Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Newcastle author Ryan O'Neill

WINNER: Dr Ryan O'Neill with his book Their Brilliant Careers which won the Prime Minister's Literary Award. Picture: UON.

WINNER: Dr Ryan O'Neill with his book Their Brilliant Careers which won the Prime Minister's Literary Award. Picture: UON.

A NEWCASTLE academic has won the coveted Prime Minister’s Literary Award for his fiction novel ‘Their Brilliant Careers’ which takes a quirky look at the history of Australian literature. 

Dr Ryan O’Neill, a teacher at the University of Newcastle, had his book selected from an original pool of 99 entrants and then selected by an expert judging panel from a shortlist of five. 

The novel, which is comprised of 16 fictional biographies of invented Australian writers, aimed to portray some of the egos that have shaped Australia’s literary history over the past 150 years. 

Originally from Scotland, Dr O’Neill moved to Australia in 2004 and was drawn to some of the themes of Australian literature he was previously averse to. 

“I think that having spent the first 25 years of my life in Scotland meant that I’ve been insulated from a lot of the themes that interest Australian writers, such as the bush,” he said. 

“I immersed myself in Australian fiction and discovered a very rich literary tradition.

“I’ve used that outsider’s perspective in Their Brilliant Careers to satirise some aspects of  Australian literature.” 

The book was first published in August 2016 and took Dr. O’Neill over a year to compile, but the mix of assembling the fictional biographies for the novel spurred from a simple ideal.  

“Writing a book is a bit of a slog. It has enjoyable moments, but mostly it is just sitting in front of a computer screen, frowning,” he said.

“The notion of doing a book of biographies grew out of an idea I had for a short story, which turned into this novel.” 

Their Brilliant Careers was also shortlisted for the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction and the Miles Franklin Literary Award, and is the second book of Dr O’Neill’s following his 2012 release of ‘The Weight of a Human Heart’.