March 2008 Archives

Helen Garner Profile

Jason Steger, of "The Age", talks to Helen Garner on the eve of the publication of her first novel in 15 years, The Spare Room.

"The ideal thing for me would be to write and say, here's a book, it's a story, read it anyway you would like. But these days people are always thinking about categories and wanting to put things in them. So people do want to know what will be expected of them if they open a book or what they can expect of the writer."

But surely by calling her narrator Helen and giving her many elements familiar from the life that Garner has written frequently about in books, film scripts, articles and columns, she is inviting readers to identify the narrator as the author?

"What if it was me or wasn't me? What difference would it make to the meaning or worth of the story?"

She says she doesn't understand the concern readers have about whether a thing is literally true. It happens with everything she writes. "People say to me, 'You did this and you did that'. And I've just got used to that and I just basically ignore it because it's just not interesting to me."

She doesn't want to define fiction, and the notion that it should be entirely made up is, of course, absurd.

"It's much more interesting for me to think that taking a chunk of experience and mushing it up together with other things that are inventable, remembered from some other time or stolen from other people's stories . . . and see if I can make it into something that works, an object, a little machine that runs."

You can also read an extract from the novel in "The Australian". Publication date is set for April 7.

Combined Reviews: The Widow and Her Hero by Tom Keneally

widow_her_hero.jpg Reviews of The Widow and Her Hero by Tom Keneally
Random House
May 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

'I knew in general terms I was marrying a hero. The burden lay lightly on Leo, and to be a hero's wife in times supposedly suited to the heroic caused a woman to swallow doubt . The Japanese had barely been turned away. It was heresy and unlucky to undermine young men at such a supreme hour.'

When Grace married the genial and handsome Captain Leo Waterhouse in Australia in 1943, they were young, in love -- and at war. Like many other young men and women, they were ready, willing and able to put the war effort first. They never seriously doubted that they would come through unscathed.

But Leo never returned from a commando mission masterminded by his own hero figure, an eccentric and charismatic man who inspired total loyalty from those under his command. The world moved on to new alliances, leaving Grace, like so many widows, to bear the pain of losing the love of her life and wonder what it had all been for. Sixty years on, Grace is still haunted by the tragedy of her doomed hero when the real story of his ill-fated secret mission is at last unearthed. As new fragments of her hero's story emerge, Grace is forced to keep revising her picture of what happened to Leo and his fellow commandoes -- until she learns about the final piece in the jigsaw, and the ultimate betrayal.


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

Barry Oakley in "The Australian" : "It's a compelling story but because Keneally
has assembled rather than unfolded the narrative, most of it takes place at one remove. Perhaps that's his intention: to present a study rather than a story, an exploration of character and heroism and how one interacts with the other...The Widow and Her Hero is a patchwork of a novel, often penetrating, sometimes powerful but never gaining the momentum to carry the story along. Keneally, however, is such a cunning artificer that he's very readable even when not firing on all cylinders."

James Ley in "The Age": "Keneally's freely fictionalised version is an attempt to marry this dramatic tale of military adventure to sober reflections on the meaning of honour and heroism. In particular, he is interested in exploring the
hold these concepts have on the male psyche...[the novel] is thus an account of bravery and sacrifice that attempts, through the duality of its narrative structure, both to acknowledge the genuine heroism of its male protagonists and to resist any simple glorification of their exploits."

Adair Jones in "The Courier-Mail": "Keneally's skill as one of Australia's most
versatile and interesting literary figures rests in such ambiguities. The author questions our need for heroes and the price we all pay for needing them...For the generation of Australians who lived through the terrible war and survived, men and women like Grace who are now past 80, this novel acknowledges the awful price they paid and gives us a glimpse into the cold shadow of a war that has never quite disappeared."

Ed Lake in "The Telegraph": "Keneally can be a bit of a hack, and his work here bears marks of haste. Gobbledygook abounds -- the Memerang men "knew how to paddle... like angels on pinheads" -- and Grace's voice is strangulated and writerly...Even so, the novel comes off. It evokes something of the magnificence of heroism, and more of its awfulness. For that, it deserves a salute."

David Robson in "The Telegraph": "In terms of its overall effectiveness, The Widow and Her Hero is probably a notch or two below Keneally's very best work. The narrative is neatly constructed, but the scenes in the Far East lack a certain immediacy: you should be shocked by the beheadings, so redolent of modern Iraq, but they do not reverberate through the story as much as perhaps
they should. But any new work by this master of moral complexity is a matter for rejoicing. He looks into the heart of the human condition with a piercing intelligence that few can match."

James Bradley in "Times Literary Supplement": "An unflinching clarity and moral purpose has long given shape and purpose to Keneally's fiction; it is what lifts it above the narrow territory of the historical novel. Without it, the considerable number of his books which follow history closely would be little more than the faction Schindler's Ark has sometimes been accused of being."

2008 Barbara Jefferis Award Winner

The winner of the 2008 Barbara Jefferis Award has been announced as Feather Man by Rhyll McMaster.

The award is offered annually for "the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women or girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society."

The shortlisted works were:
Karen Foxlee: The Anatomy of Wings (University of Queensland Press)
Rhyll McMaster: Feather Man (Brandl & Schlesinger)
Geraldine Wooller: The Seamstress (University of Western Australia Press) Michelle de Kretser: The Lost Dog (Allen & Unwin)

Film Adaptations the Hard Way

Rodney Chester, in "The Courier-Mail", talks to Matthew Reilly who has had a few of his novels optioned by film studios. His second novel, Ice Station, certainly looked like getting made, until the executive who championed it left the studio.

Another one of his novels, Hover Car Racer, has a much better chance of getting made into a film, as Disney has purchased the movie rights outright, rather than taking out an option for a few years. "But again, now the screenplay -- not being written by me; it's being done by Al Gough and Miles Millar (Spider-Man 2, Shanghai Noon) -- has to fight all the battles, since it's the screenplay that will be shot," Reilly says.
Wendy Orr's, Nim's Island, has already been made into a film and for the author it was a case of pure serendipity.
For Orr that serendipitous moment came when freelance film producer Paula Mazur contacted her in 2003. Mazur's seven-year-old son had borrowed the book from the local library and he, along with the rest of the family, were entranced by the tale of a girl who calls on the help of an author of adventure stories when her father goes missing. When the film, starring Abigail Breslin and Jodie Foster, was shot on the Gold Coast last year, Orr discovered Mazur wasn't the only fan. Foster loved the story because it had drawn in her reluctant-reader son. "Nim was the book that showed her son that he could love reading," Orr says. "That's the most powerful compliment you can pay an author."

Poem: The Poet and the Muse by Victor Daley

                        THE POET

The Darling of the Year with sifted gold
   Of sunshine makes the old earth young again;
   Spring's dancing music lilts in praise and vein,
And all the world is merry as of old:
   But shadows only dwell within my brain;
My heart is like a heath with ashes cold.

O Muse, if I have loved thee late and long,
   If I have worshipped thee, and made a shrine
   To hold thine image in this heart of mine,
And served thee with the service of my song,
   And poured my years out at thy feet divine --
Where art thou now when ghosts around me throng?

Where is the pride, above the pride of kings,
   That once I felt when in the glowing air
   I saw the shining wonder of thy hair,
And heard the rustle of thy radiant wings
   Alas, and have I come by ways so fair
To dust and ashes and the end of things?

My soul is compassed round by phantoms vast,
   Whose black wings shut from me the sweet blue sky
   And blue broad sea I knew when thou wert nigh.
O Muse, return to me! ... She comes at last!
   And I can now, clear-voiced, like Agag, cry --
Surely the bitterness of Death is past!

                        THE MUSE

Thou wert my servant in the time gone by,
   And through the world I led thee by the hand,
   And showed thee all the beauty of the land,
And all the marvels of the Earth and Sky.
   Thy nights and days I held at my command,
And unto thee I gave the Seeing Eye.

The sacred secret of the infinite
   That burns beneath the beauty of the rose,
   And in the hearts of youth and maiden glows,
And fills and thrills the world with life and light,
   And is the soul of all that breathes and grows --
I made it visible unto thy sight.

But now another Muse holds thee in thrall.
   Thou canst not serve us twain: that is the law.

                        THE POET

   "O Goddess, ere thou dost from me withdraw,
Show me what other Muse I serve withal!"

                        THE MUSE

                        The Poet turned and saw
The shadow of a Wine-Jar on the wall.

First published in The Bulletin, 8 December 1900

"Glory" by Greg Egan

Eos Books has made available a downloadable version [PDF file] of Greg Egan's Hugo nominated novelette "Glory".

[Thanks to Jonathan Strahan for the link.]

Combined Reviews: Sorry by Gail Jones

sorry.jpg Reviews of Sorry by Gail Jones
May 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

In the remote outback of Western Australia during World War II, English anthropologist Nicholas Keene and his wife, Stella, raise a lonely child, Perdita. Her upbringing is far from ordinary: in a shack in the wilderness, with a distant father burying himself in books and an unstable mother whose knowledge of Shakespeare forms the backbone of the girl's limited education.

Emotionally adrift, Perdita becomes friends with a deaf and mute boy, Billy, and an Aboriginal girl, Mary. Perdita and Mary come to call one another sister and to share a very special bond. They are content with life in this remote corner of the globe, until a terrible event lays waste to their lives.

Through this exquisite story of Perdita's troubled childhood, Gail Jones explores the values of friendship, loyalty and sacrifice with a brilliance that has already earned her numerous accolades for her previous novels, DREAMS OF SPEAKING and SIXTY LIGHTS.


Kerryn Goldsworthy in "The Age": ""The great beauty and depth of Jones' writing, in this novel as elsewhere, has simultaneous appeal for lovers of intricate, elegant thought, and lovers of verbal style. There's also a great deal of her signature literary 'sampling', with quotations, allusions and echoes from fiction and poetry vying for space inside her own sentences: Emerson, Dickinson, George Eliot and of course Shakespeare, who haunts these pages like a colossal, enchanting ghost." But there is more to Jones's work than just fine writing, "it's also hard not to read this book as Jones' own personal, formal and explicit statement of apology: to see it as a kind of enactment in fiction of her ideas about Australian race relations and reconciliation, and as a suggestion that if the country's government cannot bring itself to offer an apology then perhaps its artists, at least, might step up to fill the gap."

James Ley in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "The word 'sorry' has become so contentious in recent times that Gail Jones's decision to adopt it as the title of her fourth novel must be interpreted as a political statement. The book is, however, much more than this. It can be read as having an allegorical dimension that comments on Australia's shameful treatment of its Aboriginal population, yet it is not a political novel in the didactic style of recent works by Andrew McGahan and Richard Flanagan. Jones is not that kind of writer...Sorry
sometimes labours under its thematic burden and Jones's writing has its flaws. Her tendency to talk over her characters is less evident than in some of her earlier novels but is still there. Her frequent use of dreams, though conceptually important, can come across as a creaky fictional device. And her prose, though beautifully wrought, operates at such a consistently high pitch that it strays occasionally into pretentiousness, perhaps due to a mild contamination from the clotted theoretical prose that Jones doubtless encounters on a regular basis in her day job as lecturer in cultural studies at the
University of Western Australia...She is, nevertheless, one of the most interesting and talented novelists at work in Australia today. Her writing has flaws, in part because she is daring enough to express a complex, original and passionate vision; she writes with a belief in the power of fiction to express meanings unavailable to other forms of art or inquiry."

Kathy Hunt in "The Australian": "Technically, the main problem with Jones's
writing is that there is just too much of it. She leaves no phrase unturned in her attempt to gild what is an ordinary tale...Title or apology, Sorry is a failure. Its form has been corrupted with skill and probably the best of intentions. Unfortunately, the result is what too many people think of as good writing: the book you buy but never read, the novel you can't see for the words."

Miranda France, in "The Telegraph": "Any novelist who takes risks with language deserves to be celebrated. Jones has the nerve to use constructions that feel both arcane and new. There is no doubting her descriptive powers. However, in
some passages, words grow so luxuriantly over the story that linguistic secateurs would have come in handy...This is Gail Jones's 'sorry' to her aboriginal compatriots. I admire her for it, but for all her sincerity, her afterword elucidating the word in the context of Australian politics strikes a pious note. Mary is a powerfully drawn character, sympathetic and convincing enough to speak for herself. There was no need for the author to step in."

Michelle Griffin in "Australian Book Review": "This is a novel of ambitious seriousness, and with serious ambitions, some of which are achieved. Regardless of her academic bent, as a novelist Jones excels at structure: everything happens in this book for a reason, and its four parts fit together beautifully, meshing ideas about history, speech reading, memory and family."

Short notices

Gillian Dooley on "Writer's Radio" [PDF file]: "Gail Jones' last novel, Dreams of Speaking, was interesting and intelligent. Sorry is on an altogether higher level. It is a brilliant evocation of childhood, loss, language, humanity and inhumanity. It is poetic without being precious, and totally engrossing without any sacrifice of intellectual profundity."

The Art of Reviewing #6

"Paper Cuts", a "New York Times" blog about books, recently listed the "Seven Deadly Words of Book Reviewing". As they say, each of the words listed is a perfectly good word (with the possible exception of eschew), just not in a book review any more. Words such as poignant and compelling have become cliched and have now lost all meaning. In three days this post has received 215 comments on other words and phrases to avoid, which just goes to show that this subject has hit a nerve. Maybe "Alex the Bold" sums it up best:

This SUBTLE but POWERFUL WORK uses BOLD and STARTLING language in a RARE combination -- one part SAUCY, one part E PLURIBUS UNUM -- to construct a LAVISH and NECESSARILY FRIGHTENING story that CULMINATES in an AMUSING and UNEXPECTED CLIMAX.
Which sounds awfully familiar.

Founders of Our Literature: James Brunton Stephens

There is an important centenary to celebrate next year. On June 17, 1835, was born James Brunton Stephens, one of our earliest poets, and one whose rich imagery thrills Australian readers today.

Stephens was a Scot and an Edinburgh University man. He adopted teaching as a profession, seemingly because he liked it, but he discovered early that it did not fill his life. Such a colorful mind was shaded in the land of his birth, and there was an unconscious yearning for a richer background. Accordingly at the age of 31 he landed in Brisbane, and Queensland claimed him for the rest of his life.

In that land of sunshine he found just the background that he needed. He pursued teaching as a profession, but the sunlight wakened a rich mind, and his pen began to write poetry colored with the reds and greens of a sunny land.

Linger, O Sun, for a little, nor close yet this day of a million!
   Is there not glory enough in the rose-curtained halls of the West?
Hast thou no joy in the passion-hued folds of thy kingly pavilion?
   Why shouldst thou only pass through it? Oh, rest thee a little while, rest!
Rest thee at least a brief hour in it! 'Tis a right royal pavilion.
   Lo, there are thrones for high dalliance, and gloriously canopied o'er!
Lo, there are hangings of purple, and hangings of blue and vermillion,
   And there are fleeces of gold for thy feet on the diapered floor!

Stephens taught private pupils in Queensland, both in the city and the bush. "Convict Once," by which he is probably best remembered, and of which the foregoing is an extract, was written in the bush as can easily be imagined, for it is only there that Nature fully reveals herself.

Seven years after his arrival in Queensland he joined the Education Department and became a headmaster. His poems brought him many friends and admirers, and after 10 years of State school teaching he was drafted into the Colonial Secretary's Office. He was chief clerk and acting under-secretary when he died on June 29, 1902.

A rather commonplace life for one so susceptible to color, but Stephens had two sides to him. All his unusualness came out in his poetry. That which was commonplace -- and all of us have some of it -- went into his job. In these circumstances one can imagine James Brunton Stephens a happy man living a life well sorted out and even meticulously catalogued.

A great deal of emotion went into the writing of "Convict Once," which is a very long poem. It contains most of his best work. Fortunately or unfortunately, he possessed a keen sense of humour, which he displayed in his "Chinee Cook" verses which have been recited by humorists all over Australia and are probably still recited.

"Convict Once" was not published first in Australia. It is a tribute to its quality that a London publisher found merit in it and brought it out in 1871. It has since been reprinted here, and the poet has come to be regarded as one of Australia's literary pioneers.

Curiously enough, the most patriotic, or perhaps, the most readable patriotic odes ever written in Australia came from Queensland. Both Brunton Stephens and George Essex Evans wrote odes to Federation, and did them extremely well -- so well, in fact, that they are still associated by many readers with our first step in nationhood. Stephens as far back as 1877 forecast Australia's Federation and Dominion status in lines which are beautiful and apt:-

She is not yet; but he whose ear
Thrills to that finer atmosphere,
   Where footfalls of appointed things,
      Reverberant of days to be,
   Are heard in forecast echoings,
      Like wave-beats from a viewless sea,
Hears in the voiceful tremor of the sky
Auroral heralds whispering, "She is nigh."

Who could do it better than that?

Stephens probably wrote the first Australian Anthem, and the lines are good. The sentiment is excellent, but the tune is obviously that of "God Save the King," and Australians are original enough to want a national song of their own.

Who among his contemporaries, not knowing who he was, would have sensed in this dry-as-dust public servant a poet of romance and color? None, possibly, but the color and romance were there, and they persist long after the brain which saw and recorded them ceased to work.

First published in The Herald, 14 July 1934

Australian Literary Monuments #26 - Joseph Furphy


jf_plaque.jpg        The inscription here reads:
In Memory of
Joseph Furphy
"Tom Collins"
Born Chateau Yering 1843
Died Western Australia 1912
Author of

For Australia


Grave of Joseph Furphy, Karrakata Cemetery, Perth.

Review: Fivefold by Nathan Burrage

fivefold.jpg Nathan Burrage
Bantam, 475 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Perry Middlemiss
Soon after I first started reading this novel I frankly didn't hold out a lot of hope for it. The cover and blurb ("What if we got it wrong? What if the first five chapters of the Bible weren't about good and evil at all? What if they contained a hidden meaning, evidence of a divine grand plan?") led me to think this was going to be some sort of Da Vinci Code rip-off; replete with mystical symbols and the hand of God leaving her fingerprints all over the place. Added to that, after an interesting prologue, the next 50 or so pages jump around all over the place following one character for a few pages before changing to another. Allowing the reader little time to settle in. There seemed little to connect any of it to a single story-line. I found it a bit of a struggle. But I have this 60 page rule whereby every novel should be given an hour to find its feet, to captivate the reader and provide a reason to believe the author knows what he (in this case)
knows what he is doing. I'm glad I did.

The novel starts with a prologue set in Yorkshire in 1308. An isolated monastery is threatened by bandits who are intent on stealing some treasure held there. In order to ensure that the object doesn't fall into enemy hands the abbot poisons the other monks, burns down the church and is executed by "friendly" knights sworn to protect him. This is a good start. Sudden and unexpected death always is. The novel then jumps to the present day as we are gradually introduced to five main characters, mid- to late-twenties, living in London, mainly professonals and all with individual characteristics which will have a major bearing on the plot. Somehow these five are connected in some way, and, equally, something seems to be drawing them towards a certain place in Yorkshire - the same place that was destroyed by fire some seven hundred years previously.

Burrage handles this development of the plot very well, though you have to stick with it. The stands do come together and when the true nature of their calling is revealed, and their struggle for survival begins, the reader finds themselves on a fictional ride that maintains the tension and keeps them guessing to the end. As I read this novel I was reminded of two very different artistic items: the film Raiders of the Lost Ark and the novel Black Easter by James Blish. This novel is something of a cross between the two: mixing some of the adventure of the Spielberg/Lucas film with the arcane demonology of Blish's book.

Does it work? In the main, yes. There are times when the requirement for massive "info dumps" slows the pace of the book. But Burrage doesn't belabour the technique, moving on just as you feel he's stayed too long. There is a lot of talent at work here.

This is the author's first novel, and, on this evidence, he's going to be one to watch.

More Literary Videos

Grouped together under the title "Slow TV" is a set of streaming videos from "The Monthly" magazine. This set includes the David Malouf videos linked to the other day, plus such people as Don Watson with Tom Keneally, Peter Carey, and Siri Hustvedt with J.M. Coetzee. These all appear to have been taken from the Adelaide Writers' Week. That's under the "Culture" heading. There are also videos under Politics and Society, featuring such people as Robert Manne, Mungo MacCallum and Shane Maloney.

Combined Reviews: Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital

orpheus_lost.gif Reviews of Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital
May 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

Leela is a gifted mathematician who has escaped her small Southern town to study in Boston. From the first moment she hears Mishka, a young Australian musician, playing his violin in a subway, his music grips her, and they quickly become lovers.

Their souls, bodies, lives are fused, and love offers protection of sorts from the violence and anxiety around them, until Leela is taken off the street to an interrogation centre somewhere outside the city. There has been an 'incident', an explosion on the underground; terrorists are suspected, security is high. And her old childhood friend Cobb is conducting a very questionable investigation.

Now he reveals to her that Mishka may not be all he seems. That there may be more to his past than his story of growing up in the Daintree with an eccentric musical family. Leela has already discovered that Mishka is spending some evenings not at the Music Lab but at a cafe. A cafe, Cobb tells her, known to be a terrorist contact point.

Who can she believe?

In this compelling re-imagining of the Orpheus story, Leela travels to an underworld of kidnapping, torture and despair in search of the truth -- and the man she loves.


Judith Armstrong in "Australian Book Review": "With this, her eighth novel (several of the earlier ones having won distinguished prizes), Hospital shows her dazzling skill at thriller writing. This is not a generic put-down. The myriad twists and turns of the compellingly logical plot, the psychological scaffolding which convincingly underpins behavioural veracity, the darts from one country, one generation, one kind of wildly different mind to another -- all are handled with the ease of a master-planner who never falters for an instant. Nor do the pace and intensity let up. While the events might sometimes be described as hectic, and some of the later scenes as lurid, they are no more so than the contents of today's newspapers."

Andrew Reimer in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "On one level Orpheus Lost is a clever political thriller - with the usual contrivances, coincidences and occasional improbabilities of the genre - which will amuse and entertain many readers. They will also find within its pages several vivid passages describing the underhand tactics and dirty tricks employed by all sides in the war against terrorism...Unfortunately, Turner Hospital had greater ambitions than this. Her novel is weighed down with meditations on the redemptive nature of music, on the mysteries of the world of numbers and on how music and mathematics may come to be abused and perverted by religious fanaticism of several kinds."

Stella Clarke in "The Australian": "Hospital is hypnotic as she traces the relationship between music and mathematics, to an extent that borders on mysticism. Terror and torture amount to awful sacrilege in this universe. They attack and destroy the intricate, beautiful and sublime mechanics of life. She manages to communicate tragedy on a conceptual macro-scale as well as bring it home in the personal lives of her characters...This superbly gripping novel alerts us to the real cost of terrorism. Beyond immediate damage and death, we could allow an erosion of freedoms that we take for granted. The terror of terrorism, Hospital suggests, is causing tectonic shifts beneath our feet."

Peter Craven in "The Age": "Turner Hospital has a beautiful lightness of touch through the nightmare contortions of the plot she spins and twists like a rope of destiny...If the story is not quite as sure-footed as Grahame Greene in
comparable territory, if it swerves farther from the articulation of thriller-like enthralments, it is nonetheless almost as satisfying as it is involving...Part of what is so refreshing is the way the characterisation glows with such an easy, tacit humanity. Her characters are instantly alive, whatever hate or grief or lust it is that makes them pant through their masks and cavalcades...And the fact that the action is in part breakneck and full of dark intrigue makes this one of those serious books that should command the attention of people who read for pleasure."

Short notices

"Mostly Fiction: "Filled with rich action scenes related to contemporary issues, wonderful images, and themes dealing with illusion and reality, the ways our pasts govern our present, the importance of our parents in the shaping of our lives, and the prices we are willing to pay for love, the novel is exciting and tension-filled."
"Aust Crime Fiction": "Where ORPHEUS LOST becomes less of an interesting book is in a device that the author uses a lot -- where characters move rapidly from real life events into dreams / dream sequences / imaginings of events. There is certainly a lyrical flavour to these sequences but they also jar within the pace of the general book -- driving the reader out of the story."

2008 Ditmar Award Winners

The winners of the 2008 Ditmar Awards have been announced.

Best Novel
Saturn Returns by Sean Williams (Published by Orbit)

Best Novella/Novelette
"Lady of Adestan" by Cat Sparks (Published by in "Orb" #7 edited by Sarah Endacott)

Best Short Story
"The Dark and What It Said" by Rick Kennett (Published in "Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine" #28 edited by Zara Baxter)

Best Collected Work
(tie) 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
Nick Stathopolous for the Rhinemonn cover

Best Fan Writer
Rob Hood for film reviews on his website

Best Fan Art '
Exterminate!' Dalek Postcards - Katherine Linge <
B>Best Fan Production
2007 Snap Shot Project - interviews with influential members of the Australian speculative fiction scene conducted by Alisa Krasnostein, Ben Payne, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Kathering Linge, Kaaron Warren and Rosie Clark

Best Fanzine
"Not If You Were the Last Short Story on Earth" edited by Alisa Krasnstein, Ben Payne,
Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts

Best Professional Achievement
Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Co-Operative Ltd for five issues in 2007, including three electronic Best Of anthologies

Best Fan Achievement
Alisa Krasnostein for "ASiF! Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus"

Best New Talent
Tehani Wessely

William Atheling Jr Award
Grant Watson for "The Bad Film Diaries" (Published in "Borderlands" #9.)

Back to Booktown

The first Booktown event in Clunes, Victoria, was held in May 2007, and was a big success. Now we have news that a second event will be held in the town over the weekend of May 3-4. The website now contains details of the bookshops and maps of their locations in the town, as well as details of how to get there by public transport.

Peter Carey Watch #4

Reviews of His Illegal Self

Wendy Smith in "The Los Angeles Times": "Peter Carey won his two Booker Prizes for Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang, epic novels steeped in the history of his native Australia. But he's a thoroughly modern writer, smashing genre boundaries, ranging in tone from wild comedy to grim tragedy, viewing the past with a decidedly contemporary eye and firmly placing late 20th century adventures like My Life as a Fake and Theft: A Love Story in social and cultural context...Carey's fiction doesn't offer definite answers or easy consolations but something much richer".

William Sutcliffe in "The Independent": "It is a truism that the best novels stem in some way from personal experience. Peter Carey, born in the wonderfully named Bacchus Marsh in Australia, now resident in New York, has come up with a curious imaginative inversion of his own biography in his new novel, which takes its characters on a life-altering journey from Manhattan to a commune in tropical Queensland...For much of the book, the boy is unsure whether the woman who is looking after him, and who slowly grows to love him, is his real mother. This question seems to work as a metaphor for the main concern of the novel, which posits that we are nurtured and created as much by our surroundings as by our parents -- and many of us, in the course of our lives, choose whether we want to
be mothered by the city or the wilderness. Carey presents a convincing case that we would be better off with the latter."

Darryl Whetter in "The Vancouver Sun": "The title of Peter Carey's new novel, His Illegal Self, exemplifies his career obsession with double lives, fakery and the breaking of rules legal, moral and personal. Here, as in novels such as My Life as a Fake, Illywhacker and the achingly romantic Theft, he tests his characters with the pressures of hiding, lying and their own costly desires...Carey has a keen eye for hypocrisy. He exposes comrades preaching the brotherhood of man while knowingly passing on venereal diseases. This attention to personal contradiction recurs throughout the novel and fuels its lasting insights."

John Marshall in "The Seattle Post-Intelligencer" :"Carey -- an Australian writer who has twice won Britain's Booker Prize -- has penned a problematic novel in which flashes of narrative brilliance alternate with confusing chronology and trippy plot developments. Perhaps those excesses reflect the times they re-create, but the result is a sometimes enthralling, sometimes maddening work that ends up being the literary equivalent of a towering fly ball caught at the warning track."

Cathleen Schine in "The New York Review of Books": "His Illegal Self is a little book in the way that raspberries or bees or nuggets of uranium are little...One of the wonders of Carey's work is that his great, urgent narratives, so turbulent, so dark, so grand, are at the same time animated by such conscious and playful craft, as well as by a profound comic awareness. The lightness of Carey's touch, the poetic attraction to tender detail, give to the magnificent weight of his tales an unexpected sense of life, of wild, galloping physical movement and growth."


The "Literature Map" entry on Peter Carey plots his position in literature as he relates to other writers in the field. His closest fellow practitioners are Beryl Bainbridge and Tim Winton.

Christopher Bray briefly reviews 30 Days in Sydney in "The Financial Times": "This is a meditation on the writer's sense of place. There are passages in this book -- on the Aboriginal remains on which Sydney's Opera House was built, on the suburban drudge that is the city away from the harbour, on the murderous seas -- which are as good as anything Carey has written."


How M'Dougall Topped the Score by Thos E.Spencer 1906
(Pollard 1972 edition)
Cover by Walter Stackpool

Combined Reviews: Love Without Hope by Rodney Hall

love_hope.jpg Reviews of Love Without Hope by Rodney Hall
Pan Macmillan
February 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

The elderly Mrs Shoddy suffers acute depression as a result of a bushfire that kills her beloved horses. A capable countrywoman, she loses her grip and is living in squalor when the district nurse finds her and has her committed to an insane asylum. The time is 1982; the place, a country town in NSW. The NSW Department of Lunacy is still in operation, headed by an official
with the title The Master in Lunacy.

In this powerful novel, finding herself pitted against the power of the state, Mrs Shoddy calls on her memories of her missing husband, on the spirit of her horses and on the recovery of her self-respect and resilience to create a world in which she can remain sane, even against the institutional brutality she is subjected to. And the characters in her mind become as palpable as the real people she is surrounded by.

A hymn of praise to human tenderness, the power of memory and the power of music, Love Without Hope confirms Rodney Hall's status as one of Australia's finest storytellers.


Rosemary Sorenson in "Australian Book Review": "The theme of the pageant is love,which looms large as a subject for this writer's investigation, as he makes clear with titles such as this, and his previous novel, The Last Love Story (2004). It is not love and romance, but love as the ephemeral gathering of human desire; love as an excuse to avoid confrontation with what is too grand and terrifying for our understanding. We may come close to feeling our sympathy spill over into love for characters such as Lorna Shoddy and others (the doctor, for example, who is central to an astounding scene); but this is not writing -- or a writer -- that gives in to the siren song, and the reader must also be strapped to the mast. Lorna is a little creature whose predicament is pathetic, and we are on her side, but she is to be symbolically sacrificed on the pyre created for the funeral of hope... Hall's novels, like White's, are uncompromisingly unconsoling. The bleakness of love illuminates not just this new novel but much of the Yandilli books and Just Relations. Maybe, looking at it from a sharp angle, you could say Love without Hope leaves us imagining that there may be a little after all -- hope that is, if not love. But Hall paints a grim picture of a vicious society where the dream of love is a
weakness exploited by the cruel."

Andrew Reimer in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Where I have no doubt or reservation comes in a number of almost surrealistic episodes in which Hall's writing betrays a crisp, often sardonic intensity that also has parallels in some of White's work. One such passage - too long to quote here - describes an impromptu autopsy in the madhouse where poor Mrs Shoddy is shackled inside a hideous oubliette. There, as elsewhere in Love Without Hope, Hall's prose reveals poise, a dark wit and an accomplished writer's authority in impressively cadenced sentences."

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

Short notices

Perry Middlemiss in "Matilda": "A novel of our times dealing with the relationship between individual and state, the effects of mental illness, and the strengthening power of love."
: "What makes this book unique is the fact that the storyline is very original and ambitious. While it is not a feel-good read, it is a thought provoking and emotional read."
Michael Jordan in "The Epoch Times": "Those who believe that Australian writing is second-rate need only read Rodney Hall to be quickly persuaded otherwise. The two times winner of the Miles Franklin award has always been praised for the sheer beauty of his work, and his latest, Love Without Hope is no exception...Mr Hall's novel is at once universal and intrinsically Australian, reminiscent of other local writers such as Peter Carey and Sonya Hartnett. The complexity of themes and ideas which Mr Hall
explores will prevent Love Without Hope from being completely accessible and enjoyed by the majority, but this is a moving account of life and longing which keeps him at the forefront of Australian writing."

David Malouf Video

The Boomerang Books blog is featuring a talk on video by David Malouf, from the 2008 Adelaide Writers' Festival.

2008 Hugo Award Nominations

The shortlisted works for the 2008 Hugo Awards have been announced. These awards are decided by reader ballot and deal with categories within the science fiction and fantasy fields. To be eligible to vote you need to be a member of this year's World Science Fiction Convention, which will be held in Denver in early August.

Amongst the nominees this year are:

Best Novellette
"Dark Integers" by Greg Egan
"Glory" by Greg Egan

Best Professional Editor, Short Form
Jonathan Strahan (The New Space Opera (HarperCollins/Eos), The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 1 (Night Shade), Eclipse One (NightShade))

Best Related Work
The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Best Professional Artist
Shaun Tan

Matilda Waltzes

It's Easter and I'm off interstate. See you back here on Monday March 24th. Have a good one.

Diversions Among the InterTubes

If you've ever wondered how authors go about writing outlines for their books, then Sean Williams has the details for you.

"The American Book Review" has compiled its list of the 100 Best Last Lines from Novels [PDF file]. Patrick White's Tree of Man makes the list at number 71 with "So that, in the end, there was no end."

Back in 1960, Miles Franklin Award shortlisted author Christopher Koch spent some time in Stanford. Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn, remembers him. And check out who else was there.

Chris Mansell was peeved that she couldn't figure out where poetry fitted into the new Prime Minister's literary awards, so she wrote to the adminstrators to find out. She wasn't impressed with the reply, and it's easy to see why.

In a review by Nicholson Baker in "The New York Review of Books": "[Wikipedia] worked and grew because it tapped into the heretofore unmarshaled energies of the uncredentialed. The thesis procrastinators, the history buffs, the passionate fans of the alternate universes of Garth Nix, Robotech, Half-Life, P.G. Wodehouse, Battlestar Galactica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charles Dickens, or Ultraman -- all those people who hoped that their years of collecting comics or reading novels or staring at TV screens hadn't been a waste of time -- would pour the fruits of their brains into Wikipedia, because Wikipedia added up to something. This wasn't like writing reviews on Amazon, where you were just one of a million people urging a tiny opinion and a Listmania list onto the world -- this was an effort to build something that made sense apart from one's own opinion, something that helped the whole human cause roll forward."

Penni Russon, of "Eglantine's Cake" and The Indigo Girls fame, has been touring the Wimmera talking to children in schools and libraries, and found "some groups were switched on, happy to be there, interested in me and what I was talking about. And some groups were frankly depressing and shocking. In one, after half an hour of talking to restless, blank kids I finally asked in desperation 'Hands up who reads.' One hand went up straight away. Fifteen LONG seconds later, another drifted up into the air. In a room of about thirty kids, two boys and no girls were willing to admit to being readers. I looked at those two kids and thought you are the bravest kids in this room. I'm not worried about you. Not just because I think reading is important but because they're not afraid of extending themselves, they're not afraid of where reading might take them. With this same group I asked them to write down a lie about themselves. The girls I looked at had written, as their lie, 'I am gay.' It seemed to me these girls were scared of their interior lives, of their feelings betraying them, of being different in any way. No wonder books scare them."

Reviews of Australian Books #79

kimbofo ended up giving Night Letters by Robert Dessaix four stars, but it didn't all start out that well: "I have to admit that Night Letters initially failed to win me over. I actually considered abandoning it. But I'm glad I persevered, because once I understood this was a novel about storytelling -- there are references to famous novelists throughout, including Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell and Salman Rushdie -- I truly enjoyed it. There are stories within stories, and once you realise that these all combine weight to Robert's search for meaning, you wonder why you didn't 'get' this much earlier."

Peter Skrzynecki deconstructs The Arrival by Shaun Tan (it's down the page a bit).

Tan uses a number of ways to move the story forward:
  • a number of small images can focus on details within a bigger picture
  • smaller images can lead to the larger image
  • the larger image can show great detail
All the images are like photos and postcards, the representations of a journey.
Estelle runs her weblog "3000 books" with the aim of writing about all the books she reads. The title comes from the calculation that she has about 60 years of life left, and she intends to average 50 books a year, so 3000 it is. Until recently she has been reluctant to tackle any Australian novels as "Every local author seemed, to my youthful narrow vision, to whitewash their pages in reflections on ghostly gums and the infinite character of the land." This was obviously a vision she wasn't keen on. And then someone gave her The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser, and she was impressed enough to change her mind: "Considering the lyricism with which De Kretser conveyed this multi-generational tale, it was with no regret that I renounced my antipathy for Australian fiction. Even a sometimes awkward approach to dialogue enhanced her considered inquiry into personhood, revealing conversation for its brutal, dissembling self. Summoning brevity, empathy and familiarity to her aid, De Kretser has rendered the landscape of the Australian psyche with regard to all its sources and betrayers, making The Lost Dog a truly interesting read."

Short Notices:

Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner was enjoyed by the "Yapping Dog": " took me a while to get there, but this book is a seriously fantastic read."

Marshall Zeringue asked Pamela Erens what she was reading and one of the books was The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard: "Transit contains elements of many different genres: romance novel, mystery novel, drawing-room comedy, philosophical essay. It's nothing if not ambitious, and it probably goes unread by scores of people who would cherish it if they gave it a chance. The truth is that I was tempted to put it down after the first ten pages. The narrator is prone to pronouncements and aphorisms, and the language can at times be highly elaborate and abstract. But soon the richness of the character portraits and the powerful mood won me over, and Hazzard's style came to seem perfectly and uniquely right."

Weekend Round-Up 2008 #8

The Age

Katherine Ellinghaus looks at Spinning the Dream: Assimilation in Australia 1950-1970 by Anna Haebich, and Drawing the Gobal Colour Line: White Men's Countries and the Question of Racial Equality by Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds: "The arrival of [these two books] could not be more timely. As Australia moves into a 'post-apology' era of race relations, there is new impetus for Australians to understand our past and our national myths. By examining our history of immigration and assimilation policies, these two books uncover the pervasiveness of those myths - the imaginary idea of 'white Australia' - throughout the 20th century and to the present day."

Emily Maguire suggests reading A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Tolz twice to get the full effect: "Packed with plots, sub-plots, sub-sub-plots, tangents, flashbacks, diversions, philosophical wanderings and pectacular set pieces, this enormous debut novel from Australian Steve Toltz is in many ways a perfect example of what British critic James Wood calls 'hysterical realism'. Wood's term is supposed to be a criticism, but I use it here descriptively. A Fraction of the Whole is, as Wood would say, a 'perpetual motion machine', but it's one fuelled by brilliant ideas and driven by an original, bracing and very funny voice."

Births, Deaths, Marriages: True Tales by Georgia Blain refuses to simply her life in this memoir says Brenda Niall: "Blain's other is Anne Deveson, writer, broadcaster, commentator on public affairs. Deveson's marriage to ABC radio presenter and interviewer Ellis Blain made their household unusual in the 1960s. Two careers under one roof, with three children, were not easily balanced...As an evocation of Australian society from the 1960s and '70s to the present, Blain's memoir is acute and finely detailed. Part of its interest comes from its being slightly off-centre, as the perspective of a daughter who could not easily accept or enjoy the freedom her feminist mother exemplified."

The Hunnas (the Hunters and Collectors to non-believers) were one of the great Australian rock bands in the 80s and 90s, and now frontman Mark Seymour has written Thirteen Tonne Theory a memoir of his life on the road. Chris Johnston finds it pretty well balanced: "This is an unusual and compelling rock book and I'm sitting here thinking about how the author -- a ousehold name yet still barely acknowledged -- came to write it and what he hoped to achieve. And also how it captures his band in an unexpected but vivid way; how it's not biographical, autobiographical or necessarily chronological or even factual. It's more a series of insider's impressions adding up to not just the story of this band but an insight into all bands, their struggles and dreams...The book is also very funny. Seymour's gift is to select and then skilfully write of certain situations the band found itself in so there can be no mistaking the absurdity of rock'n'roll."

The Australian

According to Stephen Mills, Journeys by Don Watson "...makes a compelling case that in the US religion -- specifically, evangelical Christianity -- is 'in the front lines of just about everything': football teams, judicial appointments, rodeos, elections, combat forces in Iraq, radio talkback, and the White House."

The Sydney Morning Herald

Nicola Walker is seduced by The Dressmaker's Daughter by Kate Llewellyn: "In a former autobiographical work -- there are at least six -- Kate Llewellyn noted that 'my life is simply the paddock I plough when I write. I do it, because it is held in common with the lives of other women in this place and this time.' Read the results of all that ploughing, as I did, rapidly, one after the other, and it's hard not to feel squeamish at being privy to these banal, often painfully frank details of a life. And yet, like a quality television soap (think The Sullivans), Llewellyn's poised series of memoirs are addictive."

Sarah Holland-Batt revels in David Malouf's new poetry collection, Revolving Days.

David Malouf, in common with Montale, is a poet who draws vital energy from his totemic places. In prose, he has written frequently and eloquently of his childhood home; and if you have ever spent time in a weatherboard Queenslander, where the house and garden exchange air like breath through lattice, windows and stilts, the resonance in Malouf's poetry is unmistakeable.

Even in his earliest work, his characteristic stance is one where mind and landscape merge with a sublime lightness of touch. From the strict indoor tableaux of his debut Interiors to the roving coastlines and suburban sprawl of Bicycle And Other Poems, there is a sense that Malouf is awake not only to the minutiae of his surroundings but also to the way they always colour and transform the imagination."

2008 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction Longlist

The longlist for the 2008 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction was announced yesterday. On the list is Australia's Gail Jones with her novel Sorry. The author's previous novel, Dreams of Speaking, was also longlisted for the award in 2006. Controversy looms. Or maybe not.

Combined Reviews: The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll

time_we_have_taken _small.jpg Reviews of The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll
Fourth Estate
February 2007

[This novel won the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Novel for the South-East Asia and South Pacific region. It was shortlisted in the Fiction category of the 2007 Age Book of the Year awards, shortlisted for the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction in the 2007 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, and has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

One summer morning in 1970, Peter van Rijn, proprietor of the television and wireless shop, pronounces his Melbourne suburb one hundred years old.

That same morning, Rita is awakened by a dream of her husband's snores, yet it is years since Vic moved north. Their son, Michael, has left for the city, and is entering the awkward terrain of first love.

As the suburb prepares to celebrate progress, Michael's friend Mulligan is commissioned to paint a mural of the area's history. But what vision of the past will his painting reveal?

Meanwhile, Rita's sometime friend Mrs Webster confronts the mystery of her husband's death. And Michael discovers that innocence can only be sustained for so long.

The Time We Have Taken is both a meditation on the rhythms of suburban life and a luminous exploration of public and private reckoning during a time of radical change.

[Note: this is the third volume in a trilogy by Steven Carroll, following The Art of the Engine Driver, and The Gift of Speed, each of which made the Miles Franklin Award shortlist.]


Michael McGirr in "The Age" compares Carroll's work to Elizabeth Jolley's in a favourable light: "It has the emotional stamina needed to draw life from the same characters over three independent novels...Carroll writes the kind of still
prose that invites the reader into a contemplative space. The irony is that his subject matter is restless...He details the life of a suburb nine miles north of Melbourne, from the late '50s to the early '70s. It is, as Carroll notes, an age enthralled by progress and, even more, by speed. But he insists on telling the story slowly...The result is a deeply satisfying encounter with the empty spaces that the suburb failed to fill both between people and inside them. The surface of Carroll's writing is deceptively calm." The problem with a lot of trilogies is that you need to be fully aware of the backstory before getting to the later works.

Katharine England in "The Advertiser" doesn't find that a problem here: "Each novel stands on its own, but they are more interesting considered together, making up as they do not only a history of that 20th century phenomenon, the suburb, but also a slow-moving, Proustian meditation on being and time...The repetitive accretion of detail, like the brush strokes of a pointillist, the echoes within the novel and from book to book, the use of tenses which base time in the present but refer constantly to past and future, contribute to the hypnotic effect of the whole."

In "Australian Book Review" Christina Hill finds reflections of other artistic orks in the novel: "While George Johnston's suburban Melbourne in My Brother Jack (1964) of the 1920s and 1930s is tacitly acknowledged as an influence on this novel, echoes of Gerald Murnane's work are also discernible in the subject matter and in the insistent specificities of the diction. This makes the prose mannered at times, but the suburb is represented with some of the inscrutable beauty of Howard Arkley's paintings of suburban houses."

Short Notices

Readings: "While Carroll's work is not overtly political, memory and the mythologising of the past are central themes, and he subtly but surely undermines the simplistic pre-lapsarian dream of the culture warriors while at the same time drawing his characters and their desires for escape or transcendence with humour, affection and empathy -- and without a hint of condescension."
Australian Online Bookshop: "The Time We Have Taken is a celebration of the rhythms and intricacies of suburban life, and a meditation on its limitations. Steven Carroll achieves a luminous intimacy with his characters as he explores both a society teetering on the edge of radical change, and the richness and complexity of that most common of Australian experiences -- the suburbs."


"The Advertiser" ran a profile of the author in March 2007, just after the book was published.

Upcoming Books

Abbey's Bookshop brings us news that Tales from Outer Suburbia, Shaun Tan's follow-up to The Arrival, will be published in June. You can have a sneak peek at the book cover. Outer Suburbia, Outer Limits. Yes, I can see the comparison. The publisher's page allows you to view an extract from the work [PDF file].

The long awaited new novel by Helen Garner, The Spare Room, will be published by Text in early April. The publishers have a funny webiste which doesn't allow me to link directly into the novel's page. The link shown here will get you to the publisher's front page, once there click on the link, "Upcoming Titles", at the top of the left-hand column.

"Boomerang Books" has a pre-release review of Tim Winton's upcoming novel Breath. The verdict: "This is as powerful and heart-rending a story about youth as you'll find. It will stay with you."

Poem by Les Murray

Les Murray has a poem, with the title "Science Fiction", published in the January 28th issue of "The New Yorker".

I wonder what sort of sf Murray would read? I reckon he'd be a 1960s New Wave sort of bloke - Ballard, Phil Dick, Aldiss, Ellison and Delany. Don't know why - it just seems to fit. But not Le Guin. I don't see that at all.

Film Adaptation: The Drowner by Robert Drewe

"The West Australian" newspaper is reporting that Mel Gibson is aiming to produce a film adaptation of Robert Drewe's novel The Drowner. At this time, Gibson has not indicated whether or not he will direct the film, but he is attempting to get the following actors on board: "James McAvoy to play the part of the English engineer..., Emily Blunt, Cate Blanchett and Barry Humphries." The film will be financed by Andrew Forrest, the Fortescue Metal mining magnate, and Australia's richest man.

2008 Kiriyama Prize Shortlists

The fiction and non-fiction shortlists for the 2008 Kiriyama Prize have been announced.

The Kiriyama Prize was established in 1996 to recognize outstanding books about the Pacific Rim and South Asia that encourage greater mutual understanding of and among the peoples and nations of this vast and culturally diverse region. The Prize consists of a cash award of US $30,000, which is split equally between the fiction and nonfiction winners. Beginning in 2008, if a work in translation is chosen as a winner in either category, the translator will receive $5,000 and the winning author
The shortlisted works are:

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
The Complete Stories by David Malouf
The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones
Mosquito by Roma Tearne
I Love Dollars by Zhu Wen translated by Julia Lovell

The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam by Tom Bissell
East Wind Melts the Ice by Liza Dalby
India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha
The Talented Women of the Zhang Family by Susan Mann
The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific by Julia Whitty

The winners in both categories will be announced on April 1, 2008.

Follow-up To Prime Minister's Literary Awards

In reply to a piece I wrote last week regarding the new Prime Minister's new Literary Awards, Maggy took me to task, in a comment, for implying that self-published works weren't worthy of being considered. I originally intended to answer that comment with another, but as I got into the topic my reply got bigger and bigger, and I thought it had a few things to say that needed airing at a higher level. So, here is that comment expanded into the piece below.

To Maggy: I think we might have a different understanding of the term "self-published". When I wrote the piece on the PM's new literary prize I was thinking of such vanity press outfits as iUniverse, Outskirts and Xlibris. Not small press outfits, which are a different kettle of fish entirely. For more discussion of the problems of vanity presses see the self-publishing section of Lee Goldberg's weblog "A Writer's Life".

But even with small presses you have problems. There has been a big fuss lately in the US over Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas. The basic problem is that "Richard Aleas" is a pen-name for Charles Ardai, who happens to be the co-founder and managing editor of Hard Case Crime (a wonderful publishing house by the way), which published Aleas's latest book. And because of that connection the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) have deemed Aleas's novel a self-published book, and therefore ineligible for the Edgar Award. A bit rough you might think given that "Publishers Weekly chose Songs of Innocence as one of the 100 best novels of the year" [Michael A. Burnstein]. But those are the rules of the MWA. And if you are going to ban self-published works you have to ban them all, no matter how professional they might look and feel. Hopefully the same probem won't arise here, but it might.

Returning to the question of self-publishing, as Jason Pinter puts it:

Getting self-published today is easier than ever. It does not take any editorial or authorial skill to be self-published, only a pile of paper and enough money to cover the costs. And for many, the cost is worth seeing your manuscript bound between two covers. I can be relatively certain that if all self-published books were permitted, the time consumed would go from "minor inconvenience" to "near insurmountable" almost overnight. Not to mention, in my opinion, it would encourage even more self-publishing, as aspiring authors would soon realize that for $199 they could be judged on the same field as Lawrence Block. And if this leads to authors paying a few [bucks] to get their books bound for award consideration instead of honing their craft, I think it'd be a real shame and could actually do the opposite of what's intended.
As I was writing this I had the thought that the guidelines for the PM's award also stated that 750 copies of each book entered must have been sold. That would have made it nigh on impossible for any self-published book to fit the entry criteria: in 2004 in the USA, iUniverse published 18,108 titles, and of those only 83 sold more than 500 copies. But the guidelines here don't refer to copies sold but copies "published"; and therein lies the difference. I reckon I could "publish" 750 copies of a set of unedited, unread manuscript pages for under $500, which includes registering a business name for the "publishing house". Without this award's restriction on self-published material I would then fit all the criteria. The fact that some 40 to 50 reams of paper would be sitting in a big pile in my house waiting to be pulped after the award was announced is beside the point. This isn't "publishing" by any stretch of the imagination. It's not a book in the true sense, and it shouldn't be eligible for an award such as this. I think the guidelines for these awards, concerning self-publishing, are quite reasonable.

[Update: I inadvertently spelt Maggy's name incorrectly. I've fixed that now. My apologies.]

Australian Bookcovers #106 - The Western Track by Arthur Bayldon


The Western Track by Arthur Bayldon 1905
(Pollard 1974 edition)
Cover by Walter Stackpool

Miles Franklin Award Commentary

"The Literary Saloon", one of the best literature weblogs going around, recently noted the announcement of the longlist for the Miles Franklin Award and added the comment: "Only 59 books were submitted for consideration, a pretty feeble number that makes us wonder about the state of literary affairs down under." Which, on the face of it, seems like a quite reasonable statement - 59 is not a lot of novels to be eligible for the country's main literary award. But let's look at it in comparison to other countries.

The UK had an estimated population of 60.5 million in 2006, while Australia's was 19.855 at the 2006 Census. So let's round that out at 3 times, which, if converted to novels for a similar award, leads us to 177. If the UK published 177 literary works a year that, to paraphrase, "portrayed British life in any of its phases", would it be considered healthy? The USA has an estimated population of 303.5 million in 2008, which we'll take to be 15 times Australia's. Thus, a similar question for the USA would relate to 885 novels and plays. You'd have to think that was pretty good. So the 59 works entered for the Miles Franklin Award, as a bland number, looks quite small, but on a population comparison basis stands up pretty well.

Would we like more to be published? Of course we would. But the industry isn't quite as bad as mere numbers would seem to indicate.

Another View of Writers' Week

Stephen Orr is not happy with the way the Adelaide Writers' Week is being run and lays out his arguments on the ABC website. Basically he believes that the programming revolves solely around the big names imported from overseas to the detriment of the upcoming local talent.

Writers' festivals do have the job of exposing locals to a wide range of the world's best writers - in this case, Carey, McEwan, Germaine Greer and dozens of others. But they also offer the opportunity to celebrate our own writing culture, to tell our own stories and populate our pages with recognisable characters; to ask the difficult questions, to say, 'Hey, are we really a generous, giving people? Are we a bit dim, obsessed with hamstrings and the sound of V8 engines?'

[Thanks to Sean Williams for the link.]

Combined Reviews: The Fern Tattoo by David Brooks

fern_tattoo.jpg Reviews of The Fern Tattoo by David Brooks
University of Queensland Press
Publication date: August 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

Evidently she knew who I was, or thought she did, since I had apparently needed no introduction and certainly hadn't received one... She told stories. One could almost say she rushed into them, on the merest of pretexts, as if the world was ending very shortly and they had to be got through before it happened.

A century of family secrets starts to unravel when Benedict Waters is summoned to an audience with an old friend of his mother. He is seduced by her storytelling and it takes time and an astonishing revelation before he realises that it is his own family he has been hearing about, his own life that is being undone.

From the Blue Mountains to the Hawkesbury and from Sydney to the south coast of New South Wales, The Fern Tattoo takes us on a kaleidoscopic journey through several generations of three families. We meet a range of extraordinary characters including a bigamist bishop, a librarian tattooed from neck to knee, a young girl who kills her best friend in a tragic shooting accident and a pair of lovers who live each other's lives for years after they have separated. As with all families, there are lost loves, tragic passions and unspoken - sometimes unspeakable - histories.

The Fern Tattoo is a beguiling novel about the certainty of fate and the randomness of love that announces David Brooks' return as one of Australia's most distinctive literary novelists.


Kevin Rabelais, in "The Australian", finds the novel difficult to get into at the start, but he warms to the style and concept as he goes: "One of the achievements of The Fern Tattoo, Brooks's second novel and fifth work of fiction, resides in its refusal to distinguish between truth and lies...The novel proceeds slowly, with meandering sentences -- at times needlessly long, for Brooks tends to reiterate -- and minimal dialogue. His prose demands patience and aspires to a lyrical quality that it often fails to achieve. While rhythmic, his sentences are laden with the kinds of inessentials, most notably a plethora of adverbs, that weaken the narrative's authority. Brooks is a stylist in the sense that he writes as much for his reader's ear as for their eye. His sentences can evoke several senses at once, as when he describes the 'continuous scream of summer heat'...With The Fern Tattoo, Brooks has given us an ambitious novel about how stories outlive and form us."

Judith Armstrong in "Australian Book Review" tends to concur: "This is a novel structured like a mosaic, each chip, big or little, complete in itself, but deriving its ultimate significance from a larger, as yet undisclosed, scenario. Not until most of the pieces are in place does the overall schema become even half clear, and then you must take a pencil and paper and do a lot of working out for yourself, in an effort to give to somthing resembling a jigsaw puzzle, disordered and fragmentary, the teleology and linearity associated with both history and narrative shape.' Which may sound like a lot of work for the reader, but Armstrong concludes that "..the writing is simply too masterly not to be, in itself, a spectacular reward."

Short Notice

Readings: "Meticulously plotted, The Fern Tattoo carefully unveils a story of the inescapable burden of ancestry and family heritage."

Which isn't a lot of reviews for a major novel such as this. And there's no way of telling if this is because none of the other major papers thought it worthy of a review or if the publisher didn't send out many review copies.

Instances of Matilda #1

A bit of explanation is needed for here. Dave Langford, sf writer and fan, produces a monthly sf newsletter called Ansible, out of his home in Reading, UK. Each week he, with the help of his readers, includes a section called Thog's Masterclass, the main aim of which is to highlight those, shall we say, stylistic and grammatical diversions to which all writers are prone. In other words he's extracting the urine out of anything and anyone in the sf field by pointing out their authorial bloopers. It's all in good fun.

From the latest issue comes the following entry:

Eyeballs in the Sky. 'Matilda was lovely, but she had bright burning eyes that you could feel creep down your face and into your belly.' (Arthur N. Scarm, The Werewolf vs Vampire Woman, 1972)

Poem: The Sorrows of a Simple Bard by Henry Lawson

When I tell a tale of virtue and of injured innocence,
Then my publishers and lawyers are the densest of the dense:
With the blank face of an image and the nod of keep-it-dark
And a wink of mighty meaning at their confidential clerk.

(When, Oh! tell me when shall poets cease to be misunderstood?
When, Oh! When? shall people reckon rhymers can be any good?
Do their work and pay their debts and drink their pint of beer, and then,
Look in woman's eyes and leave them, just like ordinary men?)

"Is there literary friendship 'twix the sexes? don't you think?"
And they wink their idiotic and exasperating wink.
"Can't we kiss a clever woman without wanting any more?"
And their clock-work nod is only more decided than before.

But if I should hint that there's a little woman somewhere, say,
Then the public and the law are interested straight away,
The impassive confidential gets a bright and cheerful glance--
Things are straightway on a footing that may lead to an advance.

Both are married and respected and they both are rising higher:
One's church warden, one's a deacon in a fashionable choir.
And the clerks have both unblemished private characters to show--
What do they know about woman? That's what I should like to know.

(Flash of dark eyes in the moonlight, in the scrub or far afield,
Blouse-sleeves back from white arms clinging -- clinging while she will not yield,
Or the fair head on your shoulder and the grey eyes moist and mild--
Weary of the strife with passion, yielding like a tired child.)

There's my aunt; the dear old lady hints about "experience"
When I go to her for comfort with my injured innocence.
She screws up a wise expression, while she listens, for my pains--
Isn't it an awful pity women haven't any brains?

Now I'm serious and angry, for it isn't any joke --
Poets have been damned for ages by such evil-minded folk.
Must we all be public blackguards? Can't a rhymer be a man,
Spite of Byron's silly mistress -- Burns's gawky Mary Ann?

As tame bards they will not have us, and I don't know what they want,
There's my publisher and lawyer, my admirers and my aunt.
Do they want a rake and a spendthrift? Look out! Tradesman trusting me!
Look out! Husbands! Fathers! Brothers! I'll be wicked as can be!
         There now.

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

2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize: Regional Winners

Jason Steger of "The Age" has announced that the winners of the South-East Asia and South Pacific region of the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize are:

Best Novel
The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll

Best First Novel
The Anatomy of Wings by Karen Foxlee

Full details of all winners should be available sometime later today on the Commonwealth Writers' Prize website. The overall winners, across all regions, will be announced in South Africa on May 18.

Laureate of the Larrikin by R.H. Croll

(Some Memories of "DEN")

I was very far away, in the heart of Central Australia in fact, when word reached me of the death of my old cobber C. J. Dennis - "effusively yours, Clarence James Michael Stanislaus, Dennis," as he once signed a note to ine. We were closely in touch for years, batching together whenever I could snatch a spell at his early Toolangi home (how different from to-day's fine structure!), swapping writings and hitting one another up with criticism, and sharing lively days and nights when the Sentimental Bloke made him prosperous and he came to live near me in Camberwell. I was even "best man" when he had to go to hospital for an operation.

With a stout friend, Garry Roberts (then manager of the Cable Tramways), we had had many conferences before the "Bloke" was offered to Angus & Robertson. A Melbourne publisher refused it and we debated whether it would not be better to get it out as a subscription volume at 5/- or perhaps in a popular form at one shilling. George Robertson's acceptance settled all that.

I met Den first at "Toolangi on the rise" in a hut used occasionally by a group of us as a camp. It filled a corner of the allotment in which stood the sawmiller's house which was then his home. To-day that corner is part of the garden. The hour was midnight. We had walked from Healesville. Comfortably tired, we had snuggled into our swags and were deep down in the well of sleep when Den came knocking at the door and demanding to know who we were. He had arrived home late and had seen the glimmer of our fire through the chinks.

We let him in, politely stirred the dying fire, and we "hung round" and said the conventional things. The night was bitterly cold, none of us had enough clothes on, the breeze chilled our bare legs . . . and Den settled himself for a long yarn! Had I known him as well then as I did later I should have promptly returned to bed and talked from there: as it was we stood about and waited for him to go. But he was enjoying himself too much; that humorous perception of his had promptly sized up the position, and he waited to see how long we would keep it going. It ended by our retirement (with apologies) and Den's going off with a hearty laugh.

The "Arden" (as he was finally to name his home) of these days with its spreading lawns, its colourful flower beds, its tennis court, its clear pool reflecting banks of bloom, its garage, its double windows opening out into the very heart of great wattles - this "Arden" holds no suggestion at all, save position, of that original house which Den, in puckish mood, had christened "Sea View" - the point being that to view the ocean one would have to look through several hills and an untold amount of tall forest.

There it was that I spent week-ends and holidays with him, and there I learnt the origin of his famous "Sentimental Bloke," and watched the story grow. The original of the Bloke was a city lad, a typical product of the Melbourne lanes, who boasted that, as a plumber, he was always called in by the Chinamen when any repairs were needed in their opium dens or gambling shops. Every year he broke away and spent a few months on general jobs in the country. Den had passed many an improving hour with this tough when he came to Toolangi. A rumour went round one year that he was after a settler's daughter. Public opinion was stirred to its depths; the very worst was expected. Then came the shock. He dropped in on Dennis, who had heard the rumours and expected smug complacency or vulgar triumph from the hardened culprit. To Den's surprise the youth betrayed real concern: "Gor blime, Mr. Dennis," he said, almost weeping, "Gor blime, I've got sisters of me own!"

So was born the Sentimental Bloke - a larrikin in whom rough manners and crude language were found to be compatible with a soft heart.

Den could play most musical instruments. He made his own banjo - a hoop, a cat skin, a piece of blackwood turned in his lathe - the only things he bought were strings. With that on his knee and leading the singing, we would sit on the verandah and "rouse the night owl" (and often the morning thrush) "in a catch." To Den's strumming we improvised verses to well-known tunes or adapted, shamelessly, classical poems to nigger minstrel airs. In retrospect we seem a pretty pair of vandals to sing Oscar Wilde's heart-breaking "Ballad of Reading Gaol" to the tune of "Playing on the Old Banjo." But that was only one of our sins.

Den's first dog, a fox terrier named Bloke, was then alive. He was really a word-hound, or so Den said, his speciality being the running down of synonyms for his master. Bloke had a passion; he would rise suddenly from his mat, generally when we were at meals, and step, ever so quietly, stiff-legged and watchful, to a corner, of the room where we had reason to believe a snake lived under the flooring. Bloke wanted that snake. He would stand like a statue, waiting and hoping while the rustlings, inaudible to us, proceeded; but the serpent was too wise to come forth, and the dog would sigh and return to his slumbers.

That amazingly successful work, "The Songs of the Sentimental Bloke," was completed at "Sunnyside," the Sassafras home of his good friends Mr. and Mrs. J. G. Roberts, to whom he dedicated the volume. There he had for a bedroom a retired 'bus, and there we spent many happy hours, for "Sunnyside" became a rendezvous for the literary and artistic world. We decorated the inside of the bus with pictures and mottoes. I had walked up on one occasion and been badly dusted by motors. My contribution was the slogan: "A motor car is not fit to be out of."

Dave Low, now probably the best known and most highly paid cartoonist, in the British Empire, and Hal Gye, whose Cupids adorn the "Sentimental Bloke," were frequent visitors. Den improvised some verses describing these cobbers and himself in which their characters were rhythmically outlined.

Each was depicted as a bird living in the forest of Ingavar (the name of a bush homestead near by). The Davlo Bird called constantly "Ink, ink, ink!" and it mourned because

"Late or soon the swift Cartoon
Must soar to the Utmost Star,"
although Ingavar was inkless.

Gye, being short of stature, was naturally a tomtit - the Halgi Tit

"Which loves to sit,
On the frond of a swaying fern
And croon and croon to a low loose tune
A nervous nude Nocturne."
His song was "Chow-wite, chow-wite!" - an appropriate noise for a tomtit and an artist.

Den himself became the Denawk seeking "rhyme, rhyme, rhyme, all fat and prime" for his meat. He proclaimed himself as filled "with a purpose grim for the synonym" and as "foraging near and far, rending his prey in a rhythmic way on the gums of Ingavar."

By the way, a dinner we gave in Melbourne to Den, Gye and Low will long be remembered, if only for Hal's speech. It was a quaint effort. He claimed one merit, and one only, for his drawings of the naked Cupids which personate Bill and Doreen in Den's book. "I know Doreen's navel is correct," he asserted, "for I drew it from my own in front of the mirror."

When we were all met it was Den's baritone which led in those ribald and tuneful old songs "Landlord, Have You Any Fine Wine?" and "My Name is Samuel Hall," and it was he who taught us the Dago Rag, which begins: "I've got a brother Carus', he singa da note." In a period prone to the pornographic in literature it is notable that C. J. Dennis, handling a subject which dealt with low life, and using slang as his medium of expression, was nowhere guilty of impropriety of language or indecency of thought. The Sentimental Bloke is a larrikin classic, and a clean one.

It has been said that Dennis was not a poet of high rank but he had true poetic feeling, and as a dexterous rhymster and begetter of quaint ideas he has had no equal in Australia. His work is richly charged with humour and a fine feeling for his fellow man. Australian letters gained greatly by his pen.

I am grateful, looking back, for his companionship. If I were asked to write his epitaph I should put this on the stone:

Delicious laughter haunts the place,
Though here Doreen weeps with the Kid.
Our Yorick sleeps within this space -
The Bloke has passed: oh, dip the lid!

First published in Australian National Review May 1939

You can read the text of Ingavar.

2008 Miles Franklin Award Longlist

The longlisted novels for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award were announced today. Fifty-nine novels were submitted for the award with nine chosen for the longlist.

The longlist:
Landscape of Farewell by Alex Miller, A&U
Love without Hope by Rodney Hall, Picador
Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital, Fourth Estate
Secrets of the Sea by Nicholas Shakespeare, Harvill Secker
Sorry by Gail Jones, Vintage
The Fern Tattoo by David Brooks, UQP
The Memory Room by Christopher Koch, Knopf
The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll, Fourth Estate
The Widow and Her Hero by Tom Keneally, Vintage

As usual there are a few surprises: why only nine books in the longlist when, presumably, the judges are going to name 5 or 6 for the shortlist?; no sign of The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon or The Children by Charlotte Wood; and only two women on the list. And it's interesting that no publisher has more than one entry on the longlist. The shortlist will be announced on 17th April, and the winner on 19th June.

2008 Astrid Lindgren Memorial

And the awards just keep coming on this 13th day of March. Sonya Hartnett has been announced as the winner of the 2008 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

As posted back in October 2007, Hartnett was one of only two Australians (the other was John Marsden) nominated for the award, amongst a total of 155 nominees from 61 countries. According to the relevant Wikipedia page: "The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) may be awarded to authors, illustrators, narrators and/or promoters of reading whose work reflects the spirit of Astrid Lindgren. The object of the award is to increase interest in children's and young people's literature, and to promote children's rights to culture on a global level. The award is administered by The Swedish Arts Council."

[Thanks to Read Alert for the news.]

Prime Minister's Literary Awards

The Australian Prime Minister's new literary awards - one fiction, one non-fiction each worth a cool $100,000 - have now opened. Closing date/time for entries is 2pm, Friday March 28th 2008, so you'd better get your skates on. A condition of entry is that five (5) copies of each book be sent along with the completed entry form. Hope they've got a big warehouse. 'Cos, let's face it, they're going to get swamped, and there's probably only 50 books in each category in with a chance. A few other notes are of interest:

  • the Fiction Book Award carries a secondary clause: "Entries in this category may be books written for an adult or young adult (12-16 years) audience." Thereby defining books written for an audience younger than 12 as... well, I don't know really. But they're not eligible. Wonder where The Arrival by Shaun Tan sits in relation to this?
  • in the Non-Fiction category histories are eligible but not if they've won the Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History. Which I reckon is now looking very vulnerable. Anyway, it was Howard's award so it will probably be out soon.
  • self-published works are not eligible. No point commenting on this really.
  • left-overs after the awards ceremony will be distributed to public institutions and local libraries, which sounds fair.
  • the Australian Government is preparing legislaton to ensure that all prize monies are exempt from income tax. Just these awards you understand. You win any others and you'll be clobbered.

There seems to be no word on whether or not a shortlist for each award will be published, nor when the final announcement of the winners will take place. A timeline would be good.

Big Awards Day

It's a big day today for Australian authors on the awards' front. The longlisted works for the Miles Franklin Award will be announced - which I should be able to list later tonight (I put together a list of possible novels a fortnight ago). And the regional winners of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize will also be announced - nominees here. Given all novels in both categories (Best Novel and Best First Novel) are Australian, someone we know will be happy. I'm not sure where the winners will be announced, but as this is a Commonwealth award I think it safe to assume London will be the venue. That will probably mean the "tyranny of time-zones" will come into effect and I won't have the winners till tomorrow.

Tom Keneally Watch #2

Scott, on his "Axis Two" weblog, wasn't entirely engaged by Keneally's The Commonwealth of Thieves: "His strength and his devil lie in the details. Almost all of this book is an inclusive re-telling of the Australian saga, replete with names and motivations and sordid affairs. Frankly, it draws on the patience of the reader. Not enough thought goes into the implications of the Australian experiment for British social policy or even for the Empire itself." Which reads to me like he was looking for something in the book that Keneally never intended to include.

Megan, in Pennsylvannia, has a look at Schindler's List, which is part of her Man Booker Prize reading challenge. "While at times physically painful to read, Keneally's narration lays bare the Holocaust for readers and leaves no doubt as to Schindler's heroism despite his moral failings. Schindler's List is a slow and difficult read, with countless heart-breaking stories and more names and titles to keep track of than one can reasonably retain." lists The Great Shame by Tom Keneally as one of the "Top 10 Books about Ireland and the Irish". Keneally finds himself in the company of Shaw, Joyce, Yeats and Flann O'Brien.

Literary Gatherings #9 - R.H. Croll, Alec Chisholm and C.J. Dennis


R.H. Croll, A.H. Chisholm and C.J. Dennis Toolangi, 1938

Weekend Round-Up 2008 #7

The Age

No Australian books that I noticed.

The Australian

Nigel Krauth is a bit ambivalent about A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz: "There is much to love in this book and much to hate, as its author intended. I love the wonderfully wacky philosophising and the amazing way this giant novel fits together. I hate its bloated massiveness." He didn't finish, finding the book just too long. "Yes, size does matter, balanced against effect. At 711 pages, Toltz's A Fraction of the Whole is longer than each of these classics [Tristram Shandy, Robinson Crusoe and Moby-Dick] and should be shorter. It's not as good as them in what it does."

Cath Keneally reckons that The Landscape of Desire by Kevin Rabelais almost makes it. The novel is loosely based on the tale of Burke and Wills. "You need to know the basics of that myth-engendering journey quite well not to get lost reading this fragmented, time-hopping, voice-swapping account. Younger readers, products of an Australian educational system that didn't push the early white explorers of this land so hard, may be at sea...[David] Malouf calls the book 'lyrical, precise, mysterious'. A wise mentor would have urged a first-time novelist to stay with 'precise' rather than strive after the other two epithets."

Nicolas Rothwell on Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men's Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality by Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds: "Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds bring to their collaboration different gifts: Reynolds has a lifetime of bold writing on Australia's frontier history behind him; Lake, well-known as a historian of feminism, likes to write on a broad, transnational scale. What, together, have they wrought? ... Drawing the Global Colour Line is nothing less than an alternative presentation of the early 20th century, with race and racial thinking cast at its core. Often dizzying in its sweep and subtle in its interweaving of linked national narratives, it traces the thought-worlds of the politicians and theorists who shaped the diplomacy and power relations of the age."

The Sydney Morning Herald

Ed Wright doesn't think Landscape of Desire by Kevin Rabelais quite reaches the heights it aims for: "I was quite excited by the prospect of Landscape of Desire, which is based on the famous fatal mission of Burke and Wills into the interior that started from Melbourne in 1860. The beginning of the novel, with its atmospheric evocations of the lives of the protagonists, seemed to confirm this promise. I was thinking that perhaps it takes a replanted American (Rabalais is originally from Louisiana but now lives in Melbourne) to revivify the inner states of these men who went in search of the Australian frontier. By the end of it, however, I was disappointed because I wanted this book's ambition to have paid off."

According to Tony Horwitz, Don Watson may have taken the wrong approach with his new book of essays, American Journeys which "is an unusually sensitive and thoughtful tour of the US continent. Watson, however, has embarked on an impossible mission. To understand America, he travels about 13,000 kilometres, while weaving in current events. But his approach and subject conspire to make his portrait feel sketchy and almost instantly out-of-date."

Geraldine Brooks Watch #4


Bob Thompson in "newindpress on Sunday".

When she'd first launched herself on a newspaper career, she says, she'd overcome her shyness in part "because it wasn't me making the call, it was the Sydney Morning Herald." She'd won a scholarship to the graduate school of journalism at Columbia, where she'd met her future husband, Tony Horwitz. She'd been hired by the Journal's Cleveland bureau, quit to return to Australia when her father became ill, and been hired back when the paper decided it needed someone to cover Australasia. But the Middle East was terrifying on a whole new scale. "I was completely unqualified," she says. She'd never been a real foreign correspondent, certainly not one whose to-pack checklist would include both a chador and a bulletproof vest -- not to mention the "big pile of State Department briefing books on my lap, you know: crash course in Yemen."
Reviews of People of the Book

Those in favour:

Linda Fields in "The Pasadena Star-News": "Geraldine Brooks was born in Australia. She was a correspondent for 'The Wall Street Journal' in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East. She is able to bring a first-hand knowledge of the horror of war and how people react in those circumstances to this hypnotic book. Even when the story was its most excruciating, there was never any doubt that I wanted -- no, needed -- to know what would happen next."
Danielle Torres on the "Work in Progress" weblog: "The chapters alternate and with each chapter we discover what actually happened to the manuscript -- the hands it passed through to those who created it. It's all very creatively presented, and it seems that Brooks has certainly done her research well. Oftentimes in novels like these one period or plotline will dominate the other, but I was quite content with both the story set in the present and the individual pieces of the story in the past. I found it all interesting -- not ever wishing I could hurry on to a more exciting part of the story."
Susan G. Cole in "Now" magazine: "Book conservation sounds like a snore as a fiction theme, but Geraldine Brooks makes it totally fascinating in People Of The Book...But the minutiae of the art of conservation, conveyed in ways that make you want to take up the trade yourself, are what set this book apart. Who knew those people holed up in national archives were this interesting?"
The "Bantering Biblocrat" weblog: "Some have called this a erudite DaVinci Code, and while that case can certainly be made, this is first and foremost a work of literature, albeit one that's also a page-turner. Its portrayal of communities and setting is evocative, whether in the Seville of 1480 or in the late 20th century Australian outback, and the character development is extraordinary. People of the Book is a beautifully-told, captivating literary work that reveals much about the power of the written word."

And those not so sure:

Felicity Plunkett in "The Age": "Hannah's Australianness felt, to me, slightly anachronistic, or confected, or perhaps made with an eye to the international audience the Australian-born, US-based Brooks no doubt commands...In other respects, Brooks' characterisation is remarkable. Her ability to evoke the conflicts that tear at an otherwise-devout Rabbi, or the altruism of resistance in, for example, a young Muslim wife in Sarajevo in the 1940s, is exceptional...Brooks' ability to take an initial inspiration and weave from fact a vibrant fiction situates it within the rich seams of 'faction', increasingly frequent in contemporary writing."
Michael Upchurch in "The Seattle Times": "Brooks may be spelling out her message a little too explicitly here, and the way her imagined histories interlock can be a tad too schematic. But she does a sterling job of reminding readers how art objects -- no matter how damaged or fragile -- link epoch to epoch and world to world, putting the conflicts and follies of our own time into context."

Related material:

Philologos, in "The Jewish Daily", discusses the roots of the word "Haggadah", using Brooks's novel as a starting point.

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot Postscript

Did we miss anyone? Yes, of course we did. And there are many reasons for that; mostly due to a lack of contact details. Though, in some cases, work commitments or travel schedules got in the way so that we weren't able to connect. That was disappointing for the three of us, and, according to some emails we've received, to a number of readers as well.

So we've decided to do a second round of interviews, contacting as many authors as we can who were not covered in this snapshot. We have a fair idea who they are, but we are also open to suggestions. Each of us has a readily accessible email address located somewhere on the relevant weblog. Feel free to contact any of us with the name of an author you'd like to see featured. We're not sure about the actual timing of those interviews as yet. It will probably be a couple of months before they appear, but rest assured we'll announce their imminent arrival in good time. In the meantime, keep reading these three weblogs. You're bound to find a lot of interesting material while you wait.

Reviews of Australian Books #78

Short notices:

Philip Berrie on Black Ice by Lucy Sussex: "Part detective story, part horror story this book by Lucy Sussex was hard to put down because I kept wondering where it was going. At 186 pages the denouement came somewhat suddenly after all the various storylines had taken so long to establish, but the author successfully tied up all the various threads in the climax in a way that was more reminiscent of real life than Hollywood, which I, for one, was grateful for."

kimbofo is impressed with Bad Debts by Peter Temple: "This book is not dissimilar to The Broken Shore in that it features a damaged protagonist with a slightly dodgy past and a penchant for spirited women. But that's probably where the similarities end...The main difference is the writing style. Bad Debts, which was written almost ten years before The Broken Shore, certainly feels less polished, the language is tougher, the dialogue more choppy. And in the best tradition of hardboiled noir, the main character, washed-up lawyer Jack Irish, treads a very fine line between enforcing the law and breaking it. You're never quite sure whether you should admire him or despise him. "

The "Inside Southside" weblog reviews Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks: "This computer-based mystery is steeped in dark humor and full of fascinating characters, nerds, and freaks. The novel takes place in Sydney, Australia but it hovers in mental and emotional planes somewhere in cyber-space where nothing is quite what it seems on many levels."

Genevieve Tucker looks at Feather Man by Rhyll McMaster: "This is a bold and assured debut effort which maybe could have been even more powerful with stronger editing..".

Susanna Yager in "The Telegraph" on Shatter by Michael Robotham: "It's a clever novel by a very talented storyteller."

Chuck McKenzie urges readers to go out and buy Australian ark Fantasy and Horror 2007 edited by Angela Challis: "Most of the stories included I had read before, in their original publications, yet it was greatly enjoyable to revisit them, flanked as they were by tales of near or equal quality. All the standard dark fiction tropes and themes are here: loss and redemption, ghosts of the past (figurative and literal), predators and prey, and so on. There are Lovecraftian monsters, zombies, and phantoms. There are murderers, torturers, and ... folks who are just plain creepy. Standard-sounding fare, yes, but in almost every case the authors of these tales have brought fresh new takes (and twists) to their tales that elevates them well above the 'same old'."

2008 CBCA National Conference

The 2008 Children's Book Council of Australia 9th National Conference and Expo will be held in Melbourne from Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th May. Featured speakers at the conference include: Shaun Tan (author of The Arrival) on Saturday May 3 from 9-10:30am; and Neil Gaiman (author of Coraline and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish) on Sunday May 4, 9:30-10:30am. Online registration is now open, and full details of the conference and how to sign-up are available on their website.

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot: Update 7

The Art of Reading

Every now and then you come across a statement in a book review that, normally, you'd just skate over. I had one of those moments over the weekend when reading Nigel Krauth's review of a new novel.

Steve Toltz's A Fraction of the Whole is as heavy as a dumbbell. It weighs 1.05kg in paperback and, at 210,000 words, takes 30 hours to read.
At 711 pages I can see his problem. It's a book that's hard to lug around, and you have to be careful how you sit when reading it. But 30 hours? I doubt it.

I don't read anywhere near as fast as I once did. Back in my younger days one standard page per minute seemed like quite a good rate to me; not exactly speed reading but fast enough, I thought, to get through even the longest books in a reasonable time. But 30 hours? That's two hours a day for over two weeks. Surely not. I don't know how fast Krauth reads but I think there's a mistake here. A page per minute gives us 711 minutes - let's round that up to 720 minutes, which is 12 hours. Even a page every two minutes gives us only 24 hours in total. So where does this 30 hours come from? At that rate Krauth is reading a page every 2.5 minutes; a snail's pace.

At the end of the review Krauth states that he didn't read the last eight pages of this book. I think the reasons he supplies are a bit spurious. I've never before heard of someone getting that close to the end of a long book and not finishing. Especially a reviewer, who then tries to make a virtue out of it. Maybe he needed that 20 minutes to do something else. I'm terribly confused.

2008 Barbara Jefferis Award Shortlist

The shortlisted works for the 2008 Barbara Jefferis Award have been announced. This award is offered annually for "the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women or girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society."

The shortlisted works are:

Karen Foxlee: The Anatomy of Wings (University of Queensland Press)
Rhyll McMaster:Feather Man (Brandl & Schlesinger)
Geraldine Wooller: The Seamstress (University of Western Australia Press)
Michelle de Kretser: The Lost Dog (Allen & Unwin)

The judges for the award are journalist Deborah Hope, academic Leigh Dale and author Rosie Scott. The winner will be announced at a function held on Friday, 28 March 2008.

Note: I can't find any recently updated webpage information regarding this award. The
information printed here is extracted from "The Overlow" column of "The Australian" newspaper book pages.

Peter Carey Watch #3


ABC TV's Kerry O'Brien, from the "7.30 Report", interviewed Carey on 4th March. The video of the interview, plus a full transcipt, are available. Carey seemed to be in a very happy place - serious (as he usually is), but much more amused by life than I had seen him for a while.

"The Guardian" books page has an audio podcast of Carey reading from and talking about his new novel.

"The Sunday Herald", out of Scotland, has an interview with the author, conducted by Alan Taylor.

His mother was the daughter of a country teacher and his father, having left school at an early age, was determined to do the best by his son. Thus, in 1954, he was sent to Geelong Grammar, Australia's equivalent of Eton, which a decade later would feature on the CV of Prince Charles. For Carey, the change in circumstances was dramatic and traumatic. Everyone, it seemed, had double-barrelled names and could pronounce "castle" correctly. Interviewed by the Paris Review, Carey recalled that it cost £600 a year to send him to Geelong, an "unbelievable" amount of money in those days, adding: "I suppose it did solve a few child-care problems. I never felt I was being exiled or sent away ... No-one could have guessed that the experience would finally produce an endless string of orphan characters in my books." That thought occurred to Carey while he was writing His Illegal Self, another novel about a boy who is, to all intents and purposes, orphaned. In the past, Carey has described Australia as a country of orphans, people who for whatever reason have been separated from their parents and their homelands. "Our First Fleet was cast out from home'." The older he's got, the more he has come to appreciate why he does some things repetitively.
Reviews of His Illegal Self

Elizabeth Lowry in "The Times Literary Supplement": "Carey reopens the question of the fragile nature of identity in his new novel, His Illegal Self. The book may not have the im-mediate, eccentric appeal of Oscar and Lucinda, the imaginative brio that infuses The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith and My Life as a Fake, or the ability to shock of The Tax Inspector, but it is still unsettling, and it has a main character as original as any Carey has ever created."

"The complete review": "It feels somewhat thin in places, with a few holes and some of the behaviour seeming rather unlikely, but on the whole it's quite enjoyable. And there are parts when Carey gets going that completely sweep the reader along." This review follows a round-up of other reviews of the novel. "The complete review" gives it a B+.

Caroline Moore in "The Spectator": "With a less good writer this would be intensely annoying. Carey runs through many of the tricks of post-modernism -- the tricksy shifts, the dislocations of chronology and viewpoint, the refusal to allow the reader the common courtesy of speech-marks, which might make it altogether too easy to know what is going on -- yet, time after brilliant time, he carries it off (sometimes better than others; but this is one of his best). His tricks move beyond mere trickiness." She rates it a "triumph".

James Woods in "The New Yorker" in a double review with My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru: "Carey's often beautiful novel, one of his best recent works, has the bruising tang of all his fiction, in which crooked colloquialism (frequently Australian vernacular), and poetic formality combine. The result is brilliantly vital: the world bulges out of the sentences." He concludes that it is "fleeting and photographic".

Mark Sarvas, of "The Elegant Variation" weblog, was looking forward to reviewing this book but its "failings kept me from falling into the book the way I have with Carey's other novels." The review he's talking about appeared in "The Dallas Morning News": " But unlike Kelly Gang or Theft, in which fantastically stylized voice is key to understanding some remarkable characters, in His Illegal Self the effect is merely disorienting. Events are fitfully played and replayed from multiple perspectives, and clarifying details are withheld, resulting in an uneasy, unclear view of the landscape."

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot: Update 6

This is just a listing of all interviews, across the three weblogs, in the Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot. I'll keep updating it each day.

Australian Crime Fiction
P.D. Martin
Matthew Freeman
Jason Nahrung
Leah Giarratino
Goldie Alexander
Felicity Young
Jackie Tritt
Peter Klein
Liz Filleul
Brian Kavanagh
Hazel Edwards
Daniel Hatadi
Alison Goodman
Susan Parisi

Crime Down Under
Adrian Hyland
Geoff McGeachin
Peter Temple
Katherine Howell
Sydney Bauer
David A. Rollins
Alex Palmer
Chris Womersley
Peter Corris
Lindy Cameron
Sandy Curtis
Angela Savage

Marshall Browne
Lucy Sussex
Kirsty Brooks
Kerry Greenwood
Sophie Masson
Wendy James
Shane Maloney

The Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot will finish up later today. An announcement regarding the snapshot will be made tomorrow (Wednesday).

Australian Bookcovers #105 - The Relief of Mildura by Davison Symmons


The Relief of Mildura by Davison Symmons
[Based on material published in Satires & Verses 1903]
(Pollard 1972 edition)
Cover by Walter Stackpool

A Classic Year: 10.0 Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

seven_little_oz_small.jpg Seven Little Australians
Ethel Turner

Ethel Turner's novel Seven Little Australians is the first children's novel, and the third piece by a woman writer in the first 10 entries in this Australian Classic Year. Both points are rather notable: that a children's novel might be considered a classic at all, and that there were three women writers in the early days of Australian literature who
were capable of writing such works (Baynton, Gilmore and Turner). Neither should be unexpected, but I suspect a lot of readers would think the opposite.

In many people's minds children's books get lumped in with comics and television as literary artforms of little worth, that might serve a purpose for the young, but which should be discarded as soon as the reader reaches their teenage years. Which is a nonsense. All three genres have much to offer to both adults and younger readers and should be judged on their merits rather than pre-conceived ideas about the effects such fiction has on later reading habits.

Seven Little Australians tells the story of the Woolcot family: the father Captain Woolcot, his second wife Esther, and the children, Meg, Pip, Judy, Nell, Bunty, Baby and the General. The first six of these are from the Captain's first marriage, with the General from his second. The family lives in a house named Misrule; which provides the first hint about the children's behaviour. The second comes directly from the author herself.

If you imagine you are going to read of model children, with perhaps; a naughtily inclined one to point a moral, you had better lay down the book immediately and betake yourself to 'Sandford and Merton' or similar standard juvenile works. Not one of the seven is really good, for the very excellent reason that Australian children never are. In England, and America, and Africa, and Asia, the little folks may be paragons of virtue, I know little about them. But in Australia a model child is--I say it not without thankfulness--an unknown quantity.
And so it goes, a story of the highs and lows of family life, at the end of which no-one is the same as when they started - with the possible exception of Bunty who is a greedy little beggar from start to finish. Seven Little Australians was written in the 1890s and, to many, it would seem to be stuck firmly in that era. It certainly seems to start that way. But, as it progresses, it becomes clear that Turner has produced a novel of family life that holds true even today.

Notes: Full text of the novel
Australian Dictionary of Biography page
Ethel Turner Wikipedia page
Photo of the author

The next four works in this Classic Year:
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)
14. The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay (1918)

Interesting Turns on the Wallaby Track

Genevieve, on the "reeling and writhing" weblog informs us that Readings bookstores in Melbourne now carry reviews of new stock as well as details of upcoming events on an RSS feed. Readings is an independent book chain worth supporting, with the Hawthorn store being my local.

With another couple of scandals doing the publishing rounds, the "LA Times" has published a list of "Memorable Literary Hoaxes". Good to see Australia gets two entries in the list: "Margo Morgan, Mutant Message Down Under" (1994)"; and "The poetry of Ern Malley, an Australian mechanic who had died in 1943".

Changing horses, or in this case publishing houses, mid-stream can be a little tough in anyone's life. Juliet Marillier found she had comletely re-arrange her writing schedule, dropping one book midway through, and starting the planned second one first. Needless to say, complications ensued.

Michelle de Kretser Profile

Michelle de Kretser is profiled in "The Australian" by Rosemary Neill. De Kretser's latest novel, The Lost Dog, has been shortlisted for the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

De Kretser says the praise and prizes her novels have attracted "increase un-confidence, if that is the word". When her second novel was released, she was worried it wouldn't live up to the success of the first. Now she is uneasy that The Lost Dog -- to be published in Australia, the US, Britain and Italy -- won't match the achievements of The Hamilton Case. "The only thing I know at the end of a novel is how to write that novel; that knowledge doesn't transfer across to the next one," she says soberly.

Another reason for de Kretser's trepidation is that The Lost Dog is her first contemporary novel and her first to be set in Australia: "That was scary. That was profoundly scary because I hadn't done it before and with my two previous novels, set in France and Ceylon, the main readers were not going to come from these countries. I was haunted by my own literary past in the writing of this novel, in a funny way." Funny, because being haunted by the past is one of The Lost Dog's principal themes.

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot: Update 5

Shane Maloney Profile

Shane Maloney is profiled in "The Courier-Mail", as his Murray Whelan Trilogy, a compilation of the first three books in the series, is selected as the latest work to feature in the paper's Big Book Club reading group.

The success of the novels and the telemovies means Maloney's literary hero now has a life of his own. "It is quite extraordinary to have an imaginary friend who is better known that you are," he says. Maloney once received an invite, from one of Tony Blair's political advisers, for Murray Whelan to go to No. 10 Downing Street. And, after the telemovies were made, Murray Whelan Pty Ltd sent the author a royalty cheque. "I made this guy up and now he's sending me money in the mail," Maloney says.

Poem: A Word from the Bards by Henry Lawson

It is New Year's Day and I rise to state that here on the Sydney side
The Bards have commenced to fill out of late and they're showing their binjies with pride
They're patting their binjies with pride, old man, and I want you to understand,
That a binjied bard is a bard indeed when he sings in the Southern Land,
      Old chaps,
   When he sings in the Southern Land.

For the Southern Land is the Poet's Home, and over the world's wide roam,
There was never till now a binjied bard that lived in a poet's home, old man;
For the poet's home was a hell on earth, and I want you to understand,
That it isn't exactly a paradise down here in the Southern Land,
      Old chap,
      Down here in the Southern Land.

The Beer and the Bailiff were gone last night and the "temple" doorstep clean,
And our heads are clear and our hearts are light with wine from the Riverine--
With wine from the Riverine, old man, and I want you to understand
That Bard, Beer and Bailiff too long were kin down here in the Southern Land,
      Old man,
   Down here in the Southern Land.

It is not because of a larger fee, nor yet that the bards are free,
For the bards I know and the bards I see are married enough for three;
Are married enough for three, old man, and I want you to understand,
They've a right to be married enough for four, down here in the Southern Land,
      My girl,
   Down here in the Southern Land.

But I think it's because a bird went round and twittered in ears of men
That bards have care and the world seems bare as seen from the rhyming den,
And twittered in ears of men, old chaps, and got folks to understand
That a poet is something more than a joke down here in the Southern Land,
      Old man,
   Down here in the Southern Land.

First published in The Bulletin, 23 May 1907

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot: Shane Maloney

1. Your character, Murray Whelan, will always be associated with certain parts of Melbourne, and any survey of the literature of Melbourne will always need to include Whelan in its scope. Do you think he could survive as he does in any other city? Or are the character and the city too closely aligned to tear asunder?

Murray Whelan is very much a product of Melbourne - he grew up there and found his calling in its political sub-culture. He knows the place high and low. His political career is a product of Melbourne at a particular time in its history. Part of the reason I created him was a desire to take a snapshot of the city at a time when I was most familiar with it. It will always be his natural habitat. But Murray's attitudes, values and skills are universal and I suppose that there are Murrays in other places. They just don't happen to be my Murray.

2. What do you have planned for your next publication?

I am currently working on the seventh instalment of Murray's episodic adventures.

3. Do you read much Australian crime fiction? Can you give us a few standouts that you've read recently? What do you think of the current state of the Australian crime fiction scene?

Australian crime fiction has become very diverse and now takes in a variety of sub-genres which are not my cup of tea. What interests me is good writing, new territory, interesting ideas.

4. What do you think could be done to better promote Australian authors either at home or abroad (or both)?

Perhaps Peter Temple could strangle Dan Brown with a typewriter ribbon at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

5. If your fictional character could meet any fictional character who would you like it to be and why?

I'd like Murray to accompany Alice on her trip to Wonderland. Given his experience in he ALP, he could explain it to her.

Notes: Shane Maloney is the author of the Murray Whelan series of novels,
the most recent of which is Sucked In.
Shane Maloney's website

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot: Wendy James

1. You won a Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel in 2006 for OUT OF THE SILENCE. Did you write the novel thinking it was going to fit within the crime genre?

Out of the Silence IS at heart a crime novel - if not a who-dunnit, certainly a why-dunnit - but I don't think I consciously approached the work with any particular genre in mind. I was more concerned that the work felt historically 'true' (& yes I know it's an impossibility!); that I came as close as I could to representing the nineteenth century characters with nineteenth century sensibilities & so on. But looking back: at the short stories I've written - in particular a discontinuous narrative that deals with the relationship between an armed robber & his girlfriend; at an unpublished novel - which is an 'imposter' novel along the lines of Martin Guerre and Josephine Tey's marvellous Brat Farrar; and at my reading habits - I'm a huge reader of crime fiction & any sort of thriller, really - well, I guess I really shouldn't have been at all surprised. I suspect, though I'm possibly not the best judge of this, that crime fiction has had a huge influence on my writing - particularly in terms of structure, momentum & plot - even if unconsciously. Oh - and my husband was a copper for 15 years - at Kings Cross & then here in Armidale - so issues of crime & punishment aren't completely abstract, but quite close to home.

2. What do you have planned for your next publication?

My next novel, The Steele Diaries, is due out in May. The only crimes in this novel are emotional: lies, betrayal, abandonment .... Still, I'd say that crime fiction influence is still there - in the structure, the momentum, the plot twists & revelations. The novel I'm working on now, however, does revolve around a crime. Though, like Out of the
, the emphasis is more on the what, why & how of the crime than the who.

3. Do you read much Australian crime fiction? Can you give us a few standouts that you've read recently? What do you think of the current state of the Australian crime fiction scene?

Not as much as I'd like! I've just got number 4 child off to school, so am hoping that my reading time is going to increase. In the last year or so I've discovered Barry Maitland and Peter Temple. Gabrielle Lord and Peter Corris are old favourites. Heather Rose's The Butterfly Man is fantastic; as is Malcolm Knox's A Private Man. If the ever-expanding list of Australian crime novels that have been recommended to me of late is anything to go by, the Australian Crime fiction scene is looking remarkably healthy.

4. What do you think could be done to better promote Australian authors either at home or abroad (or both)?

Oh, this is a hard one. For promoting us overseas, I would have said perhaps more government/publisher sponsored & co-ordinated readings and tours and so forth would help - but have heard that the government recently cancelled the grant formerly reserved for just this purpose - so, hell, I don't know. As to promoting Australian writers at home: I've noticed that in New Zealand there's been a huge television campaign encouraging people to read and use public libraries and so on - maybe we could do something similar here, with an emphasis on local writers. And a greater emphasis on us lit at school and at university level - though not at the expense of other literature. Easy to suggest, I know; much harder to implement. An English teacher friend recently onfessed that she's lucky to get the kids to read & study one novel a year.

5. If your fictional character could meet any fictional character who would you like it to be and why?

These characters have met, but I think I'd like Annie, the fictional mother in The Steele Diaries, to read her daughter Zelda's diary. I really wonder what her response would be - whether she'd feel she'd been completely misunderstood, misrepresented.

Notes: Wendy James is the author of Out of the Silence which won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First novel in 2006
Wendy James's website

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot: Update 4

This is just a listing of all interviews, across the three weblogs, in the Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot. I'll keep updating it each day.

Australian Crime Fiction
P.D. Martin
Matthew Freeman
Jason Nahrung
Leah Giarratino
Goldie Alexander
Felicity Young
Jackie Tritt
Peter Klein
Liz Filleul
Brian Kavanagh
Hazel Edwards

Crime Down Under
Adrian Hyland
Geoff McGeachin
Peter Temple
Katherine Howell
Sydney Bauer
David A. Rollins

Marshall Browne
Lucy Sussex
Kirsty Brooks
Kerry Greenwood
Sophie Masson

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot: Sophie Masson

1. Your next book, THE CASE OF THE DIAMOND SHADOW, is a YA mystery set in England in the 1930s with Australian characters. You've also started a weblog to promote it. This is rare in Australian literature. What do you see as the benefits of this approach?

As far as the background of the book is concerned, I felt that if I wanted to write a mystery set in the 30's, I'd prefer to set it in England--that whole Christie atmosphere--but with Australian characters and connections(not all the characters are Australian--indeed many are not. Some are English, some French--these are based to some extent on my grandfather and his grandmother--some Dutch, etc). The Australian connection though has that 'fresh eye' feel on what is a very traditional atmosphere for a mystery: rather, in a way, like Christie herself using a Belgian detective rather than an English one--the foreign eye of Poirot (he is an outsider who however knows England well) works really well, I think.

As for the blog, I see it as having several possibilities: obviously, first of all, a direct interaction with readers, both here and overseas; the fun of being able to put up photos, extra associated information, bits and pieces, scraps of research, the kind of thing many readers are interested in but you can't put in a book. Plus, it helps with publicity and general word-of-mouth (I'm planning also to link the weblog later with a little video clip I'm planning to make and upload onto the You Tube channel I have, ).

2. What do you have planned for your next publication?

I'm hoping to write the sequel to The Case of the Diamond Shadow, which I'm provisionally titling The Deadly Widow of Biarritz--and which starts off with an enigmatic letter...and then a trip on a luxury train to Biarritz, where a young Russian prince in exile has disappeared.The same central characters: Daisy Miller, George Dale, and the detectives they work for--will be in it. Lots of fun! I'd also love to do a sequel to my graphic novel, The Secret Army: Operation Loki, which is an adventure story set in 1936, and based on the occult activities of the Nazis and a group of young psychics who are being trained to fight them..It was published in 2006. But I'm not sure if I'll persuade my publisher--graphic novels are expensive to produce.

And I've got several other projects up my sleeve, including a mystery novel set in Venice in 1600--it's called The Madman of Venice and it's been contracted by a British publisher. I'm in the process of massively rewriting it now.

3. Do you read much Australian crime fiction? Can you give us a few standouts that you've read recently? What do you think of the current state of the Australian crime fiction scene?

I read a lot of crime fiction generally, and quite a bit of Australian crime fiction as well. Two majorly stand out authors for me at present are Michael Robotham and Peter Temple--I know Temple's been around a long time, but he is excellent and is only now getting the recognition he deserves. I love Robotham's novels--they are classy, tight, unexpected and exciting and I'd read everything he writes. I also have been impressed by John Harwood's The Ghost Writer (I know that's really on the edge of crime but it is very much a psychological thriller--and chiller).

I think the current state of the scene is that there isn't much of a one--not really, although there's quite a lot of authors working in isolation. When you compare it to the science fiction/fantasy scene though, with which I've had a lot of contact over the years, it seems rather anaemic. Or is that just an impression? It seemed different in the 80's, when there was such a push on Australian crime fiction--I remember subscribing to Stuart Coupe's excellent magazine, "Mean Streets". Mind you, these days, there are great blogs and sites like yours for crime fiction--so maybe the whole momentum will build up again. But wouldn't it be great to have a big Crime Fiction event--festival, conference--whatever!

4. What do you think could be done to better promote Australian authors either at home or abroad (or both)?

See above--I'd love the idea of a yearly or probably more realistically biennial Crime Fiction festival like the one in Harrogate, in the hotel Agatha Christie holed up in when she vanished..this might not only attract Australian readers but overseas ones too. Something a bit glam too or unusual anyway.

I think the bloggers are doing a great job promoting books and authors..I just wish there was more of a sense of a "scene"--more regular events at which readers and writers can interact.

5. If your fictional character could meet any fictional character who would you like it to be and why?

Hercule Poirot! I would love my fictional detective Philip Woodley-Foxe to meet him--it would be a true clash of giant egos! Woodley-Foxe, alas, doesn't have anything like the number of grey cells Hercule has..though I'm sure he'd think he'd have much more and would be quite condescending to the little Belgian, reducing him no doubt to speechless rage..and an appropriate revenge. Hmmm...

Sophie Masson is the author of over 40 books for readers of all ages, including The Case of the Diamond Shadow
Sophie Masson's website

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot: Update 3

This is just a listing of all interviews, across the three weblogs, in the Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot. I'll keep updating it each day.

Australian Crime Fiction
P.D. Martin
Matthew Freeman
Jason Nahrung
Leah Giarratino
Goldie Alexander
Felicity Young
Jackie Tritt
Peter Klein

Crime Down Under
Adrian Hyland
Geoff McGeachin
Peter Temple
Katherine Howell
Sydney Bauer
David A. Rollins

Marshall Browne
Lucy Sussex
Kirsty Brooks
Kerry Greenwood

Film Adaptation of Mao's Last Dancer

Various sources are referring to a "Variety" magazine report that Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin is being filmed by Bruce Beresford. The script has been adapted by Jan Sardi, who previously wrote the screenplay for "Shine". "Mao's Last Dancer" will feature Kyle McLachlan, Bruce Greenwood, Joan Chen and Jack Thompson. Filming starts in China later this month. More details are available on the Internet Movie Database.

2008 Adelaide Writers' Week

The 2008 Adelaide Writers' Week is well under way and you can follow what's been happening by reading Kerrie's accounts on her "Mysteries in Paradise" weblog.

2008 Man Booker Prize Shortlist Possibles

Each year about this time I produce a webpage which lists those novels which I figure might have a chance of being under consideration for the Man Booker Prize. I've just finished the 2008 version, which you can now access. It only has 13 novels listed so far, though this will grow over the next few months as we head towards a September release of the 12 or so longlisted works. I usually pick about half the longlist, mainly missing out on those novels pre-released to the judging panel, first novels that no-one knows how to take, and novels from countries other than the UK and Australia: the ones that don't get much coverage in the newspapers and magazines I frequent. I'm not sure that this list does anyone any good. Still, it keeps me amused.

Literary Gatherings #8 - J.F. Archibald and Henry Lawson


J.F. Archibald and Henry Lawson

Weekend Round-Up 2008 #6

The Age

Morag Fraser is impressed with American Journeys by Don Watson. It's not all she wanted, but it will do until Watson's next book comes along. "Flags, kettle corn, cola, Memorial Day in Kansas City and a tenor singing America the Beautiful: satire you think? No. Nothing so easy in Don Watson's introduction to his marvel-filled, 39,000-kilometre American journey. This wry, magpie-sharp observer is almost too alive, too romantic-vulnerable before America's bewildering contradictions, its grandeur, its paradoxes and grotesque inequities. He is also honest and engaging about his own sympathies, about the susceptibilities of a sceptical Australian Presbyterian agnostic abroad in the greatest democracy on earth."

The Australian

Justin Clemens reviews Revolving Days: Selected Poems by David Malouf, and appears to ..., well, you figure it out: "Teetering forever on the verge of disabused revelation, the often surprising readability of many of these lyrics derives from their predominantly iambic rhythms, which are then unpredictably derailed by inversions of beat, by sudden enjambments or changes in pace...Knowingly split between experience, the memory of the experience, the writing and reordering of the memory of the experience, time, place and person are to be reconstructed in all their density and their dislocation. Malouf celebrates the sober carnival of shattered time, with its giddily revolving days, its ever-gathering and dispersing swarms."

Graeme Blundell gets more directly to the point in his consideration of the latest Cliff Hardy novel, Open File by Peter Corris: "These days a weary wisdom travels with hero and author. Hardy's old Falcon has seen many kilometres in the long haul to disprove the one-time assumption of Australian publishers, writers and readers that the hard-boiled mystery field was credible only in American settings. Like his hero Cliff Hardy, Corris just keeps going, , as unimpressed and charmingly nonchalant as his hero. Corris has seen off the new wave and the postmodern, the grant-taking dilettantes, the serial killer story and left the lesbian separatist detectives behind, exasperated by his laconic style."

Sophie Masson realises the pitfalls that await any autobiographical writer, and also realises that for some, such as Georgia Blain with Births, Deaths, Marriages, the time is just right: "...there may well arise a moment in any writer's life when one feels one must set things down, to try and understand one's life, to achieve a kind of reckoning with the past. Georgia Blain's memoir, made up of interlinked autobiographical pieces, has that feeling about it, a sense of a time come. The author of four successful novels, she is acutely aware of those risks, but has attempted in this book to capture the essence of her own lived truth, and that of her family." Does Blain succeed? "Most of the pieces in the book have an honesty and attention to detail which is engaging and disarming, and the best pieces are very powerful indeed".

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot: Kerry Greenwood

1. You've got quite a following for your Phryne Fisher and Corinna Chapman novels, with some webloggers even writing critiques of the recipes you include in the Chapman books. Did you ever think it would come to this?

No, never in my wildest dreams. I was just trying to get published - for four years - and when I finally had a book with my name on I slept with it under my pillow for a week in case I had dreamed it. I was writing the sort of books I like to read, of course. That might have helped. And I always loved cooking, I used to work as a cook, it's lovely to be able to hand out something other than just narrative.

But the thing is, books go in and out of fashion. I have already gone out of fashion once and I expect I will again, which is why I also write historical novels and speculative fiction and kids books.

I just like writing, and now people are PAYING me to do it - amazing.

2. What do you have planned for your next publication?

The next Phryne is already written and edited and with the publisher, Murder on a Midsummer Night, a Phryne, out in November, when I will have a book launch at the Sun Bookshop, Yarraville, all welcome. I have started a new Corinna, which has something to do with donkeys and Christmas, I have chapter one, which usually means the book is safe. And I have a lovely children's book called Princess of Cats up to chapter four, so it's a toss up which one gets my attention. I'll know more when I've met the donkeys. Probably.

3. Do you read much Australian crime fiction? Can you give us a few standouts that you've read recently? What do you think of the current state of the Australian crime fiction scene?

I don't read a lot of modern fiction at all, no insult intended to my sisters in crime. I really liked the latest Gary Disher, I admire Peter Temple, and I loved Lindy Cameron's thriller Redback, that woman has found her niche, she writes a wonderful thriller.

I think the scene is as healthy as it has ever been. More women writing crime, more areas being covered - it's pretty lively and interesting and has some great personalities in it.

4. What do you think could be done to better promote Australian authors either at home or abroad (or both)?

Almost anything. More reviews would be good, crime fiction does not get reviewed as often as one would like. I have always wanted a train ad saying something like "Bored? Crushed? Wondering about the intentions of the man behind you? You could be reading a book! Here are some wonderful train books".

The websites are what sell books in the U.S., it appears, some of them like DorothyL have thousands and thousands of contributors and women, particularly, read on recommendation - as I do myself, there are, as someone said, so many books, so little time. Scripta Longa, vita brevis est, in fact. Americans and English alike find Australian books unbearably exotic, and I think that playing up the exotic, wild strange and kangaroo inhabited nature of Australia would sell a lot of books. It has also worked in France, Germany and in Russia with my books, where they are bemused but fascinated. In the long run a book has to sell itself, though a good cover (the Phryne covers are particularly spiffing, Beth Norling is a genius) helps. I have had books come out with covers so drab that they scream "No! No! Put me down, I'm boring!" to anyone who is unwise enough to pick them up. If we are a backwater with a small population compared to, say, America, then we should become a luxury niche market, like very fine Armagnac or camembert. I might also mention that the Australia Council still does not consider crime fiction literature, and they should. A few grants would get a lot of people the time they need to finish their first book. But if it isn't Frank Moorhouse, the establishment does not like it, which sort of tickles my rebellious streak, I admit... and they've never offered me a fellowship despite the fact that I have forty six books in publication and would love to loll around in the Marais. But I am doing well on my own, which makes me feel independent, I suppose.

Email ads would be the way to go, on all those websites. Wouldn't cost much and would bring a new book to the attention of the reading public. My US publishers, Poisoned Pen Press, already do this, and it seems to work.

5. If your fictional character could meet any fictional character who would you like it to be and why?

I believe that Phryne would get on very badly with Sherlock Holmes and would probably seduce Lord Peter Whimsey. She is a woman very much of her time and I can't see her out of it, so we are looking at 1928-9. Perhaps she could go robbing museums with The Saint. Not Roger Moore, the real one in the books by Leslie Charteris. He was a very good character, clever, sensual and handsome. And he would find Phryne challenging. I might never get her back. What an interesting question, I'll have to think about it. Corinna would love to meet Sweeney Todd if he looks anything Johnny Depp. She could teach him a pie recipe which does not include human. She would not get on with any of the noire girls, I believe. Their private lives are too untidy for her. Anyone who gets up at four every morning has little patience with such people. I think she would like to have tea with that advanced young woman, Lady Whimsey. Or possibly Miss Marple.


Kerry Greenwood is the author of the Phryne Fisher and Corrina Chapman series of novels, including A Question of Death and Trick or Treat. Kerry Greenwood's website.

A Few Slivers of Interest

Susan Wyndham and Ed Wright put arguments for and against Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn (or maybe that should be "against and for" given the order of the authors). Personally, I was "for" it.

Justine Larbelestier gets cranky: "Ever since I [became] a YA writer I have been hearing certain people accusing me and my colleagues of writing books solely for the sake of being as dark/bleak/shocking/perverted/[insert your own personal bugbear in adjectival form here]. 'Why did you have to put x into your book?' is a question that almost all of us seem to hear at one time or another. "It drives me nuts."

ABC TV is picking up on the crime fiction buzz by producing a special book program titled Jennifer Byrne Presents Crime. Not many details as yet but the program will air on ABC 1 on Tuesday 11th March at 10:00pm, and be repeated on ABC 2 on Sunday 16th March at 7:00pm. ABC TV is pretty good at making videos of these programs available on the web for viewing after the event. I'll keep an eye out for it. [Thanks to the AustCrime weblog for the link.]

2008 Australian Shadows Award Finalists

"Horrorscope", the Australian Dark Fiction weblog, alerts us to the announcement of the finalists in the 2008 Australian Shadows Award. "The Australian Shadows Award is an annual jury-judged literary award issued by the Australian Horror Writers Association (AHWA) that honours the best works of Australian dark fiction published in the preceding year."

The finalists are:
Matthew Chrulew - "Between the Memories" (Aurealis #38/39)
David Conyers - "Subtle Invasion" (The Black Book of Horror, Mortbury Press)
Terry Dowling - "Toother" (Eclipse 1, Night Shade Books)
Rick Kennett - "The Dark and What It Said" (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #28)
Martin Livings - "There Was Darkness" (Fantastic Wonder Stories, Ticonderoga
Jason Nahrung - The Darkness Within (Hachette Livre)

Honorable mentions are given to:
David Conyers & John Sunseri - The Spiraling Worm (Chaosium)
Kaaron Warren - "Cooling the Crows" (In Bad Dreams, Eneit Press)
Marty Young - "The Wildflowers" (Fantastic Wonder Stories, Ticonderoga Publications)

The winner, which will be determined by guest judge Richard Harland, will be announced in April 2008.

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot: Update 2

This is just a listing of all interviews, across the three weblogs, in the Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot. I'll keep updating it each day.

Australian Crime Fiction
P.D. Martin
Matthew Freeman
Jason Nahrung
Leah Giarratino
Goldie Alexander

Crime Down Under
Adrian Hyland
Geoff McGeachin
Peter Temple
Katherine Howell

Marshall Browne
Lucy Sussex
Kirsty Brooks

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot: Kirsty Brooks

1. Your books have been described as "Romantic comedy meets noir crime". Does living in Adelaide - sometimes described as the weird crime capital of Australia - have anything to do with your choice of genres? Or is it just the quality of the wine that makes the difference?

Ah, yes. The crime weirdness. I think it's just distilled (check excellent relevant wine reference...) by population and our hysterical tabloid newspaper. I am a keen reader of interstate papers to get some perspective, but yes, if you only read The Advertiser you'd think we were the kinky crime capital of the world (very exciting in theory but not so in real life). In fact, one of the reason the publishers at Hachette (Livre - Hodder headline) were so quick to sign my first three books was because they thought I did a good job of making Adelaide "seem exciting", which is a glimpse at the other side of the opinion coin, that Adelaide is all church spires and hedges. Being a private school girl with a doctor, lawyer and school teacher in the family, I get to explore a lot of the seedy underbelly of our fine city without losing the boring beige posh sensibilities I've been brought up with... It's an interesting parallel to why I think crime fiction makes for such interesting reading - it's danger at a safe distance. So, reading about danger is exhilarating, but I get to do all the dodgy things late at night, but still (hopefully) duck home and drink good red wine until my heart stops leaping about in my chest. As someone who runs like toddler on acid and is prone to a good thumping faint, I am the very model of a crap sleuth, so I base a lot of Cassidy's misadventures on (sadly) real life.

2. What do you have planned for your next publication?

I'm writing the next in the series, The Tequila Bikini, but publication dates are up in the air at the moment. I get a lot of emails from fans asking where it is, which is very encouraging. I'm glad they have so much faith in me (and my characters). I'm a "seat of the pants" kind of writer, so I tend to paint my characters into a corner and then get hot and cold and have to go lie down when I realise I have to now try to get them out again (and without a deux ex machina or magic wand I have to do it with characters who have very little experience, or skills of any kind. It stretches my imagination at times... I'm also sketching out a YA series, and writing bits of that when I get a chance (I've just bought my first home after decades of share housing, flats, apartments and co-ops - all of which have delivered in terms of storylines - a wonderfully kitsch seventies house with room dividers and excellent drop lamps in classy gold and brown so I'm finally able to build built-in bookshelves and I can finally get a dog (or three) and chickens, to go with the eleven birds I already live with (all but two are "rescue animals" and it's only after they get home that I realise why it's possible no one wanted them... But I love them so much for being, well really badly behaved. Six are reasonably benign handicapped finches who are remarkably brilliant and resourceful, as well as five Machiavellian parrots who all think they are my sidekick and protector and spend much of the days warning me about various Holden Blimps and stray balloons in the sky, and marching about checking down drains and under doors for intruders). My time is pretty limited but I find if I don't write every day I go nuts (the stories just play out in my head until I get them down). I have what my doctor refers to as "an unquiet mind..." I'm totally sure it's a compliment.

3. Do you read much Australian crime fiction? Can you give us a few standouts that you've read recently? What do you think of the current state of the Australian crime fiction scene?

Australian crime fiction is fit right now. Totally spunky and looking great. I'm always jealous of Melbourne based writers who get to attend the excellent Sisters in Crime meetings at Leo's spaghetti bar on a regular basis. I've been invited there a few times and been refreshed and happy for months afterwards, enjoying the company of other writers and readers (although one night when I spoke with the glorious Tara Moss, I had a woman fast asleep in the seats about two feet in front of me, which was off putting until I realised if anyone can sleep in the presence of Ms. Moss, she must be really exhausted and deserve the nap - or be mashed on drugs). I love reading local crime fiction, but I must confess my faves are American - Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton mostly. I even wrote Ms. Grafton a fan letter, and got a reply. It's still in my purse, I was so excited (getting older just can't stop someone being a nerd). I am also a fan of Shane Maloney (who I travelled around Victoria with for a libraries tour, we had a great time, persuading our very patient libraries PR dude to stop at oppshops and various crap historic sites). And Peter Corris, Leigh Redhead and Tara Moss. I find I'm a fan of their work as well as the writers themselves. We are very fortunate to have such great, supportive communities like this. It's the same in SF, I've found. Genre writers are lucky to be able to have little cliques, but also be well received in the general community. (Hmm, that sounds a little like we're on the "special bus"). I probably meant to say that commercial/popular fiction embraces our genres very kindly and we're lucky for it, while still have a little niche of support too.

4. What do you think could be done to better promote Australian authors either at home or abroad (or both)?

We've had some great news stories of late, so we're lucky to have a lot of interest, both locally and abroad. I think it's always a good news story if writers are doing something different, or unusual, so I got a fair bit of publicity writing about Adelaide, although so many people said I should focus on Sydney (or Paris, London or New York) or I wouldn't get published in this genre. I figured, with all the research I was doing (i.e. Drinking in dodgy bars and strip joints, meeting strippers and trying my hand at pole dancing - I still have a scar on my leg from that. Well, from having to wear stilettos while practising anyway. It's true what they say about stiletto heels...), I would keep one thing true, which was the setting, but then I got all wish-fulfilment and put all the things I WANTED Adelaide to have in there as well, so there are bars where I think they should be (close to where I used to live in the city) and the style I liked, with familiar spots like universities and shops, and my sort of long slow bars tucked in there (a small bit of Melbourne moved to the Adelaide side streets). Oddly, much of those ideas are actually real now, so either I have the ear of the local Licensing and Alcohol Authority or I am just blessed with the many gifts of the psychic (as deeply opposed to psychiatric). Still, we have to compete on an international level, so we have to be as good, if not better than what's already out there. Publicity won't change anything other than maybe bringing some things to a publisher or reader's attention. A keen reader becomes a fan and then becomes someone who relates to you, and I've found writing is a wonderful way to learn that you're 1) not alone in your odd thoughts and 2) able to connect with other like minded people in a useful way.

5. If your fictional character could meet any fictional character who would you like it to be and why?

Oh, I think Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone could teach Cassidy Blair a thing or ten. At first glance I imagined them together at a shooting range, but actually, Cassidy would just get a lot more out of learning to be as neat and organised and responsible as Kinsey. And patience. Definitely our Cassidy could learn a little of that...

Kirsty Brooks is the author of the Cassidy Blair series of novels, which include The Happiness Punch, The Vodka Dialogue and The Millionaire Float. Her website can be found here.

J.M. Coetzee Watch #5

Reviews of Diary of a Bad Year

William Deresiewicz, in "The Nation", is impressed with the novel on a number of levels. "There are surprising parallels here with Philip Roth's latest novel. Exit Ghost also gives us a love triangle of sapless old writer, beautiful temptress and snorting young bull. Both books announce an exhaustion with the making of fiction, at least on the part of their protagonists. Both allude, in connection with questions of finality, to Hamlet, Roth's novel in its title, Coetzee's in its last lines. Together, the two books point to larger parallels between their authors' work. Both writers have devoted much attention, especially of late, to the experience of age. The literature of old age is a slender one before the nineteenth century, even before the twentieth. King Lear, Oedipus at Colonus and a few other works stand against the vast literatures of youth and adulthood. But now that writers are living longer and staying stronger, we seem to be entering a golden age of the literature of age, and Roth and Coetzee are perhaps its greatest exponents."

In "The Kansas City Star" Joseph Peschel isn't quite so sure: "Despite its weaknesses, Diary is a thought-provoking book, but it seems more of an experiment, like Coetzee's 2003 Elizabeth Costello, that tries to meld essay and fiction. I prefer his more traditional narrative, 1987's Foe."

On his "Fire When Ready" weblog, Bob Mustin realises the difficulty of reading this book but finds a lot to like anyway. "I've always considered Coetzee an adventurous novelist, adventurous in subject matter and style. In Diary Of A Bad Year, he proves no less adventurous as he enters his eighth decade. The book is largely an unwinding series of opinions on nearly everything in modern life, from George Bush to his new homeland of Australia. Each page begins with such an opinion, followed by a narrative of his 'story,' which concerns Coetzee himself as he writes the book."

Review by Coetzee:

Coetzee reviews Lost Paradise by Cees Nooteboom, translated from the Dutch by Susan Massotty: "The chief trouble with Nooteboom's Lost Paradise is that it is hard to reconcile the skeptical, relativistic spirit of the book as a whole, particularly its prologue and epilogue, with the story of the girl from Brazil who exorcises her demon by absorbing traditional Aboriginal beliefs. It is also hard to make sense of her grounds for excluding the troubled Dutchman from the paradise he seeks in her arms, namely that angels cannot consort with human beings. The gods and goddesses of Greece were not shy of bestowing their favors on mortals. Why should angels be different?"

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot: Update 1

This is just a listing of all interviews, across the three weblogs, in the Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot. I'll keep updating it each day.

Australian Crime Fiction
P.D. Martin
Matthew Freeman

Crime Down Under
Adrian Hyland
Geoff McGeachin

Marshall Browne
Lucy Sussex

Australian Bookcovers #104 - Nine Miles from Gundagai by Jack Moses


Nine Miles from Gundagai by Jack Moses, 1938
(Pollard 1972 edition)
Cover by Walter Stackpool

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot: Lucy Sussex

1. It's been some time now since you wrote a crime novel (THE SCARLET RIDER). Do you see yourself returning to the genre at any time in the future?

I already have -- two short stories, both of them revisiting crime stories from the 1860s. "New Ceres" had an interesting female detective, a French detecting Duchess, and I rewrote an 1866 Mary Fortune story around her, with a different whodunnit. That's "Mist and Murder" at The other came about because Paul Collins was putting together an anthology for schools on genre, and I got crime fiction. I again rewrote an 1860s crime story, Andrew Forrester's "The Unknown Weapon", putting it into modern dress. That's forthcoming. All of these are by-products of my research into the history of crime fiction. Currently I'm revising my book on the Mothers of Crime Writing for publication. In my spare time I have a Victorian female detective novel in (slow) progress, which being me involves string theory and werewolves.

2. What do you have planned for your next publication?

Well, we're still negotiating the contract, so I can't talk about it. Non-fiction, I can say that. Travel. Involves my great-grandmother, intrepid traveller & collector of husbands.

3. Do you read much Australian crime fiction? Can you give us a few standouts that you've read recently? What do you think of the current state of the Australian crime fiction scene?

Historical yes--it was genuinely pioneering in the mid-19th, and there's been a lot of interesting stuff since then. I review, so I see a lot of crime fiction. Mostly it's the smaller names from overseas, who tend to be pretty bloody good. I think I got all of the last Golden Dagger shortlist, and have no argument about the winner, Peter Temple. There's various people around who should be better known. Dorothy Johnston, for instance. Diverting into true crime--Stephanie Bennett should have won shitloads of awards with the Gatton Murders, and it's a terrible shame that she didn't. Grahame Hurley's Portsmouth mysteries. Qiu Xiaolong paints a great, Dickensian picture of modern China. You meant Australian? Hmn. I haven't got fannish & excited about anything new & local in the last couple of years, but who knows what will turn up in the review envelope tomorrow?

4. What do you think could be done to better promote Australian authors either at home or abroad (or both)?

I would like every publisher to spend more money on editing -- it's criminal how books are sent into the world with a hem down, or a bra-strap showing. The standard overseas is super-high and if they're cheap with the editing it'll just hurt the author's reputation in the long run. I'd like to see some more film/tv of Australian crime fiction. Preferably gritty & filthy.

5. If your fictional character could meet any fictional character who would you like it to be and why?

Intertextuality rools, ok? Given the vogue for real characters as detectives I'd like to posit Ellen (Mrs Henry) Wood as detective in a legal thriller. Although known as a formidably respectable Victorian novelist, she was a major developer of the clue-puzzle in long form. She also had an uncanny ability to read a crime in a newspaper & predict whodunnit. Her son quotes her as saying if she had been male she would have been a good lawyer, something impossible for girls in the early C19th. Kerry Greenwood agrees that Mrs Henry Wood for the prosecution is a truly scary thought. I'd like to pit Ellen against Rumpole for the defence and watch the fur fly.


Lucy Sussex is the author of The Scarlet Rider. She has also written a number of sf and children's stories.
The Lucy Sussex website

Australian Crime Fiction Snaphot: Marshall Browne

1. You are currently running two crime series (Inspector Anders and Detective Aoki) as well as a series about a one-eyed German banker Franz Schmidt. Do you find these series of novels feed off each other or are you able to keep them completely separate?

I aim to keep DP Anders, Hideo Aoki, and Franz Schmidt in entirely different universes. I find it necessary to keep them - and their worlds - sharply differentiated in my mind. The way I work is to have a couple of novels on the go at any one time. I'll do a version on one, taking say six months, then put it aside and take up the other. For that six months (or whatever) I'm working in a straightjacket - of that series, that character. This is helped by them being of different nationalities, having markedly different personalities and physical characteristics, and living in different countries. Apart from anything else, the variety keeps me interested!

2. What do you have planned for your next publication?

My next will be "The Iron Heart" the second outing for Franz Schmidt. It's a historical thriller set in Berlin in early 1939 and follows on from his late 1938 anti-Nazi escapades in southern Germany. In October, I spent nine days in Berlin doing top-up research and have since done a final revision. A fourth Inspector Anders is drafted, set in Prague where I researched in 2006, and I'll work more on that this year.

3. Do you read much Australian crime fiction? Can you give us a few standouts that you've read recently? What do you think of the current state of the Australian crime fiction scene?

I've been reading Gary Disher of late - "The Dragon Man" - with much enjoyment, and intend to move on to his acclaimed "Chain of Evidence". I admire Gary's professionalism - I was on a panel with him at the Perth Writers" Festival last year and will be again at the forthcoming Adelaide Writers' Festival (also with Gabrielle Lord). Unfortunately, with limited time available I don't read a lot of fiction, and tend to focus on the Europeans. A large part of my working life as a banker was spent in Europe and Asia and my ideas have come in those areas. Henning Mankell and Michael Dibdin have given me good reads as has Ken Bruen - the minamilist Irishman, whom I've met. Recently I see he's quoted from one of mine in his black-humoured police procedural "Blitz". However, I could claim a fourth series in my Melburnian Trilogy - three historical mysteries set in my birthplace, spanning 1888-1900. In each, a private detective, name of Otto Rudd, works around the main characters on the mystery at the heart of each novel - all of which climax in a sensational court-case. This year I'm planning to start on a fourth - Melbourne 1905 - so I'll be busy.

4. What do you think could be done to better promote Australian authors either at home or abroad (or both)?

The biggest boost an Australian crime-writer could get, in my opinion, is to have his character appear in a feature film (internationally or locally produced) - or a long-running TV series (like Rebus). Shane Moloney had some success with TV. Obviously this is hard to achieve. I've had numerous approaches over the years from film producers overseas and in Australia but all fizzled out - funding seemed the central problem. More gatherings of crime writers and readers, in Australia, promoting Aussie writers would get the tick from me. Mary Dalmau's recent initiative - introducing an annual Reader's Feast Crime and Justice Festival - the first to be held in Melbourne July 18-20 2008 is an exciting development of this type. It's to be under the patronage of Ian Rankin and Kerry Greenwood.

5. If your fictional character could meet any fictional character, who would you like it to be and why?

DP Anders and Aurelio Zen working on a case together? This has actually been suggested by a couple of critics! Of course, both detectives are essentially loners, and I'm sure would drive each other crazy. It would certainly have that effect on Anders' sidekick, Matucci.


Marshall Browne is the author of, most recently, Rendezvous at Kamkura Inn, and Inspector Anders and the Blood Vendetta. He won a Best First Novel Ned Kelly Award in 2000 for The Wooden Leg of Inspector Anders. You can read a review of Inspector Anders and the Blood Vendetta.
Marshall Browne's publisher website.

Winners of the 2008 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature

The winners of the 2008 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature have been announced.

$15,000 Award for Children's Literature
Don't Call Me Ishmael (Michael Gerard Bauer, Omnibus)

$15,000 Award for Fiction
The Ballad of Desmond Kale (Roger McDonald, Vintage)

$10,000 Award for Innovation
Someone Else: Fictional Essays (John Hughes, Giramondo)

$15,000 Award for Nonfiction
Sunrise West (Jacob G Rosenberg, Brandl & Schlesinger)

$15,000 John Bray Poetry Award
Urban Myths: 210 Poems (John Tranter, UQP)

$10,000 Jill Blewett Playwright's Award for the Creative
Merger - art, life and the other thing (Duncan Graham)

$10,000 Award for an Unpublished Manuscript by a SA Emerging Writer
The Second Fouling Mark (Stephen Orr)

In addition, John Tranter won the South Australian Premier's Award for his poetry collection, Urban Myths: 210 Poems.
[Update: I've added the winners of the last two categories above.]

Poem: The Bards Who Lived at Manly by Henry Lawson (Part 2)

The door of some old stable --
   We'd borrowed for a drink --
A page of rhymes and sketches,
   And stained with beer and ink;
A dead hand drew the portraits --
   And, say, should I be shamed,
To seek it out in Manly
   And get the old door framed?

They left the masterpieces
   The artist dreamed of long;
They could not take the gardens
   From Victor Daley's song;
They left his summer islands
   And fairy ships at sea,
They could not take my mountains
   And western plains from me.

One bailiff was our brother,
   No better and no worse --
And, oh! the yarns he told us
   To put in prose and verse,
And sorry we to lose him,
   And sorry he to go --
(Oh! skeletons of Pott's Point,
   How many things we know)!

The very prince of laughter,
   With brains and sympathy;
And with us on the last night
   He spent his bailiff's fee.
He banished Durkin's gruffness,
   He set my soul afloat,
And drew till day on Daley's
   Bright store of anecdote.

He said he'd stick to business --
   Though he could well be free --
If but to save poor devils
   From harder "bums" than he,
Now artist, bard and bailiff
   Have left this vale of sin --
I trust, if they reach Heaven,
   They'll take that bailiff in.

The bards that lived in Manly
   Have vanished one and one;
But do not think in Manly
   Bohemian days are done.
They bled me white in Manly
   When rich and tempest-tossed --
I'll leave some bills in Manly
   To pay for what I lost.

They'd grab and grind in Manly,
   Then slander, sneer, and flout.
The shocked of moral Manly!
   They starved my brothers out.
The miserable village,
   Set in a scene so fair,
Were honester and cleaner
   If some of us were there!

But one went with December --
   These last lines seem to-night
Like some song I remember,
   And not a song I write.
With vision strangely clearer
   My old chums seem to be,
In death and absence, nearer
   Than e'er they were to me.

Alone, and still not lonely --
   When tears will not be shed --
I wish that I could only
   Believe that they were dead.
With hardly curbed emotion,
   I can't but think, somehow,
In Manly by the ocean
   They're waiting for me now.

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

(The first part of this poem was published last week.)

Currently Reading


 Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
The second book in the "First Law" series. Epic fantasy written to honour the honour and explore the standard fantasy tropes, as well as to poke ore than a little fun at them at the same time. A big book, but still a page-turner.



 How it Feels by Brendan Cowell
A debut novel from a multi-talented author/actor/director. A coming-of-age novel which might well be semi-autobiographical.


Recently Read


 Monster Blood Tattoo: Factotum by D. M. Cornish
The third book in the MBT series. Will we finally find out who Rossamund really is? And will we be sad to leave this fully-realised fantasy world? I suspect the answer will be "yes" to both.



 Rendezvous at Kamakura Inn by Marshall Browne
Browne's first novel in a new series, this time featuring a Japanese detective, Inspector Aoki. This novel finds the inspector investigating an old murder in a snowed-in remote Japanese retreat.



 The City & The City by China Miéville
Miéville's Hugo Award winning novel of two cities inhabiting the same physical location. A murder mystery with hints of classic sf/fantasy memes, from Dick to Borges, but in a European setting.

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



 The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Heroic fantasy in the modern style. A fantasy that is laced through with noirish elements, and excellent characterisations. First book of The First Law trilogy.

 Where Have You Been? by Wendy James
What happens when a sister returns after being missing, presumed dead, for twenty years? James enhances her reputation as one of Australia's rising literary novelists.

 Wyatt by Garry Disher
Disher's anti-hero is back after an absence of ten years with a gritty, fast, noirish struggle for survival. All the best aspects of Disher's work are on display here.



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



 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Dick's novel of the near future when the difference between human and android is barely discernible. One of the great all-time sf titles.



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



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


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