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Canberra's Mark Henshaw wins NSW Premier's Literary Award for The Snow Kimono

Source: The Canberra Times

When Canberra author Mark Henshaw learnt his novel The Snow Kimono had won a NSW Premier's Literary Award, his bank had just told him to cut up his credit card. 

"So," he said, "the money is a relief." Fortunately, the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction came with $40,000.

It was also welcome recognition for a book that had a tortuous birth and demonstrated how hard life could be for an author of challenging, original fiction that did not not fit conventional categories.

Queanbeyan writer Omar Musa's Here come the Dogs was also shortlisted in the awards, which were announced as part of the Sydney Writers' Festival.

Speaking after the win, Henshaw told The Canberra Times the award was "wonderful validation" not only for the book, but also the writing process behind it.

"You have hopes for whatever you write, but to have an independent panel say 'This is good', I'm chuffed, I'm really chuffed."

"The book doesn't have any ostensibly Australian connection so to have a book that's set in France and Japan and Algeria recognised by an Australian panel is wonderful."

The Premier's award judges called The Snow Kimono "an exquisite work of art designed to deceive" and "both a gripping and tragic thriller and a highly literary conversation" between a retired French police inspector and Japanese law professor who meet in Paris and share memories of desire, ambition and loss.

Henshaw started thinking about the story in 1990 while in Paris on an Australia Council fellowship, and wrote a version of the first chapter when he was asked to contribute to an anthology.

The Braddon resident's postmodern debut novel, Out of the Line of Fire, had excellent reviews and sales in 1988. But with a young family he chose a secure career as a curator at the National Gallery in Canberra, and only returned to his long-gestated second novel after he retired four years ago.

"I feel I had a seed pod in a box for 20 years and I would look at it every now and then. I always knew that at 60 I was going to do it," he said.

After a lengthy hiatus from the literary world, writing the book was also welcome return to home soil for Henshaw.

"To sit down in February of 2012 to start writing the process was so enjoyable and so untortured.

"I thought I had a really good book if I didn't rush it, took my time and let it unfold.

"After all those years to not have lost the enthusiasm and the sparkle, it was wonderful. It's really nice to have it out of me."

Henshaw has taken up a new role as creative producer with the Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres, and hopes the venue will play a key role in the capital's ongoing transformation.

"It's not just the arts scene or the literary scene, it's everything I love about living in Canberra.

"It's so underrated."

The Snow Kimono was bought by Michael Heyward at Text Publishing and was named by some as one of last year's best books.

So Henshaw was shocked that 32 American publishers turned it down. "It was a bit of a downer," he says. "I thought I'd written something that was beautiful, that was commercially accessible, but I had to rethink the market."

His book has now been sold to publishers in "the big five" countries – France, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden - and will be marketed in the US.

"Man, that's pretty damned good," Henshaw says. "I'm ecstatic: 2015 is shaping up to be a really good year."


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