December 2006 Archives

2006 Aurealis Award Nominations

The full list of nominations for the 2006 Aurealis Awards have now been released. The Awards are given for best sf and fantasy works published by Australian writers during 2006. The winners will be announced in Brisbane on January 27th.

Science Fiction novels

K. A. Bedford, Hydrogen Steel
Damien Broderick, K-Machines
Andrew McGahan, Underground
Sean Williams & Shane Dix, Geodesica Ascent

Science Fiction short stories

Lee Battersby, "Dark Ages"
David Conyers, "Aftermath"
Stephen Dedman, "Down to the Tethys Sea"
Sean Williams, "The Seventh Letter"

Horror novels

Will Elliott, The Pilo Family Circus
Edwina Grey, Prismatic
Martin Livings, Carnies
Brett McBean, The Mother

Horror short stories

Stephen Dedman, "Dead of Winter"
Margo Lanagan, "Winkie"
Chris Lawson, "Hieronymus Boche"
Kaaron Warren, "Dead Sea Fruit"
Kaaron Warren, "Woman Train"

Fantasy novels

Grace Dugan, The Silver Road
Glenda Larke, Heart of the Mirage
Juliet Marillier, Wildwood Dancing
Sean McMullen, Voidfarer
Michael Pryor, Blaze of Glory

Fantasy short stories

Lee Battersby, "Dark Ages"
Stephanie Campisi, "Why the Balloon Man Floats Away"
Margo Lanagan, "A Fine Magic"
Lucy Sussex, "The Revenant"
Anna Tambour, "See Here, See There"

Young Adult novels

D.M. Cornish, Monster Blood Tattoo Book One: Foundling
Amanda Holohan, The King's Fool
Justine Larbalestier, Magic Lessons
Juliet Marillier, Wildwood Dancing
Scott Westerfeld, The Last Days

Young Adult short stories

Deborah Biancotti, "They Dying Light"
Simon Brown, "Leviathan"
Margo Lanagan, "A Feather in the Breast of God"
Margo Lanagan, "Baby Jane"
Margo Lanagan, "Forever Upward"
Shaun Tan, The Arrival

Children's novels

Isobelle Carmody, A Fox Called Sorrow
John Flanagan, Oakleaf Bearers
Mardie McConnochie, Melissa, Queen of Evil
Nury Vittachi, Twilight in the Land of Nowhen
Kim Wilkins, Fantastica: The Sunken Kingdom Series

Children's short stories

Jane Godwin, "The True Story of Mary Who Wanted to Stand on Her Head"
Margaret Wild & Anne Spudvilas, "Woolvs in the Sittee"
Victor Kelleher & Stephen Michael King, "The Magic Violin"

Spotted at the Cricket

I spent yesterday at the cricket - about 10 seats to the east of where Andrew Symonds landed his century-making six, if you're interested in that sort of thing - and had a bit of a look around at the crowd to see what they were reading during the slow parts. As you might expect there were a number of readers of newspapers and magazines, but only two reading books that I noted: The Firm by John Grisham and Every Move you Make by David Malouf. I would say the second was a Christmas present, but the first? Hardly seems the book you'd want to read a second time, if, as I suspect, the film version with Tom Cruise gave away all the major plot points. Not that I can see myself reading it to find out.

I took along the Christmas issue of the "New York Review of Books" and didn't open it: the game was just too interesting. Now, if England had been batting...

What I Got for Christmas

I'll be the first person to admit that I'm a hard reader to buy books for. There are so many in the house that you could be easily forgiven for buying something for me that I'd just finished or had stacked into the "to be read" pile by the side of the bed.

Even my immediate family doesn't bother trying to guess, so it is left to me to make a list. As a consequence I don't often get books at Christmas that I'm not expecting. Which isn't to say I won't enjoy them anyway.

This year I received:

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins - the irony of receiving a book at Christmas by the world's foremost atheist does not escape me.
The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford - the hard question here is whether I should go back and read the two previous books in the sequence first.
North Face of Soho by Clive James - probably the funniest set of memoirs written by an Australian, one that needs no introduction at all given the amount of coverage it has been getting lately.
The Planets by Dava Sobel - back to an old love of astronomy.

On the giving front, I steered away from cookbooks for Herself this year - that bookshelf is full, very full - and nothing stood out for me anyway. She received the latest Rumpole novel by John Mortimer and Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann, featuring the world's first sheep detective. She also got the latest Alexander McCall Smith, but he's putting out so many these days I can't, for the life of me, remember which one it was. The kids got too many to mention separately. I gave two copies of Kiran Desai's Man Booker Prize winning novel The Inheritance of Loss, (the Miles Franklin winner goes out for upcoming birthdays); and Peter Temple's The Broken Shore - giving my father a chance to find another Australian crime writer he might enjoy. Most of my nieces and nephews are either too old - we don't give presents to adults at Christmas, or, we're not supposed to - or too young for chapter-books.

Kerryn Goldsworthy has mentioned books she received this year, and I suspect she'd be even harder to buy for than me. What did the rest of you get, or give?

Australian Bookcovers #44 - Death of a River Guide by Richard Flanagan


Death of a River Guide by Richard Flanagan, 1994
Cover illustration by Patrick Hall (Penguin 1996 edition)

This novel was shortlisted for the 1995 Miles Franklin award.

Seasons Greetings

All of us here at Matilda - well, me anyway - wish you all the best for the Christmas and New Year season. Postings will be infrequent over the next few days: there's turkey and sparkling shiraz to consume, presents to open and cricket to watch. Then there's the cleaning up, the sweeping out of relatives, etc etc. All good clean fun. Keep reading, and I hope you get some good books as presents. You have been dropping the right hints, haven't you?

Poem: Just Like Home by Henry Lawson

I got a letter the other day from a scribbling, sketching pal of mine,
In a foreign country, far away -- somewhere out in the firing line.
It seems the censor won't let them say where they are bearing the battle's brunt,
So he dates, in the good Australian way, from "Some Old Place at the Blanky Front".

He says it stinks, and he says it's Hell, and there seems no hope of earthly release:
But somehow the scream of a passing shell carries him back to the Days of Peace.
Where the soldiers howl in the camp at night, and the groaning and cursing wounded come,
He says "it's no use trying to write -- it's just like trying to work at home!"

I wanted to go to the Front myself to write a book on the war of wars,
To stand on many a learned shelf, and be translated in Helsingfors;
But I've funked it now, though you need not tell (you never know how the news might roam),
For I'm perfectly sure that it must be Hell if "it's just like trying to work at home".

God help the woman! She does not know the glorious heights that our minds can scale --
The Inspirations that come and go while her life is dead and her home is gaol.
The Poet and Artist booze and swear, and wander at will 'neath the sunlit dome;
She must struggle and pinch and be worried there -- and no man ever should "work at home".

First published in The Bulletin, 2 September 1915

2006 Best of the Year Lists #4

The "Anchorage Press" lists Theft by Peter Carey as one of its best fiction selections of the year.

Rachel, on the "Boston Book Club Blog", choses a couple of older Australian books on her list of best of 2006: My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey, and The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard.

In "The Observer", Hephzibah Anderson choses Peter Carey's Theft in their best fiction of the year: the novel "careened from Sydney to Toyko to New York, hot on the heels of a has-been painter, his idiot-savant brother and a femme fatale art forger who's handy with a crowbar." Anderson also picks a list for "", along with Craig Seligman, and has Theft in that one as well.

Carey's Theft is also chosen by Jane Rosenthal in South Africa's "Mail & Guardian": "Set in the country of the Illywhacker, the state of Victoria, but now in the 21st century, it has the breadth of view that comes from Carey's long residence in New York."

And finally, "The Age" released its best of the year lists by asking various writers to make their choices: Helen Garner picked Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung; Kate Grenville chose all Australian with Carpentaria by Alexis Wright, Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner, and The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery; Alex Miller went for the alluring title of The Gods of Freud by Janine Burke; Barry Maitland chose Pilgrimage: A Traveller's Guide to Australia's Battlefields by Garrie Hutchinson, as he has recently tramped around the World War I sites in France; Delia Falconer selected Careless by Deborah Robertson; Colm Toibin went for Bad Faith by Carmen Callil; and Peter Temple was very impressed with Cate Kennedy's short story collection Dark Roots.

And that, I think, is the end of it.

Great Australian Authors #37 - Rolf Boldrewood

Rolf Boldrewood (1826 - 1915)

My name's Dick Marston, Sydney-side native. I'm twenty-nine years old, six feet in my stocking soles, and thirteen stone weight. Pretty strong and active with it, so they say. I don't want to blow -- not here, any road -- but it takes a good man to put me on my back, or stand up to me with the gloves, or the naked mauleys. I can ride anything -- anything that ever was lapped in horsehide -- swim like a musk-duck, and track like a Myall blackfellow. Most things that a man can do I'm up to, and that's all about it. As I lift myself now I can feel the muscle swell on my arm like a cricket ball, in spite of the -- well, in spite of everything.

The morning sun comes shining through the window bars; and ever since he was up have I been cursing the daylight, cursing myself, and them that brought me into the world. Did I curse mother, and the hour I was born into this miserable life?

Why should I curse the day? Why do I lie here, groaning; yes, crying like a child, and beating my head against the stone floor? I am not mad, though I am shut up in a cell. No. Better for me if I was. But it's all up now; there's no get away this time; and I, Dick Marston, as strong as a bullock, as active as a rock-wallaby, chock-full of life and spirits and health, have been tried for bushranging -- robbery under arms they call it -- and though the blood runs through my veins like the water in the mountain creeks, and every bit of bone and sinew is as sound as the day I was born, I must die on the gallows this day month.

From Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood, 1882

The Art of Reviewing 3

Lucy Sussex, a reviewer for the "Age" newspaper and various other Australian literary magazines, sent through a comment on my previous post about George Turner and the "Art of Reviewing". I thought it would be lost in the Comments section so I asked Lucy if I could elevate to the main weblog. She agreed and her piece follows:

I beg to differ slightly on the late George Turner and his reviewing. I did not know him well -- who did? -- but it was my distinct impression that he got caught in the writer-reviewer bind, or Mrs Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By. A writer who is also a critic puts themselves in peril, in that however much your vitriol is directed at the work, the writer reviewed will inevitably take it personally. George's early critical work took no prisoners, and some writers never forgave him. They reviewed him in return with equal asperity -- one, he told me, turned their back on him at their only meeting, a decade after the original review. So he learnt what it felt like...and in the process had his own literary work impugned.

That said, I agree that it is the reviewer's duty to describe the work in such a way that the target market is identified, and that the reader can decide whether to buy the work or not. Separating personal likes and dislikes from this process is well-nigh impossible -- but it can provide a way of deflecting the actual criticism. The work is perhaps not to my tastes, but you might like misery memoirs, serial killers, women getting nailed to floorboards. It's absolutely true, somebody out there buys this crap. And sometimes you have to quote, to give the flavour of the author, or damn them with their own words.

At a recent publisher's party I got into a multi-person discussion about reviewerly ethics. "What ethics?" said a review editor (& writer). An exquisitely frank exchange ensued, where the words "corruption", "promoting his f-buddies" and "culture of pals" were also heard. The question arose of saying in a review what you wouldn't say to the writer's face. Well, ideally politeness or cowardice have no place in reviewing. On the other hand, it is nice to go to parties in a frock rather than a flak jacket.

I thought of a reviewer praised because: "She lives in the country, she doesn't associate with writers, she can say what she likes."

Here are some good rules for reviewing in a small fishpond and surviving.

Jenny Pausacker: Never review your dinner host, or someone whom you've similarly hosted, the relationship is too close.

Lucy adds: Not unless they are really foul cooks, and you never want to eat there ever again. Also make sure they have no access to Polonium.

Anonymous Australian Literary Novelist: Never review anyone writing in your same field and nation (Australian literary novelists).

Lucy's rules: never review friends (but if you must, state your conflict of interest somewhere in the review), or enemies. Also sensitive little plants (not worth the bother) and people you have an editorial relationship with...

Which means, when I opened a recent publication and discovered I'd been reviewed less than glowingly by someone breaking Pausacker's, Anonymous's, and several of Lucy's rules, I vomited.

No exaggeration, I had gastric lurgi on the day. Then I got down to meeting a deadline, writing my review copy for next week. You don't mess with newspapers, so I sat up in bed and typed, with laptop propped against the cat, and the bucket nearby, just in case.

Did the review copy include the rule-breaker's latest work? Oh, poetic justice if it had. No, I stick to the rules. It just means there's one less writer I need to read.

And given how sensitive writers are, that's equally as hurtful as repeating gossip about their sexual attributes, or comparing literary style to a cow with side-pockets.

Australian Literary Podcasts

It's been a while since I wrote about Literary Podcasts so I thought it best if I rounded up those I listen to in one place. Podcast download instructions are given on each page but you'll probably need something like Apple's iTunes software. If you set this up properly it will download all your outstanding podcast episodes when they become available - you don't have to download each one in turn. Just start up the software hit "Refresh" in the Podcast section and away you go.

You can download iTunes for free from the Apple site here. Versions are available for both PC and Apple operating systems.

I must state that I am not an advocate for iTunes but it works for me, and you can use it without the need to own an mp3 player such as an iPod. You can download the episodes to your computer's hard drive and listen to them from there. You just lose the advantage of portability.

The Book Show - the biggest and most impressive of the three. Romana Kaval presents The Book Show each weekday on ABC Radio National and, as you might expect from a daily program of this sort, she covers just about everything. Recent programs have covered the "Best of..." poetry collections of 2006, an interview with Kiran Desai about her Man Booker Prize winning novel, a discussion of the year in Australian books, and an interview with Dava Sobel concerning writing about science. Each program runs 30-45 minutes.

Faster Than Light - Grant Stone is one of Australia's great sf fans, being involved in the discussion and promotion of the genre for over 25 years. His Faster Than light radio program is a half-hour weekly effort out of Perth, featuring news, reviews and interviews. His enthusiasm is infectious and his knowledge awesome. He's quite happy to run long interviews with authors, editors, and graphic artists which span two or three episodes, but which don't dominate any one. There's always something here of interest.

Writers Radio - the newest of the three for me as I only discovered it last week. I now have about 40 episodes of 30 minutes each to work through. Presented from Adelaide by Cath Keneally, Writers Radio is a weekly 30-minute program dealing with Australian literature in all its forms. I'm not sure how long it has been running but you can download all episodes from 2006 at present. Covers a lot of newer and unpublished writers, as well as interviewing such people as Dorothy Porter and Bryce Courtenay.

Others: ABC Radio National has a number of other prgrams that occasionally feature literature in one form or another. You might be interested in - Background Briefing, In Conversation, Late Night Live, Lingua Franca, Ockham's Razor, and The Science Show. And there bound to be others I've missed.

Conclusion: if you're anything like me and find it hard to listen to the radio at 10 in the morning, or anytime on weekends, this is the method you should use. Just be aware that some of the podcast episodes are rather large - regular episodes of The Book Show will run to 18MgB - and that they can tend to accumulate very quickly if you don't keep up. I've taken to listening to downloaded podcasts in the train and the car, and while I'm watering the garden. With approximately 80 hours of radio broadcasts waiting it looks like I have a lot of watering to do this summer - within designated restrictions, of course.

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #47

Last week it was Christmas functions and this week it was a disk overflow at the ISP. Stay tuned for more unusual excuses next week. Tired and emotional seems a pretty good bet at this time.

The Age

Lorien Kaye finds a number of gems in the latest annual collection from Black Inc, The Best Australian Stories 2006, which is edited this year by Robert Drewe. "There is a balance between stories set in the city, the bush and overseas; between realist and more speculative approaches; between flights of imagination and what seem to be barely disguised fragments of memoir."

In reviewing Robert Admanson's new poetry collection, The Goldfinches of Baghdad, David McCooey finds that the poet has made use of some major universal themes in his work: "At least since Rainer Maria Rilke, Orpheus has been a source of fascination for modern poets, and Robert Adamson is one of a number of Australian poets (such as A. D. Hope, Kevin Hart, and Michael Brennan) who have found the myth attractive...The powerful merging of the mythic and the contemporary illustrates the book's larger project of merging apparently disjunct categories. In particular, Adamson has a genius for showing the deep interconnections between the real and the imaginary." These blokes even review poetry in a different way.

Short notices are given to: Tomorrow is Today: Australia in the Psychedelic Era, 1966-70 edited by Iain McIntyre: "It looks at the times from a political and sociological perspective (from Sharpies to the House of Merivale) but it's mostly a musical study written somewhat in the spirit of Go Set but recollected in tranquility"; Rose By Any Other Name by Maureen McCarthy: "The best young adult authors - and Maureen McCarthy is one of them - get into their teenage characters' heads. It's not about merely regurgitating the current teenage idiom but rather capturing the complexity of this time of life and the intensity of feeling that accompanies it."

The Australian

Margo Lanagan has Red Spikes, a new collection of stories out and about, and the paper's resident sf and fantasy reviewer Terry Dowling is pretty impressed with the final result: "Almost without exception, these 10 new stories are marked by an engaging, idiosyncratic, often earthy blend of the mundane and the bizarre, full of the consequences of being in the world...the reader comes away from Red Spikes knowing that Lanagan, like every really good writer, is set on shaking the storytelling tree." If this one gets even close to her two previous collections, White Time and Black Juice, it will be very good indeed.

Luca Antara by Martin Edmond sounds like a rather strange and intriguing book. Jennifer Moran certainly thinks so: "Martin Edmond quotes Mark Twain's well-worn 'beautiful lies' remark about Australian history to suggest the way we should read his book, a long conversation about quests and origins, about the intersections of personal and social history, about literature and the nature of truth...Edmond's book evolves as an entertaining, erudite tale, with snippets of history and literary discussion as well as Edmond's somewhat salacious youthful affairs woven into the narrative of his developing love for the history of seafarers in the Pacific and the south."

The Sydney Morning Herald

The general view that Bryce Courtenay's new novel Sylvia isn't up to scratch is continued with Sophie Masson's review of the novel: "The story is told in the first person, yet Sylvia, as a living, breathing person, does not inhabit the novel's plodding, wordy pages. She is just a ventriloquist's doll for a well-meaning, earnest 21st-century author with a message...There's no sense of a real person in the devout, pragmatic, gifted girl, seen as a saint by some and a witch by others. Not only does the way she (and other characters) speak and think seem stilted and unlikely, there is no sense of that religious centre."

Australian Bookcovers #43 - The Mule's Foal by Fotini Epanomitis


The Mule's Foal by Fotini Epanomitis, 1993
Design: Susie Agoston-O'Connor, Paintings: Brian Nagle
(Allen & Unwin 1993 edition)
This novel won the Australian/Vogel Award in 1992.

On Other Blogs #14

Kirsty Brooks writes about how she became an author ten years ago, and how she keeps at it: "...writing fiction is really a whole hell of a lot more than just making stuff up. I'm also writing to entertain myself and I have to keep that objective in mind the whole time. It sounds entirely selfish, and I guess it is, but it's also the central objective to my writing and if I don't entertain myself, then I've failed to do my job. If I'm bored, or confused, or unconvinced by the story, then the story just won't work for the reader, either. If I don't like the story, I can't expect other readers to either. That's the thing, you tend to just be better at what you enjoy, and enjoy what you're good at."

Justine Larbalestier discovers a new writing technique, one that gets her back into the swing of things faster than previously. She also thinks it has given her a small insight into how Samuel R. Delany works. I was with her until that point.

Sean Williams wraps up his year. From the sounds of things, he needs a rest.

Kelly Gardiner has been reading Kate Grenville's novel, The Secret River, and the essay by Inga Clendinnen, and was rather under-whelmed by the novel: "I certainly didn't learn or understand anything new about the time or the violence or the people that I hadn't read years ago, in history by Manning Clark or Robert Hughes, let alone the historians of the last two decades; in novels of a generation before Grenville - say, Herbert or Stow; or even in the poetry and essays of Judith Wright."

Remember all the flak that kimbofo, an ex-pat Australian living in London, received a few weeks back for presuming to suggest that litbloggers need to be careful about what they receive from publishers, what they disclose and how they review free books? Now you can read what another part of the blogging world thinks of something similar: Gadget Lounge is critical of a group of tech bloggers who took the Microsoft shilling to talk to Bill Gates about MS's Zune. Other than a difference in scale, is it only me that sees a lot of similarities here?

Poem: The Poet's Wife by Billy T. (Edward Dyson)

The poet's wife is very good;
   She loves his verse, and tells him so;
She says that when he's understood
   He to the very top will go
And earn a mint of money, too,
   Then, while he seeks with ardor fine
The splendid word, she bustles through:
"I'm looking everywhere for you!
   Do come and fasten up the line!"

She wants her jack to make his mark,
   And let "those other wretches see"
He has a semblance of the spark
   Of inspiration. In comes she,
"Oh, put that horrid pen away,
   And come out shopping with me, Jack!
I've got to hurry, cannot stay.
A ton of things I need today,
   Much more than I can carry back."

He is a literary star
   She says. His lightest rhymes enfold
A boon to all mankind that far
   Exceeds the worth of pearls and gold.
And when at last he's in the swing,
   And feels that with a chance he could
Wake all the world, she'll sharply sing:
"Oh, I say, Jack, you dear old thing,
   Do come and split a bit of wood!"

First published in The Bulletin, 21 March 1918

Now It's All Literature in Crisis

A couple of weeks back, "The Australian" newspaper reported on the sad state of affairs regarding the study of Australian Literature in Australian Universities. The general thrust of the piece was that, before long, Australian Literature, as a separate course of study, would disappear from our tertiary institutions.

Now, Peter Holbrook, a member of the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts and teacher of English literature at the University of Queensland, writes that the same might well be in store for English Literature as a whole.

[Thanks to the Literary Saloon for the link.]

They Aren't Reading

"The students we have now do not read as much as students did 20 years ago, let alone 40 years ago. That is simply because they've grown up in a culture where there are so many other things competing for their time."

From "The Australian" newspaper

"Some weeks ago, Michael Skube, a journalism professor at Elon University in North Carolina, had an op-ed in the Washington Post ruing that college students don't read. He asked a class of 17 sophomores to name some of their favorite writers. He got one name: Dan Brown."

From href="">"Science Musings Blog"

Reviews of Australian Books #38A (Numbering error)

In "The Guardian", Matthew Lewin briefly looks at the re-released novel In The Evil Day by Peter Temple: "The characters are real, the action convincing and the writing style satisfyingly literate."

Ken Parish reviews Best Australian Essays 2006 edited by Drusilla Modjeska, on the "Club Troppo" weblog. "If I want a piece of didactic, ideologically loaded writing, I can always read the op-ed pages of any newspaper, or for that matter most blog posts. An essay needs to be more reflective, teasing out nuances of a topic in a way that surprises and delights (or frightens or saddens)...Quite a few of the essays in BAE 2006 are of that sort, but quite a few disappoint. BAE 2006 is a literary curate's egg: good in parts."

In "The Daily Yomiuri" from Japan, Stephen Taylor reviews Clive James's latest memoir, North Face of Soho: "The Antipodean's anecdotes are humorous without being too lightweight or frothy and, though an index would have been useful, North Face of Soho is a fascinating journey through the British media and literary world from the late '60s to the early 1980s."

Patrick White's Papers

You may remember, about a month ago, there was a brief flurry of news regarding the discovery of a large cache of personal papers belonging to Patrick White. If you're wondering what happened to them all, then I suggest you read Austlit's account. The article also contains links to White's papers held in the National Library of Australia (a folder of letters from Salman Rushdie!) and news that the NLA will be holding a Patrick White event sometime in 2007. A display of some of the newly-found papers perhaps?

Great Australian Authors #36 - Martin Boyd


Martin Boyd (1893 - 1972)

On a November evening in the middle of the nineteenth century, Mr William Vane, an undergraduate of Clare College, Cambridge, gave a wine party in his rooms. His guests as well as himself had that day ridden to hounds. There had been two kills and they were in high spirits.

A Mr Brayford, of Trinity, while singing a roundelay, let his cigar butt fall on to a spot on the carpet where Mr Vane yesterday had dropped and broken a bottle of scented hair pomade. No one noticed the burning cigar, but Mr Brayford was still sober enough to notice the smell of smouldering wool and smoking perfume.

"Gad!" he exclaimed. "What a stench!" A few minutes later he said" "Gad! I'm going to puke."

Vane had also noticed the smell. Brayford's last remark stimulated a dormant echolalia in his confused and heated brain.

"Gad! It's the Puseyite!" he cried. "The filthy man must be burning incense. Let us wash the filthy man!"

Shouting "No Popery!" -- which expressed in two words the extreme limit of their religious aspiration -- the party trooped down the stairs and burst open the door of the rooms below, which were kept by Aubrey Chapman, a scholarly, slightly asthmatic, mildly High Church undergraduate, who intended to take Holy Orders.

From Lucinda Brayford by Martin Boyd, 1952

Australian Literature on Wikipedia

Back at the end of October I wrote a piece about the state of Australian literature on the WWW, and, in particular, discussed the lamentable state of entries on Wikipedia - the free web-based encyclopedia. The main example I gave concerned the Miles Franklin Award. At the time of writing some eight authors, who had won the award, did not have individual entries on the website. I am happy to say that has now been rectified; by me and others who have chipped in. The entries I've added aren't expansive: only a brief biography, lists of works and award won. But it's a start. Now all we need is for the Australian literature experts out there to expand on the basic pages.

Australian Writers on Ian McEwan

You've probably heard by now that British novelist Ian McEwan has been accused of plagiarising an historical memoir in his novel Atonement. McEwan wrote a well-reasoned and restrained response to the accusation in "The Guardian". And now a number of authors have come to his defence, including Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, John Updike, Zadie Smith, Martin Amis, Thomas Pynchon, and our own Tom Keneally and Peter Carey.

Keneally states that "Fiction depends on a certain value-added quality created on top of the raw material, and that McEwan has added value beyond the original will, I believe, be richly demonstrated."

And Carey acknowledges his past work and the "sampling" he has indulged in.

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #46

A tad later than normal due to a surfeit of Christmas functions.

The Age

The paper is running a bit behind in linking to its reviews on the website.

Juliette Hughes looks at two recent novels by two of Australia's best-selling writers: Sylvia by Bryce Courtenay, and The Valley by Di Morrissey. Both feature historical settings, but about there the comparisons end. "Morrissey's novel is a warm, well-rounded story about searching for one's forebears...The Valley is a long, juicy page-turner, a generational saga that flows resistlessly - Morrissey's fluency makes reading easy - and she links sound historical reseach with a compassionate, timeless view of people.

"Sylvia is a different matter altogether, and presents problems...Courtenay can write well and has deserved his popularity: he has given the world one excellent novel, some very good potboilers and some reasonable reads...But now Courtenay has produced Sylvia, a book that is so mystifying bad that the main thought you come away with after struggling through it is 'Why'?"

Delia Falconer "approached this year's Best Australian Essays with a heavy heart." But the 2006 edition, edited by Drusilla Modjeska, wins her over in the end. The collection "begins slowly; its mix of serious and light is choppy - but it creeps up on you. The best pieces make this one of the better collectons in the series." I said it last year, as I recall: this is the best type of summer reading, a number of different authors writing at different lengths on different topics. Hard to see how anybody can get bored with it.

Short notices are given to: Crocodile: Evolution's Greatest Survivor by Lynne Kelly, who is "never short of dramatic material in this lively account of the crocodile's evolution and natural history"; Ghosts in the Helmet Trees by Rory Steele, "Steele is an energetic and sensuous writer and he weaves the two strands of his narrative together with considerable skill"; Paper Nautilus by Nicholas Jose: "There are occasional missed notes...but Jose's thoughtfulness and economy of language provide significant compensation for these shortcomings"; Not Quite Ripe by Debra Byrne: "the simplicuity and sincerity with which Byrne writes takes you beyond prurience, so you find yourself desperately barracking for her"; Pleasure: An Almanac for the Heart by Nikki Gemmell, shose "mundane advice on everyday matters in a chatty tone sits awkwardly with her unfulfilled aspiration, expressed through more lyrical notes, to existential, romantic and sexual transcendence"; The Secret Familiar by Catherine Jinks who shows a "mastery of research" and a "mastery of characterisation"; Continent of Curiosities by Danielle Clode, who "structures her book around 11 specimens - from kangaroos to crustaceans - and links them to a variety of issues such as European discovery of Australia, evolution, creationism, climate change, exploration and discovery."

The Australian

My paper copy of "The Australian's" book pages was chucked out to the recycling before I had much of a chance to get to it this week. Put it down to over-zealous house-cleaning in the silly season.

The major Australian review is of two collections of Australian poetry: The Best Australian Poetry 2006 edited by Judith Beveridge from the University of Queensland Press, and The Best Australian Poems edited by Dorthy Porter, from Black Inc. The reviewer makes some broad statements earlier on in the piece about these two books: "To my mind [the poems here] measure up in about the same proportion of the poems that come in this newspaper's mailbag: about one in five is worth publishing (space permitting), about one in 20 is really good. It's all a complex matter of judgment, taste and contingency." As you might expect there is quite a bit of duplication of contents in the two volumes though the UQP has 99 pages of peoms and the Black Inc 202 pages. Hill is impressed by both volumes and recommends that you "Get both. Give them away and buy two more as a thankyou to these publishers, now in their fourth year of honouring the wealth of Australian poetry."

The Sydney-Morning Herald

I would suggest that if you were underwhelmed by Australia's progression in the 2006 Football World Cup, then you're not going to find Australia United by Tony Wilson of much interest. As Michael Vistonay puts it "what made Germany 2006 so memorable was the fact, not just the feeling, that the whole world was there. The vast numbers of travelling fans generated a sense of universal kinship, aided by fabulous organisation, boosted by the success of the host country and annointed by perfect weather."

Margaret Simmons thinks that The War on Democracy: Conservative Opinion in the Australian Press edited by Niall Lucy and Steve Mickler is marred by "self-conscious prose".

Matthew Lamb is intrigued by Luca Anata by Martin Edmond wondering what kind of book it actually is. "It is being promoted as part memoir, history and travel book but not as fiction. A remarkable omission, as the spectre of fiction pervades these pages."

Robyn Davidson Profile

Robyn Davidson, author of the travel memoir Tracks, is profiled in "The Age" by Jane Sullivan.

Davidson doesn't like categorising herself at all: she hates being called a travel writer and is not even keen to call herself any kind of writer. 'I'm not one of those true writers who can't bear not to be writing. Yet it's one of the most important things in my life.'

She is full of writing and travelling plans for the future: to get back to her memoir; to work on a larger book about nomads; to revisit Tibet and stay in a monastery; to follow up a story from the tiny kingdom of Mustang at the tip of Nepal.

Davidson is also the author of the new "Quarterly Essay" No Fixed Address. You can read an extract from the essay on the website - it's a PDF file.

Richard Flanagan Profile

Richard Flanagan is profiled by Christopher Bantick in "The Courier-Mail". Seems he has been in a bit of hot water in his home state of Tasmania, criticising the late premier Jim Bacon and his close ties to a particular logging company. "It is not a case of tall poppyism or anti-intellectualism in Tasmania which Flanagan has to negotiate. This former Rhodes scholar can stand at a bar and drink with storemen and packers while quoting from Faulkner. His books are bestsellers in his home state, but he is punished for his profile." Flanagan's new novel, The Unknown Terrorist, was recently published by Macmillan.

David Malouf on the State of Australian Publishing

David Malouf is appalled at the number of Australian prize-winning and influential novels that are no longer in print, calling it a "national disgrace".

Unless Print-on-Demand technologies start to roll out in the near future, or publishers bite the bullet and put these neglected works back into print, it's hard to see how institutions can teach Australian literature if the set works are not available.

The Age Melbourne Writers' Festival

It seems a little early to be mentioning the 2007 Age Melbourne Writers' Festival but you
need to be aware that they have a new web-based newsletter in place, which repalces their previous email version. The latest edition, for November 2006, states that the dates of the 2007 festival have now been set. They are: 24th August to 2nd September.

Australian Bookcovers #42 - Spice Notes by Ian Hemphill


Spice Notes by Ian Hemphill, 2000
Cover design: Gayna Murphy, Greendot design. Cover image: Ismaelite Spice Merchants Buying Joseph (from a fifteenth century Persian manuscript)
(Macmillan 2000 edition)

2006 Best of the Year Lists #3

"Publishers Weekly" lists Theft by Peter Carey ("A fallen-from-grace Aussie artist and his mentally handicapped brother are drawn into a counterfeit art conspiracy in Carey's heartbreaking novel.") in its Best Fiction of the year, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak ("In this WWII novel narrated by Death, a nine-year-old girl develops a love of books and words, even as life in her small German town starts to unravel.") in its Children's Fiction best for 2006.

The Young Adult Library Services Association has listed its Best Books for Young Adults 2006 and Sonya Hartnett is included for Stripes of the Sidestep Wolf, a novel that was first published here in Australia in 1999. Of more recent vintage, they list also Black Juice by Margo Lanagan, Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier, and I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak.

The lists of best books from Australian newspapers are starting to appear now as well. In "The Australian", Kate Grenville choses Alex Wright's Carpentaria, Helen Garner's Joe Cinque's Consolation and Bain Attwood's Telling the Truth about Aboriginal History; Delia Falconer picks Patrick White's Riders in the Chariot, and The Best Australian Stories 2006, edited by Robert Drewe; Nicholas Rothwell plunks for Tony Roberts's Frontier Justice; Michelle de Kretser choses Josiane Behmoiras's first book, DoraB, a memoir of her mother; Carmen Callil lists Theft by Peter Carey and Everyman's Rules of Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany; Sebastian Barry met the author and was then impressed with Alex Miller's Journey to the Stone Country; Debra Adelaide goes for Ursula Dubosarsky's The Red Shoe, and James Bradley's The Resurrectionist; Frank Moorhouse enjoyed M.J. Hyland's novels How the Light Gets In and Carry Me Down; Peter Temple was amused by Kel Robertson's Dead Set; and Nick Earls picked Tara June Winch's Swallow the Air. Among the critics Peter Craven reveals his catholic taste and went for Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes, Inga Clendinnen's Agamemnon's Kiss, Les Murray's verse in The Biplane Houses, David Malouf's Every Move You Make, and Anson Cameron's Lies I Told About a Girl; Rosemary Sorensen was grateful for Packer's Lunch by Neil Chenoweth, George Megalogenis's The Longest Decade, Kate Grenville's The Secret River, and Andrew McGahan's Underground; and, finally, Jodie Minus chose Ursula Dubosarsky's The Red Shoe and Shaun Tan's The Arrival.

Poem: The New Light in Literature by Eddyson (Edward Dyson)

"The London publishers, in response to an extraordinary demand, are busy producing new cookery books. All the newspapers are making a feature of recipes for meatless dishes, and the more enterprising dailies are vying with each other in this new department of daily journalism. Cookery experts have joined the staffs of the big morning and evening papers, and are paid salaries commensurate with the importance of their mission."

The splendid bard has had his day.
For long he held a regal sway
   O'er studious humanity.
We read his verses by the fire,
Enthralling was his muse's ire,
Its sweetness failed not to inspire
   A suitable urbanity.

The leader-writer, man of worth,
Who still pretends to run the earth
   With eloquence sophisticated,
Is presently to be ignored,
Too long the reader has been bored
With his statistics, and abhorred
   Presumption egotistical.

The storytellers, and the nuts
Who write about potato gluts
   And vegetable particles
Will have no particular regard,
The paragrapher will be barred,
As will the other solemn card
   Who writes the special articles.

In short, the gentle reader now
His vulgar taste will disavow
   For ordinary bookery,
And give his leisure after toil
To burning up the midnight oil,
Perusing Grubb on "How to Broil"
   And "Variegated Cookery".

The elocuter will recite
Of tarts and hash, and Melba might
   Devote her great ability
To songs of how to boil and roast,
That scribe the world will honor most,
Who writes of puddings, stews and toast
   With knowledge and subtility.

First published in The Bulletin, 11 July 1918

The Art of Reviewing 2

Back in the mid-1990s I attended a meeting of Melbourne's Nova Mob that featured George Turner on the subject of reviewing. The Nova Mob is a weekly sf discussion group that has been running for over 30 years, and generally features one person providing the lead talk, followed by a lively question and answer session. It's all done in a good spirit, and most leading figures in the sf and fantasy worlds within Australia have addressed it at one time or another.

I was especially keen on this particlar meeting, however, because Turner was such an interesting figure in the Australian sf scene. He was a well-established, if not best-selling, writer of literary fiction who was also a long-time sf fan: not a common occurrence, or not one admitted to at least. His writing career can be basically split in two: a first "literary" phase, during which he won a Miles Franklin Award for The Cupboard Under the Stairs in 1962, and his secondary science fictional phase during which he won a Commonwealth Writers' Regional Prize for The Sea and Summer in 1988. Let's admit it, he could write, regardless of the genre.*

The other thing he could do was look at his beloved science fiction with a critical eye, skewering classic novels such as Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, works that had seemed almost inviolate previously. He started his reviewing career writing for John Bangsund's "Australian Science Fiction Review" (ASFR) in the middle 1960s, and later for Bruce Gillespie's "Science Fiction Commentary" (SFC) and "The Age" newspaper. It didn't take him long to make enemies all over the place. Turner had a set of critical levels that he applied to sf novels, levels that the bulk of them failed to meet. He could be quite acerbic when annoyed and he scared the hell out of most sf fans in the country - me included. The British critic, Paul Kincaid, has recently written about Turner's critical style in "Science Fiction Studies". While I've only read the abstract available on the web, Kincaid seems to imply that Turner had an antagonistic relationship with sf, that he attempted "to see the genre as if it were based on exactly the same principles and ideas as mainstream literature". I agree with the latter but not the former of those two points.

Back in December 1968, John Bangsund published the 18th issue of his fanzine ASFR and, with it, George Turner's philosophy about the art of reviewing: "On Writing About Science Fiction". It's an essay that deserves close attention. Yes, it deals mainly with sf but its sentiments and guidelines can be applied across all genres.

Turner makes the following basic points:

  • reviewing must be honest and fair
  • the prime purpose of a review is to present a description of the work under notice, so that the reader may have some advance idea of whether it will interest him or not
  • a review should be based on what the book attempts and how it succeeds or fails
  • whether you personally like or dislike the work is not of prime importance
  • nevertheless, your personal reaction will appear, though it should not be used to set the tone of the article, which should be judicial and balanced
  • be careful with quotation
  • don't go nit picking
  • don't attempt criticism in the space of a review

As a basic set of reviewing guidelines they're pretty good. You can quibble with various bits, but I reckon if you were to apply them in the main you wouldn't go far wrong.**

Turner disliked the lower end of the sf genre: the poorly written, the unassuming and the incomprehensible. But he also admired those works that reached for something more; novels by authors like Ursula Le Guin, Tom Disch and Gene Wolfe. That he attempted to apply mainstream critical techniques to sf works was only to his credit, and to the benefit of the genre.

So it was with that in mind that I went along to the Nova Mob's meeting. Turner was in his late 70s by this time and had mellowed somewhat. Even so he could be rather daunting if you spoke to him on his own. You always had the feeling that no matter how much sf you had read he had always read more, and read it more intensely.

But George threw me at that Nova Mob meeting. His subject was reviewing and I thought he was going to re-iterate his 1968 manifesto, expounding on the need for fairness to the reader and to the text. And he did, but he also did something else. This time he added in the author as well. He admitted that, in the past, he had been rather harsh on some writers within the field of sf, going in a little too hard, without reasonable thought of the consequences. Now he had decided that he would not write any more negative reviews. If he couldn't find something to praise in a book then he wouldn't review it at all. He hadn't recanted from his 1960s stance, just added a little humanity to it I suppose you'd say.

I don't know how many reviews he wrote after that - not overly many I'd say - and I don't remember how many of them I read - doubtless a similarly small number. It doesn't matter really. Turner had come to the conclusion that all books were written with the best intentions in mind. Some of those intentions might not aim very high up the intellectual ladder, but the original ambition had to be respected just the same.

Personal epilogue:
George Turner was one of the best critics the genre has produced and yet I don't think he thought that highly of what he did. The last time I spoke to him was at an sf gathering, probably in early 1997. He'd been unwell for some time and although he had accepted an invitation from the organising committee of the 1999 World Science Fiction Convention to be a Guest of Honor at Aussiecon III, he didn't feel that he would be able to make it. He sought me out at the gathering and suggested, politely, that we might want to think about taking his name off the list, or getting someone else. For the first and only time that I can recall, I disagreed with him. "No George, you're the Guest of Honor," I said. "We aren't choosing anyone else." I'm not sure, but I hope he was pleased by that. He died later that year, and he was still a Guest of Honor at Aussiecon III.

* I've simplified Turner's career somewhat. Bruce Gillespie, who is Turner's literary executor and who knows more about this than I ever will, considers the writer had four distinct "careers".

** You can read the full version of this essay in "SF Commentary 76" (PDF file of about 2MgB!) which Bruce has loaded up to the web.

The Measure of Success

"What is the measure of success? It rather depends upon which side of the artistic scales you choose to put your weight, although, in truth, the measures all tend to blend together at some point, complementing one another. From the writer's perspective, was the book one of which to be proud? Did it achieve what the writer set out to do artistically? (A third question, albeit one that can't be answered immediately after publication, is one of influence. There are a great many influential books that may not have sold in huge quantities, but affected the way that others viewed literature, or even the way that subsequent writers approached their work. In musical terms, it was said that only a handful of people bought copies of the Velvet Underground's first album, but all of them went out and formed bands afterward . . . )"

From the "and
another thing..."
weblog, by John Connolly

Great Australian Authors #35 - Louis Stone


Louis Stone (1871 - 1935)

One side of the street glittered like a brilliant eruption with the light from a row of shops; the other, lined with houses, was almost deserted, for the people, drawn like moths by the glare, crowded and jostled under the lights.

It was Saturday night, and Waterloo, by immemorial habit, had flung itself on the shops, bent on plunder. For an hour past a stream of people had flowed from the back streets into Botany Road, where the shops stood in shining rows, awaiting the conflict.

The butcher's caught the eye with a flare of colour as the light played on the pink and white flesh of sheep, gutted and skewered like victims for sacrifice; the saffron and red quarters of beef, hanging like the limbs of a dismembered Colossus; and the carcasses of pigs, the unclean beasts of the Jews, pallid as a corpse. The butchers passed in and out, sweating and greasy, hoarsely crying the prices as they cut and hacked the meat. The people crowded about, sniffing the odour of dead flesh, hungry and brutal-carnivora seeking their prey.

From Jonah by Louis Stone, 1911

The Art of Reviewing

I have yet to read Richard Ford's latest novel, The Lay of the Land, but I have every intention of doing so after reading Emma-Kate Symons's review of it in the latest issue of "The Australian Literary Review", published today. Oddly enough my reading intention is not based on a favourable review by Symons; on the contrary, she gives the novel a mild bucketing. It's been a while since I've been so annoyed by a review that purports to give an unbiased view of a book. It's such a strange one that I am left wondering if there was a level of snarkiness involved, or whether the "Review's" editor just picked completely the wrong reviewer.

The whole piece is given away by just one paragraph: "So what is it about fifty-something or 60-plus middle-class men and their prostates that seems to obsess some of the best contemporary American novelists in their mature phase?"

Leads you to think there's a bit of new genre appearing here doesn't it. I suppose it is quite possible to read "some" in that sentence as referring to "two", but you'd be stretching the bounds of credibility to do so. No, it implies "a certain quantity or number of" as my dictionary puts it. "A few", "several" - more than one, and more than two. And yet Symons only refers to one other novelist, Philip Roth and his Nathan character Zuckerman, as supporting evidence.

And then there's the underlying indication that middle-aged men and their prostates is not a subject about which to be obsessed. Turn the question on its head and replace gender and cancer. If I was to write such a line about a book by, say, Penelope Lively or Margaret Atwood, I'd be vilified for it - and rightly so. From the rest of the review, and from reading other reviews of this novel, I have come to the conclusion that Ford's character is rightly concerned about his prostate cancer - even Symons refers to him being "understandably morose" about the subject - and that it defines his thoughts and actions to a large extent through the course of this book. So to ask a question such as the one quoted, and then not to answer it seems to imply that the reviewer has missed the whole point of the novel. And surely, with a writer of Ford's stature, we have to assume that there is one.

It's going on my Christmas list.

Articulate interviews Shane Jiraiya Cummings

The Articulate weblog interviews Shane Jiraiya Cummings on the occasion of the release of two new horror anthologies: Australian Dark Fantasy and Horror 2006 and Book of Shadows from Brimstone Press.

"The 'anthologies don't sell' tag has become almost mythologised of late. The reason anthologies (and horror for that matter) are perceived to not sell is because publishers aren't pushing them. It's a catch-22. Are bookstores not carrying short fiction anthologies because they don't sell, or are short fiction anthologies not selling because bookstores are not carrying a variety of titles?

"We believe, with passion and marketing behind our anthologies, we may be able to address this misconception. It's about believing in what you are publishing, and we're 100 per cent committed."

Are we about to see a resurgence in the small press market in Australia? I hope so.

Update on Film Version of Dirt Music by Tim Winton

"The West Australian" newspaper is reporting that Heath Ledger has dropped out of Phillip Noyce's film version, of Tim Winton's novel Dirt Music. It seems he's to play the joker in the new Batman film and, given the nature of that project, is unsure whether he will be available to film in Western Australia in the middle of 2007. Rachel Weisz is still slated for the main female role.

2006 Best of the Year Lists #2

"The Age" literary editor, Jason Steger, has picked up on one book I missed from "The New York Times" 100 Notable Books of the Year list I mentioned a couple of weeks back. In addition to the Robert Hughes memoir, we need to mention Last Evenings on Earth, a collection of stories written by the late Chilean author, Roberto Bolano, and translated by Melbourne poet and academic, Chris Andrews.

The "Christian Science Monitor" picks Peter Carey's Theft as one of its best fiction of the year, and also Robert Hughes's Things I Didn't Know in the memoir category. They add links to their reviews of the books.

Kate Grenville's novel The Secret River is included in "The Independent's" Best World Fiction list compiled by Boyd Tonkin. Barry "Unsworth aside, no period piece showed a finer command of style and structure."

Still in "The Independent", Carmen Callil's Bad Faith is in their Best History Books list: "Callil is one of many historians who, in time-honoured style, seek to address big issues through a biographical focus"; David Thomson's Nicole Kidman appears on the Best Showbiz Books list: "What made it so unusual was that it made no attempt to hide Thomson's infatuation"; San Sombrèro by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Rob Sitch makes the Best Stocking Filler list; and Les Murray's The Biplane Houses is on their Best Poetry selection, a book which "combines his usual linguistic energy and quasi-metaphysical wit".

Nicolette Jones chooses Randa Abdel-Fattah's novel Does My Head Look Big in This? in her best books for younger readers (12+) in "The Sunday Times": "It has humour, intelligence and sharp observation and deserves a wide readership".

"The Washington Post" includes, on their Best Fiction of 2006 list, Kate Grenville's The Secret River, Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey, and Malicious Intent by Kathryn Fox; but none make their top five of the year. On the Best Non-Fiction of 2006 list (previous link, further down the page), The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth by Tim Flannery is included. Again not one of their top five.

Reviews of Australian Books #38

Shannon reviews Murray Bail's novel Eucalyptus on the weblog "I'll Have My Cake and Eat Yours Too". "The book is full of beautiful imagery, using words to tell multiple layers of a story, like bark on a tree."

Somewhat behind other UK newspapers, "The Guardian" has Andrew Motion run an eye over Robert Hughes's memoir, Things I Didn't Know. As much as he is impressed with this work he is already looking forward to the follow-up. "Readers of Hughes's mature work know that the best is yet to come - his most vibrant essays, and the great foundation stones of his reputation: The Shock of the New, The Fatal Shore and American Visions. Inevitably, this has its frustrations. More importantly, though, it means we can trace the evolution of his guiding principles without being distracted by celebrity."

Dealing with the same book in "The New York Times" is the "interesting" critic Michiko Kakutani who finds it rather "uneven". "Introspection does not come naturally to Mr. Hughes, the reader suspects, or else he is ambivalent about the enterprise of making such personal investigations public. As a result the camera lens used in these pages seems awkwardly trained on the middle distance: individuals he knew back in the day come sharply into focus, while the young Mr. Hughes and the larger world of Australia after World War II remain fuzzily indistinct."

Australian Bookcovers - Hook's Mountain by James McQueen


Hook's Mountain by James McQueen, 1982
Jacket design by Guy Mirabella
(Macmillan 1982 edition)

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #45

The Age

Ian Britain, the editor of Meanjin, reviews the latest Clive James memoir, a book that has received a lot of attention overseas recently. Britain was bemused to see James on TV for the first time in the early 1980s, finding him to be "gauche-looking, sartorially challenged, moonfaced spectre, with his flat, unmodulated vocal tones; especially when compared with the tweedy lustre of Kenneth Clark on Civilisation or the dash and dazzle of Robert Hughes on The Shock of the New...It was hard not to conclude, and this latest volume of memoirs, recounting the very years of his evolution from TV critic to TV performer, bears out the conclusion, that there was something as studiously cultivated about his resistance to conventional glamour, his posture of ordinariness, as about his far-from-ordinary verbal facility. The counterpoint has made for a distinctive style in itself, as useful to his career as it is arresting." It's the "distinctive style" that made James such interesting viewing. If James was a colour he'd be brown.

As we enter the driest lead-up to a summer on record here in Victoria, Burn: The Epic Story of Bushfire in Australia by Paul Collins, is a timely reminder of what we might be in for. Christopher Bantick finds the books has some important points to make, not least: "The hard fact he presents is that fires have increased because of the expansion of people into the bush either through settlement or recreational interests. Where people are, fires occur."

The death of David Hookes a few years back raised some interesting questions in the country about the role of sport, alcohol and the media in the guiding of popular opinion. It was a strange time, and Michelle Schwarz has attempted to come to grips with it in One Split Second: The Death of David Hookes and the Trial of Zdravko Micevic. Ian Munro is impressed, but finds that "the results of this research are often out of context and there is no attempt to draw these disparate threads into a coherent whole."

Short notices are given to: The Victorian Premiers edited by Paul Strangio and Brian Costar: "This valuable reference is for anybody interested in political history posits the thesis that there are three basic phases in Victoria's political history: from foundation to the 1890s, federation to the 1950s and then the postwar years"; Emissary by Fiona McIntosh, who "writes competent, fast-paced genre fiction"; Bloodbath by Patricia Edgar who was a "lone woman in the nascent Australian television industry" and who "forged a career, with few precedents, in the areas of policy, regulation and children's production"; Heat 12: Ten Years edited by Ivor Indyk: the magazine's "high sense of purpose has been precious to a lot of us over the past 10 years".

The Australian

The only Australian book reviewed in this week's paper is one, I'm sorry to say, I don't have a lot of enthusiasm for: The Voice of the Thunderer: Journalism of H.G. Kippax selected and introduced by Harry Heseltine. Kippax was an editorial writer for "The Sydney Morning Herald" between 1938 and 1983. Peter Ryan thinks it is pretty good, however.

Poem: My Heroes by Anonymous

In grand and stately phalanx
   My glorious heroes stand;
They wear no glittering helmet,
   They wield no flashing brand;
No shield nor coat of armour
   Have they to make them brave;
Their chosen only weapon
   A barn-yard inmate gave.

When common men have perished,
   No earthly trace we find;
The souls of these my heroes
   Rose and remained behind.
To lowly dust and ashes
   Though mortal flesh hath gone,
No grave shall ever hide them --
   Their very lives live on.

Each chose a noble mistress,
   And low before her throne
Vowed service and devotion
   To her, and her alone.
These bowed them down to Letters,
   Those chose the Poet's part;
Each took his vows upon him
   With stout and eager heart.

Ah! he that chose religion
   Wore oft a martyr's crown,
And he who bowed to Science
   In blood hath laid him down.
But ours the shining fabric
   Their patient toil hath wrought;
We have it for our birthright
   The Heritage of thought.

What hath the sword accomplished,
   Or lance by warrior hurled?
The weapon of my heroes
   Hath changed the whole wide world.
By faith they learned to labour
   Through dust and toil and tears,
And now they live for ever
   Through all the tide of years.

And I -- I live among them:
   I have on yonder shelves
The spirits of my heroes,
   Their very souls and selves.
Sometimes a dainty fairy
   Within my study looks;
To her that stately phalanx
   Are only "Papa's books."

First published in The Australian Town and Country Journal, 17 July 1880

A New Tomorrow - The Silverchair Story by Jeff Apter

The "Courier-Mail" has published an extract from A New Tomorrow - The Silverchair Story by Jeff Apter. If you saw the Andrew Denton interview with Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns a couple of years back, then there's not a lot new here.

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.


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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.

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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.



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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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