A late bloomer produces a winning bouquet

The Sydney Morning Herald,14 April 2010


A late bloomer produces a winning bouquet

THERE’S something of a tradition of women writers producing their first novels late in life and then having significant success. Think Elizabeth Jolley or Mary Wesley. Alongside those redoubtable novelists you might now want to add the name of Glenda Guest.

Guest, who is in her sixties and whose first novel, Siddon Rock, was published early last year, was yesterday named the winner of the overall Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book. She wins $8250. The prize was presented in New Delhi at the annual Commonwealth Foundation literary festival. The best-book award went to British writer Rana Dasgupta for his novel Solo.

Guest told The Age from India that it had all been a shock. Siddon Rock, a sort of dynastic saga, emerged from a PhD she took in creative writing at Griffith University. She began the book in 1998 and once it was finished put it away for a couple of years. ”I’d had enough of it,” she said bluntly. Now she has two or three different starts for her next novel rattling around in her head. ”But I don’t know which one will win out yet.”

Guest, who lives in the Blue Mountains of NSW, had always written ”bits and pieces”. Her novel is underpinned by a passion for magic realism – ”one of the things is how you are able to expose beneath the surface of everyday reality” – an interest in small communities and how they operate, and the impact when someone from a different place brings their own stories into such a community.

The judges enthused about her rich cast of odd characters and the way she blended the everyday with fantasy. The book ”deftly delves into the hauntings and disjunctions of settler Australia, and in its fable-like quality captures the laconic mannerisms of the Australian outback”, they said.

Next week Guest will discover if Siddon Rock has progressed beyond the longlist for this year’s Miles Franklin, Australia’s most significant literary prize. ”It’s all been very exciting, amazing and stunning,” she said.