Author Sarah Armstrong used the Northern Rivers sub-tropical climate as inspiration for her book, Salt Rain.
Author Sarah Armstrong used the Northern Rivers sub-tropical climate as inspiration for her book, Salt Rain.

Salt Rain, sweet success

By MEGAN KINNINMENT

BYRON Bay writer Sarah Armstrong thought she had won the big prize when Allen and Unwin decided to publish her first novel, Salt Rain, in 2004.

And, while landing a leading publisher for a first novel is certainly an achievement, this week Ms Armstrong has surpassed that, going where few other first-time novelists have ever gone. She has been short-listed for the most prestigious literary prize in Australia: The Miles Franklin Award.

Even those administering the award admit it is rare for a firsttimer to be short-listed, even rarer to win. But, if she does snare the big one, she'll be in the company of an elite crop of Australian authors including Peter Carey, Thea Astley and the controversial Helen Demidenko (aka Helen Darville) who won with their first novels.

There was an inkling two weeks ago that Ms Armstrong's novel, set in the magnificent Huonbrook Valley, was a winner when she was short-listed for the 2005 Dobbie Award, an encouragement award for first published female authors, with a prize of $2500.

But Ms Armstrong is still reeling from the speed of her ascent from an 'encouragement award' to a chance at the 'real thing' ? the prestige and $42,000 prize money attached to the Miles Franklin.

"I'm very excited, it's so unexpected," she said yesterday.

"I mean, the Miles Franklin Award is 'it'.

"When my publishers said they were going to nominate the novel, I'm thinking 'yeah, sure'.

"Not in my wildest dreams did I think I'd actually be shortlisted."

Ms Armstrong is no stranger to awards, after winning a Walkley Award in 1993 for journalism, but these latest nominations prove her career change from re- porting to fiction writing in 1997 was worth it.

"This was my dream as a child," she said.

"There's such a satisfaction in living your passion."

The Dobbie winner will be announced May 10, and the Miles Franklin on June 23.

For details of Salt Rain, visit www.sarah-armstrong.com



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