Award shock for first-time author
Australian author Glenda Guest is recovering from the shock of being named winner of the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book.
Guest says she attended the award ceremony in New Delhi this week to simply experience India and meet some interesting people.
“I had no speech ready. I bumbled and fluffed my way through the speech, then tried to take it all in,” she says.
She arrived back in Australia on Thursday and her phone hasn’t stopped ringing with well-wishers and journalists trying to find out more about this unassuming woman.
Guest’s award-winning novel, Siddon Rock, is also her first novel.
The judges praised the book for its “rich cast of odd characters and blending of the everyday with fantasy. Behind every door in town lurk secret desires and wild imaginings”.
The book centres on a dusty outback Australian town, which is as much a character as the racist matron, the bookish teacher and the blokey blokes.
Guest attributes the style of the book to her interest in magic realism, listing Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie among her favourite authors.
She says magic realism explores the “underneath” of society.
“What we see, the day-to-day stuff, is only part of what a place or culture is,” she says.
“There are these other things that prop it up, which we don’t even think about _ the mythologies that are part of our way of life, the old stories that we tell ourselves about where we came from _ things that are so embedded we don’t think about them.
“What magic realism does is it allows you to expose them.”
Describing herself as a “beginning writer” the mother-of-one laughs at the idea that she’s an overnight success.
“The book wasn’t put together in two minutes,” she says.
She started the novel in 1998 as part of a PhD.
“I eventually got the thesis and the writing done, and I put it away for years because I was tired of it all,” she says.
A chance meeting with a literary agent planted the idea of sending the book to a publisher, but she filed the list of contacts away.
“A couple of years later I found it and I rang Lyn Tranter (literary agent) and she looked at it and here we are.”
Guest, who grew up on a farm in Western Australia, says she has lived a fairly ordinary life.
She has lived in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, doing odd jobs and the bookkeeping for her husband’s building business.
She’s also had short stories published, been a literary editor for Canberra’s artlook magazine, and taught creative writing at Macquarie and Griffith Gold Coast universities.
Siddon Rock is on the long-list for Australia’s most prestigious literary award, The Miles Franklin Literary Award.
“It’s weird being on the same list as Peter Carey and people I’ve read and taught and admired for years,” Guest says.
“I feel like an onlooker; I feel like someone is using my name and doing all this.”
The shortlist for The Miles Franklin Literary Award will be revealed on April 21.
Guest says it was magical to get back to her home in the Blue Mountains, outside Sydney, after the frenetic pace in New Delhi.
“India is mind-boggling. It’s overwhelming, it’s exhausting, it’s hot, it’s fascinating, it’s all those things,” she says.
“We don’t realise in other countries how protected we are.
“The extreme poverty that you see there, right in your face the whole time, it’s too much some times.
“When I got home I walked outside and there was nothing, no noise. It was beautiful. We are so spoilt. Australians don’t know what they’ve got.”
Guest says she will wait for post-award maelstrom to settle before starting her next book.
“I’ve got two or three starts in my head and one of them will win shortly, but we’ve got to get over this little bit of madness first,” she says.
And don’t expect her next book to be the same as Siddon Rock.
“It will be a different journey with a different outcome.”