By Peter Douglas
Upwey-based author Lia Hills has entered the company of Australia’s literary elite, after earning a place on the 2018 Longlist for the prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award.
Her latest novel, ‘The Crying Place’, has captured the hearts of not only avid readers, but critics as well, who have nominated Hills’ first adult release as among the finest offerings of 2017, along with the likes of Peter Carey, Michelle de Krester and Kim Scott.
For Hills, the novel is the culmination of five years of hard work and dedication, with its origins in her teenage years and her observations about the treatment of Indigenous Australians.
Hills, who has spent time travelling and volunteering in central Australia, said the novel was not only a way to shed light on important cultural issues, but a cathartic process for her personally.
She was born in New Zealand and moved to Tasmania at age 15, when she was shocked at the absence of Indigenous culture.
This was in the 1980s, when she heard the words, “we got rid of them”.
“I’ve remained haunted by the implied brutality of that phrase and the absence of an Indigenous presence,” Hills said.
“I knew one day that haunting would find its voice.”
The novel itself follows the story of the protagonist, Saul, who receives the devastating news of the death of his oldest friend, Jed, who recently returned from working in a remote Aboriginal community.
Saul’s discovery in Jed’s belongings of a photo of a woman convinces him that she may hold the answers to Jed’s fate.
So Saul heads out on a journey into the heart of the Australian desert to find the truth.
Hills moved to the Dandenong Ranges around 20 years ago and she has been prolific, with her work including poetry and books for young adults.
She also conducts spoken-word sessions at the Burrinja Cultural Centre and other literary-based activities.
Hills is also a regular at the Belgrave Library, where she can often be seen editing her work.
On the award itself, she said it was a little unnerving to be considered among such great Australian authors.
“When you look at some of those names, it’s pretty scary. But it’s given me renewed confidence and energy, as well as the opportunity to take this novel to greater audiences,” she said.
“The novel is for those who are not sure how to speak about these things, for those who carry around their own wounds.”
Hills said her novels can be purchased through the Belgrave Book Barn, or through her publisher, Allen & Unwin.
The Miles Franklin Literary Award was established through the will of ‘My Brilliant Career’ author, Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin.
Patrick White, the first winner of the literary prize, was crowned in 1957 with ‘Voss’; and, since then, the award has presented more than $1.1 million to Australian authors.
The award shines light on some of Australia’s most talented writers.
While the prize has been given to a truly wide scope of novels, it has always remained true to the terms of Miles Franklin’s will: to be of the highest literary merit and presenting Australian life in any phase.