November 2005 Archives

Great Australian Authors #7 - Mary Gilmore


Mary Gilmore (1865 - 1962)

I'm old Botany Bay;
Stiff in the joints,
Little to say.
I am he
Who paved the way,
That you might walk
At your ease to-day;
I was the conscript
Sent to hell
To make in the desert
The living well;
I bore the heat,
I blazed the track --
Furrowed and bloody
Upon my back.

From Old Botany Bay by Mary Gilmore

Combined Reviews: Cape Grimm by Carmel Bird

cape_grimm.jpg Reviews of Cape Grimm by Carmel Bird.

This book was originally published in 2004 and has been nominated for the 2006 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Michelle Griffin in "The Age" profiles Carmel Bird rather than writing a review of the book. She does, however, provide a look behind the author's motivation for the book and sets the boosk in context: "Cape Grimm is the third book in a trilogy of novels Bird has written around the idea of charisma and evil. The first, The White Garden, was inspired by the experimental deep-sleep therapy practised at Chelmsford in the 1960s. The second, The Red Shoes, drew much of its framework from Anne Hamilton-Byrne's cult, The Family. Cape Grimm is set in a real landscape - a weather station in a remote corner of northwest Tasmania that measures the purest air currents in the world - but the story of an apocalyptic cult is only loosely inspired by historic events."

In the "Australian Book Review" James Ley describes the novel as "magic realism", along with stating that it doesn't fall victim to the florid excesses of that genre. "Its narrative explicity positions itself on the borderline between dream and reality, and there is a conflation of history and fantasy thoughout, as suggested by the title, which combines Tasmania's Cape Grim with the Brothers Grimm." There has certainly been a large amount of work undertaken by Bird to tackle some big ideas: "Cape Grimm explores ideas about the powers and responsibilities of the imagination. Culture, it suggests, has the ability to cross boundaries, influencing people's perceptions in unpredictable ways. Like a fable, the novel also has a cautionary aspect, suggesting that there are dangers in denying the creative impulses of the unconscious." In the end, though, it falls "into the magic realist trap of working both sides of the street at once:
admitting the unsupportable nature of many of its fantasies, but requiring they be accepted all the same".

In "The Bulletin" Anne Susskind is rather cautious in her conclusion: "Everywhere evident is Bird's fascination with the landscape of her native Tasmania, its lushness, its 4000 lakes and its isolation, particularly at Cape Grimm and the Baseline Air Pollution Station on the far north-western coast, where the air is as pure as anything in the world, sullied only by the fires her imagination dreams up. The tales of the Brothers Grimm, she writes in the persona of Van Loon, feed a 'need, a lust, a love in the world, a longing to be provided, fed, nourished with strange dark wild terrible images'. And so, successfully, does she. Although her story fizzes a bit towards the end, Bird shows here that she is a powerful and lyrical writer, and Cape Grimm makes compelling reading."

"The Sunday Times" Best Books 2005

Continuing the series of Best Books of 2005 comes the list from "The Sunday Times" which includes The Turning by Tim Winton.

Linked stories are compellingly deployed in Tim Winton's The Turning (Picador £16.99). Zigzagging across decades, switching between men and women, young and old, tales told in very diverse voices interlock into a multifaceted display of intricately interconnected existences in a backwater town in his native western Australia. Written with exhilarating vigour, the stories ripple with subtlety and nuance.

Weekend Round-Up #47

I've been reading Garry Disher's Wyatt novels lately and have been greatly impressed by the rapid-fire action and relentless sense of menace. His new novel Snapshot has been published and reviewed in "The Weekend Age" by Jeff Glorfeld. This is Disher's third Inspector Challis mystery and, as usual, "starts with sleaze and swiftly moves to murder." You feel you're on safe ground already.

Disher lays it all out with his usual masterful feel for pacing, which is deceptive to say the least; the story develops slowly and is never rushed. There isn't much inspired sleuthing. Yet, as the case unfolds and the characters move deeper into their personal dramas, the feeling of expectation and suspense builds almost imperceptibly to a heightened pitch and to a satisfying payoff. As with all good crime series, Disher leaves us ready for the next story.

It appears, though, that all the big Australian Christmas books are now out on the shelves beyond reviews and waiting to be snapped up and placed under the tree. It's a wonder, then, why anyone would want to publish first novels in such a climate. But that is what a short story writer, Paddy O'Reilly, and a poet, Alex Skovron, have just done. The books are reviewed by Lisa Gorton:

O'Reilly's "The Factory is a beautifully crafted and intriguing novel; so closely worked and self-consistent each part carries its full effect. The intricate plotting -- the way it pieces each part of the story together -- equals the way individuals find themselves bound to a group. And the writing, with its watchfulness -- its close observation of people and places -- creates a world at once lonely and claustrophobic."

Skovron's "The Poet has the still quality of a fable...Skovron is a precise and lucid poet with a rich understanding of music...He truns to prose, then, not for the force of time a story brings into play -- its involvement of cause and effects -- but for the extension of space it allows his images; as a way of finding poetry's place in the world."

On the other hand, Owen Richardson is not very impressed with Elizabeth Stead's The Book of Tides, the main area of interest being that the author is Christina Stead's niece and that the novel is based on Christina's father who also inspired her masterpiece The Man Who Loved Children -- which languishes on the to-be-read pile still, mumble.

Given we are moving rapidly towards summer I guess it's only logical that "The Australian" should look at three books related to Antarctic and Arctic exploration.

Peter Corris deals with two of them; he seems somewhat disappointed with The Last Explorer by Simon Nasht. He starts off being interested by the subject: "All accounts agree that [George Hubert] Wilkins was tall, although they do not say how tall, and athletic, although there is no record of him hitting, throwing or kicking a ball. His premature baldness, attested to by photographs, was not a plus but he sported a handsome beard by way of compensation. Wilkins was something like Flight Lieutenant Bigglesworth, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Ludwig Leichhardt and Captain Nemo all rolled into one." But realises that, despite the war heroics and feats of exploration "Nasht provides very little of the inner man...Those concerned with conflicts within the human character and the interplay between personalities would be advised to look elsewhere."

Corris thinks more of David Crane's book Scott of the Antarctic: "In Crane's view, Scott was a far more interesting character than merely a pawn in a game of changing values over time. He deems him the most interesting of the explorers of the heroic age and suggests that had he not become famous, his life story, with its twists and turns, was the stuff of novelists such as George Eliot." And yet, Corris, hard task-master that he is, comes away with a felling of something lacking: "In the end, I don't think Crane has made his case for the legendary status of Scott and his endeavours. It is partly the fault of the enterprise. Before the era of ice-breaker ships, aeroplanes, motorised snow vehicles and sound nutritional knowledge, Antarctic exploration was foolhardy. It resembled the American exploration of space: motivated by hubris, apt to go wrong, wasteful of resources and of little benefit to anyone." Forget how he got there and what he did, I reckon it's to do with how he died.

Milton Osborne looks at T.W. Edgeworth David: A Life by David Branagan, and wonders why David is forgotten when his junior colleague Douglas Mawson is revered. There is a bit of a connection here between reviewer and biography subject (reviewer's father was a student of David, and reviewer carries "Edgeworth" as a second given name) so we need to read between the lines a little. Stll the question needs to eb asked: "why, with so many achievements, did this man slip from common memory? Unlike Mawson, he was self-effacing, although that is not meant as a criticism of Mawson. But David's descriptive powers, so apparent in his private letters, did not become the basis of a bestseller in its time as with Mawson's The Home of the Blizzard. Outstanding an individual as he was, David was perhaps too much a man of his time to be much remembered after World War II, too much the 'perfect gentle knight' as a contemporary dubbed him. Whatever the explanation, Branagan has done a sterling job in recovering his importance, not least in terms of his clear account of David's significance to Australian geology."

Poem: A Guide for Poits by C.J. Dennis

I ain't no verse-'og. When I busts in song
   An' fills the air wiv choonful melerdy,
I likes fer uvver coves to come along
   An' biff the lyre in company wiv me.

So, when I sees some peb beguile an hour
   Be joinin' in the chorus o' me song,
I never sees no use in turnin' sour;
   Fer singin' days wiv no one larsts too long.

I'd like to see the Rocks an' Little Lon
   Grow centres for the art uv weavin' rhyme,
Wiv dinky 'arps fer blokes to plunk upon,
   An' spruiking poits workin' overtime.

I'd love to listen to each choonful lay
   Uv soulful coots who scorn to write fer gain;
To see True Art bloom down in Chowder Bay,
   An' Culcher jump the joint in Spadger's Lane.

Gawstruth! fer us life's got no joy to spare,
   We're short uv bird songs, "soarin' clean an' pure."
A bloke is 'ardly orf the bottle there
   Before 'e's in the jug - a bird fer sure.

So 'oo am I to say no blokes shall sing
   Jist 'ow an' where an' when sich blokes may choose?
She's got no lines to show, nor yet no ring.
   Lor' blim'me! I ain't married to me Muse!

An', square an' all, to show there's no offence,
   To show that in me 'eart true friendship lies,
I gives free gratis, an wivout ixpense,
   A few igzamples, just to put 'em wise.

First, choose some swingin' metre, sich as this,
   That Omar used - per Fitz - to boost the wine.
An' 'ere's a point true artists shouldn't miss:
   Sling in a bit o' slang to ev'ry line.

An' when yer full o' them alternate rhymes -
As all the true push poits is at times -
Jist ring the changes, as I'm doin' now;
An' find ixcuse to say: "The bloomin' cow!"

Or, comin' back to Omar's style again,
It's easy fer to pen a sweet refrain
   Wiv this 'ere kist a dead-'ead sort o' line,
An' this one rhymin' wiv the former twain.

An' though this style me soul 'as often vext,
   Wiv care an' pains the knack is easy cort;
This line's rhymed wiv the first, an' then the next
   Is cut orf short.
An' if yeh want to round it orf orl neat
Just add a couplet 'ere of equil feet.

An' 'ere's a style I've very often done:
   You swing orf 'ere, an' find a second rhyme,
Then hitch the third line to the leadin' one.
   An' make the fourth lap wiv the second chime,
   An' then you sort o' come another time,
An' jist end up the same as you begin.

It's orl dead easy when yeh know the way,
An' 'ave the time to practise it - But, say,
   Although it sort o' takes the eye, no doubt
(An', mind yeh, I'm not sayin' but it may) -
   Wivout a stock uv rhymes to see you out
This style o' rhymin's like to turn yeh grey.

The triplets comes much 'arder than the twins;
But I 'ave 'ad to bear 'em fer me sins.
   'Ere, fer a single line, yeh change the style,
Switch orf an' rhyme the same as you begins;
   An' then yeh comes back at it wiv a smile,
   Pertendin' it's dead easy orl the while.

Them sawed-orf lines 'as often stood me friends;
Fer you kin cut 'em upto serve yer ends.
   An' frequent I 'ave slung the dotin' throng
            This sort o' song.
To ring su'prises on the eye an' ear
Is 'arf the game. It seems to be kind o' queer
   The dull monotony. Yeh make a miss,
            An' then do this.

Aw, 'Struth! it's pretty; but you take my tip,
It gives a bloke the everlastin' pip
   'Oo tries to live upon the game and gets. . . .
   Corns on 'is brain an' melancholy debts!

Wiv sweat an' tears, wiv misery an' sighs,
   Yeh wring yer soul-case fer one drop of bliss
To give the cold, 'ard world; an' it replies,
   "Prompt payment will erblige. Please settle this."

The rarest treasures of yer 'eart yeh spend
On callous, thankless coots; an' in the end
It comes to this: if you can't find a muse
'Oo takes in washin', wot's the flamin' use?

First Published in The Bulletin, 18 March 1915

"New York Times" Notable Books 2005

The "New York Times" has released its list of Notable Books for 2005 with the following Australian books included: Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman

[Thanks to Bookslut for the link.]

2006 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Longlist

The longlist for the 2006 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award has been announced and I've found the following
books by Australian authors hidden away in the long, long list:

Cape Grimm, Carmel Bird
The Broken Book, Susan Johnson
Sixty Lights, Gail Jones
A Private Man, Malcolm Knox
The Philosopher's Doll, Amanda Lohrey
The White Earth, Andrew McGahan
Snowleg, Nicholas Shakespeare

The shortlist will be announced on 5th April 2006, and the winner on 14th June 2006.

The only previous Australian winner of the award was Remembering Babylon by David Malouf, in 1996. The following Australian novels have been shortlisted for the award: The Glade Within the Grove by David Foster in 1998; True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey in 2002; and The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard in 2005. Of the books longlisted for this year's award, I've covered only The White Earth and Sixty Lights. I'll have to see what I can do about the others.

Great Australian Authors #6 - Victor Daley


Victor Daley (1858 - 1905)

Stand up, my young Australian,
In the brave light of the sun,
And hear how Freedom's battle
Was in the old days lost - and won.
The blood burns in my veins, boy,
As it did in years of yore,
Remembering Eureka,
And the men of 'Fifty-four..

From "Eureka" by Victor Daley

Jack Bradstreet, Gentleman Bookseller

Jack Bradstreet, long-time owner of the eponymous bookshop near Glenferrie Station in Hawthorn, is interviewed in today's "Age". Jack is a bit of a legend in my local area. He lived just around the corner until a few years ago and can still be seen in his old shop helping out from time to time.

Shadowed Realms

The Nov/Dec 2005 issue of Shadowed Realms, Australia's Dark Flash Fiction Online Magazine has now been made available online. The current issue features stories from Poppy Z. Brite, Robert Hood, Shane Jiraiya Cummings, Lee Battersby and others.

Interviews with Australian Authors

The British website Bookmunch features a few interviews with Australian authors (transcripts rather than audio) which are worth checking out. A quick glance though the list reveals interviews with:

Michel Faber - author of The Crimson Petal and the White
Kate Jennings - author of Moral Hazzard
Emily Maguire - author of Taming the Beast
DBC Pierre - author of Vernon God Little

[Thanks to Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind for the link.]

Weekend Round-Up #46

The late Frank Hardy is the focus of some attention in "The Age" this weekend, with an excerpt on Saturday from Frank Hardy: Politics, Literature, Life by Jenny Hocking and a review of the book on Sunday. This follows on from Jason Steger's profile of Hocking the previous week. As you can tell, Hardy still packs a punch nearly 12 years after his death.

Commemorating the 30th anniversary of what many considered a political coup d'etat (the 11th November 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam Federal Labor Government by the then Governor-General John Kerr) are three books that are reviewed in the paper but which are not on the website: The Truth of the Matter by Gough Whitlam, The Dismissal edited by Sybil Nolan, and The Great Crash. It was interesting in the week leading up to the anniversary to hear ex-Prime Minister Paul Keating say that he had suggested that Whitlam should just have placed Kerr under house-arrest, and then just carried on. I'm actually not sure that would have helped in the slightest.

Alex Miller's new novel Prochownik's Dream is reviewed in the Saturday "Age" by James Ley. If you're quick you can get to listen to a podcast of Miller being interviewed by Ramona Kaval on the ABC's Books and Writing program. This is from the 13th November program and I notice there is a transcript of the interview also available. While Ley can see the qualities in the book he is ultimately unmoved by the characters and the drama:

Prochownik's Dream makes a concerted effort to shed some light on the complicated psychological processes that are at work in the artist as he attempts to transform the raw materials of life into art. It is, nevertheless, rather disappointing.

Artists ask to be indulged in order to create; in a sense, they are also asking to be indulged when they make their work public and invite us to consider their creation. This attention is willingly granted, but in return we might reasonably hope for something a little more compelling than Prochownik's Dream.

Christopher Bantick is impressed with John Marsden's latest young adult novel, Incurable: The Ellie Chronicles. This continues the story of Ellie from Marsden's big-selling "Tomorrow When the War Began" series.

Marsden is a master storyteller. He is capable of writing with both versatility and considerable emotional range. Ellie Linton is feisty, fair and honest....

Above all, Marsden respects his young audience. In Tomorrow When the War Began Ellie writes: "Recording what we've done, in words, on paper, it's got to be our way of telling ourselves that we mean something, that we matter."

Agnes Nieuwenhuizen is profiled in "The Age" this week as she approaches retirement from her position as manager of the Melbourne-based Australian Centre for Youth Literature in Melbourne. A formidable presence she has done great work setting up the Centre and ensuring its continuity after her departure.

Not much else floating around this weekend, so that'll have to do.

Poem: My Books by Zora Cross

My books are like a lovely land
Where Life and Death walk hand in hand,
Where I may pluck in happy ease
A branch of faëry fantasies;
Or take the little skiff of dreams
And sail enchanted summer streams
To reach a blessed isle of light
Where there is never fear of night.

My books are as a magic world
Within this dull one wisely curled --
A realm of immortality
Where I am queen of land of sea,
And all the subjects of the soul
That wander there in Love's control
Through my serene imagining.

Hector in anguish fights for me,
Ulysses sails a stormy sea;
Queen Guinevere and Lancelot ride
Between the elm-trees side by side,
And many a man and many a maid
In leafy lane and glad, green glade
To faëry cymbals lightly dance
From out the leaves of old Romance.

Ah, mighty kingdom of the mind,
That rules the hearts of all mankind,
When I remember that for me,
For my undreamed mortality,
My little soul, unthought, unborn,
Great poets sang in some far morn,
I am unhumble than the air
Lingering here on Song's first stair.

First published in The Bulletin, 27 May 1920

Hazel Rowley is doing the publicity rounds in the USA after the publication of her new book Tête-à-Tête: The Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. You can listen to an interview with her from in Boston. Harper Collins describes the book as follows:

They are one of the world's legendary couples. We can't think of one without thinking of the other. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre -- those passionate, freethinking existentialist philosopher-writers -- had a committed but notoriously open union that generated no end of controversy. With Tête-à-Tête, distinguished biographer Hazel Rowley offers the first dual portrait of these two colossal figures and their intense, often embattled relationship. Through original interviews and access to new primary sources, Rowley portrays them up close, in their most intimate moments.

The Tyrannicide Brief by Geoffrey Robertson

The openDemocracy website carries an extract from Geoffrey Robertson's book The Tyrannicide Brief. In addition, Robertson talks to Charlie Devereux about why he considers John Cooke (who prosecuted Charles I of England) a hero of our time and what can be applied from his story to the prosecutions of Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein.

Charlie Devereux: What parallels do you draw between Charles I's trial and Saddam Hussein's?

Geoffrey Robertson: You have a dictator and an absolute monarch, and a war waged by both men against their own people, civil wars that were waged to prop up their power and their right to absolute rule. Saddam Hussein was charged with summary execution. In the case of Charles, the evidence suggested that he supervised the torture of prisoners of war. It is fair to say that the parallels are by no means exact; by the standards of European rulers of the age, Charles's alleged crimes are less brutal than those alleged against Saddam Hussein.

Great Australian Authors #5 - A.B. "Banjo" Paterson


A.B. ("Banjo") Paterson (1864 - 1941)

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
   Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
   Just "on spec", addressed as follows: "Clancy, of The Overflow".

And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
   (And I think the same was written in a thumbnail dipped in tar)
'Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
   "Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are."

From "Clancy of the Overflow" by Banjo Paterson

Weekend Round-Up #45

It's obviously the gift-buying season as more and more "big" books come onto the market in Australia each week. The big one this week in "The Age" is Steve Waugh's autobiography, Out of my Comfort Zone. For those not in the know, Waugh is the most successful cricket captain in Australian test history, the second-highest run-scorer ever (until Brian Lara overtakes him in the next few weeks), and appeared in more Test matches than anyone else, from any country. He played the game hard, but fair; relentless but sometimes went too far, or allowed his team-mates to overstep the bounds. In other words, a fully rounded individual who grew up on the world stage. So his autobiography is of more than usual interest - well, okay I'm a bit of a cricket nut and I always liked Waugh's style of play, so I'm a bit biased. Steven Carroll probably fits into that mold as well - his most recent novel, The Gift of Speed is set against the background of a West Indies cricket tour of the early 1960s - and his review is fairly even handed:

In most cases you don't read the autobiography of distinguished sporting figures on the chance that they may be an Anton Chekhov as well. We generally read their tales because of what the teller knows.

Many are written in conjunction with a journalist - the "as told to ..." variety of memoir. There are three noteworthy things to say about Steve Waugh's autobiography. First, he wrote it himself. Second, he can write (it's a cut above the usual sporting memoir). Third, he wrote too much.

More is never enough for a Test batsman. Often enough for a writer, though, less is more. You don't have to cover everything. In most cases, the fewer the words, the fewer the events and moving parts in the story you have to tell, the stronger the impact.

From some of his published statements I suspect that even Waugh thinks it might be too long. In any event, I think this one might just well end up in my Christmas stocking.

Simon Caterson catches up with the latest Tom Keneally, The Commonwealth of Thieves, and the delay here is not such a bad thing: it gives the reviewer time to ponder the issues properly. His main point being the comparison between this book of Keneally's and Robert Hughes's earlier The Fatal Shore:

Keneally's new account of the First Fleet has already been discussed in the media as rivalling Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore and indeed there is a crucial difference in outlook between the two.

Biographically, Hughes and Keneally have much in common in terms of age and background but the attitude each has to the founding of Australia diverges markedly. As the titles of the two books suggest, Keneally's vision is basically positive, whereas Hughes is inclined to the negative.

Hughes characterises the convict settlement as a gulag but Keneally tends to view the new colony as a kind of demi-Eden, an opportunity in practical terms to build a new and more humane society out of the brutal excesses of its imperial progenitor.

Continuing the interesting run of Australian novels that have been published this year is Roger McDonald's The Ballad of Desmond Kale. This novel also continues a general theme and subject-matter that has been used a bit this year: the early European settlement of Australia and the relationship between the new settlers and the indigenous population, see also Keneally and Grenville. Peter Pierce, professor of Australian literature at James Cook University, looks at the novel: "McDonald's is a big, ambitious book, a winding tale that takes its due time. There are detours for intriguing subplots - a pregnancy, a feud between half-brothers, a shipwreck, the attempted theft of a map to the fabled inland of the colony, political intrigue over the governing of NSW. There is much detail about the breeding of sheep - the quality of their wool in consequence, the character of the men who are expert in this."

Stella Clarke also considers at the McDonald novel in "The Weekend Australian" and is pretty impressed: "ROGER McDonald is a riot. This story is balladry of distinction, laid out in prose. He combines a love of intrigue and high adventure with a defiant, lyrical, vigorous way of telling...Here are art and excitement, mixed to magnificent strength. Here are pain and passion, eased through the circumspect medium of a charismatic, old-fashioned style, then springing at you in a gutsy twist of phrase."

I don't get the "Sydney Morning Herald" delivered and had been hoping that their new, improved book review website might offer something of interest, as it did last week. But it hasn't been updated yet. Time to get a schedule in place methinks.

[Update: It's the Wednesday after the weekened and the SMH have now updated their book review website. No new Australian books reviewed however.]

2005 Patrick White Award

Poet Fay Zwicky has been announced as the winner of the 2005 Patrick White Award.

"The annual prize is given to an Australian writer whose work, in the opinion of the award committee, has not received adequate recognition." Previous winners of the award have included Amy Witting, Thea Astley, Dal Stivens, Randolph Stow, Gwen Harwood and Christina Stead.

Joseph Campbell #2

"This first stage of the mythological journey -- which we have designated the 'call to adventure' -- signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: as a distant land, a forest, a kingdom, underground, beneath the waves, or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight."

- The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell, p58

Poem: The Lost Chord by Eddyson (Edward Dyson)

Half-waking and half-dreaming
   I sat me down to write.
The full thoughts flowing, gleaming,
   I wove them with delight.
With bardic runes empiric
   I wrought at fever heat
To make that lovely lyric
   The world must find so sweet.

The small typewriter clicking
   The tropes that softly rise,
A clock above me ticking,
   And dusk before my eyes;
The deft hands score my rhyming,
   I whisper: "This excels!
'Tis like the distant chiming
   Of seven holy bells."

So sped the lovely proem:
   The ringing lines flew fast.
I finished fast my poem,
   And inspiration passed.
I dreamed a little o'er it;
   Adoring it I smiled,
The parent I who bore it,
   And it my passion-child.

Alas! in my typewriter
   No sunlit verses shone,
And now, a mooning blighter,
   I mourn a pearl that's gone.
Past hope, like morning vapor,
   That never more is seen --
I'd run no sheet of paper
   Into the curst machine!

First published in The Bulletin, 8 April 1920

Lily Brett Profile

On the publication of her new novel You Gotta Have Balls, Lily Brett is href="">profiled in "The Bulletin Magazine".

Lily Brett's favourite lipstick is called Sheer Power. It's an appropriate shade for a woman whose latest novel, You Gotta Have Balls, makes a couple of provocative statements about how little support women offer each other. When the book's heroine, Ruth Rothwax, who runs a customised letter-writing business, attempts to establish a women's group with the intention of creating a support network, she finds herself stumped: her friends don't want to join, or have a different agenda. Brett has experienced this frustration first-hand and believes it is genetic. "Men are not like that, they just get on with it," she says. "They don't have to be best friends to help each other out. Women criticise and undermine each other with comments about their appearance. When Martha Stewart went to jail, her harshest critics were women. This is something that has been bugging me for years and I decided it was time to write about it."

Poem: War's End by C.J. Dennis

Greyer and older, still they stand
   Wearier, quieter, still they pray;
Men who had offered their all to a land.
   And their thoughts run back to an olden day
When Youth sailed gallantly, gaily forth --
   Romance for King, and faith to the fore --
To the older, bitterer lands of the north,
   To battle, that men might end all war.

Ageing Diggers, grown wiser now,
   Again they are dreaming before their shrine
Of the long-gone day when they made the vow
   With hearts uplifted, and eyes a-shine.
And thro' their dreaming there drifts to-day
   A newer note and a sad refrain,
As their thoughts return to that bitter fray:
   "Was it all in vain? Was it all in vain?"

Soberer, sterner, still they hear
   Endless thunder of vengeful guns
Echoing out of a long dead year.
   And, "God," they pray, "must these our sons
Learn over again all we'd fain forget?
   Buy over again their need of peace
Live over again worse madness yet?
   Is earth's grim agony never to cease?"

Ageing Diggers before their shrine:
   "Is there never a respite, no release?
We who have suffered look for a sign.
   Is there never a hope for a lasting peace?
We who have known it all before:
   The madness, agony, needless pain --
We who once battled to end all war --
   Was it all in vain? Was it all in vain?"

First published in The Herald, 11 November 1935

[Today is Remembrance Day.]

Indexing for Fun and Profit

Bruce Gillespie has been an editor for almost as long as I've known him. His problem is that publishers are slowly reducing the amount of money they are willing to spend on the editing process, so his work is being squeezed. As a consequence he's had some rather peculiar things come across his desk: "These days, indexing is my living, because during 2005 I've been sent only two editing jobs (which earn real money) and have had to scrape along on the proceeds of a scattering of proofreading jobs and some interesting indexing assignments.

"To index the book I want to discuss, I had to sign a confidentiality agreement with the publisher. Luckily I told only one other person, my wife Elaine, about this agreement. 'What's the book, then?' she said. 'The Latham Diaries? 'Yes,' I said. So we both had to shut up about my indexing job until the day extracts hit the media."

Bruce then goes on to talk about his reaction to the book, and in doing so probably delivers the best review I read of it anywhere - as well as providing an interesting look at the job of an indexer along the way.

J.M. Coetzee

J.M. Coetzee is a featured author over on "The New York Times" website. They have sections devoted to each of his books, including reviews, excerpts and articles about his full body of work.

[Thanks to Conversational Reading for the link.]

Great Australian Authors #4 - Miles Franklin

Miles Franklin (1879 - 1954)

John Fowles Dead

The English writer John Fowles has died at his home in Dorset at the age of 79 after a long illness. While not an Australian writer, Fowles did write The French Lieutenant's Woman, one of my all-time favourites. He will be missed.

Weekend Round-Up #44

There's a big Australian range of books in this weekend's "Weekend Australian", especially Australian history. Robert Murray reviews and compares The Commonwealth of Thieves by Tom Keneally and Australia Our Heritage: A History of a Nation by John Molony. As he says, the early European settlement history of Australia "was not the stuff of conspicuous glamour, of adventure novels, operas, musicals, epic poems or colourful heroes; everybody was just too damned sensible." And this "overpowering presence of common sense pervades Keneally's story, so that it is not often a ripping yarn, but it is nevertheless probably the best book yet of many written on the foundations of Sydney, and also the beneficiary of much work by others during the past 40 years.

"The obvious comparison is with Robert Hughes's showier The Fatal Shore. Hughes squeezed out more drama, more blood, intestines and artistic heightening to produce an international bestseller. The Commonwealth of Thieves is more detailed, richer in context, more serious in purpose and careful with the truth. It requires concentrated reading but lingers in the memory."

And: "Sensible, methodical, competent and workmanlike are also good descriptions for John Molony's general history of Australia, up to the minute about prehistory, environment and Aborigines. Both writers strive for the difficult balance between Aborigines and whites, between convicts and others down the pile with authority. Molony is a notch left of centre but otherwise history warriors will find few easy targets. He packs the information in concisely, from the Dreamtime through James Cook to Philip Ruddock and the asylum-seekers, though sometimes it has the bumpy feel of a peak-hour bus. Much is familiar, of course, but it seems well suited to students and other newcomers to Australian history."

Continuing the theme are reviews of The Life of George Bass: Surgeon and Sailor of the Enlightenment by Miriam Estensen: "Miriam Estensen's biography of Bass is a careful, detailed account of the surgeon and explorer and makes a companion volume of sorts to her book The Life of Matthew Flinders, Bass having been both friend and inspiration to that young man"; The Ship Thieves by Sian Rees: "Rees writes a coherent story, steering through the gaps in documented knowledge with a light hand"; and The Fatal Voyage: Captain Cook's Last Great Journey by Peter Aughton: "It is a good summary if you want to know what happened on that dramatic, tragic voyage but have no deeper interest or patience for complexity".

Frank Moorhouse has written Martini: A memoir that Michael Sharkey finds is "at once a memoir and a celebration of the good life and the martini considered as fine art. Sober reflections, drolleries, causeries and mock Platonic dialogues on transient pleasures are interwoven in an elegant series of interlinked narratives and proses to be taken in sips, rather as Montaigne's essays and the maxims of La Rochefoucauld are to be savoured, not swilled."

Reprinted from "The New York Times" is William Grimes's review of Tête-à-Tête: The Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre by Hazel Rowley. The main news: they had feet of clay, and Sartre was a right bastard. Quelle surprise!

Liam Davidson is intrigued by Heather Rose's The Butterfly Man, which continues the story of Lord Lucan after he fled London 31 years ago after the death of his children's nanny. He finished up at the ends of the world, ie Tasmania.

Nicholas Jose's new novel Original Face is described as ethnic noir with a twist. "Jose's deeper themes comes into focus and, perhaps subsconsciously, readers realise they have been hoping for something such as this almost from the first pages: the chance for Original Face to transcend its genre foundations and become much greater than the sum of its parts. It does."

The Saturday "Age" has changed the layout of its book review pages, now incorporating them into a "Culture and Life" lift-out which is in a saddle-stapled tabloid format - similar that used by "The Weekend Ausralian". I think this style works particularly well for these contents as it differentiates them from the rest of the paper and makes it easier to read aroundthe house, and during the week on the train.

The major piece in the "Age" this weekend is a large profile of Alex Miller timed to coincide with the release of his latest novel Prochownik's Dream. Jane Sullivan does a good job with this giving a good outline of Miller's life and work and how it has come together in his new novel.

Crime novelist and ex-journalist Peter Temple considers two new Australian dictionaries in The Macquarie Dictonary and The Collins Australian Dictionary. He's not overly impressed with either of them.

Morag Fraser, Miles Franklin award judge etc etc, is impressed with Geoffrey Blainey's A Short History of the Twentieth Century. "He understands technology, indeed he has spent much of his work as a historian detailing its sources and development. He understands democracy and its inherent tensions. He has lived through wars and seen their fruits - invention as well destruction. His history of the 20th century holds good and evil in balance."

Short notices are given to: Dance of the Nomad: A Study of the Selected Notebooks of A.D. Hope by Ann McCulloch: "Consider the notebooks, she suggests, to be pathways in a maze - separate but connected".

Australian fiction also looms large in the "Sydney Morning Herald" with Susan Wyndham's review of The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald. It's turning out to be a big year in Australian literary fiction.

Short notices are given to: My Spin on Cricket by Richie Benaud: "This is a strange book that is more like a written cricket commentary than a piece of organised prose writing. Richie Benaud simply chats away about anything that takes his fancy"; Designated Targets: World War 2.2 by John Birmingham: "John Birmingham is a skilful and engaging writer in a broad range of contexts".

World Fantasy Award Winners

Margo Lanagan has been announced as winner of two awards at this year's World Fantasy Convention held in Madison, Wisconsin, over the weekend.

She was announced as winner in the Short Fiction category for "Singing My Sister Down", and in the Collection catgeory for Black Juice.

I'd have to check but I believe this is the first time an Australian author has won a World Fantasy Award.

See Locus Magazine for a full list of results.

[Update: I was incorrect in stating that Margo was the first Australian winner of a World Fantasy Award, Shaun Tan won for Best Artist in 2001, and Jack Dann and Janeen Webb won for Best Anthology in 1999 with Dreaming Down Under. My apologies.]

On Narrative

"There are three principal sources of interest in narrative: suspense, mystery and irony. Suspense raises the question: what will happen? Mystery raises the question: why did it happen? When the reader knows the answers to the questions but the characters do not, irony is generated."

- After Baktin: Essays in Fiction and Criticism by David Lodge

Poem: Flirtation by Gilrooney (R.J. Cassidy)

So you'd rather take your book
To some peaceful, shady nook,
   Hapless churl!
O, but I would rather be
In the joyful company
   Of a girl.

I have crammed my aching head
With an occult language dead;
   Studied hard
All the star-worlds up above,
Careless of a woman's love
   Or regard.

I have studied -- and for what?
Ah, for nothing worth a jot,
   Save to find
That I drifted on and out
To the realms of Dread and Doubt,
   From mankind.

So, put your books away,
Aye, for ever from to-day,
   Classic churl;
And bide a while with me
In the sweet society
   Of a girl.

First published in The Bulletin, 21 July 1904

John Birmingham

John Birmingham (born 1964) is an Australian author. Birmingham was born in Liverpool UK and migrated to Australia (unfortunately) with his parents in 1970. He grew up in Ipswich, Queensland. Birmingham is most notable for the novel He Died With A Felafel In His Hand (1994), which has since been turned into a play, film and a graphic novel. The sequel is The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco (Duffy and Snellgrove, 1997). The play was written and produced by thirty-six unemployed actors. It went on to become the longest running stage play in Australian history.

John Birmingham is also a foreign affairs expert, and has written an essay about Australia's relations with Indonesia, Appeasing Jakarta, which was published in the "Quarterly Essay". Other works by him include the How To Be A Man, a semi-humorous guide to contemporary Australian masculinity and Off One's Tits, a collection of essays and articles previously published elsewhere. He also spent four years researching the history of Sydney for Leviathan: the unauthorised biography of Sydney (Random House, 1999, ISBN 0091842034). It won Australia's National Prize For Non-Fiction in 2002. In 2004 he published Weapons of Choice, the first in the "Axis of Time" trilogy, a series of Tom Clancy-like techno-thrillers; simultaneously a satire of the technothriller and alternate history genres. Many writers from those genres appear as minor characters. It was published by Del Rey in the US and by Pan Macmillan in Australia. In August 2005, the second book, Designated Targets was published in Australia. US publication followed in October. - From Wikipedia.

You might also like to know that John Birmingham also maintains a weblog, which is mainly concerned with his recent novels. The Random House website has a description of the latest book along with an author Q&A.

National Treasures from Australia's Great Libraries

This month's issue of
the "National Library of Australia News" reports on the upcoming touring exhibition National Treasures from Australia's Great Libraries. Years in the planning this exhibition will bring together such items as Ned Kelly's helmet (from his seige at Glenrowan) and his Jerilderie Letter (which was the inspiration for Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang), Captain James Cook's Endeavour journals, John Lewin's Birds of New Holland from 1808, P.L. Travers's annotations on her copy of the Disney screenplay for the film Mary Poppins, and Shane Gould's diary from the 1972 Olympics.

It looks like being a collection to cater for all tastes. The exhibition will start at the National Library in Canberra (from 3 Dec 2005 - 12 Feb 2006) and will then move on to the State Library of Victoria and then to all other State Libraries around the country.

Great Australian Authors #3 - Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson (1867 - 1922)

Poem: Galloping Horses by C.J. Dennis

Oh, this is the week when no rhymster may rhyme
On the joy of the bush or the ills of the time,
   Nor pour out his soul in delectable rhythm
   Of women and wine and the lure they have with 'em,
Nor pen philosophic if foolish discourses,
Because of the fury of galloping horses.

Galloping, galloping thro' the refrain --
The lure and the lilt of it beat on the brain.
   Strive as you may for Arcadian Themes,
   The silks and the saddles will weave thro' your dreams.
Surging, and urging the visions aside
For a lyrical lay of equestrian pride,
   For the roar of the race and the call of the courses,
   And galloping, galloping, galloping horses.

This is the week for the apotheosis
Of Horse in his glory, from tail to proboscis.
   That curious quadrupled, proud and aloof,
   That holds all the land under thrall of his hoof.
All creeds and conditions, all factions and forces,
All, all must give way to the galloping horses.

Galloping, galloping -- sinner and saint
March to the metre, releasing restraint.
   If it isn't the Cup it's the Oaks or the Steeple
   That wraps in its magic the minds of the people.
Whether they seek it for profit or pleasure,
They all, willy-nilly, must dance to the measure.
   The mood of the moment in all men endorses
   The glamorous game and the galloping horses --
Galloping horses -- jockeys and courses --
They gallop, we gallop with galloping horses.

Originally published in The Herald, 5 November 1932
[Today is Melbourne Cup Day.]

Currently Reading


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



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


Recently Read


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



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



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

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



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

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

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



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



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



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



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


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