One Divine Night, by Mick Cummins, unpublished manuscript winner

11 February 2023

Two fountain pens on a dark brown desk, photo by Todabasura

Image courtesy of Todabasura.

Last week, former part-time social worker Mick Cummins was named winner of the unpublished manuscript prize in this year’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

While the prize comes with a handy fifteen thousand dollars in cash, the real payoff is the profile the win generates. After One Divine Night was included on the Victorian Premier’s shortlist in December 2022, Melbourne based Cummins says a number of publishers contacted him, asking to see the manuscript.

An approach from a publisher expressing interest in their work is a dream come true for any aspiring writer. More usually, a novice author might spend years trying to get a publisher or literary agent to take an interest in their idea.

The value of recognition like this cannot be overstated. In fact, I’d be willing to bet an unpublished writer, given the choice, would simply prefer to be named winner of an unpublished manuscript award — especially one of the Victorian Premier’s standing — and forego the prize money.

That’s because the majority of past prize winners have eventually seen their work published. Anam, by André Dao, winner of the unpublished manuscript prize in 2021, will be published by Penguin Books Australia in May 2023. Hovering, by Rhett Davis, the 2020 winner, was published by Hachette Australia in 2022.

Cummins’ odds of seeing One Divine Night in print have shortened considerably. Of his manuscript, Victorian Premier’s judges hailed Cummins’ writing as a gritty portrayal of homelessness and substance dependency on the streets of Melbourne:

The manuscript depicts drug abuse, overdose, soliciting and physical violence without relying on stereotypes or cliché. The experience of homelessness in inner city Melbourne — long overdue — is explored with nuance and depth, with elements of the storytelling recalling Mark Brandis The Rip. The relationship between Aaron and his mother is particularly memorable — unexpected yet realistic — providing emotional complexity to the narrative. The character of The Man introduces a dark, almost-crime fiction feel, driving the plot and enabling Cummins to critique (although not quite satire) the predatory nature of established male power.

Despite winning the unpublished manuscript prize, Cummins is no stranger to writing. He has written two plays previously, Window without a View, was staged at Hobart’s now closed Theatre Royal Backspace, and Perfect Madness, which showed at the Carlton Court House in Melbourne.

Cummins has also written number of Australian produced documentary screenplays. These include Thomson of Arnhem Land, The Woodcutter’s Son, and Portrait of a Distant Land. He also wrote screenplays for two docudramas, Monash: The Forgotten Anzac, and Menzies and Churchill at War, which both aired in 2008. Presently, another of Cummins’ scripts, for a film called The Hut, is in pre-production.

In a sense, Cummins’ writing career is the reverse trajectory of many other authors. They will write a book and, perhaps later, see the work adapted to other mediums, usually screen or stage.

When it comes to writing, Cummins started out with stage and screen work, and has now turned to book writing. With the praise One Divine Night has been accorded though, I wouldn’t be surprised to one day see the story as a film or play adaptation. After it has been published a book first of course.


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