WHEN Patrick White used his Nobel Prize for Literature money to set up his eponymous award to honour older writers who had been under-recognised, Beverley Farmer was dismayed.
She thought it meant the writers had given up, that the award was in effect an obituary for their creative life. ''I wanted to write to them and say please don't give up, don't let this make you feel that it's all over,'' she recalls.
So when she learned she was the winner of this year's $25,000 award she was glad that she had a couple of books she was working on. And she pointed out that some of the previous winners, such as Amy Witting, Thea Astley, Gerald Murnane, Rosemary Dobson, John Romeril and Janette Turner Hospital, had gone on to write much more.
Farmer is not a prolific writer nor does she have a high profile. She published her first novel, Alone in 1980 and, most recently, three long essays in The Bone House in 2005. But she keeps on writing - ''always, although I'm not publishing very much at all,'' she says - in her Point Lonsdale home.
She always wanted to write but she could not imagine making a living through it. She lived in Greece for a few years but returned home because her parents were ill and then the marriage to her Greek husband broke up.
She had always wanted to live in Europe, and Greece has turned out to be a crucial element in her writing, as has the idea of home. ''It set me off,'' she says, ''My first short story was about a Greek girl in South Melbourne, a migrant.''
Farmer's slight anxiety about the White award is countered by her own writing plans. One of the two books on her computer is a collection of short stories based on myths and fairytales; the other is more essays, but she is ''only in the foothills'' of this one. And she is returning to Europe on a six-month residency in an Australia Council studio in Rome next year.