December 2005 Archives

Favourite Reads 2005 - A Personal Perspective

I don't claim to read everything I'd like to get to in any one year. I just don't have the time. And sometimes I don't have the inspiration.

Books read during any one year are those bought by me, gifts (rare), and stuff I get from the library. I work full-time, though not in the literary field, am married with two kids and run this weblog. So time is a tad limited. I generally aim for 1 book a week; not a high number but it's the best I can do.

With that in mind I offer the best books of what I read during the year.

Australian Fiction
The White Earth by Andrew McGahan - I was very pleased to see this pick up the 2005 Miles Franklin Award. It's a book for the ages that will be read for many years to come. As I think I said at the time, it moves McGahan into the top rank of Australian authors.
Surrender by Sonya Hartnett - some might want to call this Hartnett's break-out novel, but I think she's been working at a high level for some years. This continues her progression towards work of great depth. She just needs to move to a new subject and theme.
The Tyrant's Novel by Tom Keneally - Keneally back to his best form, which is really world-class. Can't understand why this didn't get more recognition at the time.

Australian Speculative Fiction
Black Juice by Margo Lanagan - I didn't read much speculative fiction this year (either Australian or not) but it wouldn't have made any difference: this was the best collection of short fiction I've read since I don't know when. Given the accolades it's receiving around the world I'm not the only one who thinks that.

Australian Crime Fiction
The Broken Shore by Peter Temple - there are problems with the plotting in this book (it seems to head in one direction and then heads off somewhere else, leaving a major plot incident behind and unresolved) it's still streets ahead of a lot of novels in the genre.
"The Wyatt Novels" by Garry Disher - I've only read four of the six books in this series but they read as if they were slices from one long novel. Taut, suspenseful and, above all, well written crime novels told from the criminal's perspective.
Lost by Michael Robotham - a police procedural set in London with the main character haunted by a girl who has been missing for three years. The opening quarter is particularly good.

Australian Speculative Fiction
The Monkey's Mask by Dorothy Porter - what is it about Australian writers and verse novels? This one uses the crime genre to great effect. Truly excellent stuff.

Australian Non-Fiction
Best Australian Essays 2004 - stand-out collection of essays that highlight the best of Australian short non-fiction writing during 2004. I can see this will become an annual treat for me - perfect summer reading.

Non-Australian Fiction
Didn't read enough of great interest. This was a great year for me with Australian fiction, and that tended to overwhelm anything else.

Non-Australian Speculative Fiction
Wasp by Eric Frank Russell - funny and perceptive by turns this short novel dates from the 1950s yet the way it deals with terrorism and insurgency makes you think it's fresh and new.
Gifts by Ursula Le Guin - Le Guin is one of the best writers working in the US regardless of genre. The start of a new series.

Non-Australian Crime Fiction
The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips - short, very sharp and funny with it. The only thing I can think of remotely like this book is the Coen Brothers' film "Fargo".
Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride - a police procedural set in Aberdeen. MacBride's first and an excellent read. His sense of place is quite wonderful. Like Rankin's Edinburgh, Aberdeen becomes a main character in the book.

Non-Australian Non-Fiction
Collapse by Jared Diamond - his follow-up to Guns, Germs and Steel. Not as convincing as his previous book but certainly thought-provoking.
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell - It's the little things that make the difference. I'm not completely persuaded by some of his arguments but he makes some excellent points.

Writers at Como 2006

Reader's Feast Bookstore will present Writers at Como 2006 in association with the The Writing Centre for Scholars and Researchers, The University of Melbourne and the National Trust of Australia (Victoria). The dates of the event are 17th, 18th & 19th February 2006. Como Historic House will again be the setting for a weekend celebration of reading, writing, books and ideas. Confirmed participants so far include Frank McCourt, Bernard Cornwell and Cecelia Ahern. The full program will be available in mid-January.

Kings of the Hill

Long term readers may remember news items from earlier in the year dealing with the collapse of the Australia-wide bookselling chain, Collins. Deeply involved in that collapse was one of my favourite bookstores, Hill of Content, at the top end of Bourke Street, here in Melbourne.

The bad news at the time involved the collapse, the good news was that the bookshop in question was rescued by 4 bookshop owners who already owned Collins franchises, which hadn't been affected by the business problems. Now the even better news is that the other Collins franchisees have banded together to form a new company, which is thriving. And the Hill of Content is going from strength to strength.

Internet book sales are a threat, but also an opportunity. "People look up the books on the net and come into our shop and order it," Mrs Johnston said. "People just love to come in and feel and smell the books."

Interviews with SF Authors

Fast Forward: Contemporary Science Fiction is a monthly half-hour television series about science fiction, fantasy and horror produced by leading lights of Baltiomore and Washington DC fandom. Each show includes an interview with an author, book reviews, news etc. Those interviewed include Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Bruce Sterling, Jack Williamson, Connie Willis and our own Garth Nix. The interviews, in both audio and video formats, are available on the site. The Nix interview is 14.3 MB and runs about 19 minutes.

Books on ABC's Radio National

Currently hosting Radio National's Books and Writing on Sundays at 1pm, Romana Koval will move to "The Book Show" in 2006. This is a new program which will air at 10am each weekday and run for 40 minutes. This is a big increase and can only be applauded. "The Age" has more details about the program today. The hope here at Matilda is that the ABC will see its way clear to make the programs available via Podcast as is done with the current program.

2005 Aurealis Awards

The finalists for the 2005 Aurealis Awards have been announced. The awards are presented for best long and short Australian fiction in the fields of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Young Adult and Children's. The awards ceremony will be held on Saturday 25th February 2006, in the Queensland Conservatorium, South Bank, Brisbane.

Great Australian Authors #10 - Amy Witting


Amy Witting (1918 - 2001)

A week before Isobel Callaghan's ninth birthday, her mother said, in a tone of mild regret, 'No birthday presents this year! We have to be very careful about money this year.'

Every year at this time she said this; every year Isobel chose not to believe it. Her mother was just saying that, she told herself, to make the present more of a surprise. Experience told her that there would be no present. As soon as they stepped out of the ferry onto the creaking wharf and set out for Mrs Terry's lakeside boarding house, where they spent the summer holidays, the flat reedy shore, the great Moreton Bay fig whose branches scaffolded the air of the boarding-house garden, the weed-bearded tennis court and the cane chairs with their faded flabby cushions, all spoke to Isobel of desolate past birthdays, but she did not believe experience, either. Day by day she watched for a mysterious shopping trip across the lake, for in the village there was only one tiny store which served as a post office too; when no mysterious journey took place, she told herself they must have brought the present secretly from home. Even on the presentless morning she would not give up hope entirely, but would search in drawers, behind doors, under beds, as if birthday presents were supposed to be hidden, like Easter eggs in the grass.

From I For Isobel by Amy Witting

J.M. Coetzee and the Social Sciences

In a speech at a ceremony to award him an honorary degree from the University of Adelaide, J.M. Coetzee has said that social science graduates are undervalued and ignored by the corporate world. Coetzee said the social sciences enabled humans to "come to know themselves better and perhaps even become better people".

Mirror of the World: Books and Ideas

The State Library of Victoria has launched a new exhibition of works from their collections titled Mirror of the World: Books and Ideas. Their website describes it as follows: "This magnificent new exhibition showcases many of the rare, beautiful and historically significant books held in the Library's collections. It celebrates books as keepers of ideas, knowledge and the imagination, and provides a window into the history of book production and illustration from the Middle Ages to the present." The exhibition is open from 9th December, 10am-5pm daily, and admission is free. Jane Sullivan, in "The Age", writes of what she found there.

Clive James and Sludge Fiction

In the "Times Literary Supplement", Clive James reminisces about his early reading habits, from Erle Stanley Gardner to Capt. W. E. Johns, from Ellery Queen to Leslie Charteris, from Ian Fleming to Arthur Conan Doyle. "It was my third year at Sydney Technical High School, and our English class was being taken by a history teacher while our regular teacher was away ill. Though he conspicuously wore the first Hush Puppies I had ever seen, I can't remember the history teacher's name. But I can still remember everything he said. To keep us in order, he had been asking us what we read at home. I said that I had been reading the collected works of Erle Stanley Gardner. He said there was nothing wrong with that, but that the whole secret with what he called sludge fiction was to enjoy it while you built up the habit of reading, and then move on to something hard. The very idea that there might be something interesting further up the road had not occurred to me before that day."

There's a lot to be said for this approach to beginning a reading career. It really doesn't matter what is read so long as something is. I was continually told off in my youth by teachers and those who didn't read, that comics and science fiction would never lead to anything. That was partly true. I didn't end up doing anything professionally with either genre but I'm still here reading and I doubt if they are.

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

Weekend Round-Up #50

The big entry in "The Age" on the weekend was the listing of best books of the year - this time chosen by writers. The books that kept on appearing include: The Secret River by Kate Grenville, The Broken Shore by Peter Temple, and The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers by Delia Falconer.

Clive James has a new collection of essays out titled The Meaning of Recognition: New Essays 2001-2005. And as Peter Craven says: "Clive James is one of the most accomplished essayists alive and on a good day the boy from Kogarah, who went on to shine at the highbrow and popular ends of television, will make you think that reading an essay (or even that near relation, a sustained intellectual article) can still be the kind of joy it was when Cleopatra held the pen or Hazlitt." James appears to have given up fiction, which is probably a good thing as his best work is done in the fields of personal memoir and essays. This looks like a pretty good collection.

Bryce Courtenay is one of Australia's best-selling authors and with his 12th book, Whitethorn, he returns to his native South Africa which he hasn't revisited since his first novel, The Power of One. It's good to see this book being reviewed in "The Age", not because Courtenay needs the publicity, but because there is always too much speculation that review editors don't like his work and omit any mention of it. On the plus, and minus, sides:

The Power of One and Whitethorn illustrate Courtenay's abiding love for the country of his birth. Indeed, reference is made in Whitethorn to Alan Paton's classic novel of heart-sore Africa, Cry, the Beloved Country. Courtenay, however, is no Paton. His writing swells with melodrama and there is little here that is aphoristic or restrained. Instead there are many stories, and stories within stories within stories. This crowded canvas creates a sense of the writer wanting to cover every angle; an anxiety that people may know the shame and the pain of what has been hidden; an anxiety also that people know the richness and beauty and generosity of his country.

Sounds like it will sell in bucket loads.

James Bradley looks at the annual offerings from Blank Inc of The Best Australian Essays 2005 edited by Robert Dessaix, and The Best Australian Stories 2005 edited by Frank Moorhouse. This is a big review of two impoertant collections so I'm at a loss as to why the piece isn't on the website. Of the Essays: "it's also possible that Dessaix's selections are a little too polite for some tastes. There's little anger...but these quibbles aside, much of the material in Dessaix's Essays is at least very good and often better." Perfect summer reading in my view: short and sharp, quaffable or sippable, and allowing for further follow-ups. In the Stories, Moorhouse has followed his 2004 approach of making a public call for submissions. So what we have is a combination of "New Writing" and "Best Of". Maybe Black Inc could opt for two collections, each following their titles rather than attempting to combine the two: "...there seems something deliberately perverse in publishng a collection of this sort and not using it to draw together material that speaks to the depth as well as the breadth of Australian writing, particularly in a year as bountiful as 2005."

I've always been impressed with Martin Flanagan's work as a journalist and now he has co-written a book with his father Arch, titled: The Line: A Man's Experience of the Burma Railway; A Son's Quest to Understand. The war and Arch's life might well be the main topic of this book, but, as Tony Thompson points out, the younger Flanagan may be aiming at something else: "This meditation on his relationship with his father is raw and, at times, painful. There is a deep love and respect that shines from this book and he captures something fundamental about what it is to be a son. This may be the real subject of the book."

Also reviewed: The Wreck of the Batavia & Prosper by Simon Leys.

It's a busy time of year so everything is cut short. The major Australian fiction review in "The Australian" is Liam Davison's look at Summer at Mount Hope by Rosalie Ham: "While it's the social and romantic intrigue that carries the story, it's Ham's wickedly black humour and finely researched social observation that deliver the real joy of the book."

Poem: A Curse by Madde

There's a special nook in the utmost Pit
   Where Satan simmers the screaming souls,
With sharpened forks and a patent spit
   And first-class devils and first-grade coals --
A cosy corner replete with pomp.
It's all reserved for that cow, the comp.

I write of "Envy, morose and dark,"
   He makes it "'Enry," my heart to break;
I pen an "Ode to the Life-grief Stark" --
   He types it "Hide of a Live Beef-steak,"
I sing "gay ruin in Circe's cup" --
"Bay rum" is the way that he sets it up!

Ho, brother-bards, who have writhed and chafed
   'Neath the heavy hand of the Beast, mark well,
In beer-glad hours there hath been vouchsafed
   To me sweet vision of seething Hell
With one addition to Dante's plan --
A special grid. for the lino. man!

First published in The Bulletin, 5 September 1912

The Miles Franklin Award

Entries for the 2006 Miles Franklin Award have now closed and the convenors of the award, Trust, have announced the relevant 2006 dates.

16 March 2006 - Longlist announced
27 April 2006 - Shortlist announced
22 June 2006 - Winner announced

I'm especially appreciative of the two month gap between the announcements of the shortlist and the winner: it gives me time to finish reading the nominated books. Given some of my statements in the middle of this year I'll be paying particular attention to the publicity given the award post 27 April.

True Crime Exploitation?

The Peter Falconio murder trial has been dominating the news media, print and television, over the past couple of months and now, with the guilty verdict handed down, the rush is on to produce the first book about the case. First cab off the rank will be British writer Richard Shears' 86,000-word book, Bloodstain: The Vanishing of Peter Falconio which is due to be in the bookshops some time later today; only two days after the end of the trial. In Australian terms this must be some sort of record. And if that's not enough, we can expect to see another four or five appearing over the next 12 months. The age of celebrity continues unabated.

Geraldine Brooks Again

The 2006 Richard and Judy Book Club has released its list of 10 titles, and Geraldine Brooks's March has been included. "The Times" estimates that this will increase sales of the book five-fold. As the paper says: "Richard and Judy, the Channel 4 presenters, are acknowledged as the kingmakers of the British book market." A bit late for the 2005 Christmas market but a post-holiday sales boost is always something to look forward to.

[Thanks to The Literary Saloon for the links.]

Weblog Accesses #1

I've been checking out the SiteMeter access logs for this blog, as I am wont to do when bored, and have found that someone has just run a search via Google with the following text: "What ingredients are marijana made out of?" What the hell is that? And why did my weblog come up first? Someone's now going to tell me this person can't spell, and isn't aware that the stuff's a plant anyway. Hemp, paper, books. Yeah, I see the connection.

Great Australian Authors #9 - Christopher Brennan


Christopher Brennan (1870 - 1932)

How old is my heart, how old, how old is my heart,
and did I ever go forth with song when the morn was new?
I seem to have trod on many ways: I seem to have left
I know not how many homes; and to leave each
was still to leave a portion of mine own heart,
of my old heart whose life I had spent to make that home
and all I had was regret, and a memory.
So I sit and muse in this wayside habour and wait
till I hear the gathering cry of the ancient winds and again
I must up and out and leave the embers of the hearth
to crumble silently into white ash and dust,
and see the road stretch bare and pale before me: again
my garment and my house shall be the enveloping winds
and my heart be fill'd wholly with their old pitiless cry.

How Old is My Heart, How Old, How Old is My Heart by Christopher Brennan

Combined Reviews: The Broken Book by Susan Johnson

broken_book.jpg Reviews of The Broken Book by Susan Johnson.

This book has been nominated for the 2006 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Allen and Unwin, the novel's publisher, describes the book as follows: "Inspired by the fascinating life of one of Australia's most talented and intriguing literary figures, Charmian Clift, The Broken Book is wonderfully rich, complex and compelling. Susan Johnson has created an audacious and original novel with an awe-inspiring ability to explore emotional truths."

The "Good Reading Magazine" was enthusiatic in its praise for the book: "Mirroring truths of art and life, creativity and reality, The Broken Book is, at its heart, the story of a woman's struggle to become the artist she has passionately planned to be. Katherine Elgin grew up in a small coastal town in Australia, desperate to transcend her beginnings and make her mark. From her rebellious and contemplative childhood Katherine emerges as a stunningly beautiful young woman, with a voracious appetite for life's most interesting experiences and an overwhelming desire to write the best book she possibly can. But beauty is a double-edged sword and throughout her life - from Sydney, to London, to the islands of Greece - Katherine carries the burden of being both siren and artist.Inspired by the fascinating life of one of Australia's most talented and intriguing literary figures, Charmian Clift, The Broken Book is wonderfully rich, complex and compelling. Susan Johnson has created an audacious and original novel with an awe-inspiring ability to explore emotional truths."

Kerryn Goldsworthy, in "Australian Book Review", found another side of the novel: " writing this kind of extremely allusive and self-reflexive book, Johnson is implicitly addressing some of the big questions in literature, philosophy and psychology: questions of subjectivity and representation, of appropriation and ontology and the nature of fiction itself. And the novel just isn't intellectually interesting enough to sustain the weight of what it has taken on. Complicated, yes; complex, no." But her criticism isn't all bad as she goes on to say that "there is one chapter in which this book takes flight like a beautiful, dangerous firework. Katherine, desperate to get on with her writing, is having her whole attention insistently claimed by her two little girls and ends up in a deadly battle of wills with one of them. For a moment, it turns into a different book altogether, dazzling and disturbing." Was it Cyril Connelly who detailed this struggle in Enemies of Promise?

In "The Age", Delia Falconer finds the book to be "immensely readable", but still seems to be more in agreement with Goldsworthy's opinion: "Johnson presents us with a woman experiencing her own beauty from the inside, rather than through the distorting lens of the rather awful [George] Johnston, [husband of Clift, and author of My Brother Jack, etc]. Unfortunately, she does not quite get to grips with the older Elgin's intellectual complexity, or find the magic door that will liberate this novel from biographical facts. This is in part because Clift did not live long enough to find the insights into her life a first-person novel demands. One wonders what the feminist '70s - or even Johnston's dying first - might have brought to Clift's understanding of herself."

You can read an interview with the author from "The Age', and another from "The Sydney Morning Herald", and an excerpt from the novel.

Weekend Round-Up #49

Hazel Rowley's big new biography Tête-à-Tête: The Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre is reviewed by Judith Armstrong in Saturday's "The Age". The more I read about Sartre the more I'm convinced he was a total shit. Maybe if de Beauvoir had just lined him up and decked him, she, him, and all the rest of us might have been better off. Somehow or other "Rowley is scrupulous in with-holding judgement, but the story she tells points to conclusions she doesn't want to make. There are lies, damn lies and existential lies -- but these last don't count."

Arabella Edge's first book was The Company which told the story of the wreck of the Batavia on the West Australian coast in 1682. Now she returns with The God of Spring which concerns another shipwreck, this time the Medusa in 1816; famously depicted by Theodore Gericault's enormous painting. Juliette Hughes is intrigued by the book: "There is a curious formulaic flatness to the prose here, with nothing at all new in it. Yet as one plunges further into the book, the writing takes on a compelling vividness that keeps the pages turning...You come away from it thinking of art, politics and the sheer strangeness of things."

Thuy On has a look at Rosalie Ham's second novel Summer at Mount Hope and finds that the novel is "more unabashed romance set against a backdrop of grapes, dust and drought than a historical document. This is light summer reading; a period-drama with the requisite sunny, fluffy-cloud ending." Probably a good time to publish it then.

In his short notes on fiction, Cameron Woodhead says: "Until you've read the Cliff Hardy series, you can't call yourself an aficiando of Aussie detective fiction." I read the first three or four back in the 1980s but haven't revisted the series since then. Might be time to catch up.

The Barry McKenzie films, those cringe-making comedies of the 1970s, have been re-evaluated by Tony Moore in his new book The Barry McKenzie Movies - what, no subtitle? In "The Weekend Australian" Peter Coleman puts his view of it right up front: "The riddle that Tony Moore sets out to crack in his new tribute to Barry Humphries is how Humphries can be at once aesthetic and vulgar, mad and cool, abstemious and reckless, conservative and destructive, among other inconsistencies. The usual answer is that Humphries is a comic genius. Consistency has nothing to do with it." And neither it should.

Terry Dowling gives a good notice to Lucy Sussex's new collection A Tour Guide in Utopia which "brings together 12 stories by one of our leading fantasists. Alongside unsettling tales of urban disquiet such as La Sentinelle and The Ghost of Mrs Rochester we have stylish takes on some of SF's best-loved themes with The Lottery and the title story. Erudite and classy, this collection shows again that Sussex is a master of the short form."

2005 "The Age" Short Story Award

Ellen Rodger, from Sydney, has won the 2005 "Age" Short Story Award with "The Reasons for Us Being Here". Second was "Booligal Sheep Station" by Dennis McIntosh, and third was "The Promise" by Erin Gough. Rodger's winning story was published in "The Age" on the weekend.

Year's Best 2005 - Various

Karen Joy Fowler chooses March by Geraldine Brooks as her best work of fiction for the year in "The Washington Post".

Margo Lanagan's story collection Black Juice has been selected as one of the Horn Book Fanfare books of the year for Young Adults.

Markus Zusak gets listed amongst the Best Children's Fiction Books of the year in Publisher's Weekly for I am the Messenger.

"The Australian" published its collection of the year's best books last week, using the technique of asking a bunch of their critics to do it for them.

In "The Daily Telegraph", Gideon Haigh's Ashes 2005: The Greatest Test Series is selected as one of the year's best Sports books.

Poem: The Proud Genius by The Fugitive Scribbler

There is a splendid genius to whom I bow the knee;
His name upon the scroll of Fame is writ for all to see;
I nodded in a nervous way to him the other morn,
            But --
He crushed me to the pavement with a look of sober scorn!

That proud and splendid genius I do not care to meet
When, chin in air and shoulders braced, he marches down the street;
Nor does it greatly cheer me in deep dejection sunk
            That --
He sometimes condescends to borrow thrippence when he's drunk!

First published in The Bulletin, 8 August 1912

Breaker Morant

Harry "Breaker" Morant was born on this day in England in 1864, possibly under the name Edwin Henry Murrant. He arrived in Townsville, Queensland in 1883 where he later married Daisy May O'Dwyer (later known more famously as Daisy Bates) - and quickly divorced - and took to droving and horse-breaking; hence the nickname. In the late 1890s he enlisted with the South Australian Mounted Rifles to fight in the Boer War in South Africa. Along with P.J. Handcock, Morant was court-martialled for executing several Boer prisoners and a German missionary. He was found guilty and executed by firing squad on February 27th 1902. The story of his trial and execution was told in the 1979 film "Breaker Morant" with Edward Woodward as Morant, Bryan Brown as Handcock, along with Jack Thompson as the defending council - the film was directed by Bruce Beresford. Morant was one of the 'back-block' bards of the 1890s and published the bulk of his work in The Bulletin magazine.

They are mustering cattle on Brigalow Vale
   Where the stock-horses whinny and stamp,
And where long Andy Ferguson, you may go bail,
   Is yet boss on a cutting-out camp.
Half the duffers I met would not know a fat steer
   From a blessed old Alderney cow.
Whilst they're mustering there I am wondering here --
   Who is riding brown Harlequin now?

From starlight to starlight - all day in between
   The foam-flakes might fly from his bit,
But whatever the pace of the day's work had been,
   The brown gelding was eager and fit.
On the packhorse's back they are fixing a load
   Where the path climbs the hill's gloomy brow;
They are mustering bullocks to send on the road,
   But -- who's riding old Harlequin now?

From Who's
Riding Old Harlequin Now?
by Breaker Morant

Wet Ink: The Magazine of New Writing

A new literary magazine is appearing soon out of Adelaide. Wet Ink describes itself as: "a magazine that is dedicated to publishing new and exciting writing."

I don't recognise any of the editorial staff but on the advisory board they have: J.M. Coetzee, Richard Hosking, Ioana Petrescu, Judith Rodriguez, Eva Sallis and Thomas Shapcott. And a couple of these names ring a bell. The aim is to publish 4 issues a year, with the first issue to appear this month.

[Thanks to Maud Newton for the link.]

Year's Best 2005 - "Sydney Morning Herald"

"The Sydney Morning Herald" has announced its list of the best of Australian Literature for 2005.

Best Fiction:
The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
Original Face by Nicholas Jose

Best Crime:
The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

Best Fantasy:
Slaughterboy by Odo Hirsch

Best Young Adult:
How Hedley Hopkins Did A Dare .. by Paul Jennings
Ziggy and the Plugfish by Jonathan Harlen
The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett

Best Debut:
Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany

Best Non-Fiction:
The Commonwealth of Thieves by Tom Keneally
Telling the Truth About Aboriginal History by Bain Attwood
Snowtown by Jeremy Putney

Best Poetry:
Geology by Kevin Murray
The People Singers by John Millett
Unfinished Journey by Michael Thwaites
Freehold by Geoff Page
The Well Mouth by Philip Salom
The New Arcadia by John Kinsella
Friendly Fire by Jennifer Maiden
The Past Completes Me: Selected Poems 1973-2003 by Alan Gould

Comment: I've read a grand total of two of these - the Temple and the Hartnett. Kate Grenville and Tom Keneally are on my summer reading list. Not a good return after my 2005 intention to read a lot more Australian literature. I put it down to reading a lot that was published in 2004. Well, I have to find some excuse.

Buy Lots and Lots

Every now and then someone comes up with a very funny way of promoting a product. This happens rarely in the literary field so it was with a great deal of mirth that I received the following from Mr Lee Goldberg this morning:

Dear Friend, I am a former general in the Nigerian army who has managed to steal countless millions from my people. It has come to my attention that you are an investing genius and I would like your help establishing an account at a U.S. bank. To start with, you need to know that Lee Goldberg's new mystery novel MR. MONK GOES TO THE FIREHOUSE will be published on Jan. 3rd and is getting a big promo push from The USA Network, which has posted excerpts from his book and a dozen streaming video interviews with him at their site: This is important, because I need you to buy 17,800 copies of the book. In return, if you give me your checking account number, your credit card number, and your social security number, I will wire you $122,000 as "reimbursement" for the purchase of this splendid book. We will all be winners, especially you my dear, dear friend. I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, General Rgo Zan

Great Australian Authors #8 - Kenneth Slessor


Kenneth Slessor (1901 - 1971)

After the whey-faced anonymity
Of river-gums and scribbly-gums and bush,
After the rubbing and the hit of brush,
You come to the South Country
As if the argument of trees were done,
The doubts and quarrelling, the plots and pains,
All ended by these clear and gliding planes
Like an abrupt solution.

From South Country by Kenneth Slessor

Nicholas Shakespeare

In "The Guardian" Nicholas Shakespeare discusses the flash of inspiration that lead to his novel Snowleg, which has just been longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Malicious Intent by Kathryn Fox

Susanna Yager, in the "Daily Telegraph", reviews Malicious Intent by Kathryn Fox. The main character "is a likeable personality and the intriguing mystery is notable for its originality, except, alas, for its ending; sending the unsuspecting heroine into the villain's lair to contrive an exciting climax has - so to speak - been done to death. But all in all it's an accomplished debut and a very enjoyable read."

Weekend Round-Up #48

Gerald Murnane is one of those Australian authors who work on the margins of the literary world; popping up occasionally with a new work and then completely disappearing again. His first work was Tamarisk Row back in 1974 which was followed by his best-known work, The Plains, published by Norstrilia Press in 1982. Now he's published a collection of essays titled Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs, which is reviewed in "The Age" this week by Michael Epis. And Epis is quite impressed with the works presented here: "Gerald Murnane writes fiction like no one else. His essays read much like his fiction - which means he writes essays like no one else...He's funny - and the most serious of writers. These essays reveal the unique cast of mind that produced Murnane's seven works of fiction, which, he makes clear here, are unlikely to be added to. Although never a player of postmodern games, the fictionality of fiction is always present to him."

Chrissy Amphlett, as lead singer of the 1980s Australian rock band The Divinyls, had a stage presence like no other: combine equal parts Tina Turner and Deborah Harry, up the raunch and the volume and you might be getting somewhere near the mark. She has now retired from the music scene and has written an autobiography, Pleasure and Pain: My Life by Chrissy Amphlett & Larry Writer, which appears to reflect her performance on stage: "Driven by a furious ambition that seems to draw strength from frank distrust and a brutal disregard of others, the self-portrait that emerges from these dark and often bitter pages is close to psychopathic. What it says more generally, about rock'n'roll and what people will do to sell it, is no less horrifying...This is true grit and grime with a middle finger raised in perpetuity, albeit in a splint. Wannabe rock monsters, consider your research done."

If Wilfred Burchett was alive today he'd probably be languishing in some god-forsaken prison facing unspecified charges in our "war against terror". A new work on Burchett, Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist: The Autobiography of Wilfred Burchett edited by George Burchett and Nick Shimmin, is reviewed by Ross Fitzgerald in "The Weekend Australian".

Ii is hard to think of anyone in the world other than that lone-wolf Aussie journalist Wilfred Burchett who was on intimate terms with Ho Chi Minh, Zhou Enlai and Henry Kissinger. And it is difficult to think of any 20th-century writer and reporter other than John Pilger who has so polarised critical opinion about himself.

There are those such as Bertrand Russell who heaped praise on him for single-handedly alerting Western public opinion to the struggle of the Vietnamese people against the American aggressors. And there are commentators, including Robert Manne, who see Burchett as an unreconstructed Stalinist and a traitor to the country of his birth.

Bit of an interesting bloke then.

Poem: The Passionate Poet by Frank Morton

I dearly long -- perhaps you've learned
   The process, and will let me know it --
To stop a fierce and curdling wail
   And muzzle a forsaken poet.

There was a girl who loved him once,
   The one girl that his whimsy needed;
But she was very wicked, for
   She tired some several months ere he did.

So now his tears wet all my street,
   A nuisance, whatsoe'er the weather;
And much I long to bury him
   And his confounded dreams together.

There never was a girl, I know,
   Was worth such loud, incessant bleating;
But he is deaf when I deride,
   And adamant to my entreating.

He tells me that her eyes were blue
   (Blue eyes are cheap enough, I'm thinking),
Her heart was made of ice. And so
   (Between ourselves) he took to drinking.

And now he whimpers night and day,
   Of faith forsworn and dear hopes stricken.
I offer sympathy; but when
   He keeps it up, I have to sicken.

He says her feet were very small,
   (Small-footed every neat cocotte is)
He weeps, and then I ache to grip
   Him hard about the epiglottis.

I'm no anatomist. Maybe,
   That's not just where a fellow's throat is.
I only know a man who pines
   For such a jade a sorry goat is.

So much I yarn (if you've the trick
   Of doing this, pray let me know it)
To stop his howling once for all,
   And muzzle this despairing poet.

First published in The Bulletin, 13 June 1912

Top 20 Geek Books

Back in early November "The Guardian" ran a poll of readers to determine the top 20 geek books written in English since 1932. This list has been doing the rounds of the litblogs lately, with the bloggers indicating which of the books they had read by "emboldening" the titles. The results and my entries are given below.

1. The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- Douglas Adams
2. Nineteen Eighty-Four -- George Orwell
3. Brave New World -- Aldous Huxley
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- Philip Dick
5. Neuromancer -- William Gibson
6. Dune -- Frank Herbert
7. I, Robot -- Isaac Asimov
8. Foundation -- Isaac Asimov
9. The Colour of Magic -- Terry Pratchett

10. Microserfs -- Douglas Coupland
11. Snow Crash -- Neal Stephenson
12. Watchmen -- Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
13. Cryptonomicon -- Neal Stephenson
14. Consider Phlebas -- Iain M Banks
15. Stranger in a Strange Land -- Robert Heinlein
16. The Man in the High Castle -- Philip K Dick

17. American Gods -- Neil Gaiman
18. The Diamond Age -- Neal Stephenson
19. The Illuminatus! Trilogy -- Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
20. Trouble with Lichen - John Wyndham

Which says more about my lifetime's reading patterns than anything else probably.

Of the unread books, Stephenson's books were published as follows: Snow Crash 1992, The Diamond Age 1995, and Cryptonomicon 1999; the Gaiman dates from 2001, the Coupland from 1995, with the oldest being The Illuminatus trilogy from 1975.

There are reasons for this. Until the early 1980s I basically read all the sf I could get my hands on. After that time (my mid-20s) my literary tastes started to change and I moved away from sf to other things. I still go back to visit every now and then, but I drank too deeply from that well in my youth and it takes a lot to drag me back.

By the way, the Illuminatus trilogy was around when I was reading a lot of sf and I was aware of it. At the time it looked like a load of crap, and let me tell you, I read a lot of crappy books back then. I reckon if I went and checked it out now I'd have the same opinion.

Brace Yourself

The ABC News blog Articulate on Books reports the following: "Having trouble getting focused on that unfinished book? Go to prison for a few years. "Author, one-time Tory MP and convicted perjurer Lord Jeffrey Archer reckons he wrote a million words during his first year in prison. "His new novel False Impression, which is set in the world of art, (Archer is a collector himself with a large number of Australian works) is being released in Australia this week." Now what was Charlton Heston's favourite line in every sf film he ever made: "Oh. My. God."

Ideas for Presents

I was listening the other day to a podcast from Pinky's Paperhaus, (I think it was with Tod Goldberg) and Pinky made the point that she had decided to take a book along when she was invited to someone's house for dinner. Her rationale was that she didn't know much about wine but she did know a bit about literature. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me. And if you're going to do that why not take along an Australian novel or collection of stories.

Here's a few suggestions:
Drown Them in the Sea by Nicholas Angel
Surrender by Sonya Hartnett
Sixty Lights by Gail Jones
Black Juice by Margo Lanagan
The White Earth by Andrew McGahan
Lost by Michael Robotham
The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

You should be able to find something there that anyone will like. A bit different, and it'll help to break the ice and get the conversation started. And, come on, we all drink too much at this time of year, don't we?

Best Australian Young Adult Books

Over on Read
, the blog about Australian Young Adult literature run out of the State Library of Victoria, a number of authors and book-people have been asked to nominate their favourite novels of 2005. You can see what authors such as Nick Earls, Cassandra Golds, Richard Harland, Kirsty Murray, Chris Girdler, Cath Crowley and Barry Jonsberg have to suggest. Think of them as Christmas present suggestions.

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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