December 2007 Archives

A Classic Year: 0.1 Introduction

When I started this weblog just on three years ago one of my major aims was to increase my knowledge of Australian literature, an area of study in which I felt woefully ill-informed. In some ways the past three years has helped overcome that deficiency but it has been mainly in the area of modern Australian literature: my knowledge of the classics is still well below par. And I needed to do something about that.

So I got to thinking about a few things early in December. I normally set myself a target of 50 books a year - it's about all I can handle - but didn't get anythere near that figure in 2007. If I got to 40 I'd be lucky. I figured it was mainly due to me discovering "The Sopranos" during the year and then proceeding to watch all 7 seasons. That came to about 80 hours of television, about 20 books at a normal reading rate. I needed to get back on track.

Just setting a target of a certain number of books wasn't going to cut it. I needed a specific set of books laid out, organised and annotated, if I was to achieve anything. In late October 2007 I transcribed, for this weblog, a rather florrid biography/profile of the English/Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon, originally published in "The Herald" newspaper in 1934. In response to that entry, Kerryn Goldsworthy noted that she had been reading Jane Gleeson-White's Australian Classics: 50 Great Books, which she subsequently reviewed for "The Australian". Her first comment intrigued me about the book; her subsequent review sealed it. I made a brief comment at the time I noted Kerryn's review that Gleeson-White's book was just the sort of thing I'd ask for at Christmas - the rest of the family never knows what to buy me, especially where books are concerned, so I normally make up a list. Even before I put in the request I checked out the book in the local bookshop. It looked like it had everthing I needed: 50 works, neatly fitting into a reading year; a good range of dates, from the 1880s to the 1990s; not all the entries where massive multi-volume novel sequences; and the range of works looked intriguing. I figured I'd found my reading list.

Jane Gleeson-White has selected a wide range of Australian works for her book. I could quibble with some of her choices, but that's picking nits for little or no purpose. Gleeson-White has chosen twenty-nine novels, two short stories, ten poems, three histories, three memoirs and three children's books in her list of 50. Again you could argue that a poem, or a short story, is hardly a book, so let's not. You can run the line that "The Man from Snowy River" by A.B. Paterson has had as much influence on the Australian literary scene as most novels you could name, and you'd have a lot of support from my quarter: it's the quality of the work that matters here.

It's my aim to read one of these works each week for the next year and to write about that reading experience as I go. I have no idea how well I'll do. I normally fail miserably at these things. Just so long as I stay away from "Deadwood" and the other television series chewing up my time I just might make it.

Jane Gleeson-White
Allen & Unwin 338 pp.

Matilda Technical Bits

I'm making some minor changes to the look of the weblog. Some parts will look a little dodgy for a while - especially the page banner - until I figure out the technical details. Bear with me. We'll get there. Hopefully.

Forthcoming Books for 2008

"The Age" newspaper has published its rundown on what books we can expect to see on the shelves over the next 12 months. Here are some Australian highlights (the "F" signifies fiction):


  • Just Words? Authors Writing for Justice edited by Bernadette Brennan
  • The Dressmaker's Daughter by Kate Llewellyn
  • People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (F)
  • The Best Australian Political Writing edited by Maxine McKew
  • After the Election by Peter van Onselen and Philip Senior
  • Addition by Toni Jordan (F)
  • Fan Mail by P.D. Martin (F)
  • Gathering Storm by Rosie Dub (F)
  • Births Deaths Marriages by Georgia Blain
  • I Peed on Fellini by David Stratton
  • Thirteen Tonne Theory by Mark Seymour
  • Dear Mr Rudd: Ideas for Australia by Robert Manne
  • American Journeys by Don Watson
  • Princesses and Pornstars by Emily Maguire
  • A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (F)
  • Quakers by Rachel Hennessy (F)
  • The Comfort of Figs by Simon Cleary (F)
  • Dark Integers and Other Stories by Greg Egan (F)
  • Murder on the Apricot Coast by Marion Halligan (F)
  • Open File by Peter Corris (F)
  • Spinning the Dream: Assimilation in Australia 1950-1970 by Anna Haebich
  • The Spare Room by Helen Garner (F)
  • His Illegal Self by Peter Carey (F)
  • God of Speed by Luke Davies (F)
  • The Good Parents by Joan London (F)
  • Disquiet by Julia Leigh (F)
  • Unstill Life by Judith Pugh
  • Stella Miles Franklin by Jill Roe
  • Life in His Hands by Susan Wyndham
  • The Rose Labyrinth by Titania Hardie (F)
  • Bluey's War by Herb Hamlet (F)
  • Alibi by Sydney Bauer (F)
  • Gospel by Sydney Bauer (F)
  • A Family History of Smoking by Andrew Reimer
  • Stanley and Sophie by Kate Jennings
  • My Reading Life by Bob Carr
  • The Lucy Family Alphabet by Judith Lucy
  • Breath by Tim Winton (F)
  • The Woman in the Lobby by Lee Tulloch (F)
  • Nocturne by Diane Armstrong (F)
  • The Sydney Pen 3 Writers Project
  • Whale Song by Karen Viggers (F)
  • Monster Blood Tattoo, Book Two: Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish (F)
  • Incandescence by Greg Egan (F)
  • The Keys to the Kingdom, Book 6: Superior Saturday by Garth Nix (F)
  • Earth Ascendant by Sean Williams (F)
  • Panic by Katherine Howell (F)
  • Musk and Burn by Fiona Capp (F)
  • The New Angel by Ali Alizadeh (F)
  • The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide (F)
  • Bird by Sophie Cunningham (F)
  • Sea of Many Returns by Arnold Zabe (F)
  • Dreamland by Tom Gilling (F)
  • The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper
  • Thirsty Country by Asa Wahlquist
  • The Wisdom of Water by John Archer
  • Enid Lyons: A Biography by Anne Henderson
  • The Economy of Light by Jack Dann (F)
  • Life in Seven Mistakes by Susan Johnson (F)
  • Ice by Louis Nowra (F)
  • The Pages by Murray Bail (F)
  • The Boat by Nam Le (F)
  • The Time Engine by Sean McMullen (F)
  • Voodoo Doll by Leah Giarratano (F)
  • One Foot Wrong by Sofie Laguna (F)
  • The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (F)
  • Everything I Knew by Peter Goldsworthy (F)
  • Blood Oil by James Phelan (F)
  • a novel by Azhar Abidi (F)
  • The Land of Plenty by Mark Davis
  • Rebels: The Life and Times of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney Griffin by Alasdair McGregor
  • Gentle Satan by Alan Saffron (bio of Abe Saffron)
  • Eddie by Patrick Lindsay (bio of Eddie McGuire)
  • The Hidden Garden by Kate Morton (F)
  • Arabesques by Robert Dessaix
  • Have My Stuff by Corinne Grant
  • Deception by Michael Meehan (F)
  • Hamlet: A Novel by John Marsden (F)
  • The Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer
  • Manning Clark by Brian Matthews
  • Dissection by Jacinta Halloran (F)
  • Life in the Bus Lane by Ian Commins (F)
  • Time of Grace by Robyn Annear (F)
  • Cook and His Rivals by Geoffrey Blainey
  • Byron or Bust by Wendy Harmer (F)
  • Shots by Don Walker
  • To Love, Honour and Betray by Kathy Lette (F)
  • a "what if" novel by John Birmingham (F)
  • The Science of Climate Change by John Zillman
  • Doing Life by Brian Dibble (bio of Elizabeth Jolley)
  • Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan (F)
  • The People's History of Australia by Thomas Keneally
  • a novel by Garry Disher (F) - probably a Wyatt novel
  • David Williamson by Kristin Williamson
Too far off it seems.

In addition, look for The Bath Fugues by Brian Castro later in the year; a novel from Kate Grenville in October or November; On Rage by Germaine Greer; On Longing by Blanche D'Alpuget; On Shame by Steve Vizard; and a new crime novel, Siren, by Tara Moss later in the year.

Addition material obtained from various sources, including Locus Magazine and various publishers' webpages.

Poem: The Corpse That Won't Lie Still by C.J. Dennis

Aye, call it murder is ye will!
   'Tis not the crime I fear.
If his cold curse would but lie still
   And silent in its bier,
Then would I be indeed content,
And count it folly to repent.

With these two hands I've slain the knave;
   I've watched the red blood drop;
I've rammed him tight into his grave,
   And piled the clods atop,
And tramped them down exultingly....
Now back he comes to grin at me.

Once have I slain him in his bed,
   Twice by the midnight blaze;
Thrice have I looked upon him dead
   All in these seven days.
Yet here, this night, I've seen him stand
And pluck the pen from out my hand.

Nay, never spook nor sprite is he,
   But solid flesh and blood,
Who schemes with deep malignity
   To stint my livelihood.
And he had vowed a vow my name
Shall never grace the scroll of fame.

My name he bears, my garb he wears,
   My pipes he idly smokes;
And, friend-like, he but rarely cares
   To praise my sorry jokes.
He spends my money lavishly
With ne'er a thrifty thought for me.

And when my ready cash is gone
   He runs me into debt.
Stern duty he will harp upon
   When I would fain forget.
But when, through toil, I would be free
He soothes me with rank sophistry.

Whene'er with resolutions stern
   I sit me down to work,
And mighty thoughts within me burn,
   Then forth comes he to lurk
Here at my elbow, where he clings
And whispers of forbidden things.

So when I woo some lofty theme
   Of deep religious tone,
He lures me on to idly dream,
   As we sit there alone.
Of girls I have and have not kissed,
Of favors won and chances missed.

He whispers of that tempting book
   I have no time to read;
"One peep," he pleads: "one hasty look!
   Where is the harm, indeed?"
And when I speak of work, and sigh,
"'Twill do to-morrow!" is his cry.

And oft - too well I know how oft -
   Beneath his subtle spell
I fall, and dream of living soft
   Who know - aye, none so well -
That living soft is but for him
Who earns his ease with labor grim.

Dreams, dreams, and ever idle dreams!
   His glozing art I hate!
Yet pleasant for the hour it seems,
   His soothing opiate.
And, though I slay him, this I dread:
He oftener alive than dead.

Oh, I have to be so very sure,
   No later than last night,
That I had pinned the knave secure,
   And I was free to write
Those mighty masterpieces which
To pen my fingers ever itch.

But, with his slouch and lazy leer,
   Lo, came back he to-day:
With wheedling lips against mine ear
   He tempted me to play
At tennis all the afternoon.
Work and resolve forgot so soon!

Yet, spite his faults, he is, I swear,
   A merry knave withal;
And when I have the time to spare -
   That's seldom, if at all -
I'd roam with him 'mid fields and flow'rs
If he'd be still in business hours.

Each morn I bash him on the head
   And hide him out of sight.
Full, sure, indeed, that he is dead;
   But back he comes each night,
And on the lotus buds we feed
When bread and butter is my need.

Though many ways his death I've planned
   And slain him, as I've said,
He takes a lot of killing and
   He'll never stay long dead.
And, though, each day i cause his death,
I know he'll live while I have breath.

But let me vow the vow again -
   The vow I know by heart -
And, here and now, with hasty pen,
   Stab to some vital part.
And, mocked by his departing laugh,
Rewrite his oft-writ epitaph.

"Here lies the man I should not be
   By all stern rules of life.
The man who's plagued and hampered me
   All through this mundane strife.
A lazy, loafing knave was he....
But, sooth, he was fine company."

First published in The Bulletin, 17 September 1914

It's THAT Time of the Year

As you might expect, blog posts will be a little infrequent over the next week or so: there's the big family lunch tomorrow (I'm hoping the weather will be kinder this year so I can actually stand outside next to the BBQ), then a recovery session on Boxing Day (did I really have to open that second bottle of sparkling shiraz?), then the cricket on the 27th, The Golden Compass with the kids on the 28th, and snoozes in front of the cricket on TV for the rest of the week.

I'll be back, just not so sure when. I have a major reading plan lined up for next year which will mean I have to get started Day One 2008, and I'm working with another Australian weblogger on a genre-based project that will need some detailed attention over the next few weeks, so that might give you some sort of indication.

I hope you and yours have a good, safe festive season and that you get all the books you wanted. Lots of Aussie ones too.

Christopher Koch Interview

Christopher Koch is interviewed by Claire Allfree for "The Metro", a daily tabloid newspaper given away free in London. The interview concerns his latest novel, The Memory Room, which has just been published in the UK:

Setting human dramas against pivotal moments in history is a Koch speciality. He is best known for The Year Of Living Dangerously, about an Australian journalist caught up in the attempted overthrow of Indonesia's president Sukarno in 1965, which was turned into a film starring Mel Gibson. 'That book was my lucky break,' he grins. 'I've never done an honest day's work since.'

[Thanks to kimbofo for the link.]

Poem: Accent Conscious by C.J. Dennis

The Australian Broadcasting Commission is endeavoring to standardise Australian voices by engaging announcers who will lead us into right ways of speech. This country, declares the Commission, has become "accent conscious" since the advent of wireless.

Trouble brews along the border for the word has got around
   That blokes an' coves an' coots must mind their tongues;
Out about the long dry stages
Where the willie-willie rages
   Strange sounds are issuing from leathern lungs.
Vowels, consonants and diphthongs in the old bark hut take place
Of the talk of clips or cattle or "wot won the 'urdle race."

For the world grows regimented and the olden orders pass
   With those ancient heroes that we knew of old.
Out beyond the sandy ranges
Culture grows and fashion changes
   And a bloke has got to talk the way he's told.
For the craze of "standardising" has Australia in its grip,
And Lawson's friends, Joe Wilson, and his mates have got the pip.

These old battlers, so accustomed to the old Australian drawl,
   Find it hard to knuckle down to modern ways.
Tho' the purists may deride them,
'Twas their speech identified them,
   For they talked the Aussie lingo all their days.
But the Man from Snowy River strives to change his "Oi' to "I;"
And Clancy of the Overflow now wears an old school tie.

I have long since sought the reason why all men should be as peas
   In speech, in thought, in action, e'en in strife.
Uniformity around them
Serves but further to confound them,
   Since it washes all the color out of life.
But the bloke who beat the favorite now sports jodhpurs with an air,
And the Man from Ironbark marcels his hair.

First published in The Herald, 8 June 1938

"Possession" by Ben Peek

A story that was published about a month ago - and which I missed at the time - on the "Fantasy" magazine website is "Possession" by Ben Peek.

Founders of Our Literature: Victor Daley

He has been called the writers' poet, and with some reason. When Victor Daley put his closest thoughts on paper, he did so with the gracefulness and fluency to which all writers aspire. He wrote so easily, so tunefully, that the job seemed simple. To the craftsman sometimes painfully struggling at the loom of woven words, he represented achievement.

There is none of the moroseness of Gordon about Victor Daley. From beginning to end his heart was light, even if his pocket was empty, which it often was. As was the case with Kendall and Marcus Clarke, routine work appalled him. He tried to stick in an office more than once, but failed.

Daley was born in Ireland and reached Australia early in 1878. His ambition was to be a poet -- nothing else. Money did not attract him and he never sought it. Life itself was not a serious thing to him. The worse it treated him the more he laughed at it. When death took him in December 1905, he was still jesting.

According to Bertram Stevens, his biographer, Daley believed that he was born at Navan in County Meath on September 5, 1858, but he was not sure. His father, a soldier in India, died early. His mother married again and the family went to live at Devonport, England, where Victor went to school and subsequently entered the office of the Great Western Railway Co., Plymouth.

He stood the office for three years and then took ship for Adelaide, South Australia, where his stepfather had relatives. He disembarked at sydney, got into financial difficulties, did odd jobs and finally reached Adelaide. There he secured employment as a correspondence clerk.

He was writing much at this time and achieving publication. One day by mistake he enclosed a love lyric in an envelope which should have contained a business letter. The recipient had no sense of humor and became exceedingly annoyed, so annoyed in fact that Daley lost his job.

Victor left for Melbourne with some money. In this city he staked it all on a racecourse certainty which did not win, and had to find work. He took a job on a suburban newspaper, achieved fame with a couple of sonnets in a local review and became acquainted with Marcus Clarke.

A prospecting friend lured him to Queanbeyan, where the friend was supposed to have struck it rich, but the friend had disappeared when Victor arrived. A job on a Queanbeyan newspaper followed and then he went to Sydney. There he found some market for his poems and many friends, among whom was Henry Kendall.

Melbourne saw him again in 1885, and in 1898 his first published collection "At Dawn and Dusk" was published. It gained the warm praise it deservd from Australian reviewers, but overseas it attracted little notice.

Possibly this failure was the one care which Daley allowed to enter his life. Ambition to be a great poet seemed to die then.

I have been dreaming all a summer day
Of rare and dainty poems I would write,
Love-lyrics delicate as lilac scent,
And songs and sonnets carven in fine gold.
Those lines introduced "At Dawn and Dusk" but the dream was shattered. Daley was ill-equipped to withstand a serious blow at the one thing he held sacred. He gave in and wrote then only for the bare living the poetry brought him. Friends found him work in a Government office in Sydney after this disappointment, but he could not bear it, and walked out.

Bohemia was the only place in which he could live. He drifted into a vagabond life. "At times Daley touched the mire," Mr Stephens wrote, "yet he remained unsoiled; for he was clean at heart, and, apart from the irregularities of Bohemia, he had no vices."

Daley is our poet of Romance, which he saw in dawns and sunsets. His "Sunset Fantasy" is regarded by many as his finest effort, but he was always graceful and colorful, and a delight to read. His is not grand impassioned verse, but rather word music, compounded of rhythm and dainty fancy. A true lyric poet.

Only 47 when he died, after three years of lingering illness. Perhaps it is really true that whom the gods love die young for they must have loved Victor Daley very much.

First published in The Herald 2 June 1934

Extract: Monster Blood Tattoo by D.M. Cornish

D.M. Cornish has made available the first chapter of the second volume of his Monster Blood Tattoo series. Please note that this is a PDF file and may take some time to download.

Australian Books to Film #36 - Head On


Head On 1998
Directed by Ana Kokkinos
Screenplay by Andrew Bovell, Ana Kokkinos, and Mira Robertson from the novel Loaded by Christos Tsiolkas
Featuring Alex Dimitriades, Paul Kapsis, Julian Garner, and Elena Mandalis

Best Books of the Year #8 - Various

"The Observer" picks Bad Faith by Carmen Callil, as a Best Book of the Year in their biography section: "This brilliant and disturbing book is the result of years of courageous and no doubt heart-rending research, but the results are absolutely worth the effort. Callil's portrait is of a monstrous man, but not a monster."

"New York Magazine" picks The Arrival by Shaun Tan as its Best Comic of the Year: "A nameless man leaves his family behind in search of a better life in a new land -- a universal saga given a strange twist in this wordless, gorgeously illustrated story of human striving by Australian artist Tan."

"The Economist" has chosen Carpetaria by Alexis Wright as one of their best picks in their Fiction section: "A sweeping novel that will be published in Britain next year (though not in America) about the unhappy relations between the white majority and indigenous aboriginals, by a notable Australian narrator. A voice to remember."

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #43

The Age

Gideon Haigh is one of the great cricket writers going round, so any new collection is very welcome. Chris Wallace-Crabb finds his latest, The Green and Gold: Writings on Australian Cricket Today "is in its timing, a triumphalist book. Its wandering islands are all to be found within an Aussie period of triumph, ending just before our failure to win the Twenty 20 Championship, taken out by India who fare poorly in the book." But Haigh is constrained by the requirements of the original publications - writing for the dailies doesn't allow enough room for contemplation. "The reader keeps starting and stopping, even if he or she picks up a fair bit about the politics of the modern game."

I found a lot to like about Venero Armanno's previous novel Candle Life, only to feel a bit let down by the ending. Peter Pierce considers Armanno to now be "near the forefront of contemporary Australian novelists" which is a big call. The author's new work "The Dirty Beat is a bold, original and moving reckoning of a life in those final post-mortem moments."

The Australian

Graeme Blundell is pretty taken with Skin and Bone by Kathryn Fox, saying she writes better than Kathy Reichs and less baroque than Patricia Cornwell. "Sydney-based Fox has parlayed her interest in forensic medicine into a full-time career as a thriller writer after three best-selling novels in a highly competitive field. She is the author of the internationally successful and critically acclaimed Malicious Intent and Without Consent published in more than 20 countries."

The Orphan Gunner is another fine publication from Giramondo, and is reviewed by Kathy Hunt. "Inspired by love letters found accidentally behind a family photo frame, Knox had in mind 'an alternative, yet historically accurate, image of war' in which same-sex relationships take their rightful place as 'realities of the period'...Sensitively written and intelligently crafted, The Orphan Gunner reminds us of the manifold possibilities of love and, even now, the fraught cultural pluralities of that many splendoured thing."

Richard King finds that Glyn Parry's first novel for adults, Ocean Road, doesn't quite make it. "The problem with the book is the lack of an interesting voice at its core. In the absence of any extraordinary incident (marital breakdown is a tragic phenomenon but not, alas, an unusual one), the narrator assumes responsibility for bringing the reader into the story. Unfortunately, the narrator's internal life seems to be almost nonexistent."

Ben Peek Interview

Ben Peek, author of Black Sheep, is interviewed by Charlene Brusso in "Publisher's Weekly".

When you wrote Black Sheep, were you addressing issues in Australian politics specifically?

Black Sheep was born out of Australian society, but only because this is where I live. I've always been the kind of writer who reacts to what is in front of him. The book was a response to racist politicians who said anyone not white was bad. It was a response to the vibe that seemed to say that people ought to resent and be afraid of people that didn't look and speak the same as they. Unfortunately, that's not exclusive to Australia. Every country has those lines drawn.

Is that why Black Sheep was published by an American press rather than an Australian publisher?

Most publishers in Australia - the publishers I could get to - gave me the form "no thanks." One had published a short story of mine in a collection earlier, so they knew who I was and gave me a bit more of their time. But they read the book and told me that it was too intense for them and could do with some humor. Then the rejection closed with the comment, "Not that 1984 or Darkness at Noon were very funny books, I suppose."

Australian Bookcovers #94 - My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey


My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey, 2003
(Knopf 2003 edition)
Jacket design: Jenny Grigg
[This novel was nominated for the 2004 Miles Franklin Award.]

Best Books of the Year #7 - "The Sydney Morning Herald"

"The Sydney Morning Herald" has asked its reviewers to choose their best of the year:

Andrew Riemer:
Typewriter Music (UQP) by David Malouf
Diary of a Bad Year (Text) by J.M. Coetzee
Shakespeare's Wife (Bloomsbury) by Germaine Greer
Jamaica (Allen & Unwin) by Malcolm Knox
Afterwards (William Heinemann) by Rachel Seiffert

Sue Turnbull:
Sucked In (Text) by Shane Maloney
Chain of Evidence (Text) by Garry Disher
The Calling (Hodder) by Jane Goodall

Bruce Elder:
The 7.56 Report (Text) by John Clarke and Brian Dawe
Bondi Badlands (Allen & Unwin) by Greg Callaghan

Angie Schiavone:
That's Why I Wrote This Song (HarperCollins) by Susanne Gervay
Joel And Cat Set The Story Straight (Penguin) by Nick Earls and Rebecca Sparrow
Right Book, Right Time (Allen and Unwin) by Agnes Nieuwenhuizen

Meg Sorensen:
Is Your Grandmother a Goanna? (Viking) by Pamela Allen

The Glugs of Gosh by C. J. Dennis Continued

The Glugs live in the kingdom of Gosh, ruled over by Splosh their King, and Tush his Queen. But the real power lies with Sir Stodge, who oversees the day to day workings of the kingdom through his minions, the Swanks. The Glugs, as a people, are prosaic and tightly bound by tradition: all eating their meals the same way, sleeping with their feet in the same direction and climbing trees when certain weather conditions apply - which is just about all the time.

In a neighbouring country live the Ogs, the very opposite of the Glugs. The Ogs are industrious and business-like who strike a long-term trade deal with the Glugs: "We'll sell you pianers and pickels and spanners/For seventeen shiploads of stones:/Smooth 'uns or nobbly 'uns,/Firm 'uns or wobbly 'uns,/All we ask is stones." The Glugs are eminently stupid, and are soon trading their stones for "eight-day clocks, And hand-painted screens, and sewing machines, And mangles, and scissors, and socks." Until

So the Glugs continued, with greed and glee,
To buy cheap clothing, and pills, and tea;
Till every Glug in the land of Gosh
Owned three clean shirts and a fourth in the wash.
But they all grew idle, and fond of ease,
And easy to swindle, and hard to please;
And the voice of Joi was a lonely voice,
When he railed at Gosh for its foolish choice.
But the great King grinned, and the good Queen gushed,
As the goods of the Ogs were madly rushed.
And the Knight, Sir Stodge, with a wave of his hand,
Declared it a happy and prosperous land.
Which sounds more than a little familiar in this Australia of ours.

One Glug, Joi, gets a bit disgusted with all this behaviour, and says so. Sir Stodge doesn't take too kindly to this and has Joi executed for his behaviour. Joi's son Sym, a tinker with a talent for rhyming poetry, decides he is better off on the road and leaves home rather than get into trouble with the authorities. Some time later the Mayor of Quog, a small suburb of Gosh, becomes peeved that he is being ignored by the King and decides the only way he can get more attention is by getting rid of Sir Stodge. An ancient book carries a prophesy that in times of need a tinker will appear, recite three rhymes and all will be well. Sym is still remembered in Gosh and he is sought and railroaded into the cause. He recites the three required rhymes, but this only incites Sir Stodge to action and, in a public debate in the market place, Sym is ridculed and Sir Stodge holds sway. Sym makes a hasty getaway.

About this time the Glugs discover that they have run out of stones, having traded them all for consumer goods from the Ogs. The Ogs also realise this and launch an invasion of Gosh using the stones as missiles. This pretty much destroys Gosh society as they have nothing left with which to defend themselves; Sir Stodge is killed in the process. The King is at a loss for what to do until he remembers Sym, who basically refuses the Kings' request for assistance and retires to the hills with his wife and little red dog. The Glugs continue on as before having learnt no lessons whatsoever, and Sym lives happily in his small house looking down on the Kingdom below.

This is a very strange book: strange in the sense that it comes as a complete style shift from Dennis's earlier work. His The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke was written in clipped phonetic slang about the larrikin push of Melbourne and the romantic tale of Bill and Doreen; Ginger Mick extended that slang and added in the story of the diggers in the trenches of the First World War. Here Dennis has written a verse-novel in a genre that was not to become popular until the 1980s when Terry Pratchett got into stride with his Discworld novels. It wasn't the first political satire that Dennis wrote, but the previous examples tended to be more party political in nature - Dennis at this time was on the centre-left of politics, having worked in Sydney on the Labor Party's newspaper in the lead-up to the 1914 election.

[Further thoughts later.]

Poem: The Play by C.J. Dennis - Part 2

Nex' day 'e words a gorspil cove about
A secret weddin'; an' they plan it out.
'E spouts a piece about 'ow 'e's bewitched:
Then they git 'itched ...
Now, 'ere's the place where I fair git the pip!
She's 'is for keeps, an' yet 'e lets 'er slip!

Ar! but 'e makes me sick! A fair gazob!
E's jist the glarsey on the soulful sob,
'E'll sigh and spruik, a' 'owl a love-sick vow --
(The silly cow!)
But when 'e's got 'er, spliced an' on the straight
'E crools the pitch, an' tries to kid it's Fate.

Aw! Fate me foot! Instid of slopin' soon
As 'e was wed, off on 'is 'oneymoon,
'Im an' 'is cobber, called Mick Curio,
They 'ave to go
An' mix it wiv that push o' Capulets.
They look fer trouble; an' it's wot they gets.

A tug named Tyball (cousin to the skirt)
Sprags 'em an' makes a start to sling off dirt.
Nex' minnit there's a reel ole ding-dong go ---
'Arf round or so.
Mick Curio, 'e gets it in the neck,
"Ar rats!" 'e sez, an' passes in 'is check.

Quite natchril, Romeo gits wet as 'ell.
"It's me or you!" 'e 'owls, an' wiv a yell,
Plunks Tyball through the gizzard wiv 'is sword,
'Ow I ongcored!
"Put in the boot!" I sez. "Put in the boot!"
"'Ush!" sez Doreen ... "Shame!" sez some silly coot.

Then Romeo, 'e dunno wot to do.
The cops gits busy, like they allwiz do,
An' nose around until 'e gits blue funk
An' does a bunk.
They wants 'is tart to wed some other guy.
"Ah, strike!" she sez. "I wish that I could die!"

Now, this 'ere gorspil bloke's a fair shrewd 'ead.
Sez 'e "I'll dope yeh, so they'll think yer dead."
(I tips 'e was a cunnin' sort, wot knoo
A thing or two.)
She takes 'is knock-out drops, up in 'er room:
They think she's snuffed, an' plant 'er in 'er tomb.

Then things gits mixed a treat an' starts to whirl.
'Ere's Romeo comes back an' finds 'is girl
Tucked in 'er little coffing, cold an' stiff,
An' in a jiff,
'E swallows lysol, throws a fancy fit,
'Ead over turkey, an' 'is soul 'as flit.

Then Juli-et wakes up an' sees 'im there,
Turns on the water-works an' tears 'er 'air,
"Dear love," she sez, "I cannot live alone!"
An' wiv a moan,
She grabs 'is pockit knife, an' ends 'er cares ...
"Peanuts or lollies!" sez a boy upstairs.

First published in The Bulletin, 16 July 1914
This poem forms part of The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke by C.J. Dennis
Part 1 of this poem was published last week.

Founders of Our Literature: Marcus Clarke

We remember him only by that one powerful, heart-breaking drama "For the Term of His Natural Life." After that, who in these days knows Marcus Clarke?

The tragedy of Rufus Dawes has given him his place on the shelf of memory, yet he has left behind him much graceful prose. Now and again "The Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume" turns up in a secondhand bookshop, but this book is becoming rare, more's the pity. Some of it is the chaff of a man who wrote hurriedly for a journalistic living, but some is genuine grain, and golden grain at that.

Marcus Clarke died in Melbourne on Tuesday, August 2, 1881, aged only 35. How tragic! Only 35 and his best work still to come! But he was born into Bohemia, and those who dwell there see life at high noon which passes quickly.

His father was an eccentric recluse. His mother he never knew, for she died soon after he was born on April 24, 1846. Of his childhood little is known except that he went to a private school in Highgate, London. He was delicate and eccentric as a lad. At home he mixed freely with his father's Bohemian companions and imitated them and their ways.

When he was 17 his father died. He was supposed to be rich, but he died poor, and Marcus received a few hundred pounds with which he took ship to Australia.

Here he entered a new Bohemia, and it soon became imperative that he should earn his living. Marcus Clarke was a man of extraordinary charm, with the gifts of satire, humor and bonhomie which made him a favorite wherever he went. He quickly found work in the Bank of Australasia under Messers Frank Grey-Smith and Henry Gyles Turner, but as a clerk he was impossible. He would never add up a column of figures. He always guessed the answer and put it down. He put the wrong letters in the wrong envelopes, and one day lost his job.

Through his uncle, Judge Clarke, he found his way to Swinton Station, near Glenorchy, but he was a hopeless case again. His extraordinary capacity for friendship enabled him to stay there for two years, but he did little work.

It was at Glenorchy that he began writing seriously, and came in contact with Dr. Robert Lewins, who had been a surgeon in the New Zealand War. Through Dr. Lewins he joined the literary staff of the Argus. He was an impossible reporter, but his book reviews and humorous contributions under the heading of "The Peripatetic Philosopher" won him recognition immediately, and thereafter he remained a contributor.

He started journals which failed. He founded the Yorick Club. He was the friend of Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall. He lived beyond his means, and he married Miss Marian Dunn, the actress daughter of John Dunn, who is described as the prince of burlesque actors.

He wrote voluminously for the newspapers and for the stage, and then he fell ill. A change of air was necessary. He went to Tasmania, and Clarson, Massina and Co., of the Australian Journal, gave him a commission to write a novel of the convict days of Tasmania.

"For the Term of His Natural Life" had a hectic career. The first few chapters came quickly to hand, and the story began to appear. Then the arrival of the manuscript ceased. The journal was often forced to publish without the next instalment. Only by locking the author in a room could the publishers get any copy out of him.

Through the influence of Sir Redmond Barry he was given the post of secretary to the trustees of the Public Library, but he did not discontinue writing. The end came soon after his estate had been sequestrated. He felt that bitterly, and it lost him his position. He was only ill for a week when his eyes closed for ever.

A long list of writing is attached to his name but only one other completed novel, "Long Odds." His third attempt, "Felix and Felicitas," was unfinished.

Some of Clarke's most beautiful prose is found in his famous preface to Gordon's poems. Here are extracts- "Australia has rightly been named the Land of Dawning. Wrapped in the mist of early morning her history looms vague and gigantic. The lonely horseman riding between the moonlight and the day sees vast shadows creeping across the shelterless and silent plains, hears strange noises in the primeval forests, where flourishes a vegetation long dead in other lands and feels despite his fortune, that the trim utilitarian civilisation which bred him shrinks into insignificance beside the contemptuous grandeur of forest and ranges coeval with an age in which the European
scientists have cradled his own race."

And in another place: "In Australia alone is to be found the Grotesque, the Weird, the strange scribbling of Nature learning to write. Some see no beauty in our trees without shade, our flowers w'out perfume, our birds who cannot fly and our beasts who have not yet learned to walk on all fours. But the dweller in the wilderness acknowledges the subtle charm of this fantastic land of monstrosities. He becomes familiar with the beauty of loneliness. Whispered to by the myriad tongues of the wilderness, he learns the language of the barren and the uncouth, and can read the hieroglyphs of haggard gum-trees blown into odd shapes, distorted with fierce, hot winds, or cramped with cold nights when the Southern Cross freezes in a cloudless sky of icy blue. The phantasmagoria of that wild dreamland termed the Bush interprets itself, and the Poet of our desolation begins to comprehend why free Esau loved his heritage of desert sand better than all the beautiful richness of Egypt."

That is great prose and all the greater because of its insight into the beauty of a land which so many of us love.

First published in The Herald, 19 May 1934

2007 Aurealis Award Nominees

The nominees for the 2007 Aurealis Awards have now been announced. These awards honour the best Australian fiction in a number of sf and fantasy categories.

Best Science Fiction Novel
Marianne De Pierres, Dark Space, Orbit
Jack Heath, Remote Control, Pan Macmillan
David Kowalski, The Company of the Dead, Pan Macmillan
Sean Williams, Saturn Returns, Orbit

Best Science Fiction Short Story
Simon Brown, "Lonely as Life", Fantastic Wonder Stories, Ticonderoga Publications
Penelope Love, "Whitey", Shadow Plays, Elise Bunter
Chris McMahon, "The Eyes of Erebus", Daikaiju! 2 - Revenge of the Giant Monsters, Agog! Press
Cat Sparks, "Arctica", Fantastic Wonder Stories, Ticonderoga Publications
Cat Sparks, "Hollywood Roadkill", On Spec, #69

Best Fantasy Novel
Jennifer Fallon, The Gods of Amyrantha, The Tide Lords Book Two, Harper
Lian Hearn, Heaven's Net is Wide, Tales of the Otori The First Book, Hachette Livre
Sylvia Kelso, The Moving Water, Book 2 of the Rihannar Chronicles, Thomson Gale
Glenda Larke, Song of the Shiver Barrens, The Mirage Makers Book Three, Harper Collins/Voyager
Michael Pryor, Heart of Gold, Second Volume of The Laws of Magic, Random House

Best Fantasy Short Story
R J Astruc, "The Perfume Eater", Strange Horizons, #16
Adam Browne, "An Account of an Experiment by Adam Browne", Orb Speculative Fiction, #7
Garth Nix, "Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz go to War Again", Jim Baen's Universe, April 2007
Angela Slatter, "The Angel Wood", Shimmer, November 2006
Cat Sparks, "A Lady of Adestan", Orb Speculative Fiction, #7

Best Horror Novel
The panel of judges for this division declined to select a short list from the nominated works. However, the winning novel will be announced at the ceremony.

Best Horror Short Story
Terry Dowling, "Toother", Eclipse, #1
Richard Harland, "Special Perceptions", At Ease with the Dead, Ash-Tree
Rick Kennett, "The Dark and What It Said", Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, #28
Ben Peek, "Black Betty", Lone Star Stories, #23
Anna Tambour, "The Jeweller of Second-Hand Roe", Subterranean, #7

Best Young Adult Novel
Kate Constable, Taste of Lightning, Allen & Unwin
Anthony Eaton, Skyfall, UQP
Juliet Marillier, Cybele's Secret, Pan Macmillan
Michael Pryor, Heart of Gold, Second Volume of The Laws of Magic, Random
Scott Westerfeld, Extras, Simon Pulse

Best Young Adult Short Story
Deborah Biancotti, "A Scar for Leida", Fantastic Wonder Stories, Ticonderoga Publications
Shane Jiraiya Cummings, "Yamabushi Kaidan and the Smoke Dragon", Fantastic Wonder Stories, Ticonderoga Publications
Garth Nix, "Bad Luck, Trouble, Death and Vampire Sex", Eclipse, #1
Garth Nix, "Holly and Iron", Dark Alchemy, Allen & Unwin
Tracey Rolfe, "Cast Off", Fantastic Wonder Stories, Ticonderoga Publications

Best Children's (8-12 years) Long Fiction
Isobelle Carmody, A Mystery of Wolves, Penguin Books
Kate Forsyth, The Silver Horse, The Chain of Charms 2, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Herb of Grace, The Chain of Charms 3, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Cat's Eye Shell, The Chain of Charms 4, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Lightning Bolt, The Chain of Charms 5, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Butterfly in Amber, The Chain of Charms 6, Pan Macmillan
Emily Rodda, The Key to Rondo, Omnibus Books
Carole Wilkinson, Dragon Moon, Black Dog Books

Best Children's (8-12 years) Short Fiction
Luke Edwards, Ock Von Fiend, Omnibus Books
Anna Fienberg & Barbara Fienberg, Tashi and The Mixed Up Monster, Allen & Unwin
Marc McBride, World of Monsters, Scholastic Australia
Briony Stewart, Kumiko and the Dragon, UQP

The winners of these awards will be announced at a ceremony to be held in Brisbane on January 26, 2008.

Best Books of the Year #6 - "The Age"

"The Age" asks a number of writers, both Australian and non, to select their best reads of the year. Australian selections follow:

Charlotte Wood: The Broken Shore by Peter Temple
Christos Tsiolkas: Jamaica by Malcolm Knox
Peter Carey: The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon
Les Murray: Fear of Tennis by David Cohen
Alexis Wright: The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon, and The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser
Jeff Sparrow: Napoleon's Double by Antoni Jach, and Carpentaria by Alexis Wright
Chris Wallace-Crabb: Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany
Peter Temple: Maroon and Blue Recollections of the Fitzroy Football Club by Adam Muyt
Michelle de Kretser: Jamaica by Malcolm Knox, The Children by Charlotte Wood, Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee, The Lamb Enters the Dreaming by Robert Kenny, and Other Summers by Stephen Edgar
Matthew Condon: The Complete Stories by David Malouf
Jennifer Maiden: Not Finding Wittgenstein by J.S. Harry, and El Dorado by Dorothy Porter

Australian Books to Film #35 - Romulus, My Father


Romulus, My Father 2007
Directed by Richard Roxburgh
Screenplay by Nick Drake, from the book by Raimond Gaita
Featuring Eric Bana, Franka Potente, Marton Csokas and Kodi Smit-McPhee

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #42

The Age

Thuy On looks at the annual offering from Black Inc., The Best Australian Stories 2007: "Now in its ninth year, the latest in the series contains 47 stories within its Kermit-green exterior and Robert Drewe is once again at the helm. In his introduction Drewe opines that in order to seek diversity of form and content he's 'cast the widest possible net'...Hence there are stories from well-established authors (David Malouf, Frank Moorhouse, Roger McDonald, Carmel Bird and other usual suspects) as well as from a younger and aspiring generation of writers. The crisp, virgin voices are placed democratically alongside more mature, reputable ones, with about half of Drewe's total selection coming from household literary names." He concludes it's a worthy addition to the series.

Given the size of the country in which they live, and the lack of humanity within it, Australians have a peculiar relationship to wide open spaces. One aspect of that relationship is explored in The Ways of the Bushwalker: On Foot in Australia by Melissa Harper, which is reviewed by Amanda Lohrey. "Almost any ill can be assuaged by a period of going bush. This might mean packing the dog and the gun into the back of the ute, but more likely it will involve the virtuous exertions of the foot-slogger, bent on a return to Eden that can offer some respite, however brief, from the rat-traps of the social...This is a marvellous book -- the chapter on the four-wheel drive phenomenon alone is worth the price -- and beautifully produced by the University of New South Wales Press with a number of illustrations...With clarity and wit [Harper] takes us on an armchair trek, showing how, with each decade, the debates have intensified until, with global warming, the arguments of the bushwalking priesthood have taken on a new dimension."

The Australian

Marele Day finds that Captain Cook: Voyager Between Worlds by John Gascoigne " not so much a biography as a scholarly examination of British and Pacific cultures during the latter part of the 18th century, the one poised on the brink of the industrial Revoluton, which would also affect the other." And, in probably a miscalculation on Cook's behalf: "This voyager between worlds understood how the unexpected arrival of a ship full of men may be interpreted: 'In what light can they ar first look upon us but as invaders of their coutry; time and some acquaintance with us can only convince them of their mistake.'" Just because it was inevitable doesn't make it easier to swallow.

Kevin Rabalais has some early problems with The Fern Tattoo by David Brooks: "The novel proceeds slowly, with meandering sentences -- at times needlessly long, for Brooks tends to reiterate -- and minimal dialogue. His prose demands patience and aspires to a lyrical quality that it often fails to achieve. While rhythmic, his sentences are laden with the kinds of inessentials, most notably a plethora of adverbs, that weaken the narrative's authority." Which all seems alittle harsh. However, the reviewer does conclude that "Brooks has give us an ambitious novel about how stories outlive and form us."

Scribe Publications

Ray Cassin continues his irregular look inside the world of Australian publishing with a visit to the office of Scribe Publications.

There is a loyalty, a group identity, at Scribe that is not like the usual contrived allegiances of large corporations. The interaction between Scribe's publisher, Henry Rosenbloom, and his small staff - all up there are fewer than a dozen, including Rosenbloom - is collegiate. It is not simply about touting the product - though everyone works hard at that - but about believing that what the house does is worthwhile. Truth is that you have to be very committed to work at Scribe.

Reviews of Australian Books #68

John Clute, a major sf critic based in the UK reviews Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan and compares her work quite favourably with some other majr writers: In an interview published some years ago, Langan lists a number of influences upon her as a child who read; in among the usual suspects we find two significant figures: Alan Garner and William Mayne, perhaps the two most 'difficult' authors of any renown in contemporary children's literature: Both of them authors who make it clear that, when finally you catch up to where they are telling their tale, they were there all the time. Everything you needed was a feast before you in the first place. Reading Lanagan is a similar festival." He also thinks one story in the collection is weak simply because "she has fixed simplistically into story form what needs to be expanded into a big dialogic novel, some big garden of a book with ley lines all through it so we can trace long happenings after the incipit." We all sit here waiting. We know it's coming...

Katie Haegele, in "The Philadelphia Inquirer", also takes a long look at Lanagan's story collection, and finds that even though more there one story has a male protagonist "there is something darkly feminine about each of these 10 stories. Lanagan's language has a searing poetry to it, and many of her images are both vivid and fearsome...None of these stories is easy, by which I mean they don't show their faces right away, as many young adult books do -- or even most fiction for adults, for that matter. At the beginning of each I wondered where on earth (or elsewhere) we were, and where we were going. A couple of the shorter stories felt a bit stunted, like false starts, but the language and setting of the others opened like a flower, satisfying to discover."

In "The New York Times", Dinitia Smith finds that, rather than being a Brothers Griim-style fairy tale, "The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood, by the Australian writer Mark Kurzem, is a true story. Part mystery, part memory puzzle, it is written in the polished style of a good thriller, and it is spellbinding...This is a book to keep you up at night."

The "Chicago Sun-Times" says of Shaun Tan's The Arrival: "Tan's rendering of immigrant experience is moving, accessible and full of graphic detail worth spending hours pouring over...Tan makes you feel the central dislocation of those who must leave behind all they know. This is destined to be a classic."

And of the same book, the "Toronto Star" concludes that "The pictures-only aspect of this story (and its stories within the story) recreates what it's like to live without understanding the words around you -- a potent experience that resonates with the foreign but also with the problems text can present. A story to tell and to talk over, as well as to pore over, this is a powerful, thought-provoking work."

Australian Bookcovers #93 - True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey


True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey, 2000
(UQP 2000 edition)
Cover design and artwork by Kate Barry based on a lithograph of the township of Benalla, North East Victoria, 1880.
[This novel was nominated for the 2001 Miles Franklin Award, and won the 2001 Booker Prize.]

Trudi Canavan Interview

Australian fantasy writer Trudi Canavan, author of the Black Magician trilogy of novels, is interviewed in the Fantastic Women series by Karen Miller.

What drew you to writing speculative fiction?

I've always been attracted to stories that contained a supernatural element. As a child it was fairy tales, myths and bible stories. As a teenager I was one of the first generations to enjoy books written for the 'young adult' market. The first Star Wars trilogy came out during those years, and later the BBC radio show of the Lord of the Rings led me to discover Tolkein's books. I can remember waiting impatiently for the release of each book of David Edding's Belgariad, which was so refreshingly light and funny compared to what had been done before, and the revelation that Feist's Magician was at the time.

Poem: The Play by C.J. Dennis - Part 1

Wot's in a name? -- she sez . . . An' then she sighs,
An' clasps 'er little 'ands, an' rolls 'er eyes.
"A rose," she sez, "be any other name
Would smell the same.
Oh, w'erefore art you Romeo, young sir?
Chuck yer ole pot, an' change yer moniker!"

Doreen an' me, we bin to see a show --
The swell two-dollar touch. Bong tong, yeh know.
A chair apiece wiv velvit on the seat;
A slap-up treat.
The drarmer's writ be Shakespeare, years ago,
About a barmy goat called Romeo.

"Lady, be yonder moon I swear!" sez 'e.
An' then 'e climbs up on the balkiney;
An' there they smooge a treat, wiv pretty words
Like two love-birds.
I nudge Doreen. She whispers, "Ain't it grand!"
'Er eyes is shining an' I squeeze 'er 'and.

'Wot's in a name?" she sez. 'Struth, I dunno.
Billo is just as good as Romeo.
She may be Juli-er or Juli-et --
'E loves 'er yet.
If she's the tart 'e wants, then she's 'is queen,
Names never count ... But ar, I like "Doreen!"

A sweeter, dearer sound I never 'eard;
Ther's music 'angs around that little word,
Doreen! ... But wot was this I starts to say
About the play?
I'm off me beat. But when a bloke's in love
'Is thorts turns 'er way, like a 'omin' dove.

This Romeo 'e's lurkin' wiv a crew --
A dead tough crowd o' crooks -- called Montague.
'Is cliner's push -- wot's nicknamed Capulet --
They 'as 'em set.
Fair narks they are, jist like them back-street clicks,
Ixcep' they fights wiv skewers 'stid o' bricks.

Wot's in a name? Wot's in a string o' words?
They scraps in ole Verona wiv the'r swords,
An' never give a bloke a stray dog's chance,
An' that's Romance.
But when they deals it out wiv bricks an' boots
In Little Lon., they're low, degraded broots.

Wot's jist plain stoush wiv us, right 'ere to-day,
Is "valler" if yer fur enough away.
Some time, some writer bloke will do the trick
Wiv Ginger Mick,
Of Spadger's Lane.
'E'll be a Romeo,
When 'e's bin dead five 'undred years or so.

Fair Juli-et, she gives 'er boy the tip.
Sez she: "Don't sling that crowd o' mine no lip;
An' if you run agin a Capulet,
Jist do a get."
'E swears 'e's done wiv lash; 'e'll chuck it clean.
(Same as I done when I first met Doreen.)

They smooge some more at that. Ar, strike me blue!
It gimme Joes to sit an' watch them two! '
E'd break away an' start to say good-bye,
An' then she'd sigh
"Ow, Ro-me-o!" an' git a strangle-holt,
An' 'ang around 'im like she feared 'e'd bolt.

First published in The Bulletin, 16 July 1914

This poem forms part of The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke by C.J. Dennis
Part 2 of this poem will be published next week.

Australian Literature on the Shelves

In "The Age" over the weekend, Simon Casterton asks whether it is advisable any longer for bookshops to have a separate section for Australian literature. The basic question is: does this tend to "ghetto-ise" Australian literature or make it easier to find?

Casterton visits a number of bookshops asking their opinion on the matter, and, as you might expect, gets a number of differing responses. Some like the division as it makes it easier for customers - especially overseas visitors - to find what they are looking for, and others dislike it as it appears to be an out-moded method of singling out Australian literature for attention. The question is asked: "Why can't Thea Astley be shelved next to Margaret Atwood?"

Why indeed. I do it at home, but then I also shelve Le Carre next to Le Guin; well, not quite, as Carol Lefavre has slipped in between, but you know what I mean. It's just as much a legitimate question to ask why sf and crime fiction is not shelved in the general fiction section, as to wonder the same about Australian literature. In my house fiction is just fiction: doesn't matter if it is crime, literary, historical or sf. It all gets lumped together. It only depends on what fits on which shelves. I've got a good idea of what is on my bookcases and I just need to know in which room a book is probably located.

Bookshops face a different problem, in that customers may have no idea of what they are looking for and need some easy method of narrowing down any search they may undertake. Shops do this by placing their crime fiction in one section, their biographies in another, and, in some, Australian fiction in a section of its own. I don't have a problem with different shelving methods for the shop and the home. It's the ease of identification and discovery that is the issue.

The Great Victorian Summer Read

A week or so back, I posted about the State Library of Victoria's Summer Reading program and mentioned the video interviews the Library had conducted with Garry Disher. Now, Damien, on the "Crime Down Under" weblog, draws my attention to the associated weblog which features a couple of posts from Garry Disher - in which he discusses his crime fiction - and posts from James Phelan.

Australian Books to Film #34 - The Man from Snowy River


The Man from Snowy River 1982
Directed by George Miller
Screenplay by Cul Cullen, from the poem by A.B. 'Banjo' Paterson
Featuring Tom Burlinson, Terence Donovan, Kirk Douglas, and Tommy Dysart

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #41

The Age

Alan Stephens on Vietnam: The Australian War by Paul Ham, and The Vietnam Years: From the Jungle to Australian Suburbs by Michael Caulfield: "A case can be made that of the many conflicts in which Australians have fought, only World War II was a war of necessity. In other words, it was our free choice to participate in World War I, Malaya, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq...Two first-rate books by journalist and author Paul Ham and television and film director Michael Caulfield are the latest contributions to the history of the West's war in Indochina. Different in purpose and style, they are complementary in effect...Ham's is the more wide-ranging, resembling in its ambition David Halberstam's masterful The Best and the Brightest. Based on voluminous archival research and scores of interviews, it provides an absorbing political context...Caulfield's book is narrower in scope than Ham's but is no less effective. Part autobiographical -- Caulfield was an anti-Vietnam protester - and part social history, it is drawn largely from the hundreds of interviews he directed for the Australians at War Film Archive."

James Ley is intrigued with The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser: "With considerable aplomb her previous novel, The Hamilton Case, appropriated the literary conventions of both an English murder mystery and magic realism, seeing in the collision of incongruous styles -- one very proper and rational, the other fanciful and lushly descriptive -- a reflection of the cultural tensions in 1930s Ceylon...De Kretser's sharp-witted new novel, The Lost Dog, retains an interest in the cross-cultural identities of its characters, but casts its thematic net far wider. It is a book about the hydra of modernity itself, although its narrative is simple and, in some respects, earthy...The Lost Dog is possessed of considerable though understated depth of feeling...It is a wonderfully written novel that is often funny, but, despite its sharp critical intelligence, it is not at all cynical."

The Australian

"The Australian" has been posting its book reviews to its website quite often over the past few months. The problem has always been that they are hard to find: not linked to via the main books page and only found via their search facility. But this week...well, if they're there I can't find them.

Mary Rose Liverani on Burning In by Mireille Juchau: "This novel is Juchau's second. With her first, Machines for Feeling, it suggests she has an ongoing interest in alienation and disconnection...The photographic mindset and methodology incorporated into her novel is bound to make Burning In a talking point at writers festivals, especially since her prose is charged with an effortless flow of powerful, poetic imagery and her crafting of complex shifts in time, place and consciousness meticulous."

Prime Minister's Literary Prize

"The Australian" is reporting that a new literary award will be announced shortly. Called the Prime Minister's Literary Prize it will chose single winners in fiction and non-fiction categories only. Each prize will be worth $100,000, with another $100,000 being spent to publicise the prize. At this time no firm eligibility criteria have been set, but it does appear that judges in each category will be appointed (single-year or ongoing?), and these judges will make recommendations to the PM. Not sure what ramifications this award will have on
the Miles Franklin Award as yet. We'll have to see the final conditions of the award.

J.M. Coetzee Watch #2

In "Bookforum" magazine Siddhartha Deb reviews Diary of a Bad Year and notes that the author's change of country of residence, from South Africa to Australia, has not dimmed the writer's focus: "The move to Australia, then, was only a respite for Coetzee. His adopted nation might not be quite as crude as apartheid South Africa in its ideas of power and governance, but it is implicated in other falsehoods, from its disingenuous treatment of its aboriginal people and its devotion to neoliberal dogma right down to its eagerness to sign on to the 'coalition of the willing' led by Washington.

"Coetzee's latest novel, Diary of a Bad Year, has much to say about the West and its shapeless war on terror, taking as its starting point the idea that the liberal democratic state, for all its valorization of representative politics, is as authoritarian a system as any..."

"The complete review" finds that although Diary of a Bad Year is much better than the bulk of modern fiction it might well have been better yet: "Diary of a Bad Year is (somewhat surprisingly) a gripping read. The three-part presentation isn't an undue burden on the reader; the book can't be read like your usual novel, but it doesn't require that much more concentration or contortions to keep track of everything. Diary of a Bad Year is a novel of ideas, and the fictional threads running below the essays keep Coetzee's opinions from coming across as too much in-your-face, or forced onto the reader. And there is some overlap: the underlying story does add to the essay-opinions, even when Coetzee uses it to point out their weaknesses. He is not entirely successful, but it is one technique for trying to turn a writer's usual
monologue into a dialogue.

"If anything, Coetzee could have been more daring about it, pushing all parts of the novel harder than he does. Still, even as is Diary of a Bad Year stands easily above most of the fiction of the day, thought-provoking and entertaining both."

Continuing with Diary of a Bad Year: Mitali Saran in "Tehelka" out of India says that "like all of Coetzee's work, it is well worth reading"; and Minu Ittyipe, in "Newindpress on Sunday", is of the view that "The mixing of non-fiction and fiction, the prurient thoughts and the intellectual engagement on a single page proves to be an interesting and taxing exercise for the reader. "

In "The Capital Times" from Madison, Wisconsin, Jacob Stockinger contrasts Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000-2005 with Milan Kundera's The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts, and concludes: "If you want a quick, more suggestive read with a more philosophical bent that might spark your own grand theories about literature, culture or art, Kundera is probably for you.

"If, on the other hand, you want to hone your skills at close reading and textual analysis, if you want to learn how to use biographical context and how to assess aesthetic execution of specific writers and works, Coetzee's book holds many more modest insights and serves as a better role model"

Fiona McIntosh Interview

South Australian author Fiona McIntosh has written 9 fantasy novels under her own name, as well as a crime novel under the pseudonym Lauren Crow, and is interviewed this week in "The Courier-Mail" by Jason Nahrung.

McIntosh, who moved from her native England to Australia in 1980, mined the medieval-style fantasy setting for her first two trilogies, Trinity and The Quickening, both of which earned her overseas sales and an avid following. "I was a little unnerved when The Quickening went well.

"I didn't want to trade off it, I wanted to do something different and go to a different place." She chose the Mediterranean and Middle East.

"I love the exotic feel of Percheron [her new fantasy trilogy], the minarets and slippers that curl up at the toes and all that Ali Baba-type stuff.

"The new book is set in a European-style world similar to The Quickening, but more English. I've got that in my soul. Growing up in England, you're surrounded by castles, so it's easy to put myself there.

"But for Percheron, I had to go there -- Rhodes, Istanbul -- so I understood it. It was the best thing I ever did for the story -- to do it justice, I had to do it. In Istanbul, once you scratch the surface, medieval Constantinople is there, staring you in the face.

"You can only do so much out of your imagination. My fantasies are based on historical cultures and landscapes; there's only so much you can get through reading and research. When I walked in the Grand Bazaar, the book fell into place for me. Looking at the patterned tiles, tasting the apple tea and smelling the spices, watching the carpet sellers; the story just bounces into life from there.

"I kept the story fantastical, I didn't want it to appear to be a guide to the Middle East, or having someone there read it and say that's not how it is."


The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith by Peter Carey, 1994
(UQP 1994 edition)
Cover illustration by Craig Voevodin

The Glugs of Gosh by C.J. Dennis

I'm back reading The Glugs of Gosh by C.J Dennis again in preparation for something coming up later in the week that I'll have to tell you about later. (I'm not trying to be mysterious, just making sure I don't look like a complete dill if it doesn't come off.)

I don't know how long it's been since I last read it - five years maybe - and while I do remember a lot of it some of the finer nuances of the book had escaped me. For those not familiar with the book, it was Dennis's 1917 third verse-novel, following the runaway success of The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke in 1915 which went on to sell some 300,000 copies over the next seventy years, and The Moods of Ginger Mick, published a year later. His two better-known books dealt with, firstly, the larrikin "Push" of Melbourne and the romantic tale of Bill and Doreen, and, with Ginger Mick, the experiences of an ordinary Australian soldier during the first World War.

Glugs is a complete departure from the subject-matter of these two books. It is written as a book for children, but is really a political satire. Margaret Herron, Dennis's wife, wrote in her memoir, Down the Years, that the author considered this his best work. This is also confirmed in a letter written by Dennis in which he states that Glugs, and The Singing Garden - a collection of his nature poems from "The Herald" newspaper - were the works he considered most highly. Which is all rather odd.

The Singing Garden was never reprinted to the best of my knowledge, and Glugs is probably his least-known work. Public opinion, measured by sales and familiarity with the work, would lead us towards The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke as Dennis's best. Two film versions - one silent and one "talkie" - stage adaptations, and an Australian stamp series haven't done the Bloke any major harm. But Dennis's opinion shouldn't be ignored, even if it is a bit hard to follow.

In her memoir, Herron indicates that the book was first started to amuse the ill son of J.G. Roberts. (Roberts was Dennis's mentor in the early to mid-1910s. Dennis camped out on Roberts's property in the Dandenongs in a converted tramway car while writing The Sentimental Bloke, the final book edition of which is dedicated to Roberts and his wife.) The first chapter from Glugs was published in "The Bulletin" magazine in June 1915, and is basically a self-contained portion of the final story. The second excerpt appeared in the same magazine a month later and was again written as a stand-alone story. Some time after that Dennis must have decided that there was a lot more to the tale than he had already told and started work on expanding the two poems into a full-blown verse-novel, and weaving in portions of other, early poems, such as "The Snare" from 1913, which were not originally related to the Glugs story at all. [More to follow.]

On Other Blogs #37

D.M. Cornish let it be known that Lamplighter, the second volume of his "Monster Blood Tattoo" series, went to the printers on November 7. The book weighs in at over 600 pages and is expected to be released in May 2008.

Susan Johnson, held a book reading in Paris at Shakespeare and Co. "In many ways Paris is the perfect place to confirm oneself as a writer, since it is one of the few places in the world to respect the arts so highly, and literature in particular. If Australia is (arguably) still a place where the important man is the rich man (as Patrick White suggested in his essay The Prodigal Son and which I still believe holds true) then Paris is still the place where an un-rich and unconfident young woman might hope -- even in the most modest and uncertain way -- to pledge herself to some higher thing. Paris made the possibility of a life pledged to literature seem completely possible, and not 'wanky' or 'over-wrought' or 'ridiculous' in the least."

Matt Rubinstein is getting involved with a brand new project in which he, and a few other writers, will "pretend for a year that they are living in one of the other writers' hometowns, where they have in fact never been." Rubinstein will "be spending a virtual year in Graz, Austria, the birthplace of Claudia Chibici-Revneanu."

Margo Lanagan notes that she has a new story coming out in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow, which also features a new work by Lucy Sussex.

Poem: The Poet's Songs by R. Crawford

Ingenio arbusta ubi nata sunt non insita. - Naevius

The copse-wood merely sows
   Itself, not planted;
And so it is with those
   Strange and enchanted
Moods that have taken root,
Bloomed, and e'en borne fruit,
Or e'er the poet knew't,

The little songs that fly,
   When the lips parted
Let dreams of ear and eye
   Forth, so warm-hearted:
Be it a joy or pain,
Each to chaunt is fain
What in the parent brain
   Soothed or smarted.

This is the poet's dower,
   None, none completer;
As if 'twere Love's own flower,
   Than all flowers sweeter,
Which, as the seer saith,
Still breathes a faery breath
Where Beauty smiles, though Death
   May come to meet her.

First published in The Lone Hand, 1 June 1908

Currently Reading


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



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



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Dick's novel of the near future when the difference between human and android is barely discernible. One of the great all-time sf titles.



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



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


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