Congratulations to Nam Le who today won the best fiction prize in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for 2009.
You can read his complete victory speech, presented in absentia, here. It was written prior to any knowledge of winning the award and I’m particularly taken with the following paragraph, copied from the aforementioned report at The Australian online:
Thank you to the government and relevant department for their support, Prime Minister Rudd and Minister Garrett for theirs, for affirming the value of literature to this country’s life. It’s an anodyne thing to say but maybe it needs to be said, and said again and again: that books matter, that they are the truest means of telling and showing us to ourselves, that they do a strange, unaccountable, irreplacable work that the loose, baggy monsters of film, TV, and internet cannot. Part of that work is the faith to put readers to work: to invite readers to share an act of imagination with the work, to seek out complexities in the friction zone of consciousness and reality, to encourage readers, in that act of imaginative completion, to convince themselves that the concerns of the book in their hands are their concerns as well. This, for me, is the beginning of real community. Other media – in their unilateralism, their lowest common denominator appeal, their stimulus-gratification approach and visual-realist imperatives – are less capable of achieving such engagement.
Bravo and well said. Books set the imagination to work. Books build community.
In a previous post, I mentioned that a book takes on a life of its own once it is released. In part, this is because every reader brings their own world experience to the words they read and they respond accordingly.
Indeed, the first time a publisher read a manuscript of Game as Ned, I was encouraged by her response because she said she shed some tears at key moments in the book. I would have picked the same two moments – one sad, one happy – as most likely to make me choke up. That said, I’ve had other readers contact me to say they cried (or laughed or smiled) at entirely different moments. Truth be told, I’m chuffed to hear that the story is triggering any emotional responses as this suggests readers are identifying with the characters or events I tried to portray.
A book also takes on its own life in the commercial world. I’m gobsmacked (and grateful) that Game as Ned has been purchased for publication in Poland, for instance. If I’d had to hazard a guess as to potential international readers, I would have picked Ireland as first cab off the rank. GAN has also been turned into an audio book (more on that in another post), read by professional actors.
Critical acclaim is another aspect of a book’s life that is difficult to predict. I was rapt that GAN made the Children’s Book Council of Australia Older Readers Notable Books list for 2008 and amazed to be mentioned in such high-powered company. GAN was also long-listed for the Ned Kelly Awards 2008, as judged by the Crime Writers’ Association of Australia. As a first-time novelist, I’m flummoxed just to be on the same page as these wordsmiths.
GAN is also listed for upper secondary students as a Premier’s Reading Challenge book for 2008, which is also fantastic.