May 2005 Archives

Melbourne's City Library

Melbourne's City Library is celebrating its first birthday. The Flinders Lane establishment opened a year ago to cater for city residents and workers who are unable to borrow books form the State Library. I don't remember hearing about it previously but that might just be because it opened at about the time the State Library re-opened its re-furbished domed reading room - "the best echo in town".

Sydney Writers' Festival 2005 Follow-Up

If attendance figures are anything to go by then the 2005 Sydney Writer's festival can only be deemed a success. With 50,000 people attending this year's events, the numbers were double those of seven years ago, and 5,000 up on last year's. The figure also represents a resounding success for the festival's organiser, Caro Llewellyn, whose three-year term as festival head comes to an end in October. The warm body figure was just the amount her initial plan called for in 2005. She has stated that she would like to continue, but if I were her I'd take a break and try something else. I don't think she'll have too much trouble finding employment as an event organiser.

Garth Nix on Amazon

The new book by Garth Nix, Drowned Wednesday, the third in his "Keys to the Kingdom" series, has just been released in paperback in the UK and has jumped to #31 on Amazon's book chart. This is a pretty impressive debut by anybody's estimation. The other two books in the series Mister Monday, and Grim Tuesday, are sitting at positions #538 and #835 respectively.

"The Sydney Morning Herald" 2005 Best Young Australian Novelists were awarded at the recently completed Sydney Writers' Festival. The Awards recognise novels published by Australians aged up to 35 in the past calendar year. The award's judges were Delia Falconer and Mardi McConnochie. Full details and previous winners were published in the "Herald" over the weekend.

The winners were:
Leigh Redhead for Peepshow
Nicholas Angel for Drown Them in the Sea
Craig Silvey for Rhubarb
Andrew Humphreys for Wonderful
Corrie Hosking for Ash Rain

Patrick White Revisited

There's a big, black hole in the heart of my understanding of Australian literature, and its name is Patrick White. I've only ever tried to read one of his novels and that was back in late high school when The Tree of Man appeared on the English wider reading list. I gave it as good a shot as I could but didn't finish it: the print-face of the Penguin edition was small and cramped, the story was dour, and the pace glacial. It was not a good combination all round for a sixteen-year-old whose main reading fare tended to the science fictional.

Now, to commemorate White's birthday, Peter Craven takes another look at Australia's only Nobel Laureate. I do have intentions of getting back to White at some time. I'm just not sure when.

2005 Man Booker International Prize

The first nomination list for the Man Booker International Prize was announced a few months back, and while no Australians were included on the list it is a prize for which Australian are eligible, and for which they can compete against the rest of the literary world. In the most recent "Weekend Australian", Murray Waldren runs his eye over the candidates and gives his winning odds:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez 3/1
Philip Roth 5/1
Margaret Atwood 6/1
Milan Kundera 8/1
Naguib Mahfouz 10/1
Cynthia Ozick 14/1
Gunter Grass 16/1
John Updike 16/1
Kenzaburo Oe 25/1
A.B. Yehoshua 25/1
Ian McEwen 33/1
Stanislaw Lem 40/1
Doris Lessing 50/1
Antonio Tabucchi 50/1
Ismail Kadare 80/1
Muriel Spark 80/1
Tomas Eloy Martinez 120/1

Saul Bellow was a late scratching. The Man International Booker Prize is designed to slot into that gap just below the Nobel in the literary award hierarchy, and is to be awarded every second year. So the question needs to be asked: why include Nobel Laureates on the list? Haven't they been recognized quite enough already? It all seems a bit funny to me. I think it is a response to the suggestion, of a couple of years ago, to open up the annual Man Booker Prize to non-Commonwealth countries. The responses weren't totally negative but neither were they overwhelmingly positive. So it was quietly dropped in favour of the current prize.

Weekend Round-Up #22

Jane Sullivan kicks off "The Age" weekend book reviews with a profile of Paul Jennings, one of Australia's best-selling authors of young adult and childrens' books. This coincides with the release of Jennings's latest book, his most autobiographical to date: How Hedley Hopkins Did a Dare..., or, to give it its full title, How Hedley Hopkins Did a Dare, robbed a grave, made a new friend who might not have really been there at all, and while he was at it committed a terrible sin which everyone was doing even though he didn't know it. Even though Jennings could have a quite confortable living (for Australia anyway) writing the same types of books he has produced so far, he senses the need to write a novel for adults: "I guess I'm doing it for me really. There's always been an element with the children's books, I'm doing it for you...Maybe I've finally grown up. It's quite a scary thing. I can fail...But at this stage of my life, I won't write anything unless it really terrifies me." I look forward to it.

Christos Tsiolkas's third novel, and first since The Jesus Man in 1999, is reviewed by Ian Syson, who wonders if he is "destined to become the happy-clappy publicist for new Australian writing? While all around me the grim literary coteries are despairing of what is to become of Australian literature, I am enjoying most of the Australian fiction I read. Maybe I just get to read the good stuff, such as Christos Tsiolkas' Dead Europe." Syson is impressed with Tsiolkas's [yes, I know I add the extra "s" after the apostrophe, and believe I'm right in this regard] "prose is sometimes so achingly tender and beautiful that it gives us pause to reflect on the tragedies that force a writer capable of communicating such joy and delight to stare down the many spectres haunting Dead Europe".

Short notices are given to: The Companion to Tasmanian History edited by Alison Alexander, "as is inevitable in state-based references of this kink, [this book] is both history and celebration"; Yesterday's Tomorrows edited by Graeme Davison and Kimberley Webber: "A book about a museum is a strange beast...this museum of science, technology, design and social trends is implicitly dedicated to notions of progress"; Surviving Amber by Charlotte Calder, who "...approaches [the] familiar storyline (including a romantic sub-plot) with originality and a lightness of touch..".

"The Weekend Australian" also reviews Dead Europe by Christos Tsiolkas this week finding that the writer "delivers on his youthful promise". The novel challenges the New/Old World divide in that the main character "acts out contemporary Australia's search for a grown-up identity, our struggles to break free of European fantasies and demons."

Sarah Blackwell's book The English Dane: A Story of Empire and Adventure from Iceland to Tasmania has taken a while to be reviewed in "The Australian" and I wonder if this has done her no harm whatsoever. Having the reviews appearing over an extended period may have helped the book find a wider audience. Having a reviewer conclude that "this is an extraordinary story, told brilliantly" can't do anything but help either.

Short notices are given to: Mary Cunningham: An Australian Life by Jennifer Horsfield: the story of a pioneer in the Australian wool industry at the time of the rise of Australian nationhood; Sandman in Siberia by Steve Abbott: Steve "Sandman" Abbott - dead-pan comic extraordinaire - traces his family roots in Siberia.

Poem: In Wintry Mood by O. K.

I've lost my turn for writing verse
   On any theme that offers
(Line number 3 should end with "purse"
   And number 4 with "coffers"):
I cannot get ideas to flow
   In rhythmic phrase, and snappily:
I always could, a while ago --
   But not to-day, unhappily.

Try as I will to air my views
   In tuneful form of chatter,
I fail to move the blessed Muse
   To aid me in the matter;
No inspiration she imparts,
   Though I implore her frantic'ly.
(I think I'll end this line with "hearts,"
   And this one with "romantic'ly.")

I'm coining words to make the rhyme --
   The rhyme bereft of reason:
Fain would I write of Love sublime,
   But Love is out of season.
On me the Muse I woo in vain
   Has cast a spell hermetical;
But soon the Spring will break again,
   And then I'll wax poetical.

A bard benumbed by winter cold
   Blames not the Muse; he's humble,
(And, darling, I am growing old,
   And therefore musn't grumble.)
Spring, with its onions and its flowers
   And birds a-chirping pleasantly,
Will bring me back my rhyming powers --
   And Spring will happen presently.

First published in The Bulletin, 26 June 1919.

Gideon Haigh

On Wednesday night I went out in the threatening rain (the more the merrier in this drought) to hear Gideon Haigh give a talk at the Hawthorn Library. I thought the room might have been sparsely populated but I was delighted to see that something close to 50 people turned up to hear him talk and answer questions. (The photo included on this website doesn't do
Haigh justice as it shows him with a vague sneer. Surely they had a better photo
than that to use.)

Anyway, Haigh is a writer and freelance journalist who is best known for this cricket books Big Ship: Warwick Armstrong and the Making of Modern Cricket, Mystery Spinner: The Story of Jack Iverson, and his recent collection Game for Anything. What is not usually known by his readers is that he started out as a business journalist working on "The Age" and "The Australian", before deciding in the mid-1990s that he just didn't like going to work any more and chucked in the life of an employed journalist for that of a freelance writer. He didn't forget his business roots however, and later produced Fat Cats: The Cult of the CEO, and Quarterly Essay 10: Bad Company.

Writing non-fiction about two topics might seem a little limited but, as Haigh puts it: "I don't have many ideas I've just written books about all of them. Which struck me as a pretty good description of any dedicated writer's work -- finding the topics that interest them and writing what they know. There are rich veins to be mined in each of the topics Haigh has chosen.

But it was cricket that people came to hear him talk about: the strange encounters with Jack Iverson's daughter, and with the man who argued with Iverson on the morning of the day he committed suicide. For such a dry subject as research he was able to see the light side of it -- the characters you meet and the places you visit -- amongst the long hours stuck in front of a micro-film projector. He spoke engagingly about this and I detected even in him a sense that he was amazed at how interesting it could actually be.

Haigh has lately been appearing as a guest on one of John Faine's programs on ABC Radio here in Melbourne and told of his first appearance there. Faine introduced him
as a writer and ex-journalist to which, after the program, Haigh took exception. He didn't see the distinction between being a journalist and a writer, he was both. Faine countered with: "but journalists don't write books." Well, Faine might not but this journalist certainly does.

Gideon Haigh came across as an interesting, informed, and amusing speaker. He engaged the audience well and they responded to him during the 30 minute question time. One referred to herself as a "cricket tragic", to which he replied that there was nothing tragic about cricket. With just that one line he had his audience won over. I only have Haigh's biography of Warwick Armstrong and the Quarterly Essay on my shelves at present. I aim to recify that very soon.

2004 WA Premier's Literary Awards

The winners of the WA Premier's Awards for 2004 (an award that slipped under the Matilda radar) have now been announced. The winners:

Sixty Lights, Gail Jones [along with the Premier's Award]

Against Certain Capture, Miriam Wei Wei Lo

Conversations with the Constitution, Greg Craven
Redbill: From Pearls to Peace - The Life and Times of a Remarkable Lugger, Kate Lance

West Australian History Award
Behind the Play, Anthony Maker

Children's Books
A Home for Bilby, Joanne Crawford & Grace Fielding

Young Adults' Award
Fireshadow, Anthony Eaton

Script Award
Yandy, Jolly Read

Full details of the shortlists are also available. It is interesting to note that Jones and Winton have now gone head-to-head in two Premier's awards with the current score being one-all. Jones is also nominated for the Miles Franklin Award, unlike Winton.

2005 NSW Premier's Literary Awards Follow-up

As a follow-up to yesterday's post regarding the winners of the 2005 NSW Premier's Literary Awards "The Courier-Mail" interviews poetry, and book of the year winner, Sam Wagan Watson, who hails from Brisbane. "The Sydney Morning Herald" provides more of an overview of all the major winners, which is hardly surprising.

Geraldine Brooks Interview

Geraldine Brooks was interviewed by Andrew Denton on his televison program Enough Rope during her rceent tour to promote her latest book March. A full transcript of that interview is available.

2005 Melbourne Writers' Festival

The 2005 Melbourne Writers' Festival will be held from August 19th to 28th. Full details are some weeks off yet but a preliminary list of attending writers has been released. Featured authors include, from overseas: Alexander McCall-Smith, Douglas Coupland, John Harvey, Elizabeth Knox, and Karen Joy Fowler. And locally: Kate Grenville, Sonya Hartnett, Jane Clifton, Delia Falconer, Robert Manne, Robert Drewe, Tony Wilson and Sean Condon.

BigPond and the Sydney Writers' Festival

If you can't actually get to a writers' festival then the next best thing is for someone to bring it to you. And that's what BigPond have decided to do by providing a live streaming feed from the Sydney Writers' Festival this week. Authors on the schedule include: Alice Sebold, David Suzuki and Peter Garrett, Lewis Lapham and Philip Adams, Allan Hollinghurst, and Jared Diamond. A fairly impressive selection from the festival. Be aware that you may need to download some software to utilise the streaming facility so it might be best to check out the website before the first event.

2005 NSW Premier's Literary Awards Winners

At a special presentation dinner held at the NSW Parliament House in Sydney last night, the NSW Premier Bob Carr presented the winners of the NSW Premier's Literary Awards. The winners:

The NSW Premier's Translation Prize ($15,000)
Christopher Andrews

UTS Award for New Writing - Fiction ($5,000)
Denise Young The Last Ride - HarperCollinsPublishers Pty Ltd

Gleebooks Prize for Critical Writing ($10,000)
Gillian Cowlishaw Blackfellas White Fellas and the Hidden Injuries of Race - Blackwell Publishing

Community Relations Commission Award ($15,000)
Tony Kevin A Certain Maritime Incident: The Sinking of SIEV X - Scribe Publications Pty Ltd

Script Writing Award ($15,000)
Betty Churcher The Art of War, Film Australia

Play Award ($15,000)
Katherine Thomson Harbour, Sydney Theatre Company

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature ($15,000)
Sherryl Clark Farm Kid - Penguin Group Australia

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature ($15,000)
Steven Herrick By the River - Allen & Unwin

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry ($15,000)
Samuel Wagan Watson Smoke Encrypted Whispers - University of Queensland Press

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction ($20,000)
John Hughes The Idea of Home: Autobiographical Essays - Giramondo Publishing Company

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction ($20,000)
Tim Winton The Turning - Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd

In addition, the 2005 Book of the Year was presented to Samuel Wagan Watson, for his poetry collection Smoke Encrypted Whispers. You can read full href="">details of the award winners.

Weekend Round-Up #21

In this weekend's "Age", Leslie Cannold, author of What, No Baby?, is a bit ambivalent about Wonder Woman by Virginia Haussegger. Cannold starts off with praise enough: "It's hard to read Virginia Haussegger, or to listen to her on radio, and not find yourself liking her. In particular, I admire her honesty. Since 2002, when she threw open the doors on her reproductive journey and its unwanted destination, Haussegger has never been anything less than forthright about the pain she feels over finding herself unintentionally childless." But by the end of the review she is rather more critical about the book: " we are left with the bizarre hypothesis that the real problem facing contemporary women is that feminists didn't tell them they couldn't have it all, rather than the fact that even in post-feminist times, they still can't." In fact, none of us can. Once you get to that realisation life becomes a bit less hectic. The trick is working out which bits matter and which bits you are going to regret later.

Over the past few weeks there have been reviews doing the rounds of a new book by Catherine Rey, titled The Spruiker's Tale. The author is a Frenchwoman who lives in Western Australia, and I've been tossing up whether or not it fits the aims of this weblog. In the end I've decided to just include it and be damned if I'm wrong. So James Ley reviews the book in the "Age" and finds it "...a wild fantasy spiked with a pitch-black sense of humour. Outrageous, hysterical and brutal, it manages to be hilarious and appalling all at once." The interesting thing is it is actually a novel in translation. Not the usual thing for an Australian novel.

Marilyn Lake ponders "When did the White Australia policy end?" in her look at The Long Slow Death of White Australia by Gwenda Tavan. I don't reckon the White Australia Policy ever really died. It was just put on a back shelf waiting for a certain Prime Minister take it down, dust it off and present it anew under the "terrorism" banner. I'm actually holding out for the Cabinet papers of the late 1970s to be released after their 30 year embargo. Should make wonderful reading as we finally get to see what Little Johnny was really up to in Fraser's government.

Short notices are given to : Jack Lang and the Great Depression by Frank Cain, a "well-researched, solid scholarly work"; and Well Done, Those Men by Barry Heard, which has been mentioned in these pages before. A light week indeed.

"The Weekend Australian" doesn't help out much with only two Australian books featured. Christopher Bantick finds Human Remains: Episodes in Dissection by Helen MacDonald to be "chillingly gothic", but "also compellingly readable as it exposes how the medical profession in Tasmania obtained corpses and what they did with them before anatomy was regulated in a series of parliamentary acts in Britain and Australia." Not exactly my idea of bedtime reading.

Mark Whittaker takes a look at Crook as Rookwood by Chris Nyst and concludes that Nyst "knows how to construct a drama in a courtroom and the book is worth reading for its insights into the vanities of lawyers and the nuances of their theatrics."

Poem: One Bard to Another by Eardley Turner

Oh, brother poets, ye who write
   Those comic rhymes I read in print,
   And of whose output there's no stint,
Is your task, like your verses, light?

Or do you ever tear your hair,
   As I do, when ideas won't come?
   In moments of de-lir-i-um
I wonder do you ever swear!

I wonder do you waste the ink,
   And even wear out pens before
   Your tricking humor starts to pour,
And do you ever take to drink?

I wonder so his readers know --
   Or, knowing, care a single d--n
   How just to make an epigram
A bard must nearly "dotty" go?

Is it I've lost my sense of fun,
   Mislaid my punch? Oh, lend your aid,
   Ye brother bards, slick at your trade,
And tell me how the job is done!

First published in The Bulletin, 30 October 1919.

It's Been a Quiet Week

There doesn't seem to have been a lot happening in the Australian literary world this past week. Hence the small number of postings on the blog.

Next week the NSW Premier's Literary Awards are announced so we might have a bit more to discuss then.

A Non-Review of Three Dollars by Elliot Perlman

Putting it bluntly, I am not a good book reviewer. I know what I like but have trouble explaining why. If I write at any length I tend to the book report format - brief intro, plot outline, brief conclusion stating whether or not I liked it. The standard boring sort of stuff you see in newspaper reviews all the time. Mind you, I do try to make a point of stating my conclusion about the book. You'll get a bit of an idea of my worth when I finally get round to finishing a double review I've been trying to write for the past month. I have the opening paragraph, and that's about it. I can feel a plot outline coming on even now.

Which brings me to Three Dollars by Elliot Perlman. This novel was published in 1998 so reviewing it now seems a bit of a waste of time. So I won't.

What I will do is give you a few of my thoughts about the book, which you can read as a review if you like.

I bought the novel some years back (about 2000, if the edition information on the copyright page proves anything) and had been meaning to read it for some time. Then Perlman's new book, Seven Types of Ambiguity, came out, and the film version of Three Dollars was announced, filming started, and a release date was announced. I thought I had to get on with it or I'd get caught in the flood.

I finished the book a couple of weeks back and have been thinking about it on and off since. I didn't hate it, and I didn't love it either. But I had been thinking about it so that must have meant it made an impression of some sort.

My first thought on finishing the novel was that it was too long. Actually, this realisation came to me at about page 250 - the novel is some 381 pages long - and made the last section of the book a bit of a chore to get through. I really wish an editor had got to this one a bit more. I would say 60 to 80 pages could have been safely excised and the final result would have been a lot tighter, the rambling would have been done away with and I might have come away from the novel with a better feeling about it. There is a lot of characters sitting round talking about stuff that is, at best, peripheral to the plot. For a while I couldn't work out why the novel's editor didn't cut this stuff. Then it struck that she probably had. Or, at least, had cut a lot of it. In other words, the novel started out way longer than the current version. It reads like it anyway.

Now this is a first novel so you can expect a bit of rambling. I must admit to a preference for first novels that cover only a short time frame, and which have a plot that motors along. Leave the philosophical digressions for subsequent novels when you have the basic tools down pat. Trim, taut and terrific is what we're after. Not bloated excess. Three Dollars doesn't reach those depths, but a bit more off the edges might have fixed it up a bit.

All in all, the book is pretty good. You can tell that Perlman has something to say, some experiences to impart and can outline a good set of characters, though there are times when all you want to do is to give them a good clip under the ear-'ole and tell 'em to get on with it. Hopefully that will come with later works.

I have one major gripe though, and it will require a bit of plot outline, and a bit of a spoiler. Not a big one. This isn't a crime novel after all and, anyway, the outcome of the bit I'm going to write about is featured in the movie trailers doing the rounds.

Eddie, the novel's protagonist, is married to Tanya, they have a two-year-old daughter Abby, and their friend Kate is staying with them. Kate has recently split from her husband and is trying to sort her life out, and has basically settled into the household. On the night in question, Tanya is away - doesn't matter where - Abby is sick with what appears to be the flu, and Eddie and Kate proceed to get mildly drunk. One thing leads to another, clothing is removed, fumbling occurs, but the situation doesn't get totally out of hand before both parties release the error of their ways, back off, apologise, and retire to their separate beds. Sometime during the night, Abby's condition worsens and she has a "fit".

Yeah, so? What's with that? Well, in my view, it's a very poor literary technique when the author decides to punish the main character for straying slightly off the path the author has chosen.

As a reader you have to assume the writer is in control. He puts the words on the pages after all. It's okay for an author to say that a character determines their own behaviour, that they take on a life of their own, but when something happens in the novel that is totally outside the character's control and which affects them profoundly, then we have to assume it's down to the author. The other thing we can assume is that if the same set of characters appear in two consecutive scenes then whatever happens in the second scene is as a direct result of the first. So here we have Eddie almost perform a marital indiscretion in the first scene and then his child almost dies in the second. How can we think anything other than that Eddie is being punished?

I'm willing to put this down as a fault with a first novel and move on. There is enough here for me to be willing to try out his latest work, even given the treatment it received from various critics. I hope he has better faith and trust in his characters, however.

Self-Publishing Success Story

Every now and then someone makes a success of self-publishing their own book. Such a story is told in today's "Age" about the Melbourne writer Euan Mitchell who thinks of himself as a "punk publisher". Mitchell published 7,000 copies of his first book Feral Tracks for a cost of $20,000. It made $4,000 profit, but he had to handle everything himself, and he had to quit his day job. Added to that commitment he had industry experience behind him as he had worked as a senior editor at a large Melbourne publishing house. So he knew the business, he knew what sold, and he knew how to sell it.

The poster boy for self-publishing in Australia is Matthew Reilly who produced his first novel Ice Station in this way and used some well-thought out marketing techniques to get his book in the right places. Self-publishing is not for everyone but there are some successes. I was pleased to see that "The Age" article does give some figures on the numbers of people attempting this method, and the number of failures. It makes for depressing reading.

Weekend Round-Up #20

In this week's Saturday "Age" Lisa Gorton looks at two first novels by Australian women writers: The Singing by Stephanie Bishop, and The Rose Notes by Andrea Mayes. (Is it just me or are there a lot of these about these days?) "The Singing is precise in its narrow range. It is composed of memories and observations and everywhere the narrator looks she sees her own obsessions, haunting her world like the reflection of a face in glass. The Rose Notes, on the other hand, is like those cattle tracks that Pearl follows: gently involving, rambling and broad-ranging."

Robert Manne, scourge of the right, and a leading intellectual voice in Ausralia has released Left Right Left: Political Essays 1977-2005, which traces the evolution of his politics over the period. Jeff Sparrow is enjoys the result.

Short notices are given to: Samurai in the Surf: The Arrival of the Japanese on the Gold Coast in the 1980s by Joe Hajdu, "The Gold Coast experience provides a revealing case study that raises wider questions about Australia's role in Asia, the impact of globalisation, and perceptions of national identity"; The Child Is Wise: Stories of Childhood edited by Janet Blagg, "Evocative without being nostalgic, these are memorable journeys into the 'hollow of the heart'"; Adagio for a Simple Clarinet by Stephen Downes, the story of a restaurant critics attenpts to learn to play a simple clarinet previosuly belonging to his father; The Smallest Giant: An Actor's Life by Michael Craig, "At the conclusion of this book Craig says he may have been happier as a cabinet-maker. That's the only statement that doesn't ring true in this gossip-drenched, thoroughly entertaining book."

In "The Weekend Australian" Ross Fitzgerald is very definitely impressed with Affection by Ian Townsend, which he feels "is a must-read book for 2005. As a powerful mix of truth and invention, it is a literary tour de force." Which doesn't beat about the bush. In the novel "Ian Townsend has done something quite remarkable in his first novel: drawing on government reports, newspaper and magazine articles, photographs, telegrams, personal papers and oral and written histories, he has fleshed out into fiction a hitherto unknown and fascinating story of colonial Queensland on the cusp of a new century and of Australian nationhood." The story details the arrival of the plague in Townsville in December 1899. I knew it had been in Sydney about that time but not that it had progressed so far north. Okay, Ross, I'll get to it. I just have these Miles Franklin books to start and finish yet.

John Misto, television script-writer (The Day of the Roses about the Granville train disaster) has turned his hand to a gothic police procedural with The Devil's Companions. Graeme Blundell, "The Australian"'s resident crime reviewer thinks it move towards Harlan Corben territory with lashings of "alienation, despair and dissolution." It's good to see some good local crime fiction out there. The ranks are pretty thin.

BBC4 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction Shortlist

As previously mentioned in this litblog, Peter Robb's book, A Death in Brazil was longlisted for the BBC4 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. The shortlist for the award has now been announced, but, unfortunately, Robb didn't make the final cut. The 6 shortlisted books do, however, look like they cover a wide array of subjects.

Reviews of Australian Books #10

The Book review Website Metacritic has examines the reviews of two Australian books recently: March by Geraldine Brooks and Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey. March was rated a pretty decent 75 on the Metacritic scale, based on 14 reviews from such places as "The Washington Post" and "Publishers Weekly" which both rated it Outstanding, to "The New York Times Book Review" which panned the novel. As a gauge of where the novel stands, the new novels by McEwen and Ishiguro were each rated as a 79. Wrong About Japan didn't fare as well, getting a rating of 58. Which puts it firmly in the middle of the pack. "Publishers Weekly" and "The Economist" praised the book, but "The New York Times" and "The Globe and Mail" gave it the thumbs down.

Meet the Author Website

Winner of the "British Book Award for Innovation in the Book Business 2005", the website Meet the Author has links to 434 video clips (at time of writing) of authors introducing their works. The list of authors is Anglo-centric and the only Australian entry I can find is Gregory David Roberts talking about his novel Shantaram. Worth a look, though.

Interview with Sydney Writers' Festival Director

Caro Llewellyn, director the 2005 Sydney Writers' Festival, is interviewed in "The Sydney Morning Herald" this weekend. The interview is pretty standard fare, with nothing controversial to blot the landscape as the Festival gears up for a start next week. Would she do it again? "I'd love to [stay on], but I do think the festival should operate like it does downstairs [Sydney Festival] and that there is a new artistic director. I have my strong taste and ideas about what the festival is, and I think the city should get somebody else's point of view and another fresh look. But I wouldn't mind doing it, I'm not quite ready to give it up."

Poem: The Best Non-Seller by "Billy Tea" (Edward Dyson)

The author's task was at an end,
   His book was fairly out;
He looked to every faithful friend
(They said he'd thousands) now to send
   It humming round about.

Days passed; his ear upon the ground
   Poor Scribe caught not the hum,
He did not see the book around,
It did not bring a single pound,
   The author's heart was glum.

Some fifty of his masterpiece
   He'd sped gratuitous
For press reviews, and to decrease
Its bulk, from which he craved release
   As from an incubus.

Time sped, and still the volumes lag
   In terraces so neat.
Then, grown quite desp'rate, on a day
He took three hundred books away,
   And set them in the street --

Three hundred books men should have prized
   Where city's vortex spun,
And on the top a royal-sized,
Red notice set he, which advised
   The public: "Please take one!"

Two days had passed, Scribe went once more
   (Still desolate his mien),
To count the offered coies o'er.
Alas! the zinc-lined case now bore
   Three hundred and fourteen!

First published in The Bulletin, 12 June 1919.

Combined Reviews: The Submerged Cathedral by Charlotte Wood

submerged_cathedral.jpg Reviews of The Submerged Cathedral by Charlotte Wood.

This book has been shortlisted for the 2005 Miles Franklin Award. Given that it was published in early 2004, a number of reviews have dropped off the web. There are still some out there, and I've been able to track down a few of the missing.

Thuy On, in "The Sunday Age" was impressed with the way the novel transcends possible genre labelling: "This is no saccharine boy-meets-girl soapie but an intensely evocative tale framed by the Australian landscape and suffused with religious pathos...Wood is adept at depicting both the minutiae of relationships and the external environment against which such conflicting loyalties are played out."

The title of the book is taken from a Debussy work ,"The Engulfed Cathedral", and Mark Tredinnick, writing in "The Bulletin", found that: "Wood's writing is made of the same stuff as Debussy's music: exquisite and sometimes dissonant chords; delicate, slow notes; a gentle, passionate witness of the patterns submerged within the real order of things; of longing and elegy."

And Ceridwen Spark in "The Sydney Morning Herald" continued the association: "It seems little accident that the book takes its title from a song, for the almost exquisite pain that Wood captures usually belongs to the realm of music."

Anna Goldsworthy ("Australian Book Review") considered it "an archetypal narrative, of love lost and regained", and Spark concluded that it was "assured, bold and elegant." A worthy inclusion on the Miles Franklin award shortlist then.

Murray Waldren kicked off the appeciations of the novel with his piece in "The Weekend Australian", and which he now makes available on his website. It is more a profile of the author than a review per se.

David Francis #2

The truth behind the mysterious David Francis is now revealed in a short interview with the writer conducted by Mark Sarvas on his weblog The Elegant Variation. It seems that Francis is indeed a first-time novelist and that The Great Inland Sea and Agapanthus Tango are one and the same. Just another case of changing the title for the publishing market. A practice, I should point out, that I disagree with.

Percy Trezise (1923-2005)

The death has been announced of Percy Trezise, painter, author and activist. Trezise is best known for his children's picture books dealing with indigenous stories, which he both wrote and illustrated. According to a report in "The Courier-Mail", Trezise leaves behind a vast legacy for the people of Northern Queensland, and of Australia as a whole. His best known works include a series related to the Quinkan rock art galleries near Laura, Queensland.

The Great Inland Sea by David Francis

"The Denver Post" reviews The Great Inland Sea, the new novel by David Francis, an Australian lawyer living in Los Angeles. The review refers to the book as a "magically lyrical effort", and later goes on to conclude that it is "a truly rewarding, literary find." Not too shabby, then. It's books such as this that can slip under the radar and I'm grateful that Mark Sarvas, on his lit blog The Elegant Variation, brought it to our attention. But a question: Francis is referred to as a first-time novelist, yet a check of Austlit would suggest that he published a previous novel, Agapanthus Tango, in 2001. Just a slip by the reviewer, or a case of mistaken identity somewhere?

Australia PEN

Somewhat late in the piece I've come across news that Australia PEN has announced the creation of "a new award recognising 'an achievement in promoting freedom of expression, international understanding and access to literature as expressed in the charter of International PEN.' The award is named in honour of Thomas Keneally for 'his lifetime's commitment to the values of PEN'. The inaugural recipient of the prize is Joesoef Isak, the Indonesian publisher and translator who was imprisoned for ten years for publishing such works as the novels of Pramoedya Ananta Toer."

You can read the full press release relating to the announcement of this award on the Australia PEN website.

[Thanks to the April/May newsletter of Austlit for the details of this award. The quote at the top is from that newsletter.]

2005 Nita B Kibble Award

The $20,000 Nita B Kibble Award is for women writers of a published book of fiction or non-fiction classifiable as "life writing". Shortlisted for this year's award were: Plenty by Gay Bilson
Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner
The Broken Book by Susan Johnson

Yesterday, Gay Bilson was announced at the winner of the award for her second book. The judges described Plenty as "part memoir, part travel book, part essay [and]
takes Australian life writing into a whole new dimension." "The Sydney Morning Herald" carries a report of the award in today's edition, as does "The Australian". In a related ceremony at the State Library of NSW, the $2500 Dobbie Award for a first published work was awarded to Paulette Gittins for The Secret World of Annette Robinson.

Where to Now For Literary #2

A couple of weeks back I wrote about the problems facing literary fiction in the US, and by implication Australia, and what a few litbloggers were doing to help alleviate those problems. Now, in the first issue of the new literate journal The Monthly we are presented with Malcolm Knox's views about why literary fiction in this country is in the doldrums.

In his article titled "The Ex Factor" Knox examines the role that one specific item plays in the continuing decline of the Australian novelist: Bookscan. For those not familiar with the subject you can consider Bookscan to be the literature equivalent of the Neilsen TV ratings. In fact, it is the Neilsen company which runs Bookscan in this country. In essence, it tracks book sales, at the point-of-sale, so an accurate and timely count can be kept of the number of copies a particular title has sold.

Publishers like it, of course. I assume booksellers like it as well, as they are the ones inputting the data, and it would allow them to track their sales without the expeense of setting up an individualised tracking system. The losers, according to Knox, are the Australian novelists. It replaces the old idea that one big seller in a publishing house, a Matthew Reilly or a Bryce Courtenay for example, could "carry" a host of other authors who played to much smaller audiences. A publisher used to get an overall picture of sales and as long as the total bottom line was in the black that a few red values along the way wasn't going to matter all that much. Now the publisher can see the individual lines, the swathe of small red amongst the big black numbers, and they are not pleased.

Knox contends that this has led to a reduction in the number of literary novels published in this country, oddly enough, not by the new emerging writers, but by the writers working on their fourth, fifth or sixth book. If their previous one or two books didn't rate well on the Bookscan scoreboard then they're out. Writers such as Brian Castro are struggling to find publishers even though they are winning awards once the book sees publication.

So what does this tell you?

Well, to me it implies that good books are being written, that they are out there, but readers just aren't reading them. Partly this has to do with the problems of scale. I'd guess that a first novel in the US would be considered to have been a success if it sold, say, 20,000 copies. Pretty decent numbers I'd reckon. But if you apply these numbers to Australia in direct proportion to population you get a figure of about 1,200. Not quite so decent.

I haven't worked in the book publishing business but I reckon it's safe to assume that the major expense in printing - not marketing - a new book is in the setup costs. The first thousand copies are much more expensive to print than the 20th thousand. So, relatively speaking, printing proportionally similar book numbers is going to be much more expensive here than in the US. And there's not a lot that can be done about that. At least the way books are currently printed.

So, assuming we can't do much about the way books are printed maybe something could be done to change the way they are marketed, how readers are informed that new books are available and what reviewers think of them.

I don't see a lot of book marketing in this country. I go looking for it but don't see a lot anyway. And the marketing I do see is mainly for foreign or big selling local authors who don't need the push, think Stephen King or Bryce Courtenay here. A couple of days back, the Book Standard published an article titled "Getting a Buzz On: How Publishers are Turning Online to Market Books". The title would give you a pretty good hint that some publishers in the US are trying to think outside the usual marketing constraints by trying some different approaches. The Book Standard piece considers the case of Freakanomics, a book that is subtitled "A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything". Not the most inviting of subjects one might think, yet it is currently sitting at #3 on Amazon's Book sales charts.

The article explains this: "Published April 12, Freakonomics has found a larger-than-expected audience, due partly to publisher William Morrow's strategically placed advance copies, some with industry professionals, but perhaps more importantly, with bloggers." A new resource in the US has been found and tapped. "Publicists for the book sent galley copies of the title to over a hundred bloggers who, in turn, profiled or reviewed the book on their sites. The result - Freakonomics has sold 34,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen BookScan - has been overwhelmingly positive."

Again, remember we are talking different scales here but who's to say something similar might not work in this country. At least it's a thought.

[My thanks to the Grumpy Old Bookman litblog for alerting me to the Book Standard article.]

2005 Sydney Writers' Festival

With the Sydney Writers' Festival a little under a
fortnight away, Malcolm Knox, "The Sydney Morning Herald"'s literary editor, gives his list of the festival highlights to come. One of the interesting panels will be David Suzuki in conversation with Peter Garrett (ex Midnight Oil front-man and now Federal MP). As Knox puts it: "This could turn the idea of an author
interview on its head. Sure, we want to know what Garrett asks Suzuki. But what will Suzuki draw out of Garrett?"

Strange Requests

As I maintain a number of web pages devoted to Australian authors and poets over on my main website, from time to time I get a emails asking for information. These are usually ones I cannot answer. If they relate to CJ Dennis I have a good chance of being able to help, and maybe Edward Dyson as well, but struggle when it comes to request of a more specific nature.

Such a request arrived recently from Debbie Mosser, who asks: "Several years ago I read 2 different fiction books that took place in Australia. Could you help me remember the titles? "Two men living alone for years on a deserted shore are joined by a woman determined to make her home there. "


"Survivors of an airline crash move into a cavern in the outback and decide to stay even after a rescue. Any help would be appreciated." I wrote back to say that I had no idea what the novels were but I'm thinking that maybe someone out there can help. Any suggestions?

Weekend Round-Up #19

"The Age" comes across as practically free of Australian books this weekend, with only one sizeable book review and just a few mentions in the short notices. The major non-review piece is Michelle Griffin's "A Question of Character" which discusses the appropriation of one writer's characters for use in another author's novel. Particular attention is given to March by Geraldine Brooks and Jack Maggs by Peter Carey. Of interest to me is the statement:

"According to Australian Copyright Council legal officer Shehana Wijesena, characters and plot lines in Australian novels aren't protected by copyright. As long as the next author doesn't copy passages from the source word-for-word, they can feel free to retell other writer's yarns. But if a writer wanted to make free with his or her own sequel to a well-known work still in copyright - say, The Thorn Birds - they may be challenged by publishers for trying to pass off their work as something in association with a better-known brand. As yet nobody has tested this in Australian courts."
This would seem to have relevance to the discussion on "fan fiction" that screenwriter Lee Goldberg undertakes from time to time on his weblog. Now, I do not mean to imply that what Carey and Brooks have created here is "fanfic", just that the quoted statement is relevant. I mentioned a month or so back that the new Brooks novel had all the hallmarks of being a major event in Australian publishing this year. The fact that it keeps on being important probably says as much about the lack of other important Australian literary events as it does about March itself.

Janice Breen Burns, "The Age" fashion editor, reviews The Fashion Pack by Marion Hume. The "plot swings through the fantastic upper branches of fashion in Paris, Milan and New York where moguls, super models, movie stars and sycophants converge twice a year to schmooze, shop and pose at the shows and where fashion writers and editors not only lap it up and write it down but are an integral part and propellant of the whole amazing business." Hume is a 20-year industry veteran who arrived in Sydney from Britain in 1997 to revive magazine Vogue. It is reported that local rag-traders are scouring the book "in search of names, darling, names, or at least the odd recognisable pseudonym. It's not a fruitless task by any means."

Short notices are given to: The Never Boys by Scott Monk, which "doesn't oversentimentalise, nor does it try too hard to be cool" and that makes this "novel a winner." The Truth About Love by Stephanie Laurens, a regency romance/mystery about the Cynster family ("cyn-s-ter", groan), "in this family the men are double alphas with cherries on top and damn well get what they want and that's usually women." Voiceworks 60 edited by Tom Doig, "is a space for flegling writers under 25 to be published...exploring the reaches of their abilities, experimenting with subject and form." And Deep Waters by Andlee Paviour, "is hell's bells melodramatic but Paviour's voice is sharp, savvy and fresh."

Not the best of weekends for Australian fiction, then?

At least we get something better in "The Weekend Australian" with a review by Elizabeth Meryment of The Marsh Birds by Eva Sallis. The novel "does exactly what good art should do: it questions, probes, illuminates and humanises a topical moral and social issue. This book is an important contribution to the national debate about our Government's treatment of asylum-seekers." Which is pretty much a ringing endorsement: "this is a tightly woven tale, beautifully narrated, genuine and believable."

The other three books covered by the "Australian" are non-fiction: Bamahuta: Leaving Papua by Philip Fitzpatrick, Freud in the Antipodes: A Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in Australasia by Joy Damousi, and Storms and Dreams by John Dunmore. The Papua book is a memoir that "will engage those familiar with the country", and the Freud book appears to more of a reference source than a work for the general reader. Storms and Dreams, on the other hand, tells the story of Louis-Antoine Comte de Bougainville, and "is an expert and elegantly written account of the making of modern history and a highly engaging story of the life and times of one of the most extraordinary men to grace the planet."

2005 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards

Entries are now invited for the 2005 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. Full details, including entry forms, can be found at the Awards' website. Entries close 3 June 2005.

The Awards "are open to all Australians with works first published (or performed) between 1 May 2004 and 30 April 2005." Categories are:
The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction
The Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction
The prize for Young Adult Fiction
The CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry
The Louis Esson Prize for Drama
The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate
The Village Roadshow Prize for Screen Writing
The Prize for Science Writing (1 May 2003 to 30 April 2005)
The Grollo Ruzzene Foundation Prize for Writing about Italians in Australia (1 May 2003 to 30 April 2005)
The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer

Poem: The Happy Bard by Edward Dyson

My job, oft called the lot austere,
   And wept upon in countless rhymes,
Is well enough as things are here,
   And even has its charm at times.
I wonder if those others made
Their loud lament a stock-in-trade
Because the lamentation paid!

Most fortunate in our despair,
   Whate'er our present trials be
We need but set them to an air,
   And joy will follow with the fee.
What other craftsmen, being rid
By some foul hag, when they have chid
May trade the chiding for a quid?

Have I a headache, down I sit
   And set it forth on paper white
(On one side, mark you, fairly writ);
   My dentist hurts me, over-night
My anguish in sly verse I tell,
Each poignant throb, each piercing yell.
In that shape troubles always sell.

Where some can never part with woe,
   Mine brings me cash whene'er I will.
I welcome, say, a corn or so
   To help to foot the baker's bill.
I Care should some one day intent
On staying, I'd not have her sent --
I'd make my lodger pay the rent!

First published in The Bulletin, 15 August 1918

The Monthly

With the release this week of the new literate magazine, The Monthly, "The Age" takes the opportunity to profile the magazine's publisher Morry Schwartz. "It's the quality of the writing that's going to be most important but that doesn't mean it won't be serious and won't be political - it will be all those things. It will be a bit like any number of magazines that thrive overseas." Schwarz is the publisher behind Black Inc books.

Contributors to the first issue include Don Watson, Mungo MacCallum, Tim Lane, Brian Toohey, John Birmingham and Helen
Garner. I think it will take a while to settle down; certainly the layout needs a bit of work. I aim to subscribe and hope it fills a huge gap in the Australian literate magazine market.

C.J. Dennis

A few times on this weblog I have mentioned my interest in C.J. Dennis, though I probably haven't gone into any major detail about "why" I have that interest or "what" that interest entails. The "why" can wait for another day, but I've made a bit of headway with Dennis lately so a bit of the "what" follows.

C.J. Dennis spent the later part of his life working as a resident columnist for Melbourne's Herald newspaper, between the years 1922 and 1938. During this period he basically averaged four or five pieces of work published in the paper per week. These were mainly poems but also included short stories, "colour" pieces and polemics. The vast bulk of this work has never been reprinted and it's been an aim of mine to transcribe the work and make it available once more. And today I finished one full year of Dennis's Herald work. In 1934 he published 223 pieces in the paper, 98 of which were prose pieces, along with 125 poems. It's a large body of work, and it has now all been transcribed. It's only taken bits and pieces of my spare time for the past three years or so, and at this rate I might just get it all typed up by the time I hit 105. If nothing else it keeps me off the streets.

Miles Franklin Profile

With the announcement of the shortlist for the 2005 version of the award that bears her name, Miles Franklin is profiled in the 2005 May issue of NLA News.

In addition, the National Library of Australia is hosting an exhibit dedicated to Franklin titled "Miles Franklin: A Brilliant Career?" The exhibit runs from April 23 to July 17, 2005, in the Exhibition Gallery of National Library of Australia, Parkes Place, Canberra. Admission is free.

[Thanks to the Literary Saloon at the
complete review
for the note regarding the exhibit.]

Australian Authors' Birthdays

A busy day for Australian authors' birthdays today, 5th May, with T.A.G. Hungerford, Elliot Perlman, and Kit Denton all saluting the candles. T.A.G. Hungerford turns 90 today. He was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1988 for services to literature. and was the winner of the Patrick White Award in 1992. He has published 10 novels, including The Ridge and the River, Sowers of the Wind, and Swagbelly Birdsnatcher and the Prince of Siam. "The Weekend Australian" recently carried a major profile of the man.

Eliott Perlman was born in 1964 and has been featured quite a bit on this site over the past few months. The film adaptation of his first novel, Three Dollars, was recently released, and his latest work, Seven Types of Ambiguity, is getting mixed reviews around the world.

Kit Denton, father of ABC television interviewer Andrew Denton, was born in 1928, and is best known for his work The Breaker. This novel told the story of Breaker Morant, an English-born Australian poet who fought in the Boer War in South Africa, and who was court-martialled and shot for executing Boer prisoners in 1902. Kit Denton died in 1997.

Combined Reviews: Salt Rain by Sarah Armstrong

salt_rain.jpg Reviews of Salt Rain by Sarah Armstrong.

For a novel that has now been included on the 2005 Miles Franklin Award shortlist, Salt Rain has received remarkably few mentions in the mainstream press. Rather, I should say, few reviews from the mainstream press are available on the web. Which is a bit poor.

The publishers, Allen & Unwin, describe the book as "An extraordinarily evocative novel of discovery, where fourteen-year-old Allie gradually realises that the picture of the past she is piecing together is different and much more complicated than she ever thought." After Allie's mother disappears she is sent north to her aunt's farm to live, and wait.

Robin Osborne in "The Northern Rivers Echo" describes it as a "story about 14-year-old Allie whose Bohemian mother would never reveal the identity of the girl's father...At the core of this confronting tale lies the inappropriate crossing of personal boundaries, mostly sexual ones, and it is not an easy book to review without revealing the genuinely 'dark secret' around which the plot revolves."

So it's a coming-of-age novel in which the main character must not only discover who she is, but also who her mother really is and was - "an extraordinarily evocative novel of discovery", as Boomerang Books sees it.

Judith Ridge, on her Misrule Blog was obviously taken by the emotional force of the book: "Salt Rain reads like an elegy for lost loves, lost family, lost innocence. It drips with atmosphere, and northern rivers rain. It's a visceral book about grief and anger and love and sex, about family. It's also a somewhat troubling story about the nature of childhood innocence and loss."

These reviews have been universal in their praise for the book, but let us not forget that it is a first novel and Lorien Kaye, in the "Australian Book Review" found that it was not flawless. "The climax and resolution, for instance are too close together, and rely on the too-convenient and overused narrative device of a feverish illness coinciding with emotional realisation...Nevertheless, this is a well-shaped and well-written book. Armstrong mostly measures the tempo, gradually revealling the truth, depicting her character's development without explicitly discussing it. She has a fine, readable style, one that doesn't clamour for attention."

New Works by Australian Authors

Les Murray has a new poem, "The Blueprint", in the latest issue of "The Paris Review". As well as the poem Murray is interviewed in the same issue. You can read an excerpt from that interview.

"Windows is Shutting Down" is a new poem by Clive James, published at the end of last week in "The Guardian".

[Thanks to Andrew Johnston at The Page for the links.]

The Latest Meme

Sam, at "Golden Rule Jones", passed this on to me over a week ago so I'd best pull my finger out and get to it. And all I did was send him a photo of a Douglas Mawson statue in Adelaide.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be saved?
The Complete Works of Shakespeare. It's a cliché, I know, but he's really got it all- passion, suspense, blood, guts, death, familial intrigue and murder, and more than a dash of humour. So there isn't a lot of choice. The world would be a poorer place without it. I don't have to memorise it do I?

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Given I am married to a lawyer my first thought was to "plead the fifth", but what the hell ... Sarah Woodruff from Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman. I was going through a Pre-Raphaelite stage when I first read it.

The last book you bought was...?
Hardcover: 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith, as a gift for my wife.
Softcover: White Earth by Andrew McGahan, shortlisted for the 2005 Miles Franklin award.
Used: How M'Dougall Topped the Score by Thomas E. Spencer, only to find out I already owned a copy. Looks like Dad will have something in his birthday box this year.

The last book you read was...?
Three Dollars by Elliot Perlman.

What are you currently reading?
Collapse by Jared Diamond, and struggling to get through it.
Wild Surmise by Dorothy Porter.
Taming the Beast by Emily Maguire, recommended by Sarah Weinman.
The Best Australian Essays 2004 edited by Robert Dessaix.

Five books you would take to a desert island...
Well, it has to be something I can keep dipping into. Something that will continue to to provide enjoyment over the years:
Illywhacker by Peter Carey, my favourite of Carey's works.
The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke by C.J. Dennis, my favourite book by my major literary obession.
The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles, I re-read it every few years and get more out of it every time.
Poor Fellow My Country by Xavier Herbert, I may well need the isolation of a desert island to get through what is considered by many to be The Great Australian Novel.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, see above.

Who are you passing this stick on to and why?
Genevieve, at You Cried for Night, and Georgina at Stack; keeping it in the Australian family.

Weekend Round-Up #18

Jane Sullivan begins proceedings this week in "The Age" with her profile and interview of Geraldine Brooks. I guess you'd have to have been a hermit in Australia over the past month or so not to know that Brooks recently released her second novel March. And there appears to be more connections between her first and second novels than just having the same author: "People have been saying my two novels are so different, but to me they are linked in obvious ways," Brooks says. "Both are the story of a year; both are about what happens to love in a time of crisis; both are about different kinds of faith and strong ideas, and the blessing and the curse of the strong idea." But Sullivan uses the opportunity to explore Brooks's working life as a reporter in Kurdistan during a Kurdish uprising against the Iraqi government, through her first book, Nine Parts of Desire ("a look at the complex world of Islamic women through their own thoughts and experiences"), to being thrown into jail in Nigeria, to her bout with breast cancer and her recent successful foray into the world of novel-writing. A pretty good profile overall by Sullivan, letting Brooks do the bulk of the talking and imposing little of herself into the piece.

Brenda Niall, biographer of the artistic and literary Boyd family, reviews a biography in The Unusual Life of Enid Walling by Sara Hardy. Walling was an eccentric garden designer in Melbourne from the 1930s but this "new biography of this remarkable woman makes it clear that we will never know how many supposed Walling gardens are the real thing." Niall finds that Hardy has done a good job of the biography of a woman who was ahead of her time. "Hardy's biography is at its best in showing in a day-by-day narrative how a seemingly unplanned professional life grew in scope and importance."

James Wolfensohn was, until recently, president of the World Bank. Not bad for a boy from Sydney who was the son of Jewish emigres. Leon Gettler gets to grips with Wolfensohn's biography in The World's Banker by "Washington Post" columnist Sebastian Mallaby. As is usual with these blokes that get to the top, there is more to the man than meets the eye: "Wolfensohn approached development with the same passion that made him a successful Wall Street merchant banker, a member of Australia's fencing team in the 1956 Olympics and a successful cellist. He was a skilled relationship banker who could give his clients the impression that his mind was heading in exactly the same direction as theirs and who was bristling with ideas to help them."

Short notices are given to: Picturesque Pursuits: Colonial Woman Artists & the Amateur Tradition by Caroline Jordan, "Jordan's mission is to ensure that the paintings and letters of the colonial women artists are not forgotten. Her scholarly and highly readable book, teeming with colour plates and prints, reveals a rich seam in our history"; Dancing with the Devil by Amy Norman, a memoir of life with an abusive husband, "Norman's writing is serviceable rather than skillful, but this is an honest account"; Remnants by Nigel Featherstone, "more a noble failure than a failure full stop"; All Fall Down by Susan Geason, "comes close to creating an independent, memorable book"; A Merciful Journey: Recollections of a World War II Patrol Boat Man by Marsden Hordern, "no matter how well written...will appeal most to those who have an existing interest in maritime and/or military history"; and Black and White Together by Sue Taffe, this "excellent book has the immediacy that comes from personal contact with many of the people involved...and is well written to

Robyn Davidson, best known as the author of Tracks, returns home after spending 25 years living an international nomadic existence, and is interviewed by Rosemary Neill in "The Weekend Australian". So why has she come home: "I found it just too demanding to be trying to balance three countries and pretend that each home had equal rights to my time. In the end, it just gets very difficult to live that way." In addition to finding a place to actually call home, Davidson has a new project underway on the concept of nomadism which she is developing under an H.C. Coombs Creative Writing Fellowship at the Australian National University.

Kilroy Was Here by Kris Olsson is the major Australian work reviewed by "The Weekend Australian". It is the biography of "a 44-year-old Brisbane ex-prisoner with tatts and a torn-off wedding finger: Debbie Kilroy, nee Harding, that rare and blessed creature among women, born with a phenomenal will to power, an impressively violent temperament, a craving for excitement and energy enough to sustain a regiment in full battle gear."

Also reviewed in "The Weekend Australian": Damien Marrett, ex-undercover policeman, tells his story in Undercover: "It is tighter and better written than many such offerings"; Absurdistan by Eric Campbell, the ABC reporter whose colleague, Australian cameraman Paul Moran, was killed in the first few days of the Iraq War; The Essential Carmel Bird by Carmel Bird which was covered here in more detail a few weeks back; and Vincenzo's Garden by John Clanchy, whose "stories are taut, almost transparent on the surface, with description taking second place to action".

ABC radio journalist, Ian Townsend, has written his first novel Affection about a plague in northern Queensland at the start of the 20th century. He is interviewed by Guy Mosel in this weekend's "Courier-Mail". Townsend gets to the heart of the difficulties involved in a first novel: "It's very hard to write a book...I had to give up fishing and drinking . . . a huge sacrifice."

There is something about the soil, water, gardens and greenery that strikes a chord in a lot of us, so it is hardly surprising that Kate Llewellyn's new book Watering the Garden has already gone for a reprint. The book, and its author, are profiled this week by Caroline Baum in "The Sydney Morning Herald". "She knows that the secret lies in the pruning." Exactly. I just wish more writers were aware of it.

Death of Sara Henderson (1936 - 2005)

Best known for her book From Strength to Strength, published in 1993, the author and pastorlist Sara Henderson has passed away, aged 68, in a palliative care ward of a hospital at Caloundra, on the Queensland Sunshine Coast. Henderson was named Australian Businesswoman of the Year in 1991 after turning round a $750,000 debt on a Sydney-sized cattle property in the Northern Territory. She became the public face of BreastScreen Australia, urging Australian women over 50 to have regular mammograms. Five years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer herself. She underwent surgery and appeared to have beaten the disease. She was also the author of the works: The Strength In Us All; The Strength of Our Dreams; In Addition, Some of My Friends Have Tails; Outback Wisdom and A Year at Bullo.

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A debut novel from a multi-talented author/actor/director. A coming-of-age novel which might well be semi-autobiographical.


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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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