Malcolm Turnbull opens a new chapter on the PM’s Literary Awards

Portrait of author Elizabeth Harrower at her house in Cremorne. Photo: Lidia NikonovaMalcolm Turnbull has distanced himself from several policies of his immediate predecessor since taking over as Prime Minister. And few people expect him to follow Tony Abbott’s controversial example of unilaterally splitting the fiction prize in last year’s PM’s Literary Awards when he presents the 2015 gongs tonight.

The guidelines say the PM will make the final decision on who wins while taking into account the judges’ recommendations, the practice since Kevin Rudd established the prizes as one of his first actions after winning the 2007 election has been for the PM to rubber stamp those recommendations.

Last year, however, to the consternation of some of the judges, Abbott amended their decision to award the $80,000 tax-free prize to Steven Carroll for A World of Other People and shared it between Carroll and Man Booker winner Richard Flanagan. There was also disagreement among the judges to split the Australian History prize, with one promptly quitting the panel.

This year’s fiction prize sees another encounter between two of the pre-announcement favourites for the Miles Franklin, Sonya Hartnett and Joan London, for their respective golden books – Golden Boys  and The Golden Age. Elizabeth Harrower’s In Certain Circles, written nearly 40 years ago but published only in 2014, Peter Carey’s Amnesia, and former Vogel winner Rohan Wilson’s To Name Those Lost complete the shortlist.

Helen Garner’s This House of Grief, her account of the trial of Robert Farquharson, the Victorian man who murdered his three sons, has been shortlisted for umpteen awards but won only one, the Ned Kelly for True Crime. At the time she commented: “It takes guts to give the prize to this book.” She is up for the PM’s non-fiction prize along with Darleen Bungey (John Olsen), Barrie Cassidy (Private Bill), John Gascoigne (Encountering the Pacific) and Michael Wilding (Wild Bleak Bohemia).

Alan Atkinson’s The Europeans in Australia, Vol III won the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature at the start of the year and could finish the year with the Australian History prize, but Peter Brune (Descent into Hell), Ross Coulthart (Charles Bean), Anne Henderson (Menzies at War) and David Horner (The Spy Catchers) may have something to say about that.

The poetry award is between Judith Beveridge (Devadatta’s Poems), Stephen Edgar (Exhibits of the Sun), Geoffrey Lehmann (Poems 1957-2013), David Malouf (Earth Hour) and Alex Skovron (Towards the Equator).

Awards for young-adult fiction and children’s fiction will also be presented. All winners receive $80,000 tax-free, with shortlisted authors getting $5000.

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