Ryan O’Neill has won the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Award

Ryan O'Neill at the award ceremony in Parliament House, Canberra. Photo couresty of Department of Communications and the Arts

Ryan O'Neill at the award ceremony in Parliament House, Canberra. Photo couresty of Department of Communications and the Arts

Kimbriki resident Ryan O’Neill has won the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for his fiction novel Their Brilliant Careers.

The University of Newcastle (UON) teacher had no idea he was even being considered.

“My publisher entered me for the award and I found out I had been shortlisted a couple of weeks before the announcement,” he said.

It took him a year to write the book in 2015, which was published the following year. The novel had previously been shortlisted for the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, and the Miles Franklin Literary Award before winning the Prime Minister's Literary Award.

“It's a huge and unexpected honour to win the award,” Ryan said. “Hopefully it will bring the book to more readers.”

The book was inspired by a short story he had written in the form of a biography of a made-up Australian writer.

Their Brilliant Careers consists of sixteen biographical portraits of fictional writers. I enjoyed writing it and thought there might be some scope in doing a series of such invented biographies.”

The award judges commented that Ryan writes with “generous humour and a healthy sense of the absurd.” 

“The many broad gags and in-jokes that make Their Brilliant Careers a delight to read reveal a deep knowledge and appreciation for the literary tradition it satirises,” the judges stated.

Ryan’s previous book was a short story collection called The Weight of a Human Heart and it was shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards and the Queensland Literary Awards.

His fiction has appeared in The Best Australian Stories, The Sleepers Almanac, Meanjin, New Australian Stories, Wet Ink, Etchings and Westerly. His work has won the Hal Porter and Roland Robinson awards and been shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Steele Rudd Award and the Age Short-Story Prize.

“Currently I am working on a book called The Drover's Wives in which I have retold Henry Lawson's classic Australian short story, The Drover's Wife in 99 different ways,” Ryan concluded.

Ryan and his family moved to Kimbriki, near Wingham in 2016. He teaches UON's Enabling program in which he covers on academic skills, literature and film.

In its 10th year, the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards run across six categories: fiction, poetry, non-fiction, Australian history, young adult, and children’s. A group of 15 judges made recommendations to the Prime Minister on the shortlists and winners from over 450 entries. Winners were selected from a shortlist of 30 works from a group of Australian authors. 

For more information about the winning books visit www.arts.gov.au/pmla.