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The 2017 Miles Franklin is a triumph for small Australian book publishers

Image: UWA Publishing

The 2017 Miles Franklin award has gone to Josephine Wilson’s novel Extinctions published by small publishing house UWA Publishing in Western Australia.

Wilson said: “As a Western Australian writer published by a local publisher, it is often hard to be embraced by the national writing culture. I am so very grateful that my book has received this recognition, and am honoured to be included with my peers under the name of Miles Franklin.”

The Miles Franklin short list was dominated by novels published by small presses. They included Black Inc, Puncher & Wattmann and the University of Queensland Press. The one bigger player was Pac Macmillan Australia.

UWA Publishing was established in 1935 to publish grey academic texts and didn’t start with fiction until 2005. The new focus on fiction is a push started by Terri-ann White, the current director.

Ironically, she announced in 2016 that the publisher was going to stop entering books for eligible Australian book and literary awards. It was getting too costly and sales from short-listed books didn’t make up for it.

She then said: “The returns from our very substantial investment every year in shortlisted and winning entries and the minimal sales results from our winning entries tell us something about the way awards and prizes operate these days.”

Luckily, Extinctions was entered in the Miles Franklin. Two-time Miles Franklin winner Alex Miller (The Ancestor Game and Journey to the Stone Country) told the award ceremony in Sydney last night that his first win sent his book sales from a few hundred to 20,000.

The judges described Extinctions, with its themes of ageing and survival, as “compassionate and unapologetically intelligent”. The award comes with $60,000 in prize money.

Wilson is the fifth Western Australian to take out the top prize. The others are Randolph Stow, Elizabeth Jolley, Kim Scott (two-time winner) and Tim Winton (four-time winner).

The Miles Franklin Literary Award, celebrating its 60th anniversary, was established through the will of My Brilliant Career author Miles Franklin for the “advancement, improvement and betterment of Australian literature”.

The Miles Franklin Literary Award recognises the novel of “the highest literary merit” which presents “Australian life in any of its phases”.

The chair of judges, judge Richard Neville, the librarian at the State Library of NSW, says Extinctions explores ageing, adoption, grief and remorse, empathy and selfcentredness.

“The novel is a meditation on survival: on what people carry, on how they cope, and on why they might, after so much putting their head in the sand, come to the decision to engage, and even change,” he says.

The four other Miles Franklin award finalists get $5000 each:

AN ISOLATED INCIDENT by Emily Maguire (Pac Macmillan Australia): “An intriguing exploration of two women, a murder, and media and masculinity set in a tough regional town.”

THE LAST DAYS OF AVA LANGDON by Mark O’Flynn (University of Queensland Press): “A warmly empathetic portrayal of a misunderstood but spirited outsider who refuses to concede to society’s conventional expectations.”

THEIR BRILLIANT CAREERS by Ryan O’Neill (Black Inc): “A rich and entertaining satire featuring 15 biographies of imagined Australian writers whose bizarre and exaggerated lives are neatly slotted into real literary history.”

WAITING by Philip Salom (Puncher & Wattmann): “A deftly executed and very human novel about a pair of odd couples, who are both waiting for something or someone to change their lives.”

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