Helen Dale AKA Helen Demidenko speaks on Fakes and Frauds show

21 May 2023

In 1993 Brisbane based Australian author Helen Demidenko wrote her debut novel, The Hand that Signed the Paper. The work, which was labelled faction, being a story that blends fact and fiction, depicted a Ukrainian family who collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War.

Demidenko, who claimed to be of mixed Ukrainian and Irish ancestry, said much of the novel was based on the experiences of her uncle, and other family members, who lived in Ukraine during the war. The Hand that Signed the Paper won The Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 1993, a prize for unpublished manuscripts written by Australian authors aged thirty-five or under.

While some people criticised the novel for its anti-Semitic content, The Hand that Signed the Paper went on to win the 1995 Miles Franklin Literary Award, making Demidenko the youngest recipient of the prize in the process. Soon afterwards though, it was discovered Demidenko’s name was actually Helen Darville, who was the daughter of British immigrants, and of her supposed Ukrainian and Irish heritage, there was no trace.

Despite the resulting furore, The Hand that Signed the Paper also won the Australian Literary Society Gold Medal in 1995, and remains available as an ebook, published under the name Helen Dale. Dale, who now lives in the United Kingdom, recently spoke to Sarah L’Estrange, host of Radio National’s Fakes and Frauds series, about writing the novel, and what happened when the hoax was revealed.

Although The Hand that Signed the Paper was not considered a work of non-fiction, thus evading potentially closer scrutiny, Dale claims, among other things, to have been surprised at how long it took for the ruse to be uncovered. One has to wonder whether we’ve heard the last of what must be Australia’s most astonishing literary hoax to date.


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