I was 99.9% certain that I wasn't going to win because I was convinced that the winner would be given some notice to prepare a speech, despite being told by the organisers that this wasn't the case and to prepare something anyway. Which, of course, I didn't.
When the winner of the Fiction Award, Eva Hornung for Dog Boy, was announced (my pick!) she wasn't there to collect it (apparently too busy collecting hay) so her publisher, Michael Heyward from Text Publishing accepted the award on her behalf. He had a very well-prepared speech on hand, which only convinced me even further that he already knew that Eva had won.
But THEN, when the non-fiction award was announced, the winner (Grace Karsken for The Colony: A History of Early Sydney) was standing not far from me and the look of genuine shock on her face chilled me to the bone. It wasn't possible: surely they couldn't just spring it on someone like that? That's a heart attack waiting to happen! You're talking $100,000 here - not a rose and a handshake. In my world, that's life-changing stuff! (Or at least mortgage-denting.) However, despite being almost in tears, Ms Karsken pulled a very well-prepared speech from her handbag and read it out beautifully, even remembering to thank the PM and to call the minister for the Arts, Minister Crean, instead of just Simon, as I no doubt would have done.
This is when I went into panic mode. If the winners genuinely didn't know they'd won, then I was still in with a chance! What was worse was that Martine Murray (the author of our shortlisted book) still hadn't arrived and there was a very strong possibility that I would have to stumble up there on my own. At this stage I was thanking God I hadn't worn heels. If my name was announced and I didn't black out on the spot I would surely stumble walking up the stairs to the podium. And fall. On national television. Right into Our Julia!
When the YA winner (Bill Condon for Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God) was announced and his wife, Di Bates, squealed in excitement, the terrifying possibility of appearing with Ms Gillard on national television with no speech prepared loomed even closer. At that moment I tried frantically to recall all the names of people I would have to thank and, of course, not a single one came to me. My editor! She was standing just there! What was her surname, for god's sakes? I had worked on THE BOOK with her for blooming months but my mind was a total blank. I could barely remember my partner's name, and he was standing right next to me.
Then there were the other dilemmas that came flashing through my mind: do I take my handbag, or leave it? Do I offer my sweat-drenched palm to the PM or wipe it on my frock first? What was Mr Crean's title again? Where was Martine, for goodness' sakes? Was it too late to text her to see how far away she was? What if I was texting when they called my name. Oh, Lordy!
So, when Lorraine Marwood's name was announced for her children's novel Star Jumps, and I saw all the panic and shock rip through her body as she tried to decide whether or not to take her handbag to the podium, and whether on not she had time to fish around inside it for her camera, to be honest, even though the one hundred thousand tax-free dollars would have come in handy, all I could think of at that moment was: 'There but for the grace of God go I.'
So, it was terribly lovely to be shortlisted, lovelier still to be at a fancy lunch with the PM (who didn't stay to eat - she does have a country to run) but I tell you what, if I'm ever shortlisted for something again, I'll be prepared!
Congratulations again to all the winners!