Down-to-earth novelist scales the literary heights

The Australian,14 April 2010


Down-to-earth novelist scales the literary heights

GLENDA Guest, the down-to-earth Australian writer who was a surprise winner at the regional heat of the prestigious Commonwealth Writers Prize last month, has gone on to greater glory.

Yesterday, Guest, who is in her 60s, was named winner of the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book, for her novel Siddon Rock. She felt like a “stunned mullet”, she told what must have been a bemused audience in New Delhi in her acceptance speech.

Guest told The Australian yesterday she had never intended to become a novelist when she enrolled in a creative arts course at the Gold Coast campus of Griffith University almost 20 years ago. She was interested in theatre.

She had done various jobs in her life, sometimes two or three part-time jobs at the same time, restlessness always propelling her on. In academe, however, she seemed to find her metier.

Within a couple of years, she had switched her major to creative writing, and after finishing her honours degree was encouraged to continue on to a doctorate by her lecturer and “mentor” Nigel Krauth, one of The Australian’s regular fiction reviewers.

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University, Guest said, changed her life.

“I realised I had a good brain, that I could use that brain, and it gave me the confidence to do it,” she said.

Though the $8250 prize is not a dizzying financial reward, it will catapult Guest on to the literary map. Publishers around the world will doubtless be knocking on her door, looking for rights to this book and the next.

Meredith Curnow, Guest’s editor at Random House, said yesterday she was particularly proud of the way Guest had had the courage to continue writing in a style that was no longer fashionable. The novel, written in magical realist style, follows several families through generations, and includes a woman who, while in the medical corps, takes the place of a dead soldier at the front line, and an Aboriginal woman who can be seen only by some people.

The latter was a “powerful metaphor for indigenous people in white society”, the chairwoman of the judging panel, Anne Brewster, said at Guest’s regional win.

Guest is already at work on her second novel, although she declined to discuss its theme. “My first book was what it was, and the next one will be what it will be,” she said.

The 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book was won by English-born, Delhi-based Rana Dasgupta for his powerful novel Solo, set, perhaps surprisingly, in Bulgaria.