Academic turns fiction into an award-winning reality

Tuesday, 5 December 2017


An esteemed academic and author from the University of Newcastle has received the highly-competitive Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction for his novel that provides a satiric take on the history of Australian literature.

Dr Ryan O'Neill with his award-winning novel, Their Brilliant Careers

Dr Ryan O’Neill received the award for his most recent publication, Their Brilliant Careers, which details sixteen fictional biographies of invented Australian writers in a witty portrayal of some of the egos that have shaped the nation’s literary history over the past 150 years.

Presented to Australian authors who have made a contribution to the nation’s cultural and intellectual life, the winners are chosen by a judging panel based on their high literary merit and individual excellence.

Their Brilliant Careers won in the fiction category, in a shortlist of five novels selected from 99 submitted by publishers.

“Winning this award was a huge and very unexpected honour. I became interested in Australian literature after moving here in 2004. I immersed myself in Australian fiction and discovered a very rich literary tradition.

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

Coordinating two courses within the University’s enabling programs, Newstep and Open Foundation, Dr O’Neill said he has been able to integrate his writing skills into his teaching practices.

“I think my writing has enriched my teaching in that I bring a love of language and an awareness of how important it is to communicate ideas clearly to my teaching. It is my role to help students achieve their educational goals and develop the skills they will need to succeed in their chosen degree, and it is one I find hugely rewarding,” he said.

Taking almost a year to complete, Their Brilliant Careers took on a life of its own during the writing process.

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

Their Brilliant Careers is the second book Dr O’Neill has published and it was also shortlisted for the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction and the Miles Franklin Literary Award.