Dr Ruth Balint shared the Vogel in 2003 with Norman Angel. She is a senior lecturer, in history with the School of Humanities and Languages, at the University of NSW.
She wrote to me after I approached her. Her letter is abridged.
‘I never set out to be a fiction writer. I love writing, but I have never tried to write fiction. My manuscript was the first, and as far as I know, the only non-fiction to win the Vogel. It was a shock to win.
‘For me, the best history writing is as much an act of imagination and creativity as any other writing. Where each clue, each theory, each road can lead to a dead end for the detective in his search for the truth of an event, for the historian it can become a liberating experience of discovery…
‘Put another way… good history, as Penny Russell contends, “is a creative art” that demands the engagement of the imagination as much as a commitment to verifying the real. We are used to silences, dead ends and uncertainties, and these become part of our writing…
‘There are numerous obstacles for me however in doing the kind of writing I want to do. I have become fascinated by the essay form, and would love to experiment more with this. I have written for a number of outlets outside of academia. But it is my feeling, that those among us who do wish to produce works outside of the boundaries of the peer-review system of academic scholarship often find ourselves butting up against the walls of a rigid orthodoxy patrolling the boundaries of academic merit.
‘Plus, with the increased pressures of teaching, admin and other requirements, it makes it hard to conceive of using writing time outside of these expectations if we are to hold on to our jobs.’
Nicholas Angel, at 26 was the co-winner of Vogel 2003 with Ruth, with his novel: Drown Them in the Sea. He was also winner of the Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Novelist of the Year Award, 2005.
Nicholas Angel grew up in Western Queensland. He completed his law degree in Brisbane and did a master in international law at a French university. He now lives in Paris. Drown them in the Sea is his first book. In his prize speech back then he said, ‘I don’t know whether I’ll be a lawyer forever; hopefully after my second novel becomes hugely successful, I can write for a living. For the moment though, I’m not Orwell enough to face the poverty line and it’s too cold to sleep in the street. I only got started [writing] when a holiday trekking in Nepal fell through. I had the ticket booked, deposit was paid for; it was to be a trip lasting the three months of my university summer holidays, but my car broke down at the last minute and I couldn’t afford to go. So I decided to do something other than just pissing away my holidays and got started.’
Since 2005, there is no further online or other traces of ‘Nicholas Angel, Australian writer’, or for variants of the search.