The 2007 Sydney Writers' Festival is underway and you can get full details of the program on their website.
May 2007 Archives
Damien, on the "Crime Down Under" weblog, has reported that the nominees for the 2007 Ned Kelly Awards have been released. These awards recognise Australian crime fiction, and are presented in three categories: Best Crime Fiction, Best First Crime Novel, and Best True Crime. The winners will be announced during The Age Melbourne Writers' Festival in August/September. Must see if I can get along this year.
Margo Lanagan, author of the short story collections Black Juice and Red Spikes, is interviewed at "Articulate", the ABC's Arts and Entertainment blog.
In the interview she gives details about what she has coming up, and what she is currently working on: the major news being the drafting of a full-length novel, which has been sold to both adult and children's imprints, and which is due by the end of July.
A bad habit has developed in some discussions of Australian literature -- the reduction of writers to a supposedly representative handful who are then meant to stand in for the many. Subtle readings that bring out the complexity and breadth of Australian writing are not helped by this kind of simplification, and someone from another planet, or the United Kingdom, might get the idea that Australian poetry was restricted to a choice between two or three somewhat self-serving aesthetic billabongs. Professor Geoffrey Blainey's well-known formulation that Australian history and culture had been formed under the pall of "the tyranny of distance" had its literary equivalent in the strangely disjunct yoking of cosmopolitan yearnings and parochial machinations. With a smallish readership, and when some of the poets concerned also reviewed, the resulting attempts at creating instant canons of the various orthodoxies were probably inevitable.
- Peter Nicholson, Gwen Harwood
Christina Stead Prize for Fiction ($20,000)
Peter Carey, Theft: a Love Story, Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Douglas Stewart Prize for Non Fiction ($20,000)
Robert Hughes, Things I Didn't Know: a Memoir, Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry ($15,000)
John Tranter, Urban Myths: 210 Poems, University of Queensland Press
Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature ($15,000)
Narelle Oliver, Home, Omnibus Books
Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature ($15,000)
Ursula Dubosarsky, The Red Shoe, Allen & Unwin
Play Award ($15,000)
Tommy Murphy, "Holding the Man" (adapted from the book by Timothy Conigrave, Griffin Theatre Company & Currency Press
Script Award ($15,000)
Tony Ayres, "The Home Song Stories", Porchlight Films & Big & Little Films
Community Relations Commission Award ($15,000)
Shaun Tan, The Arrival, Hachette Livre Australia
Gleebooks Prize for Critical Writing ($10,000)
Gideon Haigh, Asbestos House: the Secret History of James Hardie Industries, Scribe Publications Pty Ltd
UTS Award for New Writing ($5,000)
Tara June Winch, Swallow the Air, University of Queensland Press
Book of the Year (additional $2,000)
Shaun Tan, The Arrival, Hachette Livre Australia
Special Award ($5,000)
NSW Premier's Translation Prize ($15,000) & PEN Medallion
Some interesting selections there: Carey's novel won from a field that includes all four of the works shortlisted for this year's Miles Franklin Award; and Shaun Tan winning Book of the Year. And I'm not criticising Shaun here. On the contrary, I'm shocked that the judges were able to see the worth of the work, a graphic novel with no words.
Elizabeth Stead reminds me a little of the late English writer Mary Wesley, at least from a publishing perspective: both wrote for many years before publishing their first novels late in life - with Stead she was in her early 60s when The Fishcastle appeared. I guess having Christina Stead as an aunt wasn't as much of a help as that relationship might first suggest.
Ian Barry interviews the author for "The Courier-Mail" on the occasion of the publication of her fourth novel, The Gospel of Gods and Crocodiles.
Peter Nicholson, on the "3 Quarks Daily" weblog, examines the standing of Gwen Harwood as a poet, and, in the process, has some interesting things to say about Australian literature and the categorisation of culture. "How good it is to come across a poet where there is no look-at-me subtext going on. Meditative, rueful, this is writing one can immediately relate to. Harwood's philosophical bent has made her world thetangible one we all know: about the house, glimmers of beatitudes, thinking on the meaning of friendship, loves remembered, nature's beauty holding off darknesses. Eloquent music. A memorable and hard-earned calm in the face of the tell-tale X-ray or the tragicomedy of having the large sensibility in the small-town environs. And there is passion too."
"The Rap Sheet" is a crime fiction related weblog out of the US, and just recently put out a call to all its readers to identify unjustly forgotten or neglected crime novels. Peter Temple wrote in (it's a fair way down the page) suggesting the Essington Lewis novels of Australian writer Robin Wallace-Crabbe, with his favourite being To Catch a Forger from 1988.
Chris McLaren appears to be a Canadian from Halifax - I found a few hints about this on the blog but no specific information - who found himself in Melbourne recently for work. Being a reader he got to spend a bit of time hunting out Australian books, and then decided to write about it. Good to see he discovered Shane Maloney, Peter Temple and Margo Lanagan.
Marshal Zeringue applies his page 99 test to Just Desserts by Simon Haynes.
John Simon reviews Clive James's non fiction collection, Cultural Amnesia in "The Washington Post". "Let us concede some things to Clive James right away. He is, or can be, a brilliantly original thinker; he is, or can be, a brilliant writer. He has read voraciously and multifariously on any number of subjects and put it all to excellent use. He has taught himself several languages, including some Japanese, by means of serious reading with the dictionary by his side. And having journeyed all over the world and sojourned in many places, this Australian is truly cosmopolitan." Which reads like a set-up for a harsh put-down later, but it doesn't appear. Simon has some quibbles though not a lot.
Damien is maintaining his high review rate of Australian crime fiction on his "Crime Down Under" weblog, and recently looked at The Shadow Maker by Robert Sims, a thriller set in Melbourne. He's pretty taken with it right off the bat: "A good thriller will grab your attention early on with a memorable hook and maybe an unusual twist that sets the story apart from the many others out there. That probably has to go double if it's a debut novel. Robert Sims appears to have taken this mantra to heart in no uncertain terms in his highly impressive psychological thriller The Shadow Maker." And that feeling continues on till the end: "As an action-based psychological thriller, The Shadow Maker succeeds in delivering a power-packed story. And although the main characters are still as largely unknown quantities at the end of the book as they are at the start, there is a sense that there will be more to come featuring the strong-willed, but enigmatic, Detective Sergeant Rita Van Hassel."
Susanna Yager makes a brief mention of Peter Temple's novels An Iron Rose and Black Debts, in "The Telegraph": "The laconic dialogue in both books is terrific and the characters are brilliantly realised."
Sorry by Gaul Jones has now been published in the UK by Harvill Secker and is reviewed by Maya Jaggi in "The Guardian", who finds that the "influence of theory is occasionally obtrusive. Yet when characters and events are left to speak for themselves the story proves powerful and poignant."
Shane Maloney, whose latest novel Sucked In is selling out all over town, is back on home territory for his interview with the "Moonee Valley Community News".
Readers of the Murray Whelan series need to be aware that the author is foreshadowing the fact that there will be only one more in the series, bring the total to seven. No details of when the seventh and last novel will be published.
Over the past week or so I've seen Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change by Clive Hamilton shelved, in various bookshops, in amongst the non-fiction bestselling lists. So, the review this week by Tim Flannery, is of special interest, with climate change or glabal warming looming as a major issue in this Australian Federal election year. Flannery finds this an odd book, laying into all and sundry with some rather dubious arguments. "As Hamilton develops his argument, it becomes clear that he sees Australia rather than the US as the major stumbling block to a more effective Kyoto Protocol. Indeed, he quotes sources alleging that our country is 'encouraging the US to stay out of the protocol'. This turns current perception on its head: most people that I know in the environment movement believe that the reverse is true." And then criticising Al Gore's visit to Australia last year as unproductive and even adminishing Flannery himself who, in his book The Weather Makers emphasised the importance of individuals in abating their own greenhouse emissions. Hamilton's argument there is that it lets governments off the hook; which strikes me as the same argument put forward by governments who want other peope to do the work first. In the end, though, Flannery is a bit confused by the book: "There are also problems with the internal consistency of Hamilton's argument. At the beginning of the book, for example, he sees the problem as being a cluster of industries that have something to lose from Australia tackling climate change. By its end, however, he is trenchantly arguing that it is Australia's coal-export industry that is the real culprit. This may represent the evolution of the author's thinking, but not to go back through the work to make it internally consistent is sloppy."
Jeff Glorfeld looks at two new crime novels, Shattered by Gabrielle Lord and The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham, and finds both of them worth hunting up. [No review on the webpage, so far as I can find.]
David Pearce also tackles Hamilton's book, along with The 3rd Degree: Frontline in Australia's Climate War by Murray Hogarth. "Scorcher is not a dispassionate academic history; it's written to make a point about what Hamilton considers to be a policy failure the likes of which we have not seen since Federation. This makes Scorcher challenging: the reader is constantly forced to think about the workings of government and about what constitutes good policy on climate change...While Hamilton tells a tale of villains, Murray Hogarth tells the story of his heroes, fighters on the front line of a long war for survival in a climate change world. Hogarth sets out his strategies for a climate war, a set of actions to win the big battle of our times. While war analogies have been devalued in recent times (war on drugs, war on terror, war on poverty, war on corruption, war on obesity), Hogarth's usage is well-intentioned; he wants to inspire us to do remarkable things."
As we noted earlier this month, the film adaptation of Raimond Gaita's memoir Romulus, My Father has now been completed, with premieres of the film being held in Castlemaine and Melbourne in Victoria over the weekend. Now Gaita href="http://www.theage.com.au/news/books/romulus-revisited/2007/05/24/1179601574737.html">explains to Rachel Buchanan how he reacted to the film, how he has no plans to write further memoirs, and what he is intending to publish next.
In an edited version of a speech he gave to launch the Emerging Writers' Festival last Friday, Waleed Aly contemplates the passion for writing that is required to produce great works:
Truly admirable works exist simply because they must for their own sake. The writer neither controls them nor wills them into existence, but they emerge nonetheless. Every writer knows when they encounter a text that forces itself into the world, that cannot be suppressed, that simply must burst into its ultimate expression. Here, the writer is compelled. This is what it means to write with passion: to write for reasons one does not comprehend, but is powerless to resist. To write utterly organically. Anyone fortunate enough to be so compelled will inevitably produce something compelling.The author is a Melbourne lawyer whose book, People Like Us, will be published by Picador later this year.
The Ancestor Game by Alex Miller, 1992
Cover painting: Celestial Lane by Rick Amor, 1989
(Penguin 1992 edition)
[This novel was the winner of the Miles Franklin Award, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and the Barbara Ramsden Award for best novel, all in 1993.]
By all reports, the initial book event held in Clunes, Victoria, just outside Ballarat, went down a treat (see my note on this earlier). I read somewhere that some 6,000 visitors made it to the town during the day, so there were massive traffic jams. The booksellers who attended were very happy with the response, with a number seriously contemplating re-locating to the town. The momentum is working in the right direction, it seems.
"The Age" newspaper is reporting that Lloyd Jones from New Zealand has won the 2007 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, for his novel Mr Pip.
This is also a pretty good result for local Melbourne publisher Text, which published the book worldwide (except for New Zealand where Penguin had the rights) and which also published the 2006 winner, The Secret River by Kate Grenville.
Just outside my office window the dust lies on the leaves,
And the great shadows sway and pass
Dark splashes on the wind-swept grass,
And tall and slim a date palm flings its green crest to the eaves.
My fingers pick the black notes and clatter on the white;
The purple ribbon slides along --
Ting! goes the sharp voice of the gong.
Click! from the carriage handle jerking upwards on the right.
I rest my fingers on the keys and pause awhile, to dream
Of polished leaves in forest dells,
Of far-off clang of teamsters' bells.
Gold afternoons, and still lagoons where water lilies gleam;
Of a bird voice, clear and joyous, out beyond the timber line;
Of sawdust drifting from the mill;
Of grass trees climbing up the hill;
Of scent of almond from the scrub and resin from the pine.
But, there! I'm wasting time to-day; this typing must be done.
'Twas just those shadows brought it back
Like swinging vines across the track
In days when everything was hope, and everywhere was sun!
First published in The Bulletin, 20 September 1906
At the end of last year I gave a brief summary of the current literary podcasts in Australia that were available for donwload. Now we can add another one.
The Naked Novelist is run by Brendan Gullifer, and a lot of the podcasts available were first broadcast from his Melbourne-based Community Radio 3CR radio show "Published or Not". So far he has put up links to 27 shows that are available for download. Check it out. Brendan provides details of how to access the files and copy them to your computer or MP3 player, or you can read my original piece for some advice.
The Nebula Awards are presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy writers of America (SFWA) and aim to honour the best written works in the field in a given calendar year. The 2006 awards were announced some time back (I've been rather tardy in posting about this) and it's great to see that Justine Larbalestier won the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, for her novel Magic and Madness. While not strictly speaking a Nebula, this award will carry a lot of kudos and is only the second ever presented by the SFWA. I think they're finally starting to understand the Young Adult category at last.
Susan Wyndham follows Shirley Hazzard's travel advice, and sometimes the woman herself, as she explores Capri, Rome and Naples for "The Sydney Morning Herald". I can just about feel a holiday coming on.
The children's novel Nim's Island by Wendy Orr is to be adapted into a film featuring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin who received an Oscar nomination this year for her role in "Little Miss Sunshine", which also featured Toni Collette. Filming is expected to start on the Gold Coast in July this year, ahead of an April 2008 US release.
"The Courier-Mail" newspaper is wondering where all the new major poets are. Likening the current long-running drought with that suffered by the country in the 1890s, the unnamed writer of this piece points out:
The impact of the 1890s drought on the country we live in today is almost impossible to exaggerate. There is a case to be argued that even the decision for the colonies to federate was influenced by the terrifying realities of that big dry.So, where are the current-day responses to this big dry? Methods of communication have changed markedly in the past 110 years, not least of them being the demise of poetry as a popular artform. But has anything stepped in to take its place? Has the massive social shift from the "bush" to the "city" in Australian society distanced us so much from the effects of the drought that any artistic response
The Australian Labor Party became a real political force because of that drought; our Constitution contains carefully worded phrases about the allocation of water rights because of that drought; some men walked away from hopeless lives and went off to fight the Boer War because of that drought, and some of our greatest cultural treasures exist because of that drought. Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson wrote some of their finest works on the back of the social and economic upheaval of the times.
will be minimal and ineffectual?
We would hope not, but if the past four or five years is anything to go by, you'd have to say "yes".
Shane Maloney's return, with his novel Sucked In, has been widely applauded and Ian Syson is another spreading the love. "Shane Maloney is the master of a genre of his own making -- apparatchik lit. Stories from the murky, lurky world of Australian politics (especially inside the Labor Party and union movement) have no better teller in contemporary Australian fiction...His soft-boiled (some might go so far as to suggest eggs benedict) protagonist, Murray Whelan, is already established as a major character in Melbourne's fictional world. Maloney's five previous novels have created a biography and storyscape by which many readers are by now totally (ahem) sucked in." After the "death and destruction and genre-stretching excesses of the previous work, Something Fishy", Syson finds Maloney is back to his best with this one.
The heading atop Lisa Gorton's review of Dorothy Porter's new work, El Dorado, is a strange one: "Dorothy Porter forces a murder mystery into a verse novel, with compelling results." What's with the use of the word "force"? The implication here is that "verse" and "crime" don't mix. If this novel is anything like The Monkey's Mask there is really no forcing evident. The fact that the writer has decided to use a particular form should only be cause for concern if it fails, and that's certainly not what Gorton thinks. "A murder mystery is perhaps the most plot-driven of literary forms. Porter shows its plot can exist for the most part in the gaps between what characters, one after another, say. In this way, the whole work of finding the murderer comes to equal the work of putting different perspectives together, adding up the various things these characters know."
One thing though: don't use Agatha Christie as a comparison point any more. Christie and Porter have nothing in common except they both write in English. It's time for reviewers to acquaint themselves with the genre they are writing about and find newer, more relevant, analogies.
Jannete Hospital Turner's latest novel, Orpheus Lost, fits squarely in the new literature of terror according to Stella Clarke. It's a genre that has been gathering exponents over the past few years: Amis, McEwan, Flanagan, Rushdie and Updike among them. "With every urban atrocity and suicide bombing, every extremist travesty of the Islamic faith made public, this literature is reinforced as the magnetic north of alarmed readers." And on this novel specifically she says that it "speaks to us about how, these days, we are engulfed in paranoia. Nobody feels safe. We are precariously perched on the lip of the abyss. This is possibly the richest, most haunting read you will encounter this year."
Evan Whitton's review of Kickback: Inside the Australian Wheat Board Scandal by Caroline Overington is titled "Fools, lies and a flawed investigation", and nary a better title was ever applied to a Royal Commission. The book, on the other hand, delivers the goods: a "compelling narrative" Whitton calls it.
I happened to be perusing a website this morning which led me from one site to another, as is often the case, when I came across a literary agent's website that was new to me. So I went through the normal process of checking out the author list and submission guidelines where I came across something that I hadn't seen before. Under the normal requirements of a query letter, first 30-page extract, and word count was a request to outline the manuscript's submission history.
My first thought was: why would anyone do that? I can understand that an agent might not want to be a party to a multiple-submission (where the author spreads the ms round to all and sundry and waits to see who bites first) but this implied something else. The implication behind the request is that the agent wants to know where they rank in the
author's interest, and whether or not the ms has been rejected by anyone else previously.
While not in exactly the same line of work, I work as a contractor in the IT/business interface and, consequently, have to submit my resume to an agent when I am looking for work. All agents have to be aware that someone like me will spread my resume around in order to get the best coverage of employment opportunities. None of them would expect to have exclusive "rights" to represent me, and all would assume that I was talking to various other organisations. I wonder why the publishing business is so different here? Is it just accepted practice or something else?
But back to the original point about providing the submission history: I would just make a few minor changes to the ms - a word tweak here or there, a slight change in punctuation - and then resend, stating that this manuscript was being submitted for the first time. Anything else and you implant an expectation in the agent's mind that you really don't want to go anywhere near.
Highways to a Way by Christopher J Koch, 1996
Cover design by Button Design Co.
(William Heineman Australia 1996 edition)
[This novel was the winner of the Miles Franklin Award in 1997.]
Sophie Gee is not a name that most people interested in Australian literature will be aware of, but it might well be worth committing to memory as she is starting to attract some interest. Originally from Sydney, Gee is the niece of Kate Grenville and has been based in the US for the past 12 years working as an academic. Now, with her debut novel The Scandal of the Season about to be published, she is interviewed by Michael Williams in "The Sydney Morning Herald".
As we have mentioned a few times over the past few weeks, Tom Keneally's Booker Prize winning novel, Schindler's Ark, is the subject of "The Guardian's" Book Club for this month. In the weekend editon of the paper Keneally writes about the genesis of the novel, and attempts to answer a question that runs to the heart of the effect literature has on people.
The final question is this, and it's a universal one: by writing about the Holocaust, or the Armenian massacres, or the Irish famine, and trying to get to the truth of them, are you encouraging extremist actions by Israeli hardliners, say, or the Armenian Brotherhood, or the IRA? By writing about the Holocaust does one signify a lack of sympathy for the Palestinians? By writing a history of the transportation of Irish politicals to Australia, as I did in a book named The Great Shame, does one whistle up hardcore hatred in Ulster?
Of course not, I would argue. In situations where old injustices have been addressed, people are reconciled with history enough to confront it. In situations where justice still does not run, it's the system, not the historians, who create conflict."
The restless rover has left the track
Of "dust and flies" in the far "out-back";
He has dumped his swag by the Maori sea,
And we're lonely here in the old Gum-tree.
For the green leaves quivered to hear his song
Of the right of Right and the wrong of Wrong,
And the dead leaves turned from their misery
To hear that hymn in the old Gum-tree.
Will he find new themes in the Maori land --
A league of sea for a league of land?
Then his pent-up notes will be all too free,
Till he come back and sing in the old Gum-tree.
First published in The Bulletin, 17 July 1897
[Written on the occasion of Henry Lawson settling in Kaikouri, New Zealand, as a schoolmaster.]
In an edited extract from his latest essay collection, Cultural Amnesia, Clive James ponders the triumph of humanism.
The ideologists thought they understood history. They thought history had a shape, a predictable outcome, a direction that could be joined. They were wrong. Some were intellectuals who shamed themselves and their calling by bringing superior mental powers to the defence of misbegotten political systems that were already known to be dispensing agony to the helpless. The way to avoid the same error now is not through understanding less. It can only be through understanding more. The getting of wisdom is a hard road. Most of us are not equipped by nature to travel it at high speed, and some of us must crawl like babies. Our chafed hands and knees can easily make us wonder if the journey is worth it... The world is turning into one big liberal democracy anyway. Terrorism will punch angry holes in it, but in the long run nothing will stop the planetary transformation. Even if armed with a secondhand atomic bomb, an obscurantist can do nothing for the poor. Most of the poverty on Earth is caused by the number of people being born who would ordinarily never have been conceived. Prosperity gave them life. All too frequently the life seems not worth living, but when we cry out at the injustice we are asking for more democracy, not less.James always reads better to me when he takes the high overview - when he gets down to the nitty-gritty level he loses me.
Karen Chisholm takes a look at the third of Leigh Redhead's series of detective novels featuring her ex-stripper Simone Kirsch. She finds that Cherry Pie "takes a slightly darker, more edgy direction than the first two...we're definitely moving from totally light, funny and riotous into something slightly edgier and harder. Both Peepshow and Rubdown were great books, Cherry Pie is hinting at an even more interesting future."
You would think that Dorothy Porter's new verse novel, El Dorado, would have received more reviews by now. Maybe reviewers baulk at the idea of having to examine such a hybrid, thinking it toohard, or inaccessible. Anyway, Maggie Ball has taken up the challenge on the "M/C Reviews" website, and finds it "a linguistically powerful novel, which is both internally effective and at the same time, greater than the sum of its parts."
In the Online edition of "Greater Kashmir", Kala Krishnan Ramesh enthuses about Margo Lanagan's short story collection, Black Juice: "Only rarely does the writing inside books actually warrant the fulsome praise lavished on it by blurb and shout lines; as far as Margo Lanagan's Black Juice is concerned, 'breathtaking', 'dazzling', 'wonderful, 'exceptional' don't exaggerate. Lanagan's way with words is breathtaking; she spells them into magic, she cajoles them into chores, she commands them into soldiery, she sings them, she speaks them, she dances them, and they in turn cast an unfaltering spell over the reader. It is impossible not to recognise Margo Lanagan as a words-person who has laboured long, intent and persistently at the craft of languaging stories."
Garth Nix has been out promoting his books in the UK, and the Online Edition of "News Shopper" reports on a booksigning he did in Bromley on May 3rd. He gave advice to his young readers interested in writing stories, they should start "by introducing a character and a situation, finding a complication and resolving the problem in the conclusion." Yep, the old three-act show works everywhere.
I read this described recently as something along the lines of: in act one force your major character up a tree, in act two throw all the rocks you can find at him, in the third act figure out a way to get him down again.
I guess it's all in the pitch.
The topic for the 2007 Australian Book Review/La Trobe University Lecture has been announced. Hazel Rowley with talk on "The Ups, the Downs: My Life as a Biographer".
The lecture details:
Thursday May 24 - at 1 p.m.
West Lecture Theatre 3 (nearest parking at Car Park 1)
La Trobe University
Bookings and further information via ABR: abr[at]vicnet[dot]net[dot]au
or (03) 9429 6700
These are free events and open to the public.
Space is limited, so reservations are highly recommended.
Anyone who has been reading this weblog for a while will realise that I consider Australian literary awards rather important. While being cogniscent of all the arguments about the nature of such "competitions", I always come down on the side of the extra publicity that is generated for a literary work when it is nominated for, and maybe wins, a literary award. Every bit helps.
Which is why it is a bit disappointing that the trustees of the Nita B. Kibble prize for women writers don't have a website set up for the award. Hunting around on the web for details of the shortlisted titles and then for the announcement of the winner has led me to newspaper reports which, due to the nature of indexing search engines, sometimes aren't "findable" for some days after an announcement.
Anyway, ranting over.
"The Australian" newspaper has reported that the winner of the 2007 Nita Kibble Award for Women Writers is Deborah Robertson for her novel Careless.
Sure is time for me to get out and read this one now.
The State Library of Victoria is hosting a discussion titled "Girls' Books Versus Boys' Books" which they describe as "Six writers in an entertaining contest of wit and words."
Scheduled to take part are: Jacqueline Wilson (UK), Justine Larbalestier and Lisa Shanahan versus David Levithan (US), Jack Heath and Scot Gardner.
The event will be held at the Village Roadshow Theatrette at the Library (Entry 3, La Trobe Street), on Thursday 24th May from 6:30-8:30pm. Admission is $10, or $5 concession/student. You'll probably need to book - see the Youth Literature webpage for details, or ring 03 8664 7014 or email to "youthlit[at]slv[dot]vic[dot]gov[dot]au".
There are a number of Australian authors who have been producing consistently high levels of fiction over the past few years, and you would be greatly amiss if you were to leave Gail Jones out of that company. Kerry (?) Goldsworthy agrees: "The great beauty and depth of Jones' writing, in this novel as elsewhere, has simultaneous appeal for lovers of intricate, elegant thought, and lovers of verbal style. There's also a great deal of her signature literary 'sampling', with quotations, allusions and echoes from fiction and poetry vying for space inside her own sentences: Emerson, Dickinson, George Eliot and of course Shakespeare, who haunts these pages like a colossal, chanting ghost." But there is more to Jones's work than just fine writing, "it's also hard not to read this book as Jones' own personal, formal and explicit statement of apology: to see it as a kind of enactment in fiction of her ideas about Australian race relations and reconciliation, and as a suggestion that if the country's government cannot bring itself to offer an apology then perhaps its artists, at least, might step up to fill the gap."
The case of David Hicks will haunt the Australian justice system for years to come. On the eve of his return to Australia to serve the remainder of his sentence, Gerry Simpson reviews Detainee 002: The Case of David Hicks by Leigh Sales. "There are many remarkable features of the strange case of David Hicks but perhaps the most remarkable is that, in the face of public indifference from the two major political parties in Australia, his detention without trial by Australia's main ally has become a cause celebre. Make no mistake, there is now a widespread sense among those electorally all-important 'ordinary Australians' that something is rotten in the camps of Guantanamo Bay." Just remember, nothing political is a coincidence in an electoral year. Nothing.
Leigh Redhead's novels about her stripper PI, Simone Kirsch, have been receiving some good notices over the past few years so it's good to see "The Age" reviewing her latest, Cherry Pie. As Debi Eker finds "Redhead's world is not a place to linger long in order to ponder the mysteries of the universe or the dark complexities of the human soul. Her books are fast and dryly funny. The plots zoom along at a zesty clip, populated by colourful characters." Can't ask for more than that.
Geoffrey Lehmann comes to grips with Cultural Amnesia by Clive James, and likes what he finds: "Able to read a bit in Spanish, German, French, Italian and Russian, James is an ideal guide to his cast of cultural heroes and villains, who are as diverse as Coco Chanel, Adolf Hitler, Tacitus and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Despite his remarkable erudition, he is never snooty or obscure and is easy on the reader, getting quickly to the point. Once there, he may sometimes linger too long. That may be inevitable with a book of this size from an author who is so prolific. But almost invariably he retrieves the objects he is juggling, with a telling anecdote or brilliant quote."
As Carol Lefevre's first novel, Nights in the Asylum, accumulates reviews in the major outlets she is interviewed by Danielle Teutsch in "The Sydney Morning Herald". Of special note is the news: "Lefevre is now doing a PhD in creative writing at the University of South Australia and working on her second novel, If You Were Mine.
"Her second novel will explore the bonding process between mother and child, and themes of adoption and infertility. They are issues close to Lefevre's heart, as she adopted her daughter after an unsuccessful round of IVF treatment.
"This time, she is drawing geographical inspiration from South Australia's 'Heartbreak Plains', about 250kilometres north of Adelaide, which she describes as a 'landscape littered with abandoned cottages and the odd spooky ghost town'. Once again, the place is a rich repository for stories."
Which certainly interests me as that was the area in which I grew up.
The book club of "the Guardian" newspaper, run by John Mullan, continues looking at Tom Keneally's Schindler's Ark, this week tackling the subject of the novel's flawed hero: "It seems odd to use this literary word -- 'hero' -- for the protagonist of Thomas Keneally's novel, precisely because Oskar Schindler was truly, in life, heroic...while Schindler was certainly heroic, his motives are not exactly made known. In novelistic terms, he is an awkwardly enigmatic hero."
In extra news, "John Mullan is professor of English at University College London. Join him and Thomas Keneally on Tuesday May 22 at the Newsroom, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1. Doors open at 6.30pm. Tickets cost £8 (includes a glass of wine)." Contact details are on the webpage linked to above.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of wandering the small streets on Hay-on-Wye, on the English-Welsh border, will understand the wonders to be found on a town that is wall-to-wall bookshops. Hay-on-Wye was established in 1961 and, since then, over 20 other such booktowns have appeared around the world. Now, there is news that the small township of Clunes, about 20 kilometres north of Ballarat in Victoria, has decided to try to set up Australia's first dedicated booktown. It will take a while, but already there are two bookshops in the town and others look sure to follow.
"To get the ball rolling, the town will host the first Clunes Book Town for a Day event, on May 20, from 9am-4pm. The day will consist of more than 50 rare and second-hand booksellers setting up stalls in the old buildings. There will also be food stalls, wine asting, art and collectables. Barry Jones will talk about his latest book, A Thinking Reed, and ABC Radio National will record a program for its books show from Clunes. There will be a rare book worth $800 hidden among the shops that will cost only a few dollars for the finder." Clunes is also on the edge of the Australian Pyrenees, a wonderful wine district, so there is some degree of synergy in the location. Well, there is for me anyway.
Jack Maggs by Peter Carey, 1997
Cover illustration by Craig Voevodin
(UQP 1997 edition)
[This novel was the winner of the Miles Franklin Award in 1998.]
The shortlisted works for the 2006 Western Australian Premier's Book Awards have been announced.
The shortlisted works are:
Shadow Thief by Marion May Campbell, (Pandanus Books)
Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones, (Vintage)
The Travel Writer by Simone Lazaroo, (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Careless by Deborah Robertson, (Pan Macmillan Australia)
The Music of Dunes by Mike Williams, (Fremantle Arts Centre Press)
All the Time in the World by Dennis Haskell, (Salt Publishing)
Sacré Coeur: A Salt Tragedy by John Kinsella, (Vagabond Press)
Book of Days by Deanne Leber, (Self published)
Phosphorescence by Graeme Miles, (Fremantle Arts Centre Press)
A Difficult Faith by Mark Reid, (Fremantle Arts Centre Press)
Rob Riley: an Aboriginal Leader's Quest for Justice by Quentin Beresford, (Aboriginal Studies Press)
In The Space Behind His Eyes by Sally Clarke, (Claverton House (self))
Arthur Tange: Last of the Mandarins by Peter Edwards, (Allen & Unwin)
Learning to Dance by Elizabeth Jolley, (Penguin Books)
New Legend by Monique La Fontaine, (Kimberley Aboriginal Law & Cultural Centre)
Western Australia History Award
The Millendon Memoirs by James Cameron, (Hesperian Press)
The Workshops: A History of the Midland Government Railway Workshops by Bobbie Oliver and Patrick Bertola, (UWA Press)
Gallipoli: The Western Australian Story by Wes Olson, (UWA Press)
[Note: these books are also considered shortlisted for the Non-Fiction Award.]
Tai's Penguin by Raewyn Caisley, (Penguin Group (Australia))
Nathan Nuttboard Family Matters by Anthony Eaton, (University of Queensland Press)
The Catalpa Escape by Joy & Mike Lefroy and Marion Duke, (Fremantle Arts Centre Press)
Water Witcher by Jan Ormerod, (Little Hare Books)
The Shy Mala by Liliana Stafford and Sophia Zielinski, (Windy Hollow Books)
The Arrival by Shaun Tan, (Hachette Livre Australia)
Young Adult Books
No More Borders For Josef by Diana Chase, (Fremantle Arts Centre Press)
Bye, Beautiful by Julia Lawrinson, (Penguin Group (Australia))
Suburban Freak Show by Julia Lawrinson, (Hachette Livre Australia)
Destroying Avalon by Kate McCaffrey, (Fremantle Arts Centre Press)
Mama's Trippin' Katy Watson-Kell, (Fremantle Arts Centre Press)
The Ships Pass Quietly by John Aitken, (Blue Room Theatre)
Marmalade and Egg by Melissa Cantwell, (Perth Theatre Co)
Episode 14 "Pure Poetry" by Sarah Rossetti, (RB Films)
Sardines by Hellie Turner, (Tropic Sun Theatre Queensland)
The Carnivores by Ian Wilding, (Black Swan Theatre Company)
The award winners will be announced at a gala dinner on Friday June 8 at the State Library of Western Australia.
I have been dreaming all a summer day
Of rare and dainty poems I would write;
Love-lyrics delicate as lilac-scent,
Soft idylls wov'n of wind, and flow'r, and stream,
And songs and sonnets carven in fine gold.
The day is fading, and the dusk is cold;
Out of the skies has gone the opal gleam,
Out of my heart has passed the high intent
Into the shadow of the failing night --
Must all my dreams in darkness pass away?
I have been dreaming all a summer day"
Shall I go dreaming so until Life's light
Fades in Death's dusk, and all my days are spent?
Ah, what am I the dreamer but a dream!
The day is fading, and the dusk is cold.
My songs and sonnets carven in fine gold
Have faded from me with the last day-beam
That purple lustre to the sea-line lent,
And flushed the clouds with rose and chrysolite;
So days and dreams in darkness pass away.
I have been dreaming all a summer day
Of songs and sonnets carven in fine gold;
But all my dreams in darkness pass away;
The day is fading, and the dusk is cold.
First published in The Bulletin, 8 December 1883
I recently received the following note from the BBC:
We're soon recording a programme with Thomas Keneally, in which a studio audience and booklovers around the world will be able to ask the author questions about his book. I wondered if there's anything you'd like to ask Thomas Keneally about it? If so, please email me your question to: "gary[dot]stevens[at]bbc[dot]co[dot]uk", and our presenter will put the question to him on your behalf. The interview with Thomas Keneally is in a BBC World Service series called: "World Book Club". You can find information about the programme on our website: www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/programmes/world_book_club.shtmlI got in contact with Gary and asked if I could post his request here. He agreed. So, if you have any questions about Keneally's book, drop Gary a line at the email address listed. I'm sure you can decipher the address.
Tom Keneally plaque, Circular Quay, Sydney.
[I should have cleaned the cigarette butts off this one first.]
Arabella Edge's novel, The God of Spring is reviewed by Stephen Peterson who finds a lot to admire: "Edge's research is evident on nearly every page of this book--she spent four years examining Géricault's life, his work, and the account of two survivors of the shipwreck. She has filled the interstices with fiction that, while sometimes forced, is never dull...In prose that is often as muscular as Géricault's painting, The God of Spring gives a detailed account of a miraculous period in art history. Further, you have an abiding sense that the same problems that plagued artists in the 19th century are still around today--a thought of simultaneously boundless comfort and depthless horror."
Somewhat later than most reviews, Mai Wen has a look at Tom Keneally's novel Schindler's Ark (the title was changed on a lot of editions after the release of the Stephen Spielberg film): "By the end of the book I was attached to the characters and Schindler and was finally feeling the emotional pull that the movie had invoked throughout. While the book isn't written in the descriptive manner that usually pulls the emotions from me, the facts are strong enough to stand on their own and to pull the feelings from your soul. Overall, Schindler's List is a strong and educational read. Something I think everybody should read because although I've read many fiction novels about The Holocaust, I learned more about it than with any other book while reading Schindler's List."
In "The Independent", John Tague examines Richard Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist and finds a lot of emotion: "Richard Flanagan, it seems, is an angry man, and The Unknown Terrorist is a very angry book. The Australian writer has turned his back on the playfully sophisticated structure of his last work, the excellent Gould's Book of Fish, and taken a jaundiced look at contemporary society. He doesn't like what he sees. His new novel forgoes the complex structural games of his previous work and instead launches a stinging attack on the powers that foster and prosecute the so-called 'war on terror'. This is a bitter polemic brimming with a disbelieving contempt for the cynical maneouvering of those in authority. You wouldn't exactly describe it as a happy-go-lucky read."
In other reviews of Richard Flanagan's novel The Unknown Terrorist, "The LA Times" describes him "as the premier artist of brutalized flesh in our era"; "The Sunday Book review" from BlogTo out of Toronto says: "To call this book a thriller is to diminish it. It does thrill but it's much more like 1984"; and "The Phoenix" from Boston finds it "little more than a simplistic fable". So the reviews are as mixed overseas as they were in Australia.
"In the end a writer is the work that appears under his name, not a personality or character; all that in time gets lost. What remains, embodied in the work, is a consciousness with its own peculiar preoccupations, quirks, questions, doubts, insights; a set of responses to the isness of things, the great plural world of phenomena -- light, colour, landscape, atmosphere, all the tumbling paraphernalia of living and, more quietly, a voice with its individual cadence."
So says David Malouf as he contemplates his life as a writer, and what got him there.
James Bradley looks at Paul Morgan's second novel, Turner's Paintbox, and, while he's impressed by the striking conceit of the work he doesn't think it's up to the level of the author's first, The Pelagius Book. On the other hand he admires "the ambition that underpins Morgan's fiction, his preparedness to take risks. For while Turner's Paintbox may lack the gem-like precision and hidden depths of its predecessor, it goes a long way towards meeting the challenges it sets for itself."
Sophie Lee comes across as an actress of the blonde variety, one who has appeared in such films as Muriel's Wedding and The Castle, but she's also someone who has put pen to paper and come up with a first novel that seems to show a lot of promise, according to Frances Atkinson. There are problems of course: "Alice In La La Land has heart; parts of it are genuinely funny, not in a thigh-slapping, snorting way, but it has charm. There are plenty of moments when Lee's writing is fresh and snappy but too many scenes and jokes (urinating cats, the stalled release of a movie Alice was in) are recycled and by the end of the book, they get old." But, in the end, "Carroll's Alice jumped down the rabbit hole because she was fearless, because she had a compulsion to discover what would happen next. If nothing else, Lee's first book has made me curious, too." And, for a first novel, that is not at all bad.
The big review this week is of Shane Maloney's new Murray Whelan novel, Sucked In, which Graeme Blundell enthuses over. And while the review is more an overview of the Whelan series, it does offer some gems: "Maloney sees Whelan as a kind of mechanic or driver on some minor bus route in the great journey of life: his job is to keep the rattletrap working and to ensure the safety and eventual arrival of the passengers at the accepted destination." There is no-one writing like Maloney.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Sue Turnbull is impressed with Shane Maloney's novel: "Over the years, Murray Whelan has come to occupy a particular niche in the Melbourne imagination. It is well nigh impossible to walk past the National Gallery of Victoria on St Kilda Road without gesturing towards the tram ticket-strewn moat and announcing to an unsuspecting tourist, 'Somebody once drowned in there, you know, according to Shane Maloney.'...Maloney's Melbourne is a mix of truth and fiction, of what-is-no-longer (Labor is still in opposition in Victoria) and what-might-have-been (the mythical yet entirely credible Maribyrnong University specialising in tourism, food technology and hospitality studies)." Maloney says there is only one more Whelan novel to come, and Turnbull is missing him already.
Gail Jones has been shortlisted for the 2007 Miles Franklin Award at the same time as her new novel, Sorry, is in the bookshops - good timing that - and James Ley thinks her new work is better that Dreams of Speaking, even if it does have its flaws: "Her tendency to talk over her characters is less evident than in some of her earlier novels but is still there. Her frequent use of dreams, though conceptually important, can come across as a creaky fictional device. And her prose, though beautifully wrought, operates at such a consistently high pitch that it strays occasionally into pretentiousness, perhaps due to a mild contamination from the clotted theoretical prose that Jones doubtless encounters on a regular basis in her day job as lecturer in cultural studies at the University of Western Australia." If the author's two previous novels are anything to go by you should be reading this one.
Janette Turner Hospital's latest work, Orpheus Lost, is "ambitious and intricate" according to Andrew Riemer. However, it seems to be aiming higher than it can reach: "There is no denying the high level of competence that went into this novel. For all that, I cannot put aside the sense of superficiality clinging to much of this attempt to explore the connections between music and mathematics on the one hand and on the other the corrosive influences of ideology and bigotry...Perhaps the feat is impossible to accomplish: even the great Thomas Mann almost came to grief when he tried to bring it off in Doctor Faustus."
"The Sydney Morning Herald" is reporting that the shortlist for the 2007 Nita B. Kibble Award for Women's Writing has been announced.
The shortlisted works include:
Agamemnon's Kiss by Inga Clendinnen
Captain Starlight's Apprentice by Kathryn Heyman
Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones
Ida Leeson: A Life by Sylvia Martin
Careless by Deborah Robertson
Shortlisted for the Dobbie Award for a first book are:
Salvation Creek by Susan Duncan
Waterlemon by Ruth Ritchie
Swallow the Air by Tara June Winch
The winners, in both categories, will be announced in Sydney on Wednesday 9th May.
Benang by Kim Scott, 1999
Cover: Terrence Shosaki
(Fremantle Arts Centre Press 2000 edition)
[This novel was the co-winner of the Miles Franklin Award in 2000.]
Shane Maloney's new Murray Whelan novel, Sucked In, has hit the bookshelves and
the author is all over the book pages this weekend. Jason Steger, in "The Age", conducts an interview in a cemetery, and "The Australian" publishes an extract which, unfortunately, doesn't appear to be on their website.
"The Guardian" Book Club is taking a long hard look at Schindler's Ark by Tom Keneally with John Mullan discussing the author's use of the rhetorical device of prolepsis. (Yes, I had to look it up too).
"Laugh and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone!"
That is the poet's watchword
Murmured in monotone.
Sadly he drains his pewter,
Grimly you hear him groan
"Laugh and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone!"
Ask if he'll "try another";
How will the bard respond!
Watch the replenished pewter
Meet with a gaze as fond,
Tender, and true and yearning,
Gentle and sweet and mild,
E'en as a lovong mother
Beams on a lovely child!
Aye, he will tell his troubles,
And, with a soulful tear,
Bury his face in his pewter --
Drink down his pint of beer.
Ah, how the world neglects him;
He of the teeming brain! He --
"What was that? Well, thank you.
Give me the same again!"
Ah, 'tis a dreary story:
Always the same old tale
Told by the Pint-Pot Poet,
Thirsting for quarts of ale!
Always the world is cruel --
That is the dismal drone:
"Laugh and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone!"
"Laugh and the world laughs
with you; Weep, and you weep alone!
Ask them for bread," he tells you.
"What will they give? A stone!"
Ask them for bread? O, Poet!
Make not the scornful jeer!
Never for bread he asks them;
Only he asks for beer!
Hath not the world its troubles?
Hath not the world its throes?
Why must the world still listen
Unto the writer's woes?
Oh, but the world grows weary,
Aye, and its heart grows hard;
Tired of the Pint Pot Poet;
Sick of the Beery Bard!
First published in The Bulletin, 28 June 1906
The "mediabistro" weblog is reporting that Tim Winton has sold a new novel, titled Breath, to Picador. No details about dates are available at this time.
Looking for a rundown on current and future Australian crime fiction releases? Then look no further than the "Crime Down Under" weblog, where Damien examines what's been released so far in May and what we can expect to see in the next few weeks.
In "The Walrus" magazine, Lisa Moore compares literature from the ends-of-the-earth, namely Newfoundland and Tasmania. "Despite all the differences between Newfoundland and Tasmania, there are also compelling similarities. The most tragic similarity is that both of the islands' aboriginal populations were decimated as a result of European settlement. We are also both islands off the coast of a continent; we are both ridiculed by our respective mother countries. Newfoundlanders are lazy and stupid and Tasmanians are inbred, the story goes. The joke is that the Tasmanians are so inbred that they're born with two heads. In the Salamanca Place market, in Hobart, they sell T-shirts with two necks, just as you can find miniature models of Newfie outhouses with two floors in some joke shops around St. John's. "Most importantly, both islands have gone through a burst of astonishing literary production in the last twenty years that has caught the attention of the world. Just as Newfoundland author Wayne Johnston put the province on the literary map with his novel The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, so Richard Flanagan made the world aware of the rich cultural heritage of Tasmania with his novel Gould's Book of Fish."
HipWriterMama has been captivated by Justine Larbalestier's YA "Magic or Madness" trilogy, and powered through all three books over one weekend. It would be nice to have the time.
Who said you can't teach an old dog new tricks? At the age of 71, Tom Keneally, better known for his novel writing, is finalising the production of a play he has been developing for the past few years. "Either Or is based on the life of Kurt Gerstein, an enthusiastic Nazi who joined the SS as a sanitation expert trained in the use of Zyklon B, the gas the Nazis used to kill millions of Jews in death camps."
Kenally came across the story during his research for his Booker prize-winning novel Schindler's Ark and has been working with the Theatre J theatre company based in Washington D.C. for the past two years to get the original script into shape.
Keneally isn't sure how it will turn out, yet concludes: "whatever happens, I will die a better playwright."
Somewhat late in the reporting is the news that Tom Kenneally has been named the 2007 recipient of the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, an annual award based on a writer's full career. Keneally will be presented with the award in December in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
In "The Guardian", James Buchan runs with the idea that Richard Flanagan's novel, The Unknown Terrorist, is a variant on Heinrich Böll's The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, and thinks he's done a pretty good job of it: "Richard Flanagan, the Tasmanian author of the prize-winning Gould's Book of Fish (2001), acknowledges his debt to Böll but moves the story from West Germany in the 1970s to the Sydney of today in a holy funk about Islamist terrorism. It is a terrific novel, maintained at fever heat but never straying beyond the bounds of the possible or even the likely. Actually, it is more plausible than its model."
In the same newspaper, Nicholas Lezard is quite impressed with Gideon Haigh's new cricket collection Silent Revolutions: Writings on Cricket History. "Of course, many Guardian readers will be familiar with Haigh's work and style. It is the latter that gets people excited about the former. Haigh is, if we want to cram in a cricket metaphor, a master of a certain kind of loop and flight in his sentences...It's a shame that this collection hasn't been able to take on board the latest World Cup and the shocking death of Bob Woolmer. Haigh's previous collection, Game for Anything, had much on corruption that should be required reading for anyone who hopes to get to the bottom of that scandal. This is lighter-hearted, on the whole; but there isn't a single article in here that isn't a joy to read."
Constance Burris loves a good villian, so was looking forward to reading Catherine Jinks's YA novel Evil Genius, and she found she was not disappointed: "Catherine Jinks has a great writing style and I was hooked from the beginning...I highly recommend this book for anyone who remotely liked Harry Potter and especially for anyone who secretly (or not so secretly) dreams of being an evil genius!"
Karen Chisholm has got in early with her review of Janette Turner Hospital's Orpheus Lost, though she might raise some eyebrows by declaring it a crime novel. Anyway, she has some reservations: "Where Orpheus Lost becomes less of an interesting book is in a device that the author uses a lot -- where characters move rapidly from real life events into dreams / dream sequences / imaginings of events. There is certainly a lyrical flavour to these sequences but they also jar within the pace of the general book - driving the reader out of the story. This is likely to make the book less appealing for many readers, and it's a pity because the basic premise is very clever and extremely well executed, the 3 main characters very sympathetic and interesting and the supporting cast well drawn and involving."
Damien, on the weblog "Crime Down Under", is pretty impressed with Michael Rowbotham's latest The Night Ferry:
"The plot itself is an intriguing one dealing with a form of exploitation of women that is not only extremely unusual but also extremely disturbing. The action moves quickly from London across to Amsterdam's red-light district and back again (and, yes, a ferry is involved that travels after dark). It's tightly plotted, the characters are fresh and alive and the story is stingingly relevant." Rowbotham's previous novel Lost, won the 2005 Ned Kelly Award. If this one is as good it will also be in the running for the same award next year.
In "The Epoch Times", Mitchell Jordan finds much to like about Love Without Hope by Rodney Hall: "Those who believe that Australian writing is second-rate need only read Rodney Hall to be quickly persuaded otherwise. The two times winner of the Miles Franklin award has always been praised for the sheer beauty of his work, and his latest, Love Without Hope is no exception...Mr Hall's novel is at once universal and intrinsically Australian, reminiscent of other local writers such as Peter Carey and Sonya Hartnett. The complexity of themes and ideas which Mr Hall explores will prevent Love Without Hope from being completely accessible and enjoyed by the majority, but this is a moving account of life and longing which keeps him at the forefront of Australian writing."
A couple of weeks back, during a discussion about the Miles Franklin Award, I alluded to the fact that the sf genre had gained a level of critical acceptance if not respectability.
It used to be that sf writers came to despise the "science fiction" label and aimed to achieve a greater level of acceptance from the general reading public by removing the tag and by having their books placed in the general literary section of bookshops. "Non-sf" authors occasionally ventured into the sf field, mostly with results which annoyed sf fans, due to a lack of understanding of sf tropes, and astounded the general readership for what was perceived as innovation. The fact that both these conditions could hold for the one novel said much about the ghetto nature of most sf.
But times have changed and we now find a number of major novellists exploring sf themes or using sf devices to structure their work. Jonathan Strahan, on his eblog "Notes From Coode Street", points to one such recent novel: "Michiko Kakutani reviews Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union in "The New York Times" today. I honestly have little time or interest in the discussion of how genre fiction is or isn't viewed in the mainstream, or even in the divide between genre and mainstream, but I was struck by how the one thing that Kakutani repeatedly praised is Chabon's world-building skills. The novel, which I'm reading at the moment, is an alternate history, and a good one. The only possible thing that might set it apart from genre alternate histories (and this is a big maybe) is that the alternate history element of the story is pretty much used only as setting, while the story focusses on other matters. That is to say, the alternate history isn't the point of the story." It's interesting that a major critic like Kakutani would praise an author for a portion of their book which seems to have little relevance. It's almost as if they hadn't seen this type of thing before. Alternate histories, world-building? That's old stuff, sf-wise.
Last night, on the First Tuesday Book Club broadcast on ABC TV, two books were discussed which were, in most respects, sf novels. And yet, the terms "sf" or "science fiction" were, to my tired ears, never mentioned. Kurt Vonnegut started as an sf writer and was one of the first major authors to move from the field out into the mainstream world. He was later followed by such authors as William Golding, Brian Aldiss and J.G. Ballard, among many others. But Slaughterhouse Five is considered by many to be a great sf novel, though not, it seems, by the general reading public.
The same can be said of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It's basically a post-apocalyptic novel, much in the same way that Walter M Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, Edgar Pangborn's Davy, and Russell's Hoban's Riddley Walker depict worlds devasted by nuclear war. We've had the world destroyed by war, alien invasion, drought, water, wind, cosmic collision, solar detonation and plague. We've even had cannibalism featuring pretty much up front in A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison. There's nothing new here. It has been done before. But as good as this? Well, that's another question.
Janette Turner Hospital's new novel, Orpheus Lost, is the subject of the major fiction review by Peter Craven in the paper this week. And impressed he is with it: "It should not be an impossible dream that a contemporary literary novel can exhibit pace, a strong plot and a high degree of narrative excitement...Well, Janette Turner Hospital is writing fiction that is literary in quality and formal design and in the ambition it displays but will also keep you on the edge of your chair or reading past your bedtime." Which basically leads you to believe we're dealing with a literary thriller here, not a genre that is exactly deserted, but one that can always do with another decent entry. "Turner Hospital has a beautiful lightness of touch through the nightmare contortions of the plot she spins and twists like a rope of destiny...If the story is not quite as sure-footed as Grahame Greene in comparable territory, if it swerves farther from the articulation of thriller-like enthralments, it is nonetheless almost as satisfying as it is involving." The "almost" is a bit of a giveaway there I think: saying as much about Craven's literary tastes as it does about this novel. Still, he does find enough here to be going on with: "it should enthral every kind of reader; a book full of intelligence and drama and compassion that is also a captivating
page-turner - effortlessly sophisticated and proudly parochial at the same time."
Lorien Kaye considers that Rose Moxham might be putting a lot of trust in the readers of her new YA novel Teeth Marks, but comes to the conclusion that it is worth it. The novel's "greatest strength is its well-judged resolution,
floating the possibility of a new start, but in an unexpected direction."
Nicholas Drayson's novel Love and the Platypus is racking up some good reviews lately but Jem Poster is not so sure. The reviewer is of the view that Drayson is very good at the certain parts and not so good at others: "This is Drayson's favoured territory; again and again we find him gravitating towards the natural world, captivating us with his finely delineated vignettes of animal life. The details are presented with clarity and precision...As a writer of fiction, Drayson seems considerably less assured. Often contrived and unconvincing, the novel's plot and dialogue function far too obviously as a frame on which to hang the impressive weight of zoological knowledge he has amassed through his reading and fieldwork."
Salley Vickers is worried that Paul Morgan's novel Turner's Paintbox is less a novel and more an emotional release. "I wondered if Morgan was writing it as an attempt at a redemptive confessional, if not of himself then of the corporate sins of modern manhood. If so, in the view of a fellow novelist, and a woman to boot, his talent deserves a better subject."
For Australian readers, be aware that the First Tuesday Book Club will be broadcast tonight, on ABC TV, at 10:00pm. Books under discussion are The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest said "To lose one parent . . . may be regarded as a misfortune; but to lose both looks like carelessness."
This unfortunate event happened to Australian author Erin Vincent when she was 14, and it was the catalyst for her new memoir, Grief Girl: My True Story, about her parents, and her life after their accident. As the book is published here in Australia, Vincent is href="http://www.theage.com.au/news/books/dealing-with-grief-written-from-experience/2007/04/26/1177459869968.html">profiled in "The Age" by Lily Bragge.
Katherine England is a vice president of the Children's Book Council of Australia's SA branch, and, in "The Advertiser" from Adelaide, has reviewed each of the shortlisted works from the Children's Book Council of Australia - Book of the Year Shortlists. And excellent short reviews they are too.
As Richard Flanagan's new novel, The Unknown Terrorist, is published in the UK, the author is interviewed by Stephen Moss in "The Guardian".
"I'm sorry about that," says Flanagan when I mention my post-book depression. "I wanted to make a mirror to what I felt Australia had become. I think it is a pretty bleak country at the moment. It was a land of such hope and possibility when I was younger, and in the past couple of years, like a lot of Australians, I've ended up feeling ashamed of what it had become. But we can't blame governments or parties or politicians; we have to accept in the end it was we as a people who happily went along with this. There was a loss of empathy. I don't know where that comes from. We're a migrant nation made up of people who've been torn out of other worlds, and you'd think we would have some compassion."
"He claims he has become a controversialist and polemicist by accident. "A novelist's job is to write good novels -- that's the beginning and end of it, and that's what I strive for. There are writers who wish to be politicians and they corrupt their own writing in the process, but I'm in an unusual situation. I write very little about Australian or Tasmanian politics; it's just that when I do, it seems to get noticed."
Eric Bana, who has appeared in such films as Blackhawk Down, Munich and Chopper, is to feature in a film adaptation of an Australian memoir.
"ROMULUS, MY FATHER is based on Raimond Gaita's critically acclaimed memoir. It tells the story of Romulus, his beautiful wife, Christina, and their struggle in the face of great adversity to bring up their son, Raimond. It is a story of impossible love that ultimately celebrates the unbreakable bond between father and son. "Developed with director Richard Roxburgh over seven years, ROMULUS, MY FATHER has been adapted for the screen by poet and playwright, Nick Drake. It is both Richard and Nick's first feature film and is produced by Arenafilm; a partnership between Robert Connolly and John Maynard, with credits that include most recently THREE DOLLARS, THE BANK, Rowan Woods' THE BOYS, Jane Campion's SWEETIE and Vincent Ward's THE NAVIGATOR."
Drylands by Thea Astley, 1999
Cover photograph by Eric Algra
(Penguin 2000 edition)
[This novel was the co-winner of the Miles Franklin Award in 2000.]