February 2007 Archives

Reviews of Australian Books #47

The first novel in D.M. Cornish's fantasy series, Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling, is reviewed in "The Guardian" this week by Philip Ardagh. He is pretty impressed by the work, though he has some quibbles: "What slowed this reader down most of all, though, was Cornish's habit of quoting speech in the vernacular. The story is littered with dialogue of the 'it'll be trouble to 'im all 'is life if 'e don't get shrewder and tougher, just mark me' variety, and the first 40 pages are extremely heavy going. Thereafter, things get better as characters bed in and the action picks up pace...Stripped to its bare essentials, book one of Monster Blood Tattoo is a strangely plausible human story with some interesting characters and a wide-open ending hinting at more. But then, there has to be more to justify even a third of the background information. Foundling promises much."

Arabella Edge's novel, The God of Spring (aka The Raft), has been reviewed by Ron Charles in "The Washington Post": In her second novel, The God of Spring, British author Arabella Edge tells the engrossing story of how GĂ©ricault produced this painting ["Raft of the Medusa"], one of the most famous of the 19th century. Though she stays close to the survivor's testimonies and other contemporary histories, Edge wears her scholarship graciously; she has trimmed the record, streamlined the complex political context and taken a few liberties with the chronology to produce a gripping novel of artistic obsession."

Shameless, a New Zealander living in France, has a look at J.M. Coetzee's Slow Man, from a year or so back, and a pretty interesting point is made right up front: "I believe that someone like J.M. Coetzee has earned a kind of carte blanche when it comes to his writing, especially after winning the Nobel prize for literature. Being established, he can afford to take risks and play around with the whole notion of what we expect from a novel. Other lesser-known writers wouldn't have this luxury...Slow Man is a perfect example of a novel that starts out as a cosy blanket, but then quickly shakes the reader out of bed! Coetzee is playing. I believe he deliberately wanted to sound the alarm clocks at dawn, regardless of how we all react!"

Carole Wilkinson's young adult novel, Dragonkeeper: Garden of the Purple Dragon has been published in the UK and Amanda Craig reviews it in "The Times", and is quite taken with it: "Carole Wilkinson's Dragonkeeper series, about a Chinese girl's attempts to protect the last Imperial dragon, is one of the best adventures anyone over 9 could find...The author's feeling for the Chinese landscape and culture is particularly interesting, given that she is an Englishwoman living in Australia. As Lian Hearn captured the essence of medieval Japan, so Wilkinson conjures a convincing landscape, both cultivated and wild." She also thinks Hollywood should be queuing up for this type of novel.

Karen Chisholm thinks that the latest novel from Garry Disher, Chain of Evidence, is his best yet, which certainly bodes well. "There is a deftness in the drawing of the two separate plots, and the characters that gave this book a real focus and tension...Chain of Evidence flags a strong shift of focus from a series concentrating on Hal Challis, with a touch of Ellen Destry on the side, to a combined focus as both characters take centre stage, albeit in different investigations and in different states. This bodes very well for the ongoing development of this series." Which strikes me as one of the most diverse entries I've compiled in this series: young adult, literary, crime, and a novel by a Nobel Prize winner. There must be something there you'd like.

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #6

The Age

Just about every new government, either Federal or State, promises more open government, more access to information, and greater respect for the separation of powers. The fact that few of them achieve this should amaze none of us. But it is always worth keeping an eye on what governments are up to, which is what Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison have done in editing the collection of essays about the current Howard government, titled Silencing Dissent. Michelle Grattan, long-time political reporter for "The Age" reviews the book this week, and finds that "The Howard years have seen an unrelenting attempt to control information, curb irritant views, reward and advance political friends, and hobble those considered not one of 'us'. Silencing Dissent documents the process, inside and outside government - in public service and statutory authorities, media, universities and the research community, non-government organisations, the intelligence community, and, since the Government won a majority there, the Senate...This is a book with attitude - lots. Clive Hamilton heads the left-leaning Australia Institute. It makes its argument robustly, giving little quarter to any other side. But even if there is some exaggeration, the case its contributors build is scary."

Regardless of the fact that atheists such as Richard Dawkins are getting a lot of air-time, religion and spirituality seem to be flourishing in Australia. Gary Bouma has written a book about this upswell of interest in Australian Soul: Religion and Spirituality in the 21st Century, which Barney Zwartz finds "is an important contribution: insightful, authoritative, accessible and extremely wide-ranging. Indeed, Bouma covers so much ground in 212 pages that inevitably he sometimes seems glib. Occasionally I'd like to pause and see more closely how he justifies a generalisation (I am sure he will expand on this material in the future)."

The Australian

After last week's banquet of Australian fiction, this week we're down to one non-fiction collection. J.M. Coetzee's Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000-2005 is reviewed by Geordie Williamson, and a detailed critique it is, too. The best line comes after Williamson has outlined Coetzee's interest in a number of European novelists whose lives seem to mirror the "crisis of European humanity" experienced during the twentieth-century: "This is not nearly as dense as it sounds: Coetzee shuttles effortlessly between critical registers. His prose is all starch and hospital corners, exhibiting the rare skill of translating difficult concepts into ordinary language."

Tributes to Elizabeth Jolley

The tributes to Elizabeth Jolley keep coming. In "The Age" Peter Craven takes an overview of the author's work, and attempts to put it into some sort of context; Kelly Gardiner talks of a time she interviewed Jolley and was completely captivated; Meredith writes, on the weblog "Sarsaparilla", about a time when Jolley came to teach a creative writing subject she was taking, and Kerryn Goldsworthy responds with a
piece that also provides a personal perspective.

Max Barry Profile

Max Barry is practically unknown here in his home country of Australia, but he's big in the US. Michael Williams profiles the author in "The Age", on the eve of the publication of his third novel.


The Hand that Signed the Paper by Helen Demidenko, 1994
Cover photo: Horizon Photo Library
(Allen and Unwin 1995 edition)
[This novel won the Australian/Vogel Award in 1993, and the Miles Franklin Award in 1995.]

Matilda Absent

I'm away for the weekend, travelling into the wilds of eastern Victoria, so I won't have any net access. Postings should return on Tuesday 27th February.

Reviews of Australian Books #46

Sue Bursztynski reviews books for "January" magazine, and has posted two new reviews to her weblog, as it will be some time before they appear in the printed edition. The books under review are The Taste of Lightning by Kate Constable, and Elysium by Catherine Jinks. I had thought that reviews of Peter Carey's novel Theft must be coming to an end by now, but they keep on turning up in the strangest places.

Hephzibah Anderson reviews the novel in "The Buffalo News": "Right from its opening sentence, this novel wryly assesses Australia's cultural inferiority complex."

On the "BlogCritics Magazine" website, Katie McNeill is very impressed with Garth Nix's novel Sabriel: "I haven't read such an original fantasy novel in a long time. The world is solid, whole and deftly constructed, you feel as if you would meet the people who live there and find them no different from yourself. The characters, especially Sabriel, are strong, three-dimensional people you are involved with from the first page on."

"Eureka Street" has published a combined review, by Tony Smith, of three recent crime novels, one of which is Peter Corris's The Undertow. "Corris always says that he writes a pastiche of crime stories from the middle of the twentieth century and denies any literary pretensions. The success and longevity of the Hardy series suggests however, that he is doing what he does pretty well. It is true that most of his plots are resolved not just in, but by violence."

Eleven with a Bullet

"Locus Magazine" is reporting that Garth Nix's latest, Lady Friday, has hit #11 on the Amazon UK list a full two weeks before its March 5th publication. The hardcover edition of the novel, published in the US in mid-January, is currently #456 on the Amazon US list.

David Malouf and Architecture

"The Australian" newspaper has published an extract from David Malouf's introductory essay to Glenn Murcutt, Architect, by Kenneth Frampton and others. "My interest in Glenn Murcutt is personal. I happen to have grown up in the sort of one-storeyed, open-verandaed weatherboard house on stumps that so many of his houses look to as a native prototype."

Interview with Terry Dowling

The "Just Adventure" gaming website interviews Terry Dowling about his recent foray into the gaming world, and his fiction.

You're widely known throughout Europe and Australia, yet relatively unknown in the United States -- which I find amazing as some of your horror stories are as good as anything Stephen King has ever written -- why have you yet to find a market in the U.S.?

Terry Dowling - Thanks for the kind words. I suspect it's because I haven't been a novelist to date. Only about eight per cent of writers earn their livings from their writing, and very few writers make a career for themselves writing only short stories, novellas and novelettes, which is what I do. Ray Bradbury and Harlan [Ellison] come to mind
as managing it, a handful of others. I've been writing professionally for twenty-three years now and have had quite a number of appearances in the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (I was the only author to have two stories in the 2001 volume; something I'm very proud of), but apart from having my first linked collection Rynosseros published by the SF Book Club back in 1993, I haven't had US editions of my work. Hopefully that will start to change this year with the release of a hardcover collection of my best horror stories from Cemetery Dance.

2007 John O'Brien Bush Festival

The 2007 John O'Brien Bush Festival will be held in Narrandera, NSW, from 14th-18th March. The festival concentrates on the poetry of John O'Brien but also features "busking, bush dancing, poet's breakfasts, and comedy shows."

Review: Love Without Hope by Rodney Hall

love_hope.jpg Rodney Hall
Picador, 269 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Perry Middlemiss

The best novels work on a variety of levels: plot, character, setting, and subject being just a few of them. Some climb high to the metaphor strata, whether deliberately or not, and thereby become much more than the simple sum of the parts - of the lower layers. Love Without Hope, the 12th and latest novel by Rodney Hall, is very nearly one of those books, one that certainly reaches for the lofty heights and only just fails to attain them.

Mrs Lorna Shoddy lives alone on her farm breeding horses, after her husband walked out some twenty years or so prior to the novel's commencement. Although she has managed to maintain the farm in working order she has been gradually neglecting herself, both physically and mentally, and when a bushfire blasts through her property she becomes depressed and her mental state worsens. Two local women pay her a charitable visit but are chased off the property by an obviously distressed Mrs Shoddy.

This action sets in train the beginning of the novel, with Mrs Shoddy committed to a nearby mental institution run by the gothically named Master in Lunacy, and with her farm being sold out from underneath her by an unscrupulous local businessman for profit, on the pretense of unpaid council rates and taxes. At first Shoddy rails against the treatment she receives, strapped into a straitjacket, unable to move, wallowing in her own filth, and screaming incoherently into the night. Yet even in this state she is aware that she isn't quite right:

She, who was once that hearty little horsewoman, recognises herself as reduced to a tiny stick-person with twig hands and bark for skin, perhaps scarcely even recognisable.
Her struggles against the system that has imprisoned her, the de-humanising treatment she receives, her quest for deliverance and the machinations of the townsfolk who wish her good, and ill, form the basis of the plot.

It is impossible not to be aware, as a reader, of the times in which this book was written. Hall, himself, gives his first clue in his dedication, which simply reads: for Julian Burnside. If you have an interest in human rights in this country you will have heard of the dedicatee, a barrister who is currently President of Liberty Victoria and who has spent a considerable amount of time and effort working against the extended detention of what the present federal government refers to as "illegal immigrants". But even beyond this first clue, it is impossible to ignore the case of David Hicks, Australia's sole remaining prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. I'm generally rather dubious of pushing metaphors in novels too far yet the parallels here seem rather too obvious to be ignored.

Rodney Hall is digging into some visceral human fears in the situation he has developed here. I suspect, deep down, we all fear incarceration without hope of escape and the loss of individualism. And Hall deliberately wants us to have some sense of what this loss of liberty means to the human spirit:

She cannot feel the straps that restrain her. Her little nerveless arms. Her nerveless chest and thighs. It frightens her to think about the pharaohs bound up in swaddling cloth, each one bandaged stiff, suffocating inside a mask, and fitted with a body-moulded coffin. Not for them the comfort of soil, the gentle rotting rupture till the delicate gelatinous fell from their bones -- no -- like her, they were destined for a sterner fate, cured and straightened out, locked down in a prison of a permanent existence among divine beings half-animal, half-human, dog-nosed and vulture-winged and, in each form, enigmatic. She knows it. And how voice, vision, touch and taste must all be surrendered while the core comes to be drawn out as spirit, that irreclaimable spirit, eternally in search of lodgings under the cowl of alien winter darkness.
We most certainly don't want to be there.

Hall is as much poet as novelist, as the previous paragraph indicates, and he is best when exploring the inner workings of the human psyche under duress. His work drops away a little when the novel's focus is diverted onto those outside the immediate environs of the mental institution. The characters are not under as much strain and hence are less well-delineated in the reader's mind; a mind that comes to see them as appendages to the novel's core. In addition, a couple of the story's turns seem a little contrived and the ending cut short a touch. This is not to say that the sections of the novel that do not directly deal with Mrs Shoddy and her incarceration are without interest. On the contrary, Hall is attuned to small town politics, the flickering allegiances and the moral ambiguities. It's just that, in her delirium and distress, Lorna Shoddy presents as the most interesting subject for inspection.

All in all, though, we are looking at an ambitious piece of work. A novel of our times dealing with the relationship between individual and state, the effects of mental illness, and the strengthening power of love.

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #5

The Age

James Bradley has some reservations about Rodney Hall's novel Love Without Hope, even as he is able to see what the author is trying to achieve; "...Love without Hope -- and indeed much of Hall's writing -- resembles no one so much as Patrick White. More than any other Australian writer working today he shares White's sense of brooding mysticism and interest in the grotesqueries and folly of everyday life...Yet while the intensity of White's vision can be overwhelming, there is an essential delicacy and humanity to it that Hall's novels often lack, for all the filigree of their imagining. In Love without Hope this is particularly true -- Hall drives the proceedings so hard, so maniacally, that there is little space for the reader to take their breath, or indeed for the language to unfold itself."

The Australian

The fact that Garry Disher has a new novel out is certainly a cause for celebration in my house, as he writes police procedurals as good as any to be found. Graeme Blundell, the paper's resident crime fiction reviewer, takes a look at Chain of Evidence, the fourth Challis and Destry novel. (Take note of the changing nature of this series: the previous three were referred to only as Inspector Challis novels.) Blundell certainly thinks that Disher has served up a beauty this time: "In his best novel yet in what has been a distinguished career, he propels us methodically yet elegiacally, the past impending on the present and setting the future into sometimes quite astonishing motion. The self-interest of his supporting characters dangerously interferes with decency and truth, against a backdrop of an overstretched police force frequently corrupt, rife with division and sexual and racial prejudices." In other words, why aren't you reading this already? "Now on the same procedural shelf as international greats such as John Harvey, Tony Hillerman and Ian Rankin, Disher brings crime fiction back to simple facts, the painful themes that churn beneath banal surfaces. No one works the flat, elided planes of realism better."

Steven Carroll's previous two novels were shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, and, from what Debra Adelaide has to say about his latest, The Time We Have Taken, he may well be in line for another shot at the prize. "In The Time We Have Taken, there are few dramatic events and almost no plot. Instead there is meticulous interrogation of the small moments that shape life...This slow, contemplative novel suggests several other great writers: Carol Shields with her ability to turn inside out the everyday in domestic life and reveal its unexpected glories. It also reminds me of Gerald Murnane's genius for mapping the endless detours of the creative mind...His sentences are impeccable. The small faults are not worth mentioning. The author of six novels and twice short-listed for the Miles Franklin award, Carroll is on some kind of journey, and he deserves to reach his destination." I can state that the two previous novels in this sequence (hard to call it a trilogy as there may be a fourth) were excellent. So I'm not surprised this one is up to the standard described.

Liam Davison appears to have enjoyed Rodney Hall's Love Without Hope more than James Bradley (above). "A new Hall novel always brings mixed degrees of anticipation and trepidation, not least because he is capable of writing across such a broad range of modes that we never know quite what to expect...If the narrative is surprisingly conventional, it's what Hall does with it to explore the emotional and spiritual anxieties of his characters -- and to a degree, of a nation -- that sets this exquisitely written novel apart...He's never one for straight social realism, though, and the real strength of his achievement here is the ease with which such a seemingly ordinary world opens to reveal the spiritual and metaphysical anxieties behind it."

Three Australian novels in the one week. Something to be celebrated there I think.

Christopher Bantick finds that Pip Newling's memoir, Knockabout Girl, "has much to offer readers in its spare, unsentimental writing, with Newling avoiding the potentially maudlin pitfalls of introspection, although she does make occasional reference to herself, such as noting in remote places 'how infectious bitterness could be'. The result is a cache of sharply defined summations of experiences, her own and those of the people she encounters."

Elizabeth Jolley (1923-2007)

The news has been released this morning that Western Australian author Elizabeth Jolley died last week at the age of 83.

Elizabeth Jolley was born in Birmingham, England, in 1923 and brought up in a German-speaking household. She undertook her early education in the English Midlands both at home and at a Quaker boarding school. She stayed there until the age of 17 when she began nursing studies in London at the height of World War II. Married, with three children, she migrated to Western Australia in 1959, and worked in a variety of jobs until she took a job as a part-time creative writing tutor at the Fremantle Arts Centre in 1974. She taught there until 1985, and also taught at a number of tertiary institutions, including Curtin University.

Although she started writing early in life it was not until her fifties that she received the recognition her talent deserved. She won "The Age" Book of the Year Award on three occasions (for Mr Scobie's Riddle, My Father's Moon, and The Georges' Wife) as well as the Miles Franklin Award for The Well. Her non-fiction title, Central Mischief, won the Western Australian Premier's Prize in 1993. Mr Scobie's Riddle won the Fiction section of the WA Premier's Prize in 1983.

Elizabeth Jolley was one of Australia's most acclaimed and beloved authors, and was awarded an honorary doctorate (Hon. D. Tech.) from the Western Australia Institute of Technology (now Curtin University) and an order of Australia Medal.

Henry Lawson in London

Local Melbourne writer and critic, and occasional Matilda commenter, Lucy Sussex, is combining with Meg Tasker, associate professor of humanities at the University of Ballarat, on a book about Australian ex-patriates living in London in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Not a great item of interest there you might say, but every so often research of this type turns up some interesting literary gems. Such is the case here as outlined by Jason Steger in "The Age" over the weekend. It appears that some details have come to light regarding the activities of Henry Lawson in London during this time. Lawson travelled to London in the hope of fame and fortune, but found only despair and disappointment. It was known that his wife, Bertha, had been committed to an asylum while in England, though not exactly why, until now.

Australian Bookcovers #52 - The Blindman's Hat by Bernard Cohen


The Blindman's Hat by Bernard Cohen, 1997
Cover design: De Luxe & Associates
(Allen and Unwin 1997 edition)
[This novel won the Australian/Vogel Award in 1996.]

2006 Bram Stoker Awards

From the "Horrorscope" weblog we have the news that the shortlisted titles for the 2006 Bram Stoker Awards have been released. Terry Dowling is nominated in the "Superior Achievement in a Collection" category for his book Basic Black: Tales of Appropriate Fear . And Rocky Wood is listed under "Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction" for Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished.

Breaking the Dialogue

This is a sentence that stopped me in my tracks when I first read it. I've now been over it a half-dozen times and still don't think it works properly.

"I'll kill," Arthur continued to bellow, "the pair of you bloody buggers if you touch," he choked, "my brother."

I know what the author is trying to do, I just think that breaking the flow of the dialogue with descriptive passages, however small, wrecks the emotion and cadence of the sentence. I seem to be coming across this sort of thing a lot lately.

David Malouf Interview

As his latest short story collection, Every Move You Make, is published in the UK, David Malouf is interviewed by Tom Adair for "The Telegraph".

Poem: Logan's Place by George R. Hambidge

If you follow the track from Delannit
   You will come to a fork in the way,
And the path to the right will unfold to your sight
All the glory of sand-dunes and granite,
   Set out at the foot of a bay.

But if you are tired of the splendor
   Of shimmering waters a-race,
Let your feet wander back to the fork in the track,
And along the left path that is slender
   And rough, you will find Logan's place.

The fields are still harrowed and waiting
   The wheat that will never be sown,
While last season's hay has long since turned to grey.
The ground-larks are building and mating
   In grass that will never be mown.

In the background a little, rough, shanty,
   Unfinished and most up to date,
Stands sad and alone in its plaster and stone,
And this, in his spare time, most scanty,
   Young Logan was building for Kate.

Having just read the top verses over,
   I'll admit they're not up to much.
I intended to shunt Logan off to the Front,
To be drowned in a troopship near Dover,
   And end with a sad sort of touch.

And Kate was to stand at a sliprail
   Each night, with a tear in her eye,
And gaze to the west with a sob in her breast;
Or convulsively clutch an old milk-pail,
   And murmur: "Oh, how could you die!"

But it seems, after fresh recollection,
   It ends in a much brighter way.
Logan's aunt, it appears, whom he'd not seen for years,
Pegged out, just to show her affection --
   Left Logan a hundred a day.

First published in The Bulletin, 21 June 1917

Norman Lindsay as Metaphor

David Dale makes a case in "The Sydney Morning Herald" for nominating the phrase "a Magic Pudding" as Australia's National Metaphor. After making a list of recognisable metaphors Dale states: "...but my favourite is a metaphor created in the year 1918 by the artist and writer Norman Lindsay, which became so widely used that it ended up with its own entry in the Macquarie Dictionary (defined as 'endlessly renewable resource')...We're talking, of course, about The Magic Pudding. The world, said Lindsay, is divided into Puddin' Owners and Puddin' Thieves. Paul Keating used to call John Howard a Puddin' Thief, and accused the Liberal Party of using Telstra as a Magic Pudding, 'from which they could cut a slice to pay for their election commitments.' More recently environmentalists have argued that we treat this continent as if it were a Magic Pudding, and thus are exhausting its resources."

Oddly enough, the piece is dated 18th February 2007. Time-travel at last?

Reviews of Australian Books #45

Sally906 reviews Farewell My Ovaries by Wendy Harmer and rates it a "C". She details why she dislikes the main character and then poses the question: why did she finish it? "The book is funny - and well written - and in many ways this character matched my initial feelings of confusion and search for meaning at what I thought was the end of my womanhood, instead of a new phase of being a woman."

Sue Bursztynski is very impressed with Margo Lanagan's short story collection, Red Spikes which she reviews n "January" magazine. "The author admits, in her afterword, that she was strongly influenced by others in the writing of her tales, and reading them, the influence is fairly clear. Which doesn't make them any less fascinating. There isn't a dud story in the collection, although I have my favorites...All in all, well worth buying, whether for yourself or the teenager in your life."

A few weeks old now, but worth mentioning anyway, is Jules's review of Sonya Hartnett's The Silver Donkey on the "Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast" weblog: "I should say right off the bat here: Hartnett is one of my top-five favorite authors. And, once again, she didn't let me down with this middle-grade title, which is profound and graceful and intense all at once. Hartnett seems to be writing in the tradition of the classics of children's literature here (think turn-of-the-last century children's titles) --
persuasively and strikingly so."

2007 Victorian Premier's Reading Challenge

The 2007 Victorian Premier's Reading Challenge has been launched and full details are now available.

For those new to this, it is a method of getting children between the ages of 5 and 12 to read more books. The scheme allows children to register, record their reading and track their progress via the web. The challenge is for students in Prep to Year 2 (5 to 7 years) to read 30 titles, and for older children to read 15 books before the close of the challenge in August. In 2006, some 190,000 students took part, with 107,000 completing the challenge.

The website includes a large selection of possible titles, which, even if you aren't undertaking the challenge, is a pretty good reference list. You should be able to find something in there to buy the young reader in your life.

Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Stories

Cat Sparks has pointed out that four Australian writers (with five stories) have made the cut to be included in Ellen Datlow's Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2006. The featured stories:

"Father Muerte and the Flesh" by Lee Battersby
"La Profonde" by Terry Dowling
"A Pig's Whisper" by Margo Lanagan
"Winkie" by Margo Lanagan
"Dead Sea Fruit" by Kaaron Warren

Visitor Milestone

The number of visitors to this weblog has just clocked over 100,000 since October 19 2005, when I installed the statistics counter. This entry is for archive purposes only.

Film Adaptation of Dirt Music by Tim Winton

Further to our continuing saga regarding the film adaptation of Tim Winton's Dirt Music, the latest news is that Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell will feature in Phillip Noyce's version of the novel. Luckily enough, Noyce has been with the project since the beginning, which bodes well for the enterprise.

Australian Literary Monuments #10 - A.D. Hope


A.D. Hope plaque, Circular Quay, Sydney.

On Other Blogs #19

Andrew Kelly writes about the use of the first-person narrator, as opposed to the third. He notes that "as a child (not a teenager) I preferred the adult warmth of the 3rd person, the sense of sitting on the narrator's knee...The first person seems peculiarly suited to the the intense egotism of the teen years." He needs to expand on this. There's some interesting connotations springing out of this.

The Blogging Parson, from Oxford in the UK, has a deep look at the poetry of Les Murray, and is very impressed: "I really think you should read some of Les Murray's poetry. Les Murray is arguably Australia's best regarded poet, both in Australia and internationally. The collecting of forty years of his work in a single volume shows just how impressive his achievement is. His unique accent - which he says is part of the soil up Bunyah way - and his extraordinary, prodigious gift of language combine in poetry that is at once chatty-colloquial and demanding. He doodles with words in the same way Shakespeare did. He writes with a mordant humour and a laughing sadness that is distinctively Australian and shows that a distinctively
Australian poetry doesn't have to be of the bush-ballad variety."

Phryne lists "The Doll Trilogy" by Ray Lawler as one of the five books that changed her life. "These three plays Kid Stakes, Other Times, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll tell the story of six Australians over a 17-year period. The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll was required reading at school, but I went onto read the other two and they gave me a greater appreciation for Australian literature and the Australian struggle for identity. The plays lead me to re-read several Australian classics that I had read because of school and had quickly dismissed as relics of a culture long dead."

After an absence from the scene Peter Nicholson is back on the "3 Quarks Daily" weblog with a piece about criticism, which outlines a new approach to critics: "Marbeck Valerian is my imaginary name for all the critics one is going to come across who will misunderstand work, misrepresent it, or land on it like an Exocet missile and proclaim it the best thing since sliced bread, probably the worst fate of all...Marbeck Valerian may be your long-term friend. His/her musunderstandings are the seeds from which art begins its proper journey through time's unpredictable mangle." I wonder if naming them makes it easier or harder to dismiss critics of a certain type?

February 14th

Everyone seems to think it's Valentine's Day, but actually it's Library Lovers day here in Australia.

Gone on, love your library, you know you want to.

Australian Young Adult Books Honoured

The School Library Journal, based in the US, has released its Outstanding International Booklist of young adult books from 2006. The following Australian books have been included:

Surrender by Sonya Haqtnett
By the River by Stephen Herrick
Dogboy by Victor Kelleher
White Time by Margo Lanagan
The Book Thief by Markus Zusack

It's also pleasing to see that the committee responsible for choosing the list acknowledges that few international (ie non-US) books, not originally published in English, are available in that country. They seem to have done their best given the obvious restrictions. The fact that they have recognised the limitations of the list augurs well for the future.

[Thanks to The :: New :: Misrule Blog for the link.]

Banjo Paterson Again

It seems to be Paterson time right now with a major piece in "National Geographic" magazine.

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #4

The Age

I'm glad that "The Age" asked Barry Jones to review B.A. Santamaria: Your Most Obedient Servant - Selected Letters 1938-1996 edited by Patrick Morgan. There are probably only two or three reviewers with the political history and knowledge, and the ability to write which could do this important work justice: Jones is one of them.

Take his introduction to the man himself: "A brilliant debater and Melbourne University graduate he worked for the venerable Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix (1864-1963), was a founder of 'The Movement' (also known as 'The Show') in 1941 and The National Civic Council in 1957, campaigned passionately against communist influence in trade unions and the Australian Labor Party and was a major factor in a great split in the ALP (1954-55), which helped to keep the party out of power nationally for 23 years (until 1972) and in Victoria for 27 years (until 1984)." Short, sharp and to the point. You have all you need to know about the subject, other than the fact that Jones knew him quite well even though they were on opposite sides of the "Split".

You can tell that Jones believes the book under review is a worthy project ("Your Most Obedient Servant, which runs to 576 pages, includes a short biography, an extensive commentary, bibliography and a useful collection of photographs. It is a very handsome production.") so it's a pity that he finds fault in it: "Regrettably, many of the letters chosen do not show Santamaria at his fascinating best...I hoped for some insights into Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council, but they are not to be found...Santamaria was always interesting, far more than this small selection of letters suggests."

I get a sense that Martin Flanagan was as disappointed with his book under review as Barry Jones was above. Flanagan looks at Another Country by Nicholas Rothwell, a commentary on Aboriginal culture and puts his interest right up front: "Historically, in this country, the ignorance, bias and self-deception have never been more pronounced than when whitefellas write about blackfellas. As a result, the first question I ask in reading a book such as this is whether I can see the whitefella doing the talking. Who are they? Where do they come from? What conditions them?" A set of questions he proceeds to answer. He explains that Rothwell is well-suited to write this book but has a major difficulty with the whole exercise. Namely, "This book represents a substantial journalistic inquiry. It deserves to be read because it goes so far beyond the average Australian's comprehension of their own country. But I do have a major reservation about Rothwell's work: put simply, how can someone who claims high affinity with Aboriginal culture be broadly accepting of a federal government whose policies are seen by Aboriginal leaders such as Patrick Dodson as assimilationist?" How indeed.

Jeff Glorfeld is disappointed with two new crime novels, And Hope to Die by J.M. Calder (a pseudonym for John Clanchy and Mark Henshaw), and The Undertow, the latest Cliff Hardy novel from Peter Corris. The first is a "page-turner that keeps you right on the edge of your seat right up to the disappointing ending," and the Corris "feels like Cliff Hardy by the numbers."

Poem of the Month

The website containing "The English Magazine" appears to print a Poem of the Month - something that I applaud.

Something which I also applaud is the appearance this month of the poem "The Great Australian Adjective" by Australian poet W. T. Goodge. Unfortunately (and you knew that was coming, didn't you?), they've stuffed it up. The original poem reads as follows:

The sunburnt ---- stockman stood
And, in a dismal ---- mood,
   Apostrophized his ---- cuddy;
"The ---- nag's no ---- good,
He couldn't earn his ---- food -
   A regular ---- brumby,

And so on for another three verses. But now "The English Magazine has printed the poem with the "----" replaced everywhere by the word "bloody", and ruined it. Originally published in 1898, the excised word might well have been "bloody", which was generally considered too profane for magazine publication at that time. It doesn't matter, the point is that the humour of the poem is not dependent on the repeated use of one word, but on the fact that that word is repeatedly omitted. You, the reader, supply your own, whatever that may be.

The whole point of the thing is that the "----" is left to the reader's imagination. It's a wonderful device used in this way, mocking public and private perceptions of profanity. Printing a word to replace the "----" diminishes the poem to something rather boring and ineffectual.

Clive James Essay

Clive James has another essay on Slate, "Sergei Diaghilev: On generosity, artistic slobs, and dressing to kill". This is another piece taken from his upcoming collection, Cultural Amnesia.

A.B. "Banjo" Paterson

Near the anniversary of the death of A.B. "Banjo" Paterson, Tom Lovett, in "The Epoch Times", pens an appreciation of the poet and writer, and, in the process, gives a boost to the Australian Bush Poets Association. Elsewhere, Archie's Archive reprints Paterson's poem "Lost", as a response to a discussion on Mother Love. And Ambit Gambit casts Australian-of-the-Year Tim Flannery in the main role in a parody of Paterson's "Clancy of the Overflow". The original version of the poem is available.

Tom Keneally Interview

Over the past month or so we've mentioned the trip by a number of Australian authors to the 2007 Kolkata Book Fair. Tom Keneally was one of those authors, and while he was in India, Namita Kohli of "The Indian Express" got the chance to interview the author about his work, and about his upcoming novel Widow and Her Hero. "Twenty-five years after Schindler's Ark, this time the focus is on the women left behind, those who were widowed, whose lives changed with gunshots in another country, who smelled cordite years after the war was over and wondered whether those heroic missions were little more than foolhardy exploits."

Steven Carroll Interview

Steven Carroll has written two books in his series about Melbourne suburbia: The Art of the Engine Driver (2001) and The Gift of Speed (2004), both of which were shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. Now, the third book in the projected four-book series, The Time We Have Taken, is about to be published, and Helen Elliott in
"The Australian" newspaper interviews the author.

Australian Bookcovers #51 - Hiam by Eva Sallis


Hiam by Eva Sallis, 1998
Cover design: Beth McKinley
(Allen and Unwin 1998 edition)
[This novel won the Australian/Vogel Award in 1997.]

Reviews by Australian: Flannery and Coetzee

The February 15, 2007 edition of "The New York Review of Books features J.M. Coetzee's review of The Castle in the Forest by Norman Mailer, and Tim Flannery's essay which asks the question "What Is a Tree?", and, in the process, reviews The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live, and Why They Matter by Colin Tudge, and The Plant-Book: A Portable Dictionary of the Vascular Plants, Second Edition by D.J. Mabberley. The Flannery piece is not, unfortunately, available on the website.

2007 Commonwealth Writers' Prize: Regional Shortlists

The Regional Shortlists for the 2007 Commonwealth Writers' Prize have been announced. In the South East Asia and South Pacific region the nominated works are:

Best Book
Ocean Roads by James George (New Zealand), Huia
Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey (Australia), Knopf/Random House
Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones (New Zealand), Penguin
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright (Australia), Giramondo
The Fainter by Damien Wilkins (New Zealand), Victoria University Press
Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan (Australia), Allen and Unwin
Careless by Deborah Robertson (Australia), Picador

Best First Book
Tuvalu by Andrew O'Connor (Australia), Allen and Unwin
Davey Darling by Paul Shannon (New Zealand), Penguin
The Fish & Chip Song by Carl Nixon (New Zealand), Vintage
The Long Road of the Junkmailer by Patrick Holland (Australia), UQP
Poinciana by Jane Turner Goldsmith (Australia), Wakefield

In addition, M.J. Hyland's novel, Carry Me Down, is shortlisted under the Best Novel category in the Europe and South Asia region.

Poem: Poesy by Mrs. E. H. Dunlop

"Who ne'er his bread in sorrow ate,
   Who ne'er the mournful midnight hours
Weeping upon his bed hath sate,
   He knows you not, ye Heavenly Powers."

Since morning stars first sang in prayerful praise,
Since Adam's hymns resounded over space,
Or Sinai's hill trembled in glory's blaze;
Immortal song hath had acknowledged place.

Essence inherent of the sentient mind,
Mystic, yet co-existent with out breath,
A balm within the living brain enshrined
Which mitigates and soothes our ills of earth.

Impassive -- while the gloss on world looks bright,
A flitting shadow through our labour hours,
But ever near lone watchers of the night
A spirit-music from Elysian bowers.

Proud Poesy! thy genius leads secure
The golden vein along Time's turgid stream,
A sparkling star, whose light is ever pure
Winning the heart, a love-illuminated dream.

"The harp of sorrow" knows thy gentle hand,
Its trembling chords awaking at thy call;
And sweetest melody by thy command
In tender tones floats forth "in dying fall."

Guardian and guide of every wandering thought;
To thee no clime is strange, no land unknown;
Medicine of mind, ever in sorrow sought,
Blest be the heart which claims thee as its own

First published in Australian Town and Country Journal 5 October 1872

Judith Wright's Letters

In the latest issue of the "National Library of Australia News", Meredith McKinney writes about the process that she and Patricia Clarke had to go through to compile a collection of Judith Wright's letters. It's not the straight-forward exercise you might imagine. The new book, With Love and Fury: Selected Letters of Judith Wright, was published by the library last year.

On Other Blogs #18

Ben Peek responds to a
recent article in "The Australian" newspaper by Jenny Sinclair. In essence, Sinclair calls for the closure of "writing courses, writing workshops, writing weekends, writing holidays", saying that the "only people writing should be those who must write". I thought this was wrong when I read it but Peek does a better job of criticising it than I ever could.

On his weblog "Detectives Beyond Borders", Peter Rozovsky recently wrote a piece about "disillusioned fictional male detectives with bad, sad or uncertain marital histories and quirkily solitary habits". (Many self-deprecating jokes removed here on the grounds that if certain people were to read them I'd be in dead serious trouble.) As examples of that particular life-form he mentioned: "Kurt Wallander from Sweden, John Rebus from Scotland, Franz Heineken and Jack Irish from Australia, Hector Belascoaran Shayne from Mexico, Pepe Carvalho from Spain, Inspector Espinosa from Brazil, Brahim Llob from Algeria and Sartaj Singh from India come to mind, along with a couple of Americans you may have heard of named Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe." One of his readers commented that Jack Irish seemed out of place in that grouping, and now Peter has written a long response: "I'd been thinking of reading more Jack Irish, and the thoughts that led me to write this comment also sent me to a nearby bookshop, where I bought Black Tide, the second Jack Irish novel. I've read the first chapter, and it's brilliant. But then, I expected no less when I paid tribute to Jack Irish by including him on my list of interesting fictional detectives." If, by any chance you like crime fiction, you really should be reading this weblog.

"Mitzi G Burger" (the G is for Gherkin), in her eponymous weblog, looks at Highways to a War by Christopher Koch which "does what I suspect the majority of the sad lot of us aspiring writers wish to do and feel guilty for wishing it, and that is the glorification of the beautiful...Whatever the book is - 60s nostalgia, horror at the world's failure to prevent the Khmer Rouge's assaults on humanity, opium-drenched whiffs of bygone Vietnophilable eras - it's unquestionably a GAN - Great Australian Novel."

Reviews of Australian Books #44

Deborah Robertson's debut novel, Careless, has been published in the UK and Rachel Moore in "The Guardian" is quite moved by it. As Moore puts it, the author "is fascinated by ways we memorialise the dead...[but]...the author does not dwell on death itself, rather on the care and responsibility that people do or don't exercise towards one another in life. She is best as a miniaturist, in the style of Helen Dunmore, her observations as carefully chosen and charged with feeling as pebbles placed on a grave...Careless is an elegy for the lost and the grieving, but it also offers hope."

On the weblog "Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast", Eisha is hugely impressed with Margo Lanagan's short story collection White Time. "Let's face it - a lot of writers have good ideas. What's great about Lanagan, though, is that her creativity is matched by her skill with language. Each story-world has its own land, each character its own voice."

Thomas Keneally's A Commonwealth of Thieves is reviewed in "The Jerusalem Post" by Meir Ronnen: "This book is a
great read, but I object to its title. Australia was never a commonwealth of thieves. It had no more of its share of burglars and desperadoes than other poor countries."

Australian Literary Monuments #9 - Kenneth Slessor


Kenneth Slessor plaque, Circular Quay, Sydney.

Adelaide Fringe Festival Program

The 2007 Adelaide Fringe Festival, which runs from 8-31 March, has started to release some details of its program. According to the Arts Hub Australia website: "'Word', the Fringe's writers festival, will see some prominent authors discuss some of the prominent genres that mainstream festivals so often neglect. Richard Flanagan, Sean Williams, Andy Griffith, Sarah Armstrong, Jarad Henry, Stephen House and Stefan Laszczuk will look at crime, science fiction, fantasy, young adult fiction, scriptwriting, songwriting, poetry, zines and blogs."

Justine Larbalestier Interview

Australian non-fiction and young adult writer Justine Larbalestier is interviewed in the latest issue of the "Bookslut" magazine by Adrienne Martini.

Monster Blood Tattoo Goes to the Movies

News is just in from movie-land concerning a particular Australian young adult novel that I enjoyed so much last year: "Jim Henson Co. is launching development on a trio of literary properties -- The Boggart by novelist Susan Cooper ("The Dark is Rising"), The Doubtful Guest by Edward Gorey and the fantasy adventure trilogy Monster Blood Tattoo by D.M. Cornish..."Monster Blood Tattoo" is a series of three books, Foundling, Lamplighter and a third untitled novel, set in the world of the Half Continent, a magical Victorian realm where an orphaned boy embarks on a perilous quest to become an apprentice to a line of monster bounty hunters. No writer or director is attached; Henson Co. hasn't decided how many features it will adapt from the trilogy."

Clive James on the Radio

The BBC News website interviews Clive James on the eve of a new radio program from the author, A Point of View which will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 2250 GMT on Friday and 0850 GMT on Sunday. It appears that transcripts of the program will be available on the BBC website, and James also states that the programs will be available in audio form on his website. The first of the transcripts has been posted to the BBC website, but no sign of the audios as yet.

On Her Selection

One piece that I didn't link to a few weeks back, as I was in Sydney that weekend and didn't get to see the paper, was an essay by Kerryn Goldsworthy published in "The Australian" newspaper, titled "On Her Selection".

In the piece, the author poses the question: "If, on this Australia Day weekend, an international visitor asked you for a crash course in Australianness, what would you suggest they read? What are the books whose accounts of what it means to be Australian have stayed with you? Would they be A Town Like Alice? Wake In Fright?, Possum Magic?"

And then proceeds to answer it. I'll let you find what what she recommends. Be ready for something of a surprise near the end. One of her selections was published quite recently.

Australian Authors in India

Back at the start of January I posted about a number of Australian authors who were traveling to India to take part in the 2007 Kolkata Book Fair, held at the end of January.

Margo Lanagan has been writing about her exploits there on her weblog "Among Amid While", and now the Kolkata Newsline website has reported on their visit. "For Australian authors John Zubrzycki, Margo Lanagan and Thomas Keneally, the evening at Oxford Bookstore last week was an occasion to acquaint Kolkata about the richness of Australian literature and also imbibe in their short visit as much of local literature as they can. In town for the Kolkata Book Fair that got deferred to a later date, the trio made use of the opportunity to soak in as much of the city as they could."

Cultural Amnesia by Clive James

Cultural Amnesia (subtitled "Necessary Memories from History and the Arts") is an upcoming collection of essays from the pen of Clive James. His American publisher describes the book as follows: "Containing over one hundred original essays, organized by quotations from A to Z, Cultural Amnesia illuminates, rescues, or occasionally destroys the careers of many of the greatest thinkers, humanists, musicians, artists, and philosophers of the twentieth century."

Publication is scheduled for March in the US, and at the start of April here in Australia. The Literary Saloon informs us that essays from the collection will be published on the "Slate" website over the coming weeks. The first of these is now available and concerns the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova.

First Tuesday Book Club

Further to the previous posting which mentioned the "First Tuesday Book Club", the program has now posted excerpts from past episodes along with a number of author interviews of people such as Patrick White, Frank Hardy, Shirley Hazzard, Mary Gilmore and Sally Morgan.

You have just got to check out the wonderful first episode in the series, screened last August, which featured Peter Cundall's reaction to American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis.

New Patrick White to Read

Well, actually, it's an old book, but "new" as in previously "unread". Anyway, the Patrick White Readers' Group has announced that The Solid Mandala will be the next entry in their PW reading program.

They also mention that "The First Tuesday Book Club" will return to ABC television on March 6th, with its two books under discussion being, yes, The Solid Mandala, and Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones.

Australian Bookcovers #50 - Pegasus in the Suburbs by Jennifer Kremmer


Pegasus in the Suburbs by Jennifer Kremmer, 1999
Cover design: Nada Backovic. Cover illustration: Jeremy Clegg
(Allen and Unwin 1999 edition)
[This novel won the Australian/Vogel Award in 1998.]

Review: Inspector Anders and the Blood Vendetta by Marshall Browne

inspanders_blood_vendetta.jpg Marshall Browne
Random House, 341 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Perry Middlemiss

There is a theory, to which I am becoming more and more attuned, that tension in British and US police procedural crime novels is created in two, very different ways. In the US version, the main protagonist fights the bulk of his battles with other branches of the justice machinery: if he works in homicide, then the FBI tries to interfere, and if he works for the Justice Department then it's likely to be a local detective that gets under his feet and in his way - Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch is an excellent example of this. Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus, on the British side of the equation, has no such external agencies getting in his way. He has to work against his superiors, acting as an outsider to their bureaucratic inertia. Rebus is considered a maverick by his bosses, while Bosch is looked upon almost as a star by his.

There is, by implication, a third way: a pan-continental approach that uses tensions within and across countries, and between varying political forces, both legal and illegal. I have come across very few of these novels outside the purely "spy thriller" genre, such as Forsyth's Day of the Jackal. Few straight-forward mystery novels attempt to tackle the tensions listed above; whether for wont of material or ambition I'm not sure. So it is with a genuine sense of interest and the prospect of a new direction that we can approach the Inspector Anders novels of Melbourne writer Marshall Browne.

We first met the Italian inspector in The Wooden Leg of Inspector Anders in 1999, which was followed by Inspector Anders and the Ship of Fools in 2001. And we now have the third novel in the series, one to be savoured.

In the first novel one-legged Anders is seconded to southern Italy to examine the murder of an investigating magistrate, a case that the inspector solves in explosive fashion and which only enhances his reputation as a major anti-terrorism expert. Browne won a Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel for this book, and was lauded by such newspapers as the "Los Angeles Times". It was an auspicious debut. The second in the series saw Anders working in the modern Europe, tracking a killer of high-flying businessmen; a killer with a political agenda who doesn't restrict himself to one country or jurisdiction. I don't believe this novel was as successful as the first: the scope was too diverse, it was hard to keep track of the many minor characters flitting across the main stage, and the many changes of locale tended to dilute the tension. Now, however, Anders is back on track, back in Italy and investigating a series of political assassinations which have the authorities convinced the terrorist Red Brigades have re-surfaced.

Summoned back from his position in Europol in France to Milan, Anders rapidly finds himself at odds with his fellow workers (they believe, rightly, that the Mafia is out to get him and don't want to be caught in the cross-fire); his superiors who would prefer to handle the investigation their way; his political masters who want him to finish his work in a hurry but who don't want him to dig too deeply into peripheral matters; and his "southern friends" who desperately want to enact a brutal revenge for his previous bloody encounters with them. Stirred together it makes for a heady mix. The murders continue with few if any clues, and the Left and Right of Italian politics start blaming each other for the mess. Anders digs ever deeper into the case, following his own lines of thought, hunches and conjectures, sometimes sucessfully and sometimes to the exasperation of his colleagues.

If this book only relied on its plot it would be worth your reading. You should be aware, however, that Browne is something more than a simple plot-spinner. The best of the current crop of mystery/crime/detective novels have, at their heart, a character of great interest: a fully-rounded human being with strengths and weaknesses, desires and ambitions. An emotional creation that stands out from the page. Inspector Anders is one such character, one that can rank with the best of them. In his fifties Anders is something of an anachronism within the police services: confident but not arrogant, astute but not political, intelligent and yet prone to mis-judgements and misdirection. An ex-lover tells him : "You're a lonely, damaged man with a mindful of dark corners. And it's not your fault. The darkness isn't self-inflicted. It's been inflicted on you. You're a decent man but a sad case."

One of the few corners of his mind where he sees some form of light concerns his literary interests. Throughout the three books so far, Anders has been working on the biography of a famous ancestor, a poet who died in a duel defending a lady's honor. The work, and the details of his ancestor's life, have provided Anders with an anchor in his own life, something to cling to when his day-time work starts to swamp him. And yet, even here, Browne gives him little peace: new acquaintances reveal new details of the poet's life, some good and some devastating. You really start to feel sorry for the poor bloke.

Throughout the book Browne keeps his tension levels high, the plot moving along at a great clip and provides great interest in the main character's life to keep the reader moving ever forward. At times the cast and plotlines seem to get a touch overwhelming but the author rewards a careful reading, and sometimes a more careful re-reading of sections, to bring all the pieces together in a satisfying final outcome. Marshall Browne has written a novel of which he can be proud.

2007 Aurealis Awards Ceremony

Jason Nahrung, of Brisbane's "Courier-Mail" newspaper, went along to the 2007 Aurealis Awards ceremony and reports on what he found there.

Rodney Hall Profile

Angela Bennie profiles author Rodney Hall on the publication of his new novel Love Without Hope - which I started last night. I'm not sure how much of this piece I should read before finishing the novel. Are these essays designed to inform committed readers or to bring new readers to the author's work? Maybe
both. I think I'll read the book on my own first.

Poem: Inspiration by Nemo (Mabel Emily Besant-Scott)

O that I had the gift to write with rhythm of machinery
And Inspiration came at call, to point me out the way,
I'd spread the canvas straightaway for bits of glowing scenery,
For rippling streams and fern-clad glens, in brightest spring array.

And love songs I would warble, warm, melodious and Byron-like,
The bill-oak's harp would wail aloud from land of black dismay.
The mad mirage would lure me on with beck'ning finger, siren-like,
O'er sun-baked, God-forsaken lands, till close of fainting day.

The crime, the vice and poverty that live within the city gates
Would stand exposed in dread array in words of living fire;
The burning thirst the topers know, and but a long beer mitigates,
Bohemian nights, regretful days, and times of wild desire.

With gall-steeped, freely-flowing pen I scathingly would satirise
Life's follies, pomps and vanities, hypocrisy, and such,
Luxurious extravagance, where gilded homes of Fat arise --
These but a sample of the themes my fertile pen would touch.

Spring poems, wreathed in wattle bloom, I'd cleverly manipulate,
The swagman with Matilda, round the camp-fire burning bright,
And such the rush of publishers, 'twere mine the task to stipulate
For terms that famous singers get for carolling each night.

Then poesy would tingle in each vein of my anatomy,
Ooze ever from my finger-tips, my only form of speech,
My name be hailed in distant lands, the world would lift its hat to me,
If only Inspiration were within convenient reach.

First published in The Bulletin, 10 May 1906

They Are Just Words, But...

An article in "The Sydney Morning Herald" last weekend starts as follows: "In a recent Spectrum review of a book about Nicole Kidman, it was suggested that studying the Kidman mystique reveals something of 'the nature of fandom'...'Fandom'. There's a word you've likely not heard much. Yet you instantly know what it means - without necessarily knowing how you know. It's a nano-blink of inferencing and corroboration."

The author of the piece, Ruth Wajnryb, then goes on to reference a number of Australian dictionaries in search of the word, and, other than The Oxford Australian Dictionary, comes up short. I find this rather peculiar. I don't when I first heard the word "fandom", but it would have to be about 30 years ago, and would have thought it had been in general use in Australia for much longer than that.

Wikipedia defines the term as follows: "Fandom (from the noun fan and the affix -dom, as in kingdom, dukedom, etc.) is a subculture composed by like-minded fans (aficionados) characterized by a feeling of closeness to others who share the same interest...The term 'fandom' is particularly associated with fans of the science fiction and fantasy genres, a community that dates back to the 1930s and has held the World Science Fiction Convention since 1939. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the usage of the term back as far as 1903, with many of its documented references referring to sports fandom."

SF fandom started when readers of the early sf magazines, in the 1920s and 1930s, started corresponding within and outside the magazines' letter columns. At first their major mutual interest was the literature of sf, but, like all such unorganised associations, once people started to meet in person they came to realise they had more things in common than just the initial point of contact. Fandom evolved from these early meetings into a sub-culture that continues to this day. Being a 'fan' is a state of mind more than anything else. It's how you think of yourself, rather than an appellation that someone bestows upon you.

Wajnryb hasn't written her piece as a search for the meaning of the word "fandom" - it's pretty obvious that she does know what it means - but as a way of showing that it is possible for us to understand the sense of a word, even if we can't necessarily find it in our usual reference texts. The problem with that situation is that leads to some major misunderstandings.

Back before the internet spread its almost-instantaneous web across the world, the major method of communication between fans was via the "fanzine" (an abbreviation of the phrase "fan magazine"). In most people's minds the word "fanzine" has rather low connotations - implying the worst in celebrity idolisation - and I'd be remiss to deny that some of them were, and probably are, just like that. So this is another word that implies one meaning to some people and something entirely different to others.

That is never more evident that in an essay series titled "A People's History of Australian Zines", published in Heat 11 - unfortunately not available on the web. Wikipedia says of fanzines that "The term was coined in October 1940 by Russ Chauvenet and first popularized within science fiction fandom". Within fandom the terms "fanzines" and "zines" are inter-changeable, the second being merely an abbreviated form of the first. Yet, for some reason, recent "zine-makers" seem to feel they have invented not only the term, but the whole genre as well.

In her introduction to the series of essays in Heat Anna Poletti boldly states, at the beginning of the third paragraph: "As a genre, zines have their roots in the British punk movement of the 1970s and, some argue, the political pamphleteering of the American Revolution; independent, unmediated communication is the common ground between punks and the political agitators of fledgling America." From this statement I thought she was defining a form of zine that was different from my own experience, which I thought was fair enough, if mildly ill-informed. But then, a page or so later she states: "It is tenable, but perhaps quite parochial, to speak of generations of zine-makers in Australia. Murdoch University Library in Perth holds a collection of science fiction fanzines which stretches back to the 1950s..." Which then leaves me in state of some puzzlement. On the one hand zines have their roots in the 1970s, and yet here they are dating back to the 1950s. Actually, I think the main reason why there are fanzines from the 1950s, rather than earlier, is that the bulk of the fanzine collection at Murdoch was donated by Leigh Edmonds, who entered fandom in the mid 1960s. Being transitory items at best, fanzines have limited life expectancy, and even more limited distribution. Collecting fanzines from the 1940s would have been nigh on impossible, even in the 1960s.

If you were to read the other essays in Heat 11, you could safely come away with the view that the Australian zine world has really only been in existence for the past ten years, and that the only people producing them are wannabe writers looking for a publishing outlet. A little more research into the subject would have unearthed a vast history which is only hinted at here. Leigh lives in Ballarat and is easily found, and Bruce Gillespie, who has been mentioned on this weblog before, lives in Melbourne and still publishes "SF Commentary", albeit sporadically. I'm sure either one would have been a valuable research resource if asked.

I'd rather not come to the conclusion from this examination that certain parts of history are neglected because of their genre associations, but I'm not sure how else to look at it.

I live my days in quiet confusion.

Locus Recommended Reading List for 2006

Locus, "The Magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Field" as it styles itself, has released its recommended reading list for 2006.

No Australian books are listed under the SF, Fantasy or First novel categories which I find a tad strange. You'll remember that only a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that this same magazine listed Passarola Rising by Azhar Abidi as their best sf novel of the year.

Anyway, Justine Larbalestier, Garth Nix, and Scott Westerfeld are all listed under the YA novels category, making up 5 of the 11 novels included. Terry Dowling (for Basic Black: Tales of Appropriate Fear) and Margo Lanagan (for Red Spikes) make the Collections list; Jack Dann (twice with Gardner Dozois) and Jonathan Strahan (four times, once with Jeremy G. Byrne) are included under Anthologies; Justine Larbalestier also makes the non-fiction list with Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century; under Novellas we have Greg Egan; and under Short Stories Terry Dowling and Margo Lanagan (thrice).

I hope I didn't miss anyone.

[Thanks to Justine Larbalestier for the link.]

2007 Writers at Como

Readers' Feast Bookstore is once again organising their Writers at Como literary event. In 2007 the dates are 16, 17th and 18th February; which is only a couple of weeks away so you'd better get your skates on. Featured participants include: Stephanie Alexander, Dennis Altman, Carmel Bird, Steven carroll, Inga Clendinnen, Jane Clifton, Garry Disher, Robert Drewe, Gideon Haigh, Rodney Hall, Conn Iggulden, Barry Jones, Marina Lewycka, Sandy McCuthcheon, Brenda Niall, and Louise Welsh. You can get full details from the festival website.

Caricature #11 - "C.J. Dennis" by Hal Gye

C.J. Dennis depicted as Ginger Mick, by Hal Gye.

Currently Reading

A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
The second volume of Martin's monumental Song of Fire and Ice Sequence. Not as good as the first volume and acts more as a stage-setting set of exercises.


The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
The 2011 Man Booker Prize winner. Not Barnes's best book but highly readable and echoes some of his very early work.


Recently Read

Hook's Mountain

Hook's Mountain by James McQueen
McQueen's sadly neglected novel from the early eighties. A WW II returned serviceman dives headfirst into environmental confrontation. This may be Australia's first "eco-terrorism" novel.


The Troubled Man

The Troubled Man by Henning Menkell
Menkell's last "Kurt Wallander" novel. As the detective investigates the disappearance of his daughter's future parents-in-law he encounters dark clouds everywhere, including his own life, past and future.



Shatter by Michael Robotham
This 2008 Ned Kelly Award winner is an excellent thriller featuring a revenge-seeking ex-army killer, and a physically and mentally scarred psychologist who races to avoid being the next victim.


Odd and the Frost Giants

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman's coming-of-age story about a crippled boy and his attempt to save Asgard from the Frost Giants.


Goldilocks Enigma

The Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies
Davies's investigation into why the universe is like it is - "weak", "strong" and "final" anthropic theories all get a going over.


The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.jpg

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann
A collection of Grann's journalism featuring tales of murder, madness and obsession. Varied but generally fairly interesting, and sometimes just plain bizarre.



Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell's investigation of why some people are more successful than others. Interesting but not up to his previous work.



The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin
Rankin's second novel featuring his new detective Malcolm Fox of The Complaints. There are echoes of Rebus here, but it still has some way to go to reach those heights.


Bomb, Book and Compass

 Bomb, Book and Compass by Simon Winchester
The amazing tale of Joseph Needham and his exploration of the history of China. The story is very interesting even though the writing is somewhat flat.



 The Lost City of Z by David Grann
The story of Percy Fawcett's obsessive search for a lost city in the Amazon. It cost him his life in 1925 but he might just have been right.



 The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Grossman's take on the "magician-in-training" fantasy sub-sub-genre. Starts off being rather derivative but slowly morphs into something very interesting.



 The Years That the Locust Hath Eaten by Marjorie Quinn
The long-delayed publication of the memoirs of Sydney poet Marjorie Quinn. An intimate portrait of the Sydney literary scene between the wars and one woman's struggle for a literary life.


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