Monday, November 8, 2010

Lunch with the PM

Well, I put on a frock and got myself down to Fed Square today for my lunch date with Ms Gillard. Today, the winners of the PM literary awards were announced.

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!


  1. Great post, Sally. So human and relatable. Congratulations on making the shortlist!

  2. Thanks Robyn. Yes, it was a great honour.

  3. congrats on being shortlisted Sally! A thrilling post!

  4. Thanks Shirley. Hope things are going well with you.

  5. Congratulations on your shortlisting Sally and to all the other shortlisted authors and illustrators. I think it is so wonderful that finally children's and YA books are given the same recognition as other genres.

  6. I agree with you, Vicki. It would be nice if that transferred across to other areas, too. Literature festivals, for example, where children's authors are often kept firmly away from the more 'serious' authors, often due to programming. Melina Marchetta told me recently that when she was invited to the MWF for the Schools Program this year, she was flown in after the festival opening and out the night before festival dinner - so essentially it's all work and no play for the kids and YA authors, as well as being a little insulting, I imagine. Having said that, it depends very much on the festival. Perth festival was one of the best I've spoken at where adult and children's authors mixed freely (shock, horror!) Many adults seem surprised that we children's authors might even have something interesting to say!

  7. Congrats on the shortlisting Sally. Very funny post! :-) Hope Martine made it eventually.

  8. Thanks Kim. Yes, Martine came with Mannie - our muse!

  9. Loved your post, Sally. I could just imagine the scene and your dilemma, haha! Congratulations on being short-listed even if you didn't win!

    Glad to see you expose the narrow attitude of some who run our country's Literature festivals too!

  10. Thanks Sheryl,
    Yeah, I would've made a good undercover journalist in another life. ;-)

  11. Sorry you didn't win, Sally. It was great to meet you, and fun to relive the horror that I felt before the result was known. I was feeling exactly the same as you - certain that I didn't have a chance - but terrified that I might somehow win and have to make a speech, when I was struggling to remember my own name.

    I didn't thank my wife, Di Bates, my fantastic editor Leonie Tyle, or the judges, or say a single word about the terrific books that were shortlisted - any one of which would have been worthy winners. Despite all that, it was an amazing moment, and I'm very lucky.

  12. Hi Bill,

    Oh, your speech was marvellous! So natural and funny and even if you didn't get to thank Di and Leonie you still managed to squeeze in a few jokes, which made us all laugh. We are all thrilled for you - and I wish I'd got a shot of your face when the awards were announced!

    I particularly loved when you said you didn't get a look-in with the CBC. (Same for Martine and my book!) I think it was a really exciting and diverse list - certainly in the children's and YA sections, and there were many people on there who are often overlooked by the CBC, which I was really pleased about. Andy Griffiths, for example and Leigh Hobbs, even though they win all the children's choice awards. In this regard, I'd really like to commend the judges on their eclectic list as I imagine choosing from so many wonderful books was an agonising task.

    Congratulations again, Bill! And enjoy that money for me! ;-)

    Best wishes to Di, too.


  13. Hello Sally (hello again Bob),
    Someone sent me the link to your funny, lovely blog. It was so comical to see myself through your eyes, in complete and utter shock!
    You were dead right - I had no idea. I wanted to come along to 'be there', celebrate the shortlisting, see the PM...
    But I was obedient and did prepare some words. (Weird writing something you think will never be said...). I think this is because I have recurring nightmares about standing in front of 200 first year students with no lecture prepared...
    I have my copy of Confessions and will soon acquire Mannie. They may even get to my nieces and nephews. Maybe.
    Congratulations on your shortlisting!


  14. Hi Grace,
    Glad you liked the post. You gave a wonderful speech. I was very impressed, especially knowing the pressure you were under. Congratulations - and I, too, look forward to reading your book.
    Best wishes,

  15. Hi Sally,
    We were delighted to welcome Krista Bell to the 2010 Write around the Murray festival in September in Albury where she did readings of Peeking Duck which the little and big people really enjoyed. We also had Melina along as a guest as well as Narelle Oliver and Carole Wilkinson in amongst the journo types of Chris Masters, Nick McKenzie and Scott Monk (among others) and poets, Derek Motion, Nathan Curnow and Emily Zoey Baker. Ours is a small festival and so EVERYONE mixes with each other, and from the feedback really enjoy the experience. A feature of the festival dinner is in the great mix of writers and illustators who sit with the other important people in the mix - the readers.

  16. Hi Robyn,
    The festival sounds great! And it sounds like you had a really great mix of writers. I'm sure everyone enjoyed it immensely.