June 19, 2013
Author Michelle de Kretser says she feels overwhelmed and lucky to have won Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, and hopes her book will help increase compassion for asylum seekers.
De Kretser won the $60,000 Miles Franklin Award for her fourth novel, Questions of Travel.
De Kretser was unable to accept the award in person, but speaking from Britain, where she has been attending a literary festival, she admits that she had almost forgotten about the award.
When her phone rang a few hours after she went to sleep, she thought it was a friend begging her to come out for a drink.
Instead, it was her editor telling her of the prestigious win.
She says she felt “overwhelmed, incredulous, really honoured and then lucky.”
“I had really honestly no expectation of winning because there were such great writers and good books on the shortlist, so I just assumed I hadn’t won,” she said.
I hope it will move them when they are considering the politics surrounding asylum seekers.Michelle De Kretser
De Kretser, who has previously authored The Rose Grower, The Hamilton Case and The Lost Dog, says she hopes her book will make people think about travel in new ways.
“I hope it will make them laugh and I hope it will move them when they are considering the politics surrounding asylum seekers,” she said.
The Sri-Lankan born author, who was educated in Melbourne and Paris, says she wanted to individualise the suffering of asylum seekers through the character of Ravi.
Ravi dreams of being a tourist until he is driven from Sri Lanka by devastating events.
“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,” Dr 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.”
At the same time, De Kretser says she does not want to be seen as righteous.
“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,” she said.
“I hope the readers are moved by them as people.”
Novel praised as ‘poignant and engaging’
Judges announced the award at the National Library of Australia in Canberra this afternoon, praising 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,” he 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.”
There are other people who have a lot of faith in my work and I owe them everything.Michelle de Kretser
Dr 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.”
The other finalists for the Miles Franklin included Romy Ash, Annah Faulkner, Drusilla Modjeska and Carrie Tiffany.
The annual Miles Franklin Literary Award was established in 1954 according to the will of Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, the Australian writer and feminist whose book My Brilliant Career was published in 1901.