Revisiting the ‘Mystery of a Novel Contest’ : The Daily Telegraph and Come in Spinner


The terms of the contest, launched in late 1945, seemed straightforward enough. The Sydney Daily Telegraph would award £1000 for the best Australian novel and publish the winning manuscript in Australia and overseas ('Telegraph offers £1000 novel prize'). But the contest became a debacle, beset by controversy and shrouded in mystery. While the prize was awarded to Florence James and Dymphna Cusack for Come in Spinner, the newspaper failed to publish the manuscript and never announced the name of the winning novel. In 1951, as Come in Spinner was finally about to appear under the imprint of another publisher, Cusack wrote an article for Meanjin entitled 'Mystery of a Novel Contest'. She concluded, 'Why have Consolidated Press not announced the prize even to this day? Why did the firm not publish? Your guess is as good as mine' (Cusack 60). Fifty years after the event, there are still no clear, simple answers to these questions. But there are clues, scattered in manuscript collections around the country, which provide some insights into how one of Australia's greatest literary scandals evolved. And while the documentary trail has become warmer in recent years, it is also time to begin to situate this episode in the context of the increasingly pro-American leanings of the Daily Telegraph and the Australian book publishing industry in the late 1940s.

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Published 1 October 2000 in Volume 19 No. 4. Subjects: Conflicts, Literary awards, Literary controversies, Morality, Newspapers, Politics, Social change.

Cite as: Griffen-Foley, Bridget. ‘Revisiting the ‘Mystery of a Novel Contest’ : The Daily Telegraph and Come in Spinner.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 19, no. 4, 2000, doi: 10.20314/als.4db476bea4.