Thomas Keneally wins ARA Historical Novel Prize with new book


One of Australia’s most famous authors has decided to give away $50,000 in prizes instead of spending the money on ‘incontinence pads’.

Thomas Keneally turned 87 this month and enjoyed a decorated writing career as the author of Schindler’s Ark — the book adapted from Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List – as well as many other award-winning novels.

On Thursday, Mr Keneally won the ARA Historical Novel Prize for his new book, Corporal Hitler’s Gun.

He immediately announced that he would split the $50,000 prize with the finalists.

“I wanted to take on some of the other writers on the long list,” Mr. Keneally told ABC Radio, “because writing — for young and old — is often about combining paltry sums to earn his life”.

Mr Keneally told ABC Radio he did not want to keep the money for himself and have him pay for the perils of old age.

“Other elders need to have incontinence pads,” he said.

Mr. Keneally plans to donate $4,000 to each of the six long-listed authors for the ARA award.

He said receiving the award was confirmation that people thought he was “still a novelist“.

“Writing a novel at 87 is exactly the same process as writing at 25,” he said, “but we have to win a prize once in a while to be able to maintain the illusion that we are a novelist.” .

Mr. Keneally won – and was shortlisted for – countless literary awards during his career, including the Man Booker Prize in 1982 and the Miles Franklin Prize in 1967.

Corporal Hitler’s Gun is a work of historical fiction set in Mr. Keneally’s hometown of Kempsey on the north coast of New South Wales.

“There was a story around Kempsey, when I was young, that there was a farmer at Polo Flats, who held Hitler prisoner,” he said.

“He had taken the gun from him – Corporal Hitler’s gun – and brought it back to the Macleay Valley, where it had been in a tie drawer for several years.”

The book is set in 1933 and explores the impacts of interwar trauma on rural Australian communities.

“The book is also about a gay movie pianist who actually existed,” Mr Keneally said.

“He’s a very accomplished pianist – like those bush pianists were – but he’s also a chicken hypnotist.”


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