CANBERRA author Patrick Mullins has won the $80,000 fellowship for non-fiction writing from the Copyright Agency, it was announced on Thursday.
When I caught up with Mullins by phone to London, where he had just arrived on holiday, he described the win as “fantastic”.
“I was looking for jobs as a writer before the news came in, but when I heard, I thought, Oh my goodness, I can keep doing what I love to do,” he said.
Mullins is a respected Canberra writer and reviewer who has been working full time on his art since 2018.
His book “Tiberius with a Telephone”, a biography of former Australian prime minister William McMahon, won the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction at the 2020 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the National Biography Award for 2020.
He also wrote “The Trials of Portnoy”, an account of the downfall of literary censorship in Australia, and in 2022 co-authored “Who needs the ABC?” with Matthew Ricketson.
The awards from the agency’s philanthropic arm, the Cultural Fund, also awarded the Author’s Fellowship of $80,000 to Melbourne author Chris Womersley, while the inaugural $10,000 Frank Moorhouse Fellowship for Young Writers went to Scott Limbrick, a young fiction writer who has not yet published a full-length work.
Alongside the fellowships, the Cultural Fund has announced support approved for 19 applicants amounting to $314,800.
The fellowship allows Mullins to focus on his next book, “A Scandal of Rags and Syrup”, a non-fiction narrative set the late 19th and early 20th century in the alluring but vice-ridden city of Sydney, where Mullins was born but not raised, having come to Canberra at around age eight.
It’s early days, he told me, but it’s about a crook, a Sydney lawyer-turned-politician who brought down people and made them suffer.
It’s about his arrogance, but also about the way he was publicly disgraced and then, against the odds, rehabilitated himself – his anti-hero later agitated for Federation.
Mullins been picking up a few tips by rereading “Macbeth”, he said, and his research had given him an opportunity on to reflect on the Australian public’s high regard for heroic men, prejudice against women, willingness to be spectators and its short-term memory.
Among the dramas in his book is a scene where his protagonist publicly horsewhips a newspaper editor who then pulls out a gun to retaliate, resulting in an exciting public spectacle.
Mullins was once told by a colourful historian that Sydney was a place where one could go to “flog it or f…k it,” a vulgar recommendation, Mullins says, but true and he will depict the corrupt side of Sydney along with the glamour.
He harbours no ambitions to turn to fiction, which he believes has occupied a higher cultural space than non-fiction until now.
He’s on the side of “the underdog”, and new books in the non-fiction space, such as those of writer Kate Holden, excite him.
Narrative non-fiction, it turns out, may not just be stranger than fiction, but much more interesting.
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