Self-published author on the list of finalists | Western magazine

A self-published novel has been shortlisted for the prestigious Miles Franklin Prize for the first time in its 61-year history.

When author Michael Winkler couldn’t find a publisher for his debut novel Grimmish, he paid for a print run of 500 copies and promoted it via social media.

“People who have a taste for the more experimental and ambitious type of writing supported it. It was awesome, I managed to sell all my books,” he told AAP.

Grimmish is based on the true story of a Chilean American boxer who came to Australia in 1908 and, according to Winkler, had a prodigious ability to absorb corporal punishment in the ring.

The book explores themes of pain and masculinity. Winkler says it’s mostly violent – but also quite funny.

“It’s a whole new approach to telling a story. It’s a new approach to what the novel can be,” he said.

The author was considering a second printing when publishers Puncher and Wattmann finally picked up his story.

It’s the first time a self-published book has even made Miles Franklin’s longlist, and Thursday’s shortlist announcement means they just might have a hit on their hands.

The other four shortlisted books are Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser, One Hundred Days by Alice Pung, Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down and The Other Half of You by Michael Mohammed Ahmad.

This is the second time a book by Mohammed Ahmad has been shortlisted, and he believes he is the only Muslim writer to have been shortlisted.

Mr Ahmad began writing The Other Half of You in 2015 as a letter to his newborn son Kahlil, who lay in his arms in hospital.

“His mom was trying to get some sleep, and I just felt this strong urge to recount the events that brought us to this moment,” he told AAP.

“When I started writing the book, he was in my arms.”

Mr Ahmad was part of a literary renaissance in western Sydney that has recently produced swag from award-winning authors, but said he felt he was writing at a time of global division.

“I wanted to tell a story about our coming together, and I wanted to tell a story that gives us hope and shows us a path forward for our children,” he said.

Another candidate, Michelle de Kretser, has already won the Miles Franklin twice, in 2013 for Questions of Travel and in 2018 for The Life to Come.

Only a handful of writers have won more than twice, including Tim Winton, Thea Astley and Peter Carey.

Each shortlisted author receives $5,000 from the Copyright Agency’s Culture Fund.

The winner of the $60,000 prize will be announced on July 20.

Australian Associated Press

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