Helen lewis takes this year's Moran Nib Literacy Awards. Photo: Supplied

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By John Moyle

Waverley Council has again added to one of largest Australia’s literary purses with the announcement of the winners of the 2018 Mark and Evette Moran Literary Awards.

Now in its 17th year, the awards are the only ones in Australia to be presented by a local council and has seen over 2,000 titles nominated and more than $400,000 in prize money distributed since its inception.

Waverley Mayor John Wakefield said at an awards breakfast held in Bondi, “The judges had a difficult decision this year due to the high calibre of the entries”.

Congratulating Helen Lewis, the winner of the $20,000 main prize, Cr Wakefield said her win was “a testament to Helen’s exceptional research.”

The awards are given for excellence in research and writing, and in Dr Lewis’ case she no further to go than her own family history and her father’s exploits as a British paratrooper and combat cameraman who filmed the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

“I had found the footage in an old suitcase hidden in a cupboard at home, and as I began researching the book I thought I would deal with the events from his war in chronological order and that led me to a PhD,” Dr Lewis said.

“Writing a thesis is a very intensive process and that took four years and when I tried to make the transition to the book I wanted to write I introduced reconstruction into the story.

“This is my first book, but I have been a professional writer for other people writing reports and documents.”

Dr Lewis said the prize is “extremely generous” and will allow her to focus on research for her next book.

Freelance writer Ben McKelvey grew up with a fascination for military history and has won the $3,000 Nib Military History Prize for his powerful biography of Cameron Baird, VC, MG who was killed in action in Afghanistan after serving in Timor-Leste and Iraq.

Baird belonged to the 4th Battalion, a group which operated along similar lines to the SAS but about which little was known.

“They were under the protective identity act,” Ben McKelvey said.

“It is a recognition of the importance of Afghanistan where there is a lack of understanding about what happened because it was largely a special forces war.”

Bri Lee’s first book “Eggshell Skull” took out the Nib People’s Choice prize of $1,000.

A former judge’s associate and lawyer, Ms Lee documented her experience working in the legal system in outback Queensland and its impact on her when she took a case to court herself.

“I felt that a lot of the legal and justice system is not transparent enough and there aren’t that many people inside the system who are prepared to write about it,” Ms Lee said.

“Obviously to win the People’s Choice is reassuring because it means that people are reading it.

“I’m already writing my second book and I will write for the rest of my life.”

No doubt Waverley Library will be stocking all winners.