Entertainment Books Helen Garner wins $200,000 from spam email

Helen Garner wins $200,000 from spam email

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Ever received an email in your spam folder, saying you have won some big prize and that you need to provide your phone number?

Respected Australian writer Helen Garner did last week.

And in what must be a first for this kind of scenario, the email actually made her $200,000 richer.

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“I thought ‘oh, what the hell is this?’,” she told ABC’s Radio National’s Drive on Wednesday, after being announced as the recipient of a Windham-Campbell Prize, one of the world’s richest literary honours.

“I thought, definitely somebody’s having me on.”

Garner was about to “chuck” the email when she thought better of it, and decided to phone her publisher.

“Have you ever heard of the Windham-Campbell prize?” she asked her publisher. “Does it really exist?”

It sure does, and after eventually sending on her phone number, she was quickly contacted by someone from Yale University, which administers the prize, telling her the good news.

Garner won for her non-fiction work across her four-decade career, including her well-known crime books The First Stone (1995), Joe Cinque’s Consolation (2004), and This House of Grief (2014).

“I think what’s most gratifying to me is that it’s for a body of non-fiction work,” she said.

“In Australia, my non-fiction, it never wins any prizes. I think it causes dissent and torrid scenes [on prize juries].”

The Windham-Campbell Prizes were established in 2013 with a gift from the late novelist Donald Windham in memory of his partner of 40 years, Sandy M. Campbell.

The prizes recognise writers from across the globe who write in English and the awards have no submission process — authors are judged anonymously and are unaware they could even be in the running.

Garner said she suspected many of those administering Australian writing awards had “never forgiven her” for The First Stone — a personal exploration of a sexual assault scandal at a Melbourne university.

“I said things about a certain kind of feminism that I thought was repellent and that caused a lot of what Annabel Crabb calls ‘the tin whistles of outrage’,” she said.

Garner said she was “staggered” to have won the prize, which pays winners US$150,000 ($207,000).

“I am in a position where I will be able to give some of it away,” she said.

“See, I’m old now, and I’ve been working for a hell of a long time.

“And it’s sort of ironic in a sense that you get a big prize when you’re in your 70s.

“I look back and think, ‘God, there were some years when this would have saved me from having to write 10,000 film reviews’.”

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