Friday, June 16, 2006

Requesting the pleasure

I got my invitation in the mail the other day to the Miles Franklin Award presentation dinner thingy. When I say 'invitation' what I mean is that I was being invited to pay them $90. This is actually not a ripoff as the one I went to in 2004 was a truly excellent affair in the way of food, wine and guest speaker: Cate Blanchett on Australian women artists, and I'm here to tell you the woman has a lovely brain as well as looking like, well, that -- lit up from inside by some magical, milk-white candle -- and she made a really excellent speech before going home early to breast-feed. Watching her deep in conversation with David Marr was quite an experience.

If I were in Sydney or if the dinner were being held here I would probably stump up and trot along, as prize nights always provide an excellent anthropological study. Watching the behaviour of shortlisted writers -- and their partners; sometimes especially their partners -- is cruel but highly entertaining. It's not the 90 bucks I mind so much as the plane fare halfway across the country.

And if I were a betting woman I'd be in a bit of a state; Kate Grenville has to be the favourite, but without going too much into who thinks what about whom, I can picture some strong resistance from at least one of the judges. To my shame I've not yet read all the shortlisted books so can't give a personal favourite, but if Grenville doesn't get it then it could be Brian Castro's year.


  1. I'm not through the shortlisted novels yet either. Grenville is the pick so far but spare a thought for Brenda Walker - I thought her novel was excellent. Castro's book had a lot of things going for it but seemed to be rather bloodless.

    I suspect I'll be through the Tiffany and about half-way into the McDonald. Depends on how interesting the World Cup is proving I guess.

    Is the awards dinner always held in Sydney? They could move it around a bit I would have thought.

  2. I'd love to see Brenda win it. This or any year.

    I'm in the camp that can't see the point of making changes to the prize even if changes were legally possible, which I think they mostly aren't. I think what a lot of people don't really understand is that it isn't publicly administered -- there is no 'they' in the sense that a government-run prize would have a 'they'. It's a private affair, administered by the people who took over the people to whom Franklin entrusted the setting-up and awarding of the prize. They're called Trust, and they are the people to whom a case would need to be made to change anything about the award. And my understanding is that the law wouldn't let them even if they wanted to, which they don't, as far as I know.

    Everything about the prize is on Franklin's terms (quite right too, it's Franklin's hard-earned dosh), including the fact that the judging panel should always include the NSW State Librarian. Given that, and the location of the administrators, and the fact that Sydney was Miles's home, it really doesn't make much sense to shift it around. It's what it is, closely identified with Franklin and her values and idiosyncrasies (spelling?!), and that's exactly why writers value it so highly.

  3. There's something rather odd in the Australian Writers' Marketplace regarding the Miles Franklin - says that if novels presented fail to measure up, a play will be considered. But how does one decide to submit said play from the backmarker, as it were?