After reading Confessions of A Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God, it’s easy to understand why Bill Condon’s novel won the YA section of this year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.

It has a distinctly Australian flavour, historical setting, believable characters and great dialogue.

It’s 1967 and 16 year-old Neil Bridges has more than his fair share of issues to deal with. A new teacher has arrived at Neil’s strict Catholic school and introduced himself to the students by giving them all the strap.

What students are forced to endure at the hands of their sadistic teachers pushes some of them over the edge, but not Neil. This is Neil’s year of tested friendships and falling in love.  In the background, the Vietnam War rages and Neil’s brother’s number has just been called up.

This book has many series issues to be faced by the main character, and Bill Condon handles them with such realism that the reader is left feeling that they have just opened the door to a real person’s life.

At times the book builds to an emotional intensity that can be confronting, but Condon uses humour to provide relief, and show the different shades and hues of life.

Neil’s honest authentic voice makes him a complex and likeable character. Here’s how Neil describes his brother with whom he has always had a love/hate relationship.

Kevin is nineteen. I’m three years behind him. Don’t think I’ll ever catch up.

He’s got a motorbike. I’ve got a bus pass.

He’s got his own bank account. I’ve got my own tooth brush.

He’s got Elvis sideburns. I’m secretly using Dad’s razor, but I just scrape off soap.

(Confessions of A Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God – published by Woolshed Press 2009)

This is typical of Condon’s mastery. In just a short passage he has managed to convey so much information about the characters, their relationship and the era in which they live – all with a gentle humour that makes the reader care about Neil and want to know what happens to him.

Even though there is tragedy in the book, there is also hope and healing, and the readers is left feeling that Neil will handle whatever life dishes up to him next.

Confessions of A Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God has strong themes of mateship, family and identity.

Find out more about Bill Condon and his other great books at

PM’s Literary Award Nominee: Bill Condon

In a time when publishing for young adults seems to privilege the here and now (and sparkly paranormal romance), Bill Condon had the guts to set his Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God in 1967. There are no token youth-of-today references – there’s not an iPhone or a Facebook fight in sight – instead, readers are confronted with an affecting narrative, authentic teenage voices, and an honest reflection on the adolescent male experience. It’s a timeless story with real heart.

When I wrote the above review, I’d just completed the task of reading every single Australian young-adult book being considered for the CBCA’s Older Readers prize, and I knew, without a doubt, that I had just read something special. When it wasn’t recognised by the CBCA, I was… well, incensed. Now, the literary world seems to have corrected its… grievious oversight, and Bill Condon’s Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God has made the shortlist of the PM’s Literary Awards (Young Adult fiction category) – worth $100,000, tax-free.

As I always seem to do in these circumstances, I decided to invite Bill to drop by and extend on Chrstine’s blogpost, and look at what inspired the brilliantly-titled Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God. And what it feels like to be shortlisted, obviously.

On inspiration and awards…

One day about two years ago – as a way of avoiding writing – I searched through the online phone book for a name from the past that had popped into my head. I looked
in every state and found just a handful of people with this name. Then a Google check on one of them told me he was a chess champion. My man from the past was very good at chess – I had a match.

I hadn’t spoken to him for over forty years but when we talked it was easy. I asked him if he remembered when Brother Michael, our school Principal, punched and kicked him with hundreds of boys watching, all of us amazed to see him punching back.

Oh yeah. He remembered vividly and he was still seething about the injustice of it. I got the impression it had been eating at him all those years.

‘I didn’t do it!’ he said, almost pleading with me to believe him. ‘They found out later who did but I never got an apology.’

He’d been accused of stealing money. When he denied it, he was attacked. That happened when he and Brother Michael were alone in a classroom, but it spilled out into the quad when he fought back.

I had my own troubles at the school but I’d always told myself to get over it and move on. Even so, at times I still found myself searching Google and the phone book for
the name of one particular lay teacher. I didn’t know what I’d do if I ever tracked him
down, but I couldn’t get him out of my mind. And then I found the chess champion, who was also, like me, still trapped in the past. More and more it seemed like the only way to exorcise these ghosts, was to write about them.

Someone once said ‘write what you know’, and that’s what I’ve tried to do with
Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God. Much of it is true and by writing about
it, I think I can at last close the door on those issues. No more hunting down sadistic
teachers for me. (I might have to go after critics now.)

I thought this book was dead in the water after it missed out on scoring even
a Notable listing in the CBCA awards. But then it did a Lazarus and made it on to the
shortlist of the Prime Minister’s Awards. A big shock.

I’m very sorry for all those writers whose books aren’t on that list. I know the feeling – but if I can get there, so can you. Keep going. I’m very honoured to be in such great company. I’d love to win, of course, but I don’t expect to and won’t be disappointed.

Whatever happens, I’m living every writer’s perfect dream.

PS. On retirement, Brother Michael received the Order of Australia for services to

Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God by Bill Condon
Neil Bridges attends a Catholic boys’ school in which teachers rule with iron fists and thick leather straps. Some crumble under the pressure but Neil toughs it out, just as his Vietnam-bound older brother has done before him. He has to be a man, after all. But at sixteen, how can he be sure of himself when he’s not sure of anything else? He loses a friend and finds another, falls in love and unwittingly treads a path that leads to revenge and possibly murder…