Also writes as: Helen Demidenko
Born: Established: 1971 Brisbane, Queensland, ;
Helen Darville was born in Brisbane, Queensland, the daughter of English migrants. After battling dyslexia she was educated at Rochedale Redeemer Lutheran College between 1984-88. Here she exhibited a fascination for history and excellence in English. In 1989 she began an arts degree at the University of Queensland, participating actively in student politics during the following years. By 1992 she had adopted Demidenko as her last name and claimed to be of Irish-Ukrainian ancestry.
Soon after this change of identity Darville began writing a novel which drew on her high school fascination with the Holocaust. The novel, The Hand that Signed the Paper was finished in 1993 and entered in the Vogel competition for unpublished writers. The novel purports to be a family history based on oral testimony, relating a family's role in Jewish concentration camps. Darville's fabricated background provided the linchpin for the judges' belief in its authenticity, and, despite technical flaws, the Vogel prize was awarded to Darville. Darville continued to play the role of an Irish-Ukrainian, frequently wearing Ukrainian peasant blouses to literary events and listing herself in Who's Who of Australian Writers (2nd. ed. 1995) as : Demidenko, Helen(a) (Markova). The novel won the prestigious Miles Franklin Award in 1995 ahead of a strong field of short-listed works.
The novel had produced wide-spread discussion in literary circles because of its perceived anti-Semitism, but this discussion escalated when Darville's real background was revealed. The integrity of the Vogel judges was called into question and fierce debates ensued about Darville's deception of the reading public. In 1995, the novel was re-issued, attributing authorship to Helen Darville.
In 2002 Darville announced that she would be auctioning her Australian Literary Society gold medal to fund a law degree.