Sunday, November 3, 2013

Moorhouse sees dark humour in lifetime award

Frank Moorhouse.

"This is 'Goodbye Frank'. This is 'Into the grave; you've done your writing and don't submit any more stories": Winner of the Lifetime Achievement in Literature, Frank Moorhouse. Photo: Harrison Saragossi

Frank Moorhouse had a perverse reaction to receiving the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature.

''This is the grimmest of all,'' he said of the $50,000 award.

''This is 'Goodbye Frank'. This is 'Into the grave; you've done your writing and don't submit any more stories about Balmain or the League of Nations.'''

He said he felts honoured but with a world-weary laugh added, ''It does create a double mood''.


The Australia Council hoped to avert such gloom by renaming the annual Writers' Emeritus Award for over-60s last year and shifting the emphasis from financial need to literary merit.

At 74 Moorhouse might qualify on both grounds - ''People in the arts can starve but they never retire,'' he said - but his achievement is certain.

''Not many writers in Australia have been as influential,'' said writer Sophie Cunningham, who was on the 11-member peer assessment panel that chose Moorhouse from ''about eight nominations''.

''His use of discontinuous narrative [linked stories] from the 1970s has been important to lots of writers and he has gone to the other extreme with his massive Edith Trilogy, of which I'm a massive fan.''

He has also been engaged in the book industry all his career as a commentator and lobbyist on copyright and other issues.

''Some years the conversation has been much more fraught. Frank ticks all the boxes,'' Cunningham said.

Moorhouse's writing career began at age 18 in 1957 with publication of a short story in Southerly magazine. The Nowra High boy became a cadet journalist on The Daily Telegraph, edited country newspapers and worked for the ABC before deciding to write full-time at 30.

His novels, short stories, screenplays and essays have won many awards, including the Miles Franklin for Dark Palace, the second novel in the Edith Trilogy, which follows the life of an Australian woman working in Europe for the League of Nations after World War I and in Canberra during the Cold War.

Far from retiring, Moorhouse said his award money would help him to work on his next novel, The Book of Ambrose, which returns to 1920s Europe from the perspective of Edith's cross-dressing husband ''when Edith wasn't there''.
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