October 2005 Archives

Peter Temple News

From "The Guardian" Bookseller column: "Most of us would be content with founding two major publishing houses. But Anthony Cheetham, who was pushed out of Orion in a coup two years ago, is at it again. He's investing in a new company, Quercus, which will specialise in crime fiction and reference books with a twist. Cheetham knows the worth of good partners: the crime list will be run by Otto Penzler, the New York bookseller, and former Fourth Estate publisher Christopher Potter will join the editorial board.

"Quercus (Latin for oak tree) has already signed some promising American crime and thriller writers - Joyce Carol Oates, Andrew Klavan, Thomas Cook, Joe Gores - and the highly rated Australian author Peter Temple. Its first two "smart, approachable" reference books will be Speeches That Changed the World and Universe, an illustrated tour of the cosmos. As larger publishers become ever more cautious, Quercus will have no problem finding quality material. But after seeing his Orion and Century absorbed into European conglomerates, Cheetham is determined to keep things small and independent. Quercus will publish 30 books in its first year and keep a close eye on overheads, meaning it can be profitable on sales of a few thousand copies of each. The bedrock of its list will be linked to the contract books business run by Cheetham's partner Mark Smith - deals with US booksellers like Barnes & Noble enable larger print runs and cheaper cover prices." Which gives a little more information than is probably necessary but the context is important here.

Weekend Round-Up #43

In the "Weekend Age" this week Jeff Sparrow looks at Freeing Ali: The Human Face Of The Pacific Solution by Michael Gordon, whose "slim book traces his attempts to visit the offshore detention centre at Nauru, a surreal place rendered so poor by the collapse of the phosphate industry that its Government worries about repo-men seizing the one aeroplane in its fleet." I find it impossible to write about this despicable episode with getting incandescently angry. How our current Prime Minister can think this "Pacific solution" to the "refugee crisis" was a success is beyond me. The important point, as Sparrow puts it is that "when politicians portray people as objects, it's all too likely something inhuman is happening."

As a reader I have a long-term interest in the human race's myths and legends so Dating Aphrodite: Modern Adventures in the Ancient World by Luke Slattery might be the book for me. John Armstrong finds that "Is is hard to imagine a more companionable guide to the myths and heroes, ideas and attitudes of the ancient Greeks and Romans than Luke Slattery. He weaves his elegant discussions of the stories and personalities of the ancient world into the narrative of his own wanderings on classic soil." Which sounds like a good way to introduce the stories - a mixture of "the genres of travel writing and ancient history". And it's good to see that the author doesn't trivialise his subject-matter: "Slattery's work is representative of a movement in modern thought - one that, as yet, has no special name. He is unafraid of being serious. He wants to understand and discuss the great topics of life; but he is generous and easy with his knowledge; he focuses on why ideas matter, how they connect with experience."

Short notices are given to : The Life of George Bass by Miriam Estensen: "In this fine portrait of Bass, Miriam Estensen reveals a man whose great intellect, curiosity and hunger for adventure typified the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment"; By the Seat of My Pants edited by Don George: "Most of the stories have the quality of an extended, fleshed-out and well-told anecdote -- nothing profound but consistently entertaining"; Bumageddon: The Final Pongflict by Andy Griffiths: "...the final book in Andy Griffith's cheeky best-selling trilogy, set in a world where the buttocks are revolting, in more ways than one"; Remarkable Maps edited by John O. E. Clarke: "Considering the breadth and complexity of the subject, John Clarke has chosen a dazzling selection of maps both beautiful and important"; Banana Heart Summer by Merlinda Bobis: "Bobis has done a great service to her sisters in Australia - the perjoratively termed Filipino brides. I now have and understanding of what they left behind - their poor homes, their hearts and their fragrant food."

In "The Australian" the big new work of Australian fiction is Prochownik's Dream by Alex Miller. "Underneath the surface story is a thesis: although art and life don't fit together well, it's the attempts to solve that problem, emotional disasters and all, that give rise to art in the first place...The main story-line isn't really the point of the novel. It's what is just out of eyeshot, just out of focus, that is most important."

Matthew Reilly might not be everyone's cup of tea, but we have to admit he's found a literary genre that brings him remarkable success" some two million sales worldwide isn't to be scoffed at. His latest book, Seven Ancient Wonders is reviewed in this weekend's "Sydney Morning Herald". "Popular fiction may not provide the aesthetic pleasure or ambiguous meanings of literary fiction, but the likes of Reilly's Seven Ancient Wonders dispense instant therapy: escapist solutions to our anxieties. Reilly's ironic celebration of Australia at the end of Seven Ancient Wonders will make you laugh out loud. And laughing, Reilly implies, is one way to resist fear."

The "SMH" also reviews: Original Face by Nicholas Jose, "a rich portrayal of Chinese expatriate culture in a fast-paced thriller", and Secrets of the Jury Room by Malcolm Knox, that I commented on last week.

Joseph Campbell #1

"This is an example of one of the ways in which the adventure can begin. A blunder -- apparently the merest chance -- reveals an unsuspected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not rightly understood. As Freud has shown, blunders are not the merest chance. They are the result of suppressed desires and conflicts. They are ripples on the surface of life, produced by unsuspected springs. And these may be very deep -- as deep as the soul itself. The blunder may amount to the opening of a destiny."

- The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell, p51

Poem: How to Write an Australian Novel by Ironbark (Part 2)

   Very aggravating features
   Have these brain-created creatures,
And it's hard to make 'em do the things they ought;
   And to keep 'em in their places,
   And to make 'em show their paces,
Takes a (blanky) lot of patience and of thought.

   Every novelist discovers
   That the management of lovers
Is as hard as breaking milkers to the bail;
   And it's worse than tailin' "weaners,"
   And controlling their demeanors,
To conduct a pair of lovers through a tale.

   When you've made each lover spoony
   On the other, and as loony
As a self-respectin' lover ought to be,
   Why, as author, your vocation
   Is to force a declaration
Of their feelin's for each other -- do you see?

   You can do this at your leisure,
   At your sovereign will and pleasure,
And by any sort of methods you may know;
   Make him ill, and let her nurse him --
   Make her fat old father curse him,
Till the maiden ups and gives away the show.

   Better still, and much more thrilling,
   Set the gallant hero killing,
In her presence, twenty foot of carpet snake;
   Let the "light of battle" glitter
   While he's jabbing at the critter
In a most convincing manner with a stake.

   While the hero's eyes are gleaming
   With the "battle-light," and beaming,
While his raiment with the slaughtered serpent reeks,
   In hysterics growing bolder,
   She should flop upon his shoulder,
In an ecstasy of gratitude and squeaks.

   After that it's easy sailing
   For your goose-quill -- not entailing
Any struggle of an energetic sort;
   While the maiden's mood is melting,
   And while Cupid's drafts are pelting,
You can drag your post-hole digger into port.

   When his luck is just beginning,
   And while Fortune's wheel is spinning,
You can give it half a dozen extra twirls;
   Though despised and under-rated,
   You can prove the bloke's related
To a barrow-load or marquises and earls.

   In the few concluding pages
   Of the novel's later stages
Get the squatter in the clutches of the Bank;
   Have him rescued in the sequel
   By the man who's now his equal --
That's the bloke who sunk his post-holes and his tank.

   Rope the man and maid together,
   And come in out of the weather;
Take a rest, and light your pipe, and ring the bell;
   Give your readers love and passion,
   And, as moral ain't the fashion,
Why, the less you preach, the more your book will sell.

First published in The Bulletin, 4 October 1906

2005 Literature Board Fellowships

Each year the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts accepts applications from writers across all disciplines and genres for various fellowships and grants. This year's list (warning: PDF file) has been released and contains some interesting reading.

Top of the list are the Fellowships which are two-year grants:
Kate Llewellyn, for non-fiction and poetry
Margo Lanagan, for young adult literature
Philip Salom, for poetry.

Margo announced this a week or so back on her weblog. She could hardly contain herself.

Others who received grants and who have been mentioned on this weblog:
Sarah Armstrong
Steven Carroll
Sophie Cunningham
Robert Dessaix
Sonya Hartnett
Frank Moorhouse
Ian Townsend
Charlotte Wood

Congratulations to all writers. I'm sure this will make their writing over the next year or so somewhat easier.

Steve Waugh

The word doing the rounds is that Steve Waugh was paid $A1.3million for the publishing rights to his autobiography, Out of My Comfort Zone. That would have to go close to a record in this country. I have no idea how Penguin expects to get its money back from this. Waugh does have a track record, having at least four previous cricketing works that were all best-sellers. I can only assume that the rights are for worldwide publication, in which case they might have a chance.

At current exchange rates $A1.3m equates to approximately $US0.975m. For arguments sake let's assume the USA has 15 times the population of Australia, then this advance is equivalent to $US19.5m.

The closest person I could think of recently who might have commanded such a high figure in the US could only have been Bill Clinton. And some reports "only"
mentioned a figure of $US12million for the ex-president.

Penguin can only be expecting a rush for copies in India where Waugh is revered, both for this cricketing skills and for his humanitarian works. But it's a big stretch.

By the way, I don't begrudge Waugh his money. Good luck to him. I just hope it doesn't backfire on either him or his publisher.

Combined Reviews: The Marsh Birds by Eva Sallis

marsh_birds.jpg Reviews of The Marsh Birds by Eva Sallis.

As usual, Australian book reviews of this novel on the web are few and far between. The best of the ones available is by Lisa Gorton in "The Age".

"If we didn't have detention centres in the desert where incarcerated children have gone on hunger strike, sewing their lips together, you might have said that Eva Sallis' story of a young Iraqi refugee was improbably bleak. If we didn't hear of bureaucratic bungles in our detention centres, day after day, you might have complained that her account of how the system failed him beggared belief...

"In Proust's study of memory, In Search of Lost Time, he asks: "How could a purely descriptive literature have any value at all, when reality lies hidden beneath the surface of little things of the sort it documents . . ? "He argues for a literature that records what you might call the interior life - what he calls the true life - of people. The Marsh Birds, on the other hand, is insistently and convincingly topical; committed to setting out how politics affects individual lives in inescapable ways. And surely, if it can help to dismantle Australia's practices of detention, it will have value."

In "The Weekend Australian", Elizabeth Meryment states that the novel "does exactly what good art should do: it questions, probes, illuminates and humanises a topical moral and social issue. This book is an important contribution to the national debate about our Government's treatment of asylum-seekers." Which is pretty much a ringing endorsement: "this is a tightly woven tale, beautifully narrated, genuine and believable."

You can also read what Sallis has to say about the motivations behind her writing on the Australian School Library Association site.

Great Australian Authors #2 - Patrick White

Patrick White (1912 - 1990)

Booker Prize Winner Sales Figures

In an article titled Why the Booker is Highly Prized in "The Times" this weekend, Danuta Kean gives a rundown on how lucrative a win really is, and concludes by saying: "Nobody really loses with the Booker. Even the most controversial choices sell - Keri Hulme's The Bone People sold 38,000 copies in 1985 and is still in print. Booker winners never go out of print - for authors looking for immortality in an age when publishers delete books with shameless haste that is the biggest prize of all."

Maybe the author should take a look back to the beginning of the Booker history: Something to Answer For by P.H. Newby is impossible to buy outside of antiquarian bookshops. Abebooks.com has its cheapest copy listed at $US90.98, with other copies of the first edition ranging up to $US750. Not exactly "in print".

Weekend Round-Up #42

"The Age" this weekend doesn't cover much in the way of Australian literature - either fiction or non-fiction: the only book I can find in the Review pages is Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of the Raunch Culture, which is reviewed by Sophie Cunningham.

"Levy sets out to describe and analyse what happens when you combine feminist notions of empowerment, consumer culture and the old-fashioned objectification of women. The result is raunch culture: the mainstreaming of an aesthetic based on strippers and porn, and a sexuality based on performance."

Those aspects of male behaviour which were despised by women of my generation now seem to have been taken up by a younger set. Still: "The book is an important and engagingly written beginning to what will be a noisy, but necessary argument. "'It can be fun to feel exceptional - to be the loophole woman . . . but if you are the exception that proves the rule, and the rule is that women are inferior, you haven't made any progress.'"

Short notices are given to: Rubdown by Leigh Redhead: "The recent onslaught of banal chick-lit has driven me into the arms of crime and I must say I'm much happier there. Particularly with Leigh Redhead's protagonist, private investigator Simone Kirsch. No coyness here, no drivelling about marrying Mr Right and getting into size eight Lisa Ho jeans"; Shadows of War by Ryoko Adachi and Andrew McKay: "Together they interviewed 40-odd people and sent questionnaires to 180 more about their experiences of the Japanese in World War II and their current attitude to their former enemy"; Overland: The Years of Unleavened Bread, Again edited by Nathan Hollier; Phallic Panic by Barbara Creed: "Creed's readings of these outrageous texts [horror novels and movies] are lucid and well-written but beneath her orderly theoretical procedures you can feel the intoxication with the terrible beauty of horror cinema: putting down this book I could feel a Freddy Krueger marathon coming on".

"The Weekend Australian" does somewhat better on the Australian front but, as usual, keeps the bulk of the book reviews to its printed version.

Arabella Edge, whose previous book was The Company about the wreck of the Batavia off the west coast of Australia in 1629, returns with The God of Spring, about the shipwreck of the Medusa off the west coast of Africa in 1816. This was the wreck that inspired Theodore Gericault to paint his masterpiece The Raft of the Medusa. "What really seems to be going on in The God of Spring is the problem of retelling...The author is retelling Gericault's story, and he is retelling in paint the story of the poor souls who survived. The survivors are retelling their own story, each with different motivations. Not everyone wants the story to equal the truth." Which probably gives some hint as to the problems the reviewer finds with the book: "This is a ripping yarn but, although the prose never lets up the predominant colour is purple and the characterisation is flat. It is a historical novel that leaves you craving a history book."

Gerald Murnane's new book Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs is reviewed by Christpher Bantick: "This is a book of quiet wisdom and generous heart, although many will still identify with Murnane when he says that 'writing never explains anything for me - it only shows me how stupendously complicated everything is.'"

In "The Sydney Morning Herald", Peter Christoff is wildly enthusiatic about Tim Flannery's latest The Weather Changers:

"His skills as a writer and ability to stir up public debate are widely recognised and, here, keenly deployed. Like Jared Diamond and Stephen Jay Gould, he has the ability, rare in Australia, to take complex ideas and - seemingly effortlessly - make them accessible. This is his most powerfully engaged book and contains some of his finest prose. Employing a broad vision of geological time, Flannery explains the mechanisms that have driven the planet's climate. He brings to life the world that laid down our store of fossil fuels just as effectively as he popularises the theories of Milankovitch, a relatively obscure but brilliant theorist of the Earth's ice ages.

"This book captures your imagination through its extraordinary range of argument, its vivid imagery, its wealth of research, quick wit and richness of detail. It succeeds where equally worthy but more prosaic recent books have failed. Given the span of issues - the origins of fossil fuels and the composition of our atmosphere; theories of ice ages past, the possibilities of a new ice age and the potential sources of climate catastrophe; the extinction of mammals in the New Guinea highlands; the future of the Great Barrier Reef; geosequestration and emissions trading; the future of hydrogen power, geothermal power, wind power and much more - you need to read it carefully, twice."

Poem: How to Write an Australian Novel by Ironbark (Part 1)

You must have a squatter's daughter,
   And a hero who has caught her
In the clutches of his passion like a vice;
   You must have a fat old squatter,
   And must make him make things hotter
For the hero than the hero thinks is nice.

   And the maiden must be lovely,
   And the hero pick-and-shovelly --
Just at present -- but a cultured kind of bloke,
   With a college education,
   Who has hoofed it to the station,
And is sinking tanks and post-holes for a joke.

   You must bring the two together
   With remarks about the weather;
Let her watch him while he shovels out the dirt,
   'Till she thinks the post-hole digger
   A romantic kind of figger --
Bar the patches on his moleskins and his shirt.

   You may call the maiden Dora,
   And must work the native flora
And the fauna in your tale for all they're worth;
   And a suitable location
   For her fat old father's station
May be anywhere 'twixt Narrabri and Perth.

   You must intersperse the wattle,
   And the tree they call the "bottle" --
You must weave 'em in the fabric of your tale --
   Better have the "tall yapunyah,"
   And some salt-bush, and a "gunyah,"
And a cove called Dick to drive the local mail.

   As the story waxes duller,
   Introduce some "local color,"
Which is usually understood to be
   Almost anything Australian,
   From a bleary-eyed Baccanalian
In a "shanty" to a parrot on a tree.

   Have some shearers playin' "ante" --
   That is poker -- in a shanty,
And some pictures, if they burst you with expense:
   Hire a drawin' of the station,
   And another illustration
Of a carcase, with a crow upon a fence.

   For -- to be a bit digressive --
   There is nothing so expressive
Of the sadness of our solitudes immense,
   Or so tenderly appealing
   To our sympathy and feeling
As a carcase, and a crow upon a fence.

   There's a stage in novel making
   ('Spite of all the care you're taking),
When you get your story tangled in a knot,
   And you lack the inspiration
   To create a situation
For the clear elucidation of your plot.

   Then your characters get cranky,
   And to stop their hanky-panky
Takes the patience of a literary Job;
   And to analyse their notions,
   And their feelin's and emotions,
You must pick their souls to pieces with a probe.

First published in The Bulletin, 4 October 1906

[The second half of this poem will be published next week.]

Current Reading Habits

1. Read every day.

2. Always use a bookmark.

3. Remove dustjackets from hardbacks before reading.

4. Always take a book with you.

5. Keep a list of the books you read.

6. Set yourself goals: number in a year, types (fiction, non-fiction, biography), nationality of author, classics, first-time authors.

7. Don't stick to one genre for too long - no more than 2 or 3 in a row.

8. Don't feel guilty about reading, or about not reading.

9. Talk about books to everyone, but not all the time.

10. Listen to suggestions, and give them freely.

11. Give books as presents.

12. Visit the library, often.

13. Browse in bookshops new and used, but don't feel compelled to buy.

14. Keep a list of books you want - pass this along to nearest and dearest as birthdays and Christmas approach.

15. Just enjoy it - if it isn't working move on.

Collins: The Story of Australia's Premier Street by Judith Buckrich

As I've said previously, it's not often that Australian books feature in the newspaper outside of the book review pages. Today in "The Age", Judith Buckrich's new book Collins: The Story of Australia's Premier Street, is given a look over by Carolyn Webb. "Dr Buckrich has written a 'biography' of Collins Street, which she says retains its more-glamorous-sister status over Bourke. "She dares to subtitle the book 'Australia's Premier Street'. "'It's still the only street where you can really sense the smell of money very clearly,' she said yesterday at the book launch. 'And it still is the most architecturally and culturally interesting street in Australia.'" Oh, okay: shopping and architecture. That explains it then.

The James Squire Food, Beer and Wine Writers' Festival

Now here's the readers'/writers' festival we all should get to. The James Squire Food, Beer and Wine Writers' Festival will be held in the Adelaide Riverbank Precinct from October 27-29. Events include readings by poets and fiction writers, and beer and wine tastings.

Great Australian Authors #1 - Christina Stead

Christina Stead (1902 - 1983)

Adam Lindsay Gordon

Adam Lindsay Gordon was born on this day in 1833 in Fayal, Azores, Portugal. While no longer the "iconic" poet of the likes of Lawson or Paterson, Gordon remains the only Australian to have a plaque in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey, London. Gordon's family took him to England when he was young and it was there that he completed his education. He was then sent by his family to South Australia in 1853 where he enlisted in the mounted police. He was briefly a member of Parliament and lived in Western Australia and Ballarat before moving to Melbourne. During his time in Ballarat he suffered a severe head injury in a riding accident, was bankrupted by a fire in the livery stable and lost his infant daughter. The day after the publication of his poems in Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes he committed suicide on Brighton Beach in Melbourne. He died on 24 June 1870.

Time Magazine's Best Novels in English

The Time magazine critics, Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo have published a list of what they consider are the best novels published in English since 1923. And why that date? 'Cos that's the year Time started publication, so I guess it's as good a date as any.

All in all, it's a pretty good list. We could quibble about various entries here and there, but we won't as we haven't read all of them. It's nice to see Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman made it - it's an old favourite and it normally gets dumped on from a great height.

As far as I can tell the only Australian book on the list is Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children. I didn't take it on holidays but it has now moved to the "to-be-read" pile in the bedroom. One of them anyway.

Damien Broderick Interview

Damien Broderick, Melbourne sf and science writer, is now based in San Antonio, Texas. He is interviewed in the September 2005 issue of Locus magazine. The website offers some excerpts from the interview, but you'll have to buy the printed version of the magazine to read the full thing.

Old Science Fiction Magazine Covers

Got an inkling to see a whole bunch of old science fiction magazine covers all in one place? Then have a look at SF Cover Explorer. Fun stuff. Even if a proliferation of BEMs (that's "Bug-Eyed Monsters" to the uninitiated) is too much for you, then just revel in the ingenuity of this page. I could be here for hours.

2005 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards

The winners of the 2005 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards were announced last night.

The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction
Surrender, Sonya Hartnett

The Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction
Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev, Robert Dessaix
Picador/Pan Macmillan

The C J Dennis Prize for Poetry
<More or Less Than>1-100, MTC Cronin
Shearsman Books

The Louis Esson Prize for Drama
The Spook, Melissa Reeves
Company B. Belvoir St.

The Prize for Young Adult Fiction
So Yesterday, Scott Westerfeld
Penguin Books Australia

The Prize for Science Writing
Astonishing Animals, Tim Flannery and Peter Schouten
Text Publishing

The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate
Living in a Material World, Randa Abdel-Fattah
Griffith Review

The Village Roadshow Prize for Screen Writing
Revealing Gallipoli, Wain Fimeri
ABC Television

The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer
I Hate Martin Amis et al, Peter Barry

The Grollo Ruzzene Foundation Prize for Writing about Italians in Australia
A Spoonful of Zucchero, Kate Taylor
Little Red Apple Publishing

Australian Literary Monuments #1 - Mary Poppins

Mary_Poppins.jpg Statue of Mary Poppins

Helen Lyndon Goff was born in Maryborough, Queensland, on 9 August 1899. She is mainly known for the creation of the magical British super-nanny, Mary Poppins, ("practically perfect in every way"), which she wrote under the pseudonym P. L. Travers. The character achieved world-wide renown after the release of the Walt Disney film, Mary Poppins, featuring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, in 1964. Goff (Travers) wrote 6 Mary Poppins books from 1934 to 1989. She died in London on 23 April 1996. The best source of material on this writer can be found at the Wikipedia Mary Poppins entry. The picture shows a statue of the character Mary Poppins which was erected on the streets of Maryborough earlier this year.

Weekend Round-Up #41

Tim Flannery is a biologist, the director of the South Australian Museum and and resident reviewer of Natural History books for "The New York Review of Books". He's also the author of a number of works himself and his latest book, The Weather Makers, is reviewed in "The Weekend Age" by Ian Lowe. Flannery looks at the effects of the changing climate on bio-diversity and ecological systems. This is becoming a very "political" debate of late; and I mean that in the worst possible sense. Small disagreements are blown up out of all proportion and minor errors or omissions are used to debase arguments while ignoring the main points being made. In other words we're fiddling at the edges. The trouble is book reviews have to do this to some extent, and while Lowe has some disgreements and quibbles with parts of Flannery's arguments, he does state: "If you are not yet convinced of the gravity of the problem, or our capacity to solve it, you should buy and read this compelling book."

Given I'm married to a solicitor and just got myself out of jury duty (I'm self-employed and thirty bucks a day doesn't quite cover the mortgage), I was interested to read the review of Malcolm Knox's book Secrets of the Jury Room. "Knox interlaces his own experience of the trial in which he served as juror with a great deal of research into the history of trial by jury as well as a survey of the various studies conducted into the functioning of the system...He has interviewed prosecutors, defence counsel, judges and others with an interest in the system and paints a picture in which their varied observations help set a rich context...His book is a paean to the institution of trial by jury, warts and all, at a time when some unpopular and misunderstood acquittals sometimes produce populist calls to abolish juries."

I have no basic problem with juries and the jury system, and if I'd been a full-time employee in my present company I would have been more than happy to have taken part. I'd better read this book as it might well be the closest I get to the real thing.

Short notices are given to: Tasmanian Devil by David Owen & David Pemberton: "In this engaging biography of the beast, the authors examine the evolution of the devil, its behaviour and ecology, its relationship with Europeans, the many myths surrounding it and the disease that threatens its existence"; Covet by Tara Moss: "...model Tara Moss has clearly read more books than she's written, and she writes a mean brand of pulp thriller to boot"; The Journal of Fletcher Christian by Peter Corris: "Corris furnishes what is known from the historical record with the fruits of his full-blooded imagination. The result is a riveting, and for the most part realistic, retelling of one of the most enigmatic episodes of European seafaring in the Pacific".

Gerald Murnane come to notice, to me, with his 1982 novel The Plains from Norstrilia Press, a small publishing house run by three science fiction fans in Melbourne. He has now published a collection of his essays from the past twenty years, titled Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs. The author is given a major profile in this weekend's "Sydney Morning Herald", in which he reveals: "There will be one more book of stories gathered from the past, with a new title story, Barley Patch, which he is writing now. 'It will be my last book. I don't say that with any sadness or solemnity. I've used up everything off the workshop floor.'"

In his review of Tom Keneally's latest book, The Commonwealth of Thieves, Andrew Reimer is well aware that some historians are going to be a bit miffed by the author's foray into their territory. But, as he puts it, "Above all, as he has demonstrated in book after book, Keneally is a most accomplished storyteller. The Commonwealth of Thieves is filled with vividly evoked personalities and their histories: the austere Phillip; Watkin Tench, that most thoughtful observer of the hell around him; the well-meaning Reverend Richard Johnson; the entrepreneurial Macarthurs; the raffish D'Arcy Wentworth; the Kables and the Ruses, convict families who prospered. And there is, most notably of all perhaps, Bennelong, with his pride, his quick temper, his fondness for women and his curious esteem for Phillip, the leader of the pale ghosts who had appeared so disastrously from nowhere."

Jane Sullivan has a good piece in "The Sunday Age" on editing and the second National Editors Conference that was held in Melbourne over the weekend. The start is a classic:

"Comic writer Kerry Cue once worked with an editor who had a thing about 'at'. You don't walk in the door, she insisted. You walk in at the door. She wanted to add about 500 'ats' to the manuscript. Cue suggested a page of 'ats' at the end would do nicely."

I wonder what you'd do with someone like that. Can you ask for a substitute or do you have to put up with it?

Reviews of Australian Books #12

Hazel Rowley who wrote biographies of the writers Christina Stead (Australia) and Richard Wright (USA) has now turned her attention to Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Her new book, Tête-à-Tête is reviewed in "The Washington Post" by Michael Dirda. "As she explains, this isn't a full-fledged biography of France's dynamic duo, nor is it a re-examination of their ideas; instead, she resolutely focuses on the men and women with whom the pair fell in love. "The result is an enthralling book, almost a highbrow Francophile edition of US Weekly. But instead of Brad and Jen and Angelina, here we find an ugly, walleyed existentialist philosopher, the elegantly beautiful author of The Second Sex and the Gallic equivalent of a bevy of young starlets who share the bed of one or the other -- or sometimes both. Readers
will turn these pages alternately mesmerized and appalled."

Robert Hanks reviews Geoffrey Robertson's The Tyrannicide Brief in "The Independent." "The fact that he is a spare-time historian does show in The Tyrannicide Brief. He has clearly done his reading around Cooke [the subject of the book and the man who prosecuted Charles I of England in 1649], but the context often has a tossed-off feel, as if rehashed from secondary sources. I imagine academic historians won't take kindly to his lack of objectivity, a determination to put Cooke's actions in the best light, which at times leads into what amounts to special pleading. He says, 'The wonderful thing about writing history, as opposed to writing law, is that you look forward to having your mistakes pointed out'. I'll bet historians of the period will be itching to oblige." The Better
Half is reading this at present.

Sumner Locke Elliott and Les Murray

Today is the birthday of two of Australia's greatest writers: Sumner Locke Elliot and Les Murray.

Sumner Locke Elliot was born in Sydney on this day in 1917. The son of writer Sumner Locke, he is probably best known for his 1963 novel Careful He Might Hear You which won the Miles Franklin
and which was later made into a film in 1983, featuring Wendy Hughes and Robyn Nevin, and directed by Carl Schulz. Elliot emigrated to the USA in 1949 where he died in 1991. He was presented with the Patrick White Award in 1977.

Les Murray was born in Nabiac, New South Wales, in 1938. He graduated from the University of Sydney, worked and travelled widely before deciding on a freelance writing career in 1971. He is best known for his poetry which is known world-wide, with such volumes as The People's Otherword, Fredy Neptune and Subhuman Redneck Poems. He was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1998 on the recommendation of Ted Hughes, he was proclaimed an Australian Living Treasure in 1998, and is an Officer of the Order of Australia. Perpetually rumoured to be on the shortlist for the Nobel Prize, he lives near Bunyah in New South Wales, only a few kilometres from where he grew up.

Poem: The Bushman's Book by Will Ogilvie

All roughly bound together
   The red-brown pages lie
In red sirroco leather
   With scored lines to the sky:
The Western suns have burned them,
   The desert winds dog's-eared,
And winter rains have turned them
   With wanton hands and weird!

They flutter, torn and lonely,
   Far out, like lost brown birds;
The Western stockmen only
   Can spell their wondrous words;
And gifted souls and sages
   May gather round and look,
They cannot read the pages
   That fill the Bushman's Book!

But open, night and day-time,
   It spreads with witching art
A picture-book of playtime
   To hold the Bushman's heart,
And learnèd in the lore of it,
   And lessoned in its signs,
He reads the scroll, and more of it,
   That lies between the lines.

He sees the well-filled purses,
   From Abbot-tracks like wires,
And hears the deep-drawn curses
   That dog the four-inch tyres!
He knows the busy super
   By worn hoofs flat as plates,
And tracks the mounted tooper
   By shod hoofs at the gates!

He knows the tracks unsteady,
   Of riders "on the bust,"
Of nags "knocked up already"
   By toes that drag the dust;
The "split" hoofs and the "quartered,"
   He'll show you on the spot,
And brumbies that have watered,
   And brumbies that have not!

So, North and West o' westward,
   Nor'-West and North again,
The Bush Book is the best word
   Among the Western men;
They find her lines and hail them,
   And read with trusting eyes:
They know if old mates fail them.
   The Bush Book never lies!

First published in The Bulletin, 14 December 1905

Man Booker Prize Webpages

I've made some major changes to my Man Booker prize webpages in an attempt to make them accessible to all web browsers, not just Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

I've also added in the details of this year's award, though the details of the individual books will have to wait for a while. I've also noticed that I have not, as yet, completed the details for the 2004 books - which is just a tad slack. I'll get to that.

There is still some tweaking of the webpages required to get them to "sit" on the page properly but that's just a matter of fixing the HTML code which just takes a little time and effort rather than a compete reworking.

So far the menus appear to work, and the pages look okay, under both Firefox and Mozilla, but if you're using another browser and run into problems drop me a line.

The Booker Again

John Banville has won this year's Man Booker with The Sea, and in 1978 Iris Murdoch won with The Sea, The Sea. Do I see a pattern here? Are we moving downwards, water-wise? How about The Puddle, or maybe just The? I'll keep you posted.

Combined Reviews: Affection by Ian Townsend

affection.jpg Reviews of Affection by Ian Townsend.

This novel has been shortlisted for the 2005 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction.

Brisbane's "Courier-Mail" ran a profile of the author around the time of the book's publication at the end of April this year, which is a pretty good way to start for any novelist.

"Townsend's debut novel about the north Queensland plague at the start of the 20th century, is an accomplished work from the experienced ABC radio journalist...For a historical novel about such a grim topic, Affection has a surprisingly light touch. It manages to educate and elicit emotional responses without brow-beating them with the horror and terror of living in a town overshadowed by the Black Death."

In "The Weekend Australian" Ross Fitzgerald was very definitely impressed with the novel, which he feels "is a must-read book for 2005. As a powerful mix of truth and invention, it is a literary tour de force." Which doesn't beat about the bush. In the novel "Ian Townsend has done something quite remarkable in his first novel: drawing on government reports, newspaper and magazine articles, photographs, telegrams, personal papers and oral and written histories, he has fleshed out into fiction a hitherto unknown and fascinating story of colonial Queensland on the cusp of a new century and of Australian nationhood."


And so, another new term gets coined to explain a concept that takes too long to say all the way through. Basically a "blook" is a book serialised in the form of a weblog. You can read one of the first at hackoff.com.

And even before you can blink comes the news of "The Lulu Blooker", a prize for the best blook published in a particular year. With Cory Doctorow involved and $2,000 to the overall winner, it is not to be sneezed at.

I had an idea for one of these a few months back, even before I knew of the term. Didn't get round to it. Of course.

Brian Castro Profiles

Brian Castro has been described as an author more admired than read. His latest novel, The Garden Book, was reviewed in the "Age" on August 29, and now he is profiled in "The Sydney Morning Herald". It's funny that they should use the same photo for the two pieces. Anyway the book sounds pretty interesting, and is one that I should check out.

Once Upon a Deadline: A Writing Marathon

A strange item has come into my possession. I quote:

"On Saturday 15 October, eight writers will compete against each other to win $5,000. Over the course of the day, the writers will move around eight inner-Sydney locations composing an original 1200 word story based on their journey around the city.

"The competitors are a mix of well-known and emerging writers: Kate Forsyth, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Lewie JPD, Terri Janke, John Larkin, Mary Moody, David A. Rollins and the current Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year, Roxzan Bowes.

"At 7.30 pm, the writers will read their stories to an audience at the Paddington RSL Club. At the end of the night, the judges, who include Booker Prize-winning author, Thomas Keneally, the Sydney Morning Herald's literary editor and author, Malcolm Knox, and one of Australia's most prolific indigenous writers, Dr Anita Heiss, will award $5,000 to the author of the story they deem the best. Tickets are available on the door or by calling 02-9360 3200."

Short story writing considered as a down-hill bicycle race?

2005 Man Booker Prize Winner Announced

John Banville's novel The Sea has been announced as the winner of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize.

Banville was listed as third favourite behind Julian Barnes and Kazuo Ishiguro and was selected as the winner on the deciding vote of judging panel chair John Sutherland. It appears that the panel was split over Banville and Ishiguro. This turns around the previous encounter between the two authors in 1989 when Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day was the winner over Banville's The Book of Evidence.

The shortlisted novels for 2005 were:

The Sea by John Banville
Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Accidental by Ali Smith
On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Weekend Round-Up #40

The Age

The first two paragraphs of Morag Fraser's review of Barry Jones's autobiography, A Thinking Reed, just about say it all: "Late in this monumental essay on his life and times, Barry Jones relates a story about Primo Levi. Once, while in Auschwitz, the sage chronicler of human survival broke off an icicle to relieve his thirst. A guard knocked it out of his hand. 'Why?' asked Levi. 'Here is no why,' the guard replied...The story is an image of hell for Jones. This is the arbitrary, unaccountable world, indifferent to human suffering, dismissive of the human yen to understand." I've said before how much I admire Jones, both as a man in the world and as a politician. He always struck me as someone who entered parliament with only the best intentions in mind. The trouble is, parliament is definitely an arena in which good guys finish last. They shine for a while, but the nay-sayers pull them down. Fraser sees this as well, and enjoys all parts of this memoir. "I don't often hanker for multi-volumed works, but I wished for more all the while I was reading this." Jones couldn't ask for more I suspect.

Gregory Day is very approving of Andrew McGahan's new novel, Underground. "Since his foray into crime fiction with the Ned Kelly-winning Last Drinks in 2000, McGahan has been regarded as something of a genre-buster, a label reinforced by his highly literary Miles Franklin-winning follow-up, The White Earth. The publication of Underground, however, makes McGahan's oeuvre up to now look as predictable as our Prime Minister." It is certainly a change from his previous works and Day is not sure how it will be accepted: "No doubt his new genre-buster will offend the Oz-Lit police but it's how many other readers it might reach that is the real issue. Keep a close eye out on aeroplanes, trains, buses, even bicycles, for people reading this important book." I'm not sure who the "Oz-lit police" are but I'm pretty certain they'll read this novel with a lot of interest.

Peter Pierce is no someone I have seen review fantasy novels before so his look at Lian Hearn's The Harsh Cry of the Heron is certainly of interest. And he is very impressed: "Hearn is intent on creating a fictional world that is not spun from the whole cloth of an author's indulgent fancy (compare Tolkien) but from an awareness of politics and compromise, high and often treacherous policy, the reckoning of losses that all these collisions entail.

"The novel's commitment to its imaginative enterprise is intensely serious, but also playful; never is it ponderous or solemn.

"Here is another intelligent, accomplished, audacious and finely written novel by an Australian that has nothing to do with its own country; that seeks and should command a transnational audience for popular entertainment of a superior order."

Short notices are given to: Building a Masterpiece: The Sydney Opera House edited by Anne Watson which "confirms that the Sydney Opera House is a marvel of design, engineering and technology"; Ned Kelly and the Old Rellie: 50 Micro Lives of Great Australians by Gerard Windsor who "has taken salient details or events from famous Australians' lives and fashioned nifty four-line rhymes or 'micro verses'"; Mr Stuart's Track by John Bailey: "John McDouall Stuart, according to this biographer, is not only Australia's greatest explorer but the least appreciated"; School Days edited by John Kinsella who "has collated snippets of nostalgia from various Australian notables including Carmen lawrence, Veronica Brady, Marion Halligan and Frank Moorhouse. A variety of locations and educational institutions are mulled over through wise eyes."

The Australian

The major item this week is Peter Wilson interview with Clive James, on the occasion of the publication of his latest volume of memoirs, North Face of Soho. James is 67 now and believes he needs about another 40 years to complete all he has planned. He doesn't give himself much more than about 10.

Peter Rose, editor of "Australian Book Review" considers David Malouf's new collection of short stories, Every Move You Make. "As in most of Malouf's writings, the characters' stories are personal, yearning, metaphysical, without any overt philosophising. Little happens in these stories, as in life, as Virginia Woolf once reminded us. Malouf is wary of plot. The stories unfold like moods, like sweetly orchestrated sonatas." Still no mention of The Police.

Short notices are given to: Amy & Louis by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Freya Blackwood: "Read this heart-warming book aloud: it won't leave readers breathless, character voices add fun and the rhyming refrain 'Coo-ee Louis", allows for a bit of vocal gymnastics"; Carpet of Dreams by Tessa Duder, illustrated by Mark Wilson: "It's a long story for a picture book but, by weaving countries' histories with personal ones, it is captivating and leaves readers wanting to learn more about carpets and [the main character's grandmother]"; Rose By Any Other Name by Maureen McCarthy, whose "books are engrossing because the protagonists' lives ring true and she articulates the feelings that most people leave unsaid"; Destroying Avalon by Kate McCaffrey: "Nothing here in the way of deep characterisation and plot but McCaffrey's novel is an eye-opener to a sinister contemporary world in which digital space is way out of control"; The Concerto Inn by Jo Gardiner whose "writing is nervy and over-polished, a recipe that showcases her poetic gifts but may leave readers fidgeting for action"; The Dark Part of Me by Belinda Burns in which "The emptiness of human existence gets a solid workout".

2005 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards

While I was away the winners of the 2005 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards were announced.

The winners were:

Fiction Book Award
Tim Winton for The Turning (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Emerging Queensland Author - Manuscript Award
Patrick Holland for The Long Road of the Junkmailer

Unpublished Indigenous Writer - The David Unaipon Award
Yvette Holt for Anonymous Premonition

Non-Fiction Book Award
Geoffrey Bardon and James Bardon for Papunya - A Place Made After the Story (Melbourne University Publishing)

History Book Award
Shane White and Graham White for The Sounds of Slavery: Discovering African American History Through Songs, Sermons and Speech (Beacon Press)

Children's Book Award
Prue Mason for Camel Rider (Penguin Books Australia)

Young Adult Book Award
Joanne Horniman for Secret Scribbled Notebooks (Allen & Unwin)

Science Writers Award
Elizabeth Finkel for Stem Cells (ABC Books)

Poetry Collection - Arts Queensland Judith Wright Calanthe Award
Sarah Day for The Ship (Brandl & Schlesinger)

Australian Short Story Collection - Arts Queensland Steele Rudd Award
John Clanchy for Vincenzo's Garden (University of Queensland Press)

Literary or Media Work Advancing Public Debate - the Harry Williams Award
Hedley Thomas for Sickness in the System (Queensland Newspapers)

Film Script - Pacific Film and Television Commission Award
Jacquelin Perske for Little Fish (Porchlight Films)

Television Script - QUT Creative Industries Award
Sue Smith for RAN: Remote Area Nurse - Episode 5 - Blue Hawaii (Chapman Pictures Pty Ltd)

Drama Script (Stage) Award
Van Badham for Black Hands/Dead Section (LAMDA Company)

Encouragement and Development Prize
Simon Cleary for The Comfort of Figs

Tom Keneally

Tom Keneally will be appearing at Readings Books & Music, 701 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, at 6:30pm, Tuesday 11th October. He will be reading from his latest book The Commonwealth of Thieves and answering questions from the audience. This is my local bookshop so I'll be making every effort to get along.

Currently Reading


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



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


Recently Read


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



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



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

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



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

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

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



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



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



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



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


About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from October 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

September 2005 is the previous archive.

November 2005 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en