Within minutes of being named winner of the Man Booker Prize in London on Wednesday, Richard Flanagan was asked to comment on the Australian government's environmental and energy policies and told the BBC he was "ashamed to be Australian when you bring this up". This story was far more popular on Fairfax websites than the news of his win, ranking second only to another story of environmental destruction, about Sydney's wild storms. So the author had an instant lesson in how the Booker will not only boost the international readership for his fiction but also give him a world stage for his opinions – the more strident the better. Random House Australia immediately printed "tens of thousands" of Flanagan's novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North – his sixth – which has already sold an impressive 66,000 here. In the US, where he is less known than in Britain, Knopf released the book in August and has now printed an extra 53,000 copies. Flanagan's harrowing but poetic story about Australian World War II prisoners working and dying on the Thai-Burma railway continues the pattern of fact-based historical fiction that won Bookers for two other Australians: Thomas Keneally for Schindler's Ark in 1982, and Peter Carey for True History of the Kelly Gang in 2001 and (the purely fictional) Oscar and Lucinda in 1988. These grand stories of complex heroes, war and peace, good and evil all have international scale and are told with Australian vernacular and spirit. Since their wins, Keneally and Carey are often interviewed by foreign media about issues beyond literature. A vocal campaigner for the rights of asylum seekers, Keneally said, "I feel on the matter of the detention of children I have to speak out, having written Schindler [about Nazi concentration camps]; it would be cowardly not to." But asked how Flanagan should use his new fame, Keneally said, "It's very hard to utter advice for Richard. He's a very grounded fella and I'm sure he will deal with this with greater maturity than almost anyone else. "His opinions will be sought more widely and being a man of robust opinions he will give them. Richard almost has the chance to do what the opposition seems impotent to do." As well as being cheered as an Australian and a Commonwealth winner in the first year the Booker was open to all English-language novels, postponing fears of an American takeover, Flanagan was hailed as "the first Tasmanian winner" by commentators from the former English poet laureate Andrew Motion to the Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman. The leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Christine Milne, said, "Richard loves Tasmania and he has now put us firmly on the global literary map". Former Greens leader Bob Brown said Flanagan had become "the ambassador for Australia the Prime Minister had failed to be" and "restores our pride in Australia". No doubt they hope Flanagan keeps speaking about the need to protect Tasmanian forests from logging – one of his most passionate concerns, which he mentioned in his BBC interview. The eloquent Flanagan, who called the Booker a "chook raffle", likes a chat, whether leaning into TV cameras or on a bar, and his Australian friends imagined him celebrating into the wee hours in London. However, the reality was he popped into the party thrown by his British publisher Chatto &amp; Windus after the first long set of interviews then went to his hotel to sleep for two hours before beginning another round of interviews at 6am. His challenge will be to control the pressure to talk and find the peace to write his next book, because the world will be waiting.