February 2008 Archives

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot: Introduction

Back in April 2005 Ben Peek, on his weblog The Urban Sprawl Project, undertook to interview as many Australian speculative fiction writers as he could and to publish those interviews over the course of a week. Each interview was only short, some five questions in all, and was aimed primarily at getting a brief look at the author's latest work, what they were currently working on, and what they thought of the then current state of the speculative fiction field in Australia. He called it the "2005 Snapshot". In August 2007, the ASif! (Australian SpecFic in focus) crew, along with a guest or two, decided to follow Peek's lead and came up with their own 2007 Snapshot. They finished up interviewing 83 authors, up from the 43 in Peek's original.

At the end of 2007, Karen Chisholm (of the Aust Crime Fiction weblog), Damien Gay (of Crime DownUnder) and Perry Middlemiss (of Matilda) decided a similar snapshot of Australian crime fiction was required. Over the past couple of months these three have conducted a number of small, five-question interviews with a wide variety of Australian crime fiction writers and will begin publishing them across the three weblogs, starting Monday March 3, 2008.

If you are at all interested in the current state of Australian crime fiction, you'll find this series very entertaining and, hopefully, illuminating.

Smatterings of Interest

John Birmingham has an encounter with Shane Maloney at a readers' festival. There's also someone else invloved who he doesn't name.

Art Neuro isn't too happy with Les Murray's response to a request for a blurb. Best comment: "Maybe Puncher & Wattmann [the publishers] should ask the other Les Murray for a blurb."

I mentioned last year that Tim Winton's collection of short stories, The Turning, was being adapted for the stage. Now comes news that the adaptation started at the Playhouse Theatre in Perth on 22nd February. The play runs till Saturday March 8.

And speaking of Winton, he will be attending the upcoming Brighton Festival in the UK (May 3 to 25).

Long time sf fan, artist and all round good guy Nick Stathpoulos has been shortlisted for the 2008 Archibald Prize - Australia's premier portrait prize initiated by J.F. Archibald. Nick's painting is of movie critic David Stratton snoozing in a cinema. Nick previously entered the competition with a portrait of ABC television puppet character Mr Squiggle, and his creator Norman Hetherington. [Thanks to Judith Ridge of the Misrule weblog.]

Reviews of Australian Books #77

The short story collection, Dark Roots by Cate Kennedy, is getting some good reviews in the US with Irene Wanner in "The San Francisco Chronicle" being mostly impressed: "Dark Roots, award-winning Australian poet and writer Cate Kennedy's first book of fiction, shows exactly why putting together a story collection is such a challenge. If each piece ideally aspires to the scope and significance of a novel, a successful book of stories requires multiple outstanding performances - 17 in this case - and it's no wonder the most-often used term reviewers seem to apply to story collections is 'uneven.' Kennedy's book is uneven. A few of its entries miss the mark. But the majority, by far, are fabulous."

And Maud Newton, in "The New York Times", finding the stories in "the Australian writer Cate Kennedy's first collection, are melancholy but deliberate and coolly exact. They depict characters in crisis, often so mired in what Walker Percy called the malaise of everydayness that the horror of their condition is invisible to them. Some of the stories culminate in epiphanies; others hinge on a jolt -- a violent act or loss."

On the "Voynich News" weblog Nick Pelling looks at Vellum by Matt Rubinstein: "Though it has a contemporary European vibe to its vocabulary, Vellum is firmly situated in the Australian geographical and historical landscapes (spinifex, First Fleet, etc): and is all the fresher and more engaging for it. The paradoxical idea of an inland desert lighthouse recurs through the book, and (surprisingly to me) one such does exist, at Point Malcolm: I think this nicely mirrors various Voynich-like conundrums, which I'm sure you can work out for yourself." This novel was published in Australia as A Little Rain on Thursday.

Joel Yanofsnky gives Steve Toltz a boost in "The Montreal Gazette": "There was a time when it was automatic: You cut a first novel some slack. Reviewers, readers, too, were expected to take into account a rookie author's limitations. That often meant understanding when the story was, say, overly autobiographical, when it wasn't imaginative or ambitious enough...But times have changed. Now, first novels are like blockbuster movies and breakfast sandwiches: you go big or you go home...In his debut, A Fraction of the Whole, Australian writer Steve Toltz goes really big. It's not just that this picaresque saga of the criminal and crazy Dean family clocks in at 530 pages. Or that Toltz's mix of know-it-all philosophizing and comic shtick seems to set him up as a successor to literary whiz-kids like Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen." Which hopefully won't be the kiss of death for him.

Short notes:

A. Fortis on Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan: "Sometimes these worlds might resemble our own; sometimes we're in the head of some other creature. Sometimes the reader is left disturbed, on edge; other times, hopeful and light. But mostly the former. This is definitely a collection of dark fantasy tales, and it should appeal to adult readers just as much as to YA readers."

Book Lady on The Arrival by Shaun Tan: "An excellent book on immigrant experience. The fantastical artwork gives you a feeling of what it would really be like to go to a new land where most things are not familiar to you. Plus, since the pictures are the only way to understand the story, lots of imagination is required on the reader's end."

Max Barry is one of Colin Matthew's favourite authors, and he is impressed with the author's Jennifer Government: "This book is a clever satire on big corporations and globalization which will cause readers to look at things a little differently when paying attention to commercials or advertisements. There is just enough truth in this book to be scary."

Pre-release reviews of D.M. Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo: Lamplighter continue to appear ahead of its US release, and Drew found much to enjoy in the new book: "D.M. Cornish continues to astound and delight in this second novel. It might be a bit intimidating for a series to jump from 300 pages (in Foundling) to 600 pages in Lamplighter, but the tale is engaging and the narrative compelling from start to finish."

Founders of Our Literature: Barcroft Boake

Whatever may be said of Barcroft Boake as a poet, he has extraordinary claims to picturesqueness. His short, melancholy life is a story in itself. His poetic career was so brief that it places him more in the category of might have been than of established reputation. And yet, as one reads his sometimes truly poetic lines, one sorrows that he did not live longer to complete the greater work that was in him.

There were foundations of greatness in Boake and his poetry. If it be necessary for a poet to be melancholy, he had more than his fair share of melancholia. He resembles Gordon in appearance, mode of life and death. Gordon ended things with a gun. Poor Boake found life so unattractive at the age of 26 that he hanged himself with a stockwhip. Both chose the seashore as the venue.

We remember Barcroft Boake best by his melancholy poem "Where the Dead Men Lie." It is a gripping and heartrending thing rising to great heights of feeling. Cheerful people may think that it were better left unwritten, but the Never-Never and its tragedy has a right to be made articulate, and Boake did it incomparably well.

Out on the wastes of the Never Never -
   That's where the dead men lie!
There where the heat-waves dance forever -
   That's where the dead men lie!
That's where the Earth's loved sons are keeping
   Endless tryst: not the west wind sweeping
Feverish pinions can wake their sleeping -
   Out where the dead men lie!
Barcroft Boake was a man with no vices. He had courage, generosity, affection and simplicity. Possibly he had too much affection for it was a love affair gone wrong which gave the final impetus to the urge which took him and his stockwhip to the shame of Long Bay and to the end of life.

One of his final messages to his father was "Write to Miss McKeahnie." A few days before that he had received a letter. After he had read it he said to one of his sisters. "I have had rather a knock today. I hear that my best girl is going to be married." It was unusual for him to say so much, and, as he was then in a deep state of melancholia, the anxiety of his family about him increased.

Barcroft Boake was born on March 26, 1866, in Sydney. At nine he was taken by a friend of the family to Noumea, where he remained two years.

He developed into a sturdy boy, a strong swimmer and boatman, and a good tennis player. Probably he is the only one of our early poets who played that game.

After a public school education, during which he displayed no unusual ability, he became a draughtsman and subsequently field assistant to a surveyor at Adaminaby, in the Monaro country of New South Wales, under the shadow of Kosciusko.

He did not grow up a strong man. He was a terrific smoker, and he possessed a slow-beating heart. So long as he was engaged in violent exercise he was happy and gay, but ease only drove him to melancholia. He lacked initiative unless something fired his imagination, and then he almost needed restraint.

The end of his country jobs saw him back in Sydney, unemployed and depressed. His most sympathetic biographer, Mr A. G. Stephens, says that he would sit for hours with his head down smoking his pipe eternally and speaking to nobody.

Boake was more a natural poet than a cultured literary man. Some of his letters are carelessly written. His verse seems to have come out of him willy nilly, because it had to. And yet he could, when he liked to make the effort, write excellent prose.

Possibly it was a mock hanging at Adaminaby in which he nearly lost his life, which suggested the real one that caused his end. With some other young men he was larking and he and another declared that they would hang themselves. Boake tied a slip knot round his neck and fixed it to the gamble with which slaughtered sheep were raised. The skip knot closed and nearly choked him, and he lost consciousness.

He left the surveying job to become a boundary rider at Narromine. He loved the outdoor life so much that he and two others presently took their horses and rode up to Queensland, where they went droving. After a trip with cattle to Sydney he took service with a surveyor again in the Riverina.

It was there that he wrote many of his rhymes and achieved public notice. The job ending he returned to Sydney to his people. There intense melancholia gripped him.

Things had gone badly with the family. His father's business had failed, and the home was, for that reason, not quite as happy as it might have been. Barcroft could get no work, and that made matters worse.

And so we lost him just when he was of an age to do great things.

First published in The Herald, 21 July 1934

Weekend Round-Up 2008 #5

The Age

The paper has not been very good at putting its book reviews on its website. If they do appear they do so very late in the week. Which partly explains the lateness of this week's entry. Sue Turnbull on Fan Mail by P.D. Martin, which is "... the third and best book in this series so far, picking up where The Murderer's Club left off. This is an interesting gambit, suggesting that Martin conceives her books less as a set of stand-alone investigations, and more as an episodic serial. The experience of reading Fan Mail will therefore be comletely different for those who have read The Murderer's Club compared with those who haven't, since a piece of vital information will be available to the former that is withheld from the latter." And on "The Tattooed Man, Alex Palmer's second novel to feature Sydney-based senior policeman Paul Harrigan and his now lover, Grace Riordan, is a worthy successor to the multi-award winning Blood Redempton."

Michael McGirr on Addition by Toni Jordan and Vinyl Inside by Rachel Matthews: "Both these first novels charm their way past readers' defences. They have such honest affection for their characters that it becomes hard to resist two writers with sufficient wit and imagination to put a smle on some tangled situations."

Peter Craven on The Formalesque by Bernard Smith: "Bernard Smith is one of the titans of the academic world and he has done much to establish the systematic study of art history in this country...He is also, in a complex way, rather more than an art critic and this is some testament to the grandeur of his achievement. He is an academic of the academics, a great scholar as well as a great critic and a historian in anyone's book - and by the most exacting scholarly standards."

The Best of the Booker

As we hit the 40th anniversary of the Man Booker prize (previously just the simple Booker), the prize trustees have announced a prize for the best book out of all the previous winners. A similar prize was awarded in 1993 (on the 25th anniversary) and the winner at that time was Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie.

The Australian entrants in the Best of the Booker, with odds as released by Ladbrooks:

14/1 - True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2001)
25/1 - Schindler's Ark by Tom Keneally (1982)
25/1 - Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (1988)
33/1 - Disgrace by J.M Coetzee (1999)
40/1 - Life and Times of Michael K. by J.M Coetzee (1983)

For the record, Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie is a 4/1 favourite this time round.

2008 Miles Frankin Award Longlist Possibles

On 13th March 2008 the trustees of the Miles Franklin Award will release their longlisted titles for the 2008 award - yes, it's that time of year again. As I have done in the past, here are my suggestions for their consideration:

Aphelion by Emily Ballou
The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll
The River Baptists by Belinda Castles
Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee
The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon
Ron McCoy's Sea of Diamonds by Gregory Day
Love and the Platypus by Nicholas Drayson
Love Without Hopeby Rodney Hall
Sorry by Gail Jones
The Widow and Her Hero by Tom Keneally
Jamaica by Malcolm Knox
The Memory Room by Christopher Koch
Nights in the Asylum by Carol Lefevre
Landscape of Farewell by Alex Miller
El Dorado by Dorothy Porter
The Low Road by Chris Womersley
The Children by Charlotte Wood

Any other suggestions?

Literary Gatherings #7 - John Shirlow, Æneas Gunn, C.J. Dennis


At "Sunnyside"
From left: John Shirlow, Æneas Gunn, Dave Wright, C.J. Dennis and J.G. Roberts
Bert Roberts (in bus)

A Classic Year: 9.0 "Lilith" by Christopher Brennan

poems1913_small.jpg Poems 1913
Christopher Brennan

All previous entries in this Classic Year (bar, I suppose, the Mary Gilmore poem) have been distinctly "Australian" in their subject matter: tales of bushrangers, convicts, horsemen, and outback men and women. "Lilith" by Christopher Brennan takes a completely different path.

Christopher Brennan was born in 1870, only three years after Henry Lawson, and yet the two poets could not be more dissimilar in their work, and yet so similiar in their lives. Brennan's major sphere of influence was Europe and his work links more to that romantic, classical tradition than to the existing Australian style of his time. His poem "Lilith" is a perfect example of that. Heavy with symbolism, references to religion, mythology, and folk tales, it could only have been written by someone steeped in the European tradition.

The Wikipedia entry on Lilith describes her as: "Lilith is a mythological female Mesopotamian storm demon associated with wind and was thought to be a bearer of disease, illness, and death. The figure of Lilith first appeared in a class of wind and storm demons or spirits as Lilitu, in Sumer, circa 3000 BC. Many scholars place the origin of the phonetic name 'Lilith' at somewhere around 700 BC. Lilith appears as a night demon in Jewish lore and as a screech owl in the King James version of the Bible. She is also apocryphally the first wife of Adam." Lilith is the succubus, the seducer and captor of men, and Brennan's poem can be read from any number of angles: he is writing of all women as Lilith, or only one. Either of these will fit and that leads you to conclude that the poem is either sublime
because it allows for multiple interpretions, or incomprehensible for the very same reason.

Of the poem, Judith Wright, in 1965, wrote: "If some of Brennan's assurance had left him meanwhile, and he had begun to doubt the possibility of human achievement of the goal of complete consciousness, it may have been the encounter and wrestle with his Lilith-figure that had caused the change. She so much dominates the poem, and is so presented, as to leave us with a deep doubt that Adam can ever grow to her stature -- as he must do if he is to find his way beyond her. She represents Brennan's deepest exploration into his own psyche, and into the concepts of death, eternity, and evil; at the same time she must stand for the eternal allure of the unknown, of the feminine, of the maternal, of the abyss of the past and the undiscernible distance of the future. To embody all this, and more, in one figure was task enough to exhaust the vision and invention of any poet, and leave him doubtful of human ability and achievement." And I'll bow to her greater understanding of this work.

Notes: Full text of the poem (PDF file)
Australian Dictionary of Biography entry
Wikipedia entry
Photo of Christopher Brennan
Dante Gabriel Rossetti's sonnet "Lilith" (just 'cos I'm a Pre-Raphaelite fan)

The next four works in this Classic Year:
10. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner (1894)
11. The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson (1910)
12. "The Gentle Water-Bird" by John Shaw Neilson (1927)
13. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin (1901)

Clive James Watch #3

Reviews of Cultural Amnesia

Ted Burke titles his review "Memoirs of an Amnesiac", which isn't bad. "Memoirs of an Insomniac" might work just as well. "His range is impressive, though some of his views are questionable, given to subjectively defined absolutes, such as his long essay on jazz composer and band leader Duke Ellington; James does an insightful reading of the master's body of work, but goes beyond his kiln expressing his dislike of the modernism that caught up with jazz improvisation, claiming, in effect, that the faster, more bracing innovations of Charlie Parker, Coltrane and Miles Davis destroyed the form. Rather than admit that any vibrant art changes with the younger stalwarts who take up it's practice, James would rather that his beloved idea of jazz, rhythmic, melodic, and danceable, was "dead". This is rather typical of the book, where one enters what they think is a discussion of an intriguing personality only to find that James has a grievance he wants to address, a score to settle. He goes off topic with the topic he selects."

Hans finds one major problem with the book - plus a few minor ones as well: "One huge problem with "Cultural Amnesia"? The typos...I don't think I've ever seen a big serious book with so many of them - seriously, some proofreader at Norton books was hitting the juice during lunchtime, because there's one every other page, which is a problem in a book that specifically criticizes OTHER books for misusing commas and semicolons and the such - (book-kettle calling the book-pot black much?)"


Dwight Garner runs a few quick questions past James on "Paper Cuts": "What are you working on? I'm working on the fifth volume of my memoirs. This volume is provisionally called Prelude to the Aftermath and covers my time in
British mainstream television from 1982-2000, so it will have a star-studded cast in which Luciano Pavarotti, if I may say so, bulks large. I am also finalizing the proofs of my upcoming book of selected poems, Opal Sunset, which will be published in America late this year."

James on Television

Clive James recently appeared on BBC Television's "Question Time" and Neil Skinner was in the audience to report on the filming. He rated James's performance a 9/10: "A typically robust performance from the ever popular Australian writer/broadcaster, a pleasing mix of well made political comment and razor sharp satire from a man of enormous intellect." And a last note from the man himself: "My feeling that I would have been a happier man if I had been a painter and indeed a happier man if I had been a gravedigger - a very useful occupation, in my view, as it was in the view of the gravedigger who met Hamlet, himself a gloomy fellow - that feeling might have something to do with a disposition towards melancholy. From the inside I don't actually feel like a wet weekend. But apparently I strike other people that

2009 Clarion South Writers' Workshop

Applications are now open for entry to the 2009 Clarion South science fiction and fantasy writers' workshop. The scheduled teachers are as follows:

Week 1: Sean Williams
Week 2: Marianne de Pierres
Week 3: Margo Lanagan
Week 4: Jack Dann
Week 5: Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant
Week 6: Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

The workshop runs from January 4 to February 14 2009.

Geraldine Brooks Watch #3


Bron Sibree in "The Courier-Mail":

Despite having written three historical novels, Brooks says she cannot fully explain her fascination with the past..."I liked history in school, but I was much more animated by politics, by the things that were really happening in society around me," she says...She likes too, to joke about her on-the-page attraction to men of the cloth -- "vicars, rabbis, imams, I don't know why" -- but insists she is not religious herself...She adopted the Jewish faith when she married fellow Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author Tony Horwitz -- more, she says, out of a sense of obligation to history than to faith..."I'm very interested in all those big life-and-death questions, but haven't found answers to them in any spirit in the sky."
With each interview you read, a little more is exposed. Jessica Yadegaran talks to the author for "The Mercury News".
Geraldine Brooks wasn't born Jewish, but by age 14, she was obsessed with the religion, its people and plight...In fact, it was during the Six-Day War in 1967 that Brooks, who would go on to become a renowned foreign correspondent, first paid attention to the news. In high school, the Australian started wearing a Star of David on her Catholic school uniform. She schlepped around dog-eared copies of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. She penned a play about the Warsaw ghetto.
[See Update note below.] And beginnings are explained:
Geraldine Brooks knew she wanted to be a journalist when she encountered firsthand the meaning of the phrase "hot off the press" as a young girl in Sydney, Australia. But becoming a novelist -- a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, nonetheless -- happened more on a whim...Brooks' father was a proofreader for a newspaper and sometimes brought her to work with him. She said she still remembers feeling the building shake as deadline approached and touching the hot pages of the day's newspaper minutes before it was shipped throughout the city...Her father was a human rights advocate as well, always defending the underdog, Brooks said. Her mother nurtured and encouraged her imagination. Her whole family had a profound appreciation for books, she said..."For us," Brooks said, "books were in a special class of things, like food and school uniforms -- something we somehow found money
Brooks was also interviewed by "The BookGuys" for their radio program, and the interview is available for download for audio streaming.

[Update: checking back over this entry I noticed that one particular interview, that I quote from, contained no link, and it appears that the original is now no longer freely available on the web. At least I can't find it anywhere. So, I've removed the empty link, but will leave the quote as it stands. I didn't make it up, honest. Just wasn't as complete in my checking as I would have liked.]

Just a Few Items of Interest

Sophie Masson discusses the differences between authors who write for children and young adults, and their counterparts in the adult literary world. It's all down to the readership.

Steve Tolz, author of A Fraction of the Whole, is touring the US.

Australian poet Les Murray is sick of being asked to write blurbs for other poets' books and has come up with a rather obscure method of saying "no". Murray does, however, have other work on his plate as he is announced as the new visiting professor attached to Macquarie Dictionary, at the University of Sydney.

Wendy Orr, author of Nim's Island, is off to Los Angeles to walk the red carpet for the premiere of the film of the book. The film opens in Australia April 3.

Elizabeth Jolley Documentary

Elizabeth Jolley is the subject of "Artscape" screening on ABC 1 at 10pm this evening.

The half-hour documentary examines the writer's life and work and looks at her legacy through the eyes of three former students. [...] When Jolley died in February 2007, some of her most insightful tributes came from her former students. Having taught creative writing for almost 30 years, her teaching legacy has combined with her published works to make her a surprisingly influential figure across Australian television, theatre and fiction writing.
If you miss it, the program will be repeated on ABC 2 on Sunday, March 2 at 7pm.

Australian Bookcovers #103 - The Fire at Ross's Farm by Henry Lawson


The Fire at Ross's Farm by Henry Lawson, 1925
(aka Popular Verses)
(Pollard 1973 edition)
Cover by Walter Stackpool

A Classic Year: 8.0 "The Drover's Wife" by Henry Lawson

"The Drover's Wife" by Henry Lawson neatly fits into this list as a counter-point to Barbara Baynton's "The Chosen Vessel", which I looked at last week. In both stories, a lone woman living in the bush (with babe in arms in Baynton's story, and with four children in Lawson's) is menaced by an external force (Baynton: swagman, Lawson: snake) which threatens her existence, and that of her family. At the start of the story the woman - for she is never named, only "mother", "drover's wife", "she" and "this bushwoman" - is living in a deserted bush shack. Her husband is off working with sheep somewhere and she is alone with her children.

Bush all round--bush with no horizon, for the country is flat. No ranges in the distance. The bush consists of stunted, rotten native apple-trees. No undergrowth. Nothing to relieve the eye save the darker green of a few she-oaks which are sighing above the narrow, almost waterless creek. Nineteen miles to the nearest sign of civilization--a shanty on the main road.
It's a bleak existence, but one she has come to terms with. A snake appears and slithers under the house before the woman, her eldest son or her dog can catch it. The house is of split-slab construction and the woman is afraid that the snake will come into the house at night when they are all asleep and bite one of the children. So she puts the children to sleep on the kitchen table, sets the fire alight to draw out the snake into the warmth and sits waiting all night with the dog.

Lawson's story is told in simple prose and uses a neat framing device to explore the woman's life and circumstances. The lonely vigil allows the woman time to look back on her life - the highs and lows, the loneliness, and her hopes and fears. In six pages Lawson teases out a part of what makes this woman who she is: strong, capable and completely human. He does a wonderful job.

Lawson had his first work published in 1887 and this classic came from his pen only five years later. Previously better known as a poet, this story cemented his reputation as one of Australia's greatest writers. Its power hasn't diminished since it appeared in 1892.

The full text of this story is available, but you'll have to search through this page to find it
Australian Dictionary of Biography Lawson page
Wikipedia Lawson page
"Founders of our Literature" biography notes
Caricature by David Low
Caricature by Will Dyson
Photo of Lawson

The next four works in this Classic Year:
9. "Lilith" by Christopher Brennan (1898-1899)
10. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner (1894)
11. The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson (1910)
12. "The Gentle Water-Bird" by John Shaw Neilson (1927)

Alexandra Adornetto Interview

Alexandro Adornetto, the Melbourne author of The Shadow Thief, caused a bit of a sensation in Australian publishing circles a year or so back by signing a two-book deal with HarperCollins - it wasn't so much the deal itself, but that the author was only 14 at the time. The first book was out last year and now Adornetto is nearly finished the second. As that progresses she is interviewed by Alisa Gould-Simon on the "psychoPEDIA" website.

Do some people not take you seriously as a writer as a result of your age?

Nowadays this isn't a problem anymore, because I have established a profile of sorts; but when I was trying to get published and contacting different people for advice it was a little frustrating. I have a mature sounding phone-voice so people thought I was eighteen to twenty. When I told them I was thirteen their tone changed very quickly! I got told on so many occasions how brutal the publishing industry is - I think they were trying to protect me from heartbreak! I am very grateful to the team at Harper Collins who did not see my age as a barrier but rather as a positive. They have always treated me like an adult.

The title of the second book is The Lampo Circus.

Poem: The Bards Who Lived at Manly by Henry Lawson (Part 1)

The camp of high-class spielers,
   Who sneered in summer dress,
And doo-dah dilettante,
   And scornful "venuses" --
House agents, and storekeepers,
   All eager they to "bleed" --
The bards who tackled Manly,
   Were plucky bards indeed!

With shops that feared to trust them,
   And pubs that looked askance;
And prigs who read their verses,
   But gave them not a glance; --
When all were vain and selfish,
   And editors were hard --
The bard that stuck to Manly
   Was sure a mighty bard.

What mattered floors were barren,
   And windows curtainless,
And our life seemed to others
   But blackguard recklessness?
We wore our clothes for comfort,
   We earned our bread alway,
And beer and good tobacco
   Came somehow every day.

Came kindred souls to Manly --
   Outsiders that we knew,
And with them scribes and artists,
   And low comedians too;
And sometimes bright girl writers --
   Called "Tommy", "Jack", or "Pat" --
(Though each one had a sweetheart
   The rest knew nought of that).

'Twas not the paltry village
   We honoured unaware,
Or welcome warm, or friendship,
   Or "tone" that took us there;
We longed to sing for mankind,
   Where heaven's breath was free
We only sought the grandeur
   Of sea-cliff, sands and sea.

And we were glad at Manly,
   All unaware of "swells",
Of doctors and of nurses,
   And private hospitals;
With little fear of bailiffs,
   And great contempt for greed --
The bards who lived at Manly,
   They were a healthy breed.

Oh! moonlit nights at Manly,
   When all the world was fair!
In shirts and turned-up trousers
   We larked like big boys there.
Oh! glorious autumn mornings --
   The gold and green and blue --
We "stripped" as well as any,
   And swam as strongly too.

The artist had a missus,
   Who rather loved the wretch,
And so for days together
   He'd stay at home and sketch.
And then -- I fear 'twas only
   When things were getting tight --
The bards would shun each other,
   And hump themselves -- and write.

When bailiffs came to Manly
   They'd find no "sticks" to take,
We'd welcome them as brothers --
   Their grimy hands we'd shake;
We'd send for beer in billies --
   And straightway send for more --
And bailiff nights in Manly
   Were merry nights of yore.

There are some things that landlords
   And law can't do at all:
They could not take the pictures
   We painted on the wall;
They could not take the table --
   The table was a door;
They could not take the bedsteads --
   The beds were on the floor.

First published in For Australia and Other Poems by Henry Lawson, 1913

(The second part of this poem will be published next week.)

Founders of Our Literature: George Essex Evans

Possibly they remember George Essex Evans better in Queensland than we do in the other States. If that is so, the fault is ours, for Evans sang first at a time when we were not quite so rich in poetry as we were a little later. He had the true poetic feeling and a study of his collected works reveals it.

The Welsh are a poetic nation, deep in fervor and emotional feeling. George Essex Evans was Welsh, although he was born in England and hardly ever saw the land of his parents. But severance from Wales did not destroy his Welsh temperament. The intense patriotism of his race comes out in his verse, and was applied to Australia, the country of his adoption.

Born in London on June 18, 1863, he seemed destined for a life of leisure. His father was an eminent Q.C., and at one time a member of the British House of Commons. He was reputedly rich and rich he died when his son was a few months old, but his fortune did not last. With what remained George Essex with a brother and two sisters, took ship for Queensland at the age of 18.

They set out to retrieve their fortune for the land, and settled on the Darling Downs. George was a strong young man and a great athlete. The work did not worry him, but inexperience and other things did, and he left the land never to return to it.

He began to write and his poems soon attracted attention. He took various jobs -- one was that of a school teacher -- but his poetry gathered him friends and presently he found himself editing the weekly Queenslander. Later he entered the office of the Queensland Registrar-General, and afterwards became literary director of the Intelligence and Tourist Bureau.

Because he led a very busy life, George Essex Evans wrote often in a hurry. The fault has been common in many Australian writers whose work had to be done at odd moments, if it were to be done at all. But the best in Evans is well worth preserving and is likely to live.

For his good work he earned many encomiums. Alfred Deakin called him Australia's national poet, "whose patriotic songs stirred her people profoundly." He had all the patriotic fervor of Henry Lawson, but a more conventional way of expressing it. The patriotic ode came easily to him in its time-honored form. And yet he invariably gave it dignity and conviction and even poetry because he believed what he wrote.

His "Ode for Commonwealth Day" began "Awake! Arise!" And yet he goes on:-

Free-born of Nations. Virgin white,
   Not won by blood nor ringed with steel,
Thy throne is on a loftier height,
   Deep-rooted in the Commonweal!
His "Women of the West" stands as an eternal monument to the pioneers' wives who followed their men into the wilderness.

He wrote a "Federal Song" in laudation of Australian unity. He wrote an ode to Queen Victoria beginning "White Star of Womanhood," on the occasion of her death. He did these things so extraordinarily well that even today when the occasions have long since passed, the poems do not savor of the banal, because he felt what he wrote.

Like Henry Lawson he was deaf and very sensitive about his misfortune. He was deeply religious like his Welsh compatriots, and he hated cant and humbug.

Whisper! O wings of the wind! Sing me your song O sea!
Grey is the weary world, and grey is the heart of me!
Into my shadowy heart pierce like the star of old,
Pearl of the tender dawn, kissed by the trembling gold!
The grey heart ceased to beat at the early age of 46. Although he had the athlete's frame, although he was a first-class footballer and swimmer, and excelled in the art of wrestling in his youth, illness struck him down. An operation was performed, but it was of no avail.

Probably they remember him best in Toowoomba, where he spent many years, and where they erected a public monument to him, but Australia 25 years after his death has not forgotten him, and he has left behind him a legacy of true poetry which gives him a sure place as one of the founders of our steadily growing literature.

First published in The Herald, 7 July 1934

Reviews of Australian Books #76

Richard Rayner, "The LA Times", likens A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz to Charles Dickens and John Irving. "...occasionally, a big, sprawling first novel fights its way into print with a flourish, at which point its ambition and the eccentricities of its 'firstness' can become its best marketing tools. Such is the case with Australian writer Steve Toltz's A Fraction of the Whole, a book that is willfully misanthropic and very funny, a meditation on the inescapable legacies that fathers bequeath their sons and the overall toxicity of family. In A Fraction of the Whole, it's not only Mum and Dad who screw you up; siblings get in on it too...this long novel, which lives or dies in the brilliance of its writing, has, too, a subtle, compelling structure. The plot is, to say the least, eventful, and while some twists seemed predictable, I loved the wild ride. A Fraction of the Whole soars like a rocket." Which leaves you in no doubt what the reviewer thinks.

Matttodd takes a look at The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald, the 2006 Miles Franklin award winner, and seems pretty happy with what he finds there: "I was put off by a comment by someone calling it 'the best book about sheep farming you'll ever read', or something to that effect. In essence, I thought it another long winded, historical novel set in colonial Australia, and I left it. Then, I picked it up to take overseas, and I'm really glad I did...Within its covers, you will find something to keep everyone happy - intrigue, mystery, romance, and a cracking good story. Roger McDonald has created a fantastic protrait of the New South Wales colony in its youth, and you really feel a part of the action."

On the "Mostly Fiction" website, Sudheer Apte is quite taken with a certain novel by Peter Temple: "Readers are used to thinking about 'literary fiction' as something exalted, separate from mere mystery stories. The Broken Shore is a remarkable book that goes far beyond its modest genre. Starting with a murder mystery plot that unfolds slowly and then deepens into a major scandal, the novel explores a wide variety of characters, both white and Aboriginal, and their relationships. And permeating the entire narrative is the ever-present coastline of southern Australia, of cold, jagged cliffs and violent seas. It may be a cliche to say that the place is itself a character in the novel, but it applies to The Broken Shore."

Short notes

Mirthful seems to have read a different verson of Stiff by Shane Maloney to the one I have on the shelves: "Stiff is entertaining enough and the basic plot is sound, and fairly original. However, there's not much local colour to be getting on with, to my mind the story might as well have been set in Britain or the States."

Laura considers The Secret River by Kate Grenville on the "Unread Authors" weblog, and gives the book 4 stars: "Grenville keeps a low- to medium-grade tension running throughout the novel. Some of the tension comes from the very act of survival in the Australian wilderness, and the stress between William and Sal. But the primary conflict is directly with the native people."

The latest novel by Michael Robotham struck a chord with Peter Millar in "The Times": "Shatter is a gripping journey into the weaknesses and strengths of the human psyche, a story of humanity and inhumanity - and how one can become the other - and how depravation and cruelty can be the flip side of love."

A Classic Year: 7.0 "Nationality" by Mary Gilmore

"Nationality" by Mary Gilmore is the third poem on the reading list and, at only 8 lines, is by far the shortest. It fully brims with religious overtones which leave me a little cold. Being of the totally opposite persuasion the allusions don't mean a lot to me other than being aware of them from a metaphorical perspective. And, as someone once said of Freud - if it wasn't Freud himself - "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." So I'm not the person to judge this poem. Gleeson-White says of it: "With its compact images and direct rhythmic expression, 'Nationality' has the force of truth." I believe her, even if I don't understand it.

Notes: Be aware that all Mary Gilmore's work is still under copyright and, therefore, not legally available on the web. I suspect, though, that you will be able to find the text of this poem out there somewhere if you go looking for it. Not that I'm inviting or directing you to do so - heaven forbid!

Mary Gilmore wikipedia entry Australian Dictionary of Biography entry
Gilmore on the ten-dollar note Reserve Bank of Australia ten-dollar note page
Portraits of Mary Gilmore

The next four works in this Classic Year:
8. "The Drover's Wife" by Henry Lawson (1892)
9. "Lilith" by Christopher Brennan (1898-1899)
10. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner (1894)
11. The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson (1910)

Weekend Round-Up 2008 #4

A day late - put it down to real-life intruding, work and family.

The Age

Henry Reynolds, Chair of History and aboriginal Studies at the University of Tasmania reviews Van Dieman's Land by James Boyce which "... is a fresh and sparkling account of the first generation of British settlement in Tasmania that also makes an important contribution to Australian colonial historiography. The product of seven years' research and writing, and a longer time talking about and walking across the island, it focuses attention and admiration on the convicts and their children -- Tasmania's founding mothers and fathers...[Boyce] argues cogently that there needs to be two quite different narratives about the original colonisation of Eastern Australia, explaining that 'how the early British settlers of Van Diemen's Land experienced the Australian continent is thus greatly at variance with the standard opening of the national story'. The Van Diemonian convict settlers were, indeed, Australia's first successful hunters, pastoralists and colonisers of the bush, which, with its abundant wildlife and fresh water, provided the convicts with a vast common there they could escape the constraints of life under the surveillance of police and soldiers a generation before Russel Ward's nomad tribe traversed the outback of New South Wales...Boyce is unashamedly an island patriot who celebrates those aspects of the past that were long shunned as being part of the hated stain of convictism."

The Australian

Christopher Bantick on Gathering Storm by Rosie Dub: "In recent years, female writers have increasingly ventured into the outback in their fiction. Where once the red dust and diesel fumes may have been the province of men in blue singlets discovering their manhood -- if not representing hackneyed and stereotypical images of the dinkum Aussie bloke -- recent novels by women have shown the outback to be subtle as well as terrifying...Dub's longish novel is a bit of a Heart of Darkness-Apocalypse Now tale. It is part thriller, part hippie road story and part rite-of-passage trip in search of identity. Above all it is a compelling, stylish and well-paced read."

Graeme Blundell on Murder on the Apricot Coast by Marion Halligan: "There's an Alexander McCall kind of literary campiness here, a self-conscious sense of simplicity, euphony and precision, and a grave humorous directness in Halligan's sparkling prose. This can be refreshing and charming, but sometimes makes Cassandra irritating...It's the kind of writing that can have you quickly disliking the sheer confronting smugness of some people. But it is good writing."

Susan Kurosawa on The Dressmaker's Daughter by Kate Llewellyn: "Without recourse to a rich and wordy assembly of the past, Kate Llewellyn could hardly have recorded such a vibrant memoir of her girlhood, early married life and tentative first steps as a published poet...It is the illumination of place and era that makes for such an absorbing read. I will long retain an image of Llewellyn and her fellow trainee nurses at Royal Adelaide Hospital shedding their white starched ice-cream cone hats and stiff uniforms for ball gowns, laid out on their beds, ironed and ready, 'purple, green, pink, gold and white, like dead parrots'."

Alex Miller Profile

Corrie Perkin interviews Alex Miller, for "The Australian", about a book that
took 50 years to write.

Alex Miller first heard the story as a 16-year-old British migrant working on a central highlands cattle station. Miller had hitchhiked from Sydney to Queensland in search of the outback, which had fired his young imagination and encouraged him to leave his family and a grim post-war London. As he recalls, "The dramatic escarpments of the central Queensland ranges and the fast-flowing streams and open ironbark forests were not Nolan's outback, but I fell in love with the country."

The Cullin-la-Ringo story added to Miller's fascination with his new homeland and it has stayed with him for more than 50 years. In Landscape of Farewell, the 70-year-old writer has finally found the right setting and characters around which to tell the

Just a Little Bored

You know you're getting bored at work when you start putting literary jokes into the documents you're writing, with the complete knowledge that practically no-one will get the reference.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any customer focussed database management system must be in need of adequate Address Management procedures.

Anne Gracie Interview

Anne Gracie, author of the recent Regency historical novel The Stolen Princess, is interviewed by the Word Wenches.

Mary Jo Putney: You're our first Australian guest. Why do you think we independent, republican colonials, whether Australian, Canadian, or Americans, love Regency historicals so much? Despite the glut of Regencies, predictions of the death of historicals, and now an expanding range of settings, the Regency historical subgenre is still doing just fine. Do you think this will continue?

Anne Gracie: I think "our" Regency era is, in a way, a fictional world loosely created from history by a whole body of marvelous fiction. And the more good books and movies set in that era are published, the more that world becomes real and beloved and familiar to more people, so it's very easy to step into it. I suspect the subgenre faltered when that world became too rigid and limited, but once people stepped outside of Almacks etc, it got a whole new lease of life. The actual Regency era has everything any novelist could want -- glamour, war, lords and ladies, rituals, poverty, social climbing, great art and architecture, exclusivity, technological innovation, revolutions -- there's no end to the fodder -- and we can approach it as an insular society or in the wider world context. I believe that as long as people bring their own unique take on it and write fabulous new stories, the subgenre will continue to flourish. I certainly hope so.

The interview also includes the news that Gracie has written a novelization of the first six episodes of the first season of the television drama, "The Tudors" - this was released in the US last November.

Anne Gracie's website

Great Australian Authors #40 - Zora Cross

Zora Cross (1890 - 1964)
My muse is a minx with a spell for a smile.
   She gallops a waggon of whims through the skies,
And teasings capricious and pranks all the while
   She pours upon me who would sing to her eyes.

She coaxes me on like a siren at play,
   Then leaves me alone with a shadow to doze.
As faithless as Venus, she flits with a fay,
   Or marries her moods to the rim of a rose.

I went to her house and I opened the door
   To peep at the exquisite corridors there,
And thousands of dreams that were strewing the floor
   Cried: "Constancy only can win the most fair."

And so on her lily-white doorstep I wait,
   Or wander away with her lover in glee.
Now faithful, now fickle, I toy with my Fate,
   For I am a maiden as wilful as she.

My Muse, 1917
Zora Cross Wikipedia entry

A Classic Year: 6.0 "The Man from Snowy River" by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson

I look on "The Man from Snowy River" by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson as one of the two iconic Australian poems - the other being "My Country" by Dorothea Mackellar. Lines from the poem appear on the Australian ten-dollar note, and the way of life it describes - that of the mountain cattlemen of the Snowy River - was immortalised in the very first sequence of the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics: a lone horseman rode into the main arena, cracked his whip and the ceremony was underway.

The poem tells the story of an epic ride by a mountain cattleman to round up a runaway horse, a horse of high pedigree, worth a thousand pounds - big money in anyone's terms. The local horsemen and "cracks" have rallied to the call, along with Clancy of the Overflow, old man Harrison, and a young horseman - "a stripling on a small and weedy beast" - who everyone, excepting Clancy, believes should stay behind and leave the ride to the experienced horsemen. But Clancy puts his case and the young man joins the other riders. Needless to say, it is this young rider who saves the day - "the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat" - rounding up the colt and bringing him home to great acclaim and lasting memory. It's a rollicking poem whose rhythms attempt to match the gait of a galloping horse, and in the most part it successeds. There are a couple of places where I think the rhythm falters a little but they are few.

Text of the poem
A.B. "Banjo" Paterson Wikipedia entry
Paterson and the ten-dollar bill
Film adaptation of the poem
Paterson plaque in Sydney's Circular Quay

The next four works in this Classic Year:
7. "Nationality" by Mary Gilmore (1942)
8. "The Drover's Wife" by Henry Lawson (1892)
9. "Lilith" by Christopher Brennan (1898-1899)
10. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner (1894)

Peter Carey Watch #2

Reviews of His Illegal Self

Those in favour:
Dovegreyreader has had problems with Carey's novels in the past and "cynical old me wasn't going to be impressed by a name, or browbeaten by a reputation, or even charmed by a cover bearing a beatific child fixing me with a penetratingly angelic gaze, just daring me to dislike the book...go on, just you dare...is he about to cry?

"I've heard wind of the reviews, and there would seem to be slapdown mutterings and chunnerings afoot and the ones I've skimmed are not favourable and give away just about every plot detail, but really I might just as well say Booker and His Illegal Self in the same sentence and get that bit over with first. You don't need to be Einstein to come up with the formula, Carey + New Novel = Booker. Except that I think, in fact I'm going to be brave and say it, if this book makes it through it will deserve to be there.

"There's no doubt about it, Peter Carey writes well and truly out of the box.."

Richard Eder in "The Boston Globe: "A jigsaw puzzle's compulsion lies not just or even mainly in the pieces, but in the gaps to be filled. Peter Carey's magnificent novel about the burnishing ordeals of three waifs is told as an
intricate series of missing pieces...His Illegal Self is a novel of narrative complexity and blindingly direct emotion not so much bestowed upon its readers as won by them. The effort we make is not really effortful, though. Carey's writing is a series of insights that incite and arrest. Above all he has created three alluring, unexpected, and intensely moving characters who do not so much reveal themselves as transform themselves into revelation."

Those not so sure:

Abigail Deutsch in "The Village Voice": "At its best, this curious novel is a study of disorientation, of knowing neither where nor who one is...By the end, we feel a bit unsure of who Carey's characters really are - making it fitting, if not satisfying, that they bear so many names."

Those against:

Lionel Shriver in "The Telegraph": "Peter Carey's last novel, Theft, was a big, brave bastard of a book, its characters so outsized that they should barely have been able to button their shirts. It's hardly fair to reproach an author with his own achievements, but in the reviewing tradition of doing just that, His Illegal Self is not as good...Somehow this story from 1973 doesn't quite convince as period fiction, yet feels a little stale; there's a thin line between a-while-ago and dated...Carey's prose is uneven...The biggest problem with His Illegal Self is that it's hard to read. Not impossible to read - it's no Joycean tossed salad - but more difficult than need be."

Now, here's a surprise - Michiko Kakautani in "The New York Times": "Peter Carey's novels - from the Booker Prize winners Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang through recent ones like My Life as a Fake and Theft - tend to feature improbable undertakings, sudden reversals of fortune and elaborately manufactured or forged identities. Most of his characters inhabit a boldly colored limbo land somewhere on the great fiction map between Dickens's world of improbable coincidences and the old-fashioned world of the picaresque, where odd happenings and even odder people are strung together willy-nilly into rollicking, improvisatory tales...Mr. Carey's latest novel, His Illegal Self, is very much a distillation of these proclivities, and the book, like many of his earlier efforts, turns out to be a herky-jerky affair that lurches between the compelling and the lackadaisical, the intriguing and the preposterous." And that's just the first two paragraphs.

Profiles/Interviews etc:

Mike Doherty in "National Post": "Perhaps one secret to becoming a writer of Carey's stature is a mixture of self-belief and humility. His website lists five unpublished novels and scads of short stories he wrote as a young man in Australia in the '60s and '70s, when, he recalls with a laugh, 'I thought I was a genius! The second novel I wrote was accepted by an Australian publisher. I was 24. That seemed reasonable to me! In the end, all that fell through, and I was furious, but I was so lucky. It never occurred to me I had anything to learn. I'd read very little, and I pushed blindly and enthusiastically onwards.'"

Jackie McGlone in "The Scotsman": "'What really fascinates me, though, is the power of the imagination. I believe that writers should write about what they don't know, not about what they do know. Some of my students become trapped in their own lives, churning over the crimes of parents and siblings, which stops them discovering the incredible joys of invention'...'Perhaps it was writing True History of the Ned Kelly Gang that really freed me up - maybe it was being brave enough to abandon all punctuation in that book that did it. Getting rid of punctuation means you have to get rid of all sorts of sloppiness in your writing, you have to be really, really exact. And it allowed me to be playful with language, which is what I'd admired in serious literature when I first started to read it when I was about 18.'"

Channel 4 has a video interview with Carey on their website, which is certainly worth watching (runs about 20-or-so minutes) and which mentions "The New York Times" review.
[Thanks, Kim.]

Reviews of Australian Books #75

Just one book under review this time, for a very good reason: namely that the author of the book challenged me to link to it. And happy I am to oblige.

On the "SFReader.com" site Megan J. Bulloch reviews Monster Blood Tattoo: Lamplighter, the second volume in D.M. Cornish's series concerning the Half-Continent.

Much as I would like to write about this incredible new world, with its host of new characters and new sort of creepiness for hours, I could review D.M. Cornish's Lamplighter, the second in the Monster Blood Tattoo series in a single, longish word: getsuppliesinbeforeyoustartbecauseyouwillNOTputitdownandwillnotevensleepuntilitisdone-thenyouwillwaitbreathlessly(andalittlegrumpily)forthethirdinstallment.


This book is interesting on various levels. It is certainly a good, solid novel with highly entertaining characters. It is also an exploration of self - how do we become the people we end up as? What role do our parents, important adults and our society play in this becoming? What does it mean to be human?

I WILL be reading this book when it comes out.

2012 edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Ben Payne

Ben Peek has alerted me to the upcoming publication of 2012 edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Ben Payne, an anothology of sf stories by Australian writers which imagines Australia as it will be in four years. The book is upcoming from Ticonderoga Publications. As the blurb says:

Each of these stories presents an original take on the imminent future of humanity. Each has something to say about who we are and who we might want to be. 2012 is both a call to imagine the future of the world and a call to create it.

Deborah Biancotti Martin Livings Dirk Flinthart David Conyers Simon Brown Lucy Sussex Tansy Rayner Roberts Kaaron Warren Angela Slatter Ben Peek Sean McMullen

The question is: were these stories written before last year's Federal election, or after? And would that make a difference?

Richard Flanagan on Tasmanian History

Richard Flanagan recently launched the history Van Diemen's Land by James Boyce. An edited version of the speech has now been published in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

How good it feels to read a history that is not politics, but an act of enquiry applying intellect, empathy and a fresh curiosity. We have possibilities in Australia with our unique land, with our indigenous people, with our own particular response to our world, that suggest our future might still be worth dreaming. This is a history that will be challenged, rebutted, and shown to be wrong in various places. All works of largeness and innovation invite such a fate. But its generosity of spirit exploring the possibilities of what we once were suggests all that we might yet be. It is the most significant colonial history since The Fatal Shore. If it is not as rollicking a read as Hughes' masterpiece, it is perhaps more original.
High praise indeed.

Reviews of Australian Books #74

The epistolary novel was once quite a common novel-writing form with authors such as Austen, Dostoevsky and Wilkie Collins using the technique. The most recent well-known version of this form is probably We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2003)which won the Orange prize. A modern version of the form is To the Boys in Berlin by Elizabeth Honey and Heike Brandt which uses emails and postcards instead of the more typical letters. Sue Bursztynski reviews the novel for "January" magazine: "...it's kind of nice to read a story that celebrates historical research and that is so easy for reluctant readers to get through. This should be enjoyed by children from about 12 to 14 years of age."

As part of an "Unread Authors Challenge", Framed, from the USA, has a look at Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, but doesn't exactly enjoy the experience: "There is very little innocence or naivete in any of Winton's characters. In fact, they are wise and cynical."

Eric Fritter Riley is impressed with Shaun Tan's The Arrival: "The artwork depicts a world that seems to me like a gentler vision of the H.P. Lovecraft mythos (lots of tentacles, but not very scary) and something akin to the Codex Seraphinianus. It's truly a fantasy world, but one that is loaded with details of actual life. It's that interplay between these two facets that makes this such a memorable work. "

On "The Guardian" arts blog, Alyssa McDonald is sympathetic to books from Australia, noting that "when it comes to getting noticed in the UK, Australian literature suffers from the same problem as writing from, say, Canada or India: it isn't British or American. Prizes mean press coverage, so authors such as Carey are high-profile in the UK, but Australia's awardless authors are routinely neglected in the same way as other non-American foreigners." She then proceeds to review Best Australian Stories from Black Inc and is impressed with what she finds.

Rachael, on "The Book Muncher" weblog, gets a sneak preview of the upcoming book Monster Blood Tattoo: Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish: "I found Lamplighter harder to read than Foundling for several reasons, but mostly because of sheer size. The second story was about twice the size of the first. The wording was strange at times, the descriptions repetitive or drawn out and boring." But the book picks up as it goes and "The last hundred pages or so redeem the story's other faults...Despite the length of this book, I am looking forward to the next installment in the series, and I hope the sheer size of this book will not daunt others from reading it."

Australian Bookcovers #102 - Hearts of Gold by Will H. Ogilvie


Hearts of Gold by Will H. Ogilvie, 1903
(Pollard 1974 edition)
Cover by Walter Stackpool

A Classic Year: 5.0 "The Chosen Vessel" by Barbara Baynton

"The Chosen Vessel" by Barbara Baynton is the first short story in this list of Australian classics, the first piece by a woman, and a major example of how the length of story is not necessarily a true indication of its long-term effect on a reader.

Baynton's story fits neatly into the Outback realism form that was prevalent in Australian letters in the 1890s. Where this story differs, however, is in its viewpoint of the woman on the land, rather than the more common drover/bushranger/miner subject. The young wife of the story lives in a small shack a day's walk from the nearest town. Her husband leaves each week for a nearby station in order to earn his wages and she is left on her own looking after her infant child. Despite her protests to her husband that she is being left in a very vulnerable state, she finds herself alone each week, trying to cope on her own and dreading the arrival of strangers on foot.

The first half of this story - which is short at only 8 pages - relates an incident involving the woman and an encounter with a tramp on the road. In the story's first publication in "The Bulletin" this comprised the full length of the piece, which was published under the title "The Tramp". The second half of the story deals with a Catholic voter riding into town to cast his vote in a local election. For most of the way through this second section it is difficult to see any connection between the two pieces, but that connection is definitely there. And it's this that gives the story its gothic power. Australian to its core, "The Chosen Vessel" is a disturbing story, beautifully written.

The story is available on Project Gutenberg Australia, though the link here is to the full etext of Bush Studies - you'll have to search through the text file for the story itself.
Barbara Baynton Wikipedia entry
Alison Croggon's review of a theatre production of the story - from November 2007.
Another review of the story.

The next four works in this Classic Year:
6. "The Man from Snowy River" by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson (1890)
7. "Nationality" by Mary Gilmore (1942)
8. "The Drover's Wife" by Henry Lawson (1892)
9. "Lilith" by Christopher Brennan (1898-1899)

Steve Toltz Interview

Malcolm Knox interviews Steve Toltz, author of the upcoming A Fraction of the Whole, in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

As a schoolboy, when he didn't know the answers to questions in biology tests, Steve Toltz would write down some silly invention for his own amusement. The moral challenge came when he did know the correct answer and still wanted to make something up. "I struggled with that," he says, "but the impulse against seriousness eventually won out." Given extravagant free reign, Toltz's lifelong battle with seriousness has resulted in more than a decade of wandering the earth and A Fraction Of The Whole, his comical, philosophical, picaresque, hugely enjoyable first novel.
You can read extracts from the novel on the Penguin href="http://www.afractionofthewhole.com/" target=new>website.

Miscellaneous Items of Interest

A number of sf editors and writers are asked the salient question: "What purpose does short fiction serve?" Among those polled are Jonathan Strahan ("A lot of the great ideas in the field started in short fiction. If you want to read the best, get the purest Sfnal fix, it's often to be found in short fiction. Also, it's a great way to sample a bunch of new writers, get a feel for them before committing to novels."); and Jack Dann ("What do readers get out of a short story? They get a whole world wrapped up in a few minutes. They get that shiver down the spine real-quick. And then they can go on to another story, an entirely different world, plot, experience. It's reading novels on speed...except, of course, you don't get a novel. You can't relax for days in the experience. You get the rush fast, and a case might be made that the short form is a more perfect 'product' than a novel.")

Davey announces "I'm very excited to say that I've been successful in obtaining funding from Arts Victoria to develop a new collection of poems, based on correspondence between Australian poet Bernard O'Dowd and American bard Walt Whitman...The correspondence (which has been preserved in the State Library of Victoria and also published in Overland magazine) is notable both for Whitman's brevity (he was, after all, on his death bed), as for O'Dowd's idolisation of the man he calls 'master', and once even 'comrade'."

And it's odd that I should be skimming through a recently purchased copy of I Recall by R.H. Croll - the man who introduced C.J. Dennis to John Garibaldi Roberts - when I came across a note about this very correspondence. Croll and O'Dowd were in the same Melbourne readers' group in the early 1900s.

BookTagger is an Australian version of LibraryThing. Both perform similar functions - social networking groups for book lovers - though BookTagger has a ways to go to catch up to LibraryThing's 23 million cataloged books. Gotta start somewhere though.

Australian Emeritus Writers Awards

The Australia Council for the Arts have announced Christopher Koch and Gerald Murnane as recipients of its 2008 emeritus writers awards.

Dr Imre Salusinszky, chair of the Australia Council's literature board, said that the two awards recognised the calibre of the works created by the authors. 'There can be few more fitting recipients of these writers emeritus awards. Both have a level of public recognition that does not match their high literary stature,' he said. 'Christopher and Gerald have changed the face of Australian writing through the breadth of their respective imaginations. Each of their works are characterised by a uniquely Australian perspective on the world.'

2008 Ditmar Awards Shortlists

The shortlists for the 2008 Ditmar Awards have been announced. These awards have been presented annually since 1969 at the Australian National Science Fiction Convention, to recognise professonal achievement in Australian science fiction (including fantasy and horror) and science fiction fandom. Nominations are accepted from "natural persons" within the Australian sf community, and the awards are determined by ballot of the members of the awarding convention.

Best Novel
The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski, (Published by PanMacmillan)
Extras by Scott Westerfeld (Published by Simon & Schuster)
Dark Space by Marianne de Pierres (Published by Orbit)
Saturn Returns by Sean Williams (Published by Orbit)
Magic's Child by Justine Larbelestier (Published by Penguin)
The Darkness Within by Jason Nahrung (Published by Hachette Livre)

Best Novella/Novelette
"Yamabushi Kaidan and the Smoke Dragon" by Shane Jiraiya-Cummings (Published by Ticonderoga Publications in Fantastic Wonder Stories edited by Russell B. Farr)
"Where is Brisbane and How Many Times Do I Get There?" by Paul Haines (Published by Izvori in Fantastical Journeys to Brisbane edited by Geoffrey Maloney, Trent Jamieson and Zoran Zivkovic)
"The Bluebell Vengence" by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Published "Andromeda Spaceways
Inflight Magazine" #28 edited by Zara Baxter)
"Lady of Adestan" by Cat Sparks (Published by in "Orb" #7 edited by Sarah Endacott)
"Cenotaxis" by Sean Williams (Published by MonkeyBrain Books)
"Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go To War Again" by Garth Nix (Published by Jim Baen's Universe)

Best Short Story
"The Dark and What It Said" by Rick Kennett (Published in "Andromeda Spaceways
Inflight Magazine" #28 edited by Zara Baxter)
"Domine" by Rjurik Davidson (Published in "Aurealis" #37 edited by Stephen Higgins and Stuart Mayne)
"A Scar for Leida" by Deb Biancotti (Published in Fantastic Wonder Stories edited
by Russell B. Farr)
"Bad Luck, Trouble, Death and Vampire Sex" by Garth Nix (Published in Eclipse One edited by Jonathan Strahan)
"The Sun People" by Sue Isle (Published by in "Shiny" #2 edited by Alisa Krasnstein, Ben Payne and Tansy Rayner Roberts)
"His Lipstick Minx" by Kaaron Warren (Published in The Workers' Paradise edited by Russell B. Farr and Nick Evans)

Best Collected Work
"Orb" #7 edited by Sarah Endacott (Published by Orb Publications) The Workers' Paradise edited by Russell B. Farr and Nick Evans (Published by Ticonderoga Publications)
New Ceres edited by Alisa Krasnstein (Published by Twelth Planet Press)
The New Space Opera edited by Jonathan Strahan (Published by HarperCollins Australia)
Fantastic Wonder Stories edited by Russell B. Farr (Published by Ticonderoga Publications)

Best Art Work
Daryl Lindquist for the "ASIM" #28 cover Nick Stathopolous for the "Daikaju" #3 cover Eleanor Clark for "ASIM" #31 internal art Amanda Rainey for The Workers' Paradise cover
Nick Stathopolous for the Rhinemonn cover
Eleanor Clark for "ASIM" #30 internal art

Best Fan Writer
Alexandra Pierce for "Last Short Story on Earth" and for ASiF! reviews
Shane Jiraiya-Cummings for "Horrorscope"
Grant Watson for the 'angriest' Livejournal
Rob Hood for film reviews on his website

Best Fan Art
'Exterminate!' Dalek Postcards - Katherine Linge
'Nights Edge' Convention Poster Art - John Parker

Best Fan Production
2007 Snap Shot Project - interviewswith influential members of the Australian speculative fiction scene conducted by Alisa Krasnstein, Ben Payne, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Kathering Linge, Kaaron Warren and Rosie Clark
Inkspillers Website - maintained by Tony Plank
'The Liminal' short film - directed by Clair McKenna Daikaju
Limerick Competition - by Robert Hood on his website
Talking Squid Website - by Chris Lawson

Best Fanzine
"The Australian Science Fiction Bullsheet" edited by Ted Scribner and Edwina Harvey
"Not If You Were the Last Short Story on Earth" edited by Alisa Krasnstein, Ben Payne, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts
"Steam Engine Time" edited by Bruce Gillespie
"Horrorscope" edited by Shane Jiraiya-Cummings

Best Professional Achievement
Gary Kemble for his continued coverage of speculative fiction on Articulate and ABC news online
Russell B. Farr for Ticonderoga Publications; in 2007, Russell produced an issue
of "Ticonderoga Online", The Workers' Paradise and Fantastic Wonder
, which produced five Aurealis Award nominees
Jonathan Strahan for a prolific body of work editing The Jack Vance Treasury, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Best Short Novels of 2007, The New Space Opera, Ascendancies: The Best of Bruce Sterling and Eclipse One: New Science Fiction and Fantasy
Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Co-Operative Ltd for five issues in 2007, including three electronic Best Of anthologies
Jonathan Strahan, Garth Nix, Deb Biancotti and Trevor Stafford for compiling and promoting the new Australian Fantasy and SF catalogue in the United States to increase awareness and appreciation of forthcoming Australian SF and to expand creative and professional opportunities for writers

Best Fan Achievement
Alisa Krasnstein for "ASiF! Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus"
Marty Young for his work as President of the Australian Horror Writers Association
John Parker, Sarah Parker and Sarah Xu for Night's Edge Convention
Sarah Xu for the CyPEC Cyber-feminist Conference held as part of
Night's Edge convention

Best New Talent
Angela Slatter
Jason Nahrung
Nathan Burrage
Tehani Wessely

William Atheling Jr Award
Ian Nichols for "Seriatem, Seriatum, omnia Seriatem" (Published by "Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine" #30, edited by Robbie Matthews)
Tansy Rayner Roberts and Alexandra Pierce for review of Elizabeth Bear's New Amsterdam (Published as Podcast #2 on ASiF!)
Jonathan Strahan for editorial for The New Space Opera (Published in The New Space Opera by HarperCollins Australia)
Grant Watson for "The Bad Film Diaries" (Published in "Borderlands" #9.)
Ben Peek for the Aurealis Awards Shortlist Feature Article (Published on ASiF!)
Shane Jiraiya-Cummings for review of David Conyers' The Spiraling Worm
(Published on Horrorscope)
Ian Nichols for "The Shadow Thief" (Published by "The West Australian" Weekend Magazine on 22/09/2007)

Winners of these awards will be announced during Swancon 2008, the 47th Australian National SF Convention, which will be held over the Easter weekend, March 20-24, 2008.

Poem: Irony by Roderic Quinn

All night a great wind blew across the land,
Come fresh from wild and salty seas,
With many voices loud and low
Appealing to the sympathies
Of those with whom long long ago It had been friends, but who
Had lost the way to know and understand Its weird and tearless woe.

A sleeper drawn from ancient fairies, stirred,
Breathed strangely in a deep unrest
As though his heart were choked with grief;
The moon down-stealing in the west
Threw every move of limb and leaf
Upon his blind. Now this
Was he the wind sought wildly -- had he heard --
Alas, the friend in need was deaf!

All time a great thought wandered round the world
Naked and breathing loveliness,
Seeking in alien souls a home
But thwarted always, knocking no less
At every door, yet forced to roam
A wonder unexpressed;
A sense of strangeness as of wings unfurled
Hovered at times o'er some.

He heard the knocking at the inner door;
He saw her face a light intense
And stood amazed, irresolute.
"Now, thou who hast the poet-sense
In song serene and absolute
Proclaim my hidden worth."
He sobbed, she drooped her wings ... Woe evermore!
The chosen mind was mute.

First published in The Bulletin, 15 April 1899

A Classic Year: 4.1 His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke

Coincidence, mistaken identity and exclamation marks: Marcus Clarke uses an abundance of all three in For the Term of His Natural Life. Let's admit it, if Clarke was to write this novel now, and submitted it to a publisher, it would be rejected out of hand. There is too much over-writing, too much melodrama and pathos, and far, far too many coincidences. So many that it stretches the bounds of credibility beyond breaking point. But we have to remember that this novel is a product of its times. And we really have to read it in those terms. Melodrama was big in the late 1800s and readers hadn't read so many novels as to be put off by this book's denouement; something modern readers will see as just too pat, too contrived.

In essence this novel is a political and social diatribe against the practices of transportation. The punishment meted out to the convicts by the overseeing officials is, in the main, petty, cruel and dehumanising. Guards, overseers and settlement commandants are all depicted as either humane, and therefore soft, or sadistic - there appears to be little variation between the two extremes.

The plot of the book revolves around Richard Devine, the main character, who is disinherited by his father in the first few pages, is accused of his murder shortly thereafter when he gives the false name of Rufus Dawes, is acquitted of that charge only to be convicted of robbery of his father's body and transported for life to Van Diemen's Land. The books proceeds to detail the incarceration of Dawes at Macquarie Harbour, Port Arthur and then, finally, on Norfolk Island, the three worst convict settlements in Australia. On the face of it, it's a dour, relentless study of man's brutality, but the novel has a modern sense of realism to it. It must have been a shock to read in its time. If you disregard the melodrama and over-blown style it's not an easy read even now.

The next four works in this Classic Year:
5. "The Chosen Vessel" by Barbara Baynton (1896)
6. "The Man from Snowy River" by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson (1890)
7. "Nationality" by Mary Gilmore (1942)
8. "The Drover's Wife" by Henry Lawson (1892)

Founders of Our Literature: Will Ogilvie

A possible guest whom the Centenary authorities have overlooked is William Henry Ogilvie, the Australian poet, and now a recognised Scottish bard, who spent many years in Australia as a young man, and who wrote some of the most delightful verse this country has produced. Ogilvie brought with him that singing quality which pervades all the works of Robert Burns and makes him so loved and appreciated throughout the world.

It was as a youth of 20 that Ogilvie landed in New South Wales. He was a robust young man who came here largely in search of adventure. The rough life of the Outback appealed to him vastly. He scorned the cities and went west, where there were horses to break and cattle to drove. He remained 11 years and then returned to Scotland, where he still lives.

Ogilvie's verse is largely personal, but we like him none the less for that. He takes his readers into his confidence, and shows them some things of extraordinary beauty, and some of the philosophy of his life. On the stations and in the droving camps he saw much that was beautiful, and if he did see anything unlovely he promptly forgot it. You can search the pages of his published works and you will find nothing that is morbid or melancholy or unpleasant. He did not omit these things for any prudish reason, but because he was a thoroughly healthy-minded man and they did not interest him.

Ogilvie's value in his Outback verse is that he lived it all. Lawson was the swagman poet; Paterson a visitor to the bush, but Ogilvie was the real bushman. That is patent in all that he writes. Nearly every bushman is a poet at heart. Ogilvie had the good fortune to be one of them, and articulate. Every bushman would say of his work, "that is how I would have liked to write it myself."

But Will Ogilvie is included in this series in literary founders, not because he was an articulate bushan, but rather by reason of his being a true poet. A poet must write of what he knows or of what is in him, and Ogilvie could not help writing of the bush in its cruder moments; but there are many rare things in his poetry which stand out like jewels among the roughness. Horse-breaking and droving are forgotten when he recalls Bowmont Water or writes "The Bush My Lover."

Outwardly a man of action he was a dreamer at heart, and it was the dreamer who came out triumphant in his best work.

You cleave with sword or sabre
   A pathway for your feet;
But I move in meadow sweet
   By the side of silent streams,
And you are lord of Labor
   And I am serf of dreams.
No poet who has felt beneath him the rhythm of galloping hooves can help committing it to verse. Ogilvie was no exception. His horse verse is the best of its kind. His lines canter or gallop, and if you are to write of horses this must be so. But it was not all of gallopers. "How the Fire Queen Crossed the Swamp" is an epic of the teamster, of how Dan with his "sixteen horses collared and chained -- the pick of the whole wide west," crossed a mighty flood and landed his 70 bags of flour at the Swagman's Rest. No man who has ever handled a team can fail to thrill to it.

Ogilvie is the real bushman's poet. He has lived with bushmen, worked with them. He has ridden with them "fast and far in waterless plains and wet." He has joined the boys from the station on their Saturday excursions to the town. He has galloped away under the moon to a love tryst, and ridden slowly home afterwards with his eyes on the stars and his head full of romance. Some people may not understand these things, but for those who do, Ogilvie has given them immortality.

Ogilvie stayed with us 11 years, and it is a pity we could not keep him, for none sang more sweetly or truly. One of the last things he did in Australia was to write his appreciation of the Overlanders -- the drovers of the Outback whom he knew so well.

And now he is a Scottish bard, but he left his best words here and there are many of us who treasure it.

First published in The Herald, 28 July 1934

Note: the mention of a Centenary in the first sentence refers to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the colony (in 1835) that later became the State of Victoria in Australia.

On Other Blogs #38

kimbofo has responded to a new reading meme which asks "If the world were to end tomorrow what book would you read today?" Her response: My Brother Jack by George Johnston. Mine would probably be The Boy Scout's Guide to Doing Practically Everything, if there is such a book. The reason being that we all know that the end of the world normally means there's a few people left behind, (eg The Road by Cormac McCarthy or I Am Legend by Richard Matheson), so I want to be well-prepared.

Angela Savage has had her first novel, Behind The Night Bazaar, published in German under the title Nachtmarkt, which sounds a little pedestrian. Anyway, she was intrigued to read the write-up on the German publisher's site, but having no German she utilised the internet Babel Fish translator, with amusing results.

It's zombies all over the place, with Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, and Lili Wilkinson introducing the monsters into classic texts by such writers as Dickens, Joyce and Whitman. And they read pretty good as well. However, I'm more of a vampire man myself.

Sean Williams releases news of a forthcoming collection of his best short sf stories. The publisher will be Ticonderoga Publications. No, I have no idea how to pronounce that name either.

They're From Where?

Just a couple of items that amused me lately.

"You have a funny kind of contempt for Bruce Chatwin, the Australian author of The Songlines." Jed Lipinski interviewing Geoff Dyer, on "The Brooklyn Rail". Lipinski makes this statement, but Dyer doesn't correct him.

"There are a few annoying glitches in Cook's biography, such as his overreliance on exclamation points, his several spellings of Heinrich Bluecher's surname, and his identification of the Australian novelist Shirley Hazzard as an Austrian novelist." Floyd Skloot reviewing Alfred Kazin: A Biography by Richard M. Cook, for "The Philadelphia Inquirer".

Somewhere, in the deep, dark recesses of my wardrobe lies a t-shirt I picked up in Salzburg some twenty years ago, with the caption "Austria doesn't have any kangaroos" printed on the front. Maybe I should sent it to Mr Cook.

Reprint: Memory of Marcus Clarke

Marcus Clarke, the Australian novelist, died in a house in Inkerman Road, St. Kilda, on August 2, 1881, leaving a young family. Marian, the second daughter, was in her third year. They left the house. Marian had just been telling me that after all these years she has seen the house again. The Australian Literature Society had lately asked her about it, and she went out to Inkerman Road a few days ago to see if the old house still stood. She was just in time. A sale notice was on the fence, and she was told that the house is doomed to demolition, to make way for modern flats. Marcus Clarke called it Sunnyside. Perhaps the owner of the new flats will retain that name or perhaps apply the novelist's own name to th ebuilding. Miss Marian Marcus Clarke found the surroundings of the house much changed. An orchard had been built over, and Sunnyside is now at the corner of a new street, Orange Grove.

First published in The Herald, 28 July 1934

Australian Plays to Film #9 - Travelling North


Travelling North 1987
Directed by Carl Schultz
Screenplay by David Williamson from his own play
Featuring Leo McKern, Julia Blake, Henri Szeps, and Graham Kennedy.

2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize Shortlists

The shortlists for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for 2008 have been announced. In the South East Asia and South Pacific region the nominated works are:

Best Book Award
Steven Carroll (Australia) The Time We Have Taken HarperCollins
Sonya Hartnett (Australia) The Ghost's Child Penguin Australia
Sarah Hopkins (Australia) The Crimes of Billy Fish ABC Books
Mireille Juchau (Australia) Burning In Australia Giramondo
Michelle De Kretser (Australia) The Lost Dog Australia Allen & Unwin
Alex Miller (Australia) Landscape of Farewell Allen & Unwin

Best First Book Award
Steven Conte (Australia) The Zookeepers War Australia Harper Collins
Karen Foxlee (Australia) The Anatomy of Wings Australia UQP
Sara Knox (Australia) The Orphan Gunner Giramondo
Carol Lefevre (Australia) Nights in the Asylum Picador
Marcella Polain (Australia) The Edge of the World Fremantle Press

The winners of the regional awards will be announced on 13th March 2008.

Weekend Round-Up 2008 #3

Couldn't find anything to write about. Let's hope it picks up next week.

The End of "The Bulletin"

A couple of weeks back, when I was in Tasmania on holidays, I heard the announcement that "The Bulletin" magazine was closing down after 128 years.

For those unfamiliar with the periodical, it can be considered as a Australian equivalent of "Time" or "Newsweek": a weekly current affairs magazine with an Australian focus. But it didn't start that way. If you've been reading this weblog for a while you'll notice that I post transcripts of Australian poems each Saturday. The bulk of these first saw publication in "The Bulletin". When Archibald and Haynes started the magazine in 1880 it had an aim of being a publication of political and business commentary, with some literary content; similar, in fact, to how it ended its run this year. But soon after it began publication, and certainly by the mid 1880s, it became known as the "bushman's bible", reaching all parts of the country (and presumably New Zealand) with a circulation around 80,000 by 1900, when the population was about 3.8 millions.

"The Bulletin" was a curious beast early on. Wikipedia describes it as follows: "Its politics were nationalist, anti-imperialist, protectionist, insular, racist, republican, anti-clerical and masculinist - but not socialist. It mercilessly ridiculed colonial governors, capitalists, snobs and social climbers, the clergy, feminists and prohibitionists. It upheld trade unionism, Australian independence, advanced democracy and White Australia. It ran savagely racist cartoons attacking Chinese, Indians, Japanese and Jews, and mocking Indigenous Australians. The paper's masthead slogan, 'Australia for the White Man,' became a national political credo."

Which is a political and social philosophy that sounds remarkably similar to a certain Australian political party of the late 1990s and early 2000s. And yet it was still able to publish a body of literary works which form a major part of the foundations of our current view of Australian literature. "The Bulletin" published such major writers as Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson, Mary Gilmore, C.J. Dennis, Barbara Baynton, Joseph Furphy, Bernard O'Dowd, Miles Franklin, Kenneth Slessor, and Christopher Brennan, amongst many, many others. It just goes to show that art can flourish even where the politics is barren and harsh.

So it is rather sad to see the magazine come to an end. But it's time is now gone. The periodical that I read on microfilm in the State Library changed its character in the 1960s and 1970s back to the current affairs publication of its beginnings. It wasn't what I read back then, preferring instead the "Nation Review" weekly newspaper, which I still miss. "The Bulletin" is dead but I've still got hundreds of back issues to get through. And if you think I'm living in the past, you're probably right, and it doesn't bother me in the slightest.

Founders of Our Literature entry for J.F. Archibald.
Ex-editor Garry Linnell laments the loss.
Damien Murphy provides a potted history.
Noel Murphy has a look at J.F. Archibald and his connections to Geelong.
And David Barnett, in "The Canberra Times", dances on the grave and blames the left. Quelle surprise!

A Few Words About "Sorry"

When it became public knowledge that the new Federal Labor Government of Australia intended, as one of its first acts of the next parliamentary sitting, to apologise to the Stolen Generations, I was inwardly very pleased. I hadn't voted Labor at the last election - I went further left and gave Labor my second preferences in both Houses - but this was one issue that I wanted to see addressed, and my first choice party had endorsed the policy as well. I spoke to my wife soon after the announcement was made and stated that I hoped the new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, would take his time over the wording of the Apology, and that he would get someone like Don Watson to write it for him.

From what I've read Rudd has decided to write the speech himself. That's fair enough. He's entitled to do that and I'm not going to criticise him for it. What he has received criticism for is the amount of time he is taking to release the wording. And that is what I have trouble with. Not the time he is taking, but the criticism he is receiving for striving
to get the wording just right. Surely it's better that he writes a number of drafts, honing the wording until he gets the speech as he wants it. Throwing out a long, rambling, hastily drafted apology is not going to serve any purpose and will only open the whole process up to censure and abuse.

Somewhere or other I found an interesting little quote about the writing process which tends to sum up my feelings about this whole matter: "The first draft of everything is crap." Sometimes the fifth and sixth drafts are as well. You just have to keep going
until it works.

Reviews of Australian Books #73

Carrie Laben looks at Black Sheep by Ben Peek and, while she has some early feelings of disquiet about a few aspects of the book, finds that "the book shines. Peek takes the standard dystopian furniture, all the ubiquitous cameras and brainwashed grunts and creepy identical houses and small bands of idealistic rebels and the like, and at first he seems to be going down the standard dystopian paths with it. But then he takes several unexpected turns - first into Dick-esque paranoia, and then into a series of confrontations with the fact that the solution to our hero's dilemma isn't as simple as raging against the machine. In fact, there may be no solution at all."

Johanna, on the "Green Gourmet Giraffe" weblog, is impressed with Kerry Greenwood's Heavenly Pleasures, part of the author's Corinna Chapman series of novels. "I love a novel that lingers lovingly over food and then gives you the recipes at the end. But I want to share with you my favourite lines from the book. Corinna spends a lot of time thinking and talking about chocolates and muses, 'How had a paste made of crushed cocoa-beans become so important? How had a bitter bean come to mean comfort, reconciliation and kindness?'...It does make you wonder how something so bitter has come to represent such sweet decadence in our lives, something that tastes so good that we don't demand nutritional benefits from it." It's a different approach, that's for sure.

In "The Guardian", Julia Eccleshare has a brief review of Shaun Tan's The Arrival (third item down): "Wordlessly, through pages of beautifully crafted illustrations, Shaun Tan conveys the universal experiences of all those who leave their homes either by choice or from necessity. Wordlessly, through sepia images designed to look like an old photo album, the sometimes challenging, sometimes heart-warming experiences of all new arrivals are captured. The pain of separation, the barriers of language, the driving optimism, the resigned tolerance to setbacks and the endless hope of success are all shown in Tan's carefully observed and finely drawn narrative illustrations."

Michael Robotham is the author of the novels Lost, Suspect and The Night Ferry, and now has a new novel, Shatter, coming out. James Cooper, of the "inthenews" website, gets in an early review, but is quite disappointed with the main plot, yet captivated by the major sub-plot: "The central character is amicable but uninspiring and the killer is something of an inhuman caricature with the flimsiest of motivations...Yet for some reason, the book is compelling and it took me to about page 234 to realise what was keeping me reading. Then it became obvious that the sub plot, which involves the relationship between Jo and his wife, was really rather interesting."

Briefly noted: Review of Cate Kennedy's Dark Roots: "At her best, the English-born Kennedy allows us to peak into one side of an unraveling relationship - a disintegrating marriage, a deflowered lesbian affair, a May-December romance, and a refugee woman thrust into and out of motherhood."

Review of Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling by D.M. Cornish: "Maddeningly, Cornish can really write, and his story gets off to an engaging start when not tripping over these idiotic extras." By extras the reviewer means maps and appendices. Quite ignorable I would have thought.

Australian Bookcovers #101 - Fair Girls and Gray Horses by Will H. Ogilvie


Fair Girls and Gray Horses by Will H. Ogilvie, 1898
(Pollard 1974 edition)
Cover by Walter Stackpool

Review: Skin and Bone by Kathryn Fox

skin_and_bone.jpg    Kathryn Fox
Macmillan, 273 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Bernadette Gooden

Presented with a pristine copy of Kathryn Fox's new crime novel Skin and Bone I stroked the cover and inhaled that new book smell, anticipating the sensual, as well as intellectual, pleasure of reading. The cover promised so much. An intriguing and sinister title and a quote from the Herald-Sun review screamed "Australia's answer to Patricia Cornwell". Big shoes to fill.

I started reading, but instead of the nail-down-blackboard, can't put it down, gruesome chill and thrill of early Ms. Cornwell, I began to think to myself Kathryn, why did you bother? You haven't tried very hard with this one.

As I read I began to see Kathryn sitting in her study, a story board in front of her, with cards representing her characters being ruthlessly pushed around with as many crime fiction clichés attached to them as she could muster. The lacklustre plot was predictable as soon as all the players were introduced. "Australia's answer to Patricia Cornwall" is a pale copy.

Detective Kate Farrer, returning to work after a traumatic abduction, is confronted by two deaths by fire, a missing daughter of influential parents, a lost baby that may or may not exist and a connection to drug rapists. She also has to deal with a new partner who appears to be corrupt, although a sensitive new age family man in his personal life. The chase is on ... and what a boring chase it is!

If I have to read about one more childless career woman who knows nothing about babies (who does until you have one?) and is made to seem unnatural because of it, I will have to scream. This is such an annoying cliché. However, contrasting her with a male detective who has four kids and one on the way and can tell how old a baby is by the amount of holes in it's bottle teat is equally silly. That, and the bit where his wife has given up her legal career to be a stay at home mother to five children and live on a cop's salary ... yeah ... right ... like that's gonna happen.

Every detail is over explained so that it feels slightly like a lecture. In her previous novel, Without Consent, she did a much better job describing the dealings of the sexual assault unit and their work with rape victims. Her characters were well rounded and the story well crafted. I wanted to finish reading it. In Skin and Bone (precious little of either), I just didn't care very much about any of the protagonists. Ms Fox touches on the shady area of resort/cruise drug rape, an interesting topic ripped from the headlines. I know I was appalled last year following the case of a group of men alleged to have done this on a P&O Cruise, resulting in a woman's death. This horrific type of crime was used as a minor plot device and I was disappointed that it wasn't taken further to create a more original and topical story.

What makes a great crime novel is not just a cracking good mystery, interesting setting or fast paced action, but the complex, well-developed and often deeply flawed characters of the detectives and the criminals. Like us, they have to overcome their own shortcomings to achieve their goals. We don't even have to like them, but they must engage us. I especially like it when the criminal is as likable as the detective. Who can forget Hannibal Lector?

*** Spoiler Alert ***

In Skin and Bone the drug rapist Mark Dobbie is thoroughly unsavoury. I kept asking myself why would women even speak to him in the first place? It wasn't really believable that he would have the success he was apparently having. He could have been so much more, more charm, more rat cunning. The real villain of the piece. I wanted to know more about his motivation and background.

There was really no worthy adversary for Kate and Oliver to pit themselves against. Kate's battle with herself to get back on top of her job mentally just didn't come across strongly enough to compel the action. Neither did the anti-corruption subplot that went nowhere. The climax of the novel, where Kate was inevitably going to have to conquer her claustrophobia and get cosy with a baby, was like a flashing beacon from the beginning. And isn't it always the obsessive mother? Aren't all stepfathers like Woody Allen (of course he was bonking the pretty one)?

At least with Patricia Cornwell we get cooking tips, lesbian chic and we can indulge in Lucyrage (like roadrage, but you have an overwhelming desire to slap Lucy very, very hard. I know she's a made up person ... I really, really do!)

I think that Kathryn Fox has a lot of potential but is not ready to take her place amongst the Queens of Crime just yet.

J.M. Coetzee Watch #4

Michael Gorra reviews Diary of a Bad Year on the "Truthdig" website and, in the process, provides a good background on Coetzee's other works. Of The Life and Times of Michael K.: "Coetzee has a deeply political mind, yet he prefers to use a moral language instead - to couch his book's questions not in terms of justice so as much as in those of guilt and shame and conscience. Most of his characters would be happy to avoid politics all together, to be left alone in their gardens, and the conflict between that desire and the demands of their world is reflected in the obliquity with which the author himself approaches such issues."
Of Disgrace: "...its picture of post-apartheid South Africa was far from celebratory. Indeed it suggested a world of spreading disorder, and the book was sharply criticized at home, a criticism given extra fuel by the book's international success."
And Diary of a Bad Year "is the most rigorously planned of Coetzee's novels, right down to the design of the page. Most of its bits are end-stopped, though there is an occasional missing period, a bit of grammatical drama, that tempts you to turn before you should. Yet it all feels as casual as a sweater tossed across one's shoulders, a book seemingly made out of nothing at all, and two central novels of the 20th century
came repeatedly to mind as I read, even across vast distances of style and temperament." And you'll have to read the piece to find out which novels they are.

Kirk Lapointe, in "The Gazette" out of Vancouver, finds the structure of Coetzee's latest novel rather intriguing: "It is hard to imagine a more challenging, intriguing and frustrating book in recent times than Diary of a Bad Year by two-time Booker Prize winner
J.M. Coetzee...[the novel] redesigns the shape of a novel: Coetzee presents three books in one -- or, to be more frank, three somewhat incomplete books in one, offered not sequentially but horizontally across each page." Lapointe sees Diary as a return to form for the author and "a clear sign that, at age 68, Coetzee is far from finished."

As one of the best new critics in the sf field, it's always interesting to read what Matthew Cheney has to say. And the first couple of sentences of his notes on Diary show he doesn't like to rush to judgment: "This is a book that will need to be reread. Until then, some notes." And he concludes that this "is an extraordinary book, and even if I think it offers less than some of Coetzee's best work, that is very light criticism: few living writers possess Coetzee's mix of intelligence and skill, and he is one of the few writers I can think of where I can't imagine ever calling any book his 'worst', even though, as with any writer, he has books that are better than others."

Poem: To Will Ogilvie by Smike

We drink a toast to your fair-haired girl,
   But we drink again to the dark-tressed maid.
For you there is charm in a golden curl,
   But for us there's a magic in either shade.

We drink again to your horse that's grey,
   But we drink again to the steed that's black;
And our hearts go out to the brown and bay,
   And the chestnut, too, when he heads the track.

No fault we find with the grey or gold,
   Of either sort there are good and bad.
So to each good horse here's a rider bold:
   And to each kind lass here's a lively lad.

First published in The Bulletin, 8 July 1899

Geraldine Brooks Watch #2

Reviews of People of the Book

Those in favour:
Terri Schlichenmeyer in "The Eagle-Tribune": "People of the Book starts out slow; so slow, that I wasn't sure I could make it through almost 400 pages. There's a lot of setup to make the story work, and not much happens for the first couple segments. In the end, I was glad I stuck it out...With time-framing reminiscent of Pulp Fiction, some factual history, the existence of a real book and a fictional character who is increasingly easy to like, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Brooks takes you on a five-century trip from Bosnia to Venice, Vienna to Spain, and inside mosques, churches and torture chambers...If you like historical mysteries, antique-hunting or The Da Vinci Code, pick up People of the Book. This book about a book is a double delight for anyone who craves the
written word."
Lena on "The Reading Obsession" weblog: "I loved the book! The writer really caught the essence of the struggles of the Jewish people throughout history and really drew me into the story. It is not an 'on the edge of your seat' kind of book, but if the reader is looking for a wonderfully engaging story with a bit of a historical feel to it this book is a perfect fit for that type of reading."
Briefly noted in "The New Yorker": "...the final, multilayered effect is complex and moving."

Those against:
Polly Shuman in newsday.com: "...perhaps because Brooks covers so much temporal ground in People of the Book, the historical voices never sound true to their periods. The further back she goes in time, the more contrived the stories get and the more the characters seem like parodies of politically correct cliches. The Haggadah is a mystical magnet for people with secret Jewish ancestry and anachronistically literate girls, a rainbow coalition of the feisty but disempowered. The equally contrived framing story - a journey of self-discovery involving a car crash, cancer, a family secret, forgery and betrayal - brandishes the same lessons. Even though I share Brooks' liberal values, I found the novel's cloying yet aggressive sanctimoniousness hard to take."
Susan Comninos in "The Philadelphia Inquirer": "the novel, in its proselytizing zeal for universality, sometimes puts anachronistic lingo in the mouths of its medieval characters. For instance, the refusal of a Moorish slave girl to humiliate a Christian woman - by painting her naked likeness for their Muslim captor - is explained by a self-help declaration: " 'No ... I can't do this. I know what it is to be raped. You can't ask me to assist your rapist.'"...People of the Book shouldn't have to rely on such heavy-handed prose or pointed making of points. A simple explication of the real-life story of the Sarajevo haggadah - one of individual bravery in the face of a larger brutality - would have sufficed."
Lisa Fugard in "The New York Times": "We are left wishing Brooks had found a less obtrusive way to gather up the many strands of her narrative. While peering through a microscope at a rime of salt crystals on the manuscript of the Haggadah, Hanna reflects that "the gold beaters, the stone grinders, the scribes, the binders" are "the people I feel most comfortable with. Sometimes in the quiet these people speak to me." Though the reader's sense of Hanna's relationship with the Haggadah rarely deepens to such a level, Geraldine Brooks's certainly has."
Miriam Shaviv in "The Jewish Chronicles": "It is a brilliant concept and, although most of the stories are based on a factual nugget - a Catholic priest did sign the Haggadah in Venice and one illumination includes a picture of a black woman at the Seder table - they are a triumph of imagination...But it is let down by some flat writing.Brooks gives Hanna Heath a love interest, a rocky relationship with her mother, a celebrity father and a voyage of self-discovery. It is all too much, and detracts from the absorbing historical narratives - though a couple of these, as well, are overloaded with historical and technical detail."

And if the reviews are all getting a bit much, you can listen to the author talking about her book on All Things Considered, from Minnesota Public Radio.

Miscellaneous News Items

Novelist Sophie Cunningham has been named as the new editor of Meanjin, replacing Ian Britain who held the post for six years. "Her plans include running longer essays in Meanjin and building up the magazine's online component." Cunningham occasionally writes for the "Sarsaparilla" weblog.

The "Mania Movies" website is reporting that: "Two-time Oscar winner Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) has just inked a nonexclusive deal with United Artists, which will give him an opportunity to produce, write and direct at least two features a year through his new production company Hwy61. As we announced earlier this month, United Artists took on the rights to the Ranger's Apprentice [by Australian author John Flanagan] fantasy series and this latest deal with Haggis has him writing the screenplay alongside his daughter and possibly directing."

"The AHWA is pleased to announce the imminent birth of Midnight Echo - the Magazine of the Australian Horror Writers Association. Midnight Echo aims to showcase the quality and diversity of the modern horror and dark fantasy genres. Particular emphasis will be placed upon Australian authors, but international voices will also be included." The "OzHorrorScope" weblog has more on this.

In the week ending January 26, Shaun Tan's The Arrival was 7th on "The New York Times" Bestselling Picture of the Week list.

The National Book Critics Circle has started providing a winter selection of Good Reads. This year's list includes Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee, and People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.

Bill Congreve Interview

Bill Congreve is one of the major editors and small publishers within the Australian sf&f field, but he wears other hats as well. He is interviewed on the "OzHorrorScope" weblog.

Do you see yourself more as an editor, a publisher, a bookseller, or a writer?

Or critic? I think I've published more book reviews/criticism of Australian speculative fiction at a professional level than anybody else. Don't quote me on that. (This is entirely different to the kind of academic criticism published by Van Ikin and Bruce Gillespie. I don't have that skill.) I miss bookselling and love the rare opportunities I get on the MirrorDanse dealer's table at conventions. Unfortunately, bookselling isn't a career which pays a mortgage in Sydney. At work I seem to be doing more editing, but that's technical editing of non-fiction. In terms of testing a non-fiction document to make sure it all adds up and how it can be improved, that isn't unlike fiction editing. These days I'd have to think of myself as publisher, then editor, then writer. Why? Because that's what I'm actually doing. I do wish the writing was taking a greater role.

Australia Without Borders

Back in March 2007 I first made mention of the report that US bookselling chain Borders was intending to sell its stores here in Australia and concentrate on its US market. Subsequent reports proved this rumour to be true and the Borders stores were put on the market. "The Age" last weekend examined the implications of that sale in its Business pages.

The fate of the Australian outlets hangs in the balance after a bid by A&R Whitcoulls Group, the owners of the Angus & Robertson book chain, that is being assessed by the ACCC [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission - Australia's consumer watchdog] after it raised concerns about the impact on competition. A&R is Australia's largest book retailer with 119 company-owned and 63 franchised stores. At stake is the future of the superstores, which, if the deal is approved, could remain as they are, close down, or be converted into conventional Angus & Robertson stores. But also at stake is whether Australians will enjoy the current competitive diversity of outlets selling books and music, or a smaller number of retailers gain a stranglehold, as has been the pattern overseas.

Founders of Our Literature: "Banjo" Paterson

He used to sign his work "The Banjo," and that is how he came to be known over a large section of the English-speaking world as "Banjo" Paterson. His real names are Andrew Barton, but nobody ever thinks of him as anything but Banjo.

Paterson is now 70 years of age, having been born on February 17 1864. He is perhaps the last survivor of the little band that can be classed as founders of our literature. Some might not accord him a place, for he was a robust and cheerful versifier, who wrote mostly of the open air and horses. However, we can afford to disregard a lot of his verse when we consider him as a poet, and concentrate on the occasions when he did rise to olympic heights. At the same time there is no reason why the open air and the horse should be barred from the inner circle of poetry.

Paterson was not a bushman in the strict sense that Lawson was. Henry did carry his swag and tramp with his mates in the Outback. Paterson did not. He was a city man with a deep love of the bush. It was the bush that brought out all the poetry in him. He saw it more as a spectator, but that did not make him appreciate it any the less.

After a public school education "Banjo" trained for the law and mixed legal work with writing. He had a passion for horses and was interested in racing. His holidays were always spent on stations where he rode with the stockmen and imbibed their philosophy. Maybe a man in these circumstances gets a truer appreciation of the life than he who actually lives it. Lawson could never get away from the tragedy of the Outback. Paterson saw the cheeerful side of it and wrote it.

When "The Man from Snowy River" and other verse was first published in 1905, there was an instant and strong demand for it. Up to 1925 the book had been sold to the extent of 90,000 copies. Paterson in his time was acclaimed the Rudyard Kipling of Australia, and his cheery, ringing and often humorous verse was in the same ballad vein as that of the author of "Barrack-Room Ballads."

There are things in Paterson's verse that the Outback will never allow to die. Clancy of the Overflow stands as a type for all drovers. The Man from Snowy River is known through the length and breadth of the land. Saltbush Bill, the "drover tough," who lost the fight with the new chum for business reasons is never likely to be forgotten. The Man from Ironbark will remain a gem to the Outback as long as the Outback exists.

Paterson's first regular newspaper work was done in the South African War as correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald. He also saw service in the Boxer Rebellion in China. Later he was editor of the Sydney Evening News for two years, and also of the Town and Country Journal for the same period.

He was too old for enlistment in the European war, but he served in Egypt as a lieutenant in the remount service and returned with the rank of major. The diggers found him out early. There were few of the mounted men who did not know some lines of his verse and when the whisper went round that "Banjo" Paterson was with the troops, the men from the Outback plains and the mountain cattle-runs thrilled at the close association with a man who had provided so much enjoyment for their leisure hours.

"Rio Grande's Last Race" and "Saltbush Bill, J.P." were published in 1902 and 1917 respectively. His collection of short sories and sketches, "Three Elephant Power," which were recently republished in The Herald, also came out in 1917.

One great service Paterson did for Australia was to collect all the old bush songs, which were in danger of dying out, and published them in 1915. His collected poems came out in 1921 and they are still popular.

Poetry is for Youth and Paterson's best work was done in his early days. His passion for horses and the open country enthralled him most of the time, but there were times when deeper things stirred him, and then he was moved to poetry of a high order. "Black Swans" is included in the Golden Treasury of Australian verse and in this Paterson the poet is at his best.

But more people will read his rhymes of Monaro and the Snowy River, and his lilting racing ballads of horse and man, which reveal in the music of words the music of that rougher life which the cities do not know. Romance lies in strange places and if it be the poet's mission to disclose it, then "Banjo" Paterson has surely done so and is sure of his niche among the immortals.

First published in The Herald, 30 June 1934

Shortlists for the 2008 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature

The shortlists for the 2008 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature have been announced (PDF file). Works are chosen from the previous two years (hence the appearance of two Miles Franklin award winning novels on the fiction list) and the winners will be announced at the Adelaide Writers' Week in the East Tent on Sunday 2 March 2008 at 4:30pm.

$15,000 Award for Children's Literature (212 entries)
Home (Narelle Oliver, Omnibus)
Foundling: Monster Blood Tattoo Book 1 (D M Cornish, Omnibus)
Don't Call Me Ishmael (Michael Gerard Bauer, Omnibus)
Macbeth and Son (Jackie French, Angus & Robertson)
Danny Allen Was Here (Phil Cummings, Pan Macmillan)
The Worry Tree (Marianne Musgrove, Random House)

$15,000 Award for Fiction (147 entries)
Sorry (Gail Jones, Vintage)
Diary of a Bad Year (J M Coetzee, Text)
El Dorado (Dorothy Porter, Picador)
Carpentaria (Alexis Wright, Giramondo)
The Ballad of Desmond Kale (Roger McDonald, Vintage)
Orpheus Lost (Janette Turner Hospital, Fourth Estate)

$10,000 Award for Innovation (38 entries)
Diary of a Bad Year (J M Coetzee, Text)
Montale, a Biographical Anthology (John Watson, Puncher and Wattmann) Cube Root of Book (Paul Magee, John Leonard Press)
Someone Else: Fictional Essays (John Hughes, Giramondo)

$15,000 Award for Nonfiction (125 entries)
The Lamb Enters the Dreaming (Robert Kenny, Scribe)
Sunrise West (Jacob G Rosenberg, Brandl & Schlesinger)
Packer's Lunch (Neil Chenoweth, Allen & Unwin)
The Content Makers (Margaret Simons, Penguin)
The Vietnam Years: From the Jungle to the Australian Suburbs (Michael Caulfield, Hachette)
Not Part of the Public: Non-Indigenous Policies and Practices and the Health of
Indigenous South Australians, 1836-1973
(Judith Raftery, Wakefield Press)

$15,000 John Bray Poetry Award (90 entries)
At the Flash and at the Baci (Ken Bolton, Wakefield Press)
Esperance: New and Selected Poems (Caroline Caddy, Fremantle Press) Urban Myths: 210 Poems (News and Selected) (John Tranter, UQP)
A Bud (Claire Gaskin, John Leonard Press)
Not Finding Wittgenstein (J S Harry, Giramondo)
Seriatim (Geoff Page, Salt)

$10,000 Jill Blewett Playwright's Award for the Creative Development of a play script by a SA writer (12 entries)
Umbrellas by Shiela Duncan Merger - Art, Life and the Other Thing by Duncan Graham
Wives and Boats by Thomas Brittain

$10,000 Award for an Unpublished Manuscript by a SA Emerging Writer (32 entries)
The Second Fouling by Stephen Orr
As the Sun Shines by Lesley Beasley
The Minaret Path by Julia Archer

[Thanks to Andrew Kelly for the heads up.]

Peter Carey Watch #1

Yes, it's Peter Carey all-day, every-day this week. Hardly surprising really, given his two Man Booker prizes, his position as one of the better-known authors in the English-speaking world, and the publication of a new novel. Though I hadn't expected that I would still be posting his bookcovers up till this week, nor that the physical production of the novel would demand a note. The interviews could have been predicted, along with the following reviews, if I'd thought about it long enough. But I didn't.

In case you're wondering what the new Carey novel is all about "The Guardian" had John Crace summarise it for their digested read series.

"The Telegraph" refers to Carey as the "outback Dickens", in John Preston's review of His Illegal Self: "Carey has always been a great Dickens admirer and there are times when his ability to empathise with a small child recalls, and comes close to matching, David Copperfield. There is, however, none of Dickens's sentimentality on show -- this despite Che's relationship with his pet kitten. Instead, Carey manages to get right to the heart of his desperation without it ever feeling forced or cloying."

In "The Guardian", Christopher Tayler isn't as impressed as others with the book: "In practice, though, [the novel's] angles aren't fully explored, and Carey's emotional choreography isn't sure-footed enough to make Che's story live up to its dramatic opening. As you'd expect, he does a good job of creating a lively -- and carefully Americanised -- idiom for his central characters. And having lived in one himself, he clearly knows a lot about alternative communities in Queensland. Yet, coming as it does on the heels of such books as True History of the Kelly Gang, the new novel seems badly paced and weirdly dull."

Dennis Lythgoe in "The Deseret Morning News" out of Salt Lake City tends to agree: "Billed by the publisher as 'the best fictional work to explore the militant radical underground of the late 1960s and early '70s,' it is instead a misguided, failed attempt to either comprehend or explain that period. Some readers are apt to keep reading simply because of curiosity, but continued reading will not satisfy...The novel just doesn't work." I always like it when reviewers make these sort of statements but make no attempt to explain
why. It really leaves me with the sense that it was worth my while reading it.

In other items: Carey goes out to eat. Just thought you'd want to know that he actually does that.

Australian Books to Film #40 - Ned Kelly


Ned Kelly 2003
Directed by Gregor Jordan
Screenplay by John Michael McDonagh from the novel Our Sunshine by Robert Drewe
Featuring Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, and Naomi Watts.

Weekend Round-Up 2008 #2

The Age

Thuy On seems to have had his review of A History of the Great War: A Novel by Peter McConnell, rather heavily cut for size: "Despite its subject matter, this is a gentle love story. McConnell forgoes all the grisly details of wholesale massacre, concentrating instead on the small happenings of a small country town." You get the impression there's a lot more to be said here. I have the book at home waiting for review, so I'll make sure more is actually said.

The Australian

If the reviews are there I can't find them.

The Sydney Morning Herald

Andrew Reimer wonders, before starting Peter Carey's latest novel, if the author has finally abandoned Australia for an American setting. It certainly starts that way: "The opening chapters are a tour de force, a virtuoso performance by a writer fully confident of his powers and, in a way, of his ability to get away with anything. Everything is seen through the eyes of a child -- as Henry James made us see everything through the eyes of a young girl in What Maisie Knew. Here are vivid though almost always perplexing images of American life: the ceremonies of upper east side WASPs, the teeming chaos of subway stations and Greyhound terminals, seedy hotels and pizza parlours, and, almost subliminally, the political and ideological ferment of the student protests of the 1960s." But as we have probably all figured out by now the novel's characters end up in Australia after all. But is it any good: "The blurb promised that I would cry more than once and that my spirits would then lift. Neither of that happened. Fortunately, I think, His Illegal Self doesn't try hard to tug at the heartstrings. Instead, it relies on Carey's narrative wizardry, his penchant for grotesquery and on his considerable skills as a puppet-master." I'll take that as a yes.

Clare Scobie is very impressed with Toni Jordan's debut novel: "The publishers were right in their glowing accolades for Addition. Toni Jordan has created such a real character in Grace that you are cheering her on, willing her to get to the top of the staircase, intact and unharmed. Jordan's voice is distinctive, refreshing and very Australian."

The Art of Reviewing #5

Neil Gaiman starts off talking about the upcoming Audie awards, and then makes some telling points as he discusses his "...collaboration with Michael Reaves, Interworld, which was reviewed, along with China's Un Lun Dun in the New York Times this week. It's an odd review -- I think that rule number one for book reviewers should probably be Don't Spend The First Paragraph Slagging Off The Genre. Just don't. Don't start a review of romance books by saying that all romance books are rubbish but these are good (or just as bad as the rest). Don't start a review of SF by saying that you hate all off-planet tales or things set in the future and you don't like the way SF writers do characters. Don't start a review of a University Adultery novel by explaining that mostly books about English professors having panicky academic sex bore you to tears but. Just don't. Any more than a restaurant reviewer would spend a paragraph explaining that she didn't normally like or eat -- or understand why other people would like or eat -- Chinese food, or French, or barbeque. It just makes people think you're not a very good reviewer."

Miscellaneous News Items

In "The Sydney Morning Herald": An Australian book, The Ernies Book - 1000 Terrible Things Australian Men Have Said About Women, is receiving more attention in the UK than here. Hardly surprising, as most Australian men wouldn't believe what was in it, and most Australian women would've heard worse. The worst thing I ever heard said about a woman was said in mixed company by a man about his ex-wife. I should have picked him up on it, but didn't - it being his house and his lunch - to my regret. And then, a few years later, I heard the same thing said by a woman on an episode of "Ab Fab". Doesn't matter, I still think it's a terrible thing to say.

In "Publisher's Weekly": "For Plume, Kate Davis bought North American rights to Alice Pung's Unpolished Gem. This debut memoir, personally recommended to Putnam by house author Amy Tan, is about a Chinese-Cambodian family trying to live the Australian Dream without losing themselves, and the author's coming-of-age trapped between these cultures. The book won the Australian Newcomer of the Year Award at the 2007 Australian Book Industry Awards. Sophy Williams at Black Inc. Books in Melbourne made the sale, and Plume will publish as a paperback original in early 2009."

Major booksellers in Australia are refusing to stock the new biography of Tom Cruise by Andrew Motion. Sure wrecks my reading year.

Alexis Wright in India

Alexis Wright has been travelling in India to promote her Miles Franklin Award winning novel Carpentaria, and to deliver a lecture at Jadavpur University department of English, in Calcutta.

The book, she admits, is no easy read. "I wanted to take Australian literature and throw it over the boundary... I always credit my own people for teaching me how to read and write in the first place, and not the universities I have been to." Carpentaria is very much about "giving something back to my own people", in as authentic a way as possible, without giving away that which is sacred to the Aboriginal peoples.

Best Books of the Year #12 - Locus Magazine (Recommended Reading)

In addition to yesterday's Best Books of the Year, Locus Magazine has also published a Recommended Reading list for sf&f works from 2007. The Australian items are listed below (chances are I've missed one or two - feel free to point them out to me):

Young Adult Novel
Magic's Child by Justine Larbalestier

Rynemonn by Terry Dowling
The Jack Vance Treasury, Jack Vance, edited by Terry Dowling & Jonathan Strahan

Original Anthology
Wizards edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois
The New Space Opera edited by Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan
Eclipse One: New Fantasy and Science Fiction edited by Jonathan Strahan

Bests of the Year
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume One edited by Jonathan Strahan
Best Short Novels: 2007 edited by Jonathan Strahan

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

"Dark Integers", Greg Egan (Asimov's 10-11/07)
"Glory", Greg Egan (The New Space Opera)
"Steve Fever", Greg Egan (MIT Technology Review 11-12/07)
"Holly and Iron", Garth Nix (Wizards)
"Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz Go to War Again", Garth Nix (Baen's Universe 4/07)

Matilda Visitors 3

Some time later today this weblog will receive its 200,000th visitor since I introduced the site counter on October 19th 2005. This is just here for housekeeping and record purposes.

Reviews of Australian Books #72

In "The Washington Post" Paul di Filippo ponders the limitations of labelling in his review of Margo Lanagan's short story collection Red Spikes: "Margo Lanagan's third collection after White Time (2000) and Black Juice (2004) is being marketed as for young adults, '14 & up.' Aside from the fact that many of the protagonists herein are youths, I'm not sure about the need or accuracy of pitching Lanagan's complex, resonant, mature fables in this fashion. True, any bright, sensitive teen will immediately latch on to these emotive tales like a free-falling person snatching a parachute. But these are the kind of high-quality stories that will vibrate the nerves and heartstrings of readers of all ages."

Justine Larbalestier has more to say about this on her weblog. Though she doesn't specifically mention Lanagan's work, the sentiments remain the same.

On the "International Noir Fiction" weblog Glenn Harper finds that Peter Temple's Identity Theory (aka In the Evil Day) is a departure from his other works: "Paranoia (confirmed by the story's resolution) replaces a more elemental social pessimism that is evident in Temple's noir novels (particularly The Broken Shore, with its meditations on racism and economic depression in rural towns). Depending on your taste, you will like Identity Theory or The Broken Shore -- the thriller and the crime novel seem to appeal to different readers." A similar thing is said about Disher's two series - Wyatt and Challis - and yet I like both of them.

kimbofo was worried that The Book Thief by Markus Zusack wouldn't live up to the hype, and left it languishing on her nightstand for 12 months. She needn't have worried: "The Book Thief is a deeply unsettling story and a truly moving one. I teared up over so many scenes that I couldn't bare to list them here for fear of running out of room! The ending is of the typical grab-your-tissues-and-sob-your-eyes-out ilk. But in reading this very long book -- perhaps a fraction too long, in my opinion (it meanders a lot in the middle) -- I never once thought I was being emotionally manipulated."

Despite reservations about Richard Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist, C.B. James still found a lot to like: "The portrayal of the Australian government seemed a bit over-the-top to me. Incompetent or malevolent government officials and police officers are a staple of espionage thrillers, but I really hope the Australian government is doing a better job than is portrayed in The Unknown Terrorist. As the novel drew towards its close things began to happen, secrets were revealed, and I found myself having a hard time believing it all. I won't reveal anything here, but don't be surprised if you find yourself saying no way out loud towards the end of the book...Overall, I found The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan to be an entertaining, suspenseful page turner with something to say about contemporary culture. So, in spite of things getting a little out of hand in the end, I'm giving it four out of five stars." If the case of Mohamed Haneef was anything to go by, the previous Australian goverment wasn't doing a very good job at all.

Australian Bookcovers #100 - His Illegal Self by Peter Carey


His Illegal Self by Peter Carey, 2008
(Knopf 2008 edition)
Cover photograph by Jonathan Ring. Cover design by Jenny Grigg

Best Books of the Year #11 - Locus Magazine

Each year Locus Magazine - the major newsletter of the sf and fantasy publishing world - gets one critic to list their best sf&f works of the year.

For 2007, Jeff VanderMeer offers his suggestions, and has chosen an Australian book as one of his worthy novels: "Black Sheep by Ben Peek served up dystopia Pacific Rim-style, in often searing and seering prose."

He also picked out, as a first novel, "Amberlight by Sylvia Kelso should appeal to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy with its splendid evocations of place." Which is a bit strange as Amberlight is her third novel. Maybe it's got something to do with where the books are published.

Elsewhere, "Billed as an exciting new original anthology, Eclipse One: New Fantasy and Science Fiction edited by Jonathan Strahan wound up being less adventurous than any of the anthologies listed..[the book] was entirely too comfortable and familiar to support Strahan's assertion that he's operating in the tradition of classic series like Terry Carr's Universe -- although the series may well grow into that role over time."

In the graphic novel section it's hardly surprising to see him chose "The Arrival by Shaun Tan, about an immigrant to a fantastical city, is an instant classic."

Cover of His Illegal Self


Long time readers of this weblog will remember this post about the first hardcover edition of Kate Grenville's The Secret River. The basic problem was that while the dustjacket carried all the book's identification - title, author and publisher - the cloth case did not. A few months later the second edition of the hardcover had rectified the problem and all was well.

Now, the latest novel from Peter Carey, His Illegal Self, suffers from the same problem. As bookseller Jack Bradstreet pointed out in a letter to "Australian Book Review" regarding the previous example, if the dustjacket is lost the book becomes unidentifiable on the shelf. Grenville's book was worse in that the cloth cover was fully black. Carey's novel at least has a printed photo on the cloth. Not much good if you shelve your novels with the spine out, however.

Peter Carey Interviews

I'm not sure when Peter Carey's new novel His Illegal Self, was due to hit the bookshelves here in Australia, but I saw it over the weekend and purchased a copy today. Not surprisingly the reviews are rolling in thick and fast, and there are a couple of interviews out there as well - expect more to follow.

In "The Canberra Times", Gillian Lord discusses Heath Ledger, New York, his children, Australian politics, his niece, his new book, and literary styles with the author:

The language Carey uses in this book is different. "As I've got older, specially from the [True History of the] Kelly Gang on, I've started to do the things I've really wanted to do. It's not just the voices, but looking at sentences and trying to join words together in ways that are at once true and together, that makes it a poetry of sorts, that are true to character. I think I managed to do it in [Illegal Self], and in the next one I hope to do it better.

"It's about the texture of words, you make all these choices about how you will thread these little lumps of things made up of 26 letters."

He's quiet for a minute.

"I used to think people who talked about sentences were a lot of wankers actually," he adds cheerfully.

In "The Times" from London, Erica Wagner gets straight to the point:
Peter Carey, your new book is entitled His Illegal Self. Before that there was My Life as a Fake; and then, three years later, Theft: A Love Story. What's that all about?

Carey's usual ebullience suddenly seems muted. "I know, it's a shame," he says, not exactly joking. Sitting across from him in the cosy environs of Lupa, a trendy Italian place in Greenwich Village, New York, I persist. Are the books a kind of trilogy?

"No." There's a pause. "I don't know. I don't think it's something I want to address, I think it's kind of unfortunate..." Another, very long pause. "What are we going to put that down to? The convict system? I don't know. The illegal thing comes from a subject, a very personal thing between my youngest son and I, being in the country and Charley being worried about 'illegal' drivers... there were the rednecks and the illegal drivers, so it's some kind of tribute to Charley, a little joke."

Just an accident, then? "Yes, and it's why I was very clear about the jacket and why it had to be a little kid's face, because it makes sense of the understanding of illegality, his illegal self. But the repetition of theft, fake, illegal is rather unfortunate ... in the sense that it suggests something much stronger than I feel. On the other hand who's making these patterns, Doctor? It's me." And he grins, at last, the wicked Carey grin, its slight goofiness an effective screen for the remarkable perception and imagination that hallmarks his work.

At first glance I can see how you can make a connection between his latest three novels, but Carey has been writing about lying and fakery since the beginning. Take the first couple of sentences of Illywhacker (1985): "My name is Herbert Badgery. I am a hundred and thirty-nine years old and something of a celebrity. They come and look at me and wonder how I do it...I am a terrible liar and I have always been a liar. I say that early to set things straight. Caveat emptor."

All novelists are "liars", it's the nature of the beast. Carey is just a bit more up-front about it.

The Indigo Girls by Penni Russon

Penni Russon, author of Undine, Breathe and Drift, has stepped into the unknown territory of the three-word title with her new book The Indigo Girls. Russon has a reproduction of the cover and a link to the first three chapters of her new book on her weblog.

I've come to the conclusion this is an excellent idea for novel promotion. In fact, I've seen it suggested - by Cory Doctorow I think - that even making the full text of the novel available online helps book sales. Russon also links to an interview she gave in which she details the books she used to read as a teenager. And, no Penni, it isn't embarrassing.

2008 Perth Writers' Festival

The 2008 Perth Writers' Festival wil be held over the weekend of February 22-24. Full details of the program are available on the website.

The Transit of Venus Revisited

Michael Gorra takes a retrospective look at Shirley Hazzard's novel The Transit of Venus.

Henry James once wrote that he wanted "to write in such a way that it would be impossible to an outsider to say whether I am, at a given moment, an American writing about England or an Englishman writing about America." The Transit of Venus fulfills that ambition -- or no, it's got a different one, that of making such terms seem irrelevant. It's set mostly in Britain, in the decades after the war, and follows two Australian-born sisters through their very different lives, their very different experiences of sex and marriage and career. Its social landscape will be familiar to any reader of Lessing or Murdoch or Drabble, and yet it is not an English novel. Hazzard lacks the concern with gentility -- for or against -- that marks almost all English writers of her generation. She has the keenest of eyes for the nuances of class, class even in a university laboratory, and yet doesn't appear to have anything herself at stake in getting it all down. Nor is the book exactly American, despite Hazzard's long residence in New York. She has more restraint and less bravado than her American peers and she isn't nearly so ingratiating.

Poem: A Settlement by Roderic Quinn

If I told you, little girl,
As you sit serene and muse,
   With your red lips so compressed,
   And that verse-book on your breast,
Of the flower, the rose you are --
Would you pinch me for stale news?

If his verses please you so,
Would the poet meet your scorn?
   If he sought to lay his head
   Where his verses lie half-read --
Would he wake you from your dream?
Would the rose unleash a thorn?

Ah, the verses on your breast!
And the book so gently nursed!
   Must a poet ever make
   Life a dream for others' sake?
Must he pour the wine and stand --
Stand for ever all athirst?

If the song be worth a coin
(Such a coin as few would miss),
   What's to pay the soul that gave
   All its best of gay or grave?
If a song be worth a coin,
Sure the singer's worth a kiss!

If the singer, little girl,
Pressed his suit for payment sweet,
   I am sure that you who muse
   Would not thrust him out -- refuse;
So ... Ah well, that pays the debt:
And in kind ... I make receipt.

First published in The Bulletin, 13 October 1900

Author Interviews in "The Atlantic"

"The Atlantic.com" has recently opened its virtual doors to the world and made all its content - current and archived - available for perusal to non-subscribers. This is a fantastic resource and you should certainly have a good look through the list of author interviews, if nothing else. The only Australian writer I can find on the list is Peter Carey, who was interviewed in 2003, around the time of the publication of My Life as a Fake.

2008 Taipei International Book Exhibition

Australian publishing and literature will be the focus of the 2008 Taipei International Book Exhibition to be held from February 13-18.

Award for Shaun Tan

The "ABC News" website is reporting that Shaun Tan has been awarded "Album of the Year at Angouleme, one of the world's biggest comic book festivals." The website also states that "Angouleme, held in western France annually, attracts tens of thousands of visitors and is the biggest comic book festival in the world, outside Japan." One report I've seen is that 220,000 people attend each year.

Founders of Our Literature: J. F. Archibald

No survey of the founders of Australian literature could be complete without mention of J.F. Archibald. Although he did not write himself, except in the way of journalism, he encouraged literary genius and helped it along. That exceptionally rich period in Australian literature beginning at the end of the last century can nearly all be attributed to him.

Archibald was the literary sub-editor in excelsis. In the most ill-written doggerel he sometimes discerned the spark of genius and fanned it into flame. It was the same with prose. If a poor effort could be turned into a good one, Archibald could do it better than anybody else.

As a rule, writers of established reputation dislike intensely any interference with their work by the sub-editorial pencil. It is a tribute to Archibald's particular kind of genius that the greatest writers of his time did not object to his sub-editing. Henry Lawson was such a one. Indeed, it is said that much of the polish in Lawson's writing was the work of Archibald.

He had a high appreciation of literature. Without him Australia would have missed much of that which it is now proud to acclaim. Lawson, Paterson, Will Ogilvie, Victor Daley, Roderic Quinn, Hugh McCrae and a host of others might have gone their ways silently, might never have been able to express themselves but for him. In black and white art it was the same Archibald who as the literary helmsman of the Bulletin found and
fostered them all.

Writing of him, Mrs William Macleod, wife of his partner, says: "Archibald was frail, nervy, mercurial, intellectually arrogant, full of likeable little vanities and a continuous and usually witty and informative talker. He sub-edited others, himself he never sub-edited -- so far, anyhow, as the spoken word went."

And in another place, "He loved fine jewels and wines and delicate dishes, just as he loved fine writing and good pictures."

The same writer credits him with rare qualities as an editor, quite apart from his amazing technique as a condenser and improver in style. "He had the gift of appreciation and the will and capacity to express it. No free-lance, however humble, sent anything of worth to the paper and failed to hear about it from him."

Archibald was a man of great personal charm and of extreme loyalty to the people with whom he worked. He inspired loyalty in his friends.

In his later days Archibald fell on ill-health of a distressing nature, but his great work had been done. All over Australia today people prize collections of verse and stories which his eyes were the first to see and whose writers he was the first and often only one to encourage.

He secured enough of earthly reward to endow the Archibald prize for painting and supply the soldiers' memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney, but his true memorial lies in greater things than these. This man, who began life as an insignificant reporter on a Melbourne newspaper, and who toiled for ideals that were not all literary, actually laid many of the foundations of Australian literature.

People often say, "If Henry Lawson and others came along today with their manuscripts; if Ogilvie had written his bush ballads a generation later; if Paterson were to turn up now with 'Man From Snowy River,' would they get the hearing that they received in their generation?"

The question is impossible to answer. Probably they would, but we have to remember that they wrote in a period that has gone, and that no writer succeeds without a sympathetic editor or publisher. They might find such a one today, but in that period it was Archibald who found them, and archibald who encouraged and published them. Without him to whom could they then have turned?

So the man who wrote nothing fills a big niche in the literary structure and none would acknowledge the debt more readily than the writers themselves.

First published in The Herald, 16 June 1934

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