teenager’s last week at an industrial orphanage.

Photo of Marlee Jane Ward
Marlee Jane Ward, author of <em>Welcome to Orphancorp</em>

In thanking and acknowledging her supporters, Ward expressed her gratitude to ‘the children currently in detention, whose stories I humbly tried to learn from when I wrote this book.’

The Victorian Prize for Literature

Minister Foley announced the winner of the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature – Australia’s single richest literary prize – as Mary Anne Butler, for Broken.

‘Whoa,’ an emotional and slightly breathless Butler gasped. ‘I wasn’t expecting that. I mean – this is three years of writing.’ She explained that the spark of Broken began in 2007; it’s been a long journey.

‘Sometimes the work comes along and it teaches you more about yourself than you know, and this work taught me to listen to the work, if that makes sense.’

I’m incredibly grateful to this play for teaching me to shut up and just channel what was coming through.

Mary Anne Butler accepts the Victorian Prize for Literature
Mary Anne Butler accepts the Victorian Prize for Literature; with Denise Scott and Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley


Your tweets and photos

So chuffed that Marlee won the YA #vpla2016 for Welcome to Orphancorp @seizureonline Marvellous work team!

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Goodnight literary Melbourne. View from #vpla2016 is dreamy.

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Gorgeous evening for the #vpla2016 Victorian Premiers Literary Awards

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