April 2005 Archives

Poem: Myself at the Bookseller's by M. Kodak

I do not drink or gamble - I only dissipate with books.
Every now and then the hunger comes upon me;
And I hurry along to the bookseller's.
There are books heaped on tables and more books piled to the ceiling;
Books by old men and young men and fools and flappers;
Books on philosophy and engineering and exploration and love --
Especially books on love.
Men climb up long ladders and peer at books through spectacles;
Other men go down on their knees and grope in dark cupboards for books --
Books large and dusty and very small books with gilt edges.
I go amongst the books and turn their pages and peer at their backs;
It gives me a strange pleasure just to take them up and put them down again.
I would not be allowed to do the same thing in a butcher's shop,
Or a grocer's,
Or a chemist's.
Someone would linger round me, and ask me if I wanted to buy something.
But everything is different in a bookseller's.
I am allowed to wander where I will, and do what I like.
I turn over the stock and put it back again.
I wander from exploration to civil engineering,
From electricity to poetry, and from fiction to theology.
I look at new books, and second-hand books, at publishers' remainders and dead men's libraries.
I do not know what I want, or if I really want it.
I do not even know if I can afford it.
I have books at home that I have no time to read.
I also have books at my office that I have no time to read.
But I have an idea that I want nore books.
And more books.
My hands are busy amongst the books, but my mind is a blank.
I love the books piled to the ceilings!
I love the books heaped on the floor!
I love the books I cannot see!
They are all like beautiful, mysterious women!
I probably would not understand half of them!
The other half would probably bore me!
Already I spend too much time inside reading!
And too much time writing!....
I look round at the books - the heavy, unnecessary books!
How disgusting! How superfluous they are!
The philosophers are probably mere buzzers!
Lots of them are dead, and lots of them ought to be dead!
I think I would lie to hang a few authors!
And a few publishers!
I would like to hang them closely so they would obscure their shelves of rotten books!
It dawns up on that I should not come into this charnel house.
I leave the place in disgust, and walk quickly away down the street.
I have bought nothing,
I have stolen nothing,
But I have had my debauch of books!
Is it not immoral!

First published in The Bulletin, 29 April 1915.

Mark Latham's Memoirs 2

The news that Mark Latham was touting his memoris has struck a bit of a nerve, with Murray Waldren (literary editor of "The Australian") weighing in this morning. After comparing Latham's asking price of $100K against former-PM Bob Hawke's advance of $200K and Labor strongman Graham Richardson's advance of $100K, Waldren asks the pertinent question: "if the public didn't buy Mr Latham at the last election, why will it buy him now?"

Mark Latham's Memoirs

Former leader of the federal opposition, Mark Latham, is attempting to flog his memoirs, according to a report in today's "Sydney Morning Herald". "It is understood that Mr Latham, who was famous for his acerbic tongue in and out of Parliament, has targeted former colleagues, staff and media figures." Bids of up to $100,000 have been reported.

Collins Booksellers Fallout

I suppose somewhere in the back of my head I knew that the Hill of Content bookshop, at the top end of Bourke Street in Melbourne, was a Collins bookshop. The one thing I didn't know was that it was owned by Collins and not run as a franchise. And, after yesterday's announcement that the Collins Bookstores chain had gone into voluntary adminstration, that this has meant that one of the best bookstores in the city would be closing its doors, according to today's "Age" newspaper.

This bookstore has always been one of my favourites. It caters for the eclectic taste with good ranges of literary, Australian and crime fiction, history, travel, science and general non-fiction books. You don't get discount books or "blockbuster tables" - I can't recall seeing that book by Dan Brown in the store, though that might well be because I wasn't looking for it. It will be a great loss to the Melbourne literary scene if it closes down. "The Age" does report, however, that there are two parties interested in purchasing the bookshop. I hope that is the case, and I hope it is allowed to retain its independent feel in whatever guise it finds itself in the future.

Where To Now For Literary Fiction

The La Trobe University essay in the latest issue of Australian Book Review is titled "The Tyranny of the Literal" by James Ley. It sets out to examine the current state of literary fiction, and Australian literary fiction in particular. Ley does this by looking at the subject from on high, dipping into various works (Coetzee, Castro, and Gemmell) to illuminate his theme, rather than looking at a swathe of works and getting lost in the detail. It's a pretty good essay overall, though I have to admit I had to re-read some passages a few times to get to the heart of what he was talking about. And even then I may well have missed the point.

After some extensive introductory comments Ley states his basic problem: "The latest in a rolling series of crises that seem permanently to afflict Australian literature is a crisis of declining readership. Literary fiction is losing market share to memoirs and genre fiction." Ley doesn't get stuck into either genre fiction or memoirs the same way that Shirley Hazzard implied after Stephen King was awarded a National Book Award in 2003. He concentrates on the literary fiction scene and admits that "... Australian literature is currently more diverse and robust than it is sometimes given credit for; good novels are being published, even if they are not always the most visible."

I think the lack of visibility here is the greatest problem. This is not something that had particularly come to mind before I started this weblog. But in the past few months I have come to the conclusion that a number of literate Australian novels are getting rather short shrift from the mainstream media in this country.

So what's new, you ask. Not a lot, I admit. The decline of literary fiction, as a proportion of books read, can probably be traced back to the release of the first Penguin paperbacks so the problem has been with us for some time. It's just that I think we might be on the cusp of something new in the way literary fiction is promoted.

The big news in the promotion of literature during the 1990s was probably the advent of Oprah Winfrey and her Book Club. Love her or loathe her she brought to the public's attention a number of modern fiction works, and it has been said that having her sticker attached practically guaranteed extra sales of hundreds of thousands of copies in the US. In Australia a similar flow-on effect occurred. I don't have specific numbers but the general feeling was that an Oprah sticker entitled the book to a prominent display spot at the front of a bookstore, with its subsequent higher recognition value and hence higher sales. If you're looking for something to read then word-of-mouth from a friend is always the best recommendation, and as Oprah was considered a "friend" by many thousands, the word-of-mouth effect snowballed. In Australia "The Women's Weekly" attempted something similar, but without the added celebrity of Oprah, and the heightened publicity glare of television I doubt it had a similar effect. Even the attempt showed that publishers and booksellers thought it might sell some more copies.

Now Oprah's gone off modern fiction - maybe Jonathan Franzen was blame, and maybe not - and only appears to recommend self-help books and "classic literature". So there's a big gap in the promotion of literary fiction.

Literary weblogs are a bigger event in the US than they are here. (One of the reasons why I started Matilda was that I couldn't find Australian based weblogs that covered the same sort of territory as Blog of a Bookslut, Beatrice, and Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind (amongst many others), but from an Australian perspective. I don't believe I have reached the standard of any of these, by the way, I'm just marking my territory.)

Publishers, readers, booksellers and all forms of print media are starting to notice the effect these litblogs are having on sales and reading in general. And the litbloggers in the US are also aware of the promotional potential they now possess. As a consequence, at the instigation of Mark Sarvas and his weblog The Elegant Variation, about 20 litbloggers from across the US have banded together to form The LitBlog Co-Op. As Sarah Weinman puts it, the Co-Op is "a chance to showcase excellent writing that you might not otherwise be aware of. A chance to participate with some of my friends and colleagues in highlighting gems that should have the spotlight kept on them for far longer than the industry often allows. And a chance to talk books in as enlightened, informed, and enthusiastic a way possible." And Ron Hogan strengthens the aims of the enterprise: "In some ways the litblog is still a reactive genre -- we get many of our stories by noticing what's in the news, and declaiming whether we're for it or against it -- but one of our more significant strengths lies in our ability to react to what is missing from the usual media coverage of literature and the publishing industry."

The aim of the Co-Op is to concentrate attention on four books a year - books that might well not get the reviews and coverage they would ordinarily deserve. So maybe we are looking at something new here.

The first selection in the "Read This!" campaign will be announced in early May. Five of the participants have been nominated to suggest one title each, from which one novel will be chosen. In the meantime others in the Co-Op are touting books they might have suggested if they had been one of the five. I've already picked up Sarah Weinman's suggestion of Taming the Beast by Emily Maguire, the debut novel by a young Australian author. Yes, even fine, confronting Australian fiction such as this might be featured. I'd suggest you check this weblog quite often.

Collins Booksellers Finishes Up

Collins Booksellers, Australia's third largest national bookseller, has gone into
voluntary administration. A report in today's "Australian" newspaper states that the bookshop chain owes $7.5 million to creditors. "The Sydney Morning Herald" also runs with the news that: "The company's biggest unsecured creditors are publishing firms such as Harper Collins, which is owed $1.2 million, Macmillan Publishers ($833,000), Random House Australia ($813,000) and book distributor Alliance ($744,000)." The administration order applies only to the 23 company-owned stores and not the other 31 Collins stores which are run on a franchise basis. What effect this will have on the local publishing scene cannot be foreseen at this stage and it may be some time before the fallout settles down. Sharp-eyed readers will recall an earlier note regarding this.

BBC4 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction

Peter Robb's book A Death in Brazil has been included on the longlist for the BBC4 Samuel Johnson prize for Non-Fiction. Robb is also the author of Midnight in Sicily, M and Pig's Blood, all published by the small Sydney publishing house Duffy and Snellgrove. Last year's winner was Stasiland by Sydney-based author Anna Funder.

Barry Heard Profile

Barry Heard, Vietnam veteran and former high school teacher, is profiled in the "Courier-Mail", on the publication of his memoir, Well Done, Those Men. Heard began writing about three years ago as a form of therapy and has since won a number of awards for his short stories, including the Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop Memorial Award.

Poem: The Army of the West by C.J. Dennis

There was tramping, a tramping, a tramp of many feet.
The young men, the strong men were marching in the street,
Marching for a new land, at the Old World's call,
With the sun upon their faces -- straight lads and tall,
The chosen of a lean land that yielded of her best.
"Pack your kit," the soldier said, "for the ships sail West."

Then Anzac, oh, Anzac! A new name on the tongue --
A proud name and a precious name to mark the valiant young --
The valiant young who went so gay across a troubled sea,
The glorious young who slept so deep upon Gallipoli.

There was tramping, a tramping, a tramp of weary feet.
The spent men, the worn men, were marching in the street --
Marching to the wild cheers, home at last from war,
With a wisdom on their faces that we had not known before:
Wisdom of the veteran, earned at our behest.
"Now sound the call," the soldier said, "for the boys gone West."

But Anzac, oh, Anzac! Dearly they bought the name
Who lit upon Gallipoli that everlasting flame --
The flame to light the path for men who live beyond their day;
While in the West the glory grows, as soldiers drift away.

There is tramping, a tramping, a tramp of steady feet.
The grey men, the grave men are marching in the street;
And maimed men and blind men and shattered men are here.
But many a man he marches not who marched last year.
Gathered to his comrades, to the Army of the Blest.
"Close up the ranks," the soldier said, "for the boys march West."

But Anzac, oh, Anzac! Surely no day shall come
When the fame shall not be quickened in the roll of every drum;
In the call of every bugle let the name be vibrant yet,
In a great land of strong men -- who never shall forget.

There yet will be a tramping, a tramping of dwindling feet,
As the last old, old men come marching down the street;
Marching now with memories, phantoms at their side,
To the cheering of their strong sons inheriting their pride;
Inheriting a shining gift won in a bloody quest.
"Hark!" the aged soldier says. "The bugles call us West."

Then Anzac! Anzac! Oh, what a mighty cry --
When that great hymn of greeting goes shouting down the sky,
As the last recruit comes marching to the singing of the rest,
And the last man answers roll-call in the Army of the West.

First published in The Herald, 25 April 1929.

Weekend Round-Up #17

With the ANZAC weekend upon us it is not surprising that the book review pages of the papers start off with books released specifically for the event.

"The Age" features three in its main review: World War I Scarecrow Army: The Anzacs at Gallipoli by Leon Davidson, Quinn's Post: Anzac, Gallipoli by Peter Stanley, and Hell Hope and Heroes: Life in the Field Ambulance in World War I. The Memoirs of Private Roy Ramsay AIF edited by Ron J. Ramsay. It's actually rather astounding that there still stories to be told of the Gallipoli campaign 90 years after the fact. But new diaries, letters and memoirs come to life as the original soldier's immediate families die and their possesions are examined by the remaining relatives. "With this year marking the 90th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, books have now taken on the primary roll of the way we remember the first Anzacs...Australia has reinvented Gallipoli as a rite of passage into nationhood for a new generation. Ninety years on, it is not kitted-out soldiers but pilgrims who gather at Anzac Cove. In this there is a risk. The true meaning of Anzac could be lost beneath waves of patriotic fervour." Well, given that remembering war appeals specifically to that exact emotion, I'm not sure that this can be construed as a criticism.

For the first time in some while two Australian crime novels are reviewed: A Hand in the Bush by Jane Clifton, and Crook as a Rookwood by Chris Nyst. This is Clifton's second novel after her earlier Half Past Dead and the reviewer, Sue Turnbull, finds that: "Jane Clifton also has a good ear for dialogue, and an equally observant eye...[with] the kind of detail that makes Clifton worth reading, even when the plot is a tad overwrought and unconvincing." On the other hand "A Hand in the Bush has a laboured beginning but picks up speed." Which seems to imply that Clifton is getting there but needs a bit more work on her plotting.

Chris Nyst is best known for his screenplay Gettin' Square which was filmed with David Wenham in the lead role. Turnbull is impresed with this novel: "Nyst knits a convoluted plot in which every stitch counts and the pay-off is guaranteed. However, his real triumph is the nice observation of people and places, from Marrickville to the Gold Coast, the seductions of Sydney Harbour to the brutalities of prison. Nyst's ear for the vernacular is acute, locating the grim poetry in the Australian patois."

Short notices are given to: Australian Football Quarterly, Issue 3 edited by Geoffrey Slattery "...just the season's ticket for a football mad country"; Overland: The Spirit in Australia edited by Nathan Hollier "...a focused (the spirit of Patrick White being its reference point), timely and quite brave attempt to check the spiritual pulse of Howard's Australia"; The Original Million Dollar Mermaid by Emily Gibson with Barbara Firth, which tells the life story of Annette Kellerman whose life "not only inspired this effective biography that draws on her own unpublished memoirs, but was also portrayed by Esther Williams in the 1952 Technicolor extravaganza Million Dollar Mermaid"; Killing Me Softly: Voluntary Euthenasia and the Road to the Peaceful Pill by Philip Nitschke and Fiona Stewart, which is "part memoir and part polemic"; Kilroy was Here by Kris Olsson, a biography of Debbie Kilroy; and Another by Joel Deane, a novel in which "the darkness of the material seems sometimes to have a willed air to it: the kind of social realism that flattens out its emotional register in the attempt to make points about what society is doing to its most vulnerable members."

"The Weekend Australian" follows the ANZAC line with a large piece on Western Australian author, Tom Hungerford, as he approaches 90, on the release of his biography The Literary Larrikin by Michael Crouch, and his upcoming collection of short stories and poems What Happened to Joseph. "Every adventure has been grist to his literary mill, from years spent writing for the Australian War Memorial to being a roving reporter for the Australian news and information bureau. He has visited almost every continent, including Antarctica, and worked as a press secretary for two WA premiers, John Tonkin and Charles Court."

Specifically on the ANZAC line we have Echoes of ANZAC: The Voices of Australians at War edited by Graham Seal, A Merciful Journey: Recollections of a World War II Patrol Boat Man by Marsden Hordern, Boy Soldiers of the Great War by Richard Van Emden, and Russian Anzacs in Australian History by Elena Govor.

The major, non-ANZAC, Australian review is of The Original Million Dollar Mermaid by Emily Gibson with Barbara Firth (also mentioned in "The Age" short-notices above). It tells the story of a famous forgotten Australian: "A good case can be made that Annette Kellerman was not only the best known Australian woman celebrity of her day, and famous as a swimmer, but also the most remarkable Australian who lived. Yet who remembers her now?"

Also reviewed is The Sleepers Almanac 2005: The Deathbed Challenge: "Supposedly no one buys short story collections, but as the Almanac proves, young writers and writing are still healthy. And they look good, too."

Poem: Ink by Y.Z.

A panacea I have for all
The woes and worries that befall --
   'Tis ink,
Because, perchance, I have a pain,
I add not to the doctor's gain.
If grave anxieties attack
I grizzle not upon my back,
But settle down and quickly drown
My anguish, not in malted drink,
   But ink.

Is it a tooth that nags me; then
I sieze the ready little pen.
   In ink
I plunge, my hero gaily lead
To love along a flowery mead,
Or deftly weave a sheet of verse,
The thought to spin, the theme to nurse
In chink and chime of lilting rhyme:
And thus all weariness I sink
   In ink!

If ever cure-all should be found
It will most certainly abound
   In ink.
Immersed in ink I can forget
The direst grief, the deepest debt;
And if one day they have to cut
A leg or elbow from my butt,
Not chloroform my sense will storm;
My anaesthetic will, I think,
   Be ink.

First published in The Bulletin, 11 April 1918

Conflux 2

The science fiction convention, Conflux 2, starts in Canberra tonight (22nd April), and runs until Sunday (24th April). Guests include: Jennifer Fallon, Terry Dowling, Maxine McArthur, and Jackie French. A full program is available on the website.

J.M. Coetzee Reads in Public

Now that we have taken J.M. Coetzee to our hearts and accepted him into the Australian literary fold I can tell you that he has opened the 20th Cúirt Literature Festival in Galway. He also "read from his new novel, the as yet unpublished Slow Man, which explores the travails of an elderly amputee, who is trying to adapt to life after losing his leg in a traffic accident."

[Thanks to Maud Newton for the link.]

2005 Miles Franklin Award Shortlist

The shortlisted works for the 2005 Miles Franklin award have now been announced. The shortlist is:

Salt Rain by Sarah Armstrong
The Gift of Speed by Steven Carroll
Sixty Lights by Gail Jones
The White Earth by Andrew McGahan
The Submerged Cathedral by Charlotte Wood

The winner will be announced on June 23 at the State Library of NSW. "The Australian" has a report about yesterday's announcement of the shortlist. Matilda has previously looked at three of these novels (follow the links) and the others will follow over the next week or so. I'll also attempt to work my way through the titles, and comment on them as I go.

Mary Poppins Statue Row

Today's "Courier-Mail" from Brisbane reports on a row brewing over the construction, purchase and siting of a statue of the fictional character Mary Poppins in the town of Maryborough in Queensland. Mary Poppins was made famous in the 1960s due to the release of the film Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrew and Dick Van Dyke. The author of the original story, Pamela Travers, was born on 9th August 1899 in Maryborough, subsequently moving to London where she died in 1996. The local council in Maryborough have decided to purchase a $60,000 bronze statue of the character to be erected in the town. As it happens, there already exists such a statue, which was created three years ago, but which the council rejected - something to due with the nose apparently.

Mid-Week Reviews #3

"The Bulletin" this week covers a number of war books in the lead-up to ANZAC Day on April 25th. The books featured cover topics from World War I and Gallipoli, through World War II and Vietnam.
Hellfire: The Story of Australia, Japan and Prisoners of War by Cameron Forbes is given a separate review by Ross Fitzgerald. This is a true account of the Thai-Burma Railway that was built by Allied Prisoners-of-War, and later depicted, erroneously, in David Lean's film The Bridge on the River Kwai. "Hellfire is a first-rate account of the history of these prisoners of war, most of whom are now dead. For many still alive, the war and its horrors never ended; others came to forgive if not forget. Whichever the case, as Forbes so poignantly puts it: 'What they suffered, how they carried themselves, how they served their country, should never fade from Australia's memory.'"

Last week in "The Bulletin" Deborah Bogle was impressed by The Diary of Emily Caroline Creaghe, Explorer edited by Peter Monteath. This book is described as the diary of the first white woman to explore northern Australia.

Hannie Rayson Responds

The Australian author and playwright, Hannie Rayson, has found it necessary to respond to a recent critical review of her new play, Two Brothers, by Tom Hyland. According to Hyland, the play is "a compelling, provocative and entertaining dramatic thriller", but a political polemic nonetheless. He believes that Rayson "has produced a piece of propaganda that deals in stereotypes, preaches to the converted and panders to prejudice". Which is pretty strong criticism for a piece of political fiction.

And this is the point that Rayson attempts to make today: "I chose to write a political thriller - a form of entertainment that looks cruelty, ambition and injustice in the face. The play opens on a dark and stormy night with a cabinet minister stabbing a man to death, in self-defence. That clearly signals to an audience that we have leapt into fiction." It appears to me that Hyland wanted to see a play about a particular event, he wanted it treated factually and "truthfully" so the "real" events could be examined. I think it fair to say that Hyland went seeking one thing and got another, and was not too pleased by the occurrence. And that's hardly a fair basis on which to build a critical review.

Patrick White's House Sold

"The Sydney Morning Herald" reports this morning that Patrick White's house has now been sold, for $3 million to an undisclosed buyer. The National Trust, which had hoped to buy the property at auction with funds from the public and various Australian governments, is rather bewildered by it all. "The four White estate beneficiaries - the Art Gallery of NSW, The Smith Family, Aboriginal Education Council, and the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association - declined to comment."

Weekend Round-Up #16

The major Australian review in this weekend's "Weekend Age" is written by Patrick McCaughey, a former director of the National Gallery of Victoria, of Degenerates and Perverts: The 1939 Herland Exhibition of French and British Contemporary Art by Eileen Chanin and Steven Miller. And I reckon you'd struggle to find a more obscure topic, but McCaughey puts it into perspective: "The Herald Exhibition of 1939 was the most important exhibition ever to come to Australia. Despite obvious lacks and omissions - no German Expressionists, no Russian Constructivists, no Italian Futurists and few Surrealists - it brought the modern movement with a bang to the doorstep of Australia as nothing else had." The authors tell the story of the exhibition and the machinations behind the scenes and "like all good stories, it has its villians and heroes." The exhibition was huge, some 217 works, and it drew massive crowds, 45,000 in 11 days in Melbourne alone. A seminal event in Australian art, indeed.

Given the amount of Australian first novels I keep on coming across, all of a medium to high standard, I believe we are in the middle of a major resurgence in Oz fiction. And a good thing too. Lisa Gorton is impressed with The Patron Saint of Eels by Gregory Day, his first novel. "This is an unlikely and oddly endearing story of a small Victorian town, an Italian saint and some eels." Though she does temper her feelings a little: "At times, it is true, The Patron Saint of Eels seems a little fey; perhaps the made-up miracle makes its moral point a little too easily." A little lee-way is allowable with first novels I'd say.

Juliette Hughes is "swept up into an earthy, comic and dangerous universe" as she reads Five Oranges by Graham Reilly, and Frances Atkinson finds Kate Llewellyn's memoir Playing with Water: A Story of a Garden rather "contagious".

Short notices are given to: Waking Up with Strangers by Daniel Gloag: "The first 50 pages of Gloag's fiction is brilliant - the writing sparkles, his characters charm, and he creates a wonderful sense of the restlessness of youth. The brilliance is not sustained, alas. But even Blind Freddie can see that the author has a huge gift." Slaughterboy by Odo Hirsch, "...is a dark and at times gruesome novel that depicts with visceral acuity the hardship of one boy's life in early 16th-century Europe." Specky Magee and the Boots of Glory by Felice Arena & Gary Lyon: "this is an easy reading, easy thinking book for boys". Desperate Hearts by Katherine Summers, a memoir that is a testament "to the resilience of children who given a modicum of love and an opportunity or two, fight through", and Diggerspeak: The Language of Australians at War by Amanda Laugesen.

In the "Weekend Australian", Maryanne Confoy's biography Morris West: A Literary Maverick is given a major going-over by Barry Oakley. West "was a craftsman who wanted to be seen as an artist. [This book] is intelligent and perceptive, but it takes us closer to the books than to the man."

Colin Falconer's novel "My Beautiful Spy is an airport novel par excellence. By this I don't mean that it's lightweight or inadequately researched but that its page-turning, high-paced action is at the expense of subtle character development and considered, meticulous prose." And Edwina Preston, in her review, concludes: "Falconer's novels sell like hotcakes across the world but the recipe is bland and workaday, with no surprise ingredients. Easily digestible but offering little in the way of long-term nourishment."

John Baxter's new book We'll Always Have Paris: Sex and Love in the City of Light is reviewed in this weekend's "Sydney Morning Herald" by Sacha Molitorisz, described as "a Herald writer recently returned from Paris". Anyone who read Baxter's previous book, A Pound of Paper, wil know that he has a very readable style, often given to looking beneath the surface of his subject: "Throughout, Baxter has an ear for the prurient, the offbeat and the absurd. That - combined with his efficient, elegant prose - makes the book a pacy, page-turning read."

The Essential Bird by Carmel Bird is reviewed, and author interviewed, by Matt Condon in "The Courier-Mail". "The title started out as a bit of a joke," [Bird] says. "My editor said it was time to collect some of the stories together and we'd always called it 'the essential Bird'. When it got closer to publication my editor asked what we should call it. But that was the title. It plays on words. It's about getting to the essence of things." As Condon puts it: "These works mull over Bird's lifelong interest in psychiatry, madness, murder, charisma, and cults and how these elements sit in contemporary society. Her ability to enter the psychology of her characters is one of the outstanding characteristics of her work."

Reviews of Australian Books #9

Lewis Jones reviews The Turning by Tim Winton in this weekend's "Telegraph" from the UK. Jones is at first a tad bemused by the collection, harking back to an earlier misconception on his behalf about another book, but he soldiers on and comes to appreciate the way Winton has worked the stories together: "Vivid, elegiac and humorous, they are told in a relaxed prose that frequently strikes sparks - 'the hard laughter of ducks,' for example, 'like mechanical clowns in a sideshow.' Unusually, I think, they bridge the gulf between short story and novel."

A week ago, Ian Thomson reviewed the same book in the same newspaper. I'm not sure why the paper would want to do that, especially given the number of new books that appear each week demanding attention. Anyway, Thomson was quite taken with the book: "Winton likes to confront dark themes - a betrayal of friendship, an old love dangerously rekindled - yet the collection is so exquisitely written, so precise in its construction, that it is a joy to read." Hmmm, I'm guessing Thomson doesn't read much in the horror genre then.

Reviews by Australians #5

Thomas Keneally (as he seems to be when he writes non-fiction or reviews) takes on The English Dane by Sarah Bakewell in this weekend's "Guardian": "Jorgenson is remembered both as king of Iceland for one heady summer at one end of the globe, and the Viking of Van Diemen's Land at the other, and to an extent he seems a being created by the Earth's zapping north-south electric field. When the Prince of Denmark recently wedded his Tasmanian (Van Diemen's Land) wife, he declared he followed in the earlier Dane, Jorgenson's, footsteps with just as much hope and just as much confidence. The prince did not mention Jorgenson's endlessly zealous, inventive and disordered brilliance."

Keneally is won over by both the story and the style here "...her affection for him adds grace to this wonderful, intelligently told story." This book was also noted in last week's Weekend Round-Up, though only briefly.

Combined Reviews: Hill of Grace by Stephen Orr

hillofgrace.jpg Reviews of Hill of Grace by Stephen Orr.

The blurb attached to this novel, and reprinted on the publisher's website, states: "1951. Among the coppiced carob trees and arum lilies of the Barossa Valley, old-school Lutheran William Miller lives a quiet life with his wife, Bluma, and son Nathan, making wine and baking bread. But William has a secret. He's been studying the Bible and he's found what a thousand others couldn't: the date of the Apocalypse."

In the hands of a lot of novelists such a premise would be groan-worthy in the extreme. Peter Pierce, writing in "The Bulletin" finds that Orr moves beyond the obvious: "One of Orr's achievements is to re-imagine a region of the country with its distinctive food, climate, religious observances and memories of bitter schisms, history and prejudices. Yet it cannot dissociate itself from the mainstream of Australian life. In South Australia, this is the supposedly somnolent era of the Playford government and the building of the satellite town of Elizabeth, of a parochialism feeling the prickly hallenges of a larger, scarcely known world...Besides this, and harder still, Orr succeeds in enlisting our emotional, if hardly our intellectual sympathy for a narrow-minded, but kind and resolute man, a fanatic in salvation's cause. Hill of Grace tackles the obstacle of an author's second novel with aplomb. Orr's book contains a broad but
unobtrusive social history besides an intelligent, unhurried and incisive plumbing of kinds of intense, but very different yearning."

Similarly, James Ley in "The Age", puts foward a view that Orr will be someone to watch: "Hill of Grace has many strong points. Orr has an appealing and empathetic approach to his characters. It is also encouraging to see a writer vary his style in an attempt to find a third way between the two poles of standard no-frills prose and the florid, overheated variety that tends to dominate contemporary 'literary' fiction."

Cath Kenneally (producer of Writers' Radio; a nationally-distributed weekly books and writing program for the Community Broadcasting Network), considered the novel to be one of her books of the year: "His prose lovingly packed with particulars, Orr's characters assume poignant life as modernity and old-time religion go head to head in a wonderful period portrait."

Weekend Round-Up Notes

The weekend round-up will be a bit delayed this week. I was unwell yesterday and couldn't get to it. Hopefully it will be available later today or tomorrow.

2005 Sydney Writers' Festival

The program for the 2005 Sydney Writers' festival is now available.
The festival runs from 23-29 May. Prominent attendees from overseas this year include: Alan Hollinghurst, Lewis Lapham (editor of Harper's Magazine), Tariq Ali, David Suzuki, Jared Diamond, Alice Sebold, Simon Singh, and Harold Bloom will talk via satellite. Australian writers in attendance include: Larissa, Behrendt, Carmel Bird, Stephen Carroll, Li Cunxin, Robert Dessaix, Delia Falconer, Helen Garner, Sonya Hartnett, Tom Keneally, David Malouf, Robert Manne, Roger McDonald, Alex Miller, Frank Moorhouse, Eva Sallis, Morry Schwartz, and Robyn Williams. Looks like a pretty comprehensive list covering all tastes.

Poem: My Old Typewriter by M. Forrest

Carry it out, for its work is done,
   The strength has gone from the worn-out keys
That tried to capture a shaft of sun,
   Or click a rhyme of the morning breeze.
Dead are the eleves who used to play
   At hide-and-seek in the notes by night,
And the clang of the bell is no more gay,
   And the small dead fairies look so white!

You have toiled in your time, my old machine,
   Catching the Thought for the printer's ink;
When the scrapheap gathers what once has been
   There is rosemary laid on your board, I think;
And old hates rise up in a flash of flame,
   Old, angry words that you have clashed forth;
And old loves lie low with a cheek of shame
   That we should have forgotten - both love and wrath!

The tethered poem, the story-tale,
   The pixie fancy, the frothy jest,
And the pleading word that could not avail,
   It has gone to the scrapheap with the rest!
Did your weak wires lock? Were you in disgrace?
   A feeble, dodering, spent machine?
Was it time that you hid your battered face
   Where the grave of your youth is smooth and green?

Typesetters over my manuscript
   Will at least rejoice that you cease to be;
To hieroglyphics you often tripped,
   And your aim was sometimes a mystery.
But only I know what you were to me,
   And only I know (with a half-despair,
For empty moments which yet may be)
   How many fairies lie buried there!

First published in The Bulletin, 28 December 1916

2005 NSW Premier's Literary Awards Shortlists

It's all go on the literary award front with the release today of the shortlists for the 2005 NSW Premier's Literary Awards. The winners will be announced by the Premier at a presentation dinner at Parliament House on 23 May 2005.

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction ($20,000)
Gail Jones Sixty Lights - Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Malcolm Knox A Private Man - Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Peter Kocan Fresh Fields - HarperCollinsPublishers Pty Ltd
Margo Lanagan Black Juice - Allen & Unwin
Célestine Hitiura Vaite Frangipani - The Text Publishing Company
Tim Winton The Turning - Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction ($20,000)
Robert Adamson Inside Out: An Autobiography - The Text Publishing Company
Robert Dessaix Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev - Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd
Robyn Ferrell The Real Desire - Indra Publishing
Helen Garner Joe Cinque's Consolation - Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd
Paul Ham Kokoda - HarperCollinsPublishers Pty Ltd
John Hughes The Idea of Home: Autobiographical Essays - Giramondo Publishing Company

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry ($15,000)
MTC Cronin 1-100 - Shearsman Books Ltd
Lidija Cvetkovic War is Not the Season for Figs - University of Queensland Press
John Kinsella Doppler Effect - Salt Publishing
Dîpti Saravanamuttu The Colosseum Five - Islands Press
Samuel Wagan Watson Smoke Encrypted Whispers - University of Queensland Press
Alan Wearne The Lovemakers Book Two: Money and Nothing - ABC Books

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature ($15,000)
Michael Gerard Bauer The Running Man Omnibus - Books/Scholastic Australia Pty Ltd
Phillip Gwynne Jetty Rats - Penguin Group Australia
Steven Herrick By the River - Allen & Unwin
Joanne Horniman Secret Scribbled Notebooks - Allen & Unwin
Jenny Pausacker Dancing on Knives - Thomas C Lothian Pty Ltd

Patricia Wrightson Prize ($15,000)
Isobelle Carmody Angel Fever - Thomas C Lothin Pty Ltd
Sherryl Clark Farm Kid - Penguin Group Australia
Gary Crew & Steven Woolman (illus.) Beneath the Surface - Hodder Headline Australia
Sonya Hartnett The Silver Donkey - Penguin Group Australia
Martine Murray Henrietta - Allen & Unwin
Ruth Starke Orphans of the Queen - Thomas C Lothian Pty Ltd

Community Relations Commission Award ($15,000)
Lidija Cvetkovic War is Not the Season for Figs - University of Queensland Press
John Hughes The Idea of Home: Autobiographical Essays - Giramondo Publishing Company
Tony Kevin A Certain Maritime Incident: The Sinking of SIEV X - Scribe Publications Pty Ltd
Robert Manne with David Corlett Sending Them Home: Refugees and the New Politics of Indifference - Black Inc

Gleebooks Prize ($10,000)
Julia Baird Media Tarts: How the Australian Press Frames Female Politicians - Scribe Publications Pty Ltd
Gillian Cowlishaw Blackfellas White Fellas and the Hidden Injuries of Race - Blackwell Publishing
Tony Kevin A Certain Maritime Incident: The Sinking of SIEV X - Scribe Publications Pty Ltd
Mark McKenna This Country: A Reconciled Republic? - UNSW Press Ltd
Deborah Bird Rose Reports From a Wild Country: Ethics for Decolonisation - UNSW Press Ltd

UTS Award for New Writing ($5,000)
No short list with this.

Play Award ($15,000)
Donna Abela Tales from the Arabian Nights, Kim Carpenter's Theatre of Image
Matt Cameron Hinterland, Melbourne Theatre Company
Melissa Reeves The Spook Company, B Belvoir St
Susan Rogers Night Letters, Playbox Theatre / Currency Press
Katherine Thomson Harbour, Sydney Theatre Company
Ian Wilding Torrez, Griffin Theatre Co / Currency Press

Script Writing Award ($15,000)
Betty Churcher The Art of War, Film Australia
Sharon Davis Two Weeks in Another Country - South Africa Ten Years After the End of Apartheid, ABC Radio National: Radio Eye
Tony Krawitz Jewboy, Porchlight Films Pty Ltd
Fiona Seres Fireflies: Episode 14, Southern Star
Nic Testoni & Jo Plomley Mr Patterns, Film Australia

The NSW Premier's Translation Prize ($15,000)
Christopher Andrews
Peter Boyle
Simon Patton
John Nieuwenhuizen

2005 Miles Franklin Award Longlist

In what appears to be a first, at least for me, the Miles Franklin award people have released a "longlist" of 12 books vying for this year's award.

That list is:

Salt Rain by Sarah Armstrong
The Gift of Speed by Stephen Carroll
Backwaters by Robert Engwerda
The Ghost Writer by John Harwood
The Broken Book by Susan Johnson
Sixty Lights by Gail Jones
A Private Man by Malcolm Knox
The Philosopher's Doll by Amanda Lohrey
The White Earth by Andrew McGahan
I Have Kissed Your Lips by Gerard Windsor
The Submerged Cathedral by Charlotte Wood
The Last Ride by Denise Young

The shortlist (generally of 6 novels) will be announced on April 21, and the winner on June 23. Matilda has featured The Gift of Speed, The White Earth and Sixty Lights here previously, and once the shortlist is announced I'll ensure I feature all books with their web-based reviews.

Interestingly none of the authors listed has won the award before. Early tip for the winner is McGahan.

Locus 2004 Recommended Reading List

Locus Magazine, which styles itself "The Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field", released its 2004 Recommended Reading List in February, but negligent as I am, I'm just catching up with it.

The Australian entries in the list that I can identify are:

Fantasy Novel:
Glass Dragons by Sean McMullan
Young Adult Book:
The Keys to the Kingdom: Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix
Black Juice by Margo Lanagan
The Locus Awards: Thirty Years of the Best in Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Charles N. Brown & Jonathan Strahan
Science Fiction: The Best of 2003 edited by Karen Haber & Jonathan Strahan
Best Short Novels 2004 edited by Jonathan Strahan
x, y, z, t: Dimensions of Science Fiction by Damien Broderick
"Water Babies" by Simon Brown
Short Stories:
"Clownette" by Terry Dowling
"Earthly Uses" by Margo Lanagan
"Red Nose Day" by Margo Lanagan
"Rite of Spring" by Margo Lanagan
"Singing My Sister Down" by Margo Lanagan

My apologies if I've left anyone off the list. Write and let me know if this is the case and I'll update the entries.

Reading Matters

The Centre for Youth Literature is presenting "Reading Matters", a 3-day literary event at the State Library of Victoria, from 12-14 May, 2005. International and Australian guest speakers and panel members include:

  • Adeline Yen Mah (US) - Chinese Cinderella, Secret Dragon Society
  • Malorie Blackman (UK) - Noughts & Crosses
  • Karen Levine (Canada) - Hana's Suitcase
  • David Fickling (UK) - Publisher of Phillip Pullman and Mark Haddon
  • Tessa Duder (NZ) - Alex, Tiggie Tompson
  • Li Cunxine (VIC), Alwyn Evans (WA), Barry Jonsberg (NT), and more

  • Death of John Brosnan (1947-2005)

    Australian author and science fiction fan, John Brosnan has been found dead at his home in Harrow, England. The cause of his death is not known at this time but it appears he had been dead a few days when found.

    Brosnan was born in Perth in 1947 and moved to Sydney in the late 1960s after discovering sf fandom via the pages of Australian Science Fiction Review, and meeting its editor John Bangsund. In Sydney he met such people as John Baxter and joined ANZAPA (Australian and New Zealand Amateur Publishing Association), where he was quite an active member in its early years. He was part of the Big Bus Trip, along with Ron Clarke, that transported several fans overland from Australia to London in 1970.

    After settling in London he began life as a freelance writer with mixed results. His first book, James Bond in the Cinema was published in 1972, and he followed this up with various other books on cinema with his most recent being The Primal Screen: A History of Science Fiction Film, in 1991.

    In addition to his cinema works he produced a number of crime and science ficton novels and in the 1990s wrote two comic fantasy novels, Damned & Fancy and Have Demon Will Travel, somewhat in the vein of Terry Pratchett. He was never an overly successful writer, failing to find an audience who appreciated his particular sense of humour, but he leaves behind an interesting body of work.

    I only met him once, in 1987. I had travelled to London with Justin Ackroyd (now proprietor of Slow Glass Books in Melbourne) to attend the 1987 World Science Fiction Convention in Brighton. Our first exploit was to crash a party thrown by the author Robert Holdstock and it was there that Brosnan sidled up to me when he realised I had the only Australian wine in the place. We talked for some time that afternoon and he seemed genuinely surprised that I knew who he was.

    I've always liked his fannish writings, and I got to like the man that afternoon in 1987.

    [UPDATE: Bruce Gillespie has written a much better obituary for John Brosnan than ever I could. He also includes John Baxter's notes on Brosnan, and Brosnan's most recent letters to Bruce's fanzine Science Fiction Commentary.]

    When is Non-Fiction Just Made Up

    Dr Therese Taylor, a lecturer in contemporary history at Charles Sturt University, has published an article in the latest issue of "The Diplomat" arguing that Burned Alive by Souad, an account by an anonymous Palestinian woman who tells of being set alight by her brother-in-law for falling pregnant out of wedlock, is a work of fiction.

    According to a report in "The Australian", Dr Taylor attempted to contact the author in order to verify some of the details in the book. These attempts were resisted and Dr Taylor has reached the conclusion that the book is a work of fiction rather than a factual account. This is all very reminiscent of the problems with Forbidden Love by Norma Khouri which was "outed" as fiction last year.

    Interview with Lucy Sussex - Part 2

    This is the second part of the Lucy Sussex interview I conducted via email over the past month or so. The first was published yesterday.

    As I stated in part one, Lucy has been writing for the past twenty years or so, and in that time she has been awarded the Ditmar (Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award) for "My Lady Tongue" (1989), The Scarlet Rider (1997) and "La Sentinelle" (2004). "La Sentinelle" also won an Aurealis award in 2003.

    Matilda: I seem to remember you saying you were rather annoyed when you read POSSESSION and came to the realisation of how similar it was to what you were working on at the time. Did that realisation change the direction of the book or cause you any "trouble" later on?

    Lucy Sussex: Not really. I heard about it well before I read it, and even by then I had SCARLET RIDER pretty much planned (up to chapter outlines, although you never quite know what will come out of the subconscious). I read POSSESSION essentially to see whether I would have to kill off the project. But the two books weren't much similar, after all. And I figured that by the time I got my novel written, edited and published, POSSESSION would have less currency. Which doesn't stop reviewers making the comparison, of course...

    M: THE SCARLET RIDER was released in 1996. Have you been working on any other novels for adults since then, or concentrating on shorter fiction and young adult material?

    LS: What happened is that I've been doing a PhD thesis, which will be a book, on the mothers of detective fiction. This involved rethinking the early history of detective fiction, and also a number of surprises, such as the writer Catherine Crowe, who necessitated a research trip to the UK. So much research and work...

    I've written many short fictions, for adult and younger in my spare time (ha ha) - some of these will be collected later this year (title to be announced) by Mirrordanse. I just published the story "Matricide" on SCIFI.COM. I did a book in the Quentaris series (THE REVOGNASE, 2003). Several times I started novels, but the goer so far is a mixture of C19th female detective novel, werewolves and er, quantum physics. I may, or may not, be able to bring it off.

    M: Sounds like a very strange mix - I look forward to it. You mentioned the novel you wrote for the Quentaris series, how did that come about? And did it require a special sort of mind-set on your behalf?

    LS: What happened was that I wrote one of the first two texts in the series. Paul Collins and Michael Pryor approached me to write 3 chapters of a Quentaris text. Michael had written a complete Quentaris novella, but Paul had time constraints. They basically paid me to write a text as part of a sample for publishers. If the series didn't sell, then I had the beginnings of a fantasy novel for teens I could probably adapt and sell independently. If it did sell, then I paid them back, and wrote the whole of my novel for the publisher.

    I had two free weeks, so I did write the sample, using as plot outline a device I'd found in a 1930s crime novel (which I acknowledge at the beginning of THE REVOGNASE): hot potato. You have a object that nobody knows what it is, but everybody wants it, and so it passes from hand to hand, the viewpoint basically going with it. Of course being me, I started the text not knowing what it was either, and the subconscious supplied the answer, which was actually quite disgusting.

    I think I was supposed to write three chapters but I was enjoying myself so much I wrote six. I had a ball writing what was basically screwball fantasy comedy. Now I know why Terry Pratchett is so prolific: it's fun.

    In terms of constraints, working to a pre-existing setting meant that you didn't have to do world-building, which freed you up in other areas. After all, Shakespeare used pre-existing plots for nearly all of his plays.

    I'd actually got to the end of the text, and found Paul & Michael had made a change in their Quentaris Bible: consolidated the fantasy security elements. I'd actually gone to some trouble to set up tension between the bodyguards' Guild and the Watch, and now there was only the Watch. But making Storm, who is one of my protagonists, the head of the watch worked very well, and was surprisingly easy to do.

    I'd love to write another Quentaris book sometime.

    M: To finish up, I know you've been reviewing a large number of books lately but what is the best you've read over the past twelve months?

    LS: Best true crime - THE GATTON MURDERS (Pan) by Stephanie Bennett. I respect a true crime writer who can really research, as Bennett does. I'm not the only person to think she solved the crime. Remarkable.

    Best younger readers: THE SCARECROW AND HIS SERVANT (Dobuleday) Phillip Pullman. Here is a work in lighter mood than the dark materials, but showing enviable control of form and style. Also delightfully inventive.

    Best novel - the best novels are the ones you come to blind, which stand totally on their own merits. Such is CRESCENT by Diana Abu-Jaber (Picador) about middle eastern exiles living in LA. It avoids every possible cliche you can think of about Arabs and the Moslem world.

    Best non-fiction. Kevin Phillips' AMERICAN DYNASTY: ARISTOCRACY, FORTUNE AND THE POLITICS OF DECEIT IN THE HOUSE OF BUSH. The title says it all. Thoroughly researched, by a former Nixon staffer. Quote: 'I am not talking about ordinary lack of business ethics or financial corruption.' Indeed.

    Best out of left-field: TROLL, by Johanna Sinisalo. Imagine Tom of Finland and the Moomintrolls in the same book. Only a Finn could get away with it.

    M: Thanks for your time and patience.

    Interview with Lucy Sussex - Part 1

    Lucy Sussex, New Zealand born and Melbourne resident, has been writing since the mid-1980s, producing one novel for adults, several children's novels and a number of short stories. Her best known works are "My Lady Tongue" from 1988 (later the title story for her major short story collection) and the novel The Scarlet Rider. Most of her shorter work has been in the genre of sf/fantasy but she is aso well-known in Australian literary circles as the researcher who uncovered the long-lost identity of one of the world's first female writers of detective fiction, Mary Fortune.

    Lucy is currently working on her doctorate in English literature, which she aims to present this year, and produces short reviews for "The Sunday Age" on a weekly basis. I should admit a bit of a bias here: I've known Lucy for almost 20 years, and her partner is one of my regular drinking buddies. Oddly enough, it was only after I'd been going out with the woman who was to become my wife that I found out she had known Lucy in university, but had lost touch over the years. Sometimes the world can seem very small indeed.

    Matilda: You've written fiction in the genres of fantasy, sf, children and young adult; is there any particular form you feel more comfortable in?

    Lucy Sussex: Not especially. It depends on the idea, and what form in which it is most likely to work. And I'm not sure that being 'comfortable' in a genre actually produces the best writing. If you're slightly at odds with a genre, writing against it, that can produce an edge. Makes you different, at least.

    I just had a story of mine termed highly modernist realism. I'm tickled - never happened before.

    M: So the story idea leads to the form? You don't feel constrained to work in any one genre over any of the others?

    LS: Or you can be in a situation where you have to work in a form, eg a theme anthology, and you have to work out an idea that will go with it. Eg, an anthology on the theme of song, and I knew as it was US, I would have to be different, ie Australian. What Australian song is well-known in the US? Waltzing Matilda. So I got out the lyrics and decided they didn't make sense. The result was 'Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies'.

    If I felt constrained the fun would go out of writing.

    M: So the major force behind your writing is the fun of it? Or is there something else?

    LS: Ha! Well I wouldn't do it if I didn't like it - that way madness lies. But who knows what lies behind the creative impulse.

    M: But sometimes you must feel that you can look back on piece you've written and be able to identify where it came from? I'm thinking particularly of THE SCARLET RIDER. Can you tell us how that book came about?

    LS: I had been researching the life of Mary Fortune, pioneer female detective writer (Irish-Canadian-Australian, wrote the longest early detective serial, from 1867-1907). She was on the goldfields and married a policeman, so a lot of the research went into the book. By the way she didn't commit infanticide, but certainly bigamy, was wanted by the police at one time, and seemed to know a suspicious amount about illegal stills. During the course of the research, my life changed dramatically: I ended and started relationships, found a new writing direction, and became grimly determined about getting published. With the result that within several years, I had three books out, THE PEACE GARDEN, THE FORTUNES OF MARY FORTUNE (which I edited), and MY LADY TONGUE, all in different areas from different publishers. All involved considerable hurdles, which might have defeated a less bloody-minded writer (which is what I'd become). PEACE had an editor leave, then the press got taken over; THE FORTUNES got one rejection, but an acceptance via an editor at the first firm alerting the second about it; MY LADY TONGUE got a rejection and an acceptance within the course of a single day.

    It was hard not to think something of Fortune's determination (and conditions were much, much harder for writers in colonial Australia) had been an object lesson or had somehow transferred across the ether. I was dreaming about her, although I never learnt anything useful from the dreams. At some point I became aware I was getting a bit peculiar, and made an effort to retreat from such a close identification with her. Which was necessary, as Fortune's life was appalling.

    Later I found out that this phenomenon is quite common with biographers. Nadia Wheatley calls it 'the madness'. I quizzed quite a few people on the subject, from Michael Holroyd (name drop, clunk) to Brenda Niall. What I found was most had a sense of a kind of 'haunting'. Russell McDougall (Xavier Herbert) said that if he wrote something critical about his subject he had a sense of someone looking over his shoulder and going: 'Tut, tut.'

    From there it was a quantum jump to voodoo, probably via William Gibson's COUNT ZERO. It was purely coincidental that A. S. Byatt's POSSESSION had a similar subject, although she eschewed the fantasy - I went for it!

    [To be continued.]

    Interviews with Australian Speculative Fiction Writers

    Over at The Urban Sprawl Project, Ben Peek is interviewing a great swag of Australian speculative fiction writers for the rest of this week. So far he has interviewed Grant Watson, Iain Triffitt, Anna Tambour, Jonathan Strahan, Deborah Biancotti, Geoffrey Maloney, Cat Sparks, Chris Barnes, Sean Williams, Stuart Barrow, Martin Livings, and Trent Jamieson.

    Weekend Round-Up #15 Part 2

    At the height of his corporate career, Robert Holmes a Court was one of Australia's richest men, hobnobbing with politicians of all persuasions and living the high life during the heady days of the 1980s. His brother, Simon Holmes a Court, on the other hand lived a lonely and rather tragic life as a game warden in Botswana. The journalist Geoff Elliott has now written Simon's story in The Other brother which is reviewed in this weekend's "Australian" by Mark McGinness. The reviewer is generally impressed by the book, though not by the author's introduction of himself into the account in the last third. If it's handled well I don't see the problem with this - Simon died on the edge of the Tsitsikamma forest in southern Africa at the age of 37, which doesn't leave a lot of material to work with. Still McGinness does conclude that: "Elliott has brought a relaxed and rather blokey style to The Other Brother, but he has also confirmed his perserverance and an admirable quest for accuracy. This is an intriguing story of an extraordinary, enigmatic man."

    Given the volume of new novels coming onto the bookshelves each week it is no surprise when authors choose rather peculiar titles for their works, if only to make them stand out from the ruck. Gregory Day's new novel The Patron Saint of Eels is given the once-over by Liam Davison who is quite impressed with the work: "In [this] wonderful first novel, the enigma of the eel becomes the central metaphor for the charming contemporary fable about migration and belonging, and mortality and belief." Which, on the face of it, seems to stretch the bonds of credibility somewhat. But Davison is a major novelist himself so he knows where a reader might be a little dubious: "In another writer's hands, this quasi-religious fable with its veiled social and environmental agenda might have tested the credulity and goodwill of its readers. Day, though, understands the power of the story and the way local mythology and folklore invests a place with its own magic."

    Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews the new novel The Raft by Alan Mills, and is impressed with the action and execution, if not the literary worth: "High art The Raft ain't. But it would make a great movie". She also book as "a kind of Tobsha Learner for blokes." I had to look her up as well.

    In this weekend's "Sydney Morning Herald", Michelle Griffin meets Geraldine Brooks, as the author is about to start an Australian book tour in support of her new novel March. And Harriet Veitch reviews Farewell my Ovaries by Wendy Harmer.

    In "The Courier-Mail" from Queensland, Jane Fynes-Clinton is impressed with two Australian novels for younger readers: The Lace Maker's daughter by Gary Crew, and Witchsong by Kim Wilkins.

    Dan Hart of Brisbane has self-published the story of his life culled from over 70 years of diary entries. If nothing else it shows a degree of dedication most of us would envy.

    Weekend Round-Up #15 Part 1

    Carmel Bird leads off the Book review section of "The Age" this weekend. Jane Sullivan provides a detailed profile of the writer to coincide with the release of her latest collection of short stories, The Essential Bird.

    After Wendy Harmer's first novel was reviewed extensively last week, we now have The Catch by Marg Vendeleur, continuing what apepars to be the start of a publishing trend - that is, if 2 novels can be considered a "trend", or even the start of one. To be fair though, this novel was published a month or so back and briefly mentioned in this weblog. For a first novel this book gets a reasonably sized review by Leslie Cannold, herself the author of What No Baby? recently. All in all, Cannold is impressed with the work: "Spritely, sure-footed, rich with colour and authentic understanding of place, The Catch, by first-time author Marg Vandeleur, maintains its innocence and light-heartedness on a potentially chin-dragging topic: the shortage of suitable men for desperately ticking women."

    John Baxter has been living in Paris for over ten years now, writing biographies of film directors and his recent memoir of book collecting, A Pound of Paper. He now turns his attention to the city in which he lives and has produced We'll Always Have Paris: Sex and Love in the City of Light which is reviewed this week by Dmetri Kakmi, who puts the essential question about the city early on in his review:

       "Why is Paris a beacon, and what makes it one of the great cities? Biographer
       and film writer John Baxter tries to provide an answer by immersing himself in
       the French capital's sensual delights. We are only too happy to follow because his
       writing exudes the confidence of one who knows where he's going."

    The rest of the review progresses pretty well but he loses it a little with his summing up:

       "Finally, the question of whether John Baxter is propounding cliches for the sake
       of randy foreign tourists seems almost superfluous. Still, it would be interesting
       to know what the French think of how the world perceives them. Most likely,
       they don't give a profiterole."

    Yes, it might be interesting to know how the French see Paris, but Baxter has written this book explaining how he sees the city. To imply a criticism of the work for not approaching a topic that the reviewer wants to see seems a little off the mark. By the way, Baxter is now working on a biography of the painter and writer Norman Lindsay.

    Cathy Cole has written an examination of crime fiction in Private Dicks and Feisty Chicks, which is given the once-over by Sue Turnbull. Noting that the book "bears the inherited traits of its academic origins as a PhD thesis", Turnbull goes on the state that "Cole is at her best when describing her experience as a writer or discussing specific authors, but at her weakest when she feels compelled to generalise about crime fiction and its readers." Which seems to happen to a lot of genre fiction.

    By the time I got to this point in "The Age" Book review secton I started to think it must be Australia week. The bulk of the reviews deal with Australian books, and two first novels get decent attention. The second of these novels is Player by Tony Wilson, published by Text Publishing, which is building up quite a reputation for interesting fiction. The reviewer, Ian Syson, is the publisher at Vulgar Press, and he puts his review in context right from the off: "As a publisher, I've been waiting in vain for a manuscript such as this for a long time: an intricately crafted, hilarious, ultra-contemporary political parody/tragedy set in a context giving it the potential to be immediately compelling to tens of thousands of Australians." And there's not much more to add to that really.

    A couple of non-fiction works finish off the major reviews in "The Age": Freud in the Antipodes: A Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in Australia by Joy Damousi: "Psychoanalysis, like Plato, suggests the soul's health lies in its curiosity. This book will open the door to more questions"; and Hellfire: The Story of Australia, Japan and the Prisoners of War by Cameron Forbes: "We need to be reminded of these things over and over again. Lest we forget the lesson... It is our story and we need to know it."

    In addition to this multitude of long reviews, short notices are given to: Jane Austen & Crime by Susannah Fullerton: "This study, by the Australian president of the Austen society, is not so much an attempt to present the 'seamy' side of Jane, but to show how the seamy, dark and dangerous side of the society she lived in is manifest in her works"; The English Dane: A Story of Empire and Adventure from Iceland to Tasmania: "Jorgen Jorgenson was one of those 'colourful' characters of history who generally recede into footnote obscurity"; Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks: the book inverts the usual quest narrative as Cadal "must discover the ordinary within him - the need for friendship, the need not to be betrayed, the need to be respected"; and Arthur Boyd and Saint Francis of Assisi: Pastel, Lithographs & Tapestries 1964-74 by Margaret Pont.

    After which I think I need a good lie down. I'll continue this weekend's round-up tomorrow.

    "The Book was Better"

    The list of Australian novels undergoing film production seems to be getting longer and longer. Susan Wyndham, in "The Age", provides an overview of the current scene and explains: "... Australian novels are in demand as both Hollywood and the local film industry bemoan a shortage of strong original screenplays." The article has been written as Elliot Perlman returns home to Melbourne for the premiere of the film adaptation of his first novel Three Dollars. And Wyndham goes on to detail some of the other Australian novels currently under consideration or treatment: Dirt Music by Tim Winton, Moral Hazzard by Kate Jennings, and The Drowner by Robert Drewe, being just some of them.

    The problem is going to be, of course, that Australian stories need directors and writers attuned to the basic culture for the works to be successfully translated. Which is why I for one am glad to see Phillip Noyce directing the Winton and Jennings films. If world-class Australian directors return home to develop adaptations of these novels then the whole of the industry gains from the process. Which can only lead to an increased interest in the original source material. And that surely can't be a bad thing.

    Poem: Lay of the Waste-Paper Basket by Kuscobin

    My appetite is ne'er appeased,
       I feed on poets' verses,
    And nothing makes me better pleased
       Than hearing poets' curses;
    Their loud reveilings are to me
    The sweetest music that can be.

    An ode to me is dear indeed,
       I sup on Lyrics nightly;
    While Serenades are splendid feed,
       As, too, are Ballads sprightly:
    But most of all I love to eat
    An Epic with iambic feet.

    Ah, how the great heroic lines
       Slip down my maw, apacious,
    My stomach (beg your pardon!) pines
       With appetite rapacious,
    For long-wrought Epics of great sound
    That all the rhythmic laws confound.

    The thing that I object to most
       Is lack of range in flavor,
    For Grey-haired Mothers served on toast
       Each morning lose their savor,
    While poems done in praise of Spring
    Make me as sick as anything.

    And Stockman's graves are not the stuff
       One wants to choose for daily fare,
    A very little is enough
       Of Broken Hearts that want repair:
    I only wish my poets would
    Sing something better understood.

    For instance, Lays of Lady Birds
       That sigh to stroke an Oyster's soul!
    Or Platypi whose choice of words
       Offends a widowed lump of coal:
    The aching hanker of a star
    To drink pale brandy at the bar.

    So many things remain unsung,
       I feel like singing them myself --
    The gold pyjamas Pharaoh flung
       At Mrs Pharaoh, seeking pelf:
    Or any other theme there be
    That has the sauce of novelty.

    But all in vain. And long before
       The FIG LEAF BANNER went to press:
    With Father Adam, Editor,
       And Eve as Fashion Editress.
    I've heard the same old thing
    That poets still prefer to sing.

    Yes, here they come -- one Nuptial Song,
       Three Lyrics to a Lady's Eyes;
    Sonnets an even hundred strong,
       Six Ballads full of Lovers' Sighs;
    And ten Young Ladies weeping tears
    About the Wasted Dreams of Years.

    I'm chock-a-block and full and sick
       Of all the wreckage of the Muses.
    And yet, no matter how I kick,
       Fate other job to me refuses:
    So all I ask, and loud I ask it
    Don't overwork the poor old "basket".

    First published in The Bulletin, 28 May 1914

    Sydney Writers' Festival 2005

    I guess I'm a bit early mentioning this year's Sydney Writers' Festival, given that it runs from 23-29 May, but I thought it better to give you at least a bit of notice, rather than my normal 24 hours. Not much news on the website as yet, though it appears that Simon Singh and David Suzuki are attending. The program will be released on April 16, on the website as well as in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

    "It's Fiction, Jim, But Not As We Know It"

    Don't you just love it when journalists pontificate on the subject of science fiction and/or fantasy: "Read any good novels lately? Read any bad novels lately? My guess is that if you've read anything, for pleasure or interest, it hasn't been fiction. Book sales of fiction, particularly literary fiction, are down. By fiction I don't mean fantasy, as in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, I mean a story about our lives created from an author's imagination." Susan Mitchell in "Australian Financial Review", 19-20 March.

    By way of explaining my position on this, it is noted that Susanna Clarke's novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, has been nominated for Best Novel in this year's Hugo Awards, and it was Longlisted for the 2004 Man Booker Prize; and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which made the 2004 Man Booker Shortlist, has also been nominated for this year's Nebula Awards. But then, if it's good it can't be science fiction by definition, can it?

    If you believe some people, sf is just space octopusses and ray guns. This wasn't true in the 1950s, so I can't see how it might be relevant now.

    [Thanks to Damian Warman and Dave Langford's Ansible 213 for this quote.]

    Patrick White's House, Auction Result

    This morning's "Sydney Morning Herald" reports that Patrick White's house was passed in at auction yesterday. Against an estimated value of $3.5 million, the highest bid lodged was for $1.8 million. "A private treaty sale is now being negotiated."

    This result has prompted the National Trust to resume its calls for State and Federal Governments to pitch in to purchase the house for the nation.

    Previous mentions of this news item have appeared here.

    Mid-Week Reviews #2

    Once you start looking closing at the book reviews in Australian newspapers and magazines it rapidly becomes obvious that the same small number of books get similar coverage across a range of publications. So it comes as no surpise that this week "The Bulletin" reviews both March by Geraldine Brooks, and Farewell My Ovaries by Wendy Harmer.

    In her review of March, Mandy Sayer works on the thread of Literary "borrowings": the novel uses characters from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. And this is a useful track on which to run such a review as it probably gives the general reader something easier to hang on to than intricate details of various American Civil War battles.

    She writes:

          "March is also peppered with well-known historical figures from the 19th-
          century intellectual Concord set: we see a young Henry Thoreau making pencils
          and Ralph Waldo Emerson arguing at a dinner party. Brooks' handling of
          19th-century American diction and syntax is superb, particularly when it comes
          to the rhythms and argot of southern blacks (no small feat, considering she is

          "Not all literary borrowings succeed in 'standing on their own' as well as subtly
          interacting with the original text. March achieves this and much, much more.
          It is a powerful, radiant novel with more sudden twists than a hurricane. It
          certainly blew me away."

    Fiona Giles opines: "Farewell My Ovaries explodes exuberant sexual fireworks in the face of that Victorian dowager princess, lonely old age. It should also send the Brazilian waxing industry through the roof." I somehow doubt it.

    The new issue of "Australian Book Review" is out and guess what, these two books are again featured. No, that's a bit churlish. I have the highest respect for this magazine as it covers as much of the Australian publishing scene as it possibly can. I'm just lamenting the lack of Australian fiction to review I guess. On the other hand, this low number does allow a general reader to keep up, almost.

    2005 Australian Children's Book Of Year Awards Shortlists

    The shortlists for the Australian Children's Book of the Year Awards have now been announced. The full list, along with the official media release, can be found at the href="http://www.cbc.org.au/short05.htm">award website. Winners will be
    announced on Friday 19th August during Children's Book Week. The books nominated
    by catgeory are:

    Older Readers
    The Running Man, Michael Gerard Bauer
    Fireshadow, Anthony Eaton
    By the River, Steven Herrick
    Secret Scribbled Notebooks, Joanne Horniman
    The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull, Barry Jonsberg
    Black Juice, Margo Lanagan

    Younger Readers
    The Silver Donkey, Sonya Hartnett
    Soraya the Storyteller, Rosanne Hawke
    A Horse Called Elvis, John Heffernan
    Tiff and the Trout, David Metzenthen
    The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard, Gregory Rogers
    Billy Mack's War, James Roy

    Dougal the Garbage Dump Bear, Matt Dray
    Mr. Noah and the Cats, Vashti Farrer, illustrated by Neil Curtis
    Where is the Green Sheep?, Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek
    Tales from the Waterhole, Bob Graham
    Mutt Dog!, Stephen Michael King
    Seven More Sleeps, Margaret Wild, illustrated by Donna Rawlins

    Picture Book
    Belonging, Jeannie Baker
    At the Beach: Postcards from Crabby Spit, Roland Harvey
    Mutt Dog!, Stephen Michael King
    Are We There Yet? A Journey Around Australia, Alison Lester
    Refugees, David Miller
    Lizzie Nonsense, Jan Ormerod

    Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
    Heritage & Places, Helen Chapman
    Gogo Fish! The Story of the Western Australian State Fossil Emblem, John Long, illustrated by Jill Ruse and John Long
    Life in a Rockpool, Greg Pyers
    Amazing Australian Mammals, Barry Silkstone
    To the Moon and Back: The Amazing Australians at the Forefront of Space Travel Plus Fantastic Moon Facts, Bryan Sullivan with Jackie French, illustrated by Gus Gordon
    The Grief Book: Strategies for Young People, Elizabeth Vercoe with Kerry Abramowski

    Patrick White's House Up for Auction

    Back in February I reported on the plan to sell Patrick White's house in Sydney, and the attempt by a number of prominent Sydney-siders to raise the funds necessary to buy the house. Now comes the news that the house will actually go up for auction this coming Saturday. Only approximately $100,000 was pledged for the appeal, and as the estimated selling price is a cool $3.5million, the money fell a long way short. Neither State nor Federal Governments deemed it important enough to intercede. As Matthew Condon states in his "Courier-Mail" report:

          "If only White had also represented his country in cricket, or rugby league or
          union, or won a clutch of gold medals at an Olympic Games. If only White had
          scored an Academy Award, or been a billionaire property developer, or been a
          talkback radio host for much of his career.

          "Silly, silly Patrick. Spending his whole life thinking about the past, present
          and future of his country, distilling its rhythms and thoughts, penning
          petty little words and thinking they may contribute to his nation's culture."

    Weekend Round-Up #14

    Those of you who have been reading these weekend round-ups for a while will have noticed that I tend to stick to a couple of Australian newspapers only. Generally I list material from "The Age", my local Melbourne newspaper, and "The Weekend Australian", the Saturday edition of Rupert Murdoch's Australian national daily. And there is a very good reason for this: they are basically the only ones I get delivered on a Saturday, and "The Age" (along with its sister "The Sydney Morning Herald") seems to be one of the few Australian newspapers that display any of its book reviews on its website. I have no idea of why this is so. Most foreign newspapers seem to print the bulk of their reviews on their websites, yet for some reason their Australian counterparts have chosen a different path. I don't envisage this changing any time soon. In the meantime I'll keep on listing what I can, hoping that it is of some interest.

    The first Australian review in "The Age" this weekend is of Wendy Harmer's novel Farewell My Ovaries. Harmer is a stand-up comedian, radio host and now new novelist. I'm not a fan of her comedy, not that I hate it, just that I don't find it all that funny. And being the crap reviewer I am I doubt I could even hazard a guess as to why that is. Juliette Hughes, on the other hand, seems rather taken with the book: "This novel has the kind of cover that you see on chicklit, but it is quite a lot better than that...The plot is cleverly crafted, but the really nice surprise is the fluency and verve of Harmer's prose."

    Peter Pierce, professor of Australian literature at James Cook University, delves into the big book of the moment, Geraldine Brooks's March, and finds that: "This is a distinguished book, a masterly reworking of what fiction and history have afforded Brooks' vibrant and questing imagination." The American Civil War seems to hold an attraction across the years, and continents, that is hard to understand from the outside. Ken Burns's masterful television mini-series "The Civil War" took six years to produce, two full years longer than the war it set out to depict, so something is certainly going on here. I haven't seen a derogatory review of this book yet though I would like to see someone try to discuss how an Australian author might be looking at the conflict through slightly different eyes.

    Short notices are given to: Human Remains: Episodes in Human Dissection by Helen MacDonald, "[a] nuanced and subtle inquiry into the politics and morality of the dissecting room"; Yosl Bergner: Art as a Meeting of Cultures by Frank Klepner, "[who] explores Bergner's distinctive European Jewsish sensibility and how it was ignited by the moody atmosphere of Melbourne's back lanes, street life and the community of Jewish immigrants in Carlton"; Snowy River Story by Claire Miller, "Cleanly written thorughout, [it] is very good at keeping the personal side to the story and the political machinations in focus"; and Marcel Caux: A Life Unravelled by Lynette Ramsay Silver, the story of how World War I so deeply affected one man that he changed his whole life to rid himself of it.

    "The Weekend Australian" kicks off its book pages this week with a report on Elliot Perlman and his latest book, Seven Types of Ambiguity which has been covered here previously. It appears that Perlman is big in France, where his novel "was among the top 10 French bestsellers 10 days after its January release", and where "Le Figaro" called it "an important work of great substance". This comes on top of the mixed reviews it has been received in the Australian, British and US press. And then comes the news (also mentioned in "The Age" on the weekend by Jason Steger) that US critic Harold Bloom was quite impressed with the book. Impressed enough, it seems, to track down the author and to offer not only his congratulations but also a blurb for the forthcoming US paperback release. There has to be something about this book that evinces such a disparate set of views. as you wil recall, Peter Craven slammed the book in the pages of "Australian Book Review", yet here we have Bloom, generally considered one of the foremost literary critics in the English-speaking world, praising the book in very glowing terms. The "To-Be-Read" pile in the bedroom is already out of control. Oh well. Can't be helped I suppose.

    "The Weekend Australian" also reviews Playing with Water: A Story of a Garden by Kate Llewellyn which "will not be understood by those whose hearts have not been cleft or riven by loss." And the big Australian review is again of March. "Given Brooks's passionate opinion regarding the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction (advanced in a speech at the NSW Premier's Awards last year), it's interesting how much of March relies on genre-blurring...We can be grateful, given the success of March, that she is either contrary or has been willing to break her own rules for the sake of the narrative."

    In "The Sydney Morning Herald", Bernard Zuel reviews Players, a first novel by Tony Wilson, "Television, football and our obsessions with them make for overripe material, and when Wilson lines up the obvious objects of satire, he doesn't miss. Of course, that's not too hard. When stupidity is not just rewarded on the field but celebrated off it - as it is in Australia and to a staggering extreme in Melbourne, where Players is set - any half-talented writer could merely repeat some of the best-known tales and get a laugh." Ah, yes, we like our sportsmen stupid down here in Melbourne. And Michelle Griffin thinks that Geraldine Brooks's novel March will draw readers back to Alcott's Little Women: "by filling in the details of the darkness that surrounds all that sweetness and light, Brooks has restored its power."

    Poem: The Poet Sang by Kodak (Ernest O'Ferrall)

    The poet sang with his soul on fire,
    Without a thought of reward or hire.

    For when to think of his pay he stopped,
    He noticed his inspiration dropped.

    So he made his song in the forge
    of his heart And the finished thing was a work of art.

    Then he took it in -- as a poet must --
    To market the thing in some paper's dust.

    And they measured it with impassive face,
    For Art was a thing they bought by space.

    They judged his treasure -- the fact is hard --
    Not carat by carat, but yard by yard.

    Then they did a sum on the poet's rump
    Which gave its creator the blessed hump.

    For, bought by the fathom, as all might see,
    The poem's value was one-and-three!

    The poet shuffled his gifted feet,
    And signed with a flourish the sad receipt.

    Ere he walked away with his thoughts at sea
    And a spec in his palm -- the one-and-three!

    He tearfully d--d his mistress Art,
    And wished he could drive a horse and cart,

    Or trundle a barrow or shovel coal,
    For such plain jobs required no soul.

    He knew of all gifts that "soul" was worst;
    For owners of soul must sing or burst.

    With a heart as heavy as any log,
    He sat and howled like a mourning dog.

    In ragged garments, with chin in air,
    He sat and howled in his mad despair.

    And no one who heard him e'er guessed that he
    Bewailed a lost poem, price one-and-three.

    First published in The Bulletin, 27 May 1915

    New Innovations

    It was always my intention that this weblog should concentrate on the Australian side of the literary scene, if for no other reason than to keep the workload down to reasonable levels. I can't for the life of me figure out how some weblogs maintain their output. Burnout seems a likely outcome. At least it would for me.

    So I've tried to keep the boundaries tight. Though, occasionally, the edges get a little blurry. I reviewed a website based outside Australia a while back and have mentioned prizes for which Australians are only vaguely eligble and managed to fudge it enough so as not to worry too much. But sometimes some things come up that strike me as outstanding examples of what weblogs can do. And it is at those times that I think this weblog should just salute the innovation and not be too worried about parochial geographic boundaries.

    The first of these has been taking place over at Ron Hogan's weblog Beatrice. Ron has moved away from the tradition nodding-head interview to get two authors to basically interview each other about their respective work, and to frame the "interview" as a conversation between the two. Not so great you reckon? Well, give it a try and see what you think.

    I guess the whole concept could fall completely flat if Hogan chose his participants unwisely. So he has chosen carefully and picked authors who are lively, informative, interested in the other's work and who come across as someone you'd like to read. Haven't heard of any of them? Doesn't matter. The whole point of the exercise is to give these authors a forum to discuss items of mutual interest and for us to sit back and eaves-drop. Great stuff.

    The second innovation comes to us from the Largehearted Boy weblog. The Boy has created a new feature, title "book Notes", in which "authors whose work I admire will create mix CD's based on their latest book. There are no ground rules, I plan to just let these creative masters work their own magic with words." The first one he has persuaded to participate is Tom Bissell, and the work is God Lives in St Petersburg and Other Stories. It's early days yet but I see good things ahead for this idea.

    [Link via Bookslut and GalleyCat.]

    Currently Reading


     Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
    The second book in the "First Law" series. Epic fantasy written to honour the honour and explore the standard fantasy tropes, as well as to poke ore than a little fun at them at the same time. A big book, but still a page-turner.



     How it Feels by Brendan Cowell
    A debut novel from a multi-talented author/actor/director. A coming-of-age novel which might well be semi-autobiographical.


    Recently Read


     Monster Blood Tattoo: Factotum by D. M. Cornish
    The third book in the MBT series. Will we finally find out who Rossamund really is? And will we be sad to leave this fully-realised fantasy world? I suspect the answer will be "yes" to both.



     Rendezvous at Kamakura Inn by Marshall Browne
    Browne's first novel in a new series, this time featuring a Japanese detective, Inspector Aoki. This novel finds the inspector investigating an old murder in a snowed-in remote Japanese retreat.



     The City & The City by China Miéville
    Miéville's Hugo Award winning novel of two cities inhabiting the same physical location. A murder mystery with hints of classic sf/fantasy memes, from Dick to Borges, but in a European setting.

     Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child
    The 13th Jack Reacher novel. Suicide bombers on the New York subway and international terrorism mixed with hard-boiled action makes for an interesting brew.



     The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
    Heroic fantasy in the modern style. A fantasy that is laced through with noirish elements, and excellent characterisations. First book of The First Law trilogy.

     Where Have You Been? by Wendy James
    What happens when a sister returns after being missing, presumed dead, for twenty years? James enhances her reputation as one of Australia's rising literary novelists.

     Wyatt by Garry Disher
    Disher's anti-hero is back after an absence of ten years with a gritty, fast, noirish struggle for survival. All the best aspects of Disher's work are on display here.



     Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
    A Young Adult steampunk novel set at the start of an alternate history First World War. Fast-paced, intriguing and totally captivating.



     Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
    Dick's novel of the near future when the difference between human and android is barely discernible. One of the great all-time sf titles.



     American Journeys by Don Watson
    Watson journeys into the heart of America, by train and car. There he discovers the best, and the worst, of humanity and society.



     Ghostlines by Nick Gadd
    2009 Best First Novel at the Ned Kelly Awards. Murder in the art world involving political intrigue and business corruption in Melbourne.


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