October 2006 Archives

Australian Literature on the WWW

A couple of weeks back Jenny Sinclair wrote an article, which was published in "The Australian" newspaper, about the woeful state of Australian Literature entries on Wikipedia, the major online open-source encyclopedia.

Although she doesn't come right out and say it, the article is basically a call-to-arms, a call to get people interested in Australian Literature to create new entries and to update those already there. Sinclair uses the example of Jessica Anderson, author of some eight novels and winner of the 1978 Miles Franklin Award for Tirra Lirra by the River - a great novel. Basically, Anderson is listed on the award's entry, but there were no biographical details about the writer anywhere. Sinclair did the proper thing and added one herself. An action I can only applaud.

It's been a while since I'd strolled around the site so I decided to check Wikipedia and see how bad the situation really is. The Miles Franklin Award entry is a pretty good place to start, especially as I've done a bit of work in that area as well - though even I will admit that I haven't done enough.

The first thing I noticed is that the list is up-to-date with Roger McDonald's 2006 winner listed. The years when no book was considered worthy of the award are included, as is the year (1988) when no award was presented due to a change in designation from year of publication to year of award. So on the face of it, it looks pretty good. But the devil is in the detail.

Any attempt at accessing details of the winning novels, or their authors, brings you up very short. Before today there were no entries on Wikipedia for Roger McDonald (2006 winner - I added one today), Andrew McGahan (2005), David Foster (1997), Tom Flood (1990), Glenda Adams (1987), David Ireland (1971, 1976 and 1979), Ronald McKie (1974), George Johnston (1964 and 1969), and Elizabeth O'Connor (1960). I won't bother to list the missing novels, there's just too many of them.

It's a poor state of affairs really.

Sinclair raises the question about Wikipedia: "Why should anyone in Australia care?" It's a good question and she proceeds to answer it very well. If for no other reason than the fact that a search on Google for the term "Australian Literature" returns Wikipedia in fifth place.

The odd thing about this, however, is the list of the first four. Sinclair explains them as follows: "the first listing for 'Australian literature' is a privately run index. The second is Ozlit, a well-meaning Victorian site where some pages were last updated in 1999; third is a National Library of Australia literature index. The 'official' authority on Australian literature, AustLit, comes in fourth. AustLit is comprehensive, well edited and accurate. It's also unavailable to the average user, limited as it is to subscribers or members of organisations that subscribe (including university students)."

I have lamented the loss of Ozlit here before, but what bothers me more than anything is the fact that the "privately run index" in first place is mine. It's nothing terribly great in the scheme of things, yet there is such a lack of information about Australian literature out there on the web that a small collection of pages put together with little skill and no authority should end up coming in first in a Google search.

Jenny Sinclair worries that no-one is interested. Hopefully she keeps fixing some of the Wikipedia entries and creating others. Her article has given me the prod I needed.

Australian Bookcovers #36 - When Blackbirds Sing by Martin Boyd


When Blackbirds Sing by Martin Boyd, 1962
Cover: detail from "Springtime" by Charles Conder
(Lansdowne 1978 edition)

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #40

The Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Australian

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

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

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

Reviews of Australian Books #34

It's been over a year since Tom Keneally's history of Australia's first settlement, The Commonwealth of Thieves, was published here in Australia, yet it only now seems to be getting an airing in the US. Wendy Smith reviews it in "The Washington Post", and finds that while "... Keneally paints an impressionistic picture of a society in the making", his "evocative narrative is at times a bit too novelistic."

In Canada's "Globe and Mail" Douglas Bell is not very impressed with Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes. "The memoirist, having scraped and clawed his way out of the post-colonial hole to which fate had consigned him rises high above the little people and their little quibbles and points out (really for their own pimply-faced good) how small they really are. Of course, it's all a hopeless cause since, so tiny are the wretched little ants, they cannot make sense of his genius any more than the blind man can sense the proportion of the elephant: more to be pitied than disparaged." While it's fair to say that reading only one review of a work is not a good way to get a detailed view of it, this review from Canada deserves more scrutiny than many others. The Canadian temperament and geography are probably closer to Australia's than anywhere else. And this is the first time I've seen Hughes compared to Conrad Black.

Australian Books to Film #19 - A Town Like Alice


A Town Like Alice 1956
Directed by Jack Lee
Screenplay by W.P. Lipscomb and Richard Mason from the novel by Nevil Shute
Featuring Peter Finch, Virginia McKenna, Kenji Takaki, Tran Van Khe and Jean Anderson.

Poem: My Friends by Anonymous

Most sympathising of my friends
Is he who to my frailties lends
A cloak of charity, or sends
   To me some kindly word;
Nor, when supinely I might yield,
To some mean foe an unfought field,
Would he, if I to him appealed,
   Chide me, his friend, unheard.

Another friend I often find,
If I go wrong, who seems unkind,
Yet leaves me comforted, resigned,
   After the pain is past.
He tells of the unequal fight
'Twixt my own weakness and the might
Of those all armored for the right;
   How I might fail at last.

Some of my friends speak to me now
From 'neath the mounds where daisies grow,
They were friends who loved me so --
   Methinks they love me yet.
Each tells of virtue where was rife
All evil, and, amid the strife,
Each gave a noble, sacred life
   To win a coronet.

And there are friends I always knew,
Yet dearer to me daily grew,
As, erst and ever, I'd pursue
   My studies by their speech.
On shelves, in tomes, they stand and lie;
As we commune I smile or sigh;
Err deshabille I am not shy
   Of these, within my reach.

First published in The Australian Town and Country Journal, 20 August 1898

On Other Blogs #7

The Australian Book Review's weblog has moved to a new address, and the comment facility has been turned on. The latest entry is by ABR editorial assistant Dan Toner, who describes the magpie approach he is utilising in writing his first novel.

Kirsty Brooks, Adelaide-based author of the "Cassidy Blair" series of humorous crime novels, reprints an article she wrote in 2001 about the then-current
state of Australian speculative fiction.
[Thanks to Sean Williams for the link.]

Tim Sterne welcomes four new contributors to the community weblog Sarsparilla.

Does anyone know if Margo Lanagan has dropped out of the blogging game, or if she's taking a well-earned rest? Her latest posting was over a month ago.

Business Award for Readings Bookshops

Readings Bookshops have been presented with "The Age"/D&B Business Award in the retail category. This is a great little bookshop chain of five stores in inner Melbourne suburbs: Carlton, Port Melbourne, St Kilda, Malvern and Hawthorn. I'm lucky to be able to call the Hawthorn store my local. A wonderful place to browse.

New Young Author on the Block

Young author makes good out of the slush pile. The media just loves these sort of stories: Alexandra Adornetto is a 14-year-old Melbourne high school student who has just signed a two-book deal with publisher HarperCollins. This is based on the submission of her first manuscript, The Shadow Thief, a young-adult novel which will be published in the middle of next year. She was interviewed on Melbourne's 774 ABC radio station by Red Symons this morning, and if her performance there is anything to go by she'll do very well.

Weblog Comments

If you're a reader of the comments on this weblog, you will have noticed a comment recently appeared which responded to my posting about Chris Masters and his new book, Jonestown - an unauthorised biography of Sydney talk-back radio host Alan Jones. The comment was written by someone signing themselves "roobok" and was quite scathing of both Masters and his book. In situations like this I'd prefer people to sign such comments with their real name but as long as they fill in some of the details, such as email address or webpage, I'm willing to let it go.

I'm not in a great position to complain about this approach as I sign all postings on this weblog as being by "larrikin" rather than my real name. That came about in the early days when I didn't really know what I was doing here and didn't know if I should use a pen-name or not. I set up a login and the name stuck. Changing it is probably more trouble than it's worth. Anyway, if you go to "About Me" section at the very top of the right-hand column you can figure out who I am in real life.

But getting back to the comment under discussion: I like robust debate, and will approve comments even if I don't agree with the statements being expressed. We can't close our ears and eyes to opinions just because they don't fit our world-view. You might as well crawl into a hole and pull the lid down after you if that's the way you feel. So I'm happy about roobok's comment, and also about the responses that have followed. If it gets people thinking about the book and the situation then so much the better.

But...and yes, there's always a "but"...I won't accept anonymous comments as I've mentioned before, and I won't approve comments which I consider racist, sexist or libellous. And so, for the first time in nearly two years, I'm going to delete a comment I've received on these grounds. I've deleted lots of spam, and I've deleted comments which aren't directed to either me or a topic under discussion - these are mostly requests for access to a particular person mentioned here - yet this is the first time I've felt compelled to take this action.

Approving a comment for publication doesn't mean I agree with the sentiments expressed. On the other hand, deleting one indicates that the comment isn't acceptable in any form.

Books in the Marketplace

It's all to do with the ubiquity of Markets. Everything, I've been told by a young writer who'd been to the UEA writing club (sorry school) and published one book, has to be judged by its market value. Books too. If it doesn't sell, it's not what's wanted. I don't know how anyone other than an accountant (and a illiterate accountant at that) could believe that. In any case, publishers have to pay to get books on to bookshop tables and prefer to spend their marketing money on surefire bestsellers, so how are people to see new books that don't have decent marketing budgets? Remember browsing? When you wandered around a bookshop and found out what had been published that month by picking up the books on the table and looking at them? Bookshops were pleased to display interesting as well as popular fiction. And remember when writing mattered enough to be regarded as worth subsidising through best sellers rather than racking up profits because shareholders had to have their dividends? Perhaps you don't. Anyway, once publishers were part of the literary world rather than subsidiaries of vast money making concerns. That meant that writers didn't get vast advances, but they were encouraged to work at their craft and given time to develop. I don't think that is happening very much now. Young writers and established writers get dumped when their sales figures drop or don't live up to expectations.

So in the world of books as well as everywhere else, capitalism has triumphed. And don't believe what they say about all worthwhile writers seeing the light of day. People who are not deeply concerned with good writing don't necessarily recognise it, or simply reject it as unsellable. They're looking for something else. And that's what they find, and what readers get.

- Jenny Diski


We've been having a few administration problems here at Matilda Central over the past couple of days. So, if you attempted to access this weblog and got nothing, my apologies. We didn't go away, we just couldn't access the system due to some hard drive problems at our ISP. Looks like we're back up again now.

On Other Blogs #6

Sean Williams announces the
upcoming publication of his new novel, Saturn Returns. He's also posted a scan of the cover. Tell me, has there been a resurgence in the space opera sub-genre lately that I missed?

On the "Sarsaparilla" litblog David reviews the "Heroes and Villians" exhibition of Australian comic books at the State Library of Victoria, which I noted a couple of weeks back. I still need to get along to this.

Kerryn reviews Andrew McGahan's latest novel, Underground, on her weblog "White Thoughts No One Sees". Her opening sentence pretty much says it all: "It has been some time since I started and finished a book in one sitting." What author wouldn't long for a review to begin like that.

On the "Happy Antipodean" weblog, Dean reviews the latest Quarterly Essay, The History Question: Who Owns the Past? by Inga Clendinnen. This essay hooks into the article by Jane Sullivan in "The Age" over the weekend.

Alice Garner's new memoir, The Student Chronicles is reviewed by be_zen8 on the "Books Give Wings" weblog. "I found the first half more interesting than the second, and I actually developed a few small complaints about it toward the end. Firstly, this is not a typical university student's chronicle as she might claim. Alice's parents are both academics (and her mother is incredibly well-known.) She was heavily subsided and she was an actress at the time. I would really love to read an account of someone, who like me, has spent years struggling to truly make ends meet while studying."

Chris Masters on His New Book

Over in the comments section relating to my Chris Masters/Alan Jones posting of yesterday, Dean, of the Happy Antipodean weblog, alerts us the news that Chris Masters was interviewed on the ABC TV's 7:30 Report last night. You can read the transcript of that interview on the program's website.

Australian Bookcovers #35 - A Secret Country by John Pilger


A Secret Country by John Pilger, 1989
Front jacket photographs: "Sunbaker", 1937, Max Dupain, "Aboriginal Behind Bars", Peter Rae/John Fairfax group
(Vintage 1989 edition)

Jonestown by Chris Masters

Back in July I reported on the fracas that was surrounding the publication of Jonestown by Chris Masters.

In essense, the book is a biography of Alan Jones (Sydney talkback radio host, beloved of our current Prime Minister) which was originally commissioned by ABC Books (the publishing arm of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation), subsequently withdrawn by them and later picked up by Allen and Unwin. Anyway, the book is now out and "The Age" is publishing extracts - which don't appear to be on the website unfortunately - and the controversy continues. Today Masters explains that he feels let down by the ABC Board, and has denied he aimed to 'out' Jones's sexuality, which I thought was pretty common knowledge anyway. Chris Masters is a journalist and writer of integrity. You can make up your own mind about Alan Jones.

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #39

The Age

I can't find a single Australian book reviewed in the pages of this weekend's "Age", other than the short notices listed below. A sorry state of affairs.

The main literary piece in the paper is Jane Sullivan's essay on the differences between history and fiction. It raises a number of questions that I will try to address later in the week.

Short notices are given to: The Heart of James McAuley by Peter Coleman: "...much of the time, it's a mechanical mix of potted biography and bland lit crit"; and The Dodger by Duncan McNab: "...is powerful testament to how far the sticky tentacles of corruption extended into [NSW's] police force, judiciary and government".

The Australian

Andrew McGahan won the 2005 Miles Franklin Award for his most recent novel The White Earth. Now he has published his follow-up, Underground, which is reviewed this week by Cath Keneally. Set in Australia in 2010, it appears as much a political novel as his last effort: "The blurb calls Underground 'the book that at least half the country has been waiting for', but there should be a laugh here for anyone. Though it wears its heart pinned proudly to its sleeve, Underground is that rare animal, a good comic novel, whose targets are all the loonies, not just the ones in the wrong party. Or rather, sympathisers with the cause of reason include defectors from the wrong party, and certainly from the present wrong religion."

Heritage, either cultural or environmental, is the subject of new books reviewed by Bob Birrell: Patriots: Defending Australia's Natural Heritage by William J. Lines, and Imprints of Generations by Robert Ingpen. "William Lines's book Patriots is a riveting account of the struggle to preserve Australia's natural heritage. The work's title encapsulates his view that the main defenders have been patriots, in the sense that they see Australia's fauna, flora and landforms as intertwined with their identity as Australians. They feel any loss personally, which explains their willingness to put their bodies on the line to prevent further damage...He will almost surely be condemned as an eco-nut, intent on dragging us back to the stone age. Mainstream politicians will never support his stance on conservation as long as most of their constituents put materialism first. Yet, as the book reminds us, eco-nuts can be heroes...Robert Ingpen's Imprints of Generations traverses some of the same ground, if with an emphasis on Australia's cultural heritage. It is attractively presented with numerous drawings, many by the author. Ingpen, too, is a patriot; he wants Australia to have the richness and depth of culture of Europe and his book is intended to help Australians understand and preserve their cultural inheritance."

Short notices are given to: Terry Dowling looks at two new Australian sf novels. Godplayers by Damien Broderick: "This savvy and sophisticated quantum view of the multiverse may well prove too demanding for its own good, chaming some readers, alienating others. You get the sense Broderick wouldn't have it any other way"; Prismatic by Edwina Grey: "Subtle and intriguing more than compelling, Grey's novel blends engaing period milieus and sound charcaterisation with visionary touches reminiscent with J.G. Ballard's The Crystal World". Graeme Blundell reviews two new Australian crime novels. Spider Trap by Barry Maitland (a DCI Brock and DS Kolla novel): "In his best tale yet, Maitland elegantly weaves race, violence, alienation and the insidiousness of family connections into multiple story-lines. His strength is never to allow the narrative to occlude the archeological dig into what lies behind the murderous event"; Hit by Tara Moss (a Makedde Vanderwall novel): "..she writes a kind of overblown Days of Our Lives romantic suspense, campy repetitive and glossy". The Cobbler's Apprentice by Sandy McCutcheon: "Although some of the characters are one-dimensional and elements of the plot difficult to follow, the novel's central conceit -- terrorism and counter-terrorism via bacteriological warfare -- works extremely well".

Reviews of Australian Books #33

After the flurry of activity surrounding the Man Booker prize shortlist, and Kate Grenville and M.J. Hyland's appearance on it, it's all James and Hughes at the moment. Martin Gayford reviews Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes in the "Telegraph", who finds that "...cantankerous and occasionally inconsequential though Hughes can be, you're always on his side. This is, as you'd expect, a hugely entertaining book."

In the same newspaper, Anthony Quinn also reviews it, noting that "Things I Didn't Know ends in 1970, with Hughes appointed art critic on Time magazine, leaving his later years, presumably, for volume two. If it can match the eloquence and fearlessness of this book, it will be worth waiting for."

And still in the "Telegraph", Nicholas Shakespeare nails Clive James and his new memoir North Face of Soho pretty well: "One problem with a life of humour is that you never really get where you're going to. It is an elaborate tango: one step forward, one back. James knows how to scale the heights of comedy, but not always what to do once he has got there. He can reduce the reader to a state of pants-wetting helplessness, prepared to be led anywhere, only to abandon him a paragraph later, his antennae atwitch for the next perfect gag or aperçu or 'spellbinder sentence'. His focus is onwards and upwards but seldom downwards. Despite his claims that 'my stuff depends on being presented as a serious argument', he does not take himself seriously enough to remain serious for very long."

Les Murray's latest poetry collection, The Biplane Houses, received a lot of coverage here in Australia when it was published earlier this year, but I didn't really expect it to receive much interest in overseas markets. Now it has been published in the UK, and this week it is reviewed in "The Guardian" by William Wootten. He's impressed: "There's humour here, of course, but Australia's most renowned living poet is very much in earnest about his exploration of how the sensory world shapes understanding and what it might be like to have apprehensions different from our own."

Peter Conrad in "The Observer" may be one of the few reviewers not overwhelmed by Robert Hughes's memoir. He's intrigued by it, to be sure, but "A memoir, however, should be more than an anthology of anecdotes or a digest of rankling grudges. 'Know thyself', the command of the Delphic oracle, is the autobiographer's injunction. That self may be one of the very few things that the polymathic, uproariously eloquent Hughes does not know."


The Year of Living Dangerously 1982
Directed by Peter Weir
Screenplay by C.J. Koch and Peter Weir from the novel by C.J. Koch
Featuring Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hunt, Michael Murphy and Bill Kerr.

Poem: Edward Dyson by T. the R. (Charles Hayward)

What memories cluster round his name and cling!
   What scenes he lit and limned to grip you fast,
Artist whose words could on a canvas fling
With cunning strokes and vivid coloring
   Those pictures of the past!

How oft with him through that familiar ground,
   With trench and pothole seamed and scarred, we strayed;
Followed the "Old Whim Horse" upon his round,
Or heard (in chapel) the tempestuous sound
   "When Brother Petree Played"!

The old-time diggings, with their glory gone,
   He conjured up once more for all to see.
And when those fields in splendor blazed and shone,
Say, was there any found or worked thereon
   A richer vein than he?

'Mid crumbling shacks, where batteries are dumb,
   Still in our minds "The Golden Shanty" stands;
Still in the silences we catch the hum,
Rich with the argot of the street and slum,
   Of Spats's "Fact'ry 'Ands."

No keener and no kindlier eyes were bent
   Upon the tides of life that past him rolled;
Toll of the moving show that came and went,
He took, for wit and mirth and merriment,
   And touched the dross with gold.

He gave us tales that dance and rhymes that ring.
   His was the sunshine that the clouds dispelled,
The shaft that wounds and tears he scorned to wing.
A satarist, perhaps. And yet no sting
   His gentle satire held.

Out of the gloom he lit with many a gleam,
   Out of the day whereon the shadows close,
Out of the realm where once he reigned supreme,
Into the sleep that knows nor stir nor dream
   The Master Craftsman goes.

First published in The Bulletin, 2 September 1931

Clive James Back on the Tube

Clive James is making a return to the television screen with his new interview program Clive James: Talking in the Library. At this time the program will only appear on the Artsworld channel on the UK's Sky pay-tv network. No news yet if it will be shown in Australia on Foxtel's Ovation channel. We might have to scour YouTube for a viewing.

Literary Gatherings #3 - Lionel Lindsay and Will Dyson


Lionel Lindsay and Will Dyson

Journal Writing in the 21st Century

I'm not a journal writer. I wrote one for about a year when I was living in London in the early 1990s but found I was leaving bigger and bigger gaps between entries. It got to the point where it wasn't much use trying to catch up. I was just fooling myself. Still, I have dragged out that journal from time to time and find myself reading about someone from another time; someone almost recognisable.

Being a livelong procrastinator, I'm always on the look-out for a good excuse: the journal volume is the wrong size, the colour of the paper or cover is no good, the paper inside has the wrong texture, the printed lines (the lines for God's sake!) are the wrong colour, the pen is no good, and my writing is unreadable. Actually the last of these is quite reasonable. I've had terrible hand writing since I was a kid. No matter how much I slow down, print or write larger, sooner or later I degenerate into a pathetic scrawl that even I can't read later on. I envy people who have a good writing hand. It's probably way too late for me to change now.

Even a few years ago a good journal (right size, colour and paper texture) wasn't all that easy to find. There were volumes around but they tended to fit into either end of the market: mass-produced or expensive. Then a friend introduced me to the Moleskine notebook range and I was hooked. I like the cover and the paper texture. I like the elastic band that holds it all together, and I like the little pocket at the back where I can keep notes and receipts and other scraps of paper. The biggest of them is not quite big enough for a journal for me - I prefer something around the A4 size - but they are very good as a desk-top notebook, and smaller ones work very well as a pocket book. I got to the stage where I was carrying one around just about everywhere. I had them at work, at home and in the briefcase. They seemed to keep turning up in with a bag of books I might purchase at certain bookshops round town. They were always paid for, though I did worry for a while that I was getting a tad addicted to the things.

I knew I was onto something when I discovered a massive web-based community dedicated to Moleskines, notebooks, pencils and the concept of just putting pen to paper. But it's note-taking, not journal writing, that I was doing. Or at least not journal writing as Ann Nugent describes it in "The Lost Art of Journal Writing", published in the October 2006 issue of the "National Library of Australia News" - note, this is a PDF file.

The National Library of Australia has a special interest in journals and diaries ranging from Captain James Cook's account of the voyage of the Endeavour (1768-71), through exploration journals, 19th-century shipboard emigrant diaries, to modern-day hand-written journals by people from all walks of life. It's a huge collection. But Nugent wonders if the art of journal writing has been lost. Or whether it has been taken over by "the 21st-century heirs to journal-writers, the bloggers whose personal web logs give instant global expression to their daily lives or what they care to impart online." I think she has answered her own question. There are probably more journal writers alive now than have ever lived. They just tend to express themselves using a different medium.

It was interesting that I came across Nugent's article today as the UK just yesterday held its "One Day in History" blog day, run by the National Trust, with the final entries held at the British Library for, one suspects, perpetuity. Maybe the National Library of Australia might like to take up the idea and run with it here in this country. Once a year? I might just be able to handle that.

Matilda Visitors

Although I started this weblog in December 2004, it wasn't until this day (October 19) last year that I added a feature that allowed me to track the number of visitors. It's been interesting seeing who has turned up and what they've been looking for. As much a place-marker as anything else, the relevant total figures are: Visitors - 72,957 Page views - 103,739 I wonder how many of those are mine?

On Other Blogs #5

Victoria, on the Eve's Alexandria weblog, has reviewed Kate Grenville's The Secret River. "At its heart this is what The Secret River is: a deeply evocative and sympathic narrative of colonial confrontation - about a meeting of two cultures, with two divergent ways of understanding ownership and belonging, in a very hard and unforgiving landscape."

Justine Larbalestier provides a useful introduction about how to talk to an author.

The contents of the upcoming book, Australian Dark Fantasy and Horror 2006, are provided by Chris Lawson over on Talking Squid.

Sydney crime writer, Daniel Hatadi, looks like taking up the NaNoWriMo challenge - that's the National Novel Writing Month - during November. He has to complete a 175-page (50,000 word) novel in 30 days. This challenge has become pretty popular over the past few years, and while it may not produce any masterpieces it does force writers to overcome the major writing hurdle they will face - getting the bum on the seat day after day. It would be good to see him blog about his progress but him may well be worn out after writing his requisite 1,666.67 words a day.

Australian Bookcovers #34 - A Difficult Young Man by Martin Boyd


A Difficult Young Man by Martin Boyd, 1955
Cover: detail from "The Milkmaid" by Julian Ashton
(Lansdowne 1978 edition)

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #38

The Age

If you do nothing else have a look at John Spooner's portrait of Robert Hughes illustrating Peter Craven's review of his memoir Things I Didn't Know: it's a classic. Actually, so is the review: "Of the quartet of Australian expatriates who preoccupy the nation, Robert Hughes has come last to autobiography even though he is a starrier figure than Clive James or Barry Humphries and in terms of presence and panache can certainly give Germaine Greer a run for her money. But the paradox with Hughes is that he has never been much interested in celebrity. He is, of course, an art critic." Which puts Hughes in proper context at the start, and the book in context at the end: "In this first volume of his memoirs Hughes has written one of the most impassioned and vivid of all Australian self-portraits and if there is a fierceness and magnificence in the execution he also exhibits plenty of modesty and human grace."

Melina Marchetta is famous for her first novel, Looking for Alibrandi, which was filmed, and which was included in school reading lists for years. Frances Atkinson finds her third novel, On the Jellicoe Road, a step up. "The convoluted plot may not hold every reader's attention and some might be frustrated by the measured pace of the book, but it's deliberate and those who stick with it won't be disappointed. Marchetta wants us to take our time and enjoy the satisfaction as every penny drops."

Short notices are given to: A Conga Line of Suckholes: Mark Latham's Book of Quotations by Mark Latham: "If Latham's Lathamisms rarely measure up to the company they keep, at least one can admire his assiduousness and taste as a collector"; Rescuing Afghanistan by William Maley: "In this measured account of efforts to rebuild Afghanistan, Maley never loses sight of the role played by ordinary Afghans and warns that the international 'rescue mission' neglects local participants at their peril"; Soul by Tobsha Learner: "...if it's racy, low-impact trash with lashings of sex and death you're after, look no further"; The Cobbler's Apprentice by Sandy McCutcheon: "...it contains vivid evocations of place, and avoids American triumphalism"; and Weatherwitch by Cecilia Dart-Thornton (the third volume in her Crowthistle Chronicles series): she "writes lavishly descriptive fiction you can immerse yourself in".

The Australian

One of the major issues on the political agenda of late is the Australia-US alliance. So it is timely that Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of "The Australian", has released The Partnership: The Inside Story of the US-Australian Alliance under Bush and Howard, which is reviewed by Max Suich. "This is an important book because it outlines, with far greater detail and coherence than the Australian Government has publicly provided, the new nature of the US-Australia military alliance that has evolved under the impetus of the personal and political affinity between John Howard and George W. Bush and the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington." It's important but it isn't a rosy outlook, if, like me, you feel that military force is the last option, not the first. "Precisely because this book projects such an authentic sense of the Australian Government's self-deception about the peril the US and its friends face in the Middle East, and its wishful denial of White House incompetence, it suggests another uncomfortable conclusion: that we will probably be swept up again should there be momentum in Washington for another war, and accept further military commitments in the Middle East, if Iran is attacked by the US or Israel."

The Sydney Morning Herald

Peter Galvin tries to nail down David Thomson's book, Nicole Kidman, and does a pretty good job: "This is not a book about Nicole Kidman. It is a book about the idea of her. The distinction is crucial to understanding this odd, and oddly beguiling, piece of film criticism. David Thomson's take on the career and life of Nicole Kidman is in fact one long essay - part film history, part cultural commentary, part fiction. It reads as a compelling form of mutant 'biography' but hardly justifies that stern and earnest moniker." I've thought for a long time that "celebrities" are just an idea anyway, so maybe Thomson is onto something after all.

As you've probably noticed, Robert Hughes and his book are everywhere. So it is no surprise to come across Andrew Reimer's review of Things I Didn't Know. What is interesting is his statement: "On almost every page, Hughes reveals a cosmopolitan sophistication, the fruit of intimate familiarity with European and American art, he could not have achieved had he stayed in Australia. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that in the guise of a somewhat haphazard account of the first 30-or-so years of his life, Things I Didn't Know is, at heart, an apologia for expatriation." And that's something I hadn't heard before.

Reviews of Australian Books #32

Under the title "Wizards of Oz" (gee, that's original) Christopher Bray reviews Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes, and North Face of Soho in the "New Statesman". He calls Hughes "Argus-eyed" (whatever that means), and concludes "Were it not for Hughes's existence, James would be a shoo-in for critical stylist of the age."

In "The New York Times" Janet Maslin looks at Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France by Carmen Callil, which "becomes a quietly devastating history of Vichy France's anti-Semitic machinations."

Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes is reviewed by Waldemar Januszczak in "The Sunday Times", who finds it "a picture of an angry scrapper, a man capable of scary ruthlessness, an autodidact whose faults, when he turns to an art criticism, don't seem to be faults at all."

In the same newspaper, DJ Taylor casts an eye over Clive James's North Face of Soho. Taylor identifies "James's abiding flaw as an anecdotalist, that odd and faintly gratuitous sense of performance, in which the reader is forever bidden to admire not so much the work set out before him as the spectacle of the writer writing it. Style-wise, too, James is moving into what - to borrow Philip Guedella's joke about his namesake Henry - might be called his 'Old Pretender' phase, all dangerously extended metaphors and descriptions that, despite their freight of top-grade adjectives, fall short of describing the object under review."

Poem: Old Poets by E. D. (Edward Dyson)

Where are the pleasing bards I knew,
   Whose songs so glorified my youth,
And rippled all keen day through
   With warp of beauty and of truth?
They wear no robes of purple sheen
   Nor wreaths (unless they be of rue),
But honest was their work, I ween,
   Where are the singing men I knew?

Where do my early poets bide?
   I hear at times a far-off strain,
But in no chariot do they ride,
   Their homes glow never on the plain.
I see them not in gardens fair
   Where good old men sit side by side,
Cut off from need, absolved of care.
   Where do my early poets bide?

Where rest the poets in their age,
   Whose melody was part of life,
Whose splendid violence did wage
   With liars all inspiring strife?
I see the faded doctor there,
   Bent low, and picking at the page;
His greying life no troubles wear.
   Where rest the poets in their age?

To what kind haven have they gone
   Now fire sparkles in the ash?
The lawyer sits his life to con
   In soft contentment when the clash
Of argument is done, and he
   Steps down to let the world go on.
Where are the bards once dear to me;
   To what kind haven have they gone?

Where are the poets once I knew?
   The tradesmen crowned with snow hath ease,
The broker drives the city through,
   His age hath everything to please.
All other men have gentle end
   To mark new life with placid view,
In pillowed peace their souls to mend --
   Where are the poets once I knew?

First published in The Bulletin, 16 May 1918

2006 Nobel Prize for Literature

The Turkish novellist Orhan Pamuk has been announced as the winner of the 2006 Nobel prize for Literature. Some bookmakers had him as an early favourite but the feeling from some litbloggers was that he would be passed over due to this age - he was born in 1952. I doubt anyone will complain about this choice, especially given the problems Pamuk has had with the authorities in his own country.

Ah, yet another Nobel laureate I've never read. If that to-be-read pile falls over in the middle of the night I'm a dead man.

Carmen Callil in Trouble

The British-based writer and former publisher Carmen Callil is in trouble in New York over her book, Bad Faith. The book tells the story of Louis Darquier, the Vichy official who arranged the deportation of thousands of Jews from France. A party in her honour was due to be held at the French embassy but was cancelled when one invitee refused to attend and complained about one paragraph in the book's postscript. This paragraph was read as criticising Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, likening their actions to those of Vichy officials in the Second World War. It seems that speech is not as "free" as some in the US would have us believe.

Clive James No Prima Donna

The "Hendon and Finchley Times" isn't too impressed with Clive James at present. They attempted to speak to the man ahead of a performance in nearby Edmonton and were directed to "a syndicated piece, written by Mr James' PR people". They quote: "Over the years, various adjectives have attached themselves to Clive like burrs to a woolly jumper: charming, intelligent, witty, wry, genial. I'm here to tell you, they're all true. During a coruscating hour in his company, I'm treated to a wondrous one-man command performance." And here I was, all this time, thinking that the adjective "coruscating" was only used in reviews of guitar-heavy rock albums.

2006 Man Booker Prize Winner Announced

Kiran Desai's novel, The Inheritance of Loss, has been announced as the winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize. Her mother, Anita Desai, was shortlisted for the award 3 times (1980, href="http://www.middlemiss.org/lit/prizes/booker/booker1984.html">1984 and href="http://www.middlemiss.org/lit/prizes/booker/booker1999.html">1999) but never won.

Kiran Desai is the first woman to win the award since Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin in 2000.

As noted yesterday, bookmakers had Desai ranked 5th favourite out of the six shortlisted novels.

Australian Literary Review

I should have mentioned this last week but forgot. "The Australian" newspaper has published the second issue of its monthly "Australian Literary Review" - the bulk of which appears to be available on their website. Check it out, there's some good stuff in there. I'm thinking about writing a piece on the publishing of fine fiction, a subject that is addressed by James Bradley and Matthew Kelly.

2006 Man Booker Prize Lead-In

With the winner of the 2006 Man Booker prize due to be announced Wednesday morning, Melbourne time, "The Age" catches up with Kate Grenville and M.J. Hyland. Neither thinks they are going to win it. The bookmaker Betfair has Waters at $1.84, Grenville at $4.50, Hyland $4.50, St Aubyn $5.70, Desai $7.40, and Matar at $10.00. (Each payout for a $1 bet presumably.) Which makes Waters at better than even money. Nah, too short.

Australian Bookcovers #33 - The Art of the Engine Driver by Steven Carroll


The Art of the Engine Driver by Steven Carroll, 2001
(Flamingo 2001 edition)

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #37

The Age

Martin Flanagan looks at a new book about "Waltzing Matilda", possibly Australia's best-known and best-loved song, titled Once a Jolly Swagman by Matthew Richardson. Publication of this book is timely, says Flanagan: "Richardson's book is ultimately the voice of someone who sees globalisation as masking the onset of a second cultural cringe, one which, like its predecessor, creates disdain for local - Australian - culture." But, as Flanagan points out, the creation of the song didn't happen all at one time, the words and even the tune were changed over time by Banjo Paterson, who was credited with the original, amongst others, and Richardson's book is as much as the fluid creative process as about the song's origins. "At one level, the story shows how creation is a messy business with more than the odd element of luck or chance about it."

Brian McFarlane seems to think more of Nicole Kidman by David Thomson than most other reviewers so far, though I wonder if he hasnt fallen prey to the actor's charms as well: "Thomson clearly adores her as a creature of great sexual attractiveness and also knows how to value her for what, in the right circumstances, she can do as an actress. His shrewd assessment of her career choices and the patient, wide-ranging analyses of her acting highlights substantiate his claim for her as the 'most adventurous and the most varied (actress) of her time'...He gathers together the 'facts' of her life to help explain the public face we all feel we know. In the process, he offers a finely drawn portrait of a star, a woman, and maybe, to raise his own question, a lady?" The whole thing strikes me as tacky tabloid journalism.

Peter Craven is impressed with David Malouf's latest short story collection, Every Move You Make, especially as it represents the authors best form: "Everything he writes is 'quality'. That said, he has always seemed at his best in lyrical mode, writing short works of fiction, novellas and stories, than he does when he is pursuing grand themes in somewhat longer books - the POW experience in The Great World or the legend of bushranging in The Conversations at Curlew Creek." Craven finished his review with a flourish, "A better book of fiction has not come out of this country this year."

On the longer fiction front, Suzanne Leal's debut novel, Border Street, is reviewed by Kirsty de Garis, who finds that the novel "tells a story of one man's survival against enormous odds, and of its lasting effects. Leal has recounted this tale and woven a warm account of the unlikely friendship between people with 40 years and continetns between them." I wonder how many copies the publishers will sell of this debut at $32.95. I've a feeling that it's just too expensive for the current market.

Short notices are given to: In It To Win It: The Australian Cricket Supremacy by Peter Roebuck: "You either go with Peter Roebuck's epic, often Churchillian turn of phrase, or you don't. Most of the time I do, although he can lay it on a bit thick sometimes...his detailed knowledge of the game, make him a cricket writer with scope and flair and of substance too"; The Concerto Inn by Jo Gardiner: "The novel moves at a langurous, almost somnolent pace, with Gardiner guiding her characters through their 'slow pulse of memory'"; and Hit by Tara Moss, the fourth PI Makedde Vanderwall novel: "There's violence, titillation, conspiracy, romance and comedy".

The Australian

Robert Hughes's memoir, Things I Didn't Know, gets the once-over by Andrea Stretton, who opines that "There are very few writers whose words you would recognise from 20 paces: Hughes is one of them. Although usually writing about art and culture, he instinctively knows all there is to know about the fictional devices of characterisation, dialogue, the bittersweet nature of drama and comedy, and the great, deep sweep of narrative structure." High praise indeed. Not sure I agree completely but there we are. Hughes has had a bit of a problem with Australia of late, mainly over his treatment by the press following his near-fatal car crash in Western Australia in 1999.

Autobiography is also the subject matter of Bary Jones's new book, A Thinking Reed. Mike Steketee has waited a while for this book, and is generally pretty pleased with the final result. "Unusually for a book by a politician, Jones admits to failure and frustration leavened by some successes. Not that he is just a politician, let alone an ordinary one. He was a misfit in politics: a long-range thinker in a short-term environment, more inclined to bury into further research to add to his vast store of knowledge than to put together the numbers for a caucus ballot." But, as he puts it, "If the book suffers, it is from the Jones obsession with lists and organising information. Sometimes there is too much detail."

With her novel, The Secret River, on the 2006 Man Booker shortlist, Kate Grenville has now published Searching for the Secret River, the story of how she came to write the subject book. Stella Clarke finds that: "Searching for the Secret River records Grenville's five-year journey to the finished novel, which started out as nonfiction, moved from first to third person, through exhaustive dissections and revolutions, before completion. It is education in the art, and craft, of fiction, a lesson in the arduous devotion it can command...This book gives an account not just of the birth of a novel but also of the birth of conscience, which is what the history debates are basically about." An unusual glimpse into the novelist's art.

Short notices are given to: Agamemnon's Kiss: Selected Essays by Inga Clendinnen: "With incisive wit, Clendinnen brillinatly mixes a sense of liberation and vulnerability, not only within her body but also in society':

Reviews of Australian Books #31

I've mentioned over the past couple of weeks that Lian Hearn's novel The Harsh Cry of the Heron been receiving some positive reviews, and this trend continues with Tim Martin in "The Independent". Though his review is (how can I put this gently?) a strange mixture of styles: "The moral atmosphere is chilly and remote and the austerity of style invests both the peripatetic story and its arresting set-pieces with a palpable sense of destiny at work...It's rare, too, that such an extended narrative, especially one sustained over more than a single volume, plays out so gratifyingly." Those two sentences are separated by no more than a paragraph break. But urine-extraction aside, the review does end well for Hearn: "The Otori sequence is already a considerable achievement. Cheeringly, it looks as though it will only get better."

"The Daily Telegraph" tackles, along with just about everyone else, David Thomson's bio of Nicole Kidman: "It's not uncommon for a biographer to fall for their subject. But it's rare they declare their lust as frankly as David Thomson...as the book progresses so Thomson's hold on reality seems increasingly wobbly." Which should give you a decent idea of the book's problems, at least as perceived by Catherine Shoard.

Clive James has released the fourth volume of his autobiography, North Face of Soho, but, according to Nicholas Clee in "The Times"' he really shouldn't have bothered: "His prose, once so lively, is flat." The volume covers the period from he arrival in London from Cambridge, through to his appearance on Parkinson to publicise the first volume, Unreliable Memoirs. Now, there's a book. Fantastic stuff.

Poem: The Readerless Legion by Harrison O. (Robert John Owen)

They stand in rows upon my shelves,
   The books I have not read;
For up to now no time I've found.
But still, they're rather nicely bound,
   And even seem to spread
An influence about my den
That serves to speed a lagging pen.

At divers times I purchased them --
   The Lord, perhaps, knows why!
Yet this untasted mental meal
Somehow contrives to make me feel
   My Aim in Life is High,
And that I own a fearful lot
Of knowledge that I haven't got.

The girls who sometimes grace my room
A weighty tome will touch,
And guilessly express surprise
That one so young should be so wise,
   And should have read so much!
They purr, while backs of books they scan,
"It's nice to know a brainy man."

I smile and blush, and strive to look
   As modest as I can,
But do not feel a fraud, for now
I have convinced myself somehow
   That I'm a Well-Read Man,
And thus have made a stepping-stone
Of unread books to Learning's throne.

Still, there are volumes on my shelves
   Whose aspect makes it plain
That constant usage they have seen,
And in my eager hands have been
Again and yet again.
   They've furnished me with quite a store
Of most profound and varied lore.

Someone's encyclopaedia,
   A Greek mythology,
The charming book that Bartlett wrote
For writers who desire to quote,
   A rhyming diction'ry,
Thumbed like a Baptist's book of hymns,
Smith's "Synonyms and Antonym";

Roghet's Thesaurus, Whitaker,
   A somewhat ancient Burke --
There are the volumes that I love.
But one I place the rest above --
   A most delightful work,
Of infinite variety --
The late N. Webster's gift to me!

First published in The Bulletin, 8 July 1915

State Library of Victoria Events

The State Library of Victoria has a couple of upcoming events which should be of interest. On Friday 20th October the Library, in association with Readers' Feast Bookstore, presents David Malouf in conversation with Morag Fraser. Tickets are $12 and $10 concession, and are available exclusively from the bookshop at the corner of Bourke & Swanston streets in Melbourne, or call (03) 9662 4699. The event will be held in the Village Roadshow Theaterette, entry 3, La Trobe St. It starts at 6:30pm.

Also starting on Friday 20th October, but continuing through to 25th February 2007, is the Library's exhibition titled "Heroes & Villians: Australian Comics and their Creators." This will be housed in the Keith Murdoch Gallery on the ground floor. From the Library's webpage: "This free exhibition showcases the colourful history of Australian comics, from the 1940s to today. With a display of rare comic books, original artwork and memorabilia, it celebrates the characters that have entertained generations of Australians, from Captain Atom to Fatty Finn."

Reviews of Australian Books #30

In "The Daily Telegraph", Lorna Bradbury briefly reviews The Harsh Cry of the Heron by Lian Hearn, which is the sequel to her "Tales of the Otori" trilogy: "This is an involving (and long) adventure, with slick fight scenes, and complex characters. For readers of 12 and above."

Alexis Wright's new novel Carpentaria is reviewed in a profile of the author in "Time" magazine - South Pacific edition.
"Wright's gift to Australian literature is Desperance. A fictional port town bypassed by history and even the tides, which have left it high and dry, Desperance embodies the roots of its name: despair and hope (espérance in French). Wright says Desperance could stand for any Australian town, or Australia itself. And it's her uncanny ear for the particularities of local language and eye for striking symbolism that could carry Carpentaria into the classics sections of bookshelves in years to come. There it would sit comfortably alongside Xavier Herbert's fictional study of Australia's Top End, Capricornia. But where Herbert looked at race relations with colonial distance in 1938, Wright mucks in with postcolonial glee."

A Man Booker Prize shortlisting will tend to raise interest in a novel, and so it has proved for Kate Grenville and her novel The Secret River, which is reviewed in Cleveland's "The Plain Dealer" by John Freeman, who is president of the National Book Critics Circle. Freeman is pretty impressed with the book, calling it "elegant" and "powerful". I wasn't so sure about one statement of his, however: "It moves on gusts of foreboding, not unlike a horror novel." He should have read James Bradley's latest.

Metacritic have finally got around to summarising the reviews for Peter Carey's Theft, probably only the second or third Australian novel to get the treatment. They gave it a score of 74, which is pretty good. They listed "Outstanding" reviews from "Daily Telegraph", "The Guardian", "Booklist", "Kirkus Reviews", "Library Journal" and "Publishers Weekly". There were also a number of "Favorable" and "Mixed" reviews listed. No "turkeys".

Gwen Meredith

Author Gwen Meredith has died at her home in Bowral, in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. Meredith is best known for her work as the writer of the long-running ABC radio serial Blue Hills. The program ran for 27 years and aired for 5,795 episodes. In addition to her radio work she also wrote four novels: The Lawsons 1948, Blue Hills 1950, Beyond Blue Hills: The Ternna Boolla Story 1953, and Into the Sun: a Blue Hills novel 1961. She was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1967 for her services to radio entertainment, and was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1977 for services to the arts.

See also "The Age", and "The Australian".

On Other Blogs #4

The Australian Book Review's blog has reappeared after a two month gap. The first posting was on 7th August and this second on 2nd October. This time round Tamas Pataki "he writes about his background, his critical approach, ... and his views about what makes a good book review." Which reads like it could be a piece for the ABR itself. Not sure what the magazine is trying to do here. But doing it a bit more often might lead us to some conclusions.

Australian writer Sherryl Clark discusses dialogue, how to write it and how to get an ear for it, on Books and Writing. I
liked the line: "Listening to daytime soaps will also teach you about dialogue - how to be boring and repetitious and explain everything three times. That's the job of dialogue in soaps. It's not what you do on the page, because a reader who fell asleep and missed a bit can just flick back a couple of pages and read them again."

Judith Ridge writes about children's literature on her New Misrule blog, providing news and commentary on the genre. I like blogs like this; blogs that concentrate on a particular genre or section of the literary world. You get a level of directed enthusiasm that is often dissipated on blogs with a wider scope. I notice Judith is reading Wendy James's novel Out of the Silence, which seems to be emerging as a favourite of Australian litbloggers.

October's First Tuesday Book Club

The third instalment of ABC TV's "First Tuesday Book Club" went to air last night and I must admit to being a bit disappointed with it.

The books under discussion were Bill Bryson's new memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and Martin Amis's first novel The Rachel Papers. New panelists this month were actor Penny Cook and tv/radio presenter Peter Berner. They joined compere Jennifer Byrne, and previous reviewers Jason Steger and Marieke Hardy. I assume that Steger and Hardy are slotted in as the regulars, but I missed the September edition of the program as I was overseas, so I'll have to wait till next month to confirm.

Bill Bryson's book was generally well-received by the panel though I came away with the feeling that a few of them thought it a bit too twee for their taste: "not as funny as some of his earlier books", "maybe he's running out of steam" sort of approach. Did I get any idea of whether I'd like the book or not? Nope.

Martin Amis's first novel didn't fair much better. There was some appreciation of his style but the reviewers seemed a bit unmoved by it. Steger said it best when he suggested that he would really have liked to have read the book when it was first published. Giving the idea that if the novel had been ground-breaking in its time, then that plot of ground had been very thoroughly worked over since the mid-1970s.

I missed Peter Cundall's wit and directness, and I longed for some form of flame-thrower level of enthusiasm. I didn't get it. Maybe what is required is for one of the reviewers to take a firm stand - at either end of the love-hate scale - and bludgeon the others on the panel with their deep-felt perceptions. Bring back Cundall I say, and this time let him into the studio with a pitchfork.

Next month's books are: The Mission Song by John Le Carre, and The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard.

Kylie Minogue

I posted back in March this year about Kylie Minogue's entry into the children's book market. That book, The Showgirl Princess, was launched in the UK on the weekend. Seems it has been on sale here in Australia since September 21. Must have missed it. Can't think how.

Our Personal Libraries

A personal library is an X-ray of the owner's soul. It offers keys to a particular temperament, an intellectual disposition, a way of being in the world. Even how the books are arranged on the shelves deserves notice, even reflection. There is probably no such thing as complete chaos in such arrangements.

From "Other People's Books" by Jay Parini, The Chronicle Review

Australian Bookcovers #32 - The Cardboard Crown by Martin Boyd


The Cardboard Crown by Martin Boyd, 1952
(Lansdowne 1977 edition)
Cover: detail from "A Summer's Morning Tiff" by Tom Roberts

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #36

The Age

The major piece this weekend is a long profile of David Malouf, by Angela Bennie, on the eve of the publication (today!) of his new collection of short stories, Every Move You Make. Malouf makes a rather interesting statement early on in the piece: "Once or twice I have begun what I have thought was going to be a book," he is now saying. His voice is gentle, mild, courteous..."Then what I see happening before me is it begins to develop a plot. And I know then it is not one of my books. I don't like things that are driven by plot. So at that point I abandon it." Which might explain a lot about Malouf's work, but which probably also sends a lot of other writers crying over their keyboards. No news on whether there's another novel in the works, though.

Peter Hill looks at three art books, Albert Tucker by Gavin Fry, Juan Davila by Guy Brett & Roger Benjamin, and Imants Tillers: One World Many Visions edited by Deborah Hart. The review doesn't appear to be on the website.

Hilary Bonney is in two minds about Paul Sheahan's latest non-fiction book, Girls Like You. On the one hand she praises him: "In the first three parts of this seven-part work, Sheehan writes in a strong, sharp, journalistic style about the gang rapes committed by four of the brothers in the winter of 2002 and the ensuing legal twists and turns." But later finds the author loses his way and his "good writing skills become lost in the passion of the argument."

Short notices are given to: Waterlemon by Ruth Ritchie which tells the story of the author and her husband as they recover from a severe brain injury he suffered while riding his bike: "this is not about being likeable, it's about the extremes of her experience, and Ritchie does brilliantly in making us understand and empathise"; Patriots: Defending Australia's Natural Heritage by William J. Lines - "In this passionate, provocative account of the conservation movement in postwar Australia, William Lines defiantly appropriates [the] term [patriot] to capture the dedication and commitment of conservation activists as they pit themselves against developers and government"; Botanical Riches: Stories of Botanical Exploration by Richard Aitken - "Sweeping in its scope, it surveys the history of the world from hunter-gather societies to the present from a botanical perspective and is gloriously illustrated with exquisite full-page drawings of plants that have seduced and enchanted mankind since Eve offered Adam a bite of the forbidden fruit"; and Out of Place by Jo Dutton is "a well-paced and elegantly written family saga that spans decades and moves from the windswept beaches of WA to the arid beauty of the Red Centre".

The Australian

David Malouf is also the subject of the main piece in "The Australian" this week. Rosemary Neill calls him the "elder statesman of Australian literature", which might be a tad harsh, even though Malouf is now 72. Anyway, Malouf, as you might expect, appears very interested in the writing process, explaining that "The power of attention that I can sustain through a long novel, I find that may be waning." Which gives some explanation of my earlier query. His best line comes almost immediately after that: "Books ought to demand to be written, rather than be a by-product of your idea that you are a writer."

The release of The Dodger by Duncan McNab which tells the story of Australia's most notorious cop, Roger Rogerson, is rather apt at this time of investigations into parts of the Victoria Police. Though, I suppose, there isn't much of a co-incidence given the number of these inquiries that seem to have been held over the past few years. John Dale reviews the book this week and finds that it "provides the reader with a personal insight into the 'us versus them' mentality that pervaded NSW police during the Rogerson era, a force aptly described as the best money could buy."

Short notices are given to: The Arrival by Shaun Tan, which is "a masterpiece for all ages and is Shaun Tan's finest and most ambitious work to date"; Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah: "Hopefully this book will find its way into every classroom, because by using concise, thoughful and highly cominc prose, Abdel-Fattah contemplates the loss of identity and how fear and deception can only lead to greater worries"; The Penguin Book: Birds in Suits by Mark Norman: "Useful for school projects, entertainment or interest, this well-designed book may even attract the curiosity of readers who are ambivalent to other animals"; The Curer of Souls by Lindsay Simpson: "one fascinating aspect of [which] is its ability to play with the subtlety of historical phases rather than lumping all past events under the heading of history"; and Inventing Beatrice by Jill Golden "is less successful, although welcome for its creative courage in a writing scene that's rarely adventurous".

A Few Items of Interest

A few books have, or are about to, hit the shelves here in Australia that I thought were of interest. Kate Grenville's Searching for the Secret River was released in late August while I was on holidays so I missed the reviews of it then. As might be expected from the title, it tells Grenville's story of how she came to write The Secret River. Book clubs everywhere sigh with relief.

Text Publishing have re-released Peter Temple's novel In the Evil Day, which first saw the light of day in 2002. According to "The Age" in late August: " He is now writing a novel featuring some of the characters from The Broken Shore, although its hero, Joe Cashin, features only in passing. Temple said he did not want to create another 'series character. I'm not abandoning Jack Irish (who has featured in several of his novels) and having got some distance I'm feeling better about going back. If you do them too often the characters get bored with you and you get bored with them.'...He has written Valentine's Day, an original TV screenplay that will go into production in April, and adapted for television his first novel, Bad Debts." So it's good to see he's keeping busy.

Currently Reading


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



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


Recently Read


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



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



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

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



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

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

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



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



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



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



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


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