A debut novelist has beaten her mentor to a place on the shortlist for the nation's most prestigious fiction prize, the 2012 Miles Franklin Literary Award.
Favel Parrett is being considered for Past the Shadows, her tale of love and tragedy on the Tasmanian coast, and is up against literary veterans including previous winner and Cold Light author Frank Moorhouse.
Parrett said she was surprised to have been included among such good company - but she was shocked to have beaten former mentor and long-listed author Alex Miller to claim a coveted place on the shortlist.
"About 17 years ago, he was author in residence at La Trobe University where I was studying," she told AAP at an announcement ceremony at the State Library of NSW on Thursday.
"After I finished that, he said that I had a strong voice and to make sure I kept writing, but I didn't for a long time - I put it away.
"Many years later I was a postman, I sort of had a dead-end job and I didn't know what I was doing. I found this letter and it was enough to spur me on to do professional writing."
She said it was "almost embarrassing" to share a place on the shortlist with established authors.
Also in the running are Tony Birch with his contribution Blood, Anna Funder for All That I Am and Gillian Mears for Foal's Bread.
Birch said the inclusion of his book, a plot-driven narrative that draws on his own troubled upbringing in Melbourne, was a "remarkable affirmation" that Australian literature in all its forms deserved recognition.
He said claims that literature was reserved for inner-city elites were "rubbish".
"When I was shortlisted for that award, coming from a family that never had a book in the house because we couldn't afford a book ... my family just saw it as such an affirmation that other people valued what I had done," he told audiences at the SLNSW event.
The $50,000 annual award was first given in 1957.
It was established by celebrated My Brilliant Career author Miles Franklin after her death in 1954 and is Australia's oldest literary prize.
Award judge Gillian Whitlock said the five shortlisted books offered proof that of its continued relevance.
"It is controversial and it is on the move," Professor Whitlock said.
The Award recognises Australian life in any of its phases.
This year, Award trustee The Trust Company formally authorised the five-person judging panel to use their discretion to "modernise the interpretation of Australian life beyond geographical boundaries to include mindset, language, history and values".
The 2012 winner will be announced on June 20.
Last year's winner was Kim Scott for his novel That Deadman Dance.