Queensland Premier’s Now Defunct Literary Awards

In 2004 the manuscript of my novel An Accidental Terrorist won the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for an emerging author. I was then, by definition, completely unknown (as opposed to being, now, simply unknown) I certainly had never had a novel accepted for publication.

The novel – about a young man who gets caught up in a plan to sabotage woodchipping machinery in the forests of south coast of NSW – had already taken three years to write, but after receiving the award it required most of another one to complete. This was because the award was not simply monetary, it came with funding to work with a professional editor (Julia Stiles). The published novel (UQP) went on to win the award for best first novel in the NSW Premier’s Awards, the following year.

Professionally, then, receiving the award was an extraordinary opportunity, not simply to get a contract, but also to develop my writing skills with an editor. Financially it was delightful, $20 000 from the first award, $5000 from the second one, then royalties from sales of another $10 000 (winning awards boosts sales of literary fiction), making a total of $35 000. Not bad really, until you reckon it up over four years. Then the hourly rate comes in at $4.21 before tax.

The real value, though, was not monetary (but then no-one, or very few people, write novels for money, most people write them because they are driven to it, because, poor sods, some character flaw makes them believe they have something to say that other people want to hear) the real value, to me, was the recognition that my writing had some worth. It gave me enormous encouragement, enough to go on and write another couple of novels.

There was, however, I believe, a larger value to the State itself. Queensland is so young. It is only just beginning to emerge as a sophisticated place which can afford not simply to pull millions of tonnes of coal and ore from the ground, but to invest some of the wealth gained from these actions in the education of its populace. Historically this state, and I’m not just talking about the Joe Bjelke-Petersen days here, has not demonstrated itself a repository of culture – back in the mid-nineteenth century, just for example, when the rest of the world had abolished slavery, Queenslanders made up new laws so as to continue the practice. In those days they called it black-birding.

Queensland, until twenty, twenty-five years ago was viewed, Australia wide, as the nation’s slightly dumb cousin. In the last couple of decades, through practical policy but also through symbolic gestures like the building of the new GOMA and State Library buildings, and these literary awards, we’ve managed to stand up as equally civilised, proud of the beauty of our landscapes, proud of what we can do as a people. Mr Newman’s action is just as symbolic, in the other direction. It tells the world that Queenslanders have no time for the finer things in life.

Writers tell stories about the culture they live in. They describe who we are to ourselves, they offer us, literally, self-reflection, an opportunity to see who we are and thus the ability to decide if we like the way we are behaving.

A decision like this tells writers that the government doesn’t care what they do. That the government is only interested in the money. That they are happy to take the GST on books but not to invest any of that back in those who are the cornerstone of the industry.

And make no mistake; it’s only the beginning.

 

 

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3 Comments on “Queensland Premier’s Now Defunct Literary Awards”


  1. Thank you, Steven for this post. You’ve said it all so beautifully! I shall pass it on to everyone I know. I’m a Queensland children’s writer and here’s what I said on the same subject.
    I too, worry that this is the start of pogrom against arts funding in this state.
    http://sherylgwyther.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/my-fellow-australians-especially-those-who-abhor-arty-types-like-me/

  2. Karen Says:

    Beautifully said, Stephen. Thank you.

  3. jactherat Says:

    Hi Steve, I have your book 88 lines about 44 women and have enjoyed it immensely – as well as using it to help with the writing of my novel for PhD studies about secrets and music from the 80s.

    Have to agree, this is retro and counter productive on every level.
    It does hark back to the philistine past of Qld (and Oz at large) where cultural things were not valued.

    The shame is, economically speaking, Australia is well placed in the world at the moment and such awards should be boosted not trashed. I can only hope that this barbaric act does not spread to other areas of funding or other states, as governments fall.

    Keep writing, keep the faith.


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