Oct 25, 2010

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Great Aussie writers cruel Aussie writers

There is a view that some of the world’s best writing is that which explores human motivation and the mindsets of characters. The probing by authors of what pushes people’s buttons and how they respond has yielded some of the greatest literature – not to mention some ripping yarns.

Subsequent probing of authors’ own mindsets has prompted an entire industry of reviewers, critics and literary gadflies who keep the whole merry-go-round happening. It’s all often very self-congratulatory with the occasional outbreak of hostilities just to keep things in comparative balance.

But then along comes someone like Australia’s own literary genius, Peter Carey (so acclaimed by no less than that august English newspaper, The Times). Now Carey is by any yardstick a towering literary figure. But what to make of his overweening ego? Sorry, what was that? Carey has an overweening ego? That couldn’t be right, could it? Well, let’s look at his approach to literary prizes to see if we can gain some insights.

His website lists no less than 28 major prizes he has won. And some are not just your run-of-the-mill awards, either. Carey has claimed no less than five Miles Franklin awards, three Commonwealth Writers prizes and – beyond compare – three Booker Prizes. What a phenomenal achievement!

So . . . why the hell does he feel the necessity to enter himself in contests like the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards? Or the inaugural Randwick Award for Literature? This latter lovely little prize was instituted by Sydney’s Randwick Council to encourage Australian writers. And, fresh from coming second in the latest Booker Prize, Carey came up trumps in Randwick.

You just know this is going to earn pride of place on his mantelpiece, eh? It will push aside those Booker Prizes and the Miles Franklins might just break when they get squeezed off the edge.

Nor should we forget that this overcrowded mantelpiece just happens to be in New York where Carey has been an Aussie in exile for the past decade. So . . . why the hell does an expat feel the necessity to enter a literary contest in a little suburb of a city he left behind what must seem like a lifetime ago?

You’ve also got to wonder why someone who can pluck Bookers seemingly out of the air – at a paltry 50,000 English pounds a time – needs to get his hands on the munificent $10,000 Randwick prizemoney? Anyone care to figure how much Carey’s royalty cheques from his vast array of bestsellers would yield each month? Even if he were the most profligate, dissolute being on earth he could still not be short of a quid, eh?

So, tell us, Mr Carey, why you feel the need to steal sustenance from Australian writers struggling to make their way in the big, bad world of publishing? What further recognition do you feel you need in order to crowd out the up-and-comers who are desperate for the recognition such a prize might yield them?

Frankly, Sunshine, it does not reflect any credit on you at all. Indeed, quite the contrary. In fact, your approach is a form of bullying and is, by any yardstick, quite unAustralian. Perhaps it’s time you took a good, hard look at yourself, mate. Then again, it seems you have forgotten what mateship is all about.

Nor, strangely enough, is it just Carey who suffers this peculiar hang-up. The likes of Tim Winton and J. M. Coetzee also entered the Randwick contest. You have perhaps heard of these (could we possibly call them) up-and-coming writers? Maybe even have one or two of their works gracing your bookshelves? So, why can’t they just get over themselves and allow new blood to come through the ranks? You’ve made it, guys. Time for some selflessness instead of unfettered selfishness. You demean yourselves.

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