April 2008 Archives

Poem: The March - Anzac Day, 1928 by C.J. Dennis

On with the dance! For the years have flown
Has not the world o'er weary grown
   Of bygone heroes, of bygone deeds?
   Shall we not turn to our later needs?
Must we ever be sobbing, ever be sad
O'er the mother who lost her soldier lad?
   On with the .....

            THEY WERE --
                  OUR DEAD!"

On with the work; for there's much to do,
Cash and preferment, for me and for you
   Wait on our doing. Why halt to pray
   For a long-gone grief, for a long-dead day?
Have we not given? Have we not spent
To mend the broken, to aid the bent?
   On with the .....

            THEY WERE --
                  OUR DEAD!"

On with the gaiety! On with the fun!
What are we caring, with life begun,
   For lives long ended? Can they not rest?
   On with the .....

            THEY WERE --
                  OUR DEAD!"

First published in the Herald, 25 April 1928
Note: it is of interest that the bulk of Dennis's work in the "Herald", some three to four thousand pieces, were signed with the penname "Den". His Anzac Day poems always carried his own name.

Matilda Waltzes

Time for a break. I'm off interstate for a week and will probably not have any web access for that period. I will, following my normal tradition, post a C.J. Dennis Anzac poem tomorrow morning. After that it'll be a week or so before I'm back on deck. Play well.

The Web is a Book

Pavlov's Cat puts into context the recent announcement of a new Chair of Australian Literature at the University of Western Australia.

"The State" webpage, which styles itself as South Carolina's home page, carries a video interview with Janette Turner Hospital.

Les Murray's poem, "Noonday Axeman" is here.

As his new novel Breath is close to being launched, Tim Winton will only be appearing once in Sydney, on May 11.

LiteraryMinded has been at Varuna and is all fired up to enter the Vogel award.

[The title of this entry is adapted from a quote from St Augustine: "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page."]

Reviews of Australian Books #84

Malcolm Knox finds a lot to like about God of Speed by Luke Davies in "The Sydney Morning Herald" which "is one of those memorable novels that is more strange than perfect. It has its patchiness....The short-chapter structure is mostly satisfying but in the early stages there were times when I wanted it to slow down, allow its weirdness to unravel at a slower pace. Like a beautiful yet over-modest person, it didn't seem to want the attention it merited."

Damien, on the "Crime Down Under" weblog, believes that Michael Robotham has found his niche in Shatter: "In just three books Michael Robotham has established himself as a master storyteller whose new releases are much anticipated both home and abroad. He consistently crafts impressive thrillers around intriguing scenarios. Shatter continues the trend and brings back the protagonist from The Suspect, Joseph O'Loughlin...Combine the hard work gone into character development with Robotham's free-flowing writing style, evidence of a natural storyteller at work, and readers will have no trouble becoming fully involved in Shatter."

On the "Happy Antipodean" weblog, Dean delves into the archives and looks at Old Blastus of Bandicoot by Miles Franklin: "While Franklin doesn't swerve to avoid emotion -- there are as many teary moments here as in Bleak House -- she avoids at all costs extraneous verbiage. This book is tight as a drum and, like that instrument, responds to good reading with gusto."

Joan Barfoot in the "Timmins Daily" is impressed with Identity Theory by Peter Temple: "Most powerfully, though, almost every word is written with rage, as Temple sets his clear, fierce gaze on the collateral damage caused by greed and ambition -- the evils men do, sometimes thoughtlessly, but too often deliberately and viciously, and just as carelessly."

Short Notices

The "Create Readers" weblog looks at Pagan's Daughter by Catherine Jinks: "The fifth book (although it can easily be read on its own) in the series based around the character Pagan Kidrouk, this is an action-packed book which gives a clear and detailed picture of life in the middle ages without being didactic or losing pace."

Sally Murphy reviews The Children by Charlotte Wood: "[this] is an insightful novel, looking at family relationships and the effects of death and illness on these connections, as well as on the impact that being exposed to violence can have on an individual. Moving through the long and emotional days of the family's bedside vigil, the story offers the multiple viewpoints of the different players, so that the reader is drawn into the differing perspectives of the family members and comes to care about what happens to them."

Nita Kibble Literary Award

Following on from the discussion regarding the 2008 Nita Kibble Literary Award featured href=http://www.middlemiss.org/matilda/2008/04/2008-kibble-awards-for-women-writers.html>here over the past few days, I decided it was a good idea to create a Wikipedia page devoted to the award. The trouble is I can't find some of the information. For example, I have no idea who won the award in 2000. And no searching anywhere on the web seems to provide the answer. So I'm throwing it over to you. Any thoughts on who won in 2000? Have I missed anything on the page I've created? I know I must have, I just don't know what.

Political Memoir

Ex-Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, has reportedly been offered a large advance (some say high six figures) for his political memoir. On ABC radio's PM program last night it was revealed that he was writing this book in collaboration with his father-in-law, Peter Coleman, a former NSW state Liberal leader, federal MP and editor of "The Bulletin" and "Quadrant". And now, a report in "The Australian" has ANU academic Wayne Errington, who co-wrote last year's controversial John Winston Howard: The Biography, stating that Costello would be a more interesting subject. Some commentators believe this might be a push by Costello to regain the Federal Liberal leadership. I can't see that: Costello could have the leadership if he wanted to. All he'd need to do is put his hand up. On the other hand, Stephen Mayne, of Crikey.com fame, said on ABC radio yesterday that he thought Costello might be writing it now when he had the use of taxpayer funded staff and offices, and that his aim to mainly to fill in time till the right job offer landed on his desk. That sounds far more likely to me.

There is more on this story here.

2008 Nita Kibble Awards for Women Writers

The shortlisted novels for the 2008 Kibble Awards (best novel by an Australian woman writer) have been announced. The shortlisted novels are:
Sorry by Gail Jones
Burning In by Mireille Juchau
Nights in the Asylum by Carol Lefevre

In addition, the Dobbie Award shortlist (for a first novel by a woman) was announced:
The Anatomy of Wings by Karen Foxlee
Nine Parts Water by Emma Hardman
A Curious Intimacy by Jessica White

I'm not sure when the winners will be announced.

2008 Australian Poetry Festival

The 2008 Australian Poetry Festival will be held this ANZAC weekend (April 25-27) in Castlemaine, Victoria. Prize winning poet Robert Adamson heads the Australian bill as he joins 28 poets from every State in Australia and 4 international guests: Sam Hamill (US), who founded Poets against War, Lorna Crozier (Canada) whose trademark is poems on family, spirituality and love's fierce attachments, and whose poems "become a part of the reader's permanent memory" Peter Balakian (US), writing on the Armenian Genocide Laksmi Pamuntjak (Indonesia) on food, film and violence, whose poetry "moves you with the speed of a heartache".

Details of the program and how to book are available on the main website.

Clive James Watch #5

Reviews of Cultural Amnesia

Nicholas Lezard in "The Guardian".

This book, says James in his introduction, has been 40 years in the making - that is, from when he became well-off enough not to have to sell books in order to eat, and could make notes in the margins instead. (Hence the subtitle.) As he reminds us, this is how Montaigne's essays started. And Montaigne's essays themselves, we may recall, can enter areas not immediately suggested by their titles. "This might well be", asserts James in his "Note on the Text", "the only serious book to explore the relationship between Hitler's campaign on the eastern front and Richard Burton's pageboy hairstyle in Where Eagles Dare." Well, none other springs to mind, but then maybe I just haven't read enough.
Articles by James

James laments the decision to allow the use of mobile phones on planes. I can only agree.
And he also writes about change for change's sake.
And he tackles dilemmas, moral and otherwise.


Jane, on the "What the Thunder Said" blog, provides the full text of James's poem "After the Storm". Best read it before it gets taken down.

Australian Bookcovers #111 - My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin


My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, 1901
(Angus & Robertson 1986 edition)
Jacket illustration: "Tea Time" by Charles Condor 1888

Reviews of Australian Books #83

Was Nellie Melba the most famous Australian of all time? Ann Bailey tries to answer that question in her biography of the opera singer, I am Melba. In "The Age", Jim Davidson attempts to figure out if she succeeded: "Melba was a phenomenon, whose ambition overcame the qualms she often felt early in her career. The voice drove her on, against the wishes both of her father and her husband. As intended, the name she chose as a singer did make her city famous...The most famous Australian, then, but for how much longer? Melba is safe unless Rupert Murdoch caps his business career with a spectacular act of philanthropy - like Cecil Rhodes - or until we produce a David Beckham, rather than a Don Bradman, in a sporting code the whole world plays. Or, in rock, an equivalent of The King or The Boss."

Also in "The Age", Sophie Gee feels that Julia Leigh may have cut too much from her new work, The Disquiet: "...Julia Leigh's art is rigorous, uncompromising and gutsy. This is a book that carries no fat at all, and it leaves her completely exposed as a writer. No juicy themes or doggy characters who romp out to meet you. No romantic tension and no sex. No jokes. It's not plot-driven, so there's nothing to keep you turning the pages...The book must work through the power of spare, precise prose. It calls for exquisite discipline, fitness and perfect understanding, and Leigh gives herself almost no margin for error. The degree of difficulty is immense...The ending, which needed to be perfectly carefully balanced like the rest of the book, felt rushed, leaving me wishing she'd cut the characters a bit more slack and given them a few thousand more words."

Mark McGuinness also looks at the Melba biography, I am Melba in "The Courier-Mail": "Nellie Melba is a glorious subject for biography. With meticulous research, Blainey has produced a more sympathetic Melba than John Hetherington's well-regarded study in 1987 and a more rounded complement to A Family Memoir, Pamela Vestey's affectionate tribute to her grandmother, as great a dame as she was grand and Australian to the core."

Cath Keneally, in "The Australian", is very enthusiastic about Joan London's latest novel The Good Parents: "From the first word, London is in control, unfolding the surprises tantalisingly, little by little...Set in the millennium year 2000, The Good Parents is wise, true, funny, tragic, soaring in scope and unassuming in style. The writing can be so quietly lyrical you want to read very slowly, the suspense enough to make you want to race to the finish. The quality of observation, close-focus and long-range, is so sharp you'll jab Post-it notes on every page...Every character, completely understood from the inside, is matchlessly right and irreplaceable...The human struggle to do good and be good in the world is at the heart of this novel, monumental efforts about to be annihilated by our limitations or the next unforeseen twist of fate."

Shara Saunsaucie reviews Magic's Child by Justine Larbalestier on the "calico_reaction" weblog: "It's a good book, but out of the three, I think it's the weakest. The strongest, ironically, is the second, Magic Lessons (second books have a bad rap for being the weakest in a trilogy/series). I think Magic's Child suffered a bit from having too much to wrap up and tie together. Everything happened really fast, but not necessarily in a way that made causal sense. Still, it's quite the enjoyable trilogy, and I still intend to hold the premise driving the books as a shining beacon of how to make a really cool magic system that has consequences."

The "Words and Flavours" weblog reviews The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan: "While it is overwritten, the novel is not poorly written. It evokes a place -- Tasmania -- that remains mysterious even for many who live in the same country. It takes that powerful force of isolation and chaos that Tasmania holds -- the island that offered prisons within prisons, an island of 'wild, mad [weather], its reason lost somewhere out in the aching emptiness of the fish-fat sea'" -- and thrusts it upon characters whose lives have seen too much turmoil to have the strength to try and tame their new home."

Jerry Jarrell reviews The Arrival by Shaun Tan on the "Lithography 101" weblog: "Tan is a remarkable artist, and when the protagonist of The Arrival resorts to sketching in order to communicate, you get the impression that this is what Tan himself has been doing all along - using art in its most primitive historic role as a way of telling stories."

Richard Flanagan on Tasmania

Novelist Richard Flanagan is certainly not going to endear himself to the Government of Tasmania with his recent article, "Battle Cry for Tasmania", published last week in "The Mercury" newspaper. There does seem to be something smelly about politics in that state.

There is a sickness at the heart of Tasmania and it is time all Tasmanians demanded of their political representatives that it end. For the future of Tasmania we must walk together, Labor, Liberal and Green, we must cease to be frightened, to be silent, and we must begin to speak out in our workplaces, our homes, our cafes, clubs and pubs -- for a Tasmania no longer weary and sad with the hate and the division that benefits only those richest and most powerful, for a Tasmania of hope and unity. I believe in the decency and goodness of ordinary Tasmanians.
And, in the middle of all that, he calls for the removal of the current Premier. Politicians in Tasmania may not
like Flanagan, but, somehow, I don't think that bothers him. Tasmanians should consider themselves lucky they have someone like him on their side. They may not believe that now, but they will in the future.

Poem: Adam Lindsay Gordon by Henry Kendall

At rest! Hard by the margin of that sea
Whose sounds are mingled with his noble verse
Now lies the shell that never more will
house The fine strong spirit of my gifted friend.
Yea, he who flashed upon us suddenly,
A shining soul with syllables of fire,
Who sang the first great songs these lands can claim
To be their own; the one who did not seem
To know what royal place awaited him
Within the Temple of the Beautiful,
Has passed away; and we who knew him sit
Aghast in darkness, dumb with that great grief
Whose stature yet we cannot comprehend;
While over yonder churchyard, hearsed with pines,
The night wind sings its immemorial hymn,
And sobs above a newly-covered grave.
The bard, the scholar, and the man who lived
That frank, that open-hearted life which keeps
The splendid fire of English chivalry
From dying out; the one who never wronged
A fellow man; the faithful friend who judged
The many, anxious to be loved of him
By what he saw, and not by what he heard,
As lesser spirits do; the brave, great soul
That never told a lie, or turned aside
To fly from danger -- he, as I say, was one
Of that bright company this sin-stained world
Can ill afford to lose.

                  They did not know,
The hundreds who had read his sturdy verse
And revelled over ringing major notes,
The mournful meaning of the undersong
Which runs through all he wrote, and often takes
The deep autumnal, half-prophetic tone
Of forest winds in March; nor did they think
That on that healthy-hearted man there lay
The wild specific curse which seems to cling
Forever to the Poet's twofold life!

To Adam Lindsay Gordon, I who laid
Two years ago on Lionel Michael's grave
A tender leaf of my regard; yea, I
Who culled a garland from the flowers of song
To place where Harpur sleeps; I, left alone,
The sad disciple of a shining band
Now gone -- to Adam Lindsay Gordon's name
I dedicate these lines; and if 'tis true
That, past the darkness of the grave, the soul
Becomes omniscient, then the bard may stoop
From his high seat to take the offering,
And read it with a sigh for human friends,
In human bonds, and grey with human griefs.

And having wove and proffered this poor wreath,
I stand to-day as lone as he who saw
At nightfall, through the glimmering moony mist,
The last of Arthur on the wailing mere,
And strained in vain to hear the going voice.

First published in The Australasian, 1 July 1870

2008 Miles Franklin Award Shortlist

The shortlisted novels for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award were announced last night.

The shortlist:
The Fern Tattoo by David Brooks, UQP
The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll, Fourth Estate
Love without Hope by Rodney Hall, Picador
Sorry by Gail Jones, Vintage
Landscape of Farewell by Alex Miller, A&U

You can read the full longlist here. Over the past couple of weeks all of these novels have appeared in the Combined Reviews section of Matilda.

2008 NSW Premier's Literary Award Shortlists

The shortlists for the 2008 NSW Premier's Award have been announced. The shortlisted works are:

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction ($20,000)
J.M. Coetzee Diary of a Bad Year
Matthew Condon The Trout Opera
Gregory Day Ron McCoy's Sea of Diamonds
Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog
Tom Keneally The Widow and Her Hero
Alex Miller Landscape of Farewell

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction ($20,000)
Tom Griffiths Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica
Philip Jones Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers
Guy Pearse High and Dry: John Howard, Climate Change the Selling of Australia's Future
Jacob G Rosenberg Sunrise West
Nicholas Rothwell Another Country
Maria Tumarkin Courage

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry ($15,000)
Joanne Burns an illustrated history of dairies
Brook Emery Uncommon Light
Peter Kirkpatrick Westering
Kathryn Lomer Two Kinds of Silence
David Malouf Typewriter Music
Phyllis Perlstone The Edge of Everything

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature ($15,000)
Lollie Barr The Mag Hags
David Metzenthen Black Water
Robert Newton The Black Dog Gang
James Roy Town
David Spillman & Lisa Wilyuka Us Mob Walawurru
Lizzie Wilcock GriEVE

Patricia Wrightson Prize ($15,000)
Aaron Blabey Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley
Martin Chatterton The Brain Finds a Leg
Li Cunxin & Anne Spudvilas (illus) The Peasant Prince
Liz Lofthouse & Robert Ingpen (illus) Ziba Came on a Boat
Emily Rodda The Key to Rondo
Carole Wilkinson Dragon Moon

Community Relations Commission Award ($15,000)
John Fitzgerald Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia
David Hill The Forgotten Children
Mark Kurzem The Mascot
Jacob G. Rosenberg Sunrise West
Peta Stephenson The Outsiders Within: Telling Australia's Indigenous-Asian Story

Gleebooks Prize ($10,000)
Kay Anderson Race and the Crisis of Humanism
Helen Gilbert & Jacqueline Lo Performance and Cosmopolitics: Cross-Cultural Transactions in Australia
Niall Lucy & Steve Mickler The War on Democracy: Conservative Opinion in the Australian Press
Glenn Nicholls Deport: A History of Forced Departures from Australia
Peta Stephenson The Outsiders Within: Telling Australia's Indigenous-Asian Story
Gillian Whitlock Soft Weapons: Autobiography in Transit

UTS Award for New Writing ($5,000)
No short list with this Award. Winner will be announced 19 May 2008

Play Award ($15,000)
Nicki Bloom Tender
Wesley Enoch The Story of the Miracles at Cookie's Table
Debra Oswald Stories in the Dark
Alana Valentine Parramatta Girls

Script Writing Award ($15,000)
Anna Broinowski Forbidden Lie$
Elissa Down & Jimmy Jack (a.k.a. Jimmy the Exploder) The Black Balloon
Kristen Dunphy East West 101: episode 1, The Enemy Within
Alison Nisselle Curtin
Cathy Randall Hey, Hey, It's Esther Blueburger
Michale James Rowland & Helen Barnes Lucky Miles

The NSW Premier's Literary Scholarship Prize ($15,000)
Katherine Barnes The Higher Self in Christopher Brennan's Poems: Esotericism, Romanticism, Symbolism
William Christie Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Literary Life
Richard Freadman This Crazy Thing a Life: Australian Jewish Autobiography
Helen Gilbert & Janet Lo Performance and Cosmopolitics: Cross-Cultural Transactions in Australia
Anthony Uhlmann Samuel Beckett and the Philosophical Image
Ann Vickery Stressing the Modern: Cultural Politics in Australian Women's Poetry

The full list of the awards and associated judges' comments is available.

So Life Mooches On by F.W. Boreham

The erection, at his birthplace in South Australia, of a monument to the memory of C.J. Dennis will awaken a sympathetic vibration in the hearts of that vast multitude of appreciative admirers whose ears are pleasantly haunted by his lilting melodies. Himself a pendulum, swinging incessantly betwixt a smile and a tear, he carries us all with him into whichever realm he plunges.

It is in line with the imposing traditions of the older lands that the literary annals of Australia should be adorned by a magnetic figure whose dazzling brilliance, human tenderness and exuberant humour are thrown into relief frailties that evoke alike our pity and our affection.

A dozen years have now passed since he slipped away from us. How, one wonders, is his unique craftsmanship standing the test of time? His was an extraordinary career: and, as a consequence, he struck a note that was distinctively and exclusively his own. The "Sentimental Bloke" was modelled on nothing, and nothing could possibly be modelled on it.

When the poet died, at the age of 62, Mr. J. A. Lyons, then Prime Minister, referred to him as the Robert Burns of Australia, whilst, long before that time, some of the most eminent critics had saluted him as a master of his craft.


The sheets of his masterpiece were scarcely off the press when Mr. H. G. Wells wrote the publishers a letter of enthusiastic congratulation. That most, fastidious judge, Mr. E.V. Lucas confessed that he was a little bewildered at finding Australian slang set to music with such superb skill; but he added that the general effect was so moving as to be positively embarrassing; and, since he hated to seen with moist eyes, he declined to hear the stanzas recited. John Masefield, the King's Laureate, greeted Dennis as a true poet, and, during his vislt to Australia, spent some delightful hours as his guest.

Born at a typical up-country inn at Auburn, in South Australia, and moving, whilst still very young, to another inn at Laura, Dennis early acquired the art of expressing vigorous thought in tuneful verse. Possessing a delicate ear for music and a discrimating eye for beauty, he developed an uncanny appreciation of the value and sweetness of words. Like Robert Service, his Canadian contemporary, with whom he had much in common, he was deeply indebted to the maiden aunts who listened with encouraging pride to his prentice ventures in poetry.

Passing from beneath their doting authority, Dennis spent his mature youth and early manhood in drifting from place to place and from occupation to occupation, groping with blind hands for the glittering but elusive destiny that seemed to lure him on.

Barman, solicitor's clerk, journalist, and what not, he was everything by turns and nothing long. An excellent mixer, singing a good song, enjoying a tempting meal and loving a hearty jest, he never lacked companions.

It was during these years of gipsying that he acquired habits that he afterwards deplored, and that eventually brought him, sad and sorry, to the mountain home of Mr. and Mrs. J.G. Roberts, of Kallista, whose hospitality restored his self-respect, captured his heart and gave to the world a poet of renown. Mr. and Mrs. Roberts did for C.J. Dennis what a generation earlier, Mr. and Mrs. Meynell had done for Francis Thompson.

His work deserves to live. In "dipping his lid" to C.J. Dennis by contributing a foreword to the "Sentimental Bloke," Henry Lawson strikes a note of warning. The book, he says, is very brilliant. Let the reader beware, however, lest its brilliance - brilliance of conception, brilliance of humor and brilliance of pathos - should blind him to something still deeper.

What is that deeper something? At first blush there would seem to be no parallel between Dennis and Dante. The "Sentimental Bloke" does not belong to the same world as the Divine Comedy. Yet Ruskin sums up the Divine Comedy as Dante's love-poem to Beatrice; a song of praise for her watch over his soul. "She saves him from destruction," Ruskin continues. "He is eternally going astray in despair. She comes to his help, and throughout the ascents of Paradise, leads him from star to star." The words exactly describe Dennis's poem. The love of Doreen saved Bill from his baser self, lifted his life to a loftier plane and made a new man of him.

The poems opens dismally. Belonging to the lowest stratum of Melbourne life, Bill has spent most of his time in drinking, gambling and fighting among the purlieus of Little Bourke and Little Streets. He is, however, sick to death of the whole thing.

But why has he so suddenly come to loathe the life that he had so recently loved? Obviously, something must have caused this recoil. It has. On a perfect spring morning he has seen Doreen. At first she will have nothing to do with him. He speaks; but, with a toss of her pretty head and a swish of her skirt, she passes on her queenly way, leaving Bill writhing in the very dust. Yet he loves her all the more for her refusal to make herself cheap.

On this slender but exquisitely human foundation, Dennis rears his philosophy of life. Bill has to choose between his old ways and Doreen.

Fer 'er sweet sake I've gone and chucked it all clean;
   The pubs and schools, an' all that leery game
Fer when a bloke 'as come to know Doreen,
   It ain't the same.
There's 'igher things, she sez, for blokes to do;
An' I am 'arf believin' that it's true.

Just once, two months after their wedding, Bill meets some of his old cronies, slips back into his former courses and turns his steps homeward in the early morning in a condition in which he is ashamed to present himself to Doreen. She puts him to bed, and, a few hours later, tiptoes into the room with tears in her eyes and, in her hands, a basin of beef-tea -

Beef tea! She treats me like a hinvaleed!
Me! that 'as caused 'er lovin' 'eart to bleed.
   It 'urts me worse than maggin' fer a week!
'Er! 'oo 'ad right to turn dead sour on me,
Fergives like that, an' feeds me wiv beef tea . . .
      I tries to speak;
An' then -- I ain't ashamed o' wot I did --
I 'ides me face . . . an' blubbers like a kid.
In his brief, but excellent biography of Dennis, Mr. A.H. Chisholm tells us that this episode is really autobiographical, being based on the welcome extended to Dennis by Mrs. Roberts after one of his unhappy lapses. Like Dante, Dennis chants the victory of Love Triumphant. These are the last lines of the book:-
An' I am rich, becos me eyes 'ave seen
The lovelight in the eyes of my Doreen;
   An' I am blest, becos me feet 'ave trod
   A land 'oo's fields reflect the smile o' God.
Sittin' at ev'nin' in this sunset-land,
Wiv 'Er in all the World to 'old me 'and,
   A son, to bear me name when I am gone....
   Livin' an' lovin'--so life mooches on.
C.J. Dennis has rested for twelve years in his grave at Box Hill, but Australia can ill afford to let him die.

First published in The Age, 9 December 1950

Peter Carey Watch #5

Reviews of His Illegal Self

Theo Tait in the "London Review of Books": "Carey writes fiction on the grand, nation-building scale: by his own admission, nearly everything he has ever written has 'been concerned with questions of national identity'. As a rule, he presents Australia, if not Australians, in a very unflattering light. The country comes across as a rough, small-minded, land-grabbing settler culture, based on self-serving fictions and violence, forever dogged by feelings of inferiority towards Europe and America. As one of the characters in his last novel, Theft (2006), concisely puts it, 'We Australians are really shit. We know nothing. We are so bloody ugly.' Carey likes to blow the whistle on his country's hidden historical crimes (Ned Kelly begins his account by announcing that he knows 'what it is to be raised on lies and silence', and intends to defy them). He has specialised in creating disreputable Australian heroes -- convicts made good, bushrangers, self-inventing fraudsters -- who tend both to embody and to transcend the small, bigoted towns and 'hateful and life-denying' suburbs they come from. To quote from My Life as a Fake, he sings 'the song of the autodidact, the colonial, the damaged beast of the antipodes'."

Corey Redekop on his weblog, "Shelf Monkey", and previously in the "Winnipeg Free Press": "His Illegal Self is a wonderful novel, Carey's best since The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith. If, as hinted throughout the pages, there is more to tell about Che's life, Carey had best take his time on the sequel. His Illegal Self is too good to soil with a lesser follow-up."

Terry Pender in "Guelph
: "The social ferment of the 1960s produced the peace movement, second wave feminism and the environmental movement. Almost all of the underground militants had surfaced by the 1980s and most were quickly integrated into mainstream America. Not a bad legacy by any measure...So it shouldn't be too much to ask of a writer such as Carey to have more sympathetic characters from the New Left. After all, these people didn't carpet bomb Vietnam and kill millions of civilians."

Reviews of The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith

Gillian Fulcher in "Eureka Street": "Throughout the novel Carey uses language which could offend people with disabilities. Neither Australian nor British reviewers of The Unusual Life, which was published in 1994, appeared to ponder these matters. It was not, said the London Review of Books, a novel about disability. Maybe not, but disability is the vehicle for something else ... By writing the central character as disabled, the broader world is starkly shown as increasingly oppressive of those whom Tristan, as archetype, represents. But as archetype he also represents the increasing scrutiny we are all under. This world exacerbates earlier oppressions of conformity, appearance, image, and performance."


Jon Weiner in "Dissent" magazine.

Jon Wiener: In His Illegal Self, the year is 1972 and the characters are set in motion by the Weather Underground. I'm reluctant to talk about the plot because one of the pleasures of the book, especially at the beginning, is figuring out the plot--told mostly from the perspective of a seven-year-old boy. Could you explain what you want people to know about it?
B>Peter Carey: This is the number one issue for me at the moment. I spent two years building this book, which really depends on withholding information. It delivers a whole series of surprises and thrills for the reader, I hope, which was not easy to achieve. But we live in a culture where people confuse "story" and "art," and where reviewers are called upon by their editors to report the story. So while they are praising this book, they are sort of destroying it -- by giving away all these things.

Jim H. uses his reading of True History of the Kelly Gang to riff on a number of novels, from Nabakov to Lasdun, which he puts into a "psychological realism X" (for X-treme) genre.

Combined Reviews: Saturn Returns by Sean Williams

saturn_returns.jpg Reviews of Saturn Returns by Sean Williams
July 2007

[This novel won the 2008 Ditmar Award for Best Novel.]

From the publisher's page

Dark experiments, dangerous ruins, fleeting ghosts and deadly conspiracies... On the edge of the galaxy in a distant and terrible future, Imre Bergamasc is reborn into a pieced-together body with the certain knowledge that he was the victim of an elaborate murder plot. But neither his mind nor the history of his former life are as easily reassembled, so he sets out to follow the fragments of his memories and discover the reason for his elimination. Through interstellar graveyards, decaying megacities and bizarre star systems, he pursues whispers connecting the death of the worlds he once knew to his own murder. Tracked by forces determined to thwart his efforts, Imre combs the wreckage of the future for the truth about himself -- no matter how unbearable it may be.


Matthew Tait on "Oz HorrorScope": "Saturn Returns, the first book of Astropolis, marks a pivotal time in the career of Adelaide author Sean Williams. Like the title metaphor, it seems the author himself is going through a personal homecoming of sorts. After the debacle of the Books of the Cataclysm, Sean has revisited the path where he started - and, dare I say it, where he belongs...With honesty and aplomb Sean shows us that, unfortunately, wars will never be won: it's the human condition and mirrors the current global situation. No matter how hard we travel and how hard we evolve, human beings, at their very basic, will always be warring machines..."

Taryn on "A Storm of Words": "Orbit describes it as a 'space opera balancing cosmic-level threats with a very human murder mystery'. I think its a fast paced guns-a-blazing-mystery dealing with questions of identity PLUS a central character with partial amnesia, what more could you want?...Sean Williams has created a fascinating gothic galaxy recovering from a galactic-wide disaster. Humans have spread far and wide across the galaxy, some remaining in one body, Primes, living and dying others, Singletons, opt for having many clones and absorbing and sharing memories and then there are the group minds."

Graeme on "Graeme's Fantasy Book Review": "With science fiction; it seems that the more space travel a character needs to undertake, the 'harder' the tone will be. This is certainly the case here with characters handily able to adjust their body tempo, in order to travel vast distances, and talk of the complexity of sending communications across the galaxy. I'm not a fan of 'hard sci-fi' and will admit that any talk of 'relativity' or 'the warping affects of a neutron star's gravitational field' send me into a little daydream until someone fires a laser gun and gets things going again. There is some of that here but luckily (for me anyway) the 'detective element' of the story was gripping enough to keep me going."

Jonathan McCalmont on "SF Diplomat": "As I was reading this book, I was struck by how much it resembled two other books, namely Iain M. Banks' 1993 Against a Dark Background and Roger Zelazny's 1970 Nine Princes in Amber...Much like Against a Dark Background, Saturn Returns is a work of action-packed SF that has a good deal of wry wit and a desire to innovate. At 280 pages, the book is short and to the point. While its mystery/self-discovery elements can lead to the pace slowing, it is generally not long before Bergamasc is called upon to lead his gang into battle or use his tactical nous to solve a problem. The action sequences are exciting to read and the book's pace accelerates towards the end leaving you eager to find out what happens next in this projected three book series."

JP on "SF Signal": "Saturn Returns is the first book in Sean Williams' new space opera series, Astropolis. It has all the things you'd expect from New Space Opera: postumans, galaxy spanning cultures, conspiracies and imminent threat to humanity. The setting has some of the feel of Alastair Reynolds' Inhibitor series, but with Williams' own additions to space opera...At times I felt like I was getting info dumped instead of story progress. And while the characters are interesting, they aren't really that sympathetic. Not yet anyway...So it's a good thing that the universe Williams has created is just so darn cool. He packs a lot of interesting and unique ideas into this story. I'm really interested in
seeing how the story unfolds and how the conspiracy plays out."


Williams was interviewed by Tim Lloyd for "The Advertiser", soon after the book was published in 2007.

Aussiecon Four

This might take a little while, so bear with me. The World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, is the world's longest running sf convention, having been held annually since 1946 (plus for three years prior to WW II). The convention brings together fans, writers, readers, artists, publishers and anyone else who has an interest in the science fiction and fantasy genres. The emphasis of the convention is on the literary side although all other forms, such as film, television, and comics, are included.

One of the main aims of any Worldcon is to present the annual Hugo Awards, which celebrate professional and non-professional achievement from the previous year in sf and fantasy. These are the major reader-based awards in the sf field and are highly regarded by sf professionals.

The Worldcon has been held three times in Australia - Aussiecon in 1975, Aussiecon Two in 1985, and Aussiecon Three in 1999 - and now an attempt is being made to host the convention here again, in 2010; hence the title of this post. The site of a particular year's Worldcon is decided at the convention held two years previously. It follows, therefore, that whether or not Australia will be granted the right to host the convention will be determined at this year's Worldcon, Denvention, being held in Denver in early August.

How the hosting site is decided is a long and complicated process but, in essence, it comes down to a ballot of candidate cities who are bidding for a year, with votes being cast by members of the current year's Worldcon. To appear on the ballot bidding committees have to fulfil a number of criteria, the main aim of which is to ensure that the committee knows what they are getting into, have the level of expertise to run the Worldcon in the accepted manner, and have all legal and contractural paperwork in place to ensure the whole thing doesn't go belly-up. The Australian committee, of which I am the Chair, has met those criteria and we now appear on the Site Selection Ballot. We are, actually, the only site bidding for 2010, so our chances of being the hosts in that year look promising.

Which brings us down to the actual voting procedure. As hinted at above, voters must be members of the convention at which the vote is taken. There are two types of membership for all Worldcons: attending - which allows you to actually attend the convention, take part in any activities, receive all the publications and paperwork, and vote for both the Hugo Awards and Site Selection; and supporting which provides all of that apart from the right to attend. If you like, they can be thought of as full or part memberships. Needless to say, we'd like as many people as possible to vote in the site selection ballot. It will cost you an extra fee to vote, but that fee converts directly into a supporting membership of the winning convention, whether you voted for them or not. Voting, generally, also gives you a slight discount on the conversion of a supporting membership into an attending one. Joining the Denver convention and voting in the Site Selection Ballot is the simplest and best way to ensure the Worldcon comes back to Australia in 2010. From there it's just a matter of converting to an attending membership, and planning a trip to Melbourne in early September 2010. Couldn't be simpler.

2008 Byron Bay Writers' Festival

The Byron Bay Writers' Festival is back on this year, and will run from July 25 to 27. The program for the festival will be released on May 30th. Chief Executive of World Vision Australia, Tim Costello, will provide the key note address on Friday 25th.

Sam de Brito Profile

Sam de Brito's novel, The Lost Boys, will be published next month. As a lead-in the author is interviewed by Andrew Taylor in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

De Brito began writing The Lost Boys after he "ran screaming in horror from 'The Sunday Telegraph' social pages", which he had edited for less than six months. De Brito says it was an unhappy time. He was fed up with journalism, and found writing for television series like Water Rats and White Collar Blue equally as unsatisfying.

"I guess I wrote myself out of the place I was in and to do that I dumped a lot of stuff into the book," he says. "It is a sad book but it was written from a sad place."

Review: Aphelion by Emily Ballou

aphelion.jpg    Emily Ballou
Pan Macmillan, 493 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Bernadette Gooden

Phew!! Who knew that so much heaving, seething, emotional turmoil and sexual tension could be boiling away in three old houses next to each other on the shores of peaceful Lake Eucumbene!

Set in the historic town of Adaminaby, a place drowned by The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, the action of this novel takes place against the magnificent backdrop of the High Country. The title, Aphelion, is a term used in astronomy referring to the point in the orbit of a planet when it is the furthest from the sun, the darkest point.

Hazel is an American woman running from a failed relationship. She is coming to the town to curate an exhibition on the history of the area. On the way she picks up a hitchhiker, handsome loner Rhett, who is returning after years abroad to sort out his mother's house after her death. He offers to put her up at his place.

The two of them storm into the lives of the four women who live next door: four generations of the same family, trapped together by the circumstances of their lives. These six people seem held in a dream on the shores of the lake in isolation from the rest of the world, all in a state of aphelion. Rhett and Hazel act as the catalysts to start everyone dealing with their emotional paralysis.

The four women are great-grandmother Hortense, her daughter Esme, granddaughter Byrne and great-granddaughter Lucetta. All have very complex, angst-ridden back-stories.

I have had a very mixed reaction to Emily Ballou's novel. Her descriptive writing, evoking the beauty of the area, the physicality of the characters and the great rendering of the historical detail in the stories of the older women are very fine, and the reason why I read the book to the end. Miss Ballou is a very talented writer capable of transporting the reader to another place and time, whether it be magnificent, rugged scenery or an old farmhouse kitchen.

Her characters are well drawn, however the plot lines and the exchanges between the characters, especially the Windle women, are ultimately irritating and boring. There are too many intense people in the same place, at the same pitch. In fact there are enough for two novels! Everyone is constantly working out his or her deepest, innermost thoughts and problems and every aspect of the mother-child relationship is scrutinised. One minute we are mystical, another suicidal. Then there are the sex scenes. Now, I'm sure if you put six intelligent people of mixed ages and sexes (some from the same family) in a room and you could read their thoughts all at once it would probably be a bit like Aphelion, but would we want to stay in the room with them? There is a feeling of trying too hard. A simpler version of the plot would have gone so much further, allied with Ms. Ballou's undoubted writing talent, to bring the place, the story and the history more alive, to feel genuine emotion for these people instead of a vague feeling of "get on with it".

I did enjoy many aspects of this book. It just needs to be a little more balanced, with a greater perspective on the concept of the story as a whole, a little more ease. With such a gifted writer I'm sure this will come in future work.

Pamela Freeman Interview

Mainly known as a writer for children and young adults - at least that's how her books are labelled - Pamela Freeman released Blood Ties, the first book in a trilogy, in 2007, and has the second, Deep Water, coming out later this year. Peta McCartney interviewed the author for "The Courier-Mail".

Thanks to the librarian, the young Freeman spent her days home from school lost in fiction, classics, fantasy and adventure. Those days founded her love of reading - today she favours New Scientist, history, sociology and anthropology - and led to her becoming a a successful author with 17 children's books and a recent foray into adult fiction to her name. "I have always read a lot of non-fiction," she says. "It's been a big influence."

Reviews of Australian Books #82

"DovegreyReader" is impressed with Disquiet by Julia Leigh, even touting it for a CERTAIN award later in the year, except that the publisher has pitched it as a novella, rather than a straight novel. "There is little I can tell you about plot without giving away the essence and I would humbly suggest avoiding reviews until you've read Disquiet for fear of finding out what you'd rather not. Impact is all and Julia Leigh does impact in a quiet and controlled way scattering echoes and reverberations in her wake. Except everything in this book, no matter how bizarre it seems, can and does happen in people's lives, so no suspension of disbelief required, read and believe."

In "The Sydney Morning Herald", Peter Goldsworthy finds that "Susan Wyndham's Life In His Hands is the story of the relationship of the flamboyant [neurosurgeon] Teo and his young patient. It's an insider's story; granted intimate access to both men, Herald journalist Wyndham becomes a friend to both. Her story, then, is affectionate, but still honest in its discussion of character failings - it's no hagiographic duet...Her grasp of procedural detail is the equal of the neurosurgical sequences in Ian McEwan's Saturday, the best outsider job I've read. In some ways her book is less a tale of two men than a tale of two brains - the creative right brain of the musician, and the logical and coolly methodical left brain of the surgeon - and she pulls off a neat trick of neurosurgery in joining these two halves into a complete book."

In the same newspaper, Peter Pierce reviews The Poet Who Forgot by Catherine Cole.

Since the 1960s, the ascendant literary form in Australia has been autobiography, tales of the self in prose and verse, some shading into what Donald Horne called "sociography" while others dwell on the solitary power of examining one's own past. So crowded has the field become that recently we have seen ingenious autobiographies by other means. One is Catherine Cole's The Poet Who Forgot, the account of the correspondence and friendship that began in the early '80s between Cole, a public servant and aspiring writer, and A.D. Hope, one of Australia's greatest poets, by then in his 70s. ... Hers is a wilful discursiveness, based on the assumption that the quality of the writing will persuade us to stay the journey. As indeed it does.
Margaret Cannon has a look at Identity Theory by Peter Temple as it is published in Canada. And she's very impressed, comparing Temple's work here to John le Carré, and concluding that this is a novel that "will be read for decades".

Sam de Brito is best known as a journalist for Sydney and Melbourne newspapers. His first novel, The Lost Boys, covers similar ground to his journalism: the Australian male. Nigel Krauth, in "The Australian", discovers much to like, and a lot to feel uncomfortable about: "Seemingly no cultural stone is unturned in this narrative and, indeed, for most of it the narrator, his mates, his parents and the rest of the world are stoned. An awful lot of alcohol and drugs are consumed in this book. If the novel is a random breath test of the Australian nation, then the nation has come up immediately jail-able."

Also in "The Australian", radio presenter Norman Swan reviews Life in his Hands by Susan Wyndham: "This is a beautifully written, emotional, almost novelistic account of what to some may seem blind courage on the part of both patient and doctor...It tells, however, of a bigger story that affects us all: the right to live and die the way we choose, as long as our eyes are open and no-one else is harmed. "

Australian Bookcovers #110 - Rhymes from the Mines by Edward Dyson


Rhymes from the Mines by Edward Dyson 1896
(Pollard 1973 edition)
Cover by Walter Stackpool

Not All Those Who Wander are Lost

"The Australian" newspaper is reporting that the Western Australian State Government is instigating

...the new Premier's Australia-Asia literary fund, worth $1.2 million over four years and touted as the richest of its kind in Australia, will be managed jointly by the department and the State Library of WA. It will be judged by a panel of three: an Australian author (to be appointed) and two international authors who have already been selected.

They are Sri Lankan-born author and journalist Nury Vittachi, founder of Asia Literary Review, who has played a key role in setting up literary organisations in the Asian region; and Karachi-born novelist Kamila Shamsie, who has judged Britain's Orange prize for new fiction.

Unlike the contentious Prime Minister's Literary Awards, the panel will make the final decision about the winning book. The winning author's prize will be more than the $100,000 offered by the PM's prize.

Sophie Cunningham, the new editor of the Australian literary periodical "Meanjin", opens a cupboard in the magazine's office and discovers 68 years of back issues. Some of the covers are wonderful.

Genevieve provides the details about a new Chair of Australian Literature being created by the Rudd Government at the University of Western Australia.

Judith Ridge reports on the launch of Woolshed Press, a new Australian children's book imprint from Random House publishers.

Lonely Planet Publishers find themselves in a spot of trouble over news that an author plagiarised most of the details in one of their travel guides. I'm not looking to visit Colombia anytime in the near future, which is probably a good thing - on a number of levels.

Angela Savage clocks in with Milestone #1, the completion of the first draft of her new novel - a follow-up to Behind the Night Bazaar. The author featured in our recent "Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot."

Justine Larbalestier found a copy of her novel Magic or Madness in a German bookshop - the German edition of course - and found it sitting next to a book by John Marsden. "I've been stunned by how many Aussie books I've been seeing in translation on our travels. Oodles of them by the likes of Trudi Canavan, Sara Douglass, Sonya Hartnett, John Marsden, Garth Nix, Marcus Zusak etc., etc. World domination!"

2008 Blake Dawson Prize for Business

The Blake Dawson Prize for Business Literature is not an award that I have come across before. Anyway, "The Australian" newspaper is reporting that the 2008 prize has been won by Caroline Overington for her work Kickback: Inside the Australian Wheat Board Scandal. You'll recall that the Australian Wheat Board got caught providing kickbacks to the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein prior to the Second Gulf War. The prize is worth $30,000 to the winner.

Geraldine Brooks Watch #5

Reviews of People of the Book

Nancy Wigston in "The Toronto Star": "Brooks's major challenge remains the existence of a book that ought not to exist but stubbornly does. She allows herself considerable leeway -- rooted in history and logic, it must be said -- when it comes to her account of its creation: extraordinary storytelling meets extraordinary reality...In our world, 'no one expects the Spanish Inquisition' evokes the famous Monty Python sketch. But Brooks shows that for considerable chunks of time in Europe, many did expect the torturers...Brooks opens windows onto forgotten worlds, matching her stories to historical truths. Throughout, the survival of the Sarajevo Haggadah speaks with its own thunderous eloquence."

On the "Green Chair Press" weblog: "I am amazed by the amount of research that Brooks must have done to write her book. There's lots of information about bookbinding and conservation, as well as an incredible amount of historical detail. The adventures of the main, present-day narrator, Hanna, are awfully contrived, but the interspersed stories imagining the history of the Haggadah are much better. Certainly reading it was a fine way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon!"


Jessica Yadegaran on the "PopMatters" website.

The reader can't help but try to compare Brooks to her heroine, Heath, who is a feisty and ambitious Australian, but sexually reckless and estranged from family. Save for nationality and passion for their work, however, the women have nothing in common, Brooks says. The author struggled with the character's cultural identity, and originally wanted the conservator to be Bosnian, because she loves the way Sarajevans express themselves - with a kind of "world-weary, mordant wit."

But the Aussie in Heath eventually spoke to Brooks. "It was a voice that I was completely confident with," she says. "She immediately turned up in my imagination and compelled the story. Her character told me how she would act, and that was much more take-charge than perhaps my Bosnian conservator would have been."

Kelly Hewitt on the "Loaded Questions" weblog.
Kelly Hewitt:Are there other instances from your career as a reporter in which you found inspiration for a fictional novel amidst such a tumultuous reality?

Geraldine Brooks:All of my novels, one way or another, relate to my years as a reporter. Sometimes it's an idea that I came across while on assignment, as is the case with the Sarajevo Haggadah and People of the Book. But both People of the Book and March contain episodes that draw on my experiences covering the news. For instance, the scene where Isak and Ina fall through the ice is a fictional translation of a tragic event that happened to two refugees during the flight of the Kurds from Iraq when their uprising was crushed. More broadly,witnessing individuals who have to undergo real change during a time of catastrophe -- particularly women who find themselves forced to assume huge burdens and responsibilities that their earlier life hadn't prepared them for -- has inspired the way I invent characters who change a great deal in the course of the narrative.

You can also listen to a radio interview with the author from station KCRW, and watch a video interview on Australia's Channel Nine.

Julia Leigh Profile

As her long-awaited second novel, Disquiet, is published, Julia Leigh is profiled by Deborah Snow in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

We begin fencing over a mystery: the long hiatus since her extraordinary literary debut in 1999. That first multi-award-winning novel, The Hunter, led to a Rolex scholarship which teamed her with revered American writer and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison for a year's mentoring in the US. But then, nothing. Or, at least, no other published novel until this month's release of Disquiet, a slim work of 121 pages. Despite intense speculation, Leigh is not about to gratify anyone with a detailed explanation.

"Let me think, about the long wait ... [pause] ... First of all, I don't think an author is under any obligation to produce a novel or a work of literature as if there's some sort of industrial process about it."

Then later, "There is a nice quote I like from poet Elizabeth Bishop, something like scientists and artists are alike in that they are prepared to waste effort ... When I am
exploring things, when I set out, I can't be guaranteed of a result."

Poem: Henry Clarence Kendall by W.S.

Oh, Mother Nature, beat thy breasts and weep
For him thine ardent lover gone to sleep!
Embrace in loving arms
Thy hierophant, the chanter of thy psalms!

He loved thy daedal forests; yes, he felt
That they were thine own temples, so he dwelt
Within them, dwelt with thee.
Great Mother, thou shouldst sing his elegy!

Ye sentinels of earth, ye hills that stand
'Tween earth and sky, like giants that command
The slopes to heaven, weep
For him, our late-voiced brother gone to sleep!

Ye winds, whose strong pulsations filled his rhymes
With varied cadences, that swelled to chimes
Or moved with stately tread
Like armies, wail for him, the harper dead!

In tears, ye Austral mothers, teach his name
And songs to all your little ones; the flame
That burnt within his breast
Should burn in theirs; he loved his country best.

Ye sturdy sons of energy, whose ways
Are cast among the backwoods, in his lays
He sang your hopes, our fears, Your daring deeds;
then weep, he claims your tears.

And thou, sweet Spring, he loved thee, bring soft showers,
And balmy airs, and amaranthine flow'rs,
And bursting blossoms throw
Upon his grave -- there let them ever blew.

Great Mother Nature, beat thy breats and weep
For him, thy lute-voiced lover gone to sleep!
Embrace in loving arms
Thy hierophant, the chanter of thy psalms!

First published in The Bulletin, 26 August 1882

Note: Henry Kendall died on 1st August, 1882, aged 43.

2008 National Biography Award Winners

Joint winners of the 2008 National Biography Award have been announced.

The works are:

Napoleon: The Path To Power 1769-1799 by Philip Dwyer
These Few Lines: A Convict Story - The Lost Lives Of Myra & William Sykes by Graham Seal

The awards were announced last night at the State Library of NSW. The winners will share prizemoney of $20,000.

Blast From the Past: When Marcus Clarke Wrote Thrillers by J.P. Quaine

There has never been a complete collection of Marcus Clarke's work published -- and there never will be. Hidden away in old periodicals and newspapers are scores of his unsigned items, some of which can been identified by peculiarities of the author's style; for, like George Augustus Sala, the greatest journalist of all time, Clarke could invest a seemingly unimportant par. with a literary flourish. However, the purpose of this article is not to discuss the merits of Marcus as an all-round journalist, but to consider him from an entirely new angle -- that of "terrorist".

Perhaps you will say there are horrors enough in "His Natural Life" to glut the most epicurean. Admittedly so; but it is to his smaller pieces, such as, for instance, that brightly written little story "The Mind-Reader's Curse," we must turn to appreciate him as a shocker.

One of his earliest efforts, "The Mantuan Apothecary," which appeared in the "Australian Monthly" (later transformed under Clarke's supervision into the "Colonial Monthly"), has a tastefully worded conclusion. There is to me something particularly pleasing in the last paragraph where the Mantuan Apothecary meditates on "The chains, the crowd, the hangman and the gallows!"

Two Christmas stories of his were masterpieces of suggested horror. "The Man with the Oblong Box" (which contained a corpse that the man was evidently keeping as a souvenir) is a narrative tale with an artistic touch; the author, while cleverly avoiding the least suspicion of actual gruesomeness, gives the reader eloquent proof of the box's shocking contents.

"Treasure Trove" in "The Australian Annual 1858," was the other Christmas thriller. The late Thomas Carrington executed a very realistic plate for this tale, depicting two unkempt and ferocious desperadoes clawing golden ingots from each other. One gentleman is slightly inconvenienced through having to hold his dagger in his right hand, but his opponent is more practical-minded, with his weapon between his clenched teeth, he is able to use both hands in the scramble. Unfortunately, nobody gets the gold. Both perish in the frozen ocean and the story is read from an MS. found in a bottle.

There is a distinctly Biercian flavor in some of Clarke's minor sketches. The poem of "How Bill Jinks Died," written as a burlesque of Jim Bludso, is worthy of the Great Ambrose himself.

A fire takes place, Bill seats himself on the muzzle of the hose, is propelled to the window-ledge, and rescues Maggie, the eighty-year-old virgin just as she is "frizzling brown." They descend on the sinking stream, but something goes wrong, and the poet then tells us:

"Twas Meg survived -- this smoke I guess
   Just makes my eyelids smart;
But Bill was just an unpleasant mess,
   Like a trod-upon raspberry tart!"
That once popular penny weekly production, the "London Journal," Clarke never wearied of deriding. This paper specialised in fierce romances of adventuresses, and meek-eyed maidens, of the "Ah me! let me die!" type, who shrank, either in fear or expectancy, from scheming, teeth grinding villians.

These miscreants were all of unblemished turpitude, closely resembling the sublimely immoral schoolmaster in Miss Braddon's "Three Times Dead, Or the Trail of the Serpent," who, after disposing of sundry victims, destroys all trace of his crime by quaffing the water in which he had washed his gory hands! Those "London Journal" profligates were all ruthless disrupters of home life, and Marcus got a lot of amusement out of ridiculing them.

Nevertheless, when he assumed the proprietorship of the "Colonial Monthly" in 1868, he ran as a serial his tale, "Long Odds," which was worthy of the "London Journal" in its palmiest days! It was a cross between Dickens's "Our Mutual Friend" and Shirley Brooke's "Gordian Knot," only its moral was slightly better than the first mentioned.

This may seem rank heresy to Dickensians, but may I mention, in parenthesis, that I have often marvelled how Dickens, with his preference for the fustian-clad hero, could turn poor Bradley Headstone, the protector of the innocent, into the villian of the piece!

However, there wasn't a hero of any sort in "Long Odds," unless it was Binns, the neglected suitor, protector and avenger of the simple-souled, blighted damsel who served as heroine. Incidentally, she was a devotee of the detested "London Journal," and, I daresay, it was to this we were meant to trace her downfall.

The villian gets his desserts from the equally guilty husband thus: Rupert Dacie enters his room and strikes a match, there being, of course, in those days no switch to turn over. Then "with hoarse cry and knife upraised, the waiting assassin leapt upon him, and as the expiring match dropped from his hand, its blue flickering flame showed him for one single second the white face and bloodshot eyes of Cyril Chatteris."

After having written the early instalments to this tale, Clarke fell from his horse and fractured his skull, recovering in time to add the climax and revise the work for publication in book form. His style showed a marked improvement after this accident (just as a similar mishap turned Ambrose Bierce into the strange, wild genius we know him to be), and I am sure we owe the advent of "His Natural life" to this simple casualty.

Clarke has been criticised for the part he made John Rex play as impersonator of the "rightful heir" in "His Natural Life" and the probability of such an occurrence has been doubted. Judging from the old-time literature I have seen carrying Marcus Clarke's autograph, I fancy he found the basis for this story of deception in the narrative of Martin Guerre, the ex-Algerian slave. Martin escaped and returned to France, only to find that a former fellow convict, in whom he had confided, and to whom he bore a striking resemblance, had usurped his wife and other possessions! Besides, just about the time Marcus was writing his magnum opus, the Tichborne imposture was attracting public attention.

Clarke, the story writer, poet, novelist and dramatist -- the transplanted Englishman so typically Australian -- will surely not be forgotten, during the coming Centenary celeberations. What about a statue to him!

First published in The Herald, 13 January 1934


"Jim Bludso" was a 1917 silent film directed by Todd Browning, about a riverboat captain who sacrifices himself to save his passengers from a fire.
Wikipeda has pages detailing the Martin Guerre affair, and the Tichborne Case.
The Centenary mentioned in the last paragraph refers to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the colony (in 1835) that later became the State of Victoria in Australia.

Review: Vinyl Inside by Rachel Matthews

vinyl_inside.gif    Rachel Matthews
Transit Lounge, 251 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Bernadette Gooden

This is a well-written, engaging read based around a simple idea. Twenty years before the story unfolds a young girl was forced to give a child up for adoption. Now the child has come to find the mother. The story is about the impact that action has on the mother's life.

Set in a caravan park in 80's Australia, this is a universal story and also a typically Australian story, especially for those who grew up during this era. It's hard to imagine a 15 year old girl being forced to relinquish a child in such an inhuman way now, but back in the 60's that's the way it was done and it was "all for the best".

We are introduced to a couple, Elsie and Sterling, who live in Splashes Caravan Park and who seem to have a settled life. They have a very loving relationship and do good in the community they live in. The author goes into great detail to recreate the Australia of this era in an almost cinematic way.

Herein lie two small criticisms about the book that I found distracted from the writing. Firstly, some books have the whiff of future screenplay about them, as though they have been written with that solely in mind, and I certainly got this feeling as I read this book. I can almost visualise the actors who could play the roles. Most of them are in Kath and Kim!

Secondly, I did feel that I was trapped inside a trivia quiz on the 80's. The pop culture references to the period are completely overwhelming. It distracted from the good storyline and well developed characters. The depiction of the strine accent and liberal peppering of Aussie expressions is a little over the top as well. It is very Bazza McKenzie.

However, the building of the relationship between Elsie and Sterling and their reactions to the arrival of Dania into their close, well-ordered existence is spot on. The fear, shock and feelings of betrayal they must work through to go on together are beautifully portrayed. This story certainly covers all the issues surrounding the adoption process, and how it affects the lives of those involved.

This is a humorous and very moving story, a great debut novel from Rachel Matthews.

Combined Reviews: Feather Man by Rhyll McMaster

feather_man.jpg Reviews of Feather Man by Rhyll McMaster
Brandl & Schlesinger

[This novel won the 2008 Barbara Jefferis Award.]

From the publisher's page

From parochial Brisbane of the 1950s, Sookie tries to escape her eccentric childhood where sinister sexuality is on the loose, and paint her way to better chances in the swinging London of the 1970s. Vastly intelligent, this dark comedy of the fictions of the heart is an edgy and dangerous work of portraiture.


Kerryn Goldsworthy in "The Australian": "McMaster is particularly good at conveying states of mind: the inferiority of a child who doesn't understand what is being done to her; the unrelenting negativity and meanness of spirit of a certain kind of Australian woman in a particular time and place; the dense tangle of feelings of a child sexually assaulted by someone that she and her family know and trust. One of this book's most valuable insights is expressed in its acknowledgement that the ambivalent feelings and betrayal of trust involved in sexual assault by someone known to the victim might do even more psychological damage than the assault itself."

Rachel Slater in "Australian Women's Book Review": "The story is reminiscent of Christina Stead's 1945 novel For Love Alone in its movement between Australia and London and its strong-willed protagonist who nevertheless traipses to the other side of the world for the 'love' of a contemptuous and narcissistic man who uses her devotion and naivety to achieve his own ends...Another reviewer has suggested that there seems to be an uncomfortable mixture of feminist tract meets Mills & Boon in this part of the novel (and here again are echoes of For Love Alone). There certainly is a sense of that, just as there are moments where the narrative wobbles on its usually well-laid track, but McMaster pulls it back from the brink and delivers an impressive first novel -- rich, darkly funny and disturbing; it works."

Andrew Reimer in "Brisbane Times": "It is generally true, I think, that poets have difficulty in making the transition from the compressed, highly allusive diction of their verse to the more discursive demands of prose fiction. With this fine first novel, the noted poet Rhyll McMaster proves that she is an exception. Admirers of her poetry will find, however, any number of phrases and clusters of images that bring the best of her verse to mind...Her eye for detail, for recognising the exceptional in the most mundane of things, illuminates these pages. The seedy ordinariness of life in London is superbly conveyed. The satiric strain that distinguishes some of the earlier sections -- the marvellous comedy of a Brisbane wedding for instance -- survives the journey to London. A nightmarish episode set in a grim, ill-lit hospital is particularly vivid. And, almost everywhere, the rich texture of allusions, imagery and remembrances of things past allows this portion of her novel to rise above the predictable."

On the "LiteraryMinded" weblog: "Rhyll McMaster has had six books of poetry published, many of them prize-winning, but this is her first novel. For a poet she shows restraint and delicacy in her prose while still embellishing it with apt imagery. This is a beautiful and worthy Australian novel with absorbing characterisation and layers of resonant themes."

Short notices

Christina Hill in "Australian Book Review": "This superb first novel is beautifully written but not for the faint-hearted. In the disturbing genre of Amy Wittings I For Isobel (1989) and Jessica Anderson's Tirra Lirra by the River (1978), it is nonetheless in a class of its own."

Helen Garner Watch #1

Reviews and Commentary

Libby Brooks, in "The Guardian", looks at the attention Helen Garner has received and the perceptions that her latest novel, The Spare Room, is based on her own life. She puts the whole idea into perfect context.

It's a beautiful work: the prose is clean and the probing of the duties of friendship subtle. But I also know that a version of Nicola existed in reality - Helen did have a sick friend who came to stay with her, and subsequently died. But Helen's fictional rendering of these sharp realities has now left her exposed, as interviewers and reviewers hint at something underhand, attempting to drag the story back to where they perceive its origins ought to be. There is, of course, an obvious transformation that occurs when a book is written as fiction. It distinguishes this writer from Frey, and from Margaret Seltzer and Misha Defonseca, whose memoirs about growing up in gangland Los Angeles and the Warsaw ghetto, respectively, were exposed as fraudulent this month. Offering a story in novel form alerts the reader that they would be wrong to assume events happened that way, because the writer has taken all the liberties of compression and conflation and invention that fiction permits.
Sean O'Beirne, of the "Readings" book group, thinks that The Spare Room is a continuance of the author's previous work: "If you've read Monkey Grip or The First Stone, or Joe Cinque's Consolation, you'll know some of the Helen in The Spare Room. She's good company, good in a book. She's clever and fierce and she laughs; she's anxious and busy; she does her jobs; she rides her bike, she cooks and cleans and writes; she slogs on. She makes feelings very fast and strong, and she's often shocked that what she wants is violence. She makes lots of mistakes, and that keeps her in pain; but it also keeps her where she can see -- where she's painfully interested in -- the mistakes of others. She'll tell you things that more cautious, nicer writers wouldn't say. She'll tell you that, a lot of the time, she's thinks her dear dying friend is an idiot."

Dean, of the "Happy Antipodean" weblog has a long look at The First Stone, "Helen Garner's 1995 look at a sexual harrassment case that took place following events at an elite Melbourne university college (Ormond)...The 'fundamentalist' label she uses is to be expected, if we agree (as one reviewer states) that women are still 'an oppressed people'. It is necessary to ask 'what is the alternative?' when blaming committed feminists for their sharp views...On the other hand, recent changes in fashion and the relentless 'democratisation' of culture demonstrate a greater ease, among young women, with responsibilities vis a vis their rights as equal citizens as well as sexual animals. In Garner's subtitle ('some questions about sex and power') lie avenues that recent adults could profitably explore.".


Susan Wyndham, of "The Sydney Morning Herald", interviewed Garner and found her rather wary.

Helen Garner can sniff a storm coming. She has been drenched by earlier storms that broke over some of her books and so she is wary, keeping journalists at a distance. No interviews at her home: she doesn't want us describing her fridge magnets or, no doubt, the spare room that features in her novel The Spare Room.
And even when she is talking about the writing process you can practically see the furrowed brow, not that I blame her for that.
"I don't know where people think writing comes from. People talk as if a story is something lying on the ground that you pick up and dust off and put in a book. But material isn't a story, it's a mess, a cloudy series of events or experiences. On every page there's a thousand tiny decisions about how you're going to tell it. And once you've written something, you can't even remember which bits 'really happened' and which bits you made up."
On the "Readings" website, Michael Williams talks to the author and gathers some insight into her view of character.
It is somehow unsurprising that Helen Garner describes herself as "in favour of very tough eulogies." As a writer she's always been one for uncomfortable truths and avoiding the easy platitudes. "If you've got the nerve to describe the dark side of a person, the maddening side, then people seem to find this enormously relieving. If I go to a funeral and the person is described purely in glowing terms, I come away feeling very sad and cheated, feeling the person hasn't been honoured properly. Everybody's selfish and thoughtless and unkind. To pretend that somebody wasn't is just awful." This world-view seems typical of Garner's writing, as does the ability to confront the "dark side" and still ultimately write about love and friendship (albeit, as she puts it, "when the chips are down"). Through directness and candour, through tough love, she pays tribute to the friends and strangers whose stories she tells.
Christopher Bantick, of "the Courier-Mail", met up with Garner in Carlton, which led him to thinking about her first novel, Monkey Grip, and about her subsequent work.
What has distinguished Garner's work -- whether it be fiction, non-fiction or journalism -- is her acute powers of observation. Garner sees much as a soothsayer does into hearts and minds, the secrets of the past and the insecurities of the present moment. More than this, she is unremitting in peeling back the protective counterpane of image and manner. Her characters in fiction, her subjects in non-fiction and figures in journalism are all pared back to their essentials. In this she does not overlook herself. Her new and clean-lined book, The Spare Room, is likely to prompt discussion as much about its form as well as content. Can it be a novel where the central character, Helen, is Garner herself? And what about the pellucid style where we read with almost forensic detachment the recounting of a relationship over a three-week period? Is this fiction or non-fiction, autobiography masquerading as fiction or at least a hybrid where elements of fiction diffuse with an almost reportage of reality?

2008 ABC Fiction Award Winner

The winner of the 2008 ABC Fiction Award has been announced as God for the Killing by Kain Massin. Two other manuscripts were Highly Commended: Red Queen by Honey Brown and Homing by Lyndal Caffrey. Kain Massin will receive prize-money of $10,000 for the award, and will have his manuscript published by ABC Books later in

Reviews of Australian Books #81

John Kinsella's poetry collection, Shades of the Sublime and Beautiful, is reviewed in "The Guardian" by William Wootten who is rather charmed by the whole thing: "Violently bullied at school and angry at small-mindedness, aggression and bigotry, Kinsella doesn't go in for the defences of 'redneck' Australia that you find in the work of his compatriot Les Murray. Indeed, he is prepared to make attacks on it that can risk looking pretty intolerant themselves. Kinsella's decision not to pretend to be a man of few words, his unembarrassed display of a knowledge of science, mathematics or literary theory, seems to be part and parcel of this: an implicit riposte to a certain version of rural Australian identity or to the school mates who called him 'Dictionary'...Kinsella's new collection has well-turned lyrics and pieces of linguistic daring. In the main though, its poems, whether in conventional metre or variants of free verse, amount to a poetic journal chronicling Kinsella's passions, politics and preoccupations as well as the life and landscapes of the western Australian wheatbelt that has been the heartland of his verse."

"Lowly's Book Blog" starts with a small anecdote about meeting Sonya Hartnett in a bookshop - back when she worked behind the counter - and then moves to a small review of The Ghost's Child: "This book reminded me so much of The Boy in Striped Pyjamas another fable written for adults. And even at times Hartnett's The Silver Donkey. It was a tale told simply enough for any child. However, the richness of the story lies in the symbolism. This book wants to be studied not read."

Courtney, on the "Once Upon a Bookshelf" weblog enjoyed Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling by D.M. Cornish: "The story was exciting, but it was the characters that did it for me (as per normal). They were all so vibrant and real -- there were only a couple bit characters that seemed like they could have been developed more; with everyone else it was a joy to read about them and get to know about them, even if they weren't the nicest of people. The transformation of Rossamünd through the book was fabulous to watch too -- he went from a passive kid to someone who had a backbone and wasn't going to let people push him around any longer." She's looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.

The "Swarm of Beasts" weblog gets it about right in its review of Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan: "These are stories that take a lot of thought to get the most out of, thanks to the complex themes, Lanagan's brilliant use of language, and the blank spots in the stories; Lanagan never overexplains, and there were times when I wished for something a little bit more straightforward, a little bit more linear and spelled-out. But then they wouldn't be Margo Lanagan stories, would they?"

"Aguylibrarianreads" finds a lot to like about Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks: "Evil Genius is a great book full of intrigue, computer hacking, villainy, and some minor mutant action thrown in as well. It is very dense, full of mathematical and computer references that can be difficult to wrap your mind around. If you've ever questioned how the James Bond villains learned their trade, this is your book."

Review: Conversations with the Mob by Megan Lewis

conversations_mob.gif Megan Lewis
University of Western Australia Press, 240 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Michael Freedman

Photojournalism is, in essence, the collection of images to tell a story. It is sometimes said that photojournalists capture verbs, while mere photographers capture nouns. What photojournalists actually capture is moments in time, presenting those moments in a way that evokes emotion in the viewer and invokes insight about the subject. In Conversations with the Mob, award-winning photojournalist Megan Lewis documents a five-year mission to tell the story of the Martu, an Aboriginal people of the Western Desert in Western Australia. In doing so, she learns as much about herself as she does about her subjects. I suspect the reverse is also true.

Born and raised in rural New Zealand, Megan Lewis moved to Australia when she was 21. Ten years later, in 2002 (the same year the Federal Court granted the Martu people native title of 136,000 square kilometres of desert land) she decided to quit her job as a photographer for The Australian and live in the desert with the Martu people, affectionately referred to throughout the book, often by the Martu themselves, as "the mob". The goal: to write a book comprising a series of photographs telling the story of an indigenous people in some ways far removed from non-indigenous culture, but in other ways tragically affected by the worst parts of it. In doing so, Ms Lewis hoped to assist understanding of the ways of the Martu. Ms Lewis' book will also hopefully facilitate non-indigenous Australians' understanding of themselves, and the consequences of their actions.

After the first three months of her odyssey, Ms Lewis, in her own words, "hit the wall". The isolation, the heat (50 degree days being the norm) and the insects combined to severely test Ms Lewis' resolve. After some serious soul-searching, Ms Lewis decided to forget her preconceived expectations, and live "completely in the moment". This allowed Ms Lewis to not only accept her situation, but also allowed the Martu to accept her as well.

The book itself canvasses a number of themes -- alienation from and lack of understanding by the white Government, loss of culture stemming from the impact of non-indigenous beliefs, and preventable deaths from European diseases and access to alcohol, cigarettes and an unhealthy diet. But it also delivers (if you'll pardon the pun) a fascinating snapshot into the culture of one of Australia's indigenous peoples. From the Martus' occasional mistrust of the "whitefella" but more usual bemusement at his behaviour, to Martu beliefs in maparn (healing) and jukartani (dreamtime), Conversations with the Mob provides insight into a culture that has as many similarities with non-indigenous culture as there are differences. The Martu devotion to their children, love and significance of sport and pop culture, and the importance of solid inter-personal relationships are pervasive themes. But so is Ms Lewis' integration into a culture that accepted her with little reservation.

The book's colour glossy photos are many and varied, and show the Martu people in all their guises -- male and female, young and old, at work and play, happy and grieving. Ms Lewis has a discerning eye for a photograph, and as a photojournalist maintains a sense of objectivity that must have become increasingly difficult the more she got to know her subjects. Indeed, the closeness of the friendships made by Ms Lewis with the Martu people is made clear in the book, which is lovingly constructed by someone who was obviously deeply affected by the subject matter. In addition to capturing verbs, Ms Lewis has captured the hearts of a people who have every reason to be suspicious of a "whitefella" with a camera.

J.M. Coetzee Watch #6

Re: Life and Times of Michael K.

Lori, on the "She Treads Softly" weblog: "I would characterize Michael K as novel about freedom. However, it does not depict an exhilarating fight for freedom, but rather how the surrounding civil war effects the actions of a man who has no understanding of his life and times. Michael K is a simple man who would have lived a contented life in a kinder society but was not given that opportunity. This is a relentlessly sad novel written in spare, unadorned language. There are not any long, descriptive passages. It's as if Coetzee wanted to limit and simplify our understanding of Michael's surroundings in order to help us better understand Michael K, who is one of the powerless people caught up in the surrounding strife."

Re: Disgrace

Tony D'Souza looks back at the novel for "Critical Mass", the blog of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors: "J.M Coetzee's Disgrace is about a lot of things, but at its heart it is an anatomy of racial hierarchy change in contemporary South Africa. A very quiet side note to this is its analysis of man's disgraceful treatment of animals. Disgrace is a pitiless and errorless book about the condition of the human experience at the end of the twentieth century; while not altogether without hope, the book and its title is a condemnation of the basic state of modern humanity. "

In "The Michigan Daily", Kimberly Chou discusses the upcoming film adaptation. "The potential problems of this version of Disgrace, then, don't really lie in casting actors as sexier, more physically attractive than the author describes -- something I've often noticed in other films. (I imagine John Malkovich is fantastic in this role, although the character Lurie --- not exactly a silver fox but obviously once handsome -- is supposed to start out with a rather nice head of hair.) But placing a farm in the Western Cape while still suggesting it to be in a completely different part of the country compromises the film's cultural context. The core act of violence in Disgrace is Coetzee's addressing of 'farm attacks' during the 1990s in South Africa. Although only a slight majority of victims were white, the attacks or robberies were often perpetrated by young, unemployed black men, and seen as acts of vengeance against white Afrikaners by black Africans in a post-apartheid state."

Marieke Hardy Profile

Marieke Hardy seem to be everywhere at the moment. She writes a her own blog, Reasons You Will Hate Me, and a weekly television column for "The Age", she has a monthly role as part of the panel on ABC TV's "The First Tuesday Book Club", and now has a new job in Sydney co-hosting the breakfast show on Triple J radio. Elicia Murray profiles Hardy for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

As career trajectories go, it seems like a meteoric rise for the 31-year-old blogger from Melbourne who describes herself as a milky-skinned girl who wears short skirts and flowers in her hair. But the path of blog ownership has not been smooth.

Her profanity-laden online musings have also drawn lashings of vitriol from critics, most notably a bollocking in print from the right-wing columnist Andrew Bolt after an incident she refers to as Pandagate. More on that later.

Writing is in Hardy's blood. Her parents are Alan and Galia Hardy, whose television writing, producing and editing credits include All The Rivers Run and The Sullivans. Her grandfather was the left-wing author and communist, Frank Hardy, whose 1950 novel Power Without Glory has been hailed as the most influential novel published in Australia in the 20th century. A fictionalised version of the life of the Australian Labor Party powerbroker John Wren, it delved into crime, gambling and political corruption and landed the young author in prison on a criminal libel charge. He was acquitted on the grounds that the work was a mixture of fact and fiction.

Australian Bookcovers #109 - Hits! Skits! and Jingles! by W.T Goodge


Hits! Skits! and Jingles! by W.T. Goodge 1899
(Pollard 1972 edition)
Cover by Walter Stackpool

A Classic Year: 12.0 "The Gentle Water-Bird" by John Shaw Neilson

John Shaw Neilson was born in 1872 in Penola, South Australia, the eldest son of the poet John Neilson. The country life was hard at that time and Neilson only spent two and a half years at school before leaving to help his family. The Neilson family moved around a lot over the next few years until they settled near Nhill in western Victoria.

Nelson's first poems were published in the local Nhill newspaper and his had his first poem in "The Bulletin" in 1896. The poetry in Australia of that time was dominated by Paterson and Lawson and tended towards the well-known bush poetry genre. Shaw Neilson was different. His poetry was of a lyrical form, viewing nature and the surrounding countryside with a new eye, resulting in a body of work that has continued to grow in esteem.

"The Gentle Water-Bird" is a case in point. Consisting of 16 verses of 3 lines each, the poem is Shaw Neilson's evocation of God in nature. There is no quasi-mysticism here, just a gentle sense of God in the world.

Full text of the poem. [PDF file]
A John Shaw Neilson webpage.

The next four works in this Classic Year:
13. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin (1901)
14. The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay (1918)
15. Coonardoo by Katherine Susannah Prichard (1929)
16. 10 for 66 and All That by Arthur Mailey (1958)

Combined Reviews: Secrets of the Sea by Nicholas Shakespeare

secrets_of_sea.jpg Reviews of Secrets of the Sea by Nicholas Shapespeare
August 2007

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

From the publisher's page
Following the death of his parents in a car crash, eleven-year-old Alex Dove is torn from his life on a remote farm in Tasmania and sent to school in England. Twelve years on, he must return to Australia to deal with his inheritance. But the timeless beauty of the land and his encounter with a young woman, whose own life has been marked by tragedy, persuade him to stay.They marry, and he finds himself drawn into the eccentric, often hilarious dynamics of island life. Longing for children, the couple open their home to a disquieting guest, a teenage castaway, whose presence on the farm begins to unravel their tenuously forged happiness, while at the same time offering the prospect of a much greater fulfilment. SECRETS OF THE SEA is Nicholas Shakespeare's finest novel to date.

Jennifer Byrne in "The Age": "It is a fine thing that English writer Nicholas Shakespeare has chosen to live in Tasmania, a place that has lured many wandering souls. And it is understandable he would wish to write about it while
his love is still new, that extreme, other-worldly beauty fresh to his eyes...The island's fractious, fascinating history is the subject of his recent prize-winning nonfiction, In Tasmania. Now, its east coast is both the setting and animating spirit for a novel set in the imagined town of Wellington Point (pop. 600), where old folk bask in the high daily average sunshine and the young can't wait to escape...Shakespeare is a polished writer and this is a novel of fine detail, of long walks on the seashore and moods that shift like the pink in the clouds and the dark, wheeling patterns of birds. We watch and wait as small-scale lives tangle and smooth against a bold, at times bruising landscape."

Alfred Hickling in "The Guardian": "Shakespeare takes great care not to replicate the contents of his travel book, though it's difficult to write about an island of less than 30,000 square miles without covering some of the same ground. And whereas the travelogue was a slightly chaotic work written in a burst of enthusiasm, the novel is far more crafted, considered and detached - not always to its advantage. It can be painfully slow-moving at times. And there is more than enough material on the reproductive cycle of molluscs to give you pause next time you enter an oyster bar...If Shakespeare's travel book captured the excitement of arrival, this novel is about coming to terms with the destination."

Margaret Elphinstone in "The Independent": "The opening seems to hold the sea at bay as it focuses on small-town rivalries in machismo and sexual relationships, before showing us unequivocally why we should care. The sea always comes in again and washes away the trivia, but sometimes it takes a little too long to make its appearance. Engagement with the sea, and its significance in the unplumbed depths of the human psyche, is the real, undoubted strength of this novel."

Kasia Boddy in "The Telegraph": "The story proceeds at a leisurely pace. Eighteen years are covered in five sections, but the time frame is complicated. Life is long but not all of it matters equally. Some sections cover years, some months; others - a few meaningful days in the characters' lives...To slow the tale down and emphasise significance, Shakespeare employs a variety of techniques. For every three normal-length paragraphs, for example, he breaks one into four pieces, giving each sentence room to resonate moodily...Literature looms large. After Lear's verse, the book most often mentioned is Joseph Conrad's The Shadow Line (1917), the story of a young sea captain whose ship seems haunted by his predecessor. Secrets of the Sea is proudly haunted by Conrad and develops his preoccupations with the shadow lines drawn between men who seem like doubles, between the natural and the supernatural, and, finally, between youth and maturity."

Short notices
Fuller Bookshop: "A curious and unsettling novel, you will confound yourself trying to will the non-existant East Coast town into existence."

Susan Wyndham interviews the author.

Miscellaneous Interesting Stuff

You may remember the interview I did with Sophie Masson here on Matilda for the Crime Snapshot last month - if not, why not? - and now Sophie has posted the cover art for her new YA Mystery, The Case of the Diamond Shadow, that we discussed.

Jonathan Strahan, Hugo-nominee and co-editor with Gardner Dozois of The New Space Opera, talks about, yes, space opera on the SFSignal website. (His piece is 4th down.) "I'm aware that we all think we live in some kind of post-cyberpunk world, and that Philip K. Dick's crazy paranoia seems to be keeping Hollywood in business these days, but how could you possibly argue that space opera is NOT mainstream when we live in the same world as Star Trek and Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica and so on and so forth?"

Susan Wyndham's new book, Life In His Hands: The True Story Of A Neurosurgeon And A Pianist, is now out, and in "The Sydney Morning Herald", she discusses it and other recent books about death and dying.

Susan Johnson reveals on her weblog that, shock, horror, the main character of her novel-in-progress is named "Susan". No such a big deal you might think, but you have to keep in mind all the discussion about Helen Garner's latest novel,
the main character of which was also named "Helen". Johnson provides an explanation in advance to forestall the grilling she is sure she is going to get. I wish this wasn't necessary, but I see her point. I wonder how many "ordinary" readers (ie non-journalists) will worry about it. I'm sure I won't. In City of Glass, Paul Auster wrote about a writer turned private detective descending into madness, named "Paul Auster"; which tends to take things about as far as they can go. Auster was deemed to be "post-modern". Not a phrase I have heard in connection with Helen Garner, nor, I suspect, will I hear it when reading about Susan Johnson's next novel.

2008 Sydney Writers' Festival

The program for the 2008 Sydney Writers' Festival has been released. The Festival runs from May 19 to 25th, 2008.

Midnight Echo - New Fiction e-Zine

"Horrorscope", the Australian Dark Fiction weblog, interviews Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond, the new editors of Midnight Echo, the Australian Horror Writers Association's (AHWA) new fiction e-zine.

What are you looking for in a 'Midnight Echo' story?

Kirstyn McDermott: To put it simply: Very Good Stories. That's what every editor is after, right? Neither Ian nor myself have a particular "wish-list" of the types of stories we want. As long as they keep our interest to the final page, it doesn't matter which part of the genre they fall within. Scare us, disturb us, make us laugh or just creep us out: we are open to just about anything as long as it's well told. Speaking for myself -- with and without my editor's hat on -- I like reading stories that I wish I had written. Make me envious of your work, and there's a good chance I'll arm-wrestle Ian to make sure your story is accepted!

Ian Mond: It's very hard to answer this question without speaking in generalities and clichés. As Kirstyn says, the most important thing is a good story. But we're also finding that we're drawn to the stories that also show some ambition and don't just rely on the tried and true horror tropes. But mostly, it's all about good storytelling.

2008 National Biography Award Shortlist

The shortlisted works for the 2008 National Biography Award have been released.

Napoleon: The Path To Power 1769-1799 by Philip Dwyer
Lucy Osburn, A Lady Displaced by Judith Godden
A Thinking Reed by Barry Jones
The Mascot by Mark Kurzem
Jonestown: The Power And The Myth Of Alan Jones by Chris Masters
These Few Lines: A Convict Story - The Lost Lives Of Myra & William Sykes by Graham Seal

The winner will be announced at the State Library of NSW on April 10.

I don't think this narrow gap between the announcements of the shortlist and the winner is a good idea. There is no time for the public to be aware of the award before it's done with and forgotten. Heaven forbid anyone would want to actually, you know, read the books before knowing the title of the winner. The Miles Franklin Award seems to have its timing about right: a month between the annnnouncements of longlist and shortlist, and then two months more before the winner is named. There is no real expectation that people will rush out and read all books on the longlist, but there is a possibility they might do so for the shortlisted works. Not much chance of that with the National Biography Award it seems. This is an important award, but is anyone going to remember it come Anzac Day? I somehow doubt it. And that's a pity.

Joan London Profile

Jane Sullivan interviews author Joan London for "The Age" as her new novel, The Good Parents, is released.

London's much-acclaimed first novel, Gilgamesh, was about journeys. The Good Parents is a rich, multi-faceted novel about escapes: the running away we all have to do from our parents, however good or bad they were to us. It might be an odd theme to choose at a time when, largely for economic reasons, children are choosing to live with their parents way beyond adolescence. But one way or another, London says, the escape must be made.

"Each generation has to make itself anew," she says on the phone from her home in Fremantle. "We're absolutely formed by the parenting generation, but we have to break away." And that applies whether the parents are old-school authoritarians or the new breed of mums and dads who respect their children as individuals with their own rights.

I can certainly recommend her previous novel, Gilgamesh, which was shortlisted for the 2002 Miles Franklin Award.

Poem: Will Yer Write It Down For Me? by Henry Lawson

In the parlour of the shanty where the lives have all gone wrong,
When a singer or reciter gives a story or a song,
Where the poet's heart is speaking to their hearts in every line,
Till the hardest curse and blubber at the thoughts of Auld Lang Syne;
Then a boozer lurches forward with an oath for all disguise --
Prayers and curses in his soul, and tears and liquor in his eyes --
Grasps the singer or reciter with a death-grip by the hand:
"That's the truth, bloke! Sling it at 'em! Oh! Gorbli'me, that was grand!
Don't mind me; I've got 'em. You know! What's yer name, bloke! Don't yer see? Who's the bloke what wrote the po'try? Will yer write it down fer me?"

And the backblocks' bard goes through it, ever seeking as he goes
For the line of least resistance to the hearts of men he knows;
And he tracks their hearts in mateship, and he tracks them out alone --
Seeking for the power to sway them, till he finds it in his own,
Feels what they feel, loves what they love, learns to hate what they condemn,
Takes his pen in tears and triumph, and he writes it down for them.

First published in The Bulletin, 3 January 1903

2000th Post

By my calculations, the previous post - Combined Reviews: Landscape of Farewell by Alex Miller - was the 2000th post on this weblog. This is just here for housekeeping purposes.

Combined Reviews: Landscape of Farewell by Alex Miller

landscape_farewell.jpg Reviews of Landscape of Farewell by Alex iMller
Allen and Unwin
November 2007

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

From the publisher's page
A hauntingly beautiful meditation on the land, the past, exile and friendship, Landscape of Farewell is the powerful new novel from acclaimed Australian author, Alex Miller. It is the story of Max Otto, an elderly German academic. After the death of his much-loved wife and his recognition that he will never write the great study of history that was to be his life's crowning work, Max believes his life is all but over. Everything changes, though, when his valedictory lecture is challenged by Professor Vita McLelland, a feisty young Australian Aboriginal academic visiting Germany. Their meeting and growing friendship sets Max on a journey that would have seemed unthinkable just a few short weeks earlier. When, at Vita's invitation, Max travels to ustralia, he forms a deep friendship with her uncle, Aboriginal elder Dougald Gnapun. It is a friendship that not only gives new meaning and purpose to Max, but which teaches him the profound importance of truth-telling in reconciliation with his own and his ountry's past. Following Alex Miller's Miles Franklin-winning Journey to the Stone Country, Landscape of Farewell is a wise and grave novel of power, beauty and truth.

Angela Bennie in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Miller's great strengths here are his often startling, sometimes mesmerising facility to twist the language into new patterns and images, his ability to carve idiosyncratic characters out of the crooked and gnarled off-cuts of humanity, rather fashion them from smoother timbers. Always, the novel appears to be driven by an urgent need to reveal how these kinds of beliefs -- which historically have caused us so much sorrow and, in many cases, so much bloody murder -- might instead become virtues...In these moments, Landscape Of Farewell becomes a rare experience."

Jack Hibberd in "The Australian": "On the evidence of Landscape of Farewell, Alex Miller is a sombre and sober author whose prose interlocks adroitly with his lugubrious thematic concerns. Not for him the sceptical fabrications and comic diversities of modernism or the antic relativities of postmodernism. Alex is no smart alec...Landscape of Farewell is laced and interlarded with flashbacks, dreams, prescient Jungian premonitions and binary selves, some of which knit past with present, place with place."

Hilary McPhee in "The Australian": "I suspect that, for Miller, the search for moral clarity is something like the terrible climb up the escarpment in the Expedition Ranges in his latest novel, Landscape of Farewell...Massacre is the blockage in the Australian imagination, in our sense of ourselves in this place, and the wounds are very deep. Miller is essential reading."

Lisa Gorton in "The Age": "The past haunts Miller's characters and his stories puzzle out the mystery of that haunting. They are strange, extreme novels. Yet, in the ghost story tradition, Miller creates narrators whose detached intelligence holds these fantastical elements in a close and precisely imagined world...[this book] gathers up some of the interests that have shaped some of Miller's novels: The Ancestor Game, Journey to the Stone Country and Prochownik's Dream. It teases out how the past makes itself present in the relationship between fathers and sons; it works to define what art takes from people's lives, and what it gives."

Shirley Walker in "Australian Book Review": "Landscape of Farewell has a rare level of wisdom and profundity. Few writers since Joseph Conrad have had so fine an appreciaton of the equivocations of the individual conscience and their relationships to the long processes of history. But perhaps I am over-intellectualising what is, after all, a very human story, passionately told."

Corrie Perkin's interview with the author for "The Australian".

2008 IMAC Dublin Literary Award Shortlist

The 2008 IMAC Dublin Literary Award shortlisted works have been announced as follows:

The Speed of Light by Javier Cercas
The Sweet & Simple Kind by Yasmine Gooneratne
De Niro's Game by Rawi Hage
Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones
Let it be Morning by Sayed Kashua
The Attack by Yasmina Khadra Winterwood by Patrick McCabe
The Woman Who Waited by Andrei Makine

The eight novels listed here were whittled down from the original list of 137. The winner will be announced in Dublin on 12th June 2008.

"The Sentimental Bloke": An Appreciation of C.J. Dennis

In the year of its publication in book form - after it had appeared in THE BULLETIN - The Sentimental Bloke sold 67,000 copies. In 1925 the total was 113,000. It is still selling.

While C.J. Dennis was piling up sales as Bradman piles up runs, the work of an English poet was cutting similarly astronomical capers. Englishmen at home or in the trenches were read:-

If I should die think only this of me,
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
Dennis (in The Moods of Ginger Mick) put it:-
There's a good green land awaitin' you when you come 'ome again
To swing a pick at Ballarat or ride Yarrowie Plain.
The streets is gay wiv dafferdils - but, haggard in the sun,
A wounded soljer passes; an' we know ole days is done.
Fer somew'ere down inside us, lad, is somethin' you put there
The day yeh swung a dirty left, fer us, at Sari Bair.

Both Rupert Brooke and C. J. Dennis swept into immense popularity on a wave of war-sentiment; both, therefore, said something which at that time people were asking urgently to hear; and fundamentally, as the above quotations indicate, they had the same thing to say. In a time of flux they stressed the permanence of human values; when reality meant chaos for the individual they offered the consolation and the escape of the common dream. Both in a later age seem sentimentalists, but it should be remembered in their favor that their time demanded a measure of sentimentality from them.

Brooke's poetry, as all true poetry does, offers the core of thought with the decoration intrinsic and incidental; Dennis - and this is where they part company - is mainly decoration. The slang, the humor were a smoke-screen covering a limited range of thought. But he goes into the richest, if not the "grandest" company - that of Chaucer, Burns and the Masefield of "The Widow in the Bye Street." Through THE BULLETIN rhymes that were afterwards published as Backblock Ballads, Dennis first became known as a balladist, but in spite of this, and although he had learned his trade from Dyson and Goodge and the rest, he is not of that company. As Burns did with the Scots ballads, he read them, absorbed them, and then transmuted them. It seems to be true that Australian poetry has had to evolve of itself without direct assistance from the English tradition, and if this is so then Dennis is a link between the balladists and the sophisticated poets of to-day. He is probably "important" in that sense; but he is certainly important as the man who expressed the emotions of thousands of Australians.

When Burns tried to break away from his métier and write more sophisticated verse, he was a failure. The jargon of Gray flowed falsely from his pen. Dennis, not as rich as Burns in his popular verse, was very much more successful than Burns when he broke from the territory of the vernacular. The Glugs of Gosh, though never popular, was excellent satire. With all its wit, satire and fantasy it is as fresh to-day as when he wrote it. Sym in his condemnation of hate, fear, swank, hypocrisy and wowserism, lacks the immediate appeal of The Bloke, but is every bit as much an Australian.

Dennis borrowed unmistakably from Lewis Carroll here: -

Step not jauntily, not too grave
Till the lip of the languorous sea you greet;
Wait till the wash of the thirteenth wave
Tumbles a jellyfish at your feet.
Not too hopefully, not forlorn,
Whisper a word of your earnest quest;
Shed not a tear if he turns in scorn
And sneers in your face like a fish possessed.
But there is his own, more Australian sense of humor in: -
And his parents' claims were a deal denied
By a maiden aunt on his mother's side,
A tall Glug lady of fifty-two,
With a slight moustache of an auburn hue.

His satire has lost neither bite nor topicality: -
In Gosh, sad Gosh, where the Lord Swank lives,
He holds high rank and be has much pelf;
And all the well-paid posts he gives
Unto his fawning relatives
As foolish as himself.

There is sting, too, in the quatrain: -
I'll make of you a Glug of rank
With something handy in the bank,
And fixed opinions, which, you know,
With fixed deposits always go.

Justifiably in war-time, Dennis flattered his public in The Sentimental Bloke. In The Glugs he gently corrected himself: -
The Glugs followed fashion and Sym was a craze,
They sued him for words, which they greeted with tears,
For the way with a Glug is to tickle his ears.

In the "Rhymes of Sym," with which the book closes, he states in one stanza the philosophy which is the raison d'être of all his books: The Bloke, Ginger Mick, Rose of Spadgers, Jim of the Hills, Digger Smith and even the birds in The Singing Garden all proclaim:-
We strive together in life's crowded mart,
Keen-eyed, with clutching hands to overreach.
We scheme, we lie, we play the selfish part,
Masking our lust for gain with gentle speech;
And masking, too - O pity ignorance! -
Our very selves behind a careless glance.

With that as the mainspring of his writing, Dennis had the choice of satirising the bad or portraying the good. He chose the latter course:-
Said he: "Whenever the fields are green,
Lie still, where the wild rose fashions a screen,
While the brown thrush calls to his love-wise mate.
And know what they profit who trade with Hate."
Said he: "Whenever the great skies spread
In the beckoning vastness overhead,
A tent for the blue wren building a nest,
Then down in the heart of you learn what's best."

Had Dennis continued as a satirist his unquestionable gifts in that direction would have won him fame. Choosing to go "down in the heart," he won both fame and affection, and his brilliance in that chosen genre entitles him to the respect of the severest of his critics. The Sentimental Bloke is full of emotional truth, told with humor that relieves it of sentimentality. The story is universal. There are lines that have become proverbs: "The commin end of most of us is - Tart"; "Livin' and lovin' - so life mooches on." If they, through too-frequent quotation, have become platitudinous - they were never "original," but Dennis did say them in a new way - there is widom and humor in the less-read Doreen or in Rose of Spadgers:-
It starts this mornin'. I wake up with a tooth
That's squirmin' like a basketful uv snakes.
Per'aps I groan a bit, to tell the truth;
An' then she wakes,
An' arsts me wot I'm makin' faces for.
I glare at 'er, an' nurse me achin' jor.

Throughout Dennis's verse - and his output was large - there are flashes of real poetry among the sentiment, quiet humour and worldly wisdom that are its chief characteristics:-
Go as he guides you over the marsh,
Treading with care on the slithery stones,
Heedless of night winds moaning and harsh
That sieze you and freeze you and search for your bones.

But as a lover of human nature he wrote better verse than as a lover of nature. BULLETIN readers will have a particularly soft spot for "Den", for it was in these pages that he first dipped his lid to Australia; but there is no need for sentiment to keep his memory alive. His verse, unique in Australian literature, will do that for itself.

First published in the Bulletin, 6 July 1938
Note: C.J. Dennis died on 22 June, 1938.

A Classic Year: 11.0 The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson

gettingwisdom_small.jpg The Getting of Wisdom
Henry Handel Richardson

It's been a few weeks since I posted my previous entry in this category. I haven't forgotten it, just been swamped by travel, family, work and real life. You know, all that stuff that gets in the way of reading.

Henry Handel Richardson was the pseudonym of Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson, a writer who was born in 1870 to a reasonably well-off family which later fell on hard times. The author's family lived in various Victorian towns and from the age of 13 to 17 Richardson attended boarding school in Melbourne. It's this experience that feeds directly into The Getting of Wisdom.

Laura, the main character, is the eldest child of a country family. The father is dead before the book starts and the mother lives, presumably, off some investment income and earnings from dress-making. This is rather vague in the book but is really of little importance. The novel concentrates solely on Laura and information is passed to the reader via her experiences and her understanding of the world. The girls at the school she attends are generally from rather wealthy families and those, like Laura, who come from less fortunate backgrounds learn very early not to divulge their circumstances for fear of ridicule. From time to time Laura lets little snippets of information about her family slip out, and she suffers for it.

In fact, these seem to be the main forces controlling the action of this book: fear of one's peers, embarrassment about one's family, and the desire to "better" onself by belittling others. None of the girls in the school, nor the teachers for that matter, come across as anything but self-serving and boorish. Even Laura, who starts out so young and strong, surrenders to the role expected of her. It's not a very pretty picture of teenage schoolgirls at the end of the nineteenth century. Laura undergoes a form of redemption at the end of the book, convincing herself that cheating in an exam is actually God's will, and then later deciding that while she was wrong to do so, she got away with it and therefore God had no actual hand in the matter or else he would have punished her for the sin. A neat case of self-delusion. At the end, when Laura is walking away from the school for the last time, she is overcome with a desire to run, and the last we see of her is a rapidly diminishing form disappearing through a park. She is free at last: free of the overwhelming constrictions of the school, the teachers' expectations and the other schoolgirls' callous disregard.

As a reader you hope that times have changed, and that schools and school children aren't like this anymore. But at the back of your mind, as you remember your own school-years, you know full well that they haven't.

Full text of the novel
Photo of the author
Australian Dictionary of Biography page
Wikipedia author page
Film version of the novel from 1977.

The next four works in this Classic Year:
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)
15. Coonardoo by Katherine Susannah Prichard (1929)

2008 Kiriyama Prize Winners

The winners of the 2008 Kiriyama Prize have been announced. The winners were:

Fiction Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other adventures in the South Pacific by
Julia Whitty

From the prize's website: "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 $10,000. "

Short, Sharp Shocks

Henry Rosenbloom, publisher at Scribe, has had quite enough of the antiquated colonial practice of British publishers considering Australia and New Zealand as still part of some colonial empire. He makes a good argument for the belief that Australian book sales are helping to prop up some inefficient publishing efforts in the UK.

A couple of years back, as she explains on her weblog "The Vapour Trail", Melissa Bellanta went to see her sister appear in a stage production of C.J. Dennis's "The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke". She was struck by the different ways audiences of today and the 1910s would react to the humour. She expands a bit more on the larrikin style in a further post.

This beginner's list of Australian crime fiction is a little bit old now, but as Karen of the "AustCrime Fiction" weblog said recently, she keeps getting asked about it and she's always updating it.

Marshal Zeringue, of the "Writers Read" weblog, asks Peter Corris what he is reading: crime and Hemmingway it would appear.

"RMIT news" (that's the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) gives a rundown on the success being enjoyed by a number of the current and former students of their PhD (Creative Media), Master of Creative Media (Creative Writing) and Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing programs. Names such as Kevin Rabelais and Toni Jordan appear.

Clive James Watch #4

Articles by James

Clive James has been presenting the BB4 "Point of View" program in the UK, the transcripts of which appear each week on the BBC News magazine website. His latest entries concern:

He has now been nominated for the Orwell Prize for this journalism.


You can read the full text of James's poem "The Book of My Enemy has been Remaindered".

Lyrics by James, Music by Atkin

Back in the 1970s, James hooked up with musician Pete Atkin to produce six albums of songs. Copies of these albums are now selling for quite decent sums on eBay, so James and Atkin have got together to re-record some of the songs. The new release will be titled "Midnight Voices, the Clive James-Pete Atkin Songbook Vol 1".
James provides some extra background to the story in "The Guardian". You can also listen to one of the songs here.

Notes on Cultural Amnesia

The "reprising lothlorien" weblog has a look at James's essay on Sophie Scholl, who was executed by the Nazis in Munich in 1943 for being part of a resistance movement.

James makes the point that it is a great pity that Sophie Scholl is not as famous as Anne Frank, another miraculous young woman. He writes: "In addition to an image of how life can be affirmed by a helpless victim, we would have an image of how life can be affirmed by someone who didn't have to be a victim at all, but chose to be one because others were."

On the occasion of the 300th issue of "Australian Book Review", James writes an appreciation of the magazine. His piece is the third or fourth one down, after Kerryn Goldsworthy's.
Clive James's Wikipedia page is continually being added to and is starting to become quite comprehensive.

Weekend Round-Up 2008 #9

The Age

Rachel Buchanan looks at The Spare Room, the new novel by Helen Garner: "It is boring to try to hunt out parallels between fiction and fact but there do appear to be quite a few in The Spare Room and that was distracting. A further layer of distraction is provided by the fact that this is Garner's first novel in 15 years and my expectations were perhaps unnecessarily high...My response to the book swung from cringing to crying to pleasurable stabs of shock at the narrator's honesty. My favourite: 'I wanted to smash the car into a post, but for only her to die -- I would leave the keys in the ignition, grab my backpack and run for my life.' Aaah friendship. Isn't it great?"

Rebecca Starford is impressed with The Comfort of Figs by Simon Cleary: "Here is a novel from a consummate stylist. Simon Cleary, originally shortlisted for the Queensland Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, has subjugated the well-trodden thematic ground explored by more recent winners of such manuscript awards. Consciously bypassing empty references and nebulous social critique, he has instead crafted a poignant tale of secret histories and the mechanics of foregiveness."

Jeff Gorfeld thinks Peter Corris is back to his old form in his review of two new books. "The Big Score is another collection of short stories, many of which contain the kernel of what could have become novel-length works but read as if Corris had been interrupted in full creative flight by Jehovah's Witnesses ringing the doorbell. Some are the kind of beautifully polished, self-contained gems that routinely find their way into crime-fiction anthologies...Open File is vintage work: the writing is economical, the observations sharper than they have been in recent times."

The Australian

Geoffrey Lehmann also reviews Garner's novel, and finds that "Unlike Garner's two big nonfiction works, the tension at the centre of The Spare Room is resolved...[The novel] is a story of tough love and friendship and amazement at the bravado and resourcefulness of human beings in the face of death, written in a prose that has surgical precision. This reviewer knows at least one old man who does read novels: himself. Read this novel. It is truer than nonfiction."

Rosemary Sorenson finds that The Comfort of Figs by Simon Cleary is a "commendable first novel": "Cleary employs a fine and empathetic gentleness as he invites us to get to know his characters, and we become swept up in the drama that leads to the tragedy that will reverberate through the years...Maybe the complex of botanical metaphors is overdone in this novel, and there's sometimes a briskness to the prose that seems to stifle Cleary's narrative voice a little."

Combined Reviews: The Memory Room by Christopher Koch

memory_room.jpg Reviews of The Memory Room by Christopher Koch
Random House
November 2007

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

From the publisher's page

'What is a spy? Are they born, or are they made?'

With these words, Vincent Austin analyses his future occupation. Some spies are made, he says, but his kind is born. He is devoted to secrecy for its own sake. Vincent is orphaned early, and his boyhood in Tasmania is spent with an elderly aunt. His fascination with secrecy and espionage -- and much else besides -- is shared to an uncanny degree by Erika Lange, daughter of a post-World War German immigrant. She too has lost her mother, and she and Vincent see themselves as twin spirits, inhabiting a shared, platonic world of fantasy and ritual.

At University, Vincent aims to enter Foreign Affairs - an ambition shared by his easygoing friend Derek Bradley. However, in his final year, Vincent is recruited by ASIS -- Australia's overseas secret intelligence service -- and his adolescent dream becomes reality. Erika becomes a journalist, eventually entering the overseas service as a press officer. She is an attractive and magnetic woman, but her emotional life is chaotic.

She, Vincent and Bradley meet again in 1982, when they are in their thirties, and have all been posted to the Australian Embassy in Beijing. Here, Erika and Bradley begin an affair which is ultimately doomed to fail. At the same time, Vincent attempts an espionage coup which ends in disaster for himself and Bradley.

Both men are expelled from China, and are based in Canberra, where Vincent is confined to the ASIS Registry: the 'memory room' of the book's title. This is the year of Star Wars, and the final phase of the Cold War.

Erika, also returning to Australia, becomes a television journalist, and enjoys a period of national prominence. The fantasies of youth have become reality for Erika and Vincent, and lead to a tragic climax for them both. It is left to Bradley, who inherits Vincent's diaries, to contemplate their fate.

Although THE MEMORY ROOM deals with espionage, its aims go far beyond those of a thriller. A psychological study of a brilliant but eccentric secret intelligence operative, it is also an exploration of the mystical nature of secrecy itself, and of the consequences of a shared obsession.


Nikki Barrowclough in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "The mystique of secrecy has always fascinated Christopher Koch. It has glimmered in books he has written in the past, such as Highways to a War, and it lies at the heart of his mesmerising new novel, The Memory Room, set in the last days of the Cold War...Most writers are spies, in the sense they are always listening and watching, composing characters in their heads and working out their motives. And by living in their imaginations, writers, too, lead a sort of secret life. Koch's examination of what motivates the brilliant if eccentric Vincent Austin, an orphan who grows up in Tasmania with an elderly aunt and is recruited by ASIS, Australia's overseas secret intelligence service, is written partly as a memoir."

Michael Williams in "The Age": "Fans of Koch's earlier work won't be disappointed, but somehow The Memory Room never quite amounts to anything much. It just doesn't find the author hitting the high notes that he's previously shown himself capable of, contenting itself with a meditation on a group of characters
who never fully come alive...Too often we're told about the characters' individual qualities without ever being shown them...As a book about the banality of espionage, a glimpse of the somewhat futile bureaucracy of Australian foreign affairs and the loneliness of the spy's life, this is a solid and rewarding read."

Leonie Kramer in "The Australian": "Christopher Koch's latest novel, The Memory
, is a tour de force. It continues his exploration of the purpose he wrote about in an essay, The Novel as Narrative Poem: 'to reach into the hearts and secret lives of ordinary men and women'. The continuity of his search, and the quality of his writing in this novel, represents the deepest exploration of these secret lives in a fast-paced narrative set in the real world of spies, intrigues and secrets...This is no ordinary spy story, though at times it is tempting to turn over a few pages to see how a problem is solved or the tension relaxed. The inventive structure of the novel introduces changes in narrative voices, movements of the characters and unexpected shifts in chronology. These features, however, are an essential part of the meaning, as are some very precise dates. The difficulty for the reviewer is to avoid playing a guessing game with the narrative because this is a book that invites individual interpretations and doesn't have a whodunit ending...Koch's detail is never merely ornamental but essential to the meaning of the narrative and the unveiling of the characters."

Adrian Mitchell in "Australian Book Review": "Consider the plight of the established novelist. The readership (that's us) comes to recognise a particular style, a particular set of themes, and presumably that is one of the reasons to go on buying the writer's books. Should the next book always be in the same mould -- in which case we might become a tad bored -- or should there be something quite out of character, causing us to gasp with disbelief? After all, it is usually disastrous when a diva starts singing popular songs. Christopher Koch's new book sets up these kinds of tension. Something new about what is remembered?...The pattern of Koch's thinking has been shaped by the writers he reveres, Dostoevsky, Kipling, Greene and Fitzgerald among them. He has always been
ambitious to advance deep issues. They are certainly to be found across the pages of this novel; yet, because such action as there is happens at a remove, the impact of the leading ideas has to be assumed."


Jason Steger profile of Christopher Koch in "The Age".
Interview with the author from "The Metro", a UK newspaper.

Prime Minister's Literary Awards

Rosemary Sorenson of "The Australian" finds that all is not sweetness and light with the Prime Minister's Literary Awards. It seems that Kevin Rudd has reserved the right to overrule the judging panels' recommendations. Just imagine the flak that will fly if that ever happened.

As well as that interesting piece of news, the article names the judging panels. Fiction Chair - Peter Pierce, former chair of Australian Literature at James Cook University John Marsden, author Margaret Throsby, ABC radio broadcaster
Non-Fiction Chair - Hilary Charlesworth, law faculty at the Australian National University John Doyle, performer and writer Sally Morgan, author and director at the Centre for Indigenous History and the Arts at the University of Western Australia

Official press release.

Reviews of Australian Books #80

kimbofo is very taken with Richard Flanagan's novel The Sound of One Hand Clapping giving it a five-star review: this "is a book about new beginnings that shatters the myth of Australia as the 'lucky country'. It does not shy away from presenting white Australians as uncouth, uncultured and racist at a period in the country's history at which immigration was running at an all-time high. For that reason alone, it is a refreshing -- and challenging -- read."

Kathryn Crim, in the "San Francisco Chronicle" finds a lot to like about Careless by Deborah Robertson, "who published a collection of short stories, Proudflesh, in 1997, has crafted an intentional style, sometimes austere and unsentimental but often weighted with exaggerated emotion. This flattens the subject Robertson has gone after with rare confidence. In the end, the novel's scope remains too narrowly focused on its themes, and the characters do not grow beyond them...And yet, for a first try, Robertson's effort to tackle both violence and grief is earnest and exceedingly thoughtful."

Peter Temple's Dead Point is reviewed by Peter Mitchell on the "Tonight" website.

A friend whose literary criticism I respect told me last week that he found [Peter] Temple lacking in soul. His hero Jack Irish didn't display the qualities of, say, Robicheaux, the creation of southern American novelist James Lee Burke, whom we both unreservedly admire. With respect, I disagree. I find the flawed Jack Irish -- with his constant struggle to live up to what's right -- extraordinarily sympathetic. When a bag of cash is tipped out on a lonely backstreet solicitor's workdesk, it can't be easy to write out a bill for a mere $120 ... then pick the notes out of the pile of loot. At other times he slips, as we all do, and can be both economical with the truth and distinctly devious. Just as I like his ear for dialogue, which is extraordinary, I relish his characters.
Open File by Peter Corris is given the once-over on the "Strangely Connected" website, and the reviewer things it's time to make an end. "The characters are a bit too close to being caricatures, and the way people and events work out doesn't quite ring true. Perhaps the old flashback to the past approach isn't the way to capture the best of Cliff Hardy, and it seems unlikely that he will ever really be at home in the brave new world of investigation that technology has led us to. So maybe he should just take off into the sunset -- or was this what Peter Corris was trying to do? After all, Cliff Hardy was introduced in The Dying Trade in 1980, and was having trouble with his Falcon even then. Cliff was ex-army, ex-Malaya, and ready for action. The writing, the characters and the sense of place were as good then as they are now. But it also means that Cliff Hardy must be getting on in years, so perhaps he should retire."

And continuing the crime fiction theme we have two reviews of Adrian Hyland's novel Moonlight Downs, which is the US title of his first novel Diamond Dove. Stephen Miller in "January Magazine" has reservations: "Throughout his novel, author Hyland applies layers upon layers of local atmospherics so thick that not one but two glossaries are in the front of this book. Even then, the dialects and colloquialisms are often beyond the reach of all but the most attentive reader. With several chapters that seem to add little to the mystery and provide excessive amounts of travelogue, it's as though Hyland has tried to channel both Tony Hillerman and Bruce Chatwin into the same novel." On the other hand, Peter Rozovsky finds that Hyland "has written a delightful, engaging book that remains true to the venerable amateur-sleuth tradition even as it explores a world that will be new to many Australians, to say nothing of readers on the other side of the world."

Short notices

Elaine Walker on Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish: "Lamplighter is an adventure filled novel full of mystery and suspense with many unexpected twist and turns...I really enjoyed this story as I read the book I felt as if I was part of this new world that Cornish has created. Rossamund is a such a likable character that you can't help but be drawn to him and all that he says and believes."

2008 CBCA Book of the Year Award Shortlists

The Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year shortlisted works were announced today.

Book of the Year: Older Readers
Black Water by David Metzenthen (Penguin)
The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett (Viking)
Leaving Barrumbi by Leonie Norrington (Omnibus)
Love Like Water by Meme McDonald (A&U)
Marty's Shadow by John Heffernan (Omnibus)
Pharaoh: The Boy Who Conquered the Nile by Jackie French (A&R)

Book of the Year: Younger Readers
Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp by Odo Hirsch (A&U)
Dragon Moon by Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books)
The Key to Rondo by Emily Rodda (Omnibus)
The Shaggy Gully Times by Jackie French, illus by Bruce Whatley (A&R)
Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!) by Sherryl Clark, illus by Elissa Christian (Puffin)
Winning the World Cup by David Metzenthen, illus by Stephen Axelsen (Puffin)

Book of the Year: Early Childhood
Cat by Mike Dumbleton, illus by Craig Smith (Working Title Press)
Lucy Goosey by Margaret Wild, illus by Ann James (Little Hare Books)
The Night Garden by Elise Hurst (ABC Books)
Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley by Aaron Blabey (Viking)
Shhh! Little Mouse by Pamela Allen (Viking)
The Trouble with Dogs! by Bob Graham (Walker Books)

Picture Book of the Year
Dust by Colin Thompson and 13 other illustrators (ABC Books)
The Island by Armin Greder, A&U)
The Peasant Prince by Anne Spudvilas, text by Li Cunxin (Viking)
Requiem for a Beast by Matt Ottley, Lothian)
You and Me: Our Place by Dee Huxley, text by Leonie Norrington (Working Title Press)
Ziba Came on a Boat by Robert Ingpen, text by Liz Lofthouse (Viking)

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
The Antarctica Book: Living in the Freezer by Mark Norman (Black Dog Books)
Australia's Deadly and Dangerous Animals by Michael Cermak (Steve Parish Publishing)
Girl Stuff: Your Full-on Guide to the Teen Years by Kaz Cooke (Viking)
Kokoda Track: 101 Days by Peter Macinnis (Black Dog Books)
Ned Kelly's Jerilderie Letter by Carole Wilkinson, illus by Dean Jones (Black Dog Books)
Parsley Rabbit's Book about Books by Frances Watts, illus by David Legge (ABC Books)

Crichton Award for New Illustrators
The Crow and the Waterhole by Ambelin Kwaymullina (Fremantle Press)
The Empty City by Jonathon Oxlade, text by David Megarrity (Lothian)
Ock Von Fiend by Luke Edwards (Omnibus)
Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley by Aaron Blabey (Viking)
Santa's Aussie Holiday by Anna Walker, text by Maria Farrer (Scholastic)
The World According to Warren by Sonia Martinez, text by Craig Silvey (Fremantle Press)

The winners of the awards will be announced on Friday August 15, at the start of Children's Book Week.

[Thanks to Boomerang Books for the information.]

Virginia Duigan Interview

As her new novel, The Biographer, is out in the bookshops, Virginia Duigan is interviewed in "The Australian" by Rosemary Sorenson.

The most Duigan will concede is that the characters in The Biographer are "faintly, just a touch, inspired by" people in her life. "It would be exceptionally misleading to say they are based on anyone I know, as even if it's there at the start, they very quickly race off in their own directions," Duigan says. "One doesn't really know where these things come from, and all aspects of your life throw things up, but yes, I guess people would think that all these (her life and the novel she's written) are connected."

The Biographer is Duigan's second novel. Her first, Days Like These, just released in paperback, is a novel about a heart-sore journalist who flees to London, where Duigan began her career as a writer at the end of the 1960s. ... "I wanted to leave the question about biography and ethics deliberately open," Duigan says. "One could say biography has reached an intrusive point, and I'm looking at one particular case. In the past, the problem might never have arisen. ... "I think we wonder, is this legitimate, are there still boundaries, and where are they? The biographer's approach is calibrated the whole way through. He knows what he wants to happen in the end and I think a writer might not think about the kinds of intrusions made into people's lives, the unsuspected areas they might go into.

"I'm not talking from any personal experience," Duigan hastens to add.


In the Days When the World Was Wide by Henry Lawson 1896
(Pollard 1974 edition)
Cover by Walter Stackpool

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