May 2008 Archives

Poem: Puristic Protestationing by C.J. Dennis

Amongst the unwieldy collection of spurious words and phrases, coined or perverted in fevered haste to meet modern chaotic conditions -- as, for example, "reconditioning," "cavalcade," "finalizing," "implementing" -- now springs the masterpiece. The latest term, used to describe the class of strike, now rapidly spreading in America and elsewhere, is "sit-downing."

Out of the well of English undeviled
   Few phrases come to match the heavy frowning
With which grave scholars long since have reviled
   The modern habit of linguistic clowning.
In vain do they depreciate the mood
   For adjectival "verbing," verbal "nouning";
And now, the worst of all the ugly brood,
   Comes this uncouth monstrosity "Sit-downing."

Had we a worthy Minister of Art,
   I think I should be ceaselessly partitioning
For the stern banning of each flash upstart,
   Like that most awful bounder "air-conditioning":
An apt example of these hustling days
   Of crude circumlocutory "expressioning":
When all they mean by that unlovely phrase
   Is merely ventilating or, say, freshening.

They will "face up to it," who merely face
   A situation, and, in ways surprising,
When they would end a matter then, in place
   Of ending it, they speak of "finalizing."
It may sound erudite to minds that squint --
   This cumbersome and clumsy verbal sinning
That so offends old-fashioned eyes in print
   And pester ancient ears when "listen-inning."

Then let us not, sit-downing to this curse,
   At poisoned pools and wells impure go supping;
But, ere we be afflicted by far worse,
   Let us be resolute in our stand-upping
To this base treason. Let us strike a blow
   At those who in such tangled fields go rovering.
Else shall we see King's-Englishing brought low
   As the last bulwark trembles to fall-overing.

First published in The Herald, 24 March 1937

The Big Payback

Dean, of the "Happy Antipodean" weblog, went along to see Christos Tsiolkas and Gideon Haigh read from Tolerance, Prejudice and Fear commissioned by Sydney PEN. While there he also bumped into Helen Garner.

Stephen Carroll was in South Africa for the award ceremony for the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and has written an account of his time there for "The Age".

Susan Wyndham was a judge in the Australian Book Design Awards, and writes about the winners for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

In July, the Australian Chamber Orchestra will tour the eastern states playing a composition based on Shaun Tan's book The Red Tree.

There's a theory that Waltzing Matilda was only written to impress a woman? Yeah, so?

Anita Heiss was one of the editors of The Macquarie PEN anthology of Aboriginal Literature, and writes about what the project meant to her personally and professionally.

Bob Carr, ex-premier of New South Wales, has only just published his latest book and is already looking to his next project, as he tells "The Brisbane Times": "My Reading Life has a chapter on Australian political history and biography, but Carr had neither time nor space to cover Australian literature other than Patrick White's 'comic novels' and Colleen McCullough's ancient Rome series. He would like to do so in another book. 'I've got to write something about novelists who capture Sydney and it's the unwritten chapter of this book,' he says."

Cynthia Clampitt visited Elsey Station and came across the grave of Aeneas Gunn, author of We of the Never-Never.

Gail Jones Interview

Gail Jones, author of Sixty Lights, Dreams of Speaking and Sorry, is interviewed by Summer Block for "January" magazine.

Summer Block: Let's start with some questions about your most recent novel, Sorry. The novel is about forgetting and remembering, and the ways that people and nations can choose to eradicate difficult memories of the past. What is the balance between acknowledging the past, and not letting it dictate your present? Is there a way to truly atone for past national sins? Is it ever possible to really move on and say, OK, now we can put this behind us?

Gail Jones: There is no single response to these complex issues. Each country negotiates its own highly specific history; however the issue of remembering or forgetting is central to all. I am reminded of Milan Kundera's famous statement: "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." The first responsibility is to remember what it serves the state to repress; the second to recall, to tell and to consider the recovered history through the lens of justice. My novel allegorizes the "forgetting" of the so-called Stolen Generations in Australia, those Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their families by order of state policy from about 1900 to 1970. The anguish and suffering of these people is the basis for a collection of heart-rending testimonies delivered to the Australian Parliament in May 1997. One of the recommendations of the report was that the government of the day offer a formal apology to indigenous Australians for the wrongs done to them. The [Howard Liberal] government refused to say "sorry," a matter that was rectified [recently] when the new Labour government in Australia, under the leadership of Kevin Rudd, issued an apology at the opening of parliament. This did not necessarily atone or repair the hurt, but it did signal a new initiative for reconciliation and dialogue between Aboriginal and other Australians.

Reprint: The Art of the Short Story by Vance Palmer

Good short stories are rare, because the short story demands practically all the literary qualities. In particular it calls for a very high development of the narrative faculty. A fairly good novel can be written with very little exercise of this faculty, for example, Galsworthy's "Country House" or Bennett's "Clayhanger." A character is caught in some attitude, say, kneeling at prayer or adding up figures in a ledger, and by an exhaustive catalogue of his thoughts and surroundings a vivid representation is achieved. In the next chapter he is caught in another attitude, and so on.

The short story, however, can never be static; it must be dynamic. It demands that different scenes and events be fused together in a swift flow of narrative, and that there be a unity as definite as that of a good lyric. The difference between the novel and the short story can best be illustrated by the image of a house. A novel can explore the inner rooms and the inhabitants' history at its leisure. A short story, however, must place the reader outside, raise the blind of one room for a moment and then lower it. Obviously the important thing is that the blind should be raised at the right moment, when the revealing incident is taking place.

There is no better way of learning how to write a short story than studying the best models. A few can be hinted at: Tolstoy's "The Duchess," Kipling's "The Man Who Would be King," Maupassant's "Boule de Suif," Lawson's "Telling Mrs. Baker," Gorky's "Twenty-Six Men and a Girl," Ambrose Bierce's "The Affair at Coulter's Ridge."

First published in Birth, March 1917.

John Flangan Profile

John Flanagan, author of the "Ranger's Apprentice" series of YA novels, is interviewed on the "Reuters India" website by Belinda Goldsmith.

Q: What is the appeal of the "Ranger's Apprentice?"

A: "I think the books are exciting. They are adventure stories that I initially wrote for my son Michael when he was 12 and not interested in reading. I made them short stories as I thought that would keep him going and those stories helped me identify a set of characters."

Q: Did it get him reading?

A: "It got him interested in it. There is a scene where the lead character breaks into an office at midnight to find a paper about himself and out of the darkness shoots a hand to grab his wrist. Michael said that really frightened him and that is actually the best compliment I ever had."

Australian Plays to Film #10 - Cosi


Cosi 1996
Directed by Mark Joffe
Screenplay by Louis Nowra from his own play.
Featuring Ben Mendelsohn, Barry Otto, Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths.

Reviews of Australian Books #86

Allen and Unwin have published the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature edited by Anita Heiss and Peter Minter, and Jane Sullivan takes a long look at it. Linda Burney also looks at this anthology for "The Australian": "It provides a fascinating account of the words of Aboriginal intellectuals and ordinary people, of some of our best-loved storytellers and young postmodern voices. Most important for a people whose stories have been quashed, it is an exercise in truth-telling. Historians traditionally have relied on written evidence. The writing of the handful of Aborigines who were taught to read and write soon after white settlement exposes another side of Australian history that has remained undisclosed. If not for the survival of these few pieces, we would have no authenticated version of indigenous experiences. For me, the gems are the earliest writings: the letters, petitions, pleas, many of them from Tasmania, where, until recently, the prevailing myth was that the Aborigines had been wiped out."

Beth Kanell, on the "Kingdom Books" weblog, delves into Snapshot by Garry Disher, and, in the process, laments the limited availability of Disher's works in the USA: "SNAPSHOT maintained a jagged, relentless tension throughout, although I didn't feel any urge to make sure the doors and windows were locked, or to turn on more lights. Instead, I wanted, very much indeed, to know how each of the investigators would sort out the life issues that were being jacked up into pain and threat through the kind of work they did, the hours, the tragedies. Well worth reading, and I'll be fitting another Disher novel into my reading schedule as soon as possible."

Dean, on the "HA" weblog, calls The Red Thread by Nicholas Jose, "an unsung masterpiece".

In "The Age", Michelle de Kretser reviews Stanley and Sophie by Kate Jennings, which she finds 'is a moving account of how we love and how we mourn: 'the fishhooks in the heart'."

In "The Australian", Kathy Hunt looks at the same book by Jennings and has a similar response.

Stella Clarke considers three new first novels: The Stranding by Karen Viggers ("...a moving, edgy love story..."); The Retreaters by Sharlene Miller Brown ("...a wonderful book, poetic, assured and graceful."); and The Lifeboat by Zacharey Jane (an "...unusual and haunting story..."); all for "The Australian". And staying with that newspaper is Don Anderson on A Family History of Smoking by Andrew Reimer: "...there was a sharp division through several generations of Riemer's family, smokers on his mother's side opposed to non-smokers on his father's. His mother was a serious smoker, regarding it during the best of times as an index of civilisation, during the worst of times as a brute necessity."

Justine Jordan on Disquiet by Julia Leigh in "The Guardian": "Disquiet is a strangely lukewarm title for a family narrative that includes infant death, adultery, domestic violence, alcoholism and other misadventures...The narrative tension is suspended between repression and melodrama, placing its characters in an uncharted emotional no man's land where anything might happen."

Short Notices

Maxine Clarke on Peter Temple's Dead Point: "If you haven't yet read Peter Temple, you have a total delight in store."

Shaun Tan Profile

Much was made of Shaun Tan's book The Arrival, and rightly so. It picked up awards all over the place and is still in line for a few more. Tan's new book, Tales from Outer Suburbia, will be released in June by Allen and Unwin, and as a prelude, the artist/author is interviewed by Rosemary Neill in "The Australian".

"Suburbia," Tan reflects, "is often represented as a banal, quotidian, even boring place that escapes much notice. Yet I think it is also a fine substitute for the medieval forests of fairytale lore, a place of subconscious imaginings. I've always found the idea of suburban fantasy very appealing."

Tan argues that a double reality attends suburbia: it is highly visible but, at the same time, unseen. On the one hand, it's so familiar it's taken for granted; on the other, this familiarity means it is overlooked or ridiculed.

"I guess that's what happens in an urban-centric society," he shrugs. Nevertheless, he thinks "there is something unsettling about (life in the suburbs) from an aesthetic point of view, and also from a cultural point of view".

He feels new, fringe suburbs lend themselves to surreality because they lack a settled identity. For this Chinese-Australian author and painter, outer suburbia is as much a state of mind as a place: as he puts it, "somewhere close and familiar but also on the edge of consciousness (and not unlike outer space)".

2008 Ned Kelly Award Nominees

The nominees for the 2008 Ned Kelly Awards have been released.

Best First Fiction
Golden Serpent, Mark Abernethy
Shadow Maker, Robert Sims
A Fraction Of The Whole, Steve Toltz
The Low Road, Chris Womersley
The Butcherbird, Geoffrey Cousins
Bye Bye Baby, Lauren Crow
Broken Swallow, JJ Burn
Green Velvet Shoes, Christina Ann Alexander
Frantic, Katherine Howell
Vodka Doesn't Freeze, Lea Giarratano
Iraqi Icicle, Bernie Dowling
Maelstrom, Michael MacConnell

Best Fiction
Trick or Treat, Kerry Greenwood
Cherry Pie, Leigh Redhead
Endangered List, Brian Westlake
Harem Scarum, Felicity Yound
Sensitive New Age Spy, Geoffrey McGeachin
Sucked In, Shane Maloney
Night Has A Thousand Eyes, Mandy Sayer
Orpheus Lost, Janette Turner Hospital
Amongst The Dead, Robert Gott
Appeal Denied, Peter Corris
Open File, Peter Corris
Gospel, Sydney Bauer
Broken, Ilsa Evans
Skin Bone, Kathryn Fox
Fan Mail, PD Martin
el Dorado, Dorothy Porter
Shattered, Gabrielle Lord
The Calling, Jane Goodall
Shatter, Michael Rowbotham
Game As Ned, Tim Peglar
The Tattooed Man, Alex Palmer
Blood Sunset, Jarad Henry
Redback, Lindy Cameron

Best Non-Fiction
Bondi Badlands, Greg Callaghan
Mr Sin, Tony Reeves
Underbelly The Gangland War, John Silvester and Andrew Rule
Killing Jodie, Janet Fife-Yeomans
Red Centre: Dark Heart, Evan McHugh
Big Shots, Adam Shand
Lives of Crime, Tippet & Munro
Fatal Flaw, Roger Maynard
Ned Kelly's Jerilderie Letter, Carole Wilkinson
Wild Colonial Boys, Paula Hunt

[Thanks to the AustCrimeFiction weblog for the link.]

Reviews of The Good Parents by Joan London

Cath Kenneally doesn't pull any punches in her review of The Good Parents in "The Australian".

London's first novel, Gilgamesh, was published in 2001, short-listed for the Miles Franklin and won the 2002 The Age Book of the Year fiction prize. The Good Parents is better; it ought to win every prize going. In many novels, one character stands out as being so well-realised you suspect that character is the author. With The Good Parents, you feel that about them all, male or female, young, middle-aged or elderly.
In "The Sydney Morning Herald", Michael McGirr sees a natural progression from the author's earlier work: "Joan London writes wonderfully about intimacy between strangers...Her new novel, The Good Parents, is full of characters who vanish but not without trace. In this regard, it shares something with her previous book, Gilgamesh, a story in which small town Western Australia is the hub of a world where characters struggle to find their place of belonging...The Good Parents is no less skilful in handling the many shades of loss, the eerie and sometimes petulant presence of the absent. Once again, small town Western Australia is the hub of a moving world...The Good Parents is underwritten by a wealth of human understanding. It knows stuff. It has compassion for people who make choices they don't have to; for families that never set."

Australian Bookcovers #115 - A Cartload of Clay by George Johnston


A Cartload of Clay by George
Johnston, 1971 (Collins 1971 edition)

Rhyll McMaster Profile

Rhyll McMaster, author of Feather Man - winner of the inaugural Barabara Jefferis Award - is target=new>interviewed by Lauren Wilson in "The Australian".

McMaster's novel is certainly confronting: in the first chapter the young heroine is sexually assaulted by a trusted family friend in a chook pen. By the novel's close, she is still grappling with the psychological toll of the abuse. But McMaster is unapologetic for writing about issues deemed unpalatable by society. "I think writers by and large are interested in the dark side," she says, "in what's not acknowledged, what's under the surface; and the dark places we know exist but (that) are not polite to talk about."

Consequently, she says, she knew she wasn't receiving the run-of-the-mill rejection letters from publishers, but that they found her manuscript genuinely scary. "So when I found a publisher (small publishing house Brandl & Schlesinger), that was really a great day."

2008 Best Young Novelists

Each year "The Sydney Morning Herald" present a list of the authors they consider to be the best young novelists in the country. This year the judges - Matt Buchanan, Emily Maguire and Jenny Tabakoff - have chosen the following: Max Barry, Jennifer Government and Company Belinda Castles, The River Baptists Jessica Davidson, What Does Blue Feel Like? Jessica White, A Curious Intimacy

Poem: Grace Jennings Carmichael by Henry Lawson

"But the broken heart of the poet is written between the lines." Grace Jennings Carmichael, bush girl, born in Gippsland, Vic., spent her young life in the bush; went to Melbourne into the Children's Training Hospital and obtained a certificate. Wrote verses for many years to the Australasian. Died in great poverty in London in 1904. Three younger children (one or more probably Australians) still in a London workhouse.

I hate the pen, the foolscap fair,
   The poet's corner, and the page,
For Grief and Death are written there,
   In every land and every age.
The poets sing and play their parts,
   Their daring cheers, their humour shines,
But, ah! my friends! their broken hearts
   Have writ in blood between the lines.

They fought to build a Commonwealth,
   They write for women and for men,
They give their youth, we give their health
   And never prostitute the pen.
Their work in other tongues is read,
   And when sad years wear out the pen,
Then they may seek their happy dead
   Or go and starve in exile then.

A grudging meed of praise you give,
   Or, your excuse, the ready lie --
(O! God, you don't know how they live!
   O! God, you don't know how they die!)
The poetess, whose gentle tone
   Oft cheered your mothers' hearts when down;
A lonely woman, fought alone
   The bitter fight in London town.

Your rich to lilac lands resort,
   And old-world luxuries they buy;
You pour out gold to Cant and Sport
   And give a million to a lie.
You give to cheats who rant and rave
   With eyes that glare and arms that whirl,
But not a penny that might save
   The children of the Gippsland girl.

First published in The Skyline Riders and Other Verses by Henry Lawson, 1910

Lift Me Up

Susan Johnson, who seems to be blogging more as the publication of her novel approaches, has come to the conclusion that she just isn't going to read ANY reviews of her new work. This is probably a good thing from a writer's perspective: if it's a bad review you'll only get worried or annoyed, and if it's a good review it won't make one skerrick of difference and you'll only get worried. There's a pattern there.

"The Australian" newspaper challenges the new Rudd government to "fix" the study of literature in Australia.

You might struggle to find new editions of many Australian classics but the second-hand market offers many opportunities: provided you can afford it.

Ben Peek's story "The Funeral, Ruined" is now available on the web.

Melissa Bellanta writes of larrikins in Brisbane: "'The larrikin loves Saturday night', wrote a journalist for the Brisbane Courier in December 1888, 'and in all the glory of high heels -- of the French pattern -- bell-bottomed pants, and bobtailed coats, decked with many buttons, he propels himself against hotel walls ... and bespatters the fooway with his copious expectoration'." It's the "bell-bottomed pants" I particularly object to.

Regarding the Sydney Writers' Festival

Jonathan Shaw attended Jeanette Winterson's opening address: "It was a terrific speech about the centrality of creativity and art to human experience, imagination as a necessity rather than a luxury, the importance of rejecting the notion that things are important only to the degree that they make a lot of money for someone."
Judith Ridge chaired a session on speculative fiction and writes about the experience. Also featured were writers D.M. Cornish (Monster Blood Tattoo) and David Kowalski (The Company of the Dead), and editor of Aurealis magazine Stuart Mayne.

Australian Poetry on the Radio

I've been meaning to write about the Australian Poetry series that was featured on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show" from May 12 to May 16. I kept putting it off until a comment today led me to the realisation that I had inadvertently included the wrong date in a previous mention of this series, in particular the episode in which I appear. Anyway, hie yourself over to the program's website and listen to the podcast of each program. Lyn Gallacher and the program's producers have done a wonderful job. For the life of me I can't figure out who is speaking about C.J. Dennis using my words. Doesn't sound like me at all. My wife picked it straight away somehow. The programs featured:
"Five Bells" by Kenneth Slessor
"Rockpool" by Judith Wright
"The Glugs of Gosh" by C.J. Dennis
"The Continuance of Poetry" by Rosemary Dobson
"The Death of the Bird" by A.D. Hope

Reprint: Goodbye Sunnyside by R.H. Croll

Bright blaze the stars, the night is dark
   As down the roads of heaven they ride,
How could they our small planet mark
If 'twere not for its Sunny Side?

It is a long, steady rise from Belgrave to Kallista, and twenty years ago the road was rough and stony. The two city artists who were with me had found the walk rather far. As we rose to the crest, topped now by the Kallista School, the watercolourist sighed, drew his hands from his trouser pockets - he always strolled with his arms buried to the wrists - and looked at me reproachfully. 'Someone has stolen the end of this road,' he remarked with conviction. Five minutes later his back straightened, his eye brightened, he was a different man; we were facing that wonderful view which is framed by the soft green hills of Sassafras and Olinda. 'Why didn't I bring my paints?' he asked. But he, as many another of equal skill, was to 'bring his paints' on plenty of other occasions, for the home we were about to visit was famous for its hospitality. Many of the choicest spirits of Melbourne's world of art and letters made the well-named Sunnyside a meeting place, at week-ends, and, like Toby Belch and his merry company, they frequently 'roused the night-owl in a catch.

The house stands on a hillside which slopes to the creek at Begley's Bridge. The rich soil has a number of granite boulders scattered through it, and from one of these, about three feet high, swelling up near the front verandah, each guest, if he stayed overnight, was expected to deliver an oration. They were memorable evenings. No motor cars in those earlier days flashed along the unevenn roadway far below to remind us of city noise and city cares; our hilltop was a world apart, dedicated to us and to us only. In every pause we would be aware of the solemn night all about us, of the scent of musk and mint-bush and eucalypt, of the never-pausing murmur of the little creek, hurrying, always hurrying. But pauses were few in such company. Here it was that C. J. Dennis wrote much of his Sentimental Bloke and it was to his host and hostess, Mr. and Mrs. J. G. Roberts, that he dedicated that highly successful book. Mr. Roberts had been manager of the cable system of the Melbourne Tramway Company. Several of the ancient 'buses, withdrawn and sold by the company as trams superseded them, stood - they still stand - in favoured spots in the garden. They made capital bedrooms, as we found on occasion. In one of these 'Den' camped, and in it he composed much of his verse of that period.

We made a rally, a sort of house-warming, when he was installed. Each contributed a small picture or a text to hang along the line where, in the 'bus's live days, advertisements used to be placed. The result was a truly remarkable collection of cards, mainly figuring beautiful ladies, and of mottoes containing more advice, direct and oblique, than any man could take in a single lifetime. One of the cryptic utterances which I recall was the warning, worthy of a new Delphic oracle, that a 'motor-car is not fit to be out of!' We sang at nights ancient songs lke 'Samuel Hall' and 'O Landlord, have you any fine wine?' but with verses made on the spot to supplant the extremely frank statements of the original makers of those delectable ballads. Dennis was particularly good at improvization. A lady visitor declared that she had milked the cow that morning. The usual scepticism was expressed. 'Den' at once summed up the matter in a set of neat verses.

That likeable genius, the sculptor Web Gilbert, was a frequent visitor, and so were two of his art associates, John Shirlow, best known then as an etcher, and the late Alick McClintock, the watercolourist. Clad in a white sweater and wrapped closely in a snowy sheet of linen, I was posed one day in the garden as a wood god, alleged to be a creation of Web Gilbert's. The photograph shows him finishing off this marble statue, his implements being a garden hoe as a chisel and a wooden block used in rope quoits, grasped by its pin, as a mallet. It was McClintock who thanked God he had brought his liver with him when, on one occasion, he drove down that stony road in a rattling cart.

Most of the jokes originated in the fertile brain of our host, whose wit never flagged, whose invention was never at a loss. The late George Ellery, town clerk of the City of Melbourne, the editor of a Melbourne daily newspaper, and I were luxuriating in our beds one Sunday morning, having been forbidden to rise early, when Mr. Roberts appeared, attired in an old tail-coat, with towel on arm, as a broken-down waiter. He served me respectfully and passed into the room of the editor. Decorous, murmurings ensued. Then suddenly the pseudo-waiter reappeared in a hurry, accompanied by a burst of threatening language from the newspaper man. With very un-waiter-like joy Mr. Roberts explained that he had offered the editor a sausage wrapped in a sheet of his journal 'Well?' said I. 'Well,' replied our host, 'I told him that I had found something good in his paper at last!' There exists somewhere a remarkable caricature of Mr. Roberts in that waiter costume. It was done by David Low, now one of the foremoost, cartoonists of the English-speaking world. He and Hal Gye, who illustrated The Sentimental Bloke, were often at Sunnyside.

Here, too, M. J. McNally, artist in narrative as in pigment, told some of his finest stories; here, on the friendliest of footings, were men such as the late 'Dave' Wright, known to the frequenters of Fasoli's as 'the man of memory,' and the late Tom Roberts - he did a fine portrait in oils of his namesake. Harold Herbert, who has since recorded so many lovely scenes, has stood on the verandah to admire the Sunnyside view; that great annalist, E. Wilson Dobbs, contributed erudition to the gathering, Hugh Wright, of the Mitchell Library, Sydney, never failed to include Kallista as a place of call when visiting Victoria; but it is not possible to chronicle all. One name, however, must not be omitted. Mrs. Aeneas Gunn, author of those two classics of the inland A Little Black Princess and We of the Never Never, was often an honoured guest, coming up from Monbulk, the village of which, it is hoped, she will write the history some day.

But Sunnyside was centre of a wider circle. Its owner boasted that he was born near Scarsdale, and he was one of the prime movers in that staunch body, the Old Boys of Scarsdale, whose crest is a he-goat and whose motto Non extincti sumus. It was fitting that men born in a goldfield town should so honour their boyhood friend and enemy, the goat. Roberts wrote histories of the early times of his birthplace and its neighbourhood, and conducted a wide correspondence which embraced the late Fred Johns, of Who's Who in Australia, Adelaide, and many a London friend, including Colonel Arthur Lynch, soldier, author and Parliamentarian. Friends, humble or famous, were all welcome to this house in the hills, and when the fame of Mr. Roberts's collections of books on many subjects, notably on the foundation of the Australian Commonwealth, was noised abroad, visitors came even from overseas to Sunnyside to inspect and be charmed.

But to-day Sunnyside is empty. 'Garry' Roberts - to how many was he 'Garry' - is dead, and Mrs. Roberts has left the old place. The shell of the hospitable home stands waiting a new spirit to quicken it to life again. Farewell, Sunnyside!

from I Recall by Robert Henderson Croll,
originally published in "The Argus", 5 August 1933.

Wendy James Profile

Wendy James, author of The Steele Diaries and resident of Armidale in New South Wales, is interviewed in "The Armidale Express" by Matt McLennan.

Ms James began writing short stories in 1992, most of which were published in journals and anthologies. She said her second novel took considerably less than her first. "It's like asking how long is a piece of string. The first one took a long time, maybe five years, and this one took just over two," she said. "When you add in all the stuff after publishing, it was probably about two and a half."

Australian Books to Film #41 - Nim's Island


Nim's Island 2008
Directed by Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin
Screenplay by Joseph Kwong, Paula Mazur, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett from the novel by Wendy Orr
Featuring Abigal Breslin, Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler, and Michael Carman.

A Classic Year: 13.0 My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

bcareer_small.jpg My Brilliant Career
Miles Franklin

Miles Franklin's first novel is quite an amazing achievement. Written when she was only in her early 20s it is probably the most famous thing she wrote, and is rightly considered an Australian classic.

The book tells the story of Sybylla, a young Australian woman living in the 1890s, whose family falls on hard times when the father gets on the grog. Their circumstances gradually get worse, and Sybylla is "rescued" by well-to-do relatives who invite her to stay and where she grows from a teenage girl into a young woman. Of course, she catches the eye of the best male prospect in the area - rich, intelligent, and fairly down-to-earth - and the bulk of the book concerns her trying to decide if she will, or will not, accept his proposal of marriage. On the face of it, not the most original plot-line you'll come across, but certainly one that could benefit from an Australian setting.

The over-riding impression I got from this novel was of the sound of the author's voice. It's been a while since I read something written in the first person which was so strong and so indicative of the main character's personality. As a reader you are left in no doubt as to the identity of the narrator. It flags from time to time, usually when the fortunes of Sybylla take a downturn, but her fiesty, assertive, and self-confident nature generally shines through. If I had a choice I would have liked to have given Sybylla a good clip under the ear for the way she acts, and for the way she treats her suitor. But that aside, it's hard to dislike a novel which is just so full of life.


Full text of the novel.
Author Wikipedia page
Photo of the author.

The next four works in this Classic Year:
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)
17. Lucinda Brayford by Martin Boyd (1946)

Tim Winton Watch #2

Reviews of Breath

"The Economist": "Richly Australian, Breath is a classic coming-of-age novel, which is not to pigeonhole the work as small or pat. Thomas Wolfe and James Joyce among many other literary greats have employed the form. Readers who are, like the narrator, adolescent might well enjoy Tim Winton's surf-and-turf tale. But this is also a book for grown-ups...Yet what may most distinguish this coming-of-age fiction is its perfect balance of teenage romanticism and disillusion."

Matthew Condon in "The Courier-Mail": "Breath -- in turns delicate and brutal, beautiful and shocking -- gestures at the very least towards a notion, obvious in its declaration but more plausible with the passage of time and the emergence of each new book, that Winton has steadily created a fictional universe much in the way that William Faulkner mined again and again his imagined Yoknapatawpha County in Mississippi...On the evidence of this novel, his books, to this reader, are no longer separate entities, but instalments in a large narrative schema. Breath is a piece of the Winton tapestry that, from the air, might appear recognisable, limited and repetitive in pattern. But if you get down close to the rug and allow yourself to be dizzied by the detail, it's there you understand that Winton is, in effect, writing over and over about all of us, and his very concentration on the parochial gives his work a
universal punch."

Russell Celyn Jones in "The Times": "This is a very good book marred by occasional empty posturing and a poor finish, where everything Winton has set up so well folds into itself. The outward-looking characters become suddenly self-absorbed...But don't let this quibble put you off. As with music, surfing is difficult to
translate into language. On that level, Winton's first novel since the Booker shortlisted Dirt Music is as good as it gets."

Melissa Katsoulis in "The Telegraph" finds "this is a wonderfully uplifting novel. Winton's sensitivity to the effects of the physical environment on a growing mind is acute, and his rapturous love of the sea is a thing to behold. He sings the transformative splendour of the natural world like a true Romantic."

Patrick Ness in "The Guardian": "Like jumping into a cool brook on a hot day, his prose is clear and refreshing, and surprising in its sharpness. Breath lacks some of the sweep of his previous two novels -- there are moments when things feel a little rushed -- but it has the urgent clarity of a story that needed to be told."

Helen Gordon in "The Observer": "Winton is one of contemporary Australia's most acclaimed novelists. Here, he revisits some of his past preoccupations: masculinity, self-discovery through a journey into extremes and, most strikingly, the landscape of Australia: yellow acacias, the peppery smell of the heath, the nip and dash of honey eaters. At his best, Winton writes with an unsentimental lyricism that remains rooted in the Australian vernacular; rough, choked dialogue clashing against passages of great beauty."


I just love the photos of Winton accompanying the reviews and interviews in the
mainstream media. They all have him looking off into the distance - a classic thousand-yard stare - never looking directly at the camera. Odd. I can understand one or two, but all of them?


And as soon as I write the previous paragraph comes this profile in "The Independent". Winton stares at the camera in this
one. Actually he looks like he's trying to bore holes through the camera, the photographer, the webpage and the reader. Looks cold too.

Mark Rubbo, of Readings bookshops, interviews the author.

For better or worse, writers nowadays are quite public figures, you make very few public appearances; I'm sure it's not for want of invitations and I'm sure you have much to contribute -- is this a conscious decision or something you've drifted into?

I don't think it's any secret that I don't much like the public stuff. I find being in front of people a bit well ... corrosive. It doesn't give me anything good. Good luck to writers who like the performative side of things, in a way I probably envy them their ease. But I'm happier on the page. I've done a fair bit of public advocacy in the past decade, mostly environmental work and I don't regret it, but it does create an appetite and an expectation that can't be met. I have to remind people that I write stories. That's my area of expertise. Why should anyone need to hear my sound-bite opinion on every ephemeral political and social issue?

2008 Kathleen Mitchell Award for Young Writers

This award for young writers was set up in 1996 under the terms of the will of late Kathleen Adele Mitchell. According to the website "Her aim was to encourage 'the advancement, improvement and betterment of Australian literature, to improve the educational style of the
authors, and to provide them with additional amounts and thus enable them to improve their literary efforts'." The 2008 award was won by Randa Abdel-Fattah for her novel Ten Things I Hate About Me .

Lisa Forrest Profile

Most Australians, if they recognise the name, will remember Lisa Forrest as a gold medal winner in swimming in the 1982 Commonwealth Games, but she was also captain of the women's swimming team that went to the 1980 Moscow Olympics. That was the time of Russia's invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent attempt by the Fraser Coalition Government to force the Australian Olympic Federation to boycott the games. To their credit the AOF did not cave into the pressure, but the split in public opinion in Australia made the whole experience very stressful for all concerned. Now Lisa Forrest, previously the writer of a number of YA novels, has written her account of the attempted boycott of the games, Boycott: The Story Behind Australia's Controversial Involvement in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and she is interviewed in "The Courier-Mail" by Kathleen Noonan.

2008 NSW Premier's Literary Award Winners

The winners of the the 2008 NSW Premier's Literary Award were announced last night in Sydney.

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction
Tom Griffiths Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry
Kathryn Lomer Two Kinds of Silence

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature
James Roy Town

Patricia Wrightson Prize
Li Cunxin & Anne Spudvilas (illus) The Peasant Prince

Community Relations Commission Award
Jacob G. Rosenberg Sunrise West

Gleebooks Prize
Kay Anderson Race and the Crisis of Humanism

UTS Award for New Writing
Rhyll McMaster Feather Man

Play Award
Debra Oswald Stories in the Dark

Script Writing Award
Anna Broinowski Forbidden Lie$

The NSW Premier's Literary Scholarship Prize
William Christie Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Literary Life

Book of the Year
Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog

A Special Award was also presented to Tom Keneally for lifetime achievement.

Peter Carey Watch #6

Reviews of His Illegal Self

Gordon Houser in "The Wichita Eagle": "One of the best things about the novel is the language, which is often poetic: 'The Boeings spinning their white contrails across the cold blue sky -- loneliness and hope, expanding like paper flowers in water.' Or this: 'The foreign sky, bruised like cheekbones, heavy rain streaming in a distant fringe.'...Beautifully told, it will leave you aching for the completion denied this innocent victim."

Garth Risk Hallberg, on "The Millions" weblog, compares Carey to another, American, writer and concludes that the author doesn't quite reach the heights he was aiming for: "A kind of antipodean counterpart to E.L. Doctorow (and now, like Doctorow, a resident of New York), the Australian novelist Peter Carey seems able to do virtually anything on the page. A master of plot, character, setting, phrasing, point-of-view, description, and dialogue (among other things), Carey has published sprawling bildungsromans and swift-moving capers, real travelogues and fake confessions, books for children and books for adults...However breathtaking the writing, His Illegal Self, falls short of a goal attainable to Peter Carey and to few other novelists: the creation of consciousness."

Review of My Life as a Fake

On the Blogcritics website, Philip Spires finds that "The book is packed with literary references, but is in no way academic. There is a strong sense of place, with the sights, sounds and smells of Kuala Lumpur oozing from the page. The only aspect missing is the taste, and in Malaysia food is much more pervasive an influence in the culture than we encounter via Chubb's adoption of it. It's a minor point...Overall the pace of the book is varied and, here and there, one feels that Peter Carey has over-complicated things and thus detracted from the directness that could have achieved increased impact. But then poetry is like that, isn't it?"

Short Notices

The "3000 Books" weblog looks at Illywhacker by Peter Carey: "How to describe the experience of reading my first Peter Carey novel (for I'm sure I will read another)? I carried on, fond-eyed as a lover, I read every page with exigent attention. Carey is a radical storyteller, and his precise evocation of detail is the alchemical complement to his fulsome imagination. From the cutaneous to the vehicular, the historical to the magical, Illywhacker traverses the rich journeys taken by blood that is fatally flawed; blood which is, after all, but finest filigree of the strongest steel."


Vivien Cuttle examines some of the minutiae around the film version of Oscar and Lucinda. The list of actors who wanted to play Lucinda is rather interesting. But I'm glad director Gillian Armstong stuck with Cate Blanchett.

As revealed on ABC TV a few weeks back, Carey is contemplating going back to his earliest stories and line-editing them. Not rewriting you understand, just cleaning them up a bit so he can read them at literary festivals without gagging. His peers have warned him against it - the editing that is, not the gagging.

Australian Novelists Gaining Recognition?

Caroline Baum, presenter of the Talking Books television program on the Foxtel channel Ovation, provides on overview of the current Australian literary landscape for readers of "The Times". She starts by contrasting the latest novels from Tim Winton and Helen Garner before moving on to mention Michelle de Kretser, Julia Leigh, Charlotte Wood, Markus Zusack, Richard Flanagan and Peter Temple, amongst others.

Australian Bookcovers #114 - My Brother Jack by George Johnston


My Brother Jack by George Johnston, 1964
(Collins 1966 edition)
Jacket design by Sydney Nolan
[This novel won the Miles Franklin Award in 1964.]

2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize Winners

The winners of the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize have been announced.

Overall Best Book
Lawrence Hill of Canada The Book of Negroes

Overall Best First Book
Tahmima Anam of Bangladesh for A Golden Age

Debra Adelaide Interview

There has been a bit of a buzz around the traps regarding Debra Adelaide's third novel, The Household Guide To Dying, specifically about the advance it received and the foreign sales it generated. Susan Wyndham talks to the author for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

A small research grant enabled Adelaide to offload some of her teaching last year and meet a self-imposed deadline. "I felt convinced that a book I'd written to amuse myself in snatched time in a little corner of my bedroom - a novel I had to fit into the cracks of my life - couldn't possibly work." When she handed it over to her agent, Lyn Tranter, she said, "You'll probably tell me to go away and give it a decent burial." Tranter, however, decided to auction the book.

On the day of the auction, Adelaide nervously lunched with a friend while taking Tranter's calls about the rising bids; she was thrilled at $50,000 and stunned when they reached more than $100,000. While one publisher's offer gave the book undiluted praise, the response from the Picador Australia publisher, Rod Morrison, said they loved the book but thought it needed some rewriting. He got the deal.

The novel will be launched on Friday at the Sydney Writers' Festival where Adelaide is a guest.

Poem: A Thought of Henry Kendall by M.M.

Had I gone first he surely would have writ
   Some kindly words in loving memory --
Touching a drear old history -- clothing it
   With grace, as ivy leaves -- and aged tree

But he has breasted first the mighty wave
   Which flows around Eternity, and left
Blind seekers still to wonder and to crave,
   With clamorous thoughts, for light -- of light bereft.

I see the flying form of youth, the sun
   In radiant limbs -- distraught with blind desire --
And Daphne's hurrying shade, which seeks to shun
   His passionate looks that breathe destructive fire.

Two ghastly forms within a pit I see
   Sawing till doom; -- and stifled groans I hear
From shadows passing round a baleful tree,
   Until my creeping flesh is quick with fear.

And then, beyond the fiery cones of hills --
   That sing to the wild main in sympathy --
I see in mossy rents the morning rills
   That march in midnight thunder to the sea.

While from Kerguelen, on a stormy main,
   Swept by remorseless winds which scourge the Pole,
A voice comes echoing, as in grief or pain,
   "Oh! listen to a brother's passing soul;

I meet that Infinite of which we dreamed,
   The mighty mysteries to comprehend
That fold life round, until it almost seemed
   That God Himself had ceased to be our friend.

Beyond the stars there is a rest serene,
   Which neither love, nor fame, nor happiness
Can ever stir with hints of what has been.
   Nor make that gift supreme, or more or less!

Awhile, old friend! and then we meet once more,
   Not in the cruel conflicts of the day.
Till then, adieu! the struggle now is o'er --
   The wearied spirit passes on its way."

First published in Australian Town and Country Journal, 5 August 1882
Note: Henry Kendall died on 1st August 1882.

Better Days

Last year's Australian/Vogel Award winner I Dream of Magda is now out.

Text Publishing have instituted The Text Young Adult Prize worth a $10,000 advance against royalties. Entries close on 31 July 2008.

Susan Johnson discusses the vexed question of "blurbs", wondering who she will ask to blurb her upcoming novel Life in Seven Mistakes.

Juliet Marillier was in Melbourne for the Children's Book Council of Australia Conference, the one with Neil Gaiman and Shaun Tan, and writes about it on the "Writer Unboxed" weblog.

Gemma, on the "Meet Me at Mike's" weblog, has posted a set of photos taken from C.J. Dennis's Book for Kids on Flickr.

Jean and Doug, of the "Left Home" weblog, went out to Toolangi to visit C.J. Dennis's Singing Gardens, and have posted a photo of the copper beech tree that was planted by John Masefield, Poet Laureate, when he visited Dennis there in 1934. They say 1938, but it really was 1934 - see Dennis's piece from earlier today.

"The Little Professor" is teaching Picnic at Hanging Rock, but is forced to consider the film as the novel is not in print in the US.

Dean, at the "Happy Antipodean", reviews The Pixie O. Harris Fairy Book, first published in 1924, and poses the question "We've got a Miles Franklin prize - why not a Pixie O'Harris prize for children's literature?"

Helen Garner Watch #2

Reviews of The Spare Room

Darlene on "Larvatus Prodeo":

After finding Garner an intrusive and maddening presence in journalistic efforts such as Joe Cinque's Consolation, it's a relief to discover that "fictional" Helen, with all her flaws, fury and brutal honesty, is on the side of the good guys.

Right from the start of the book the disparate worldviews of the two main characters are detailed, with Helen's sister declaring during a telephone conversation that Nicola shouldn't be told about the mirror that shattered in the room she's to sleep in during her Melbourne stay.

While neither western medicine nor nutty Vitamin C therapy can save Nicola, whose cancer has progressed to stage four, it's the conventional medicos who know what they're doing and don't peddle false hope. There's a time, The Spare Room argues, to accept your fate.

In "The Monthly" Robert Dessaix has some problems with how to tackle the new work.
Monkey Grip is called a novel, The Children's Bach and Cosmo Cosmolino short novels, and now The Spare Room (Text, 208pp; $29.95) is declared "a perfect novel" by Peter Carey on the back cover. But they are not novels. They are all of them fine works of art and innovative explorations of literary approaches to non-fiction, every one of them an outstanding example of stylish reportage, but none of them is a novel. So why does Helen Garner at the very least collude in having them called novels? And why does it matter? (Aren't signifiers meant to be floating these days?)

Perhaps she believes that with all that shaping, leaping, trimming and sharpening, her notebooks and diaries actually become novels. Perhaps she still (quite understandably) feels a need to cock a snook at those early critics of her work, such as Peter Corris, who attacked her for publishing her "private journals" rather than writing a novel. Random jottings, they seemed to be saying, about emotional entanglements in dreary suburbs with the odd thought about the meaning of life thrown in don't make you a writer. A real writer, it was implied, writes novels, and a novel is something more sustained, more imagined, more intricately patterned, more whole than the sort of thing Garner writes, however much she trims and transcribes. Just throwing in a bit of "purple prose", as she does in Cosmo Cosmolino, won't do the trick, either.

And a response. I actually don't know what all the fuss is about. If Garner calls it a novel then it is a novel. It's not like she's saying it's a memoir, to which she's added some fictional elements. If she'd done that then there might have been room for discussion. But here? I don't think so.


Deborah Bogle in "The Advertiser":

After the gruelling, 6 1/2-year effort to write Joe Cinque's Constellation -- the project stalled when Anu Singh, who was later convicted of manslaughter, refused to speak to her -- Garner was exhilarated by the sense of freedom she felt in writing The Spare Room.

Unshackled from the ethical responsibilities of writing non-fiction, she found a sense of calm purpose, and completed the book in a little over a year.

"It's quite thrilling," she says. "Even if the story that you're writing has its origins in real experience, in fiction you're free to pull in material from the rest of your life and especially as you get older you've got this stash of experience and it sort of springs to life in your imagination. It's as if the story that you're telling is porous and all this other kind of material can come surging in to enrich it as you go. And that's how I would define the word imagination with this book, that I felt I had a great richness to draw on." Still, she confesses to some anxiety about the response to The Spare Room.

"I've got some old itching scars from what happened to me after The First Stone," she says, "when the feminists came at me with the thumbscrews and the baseball bats.

"So every time a book comes out now, I am anxious, because you don't get over a thrashing like that." What interested her particularly about the experience of caring for the dying -- and "not for a minute" would she pretend that there wasn't a real Nicola -- was the conflicting feelings of anger and resentment, of tenderness, intimacy and grief.

The Poet Who Brought the Sun by C.J. Dennis

For various reasons, I could not come to him, so he came to me. That was the first gracefully characteristic action that helped to reveal the man.

And here, I think, I should hasten to disown any implied analogy with a famous expedient of Moslem's accommodating prophet, which would certainly be ill-fitting, and, perhaps, a little lacking in proper modesty.

He came to us one the one bright day granted this usually well-favored spot in recent weeks, and it would hardly be a sentimental exaggeration to suggest that his coming seemed to have brought the sun.

He has that quality about him, too, and this may be said without indulgence of that sweet sickliness which Americans call "Pollyanna." So that one might reasonably have said, in reply to his conventional greeting: "All the brighter for having seen you, Mr Masefield."

So he impresses a man and a journeyman in the difficult but delightful trade of which he is a master, and so he impresses, I should imagine, every man who has the good fortune to meet him. As for the ladies -- well, some poets have that lucky way with them too.

On the day before he came to us it had been raining heavens hard. We were eager that he and his wife should see this little bit of our forest in its Sunday dress, but the bleak rain continued to fall as it listed, the wind to howl through the trees, for these elements seem no respecters of persons. But all the while the kindly sun was conscious of its duty and its friends. Had we known our visitors earlier we might have guessed that too, and been less apprehensive.

On that rainy day preceding the visit I found myself thinking back to a rather young, and slightly ambitious Australian writer toiling in a tiny bush hut among tall trees, a little lonely and forever dreaming of great things and great men worlds away.

Pinned upon the wall of that hut were various prints and photographs culled from illustrated papers; among them, the portrait of another youngish man with dark hair and a small dark moustache.

Even in that crude print the eyes of this youngish man bore an expression a little wistful, more than a little wise in the knowledge of men and life in rough, unsheltered corners of the earth, and a tolerant kindliness that such a knowledge must bring to one whose capacity for pity is great beyond the average. Yet, behind it all, was a hint of boyishness that had survived many a hard lesson of that hard master, life as the less fortunate majority knows it.

John Masefield had long been the first poet for me among England's living poets; and in that small bush hut I, in turn, learned many a lesson from him in the appreciation of beauty to be found in unsuspected places; so that gradually my own land began to take on for me a beauty revealed by a man who, at that time, had not yet seen it.

The best poets, I like to think, are born with that innate appreciation of beauty everywhere. Ambitious writers of rhyme find it laboriously, after they have first been shown the way.

But, in the days I now write of, not in my vaguest imaginings did I ever dream that it should one day be my good fortune to meet that youngish man of the portrait, grown older now externally and white with years, grown wiser, too, perhaps, but still with that air of kindly wistfulness, and, above all, with that delightful boyishness and rare simplicity that is reflected in most of his writing.

And that is, in my eyes, the revealing quality in John Masefield's personality -- a boyish simplicity, almost an ingenuous capacity for friendship with all men that neither the count of years nor hardest experience can ever kill. And the world and his friends are the happier for it.

Such qualities, I think, are essential in the make-up of every spontaneous singer of real worth. Burns had them, I should imagine, and every natural poet like him.

They are qualities that, for me, anyway, rank highest of all -- far above the acquired wisdom of men of deep erudition who know their fellow men only through biographies and histories, and all the superficial knowledge of mere bookworms.

On the day he came to us, I met John Masefield down in the valley. I stole him from the friends who had brought him from town, and, leaving them to go on ahead, drove him slowly up to the crest of the Great Divide to my home.

We spoke conventionally for the first mile or two - of local topography, of hills and altitudes -- and I wonder if he, too, was trying to gauge the measure of the man he had just met. But I imagine he did not bother about that. It is a curiosity largely indulged by secretive semi-hermits who meet few of the world's eminent men.

But as we began to climb the mountain into the forest, what restraint there was vanished rapidly as the yellow gold and crimson of young gum-leaves, translucent in the sun, began to border the roadside.

He had seen them not long before in the Cumberland, but our roadside is particularly rich in such displays, and he admired, enthusiastically.

We talked then about various moods and phases of the bush, and suddenly he introduced the subject of snakes -- had we many, were they very venomous, how many did we kill in a season? -- his interest was palpably evident and keen, and (assured I was not being politely led to a subject on which I could talk), I told him of a few thrilling encounters. I would like to think that he shivered deliciously.

He was so very keen on those crawling, dangerous things that spelt adventure. What boy would not be?

For once, I found myself wishing that out Australian bush harbored a few fierce carnivorae - lions and tigers, for example, even elephants would have given him a great kick, I imagine.

At lunch, the bush and its fauna were discussed, and the poet told us of the emancipated Turkey, a land he had visited lately, and Mrs Masefield spoke, a little longingly, I imagine of their home in the Cotswolds. Later the poet told us the story of a certain German gentleman and a dish of eggs, and on that managed to turn a real and graceful compliment to his hostess, and I spoke of his cow - which I imagined I had seen him fondling in a photograph. But the cow turned out to be a pony, and I was smothered in ridicule, and we were all boys and girls together.

After lunch we inspected the garden, bathed now in brilliant sunshine; and I came upon the poet round a corner deep in converse with the man whose labors help to make that garden beautiful -- an agricultural laborer not long out from Hampshire. Mrs Masefield asked him how he liked this country.

And then Australia got its genuine advertisement.

"Like it?" said the doughty gardener. "This country will do me, sir. Better off than ever I be."

Asked if he would not like some day to return to England, the man of spades and scythes smiled and shook his head.

"This will do me," he repeated. "I ask none better."

It seemed to me that, remembering that pleasant countryside, whose loveliness he has so well recaptured, the poet was just a little disappointed with this reply. But I, as an insular Australian, was well content, even a little maliciously triumphant.

In the room where I had taken the poet to inspect some curiosity, his eye lit on the various native weapons that hang about the wall -- spears, waddies, boomerangs, woomeras that came from the Arunta community.

Again the boy gleamed delightfully. He hefted the weapons, their use had to be explained, a native duel described -- "all bluggy!" By the more barbaric of those savage instruments he seemed fascinated. Again, what boy would not be?

In the garden again he affected to be unacquainted with individual flowers, even English flowers, and with the dry subject of botany generally.

It is a harmless deceit I have marked in many cultured Englishmen -- more especially artists and writers. Either they know their subject thoroughly or, knowing it indifferently, feign to be completely ignorant. Finally, and a little peevishly perhaps, I asked him if he had ever seen a daffodil. He considered for a moment, then said he thought he had, somewhere, once.

Then we sat together by the pool and yarned of many things and places, and sparingly of books and their making. When carpenters get together -- even a master and an apprentice - they do not harp on floor joints and barge boards.

He asked me of the conditions affecting book production here. I told him of writers here who published in London, of their difficulties, particularly of that iniquitous "Colonial Clause" that robs them of half their earnings. Immediately he volunteered to bring the matter up at the next meeting of the Authors' Club in London. It was altogether spontaneous: I had never remotely hinted that he might do so.

After that we went on to speak of rude, uncultured men in remote places -- he of the sea, I of Australia's hinterland, both of the deeply attractive, always revealing, sometimes heroic qualities to be discovered there. And so, I discovered that his experiences had run strangely parallel with my own.

I, too, had run away from home to engage in many strange and lowly occupations, endured a few hardships, risked a little security and life and limb among rough, tough men. But I said that now I was glad of it -- regretted nothing. It had helped me.

The poet looked at me out of those wisely wistful eyes of his.

"Is there any other way?" he asked quietly.

"Of course not," I agreed; and we went on then to speak of birds. Of his intense interest in these -- especially now, our strange Australian birds -- I have no space to write here. But he misses no chance to learn more of them.

Then, for the fourth or fifth time he got the talk back to that pool from which, in my obtuseness I had often switched the conversation. How did one make a pool? How long did it take? The cost? There was a certain stream running through a field in the Cotswolds; possibly one might -- What did I think?

I explained everything. And, in the not too distant future, I have no doubt a new pool will appear somewhere in the Cotswolds -- a quiet, secluded pool, fringed with tall lupins and buttercups and foxgloves and many flowers of which the white-haired, eager lad who planned it seems unable to quite remember the names.

By now the dipping sun, who had shone so continuously, so mindful of a friend, hinted that, delightful as the talk might be and, for one man, however great the occasion, there was yet none here as great as Joshua -- who was no poet, but a soldier.

So regretful adieus were made, many kindly last words spoken, and I was waving farewell to one I seemed to have known intimately all my life -- yet to no elderly gentleman, but to a white-haired eager lad with that wisely wistful look and, above all, with that rare simplicity and joyous air of indestructible youth and boyish enthusiasm.

And then - whether credited or not, it is the plain truth -- less than an hour after our interesting guests had left us, the sky clouded and the rain was once more with us.

First published in The Herald, 13 November 1934
John Masefield was Poet Laureate from 1930 until his death in 1967.

2008 Australian Literary Society Gold Medal Shortlist

The shortlisted works for the 2008 Australian Literary Society Gold Medal have been released.

The Lost Dog, Michelle de Kretser (A&U)
Not Finding Wittgenstein, J S Harry (Giramondo)
Feather Man, Rhyll McMaster (Brandl & Schlesinger)
Typewriter Music, David Malouf (UQP)
Landscape of Farewell, Alex Miller (A&U)

The winner will be announced during the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, over the weeken of June 29 to July 2.

[Thanks to the "Boomerang Blog" for the link.]

J.M. Coetzee Watch #7

Short Reviews Julia Leigh, author of the new novel, Disquiet, calls Life and Times of Michael K. a Book of a Lifetime: "The ending left me in tears: here was something! This is what books were for! Looking back, I think I responded to Michael K's resolve, to his steadiness, his modest and determined way of being. And since that reading experience I've tried to read as much of Coetzee's oeuvre as I can." The "There was another life that I might have had, but I am having this one" weblog looks at Foe, which "is not one of the novels to have brought him any of these prizes, and as far as I can see, it's lesser known though considered by many critics as the archetypal post-modern novel. Basically, the story is the reinvention of the classic Robinson Crusoe, with a woman as the central character...I wasn't exactly touched by it, though I'm not sure that this is what it's intended to do. There are a lot of issues to be discussed in reference to the novel -- colonialism, a woman's position in society, slavery and the art of writing in itself -- but what I did find overwhelming was Friday, not his character in particular, but the story of his mutilation." Ana Shirin Razi Rabi, on "In a Pineapple Under the Vast Sea" weblog finds a sense of the universal in Coetzee's work. "I've just finished reading Boyhood by J.M Coetzee and still couldn't believe that someone can write such a true representation of childhood. True enough, it was a story about a boy who grew up in South Africa in the 1940s and on the surface, that hardly creates any connection to myself. But as I dwelt further into the story, I realised that childood could easily be the most arrogant, selfish yet naive state of our lives, no matter when or where you've lived." On the "Glue and Scissors" weblog, discovers that "...Diary of a Bad Year was actually nothing like I expected. Was it disturbingly well written? Yes. Compelling and thought provoking? Absolutely. But a grab-you-by-the-stomach, heart-wrenching, can't-get-out-of-the-chair read? No." Interviews Coetzee is interviewed by The Humane Society of the United States about the ongoing Canadian Seal Hunt.
HSUS: Societal oppression of both people and animals has been a recurring theme in your novels. Do you see a connection between violence towards people and violence towards animals? JMC: That is not a connection I care to make. In the first place, quite pacific societies slaughter animals on a large scale. In the second place, if we are going to reform our behavior toward animals we should not be doing so for some ulterior motive, e.g. reforming our behavior toward members of our own species.
Festivals Coetzee will attend the New Writing literary festival in Norwich, UK, from June 15 to June 20 this year. Other You can read Coetzee's English translation of Ten Ways of Looking at PB Shelley by Dutch poet Hugo Claus. A J.M. Coetzee bibliography is maintained by the Swedish academy.

Review: The City of Words by Alberto Manguel

city_of_words.png Alberto Manguel
University of Queensland Press, 166 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Michael Freedman

It is a little difficult to know quite what to make of The City of Words. Based on a series of Massey lectures delivered by Alberto Manguel in 2007, The City of Words is an attempt, to paraphrase the obligatory blurb on the book's outside back cover, to demonstrate how the present world's ills can be solved by examining the visions of the past, visions that have emanated from the minds of the world's entertainers -- the "poets, novelists, essayists and filmmakers". Presumably, by including essayists in this list, Manguel is including himself.

The subject is fascinating, and had the potential to give birth to a work of extreme insight, but my expectations took a hit upon reading the book's introduction. In what is almost an apology to the reader, Manguel describes the thoughts that follow as "[l]ess a question than a series of questions, less an argument than a string of observations" and, even more worrying, a "confession of bewilderment". Bewilderment, unfortunately, will probably be the reader's primary emotion upon finishing Manguel's treatise.

Born in Argentina in 1948, Alberto Manguel is a man of many achievements and talents. He is an author, translator, editor, anthropologist, linguist, bibliophile -- and, above all else, a master storyteller. To embark on a review of a work that is the product of such a brilliant, erudite mind is somewhat daunting. In contributing to the Massey lectures, a week long series of lectures held annually in Canada, Manguel joins such esteemed company as Martin Luther King Jnr., John Kenneth Galbraith, Northrop Frye, and Noam Chomsky. And yet, after reading what is admittedly a superbly crafted series of ideas, the reader is still left in some doubt as to what conclusion Manguel is trying to reach.

The book itself comprises five essays, each of which draw upon famous pieces of literature to illustrate its relevance to contemporary society. Storytelling, as Manguel himself admits, comes very easy to him, and to give the man his due, he is nothing if not extremely well read. His use of metaphors is rich and vivid, and so are his ideas of the eternal nature of language. At one point, he opines that "language ... does not merely name but brings reality into being". And later: "words not only grant us reality, they can also defend it for us". With such a bold claim, Manguel is really on a hiding to nothing -- unless his essays also "bring reality into being", they risk being a disappointment.

Perhaps the main problem with Manguel's work is that while he knows exactly what he is trying to say, he is being too clever in how he goes about saying it. While The City of Words has much to teach us about how fantasy can assist in explaining reality, the underlying fear is that the lesson is not packaged in an accessible way. This is no doubt partly a by-product of the uncertain nature of the subject, but the greater frustration may come from Manguel's sometimes confusing delivery.

When Manguel's ideas do hit their mark, they can be thought-provoking and insightful. In his essay entitled "The Voice of Cassandra" Manguel explores parallels between the life of novelist Alfred Doblin, a Prussian Jew who fled Hitler's Germany in 1933 to escape the Nazi regime, the tragic experiences of Cassandra, the cursed visionary of Greek mythology, and the equally tragic tendency of contemporary leaders to refuse to learn from the past, ignoring the warnings of today's "visionaries". Too often, though, the reader (even after repeated readings) is unable to decipher Manguel's prose to unlock the insight contained within, and is left tired and weak from the effort.

"Patrick White: The Final Chapter"

"Monthly" magazine has freed up its April 2008 content which allows us all now to read "Patrick White: The Final Chapter" by David Marr. An excellent essay. You may find the novels a bit hard to get through, but the life, and after, is fascinating.

Reviews of Australian Books #85

I've decided to drop the "Weekend Update" postings as they seemed to be getting later and later in the week until they became so divorced from the weekend they attempted to report upon that they became both a chore and irrelevant. So I've decided to set up a set of individual author review sections (you will have seen such posts for Clive James, Geraldine Brooks, Peter Carey, J.M. Coetzee, Helen Garner and Tim Winton recently) and to capture all other reviews of Australian books under this heading. This way I'm less bound by the vagaries of website updates, and more focused on book reviews on an author level. Some of the author specific posts listed here will gradually become less frequent and they may move back under this heading if the number of reviews and web mentions falls below some arbitrary critical level. Not sure what that level will be as yet, though I suspect a couple are getting close.

So, to the reviews proper. Kevin Hart on The Poet Who Forgot by Catherine Cole in "The Australian": "Hope's letters to Cole perfectly recall that sparkling eye and his extraordinary ability to render difference in age irrelevant. Cole, now a novelist and academic, was in her mid-20s when they met; Hope was in his mid-70s. Only when I saw Hope at the end of his life in a nursing home in Canberra, suffering from dementia and having forgotten almost everything he knew -- the sad burden of Cole's memoir -- did it strike me forcibly that he had been an old man in the years I knew him."

Michael Robotham's latest novel, Shatter, would appear to maintain his reputation as one of the better crime/thriller writers around. In "The Age" Sue Turnbull finds that "Robotham knows how to engineer a plot in order to sustain a head of steam while giving the reader time to observe both fellow travellers and the scenery."

Brenda Niall, biographer of the Boyds (Martin et al), is probably a perfect choice to review The Biographer by Virginia Duigan: "Burglars and grave-robbers, greedy collectors, obsessive academics. From Henry James' 'publishing scoundrel' in The Aspern Papers to A. S. Byatt's monomaniac in Possession, a wide range of unsavoury roles has been created for the biographer in modern fiction...The biography of a living subject adds a new dimension to the debate. Virginia Duigan's absorbing novel The Biographer brings us into the present day, with a subject who craves the final accolade of a book about himself...Beautifully paced, and even more sinister for its decorous setting, The Biographer offers the elements of a detective story and a debate on biography's methods and ethics in a sympathetically drawn human situation."

Reviews of Australian books in "The New York Times" are rare indeed, so it's good to see Alison McCulloch having a detailed look at The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser: "This book's insights are at times so thickly layered as to leave character, story and reader gasping for light and air. Which isn't to say they're necessarily bad insights. More often than not, de Kretser nails some situation or foible in 20 words or less. Consider her observation on 9/11: 'Everything changes when Americans fall from the sky.'...As de Kretser showed with her second novel, The Hamilton Case, her forte is illuminating the lives of such 'leftovers of empire', and she provides more of those delights here. But this novel also continues a steady move away from the concrete world of places and events toward the human interior."

Short Notices
Marg, on the "Reading Adventures" weblog dips into two books in Gath Nix's "Keys to the Kindgom" series Grim Tuesday and Drownded Wednesday, being a "bit disappointed" with the first of these, and "delighted" with the second.

The "A Novel Approach !" weblog picked up the "wrong" Matthew Condon novel, A Night at the Pink Poodle, but was pleasantly surprised anyhow: "This is a very Australian novel. No, wait. This is a very Gold Coast novel. Not that I live there, so I can't really comment, though I feel that I might now be able to. For a place that is concerned about looking bright and glitzy, there is a lot happening just underneath that is anything but happy."

James Doig Interview

James Doig, editor of Australian Gothic and Australian Nightmares, is interviewed on the "Articulate" weblog by Gary Kemble.

Q. How important is it, do you think, for Australian horror writers to connect with their forebears?

It's important for any writer to read widely, and not just their chosen field (especially not in their chosen field!). Sometimes I get the impression that most horror writers, not just Australian, see themselves as part of a tradition that goes back only as far as Stephen King. That's a pity because there is a lot they can learn from earlier writers of supernatural fiction - there is a craft that has developed over the last 150 years that, I think, would repay close study. I'm not sure that there is anything in the early Australian material that rates with the best British and American supernatural fiction of the same period, but writers like Ernest Favenc, Marcus Clarke, and Louis Becke come pretty close. There is definitely an Australian tradition that goes back to colonial times, and that should be acknowledged.

Australian Bookcovers #113 - A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey


A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey, 1981
(Viking 1986 edition)
Cover illustration by Robert Juniper Cover design by Kim Roberts

Best of the Bookers Shortlist Announced

As a way of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the start of the Man Booker prize, the organiser have decided to set up a method of selecting the Best of the Bookers, the best novel to have won the prize over those 40 years. An advisory committee has selected a shortlist of six novels and the public is invited to vote for the winner.

The shortlisted works are:
The Ghost Road by Pat Barker, 1995
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey, 1988
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, 1999
The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell, 1973
The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer, 1974
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, 1981

The winner will be announced on July 10, 2008.

Tom Keneally Watch #3


Colin Giesbrecht, on the "Multroneous" weblog, on the role of the narrator in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith: "Thomas Keneally's novel, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, like Marguerite Duras' The Lover, has a problematic narrator, but it is still a good story, and there are a few things which exonerate it to some extent. The problem is whether Keneally, who is white, has the right to tell a story from the point of view of, or on behalf of, an Aborigine, as he does in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. Addressing this problem is not a straightforward task. It is apparent that any non-Aborigine, especially a white person, who criticises Keneally risks hypocrisy, because in doing so that person also presumes to speak on behalf of Aborigines."

Short Notices

The Bored and Loud weblog on Schindler's Ark: " was only a few weeks ago when I finally got a copy of the book from a friend...I started it immediately and found it oddly easy to read -- I expected complicated vocabulary and structure, but it was very easy to follow. I cannot remember how it compares to the movie, but the book is fantastic in it's own right and I can see how well it converted to a movie."


A Schindler list survivor recalls Oskar Schindler. And it appears that Schindler's factory is to be turned into a museum.
Kyle Martinak discovers the film version of "Schindler's List" in the "Western Oregon Journal".
The "Wet Casements" weblog looks at General Daniel Sickles, subject of American Scoundrel.
Anne Hopper reviews a production of "Our Country's Good", the play by Timberlake Wertenbaker, based on Keneally's novel The Playmaker.

Virginia Duigan Profile

In "The Sydney Morning Herald" Sacha Molitorisz profiles Virginia Duigan, author of the new Australian novel The Biographer.

The original idea for The Biographer came not from a nostalgic viewing of The Leading Man but when Duigan was clearing out a cupboard and stumbled upon diaries she had written during her time in London. "The diaries began to bring back to mind times that were particularly thrilling, exciting and exhilarating," she says. "I did a lot of travelling in that time, despite not having much money, by hitching and so on, and went through a part of Tuscany which I found extraordinarily beautiful and romantic. So when I came to write the book I went back there to research it and I did find it the most amazing place.

"I was researching for three or four weeks and it was the kind of place I could imagine artists would be very much drawn to, as of course artists are. Particularly in Tuscany, they're all over the place."

The Leading Man is a film from 1996, written by Virginia Duigan and directed by her brother John. The film featured Jon Bon Jovi and Barry Humphries.

Poem: Charles Harpur by Henry Kendall

Where Harpur lies, the rainy streams,
   And wet hill-heads, and hollows weeping,
Are swift with wind, and white with gleams,
   And hoarse with sounds of storms unsleeping.

Fit grave it is for one whose song
   Was tuned by tones he caught from torrents,
And filled with mountain breaths, and strong,
   Wild notes of falling forest currents.

So let him sleep, the rugged hymns
   And broken lights of woods above him!
And let me sing how sorrow dims
   The eyes of those that used to love him.

As April in the wilted wold
   Turns faded eyes on splendours waning,
What time the latter leaves are old,
   And ruin strikes the strays remaining;

So we that knew this singer dead,
   Whose hands attuned the harp Australian,
May set the face and bow the head,
   And mourn his fate and fortunes alien.

The burden of a perished faith
   Went sighing through his speech of sweetness,
With human hints of time and death,
   And subtle notes of incompleteness.

But when the fiery power of youth
   Had passed away and left him nameless,
Serene as light, and strong as truth,
   He lived his life, untired and tameless.

And, far and free, this man of men,
   With wintry hair and wasted feature,
Had fellowship with gorge and glen,
   And learned the loves and runes of Nature.

Strange words of wind, and rhymes of rain,
   And whispers from the inland fountains
Are mingled, in his various strain,
   With leafy breaths of piny mountains.

But as the undercurrents sigh
   Beneath the surface of a river,
The music of humanity
   Dwells in his forest-psalms for ever.

No soul was he to sit on heights
   And live with rocks apart and scornful:
Delights of men were his delights,
   And common troubles made him mournful.

The flying forms of unknown powers
   With lofty wonder caught and filled him;
But there were days of gracious hours
   When sights and sounds familiar thrilled him.

The pathos worn by wayside things,
   The passion found in simple faces,
Struck deeper than the life of springs
   Or strength of storms and sea-swept places.

But now he sleeps, the tired bard,
   The deepest sleep; and, lo! I proffer
These tender leaves of my regard,
   With hands that falter as they offer.

First published in The Sydney Mail, July 1868
Charles Harpur died on 10th June, 1868.

6 Random Things About Me [Updated]

I've been tagged with another meme. Don't get any for years and then two turn up in a week. Given that this is a literary weblog I'll try to keep it on track.

1. I grew up in Laura, South Australia, the same small country town as C.J. Dennis. As far as I'm aware no-one else came from there, other than a schoolmate of mine who stood for the Senate in the election before last. Unfortunately, he represented the Family First Party.

2. I went to the same high school as current deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, although I think she started there the year after I left. Oddly enough, Ms Gillard worked for a few years at Slater and Gordon solicitors in Melbourne, and the woman who would later become my wife supervised her when she did her articles there. (Non-literary, sorry.)

3. My literary studies in high school were, all in all, pretty pathetic. The only Australian works I can remember are Sun on the Stubble by Colin Thiele, and "My Country" by Dorothea McKellar. We always seemed to be fixated on war poetry. Shakespeare was okay, but only when we got to Richard III which remains a favourite - though why was it necessary to teach this purely from the text, rather than putting the work into social and literary context? I don't remember being taught any actual history regarding
this work, and was certainly never introduced to The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. In year 12 (or Matriculation as it was called then) I refused to study A School for Scandal. It was my argument that the slapstick was done better by Chaplin and Keaton, and nothing else about the play interested me in the slightest. Needless to say this didn't go down well and I only scrapped through English in the final exams.

4. I was Chairman of the World Science Fiction Convention held in Melbourne in 1999. This was the third Australian Worldcon and I think I was probably chosen mainly because I continued the trend of the previous chairs - Robin Johnson and David Grigg - in being a middle-aged, balding, bespectacled and bearded male. See here for proof.

5. I'm not a big fan of choosing a favourite book, but if I was pushed I'd chose The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles. I get back to it every ten years or so and always find something new in it. Nothing else of Fowles's comes close to this book. I was never much taken with The Magus by the same author - thought it a bit too pretentious and forced.

6. In December last year I was interviewed by Lyn Gallacher of ABC Radio National's "Book Show" program about C.J. Dennis's verse novel The Glugs of Gosh. That program goes to air on Wednesday 14 May. It will be available as a downloadable podcast for a few weeks after the 14th. I just hope Lyn saw the light and edited out the bulk of my waffle.

[Update: got the date of the radio broadcast totally wrong. Sorry about that. I put this down to a subconcious attempt to deny the whole thing.]

The Yorick: 1 - Gordon and his Friends by Hugh McCrae

Born into the world six years after the Centaur Laureate's death, I have yet been able to see something of him, tangible and real; a lock of hair forming a ring upon white paper. From my father, this ring passed to Grace Jennings Carmichael; from Grace Jennings to God-knows-whom. I remember a Mrs. Lauder who sent McCrae honey out of the country accompanied by letters (interminably long) all about Gordon; she it was who had cropped the saved the treasurous curl.

Gordon appears a strange creature -- a little touched perhaps; sometimes taciturn, sometimes emotional. He rode both well and badly; he had to be mounted on a good stayer. He took it out of his horses. Trainers and jockeys knew him better than other people; so that, away from the turf, among the churches of Collins-street, he stalked solitarily; his green-lined wide-awake hat and painted Wellington boots making him conspicuous wherever he went.

If the spirit moved him he would join Kendall or Walstab, and, unembarrassed, recite verses in a monotonous voice for hours at a stretch. Kendall, in mouldy black, hugging an umbrella between his knees, constituted an ideal listener -- one who dwelt on every word and criticised justly.

The other aspect of Gordon, the devil-may-care bushman, we know him through Hammersley's anecdote; and it requires little imagination to see him in the yard of the the Hunt Club Hotel, astride a diminutive cob, using his legs like oars to paddle it forward. Quixote on Sancho's ass could not have presented a more ludicrous figure.

Brittle-tempered; once, in a dispute about horses, he pushed George Watson down, and, kneeling on his chest, began to strangle him. Watson worked free, clubbed his riding-crop and, had not partisans of both sides run between, might have killed him. Months afterwards Mrs. Gordon was thrown in the hunting field; she became unconscious. Watson, dismounting, stripped himself of his coat to make a pillow; at the same time he sent a boy with his cap to bring water from a creek. Some of the water he used for washing her face; the rest was given her to drink. Adam, half dazed from a similar fall, staggered towards the couple. Marcus Clarke, who was present, explained what had happened and tried to steady him a bit; but there was no withstanding the ardent husband.

"Maggie! Maggie! Are you hurt?"

"Adam dear, it's scarcely anything."

Gordon lifted his wife's head, and touched the wetted coat. "Whose coat?"

Somebody answered, "Mr. Watson's, sir?"

For a moment the men stood separated; then, suddenly, their hands met, clapping together with a joyful sound.

First published in The Bulletin, 30 January 1929

Reading Australian Writers

The pleasure, so exquisite as to be almost pain, which I derived from the books, and especially the Australian poets, is beyond description. In the narrow peasant life of Possum Gully I had been deprived of companionship with people of refinement and education who would talk of the things I loved; but, at last here was congeniality, here was companionship.

The weird witchery of mighty bush, the breath of wide sunlit plains, the sound of camp-bells and jingle of hobble chains, floating on the soft twilight breezes, had come to these men and had written a tale on their hearts as had been written on mine. The glory of the starlit heavens, the mighty wonder of the sea, and the majesty of thunder had come home to them, and the breathless fulness of the sunset hour had whispered of something more than the humour of tomorrow's weather. The wind and rain had a voice which spoke to Kendall, and he too had endured the misery of lack of companionship. Gordon, with his sad, sad humanism and bitter disappointment, held out his hand and took me with him. The regret of it all was I could never meet them -- Byron, Thackeray, Dickens, Longfellow, Gordon, Kendall, the men I loved, all were dead; but, blissful thought! Caine, Paterson, and Lawson were still living, breathing human beings--two of them actually countrymen, fellow Australians!

I pored with renewed zeal over the terse realism and pathos of Lawson, and enjoyed Paterson's redolence of the rollicking side of the wholesome life beneath these sunny skies, which he depicted with grand touches of power flashing here and there. I learnt them by heart, and in that gloriously blue receptacle, by and by, where many pleasant youthful dreams are stowed, I put the hope that one day I would clasp hands with them, and feel and know the unspeakable comfort and heart-rest of congenial companionship.

- My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, Angus & Robertson 1986 edition, p52

Review: A History of the Beanbag and Other Stories by Susan Midalia

history_beanbag.jpg    Susan Midalia
University of Western Australia Press, 173 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Perry Middlemiss

Short story collections are a strange concoction for most of us. Science fiction and fantasy readers are well accustomed to the form, with a number of monthly magazines and an array of original and reprint anthologies appearing each year. But readers of literary fiction will not be so familiar, which might well go a long way to explaining the dearth of them.

Maybe readers expect too much of them, maybe they really long for a novel, or maybe they just can't understand what the writer is trying to do. The novel is easy enough(!): it's a literary form that allows a writer to explore their desired story/theme/characterisation for as long as they want or need. They can just keep going until they've reached an end. But short stories don't allow that level of freedom and I wonder if, subconsciously, the reader is aware of that and maybe thinks they are not going to receive full "bang for their buck". If that's the case then I think the reader is approaching
the short story form in the wrong way. Maybe if they read A History of the Beanbag and Other Stories they might just change their minds.

There are three major short story forms in my view: the novel synopsis, the linear tale and the mood piece. The title story, "A History of the Beanbag", falls definitely into the novel synposis category. Some will see it as a straight linear tale, and here we can read it that way, and still look at what the story might have become in another context, rather than merely examining its surface. After a brief introduction to the beanbag and its history, we meet Robyn, a university student living in a sharehouse and looking for some cheap comfortable furniture in the early 1974. Needless to say the beanbag is the obvious choice, as it was for me some 30-odd years ago. There is a brief description of the changing relationships within the sharehouse, mainly involving the new woman Kathy, before we jump to 1983. Now it's Kathy's turn to be out purchasing a beanbag. Three years later and Kathy's marriage to Glen, from the original sharehouse, is falling apart. And 8 years later, in 1994, Robyn and the now-divorced Kathy get reacquainted. Beanbags hover in the background all through this story.

Not much to it is there? At least not at first look. Yet if you look deeper you'll see that there is a full novel lurking beneath the surface of this story. Normally that would ruin it for me. But not with this story. Something lifts it above its superficial level and you get a glimpse of what might have been as well as the enjoyment of the piece at hand. It's quite
remarkable and an excellent choice to lead off this collection. While the rest of the works here don't quite rise to these standards, there is certainly enough to interest any reader. The topics are usually domestic suburbia and they leave you with the feeling that the author has worked and re-worked them for some time, only allowing them out into the world when they are well and truly ready.

Susan Midalia has a lot of writing talent. On the evidence of this collection I'd be interested to see how she handles the novel form. Quite well I suspect.

2008 Nita Kibble and Dobbie Encouragement Awards

The winners of the Nita Kibble and Dobbie Encouragement awards were announced last night.

The winner of the Nita Kibble Award was Nights in the Asylum by Carol Lefevre, and the winner of the Dobbie encourgaement award was The Anatomy of Wings by Karen Foxlee.

The shortlists for both awards were posted target=new>here at the end of April.

Slip Sliding

In one of the best literary association questions I've seen since I-don't-know-when, Jeff VanderMeer got a number of authors to answer the question: "But which beer goes with this?" Meaning, of course, their latest literary work. Margo Lanagan chooses a local (ie New South Wales) brew, and just goes to show that if she struggles with her next novel she can always take up reviewing beer.

I thought I was obsessive, but John Huxley goes further down that road than even I would venture as he considers the inaugral edition of the NSW version of "Who's Who".

Laurie Duggan describes what it was like to be named one of the "High Flyers of 88" by "Bulletin" magazine.

And speaking of that magazine there's a story doing the rounds that it may be revived.

Judith Ridge went along to the Children's Book Council Conference in Melbourne over the May 2-4 weekend, and has posted her first thoughts about it.

Susan Johnson has picked up on a problem with a lot of recent reviews of The Disquiet by Julia Leigh.

Around Anzac Day there is always a number of books published depicting Australians at war. In "The Australian", Patrick Walters looks at a batch of them.

Marshal Zeringue, on the "Campaign for the American Reader" weblog, asks Sean Williams what he is reading.

Tim Winton Watch #1

I go away for a week and a "big" Australian book is published. Breath is Tim Winton's first novel in seven years, and was always going to be a big publishing event.

Reviews of Breath

Kerryn Goldsworthy, in "The Australian": "Winton is so accomplished and experienced a writer by now that his finely honed technical skills are practically invisible...The allegorical level of the story does not intrude on, or protrude from, the literal level, and you subconsciously absorb the rich haul of ideas about parenthood, friendship, breathing and damage, rather than having them spelled out for you. Nothing is oversimplified; even the unbearably sad notion of growing up as the loss or withdrawal of grace, however much it might underlie this book, isn't the last or the only word." Kerryn followed up this review with a post on her weblog which also refers to a review of the novel by James Ley in "Australian Book Review". Unfortunately the Ley review isn't up on the "ABR" website but Kerryn says enough about it that you really should go out and buy a copy.

The "ABR" issue also includes an excerpt from a James Ley review of TheTurning from 2004. Further discussion between Kerryn and Genevieve Tucker ensues on the "reeling and writing" weblog.

Andrew Reimer in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "This short novel may prove to be the best thing Tim Winton has done. He made a name for himself with three generously paced and intricate novels: Cloudstreet, The Riders and Dirt Music. Nevertheless, his finest accomplishments seem to me to reside in more compressed structures: his earlier novels and the loosely linked stories in The Turning. There, as in this marvellously atmospheric work, Winton's particular gifts come into their own...The novel's complexity is poetic, psychological and ethical. Winton's descriptions of changing seas and changing seasons are outstanding...There is nothing frivolous or superficial here."

James Bradley in "The Age": "I often suspect Tim Winton is sometimes misunderstood as a sort of poet of the beach, a creator of sprawling epics inflected by the grandeur of the landscape they inhabit. I say misunderstood because Winton's subject is darker and more troubling...For, in many ways, it is the idea of damage - personal, psychic, physical - that Winton returns to time and again and it is this undercurrent of pain that lends his often fractured narratives their urgency and brooding power...It's unlikely Winton has ever written as well as he writes in Breath, a book that marries the lyricism of work such as Cloudstreet to the adamantine hardness of the stories in The Turning. Time and again his descriptions of the ocean and the littoral break free of the page, revealing this landscape with a clarity and an intimacy that lets us see it anew. Yet simultaneously this lyric imagination is given heft by the darkness behind it."


Philip Adams interviewed Winton on his ABC Radio National program "Late Night Live". You can listen to the interview off the site but you'd best be quick - they don't stay around for very long.
Kerry O'Brien interviewed the author on last night's "7.30 Report" on ABC1. This is a longer interview than was shown live, but again you'll need to be quick.
Jason Steger in "The Age".

So what is it about risk? Winton reckons it's so prevalent among the young because Western culture has such safety and domesticity. "You can understand a residual appetite for wildness," he says. "But I think there's also a physical, psychological and erotic correlative to all that." He knows all about it. He had that hunger for wildness that he gives the boys. When he was still quite young he moved from the Perth suburbs to Albany with his parents.

"Growing up in a small country town, there was this palpable compulsion towards risk, and that had to do with somehow defeating the empire of boredom and the empire of domesticity and the empire of the occupation . . . youth often feel they're living under occupation; the occupation of the old and the occupation of the ratepayer.

"From that occupied territory, we'd go out on these pointlessly insurgent actions of risk-taking, which simply involved fast cars, drugs, sexual misadventure and, where we were, firearms. And for my tiny coterie of fellow travellers, water sports."


There is also a website dedicated to the book which contains a wealth of material.

123 Meme

Katherine Howell has tagged me for the 123 meme. I'm not usually a big meme fan but as this one is literary so I'll see what I come up with.

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

1. Oddly enough the book is The Well Dressed Explorer by Thea Astley. I haven't read this yet, but should do so by the end of next year - and that's too long a story to
explain just yet. The reason why this book in particular happens to be sitting on my desk relates to Wikipedia. One of the editors there, who is also interested in Australia literature, was convinced that the title was actually The Well-Dressed Explorer (you have to look closely). So I got the book off the shelf to check. You'll be pleased to know, or maybe you just don't give a rats, that Wikipedia is now back on track in this regard. Ah yes, the small things that amuse us.
2. Page 123, yes, got that.
3. Fifth sentence: if the first line starts in the middle of a sentence does this count as one? I'll say yes. 4. "...I'd like to include it, but I think it's a bit precious. Have a look, will you, George? And there's a two-part essay on the language problem for the Missionary that seems over-technical.." I have no idea what this relates to.
5. Just about everyone in the litblog world has been tagged with this one. If you want it it's yours.

2008 Booksellers Choice Award

The Australian Booksellers Association has announced the shortlisted titles for the Nielsen BookData 2008 Booksellers Choice Award. This is an award which recognises the book that booksellers most enjoyed reading or hand-selling in 2007.

The shortlisted works are:
Orpheus Lost (Janette Turner Hospital, Fourth Estate)
The Memory Room (Christopher Koch, Knopf)
4 Ingredients (Kim McCosker and Rachel Bermingham, 4 Ingredients)
The Peasant Prince (Li Cunxin, illus by Anne Spudvilas, Viking)
Maggie's Harvest (Maggie Beer, Lantern)
Girl Stuff: Your Full-on Guide to the Teenage Years (Kaz Cooke, Viking)

[Thanks to the Boomerang Books weblog for the note.]

Victorian Booktown

The 2008 Clunes Booktown event was held over the weekend of May 3-4. "The Age" ran a report on what was to be expected at this year's gathering, ABC Radio's "Book Show" was there and spoke to author John Marsden, "The Brisbane Times" ran a feature, and "The Courier" out of Ballarat reported favourably on the whole event.

On the blog front:

  • Beth Driscoll found the books a bit underwhelming
  • Hackpacker has a "great day"
  • Chocolate Cobwebs combined a visit to Clunes with another stop at a bookshop near Castlemaine
  • The Book Grocer sold books in Clunes and promises a follow-up to this post
  • Caroline took along a friend and found a friendly atmosphere
It sounds like the weekend was a great event. I just hope my life's under enough control by this time next year for me to go along.

Australian Bookcovers #112 - My Career Goes Bung by Miles Franklin


My Career Goes Bung by Miles Franklin, 1946
(Angus & Robertson 1987 edition)
Jacket illustration: "Waiting" by Gordon Coutts 1896

Reading, Silent Reading

After my father died, my mother became gradually more boldly explorative; she opened books that she had been forbidden to touch, sought out those marked specifically as his own. Because we were stranded together, and because I stuttered, we read. There is no refuge so private, no asylum more sane. There is no facility of voices captured elsewhere so entire and so marvellous. My tongue was lumpish and fixed, but in reading, silent reading, there was a release, a flight, a wheeling off into the blue spaces of exclamatory experience, diffuse and improbably, gloriously homeless. All that was solid melted into air, all that was air reshaped, and gained plausibility.

- Sorry by Gail Jones, Vintage edition, 2007, page 31

The History of Virago

Carmen Callil provides a potted history, in "The Guardian", of the gestation and birth of Virago, the British feminist publishing house with the distinctive green covers.

In the publishing world of the 60s and 70s, women rarely had the opportunity to choose which books to publish, and paperback lists, particularly, reflected this. But now the choice of novels was mine. It was common to think of the literary tradition that runs from Jane Austen through Ivy Compton-Burnett to Barbara Pym as a clever and witty women's view of a small domestic world. This was not a ghetto we accepted. The female tradition included writers of vast ambition and great achievement: mistresses of comedy, drama, storytelling, of the domestic world we knew and loved. I saw a large world, not a small canvas, with all of human life on display, a great library of women's fiction, marginalised, silenced, out of print and unavailable. Such writing has always been part of women's history. We despised the concepts of "woman novelist", and "female imagination", so often used to dismiss books we cherished.

Bob Carr Profile

Bob Carr, long-time premier of New South Wales until he retired in 2005, is profiled in "The Australian" by Rosemary Neill as his new book,
My Reading Life: Adventures in the World of Books, is published.

Carr has little time for most contemporary fiction. Much of it, he writes, "seems trivial, gimmicky, forced". Sipping a flat white, he tells Review: "I can't understand why anyone would want to read from the Booker prize list if they haven't read The Brothers Karamazov or The Illiad or every word of Tolstoy ... I think one chapter of War and Peace is worth everything at the front end of a modern bookshop; every contemporary work of fiction propped up in the window of a modern bookshop."

As if still attuned to how this will play in hard-core Labor electorates, he adds: "People might say that's snobbery." But Carr declares it's those who "look down and dismiss as weird or eccentric any focus on enduring culture, I think they're the snobs". Still, it's odd that someone who took such pleasure in presiding over the NSW Premier's Literary Awards should be so dismissive of modern fiction.

Some of his choices of "best" author in a genre will raise some eyebrows.

Jimmy Barnes Biography Extract

I first saw Jimmy Barnes fronting the Australian pub-rock band Cold Chisel in Adelaide in November 1974 - they were the support act for touring British heavy metal outfit Uriah Heep. I didn't know who the band was at the time but they certainly went on to make an impression over the next ten years or so. Barnes's "biography", Icons of Australian Music: Jimmy Barnes, has now hit the stands, and you can read the first chapter, [PDF file]. The book - if this chapter is anything to go by - isn't a "straight" biography in the usual sense. But interesting nevertheless.

2008 Locus Award Finalists

"Locus Magazine" is the major news magazine of the science fiction and fantasy fields. Each year the magazine runs a poll of the best works in the genre, and the 2008 finalists have now been published. Among the nominated works are: Extras by Scott Westerfeld and Magic's Child by Justine Larbalestier, in the Young Adult Book category; "Dark Integers" by Greg Egan in the Novelette category; The New Space Opera by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan in the Anthology
category; The Arrival by Shaun Tan in the Art Book category; and Shaun Tan in the Artist category. The winners will be announced in Seattle on June 21st.

Catherine Cole Profile

Catherine Cole's latest work, The Poet Who Forgot, is a memoir about her professional relationship with the late Australian poet A.D. Hope. She was profiled in "The Australian" by Victoria Laurie.

One day, when in her 20s, the undergraduate felt compelled to express her gratitude for all the beautiful words. Slessor was dead but Hope was not. So Cole sent the famous literary figure a note thanking him for the pleasure of his verse.

"It seemed a way of honouring people just to drop them a line and say, 'I studied your poetry and thank you very much'," Cole explains. She thought little more about it until, to her surprise, a reply came in Hope's handwriting.

"He reacted very kindly. He said, 'If ever you're in Canberra, look us up."' Some months later she did, knocking hesitantly on his office door in the Australian National University's A.D. Hope building. "I was nervous because Alec was already Australia's most famous living poet; he'd written very sexualised poems and people said he had a roguish reputation."

Currently Reading

The Marvellous Boy

The Marvellous Boy by Peter Corris
The third Cliff Hardy novel from 1982. Corris writes in the classic Private Investigator tradition, mixing a complicated plot with memorable characters and solid locale descriptions. Terrific stuff.


A Storm of Swords

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
Book Three in Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" saga. Many, many story-threads come to a head and then open back out again to maintain a stunning series.


Recently Read

Killing Floor

Killing Floor by Lee Child
The first Jack Reacher novel, in which he investigates the death of his brother and a major crime ring in a small country town. A little rough around the edges but you can see where the later novels sprung from.


The Eerie Silence

The Eerie Silence: Are we Alone in the Universe? by Paul Davies
Davies contemplates the subtitle, examining all the evidence and possibilities.


The Diggers Rest Hotel

The Diggers Rest Hotel by Geoffrey McGeachin
The 2011 Ned Kelly Award winner - the first Charlie Berlin novel. A Melbourne detective investigates a series of robberies and a murder in Albury-Wondonga in the 1950s.


A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
The second volume of Martin's monumental Song of Fire and Ice sequence. Not as good as the first volume and acts more as a stage-setting set of exercises, but you can tell it's building up to something big.


The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
The 2011 Man Booker Prize winner. Not Barnes's best book but highly readable and echoes some of his very early work.


Hook's Mountain

Hook's Mountain by James McQueen
McQueen's sadly neglected novel from the early eighties. A WW II returned serviceman dives headfirst into environmental confrontation. This may be Australia's first "eco-terrorism" novel.


The Troubled Man

The Troubled Man by Henning Menkell
Menkell's last "Kurt Wallander" novel. As the detective investigates the disappearance of his daughter's future parents-in-law he encounters dark clouds everywhere, including his own life, past and future.



Shatter by Michael Robotham
This 2008 Ned Kelly Award winner is an excellent thriller featuring a revenge-seeking ex-army killer, and a physically and mentally scarred psychologist who races to avoid being the next victim.


Odd and the Frost Giants

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman's coming-of-age story about a crippled boy and his attempt to save Asgard from the Frost Giants.


Goldilocks Enigma

The Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies
Davies's investigation into why the universe is like it is - "weak", "strong" and "final" anthropic theories all get a going over.


The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.jpg

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann
A collection of Grann's journalism featuring tales of murder, madness and obsession. Varied but generally fairly interesting, and sometimes just plain bizarre.



Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell's investigation of why some people are more successful than others. Interesting but not up to his previous work.



The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin
Rankin's second novel featuring his new detective Malcolm Fox of The Complaints. There are echoes of Rebus here, but it still has some way to go to reach those heights.


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