Miles Franklin shortlist features Tim Winton, Richard Flanagan, Alexis Wright and newcomers

Author Tim Winton, whose Eyrie has been shortlisted for the 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award. Photo: Simon Schluter Three of the six authors who have been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award at the State Library of NSW: Cory Taylor, Fiona McFarlane and Alexis Wright. Photo: Janie Barrett

The 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist was announced on Thursday amid controversy that was, unusually, not about the prize itself.

With uncertainty about the future of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and budget cuts to the arts, some in the book world are discussing whether to walk out, turn their backs or throw a shoe when Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks next Friday at the Australian Book Industry Awards dinner in Sydney.

So there was particular appreciation for the steady support of Australian novelists by the Miles Franklin, privately funded by the late author’s estate since 1957 and now worth $60,000 to the winner and $5000 to each finalist.

Gone this time were recent disputes over all-male shortlists, which led to the establishment last year of the Stella Prize for women’s writing, and Franklin’s troublesome requirement that contenders must write about “Australian life in any of its phases”, which is now open to wide interpretation by the judges.

On the female-dominated shortlist are: previous Miles Franklin winners Tim Winton for Eyrie (“utterly engrossing and cinematic”) and Alexis Wright for The Swan Book (“unlike anything we have heard before in Australian literature”); Richard Flanagan for The Narrow Road to the Deep North (“brutally confronting”), debut novelist Fiona McFarlane for The Night Guest (“beautifully assured”), British-Australian Evie Wyld for her second novel, All the Birds, Singing (“powerful road movie in reverse”), and Cory Taylor for her second adult novel, My Beautiful Enemy(“great compassion”).

Flanagan’s and Taylor’s books represent a strong trend for books about World War II prisoners of war, both Australian and Japanese (Tom Keneally’s Shame and the Captives and the Vogel’s Award winner After Darkness by Christine Piper are among others).

Taylor attended the announcement at the State Library of NSW with Wright and McFarlane, and said the anniversaries of the world wars had stirred interest but her book (like Flanagan’s) was inspired by the passing of her parents’ generation and a desire to tell stories that avoid the cliches of war.

Her novel is about a young Australian guard who leaves his wife and son after becoming infatuated with a Japanese intern in the Tatura alien enemy camp in Victoria, during a period that was both xenophobic and homophobic.

Taylor is also a screenwriter and children’s author who is married to a Japanese artist and lives in Japan for part of the year. She said she had thought, “In different circumstances my kids and I would be rounded up and interned”.

The Miles Franklin winner will be announced in Sydney on June 26.

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