About the book

In Their Brilliant Careers, Ryan O'Neill has written a hilarious novel in the guise of sixteen biographies of (invented) Australian writers. Meet Rachel Deverall, who discovered the secret source of the great literature of our time - and paid a terrible price for her discovery. Meet Rand Washington, hugely popular sci-fi author (of Whiteman of Cor) and inveterate racist. Meet Addison Tiller, master of the bush yarn, "The Chekhov of Coolabah", who never travelled outside Sydney.

Their Brilliant Careers is a playful set of stories, linked in many ways, which together form a memorable whole.

Book cover of Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O'Neil
Published by: 
Black Inc.

About the author


Ryan O’Neill is the author of The Weight of a Human Heart. He was born in Glasgow in 1975 and has lived in Africa, Europe and Asia before settling in Newcastle, Australia, with his wife and two daughters.

His fiction has appeared in The Best Australian Stories, The Sleepers Almanac, Meanjin, New Australian Stories, Wet Ink, Etchings and Westerly. His work has won the Hal Porter and Roland Robinson awards and been shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Steele Rudd Award and the Age Short-Story Prize. He teaches at the University of Newcastle.

Image of author Ryan O’Neill

Judges’ comments

Their Brilliant Careers consists of sixteen biographical portraits of fictional writers, which combine to form a witty alternative history of Australian literature.

An ingeniously conceived and smartly written work, it pokes fun at the cultural insecurities, ideological disputes, competing movements and outsized egos that have shaped the nation’s literary history. It is also a book that draws inspiration from beyond the Australian tradition, alluding to the likes of Vladimir Nabokov, Roberto Bolaño, and writers from the avant-garde Oulipo movement, all of whom have influenced the book on a formal and conceptual level.

O’Neill uses the mock-scholarly tone of his hilarious biographies to brilliant effect, his deadpan delivery and clever use of insinuation and omission enhancing the book’s comic inventiveness.

For all its playfulness, Their Brilliant Careers is a somewhat rueful commentary on the travails of authorship, the vagaries of literary reputation and the many injustices and ironies that result. Its world of hacks, crackpots, plagiarists and neglected poets presents an amused and sceptical commentary of the notions of authenticity and artistic genius, while also raising questions about the nature of biography and suggesting some of the ways in which the lives and work of writers reflect the deeper currents in Australian society.

O’Neill writes throughout with generous humour and a healthy sense of the absurd. The many broad gags and in-jokes that make Their Brilliant Careers a delight to read reveal a deep knowledge and appreciation for the literary tradition it satirises.