Hardback: 288pp

Published: Lightning Books (April 2018)

ISBN: 9781785630675

Their Brilliant Careers

Ryan O’Neill


The Fantastic Lives of Sixteen Extraordinary Australian Writers

WINNER: Australian PM's Award for Fiction

SHORTLISTED: Miles Franklin Literary Award

Absurd, original and highly addictive . . .

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 unearthed 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 and inveterate racist. Meet Addison Tiller, master of the bush yarn and memorialised as “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. This unpredictable and intriguing work has echoes of Perec, Borges and Nabokov.






“A funny, moving, intricately layered skewering of Australian literary culture in the guise of a series of biographies”

Michael Sala, author of The Restorer

Their Brilliant Careers is a major work of pseudo-bibliographical scholarship. O’Neill has undertaken a Herculean labour – to find the previously hidden links between some of Australia’s greatest (and not-so-great) writers.  He has risked the abyss, only to emerge from it stronger.  An invaluable contribution to the field.”

CD Rose, author The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure


Their Brilliant Careers … brims with crackerjack wit. Pressure is subtly built; punchlines are explosive.”

Australian Book Review

“[Ryan O’Neill] offers a book that is a piss-take, a celebration, a revisionist history and, perhaps most impressively, exceedingly good fun.”

The Australian

Their Brilliant Careers is a top-to-tail fiction that trades in plausibility. O’Neill employs a form of artifice that strives, stubbornly, for originality against dulling convention, especially in the rendering of human anguish. It is mercilessly funny in places.” 

Sydney Morning Herald

“You have to admire O’Neill’s delicious bravura. He’s been one of the few short fiction writers of recent years willing to play around with the form’s possibilities … Apart from the fact there are more funny lines in O’Neill’s 288 pages than there are likely to be in the entirety of Australian literature elsewhere this year, the profiles are woven smartly together, as the characters’ fates and careers intertwine.”

The Saturday Paper (Melbourne)

“Playfulness and wit go a long way toward concealing the seriousness with which O’Neill approaches his craft, but they shouldn’t obscure the depth of his achievements.”

Sydney Review of Books


Good Reading magazine interviews Ryan O'Neill here.


Ryan O’Neill

Ryan O’Neill was born in Glasgow in 1975 and lived in Africa, Europe and Asia before settling in Australia.

His short story collection The Weight of a Human Heart was shortlisted for the 2012 Queensland Literary Awards.

His novel Their Brilliant Careers, first published in Australia in 2016, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia’s most prestigious literary prize.

He lives in Sydney.

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