By Peter Cochrane
University of Tasmania alumnus Richard Flanagan (Bachelor of Arts, 1983) has described a writer's life as to be "defeated by ever greater things, it is a journey in humility". Richard's own journey took a spectacular – and for him, surprising – twist recently when he became the first Tasmanian, and only the fourth Australian, to win the world's biggest book prize.
The hours immediately after being announced in London as the winner of the $90,000 2014 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a book described by one of the judges as "a literary masterpiece", were like being on a rocket, he told ABC Radio, "I may spend the rest of my life trying to understand what it all meant," he said.
Richard was on firmer ground when asked about what Tasmanians can take from his triumph: "In the end I just hope that it means something to them. If it moves just one person to feel differently about life, about themselves, then it has been worthwhile."
Later, he added: "I hope everyone in Tasmania knows that it is one of their stories that's gone to the world and I want them to take as much pride in it as they can take. That would be wonderful."
The Narrow Road to the Deep North is set partly in World War II on the infamous Death Railway, the inspiration spring from his father Arch's experiences as a PoW.
The novel represents in itself a long journey for Richard. It took him 12 years to write. During that time he wrote and pulped no less than five drafts. (He also penned two other novels in between wrestling with this storyline). The final manuscript was completed on the day his father died.
"I understood this book for some years as something I would have to write if I was ever to write anything else," he explained on a Guardian webchat four days before the announcement.
The Flanagan family has extensive connections to the University of Tasmania. He has five siblings who are alumni and children who are currently students.
Older brother Martin (Bachelor of Laws, 1976), also no slouch himself in the writing stakes, concluded a recent Age column with this summary of Richard's attributes: "I would say three things about my brother. He is brave, physically and artistically; I have never seen him back off to anyone. He is an original – always has been. And he is a good man to go drinking with. He once told me that, if he weren't a writer, he'd like to own a pub. It'd be a good pub. Lots of characters in the bar."
There are now plenty of Tasmanians lining up to buy Richard a beer or two.