Photograph of Nights in the Asylum book cover


I have just returned from Sydney where Nights in the Asylum won the 2008 Nita B. Kibble award for women writers. The list of past winners contains the names of some of Australia's greatest contemporary women writers, and it feels like such an honour to find my own name added to the list.

Nita Kibble (1879-1962) was the first woman to be a librarian at the State Library of New South Wales and held the position of Principal Research Librarian from 1919 until her retirement in 1943.The Kibble Awards were established by Nita Dobbie, through her will, in recognition of her aunt, Nita Kibble, who had raised her from birth after her mother died. Miss Dobbie, who followed her aunt into the library profession, believed there was a need to foster women's writing in the community.

My novel took around three years to write. For the first two of those years I worked full time, so writing had to be squeezed into the cracks between job and family. Rising in the dark on winter mornings to write for a couple of hours before leaving for work, I would think of the Canadian writer Anne Michaels who wrote Fugitive Pieces between the hours of one and four in the morning while her young children slept, and also of a wry comment from Elizabeth Jolley's Woman in a Lampshade: 'Night belongs to the novelist'.

Women with families have always worked in this way, battling sleep deprivation and the myriad claims on their time. Of the five shortlisted writers who attended the awards in Sydney, two had brought babies under six months old with them, so I have to say, in answer to the question of whether an award for women writers is still relevant, that when men start turning up for the razzamatazz of an awards ceremony with an infant in tow, then a women-only literary award may no longer be appropriate.

In the meantime, to have won feels like such a mark of recognition, such a huge encouragement to continue writing, and I do feel very blessed.