Miles Allinson has sold many books in his time working at Readings in St Kilda. He has certainly sold copies of Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project and Maxine Beneba Clarke's Foreign Soil. Next year, with luck, he could be selling copies of his own novel.
That's because Allinson has followed in the footsteps of Clarke and Simsion by winning the Victorian Premier's Unpublished Manuscript Award for Fever of Animals.
The other shortlisted titles were JM Green's Good Money and Jennifer Down's Our Magic Hour. Allinson was presented with the $15,000 prize at the opening of the Emerging Writers Festival on Tuesday night.
''I've sold plenty of them,'' he confirmed. ''The whole thing's completely weird. Terrifying and weird. At the same time, if I get a book out of this, which I hope to do, it will just be one among many books. Lots of people have books published.''
Simsion's novel, which won the award in 2012, has turned into something of a phenomenon, with sales in Australia topping 150,000 and 1 million around the world, Sony Pictures optioning it for the screen and The Rosie Effect, a sequel, due in October. Last week it was named book of the year at the Australian Book Industry Awards.
But Allinson feels no obligation to emulate that sort of success. ''I don't feel pressure about sales. I'd love to get a book published but I haven't really thought about sales … it's not The Rosie Project that's for sure. It's not that sort of book.''
He says he had no idea how to write a novel when he started Fever of Animals despite having read plenty of fiction and worked in bookshops. ''I thought it would be fairly simple, but it wasn't - it was quite complicated. I had to give myself a crash-course in novel writing, which is what this is - someone trying to learn how to write a novel in a lot of ways.''
Fever of Animals is about a character trying to figure out how to tell a story that is partly about a relationship that has disintegrated and partly about a trip to Europe to establish the fate of a Romanian surrealist painter who disappeared in a forest in 1967. ''The narrator is actually writing the manuscript you're reading, but not in an Italo Calvino, metafictional way.''
Allinson says he started work on Fever of Animals, which is narrated by an erstwhile artist called Miles, when he felt he had failed as an artist. ''That's all built into the novel.''
He appreciates the fact that his work is very different from that of Simsion and Clarke. "That's a good thing about the prize, it keeps people on their toes. So a prize doesn't keep repeating, not its mistakes but its victories. Which is probably what the Miles Franklin has done a bit and some of the other prizes. You know what to expect in a way with the Booker."