April 2006 Archives

Australian Books to Film #4 - The Sundowners


The Sundowners 1960
Directed by Fred Zinneman
Screenplay by Isobel Lennart from the novel by Jon Cleary
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr, Peter Ustinov, Chips Rafferty

Poem: In the Height of Fashion by Henry Lawson

So at last a toll they'll levy
   For the passing fool who sings --
Take the harp grown dull and heavy
   (With the dried blood on the strings)
Let us sing, and sing right gaily,
   For the wreath is on our brow --
Are you hearin', Victor Daley?
   We are fashionable now!

Once the greatest earl could flout us,
   And the nearest scribe could sneer --
Nought too bad to say about us,
   Nought too hard for us to hear.
Slaves to journal-owning Neroes,
   And we died -- no matter how --
We're sweet singers now and heroes,
   We are fashionable now.

Once we suffered all save gaol, if
   We'd no rich admirers near;
And our sole guest was the bailiff
   And our only comfort beer.
Now we'll dine with toffs and "ladies",
   Who shall clasp our hands and bow.
Let the pale muse go to Hades
   We are fashionable now.

Once we had to be contented
   With the "Palace of the Mind",
While our coats were washed and mended,
   And our pants were patched behind;
Now by goose-knights we are measured,
   While the lordly tailors bow;
And our worn-out pants are treasured --
   We are fashionable now!

Once, when stony-broke and mournful,
   We put our petition clear,
Then our country, cold and scornful,
   Answered, "Go and get a beer!"
And it threw the tray bit at us
   Just to stop our "silly row",
Now it's champagne spreads and -- satis!
   We are fashionable now.

Once our grandest lines were drivel,
   And our wisest words were rot,
All our teachings false and evil,
   To be sneered at and forgot;
Now our silliest clack delights 'em,
   Doggerel their feelings plow,
And our shallow bluff affrights 'em --
   We are fashionable now!

"I adore the Swagman -- Drover --
   'When the World Was Round!' -- But ah!
'While the Billy's Boiling Over
   Is too awfully hurrah!"
This the maiden trills and gushes
   While her johnnie knots his brow,
And the fair young maiden blushes --
   We are fashionable now!

"I like your book, Mr Lawson,
   'Clancy of the Overflow',
Better far than Mr Banjo's --
   'When Your Pants Begin to Go'."
No! I am no longer snarling,
   Long ago we had our row --
Don't be angry, Banjo, darling,
   Though I'm fashionable now.

I am feeling young and restive --
   Skittish more than I can tell,
Skipping with a skip that's festive,
   Singing with a gladsome yell.
I will let my hair grow longer,
   Storm-tossed from my stormy brow,
I am going strong and stronger --
   For I'm fashionable now.

We shall write lines to their poodles --
   Darlings of Society --
Praise the blatant cad who boodles,
   Write odes to the Divorcee.
Let, at last Australia know its
   Brilliant circles anyhow,
We're the Doo-dah, Doo-dah! Poets --
   We are fashionable now.

This poem was written in 1906.

Bulletin debate poem #9

While not, strictly speaking, part of the Bulletin debate between Lawson, Paterson and others, this poem does reference the "silly row", so I've included it. This is the last of the poems in this sequence.

New Australian YA LitBlog

The good people over at the Centre for Youth Literature, based at the State Library of Victoria, have launched a new litblog aimed at the YA audience. The weblog, Inside of a Dog, will feature resident authors - the first of which will be Nick Earls - a blog, reader reviews, contests; the whole damn thing really.

Lili Wilkinson and Mike Shuttleworth were interviewed by Romana Kaval on ABC Radio's Book Show earlier in the week. Their reaction was that she was "playing devil's advocate perhaps". Maybe she was but her approach didn't come across at all well. Rather than being interested in what the web site intended to do she seeemd very worried that users of the site might be seduced away from reading actual books to just browsing, or even to reading books on screen. I came away with the impression that the interviewer couldn't get her head around what they were attempting to do. Mike and Lili handled it far better than I could have. They were very generous in their appraisal of the interview.

Download the mp3 file and have a listen.

Interview with Wendy James - Part 2

The first part of this interview was published yesterday.
Wendy's novel, Out of the Silence, was reviewed here on Matilda last month.

Matilda: Sounds to me more like the trial-and-error methodology you ended up with worked for the best. Though it probably didn't feel like it at the time. Did you ever think the whole thing wouldn't come together at all?

Wendy James: Oh, yes! In the end it was really the necessary evil of getting dates straight, of tying the two narratives together chronologically, that forced me to get it together. I had to do a great deal of literal cutting and pasting (actually, cutting and stapling) to get the narrative into a sensible shape. Even then I ended up with some odd things -- like a pregnancy that lasted 18 months or so...

M: I hope the 18 month pregnancy was the literary one.

Do you see parallels between what Maggie suffered though and what happens today with the abortion/adoption debates, and the whole fertility arguments that erupt?

WJ: Ah - you might have something there: perhaps I transferred my two to Maggie's one - I hadn't considered that....

The parallels are quite startling, aren't they? Obviously, the emphases aren't quite the same, but it seems many of the dilemmas confronting women haven't changed as much as you'd imagine, and I guess this is because we're still struggling to work out what equality actually entails. I think we're still experimenting: trying to work out how the raising of children and careers can be combined... & without one compromising the other. And no matter how laws are changed, as well as societal expectations, our biology - the fact that women are the ones who physically bear children - hasn't. I think the expectation of greater paternal involvement in childrearing is one very positive change ... In terms of political similarities, at around this period there was a pretty significant decrease in the birth-rate -- one of the conclusions (as stated in the NSW commission, and by many other interested parties) was that the selfishness of the 'New Woman" was to blame...naturally.

M: Did you have a contract in place when you finished the novel or did you have to shop it around agents and publishers?

WJ: I sent it to an agent as soon as it was in reasonable shape, and I was pretty lucky -- there were a couple of rejections, but Random were only the 3rd of fourth publisher to read it! So I've really had a bit of a dream run.

M: And what was it like, selling that first novel?

WJ: The stuff of dreams!! The advance was good - not huge, but it meant I didn't have to scrounge up bits of work for the next few months - and they contracted me for a second novel as well. So I was VERY fortunate.

M: What are you working on now? Is there anything you feel you can tell us?

WJ: The second novel's nearly ready to be sent off. My editor's yet to work her magic, so I won't say finished... I'd actually started it while I was researching OOTS (in a bid to enter the Vogel before it was too late, before I got too old) and after rereading - and at the insistence of my sister, who'd read and enjoyed the initial drafts - I decided it was worth reworking. The characters were still bugging me, anyway, obviously desperate for me to resolve their situation. It's very different to OOTS - much lighter - a contemporary domestic drama/mystery - maybe a little farcical. And no first person! A missing sister returns to claim an inheritance ... and if I say any more I'll spoil it. It's due out early 2007, and I think will be titled: THE RETURN.

The third novel is in the planning stages - it'll be heavier, darker, partly historical - and back to that abandoned child/motherhood trope, I'm afraid.

M: To finish up, you've been writing a lot lately, but what is the best you've read over the past twelve months?

WJ: The best I've read..? It's hard to choose, really. My big discovery has been the US writer Richard Yates -- his novel of domestic strife, Revolutionary Road, is quite a revelation, as is Easter Parade, and his short stories are mostly very fine. But I've read some other great stuff, all worth mentioning: John Harwood's The Ghost Writer; Susan Johnson's Broken Book; Carrie Tiffany's debut, Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living; Andrew McGahan's White Earth; Gail Jones's Sixty Lights. Barry Maitland's detective fiction. Anne Manne's Motherhood should be read by all parents - though it can be quite confronting.... oh, and I've just come across UK writer Kate Atkinson (a little late) - her Case Histories is thrilling & moving, and I'm currently reading her first novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which is somehow making me laugh AND cry simultaneously. I have to mention Alice Monroe's latest volume of short stories Runaway - she's said that this might be her last, and that's making me cry, too....

M: Thanks for your time, Wendy, and good luck with the upcoming book.

2006 Miles Franklin Award Shortlist

Kerryn Goldsworthy, over on her weblog A Fugitive Phenomenon, speculated earlier today about the novels that would appear on the 2006 Miles Franklin Award shortlist. And guess what? She picked the list exactly.

As an ex-judge of the award she's now attempting to cover her tracks but we all know it's the tea she's been drinking. Now if she'd just come clean on the brand I might be able to make a few bucks reading my own tea leaves and punting on the Booker later in the year.

In the meantime she states the list as:
Brian Castro, The Garden Book
Kate Grenville, The Secret River
Roger McDonald, The Ballad of Desmond Kale
Carrie Tiffany, Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living
Brenda Walker, The Wing of Night

A very strong list.

Matilda has featured the Tiffany and the Castro here over the past month or so. And you'd have to be living in a cave to miss out on the coverage Kate Grenville has received. The other novels will be featured here shortly. My reading list for the next few weeks should be pretty easy to pick then.

2006 Orange Prize for Fiction

The shortlisted novels for the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction have been announced. And included on the list is Australia's Carrie Tiffany.

The shortlist:
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Beyond Black by Hilary Black
The Accidental by Ali Smith
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Matilda featured Tiffany's novel here a few weeks back.

[Thanks to kimbofo over at the Reading Matters weblog for
the heads-up.]

Interview with Wendy James - Part 1

Wendy James is the author of Out of the Silence which was published in 2005 by Random House. It was the only Australian debut novel published by the company during that year. Wendy is a regular commenter to this weblog and recently agreed to be interviewed by me by email.

Matilda: This is your first novel so a lot of readers won't know much about you. Can you give a potted history of your writing career to date?

Wendy James: I really only began writing in 1992: I was 25, had had two children, and I figured this probably meant I was a bona fide 'grown-up' ... so thought I'd better get going. I started out writing short stories and to my great surprise my first stories were very well-received - I won a couple of prizes, and was published in journals and anthologies pretty regularly: Voices, Ulitarra, Meanjin, Australian Short Stories, Southerly, Westerly, etc, and in James Bradley's Gen-X anthology Blur (though I think I may have been a bit of anomaly in that collection - being married, living in the suburbs, having children etc, and not really a stereotypical gen-xer). When I finished my undergrad degree at Sydney Uni - which I'd done fairly slowly, due to work, kids, etc, I did an MA writing at the University of Technology, Sydney, and then having discovered the story of Maggie Heffernan, applied to write her story as my Doctorate of Creative Arts. We moved to Armidale in 1998 (my husband's a police officer, and Armidale was a very welcome transfer from Kings-X where he'd been for 6 years) and UTS wasn't really set up for external studies, so I applied to Deakin. I was given a place in their PhD program - and a postgrad scholarship - which made the whole project possible.

The novel took about five years to write -- I had another 2 children during that time -- and sadly the theoretical component of the PhD still hasn't been written. I'm waiting for no 1 to finish school, and No 4 to start...

M: So, all the way through you've been juggling the raising of four children and starting a writing career. You must have found it difficult just to find the time and energy to put pen to paper. What kept you going?

WJ: Well, for a long while we were only raising two... I'm not sure about energy, but I think perhaps it was the experience of motherhood (for which I was totally unprepared, and sort of isolated - most of my friends pursued careers first, and started their families later) that sharpened everything and somehow galvanised me into action. Looking back, there was a degree of criticism, and I probably felt like I had a lot to prove. Actually, looking back 10 years or so, when I was studying part time, working part time, and writing, I do feel a bit exhausted, and can't quite remember how I managed it (ah, youth!) I don't think I could do it now. Maybe the eldest two spent an awful lot of time in front of the television... But I don't think mine's an isolated case -- most writers have to work at something else to keep body and soul together. And most - all - parents become adept at keeping all those balls in the air...

M: Yes, it seems to never end. How did you come across the story of Maggie Heffernan? And what was it about her story that sparked the idea of a novel?

WJ: I first discovered Maggie's story in Verity Burgmann & Jenny Lee's People's History of Australia. Just browsing, as you do... In Marilyn Lake's essay, "Intimate Strangers", which examines the consequences of the traditional sexual division of labour, I came across this brief but compelling snippet of history:

Maggie Heffernan, an unmarried domestic servant...had given birth at the Women's Hospital then transferred to a home in the suburbs of Armadale. When released from there she walked the city attempting to find accommodation. She had nothing to eat and was unable to feed her screaming baby. Down near the river she quietly undressed her screaming child and dropped him in the river. Frightened at what she had done Heffernan tried to get a position as a wet-nurse in Hawthorn where she was arrested and charged with murder.

Initially I noted these details down thinking I might use them in a short story - I hadn't quite dared to think about the possibility of writing a novel. I suspect the story struck a chord because at the time I first encountered it I was haunted (as I think many new mothers are) by the dreadful spectre of separation for whatever reason from my children. Anyway, I became particularly preoccupied by the compelling and terrifying figure of the abandoning/relinquishing mother and all the questions the act of abandonment raises: What it might mean for the mother -- what forces could drive her to relinquish or abandon her children, how this would shape her subsequent existence; and then what are the effects on the children themselves, what might it mean to have your mother leave you. A number of my short stories seem to have this theme, these questions, running through them. So I guess to tackle a story based around an infanticide - the ultimate relinquishment - was to follow a natural (if somewhat grim) trajectory - perhaps there's a sense of staring the very worst thing in the face, I'm not quite sure...

M: So where did that snippet of history lead you? Was there any major historical document you could examine for details of the case?

WJ: The snippet didn't really lead anywhere until I happened to read Janette Bomford's biography of Vida Goldstein... That's when the two narratives really meshed: Maggie's tragedy, Vida's championing of her - and then the story of the suffrage. Suddenly I could see a very big story taking shape.

Initially the bulk of the information on Maggie came from one secondary source - there's an honours thesis dealing with nineteenth century 'reproductive crime' that examines her case, but eventually I had to visit the Victorian Public record office at Laverton (my first trip to Melbourne!) and go through the papers there. Of course, that was a goldmine....

M: You then had two major threads of the case in Maggie Heffernan and Vida Goldstein, and decided to add another. Was this for a sense of balance to the story, to add the viewpoint of Elizabeth, the upper middle-class Englishwoman?

WJ: I'd intended, when I first began planning the novel, to have the character of Vida Goldstein centre stage; to have her story, and the story of the suffrage, from her perspective. I read as much as I could find about her during this particular period - and read pages and pages of her journalism - but I just wasn't able to get a grip on her: she's a rather opaque figure -- and so highly politically motivated (for obvious reasons) during this time, that the private person - the private life - was difficult to discern. Then I tried writing a diary from the perspective of Goldstein's great friend Celia John, who was her constant companion in later years. Celia would have been very young at the time the novel was set, a music student newly arrived from Tasmania, and there's no actual record of their meeting then, so the relationship that I developed was entirely imaginary -- and became quite silly. It was very much the diary of a besotted young admirer -- whose main concern was Vida Goldstein's life rather than her own (though I did develop some nice metaphors based around Celia's interest in music and eurythmics...ah well). Her awed admiration for Vida and her work also became tedious -- I needed a slightly more critical perspective. Somehow I couldn't get this relationship to provide any narrative momentum - I toyed with the idea of a lesbian relationship -- but this seemed a terrible literary cliche and historically unlikely. Then, to spice things up, I thought I'd have Vida have an affair with some Labor politician. I did a heap of research on likely candidates, but again, it was historically inaccurate -- and pretty silly. Somehow (hard to remember how exactly!) I realised I needed to make Vida the secondary character - that a diary about her but written by another character could never feel authentic. I needed a real person with a real life -- and that person would have to be imaginary. This sounds odd, I know, when other trajectories were abandoned because of historical inaccuracy -- but the 'big lie' of the invented cousins, and Vida's stay with them, didn't significantly alter anything we know about Goldstein's character...and that seemed a very important ethical consideration, in fictionalising a public figure. In my early research I'd done some reading around the subject of female immigration - shipboard diaries, diaries and letters of women who'd come to escape the poor conditions, and social constrictions of Britain - who'd come hoping for a new life (and of course, some of them hoping for marriage, perhaps) - and these women seemed so immensely brave, making that long journey, with no guarantee of return if it all went wrong, often arriving with no money, no connections. And then their experiences here were sometimes so wretched, so utterly at odds with their expectations. The character of Elizabeth came from all this. In one sense she was, I suppose, the solution to a narrative problem, but her actual (ok, imaginary) predicament soon became quite compelling...That Elizabeth provided such a neat counterpoint to Maggie (in terms of class, experience, etc) was just good luck really -- and not good planning.

The second part of this interview will appear tomorrow.

Text Publishing and The Secret River

You'll recall that a couple of months back I posted a piece about Text Publishing and the first edition of Kate Grenville's novel The Secret River. In essence the subject at that time was the lack of any identifying text on the outside of the cloth case. I included a photo to indicate what I meant.

So I'm in a book shop the other day and for some reason or other decided to see if any changes had been made to the printing. And, lo and behold, the book's cloth spine now carries the title and the author's name. I checked the copyright page and found that this was now the third printing. I don't know if the change was made for the second printing, but it is certainly there now. And a good thing too.

Great Australian Authors #25 - Henry Handel Richardson


Henry Handel Richardson (1870 - 1946)
(Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson)

In a shaft on the Gravel Pits, a man had been buried alive. At work in a deep wet hole, he had recklessly omitted to slab the walls of a drive; uprights and tailors yielded under the lateral pressure, and the rotten earth collapsed, bringing down the roof in its train. The digger fell forward on his face, his ribs jammed across his pick, his arms pinned to his sides, nose and mouth pressed into the sticky mud as into a mask; and over his defenceless body, with a roar that burst his ear-drums, broke stupendous masses of earth.

His mates at the windlass went staggering back from the belch of violently discharged air: it tore the wind-sail to strips, sent stones and gravel flying, loosened planks and props. Their shouts drawing no response, the younger and nimbler of the two - he was a mere boy, for all his amazing growth of beard - put his foot in the bucket and went down on the rope, kicking off the sides of the shaft with his free foot. A group of diggers, gathering round the pit-head, waited for the tug at the rope. It was quick in coming; and the lad was hauled to the surface. No hope: both drives had fallen in; the bottom of the shaft was blocked. The crowd melted with a "Poor Bill - God rest his soul!" or with a silent shrug. Such accidents were not infrequent; each man might thank his stars it was not he who lay cooling down below. And so, since no more washdirt would be raised from this hole, the party that worked it made off for the nearest grog-shop, to wet their throats to the memory of the dead, and to discuss future plans.

From Australia Felix by Henry Handel Richardson, 1917

Poem: ANZAC by C.J. Dennis

Anzac! And war's grim storm . . .
   The scream of a pass'ng shell
Torn earth, and -- a quiet form . . .
   "Pass, comrades. All is well."

Nay, but his spirit lives; be very sure.
   Year follows year, and earthly things depart;
But what he dying gave us shall endure
   Now and for ever in the nation's heart.
Now and for ever; tho' the flesh be gone,
Still shall that Spirit bid us, "Carry on!"

Anzac! The mounds increase;
   Marking where soldiers fell . . . .
Earth's healing scars; and peace.
   "Sleep, comrades. All is well."

And be full certain that they do but sleep,
   Who, falling, yet were well content to find
Fit sanctuary in the hearts that keep
   That spirit and that memory enshrined.
High on Gallipoli, lights that once shone,
Again flame o'er the ocean: "Carry on!"

Anzac! The tramp of marching feet . . . .
   The toll of a passing-bell.
Bowed heads along a city street . . . .
   "Pass, soldier. All is well."

Pass, soldier. When your dwindling ranks grow small;
   When, one by one, old comrades you shall greet;
When the last, lonely veteran's footfall
   Goes echoing adown this city street,
Still may that Spirit, tho' all else be gone,
Cry to our sons: "Australia! Carry on!"

First published in The Herald, 25 April 1927

[Today is ANZAC Day.]

Australian Bookcovers #9 - 1915 by Roger McDonald


1915 by Roger McDonald, 1979
(UQP 1979 edition)

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #17

I had this theory last week that we'd be swamped in the book review pages over the weekend with non-fiction titles on the ANZAC tradition and war in general. Nope. Didn't happen. Bit different last year when we had four or five in "The Age" alone. Maybe last year being the 90th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli had something to do with it.

There aren't a lot of major reviews in "The Age" this weekend. Mark Rubbo looks at 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die by Peter Boxall et al. It's a monster of a book and follows on from the previous 1001 Movies and 1001 Songs. Rubbo thinks that if you were to read 2 of the titles each week you'd get through the lot in 10 years and three-and-a-half days. "One could do much worse than to use Boxall's list as a basis for reading. It's hard to give a great book much justice in a 300-word blurb - they occasionally read like restaurant descriptions in glossy magazines - but often they are clever and illuminating. For what it is, it's a marvellous achievement and I'll certainly use it to fill my bookseller's shelves and my bookseller's brain."

Will Dyson: Australia's Radical Genius, (which I also have for review), is examined by Neill Jillett - he doesn't seem impressed: "Its muddled sentences often mix verbosity with primness".

The only fiction given a review of any length is Shadowboxing by Tony Birch, and this isn't on the website. "The writing is flat, diffident even in its grace notes, and ploddingly explanatory....But in spite of the numbing quality fo the prose, something carries across." Sounds like it needed another draft or two.

Short notices are given to: When the River Runs Dry: What Happens When Our Water Runs Out? - "This effective, bluntly written study, covers all the trouble spots one earth - including a pessimistic prognosis on the future of the Murray/Darling basin.."; The Park Bench by Henry Von Doussa which "charts the contours of the gay underworld...consistently edgy and evocative, and surprising poignant"; One Man's Journey by Guy Sigley, "an earnest attempt to animate and lionise John McDouall Stuart...a solid fictionalisation of the explorer's life, and, most particularly his desperate desire to cross the Australian continent"; The Single Gentleman's Dating Club by Tony McMahon - "this debit novel is as disorderly as its characters and as rough as the booze they drink"; My Grandad Marches on Anzac day by Catriona Hoy and illustrated by Benjamin Johnson: "the book's overriding message is theneed to remember and respect the men and women of those wars; the ones who we lost and the ones who came home."

"The Australian" doesn't let us down by reviewing Voices of War: Stories from Australians at War Film Archive edited by Michael Caulfield. "The book is likely to have wide appeal because it is aimed at the general reader. There is no need to know in detail the theatres of conflict participants found themselves in to understand their reflections on war...What is immediately apparent is the unadorned honesty and directness of the contributors."

In "The Courier-Mail", Terry Oberg talks to Venero Armanno about his new novel, Candle Life.

Reviews of Australian Books #16

Arabella Edge's new novel is reviewed in "The Daily Telegraph" by Claudia FitzHerbert. It appears the UK title for the novel is The Raft, while the Australian version was called The God of Spring: I prefer the original version. Not that this bothers FitzHerbert at all: "This is a marvellously rich, florid and pacy novel about the gestation of a masterpiece."

Australian Books to Film #3 - Three Dollars


Three Dollars 2005
Directed by Robert Connolly
Screenplay by Robert Connolly from the novel by Elliot Perlman
Cast: David Wenham, Frances O'Connor, Sarah Wynter

Poem: In Defence of the Bush by Banjo Paterson

In Answer to Various Bards

Well, I've waited mighty patient while they all came rolling in,
Mister Lawson, Mister Dyson, and the others of their kin,
With their dreadful, dismal stories of the Overlander's camp,
How his fire is always smoky, and his boots are always damp;
And they paint it so terrific it would fill one's soul with gloom,
But you know they're fond of writing about "corpses" and "the tomb."
So, before they curse the bushland they should let their fancy range,
And take something for their livers, and be cheerful for a change.

Now, for instance, Mister Lawson -- well, of course, we almost cried
At the sorrowful description how his "little 'Arvie" died.
And we wept in silent sorrow when "His Father's Mate" was slain;
Then he went and killed the father, and we had to weep again.
Ben Duggan and Jack Denver, too, he caused them to expire,
And he went and cooked the gander of Jack Dunn, of Nevertire;
And he spoke in terms prophetic of a revolution's beat,
When the world should hear the clamour of those people in the street;
But the shearer chaps who start it -- why, he rounds on them in blame,
And he calls 'em "agitators" who are living on the game.
So, no doubt, the bush is wretched if you judge it by the groan
Of the sad and soulful poet with a graveyard of his own.

But I "over-write" the bushmen! Well, I own without a doubt
That I always see a hero in the "man from furthest out."
I could never contemplate him through an atmosphere of gloom,
And a bushman never struck me as a subject for "the tomb."
If it ain't all "golden sunshine" where the "wattle branches wave,"
Well, it ain't all damp and dismal, and it ain't all "lonely grave."
And, of course, there's no denying that the bushman's life is rough,
But a man can easy stand it if he's built of sterling stuff;
Tho' it's seldom that the drover gets a bed of eider-down,
Yet the man who's born a bushman, he gets mighty sick of town,
For he's jotting down the figures, and he's adding up the bills
While his heart is simply aching for a sight of Southern hills.
Then he hears a wool-team passing with a rumble and a lurch,
And although the work is pressing yet it brings him off his perch.
For it stirs him like a message from his station friends afar
And he seems to sniff the ranges in the scent of wool and tar;
And it takes him back in fancy, half in laughter, half in tears,
To a sound of other voices and a thought of other years,
When the woolshed rang with bustle from the dawning of the day,
And the shear-blades were a-clicking to the cry of "wool away!"
When his face was somewhat browner and his frame was firmer set,
And he feels his flabby muscles with a feeling of regret.
Then the wool-team slowly passes and his eyes go sadly back
To the dusty little table and the papers in the rack,
And his thoughts go to the terrace where his sickly children squall,
And he thinks there's something healthy in the bushlife after all.

But we'll go no more a-droving in the wind or in the sun,
For our fathers' hearts have failed us and the droving days are done.
There's a nasty dash of danger where the long-horned bullock wheels,
And we like to live in comfort and to get our reg'lar meals.
And to hang about the townships suits us better, you'll agree,
For a job at washing bottles is the job for such as we.
Let us herd into the cities, let us crush and crowd and push
Till we lose the love of roving and we learn to hate the bush;
And we'll turn our aspirations to a city life and beer,
And we'll sneak across to England -- it's a nicer place than here;
For there's not much risk of hardship where all comforts are in store,
And the theatres are plenty and the pubs are more and more.

But that ends it, Mr Lawson, and it's time to say good-bye,
We must agree to differ in all friendship, you and I;
And our personal opinions -- well, they're scarcely worth a rush,
For there's some that like the city and some that like the bush;
And there's no one quite contented, as I've always heard it said,
Except one favoured person, and he turned out to be dead.
So we'll work our own salvation with the stoutest hearts we may,
And if fortune only favours we will take the road some day,
And go droving down the river 'neath the sunshine and the stars,
And then we'll come to Sydney and vermilionize the bars.

First published in The Bulletin, 1 October 1892
Bulletin debate poem #8

March by Geraldine Brooks

There's a big discussion going on over at Jeff Marriotte's weblog regarding Geraldine Brooks's novel March. TV tie-ins, Buffy, Conan the Barbarian, and Star Wars all get a look-in.

[Thanks to Lee Goldberg for the link.]

Nick Cave Interview

Nick Cave, Australian songwriter, who wrote a novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel, in 1989 is interviewed at the SuicideGirls website. Amongst other things, he explains why he isn't writing novels any more.

[Thanks to the Bookslut weblog for the link.]

Australia's Prime Minister and the Literature Syllabus

"The Age" is reporting today that the Prime Minister is complaining about the modern school English syllabus and how it is being "dumbed down". In response, the paper has also printed a response by Peter Craven who states that "Howard has a point - even if he fails to understand it."

It strikes me that this is becoming an annual event - pick an item off the English school reading list and lay into it. Howard puts his argument thus: "...we need a curriculum that encourages an understanding of the high quality literature and not the rubbish." The question is, John, who's to say what is rubbish, and what is not.

I remember being taught "A School for Scandal" back in high school in the early 70s, and let me tell you, that was rubbish: a bedroom melodrama with added slapstick that the Carry-On gang did far, far better. I had no idea of how it could have related to me or my worldview at that time, assuming I had one, which is doubtful.

Now Shakespeare, on the other hand, was good, but the teaching of it was crap. How can a 15-year-old possibly hope to understand the overwhelming ambition and lust for power that fuels Lady Macbeth or Richard III? Same for the war poetry. The Vietnam War was on at the time but I suspect none of us knew anyone actually in the war, and most of us wouldn't have had anyone in our immediate family who had been to either World War II or the Korean War. We only studied World War I poetry anyway, and then it was only Owen and Sassoon; Australian poets like Dennis or Gellart or Palmer or Manifold didn't get a look in.

Every middle-aged generation complains that the literature read and studied by the younger generation is crap. It's par for the course. I remember being told on a number of occasions that reading science fiction and comics was bad for me, that I should read good books (hence my unfortunate addiction to Enid Blyton in my pre-10 years). And yet here I am reading as much as anyone else I know, other than those reviewing for a living.

It's not the product so much as the person reading it. It's not so much the "canon" as the way it is taught. Fix that and the rest will fall into place. Yes, even episodes of the worst television soap opera you can think of are worthy of study. You just have to know how to tackle it.

Conditions of the Miles Franklin Award

In today's "Age" Jane Sullivan takes a potshot at the Miles Franklin Award, specifically at the conditions of entry.

To quote from the administrator's website: "The Miles Franklin Literary Award celebrates Australian character and creativity and nurtures the continuing life of literature based on Australia. It is awarded for the novel of the year which is of the highest literary merit and which presents Australian life in any of its phases." The kicker is in the phrase "Australian life in any of its phases". In the past this was interpreted to mean about
Australia, set in Australia and featuring Australian characters. Then Grand Days by Frank Moorhouse was disallowed entry in 1994, as was The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith by Peter Carey in 1995, and the restrictive nature of the interpretation was shown to be a bit of a mockery. Moorhouse's book featured Australian characters in a European setting but this was not deemed "Australian enough". The interpretation was subsequently extended to allow books such as Moorhouse's and his sequel, Dark Palace, won the award in 2001.

As another twist, the criteria of the "novel" has been subverted in the past with Hannie Rayson's play, Life After George, being shortlisted in 2001. Now Sullivan raises the question of Geraldine Brooks's novel, March, which has just win the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for fiction but which is ineligible for the Miles Franklin, given that it includes no relationship to Australian life in any form. In passing she also mentions Delia Falconer's novel, The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers, which finds itself in the same boat. As Sullivan puts it: "Times have changed in a good way for our books, and the prize hasn't kept up. When Miles Franklin first had the idea for the prize in her name, Australian literature about Australia was an endangered species that needed all the nurturing, protection and encouragement it could get."

I agree. Australian authors are out and about in the world, and neither they, nor Australia itself, are isolated away from the global village. If the Miles Franklin Award is the pre-eminent literary prize in Australia, then it must reflect the world in which it finds itself. It's time for us to grow up and move on.

Great Australian Authors #24 - John Shaw Neilson


John Shaw Neilson (1872 - 1942)

The young girl stood beside me. I
   Saw not what her young eyes could see:
- A light, she said, not of the sky
   Lives somewhere in the Orange Tree.

- Is it, I said, of east or west?
   The heartbeat of a luminous boy
Who with his faltering flute confessed
   Only the edges of his joy?

Was he, I said, borne to the blue
   In a mad escapade of Spring
Ere he could make a fond adieu
   To his love in the blossoming?

- Listen! the young girl said. There calls
   No voice, no music beats on me;
But it is almost sound: it falls
   This evening on the Orange Tree.

- Does he, I said, so fear the Spring
   Ere the white sap too far can climb?
See in the full gold evening
   All happenings of the olden time?

Is he so goaded by the green?
   Does the compulsion of the dew
Make him unknowable but keen
   Asking with beauty of the blue?

- Listen! the young girl said. For all
   Your hapless talk you fail to see
There is a light, a step, a call
   This evening on the Orange Tree.

- Is it, I said, a waste of love
   Imperishably old in pain,
Moving as an affrighted dove
   Under the sunlight or the rain?

Is it a fluttering heart that gave
   Too willingly and was reviled?
Is it the stammering at a grave,
   The last word of a little child?

- Silence! the young girl said. Oh, why,
   Why will you talk to weary me?
Plague me no longer now, for I
   Am listening like the Orange Tree.

The Orange Tree by John Shaw Neilson, 1919

Combined Reviews: A Case of Knives by Peter Rose

case_knives.jpg Reviews of A Case of Knives by Peter Rose.

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2006 Miles Franklin award.]

Description from the publisher's page:

"The cast

Julia Collis: a brilliant but unconventional publisher, more than a little controlling of her ménage
Candy Collis: an opera singer with a bright future and a dark mother
Matthew Light: a young actor, taken under Julia's wing as a teenage boy, obsessively in love with Roman Anthem
Roman Anthem: the 21-year-old grandson of a legendary Australian prime minister, renowned for his good looks, despised by Julia

The scene

Valhalla: an incestuous household of steely alliances, lopsided infatuations, and dark impulses

The plot

Roman Anthem is missing and no one knows why.

Witty, satirical and full of intrigue, set against a backdrop of opera, publishing and politics, Peter Rose's first novel is unlike any other Australian fiction."

Michelle Griffen in "The Age" was very impressed with the novel. She notes that Rose has been associated with the Australian publishing scene for some years, currently as editor of Australian Book Review, and wonders if the novel might be read as a sort of roman a clef: "It is cheap entertainment to wonder, in passing, if Julia is based on any of the women who have run Australia's publishing houses, but I think - hope - it unlikely. This may be a novel about a missing man called Roman, but this is not a roman a clef. Rose has written an operatic libretto set in an Australia
askew. He has cut out the silhouettes of the figures that loom large in the cultural reference bank and filled in the spaces with his own more vivid characters...In the end, former publisher Rose has written the sort of book publishers always wish their authors would deliver - a clever, juicy thriller with lots of sex and intrigue and just enough 'guess-who-won't-sue' buzz to attract interest beyond the bookstore. It is so completely different from his previous book that it could have been written by his evil twin. It must have
been fun to write - it was fun to read."

Gillian Dooley in "The Adelaide Review" seems a little thrown by the very existence of this book, slightly surprised it's a crime novel rather than "a slim, poetic volume". In any event she finds something to like about it: "I'm not sure how seriously Peter Rose wants us to take this novel. Less care has been taken with the editing than one would normally expect from someone of his experience in publishing. Nevertheless, this background has provided a setting he satirises with obvious relish, along with
other institutions like politics, the media, the theatre world and the AFL. And despite a few technical faults, A Case of Knives is engrossing and entertaining with some sharply drawn characters. Though more finely written, it could take its place alongside popular melodramatic blockbusters in the airport newsagent."

Denise Pickles, in the Mary Martin Bookshop newsletter, was also a bit confused at the start, but for a different reason: "It is fortunate that the author was considerate enough to present a cast of characters at the beginning of the book. I must admit I had to resort to it continually, to begin with." But she moved on from that and discovered that "This is a witty, sometimes malicious, romp, well written (the author has previously won an award for his biography Rose Boys) and plotted, with excellent characterisation. The themes being what they are, it is possible readers may never again regard the worlds of politics, publishing, theatre and opera in quite the same light as hitherto."

DBC Pierre Interview

Dean, of The Happy Antipodean blog, and recent commenter on this weblog, has posted a long interview with DBC Pierre which was conducted by Caro Llewellyn (director of the Sydney Writers' Festival). The interview was conducted in front of a live audience on March 26th this year when Pierre was in Australia promoting his latest book. I wonder why Pierre was drinking martinis in a Belgian Beer café?

Australian Bookcovers #8 - The Well by Elizabeth Jolley


The Well by Elizabeth Jolley, 1986
(Penguin 1987 edition)
Cover illustration by Lynda Taylor and Cathy Van Ee
This novel won the 1987 Miles Franklin Award.

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #16

We're a day late this week due to the Easter weekend holiday. I didn't have internet access at any time over the past few days. Actually, can't say that I missed it much. Now, if it had been a week I might well have been crawling up the walls.

"The Age" deals pretty much exclusively with non-fiction this week, at least in the big reviews. Glenn D'Cruz gets to grip with Australian theatre in his review of The Dolls' Revolution: Australian Theare and Cultural Imagination by Rachel Fensham & Denise Varney, with Maryrose Casey and Laura Ginters: "Put simply, Fensham and Varney argue that women entered mainstream theatre in the '90s and radically changed the theatre and how we think about our national culture and identity." However, "I can't help wondering whether the differences between the old boys club and the dolls' revolution are all that great in the end. For the most part, the dolls' revolution, like the revolution ushered in by the masculinist 'new wave', is a white middle-class revolution. I'm waiting for the one that really shakes up our sense of national identity."

Maria Tumarkin has a look at After Port Arthur by Carol Altmann, published on the 10th anniversary of the massacre that affected all of us in Australia. And, while she "had every intention of writing a respectful, hands-off review " of the book she isn't that impressed by the final result: "I don't believe that journalists can be morally or emotionally absent from their chronicles of human agony. They do not need to become the main characters, but it gets ugly and heartless if they appear to have nothing on the line."

In June last year I linked to an article by Helen Garner about Elizabeth Jolley. Jolley was not well then and it would appear that we aren't going to see any more new works from her in the future. In the meantime, however, we have Learning to Dance: Elizabeth Jolley - Her Life and Work selected and introduced by Caroline Lurie and now reviewed by Peter Pierce. "Learning to Dance is a mellow, enriching traverse of a career that began at an age when many have ended but was pursued with the vigour of an apparently youthful and certainly independent and unobliged spirit. For what Jolley achieved, and for Lurie's selection from it, we can give thanks."

In the print edition, but not on the website, is a small piece by Kerry Greenwood recalling her first book. Best line: "My first editor, Sophie Cunningham, sent me a sheet of dots that, when interpreted, turned out to be an emergency shipment of full stops, some of which she begged me to spread through my page-long sentences."

Short notices are given to: Heirloom edited by Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper, Helen Gershoni and Floris Kalman, the second anthology of writing and art by members of the Melbourne Child Survivors of the Holocaust group, which "does indeed constitute an 'heirloom'"; Born of the Sun: Seven Young Australian Lives by Gerald Walsh: "The myth that dying young is one way to achieve fame is again exploded in this series of portraits of once-famous Australians who died in their early 20s and are now forgotten"; The Australian Miracle: An Innovative Nation Revisited by Thomas Barlow: "Central to Thomas Barlow's thesis is the concern we have become too pessimistic and that the situation is much better than we think it is", [I wonder where he actually lives - not in my world I think]; Overland 182: Culture Contested edited by Nathan Hollier: "At a time when the novel has been seriously side-lined by non-fiction, it's good to read cogent, forceful cases being made for the importance of literary fiction." This last statement was made by Fiona Capp and I wonder if she's reading the same books I am.

In "The Australian" Barry Hill has a look at Les Murray's new collection of poetry, The Biplane Houses: "Overall, The Biplane Houses indulges the senses. Not every poem is memorable, but there are enough very good ones to put the book in with the camping gear, or have it in the glove box, so that it can be consulted when an image that fits a Murray phrase comes over the horizon. As it will."

"The Courier-Mail" commemorates the 50th anniversary of the publication of No Moon Tonight, Don Charlwood's memoir of his time as a navigator in Bomber Command in World War II. "No Moon Tonight was one of the first war books after World War II to break away from the jingoistic view of war and describe it in a more personal and analytical manner."

While it's not written by an Australian, Stephen Leather's latest thriller, Cold Kill, will be of interest as it deals with a terrorist attack on Sydney - and, no, I won't rise to the bait even though I am from Melbourne. Steve Dow interviews the author on the eve of the book's publication for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

Also in the SMH, Catherine Keenan writes of writers' block in "When an author's muse packs up and leaves". As the cricketers say, you're only as good as your last innings.

2006 Pulitzer Prize

Geraldine Brooks has been announced as the winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, for her novel March.

2006 Ditmar Award Winners

The winners of the 2006 Ditmar Awards (for Australian sf and fantasy) were
announced in Brisbane over the weekend.

Best Novel
Geodesica: Ascent by Sean Williams & Shane Dix

Best Novella or Novelette
"The Grinding House" by Kaaron Warren

Best Short Story
"Fresh Young Widow" by Kaaron Warren

Best Collected Work
Daikaiju! Giant Monster Tales ed. Robert Hood & Robin Pen

Best Professional Artwork
Cover to Australian Speculative Fiction: A Genre Overview by Nick Stathopoulos

Best Fan Writer
Shane Jiraiya Cummings for Horrorscope

Best Fan Artist
Shane Parker for Conflux Poster Art

Best Fan Production
Australian SF Bullsheet, ed. Edwina Harvey & Ted Scribner

Best Fanzine
"Ticonderoga Online", ed. Russell B Farr, Liz Gryzb, Lyn Battersby

William Atheling Jr. Award
"Divided Kingdom: King Kong vs Godzilla" by Robert Hood

Best New Talent
Rjurik Davidson

Best Professional Achievement
Robert Dobson, Robert Hoge, Kate Eltham, Heather Gammage for Clarion South 2005

2006 NSW Premier's Literary Shortlists

The shortlists for the 2006 NSW Premier's Literary awards have been announced.

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
March, Geraldine Brooks
Slow Man, J.M. Coetzee
The Secret River, Kate Grenville
The Marsh Birds, Eva Sallis
Dead Europe, Christos Tsiolkas
The Wing of Night, Brenda Walker

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction
Dora B: A Memoir of My Mother, Josiane Behmoiras
Making 'Black Harvest': Warfare, Film-making and Living Dangerously in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Bob Connolly
The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change, Tim Flannery
Hanoi, Adieu: A Bittersweet Memoir of French Indochina, Mandaley Perkins
East of Time, Jacob G. Rosenberg
Dirt Cheap: Life at the Wrong End of the Job Market, Elisabeth Wynhausen

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry
Avenues & Runways, Aidan Coleman
The Kindly Ones, Susan Hampton
Broken/Open, Jill Jones
Suburban Anatomy, Penelope Layland
Blister Pack, David McCooey
Latecomers, Jaya Savige

NSW Prize for Literary Scolarship
Postcolonial Conrad: Paradoxes of Empire, Terry Collits
Dickens and Empire: Discourses of Class, Race and Colonialism in the Works of Charles Dickens, Grace Moore

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature
The Glory Garage, Taghred Chandab & Nadia Jama
No Worries, Bill Condon
Theodora's Gift, Ursula Duborarsky
Magic or Madness, Justine Larbalestier
Lost Property, James Moloney
Hope Bay, Nicole Plüss

Patricia Wrightson Prize
The Secret World of Wombats, Jackie French
The Mostly True Story of Matthew and Trim, Cassandra Golds & Stephen Axelsen
Journey to Eureka, Kerry Greenwood
Naked Bunyip Dancing, Steven Herrick
How Hedley Hopkins Did a Dare, Paul Jennings
In the Monkey Forest, Kierin Meehan

Community Realtions Commission Award
The Secret River, Kate Grenville
The Butcher's Wife, Noëlle Janaczewska
Behind the Moon, Hsu-Ming Teo

Gleebooks Prize
The Third Try: Can the UN Work?, Alison Broinowski & James Wilkinson
Conquest: A New History of the Modern World, David Day
The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change, Tim Flannery
Beyond Right and Left: New Politics and the Culture Wars, David McKnight
Thunder From the Silent Zone: Re-thinking China, Paul Monk
Ending the Affair: The Decline of Television Current Affairs in Australia, Graeme Turner

UTS Award for New Writing
There is no shortlist for this award - the winner will be announced on 23rd May.

Play Award
Unspoken, Rebecca Clarke
Smashed, Lally Katz
Strangers in Between, Thomas Murphy
Stalking Matilda, Tee O'Neill
Non Parlo de Salo, Christos Tsiolkas & Spiro Economopoulos

Script Writing Award
Ten Canoes, Rolf de Heer
Girl in a Mirror, Kathy Drayton
Call Me 'Mum', Kathleen Mary Fallon
Revealing Gallipoli, Wain Fimeri
We Can Be Heroes, Chris Lilley
Love My Way, ep.20, 'Which Way Home', Tony McNamara

The winners will be announced at the Sydney Writers' Festival on May 23rd at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Australian Books to Film #2 - On the Beach


On the Beach 1959
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Screenplay by John Paxton (and James Lee Barrett) from the novel by Nevil Shute
Cast: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins

Poem: An Unorthodox Wail by M.T.

Oh! I want to go back to the city,
   Away from this desolate place
With its acres of "solitudes awesome"
   And the horror of "infinite space."
I am tired of "the wail of the plover,"
   I am sick of "the magpie's sweet song;"
I loathe "the complaint of the curlew,"
   I've heard it too oft and too long.

"Long tramps thro' the forests" are failures,
   "Summer strolls by swift streams" apt to pall;
I am weary of "freash air and freedom,"
   Since a surfeit I've had of them all.
The sight of "a drover" is deadly,
   The "crack of his whip" drives me mad,
The low of wild cattle's depressing,
   And "the bleat of the sheep" quite as bad.

"Misty mountains may tow'r in the distance,"
   And soulful ones rave of their height;
I wonder how far they're from Sydney
   If from them the city's in sight.
The soil "may be rich" and the cattle
   Exactly "the thing" in their breed;
I wish they were mine and I'd sell them
   And make for that city with speed.

A telegraph-wire and a sparrow
   Furnish plenty of Nature for me,
And a walk to save 'bus-fare sufficeth
   To give me a relish for tea.
A sirloin on Sundays, or saddle
   Of mutton's enough of their kind
To prime me in "good points in cattle"
   And such, once I've left these behind.

I yearn for the roar of street traffic,
   For the howl of the newspaper-boy,
While the yell of the man with bananas
   Is a dream of delirious joy.
The bell-birds may chime for the poets,
   I pine for the shriek of a tram;
And "the rustle of leaves in the autumn"
   May be music -- to me it's all sham.

Brickfield Hill or, say, William-street (Upper)
   Are "mountains" enough to please me,
And for "soil" give me wood-blocks and pavements,
   "Rural streams" the green bay near the Quay.

For oh! there are hearts in the city!
   There are souls! there are welcoming eyes!
And I long for a sight of my fellows,
   For a word from the friends that I prize.

First published in The Bulletin, 3 September 1892

Bulletin debate poem #7

Review: The Resurrectionist by James Bradley

James Bradley
Picador, 333 pp.
Review by Perry Middlemiss

"Don't judge a book by its cover" the old adage runs. Yet we all fall victim to it. We're conditioned to it, and publishers and marketers expect it of us. Mostly this is not such a bad thing, at least as far as books are concerned. The cover art, the blurb on the back, the author photo, the typeface, the paper quality, even the size of the bloody thing, all merge together to produce a first impression in our minds. So it's of special interest when a book leads you one way, and then swerves another. Such a book is The Resurrectionist, the new and third novel by James Bradley.

The cover of the Australian edition is striking, in that it is mostly black. Surely not a great colour to catch the eye, you think. And what's that thing above the author's name and title? It looks rather sinister. Then there are the figures at the bottom, all intently studying something "off-cover". You're being led somewhere, that much at least is obvious. The book has the look and feel, the heft, of a literary novel, and yet, there's this thing about it - a thing that leads you to expect a horror novel. And in some ways, that's what you get. But in many, many other ways you get far more than that. You get a literary novel that uses the techniques and traditions of the gothic genre, and that twists and stretches them into patterns rarely seen.

The novel is told in first-person narration by Gabriel Swift, an orphan in 1820s England, who is sent to London to study with Edwin Poll, one of the great anatomists of the time. Gabriel's role is to help prepare for Poll's lectures - in other words, to wash and clean and lay out the bodies for dissection. At that time only the corpses of the executed could be used in such a way, and, of course, there was a shortage. So Poll's house is drawn into the commerce in human bodies, dealing with the resurrectionists, the grave-robbers of the novel's title. This illegal trade has a corrupting influence on all who partake of it and Gabriel is gradually drawn deeper and deeper into the depravity of the exhumation and theft of the world around him. He falls, both professionally and personally, into a pit of his own making and from which there appears no escape.

Over three-quarters of the way through the novel, the locale changes from London in the 1820s to the colony of New South Wales in 1836: an abrupt shift from the dark and grime of England to the bright light and clear air of the Australian continent. At first this jump is rather unsettling: we have a new location, a new time and, at first, what seems like a new protagonist and narrator. But Bradley has unsettled us for a particular reason. One that at first is not at all obvious.

Bradley's choice of his protagonist's name is an apt and significant one. The angel Gabriel of myth is the Archangel of humanity, resurrection, death and hope. A heavy load if ever there was one. And Bradley uses his narrator to carry the similar weight of his novel. In other words, the book lives or dies on how the reader takes to his narrator. At the beginning of the novel Gabriel has our full sympathy. He is a child without prospects, without hope, who is taken into a world where he might well advance to a position that he might never have dreamed of. He begins as a boy among men, an innocent among the corrupt and as the novel progresses we see him slowly change, losing his boyishness and his sense of innocence. He becomes devious both in his personal and professional habits and his final fall is swift and abrupt. He is expelled from the company of Edwin Poll's household and finds himself without hope and at the mercy of the resurrectionists. He reaches a point where drug addiction and murder are commonplace occurrences, passing almost without regret, and yet he still has further to go. At the last his descent into the depths is complete when he betrays his new companions and he finds himself trapped in a metaphorical Hell.

Throughout the book there is a growing sense of foreboding. The change in Gabriel is subtle and measured and you find as a reader slowly becoming unsure of whether to trust him as a narrator. Is he giving us a true account of his life, or only a disordered narrow view of it? It's this realisation that Gabriel probably knows more than he is telling us, that he knows something awful is about to happen that builds the suspense within the plot. We almost can't bear to look, but, at the same time, can't bear not to. This is a classic horror technique; one that usually ends with the "monster" appearing and blood spurting every which way. But the best horror works don't show us the "monster", we only get glimpses of it out of the corner of our eye, a flash as it crosses a doorway. We know it's there, we just can't get to see it full in the face.

So it is with Gabriel's demons - they sneak up on us, corner us in the graveyard, and, just as we think we understand what is happening we cut to the light. We suddenly find ourselves in a place totally different from the one we just left. Handled well it's a wonderful technique, jarring and disorientating. Without the initial spadework, however, it can be a mess, it doesn't work and we don't believe it. In The Resurrectionist Bradley would have struggled to have achieved a better result. The transition from the dark into the light, from claustrophobic London to "the sunlit plains extended", is complete and totally satisfying. Just like the rest of the novel.

Early on in the book, Edwin Poll, Gabriel's master, addresses a lecture-hall of students, and delivers what might be considered his raison d'etre: 'We are men of science, gentlemen, students of nature. It is our purpose to tear down the veil of superstition, to pierce the very fabric of our living being and elucidate the nature of the force which animates these shells we call our bodies. And we will find it here, in this cold flesh. For these tissues we will divine the shadow of that force which drove the fuse within, which set his heart to flicker and beat. Call it a soul if you wish, yet I promise you it shall prove no more and no less mysterious that this magnet's power to bend these filings to its will.'

In many ways this creed might also apply to Bradley's role as the author of this work. One that he fulfils admirably. Read this book.

Editing and Publishing

In the midst of making some interesting comments of his own about the business of Publishing and the process of Editing GOB Michael Allen links to an interview with Ben Ball, the new head of Penguin in Australia. Conclusion: manuscripts aren't being edited to the extent they have been in the past. Put it down to finances and a lack of expertise.

Colleen McCullough Interview

In the lead-up to the US publication of her latest novel On, Off, Colleeen McCullough talks to the California Literary Review. The book, a crime novel set in Connecticut in the 1960s is something of a departure for the author, making a change from the Australian bush and ancient Rome. It transpires that her deteriorating eyesight may have heavily influenced her to cross genres. "I don't have to do a lot of research for them, the prose is crisp and bald, and I find it easy to keep plot twists in my head...So I feel it is the genre that would give me the most amusement and pleasure as a writer, combined with ease for people who had to write from my dictation."

[Thanks to Sarah Weinman for the link.]

Competition: Meanjin Novella

The Australian literary magazine Meanjin is running a novella competition in association with Readings booksellers. Details of the competition, as well as an entry form, are available on the magazine's website [PDF file!]. The judges for the competition are Ian Britain, editor of Meanjin, Carmel Bird, fiction editor of Meanjin, and Mark Rubbo, director of Readings bookshops. Entries close on June 30, 2006, with the winner announced oin January 2007. The winner will receive publication in Meanjin as well as a $1500 prize.

Mid-Week Reviews

Peter Pierce gets to grip with Carey's latest, Theft: A Love Story, in "The Bulletin", placing it within the author's previous output: "From the first line of Peter Carey's latest novel, Theft, we are buttonholed by a narrator who is persistent, eloquent, perhaps unhinged...The speaker is as confidently importunate as the narrator of Carey's first novel, the comic, picaresque triumph Illywhacker...From the beginning, Theft is ghosted by settings and events from the author's life, but more emphatically by his own earlier fictions. In a book about art fraud and imposture (as it was in My Life as a Fake), the issue of provenance is central. In Theft it resonates more widely to question the authority of stories, and their tellers."

In "The Sydney Morning Herald", Dorothy Johnston has reservations about Dead Set by Kel Robertson, a crime novel set in Canberra; Mandy Sayer is frustrated by No Time for Dancers by Gillian Bouras, a memoir of her late sister; and Andrew Reimer looks at Theft, by someone or other.

Les Murray Interview

Les Murray is interviewed in today's "Age" by Jane Sullivan and reveals that his great-great-grandfather's brother founded the House of Worth in Paris.

Odd how these things turn up. Reminds me of the time I got a funny look from a visiting American friend when I told her, at the footy as it happens, that the bloke playing full-forward for St Kilda (Fraser Gehrig) was related to the baseballer, Lou, of the same family name.

Rules of the Weblog: Comments

Given a couple of comments made on this weblog over the past couple of days, I think now is as good a time as any to state a few house rules.

1. All comments are "approved" by me before they are posted to the weblog. This isn't an attempt to censor any discussion, merely a way of keeping comment spam in order. I haven't deleted any comments so far, unless they were obviously spam, or if they fit one of the categories below.

2. I don't accept anonymous comments. I have one sitting in the comment "in-tray" at present waiting to be approved. It's obviously not spam so I won't delete it for that reason, but I do think people should put a name on their postings. If you look at the comments posting section you'll see that it asks for a name, an email address and a URL. None of them are compulsory. I like to see email addresses and URLs (which don't make their way onto the published comments) as it gives me a chance to follow up off-line if I feel like it - and this has happened a few times. It also publicises your weblog if you have one, which prompts me to visit and then add it to my weblog list if I think it fits in with the literature theme here. But I have to draw the line somewhere and I've decided that, at a minimum, a name is required.

So, if the person who commented last night on "J.M. Coetzee and Universities" would like to get in touch I'll amend the comment and approve it.

3. I've had a couple of comments over the past year or so which are directed to specific people that are mentioned on this weblog. If I have that person's email address I'll pass along the comment and the relevant email address. But I'm not in the business of exchanging private email addresses without permission. If you're desperate to get in touch with an author then I'd suggest using the old tried and true method of contacting the author's publisher. And their address is in each volume they print.

Publishing and Promotion

Justine Larbalestier wrote a piece on her weblog titled "a writer's job (updated)" [she doesn't use caps] which has elicited some interesting discussion on the subject of the promotion of books, and a writer's role in it. Such people as Garth Nix, Patrick and Teresa Neilsen Hayden, and Jeff VanderMeer have their say. There is agreement, of sorts, which seems to come down to: "a writer should do as much promotion of their work as they feel capable of". I think. In any event, it's worth reading, especially as you get both authors' and publishers' viewpoints.

J.M. Coetzee and the Universities

Speaking before an audience of international vice-chancellors at the Association of Commonwealth Universities Conference of Executive Heads in Adelaide, J.M. Coetzee has called for a change in the emphasis of university teaching.

"Should we be worried that the graduating students are equipped to write novels and stories and plays for today's literary market but not well informed about the history of these forms or about what has been achieved in the forms in the past?" Coetzee asked.

It is a question, he says, that has bothered him for some time.

Australian Bookcovers #7 - Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller


Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller, 2002
(Allen & Unwin 2003 edition)
Cover design: Ellie Exarchos Cover image: Getty Images
This novel won the 2003 Miles Franklin Award.

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #15

The reviews of Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey are starting to roll in with James Bradley - taking time off from promoting his own new novel - having an appreciative look at the novel in "The Age".

'Am I to be a king, or just a pig?' demands the epigraph to Peter Carey's new novel. The question is Flaubert's, but the raging, almost scatological grandiloquence of its egotism, misanthropy and self-doubt are all Carey's, and cut to the core of Theft, fuelling the fury, verbal energy and coruscating humour of a book that is at once cruelly levelling, darkly witty and unsettlingly personal.
You might recall that last week, when the Carey interviews were being published, I mentioned that this new novel continues Carey's interest, some might say obsession, with fakery. Bradley takes up the idea, which would be hard to avoid, but provides some critical reasons for considering it:
In its focus on questions of authenticity, and the uncanny and unsettling nature of the forgery, it is difficult not to read Theft as a companion piece of sorts to Carey's last novel, My Life as a Fake, which took his longstanding interest in the idea of fakery and gave it human form in Bob McCorkle, the Ern Malley-esque monster poet...But despite the obvious correlations, Theft's roots run deeper than Fake. Its verbal energy owes more to the liberating voice of Carey's Ned Kelly, its breakneck alliteration and zigs and zags lending the novel a sense of play that was missing from its surprisingly claustrophobic predecessor; while the world of the novel's foreground, the Australia of the early '80s, seems somehow closer to Carey's heart than the milieu of Fake's unlikeable McAuley surrogate, Christopher Chubb.

There seems to be something innate in the human psyche that basically states: "If you ignore something nasty for long enough, it'll just go away." Be nice if it were true. But it isn't; not for individuals and certainly not for large companies. In Asbestos House, Gideon Haigh has chronicled the way James Hardie Industries attempted to ignore the dire warnings about the long-term effects of asbestos, and failed miserably. The unfortunate aspect is that a large number of people had to die before they got the hint, and started to get their act together. As Leon Gettler puts it in his review: "In the end, Hardie's errors had real and human outcomes. Haigh's achievement is letting us see the human side on both sides of the equation. In this age of rigorous compliance and corporate governance rules, it is a lesson for all companies: not breaking the law is not the same as morally acceptable behaviour."

Other reviews are given to: How to Kill Your Husband (and other household hints) by Kathy Lette: "Sometimes I think Lette only writes her books as vehicles for her wordplay - she will divert from any key plot point or watershed moment to write another one-liner"; 1606: An Epic Adventure by Evan McHugh: "...a useful and lively copendium for general readers interested in the first European sightings of Australia and its navigation"; The Champions: Conversations with Great Players & Coaches of Australian Football by Ben Collins: "A great half-time read"; Geodesica: Descent by Sean Williams and Shane Dix: "a racy, well-written and ornately imagined genre epic"; The Wings of Kitty St Clair by James Aldridge: an "idiosyncratic young adult novel"; The Murrumbidgee Kid by Peter Yeldham: "a strong and entertaining story".

In "The Australian" Rosemary Neill interviews Les Murray about poetry, childhood, depression ("the black dog"), race, republicanism, and the Nobel: "not a thing you really think about. It would make you so damn famous if you did [win a Nobel prize] your life wouldn't be your own any more." Murray thinks he's writing better and better.

Peter Craven looks at Carey's Theft in this paper, and while he's full of praise you get the feeling he doesn't think Carey's quite made his masterpiece yet: "Carey has never been afraid of writing out of the darkest kinds of materials and he could never be accused of being afraid of ugliness. Indeed his novels play on grotesquerie as a kind of passion and part of their unmistakable vaunted Australianness comes from the author's willingness to rub the reader's nose in the drek and muck and madness of a very localised apprehension of what the world is...For all its instability and disconcerting shifts of register, it is the work of a novelist willing his way into greatness minute by gritty minute."

Review of Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones

Lucy Daniel reviews Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones in "The Daily Telegraph": the novel "...is layered with stories of what friends, families, and city-dwellers can and cannot say to one another. These stories are beautiful and honest, even though their communication is muffled by peripheral noise."

2006 Sydney Writers' Festival

The program for the 2006 Sydney Writers' Festival has now been released. As usual there is an interesting and eclectic range of writers on show including John Banville, Tim Flannery, Naomi Wolf, Gail Jones, Alain de Botton, Kate Grenville, Edmund White and Robert Drewe. Should be something in there for everyone. The festival runs in and around Sydney from May 22nd to 28th.

Australian Books to Film #1 - My Brilliant Career


My Brilliant Career 1979
Directed by Gillian Armstrong
Screenplay by Eleanor Witcombe from the novel by Miles Franklin
Cast: Judy Davis, Sam Neill, Wendy Hughes, Robert Grubb, Max Cullen

Poem: Banjo, of the Overflow by K. (Francis Kenna)

I had written him a letter, which I had for want of better
   Knowledge given to a partner by the name of "Greenhide Jack" --
He was shearing when I met him, and I thought perhaps I'd let him
   Know that I was "stiff," and, maybe, he would send a trifle back.

My request was not requited, for an answer came indited
   On a sheet of scented paper, in an ink of fancy blue;
And the envelope, I fancy, had an "Esquire" to the Clancy,
   And it simply read, "I'm busy; but I'll see what I can do!"

To the vision land I can go, and I often think of the "Banjo" --
   Of the boy I used to shepherd in the not so long ago,
He was not the bushman's kidney, and among the crowd of Sydney
   He'll be more at home than mooning on the dreary Overflow.

He has clients now to fee him, and has friends to come and see him,
   He can ride from morn to evening in the padded hansom cars,
And he sees the beauties blending where the throngs are never ending,
   And at night the wond'rous women in the everlasting bars.

I am tired of reading prattle of the sweetly-lowing cattle
   Stringing out across the open with the bushmen riding free;
I am sick at heart of roving up and down the country droving,
   And of alternating damper with the salt-junk and the tea.

And from sleeping in the water on the droving trips I've caught a
   Lively dose of rheumatism in my back and in my knee,
And in spite of verse it's certain that the sky's a leaky curtain --
   It may suit the "Banjo" nicely, but it never suited me.

And the bush is very pretty when you view it from the city,
   But it loses all its beauty when you face it "on the pad;"
And the wildernesses haunt you, and the plains extended daunt you,
   Till at times you come to fancy life will drive you mad.

But I somehow often fancy that I'd rather not be Clancy,
   That I'd like to be the "Banjo" where the people come and go
When instead of framing curses I'd be writing charming verses --
   Tho' I scarcely think he'd swap me, "Banjo, of the Overflow."

First published in The Bulletin, 27 August 1892

Bulletin debate poem #6

Weblog Housekeeping

Posting have been a little less regular over the past few days for a couple of reasons: a bad cold laid me low, and I've been fighting off an attack of the spammers.

The cold I can get over but the spammers give me the total pip. Luckily enough the only way they can post to weblogs such as this is via the comment pages. MovableType allows for comments to be approved before posting so the weblog readers don't get to see the unwanted variety. Unfortunately just deleting them doesn't do much good. They keep coming back, time after time. So I have to ban the IP address used by the spammer in the first instance and then close off the comments on older postings. This latter course is what takes the time. The weblog software doesn't seem to allow for closing comments on mass postings, which means I have to treat each post separately.

Boring as all this is, it has the implication that older postings (initially in the first half of 2005 and later to the rest of 2005) will no longer accept comments. For most readers this shouldn't cause a big problem but some newer visitors might be a bit peeved. Not much I can do about it. It's the lesser of two evils.

Reviews of Theft - First Cut

Now that Peter Carey's novel, Theft: A Love Story has hit the Australian bookshops we will be getting a number of reviews published over the coming weekend. Just so that they don't get lost in the rush I offer the following two, already out there.

In "Time" magazine, Michael Fitzgerald is quite taken with the book: "... Carey shifts his magpie gaze to an art world overflowing with unscrupulous dealers, avaricious collectors and modernist forgeries, but ... the question of creative worth would seem to resonate strongly with the Booker Prize winner...Theft should sweep Carey's writerly anxieties away. After the chaotic excesses of My Life as a Fake, his new narrative grabs you by the throat and proceeds with a comic urgency not seen since True History of the Kelly Gang."

In contrast, Rosemary Sorenson, in "The Courier-Mail", is not so sure the book works: "As always (except when he's long-winded, Oscar and Lucinda a case in point), he entertains, but he infuriates rather too often for this 'love story' to be rated one of his best." And the novel's characters "...are not characters made for loving. That wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the fact they are not made properly for living either...That is, they don't come fully alive in Carey's ferocious, exhausting, adrenalin-rush blast of a novel."

2006 Children's Book Council of Australia - Book of the Year

The shortlists for Book of the Year, awarded by the Children's Book Council of Australia, have been announced.

Older Readers
Burke, J.C. The Story of Tom Brennan
Caswell, Brian Double Exposure
Condon, Bill No Worries
Crowley, Cath Chasing Charlie Duskin
Jonsberg, Barry It's Not All About You, Calma!
Moloney, James Lost Property

Younger Readers
Bateson, Catherine Millie and the Night Heron
Fensham, Elizabeth Helicopter Man Flynn, Pat (Illus. Chantal Stewart) To the Light
Gleitzman, Morris Once
Godwin, Jane (Illus. Drahos Zak) The True Story of Mary: Who wanted to stand on her head
Jennings, Paul How Hedley Hopkins did a dare, robbed a grave, made a new friend who might not have really been there at all, and while he was at it committed a terrible sin which everyone was doing even though he didn't know it

Early Childhood
Bourke, Nike (Illus. Stella Danalis) What the Sky Knows
Dubosarsky, Ursula (Illus. David Mackintosh) Rex
Matthews, Cecily (Illus. Freya Blackwood) Emily's Rapunzel Hair
Niland, Deborah Annie's Chair
Shanahan, Lisa (Illus. Emma Quay) Daddy's Having a Horse
Watts , Frances (Illus. David Legge) Kisses for Daddy

Picture Book
Crossett, Warren (Text: Jacqueline Harvey) The Sound of the Sea
Danalis, Stella (Text: Nike Bourke) What the Sky Knows
Lissiat, Amy (Text: Colin Thompson) The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley
Riddle, Tohby Irving the Magician
Sheehan, Peter (Text: John Heffernan) The Island
Winch, John Run, Hare, Run! The story of a drawing

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
Brian, Janeen Hoosh! Camels in Australia
Brim, Warren and Eglitis, Anna Creatures of the Rainforest: Two artists explore Djabugay country
Davidson, Leon Scarecrow Army: The ANZACS at Gallipoli
Jamal, Nadia and Chandab, Taghred The Glory Garage: Growing up Lebanese Muslim in Australia
Long, John (Illus. Brian Choo, with maps by Segei Pisarevsky) The Big Picture Book: See life on Earth unfolding through time
Stewart, Robin Charles Darwin's Big Idea: The revolutionary theory of evolution

2006 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

The 10 novels shortlisted for the 2006 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award have been announced. The list
consists of:

Graceland by Chris Abani
Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam
Havoc in Its Third Year by Ronan Bennett
The Closed Circle by Jonathan Coe
An Altered Light by Jens Christian Grøndahl
Breaking the Tongue by Vyvyane Loh
Don't Move by Margaret Mazzantini
The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra
The Master by Colm Tóibin
The Logogryph by Thomas Wharton

Novels are entered for this award on the recommendations of various libraries around the world. Using the number of nominating libraries as a quick guide to the likely winner we have The Master by Colm Tóibin, with 17 nominations, getting the award from The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra, with 4. And what do you know, Paddy Power betting has Tóibin at 2-1, followed by Abani at 4-1, and Khadra at 6-1.

Australian Literary Monuments #7 - Joseph Furphy


Statue of Joseph Furphy in Shepparton, Victoria.

2006 Sydney Writers' Festival

The program for the 2006 Sydney Writers' Festival will be released on Saturday 8th April. In the meantime, director Caro Llewellyn has announced a few of the names who will be appearing, including: John Banville, Tim Flannery, Maya Angelou, Edmund White, Alain de Botton, David Malouf and Garth Nix.

Geraldine Brooks with Richard and Judy

Geraldine Brooks was selected for the UK's Richard and Judy Book Club (think Oprah for the effect of the sales-boost) and was at the awards dinner recently. She has written up her view of the proceedings for "The Times". "For a novelist, being selected for Richard and Judy's book club is a bit like being Adam on the Sistine Ceiling: touched by the finger of God." But not in the nuddie one hopes.

Australian Bookcovers #6 - Southern Steel by Dymphna Cusack


Southern Steel by Dymphna Cusack, 1953
(Constable 1953 edition)

Reviews of Australian Books #15

Hot on the heels of Matilda rescuing the novel from the depths of the worthy but unnoticed (cough!), "The Daily Telegraph" has Patrick Ness reviewing Carrie Tiffany's Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living:

"Carrie Tiffany's first novel shares its thematic heart with Patrick White's The Tree of Man, also about a husband and wife building a life on a farm in rural Australia. But where White made the quotidian universal, Tiffany is after more personal and domestic quarry, watching it unfold with a wry and shrewdly observant eye.

"Although sometimes too modest, this is a noteworthy debut."

And the rise and rise of Markus Zusak continues with the review of his novel, The Book Thief, in "The Washington Post":

"Knopf is blitz-marketing this 550-page book set in Nazi Germany as a young-adult novel, though it was published in the author's native Australia for grown-ups. (Zusak, 30, has written several books for kids, including the award-winning I Am the Messenger.) The book's length, subject matter and approach might give early teen readers pause, but those who can get beyond the rather confusing first pages will find an absorbing and searing narrative."

Miles Franklin Award Notes

In "The Courier-Mail" over the weekend (and elsewhere I think, as I'm sure I read this in another paper), Susanna Clarke gives a potted history of the Miles Franklin Award from inception to date. She revisits some of the controversies that have affected the award, such as the Helen Demidenko/Darville (and now Dale) affair from 1995, and provides one-line summaries of the past 8 winners.

For example: 2004 The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard was an odd choice: old-fashioned writing, a nasty anti-Australian streak and unconvincing characterisation.

2006 National Biography Award Winner

John Hughes has been announced as the winner of the 2006 National Biography Award, sponsored by the State Library of New South Wales. The book, The Idea of Home, was also the winner of last year's NSW Premier's Literary Award for non-fiction.

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #14

Peter Carey's new novel, Theft: A Love Story, gets the treatment all over the place this weekend. In "The Age", literary editor Jason Steger runs a profile of the author - which doesn't seem to be on the website - ahead of his whirlwind Australian tour. Instead we are left with a cut-down phone interview with the author which appears on the website, but not in the printed version of the paper, so far as I can ascertain. Looks like "The Age" has got its wires a little crossed here.

Carey, of course, has to answer the inevitable question in all his interviews now: "What's with the theme of deception running through your books?" He knew he'd get it, and he handles it well.

Best line from Steger's interview: "I suddenly realised there is a thing that is not uncommon among Australian intellectuals or artists to speak in this really - what is looking at a distance from this country - a really interesting and weird mix of the profane, the vulgar, the intellectual, the high minded, all of these things. What it produces if you want to inhabit it is a really rich sort of language. And it's lovely."

The big man is back - and I don't mean Clarence Clemens. Les Murray has a new collection of poems out, The Biplane Houses, which is reviewed by David McCooey. "As is common for a book of poems by Murray, The Biplane Houses contains essayistic poems, narrative poems, poems about things, elegies, and even advice...it shows again that Murray is one of our most important poets because of his ineluctably strange way of saying. His interest (indeed obsession) with the past, with family and with ancestors could be a way of making a home in the world, however strange that world may be."

John Mateer looks at Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians by Jane Lydon and finds that: "Although the book isn't exactly what its title suggests, being not a broad study of the photographing of indigenous Australians but a focused historical consideration of the use of photography at Coranderrk, the Aboriginal settlement at Healesville that was in operation until 1924, it takes the documenting of the settlement and its people as an example of how photography was used in the colonial project that is Australia. This is insightful. The range of photographs considered is itself wide enough to carry Lydon's argument far beyond a simple historical study of one place."

Short notices are given to: The Lab by Jack Heath, "It might be derivative and lack a certain amount of complexity and sophistication but this book will appeal to its target audience...Is Heath the next Matthew Reilly? Only time will tell."; Animal Nation, "This is a landmark work that forces the reader to radically rethink the political implications of our attitudes to animals."; INXS Story to Story by INXS and Anthony Bozza, which is billed as an "official autobiography."

Did I mention that Peter Carey has a new book out? Probably. In "The Australian" Stephen Romei interviews the author in a wide-ranging gallop through such topics as his latest book, the Booker (which he has won twice and for which he may well be in contention again), the Nobel prize (he thinks Les Murray), J.M. Coetzee, acts of deception, living in New York, his divorce, the Bush administration and his relationship with Australia. "I think I'm writing better now than I've ever written."

This interview is followed by an extract from Chapter 1 of the novel, which is not on the website.

Michael Sharkey reviews Wild Amazement by Michael Wilding, but, for the life of me, I can't work out what the book is about. It's probably all in there somewhere.

Over at "The Sydney Morning Herald" it's Carey interview time again: Susan Wyndham does the business. Wyndham raises the divorce issue and says: "Over the next few days executives from Random House, Carey's publisher, will make urgent warning calls to me and my editor against exposing his personal life. But how can we ignore it?" By not asking about it might be a start. If we know too much about a writer's personal life then we read too much into the text. Maybe an arm's length realtionship is much better for all of us.

Poem: The Overflow of Clancy by H.H.C.C.

(On reading the Banjo's "Clancy of the Overflow")

I've read "The Banjo's" letter, and I'm glad he's found a better
   Billet than he had upon the station where I met him years ago;
He was "slushy" then for Scotty, but the "bushland" sent him "dotty,"
   So he "rose up, William Riley," and departed down below.

He "rolled up" very gladly, for he had bush-fever badly
   When he left "the smoke" to wander "where the wattle-blossoms wave,"
But a course of "stag and brownie" seems to make the bush-struck towny
   Kinder weaken on the wattle and the bushman's lonely grave.

Safe in town, he spins romances of the bush until one fancies
   That it's all top-boots and chorus, kegs of rum and "whips" of grass,
And the sheep off camp go stringing when the "boss-in-charge" is singing,
   Whilst we "blow the cool tobacco-smoke and watch the white wreaths pass."

Yet, I guess "The B." feels fitter in a b'iled shirt and "hard-hitter"
   Than he would "way down the Cooper" in a flannel smock and "moles,"
For the city cove has leisure to indulge in stocks of pleasure,
   But the drover's only pastime's cooking "What's this! on the coals."

And the pub. hath friends to meet him, and between the acts they treat him
   While he's swapping "fairy twisters" with the "girls behind their bars,"
And he sees a vista splendid when the ballet is extended,
   And at night he's in his glory with the comic-op'ra stars.

I am sitting, very weary, on a log before a dreary
   Little fire that's feebly hissing 'neath a heavy fall of rain,
And the wind is cold and nipping, and I curse the ceaseless dripping
   As I slosh around for wood to start the embers up again.

And, in place of beauty's greeting, I can hear the dismal bleating
   Of a ewe that's sneaking out among the marshes for her lamb;
And for all the poet's skitin' that a new-chum takes delight in,
   The drover's share of pleasure isn't worth a tinker's d--n.

Does he sneer at bricks and mortar when he's squatting in the water
   After riding fourteen hours beneath a sullen, weeping sky?
Does he look aloft and thank it, as he spreads his sodden blanket?
   For the drover has no time to spare, he has no time to dry.

If "The Banjo's" game to fill it, he is welcome to my billet;
   He can "take a turn at droving" -- wages three-and-six a-day --
And his throat'll get more gritty than mine will in the city
   Where with Mister Lawson's squashes I can wash the dust away.

First published in The Bulletin, 20 August 1892

Bulletin debate poem #5

[Note: no-one knows the identity of "H.H.C.C." for sure, but one commentator believes it was Henry Lawson.]

Currently Reading


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



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


Recently Read


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



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



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

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



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

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

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



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



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



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



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


About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from April 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

March 2006 is the previous archive.

May 2006 is the next archive.

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

Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en