ACT Book of the Year Award

Nominations for the 2017 ACT Book of the Year Award closed on 28 July 2017.


Congratulations to Tom Griffiths, whose novel The Art of Time Travel was announced as the winner of the 2017 ACT Book of the Year Award at the ACT Writers Centre awards night on 7 December 2017.

General Information

The ACT Government offers an ACT Book of the Year Award for excellence in literature, valued at $10,000. The Award aims to support the development of ACT based writers and promote writing in the ACT.

To be shortlisted for the ACT Book of the Year Award is a mark of quality writing and dedication to craft. Prize money of $2,000 is awarded to highly commended nominations and $1,000 to shortlisted authors.

The 2017 ACT Book of the Year Award recognises quality contemporary literary works including fiction, non-fiction and poetry by ACT based authors published in the previous calendar year (2016).

Books are considered by an independent judging panel, which recommends a shortlist and winning author to the Minister for the Arts and Community Events. The 2017 ACT Book of the Year Award judges are Ms Maureen Bettle, Mr Frank Bongiorno and Ms Charlotte Harper. The ACT Government would like to thank the panel for their time and expertise.


2017 winning and short-listed books:

Congratulations to the following authors.

The Art of Time Travel by Tom Griffiths -  Winner, 2017 ACT Book of the Year ($10,000)

Panel comments: This celebration of history and historians moves easily from the broad perspective - what history is and what it does - to a detailed account of the work of fourteen authors. Griffiths shows how history can be based on landscape, on streets and houses, on retrieved objects as well as from written sources. This is a work of scholarship and research that is accessible to general readers who will find authors that they want to read, or re-read, as well as ideas about how we live in relation to the past. That Griffiths is able to draw on his intimacy with many of his chosen authors adds to the relaxed and conversational quality of his writing.

About the book (courtesy of Black Inc): Through portraits of fourteen historians, including Inga Clendinnen, Judith Wright, Geoffrey Blainey and Henry Reynolds, Tom Griffiths traces how a body of work is formed out of a life-long dialogue between past evidence and present experience. With meticulous research and glowing prose, he shows how our understanding of the past has evolved, and what this changing history reveals about us. The Art of Time Travel won the 2017 Ernest Scott Prize and was shortlisted for the 2017 NSW Premier's Literary Awards, 2017 Colin Roderick Award and 2017 CHASS Australia Book Prize.

About the author: Tom Griffiths is the W K Hancock Professor of History at the Australian National University and the author of Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica (2007), Forests of Ash: An Environmental History (2001) and Hunters and Collectors: The Antiquarian Imagination in Australia (1996). His books and essays have won prizes in literature, history, science, politics and journalism, including the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History, the Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate, and the Douglas Stewart and Nettie Palmer Prizes for Non-Fiction.


Position Doubtful by Kim Mahood - Highly Commended ($2,000)

Panel comments: Position Doubtful is a sensitive and beautifully written account of the artist and author Kim Mahood’s intimate personal, creative and intellectual engagement with the Tanami desert of Western Australia and its Indigenous people. Having grown up in that country herself among many of the people who feature in her highly engaging stories and reflections, Mahood writes with great sensitivity and insight about the personal, artistic and ethical issues involved in negotiating a difficult colonial history and its legacies for settler and Indigenous Australians.

About the book (courtesy of Scribe): Since the publication of her prize-winning memoir Craft for a Dry Lake in 2000, writer and artist Kim Mahood has been returning to the Tanami desert country in far north-western Australia where, as a child, she lived with her family on a remote cattle station. The land is timeless, but much has changed: the station has been handed back to its traditional owners; the mining companies have arrived; and Aboriginal art has flourished. Position Doubtful was shortlisted for the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Award for non-fiction and the 2017 Australian Book Industry Award for the Small Publishers' Adult Book of the Year.

About the author: Kim Mahood is an award-winning writer and artist. Her 2000 memoir, Craft for a Dry Lake, won the NSW Premier’s Award for non-fiction and the Age Book of the Year for non-fiction. Her artwork is held in state, territory, and regional collections.


Fighting Fit by Laura Dawes - Shortlist ($1,000)

Panel comments: This story of Britain’s quest to keep its population alive and healthy during the Second World War is an absorbing read. Dawes’s book is well structured, witty, and full of fascinating detail and telling anecdote. We discover how an embattled society came together to survive, and yet in many ways came to thrive. The author presents, among other things, rationing, supply of blood for transfusions, bomb shelters, anxiety about epidemics, and how difficult it was for Britons in that era to admit the existence of sexually transmitted diseases, treating all with the same admirable clarity and insight.

About the book (courtesy of Hachette Australia): At the beginning of the Second World War, medical experts predicted epidemics of physical and mental illness on the home front. Rationing would decimate the nation's health, they warned; drugs, blood and medical resources would be in short supply; air raid shelters and evacuation would spread diseases; and the psychological effects of bombing raids would leave mental hospitals overflowing. Yet, astonishingly, Britain ended the war in better health than ever before.

About the author: Laura Dawes is a writer and historian, specialising in medical history. She runs a historical consultancy business working with organisations around the world. She holds a PhD from Harvard University in History of Science, a Masters degree from Oxford University and a Bachelors degree with first class Honours from Murdoch University in Western Australia where she also won the University Medal. Dr Dawes has received numerous academic awards, prizes and fellowships.


Maps of Small Countries by Russell Erwin - Shortlist ($1,000)

Panel comments: Erwin’s poems explore moments of intensity in a deceptively simple style. They capture the strangeness of a familiar landscape when you work in it by moonlight, the sounds of a house when the power is cut off, the sight of an old man mowing round the family graves, and meeting children getting off the school bus. Above all, they throw a new light on the perennial subjects of death and loss, with a tone that is grave but never sentimental.

About the book (courtesy of Ginninderra Press): Memoir and celebration, meditation and exploration, sketches and simple vignette: these are some of the varied fields through which Russell Erwin takes his readers in this latest collection. He ranges from a suburban childhood to delicate and joyful pieces welcoming the birth of a granddaughter, from moving elegies for parents, to songs of loss, particularly the prize-winning ‘And Still’, and of course poems which have grown from the earth of his farming life. Each poem is, in its own way, a map of a small country into which the reader is invited to enter and share.

About the author: Russell Erwin lives among the quiet pastures and circling blades of wind farms in the Bannister district where he spends his days fencing. His five collections have been published and launched in the ACT and he has regularly presented his work at Poetry at the Gods, Poetry at the House, and Manning Clark House. Russell won the 2015 Dorothy Porter Poetry Prize and was included in Black Inc’s Best Australian Poems 2015.


The Fail Safe by Jack Heath - Shortlist ($1,000)

Panel comments: This is a tale of hairsbreadth escapes and breathless surprises but it is one that refuses the notion of goodies and baddies which so often comes with the genre. Like the reader, its protagonist has to come to terms with the realisation that his own side is as ruthless and amoral as the enemy. The plot is skilfully handled and keeps the reader guessing right up to the last page.

About the book (courtesy of Scribe): Fourteen-year-old Fero doesn't know who to trust - the country that turned him into a boy soldier or the one that turned him into a spy - in this chase to stop a nuclear war. This is an action thriller suitable for readers between 10 and 14 years of age. The Fail Safe was longlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year, Younger Readers 2017.

About the author: Jack Heath is the internationally bestselling author of The Cut Out and many other action-packed thrillers for young people. In the course of his research he has trained with firearms, performed street magic, visited morgues and prisons, and travelled through Russia. He was shortlisted for Young Australian of the Year, the Aurealis Sci-Fi Book of the Year and several other awards.


Generation Less by Jennifer Rayner - Shortlist ($1,000)

Panel comments: This short text is well researched as well as giving a sense of expressing personal experience. It introduces new ideas about the direction in which our society is heading and speaks up for a generation which is being sidelined and whose needs are being ignored. Rayner also presents a convincing case for young people to engage with politics of various kinds in order to improve their present lives and the lives of future Australians.

About the book (courtesy of Black Inc): Today’s young Australians are the first generation since the Great Depression to be worse off than their parents. And so, just as we have seen the gap between rich and poor widen over recent decades, we’re beginning to see young and old pull apart in ways that will wear at our common bonds. It’s time to decide what kind of future we want for this country. Will it be one where young Australians enjoy the same opportunities to build stable, secure lives as their parents and grandparents had? And can we do right by the elderly without making second-class citizens of the young.

About the author: Jennifer Rayner was born into the aspirational suburbia of the Hawke years, and came of age in the long boom of the Howard era. Her lifetime has tracked alongside the yawning inequalities that have opened up across the Australian community in the past 30 years. She has worked as a federal political adviser, an international youth ambassador in Indonesia and a private sector consultant, and holds a PhD from the Australian National University.


More Information

For further information on the ACT Book of the Year Award, please contact artsACT on (02) 6207 2384 or email artsACT@act.gov.au

Previous winning nominations to the ACT Book of the Year Award External Link (page hosted by Libraries ACT)