One publisher may have rejected his latest work The Last Days of Ava Langdon but Leura’s Mark O’Flynn is having the last laugh after making the Miles Franklin longlist for the work this month.
The literary shapeshifter from Leura who dabbles in poetry, plays and novels, blamed the “bean counters” for rejecting it, possibly because, as one reviewer recently put it, the poignant book lacks a plot – “something that I am proud of”, O’Flynn said.
“I’ve been around so long I couldn’t take it personally,” he said of the initial rejection.
Luckily the University of Queensland Press got behind the story, based on the life of a maverick, cross dressing, eccentric writer-recluse called Eve Langley and her unknown last days, struggling with mental illness, in a dilapidated shack at the end of Denison Road in Leura in the 1970s.
For a writer like O’Flynn, she provided plenty of excellent material, the voice and character living in his head and his dreams, as he imagined this “loopy bag lady” walking up Katoomba Street in men’s clothes with false whiskers, a belt machete and a pith helmet, after she’d badgered her long suffering publishers with paranoid musings on “something akin to braille” after her typewriter ribbon ran out.
Despite writing since he was a teenager, just like the tortured Langley, O’Flynn, a 58-year-old father of two, quickly worked out that he couldn’t live off his writerly earnings. In his day job he teaches literacy at Lithgow jail.
“It’s a mug’s game [full-time writing in Australia]... it’s only for Tim Winton and Tom Keneally and some other lucky writers.”
Which is why he was delighted by the recent literary nod after dedicating many years to the project, initially as part of a play called Eleanor and Eve in 2001.
“I realised I had more to say about the character. The long list is an absolute thrill and certainly a shock, a very happy shock.”
The Miles Franklin award, established in 1954 through the bequest of the My Brilliant Career author, is given to a novel that depicts "Australian life in any of its phases".
There are eight other works in contention for Australia's most important literary prize valued at $60,000, include Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident, Steven Amsterdam's The Easy Way Out, Inga Simpson's Where the Trees Were, Kirsten Tranter's Hold, Ryan O’Neill’s Their Brilliant Careers, Josephine Rowe's A Loving, Faithful Animal, Josephine Wilson Extinctions and Philip Salom’s Waiting.
A slightly superstitious O’Flynn has resolved not to read any of the other works until after the winner is announced later this year.
At the coming Varuna and Sydney Writer’s Festival on Saturday May 27, O’Flynn will be part of the Hope Street Press poetry launch with his book Breath.
“All these seeds I planted in the last 12 months or more ago have come into fruition and suddenly I’m very busy,” he said.
Mountains authors who have been recognised in the Miles Franklin include Tom Flood who won it in 1990 for Oceana Fine and Trevor Shearston who was longlisted in 2014, O’Flynn said.
Details about the Hope Street launch at http://www.varuna.com.au.