Saturday, September 13, 2008

And the winner is...

Sorry, that's a family joke.

I went to the Prime Minister's Literary Award bestowal. The winners were flabbergasted. And very happy. Well, why wouldn't you be, getting a tax-free bundle of $100,000 notes plopped into your lap?

"Welcome to the house of non-fiction," said Kev. "This is the House of Representative side of Parliament House. Over there, on the Senate side, is the House of Fiction. Oooh, that'll get me into trouble next week."

The judges and contenders (five from each house of fiction/non-fiction, the short-listed) wriggled in their chairs.

The chairs are worth mentioning. Someone (probably one of the Shiny Young Things who hovered constantly) had put out one less chair than was needed, so for most of the award ceremony one of the hosts, judges or contenders had to stand awkwardly until someone else vacated their seat, and then hurriedly take that seat (repeat, repeat). Finally, a woman who looked like she was involved somehow came up, put her organiser and keys and glass carefully down on the floor and moved a chair into the zone of awkwardness, then picked up all the bits and shuffled to the back. She didn't add a chair, she just made the zone of awkwardness slightly less obvious.

The compere set the tone of the evening. He was jolly and approachable and oddly familiar, in a handsome, personable sort of way. I couldn't place him until Pen* told me that her six-yo would be disappointed he missed seeing Rhys Muldoon. Aahh! Different generation of Play School host from my eleven-yo. Apparently he recently hosted the Ned Kelly Awards for Crime Fiction, and he may have other literaturish connections. But more likely he's just a good personable bloke. The ceremony wasn't terribly well organised; they handed out prizes, did a bit of musical chairs, let the winners stand in the Awkward Zone for a while, and then slapped their foreheads and brought them up on stage for a speech each.

The winner for fiction was Stephen Conte, for his novel The Zookeeper's War, which made a number of people audibly gasp. His speech was short, pithy, delighted, and smacked of gob.

The prize for non-fiction was given to Philip Jones, for Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers. His speech was longer, more deliberate, equally gobsmacked and very very interesting. It talked about the process of writing in hurried moments, of delighting in artifacts and their stories, and of the weirdness of sudden glares of fame.

Peter Garrett (who is absolutely awesome when he stands in front of you) spoke about lying in bed with a torch, reading until the batteries went. Kevin stood up and said that as a kid he did the same thing, albeit in a shorter bed. They have to make jokes like that, because when they stand and walk together, it's a sight to behold.

Podium fun
Apologies for the blurry photo -- I wasn't sure if I was allowed, so I took it very quickly. The main part of the crowd is to the left of the photo.

The champagne flowed, the nice nibblies were nibbled. It was an interesting crowd, not that I got to see a lot of who was in it, since I was standing by as Helper. We were deep in Parliament House -- really deep, took AGES to walk to the venue from the carpark -- and it was noted by someone that it may have been better held at the National Library. But I think that was the point of the whole exercise. There were a lot of writers and publishers in the room, but there were also a lot of odd but very Canberra choices -- a commercial printer who supports the Canberra Art scene, curators and academics, bookshop owners. This event was clearly trying to differentiate itself from the usual Literazi, to be -- dare I say it? -- relaxed, and comfortable.

I got to gaze fondly across the room at John Doyle (yummy) and Thomas Keneally (sweet). Germaine and Clive weren't there, poo bum. Neither were Dorothy Porter nor David Malouf (he's in Tuscany, poor man). Oh -- and the runners-up got gold pens. In nice boxes. In nice wrapping paper.

I did get to shake Kevin's hand. He's like a little cartoon of himself, with a very round face and oddly plastic hair. His minders were very young and very stressed and when I overheard them were saying that 'we've almost got him out of here' (I was close to the exit). I got to talk -- properly -- to Peter Garrett, and thoroughly enjoyed it. He does his best to really engage with you, no matter who you are. I wonder when that will get knocked out of him.

Coincidentally a Midnight Oil song played on the radio as I drove home, and that was a weird moment. But the whole thing was a bit surreal.

*A shy hello to Fiona and Pen, who did come up to see if I was Ampersand Duck. I enjoyed meeting both of you.

[cross-posted at Sarsaparilla]


Anonymous said...

Well, you were lucky Muldoon didn't do a repeat of his act at the Ned Kelly awards, which was very deliberately tasteless (on the topic that Sex is better than Crime Fiction). Followed by Leigh Redhead's burlesque dance.
Hurray for the Kevs for having the guts to gong a neo--the whole lit award scene was getting very same-old. I thought the award would go to Malouf or the accomplished Mireille Juchau. Conte I had down as a good first novelist. Ah well, and good luck to him.
One quibble--when are writers going to frock up for these dos? See Linda Grant's blog for an author who does understand frockery, and will look stunning at the Bookers. My money's on her. Lucy Sussex

Anonymous said...

Muldoon is a professional. Embarrassing Garrett or the PM is the last thing he would do. I don't see what burlesque dancing brought in by the Ned Kelly organisers has to do with Muldoon. As for frock up - why would the Canberra literati frock up in a venue that's a dim concrete room at the core of what's practically a mausoleum when out of session? Cocktail vibe it weren't. Public servants organised it. Black mask-all-class-difference head to toe, was the go! And go P Jones! Great outcome.

Ampersand Duck said...

It was a weird time of day to be frocking up -- 5.30 for 6pm. I think that if you're going to fling a rich prize in the mix, it could have been done over a nice dinner and then people could frock up.

A few [young] audience members frocked up alarmingly, and looked very out of place.

The camerafolk, of course, formed a front pack that blocked the view of the moderately frocked up audience, and were in their ripped jeans and dirty sneakers. I wish I'd taken a snap of that view.

Anonymous said...

6 pm? That's cocktail hour dollink! Definitely dressup time! :) AmpersandDuck, did you count how many "alarmingly frocked up ones" there were? They would have been either public service graduate administrative assistants invited along to plump out the guest list and make up for the non-shows, or more senior bureaucrats pressganged for the same reason ... they would never have seen what the literati wear (whatever) and expected it to be like a film industry do, which is what they usually get along to, film stuff being a much bigger slab of their work than literature. They will have come along to network with their Parliament House doppelgangers and the Gen Y ones will want to report back to colleagues that they met the minister ...

Ampersand Duck said...

Heh. You are sooo right. They sort of skulked around the corners in their sequined shoes. It's probably the kind of look Kev would have liked it to have, complete with Cate. Never mind. I'm sure he's made notes for next time. And I'm sure a few wrists are stinging from the slap they got re. the chairs.

Anonymous said...

Meh - it should not be surprising that a neophyte won. They had to have one! Much like the quest for a virgin bride for Prince Charles. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall for the judges discussions - trying to figure what Kev would sign off on and avoid embarrassment. Does anyone really think the panel had a say? Does anyone think James, Greer or Malouf ever stood a chance? Imagine the feelings (viz headlines) if a wealthy expatriate had won. And Kenneally went straight on the record that he had collared the PM privately and talked refugees. Platform for Kenneally? No thanks! The shortlist may well have been carefully crafted out of political considerations, with one or two standout good-vibe choices to "pick" from a throng of impossibilities. Shortcircuit any controversy. Surprised if straight talker John Doyle enjoyed being party to it. Hopefully Rob Sitch will chat to an insider some time before the next series of The Hollowmen! (Please, all, feel free to disabuse me of my cynicism!)

Pavlov's Cat said...

'They had to have one!'


'(Please, all, feel free to disabuse me of my cynicism!)'

I've got no interest in disabusing you of it (or otherwise), but I'd be quite interested to know what it's based on.

Mummy/Crit said...

I'm swooning with jealousy at your peter garrett encounter. When he first announced he was running for the senate, I cut out a photo of him and stuck it to a piece of magnetic tape for my fridge. It's still there.

Mrs Slocombe said...

What an odd trio, sitting there; pleased that Garrett is still okay: he sounded terrible when I heard him having to defend the uranium mine expansion. I have given you a blog award if that's not too presumptuous.

Ampersand Duck said...

Oh my goodness, Betty, I'm honoured.

And delighted to take a longer moment than usual to look at your blog, and connect the dots between you and Kate. I used to know her mum in Canberra, and have also worked extensively with her dear uncle Harold. Small world, no? Which is why I initially picked up her book, which then blew me out of the water.

Mrs Slocombe said...

Oh it was you rooting through me draws: that's alright is a small world...have you seen Brigid's fabulous aerial landscape paintings?