Philip McLaren with his French gong.
Philip McLaren with his French gong.

From Federal to France

From humble beginnings with a launch at Lismore Library, Philip McLaren’s book Murder in Utopia has gone on to win a national French literature award.

Philip, from Federal, was recently awarded the 2010 Prix Litteraire des Recits de l’Ailleurs, which translates as the Literary Prize for Stories from Elsewhere.

It is presented each year on national French television for the best novel written outside France, and Philip has just returned from being wined and dined in Paris.

Murder in Utopia is a thriller about an American doctor who comes to Australia to work in a neglected medical centre in Australia’s red centre. While the book has plenty of love, murder and mystery, as all good thrillers should, it also provides a framework to look at the deplorable living conditions in many remote Aboriginal communities.

It is not the first time Philip, a Kamilaroi man born in Redfern, has written about tough issues facing Aboriginal Australia, with previous novels tackling the Stolen Generations, the mining of sacred Aboriginal sites and deaths in custody.

“I think the French are really just starting to discover Indigenous Australia and at several book launches I’ve had white university students come and play didgeridoo – there’s an incredible interest in anything Aboriginal,” he said. “I think it’s the exotic nature of Aboriginal Australia and it’s probably exciting reading about this hot, dry place that’s really alien to them. They are reading from Indigenous perspectives and perhaps these are voices they haven’t considered before.

“They are so enthusiastic and I felt quite emotional at times to see just how much the French have embraced Aboriginal culture.”

Part of the prize is that his book will now be studied in a number of French schools and universities, an honour which includes being bestowed with the title of 2010 Laureate for St Pierre et Miquelon.

He said his popularity in France never ceases to amaze him.

“I’ve sold more than four times as many books in French than I have in English and there’s always people at my launches and book signings. I get good feedback in Australia but nothing like my reception over there – I seem to have a lot of fans!” Philip laughed. “I was quite embarrassed actually when I visited this time – the mayor had a champagne reception for me and then a senator had a luncheon for me and then the award was televised on national TV. I seriously hadn’t even considered winning – it was all a bit of a whirlwind!”


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