Voss gives, English heads ignore literary prize-winners

AMANDA ELLIS
Four-times Miles Franklin award winner Tim Winton and his latest novel Eyrie has again been passed over for a literary prize after making its short list

Another Australian literary prize made its entrance last week, with its judging panel choosing a debutante author for top honours.

In doing so, Voss Literary Prize managers from the Australian University Heads of English peak body followed the Miles Franklin Award judging panel in choosing a relatively early-career female novelist over acclaimed Voss short-listers such as literary luminary and West Australian son Tim Winton, with his repeatedly passed-over urban bestseller Eyrie.

Miles Franklin short-lister Fiona McFarlane - who lost out to Evie Wyld and her All the Birds, Singing for the top Australian prize - took the inaugural Voss for her novel The Night Guest last Wednesday, securing a $6500 award and attracting online praise from judge Anthony Uhlmann in an article published in The Conversation on Friday.

Professor Uhlmann, director of the University of Western Sydney's writing and society research centre, wrote that the Barbara Jefferis Award winner had displayed an "uncommonly deft mastery of technique" as character hallucinations became real by tricks of perception, prompting readers to examine the nature of everyday events and people.

McFarlane's debut is the tale of Ruth, whose new carer Frida arrives on the same day she believes she has discovered a tiger has invaded her home.

Interestingly, Man Booker Prize and WA Premier's Prize winner Richard Flanagan and his much-lauded The Narrow Road to the Deep North, was long-listed for the Voss prize but didn't make the October short list.

Besides Winton and MacFarlane, the short list included The Slap author Christos Tsiolkas' Barracuda, Miles Franklin Award winner Alexis Wright's The Swan Book and Hannah Kent and her Australian Book Industry literary book of the year Burial Rights.

The Voss prize was created in memory of the late historian Vivian Robert Le Vaux Voss, who died in 1963, fulfilling his wish for the creation of a literary award to "reward the best novel from the previous year".

Like McFarlane, Queensland-born Voss was educated at Australia's first university, the University of Sydney.

The Voss judging panel also included University of WA English and cultural studies discipline chairwoman Winthrop Professor Brenda Walker and academics from the universities of NSW and Adelaide.

Have the judging panel made the right call? Ultimately, it's up to readers to decide. But they'll love doing it - there's nothing quite like making up your own mind.