August 2005 Archives

Margaret Scott Follow-Up

In today's "Age" the author and journalist Martin Flangan presents an obituary of Margaret Scott who died earlier this week. I can't find the piece on the web but one section amused me: 'She went to Cambridge University in 1953 and was in the same circle as Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Indeed, Scott was present the night Plath met Hughes, Plath dramatically concluding their first embrace by biting Hughes' cheek until it bled. The girl who had accompanied Hughes to the party approached Scott, upset, and said: "Ted's just kissed that American girl", to which Scott replied: "Oh, don't worry, I'm sure it won't come to anything."'

BlogDay 2005

According to Wikispaces the idea behind BlogDay is for all bloggers worldwide to recommend 5 blogs, new ones preferably. I take this as also meaning that I shouldn't recommend any of the blogs I've already listed in the column to the right. You can take it as given that those are extremely worthy.

1. If Charlie Parker was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats Aside from the great title this is a great pictorial blog. The blokes behind this, Tom Sutpen and Stephen Cooke, post nearly every day with pictures in such categories as: They Were Collaborators, Heroes of American Literature, This Week's Munch, Great Con Artists of the 20th Century, and The Golden Age of Prurience. The images are scanned from bookcovers, movie posters, publicity shots, movie stills and just about anything else that strikes their fancy. On any one day you never know what you're likely to get. It is never less than very interesting.
2. Adventures of iGuy Pure nonsense, but funny for it. As a recent owner of an iPod, anything that extracts the urine from these things is good enough for me.
3. Mainly Martian As a self-confessed space and astronomy geek, I've been on the lookout for a good blog covering these topics for some time. I started to read this blog last year when the Martian rovers were in the news, during which period this site had large detailed, scientific entries on an almost daily basis. Things have quietened off a bit this year but it's still worth keeping an eye on.
4. Scary Duck: Not Scary, Not a Duck Irreverent, funny, eclectic. What more do you want?
5. The Sideshow The weblog of Avedon Carol, an ex-pat American living in London, married to Rob Hansen: someone who looks oddly like me... Avedon is a leftist, feminist stirrer who bores it up anyone who deserves it. Quite scary when she gets going.

Sometime ago I also found a couple of blogs that were pretty good - especially the Darth Vader blog - but my list of Bookmarks got blatted some time ago and I'm having trouble finding all those "lost-in-action". The five blogs above should keep you going for a while.

Margaret Scott 1934-2005

Margaret Scott, the noted author who came to national attention through her appearances on the ABC's Good News Week and Great Debates in the 1990s, has died in
Tasmania. Scott was born in Bristol, England, in 1934 and migrated to Australia with her son and first husband in 1959. A second marriage latter added three stepchildren. Scott was the author of two novels: The Baby-Farmer in 1990, and Family Album in 2000. She edited Effects of Light: The Poetry of Tasmania in 1985 as well as publishing six collections of her own poetry. Earlier this year she was awarded the Australia Council Writers Emeritus Award.

[Update: "The Australian" also printed an obituary.]

The Art of Book Reviewing

Most reviews in major newspapers and magazines get 1,000 words at most, and with such little space there's barely enough room to discuss a book's merits, let alone get into remarkably complex subjects like the psychology of writing. It's best just to leave that stuff out because all you'll be able to do is toss off half-assed thoughts that divert from the substance of the review: discussing the book under consideration. Who cares if it's less lively that way? That's not what book reviews are for.

Basically, if you want lively book talk, then you go to blogs. If you haven't noticed, we stock pretty well in half-assed thoughts, grandiose statements, and liveliness. Those are the sort of the things that we can get away with because this is a much more conversational, low-key medium. Book reviews are a very different entity, and I think some liveliness should be sacrificed in order to say something more well-argued.

- Scott Esposito, on his weblog Conversational Reading

Weekend Round-Up #35

In "The Age" the major piece is a profile of Western Australian novelist Brenda Walker and her fourth novel The Wing of Night. Although this is a novel set in and after World War I it deals more with the relationships of the people at the time, "full of intense, though not always passionate, love: love between men and women, and the friendship between the women the men left behind. It's also about restoring what is lost: but the restitution may be something quite unexpected." The men-at-war theme is given an airing, but "Walker's men are not the square-jawed Chesty Bond heroes of legend, the women are not what you might expect either, and they leave a legacy that she describes as 'the bright emptiness that lasts for a long, long time after a war'. She says there is something desolate about the well-lit spaces of the countryside, inhabited by women who have lost what they most cherished: 'Women with empty arms forever, except for one another.'"

Peter Pierce reviews Brian Castro's ninth novel, The Garden Book, and finds it a "triumph of intelligence and imagination by one of the most exacting, yet rewarding of Australian novelists, and when the mood is on him, one of the most amusing as well."

Also reviewed are The Magician's Son by Sandy McCutcheon, and Fivestar by Mardi McConnochie: "At times this is not so much a novel as a fictionalised social history of recent pop music trends. That said, it's well informed, knowledgeable and very competently written. Taking us back where we've been recently, at its best it gives the kind of small Prousty twinges of nostalgia that you get when looking at five-year-old photos."

Short notices are given to: Melbourne International Arts Festival, 1986-2005: The First Twenty Years by Paul Clarkson; Beyond the Call by Don Hyde with Jim Main, a collection of interviews with AFL commentators; A Long Way Home: The Life and Adventures of Convict Mary Bryant by Mike Walker: "Eighteenth-century England, her powerful navy and the colonisation of Australia are brilliantly realised by Mike Walker, a British dramatist and documentary maker"; Fat, Forty and Fired by Nigel Marsh, who: "...has a chatty, confiding voice, self-absorbed and self-deprecating"; 1932: A Hell of a Year by Gerald Stone: 1932 "was a year of big events but most of all it was the worst year of the Great Depression, and the year that marked the beginning of Australia's recovery"; Don't Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs - She Thinks I'm a Piano Player in a Whorehouse by Paul Carter: "What you have here, then, is that rare situation of somebody who not only has a story to tell but the ability to tell it. Carter's anecdotes are told with great good humour and perfect timing."

The Weekend Australian" features an excerpt from J.M. Coetzee's latest novel Slow Man. The book who is also reviewed by Karen Lamb: "...Slow Man balances its sympathies on a knife-edge and it is not easy to dispense with [the main] character. Perhaps he is complicated, lost, unloved or just unlucky. It is clear that he is slow - yes - but we also see him disappearing not so much from the world, but from within. Was he ever there, we ask? Sadly, Coetzee does not invite us to condemn him utterly for not finding the answers."

Bill Leak, cartoonist for "The Australian" and noted portraitist, has released his first novel, Heart Cancer, and it is reviewed by Ross Fitzgerald.

Short notices are given to: Sandstone by Stephen Lacey who "uses brand names too often as proof of his research: the real period register in this fine novel resides in the emotional encasement of its characters"; Lethal Metal by Harry Ledowsky which "coalesces into a yarn with Clancy-like pace. In his fiction debut, Sydney advertising guru Ledowsky presses the formula buttons, but that's no sin. Sometimes it's all we want"; Noble Sindhu Horse by Lynette Chataway whose "risky venture, informed by volunteer work in Asia, is a tableau of subtle observation - of dislocation, impermanence and loss - but we're left grasping for a bigger story."

Kathleen Noonan profiles Kate Holden in this weekend's "Courier-Mail", on the eve of the publication of her memoir, In My Skin. Although Holden worked for some time as a prostitute to finance her heroin habit, this is not the usual "trick-lit" writing. For a start Holden has a university honours degree in classics and literature. "Her motivation to write was that she felt there were few accurate representations of what she was experiencing. 'This is a huge industry, thousands of women are involved in it. Books and films portray the Pretty Woman thing, the whore with a heart of gold. I wanted to give a realistic depiction.'"

Mardi McConnochie is interviewed by Sandra Mclean about her new novel Fivestar in the "Courier-Mail": "...considering the glut of reality television shows and the commerciality of pop music. It was only a matter of time before someone turned the Spice Girls' story into a novel...But the fact that McConnochie was the one to do it in Australia is quite a surprise. Her first book was a highbrow work called Coldwater that put the Bronte sisters in colonial Australia and was short-listed for the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Her second book, Snow Queen, which was set in the world of classical dance, resulted in the Adelaide-raised writer being named as one of The Sydney Morning Herald's Best Young Novelists in 2004."

Ned Kelly Award Winners

The Ned Kelly Awards were presented by the Crime Writers Association of Australia last Thursday night. The winners were:

Best Novel
Lost by Michael Robotham

Best First Novel
A Private Man by Malcolm Knox

Best True Crime
Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner (tie)
Mr Big by Tony Reeves (tie)

Lifetime Achievement Award
Stuart Coupe

Poem: The Bookshop by A. Gore-Jones

Within this place of pleasant idleness
Stand in long serried rows books old and new;
Gilt pages with their rich dark bindings press
Cloth covers in their faded jade and blue.
Turning the languid leaves one finds perchance,
Half the fierce wisdom that the years have wrought,
Bright-eyed adventure or rose-winged romance,
The golden echoes of a poet's thought.

Beyond the door stretches the busy street --
Voices, and laughter, and harsh merriment;
Within the trifler and the scholar meet
Amid a cloistered silence of content:
Here where a grey cat yawns with languid grace,
Trimming her whiskers in dead Homer's face.

First published in The Bulletin, 11 November 1920

Tired and Emotional?

I've hit a reading flat spot. It happens about every three to six months with me. Nothing I read seems to hold any interest. Books are picked up, skimmed, discarded. Newspapers are flipped, ignored, and turned to the sports pages. The piles of books next to the bed and on the chest of drawers in the bedroom lie there getting dusty. I move them around from pile to pile, but it doesn't do any good. I've even taken to starting a pile for the books I'm going to take on holiday in six weeks.

I'm only deluding myself.

I don't know how this one started but I strongly suspect it might be due to the combination of the current books, a major birthday, and various other distractions such as the Ashes cricket. Just one of these might not have been enough to topple me over the edge of ennui; three are too much to resist.

So I sit and work, and watch Australia playing badly, waiting for the inspiration to strike again. It'll come. I know it will. I just don't know when.

Ned Kelly Awards

The Ned Kelly Awards are to be presented tonight, at The Night Cat in Fitzroy, by the Crime Writers' Association of Australia.

I'd like to be able to provide you with a list of nominees but, try as I might, I can't find the list anywhere on the net. It may be out there somewhere, just playing hard to get.

The best I can find is a list of nominees and winners up to 2003.

The official site of the Crime Writers' Association at "" is dead, or not showing anything at least. The page is there but the HTML source has no content.

So what's going on? Isn't there anyone out there running a web site for the Kelly's? Sure it takes a bit of work to set one up - though, in this case, the bulk of the work has already been done - but there must be someone with the enthusiasm for it. And once the site is up it only needs to be updated twice a year, once with the nominees and once after the announcement of the winners.

So why don't I do it? Well, I'm already looking after pages for the Miles Franklin Award and the Australian/Vogel Award, both of which are over-due for a revamp.

Has the CWAA died the death? Enquiring minds, etc etc...

[Warning: don't try to follow any sub-page links you might find from "", they lead to "adult" pages.]

Ruth Park and David Ireland

Ruth Park was born
on this day in 1923 in Auckland, New Zealand. She moved to Australia in 1942 and
married the writer D'Arcy Niland. She is best known for her "Harp in the South" novels: The Harp in the South 1948, Poor Man's Orange 1949 and Missus 1985. She was awarded the Miles Franklin
for her novel Swords and Crowns and Rings in 1977. Beyond her adult novels she also wrote many works for children, including The Muddle-Headed Wombat series and Playing Beattie Bow 1980, which won the Children's Book of the Year Award. After Niland's death in 1967, Ruth Park lived on Norfolk Island from 1973-85 before returning to Sydney, where she now lives.

David Ireland was born on this day in 1927, in Lakemba, New South Wales. His second novel The Unknown Industrial Prisoner won the Miles Franklin Award in 1971, as did his later novels The Glass Canoe in 1976, and A Woman of the Future in 1979. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1981.

Weekend Round-Up #34

The major item in the latest "Saturday Age" is a profile by Penelope Debelle of Gay Bilson, who won this year's "Age" Book of the Year Award for her book Plenty. The most interesting part of the piece - well it's all interesting but... - comes at the very end: "Bilson is still amazed to realise the book contained as much of her as it does. 'I thought it was simply essays about reading, convergences and cooking," she says. "Now I realise it is so intensely personal.'" Sounds like a writer whose writing is infused with her personality, as well as the other way round.

Geoffrey Robertson is one of thse people I could easily take to with an axe: they just seem so bloody good at everything they do. Or maybe the skill lies in choosing the right topics. He's obviously found his life's niche in the law and occasionally produces a book to prove it. His latest, The Tyrannicide Brief is reviewed by Michael Kirby, no less. The book tells the story of the trial and execution of the English King Charles I, in 1649. While Charles looms large, as one might expect, the book mainly concerns his prosecutor, John Cooke, Cromwell's solicitor-general. "If Cooke is not entitled to all of the praise that is heaped upon him, his role in history is worth remembering. And it is told in this book with Geoffrey Robertson's flair and advocate's passion."

Better known for her plays, Sunnyside is only Joanna Murray-Smith's third novel in 13 years. It is reviewed this week by Juliette Hughes, who states that the novel "does revisit the theme of now-quaint excursions such as Peyton Place: white middle-class infidelity. But times change - Peyton Place's publishers described it as scorching; it treated inconvenient sexual attachments in far less detail and with incalculably less assurance than does Joanna Murray-Smith."

Literati: Australian Comtemporary Literary Figures Discuss Fear, Frustrations and Fame by James Phelan is compared to a recent book of Ramona Kaval's, Tasting Life Twice, which has been mentioned on this weblog a few times over the past month. The Kaval takes a deeper look into small number of writers, while Phelan attempts to cover the full range of the writing experience from blank page to post-publication review. Both appear to have their place.

Short notices are given to: Babies in the Bush: The Making of an Australian Image by Kim Torney, who : "...deftly traces the obsessive telling of stories in which lost children become embelmatic heroes and nation-builders like the early pioneers and explorers"; Crackpots, Ratbags & Rebels: A Swag of Aussie Eccentrics by Robert Holden: "Sydney, in particular, seemed to specialise in witches, bag ladies, and exhibitionists. Holden's entertaining book provides something for everybody - from men with whips to women who did the splits"; and Seven Deadly Colours by Andrew Parker, who "...argues that the eye is evidence for, not against evolution".

2005 Age Book of the Year Winners

Gay Bilson's book Plenty: Digressions on Food has won the "Age" Book of the Year Award.

The winners of this year's awards were announced on Friday 19th August.

Plenty: Digressions on Food, Gay Bilson

The Colosseum, Dipti Saravanamuttu

Sixty Lights, Gail Jones

2005 Australian Children's Book of the Year Award Winners

The Australian Children's Book of the Year Awards have been announced, with the winners being:

Older Readers
The Running Man, Michael Gerard Bauer

Honour books:
Fireshadow, Anthony Eaton
By the River, Steven Herrick

Younger Readers
The Silver Donkey, Sonya Hartnett

Honour books:
A Horse Called Elvis, John Heffernan
Billy Mack's War, James Roy

Early Childhood
Where is the Green Sheep?, Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek

Honour books:
Mutt Dog!, Stephen Michael King
Seven More Sleeps, Margaret Wild, illustrated by Donna Rawlins

Picture Book
Are We There Yet? A Journey Around Australia, Alison Lester

Honour books:
Belonging, Jeannie Baker
Refugees, David Miller

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
To the Moon and Back: The Amazing Australians at the Forefront of Space Travel Plus Fantastic Moon Facts, Bryan Sullivan with Jackie French, illustrated by Gus Gordon

Honour books:
Gogo Fish! The Story of the Western Australian State Fossil Emblem, John Long, illustrated by Jill Ruse and John Long
The Grief Book: Strategies for Young People, Elizabeth Vercoe with Kerry Abramowski

Poem: My Books by J. Lindo-Webb

Pile of brown books, upon my bare oak board,
How grim your age-old covers look tonight!
Have I been over-envious of your hoard?
Robbed it too greedily, in mood too light?

Or is it, rather, that, with little care,
Browsing, I have not profited enough
In the rich pastures that your chapters bear?
Or have I treated you with hand too rough?

Let me remember. Ah! the livelong day
To slight enrichment of my soul has gone;
Yet it has passed with you. On me then lay
The blame! and now the pain -- I muse alone.

Closed are the pages that I idly turned;
You frown to chide me for the wasted hours.
Ah! through my window, while the daylight burned.
Over your leaves I saw only flowers.

And now my poor lamp flickers and burns low;
Yet am I unrepenant of my sin.
Grim pile of wisdom, do not scold me so
That I have left a flower your leaves within.

First published in The Bulletin, 01 July 1915

Robert Drewe / Louis Nowra / Dinny O'Hearn Part 2

The saga continues in today's "Age" with a follow-up in the letters column. One Bruce Nichol, of Albury, writes that he believes he was probably in the pub on the night Nowra and O'Hearn went at it. Now I should mention that part of the story I left out yesterday (cos I didn't think it was that interesting and cos I didn't want to get sued for copyright infringement) concerned Nowra's determination not to mess up his suit during the aforementioned donnnybrook. Of course Nichol picks up on this point: "...I believe I was in the bar at Stewart's Hotel in Carlton at the time of the alleged affray, and all I can remember after all this time was an inconspicuous bloke picking a blue with the well-known-at-Stewart's Dinny, and then, almost in tears, shouting: 'Don't rip my coat!' 'My coat!' 'Watch out for my coat!' There wasn't much 'clocking' being done."

It just gets better and better. As a means of dating this little incident, which Drewe neglected to do in his original piece, O'Hearn's review of Palu was published in "The Age" on 5th September 1987.

Robert Drewe / Louis Nowra / Dinny O'Hearn

In the latest Weekend Round-Up I started off by linking to a piece by Robert Drewe in last Saturday's "Age" newspaper. This piece had Drewe looking back on his time attending the Melbourne Writers' Festival. One anecdote, in particular, seems have struck a nerve with one of the featured writers, Louis Nowra. The anecdote went as follows: "It began innocently enough on the Friday evening. When playwright and novelist Louis Nowra and I came out of a talk session together. I suggested a drink at Stewart's, where, as a visitor from Sydney, I planned to catch up with Dinny O'Hearn. Louis thought this was a good idea. I soon learnt why. "We arrived there and ordered a drink; Dinny arrived five minutes later, and as he was removing his coat and tweed cap, Louis rushed up and swung a punch at him. It turned out that Dinny had recently unfavourably reviewed Louis' novel Palu. A small hubbub followed, culminating in Louis rapidly exiting the pub."

All good festival fun you might think, but it probably helps if you get the story right. Or, at least, check available sources. Yesterday, Wednesday 17th August, Louis Nowra wrote to "The Age" to give his side of the story. He starts his letter by outlining Drewe's version of events and comments that it is "wildly inaccurate". "First, although my novel had been reviewed by a D.J. O'Hearn, I had never heard of him...A few years later, O'Hearn said in an interview that we discussed the review, which admittedly had annoyed me, and then I went for him. He said my aggression was over the review.

"This was slightly disingenuous. Palu was a novel about a black woman and at the time my girlfriend was black. The fact was that he made some derogatory remarks about black women that so incensed me that I determined to clock him."

So, we all squared away about that then?

Spam Comments

I thought all my Christmases had come at once tonight when I found an extra 100 comments had been added to the weblog during the day. But, sadly, they were all spam.

MoveableType isn't too bad at handling spam as it allows the banning of specific IP addresses, so, theoretically, spam from these people won't turn up again. This has happened from time to time where I've had one or two spam comments during any one particular day. But 100 seems like a concerted attack. I've worked my way through them now and deleted all the comments I can. I'm just not sure if this is as far as it goes. Therefore I would suggest, if you intend to leave a comment, don't leave an email address. I don't think the spam robots are smart enough to pick them up but it is better to be safe rather than sorry.

Children's Book Week

Children's Book Week starts this Saturday 20th August and runs to the 26th. The aim of the week is to promote book reading amongst children. The Australian Children's Book of the Year Awards are announced on August 19th.

Weekend Round-Up #33

Robert Drewe leads off "The Age Review" this weekend with a piece describing his experiences over 20 years at the Melbourne Writers' Festival. His story of the Margaret Atwood panel is a classic.

The big Australian review is of Peter Temple's latest crime novel The Broken Shore. Any review that starts as this one does leaves you in no doubt as to the feelings of the reviewer: "If you only read one crime novel this year, read The Broken Shore. It's not just a good yarn - there are plenty of those - what Peter Temple achieves here is much, much more, capturing a specifically Australian perspective in prose as spare as it is precise. This book is the best yet from a writer who has already won a well-deserved reputation as one of our finest crime writers." Which gives me the impression that Temple is moving away from the "standard" crime novel template into an area occupied by few and the best of the current crime-writing crop anywhere in the world. I'm thinking Mankell, Rankin, Connelly and their ilk. These writers transcend genre. "In then end, it's all about family: the one you're born with and the one you make. But most of all it's about the writing, and in that regard The Broken Shore might just be a great Australian novel, irrespective of genre. Read it for what Temple does with words."

Carrie Tiffany, for that is her name, is getting an amazing amount of coverage lately for a first-time novellist. Her novel, Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living, is reviewed by Judith Armstrong.

Short notices are given to: Gallipoli: The Fatal Shore by Harvey Broadbent which "is a book that puts the Anzac contribution in context, seeing it as part of a multinational battle...This is a balanced, highly informed, simply but very well written account of what has gone down in history as a heroic stuff-up"; Ten Pound Poms by A. James Hammerton and Alistair Thomson: "The significance of post-war immigration cannot be exaggerated too much...The English contribution is rarely examined, and this very readable, well overdue and often quite moving account redresses the imbalance"; Every Eighteen Minutes by Ellen Flint: "...if people gone missing is common, Ellen Flint's account of her brother's disappearance is anything but. What would be an interesting enough book because of the subject matter becomes a compelling narrative in the hands of a skilful writer"; and 100 Years Old: 24 Australian Centenarians Tell Their Story by Tina Koch, Charmaine Power & Debbie Kralik: "One of the characteristics of the 24 centenarians who were interviewed for this book is their willingness to find the joke, both in the present and the past."

"The Weekend Australian's" major item this week concerns those Australian writers who, while not so well-known at home, sell extremely well overseas. Juliet Mariller's Celtic-infused historic fantasies are getting six-figure sales in the US, and she has also been published in Britain, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, China, Poland and Portugal. Gold Coast writer Patricia Shaw is published in 12 languages and enjoys foreign sales that run into the millions. The article covers such writers as Winton, Perlman and Grenville, but it is the lesser known ones that I'll have to keep an eye on. I am aware of such writers as Emily Rodda, Garth Nix, John Marsden and James Valentine, but who are Deb Abela, Celstine Hitiura Vaite and Kate Constable? Time to find out I think.

Christopher Bantick reviews Road Story by Julienne van Loon, winner of last year's "Australian"/Vogel Award. This award continually throws up writers of promise and van Loon seems to be no exception. "As much as Road Story shows a skilled writer at ease with plot and charcaterisation, it also has awkward moments of contrived incident...Apart from these minor flaws, this is a toughly written, insistent novel that leaves us tasting red dust and the bitterness of unfulfilled, damaged lives."

Poem: Our Mutual Regret by L.A. Sigsworth

Why post me nice polite reminders that
   My literary efforts do not suit,
That flowers of thought that bloom beneath my hat
   Just fail to bear remunerative fruit,
That some of my great mental waves are blanks
That warrant only editorial thanks?

Why post me slips - "the E. in C. regrets . . .
   When what I crave is editorial cash?
I'd just as soon have nasty epithets
   That flail with criticism's pointed lash.
Then, hot with anger, on them I might hang
That stinging verse that goes off with a bang.

These neatly-printed editorial slips
   That come to me pinned on rejection screeds,
They buy no roasted beef, or fish and chips.
   That might inspire to further metric deeds.
If they were fat receipts for me to sign,
Ah, what unending joy would then be mine!

O Editor, if you must needs decline
   To let me in your columns fill some space,
To send regrets coincident with mine
   Would surely be a gesture fraught with grace.
Rejection's pangs I sooner might forget
If you will print "Our Mutual Regret."

First published in The Bulletin, 6 October 1927.

Combined Reviews: I Have Kissed Your Lips by Gerard Windsor

ihavekissed.jpg Reviews of I Have Kissed Your Lips by Gerard Windsor.

[This novel has been shortlisted for "The Age" Book of the Year Award.]

There are times when I think I really should change the title of this category. Some of the books featured have not, exactly, gone unnoticed. On the contrary some of them have received quite a swag of notice. And then I come across a book like I Have Kissed Your Lips by Gerard Windsor, and I start to remember why I created this list in the first place.

The major piece on this book was published in the "Australian Book Review" in October 2004. In keeping with the ABR's policy not all reviews are available on the web and their review of this book is one that misses out. Pity. Browyn Rivers is obviously impressed with the book even though she has trouble with parts of it as it "contains one of the few
things still able to generate shock in our culture... This is a forceful novel in ways other than its inflammatory subject matter. Windsor unhesitatingly explores all the emotional darkness inevitable in events he depicts, a practice that can make for exhilarating, if exhausting, reading." A difficult novel whose "idiosyncracies will understandably drive away some readers, but those who perservere will be rewarded."

Peter Craven, in "The Age" certainly doesn't mess about with his judgements, getting his main opinion out in the open right from the off: "Gerard Windsor is a real writer in a country that will often be conned by fool's gold." And concludes that: "He is one of the few contemporary writers who doesn't toy with the idea of fiction as a substitute celluloid. This is a novel of scathing brilliance and the images it conjures up in the vicinity of a terrible mistake come from the precision of the novelist's language." If you've been following Craven's reviews of late you can probably guess who he's referring to as "fool's gold".

There's not much else around on this book but you can read an interview with Windsor from ABC Radio.

Upcoming Sydney Literary Talks

Tuesday 16 August
Marea Stenmark talks about the surprising joys of illness that inspired her book This is Living! - The Joys of Illness. Find out how you can encourage, cheer and comfort people with a life threatening illness and add value to the role of the carer. Booking essential. Time: 10:30am-12:00pm Aug 16 Cost: $5 Venue: Crows Nest Centre, 2 Ernest Place, Crows Nest Bookings: Crows Nest Community Centre (02) 9439 5122 Jeffrey Watson is a journalist and TV reporter with a passion for aviation. He introduces his new book Killer Caldwell: Australia's Greatest Fighter Pilot based on the life of WWII pilot Clive 'Killer' Caldwell. Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm Aug 16 Cost: Free Venue: Stanton Library, 239 Miller Street, North Sydney Enquiries: Stanton Library 02 9936 8400 Sassy protagonist, detective Phryne Fisher, has starred in 15 novels in Kerry Greenwood's popular crime series set in 1920s Melbourne. Her other girl, super-sleuth Corinna Chapman, stars in two thrillers (Earthly delights and Heavenly pleasures). Greenwood chats about keeping her super characters alive in her popular detective series. Time: 5:30pm-6:30pm Aug 16 Cost: $16.50/$11 members Venue: The Galleries, State Library of NSW, Macquarie Street, Sydney Bookings: State Library of NSW (02) 9273 1770

Wednesday 17 August
Trapped in the besieged compound of the UN in Indonesia at the end of the Suharto reign; Foreign Correspondent Richard Lloyd Parry recounts these harrowing experiences in his book In The Time of Madness. Time: 6:00pm-8:00pm Aug 17 Cost: $20/$10 Members/$5 Assoc./$10 conc. Venue: Glover Cottages, 124 Kent St, Sydney Enquiries: Aust. Institute of International Affairs 02 9247
Award-winning author, Kate Grenville, discusses her latest book The Secret River, about a man - no better and no worse than most - who finds himself becoming a killer. Kate Grenville won the prestigious Orange Prize for her earlier novel, The Idea of Perfection, in 2002. Time: 7:00pm Aug 17 Cost: $7.70 conc./$5.50 Venue: Mosman Library, 605 Military Rd, Mosman Bookings: Mosman Library 02 9978 4090

Thursday 18 August
Journey with Kate Llewellyn, Bunty Avieson and Marion Halligan as they explore travel writing with a difference. They have visited surprising places across various continents and their personal memoirs give a unique edge to travel writing, where readers become part of the journey. Time: 12:30pm-1:30pm Aug 18 Cost: $16.50, $11 Venue: Dixson Room, State Library of NSW, Macquarie Street, Sydney Bookings: State Library of NSW (02) 9273 1770
Matthew Reilly - Hell's Island 1.30pm - 2.30pm Sydney CBD - Pitt Street Mall, LGF - Imperial Arcade 168-174 Pitt Street Mall, Sydney , NSW 2000 Ph: 02 9235 1188 A Books Alive! event.

Friday 19 August
Andrew Gaze - The Andrew Gaze Story 12.30pm Sydney CBD - Pitt Street Mall, LGF - Imperial Arcade 168-174 Pitt Street Mall, Sydney , NSW 2000 Ph: 02 9235 1188

Wednesday 24 August
Jeffrey Watson talks about his new book, Killer Caldwell: Australia's Greatest Fighter Pilot, based on the life of Clive Caldwell, ace flyer during World War II. Time: 12:30pm-1:15pm Aug 24 Cost: Free Venue: Willoughby Civic Centre, 409 Victoria Av, Chatswood Bookings: Willoughby City Council 02 9777 7900

Thursday 25 August
Join a discussion on Australia's policies on immigration, asylum and the detention of refugees, their impacts on detainees and deportees and on us. Discussion led by Phil
Glendinning, director of the Edmund Rice Centre, and author of Deported to Danger. Time: 7:30pm-9:00pm Aug 25 Cost: $10/$5 unwaged Venue: Mosman Art Gallery & Community Centre, Cnr Myahgah Rd & Short St, (near Spit Junction), Mosman Bookings: North Shore Peace & Democracy (02) 9960 2523

Sunday 28 August
Carlotta, one of Australia's best-known entertainers, and her biographer Prue MacSween, author of Carlotta: I'm Not That Kind of Girl, join Rachel Kent, Senior Curator to explore the blurred boundary between reality and fiction in the interview
process. Time: 2:30pm-3:30pm Aug 28 Cost: $15/$10 members/$12 conc. Venue: Museum of Contemporary Art, 140 George Street, Sydney Bookings: Museum of Contemporary Art (02) 9245 2484

Monday 29 August
A crime fiction double header. Jane Goodall discusses her new Detective Briony Williams
thriller The Visitor while screenwriter John Misto discusses his first crime novel The Devil's Companions. Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm Aug 29 Cost: Free Venue: Lvl 3 Ashfield Civic Ctre, Ashfield Library, 260 Liverpool Rd, Ashfield Bookings: Ashfield Library 02 9716 1810

Wednesday 31 August
Celebrity chef and author Bill Granger is known for his fresh ingredients and great desserts. He talks about his career and introduces his latest book Simply Bill. Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm Aug 31 Cost: Free Venue: Stanton Library, 239 Miller Street, North Sydney Enquiries: Stanton Library 02 9936 8400

[Details of other events can be found at Sydney Talks.]

2005 Man Booker Prize Longlist Announced

The longlist for the 2005 Man Booker Prize has now been announced. The novels listed are:

The Harmony Silk Factory, Tash Aw
The Sea, John Banville
Arthur & George, Julian Barnes
A Long Long Way, Sebastian Barry
Slow Man, J.M. Coetzee
In the Fold, Rachel Cusk
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
All For Love, Dan Jacobson
A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian, Marina Lewycka
Beyond Black, Hilary Mantel
Saturday, Ian McEwan
The People's Act of Love, James Meek
Shalimar the Clown, Salman Rushdie
The Accidental, Ali Smith
On Beauty, Zadie Smith
This Thing of Darkness, Harry Thompson
This is the Country, William Wall

I'm a bit disconcerted by the lack of Australian entries on the list. I thought Australian fiction has had a very strong year with the Drewe, Grenville, Hartnett, and McGahan as standouts. It may well be that the publishers didn't enter the books for the prize, but the
judges can call in books they feel need to be considered. The only Australian book on the list is Slow Man by Coetzee, which Ladbrokes has at 20/1. They must have seen an advance copy, as I don't think the book has even been published yet.

The favourites with Ladbrokes at this time are: Barnes 4/1, McEwan 5/1, Rushdie 7/1, Jacobson 8/1, and Mantel 8/1. You can see the full list and the odds on the "Daily Telegraph" site.

Romance Writers of Australia

Carolyn Webb, of "The Age", profiles a number of Australian Romance writers in the lead-up to their annual conference, which runs from August 26 to 28, in Melbourne. The bonus this year is that the RWA has had their conference recognised as an umbrella event attached to the Melbourne Writers' Festival. A major coup I suspect.

As might be expected, the main thrust of the piece is that these writers don't get any form of respect in the literary world. This has also the experience of crime and science fiction writers in the past. Their public perception has changed gradually over the years but it seems that the romance field lags somewhat.

The romance genre is not one I visit very often and I think that, like all other artistic endeavours, Sturgeon's Law applies: "90% of everything is crap." The corollary of which is that 10% is pretty good to excellent. The difficulty with any genre lies in getting that 10% noticed.

Weblog Template

I've been tinkering with the original weblog template over the past month or so and finally decided that the main body text was just way too small. I'll keep the sidebar text size the same but having the main content larger will help to differentiate it a bit. Even I was struggling to read it. If it's no good let me know.

Review: C.J. Dennis: A Collection of Verse by C.J. Dennis

cjdnla_small.jpg Review of C.J. Dennis: A Collection of Verse by C.J. Dennis.

The National Library of Australia, as part of its publishing programme, has released a new collection of C.J. Dennis's works lavisly illustrated with reproductions of a number of Hal Gye painting and illustrations.

Dennis is best known in this country as the best-selling author of The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, which was originally published in 1915, and which has subsequently sold well in excess of 100,000 copies in this country alone. In the mid-1980s, Angus and Robertson publishers re-released all of Dennis's major books and collections, with the exception of The Singing Garden, and yet, in the past twenty years, only The C.J. Dennis Collection edited by Garrie Hutchinson in 1987, More Than Sentimental Bloke compiled by John Derum in 1990, and The Complete Sentimental Bloke edited by Neil James in 2001, have been published. So a new collection of Dennis's works is certainly due.

This current book "samples" Dennis's work, taking a chapter or poem from each of his major works and presenting them in near-chronological order. The collection starts with "The Australaise", Dennis's entry into a national song-writing competition run by The Bulletin in 1908. This is a pretty good lead-off for the rest of the entries, showing Dennis's strong rhyming skills and use of humour to make his point. What follows are excerpts from the Sentimental Bloke sequence, The Glugs of Gosh, and poems from BackBlock Ballads and Other Verses, A Book for Kids and The Singing Garden. The work ranges from war poetry to childrens' ditties to paeans to nature.

All of Dennis's major themes and styles are covered, providing a good representation of his life's work. But the one thing that makes this collection stand out from those that have come before is the use of Hal Gye's artwork. Gye was the artist reponsible for the winged cherubs of the Sentimental Bloke, the tree-climbing Glugs and the contemplative ex-soldiers that illustrated the original Dennis books. I've always been a little ambivalent about the Gye cherubs, but have come to the conclusion over the years that the two are now basically inseparable. There is no point complaining about their use: Dennis approved of them and that's really all we need to know. The illustrations here are from the Harry Chaplin Collection, housed at the National Library, and liberal use has been made of Gye illustrations that have previously gone unpublished, such as the one of "C.J. Glug" that graces the front cover of the book.

This collection is therefore a timely reminder of the genius of Dennis and will introduce all his works to modern readers and, hopefully, bring the works of Hal Gye to a wider audience.

On a personal note I was in the National Library of Australia a couple of years back looking into the Harry Chaplin Collection for Dennis material when I was asked to have a chat with the chief archivist of the library. I was led to believe this was the standard thing for new researchers as the library wanted to make sure that their archived material was being treated with respect. I was asked if I was researching for possible future publication. Not wanting to burn any bridges before I got to them, I did say that publication was a possibility. Of course, I shouldn't assume that this chat wasn't anything more than normal procedure, but it is interesting to see this book come directly out of the material I was studying.

Upcoming Melbourne Literary Talks

Tuesday 9 August
Jan Bearnes, Keith Miller's niece, will launch Roland Perry's book Miller's Luck, a compelling and intimate account of the fortunate life of Australia's most dynamic and charismatic sporting hero. Readings, 701 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, 6:30pm. Writers in Focus: Annamarie Jagose and Delia Falconer Join two of our finest literary novelists as they read from and discuss their latest novels. Jagose's work has been described as "poised and elegant", Falconer's as "attaining lyric compression while offering the most fantastical richness". Time: 6.30-8pm (Refreshments from 6pm) Venue: Village Roadshow Theatrette, Entry 3, La Trobe St Bookings: 8664 7016 Cost: $12/$10

Tuesday 16 August
Family Histories Historically Speaking is a series of forums presented by the History Council of Victoria. In this session, Susan Aykut from Monash University's Institute for Public History, convenes a panel to respond to a recent Australian Story on ABC TV (Bridge over Myall Creek). The panel will examine themes of family history and reconciliation, and the challenge facing historians who work on the histories of their own
families. Time: Tuesday 16 August, 6-7.30pm Venue: Ian Potter Seminar Room, Entry 1, Swanston Street Bookings: 8664 7261 Free

Thursday 18 August
Dr Sue Yell, Head of Communications and Writing from the University of Monash will launch David Holmes' book Communication Theory. Readings, 309 Lygon Street, Carlton, 6:30pm.

Wednesday 24 August
Diane Bell will launch her latest book Evil: A Novel. Controversial in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, she is both a brilliant anthropologist and writer of rich, evocative prose. Readings, 309 Lygon Street, Carlton, 6:30pm.

Thursday 25 August
Brenda Niall, Australia's most awarded biographer, will launch her new book: Judy Cassab: A Portrait, the extraordinary story of a woman who overcame living in the
shadow of the holocaust to become one of Australia's most celebrated artists. Readings, 701 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, 6:30pm.

2005 Hugo Award Winners Announced

The Winners of the 2005 Hugo Awards for excellence in the field of science fiction have been announced.

The major winners were:

Novel: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Novella: "The Concrete Jungle" by Charles Stross
Novelette: "The Faery Handbag" by Kelly Link
Short Story: "Travels with My Cats" by Mike Resnick
Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: The Incredibles
Fanzine: Plotka edited by Alison Scott, Steve Davies and Mike Scott
Fan Writer: David Langford

The 2006 World Science Fiction Convention will be held in Los Angeles, USA, 23-27 August, 2006.

Weekend Round-Up #32

I was gently chided last week by one reader of this litblog who firstly corrected my use of the work "fulsome", I was thinking it had completely the opposite meaning, and who then thought I was being cheeky in its use. No, not cheeky on that point, just plain wrong. I was, however, being more than a little cheeky in suggesting that the reviewer allocated by "The Age" to cover Robert Drewe's new novel, Grace, was a slower reader than Debra Adelaide in "The Australian". But it was only tongue-in-cheek, and it's good to see James Bradley reviewing the novel in this week's "Weekend Age". Bradley is one of the better reviewers doing the rounds at present and reading his work you can tell that writing a good review is an art form in itself. Although he isn't given a lot of room to expand on any themes he might wish to run with, he does put the novel into the context of Drewe's past work, drawing some interesting conclusions:

   "...this sense of restless unease is central to Drewe's work. Written
   through all his writing from The Savage Crows onwards is a
   sense of the ambiguous and unsettled nature of belonging, not just
   in the deep sense in which the notion is usually understood in
   Australia, but in a personal sense...In this respect it's difficult
   not to conflate the work with the writer: wound deep into The
   Shark Net
is the sense that Drewe - the West Australian, the
   writer - has never shaken his sense of himself as a perpetual
   outsider, all appearances to the contrary...In Grace, Drewe's
   first novel in close to a decade, this unease takes on a new form,
   one that pushes Drewe's vision of Australia as a country founded on
   the air in new directions, forging imaginative connections between
   the experiences of the newest - and most controversial - arrivals
   and the many waves of migration that preceded them, while
   simultaneously exploring the effects of this unease."

Michelle Grattan reviews Tom Frame's book The Life and Death of Harold Holt and finds that: "The book's limitation is that it does not manage to get the reader sufficiently into the skins of Holt and his colleagues, or to convey dramatically enough the feel of Australian society in these years when the baby boomers were becoming adults."

In the annals of this country's black humour, the death of Prime Minister Harold Holt must rank as one of the high points (or should that be low?). How is it possible to actually "lose" a Prime Minister? But we did it. Holt was lost at sea in December 1967 after going for a swim off Cheviot Beach south of Melbourne. Given the number of people that accompany current PM John Howard on his morning "power walks" I suspect he wouldn't be allowed to undertake a Holt-like swim without a shark cage.

Short notices are given to: Falling Forward by David Metzenthen which is found to be "...a likeable and affecting story"; Hackers by Bill Apro & Graeme Hammond tells the story of Apro's pursuit of a Melbourne hacker known as 'Phoenix': "Apro, who is now a director of a computer-security company, paints himself as a hard-done-by lone crusader. Even today, he argues, the authorities still don't take computer crime as seriously as it deserves to be taken"; Dragonsight by Paul Collins who is: "a prolific writer, publisher and editor. His strength is a keen grasp of the particular genre his is writing for, whether it be SF, fantasy or non-fiction. In this case Collins' voice is nicely pitched to the young adult fantasy market; it is rich, lively and at times funny"; The Accidental Developer by Henry Pollack: "You may have misgivings about his life's work, and the dismissive remarks he makes about green bans and environmental activism of the early '70s make uncomfortable reading. But he has a sympathetic voice and the obvious combination of sensitivity and strength is an attractive one."

2005 Age Book of the Year Shortlists

The shortlisted works for the 2005 Age Book of the Year Awards have been released. The winners will be announced at the opening of the Melbourne Writers' Festival on Friday 19th August. The prize in each category is $10,000, with a further $10,000 for Book of the Year.

Plenty: Digressions on Food, Gay Bilson
A Certain Maritime Incident: The Sinking of SIEV X, Tony Kevin
Leaving Year Zero: Stories of Surviving Pol Pot's Cambodia, Richard Lunn
In Tasmania, Nicholas Shakespeare
Pig City: From the Saints to Savage Garden, Andrew Stafford

More or Less Than 1-100, M.T.C. Cronin
Broken/Open, Jill Jones
Domain, Ian McBryde
Blister Pack, David McCooey
The Colosseum, Dipti Saravanamuttu

March, Geraldine Brooks
Surrender, Sonya Hartnett
Sixty Lights, Gail Jones
Marsh Birds, Eva Sallis
I Have Kissed Your Lips, Gerard Windsor

[I must apologise to Dipti Saravanamuttu for not including a link to his poetry collection - I just couldn't find one.]

How we wish the clever writers
   Of our prose and of our verse
For their characters would take a wider range!
There are some which keep recurring
   Like a decimal -- we curse
Their recurrence, and we're aching for a change.

We are weary of the legend
   Where the sergeant of police
Loves the fascinating sister of a "crook,"
And condones a lot of felonies
   And breaches of the peace,
And won't prosecute when cattle have been "shook."

People say, "It's so Australian!"
   And some similar event
May have happened long ago as in the tale,
But police are not romantic
   Now - at least to that extent -
And the "crooks" they cop are handed to the gaol.

There's the big, gum-booted digger --
   Crimson-shirted, with the sash
Which he wore when Ballarat first played the game.
And he's nearly always doing
   Something venturesome and rash
When he isn't "slinging mullock" in his claim.

All the writers since the "'fifties"
   Have delighted in this type,
Who is always big and masterful and flash.
And, whatever he is doing --
   Diggin' - dancin' - stewin' tripe -
Why, he always wears the shirt and boots and sash.

There's the beauteous bush maiden --
   Though her father keeps a pub,
In the local estimation she is IT! --
And she rides unbroken "brumbies"
   Through impenetrable scrub,
An exasperating female, you'll admit.

She is cultured and accomplished,
   And with virtue she's supplied
In accordance with a lavish kind of scale.
So, when tempted by the squatter,
   She prefers to be the bride
Of a humble chap who runs the local mail.

Ah! these types are too familiar,
   They disturb our peace of mind;
But the one which makes us actually ill,
Is that weird, elusive bushman --
   He's in every tale you'll find
And he bears the simple sobriquet of "Bill."

The great prevalence of William
   Makes our indignation boil --
Every reader of Australian fiction knows
How he praces through the poems
   Which are "racy of the soil,"
While he positively permeates our prose.

He's a shepherd, he's a shearer,
   He's a breaker-in of nags,
And he always swims some river in a flood.
But he wrecks our nervous system,
   And reduces it to rags,
'Till we really feel we want to have his blood.

He's a stockman, he's a drover --
   He's on any kind of "lay"
Which may chance to suit the man who slings the ink --
But he always plays the hero
   In an offhand kind of way --
That's enough to make a reader take to drink.

There is game and there is glory
   To be gathered by the bard,
Or the fiction manufacturer who will
Write a stirring backblock story
   (Oh! we know it will be hard!)
Or a poem that is innocent of Bill.

First published in The Bulletin, 22 January 1914

Margo Lanagan

Margo Lanagan's collection of short stories, Black Juice, is getting a lot of coverage around the traps: Rob Gerrand, editor of The Best Australian Science Fiction Writing, mentioned that he enjoyed both this collection and her previous one White Time; and just the other day my 12-year-old daughter asked after it as she has had the book recommended in her English class. Getting your book onto school reading lists must be a huge boon to any Australian writer.

A while back I found that Locus has included the collection in their list of Recommended Reading for 2004 in the sf and fantasy fields, and the following storieswere highlighted: "Earthly Uses", "Red Nose Day", "Rite of Spring", and "Singing My Sister Down". And now I find that "Singing My Sister Down" has been nominated for a World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction, and the book as Best Collection.

All in all this is an impressive sequence. But if that isn't enough, you can find out from the lady herself how she feels about all this on her new weblog, Among Amid Awhile. She's not actually there as I write as she's attending the Byron Bay Writers' Festival. Expect her back next week. The news she does impart is that she is working on a new novel, and that her next collection of stories will be titled Red Spikes.

2005 World Science Fiction Convention

The 2005 World Science Fiction Convention, Interaction, starts later today in Glasgow, Scotland, and "The Scotsman" has a piece by way of introduction. They interview Vince Docherty, co-chair of the event, and the quotes sound like they could have come from me six years ago: "We're very much about the genre as a whole; most of the focus is on books but you can't separate that from films and TV and gaming. There's still a stigma attached to science fiction or any genre, but science fiction was here long before that and will outlast it." At the start of the article the writer, Andrea Mullaney, states: "Fantasy and sci-fi - or SF, as the touchier fans prefer to describe it - has taken over the mainstream."

Not touchier, Andrea, just more accurate. The term "sci-fi", or "skiffy" as we pronounce it, is used as a derogatory term for the crappy end of the market. The preferred term is "sf" or even "SF" if you're feeling a bit more up-market. And no, I'm not splitting hairs here. "Sci-fi" is a media-generated term. The "sf" abbreviation was around long before the other one came along. Whoever coined it must have thought it sounded a bit like
"hi-fi" or something. And who calls their sound system a "hi-fi" these days anyway? Journos, probably.

[Thanks to Bookslut for "The Scotsman" link.]

The Turning by Tim Winton

Tim Winton's latest book, The Turning, hit the shelves in the UK on April 1 this year, but his US readers will have to wait till September 13th. I have no idea of why this has occurred. The book is currently sitting at number 9,131 on Amazon's UK sales ranking and, given his worldwide standing, you'd think there would be some attempt at a simultaneous publication. After all, it was released in Australia in October 2004. Anyway, it's Tim's birthday today so I thought I'd have a look at how his book is being received overseas.

The two reviews I've linked to previously both appeared in the UK Daily Telegraph a week apart: Lewis Jones found that the stories were: "Vivid, elegiac and humorous, they are told in a relaxed prose that frequently strikes sparks - 'the hard laughter of ducks,' for example, 'like mechanical clowns in a sideshow.' Unusually, I think, they bridge the gulf between short story and novel."

Ian Thompson was quite taken with the book: was quite taken with the book: "Winton likes to confront dark themes - a betrayal of friendship, an old love dangerously rekindled - yet the collection is so exquisitely written, so precise in its construction, that it is a joy to read." He does refer to Winton as "Australia's best-loved young writer" which the author should feel happy about, now that he has hit 45.

In other UK reviews, Lindsay Pfeffer in "The Observer" states that: "The beauty of Winton's work lies not in the hope to which some characters awaken, but in his skill at making grief palpable to readers who may be unscathed by the agonies that his characters suffer."

John Kinsella in "The Scotsman" compares Winton to Angela Carter in the way "Winton creates a world that works painfully towards resolutions, and no matter how much darkness or grotesquery interrupts the quest for light, awareness ultimately surfaces." Not having read any Carter I can't comment. Yes, yes, I know. Just another show of my appalling ignorance of modern English literature.

2005 Byron Bay Writers' Festival

The 2005 Byron Bay Writers' Festival starts on August 4th and runs till August 7th. The program looks pretty good and features such writers as Tom Keneally introducing two films made from his novels, including "The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith", Sonya Hartnett, Kate Jennings, Anne Summers, Robert Drewe, Kate Grenville, Delia Falconer, Julian Burnside, Isobelle Carmody and Margo Lanagan, amongst many others. For a literary festival in what is essentially a small country town, there is a lot here that would be very interesting.

Weekend Round-Up #31

Morag Fraser, adjunct professor in the School of Humanities and Social Science at La Trobe University and Miles Franklin award judge, takes a look at Conquest: A New History of the Modern World by David Day, and finds some things to admire and some to criticise. The thrust of the book is summarised fairly succinctly: "Day tackles war from the outset. He takes dispossession, mostly violent dispossession, as his central theme and looks at the history of the modern world as a history of peoples 'supplanted' by others more powerful, more ambitious, more ruthless or, simply, more gifted by fortune or the gods of war at any particular time." Which seems to follow on from a number of Jared Diamond's theories. Fraser's quibbles appear to lie with the broad-sweep of the book rather than the basic conception. With a theme as wide of this sometimes broad sweeps are what is required.

Farah Farouque is not exactly exuberant in her praise of either of Postcode: The Spintering of a Nation by Wayne Swan or Affluenza by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss. Swan, current Federal Labor front-bencher is criticised early on for being a political insider - and therefore on a mission to further his politcal ends - and for starting his work with some biographical material. On the other hand (or is it the same one?) "Affluenza is a lively read with a punishingly compelling tone - sometimes it feels like indulging in a bout of self-flagellation as it outlines society's excesses; our oversized houses, our ridiculously expensive designer sunglasses and our pets who, in this vision, are inevitably over-indulged." which sounds all right until she concludes that: "It's an idea, however, that's unlikely to overly engage our political literati any time soon." So I came away from this review with no real idea of what she thought of either book.

Short notices are given to: The Somme by Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson who "...have put together a painstakingly detailed account of one of the great stuff-ups of modern war...Morbidly compelling"; Noble Sindhu Horses by Lynette Chataway: "This is a novel that sparkles with life and is enriched by an empathic vision that underpins the different cultures it explores"; Leaning Towards Pisa: An Italian Love Story by Sue Howard whose "...sea change is ... organic, something that grew from fertile soil and flowered into a happiness that did not necessarily come at the expense of loved ones"; Death of a Doctor by Sue Williams: the "representation of [Dr John] Harrison, his accusers and his enemies may well be accurate - but the biography would have been stronger, and perhaps even more persuasive, if she had allowed readers to judge for themselves"; Mythform: The Making of Nearamnew at Federation Square by Paul Carter, Nearamnew is "the beautiful artwork consisting of engraved texts set in the paving stones of the Federation Square plaza"; In Your Face by Rochelle Jackson who is "less biographer and more ghost writer, not just quoting long passages of [Billy 'The Texan'] Longley's own words but also frequently adopting his perspective as her own".

The big Australian novel of the moment is Grace by Robert Drewe, and it's interesting that "The Weekend Australian" should review it this week while "The Age" didn't. Maybe Debra Adelaide reads faster than whoever is reviewing the book elsewhere. And you can tell it is an important book because "The Australian" has included the review on its website. Doubly odd. And Adelaide is pretty impressed overall: "Intense in scope and often sensuously detailed, Grace is also grand and sweeping in a way that will seem, to fans of Drewe, inevitably cinematic, with individual films providing compass points for Grace's emotional journey throughout the novel. Scene, incident and mood are all portrayed with fluid economy. At the same time, themes are richly layered, events are altogether intriguing and complex, characters are surprising to the end...Grace is proof that reports of the death of the novel are greatly exaggerated. Indeed, it indicates that there is definitely a future for the novel in this country, a more gracile one." Lavish indeed.

Upcoming Sydney Literary Talks

Tuesday 2 August
Sue Howard introduces, Leaning Towards Pisa: An Italian Love Story, which describes her experience of deciding on impulse to quit her job for good and strike out afresh. It is a big decision. There are family, children and a relationship to consider, but the lure of the great unknown proves too strong. Time: 12:30pm-1:15pm Aug 02 Cost: Free Venue: Willoughby Civic Centre, 409 Victoria Av, Chatswood Bookings: Willoughby City Council 02 9777 7900
Gary Nash speaks about his autobiography The Tarasov Saga: From Russia, through China to Australia, which was chosen by the Australian Bookseller and Publisher magazine as one of the top non-fiction books of 2002. Time: 6:30pm-8:00pm Aug 02 Cost: $7/$5 members & conc. Venue: NSW Writers' Centre, Rozelle Hospital Grounds, Rozelle Bookings: Soirees Litteraires, NSW Writers Centre (02) 9518 4615

Monday 8 August
Literary Lunch: Allison DuBois Allison DuBois is a medium and profiler who has helped solve numerous crimes and is the inspiration behind the television series "Medium". She talks about her life experiences and her latest book Don't Kiss Them Goodbye. Time: 12:30pm-2:15pm Aug 08 Cost: $68 incl. lunch Venue: Sofitel Wentworth Hotel,
Elizabeth St, Sydney Bookings: Dymocks & Sydney Morning Herald 02 9449 4366
Australian author Robert Drewe won international acclaim for his book The Shark Net. He introduces his new book Grace. Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm Aug 08 Cost: Free Venue: Stanton Library, 239 Miller Street, North Sydney Enquiries: Stanton Library 02 9936 8400

Tuesday 9 August
Robert Drewe talks to Bulletin Editor, Kathy Bail, about his new novel Grace - part
action thriller, part road movie - based on the experiences of a young women who flees her inner-city life for the remote wilderness. Time: 6:30pm Aug 09 Cost: $9/$6 members Venue: Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe Bookings: Gleebooks 02 9660 2333

Wednesday 10 August
Hsu-Ming Teo talks about her novel Behind the Moon, based on the experiences of three friends who come together for an explosive dinner which exposes the frailty and strengths of their relationships. Time: 6:00pm Aug 10 Cost: $9/$6 members Venue: Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe Bookings: Gleebooks 02 9660 2333

Thursday 11 August
Actor William McInnes, Blue Heelers & Sea Change discusses his new book A Man's Got to Have a Hobby. He writes with humour, affection and warmth about growing up in the 60's and 70's and the characters who contributed to his experiences. Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm Aug 11 Cost: Free Venue: Lvl 3 Ashfield Civic Ctre, Ashfield Library, 260 Liverpool Rd, Ashfield Bookings: Ashfield Library 02 9716 1810
Human rights lawyer, author and broadcaster Geoffrey Robertson QC talks about his latest book The Tyrannicide Brief, based on the story of the man who sent Charles I to the scaffold. Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm Aug 11 Cost: Free Venue: Hutley Hall, North Sydney Council, 200 Miller Street, North Sydney Enquiries: Stanton Library 02 9936 8400

Sunday 14 August
Sydney PEN members have recently returned from China, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Krygystan. Join them as they report back on their travels. Time: 4:00pm Aug 14 Cost: By donation Venue: Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe Bookings: Gleebooks 02 9514 2738

Books Alive 2005

The 2005 Books Alive campaign has begun. The following is extracted from the Australia Council website:

"Federal Minister for the Arts and Sport, Senator Rod Kemp officially launched Books Alive 2005 at a public event this morning at Westfield Miranda in Sydney's southern suburbs.

"At the same time Deborah Thomas, Editorial Director of The Australian Women's Weekly, launched Hell Island the new short novel by Matthew Reilly written exclusively for this year's Books Alive.

"Until August 31 Books Alive will give away a free copy of Matthew Reilly's Hell Island with any book purchased from The 2005 Books Alive Great Read Guide.

"The Guide is the cornerstone of this year's promotion. A fresh, contemporary list of 50 great books for adults and children, it will be distributed to 2.5 million Australians throughout the campaign, encouraging them to buy a book. The Guide aims to simplify the world of books and empower occasional readers to make more satisfying reading choices.

"The 50 books include five celebrity choices:

Layne Beachley, Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch
Liz Ellis, Dirt Music by Tim Winton
Mark Ferguson, Atonement by Ian McEwan
Rove McManus, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay and
Ian Ross, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.

"In addition to Matthew Reilly's book, over half the titles in The Books Alive Great Read Guide are by Australian writers, including Helen Garner, Andy Griffiths, David Malouf, John Marsden and Di Morrissey.

"Books Alive is the biggest promotion of books and reading staged in Australia. It is funded by the Australian Government, developed through the Australia Council for the Arts and supported by the Australian book industry.

"Books Alive runs from 27 July to 31 August 2005."

Don't you just love sentences like: "The Guide aims to simplify the world of books and empower occasional readers to make more satisfying reading choices"?

What's the word "empower" doing in there? This is just marketing-speak for "help" isn't it?

And the list of books? Forget it. Can't find it anywhere. You can get a copy in the August issue of "The Australian Women's Weekly". But surely it should be listed on the web somewhere. The Books Alive website doesn't help. It's generally referred to as "closing the loop".

[Update: a further web search has found the list of books on the Language Books Centre website, for which I am grateful.]

Christina Stead Revisited

In this week's "Weekend Australian" Peter Craven extols the virtues of the great Australian writer Christina Stead, paying particular attention to what is considered her greatest novel, The Man Who Loved Children. In his excellent piece, Craven puts the main question and then
goes ahead and answers it:

"Why should we bother with Stead? Because she was one of the greatest writers, one of the greatest artists in any medium, this country has produced and one of the better writers of the 20th century. And, for what it's worth, the country of her birth is written all over her work wherever it is set. It was Australia that gave Stead that grand, long-breathed style that seems to sweep up the world in its sails, which is not afraid of eloquence or excess and which the reader has to accept as an article of faith or be lost on the rocks while the sea of Stead's magic sweeps out."
The other question that can be asked is: was she really an Australian writer anyway? After all, she left the country when she was in her mid-twenties and didn't return until her early 70s. The bulk of her important work was produced while she was in "her deliberate expatriation", as Craven puts it. I believe she was, though I must admit to her being another author I've sadly neglected. Still, I'm looking into what to take with me on a family holiday on a couple of months, and I'm currently tossing up between Stead and Hazzard. I think Craven has convinced me to give Christina a bit of a go.

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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