I came being prepared to not enjoy this session as I feared it might degenerate into total focus on special treatment for women etc etc but in fact it was a good session. The panelists – Marion Halligan, Fiona Kidman, Kate Mosse and Sara Knox, talked about their experiences of prizes. What came through was more the value of writing awards which both validated their work and gave them money to focus solely on their writing.
Being writers they had great stories – Fiona Kidman told of being smuggled into Parliament with a blanket over her head for an interview with Ian Fraser and Faye Weldon (at the time she was banned from the precincts after incidents in the 1981 Springbok tour protests). Marion Halligan talked about Helen Demidenko the Australian writer who won awards while pretending to be Ukrainian. She talked of judges who were thrilled to make a new star – King or queen making. Sara Knox talked about the value of prizes to first time novelists who have to compete in the marketplace with authors who are “known quantities”.
All the authors spoke strongly about the importance of the long and short lists being promoted. Fiona Kidman was passionate about this year’s row over the size of the fiction shortlist in the Montana Awards. She felt the judges were giving a terrible message for those writers who did not make the shortlist.
Kate Mosse has been involved in the Orange Broadband Prize since its inception. She thinks its importance is not only the focus on writing by women but also the fact that it is international. The money for the prize came from an anonymous, elderly woman donor, the sculpture the winner receives a bronze cast of each year came from the actor David Niven’s sister and Orange Communications became sponsors at a time when cell phone uptake by women was low and most marketing was based on “fear messages”. The sponsorship has continued to be a positive one for Orange. The Prize focuses on working with publishers and booksellers to market the short lists and also invests in projects involving writing and literacy. I liked the fact that it also includes a prize for new writers and a prize for book group of the year.
After the session I asked Kate Mosse what she thought of the idea (as promoted by some publishers) that people should not use libraries because they undermine the sales of books. She said she didn’t care if people borrowed or brought her book as long as they read it. Libraries are very important and she likes to work with and in libraries when she can.