March 2007 Archives

Poem: His Careless Rapture by E.D. (Edward Dyson)

With fine bravado sounds the poet's claim:
   "I care not when my poem's fairly writ,
Who snatches up and carries off the same,
   Once made I am for ever done with it.

"I spill my silver words upon the grass,"
   He cried, "because my burdened heart distills
Their scent and beauty. Then I let them pass,
   The property of anyone who wills.

"I write when hot afflatus urges on
   My leaping Pegasus. My soul abhors
The task of selling, like some common Jack,
   Who hawks his wares among the editors."

There's ramping in the kitchen, ugly swears
   Along the passage, and the roarings run
About the drawing-room, and up the stairs --
   "The boss has lost a sonnet what he done!"

First published in The Bulletin, 25 January 1923

Australian Literary Monuments #13 - Dorothy Hewett


Dorothy Hewett plaque, Circular Quay, Sydney.

Proceeds of Crime

Shapelle Corby is a 29-year-old Australian woman serving a 20-year jail term in Indonesia for attempting to smuggle 4.1kg of cannabis into the country in a bodyboard bag in October 2004.

A book, Shapelle Corby My Story, written with Kathryn Bonella, was published last year and became a best-seller in this country. According to a report in "The Australian" the book has now sold nearly 100,000 copies and earned in excess of a quarter of a million dollars for the copyright holders.

The question is: who gets the money? The Queensland Court of Appeal has decided that the earnings constitute proceeds from crime and have ordered some $282,750 to be seized by police. In addition, a further $15,000, promised to Corby's sister for an interview in "New Idea" magazine has also been frozen.

This raises some interesting issues, not least the suggestion that the royalty money was to be used for defense costs and legal challenges. Leaving that aside, what about the interview with the sister? Yes, the interview would only be conducted because the subject's sister was in jail, but as the sister didn't actually commit the crime, can't she tell the family's story about how they are reacting to the publicity, the pressures they are under, and how they attempting to cope with it all? And how far does this connection extend? Immediate family? The professional writer who collaborated with Corby? The lawyers in the case? The journos who reported on it?

If you are going draw a line in the sand like this you'd better make it pretty definite who is on each side.

Ern Malley Musical

Some of the poems of Ern Malley have been set to music by members of the Faculty of Music at the University of Melbourne. The resultant musical, "The Ern Malley Project", will be presented at the Castlemaine State Festival on Saturday 7th April, at 1pm and 4pm. Castlemaine is about 90 minutes north of Melbourne in the state of Victoria.

[Thanks to the Literary Saloon at the complete review for the link.]

Miles Franklin Entry Criteria

No, this isn't another rant from me about who should and who should not be eligible for the Miles Franklin Award. It's just a query about a note I saw in the paper on the weekend.

Jason Steger, literary editor of "The Age" and panellist on ABC TV's "The First Tuesday book Club", has a column each weekend in the book pages called "Bookmarks" (not on the web). This week he included, under the heading "Hyland's consolation" the following paragraph: "Written in Melbourne by a writer who lived in Melbourne for many years and developed her writing talent here, but not eligible for the Miles Franklin, Australia's most significant literary prize, M.J. Hyland's Carry Me Down was entered for the award but didn't feature on the longlist announced last week." The consolation was that Hyland was included on the longlist for the Orange Prize.

But that's not the point. The point actually relates to the "but not eligible for the Miles Franklin" phrase. I'm not sure if the writer is referring to the author or the novel here. If to the novel, then he is correct. If to the author then this infers a possible misunderstanding of the actual entry criteria, which relate solely to subject matter and content and not to the author's nationality or residence. In support of this argument I present English Passengers by Matthew Kneale which was shortlisted for the award in 2001; Kneale is described in Wikipedia as "British".

But the original sentence is somewhat confusing and may give some readers (like me for instance) the wrong impression about the award's entry criteria. Maybe a mild rewording was in order.

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #10

The Age

It never seems to take long for major cricket books to be published these days. Two months after the end of the 2006-07 Ashes series, Gideon Haigh's All Out: The Ashes 2006-2007 has been released and is reviewed this week by Warwick Hadfield. Even he says: "It is appropriate to wonder if this publication is out too soon, or that given the comprehensive media coverage of the tour, if anybody would ever need to read a book about it at any time." But this is a book by Gideon Haigh, and that should
be enough, "Quite simply, you need to read this one - not just because of a result, but because of the unique view on proceedings presented by the perceptive author." There will be others based on this series, but it seems you won't need to go past this one.

The Argus Building at the corner of Elizabeth and La Trobe Streets in Melbourne, sits forlornly abandoned, reminder of the lost metropolitan newspaper that gave the building its name. It is now over 50 years since the paper issued its last edition, so it is appropriate that a history of the publication has finally been published: The Argus: Life and Death of a Newspaper by Jim Usher. Peter Cole-Adams, in his review, finds that "By conventional standards, the book is a mess - less a coherent history than a grab-bag of reminiscences by people who worked for the paper during its last rumbustious years. But this is also its strength. These personal anecdotes, character sketches and ruminations recall the excitement, smell and din of the hot-metal days when copy was bashed out on ancient typewriters by reporters who wore hats and collars and ties, smoked like chimneys, drank like fish and did extraordinary things to get a story."

"Sober" and "scrupulous" is the way the Owen Richardson describes J.M. Coetzee's new collection of essays, Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000-2006: "As with the novels, the voice, the authorial persona is distinctive but muted: grave, sober, scrupulous (this latter being one of Coetzee's favourite terms of approval). If you're looking for the showmanship by which some literary journalists seek to distinguish
themselves from academics and from each other, you'll be disappointed."

The Weekend Australian

Barry Oakley, former literary editor of "The Australian", is pretty impressed with Keneally's body of work, comparing him, favorably, with Joyce Carol Oates and Peter Ackroyd. Unfortunately he doesn't find the author at the top of his form in The Widow and Her Hero, which "is a patchwork of a novel, often penetrating, sometimes powerful but never gaining the momentum to carry the story along. Keneally, however, is such a cunning artificer that he's very readable even when not firing on all cylinders."

Nicholson Baker once wrote a very interesting book about his relationship with John Updike - in brief, he didn't have one - and has also been known to write long expositions on the minutiae of modern life, such as Room Temperature. Alex Jones, in his latest novel, Helen Garner and the Meaning of Everything, appears to be attempting to combine the two. Geordie Williamson notes that the book is "Part novel, part fantasy autobiography,
part metaphysical fugue (in the spirit of Lewis Carroll or, perhaps, Douglas Hofstadter riffing on Carroll in his Godel, Escher, Bach), Helen Garner can be read as a cock and bull story in the spirit of Tristram Shandy, a Proustian meditation on domestic contentment (who else would celebrate the texture of ugg boot lining against toes) and as a deeply recondite essay on the meaning of meaning."

"Why would a white male playwright in late middle age buy into the vexed issue of indigenous domestic violence and child abuse? Louis Nowra decided to speak out after he spent several days in hospital in Alice Springs in 2005 with an undiagnosed case of pancreatitis." The result is Bad Dreaming: Aboriginal Men's Violence Against Women and Children, which is reviewed by Rosemary Neill. "Human rights before cultural rights
is Nowra's mantra. It has been said before, but given the scale and ugliness of the problem, it's imperative that we keep listening."

Cecilia Dart-Thornton

Cecilia Dart-Thornton has now completed two major fantasy series, The Bitterbynde Trilogy and The Crowthistle Chronicles, and is interviewed in "The Australian" by Rosemary Neill.

Borders in Trouble in the UK

"The Guardian" is reporting the following:

The US books chain Borders, which also owns Books etc, looks set to pull out of the UK market as it relaunches its website and concentrates on revamping its core US books chain. It said today it will explore "strategic alternatives" for its international division, largely the UK and Ireland but also including operations in Australia and New Zealand. This is likely to see the business sold, or franchised, in which case the stores could retain the Borders name.
No news as yet as to when this change will take place.

Clive James Interview

Clive James has been rather busy of late: releasing North Face of Soho, the fourth volume of his memoirs, last year, and now gearing up for the release of Cultural Amnesia, his huge compendium to modern culture. On the eve of that publication he is interviewed in "The Age" by Stephanie Bunbury.

Australian Bookcovers #57 - Ilias by Jim Sakkas


Ilias by Jim Sakkas, 1988
Cover illustration and concept: Donna Rawlins
(Allen and Unwin 1988 edition)
[This novel won the Australian/Vogel Award in 1987.]

Sarah Hopkins

Sarah Hopkins's debut novel, The Crimes of Billy Fish, is to be published by ABC
Books, after being highly commended for the 2006 ABC Fiction Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. (This is the award that was won by Will Elliott for The Pilo Family Circus). This weekend the author was profiled in "The Sydney Morning Herald" by Joyce Morgan.

Blogging and Flogging

I'm not sure where this takes us:

Blogging, social networking, viral media: these terms are now bandied around in publishers' marketing meetings. Sometimes this gets results: see how Canongate turned Steven Hall's post-post-modern Raw Shark Texts into a cult before publication, via a MySpace page and haunting website. But the web is still seen as a cheap afterthought to established advertising and publicity. At a Bookseller-run seminar on "reaching readers online", Shaa Wasmund, founder of teenage girl site MyKindaPlace, told publishers that this must change: "You have to interact, and make this an integral part of your business rather than an add-on. Today it's all about the user being able to pull from the internet what they want rather than have it pushed to them." The challenge is to replicate word-of-mouth digitally: whether by creating a buzz among literary bloggers, filming a funny video that will be sent round by bored office workers, or building up a loyal following on social networking sites. But it can't be falsified, warned consultant Peter Collingridge: "There's a fine line between blogging and flogging - if you're using the blogosphere just to hype your products you will get found out immediately."

From "The Bookseller" by Joel Rickett, in "The Guardian" newspaper

Poem: The Shrew by E. Dyson

I've taken one into my home,
   And have enthroned her there.
She faithful is, and will not roam:
   She holds me in her care.
She holds me with a tyrant hand,
   I yield unto her will;
And soft the grass grows on the strand,
   The light sits on the hill,
And swift the cloud rides o'er the lea;
But I may not go forth to see.

She's tall and strong, her brow is white,
   And cruel her grey eye;
She holds me down by day and night,
   And swift my fingers ply.
But should I venture to the door
   To look upon the sun,
She fiercely calls me back once more
   To work what's never done,
And bitter is her tongue alway
If I should pause to dream to play.

One time her hands aside I flung,
   And lay where rivers drowse,
And saw the crimson birds that hung
   Like jewels in the boughs,
Where lithe girl children leapt along
   The sward in tuneful game;
But came she searching in the throng
   To fill my heart with shame,
With dog and whip to nag and scold,
And once more herd me in the fold.

At length I am her ironed slave,
   And in the pool of ink
My soul subservient I lave,
   And in the gas-lamp's blink
I sun myself, for ever she
   Is brooding at the door,
And turns to gibe and spit at me
   Should I respite implore.
The fiercest of the tribe of shrews
He has who's mated with a Muse.

First published in The Bulletin, 8 April 1920

On Other Blogs #22

Patricia Storms couldn't finish Markus Zusack's The Book Thief (last book in the item). As she explains "So why didn't it work for me? Well, for starters, it really is dark. And depressing. On many occasions I just had to set it aside because I couldn't take the never-ending sadness. And I really do think that the book is much too long. But more than anything else, (and here I go again with that word) I gradually became suspicious about the authenticity of the writing. If I feel that my emotions are being quite deliberately manipulated, I begin to get annoyed."

Sophie Masson, author of the Thomas Trew books for 7-11 year olds has started a blog based on the books. The first in the series, Thomas Trew and the Hidden People is due to be published in Australia in April. Subsequent volumes - there are six in all - will follow at two-month intervals. I'll be keeping an eye on this. My son is eight and is finding it difficult to discover books he likes. This might be one he can get his teeth into.

I've mentioned Max Barry's new novel, Company, on this weblog a few times over the past few weeks. From the profiles, interviews and reviews, I'd say that the book lies in the area of "modern life humour", if there is such a genre or label. But Damien, on his weblog "Crime Down Under", puts the case for considering the book as a mystery novel.

Andrew, on the "Black Dog weblog, is reporting that Borders UK may be up for sale. A sale that may well have implications for the Borders stores in Australia and New Zealand. Have to keep an eye on this story.

2007 National Biography Award Shortlist

An announcement I missed a week or so back concerns the 2007 National Biography Award Shortlist. The award is administered and presented by the State Library of New South Wales. The shortlisted works are:

Mr Stuart's Track by John Bailey
No Time for Dances by Gillian Bouras
The Beginner's Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize: A Life in Science by Paul Doherty
Arthur Tange by Peter Edwards
East of Time by Jacob B Rosenberg
Margaret Olley: Far from a Still Life by Meg Stewart

In addition the judges highly commended the following works:
Bernard Shaw: A Life by A.M. Gibbs
Will Dyson, Australia's Radical Genius by Ross McMullin
Hoi Polloi by Craig Sherborne

The winner of the $20,000 award will be announced on Tuesday 27th March.

SF, Not Sci-Fi

"Our so-called conservatives, who have cut all ties to their own intellectual moorings, now espouse policies and personalities that would get them laughed out of Periclean Athens. The few conservatives still able to hold up one end of a Socratic dialogue are those in the ostracized libertarian wing -- interestingly enough, a group with a disproportionately high representation among fans of speculative fiction.

"The less politicized majority, who perhaps would like to draw inspiration from this story without glossing over the crazy and defective aspects of Spartan society, have turned, in droves, to a film from the alternative cultural universe of fantasy and science fiction. Styled and informed by pulp novels, comic books, video games and Asian martial arts flicks, science fiction eats this kind of material up, and expresses it in ways that look impossibly weird to people who aren't used to it.

"Lack of critical respect means nothing to sci-fi's creators and fans. They made peace with their own dorkiness long ago."

- Neal Stephenson, from a review of the film "300". I suspect the "sci-fi" is from the sub-editor not Stephenson.

Haven't I Heard That One Before?

Just the other day Jessa Crispin, on her weblog "Blog of a Bookslut", wrote: "I was talking to a friend last night about the news stories that cycle through once a year -- nobody reads poetry anymore, comic books aren't just for kids, Jane Austen fans are fucking nuts -- but I forgot one: What's so great about reading anyway? My friend asked how long these stories will keep being rewritten. I responded, as long as newspapers keep paying fifty cents a word."

I'm sorry to say she missed another one: Australian literature: does it have a future?. Hardly surprising as this one is all ours. This and the annual, "What's Wrong With the Miles Franklin". Hey, even I've played on that ground.

Simone de Beauvoir and Brazil

You'll remember that in late 2005 Hazel Rowley published her book, Tête-À-Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre, on the relationship between the two major French writers. One of the unresolved questions in that book related to the identity of a young woman that the two met on their travels in Brazil in 1960. On the publication of her book in Brazil, Rowley receives a request for an interview and is reminded of the forgotten Brazilian woman. How she came to investigate the woman's identity is the subject of an article in "Bookforum" magazine.

Dr Who Short Stories

Sean Williams reports that he, along with Australian authors Lee Battersby, Stephen Dedman and Rob Hood, all have short stories in a new Doctor Who anthology titled Short Trips: Destination Prague. As Sean says, "It's great to live in a world where Doctor Who is cool again."

2007 Sydney Writers' Festival

The organisers of the 2007 Sydney Writers' Festival (which runs from May 28 - June 3) have announced that their festival program will be released on 14th April. The program will be published that day as a supplement to "The Sydney Morning Herald" newspaper, as well as online at

Justine Larbalestier

As the third, and final, novel in her YA fantasy series is published, Justine Larbalestier is interviewed by John Joseph Adams. In the process she mentions the main reason why I find most novels of magic rather hard to take: "Seriously, I was reading this fantasy where every time the main character got into trouble he'd pull out his magic doobalackie and the problem would go away," Larbalestier said in an interview. "It drove me crazy."

Which is also interesting as I'd always pronounced it "doovalackie", with a diminutive of "doova".

On Other Blogs #21

CB, on her weblog "Sultanalog", writes of the books she read in preparation for chairing two sessions at the Words and Ideas Festival, which was part of the Perth International Arts Festival, held in that city recently. She was originally slated to chair a panel on Biographies but was moved to crime and young adult fiction. As part of her preparation she was most impressed with James Bradley's The Resurrectionist, and a young adult novel by Garry Disher (she doesn't state which one, unfortunately). Which raises the point that someone considers Bradley's novel fits into the crime genre. Not a thought that had crossed my mind previously. There are crimes committed within the book, but I'd would have thought it fitted into the "gothic horror" genre rather than crime. That is, if we felt compelled to find a genre slot for it, which I don't.

The "LibriVox" weblog provides details of free audio books available over the web, and this week lists The Glugs of Gosh by C.J. Dennis. You can access the Gutenberg e-text and listen to various mp3 files of a reading of the book.

Margo Lanagan and friends have an interesting approach to their writers' group: they travel interstate and meet up at one of their homes, blocking out the real world for a weekend while they work on their writing. Margo tells some on her weblog, and Tansy Rayner Roberts fills out the details on hers.

Combined Reviews: Careless by Deborah Robertson

careless.jpg Reviews of Careless by Deborah Robertson.

[This novel has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (South East Asia and South Pacific) Best Book category, and longlisted for the 2007 Miles Franklin Award.]

Description from the publisher's page:
"In the midst of her life with her small brother and unpredictable mother, Pearl is a child who strives to get things right. But the events of one summer's day are about to change her life, and nothing may ever be right again. In ways connected but unforeseen, this child's tragedy will also enter the lives of two strangers. Sonia lives in a cooler, greener part of the city, where she is learning to live alone after the death of her famous husband. And at the edge of the city, close to the beaches, in a run-down building, the young sculptor Adam Logan contemplates the celebrity that his artwork has brought to him.

"Through a seductively woven plot that reflects the interlacing nature of our lives, Careless explores the ties of caring and responsibility, for the living and the dead, that are formed, and broken, in our society."

Emily Ballou, in "Australian Book Review", published the most detailed review of the novel, though, maybe not the most understandable. "The first thing about Deborah Robertson's first novel, Careless, that strikes the reader is the way her prose style cuts like sand." Rubs, maybe, but cuts? I'm not so sure. Anyway, she gets to the point straight afterwards: "The story of three individuals united by the murder of six children is compelling, but what impresses is Robertson's love of language, the precision of her sentences, as well as her gentle philosophical imagination and the deeper questions her book seeks to answer." This might well be a first novel, but it appears to have been some time in the crafting, and is better for it. "Robertson's prose has been well honed, polished to shine. It has the capacity to shift suddenly, to for unexpected shapes from a thousand glittering grains." And yet, at the end, Ballou feels disappointed, calling the novel's ending "ultimately disappointing".

In "The Age", Juliette Hughes is impressed: "Careless, by Deborah Robertson, is, paradoxically enough written with great care. Each plot part is assiduously interwoven with another: themes of grief, loss, responsibility and betrayal recur as characters do the work that she has set them in slow-moving, hyper-observant present tense."

Similarly, Peter Pierce, in "The Bulletin" found much to commend in the novel: "With Proudflesh, a prize-winning volume of short stories behind her, Robertson is an experienced writer. Yet little could have prepared her previous readers for the ambition, intelligence and confidence of structural touch of Careless."

Unusually, for a first Australian novel, Careless was also published in the UK. Rachel Moore in "The Guardian" was 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."

In "The Sydney Morning Herald", Angela Bennie interviewed the author in the middle of 2006.

Other novels on the 2007 Miles Franklin Award longlist:

Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey
Silent Parts by John Charalambous
The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan
Beyond The Break by Sandra Hall
Dreams Of Speaking by Gail Jones
The Unexpected Elements Of Love by Kate Legge
Careless by Deborah Robertson
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

2007 Australian Shadows Award Winner

"Articulate", the ABC arts weblog, has announced that Will Elliott has been named the winner of the 2007 Australian Shadows Award, for his novel The Pilo Family Circus.

Australian Novels to be Translated into Chinese

The "China View" website has announced that 10 major Australian novels will be translated into Chinese "under an agreement with the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade". No word at this time as to the identity of all 10 novels, but they will be by living writers, 8 of which have won the Miles Franklin Aawrd. The titles will include Three Cheers for the Paracelete (1968) by Tom Keneally, The Great World (1990) by David Malouf, Shanghai Dancing by Brian Castro (2003), and Jack Maggs (1997) by Peter Carey.

[Thanks to "the Literary Saloon at the complete review" weblog for the link. The original piece was sourced from the "Shanghai Daily".]

2007 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction

The longlist for the 2007 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction (as it is now known) has been announced. As far as I can see there are two Australian books on the list:

Carry Me Down by M.J. Hyland
Careless by Deborah Robertson

The shortlist will be announced on April 17th, and the winners on June 6th.

Australian Bookcovers #56 - Oceana Fine by Tom Flood


Oceana Fine by Tom Flood, 1990
Cover illustration: Andrew Ireland
(Allen and Unwin 1989 edition)
[This novel won the Australian/Vogel Award in 1988, and the Miles Franklin Award in 1990.]

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #9

The Age

Three Australian novels are covered in the paper this week: The Widow and Her Hero by Tom Keneally, Chain of Evidence by Garry Disher, and Company by Max Barry. And a good spread it is too.

The Keneally is loosely based on a military action undertaken by Australian special forces against the Japanese in World War II. It deals with those who took part and those who were left behind. James Ley finds that "Keneally's freely fictionalised version is an attempt to marry this dramatic tale of military adventure to sober reflections on the meaning of honour and heroism. In particular, he is interested in exploring the hold these concepts have on the male psyche...The reflective side of the novel emerges from the fact that Keneally has chosen to tell the story primarily from a female perspective." Ley, however, comes to the conclusion that the book is rather too "middle-brow" for him to "muster any great enthusiasm for it". Me, I've never been too fussed about the middle-brow.

Jeff Glorfeld is very impressed with Disher's latest Challis and Destry novel, Chain of Evidence, stating that "this instalment puts Disher up on the world stage among the best in the business at this style of crime fiction." And by style he means police procedural. No more, I have a review of this book to write.

A week or so back, I linked to a profile of Max Barry in "The Age", that indicated he was far better known in the US than in his native country Australia. Maybe that will change now that he's had his latest novel published here by Scribe. Marieke Hardy discovers that "Yes, it's one naive and ethical man's struggle against the bigwigs pushing pens in the exec suites. But even with earnest speeches about workers being more than just machines and so on, Barry manages to keep the tone generally light and humorous."

The Australian

Michael Williams takes a look at Max Barry's novel Company and is also genuinely impressed. "His first two novels, Syrup and Jennifer Government, were tour-de-force corporate satires that found him a cult following (read small but rabid) here and a legion of fans in the US. Why he's not held up as one of Australia's pre-eminent comic novelists is a mystery. He was published overseas first. His novels are resolutely contemporary and international in setting, razor sharp, laugh-out-loud funny and true originals. With Company, he confirms his status as Australia's poet laureate of corporate nonsense and nastiness...This is a romp, a funny, well-written, astute romp. Barry is one of the most talented young Australian novelists you've never heard of. Read him."

The Sydney Morning Herald

Tom Keneally's novel is also reviewed in the SMH this week by Andrew Reimer, who considers it his "best in many years", and "accomplished and highly readable". He concludes that "The Widow and Her Hero reveals a writer who has lost none of the skill and talent he has been demonstrating for decades in a seemingly unending stream of books. In some of his more recent novels, however, Keneally has shown a tendency to rely on mechanical plots and stock characters -- An Angel in Australia is a case in point, I think. In this book he has avoided most of those pitfalls. Even the conceit of a group of prisoners, Leo and his friends, who are facing the prospect of execution, rehearsing a play -- a throwback to Bring Larks and Heroes -- proves to be apt and successfully integrated into the novel's structure."

Anna Funder

Australian author Anna Funder, who won the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction in 2004, for her book Stasiland, is attending the WORD festival as part of the Adelaide Fringe 2007. The "Adelaide Advertiser" carries a profile of the author this week.

WORD at Adelaide

The festival known as the Adelaide Fringe 2007 includes literary events within its program and has recently announced its visiting author list. Featured authors include: Richard Flanagan, Sean Williams, Anna Funder, Sarah Armstrong, Jarad Henry, Stephen House, Alice Pung, Fiona McIntosh, Tim Sinclair, Emma Balfour and Arnold Zable. The WORD festival runs from Wednesday 21 March - Friday 23 March 2007.

Richard Flanagan Profile

Richard Flanagan is the featured author this month for "The Courier-Mail" Big Book Club, and will travel to Queensland to discuss his latest novel The Unknown Terrorist, which last week was included on the Miles Franklin Award Longlist for 2007. In the lead-up to that, the paper runs a profile of the author by Nick Bray.

Poem: The Ballade of the Stumped by Eddyson (Edward Dyson)

I've sung of ladies dark and fair,
   Of blue, and black and hazel eyes;
Of golden, brown and raven hair;
   Of maidens simple, maidens wise;
   Of small, slim dames, and dames who rise
To manly heights: the thin and stout.
   Now, Muse, what more can you devise --
What is there left to rhyme about?

I've rhymed of happy lovers where
   The wind-blown, golden blossom flies;
I've told of fierce-eyed loves who share
   A passion for some wild emprise;
   I've sung of love that shrewdly lies
And love that has no kind of doubt;
   Of love that blights or sanctifies --
What is there left to rhyme about?

Too oft in writing here and there
   A tender song did I devise
Of lovers in a rosy lair,
   Where vengeance came in grimmest guise.
   Of loves who weep and agonise,
Of loves who jubilantly shout
   Their joyance to the smiling skies --
What is there left to rhyme about?


Erato, give thy slave a prize --
   New views of love a bard may spout:
Of love that lives or love that dies --
   What is there left to rhyme about?

First published in The Bulletin, 17 February 1921

2007 Commonwealth Writers' Prize: Regional Winners

The regional winners for the 2007 Commonwealth Writers' Prize have now been announced.

In the South East Asia and South Pacific region, the winners were:

Best Book: Mister Pip, by Lloyd Jones (New Zealand),
Penguin Best First Book: Tuvalu by Andrew O'Connor (Australia), Allen and Unwin

2007 Miles Franklin Award

The longlist for the 2007 Miles Franklin Award has been announced (pdf file). Only eight books on the list this year, after 12 last year. It might point to something.

The list consists of:

Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey
Silent Parts by John Charalambous
The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan
Beyond The Break by Sandra Hall
Dreams Of Speaking by Gail Jones
The Unexpected Elements Of Love by Kate Legge
Careless by Deborah Robertson
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

The shortlist of 5 novels will be announced on April 19, and the winner on June 21.

Australian Literary Monuments #12 - Robert Hughes


Robert Hughes plaque, Circular Quay, Sydney.

Reviews of Australian Books #48

The novelist Justin Cartwright reviews J.M. Coetzee's latest collection of essays, Inner Workings, in "The Independent": "It is literary criticism of the highest order. And the title is apt, because what Coetzee does is never superficial or opportunist; this is a close examination of the way the writers he is discussing work, and the historical and cultural context in which they work, and it is informed by a breathtakingly wide understanding of their influences and preoccupations." Cartwright then goes on to opine that reading these essays has given him a greater understanding of Coetzee's own fiction. Be aware that these critical essays are just that, not insubstantial book reviews but full-blown pieces for "The New York Review of Books".

Tom Keneally's latest novel, The Widow and Her Hero, appears to have been published almost simultaneously worldwide. Or, maybe, that should be Commonwealth-wide. Anyway, the novel is reviewed this week in "The Independent" by James Urquhart, which he finds "is a morally charged narrative familiar to regular observers of Keneally's fascination with orchestrated violence and private morality. Two decades ago, Schindler's Ark famously explored complex matrices of loyalty, bravery and compassion but, in more recent years, The Tyrant's Novel imagined the uncomfortable slide from personal integrity to irreversible complicity with an oppressive authority...The Widow and her Hero reads enjoyably well because of Keneally's solid research and assured, intelligent style, but it has less gravitas than these recent works."

Lucinda Byatt also looks at the new Keneally in "The Scotsman".

I missed "The Sydney Morning Herald" review of Garth Nix's latest YA novel, Lady Friday, on the weekend so thought it best to include it here. This is the fifth book of seven in Nix's series "The Keys to the Kingdom", and the reviewer, Mark McCann says "It's an engaging and playful work that rewards the reader's participation in its unfolding design with increasingly odd vistas and eccentricity on a cosmic scale. It's a quest and a game, an adventure and an inquiry; the somewhat obsolete designation of 'an entertainment' describes it beautifully...The writing is crisp and clean, the action is rapid and satisfying and parts of the view are most passing strange. This is a thoroughly diverting tale that should well satisfy the legions of fans who await it."

C.J. Dennis and the Sydney Harbour Bridge

"The Australian" newspaper commemorates the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and notes that C.J. Dennis was commissioned by the Berger Paints company to write a poem in celebration. You can read the full version of the poem here, as well as a letter from the company's CEO giving some background to the poem.

Steven Carroll Profile

Deborah Bogle profiles author Steven Carroll, in "The Advertiser" from Adelaide, as his new novel, The Time We Have Taken, starts to gain some momentum round the tracks. Some reviews of the book have been noting that this is the third book in a trilogy. Carroll states that there will be a fourth novel in the sequence, which he is currently writing.

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #8

The Age

Peter Pierce, former professor of Australian Literature at James Cook University reviews two Australian novels by writers at opposite ends of their careers. [The review isn't on the website.] Both books deal with "the master theme of realist fiction: adultery and its consequnces."

Jon Cleary published his first novel, You Can't See Round Corners in 1947, and his latest Four-Cornered Circle has appeared in his 90th year. Pierce believes the author "belongs, after all, in a distinguished tradition of Catholic-Australian novelists, to speak especially of their cultural and social backgrounds and of their recurrent moral concerns. To this tradition belong two other prolific and internationally renowned authors - Morris West and Thomas Keneally...Matters of individual conscience are crucial in the work of all three. Cleary's novel focuses on a conflict between professional and personal responsibilities, which is pragmatically resolved."

Andrea Mayes published her first novel in her 50th year, and has just released her second, Shearwater. Unfortunately, Pierce doesn't feel the plot engages us, "despite the neatness and confidence of her organisation of the story."

The Australian

"Evolution of a Fiery Soul" is the title given to Karen Lamb's review of With Love and Fury: Selected letters of Judith Wright edited by Patricia Clarke and Meredith McKinney. "Literary biographers often wonder whether the letters of their subjects offer a unique biographical truth, in the belief that most of us are more ourselves in the company of others. This tends to ignore an altogether different truth that biographers know only too well: letters can be a cesspit of misplaced personal motive, unglamorous attitudes and just plain vitriol..." The hidden gems in the book consist of "fragments or full letters that make sense of the preoccupations, the love and the fury. Much of the background material is rendered sympathetically perhaps (Wright's daughter is one of the editors) and no doubt there are certain letters we would like to see but never will. At least the range is over Wright's lifetime and allows us to reflect on the nature of such a complex personality and a highly individual life."

Jon Cleary's novel, Four-Cornered Circle is also reviewed by Christopher Bantick who finds that there "is great tenderness in this memorable novel...At its core, Cleary focuses on how prepared people are to sacrifice much to retain love; the problem lies in identifying love within oneself and not allowing transient distractions to get in its way."

A genre is not often reviewed in the mainstream papers is manga. Given there aren't many practitioners of the art in Australia, this is hardly surprising. But Queenie Chan is one such, and she has recently published The Dreaming, which is reviewed this week by Cefn Ridout. "Manga is on the move. Even casual observers of popular culture could hardly fail to notice the influence of Japanese comics, alongside their animated sibling anime, on film, computer games, fashion and even cosmetics. Coupled with a resurgent interest in graphic novels in the West, the once exclusively Japanese publishing phenomenon has ventured well beyond its borders."

New Australian Literary Prize

Pavolv's Cat has alerted us, on her weblog, to the upcoming announcement of a
major new Australian literary prize. No details at present but it is rumoured to be big, really big. James Bradley seems to know all about it, but isn't telling. Further information to follow by the end of this month.

First novel prize for authors over 50, perhaps. Nah, not a hope.

World Book Map

Ever wondered how often certain places on the world map are mentioned in books? Well, Matthew Gray, a software engineer at Google did and came up with a map showing just that. You can see the outline of Australia, though most of the west coast is very faint.

The Great Unread

"The Guardian" reports that DBC Pierre's Man Booker prize winning novel, Vernon God Little, tops the list of the books Britons found hard to finish. There is a rather distinguished list here, with Salman Rushdie, JK Rowling, Leo Tolstoy and James Joyce also appearing. I can say I actually finished the novel, but it was a helluva struggle.

Australian Bookcovers #55 - Mood Indigo by Mandy Sayers


Mood Indigo by Mandy Sayers, 1990
Cover illustration: Derryn Tal Cover design: Peter Schofield
(Allen and Unwin 1990 edition)
[This novel won the Australian/Vogel Award in 1989.]

The Secret of Books

Alice felt depressed. After this, she thought, she would visit a bookshop. Her tastes in knowledge garnering were irredeemably old-fashioned. She loved the feel of books, their integrity as objects. The wing-plan of them, the scent and the warmth of paper. She loved the relative stiffness of the cover and the sentience of settled print. Random flicking of pages, inscription, dog-ears. She loved -- though it was a sin -- to see books left open upside down, their bird shape accentuated in the keeping of a page. She loved those images of the Annunciation in which the Virgin rests her index finger on a page of her book, retaining her place during Gabriel's visit. Or the mortuary statues in European churches, that have dukes and bishops sleeping in death on the pillow of an open book. She loved second-hand bookshops for their presumption that any tatty volume mattered, and new bookshops, for their signs and neat rows of books, waiting to be opened for the very first time. Inherited books. Books as gifts. Books as objects flung across the room in a lover's argument. Books (this most of all) taken into the warm sexual space of the bed, held upon the lap, entered like another body, companionable, close, interconnecting with innermost things. Those bed books that chart the route between waking and sleeping, that are a venture of almost hypnagogic power. Those enticements. Adventures. Corridors of words. Capsules. Secrets.

From Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones, pp 136-137

Poem: The Lost Chord by Eddyson (Edward Dyson)

Half-waking and half-dreaming
   I sat me down to write.
The full thoughts flowing, gleaming,
   I wove them with delight.
With bardic rules empiric
   I wrought at fever heat
To make that lovely lyric
   The world must find so sweet.

The small typewriter clicking
   The tropes that softly rise,
A clock above me ticking,
   And dusk before my eyes;
The deft hands score my rhyming,
   I whisper: "This excels!
'Tis like the distant chiming
   Of seven holy bells."

So sped the lovely proem:
   The ringing lines flew fast.
I finished straight my poem,
   And inspiraton passed.
I dreamed a little o'er it;
   Adoring it I smiled,
The parent I who bore it,
   And it my passion-child.

Alas! in the typewriter
   No sunlit verses shone,
And now, a mooning blighter,
   I mourn a pearl that's gone.
Past hope, like morning vapor,
   That never more is seen --
I'd run no paper
   Into the curst machine!

First published in The Bulletin, 8 April 1920

Sorry, Who Was That Again?

Here's a curious item which appeared recently in Sarah Weinman's weblog "Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind":

Kimberly Scott's first novel, UNDERTOW, a legal thriller set in Boston, and the first in a series, originally published in Australia by Pan Macmillan under the pseudonym Sydney Bauer, to Carole Baron at Madison Park Press (for an exclusive six-month window) and to Natalee Rosenstein at Berkley, by Harvey Klinger at Harvey Klinger (NA).

Austlit, states simply, in their biographical notes about the author: "Sydney Bauer worked as a television programming executive with the Seven Network."

And yet, Weinman also points us to the author's website, which is pretty slick with enough publicity photos and background to make us wonder: why the pseudonym in the first place? The author is hardly trying to hide her identity.

Miles Franklin Award Discussion

As mentioned a couple of days back, the longlist for the 2007 Miles Franklin Award will be released on March 15th, and, as is my annual practice, I've put together a list of novels that might appear. Remember that 54 novels were submitted for the 2006 Award, with 12 making the longlist and five the shortlist.

Longlist possibilities:

Shadowboxing by Tony Birch
The Resurrectionist by James Bradley
Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey
Silent Parts by John Charalambous
Safety by Tegan Bennett Daylight
The Pilo Family Circus by William Elliott
The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan
Diamond Dove by Adrian Hyland
Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones
The Memory of Tides by Angelo Loukakis
Underground by Andrew McGahan
Cricket Kings by William McInnes
Tuvalu by Andrew O'Connor
Careless by Deborah Robertson
Swallow the Air by Tara June Winch
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

There must be more than that?

The March 2007 Issue of "The Australian Literary Review"

The March 2007 issue of "The Australian Literary Review" is published this week as a supplement to Wednesday's "The Australian" newspaper, and I'm somewhat disappointed with it.

I'll admit up-front that the bulk of my reading is fiction, of one genre or another, so I tend to skim through the contents of literary journals such as this looking for the reviews that will appeal to me. I realise they aren't going to be full of the stuff I want but do assume that, normally, fiction will appear there somewhere. Well, not this month it won't. This month it's wall-to-wall non-fiction.

If you've been reading between the lines of some comments I've made in my "Weekend Round-up" posts over the past few months, you will have noticed that I haven't been mentioning very many works of fiction over that time. I have just been putting this down to a lack of new Australian fiction hitting the market. That might be the case for a week-on-week book review section of a major newspaper, but a monthly? Surely not. Surely there is enough around in any given month to score a mention of some sort.

In order to put this into context I thought I'd compare "The Australian Literary Review" with the other major Australian literary review journal in an attempt to come to some sort of conclusion. The other journal under consideration is "Australian Book Review".

I've mentioned ABR on this weblog from time to time. For a long period it has been the prime and premier source of book reviews in this country. It's a glossy, monthly magazine, about quarto sized, chock full of book reviews, which, until recently, appeared to be solely Australian in nature (writer, subject, publisher or context). It's reviews are grouped within each issue by subject, and the March 2007 issue contains the following: Memoir, Middle East, Politics, Media, Art, Sociology, Cultural Studies, Music Fiction, Literary Studies, Reference, Australian History, Journals and Poetry. (Please note, I've left out a few sections here - sections which are specific to this journal - such as letters, prizes and lectures. I'm concentrating on the reviews). Each of these sections contains detailed reviews of several books, a total of 27 in all.

"The Australian Literary Review" follows a similar layout with its reviews, though, in this case, the journal is printed on tabloid-sized newsprint, with each page being approximately twice the size of those in ABR. The sections it covers this month are: Politics, Economics, Education, Religion, Literature, and Biography. A total of 13 books.

You'll see a difference in the number of books under review for a start. Don't take a lot of notice of this, that isn't really what I'm interested in. And if you get bogged down simply on overall numbers you'll miss the point. The point is that ABR reviews 3 works of fiction this month and the ALR none.

It's not that there isn't any "worthwhile" fiction around to review, (the ABR looks into the new Tom Keneally, the latest Steven Carroll and a first novel by Lindsay Simpson), so we have to assume that a specific decision was made not to review any fiction in ALR this month - which is worrying enough - or, worse still, that the lack of fiction reviews has something to do with the journal's association with "The Australian" newspaper. In other words, maybe fiction reviews aren't being published in the ALR because they've already been covered in the weekend editions of the newspaper.

I got the idea when the ALR was re-launched last year that it was aiming to have a fair degree of independence, so this last possibility is especially worrying as it implies that editorial policies of the ALR are being dictated by what is, and is not, reviewed in the main paper. If this is the case then there should be some correlation between the number of fiction titles reviewed in "The Australian" over the past few months, and the lack of any in ALR this month. A quick search back over the afore-mentioned "Weekend Round-up" posts for January and February shows that the "Weekend Australian" reviewed a total of 4 novels in that time - I missed a week so it might have slightly higher, I doubt by much. Which tends to suggest that the main paper isn't reviewing much in the way of Australian fiction either.

Yet, if you venture back only as far as October last year, when this version of the journal was launched, the ALR reviewed 6 fiction titles in one issue.

So, let's assume that the ALR is trying to stand on his own two feet, and that it is making its own decisions, without regard to what is happening in its parent publication. And in that event I wonder what sort of audience they are currently aiming at. I would tend to suggest it's not one that reads a lot of fiction. It's not me.

2007 ABC Fiction Award

Sydney-based writer Damian McDonald has been announced as the winner of the 2007 ABC Fiction Award.

McDonald's novel, Luck in the Greater West, was chosen from over 400 entrants. The prize is worth $10,000, and the book will be published by ABC Books as part of the award.

Last year's award was won by Will Elliott for his novel The Pilo Family Circus, which has done pretty well for itself in the past 12 months.

Patrick White Day

Austlit reports the following: "On Friday 30 March, the National Library of Australia is celebrating Patrick White with an all-day event providing a unique opportunity to see items from this extensive collection in conjunction with a major seminar. Journalist and biographer David Marr, manuscripts and rare books dealer Nicholas Pounder, and Professor Elizabeth Webby of the University of Sydney will share their personal recollections and responses to this treasure trove at an event chaired by the Library's Curator of Manuscripts, Marie-Louise Ayres. To finish the day, White fans will have an opportunity to enjoy 'Dinner with Patrick' - with a menu based on White's own recipes in the archive - in the private dining room at The Ginger Room, Old Parliament House."

Great Australian Authors #39 - Norman Lindsay


Norman Lindsay (1879 - 1969)

"You have solved the problem," said Bunyip Bluegum, and, wringing his friend's hand, he ran straight home, took his Uncle's walking-stick, and, assuming an air of pleasure, set off to see the world.

He found a great many things to see, such as dandelions, and ants, and traction engines, and bolting horses, and furniture being removed, besides being kept busy raising his hat, and passing the time of day with people on the road, for he was a very well-bred young fellow, polite in his manners, graceful in his attitudes, and able to converse on a great variety of subjects, having read all the best Australian poets.

Unfortunately, in the hurry of leaving home, he had forgotten to provide himself with food, and at lunch time found himself attacked by the pangs of hunger.

"Dear me," he said, "I feel quite faint. I had no idea that one's stomach was so important. I have everything I require, except food; but without food everything is rather less than nothing.

"Ive got a stick to walk with.
I've got a mind to think with.
I've got a voice to talk with.
I've got an eye to wink with.
I've got lots of teeth to eat with,
A brand new hat to bow with,
A pair of fists to beat with,
A rage to have a row with.
No joy it brings
   To have indeed
A lot of things
   One does not need.
Observe my doleful plight.
   For here am I without a crumb
   To satisfy a raging tum --
O what an oversight!"
As he was indulging in these melancholy reflections he came round a bend in the road, and discovered two people in the very act of having lunch. These people were none other than Bill Barnacle, the sailor, and his friend, Sam Sawnoff, the penguin bold.

From The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay, 1918

2007 Miles Franklin Award

Australia's most prestigious literary award will be appearing on our cultural radars before too long: the longlist will be released on March 15th, the shortlist on April 19, and the winner on June 21.

The "Australian Book Review", honoring the award's 50th anniversary, has instituted the Miles Franklin Beat-up Award. "This will be awarded to the first reader who alerts us to a grumpy news story about the perfidy of Miles." In other words, they want someone to grumble about the fact that the award is only presented to books (or plays) which reflect Australian characters, settings or references. Well, I had my say about this last year so I won't be caught out again. I may be grumpy but even I can see a set-up when it stares me in the face.

Richard Flanagan

Samela Harris, in "The Advertiser", interviews Richard Flanagan as his latest novel, The Unknown Terrorist, is chosen to be "The Advertiser" Big Book Club's book for March.

And let me tell you, that's a very grumpy looking photo of the author.

John Brosnan

Garry Kilworth took John Brosnan's ashes home, to '... a vineyard outside the community of Sulky, between the large towns of Ballarat and Castlemaine in Victoria, Australia. There we scattered the remainder of John's ashes on the vines, with the words, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, wine to the vine." We chose the vineyard of "Dulcinea" wines because of the literary connection -- Dulcinea being "the sweet and
beautiful one" in Don Quixote as I'm sure you all know. It was a sunny day, not too hot (though the countryside here is in the 11th year of a drought) with a wonderful view from the vineyard which swept down to open fields, over what we would call a dew pond (here they call it a dam) to hazy blue mountains beyond. There was a stiff breeze which caught the ashes and spread them down one of the lanes of vines. I had also chosen a verse from an Australian poem called "The Old Australian Ways" by Banjo Patterson, who wrote "Waltzing Matilda". We drove to the bottom of the vineyard where I read it out loud, feeling the owners might wonder what the heck was going on. So throw the weary pen aside / And let the papers rest, / For [you] must saddle up and ride / Towards the blue hill's breast; / And [you] must travel far and fast / Across their rugged maze, /To
find the Spring of Youth at last, / And call back from the buried past / The old Australian ways.' [via Robert Holdstock]

From Ansible 236, March 2007

You might remember that I wrote about the death of John Brosnan here in 2005.

Dreck by Garry Disher

Hmmm, Garry, maybe you could have a quiet word with your German publisher over this one.

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #7

The Age

In his review of Steven Carroll's latest novel, The Time We Have Taken, Michael McGirr compares this third book in the author's trilogy with Elizabeth Jolley's work, favourably. "Carroll's trilogy is the equal of Jolley's. It has the emotional stamina needed to draw life from the same characters over three independent novels...Carroll writes the kind of still prose that invites the reader into a contemplative space. The irony is that his subject matter is restless." It's a major triumph of Carroll's that he has been able to produce novels whose surfaces reflect the period of the books, and yet have a lot of depth. "Carroll takes time to tell an untidy story with a gentle sense of wonder. His prose whispers loud."

Meme McDonald has a new young adult book out, Love Like Water, and Martin Flangan profiles the author, and, in the process, reviews the novel as well. "A lot of silly things are said about novels and art, but I do think this book goes somewhere new. To begin with, as a male reader, I find it an unusually compelling portrait of a man. Then there is the fact that the man happens to be Aboriginal. How many other white novelists are able to present Aboriginal Australia in the sort of depth and complexity this book does? This, truly, is a book about the meeting of two worlds."

The Australian

The paper must be saving itself for its March edition of "The Australian Literary Review", which is out tomorrow.

Australian Poetry

Peter Craven sings the praises of Australian poetry in "The Australian": "English critic Frank Kermode said once that during World War II he had the good fortune to fall into the hands of Australian poets at a time when Australian poetry was more interesting than British poetry. It's an arresting remark, not least because we're always captivated by compliments from eminent people overseas, yet it also highlights the fact that Australian poetry is good, and always has been."

On Other Blogs #20

Sean Williams provides us with
details of his upcoming publication, a collection of his early stories, Light Bodies Falling. You can purchase signed pre-release copies from the publisher. Sean has the details.

Lazy Cow, for that is what she calls herself, only read 11 books during February (!). She details the problems she has stopping herself spending money on these books on her weblog "Only Books All the Time". Three suggestions: 1) stop beating yourself up over the number of books you've read - one a week puts you into the top 5% of Australian readers anyway; 2) stop counting the amount you spend on books - it only gets you despressed and you need to think of books as soul-food; 3) consider finding a good library - it turns out cheaper that way.

Eddie Campbell takes an unusual approach to judging a book by using another book's cover. In this instance he suggests that Will Dyson's cover for the book Fact'ry 'Ands, by his brother Edward Dyson, might just be a better illustration for C.J. Dennis's The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke. He has a point.

First Tuesday Book Club

For Australian readers be aware that the first 2007 episode of First Tuesday Book Club is on ABC television this evening at 10:00pm. The books under discusion this evening are The Solid Mandala by Patrick White, and Mr Pips by Lloyd Jones, which has a protagonist named Matilda. Have to catch up with that one soon.

Australian Bookcovers #54 - The Mint Lawn by Gillian Mears


The Mint Lawn by Gillian Mears, 1992
Cover illustration: Yvonne Mears. Cover design: Peter Schofield
(Allen and Unwin 1992 edition)
[This novel won the Australian/Vogel Award in 1990.]

Extract: Life Class: The Education of a Biographer by Brenda Niall

Brenda Niall, mainly known for her literary biography of author Martin Boyd, and a further biography of the others in the Boyd clan, has released a memoir of her writing life, Life Class: The Education of a Biographer. "The Age", this weekend, published an extract from that memoir, in which Niall details the problems that can arise when attempting to interview a reluctant subject; in this case Archbishop Mannix. "The archbishop's inquiries made me conscious of the difficulty of my role. There was a certain weariness in the courtesies; and no sign that he was ready to talk about himself. Sitting opposite him, with my blank notepad open, I tried awkwardly to reverse our roles. I was naive enough to have thought that we would begin at the beginning, and from there the words would flow. There was no tape recorder. Someone who refused to speak on the telephone was not likely to allow this more recent form of technology. Recording would not have helped much; the words came so slowly and quietly that I had plenty of time to transcribe. My halting questions about his childhood drew a sentence or two, before an unmistakable full stop."

The Patrick White Papers

You'll remember the amazing news of last year that announced the discovery of a large cache of papers belonging to Patrick White, previously thought destroyed. Now, Marie-Louise Ayres, Curator of Manuscripts, provides an overview of those papers in the latest issue of the "National Library of Australia News".

Poem: "Poor John Farrell" by V.J.D. (Victor Daley)

"I knew all now and reckoned that 'nothing mattered much' in this world, as poor John Farrell used to say." - SUNDAY TIMES

You may live all your life half-drunk
   You may live hard and fast,
You may be sober as a monk --
   It comes to this at last.

It comes to this that when you die
   One fact you can't escape --
Above your grave will mope or cry
   Some living owl or ape.

He sang full many a rousing stave,
   And brewed full many a barrel
Of humming ale; yet in his grave
   They call him "poor John Farrell!"

His means were small, his spirit fine
   And generous and grand;
His heart it was a ruby mine,
   Johannesburg his hand.

His sympathies ran round the globe,
   He scorned your fine apparel --
He wore the radiant singing-robe,
   Our dear old "poor John Farrell."

Is it because his soul has fled
   From earth, they call him poor?
Why Homer's dead, and Shakespeare's dead,
   And so is Thomas Moore.

If being dead -- or gone, at least --
   Means indigence so sore,
Jay Gould has been some time deceased,
   And Midas is no more.

This always was the way with men;
   One dies, and his compeers
Crow o'er their immortality,
   Of ten more months, or years.

I know them well, the foolish band,
   Who mournfully remark --
"Poor Adam Lindsay Gordon" and
   "Poor dear old Marcus Clarke."

I know, too, that beyond our dry,
   Small shrunken periods,
Farrell is brewing in the sky
   Ambrosia for the gods.

How he would laugh if he could know
   That still his name is craped
By brother scribes in weeds of woe --
   Because he has Escaped!

No mournful string for him I strike,
   But lilt a careless carol,
And drink his health -- as he would like --
   Good luck to you, John Farrell!

First published in The Bulletin, 7 July 1904

Note: John Farrell was born at Buenos Aires in 1851, and his family arrived in Melbourne in 1852, attracted by the goldfields. Farrell's verse was first published in the Albury local press and his first "Bulletin" contribution appeared in 1882. His first significant book of verse, How He Died, appeared in 1887 and another collection, My Sundowner and Other Poems, edited by Bertram Stevens, appeared in 1904. He died in Sydney in 1904.

2006 Australian Shadow Awards Shortlists

The Australian Shadow Awards are presented by the Australian Horror Writers' Association to honor dark fiction, and the 2006 shortlists have now been released. Well, actually, they have been re-released. In their first incarnation, the awards listed Terry Dowling's story "The Bullet that Grows in the Gun". Unfortunately, this story was originally published in 1985 and hence should not have been eligible. This is only the second year of these awards so it is hoped that this is just a minor glitch, and that procedures will be put in place to ensure it doesn't happen again. The discrepancy has now been rectified and the shortlisted works are:

"Father Renoir's Hands" by Lee Battersby
"The Blow-Off" by Stephen Dedman
"The Dying Light" by Deborah Biancotti
The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliott
"The Bridal Bier" by Carol Ryles

The winner of the award will be announced on March 25th.

Australian Literary Monuments #11 - Barry Humphries


Barry Humphries plaque, Circular Quay, Sydney.

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
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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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