Laura Jean McKay has won Australia’s richest literary prize with her novel The Animals in That Country, about human-animal interaction during a pandemic.
“It means everything, it’s completely life changing,” McKay said of the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature.
She thought the judges must have made a mistake when she first heard the news.
“I said to them, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure you’ve got the right book?’,” she told AAP.
But there was no mistake – perhaps because she’s written the perfect novel for our times.
The Animals in That Country is set in a society that’s falling apart during a viral pandemic.
McKay says it might be more than a lucky coincidence her novel managed to be of the moment.
“Writers working in speculative fiction are picking up things that are happening in the world,” she said.
“We’re responding to the fact that humans can’t be the centre of everything any more.”
And in a plot twist worthy of a prize-winning novel, the author was herself sick with a rare animal-borne virus while writing the book.
On a dawn walk at a writers’ festival in Bali, she was bitten by a mosquito and contracted the rare disease chikungunya.
It made her skin peel off and took her two years to recover.
“The mosquito is the most dangerous animal in the world for humans, and it’s an animal we disregard,” McKay said.
In other prizes at the awards on Monday night, journalist Paddy Manning won the non-fiction prize for his book Body Count: How Climate Change is Killing Us.
Singer Archie Roach won the prize for Indigenous writing, for his memoir Tell Me Why: The Story of My Life and My Music.
Playwright Angus Cerini won the drama prize with his play Wonnangatta, while the poetry prize went to Case Notes by David Stavanger.
Cath Moore’s book Metal Fish, Falling Snow was awarded the Prize for Writing for Young Adults, and Andre Dao won the unpublished manuscript prize for his novel Anam.