July 2005 Archives

Poem: His Works by Eddyson (Edward Dyson)

For close on four-and-thirty years
   At books and stories Barder wrote.
With patient zeal and endless cares,
   His offerings of verse he brought,
And laid them at the royal feet
Of Demos. Demos thought them neat
On rare occasions. Still to treat
Intricately with purring herds
Of vital words
He bode the waking of the birds.

He wrote a monumental stack
   Of stories as the years stole by;
His labors as a weekly hack
   Meant paragraphs to blot the sky;
And tripping rhymelets, grave and gay,
Dripped from his pen, a yard a day.
Whatever other men might say
To him they were supremely fine.
"This work of mine,"
Said he, "has e'er the touch divine!"

When looking back he saw a sweep
   Of printed matter stretching wide
To far horizon, six feet deep,
   And felt a great creator's pride.
But, in those moments when the hand
Pen-weary fell, his cottage land
He tilled for pastime. From the sand
Coaxed vegetables scant, and drew
A vine or two,
Of common fruits a stunted few.

He summed his art accomplishment:
   "My works," he said, "are all my pride";
Then felt his power and spirit spent,
   And leaned upon his desk and died.
He up for judgment swiftly spun,
The angel viewed what he had done,
And said: "Go give this little one
Some small reward for two fig-trees,
Few beans and peas,
And cabbages, and works like these!"

First published in The Bulletin, 8 August 1918

2005 Courier-Mail Book of the Year Award Shortlist

On March 12 this year Brisbane's "Courier-Mail" newspaper announced details of this year's "Book of the Year Awards". Specifically they stated that the closing date for entries would be April 15, with the shortlist released in early July, and the winner announced on August 6.

So I kept that date of early July in mind and checked back pretty regularly to see if the shortlist had been finalised. Nope. Nothing seemed to have been announced. The newspaper's website doesn't seem to have a search facility - well, maybe it does but I can't find it - so, in despair, I googled the awards this morning and came up with the list of books on the shortlist that was announced on July 15th. Great. Still can't figure out how to get to it from the paper's front page though.

Anyway the list:

The Running Man by Michael Gerard Bauer
The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett
Secret Scribbled Notebooks by Joanne Horniman
Black Juice by Margo Lanagan
The Spare Roo by Kathryn Lomer

The emphasis of this year's award is on novels for young adults. And from all accounts (I've only read the Lanagan) the list is pretty strong.

Few and Far Between

My apologies for the lack of posts this week. My son brought home a lovely little virus from school last week and proceeded to pass it along to yours truly. I've only had the flu once or twice in my life so I know what that's like - this was pretty close without the shivering and the feeling that I'd been hit by a truck. The fever was a good one though.

So I've been soldiering along without getting too much done. Work and sleep is about all I
can manage.

Dangerous Areas of Study

First it was nuclear physics, and now it's terrorism studies. It's getting hard to figure out what to study these days. "The Age" reports that "A Monash University academic has warned 200 students enrolled in a terrorism studies course that they could be monitored by intelligence agencies."

Abraham, an Australian-born convert to Islam and honours student in the course, was questioned by Australian Federal Police last Thursday about books he had bought and borrowed from the university library. He was interviewed yesterday on ABC radio by Jon Faine. I remember reading a similar case to this from the US recently about a journalist who was raided after she had borrowed and/or purchased certain books on the FBI's watch list. That was a lot more heavy-handed but even the questioning of the student seems out of order to me. Terrorism is a legitimate subject for study and, regardless of what the AFP says, it certainly appears Abraham was targetted because of his religion. If not, then what about all the other students in his class?

This is a worrying trend in Australian politics. I don't see how anyone can say they are defending Australia's way-of-life by chipping away at the very foundations of what makes it the place it is. Expect to see more of this in future.

Forgive and Forget?

Gregory David Roberts, author of the best-selling novel Shantaram, is back in Melbourne speaking to a conference of English teachers. Roberts was originally named Gregory Peter John Smith, under which name he robbed a number of building societies and other Melbourne city businesses at gun-point in 1977-78: a good friend of mine worked at one of them. According to "The Age" today, the rights to his novel have been bought by Johnny Depp and Roberts is now working on the screenplay.

2005 Melbourne Writers' Festival Program

The program for the 2005 Melbourne Writers' Festival is now available. The festival runs from August 19th to 28th, 2005 and is the twentieth year that it has been held. Featured speakers include: John Ralston Saul giving the opening address, Douglas Coupland, Karen Joy Fowler, Robert Drewe, Robert Manne, Alexander McCall Smith, Sonya Hartnett and Peter Temple, amongst many others. The opening night will also feature the announcement of the 32nd Age Book of the Year Awards. "The Age", as might be expected, gave some coverage to the festival over the weekend.

Peter Singer Profile

Peter Singer, Melbourne philosopher and author, is given a very long profile in "The Guardian" this week. Singer's appointment to Princeton University in 1999 led "The New York Times" to say that " not since 1940, when City College tried to hire Bertrand Russell, had a philosopher's appointment by an American university caused such a commotion."

Weekend Round-Up #30

Lucy Sussex leads off this week's "Saturday Age" with a profile of Karen Joy Fowler, author of the very successful The Jane Austen Book Club and guest of the upcoming Melbourne Writers' Festival. A writer who doesn't appear to be bound by the strictures of genre.

Les Murray was celebrated at the recent Mildura Festival, although the poet was unable to attend due to a bout of ill-health.

Charlotte Wood, whose novel The Submerged Cathedral was shortlisted for this year's Miles Franklin Award, reviews Traumascapes by Maria Tumarkin. The book revisits locations of great suffering such as Bali, Berlin, Manhattan, Moscow, Port Arthur, and Sarajevo, and looks at the way these sites draw us back. It sounds hard enough to read, it must have been very traumatic to write.

Short notices are given to: Child's Play edited by Kate Darina-Smith & June Factor, published to mark the 50th anniversary of American folklorist Dorothy Howard's visit to Australia to study children's games; Lisa Roet: Uncommon Observations by Alexie Glass: "This third book of a series on innovative young Australian artists is distinguished, like its predecessors, by its clarity and jargon-free exploration of the evolution of the artist's ideas and practice"; A Doctor's War by Rowley Richards: "This important book, based on Richard's diaries, recognises the men who did 'nothing', [during WWII] nothing that is, except maintain their integrity and preserve our freedom"; Tread Lightly: A Guide to Travelling Green in Australia by Robin Stewart: "Stewart's ecological concerns extend to means of transport, waste disposal, energy sources, where to stay and the bugbear of any trip, what to pack."

Frances Atkinson's profile of Neil Gaiman in "The Sunday Age" is a pretty good one. This must be something of a record with two such profiles of sf writers over the one weekend.

Jane Sullivan extols the virtues of Andrew McGahan's novel The White Earth, with which I can only concur. I find myself bringing it up quite regularly in book conversations of late. Reports are that it is selling pretty well - Sullivan had to hunt around several city bookshops till she found a copy - but, of course, it could always do better.

I must admit to being a bit blown away still by Sonya Hartnett's Surrender, and the early word on Kate Grenville's latest is pretty good, so some people might find it hard to fit McGahan's novel into their reading schedule. But I would strongly suggest you do so. And why are you only reading one or two Australian novels a year anyway? You are missing out on some damn good stuff.

Poem: Dad's Old Book by E. F. Murnane

The books on my shelf stand straight and bold,
   Arranged with the utmost care;
And stately volumes in green and gold,
The tales that Homer or Virgil told,
   Are all in their places there.

But one there is with its back split down,
   And it boasts no printed page.
It's written in ink that's faded brown,
And bears the name of a long-dead town,
   And it's yellow and crumpled with age.

Its pages tell of the early times
   When the settlers' axes rung --
Tell in rough-hewn verse, or the ringing rhymes
That Kendall wrote to the bellbird's chimes,
   Or a song that Lawson sung.

On many a leaf is pasted in
   The tale of some maiden's charms,
A battered copy of "Gunga Din,"
Or something cut from THE BULLETIN
   When I was a kid in arms.

And last of all there's a lengthy row
   Of names with a list of dates --
Strange names that none of us seem to know,
Old cobbers of Dad's long years ago
   When he and the world were mates.

The dates were written to mark the years
   When those old mates went to rest;
And now Dad's name with a date appears --
I've closed the list on the page of tears;
   For he's joined the camp out west.

First published in The Bulletin, 7 October 1926

Andy Griffiths Profile

Andy Griffiths, author of such classics as The Day My Bum Went Psycho and Just Stupid, has now written a book for adults titled Fast Food & No Play Make Jack a Fat Boy with Jim Thomson and Sophie Blackmore. The title pretty much gives the game away: the book is aimed at adults to help them get their kids off the couch and off the fast food. Griffiths is profiled by "The Age" prior to publication date.

Reviews of Australian Books #11

Worth the Wait by Darren Lehmann, ex Australian Test cricketer and now television commentator, is reviewed by Derek Hodson in "The Independent": "...above all this is the life and times of a turn-of-the-century Aussie cricketer, one of a renowned band treated like royalty - no queuing, free drinks all night - at home."

Genre Fiction

"It is nonsense to think of fiction as a hierarchy. There are no sound reasons (known to me) for arguing that fiction is, so to speak, a tower block, with the 'best' at the top and the 'trash' at the bottom. (Guess where romance is normally placed in this hierarchical view.)

"Au contraire. Fiction is best viewed as a spectrum rather than a hierarchy. Or, to continue the building analogy, as a street with many bookshops, each of which specialises in one particular genre. Each of these shops has an identical real-estate value. There ain't no prime sites."

- Grumpy Old Bookman

George Johnston and My Father

George Johnston was born on this day, July 20th, in 1912 in Malvern Victoria. Johnston was the author of such major Australian works as My Brother Jack, Clean Straw for Nothing and A Cartload of Hay, the first two of which won the Miles Franklin Award. Johnston died in 1970. This day is also the anniversary of man's first landing on the moon, the birthday of Francesco Petrarch (Italian poet, 1304), Augustin Daly (American playwright, 1838), Thomas Berger (American writer, 1924), Cormac McCarthy (American writer, 1933), and Uwe Johnson (German writer, 1934). And also my father, Brian Middlemiss (1930). Happy birthday to one and all.

Letters from a Detention Centre - Follow-Up #2

Back in March I posted an entry relating to the case of immigration detainee Peter Qasim. His case had been taken up by Greg Egan, well-known Perth sf writer, and later by Dick Smith. Now comes the news that Qasim has been released from detention, and an Adelaide hospital, and may be granted a permanent visa by Minister Vanstone.

All I can say is, about time.

The SF and Fantasy Side of the Street

Jason Steger, literary editor for "The Age", writes of his experiences reading the latest HP novel. He set himself the task of reading the book straight through without a break. Seems like he'll now need a massage, a cup of tea and a good lie down. He also does the right thing and doesn't give away any revelations from the book.

I went along to Continuum 3 on the weekend, as did Helen Razer from "The Age". Her piece is a bit too heavy on the "sci-fi" side of the line (the accepted abbreviation is "sf" - must write something on that some day), but she generally does a good job describing the situation. Neil Gaiman was certainly popular - he had a huge line waiting for his book signing on Saturday afternoon - which led to the convention being one of the biggest general sf cons held in Australia, outside the three Worldcons. I certainly can't remember hearing of a bigger convention that wasn't an Australian National SF Convention.

I was talking to someone about the con organisation over the weekend and said that I was pretty impressed with what I saw. All convention organising should appear like a duck swimming - there can be all sorts of activity under the surface, but on top it has to look calm and serene. Continuum 3 seemed, at least to this observer, as if it was gliding along quite well.

Weekend Round-Up #29

Peter Rose is the current editor of "Australian Book Review" and whose previous book was a memoir of his family, titled Rose Boys. Now he has released a novel, A Case of Knives, which Michele Griffin, in her review in this week's "Saturday Age", describes thusly: "His racy debut novel A Case of Knives has little in common with the wholehearted testimony of the previous book. Instead, he has written what even one of his characters calls 'a superior soap', a thriller about the bad, the beautiful and the damaged...It is so completely different from his previous book that it could have been written by his evil twin. It must have been fun to write - it was fun to read." Which raises the question of whether such a change of tack is going to find an audience.

Vistors to Australia generally have some difficulty coming to grips with the hold Ned Kelly has on the Australian popular imagination. Explaining him away as our "version" of Jesse James is probably the best we can do, but there are hints that Kelly was partially politically motivated, rather than just being a bushranger and a killer of police men. His final shoot-out with police at Glenrowan has been well-covered in both book and film formats yet little has been written about the circumstances of his trial and the legal machinations that surrounded it. The late Alex C. Castles completed Ned Kelly's Last Days: Setting the Record Straight on the Death of an Outlaw before his death in December 2003 and it is good to see it published at last. As Christopher Bantick puts it: "The enduring worth of this absorbing book for Kellyphiles and readers who have an interest in the law, is that the legal processes of the Kelly trial have, until now, not received the same level of detailed inquiry as the Kellys' mythical bushranging reputation."

Short notices are given to: Making a Difference: Reflections on Life, Leadership and Politics by Peter Beattie, with Angelo Loukakis: "It's the story of a hand-me-down kid who went to university, experienced Joh Bjelke Petersen's totalitarianism as a student and went on to take the top job in his state (and some are suggesting he might go one further)"; Faces in the Crowd: An Argument for Optimism by Martin Flanagan: "...25 pieces originally published in this newspaper that display all of Flanagan's qualities as a writer: his interest in the struggles and achievements of ordinary people - his humanism - and his economy of means"; A Cargo of Women: Susannah Watson and the Convicts of the Princess Royal by Babette Smith: "Babette Smith has done a fine job in pulling apart many of the misconceptions that still persist about convict women. In this compassionate history, based on Susannah's letters and historical records, she reveals that the women were not whores and drunks - most of then were survivors, courageous survivors at that"; The Eccentric Mr Wienholt by Rosamond Siemon: Wienholt fought in the First and Second World Wars, was member of both Queensland State and Federal Parliaments and certainly an "...eccentric and remote character...Siemon makes the most of the abundant adventures of Wienholt but it was with morbid fascination rather than keen interest that I read his story".

Four reviews of Australian non-fiction dominate this week's "Weekend Australian". Red Harrison looks at A Doctor's War by Rowley Richards, and finds that "some readers might feel the subject - especially of his years on the Thai-Burma Railway - has been exhausted by dozens of PoW memoirs published in recent years. Not at all. Using his diaries as the core of what he calls a story of survival through senseless suffering, Richards delivers a book that is not just another history of life as a PoW, but also an original, impressive, compelling and compassionate work."

On the other hand, Ross Fitzgerald is not too impressed with Loner: Inside a Labor Tragedy by Bernard Lagan, calling it "uneven and one-dimensional" and "much of the text is repetitous and the book poorly proofed and edited."

"An absorbing tale of adventure and discovery" is how Evan Williams finds The Magician's Son by Sandy McCutcheon. "I have not read a more deeply felt account of the peculiar emotional void that can afflict the adopted child: the sense of disconnectedness and alienation, the underlying psychic loneliness, the yearning for love, for belonging."

Similarly, Rosemary Neill is moved by Balanda: My Year in Arnhem Land by Mary Ellen Jordan, which "is an impressive book that humanises the most pressing moral dilemma confronting Australia: how to achieve social justice for the country's first - and most disadvantaged - inhabitants. It deserves a wide readership.".

Over the past couple of weeks "The Sunday Age" has beefed up its book coverage and it's past time I had a look.

The major piece this week is a profile of Sandy McCutcheon to coincide with the release of his new memoir. The author will be a guest at next month's "Age" Melbourne Writer's Festival so this might well be a good introduction.

Peter Craven has a second look at I Have Kissed Your Lips by Gerard Windsor, and he's still pretty well convinced of the novel's worth: "Gerard Windsor is a real writer in a country that will often be conned by fool's gold. There is absolutely nothing fashionable about the ironclad prose in which he pursues his sometimes disconsolate themes, often in writing that is relegated to the minor shelf for no better reason than the fact that it is, technically, non-fiction. And yet Gerard Windsor is always an imaginative writer - even, as often, when he is brooding around the contours of the real."

And Jane Sullivan considers the public profile of authors, our "intense curiosity" about them and their work, and how Romana Koval deals with it in her new book Tasting Life Twice.

This revamp of "The Sunday Age" books pages seems to have worked pretty well. It's been shifted from the tabloid format of the colour supplement back into the main body of the broadsheet paper, just after the op-ed pages. A good move.

Upcoming Melbourne Literary Talks

Monday July 18
Neil Gaiman will be appearing at the State Library of Victoria. This event is now booked out.

Thursday July 21
Award-winning journalist and broadcaster, Jill Singer, will talk about her new book Immaculate Conceptions: Thoughts on Breeding, Babies and Boundaries.
6:30pm, free. Readings, 309 Lygon St., Carlton.

Thursday July 28
Deakin University Psychoanalytic Studies present Readings in Psychoanalysis. Join us
for the launch of Eli Zaretsky's Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History. 6:30pm, free. Readings, 309 Lygon St., Carlton.

Saturday July 30
John Long will talk about his amazing trips to search for fossils, as described in The Big Picture Book, accompanied by illustrator Brian Choo. 10:30pm (? doesn't look right but that's what's on the website), free. Readings, 309 Lygon St., Carlton.

Sunday July 31
An afternoon of songs, readings and spoken word performance, presented by literary broadcaster and singer/songwriter James Griffin and his band The Shadow Gang. Special guests include authors Shane Maloney, Carmel Bird, Julian Burnside and cellist Emma Ayres. Enquires/ Bookings: 9662 9966. 2:30pm-5:00pm, $10 fortyfivedownstairs 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Another Harry Bites the Dust

As expected my twelve-year-old daughter finished the latest book by the Scottish woman last night. Not too impressed by it either. "So, is it any good?" was the query. "No," was the tired reply. Most interest seemed to revolve around the character who dies and the identity of the Half-Blood Prince. And, no, I'm not going to tell you who they are.

Poem: The Plaint of the Pen by Pat O'Maori

Old Amergin sang,
   Sang even as I
Sing to the tramcar's clang
   As the world roars by.

Hammers would ring and ring
   On the bright bronze spears;
How could he sing
   In those dead years?

High pipes blew
   Tunes of dead men --
When the first music was new
   It hated a pen.

Clash of brass and treble,
   Clatter of horses' feet --
Ink was the primal rebel
   That fought in the primal street.

Let it be written fair,
   Written for all to read,
They that murder the air
   Are of Cain's black breed.

Quiet! And close the door!
   Make the night deaf as a stone --
Heart, on the second floor
   They've started the gramophone!

First published in The Bulletin, 3 July 1919

Upcoming Sydney Writers' Events

Thursday 21 July
Author Paul Ham and Kokoda hero Major General Paul Cullen talk to Andrea Stretton about Paul's book Kokoda : the Definitive Account, which tells the story of the infamous Kokoda Track campaign from both sides of the conflict. Time: 6:30pm-8:00pm Jul 21 Cost: $10 (incl.a glass of champagne) Venue: Woollahra Council, 536 New South Head Rd, Double Bay

Friday 22 July
Author James Valentine is speaking at the NSW Writers' Centre dinner to celebrate their first Writing for Children and Young Adults Day. James is also a broadcaster on ABC Radio and was previously a member of the Australian band The Models. Time: 7:00pm Jul 22 Cost: $66/$77 non-members Venue: Hughenden Hotel, 14 Queen St,, Woollahra

Saturday 23 July
Writing for Children & Young Adults Day If you are interested in writing for this market, or you're a teacher or parent, or indeed a student who loves reading, come along and hear the specialists in the field talk about these popular genres. Guests include well-known writers, publishers, magazine editors, reviewers and a comic book producer. Time: 10:00am-5:00pm Jul 23 Cost: $20/$25 non-members/$15 conc. Venue: Rozelle Hospital Grounds, NSW Writers Ctr Bldg, Balmain Rd entrance

Tuesday 26 July
Kate Grenville introduces her new book The Secret River. Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm Jul 26 Cost: Free Venue: Council Chambers, North Sydney Council, 200 Miller Street, North Sydney

Thursday 28 July
John Newcombe won Wimbledon three times and the US and Australian Open twice each. He introduces his book No-one's Indestructible, the story of his courageous recovery from a potentially fatal stroke. Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm Jul 28 Cost: Free Venue: Council Chambers, North Sydney Council, 200 Miller Street, North Sydney

Friday 29 July
Peter Rodgers is a former Australian Ambassador to Israel whose recent book Herzl's Nightmare - One Land, Two People explores the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is also a prize-winning former Jakarta correspondent for "The Sydney Morning Herald". Time: 12:30pm-2:00pm Jul 29 Cost: Free Venue: Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, 280 Pitt Street, Sydney
Emily Rodda knows what children want to read, having won the Children's Book Council of Australia's Book of the Year award five times. Hear her discuss the long-awaited series two of the Fairy Realm. Time: 4:00pm-5:00pm Jul 29 Cost: Free Venue: Mosman Library, 605 Military Rd, Mosman

[Items extracted from sydneytalks.com.au.]

Kate Grenville

The spotlight of publicity in Australian literary circles tends to shine on only one author at a time. A few months back it was Geraldine Brooks and her new novel March. Now it's the turn of Kate Grenville.

"The Bulletin" has recently run two pieces on Grenville, a profile on 6th July, followed a week later by a review of her novel. "The Age" did something similar with a review by Peter Craven which was preceeded by a good article by Jane Sullivan, which attempted to put the book into literary and historial context. And on Sunday 17 July, Grenville appears on the Radio National program "Books & Writing" with Romana Koval.

There are a few Writers' Festivals coming up so she'll be doing the rounds for a while yet.

The "To-Be-Read" Pile

Any book-reader worth his or her salt will have lots of books lying around the house waiting to be read. Sandra, over on her Book World litbog has actually gone to the trouble of listing them. And, what's more, keeps the list up to date. At present the number of books she has waiting for her has hit 200, and an interesting list it is as well; though it does tend to the literary end of the scale with Milton and Faulkner rubbing shoulders with Robertson Davies and Michael Moorcock (Mother London rather than any of the Elric novels). I was pleased to see that she had at least one Australian novel on her list in Peter Carey's Jack Maggs.

The problem she has now, of course, is what to read. Which of the 200 hundred do you choose first? The most recent? The oldest? Pot-luck? Should there be a system at all?

C. Max Magee over at The Millions only has 40 books on his to-be-read list and still feels it necessary to have a system, of sorts. He utilises a random number generator. A strange way to choose but he seems happy with it.

For my part, I don't keep a list of unread books in the house. And there are a couple of reasons for that: a) if my wife ever found it I'd be banned from buying anything new until the current list was down to manageable proportions; and b) I might actually come to the conclusion that a book purge was in order. And we can't have that now, can we?

A few years back I started to make lists each Christmas of the books I wanted to read in the coming year. There'd generally be one or two authors whose entire back catalogue was included (I tried to make this one literary author and one genre - either crime or sf); a travel book; the shortlisted novels from one year's Booker prize; two European novels in translation, from different countries; two prize-winning Australian novels; a biography and a popular science book. All very challenging and very commendable.

It certainly made me feel better, especially after I typed it up and downloaded it to my Palm Pilot. Rather like a good New Year's resolution. Which was also the way it tended to be treated. Everything would run along swimmingly for the first couple of weeks and then I'd read a review of an interesting book that just cried out to be read NOW, and the whole thing would fall in a screaming heap. I'd come back to the list from time to time over the year and see how I was going. The response was "pathetic", generally. So I've given that up now.

Now I just follow where the will takes me. I read the five novels shortlisted for this year's Miles Franklin award, but I'm about 3 or 4 years behind on the Booker prize-winners. I've cleaned up a couple of books I half-finished last year with a couple more still to go. And I'm trying to keep my internet book orders down to four a year - two from the US and two from the UK, two each around my birthday and Christmas.

So I'm trying to be good, trying to do the right thing and clear up the back-log. If only I could get up the enthusiasm to read all those American sf paperbacks I bought 30 years ago I might just start making some headway.

If Rankin brings out a new book this year I'm dead in the water.

That Harry Kid

If it's not that book by Dan Brown dominating the miniscule portions of their product that newspaper editors devote to books, it's now the turn of the other book by that Scottish author. "The Age" website books page now has eight stories relating to the imminent release of the sixth HP book this weekend. Everything from the secrecy surrounding the book's plot, to accidental pre-release sales, to the Pope putting his oar in on the whole Potter phenomenon. Frankly I can't wait till the whole thing is over. And, yes, I do have a copy on order and will probably pick it up over the weekend. But I haven't read the previous one yet, and I would guess my 12-year-old daughter will be the first to get to our copy. She and her friends have probably got a competition going to see who reads the most over the weekend. Now if I can just get her to turn the torch off under the bed-clothes before midnight...

Unlikely Place for a Book Launch

On Monday, under the gallows of the Old Melbourne gaol, John Bryson, author of Evil Angels, launched a new book by Kevin Morgan, titled Gun Alley: Murder, Lies and Failure of Justice.

The book tells the story of Colin Ross, who was hanged on April 24, 1922, for the rape and murder of schoolgirl Alma Tirtschke. Morgan, however, believes the wrong man was sentenced to death and executed and explains all in his new book. "What is sought is nothing less than a complete quashing of the 1922 verdict by the jury."

And it appears he has the backing of Melbourne lawyers Ian Hill, QC, and Tony Hargreaves in his attempt to return the case to the Court of Appeal. The State's Attorney-General, Rob Hulls, has stated that a quashing of the conviction is possible if the Court is satisfied that key evidence in the original trial was flawed.

Collins Booksellers Follow-Up #2

"The Age" today reports that the Hill of Content, a major bookshop which has operated at the top end of Bourke Street in Melbourne for the past 80-odd years, has been rescued after the collapse of the Collins bookshop chain. The owners of current Collins franchises in Sale and Bairnsdale have purchased the shop and aim to run it as before. Making a profit this time, hopefully. The other good news is that the very knowledgable full-time staff in the shop will be kept on.

The Hand Revisited

It was ten years ago this month that The Hand That Signed the Paper won the 1995 Miles Franklin Award and instigated one of Australia's major literary controversies. Malcolm Knox, in the "Sydney Morning Herald", revisits the book and reports that the first draft was submitted to the University of Queensland Press as a work of non-fiction. The cloud of mystery around this novel just keeps on deepening over the years.

Collins Booksellers Follow-Up

I was in the Hill of Content Bookshop the other day and was saddened to see the greatly reduced stock on offer. This shop was caught up in the Collins Booksellers collapse of a couple of months ago. Since then there have been rumours that someone was intending to purchase the shop to keep it running as a going concern. I look forward to the improvement. The Chadstone shop in Melbourne's eastern suburbs has closed and been replaced by yet another clothing store, and the "Sydney Morning Herald" reports that several Collins franchises have now been taken over in and around Sydney. So there is some movement.

Mardi McConnochie Profile

On the publication of her new novel, Fivestar, Mardi McConnochie is profiled by the "Sydney Morning Herald". "I think most writers are gamblers at heart," she says. "There are some really strange books out there that have struck a chord with people and you never really know what's going to do that. You always hope that you've written that one."

Nick Earls Back at School

Nick Earls, the author of such novels as Zig Zag Street and 48 Shades of Brown, was invited recently to visit Wavell State High School, on Brisbane's northside, to address a group of talented students.

His basic advice to aspiring young writers is good advice for all: "To be a successful novelist you need to have the freedom to let yourself play with ideas, the discipline to sit down and turn them into something, and the persistence to stick with them during the years when publishers and the world at large reject what you are doing."

It would be a good thing if more writers were able to do this sort of thing. The funding for this was provided by the school's P&C Association.

Weekend Round-Up #28

"The Age" has let Peter Craven loose to review Kate Grenville's new novel, The Secret River, and, as you might expect he delivers a pretty good review. He covers Grenville's literary history, delivers an appraisal of her standing in the Australian literary pantheon, and then gets into the book.

He places her pretty much as one might expect: "Grenville is one of the very best of our mid-career novelists though her output suggests occasional zigzags and moments of uncertainty. She is a writer with a rich palette and with a natural affinity for the sensuous and the sensual and for highly coloured drama." And the book: "Kate Grenville has written a fine novel of colonial life and of the tragedy of the confrontation between Aborigine and white settler. The book traces a familiar curve but its characters have real faces and voices."

Craven doesn't go deeply into the possible historical interpretations that Jane Sullivan covered last week but concludes that "It is to Kate Grenville's credit that she never surrenders her sense of the individual faces she captures as she tells this story. I suspect a lot of readers are going to find this book both subtle and satisfying." A major Australian publishing event for 2005 it seems.

The story of Mark Latham is something of a modern tragedy: taking the Federal Labor leadership after Crean saw the writing on the wall and quit, he changed his electioneering style to tone it down to his and his party's detriment, then lost the 2004 Federal Election after attempting to run it on his own, after which he was struck down with a crippling medical complaint. His subsequent resignation from parliament and vitriolic blame shifting have sullied his image in many voters' minds - this one included. Now comes Loner: Inside a Labor Tragedy by Bernard Lagan, reviewed by Michelle Grattan, political editor of "The Age". "Whitlam had much influence over a successor who'd been his staffer. The man who had campaigned on the theme of the needs of the suburbs and led Labor out of the wilderness in 1972 was an inspiration and father figure to Latham. But Whitlam could not pass on his quality for success, nor his grace in defeat." Exactly.

A new history of Australia? Do we really need one? John Molony has produced Australia: Our Heritage which is reviewed by Stuart McIntyre. "His story is one of tribulation and courage, conflict and healing, a striving for improvement and wisdom that falters only as we approach the present."

Short notices are given to: Trade Secrets: Australian Actors & Their Craft by Terence Crawford: "Crawford homes in on the practicalities of acting - the processes or methods that work best for each actor"; The armchair Footy Record: For Planes, Trains & Favourite Rooms edited by Jim Main: "There's a laugh on just about every page in what amounts to a kind of potted history of the game"; Being There: Nursing at the Melbourne, Victoria's First Hospital by Susan Sherson: "...a valuable book that preserves the ethos of nursing at the Melbourne in a comprehensive and moving manner."

Matilda Waltzes

[I've been waiting to use that heading for months.} I'm out of town for the weekend and won't be able to post the usual poem tomorrow - so you get it today instead. You poor unfortunates. I'm also leaving work early so there won't be anything else today. My sympathies and condolences go out to those killed and injured in the London bombings overnight (Australian time). I used to travel through Edgeware Road tube station each
working day when I lived there in the early 1990s, so it tends to hit home a bit.

Poem: The Anonymous Altruist by C.J. Dennis

The Minister for Customs (Mr White) recently made a vigorous effort to defend the anonymous censorship of books by the Customs Department, neglecting to state what qualifications -- if any -- the Censor may possess.

A mysterious cove in the Customs --
   The boss, so to speak, of the Ban --
I have blamed a good deal;
But I wronged him, I feel,
   Since I've come to imagine the man.
When he censored some book that I wanted
   I sneered at him once, I'll allow;
But, since I've given heed
To the life he must lead,
   He has all my sympathy now.

This mysterious cove at the Customs
   Is clearly a martyr; that's sure.
On his shoulders he takes
Loads of sin for our sakes,
   And he suffers to keep us all pure.
For he reads all the hot stuff imported
   And never once threatens to strike,
Tho' he loathes it, no doubt.
Ah, my pity goes out
   To him. Think what his mind must be like!

This anonymous cove at the Customs,
   This storehouse for horrible stuff,
Is as venal, I'll bet,
As the rest of us, yet,
   Does he whine that his job is too tough?
No. He keeps his identity secret,
   His knowledge safe under his hat;
And he lurks all alone,
Unsuspected, unknown,
   Such as the hangmen and heroes like that.

This incredible cove at the Customs,
   His duties are drastic and grim;
For, if human he be,
What is poison to me
   Must be equally poison to him.
Yet, undaunted he seizes and scoffs it,
   And perhaps throws a fit on the floor,
Doped with all the impure
Of the world's literature.
   But he manfully comes up for more.

This untouchable cove at the Customs,
   He sneaks to his work in the dawn
And, in some secret lair
Reads the spicy bits there,
   With his soul, as it were, all in pawn.
Pity, then, this official absorber
   Of rank Rabelaisian lore
Who wallows in sin
To protect us, his kin.
   Could an altruist ever do more?

First published in Herald, 29 August 1935

Booker Prize Shortlist Possibles

One of the first web pages I ever developed, back in the mid-90s, was my site devoted to the Man Booker Prize. I started it as a means of keeping track of books that won the prize, and the others which had been shortlisted, so I had a handy list - this was before PDAs.

I kept on adding to the pages over the years, with lists of authors and nominated titles and then struck on the idea of adding a page which highlighted novels which might make the shortlist. This was just a bit of pot-luck really. There was no way I was going to be able to read everything that might be nominated, so I had to rely on word-of-mouth and the various book reviews I read over the web from British newspapers.

I've just created a new page for the 2005 Booker Prize Shortlist Possibles which will be gradually added to over the coming few months, leading up to the announcement of the longlist for the prize. This is a bit later in the year than usual, due, in part, to the work I'm doing here but I hope it is of interest to some people.

All the usual suspects are listed (Ishiguro, Rushdie, McEwan and Barnes) but there are always some whose work might or might not be entered due to publication problems. The British authors have no difficulties here because as soon as a major writer submits a work it is scheduled for a publication date that makes it eligible for the award. The hard ones are those from the "colonies", eg Australia and South Africa. If the novel has a British publication date in the year leading up to the start of September then there's no basic difficulty. But what about a novel like Andrew McGahan's The White Earth? After winning the Miles Franklin Award following its publication in Australia in May 2004, it is not scheduled for UK release until January 2006. So what does this mean for its eligibility? I've got a feeling it's missed the boat. But I might well be wrong.

[I have been told that my Booker pages are not viewable using Firefox. Given the increasing popularity of this browser I'm going to have to spend some time soon re-doing the Javascript behind the pages. Just a matter of finding the time and energy.]

Neil Gaiman

In town as Guest-of-Honor for the science fiction convention Continuum, Neil Gaiman will also be appearing at the State Library of Victoria on Monday July 18th, 6:30-8pm. Entrance fees are $10/$5 concession and bookings are essential: ring 8664 7014 or email to youthlit@slv.vic.gov.au. Actually, Melbourne isn't the only place that Neil Gaiman will be appearing. You can read the full schedule on his weblog. There he reports that he'll be signing in Canberra, Sydney, and Brisbane - on successive days. Hope he's got time to eat in there somewhere.

2005 Ditmar Awards

Don't know why I've neglected to list the winners of the 2005 Ditmar Awards (given I won one of them back in the 1980s) but I've let them slide long enough. The awards are really titled the Australian National Science Fiction Achievement Awards, and are called the "Ditmars" after Ditmar Jensen who initiated them way back when. The 2005 Ditmars were presented at this year's Australian National Science Fiction Convention, Thylacon IV, held in Hobart in June.

Best Novel
The Crooked Letter, Sean Williams (HarperCollins Australia)

Best Collected Work
Black Juice, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin Australia)

Best Novella/Novelette
"The Last Days of Kali Yuga", Paul Haines (NFG Magazine, August 2004)

Best Short Story
"Singing My Sister Down", Margo Lanagan (Black Juice)

Best Professional Artwork
Kerri Valkova for the cover to The Black Crusade (Chimaera Publications)

Best Professional Achievement
Clarion South committee

Fan Achievement
Conflux convention committee

Fan Artist
Sarah Xu

The Bullsheet, ed Edwina Harvey & Ted Scribner

Fan Writer
Bruce Gillespie

Best New Talent
Paul Haines

The organisers also presented two further awards, not Ditmars, at the ceremony. William Atheling Jnr Award for Criticism or Review
(tie) Robert Hood, for his review of Weight of Water at HoodReviews; and Jason Nahrung for "Why are publishers afraid of horror" (BAM, Courier Mail, 20 March 2004)

The Peter McNamara Achievement Award
Jonathan Strahan

Victorian Librarians Top 100 Books

Librarians in Victoria have voted for their "Librarian's Choice Top 100" and the full list has just been released (note: PDF file). The top 10 is pretty predictable:

1. Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkein
2. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
3. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
4. Dirt Music - Tim Winton
5. A Fortunate Life - A.B. Facey
6. Cloudstreet - Tim Winton
7. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
8. Perfume - Patrick Suskind
9. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling
10. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver

There are 18 Australian works on the final list.

The Mystery of the Missing Copyright Holder

A report in the "Sydney Morning Herald" reveals that "December Boys, based on a 1963 novel by Australian author Michael Noonan, is to be the first post-Harry Potter project for British actor Daniel Radcliffe." As you might expect, this has provoked some determined bidding for the publishing rights for the original novel.

All well and good, you might say. But there's a problem. Noonan died in 2000, and, while he married Jan Pearce in 1993, she has yet to be contacted as she is on holidays. Added to that his former lietrary agency sold out in the 1990s and there is a feeling that Noonan may have left the publishing rights to his works to someone other than Pearce. Ah, the joys of copyright.

[Update: seems my user registration for SMH has been splatted. I'll get the link in later today hopefully.]

Clive James Interview

Clive James is back in Australia at present and was interviewed by Andrew Denton on ABC TV last night. A transcript of the interview is already available. Not much new in the interview. It just seemed to be getting started when it ended.

Weekend Round-Up #27

Jane Sullivan leads off the Review pages of Saturday's "Age" with a long article that suggests that the "history wars" might flare up again with the publication of Kate Grenville's new novel, The Secret River.

"Since the 'history wars' of two years ago, frontier violence in the early days of European settlement has become one of the most contentious aspects of the Australian story. Passions flared when Keith Windschuttle launched his challenge to the prevailing view in his book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History. He went back to the original sources for recent histories of first encounters with Aborigines in Tasmania, and found errors. Then he used these to attack Henry Reynolds and other historians, whom he accused of distorting the facts to favour their 'black armband' view of the past.

"Debates between Windschuttle and his opponents drew the kind of audiences and media coverage you might expect for a sporting clash. Whole books were written and essays were collected to refute his claims. In the tabloid press, historians who rallied against Windschuttle were called a moral mafia and white maggots."

Andrew McGahan's recent novel, The White Earth, explores some of this territory in current times (well, the 1990s anyway) and "This month sees the release of a book where, for the first time, an award-winning novelist has taken for her subject what happens when the settlers and the local Aboriginal people both want the same bit of extremely valuable land." Grenville is steeling herself for a backlash to the book. You can guarantee that the negative reviews of the novel wil reveal more about the reviewer than the novel itself.

Sullivan has had a busy week as she follows her opener with an interview with Shirley Hazzard. A good piece but whoever titled it "Duchess of Hazzard" should be taken out the back and shot.

Fans of Delia Falconer have been waiting since 1997 for her follow-up to The Service of Clouds. Now she is back with The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers. The book "pieces together the memories of Frederick Benteen, a captain in the US Army who fought with General Custer at the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn." Aviva Tuffield is impressed with the novel and hopes that " the fans of Falconer's first novel will follow her into this new terrain and that this book finds the audience it deserves."

Academic theses tend to the dry end of the scale, so it was with some degree of dread that I started reading the review of Cassi Plate's Restless Spirit. Plate submitted the core material of this book for her doctoral thesis at the University of Sydney. Now, that university, in association with Pan Macmillan and the Australian Research Council have started the "Thesis to Book" project, of which this is a part. Based on this review the book certainly sounds interesting. It deals with Plate grandfather but the "writer is very much present in the work, candid in her role as conduit for the events of the life, and their assembly."

Jill Singer, current newspaper columnist and former television current affairs host, has written a book which traces her own reproductive journey as a means of examining the current thinking about conception and fertility generally.

Short notices are given to: The Rattlesnake by Jordon Goodman: "We know it as a place for holiday and recreation, but in the 1840s the Great Barrier Reef was as uncharted as the so-called North-West Passage. Jordon Goodman has produced a thoroughly researched, measured, yet rattling yarn set in the halcyon days of British sea power"; Banned by James Cockington: "this survey of Ausralian wowserism (especially Melbourne) takes in such figures as Lola Montez, Norman Lindsay, Max Harris"; Sandstone by Stephen Lacey: "...a well-researched historical drama that evokes an Australia that has long since passed away"; Troubled Waters by Ruth Balint: "What Balint does so well in Troubled Waters, the first non-fiction manuscript to win the Vogel Literary award, is draw various threads of recent political forces into a coherent and compelling whole"; The World of Thea Proctor by Barry Humphries, Andrew Sayers & Sarah Engledow: "a catalogue for the Thea Proctor exhibition that has just closed at Canberra's National Portrait Gallery and features Barry Humphries providing a brief memoir of meeting and making friends with Proctor in the '50s"; What Women Want next by Susan Maushart: "Maushart makes her findings and arguments accessible through humour, but her relentless wit can grate. This is, nevertheless, a more sophisticated book than most others of its ilk."

Poem: The Unwritten Books by E. Dyson

By faith I see them, neatly ranged,
   Each in its decorated wrapper.
They've stood just so, untouched, unchanged,
   Some portly tomes and others dapper,
For many years, and as to-day;
   With authors' egotism bitten,
I've gazed on their devices gay
And wondered at the fine display
   Of splendid works I've not yet written.

Here stands my volume tall and slim,
   Of lover verses, "Tears of Acid,"
And here the novel fat and trim
   That was to limn the painful, placid
Besotting life of little trade,
   A book with bubbling springs of wit in,
A volume blithe of sketches made,
And one of essays strong and staid --
   All noble books I have not written.

The books I have not written are
   The only ones I'm proud of owning;
Their verses have a virtue far
   Above the rhymes' innocuous droning
You'll find in printed books of mine,
   The wretched things I ne'er admit in
Where polished blackwood forms a shrine,
And, marshalled smartly line on line,
   Are cased the books I have not written.

These masterpieces have no flaw
   Of paper, type or illustration;
Their get-up honors every law
   That Morris gave an eager nation.
Content I'll rest, if when I lie
   Some dust-strewn, old forgotten pit in
Posterity will judge me by
These works expressing all that's I,
   The noble books I have not written!

First published in The Bulletin, 23 January 1919

Margo Lanagan Interview

"Locus", which styles itself as the magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy field, has an interview with Margo Lanagan in the June 2005 issuue. They have also made available some excerpts from that interview on their website.

Political Book Launch

It's not often that book launches make front-page news in this country, but the new biography of recently-retired Federal ALP leader Mark Latham has done just that.
The book, Loner: Inside a Labor Tragedy by journalist Bernard Lagan, was launched on Wednesday by ALP Senator John Faulkner. In the book Latham lets fly at all and sundry, blaming them all for the ALP loss at the Federal election last October. All, it seems, bar himself.

Rare Book Theft

In a smash-and-grab raid early Tuesday, a man stole two dozen antiquarian books from the shop window of a Prahran antiquarian book-seller. The books were valued at approximately $10,000 and included such items as a rare edition of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and works by John Steinbeck and Sir Walter Scott. The alleged thief has been apprehended but now professes no knowledge of the whereabouts of the books. I have the same problem in my house.

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 MiĆ©ville
MiƩville'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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