Allen & Unwin author Sofie Laguna was announced as the winner of the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award for her novel, The Eye of the Sheep.
The Miles Franklin Literary Award, recognised as Australia's most prestigious literary prize, was established in 1954 through the Will of My Brilliant Career author, Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, to encourage and support writers of Australian literature.
Melbourne-based Ms Laguna will receive $60,000 in prize money with her novel strongly presenting 'Australian Life in any of its phases" and judged to be of the 'highest literary merit", in line with the criteria set out by Miles Franklin.
Since moving away from careers in law and acting, Sofie has written for a wide readership, from picture books for very young children to series for older readers. Her debut novel for adults, One Foot Wrong, was long-listed for the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2009.
The Eye of the Sheep was selected from a short list of powerful Australian voices depicting unforgettable characters, including authors Joan London, Sonya Hartnett, fellow Allen & Unwin mate Christine Piper, and Craig Sherborne.
Commenting on behalf of the judging panel, State Library of NSW Mitchell Librarian, Richard Neville, said that the power of Ms Laguna's finely crafted novel lies in the 'raw, high-energy and coruscating language" which describes the world of central character, young Jimmy Flick.
'Jimmy Flick is a character who sees everything, but his manic x-ray perceptions don't correspond with the way others see his world. His older brother understands him some of the time, and his mother almost all of the time, but other people, including his violent father, just see him as difficult. Weathering successive waves of domestic violence, Jimmy navigates his way through the shoals of alcohol-abuse, illness and tragedy that swamp his parents, and ultimately reaches the possibility of equanimity."
'The Eye of the Sheep is an extraordinary novel about love and anger, and how sometimes there is little between them," Mr Neville said.
Mr Neville was joined on the judging panel by The Australian journalist and columnist, Murray Waldren; Sydney-based bookseller, Lindy Jones; writer and editor, Craig Munro; and Emeritus Professor, Susan Sheridan.
Over a period of more than 60 years, Miles Franklin's initial investment of $17,844 in decimal currency has grown to the value of over $1.3 million through sound investment management, while supporting the Australian literary community with generous distributions which total in $986,000 including this year's award.
For further information about the Miles Franklin Literary Award, visit www.milesfranklin.com.au
The Eye of the Sheep
Told from the mesmerising point of view and in the inimitable voice of Jimmy, this is an extraordinary novel about a poor family who is struggling to cope with a different and difficult child.
Ned was beside me, his messages running easily through him, with space between each one, coming through him like water. He was the go-between, going between the animal kingdom and this one. I watched the waves as they rolled and crashed towards us, one after another, never stopping, always changing. I knew what was making them come, I had been there and I would always know.
Meet Jimmy Flick. He's not like other kids - he's both too fast and too slow. He sees too much, and too little. Jimmy's mother Paula is the only one who can manage him. She teaches him how to count sheep so that he can fall asleep. She holds him tight enough to stop his cells spinning. It is only Paula who can keep Jimmy out of his father's way. But when Jimmy's world falls apart, he has to navigate the unfathomable world on his own, and make things right.
Sofie Laguna originally studied to be a lawyer, but after deciding law was not for her, she trained as an actor. Sofie is now an author, actor and playwright. Her books for young people have been named Honour Books and Notable Books in the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards and have been shortlisted in the Queensland Premier's Awards. She has been published in the US and the UK and in translation in Europe and Asia. Sofie's first novel for adults, One Foot Wrong, was also published throughout Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom. Sofie has written the screenplay for the film of One Foot Wrong, scheduled for pre-production in 2014.
The Eye of the Sheep
Allen and Unwin
Author: Sofie Laguna
Question: How does it feel to win the Miles Franklin Literary Award?
Sofie Laguna: It feels very exciting to win the Miles Franklin. Each day it becomes more real, but meanwhile I have two very young children to take care of. When you have the well- being of a little baby to deal with, it changes your perspective. But it feels right too, for this book at this time in my life. I feel like I am where I was headed, if that makes sense.
Question: When writing The Eye of the Sheep did you ever imagine it would win such a prestigious literary prize?
Sofie Laguna: I never wrote the book with any idea about prizes. It was my second novel for adults, and I was really happy with the first one, -One Foot Wrong', so I was scared that -The Eye of the Sheep' would be the difficult -second novel'. But that was the hardest part of the writing; the struggle lay more in my thoughts and fears about the quality of the book, not in the act of writing itself. I loved the writing – Jimmy was such an enjoyable character to create.
Question: What originally inspired you to walk away from your law career and begin writing?
Sofie Laguna: I never really had a career in law – I studied law at the University of NSW when I finished school, but I left to pursue a career in acting. I trained as an actor at the Victorian College of the Arts, and then I went on to work as an actor for many years. I wrote my first text for a picture book in 2000 and as soon as it was accepted for publication I never looked back. I was a writer from then on, and it felt right. I was less self-conscious and self-critical as a writer – I loved the independence and the solitude and the creative control. It's a very satisfying life.
Question: Where did the idea for The Eye of the Sheep come from?
Sofie Laguna: About fifteen years ago I wrote a play for radio called -Difficult to Grow' starring a character called Pete Flick. He was lovable, quirky, manic and heavily medicated. He lived in a special care home in Alma Road, East St Kilda, and I always wanted to know what brought him there; I wanted to know more about his childhood. That was the original inspiration for Jimmy Flick, the main character in my novel, -The Eye of the Sheep.' I quickly realized, however, that Jimmy was very much his own person. He was less stylized than Pete, he was more real, and there was more hope for him too. I wanted greater things for him; Jimmy has such depths, and insight.
Question: What was the best bit about creating the character of Jimmy Flick?
Sofie Laguna: The best bit about writing in Jimmy's voice was the freedom it gave me to explore the way the world worked, according to him. His way of seeing so unique and original. He is his own kind of scientist, and he is poetic. I love his way with words. He doesn't play by the rules, he has all sorts of wild and whacky explanations for the way different systems operate – he doesn't have much formal knowledge, but great intuition and imagination.
Question: Are the characters of The Eye of the Sheep based on anyone you know?
Sofie Laguna: The characters in the book aren't based directly on anyone I know; though I am sure that they are amalgams of many people I have met over the years, without me even being aware of it. I think every experience, every relationship, every interaction, feeds and informs the work – how can it not? The characters are also parts of me – I might exaggerate certain aspects of my own psyche, while underplaying others. Again, I am not conscious of this while I am writing, but when I look back at the writing I can see all sorts of parallels between me and my characters.
Question: There are several issues raised in this book. Was this deliberate or did the story evolve this way?
Sofie Laguna: The -issues' in the book were never at the forefront of my mind when I was writing; I was engaged with the central character, Jimmy, and seeing the world very much through his eyes. He doesn't see the world in terms of his -issues' – he is a little boy without control over his circumstances. Like all children, he must find ways to adapt and survive. To him, there is no such thing as poverty or alcoholism or violence; he decodes these things differently – in much poetic terms (thankfully). I was never driven by the need to explore issues – I was driven by the characters strong motives, his longing for wholeness, for integration and love.
Question: What's next, for you, in regards to writing?
Sofie Laguna: I will keep writing books and I will keep being a mother. Right now there is another adult novel on the go, and a new picture book too.
Interview by Brooke Hunter