Dear Complaints Dept,

I don’t know what the publicists for the Miles Franklin organisation are doing, but they didn’t do much for last night’s event — which was the occasion of the inaugural Miles Franklin Literary Award Oration, held at a Melbourne Uni lecture hall. Instead of being packed with several hundred, there was a scattering of 60 or so (it was around 100). It should have been full because the speaker is a genius of the form, Peter Temple, author of Truth*, winner of last year’s Miles Franklin Award.

Temple is extraordinarily funny. His talks, apart from writerly perceptions and insights, are also full of — ingenious digressions — dry ironies — extreme understatements — caustic throwaways — wicked disparagements — all the while knitting a perfectly cohesive line of argument. Wonderful!

The feller (from the Trust Co.) with a self-confessed Zimbabwean accent introduced the proceedings by referring to the Miles Franklin Award’s first winner, Peter Voss. Yes, Peter Voss, that great Aussie scribe. It was a funny trip, given that the topic’s title was Reading the Country (thoughts on becoming an Australian writer). Which very title the Trust Company, got wrong on their own dreary website as “Read the country”.

Anyway, what do we care? — only that it is in these small details we note the quality of the organisation which runs what is still the most prestigious literary award in the country.

Temple’s topic had to do with his coming from South Africa (thus the Zimbabwean reference above) and wondering if it was possible for him to write a novel which would be accepted as Australian. And how he learnt to do it. It is a shame that Temple declines being recorded, and does not proffer transcripts. As it was he spoke far too quickly for the myriad bon mots to be recorded in my scrawl. So here are a very few, and they are approximate, mangled from the originals:

There, I’ve said the word: oration. It’s losing its power to terrify me.

All writers in this country have to go through a 21-year-old editor, often called Fiona.

My first novel (at 12 or 13) was about 30 or 40 pages. Many novels should be no longer than 30 pages.

— . . . literary novel, by which I mean it doesn’t include a dead person near the beginning.

It is what is not being said that we are listening for all the time.

There’s a lot of dignity in losing.

Only a Melbourne publisher would use the word “vulgar.”

— . . . but to return to Bryce Courtenay; I find the topic irresistible.


* Disclosure: I designed Truth, so to speak.

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