After the Vogel: author Rohan Wilson on how the prize changed his life

by |May 7, 2019

The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award is one of Australia’s most prestigious awards for an unpublished manuscript by a writer under the age of thirty-five. Offering prize money of $20,000 plus publication by Allen & Unwin, The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award has launched the careers of some of Australia’s most successful writers, including Tim Winton, Kate Grenville, Gillian Mears, Brian Castro, Mandy Sayer and Andrew McGahan.

Today, past winner Rohan Wilson (The Roving Party) is on the blog to talk about how winning the Vogel prize changed his life.

Rohan Wilson

Rohan Wilson

In 2010, I sent a manuscript off to The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award with a sense of pessimism. My wife asked, ‘What happens if you win?’ and I thought about it – really let myself think about it for a second – and said, ‘Everything will change.’

It wasn’t often that I let myself think about winning the Vogel. Mostly, because it was just too huge to get your head around. I’d never published a short story or an article or anything. The whole extent of my writing output was a couple of stories I’d written as an undergraduate. What did I know about publishing? Less than bugger all. But I’d knocked together this manuscript about the Tasmanian Aboriginal genocide called The Roving Party and submitted it to the award, and now my wife thought I had a good chance of winning. It seemed cruel to tell her that it was hopeless.

But then I did win it. Overnight, I went from having never published a word to seeing my book on the shelves and signing my name on the title page. My wife seemed like she’d been expecting it. For me, it was a shock. What had been a fragile dream became suddenly rock solid. Everything changed, in other words.

Later, I was invited to be a judge. I spent three years reading hundreds of manuscripts from around the country, of all genres and all tastes. The entry pool was brutally competitive. Every year, excellent books failed to make the cut. Even better ones would make the shortlist but miss the main prize. I started to fully appreciate how lucky I’d been to win when so many good books missed out. In his speech on the night my prize was awarded, Tim Winton said that the Vogel remained his most important accolade because it gave him something no other prize had given – a foot in the door. He’d stretched the money out for a year while he worked on his next book and figured out the rest of his life. His point was that people lucky enough to win gained more than just a book contract or big cheque. It set their whole life on a different path. The further away from the Vogel I travel, the more I come to understand what Winton was talking about. I’d been given a huge gift.

The Australian/Vogel's Literary Award winners
Former Vogel winners: Emily O’Grady, Tim Winton, Danielle Wood (Minnie Darke), and Kate Grenville

There are the big-name winners, of course, like Winton or Kate Grenville or Andrew McGahan or Gillian Mears. They are part of the legend of the Vogel, golden careers that emerged from winning the award. But in my time as a judge, I saw careers emerge that in the future will become part of the mythos. That the award is so viciously competitive, going only to the very best unpublished manuscript in Australia, just adds to the quality. We know these authors can write. The fun part in watching what comes next for them. Look at Brian Castro, who won a Prime Minister’s award for his verse novel. Or Danielle Wood, who under the pseudonym Minnie Darke has published the international hit Star-Crossed. The fun part is watching what comes next.

My third novel, Daughter of Bad Times, is being released in May and it’s so different from my first that I feel like a new writer. I’ve moved from Tasmanian history to a global future; from looking backwards to looking forwards. It’s a fierce book, written in the spirit of resistance. I hope it surprises people. It surprised me as I was writing it. Whatever happens, I feel lucky to share it with people.

Entries for The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award for 2020 are now open – to submit your manuscript or find more information, click here.

Daughter of Bad Timesby Rohan Wilson

Daughter of Bad Times

by Rohan Wilson

A suspenseful, truthful and compelling novel from the critically acclaimed author of The Roving Party.

Rin Braden is almost ready to give up on life after the heartbreaking death of her lover Yamaan and the everyday dread of working for her mother's corrupt private prison company. But through a miracle Yamaan has survived.

Yamaan turns up in an immigration detention facility in Australia, trading his labour for a supposedly safe place to live. This is no ordinary facility, it's Eaglehawk MTC, a manufactory built by her mother's company to exploit the flood of environmental refugees...

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