August 2008 Archives

Poem: The Victor by Kodak (Ernest O' Ferrall)

A fierce, gray wind blows out of the north,
   And the ghosts go forth in pairs.
The ARGUS rises in holy wrath
   And the lodger falls down the stairs.

The crimson eye of the candle wick
   Looks out of its cowl of flame;
A bailiff pounds with a heavy stick,
   And calleth aloud my name.

I see no gold in the inkpot dry
   (I KNOW there's none in my purse),
And so I list to his hopeless sigh,
   And hearken unto his curse.

And then I mount to the fanlight high,
   And gaze on his want of hair;
On bended knee he hath glued his eye
   To the lock! The KEY is there!

But he stareth in with all his soul,
   Like the ghost the gods desise,
That glares for ever through some small hole
   In the gate of Paradise.

I marvel much how he keeps so fat,
   And what is his lordly fee;
But what I really feel flattered at
   Is his kneeling down to ME!

A bailiff stout is a noble sight,
   While I am a poet small;
And yet -- hath he not this very night
   Knelt down in my dusty hall!

I'll spare -- as a victor may -- his life
   And let him depart in peace,
Tho' I might have flung a paper-knife
   And given his soul release!

An evil wind blows out of the north,
   And the ghosts walk hand in hand;
The ARGUS rises in holy wrath,
   And is hard to understand.

First published in The Bulletin, 20 February 1908

Indie Award Shortlist Announced

The Readings Bookshop weblog has reported that the shortlisted works for the First Indie Awards have been announced. This award is presented by Australia's independent boksellers for the best book of the past 12 months. The winner will be announced on October 6th.

The shortlisted works are:
Debut Fiction: Addition by Toni Jordan
Non-Fiction: American Journeys by Don Watson
Fiction: Breath by Tim Winton
Children's Book: Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

Melbourne Writers' Festival Reports

As the Melbourne Writers' Festival moves though its first week a number of bloggers have been writing up their experiences. Judith Ridge, of "The ::New:: Misrule" weblog dropped into three schools' sessions.

Jo Case, on the Readings bookshop weblog went along to see Louise Asher in conversation with Susan Johnson.

And further to the Readings coverage of the MWF are these photos from the first weekend.

Karen Chisholm, of the "Australian Crime Fiction" weblog has a few friends staying with her for the Festival. Which has probably made it difficult for her to post about anything. I suspect she'll be at the Ned Kelly Awards tonight so we might see something out of that.

Margo Lanagan has been and gone, appearing on a few panels earlier in the week; one at least that Judith Ridge went to.

Estelle, from "3000 Books" had a busy first Sunday.

"Hackpacker" went along to see David Sedaris, and Angela was interested in Augusten Burroughs.

The "Speakeasy" weblog mentioned the launch of a new edition of The Australian Writers Marketplace at the Festival.

And Mark Lawrence wonders why the MWF doesn't have "official" lit-bloggers covering the events as other Australian festivals have done.

Helen Garner Watch #5

Reviews of The Spare Room

Susie Boyt in "The Financial Times" : "Delivered in an almost conversational tone, this is an unsettling and skilled work that raises important questions about the process of dying and what caring well for the dying requires. Is the etiquette of death yet to be devised - and ought there to be one? We sometimes behave differently with those facing death - perhaps being economical with the truth orplacating at every turn. Maybe something in us alters or we lower our standards when it comes to caring for the terminally ill. Do we create new rules for ourselves - and is this kindness or cowardice? The Spare Room doesn't shirk from such awful enquiries."

Kate Bateman in "The Irish Times": "The book itself is a little beauty, nice to hold with beautiful end-papers and a silk marker to hold your place...A most appealing feature of this novel is the elegance and taut style of the narrative voice as she gives expression to large and small questions - friendship, death, tolerance, truthfulness, and the work of the day. The authentic, down-under voice sustains the work through thoughtful and dialogue sequences."

Short Notices

"The Resident Judge of Port Phillip" weblog: "I loved the embeddedness of this book within Melbourne suburbia, and her confidential and warm tone --like a good, satisfying talk with an old friend."

"Dovegreyreader" : "Susan Hill suggested I read this one and also told me to look carefully at the very clever ending, which I did and yes, how very clever it is. I won't divulge because then you can watch out for it too, it's more about style than plot but such a clever way for a writer to preserve for posterity a moment of utter guilt, trapped like the insect in the amber. Regardless of what may happen next, nothing will assuage Helen's agony over her decision, one that tests her innermost feelings about the bonds of friendship to the very limits and Helen Garner has captured it with utter precision."

The "Nice Lady Doctor" weblog: "In the few hours I was reading it, I learnt more about the psychological effects of a terminal diagnosis on the patient and on his or her carer, than I have in some years as a doctor. It's such a human piece of writing, and so full of affection and humour."


You'll know by now that The Spare Room did not make the Booker longlist. Jamie Byng, publisher of Canongate who released the book in the UK, was not at all impressed by the omission and had a few things to say about it - about 7th comment down. In particular he took a shot at a thriller that had been included. Needless to say, some reaction ensued. Byng followed this up on another site.

The Tin Wreath: A Pierian Publican

[This piece continues our reprints from The Bulletin from 1908. This was written in response to the magazine's call for nominations for the position of Australian poet laureate.]

I am not sure whether you mean by "poet laureate" the most popular poet, the writer of the best patriotic poetry, or the best poet. (We mean the best poet.) If popularity is the prime qualification, the matter could be settled at once by a reference to publishers' statistics, and A.B. Paterson would be found easily first. If, however, you are inquiring what poet fills a similar position in Australia to that of the Poet Laureate in England, one remembers that Pye, Wharton, Alfred Austin, and others, have helped to wither the laurel that was green on the brows of Dryden, Wordsworth, and Tennyson, and assumes that the title of Poet Laureate does not really connote much more than Purveyor of Odes to the Royal Family -- By Special Appointment. The analogous position in Australia is, I think, already filled by Essex Evans, who writes patriotic exhortations quite as well as Alfred Austin, and whose other work is graced, here and there, by a touch of poetry. But if you really want to know who is the best poet in australia, that's not so easy to answer. There is no precedent for a woman holding the laureate-ship in England, but that would not matter in Australia. There are about eight or nine women to be reckoned with; but I hardly think there are in the first flight. Their quality might be represented by cordials -- Ada Cambridge, ginger-beer with bitters; Louise Mack, cider; but Jessie Mackay (I take it for granted that Maorilanders are included in the survey) sometimes rises to the heights of sparkling burgundy. Bayldon, Church, Essex Evans, Loughran, O'Hara, and Ross I class together as capable versifiers, with more or less frequent poetic gleams -- good stout with a dash. Jephcott, O'Dowd, and Hugh McCrae are stronger, more imaginative, but not always artistic -- whisky is about their measure. A.H. Adams, Brereton, Hebblethwaite and A.T. Strong are better artists, yet want some high energising purpose to make them produce poetry that is really worth while -- wine, with some bouquet but little body. If Roderic Quinn had written nothing more than The Hidden Tide, and C. Brennan had published something more than XXI Poems - Towards the Source, it might be the right thing to divide the wreath between them, for one had the rare champagne quality and the other resembles green chartreuse. These are all splendid drinks on occasion; but there is no doubt that as a steady tipple there is nothing like Beer. For this we go to our ballad writers -- except two, E.J. Brady and Will Lawson, whose work has the tang of rum. Paterson is often finer than beer, Ogilvie has sometimes a flavor of old vatted mountain mist; but taking this class as a whole, their work has the unvarying appeal, and gives the glow and nourishment, and gets one forrarder to the extent of Beer. It seems to me that our best and most representative poet is to be found amongst these, and I give my vote for one who has not much of "the faculty" but a good deal of "the vision," an unconscious artist whose work, with all its faults, is instinct with life and purpose -- Henry Lawson.

First published in The Bulletin, 23 April 1908

Notes: Wikipedia pages are accessible for:
A.H. Adams
Arthur Bayldon
E.J. Brady
Christopher Brennan
Ada Cambridge
Hubert Church
George Essex Evans
Henry Lawson
Hugh McCrae
Louise Mack
Bernard O'Dowd
Will Ogilvie
A.B. Paterson

See the previous postings in this sequence: July 25 August 1
August 22

Review: The Holy Well by Colin Macpherson

Colin Macpherson
Mopoke Publishing, 400 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Bernadette Gooden

Colin Macpherson has obviously researched The Bronze Age in Scotland very thoroughly. Just as well really, because the historical detail about this fascinating era is the only vaguely interesting theme in this otherwise boring and turgid novel. It's rather like wading through a vat of porridge, or a haggis... or two... or twenty.

Two men, Bren and James, born thousands of years apart, share a strange, mystical destiny connected by a "holy" well with magical healing powers and transdimensional qualities (yawn). Bren, at least, has an exciting life as a Bronze Age leader and warrior. James is just an offensive twerp.

While we do perhaps need to simplify our lives and have a greater regard for our environment in the 21st century, we cannot go back to the more primitive past. In a time when people were lucky to live until 40 it was very important that they reproduced as quickly as possible. In our modern world it is illegal for an adult to have sex with a child and the position of a teacher is a position of trust. In the novel, the justification for a sexual relationship between Diane, a 16-year-old girl, and James, her teacher, is some sort of meant to be, spiritual claptrap. The author's suggestion seems to be that we should dispense with our modern concepts of morality and go back to the way things were before all this new fangled civilisation got in the way.

The characters in this novel are all two-dimensional. I felt nothing for James. Even his sexual exploits are very lacklustre and connect-the-dots.

At least Bren's life is presented in a more interesting and believable way. I felt more connected with the people in his part of the story.

The female characters only come in two stereotypes: juicy, compliant child/ woman under 18, and designing manipulative nympho hag (any female over 18). As a female reader I found this extremely offensive.

The descriptions of the battle scenes are handled well. I do, however, find it very strange that more people didn't know about the well and its healing properties. Every one in Bren's time knew about it, and people in the intervening centuries. Considering what a circus Lourdes is, why weren't thousands of people flocking there by the 1980s?

All things considered I found this book a poor read and in desperate need of more plot and character development.

Spare Parts

Justine Larbalestier asks "Why should a reader keep reading the work of someone who pisses them off?" That is, if you don't like an author's "politics/personality/hygiene/habits" would you stop reading them?

Some of Melbourne's independent booksellers are interviewed about their book preferences and what their customers get up to in their shops: "I caught a guy recently ridiculously trying to shove about four cookbooks down his pants. I don't know how he thought he was going to walk out. He'd been quite friendly and chatty and told us where he worked and was enthusing about the cookbooks. And then suddenly decided he just had to have them, but couldn't afford them."

Back in 2005 I linked to a website devoted to A. Bertram Chandler, an English-born Australian sf writer. Now Steve Davidson has created another such website about the author, but this time concentrating on his Rimworlds series of stories.

John Pilger is elected to the Hall of Fame on the wonderful weblog "If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats".

David Malouf has been awarded the Muriel Spark International Fellowship: "In a special Edinburgh International Book Festival autumn event, Malouf, will be at the Traverse Theatre on 23 September." The previous recipient was Margaret Atwood.

Review: The Sinkings by Amanda Curtin

sinkings.gif Amanda Curtin
University of Western Australia Press, 375 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Michael Freedman

The Sinkings is a novel that pulls the reader in two different directions. Amanda Curtin's debut novel captures the story of Little Jock, a convict shipped from the familiar surroundings of home to a strange land, only to meet a violent end at the hands of a fellow convict in 1882. Little Jock's story is one of confusion, secrecy, betrayal, and violence. His life is never easy, and is characterised by brutality at every turn.

The other protagonist is Willa Sampson, and Willa's story is set in present day Australia. Willa's tale is also a sad one, having tragically lost her daughter Imogen, and been deserted by her husband. Overcome with grief, Willa discovers and gratefully embarks on a new project -- to research and uncover Little Jock's life, and the reasons for his death. This is easier said than done, and the novel moves back and forth through time continually, placing the reader in the shoes of the two main characters. This is done seamlessly, and is never confusing.

Ms Curtin's prose is engaging, and once the reader overcomes the disconcerting feeling of reading a novel that has little dialogue, it is easy to identify and sympathise with the characters and their problems. The Sinkings is, as much as anything else, a story about obsession and Willa's attempts to immerse herself into the life of somebody else, anybody else, to escape the tragic emptiness of her own. Her life and that of Little Jock are entwined in quite a remarkable way -- Willa's daughter and the convict were both born "intersexed", and it is this realisation that gives birth to Willa's overwhelming desire to unravel the complexities of Little Jock's life, and death. Ms Curtin handles the rare condition with sensitivity, even if her characters sometimes don't.

Willa goes to extraordinary lengths (and expense) to uncover Little Jock's secrets, and does so often under the pretence that Little Jock is a family member. There is some irony in this, given her daughter's condition. Secrecy and pretence must play a large, perhaps overwhelming part in the lives of the intersexed, and societal ignorance of the condition is probably not so much different now than it was 125 years ago.

When The Sinkings gets it right, the reader is transported to a time and place where the characters seem real and convincing, facing overwhelming hardships yet always endeavouring with typically human resilience to make it to the other side, painful though the journey might be. The other direction is which the reader may feel themselves being pulled, however, is less positive.

There are times in the novel when it almost feels like piece of non-fiction, and it always treads a very fine line. The Sinkings is quite a long novel, and the impression after having finished reading the story is that it might have benefited from further editing. Research methods employed by Willa, and the drudgery of prison life experienced by Little Jock, are sometimes detailed too extensively, which can detract from the story. In the world of the novel, when there is little doubt where the story is going (and here the murder occurs on the first page), the interest for the reader is all about getting there. Unfortunately, unless the reader has a particular interest in genealogical research or convict life in 19th Century Australia, the lasting impression might be that the author has somewhat belaboured the point. This would be a shame, because behind The Sinkings is fundamentally an interesting story.

Andy Griffiths Interview

Jo Case interviews Andy Griffiths on the Readings bookshop weblog. Griffiths is the author of those modern classics, The Day My Bum Went Psycho, and The Big Fat Cow That Went Kapow!.

My son pointed that out to me recently, that in your books, bad behaviour never turns out well. I wonder if the kids get the morality of the tale more than the grown-ups.

He must be very perceptive. Because most radio hosts, I've been doing interviews with over the past few weeks start with "there's no educational value and no morality in these books, they're just wild".

Very early on I realised that if Andy's playing all these pranks on people and succeeding, he'd actually be a very unlikable character. So, I've said he can play any joke no matter how horrible, as long he's the one who ultimately suffers. And I think we know, on a subconscious level, that that's fair game, that we can enjoy that. Because nobody's getting hurt, except the person who deserves it. Whereas if you push a little old lady over and make her slip on a banana skin, it's funny to a degree, but it's Funniest Home Videos. It's funny until the bit where you cut the tape and show them in pain. I wrote a story about that actually. "Unfunniest Home Videos" [in the latest Just Shocking]. I thought Andy would be the kind of kid who would film his friend Danny having an accident to win the money. And then the formula is, how is this going to backfire so he's the one who ends up getting hurt?

Combined Reviews: The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser

lost_dog.jpg Reviews of The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser
Allen & Unwin

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. It won the Australian Literature Society's Gold Medal, and the NSW Premier's Literary Award for Fiction, as well as the Book of the Year Award.]

Ursula Le Guin in "The Telegraph": "There is no feminine for 'avuncular', but there ought to be. I want, in auntly fashion, to praise Michelle de Kretser for being good and beautiful, while scolding her for being afraid to show her goodness and beauty. What do you want to hide behind all that face-paint for, child? Do you think you have to be as skinny as a pencil and wear a ring in your navel just because other people do? The fashionable disfigurements and artificialities I complain of are, of course, literary, and they affect not her, but her novel, The Lost Dog...Kretser's native style is clear, vigorous, sensitive to mood and cadence, and strongly narrative - an excellent tool for a novelist with a story to tell."

Alison McCulloch in "The New York Times": "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."

A.S. Byatt in "The Financial Times": "This is the best novel I have read for a long time. The writing is elegant and subtle, and Michelle de Kretser knows how to construct a gripping story...This writing is new and constantly surprising, without being showy or quirky. It is exact, like Penelope Fitzgerald; it is strange, like Patrick White."

Dara Horn in "The Washington Post": "While the plot is subtle, the book's musings on modernity are anything but. Nearly every page offers observations on how contemporary Western life attempts to efface the past: faddish dress, gentrified neighborhoods, the disposability of old technology."

Mary Philip in "The Courier-Mail": "In many ways this book is wonderfully mysterious. The whole concept of modernity juxtaposed with animality is a puzzle that kept this reader on edge for the entire reading. The Lost Dog is an intelligent and insightful book that will guarantee de Kretser a loyal following."

Jane Shilling in "The New Statesman": "Ranging between the present and events of the past, whose convergence has led her protagonist to his crisis, de Kretser pursues ideas of exile, loss, disappointment, mortality; the nature of happiness and also of evil; the relation between humanity and beastliness; the significance of objects, both present and remembered; the means by which we conjure and protect identity; the shared characteristics of words and shit; ideas of duty, responsibility and attachment -- and much more."

Stephen Abell in "The Telegraph": "The Lost Dog, we are told at its conclusion, 'draws directly and obliquely on works by Henry James'. This is a risky ploy, with two obvious pitfalls: the hubris involved in setting your prose in comparison with that of the Master; and the fact that, in the reams of James's thoughtful literary criticism, there are likely to be all sorts of strictures that can be used against you."

Carmen Callil in "The Observer": "This is my favourite kind of novel. It is full of incident and character, tells a gripping story, has many touches of brilliance and can make you laugh and wonder. But it is also mightily flawed...These lapses aside, the language is full of light, colour and precise observation and, better still, the author can handle ethical and political concerns with a light touch."

Short Notices

The "Tuesday in Silhouette" weblog: "It's one of those books that hums quietly along; even though extraodinary things may happen, it really does feel like an everyday kind of travel. It just pulls you along as the characters journey through life. That's what I loved about it. The writing. The writing was quite lovely."
Despite some reservations, Dan Dervin concludes that the novel "delivers on its intriguing premises".
Estelle at "3000 books" thinks this books has helped her re-evaluate her view of Australian literature: "Considering the lyricism with which De Kretser conveyed this multi-generational tale, it was with no regret that I renounced my
antipathy for Australian fiction. Even a sometimes awkward approach to dialogue enhanced her considered inquiry into personhood, revealing conversation for its brutal, dissembling self."
dovegreyreader: "Layers of significance build and build and I was constantly in awe of Michelle de Kretser's style and skill, the very right words
in exactly the right order. Even that point when you might expect a book to take a bit of a yawn as it rests and gathers itself to regroup for that push to the final page, well Michelle de Kretser just pulls out even more stops and stuns all over again, the book dazzled and sparkled for me from start to finish."

Robert Dessaix on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show" from November 2007.
Fiona Gruber interview in "The Sydney Morning Herald" from November 2007: "It is, in part, a commentary on the sanitised world in which we
live, where the old, the sick and the imperfect are made to feel useless, invisible. 'We have an obsession with bodies in the West but there is a denial of bodily-ness,' de Kretser argues, saying the obsession with fitness and control of appetites is unsensual. Our animality is something we have become disgusted by, she says. Perfect teeth, straight strong limbs and glowing skin form the template that separates the Western physical orthodoxy from a more diverse cast in less affluent countries."
Rosemary Neill interview in "The Australian" from March 2008: "De Kretser says the praise and prizes her novels have attracted 'increase un-confidence, if that is the word'. When her second novel was released, she was worried it wouldn't live up to the success of the first. Now she is uneasy that The Lost Dog -- to be published in Australia, the US, Britain and Italy -- won't match the achievements of The Hamilton Case. 'The only thing I know at the end of a novel is how to write that novel; that knowledge doesn't transfer across to the next one,' she says soberly."
In conversation with Gail Jones at the 2008 Sydney Writers' Festival in May 2008.


Ampersand Duck is a blogger living in Canberra who just happened to be the designer for the Australian edition of the novel. (Check out the bookcover at the top of this post, and then have a look at the pedestrian version that appears on the English edition as reproduced with Carmen Callil's review in "The Observer".) Fascinating stuff.

Sofie Laguna Interview

Sofie Laguna, best known for the children's books Too Loud Lily and Bird and Sugar Boy, has just published her first novel for adults, One Foot Wrong. As that book hits the bookshops she is interviewed by Sherril Nixon for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

"What is satisfying is the fact that adult fiction gets a lot more attention in the media and, whether we're conscious of it or not, children's fiction gets dismissed as less important and less sophisticated and it requires less talent," Laguna says. "I am a person who just doesn't see the division so clearly." Her latest offering has certainly received instant accolades - local reviews have described it as masterful, absorbing and authentic, and it has sold into overseas markets including the US, Italy, Russia, Germany and Spain. The film rights were also sold before Laguna had put the finishing touches on One Foot Wrong and a team of producers connected with the horror movies Saw and Wolf Creek are working to bring it to the pre-production stage next year. Laguna wrote the screenplay earlier this year while simultaneously completing her book, a process that allowed her to sharpen the novel and ratchet up the tension. She is thrilled at comparisons with Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time and Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy, and even wonders if there's a little of Stephen King's Carrie or Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit unconsciously influencing her child narrator.

Australian Bookcovers #126 - Flying Hero Class by Tom Keneally

Flying Hero Class by Tom Keneally, 1991
(Hodder & Stoughton 1991 edition)

Jack Heath Profile

As his third young adult novel Money Run is published, Jack Heath is interviewed for "The Courier-Mail" by Nathan Sauer.

With Heath's ability to conquer the best-selling list of Australian authors, and to write three books in only a few years, it is easy to forget this novelist's youth.

But when he talks about being intimidated by a room full of teenage girls, you are reminded just what a young talent he really is.

Heath says that, at his age, researching his books is one part of the writing process he really enjoys.

"I get to do all sorts of training, which is always fun," he says. "I recently did firearm training which is something most people don't get to do. But that's part of my job, so I'm very lucky."

While he has been on the Australian literary scene for years, Heath is quick to deny that he's a veteran. He says that all you need to become a novelist is pen, paper and ideas.

2008 Ubud Writers' Festival

The Ubud Writers' Festival, which "Harper's Bazaar" is quoted as rating "among the top 6 literary Festivals in the world" is on again. The 2008 version is to be held from 14-19 October this year in Ubud, Bali. The guests attending come from all over, with an emphasis on South East Asian writers, including Australia. Day passes run to $100, and a full festival pass costs $300. The theme of this year's Festival is Tri Hita Karana - the Balinese concept of balancing Man, Nature, and God.

Tom Keneally Watch #5

Short Notices

The reading group based around the Blue Mountains City Library weren't overly impressed with The Widow and Her Hero, finding it "is not a great book to read. Thin characterization and an obsession with biography not story."

Philip Squires is disappointed with Towards Asmara: "As a process, the experience was strewn with beauty, vivid images and arresting phrases. The author, for instance, described desert vegetation ready to burst into life at the first 'rumour' of moisture. The writing style has a quirky inventiveness that regularly surprises. Where Towards Asmara eventually breaks down, however, is its inability to take the reader past the credibility hurdle that spans observer and participant."


Timberlake Wertenbaker's play, "Our Country's Good", based on Keneally's novel The Playmaker, was recently revived in Sydney's Darlinghurst Theatre. Mark Hopkins reviewed the production for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

Lisa Hannett has come across a new book, Ancestral Narratives by Chad Habel, which "explores how ancestral connections are narrated in both history and fiction written by Irish-Australian authors Thomas Keneally and Christopher Koch. It argues that ancestry allows people to imaginatively inhabit the historical period their ancestor lived in, but more importantly, to identify with their ancestor(s). Keneally focuses on the development of national identity through ancestry, while Koch is more concerned with the inheritance of particular constructions of masculinity."

And don't forget that Keneally's novel The Widow and Her Hero, has been shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award in the fiction category.

Five Years Ago

Keneally was involved in demonstrations against the then Australian government's refugee policies.
Office of Innocence was named a notable book of 2003 by "The New York Times".
Keneally wrote that writing about other cultures is a risky business, especially if you attempt it from their perspective.

The Age Book of the Year Awards

"The Age" Book of the Year Awards were announced on Friday night as part of the Melbourne Writers' Festival.

The Fiction prize was taken out by Breath by Tim Winton, the Non-Fiction award by American Journeys by Don Watson, and the Poetry winner was Not Finding Wittgenstein by J.S. Harry. In addition the Book of the Year - the best of the best - was awarded to American Journeys by Don Watson.

Poem: Meditations on a Pawn Ticket by Henry Lawson

Let carrion conspire to damn my name,
The rocky roadway to enduring fame
I have explored, and I have paid the cost,
For one by one my chattels I have tossed
Unto the bandits who in ambush lurk,
And thrive so very well who seldom work.
Assistant porters agitate my hand,
And find me cushioned seat, nor make demand
Of cash, for in the pocket of my vest
I hold the passport to the regions blest.
For this, my badge of pride, I sniff disdain
On lazy men who failed to catch the train,
Who, groping for some priceless collar-stud,
Their passage lost, but found a deal of mud.
With much placidity I gaze afar
On one who, in his snorting motor-car,
Shutters the sunshine from his goggled face,
And strives to emulate my aërial pace.
For well I know how he is handicapped,
And drugged and stiffened and in luxury lapped.
And most profoundly do I guess his ire
When large tin-tacks rise up to burst his tyre;
Or when some guardian of celestial order
Disputes his right to scorch across the border.

And so, because I sit on Fortune's knee,
I call the guard; he with humility
Takes of my orders due delivery
That I (I mention pain and penalty
And special care for men like Carnegie)
Must not at any cost disturbed be.
I lodge complaint, for that there is a draught
Somewhere. I smite the man and vow him daft,
And bid him draw the blind, cover my shanks;
All this he does, and so, to earn his thanks,
I give him twopence; he forgets his scars,
And sings my praises to the blushing stars.
And now, to ponder o'er my present state,
I give me up to calmly cogitate.

My old friends, Crabbe and Dryden, I have pawned --
The gods know best, and often I have yawned
Their leaves among, and sought for louder lays
That voiced the tumult of existing days.
What of it? Is it not made manifest
That he who seeks the Muses with full zest
Shall be the coal of his own altar fire,
Or come to buying furniture on hire?
Why quarrel with the gods? Are they not good
Who hand us bills-of-fare for special food?
If all is "off," here is no need to question
Or search the plate for germs of indigestion.
You strutting merchant, who, with bellied girth,
Shadows the children's portion of the earth
In long obeisance to his goddess, Pelf,
First pawned his principles, and then himself;
And that his body pledge was little worth,
Aspires to pawn the country of his birth.

Victor, a speck of sunshine, now does flit,
And "Hamer," of the meditative wit --
And, maybe, "Kodak" one day joins the Throng
Where bailiffs never interrupt the song.
I, too, shall live on stews empyrean,
And so I scorch to heights Olympian,
Holding within the hollow of my hand
The precious passport to the Glory Land.

First published in The Bulletin, 21 May 1908

"Victor" is Victor Daley (1858-1905).
"Hamer" is Harold Mercer (1882-1952).
"Kodak" is Ernest O'Ferrall (1881-1925).

2008 Melbourne Writers' Festival

The 2008 Melbourne Writers' Festival starts today with Germaine Greer giving the
opening keynote address in the Melbourne Town Hall. It's sold out, but you can check out the rest of the program.

A Classic Year: 17.0 Lucinda Brayford by Martin Boyd

lbrayf_small.jpg Lucinda Brayford
Martin Boyd

I have to admit from the outset I'm struggling with this book. It didn't help that at the time I was due to start it - a month or so back - I was deep in the throes of preparing, and then travelling, to the US and back. I kept finding excuses to read something else, the D.M. Cornish novel was just so damn good, and I was more than a bit knackered by the whole travel experience. But I did start the book a while back, and if starting was hard enough, then continuing to plough my way through its 546 pages is going to be a real trial.

Take the first part of the novel as an example: in the first chapter we are introduced to William Vane in Clare College, Cambridge, in the middle of the nineteenth century. He and some mates are getting a skinful in his rooms when someone decides it would be a great idea to drag Audrey Chapman, an undergraduate aiming to take Holy Orders, out of his rooms below Vane's and to toss him into the river. The upshot of all this is Chapman's near-death from pneumonia, Vane having to pay for his medical expenses which nearly bankrupts him, Vane being caught cheating at cards in an attempt to obtain some money to pay his bills, and Vane being sent down. His father doesn't want to know about him so he is packed off to Australia to make his fortune. Chapman's illness doesn't improve so he is also sent out to Victoria. Both men marry and have children. One son and one daughter from each family meet up and finally marry. Immediately after the marriage Vane decides to return to England, but falls overboard on the voyage and is lost at sea. Some thirty years has elapsed from first scene to last, and we have only moved on six (6!!) pages. The first character we meet on page one is now dead and this isn't a murder mystery. And we're still a generation away from the eponymous character, Lucinda, being born.

Needless to say, the prose is rather declamatory. Trying to squeeze all that into such a short space leaves little room for any style. It's purely scene-setting for later in the novel, and it's real hard going. A lot of writing courses will tell you that knowing when to start a novel will get you a fair way towards engaging the reader in a story they want to read. Boyd, and this novel, would have been better served in scrapping the first chapter entirely. At least Lucinda is born at the end of the second chapter. Which is its saving grace.

Martin Boyd Wikipedia page

The next four works:
18. A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey (1981)
19. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (1967)
20. "Five Bells" by Kenneth Slessor (1939)
21. Capricornia by Xavier Herbert (1938)

The Tin Wreath: A Pained Protest by Nitty ARÆMO

So yer got er competishun going for pote loorets? Well, Im goin to ave a vote anyhow, though I dont like potry; its pretty an all that sort, but it wastes all its blanky time tryin to be pretty stead of sayin somethin. Its like a bloke wot as a few acres er good land goin usen most of it for a pretty flower gardin stead of plantin crops or cabbages right up to is bloomin front door, as e oughter. Some blokes, like Grant Hervey, seems to think as how yer cant even ask Australia to shut its back-gate an clean up its gun ready for the Japs without making yer bloomin request rhime pretty. Fancy torkin to a great country erbout its ennemys in the same silly kinder sing-song way as yer tell the kids erbout the kow jumpin over the moon or Marys little lamb follerin er erbout! Now, I arst yer strate, owd it be if I was to wake me boy in the mornin like this: "Rise up, Bill! go milk the kows, and get to the creamery by nine somehows"? Hed think Id gone fair off me bloomin onion. An very likely e wouldnt know it was potry at all, cause e wouldnt know it should be written in two lines. Anyhow, if yer must give yer tin halo to someone, youd better give it to Hugh McCrae, because he dont write often, and when he does its generally somethin short. I like "Kodak" pretty well too, because I dont think he really
berleeves e is a pote; I think es pullin the other pote blokes legs, and chuckin off at them all the time. Hes good too, because he owns up to the way potes ave to dodge the bailiffs, and ow they never pay their board. Id do me best to make all the other potes qualify for that other kinder wreath -- the white un, like a life-belt, wot they gives yer to wear goin over the Jordan. Yours trooly,


First published in The Bulletin, 23 April 1908

You can read poems by Grant Hervey here, here, here, and here.
You can read poems by "Kodak" here, here, and here.
I haven't transcribed any poems by Hugh McCrae as yet.
See the previous postings in this sequence: July 25 August 1.

Sean Williams Interview

Gary Reynolds interviews
Adelaide author Sean Williams on the "Concept Sci-fi" website.

How do you approach the art of writing a novel? What techniques do you use in novel design/planning and editing/ revising?

The birth of a novel is marked with fireworks, but that's not the real miracle. Ideas are cheap, just like conceptions: it's what happens next that really matters. Every now and again an idea comes along that's so dense with possibility it has its own gravity. Other, lesser ideas are drawn to it, one by one, and pretty soon the agglomeration hits critical, unstoppable mass. Once the boulder starts rolling down the hill (to careen wildly to another metaphor) I know it's time to start taking some serious notes. Not to start writing the actual story, because I don't really know what the story is yet; I just think I do, like those mornings you wake up sure you have an entire dream in your head, but the moment you try to put it into words, it evaporates forever. Putting pen to paper at this point almost certainly guarantees an unhappy result, as the untamed thing blunders its way downhill, through power lines and unsuspecting villages, leaving a trail of devastation and dead-ends in its wake. I need to understand it better before even considering taking a ride on its back. I need, first, to be sure I can direct it where I want to go.

UNESCO City of Literature

UNESCO has named Melbourne as its second City of Literature, after Edinburgh received the first such award in 2004. Beyond the obvious attention this will bring, as well as a new Centre for Books and Ideas that the State Government will build in the city, I'm not sure what this announcement will mean on the ground. However, as I'm involved with the organisation of a major literary event in a couple of years time, I guess I'll find out soon enough.

Murray Bail Interview

Was it just me or did Murray Bail's new novel, The Pages, not receive the attention it was probably due? Maybe the timing of the release was poor, given this seems to be award season: Man Booker, Victorian Premier's, Prime Minister's, Queensland Premier's, Age Book of the Year. Anyway, the "Entertainment" weblog, from "The Sydney Morning Herald", interviews the author about the new book.

"It's an awful era in a sense because it's the age of narcissism. It's probably worse than global warming," says Murray Bail, leaning over his macchiato with theatrical gloom.

"It must have something to do with the flood through every part of society of popular culture, of film, photography, television and performance. All this 'look at me' stuff. People don't read as much, they can't write; you get film stars giving their views on everything. It's quite serious but nothing can be done about it. As soon as you complain you look like an antique."


Ten years sounds a long time between books but Bail has not been idle.

"This seems to be a ghastly pattern: I started another novel and spent 18 months, maybe two years on it, then I put it aside. It's not to say I won't go back to it. It was nothing but a man and woman talking and I thought, aside from the difficulty, I was sick of men and women talking anyway but there had to be more underneath. The same thing happened with Eucalyptus. I spent a couple of years mucking around with a book that I wasn't comfortable with. I chucked that one out."

The aborted film adaptation of Eucalyptus - which was to feature Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman - is also mentioned. And that reminds me that I have read reports that Kidman is interested in this new novel. Well, she is reported to have met the author a few times. Which might be as much about the previous as The Pages.

And just before you start thinking I trawl the "Actress Archives" on a regular basis looking for snippets like this, it was the Murray Bail reference that brought it to my attention.

Australian Literature on the WWW

In October and December 2006 I wrote a couple of href=>pieces about the lamentable state of Australian literature entries on Wikipedia. In particular I focussed on the Miles Franklin Award page, noting that, firstly, a number of authors who had won the award did not have Wikipedia pages devoted to them, and, secondly, the award-winning novels were even more poorly represented.

I'm happy to say that this situation has now been rectified, and all winning authors and novels now have entries on Wikipedia. Not all of them are as extensive as I'd like but the framework is there. I should point out, however, that the Wikipedia Miles Franklin Award page does list all the shortlisted works from 1987, and all the longlisted works from 2005, and not all of these books and their authors have been fixed up as yet. Any help you can provide, by way of additional information, will be greatly appreciated. It's really not that hard once you get into it.

Explanatory Notes on SF Conventions #1

A couple of days back I made a throwaway comment on this weblog about the need to describe the differences between SF conventions and the normal literary festivals most people are familiar with. So take this as the first couple of steps towards that goal.

Science fiction is usually abbreviated as "sf" or "SF" (pronounced "ess-eff") by afficiandos, and as "sci-fi" (pronounced "sky-fy") by others. This last term is generally considered to be derogatory in nature, and is sometimes pronounced "skiffy" to increase the emphasis. I'm not sure where the term "sci-fi" came from, but seem to recall reading somewhere that it originated in the mainstream media in the 1950s to complement the term "hi-fi". A marketing abbrevation in other words. The general rule here is don't use it.

I've linked to the Wikipedia article on sf above, not so much because I believe each word of it but just to give you an indication of what sort of work fits under the genre's label. Any attempt at a clear and inclusive defintion of sf has always failed; there is always someone who will come up with a work that falls just outside the definition but which most people would consider as sf. Basically anything fantastical, futuristic, off-world or historically divergent is covered. Most people who consider themselves "non-readers" of the genre would be amazed at some of the books that are considered part of the canon: Frankenstein by Shelley, 1984 by Orwell, Brave New World by Huxley, Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury, Jurassic Park by Crichton, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, most of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and even Illywhacker by Peter Carey, which was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. I could, and will, argue the case for each of these. If you really wanted to push the point, sf is really just a sub-set of the much larger genre of "fantasy". But in the twentieth century the "fantasy" label started to pertain to a particular section of the literary landscape - think Tolkein and his ilk - and "science fiction" came to be the predominant and overarching term in common use. Again, this was probably a labelling issue which started in the 1920s with the advent of US fiction magazines styling themselves as specifically science fiction.

These days when we say science fiction, we also include horror (just about all of Stephen King for example), high or epic fantasy (Tolkein and Robert Jordan), cyberpunk and steampunk (Gibson and Sterling), alternate history (sometimes called "counterfactuals"), space opera (Iain M. Banks and Star Wars), superhero fiction (Superman and X-Men), and even, in some part, the literary sub-genre of magic realism.

It's a broad church; just about anything fits. Which probably goes some way to describing the philosophy behind sf conventions. But more on that next time.

New Banjo Paterson Poems

"The Courier-Mail" is reporting that a number of unknown Banjo Paterson poems have been found. The poems were hand-written, above his signature, in an old cash book dating back to the Boer War. Paterson was a war correspondent for "The Sydney Morning Herald" and "The Age" during that war, sailing to South Africa in October 1899.

Australian Bookcovers #125 - A River Town by Tom Keneally

A River Town by Tom Keneally, 1995
(William Heinemann 1995 edition)

2008 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards

The shortlists for the 2008 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards have been announced.

The shortlisted works are:

Science Writer Award
"Applying the paradox of prevention: Eradicate HIV", Bill Bowtell (Griffith Review)
Hail Caesar, Professor Caroline de Costa (Boolarong Press)
Cool Scientist, Stephen Luntz (Control Publications)
The Rise of Animals: Evolution and Diversification of the Kingdom Animalia, Dr Patricia Vickers-Rich, Mikhal A. Fedonkin, James G. Gehling, Kathleen Grey and Guy M. Narbonne (Johns Hopkins University Press)
Why is Uranus Upside Down? And other questions about the Universe, Professor Fred Watson (Allen & Unwin)

Literary or Media Work Advancing Public Debate - The Harry Williams Award
People Like Us, Waleed Aly (Pan Macmillan Australia)
John Winston Howard, Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen (Melbourne University Publishing)
"No Jail for Rape of Girl, 10", Tony Koch (The Australian)
"Quarterly Essay Issue 27: Reaction Time", Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe (Quarterly Essay)
"In My Shoes", Quentin McDermott and Steve Taylor (Four Corners, The ABC)

Film Script - Pacific Film & Television Commission Award
"Elise", James Bogle (Film 2 Opportunity)
"Prime Mover", David Caesar (Porchlight Films)
"The Square", Joel Edgerton and Matthew Dabner (Film Depot)
"Punishment", Danny Matier (Glover Productions)

Drama Script (Stage) Award
"When the Rain Stops Falling", Andrew Bovell (Scott Theatre)
"Ruben Guthrie", Brendan Cowell (Company B)
"Toy Symphony", Michael Gow (Belvoir Street Theatre - B Sharp)
"The Serpent's Teeth", Daniel Keene (Sydney Theatre Company)
"The Seed", Kate Mulvany (Belvoir Street Theatre - B Sharp)

Television Script - QUT Creative Industries Award
"Bed of Roses", Jutta Goetze and Elizabeth Coleman (Ruby/Southern Star Ent. Pty. Ltd)
"Underbelly: Episode 7 - Wise Monkeys", Felicity Packard (Screentime)
"Stupid, Stupid Man, Episode 9 - The Black Dog", Timothy Pye (Jigsaw Entertainment)

History Book - Faculty of
Arts, University of Queensland Award

Van Diemen's Land, James Boyce (Black Inc)
Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia, Professor John Fitzgerald (University of New South Wales Press Limited)
Vietnam The Australian War, Paul Ham (HarperCollins Publishers Australia)
An Exacting Heart, Jacqueline Kent (Penguin Group)
Drawing the Global Colour Line Professor Marilyn Lake and Professor Henry Reynolds (Melbourne University Publishing)

Non Fiction Book Award
Arthur Boyd, Dr Darleen Bungey (Allen & Unwin)
An Exacting Heart, Jacqueline Kent (Penguin Group)
Muck, Craig Sherborne (Black Inc)
American Journeys, Don Watson (Random House (KNOPF))

Fiction Book Award
His Illegal Self, Peter Carey (Random House (KNOPF))
Diary of a Bad Year, J.M Coetzee (Text Publishing)
The Trout Opera, Matthew Condon (Random House (Vintage))
The Spare Room, Helen Garner (Text Publishing)
Breath, Tim Winton (Penguin Group Australia)

Poetry Collection - Arts Queensland Judith Wright Calanthe Award
Event, Judith Bishop (Salt Publishing/Inbooks)
Bark, Anthony Lawrence (University of Queensland Press)
Typewriter Music, David Malouf (University of Queensland Press)
The Australian Popular Songbook, Alan Wearne (Giramondo Publishing)

Australian Short Story - Arts Queensland Steele Rudd Award
Someone Else, John Hughes (Giramondo Publishing)
Camera Obscura, Kathryn Lomer (University of Queensland Press)
Redfin, Anthony Lynch (ARCADIA)
The End of the World, Paddy O'Reilly (University of Queensland Press)

Emerging Queensland Author - Manuscript Award
None of the Other Flies Follow My Crooked Lines, Simon Groth
Side Close Side; Stories of Love, Krissy Kneen
Learning How to Breathe, Linda Neil
Omega Park, Amy Vought Barker

Unpublished Indigenous Writer - The David Unaipon Award
10 Hail Mary's, Kate Howarth
White Elephant, Jeanine Leane
Every Secret Thing, Marie Munkara

Children's Book - Mary Ryan's Award
Jessica's Box, Peter Carnavas (New Frontier Publishing)
The Peasant Prince, Li Cunxin and Anne Spudvilas (Penguin Group Australia)
Collecting Colour, Kylie Dunstan (Lothian Children's Books an imprint of Hachette Livre Australia)
Crow and The Waterhole, Ambelin Kwaymullina (Fremantle Press)
The Worry Tree, Marianne Musgrove (Random House)

Young Adult Book Award
Requiem for a Beast, Matt Ottley (Lothian
Children's Books an imprint of Hachette Livre Australia)
Marty's Shadow, John Heffernan (Omnibus Books)
The Push, Julia Lawrinson (Penguin Group Australia)
Town, James Roy (University of Queensland Press)
At Seventeen, Celeste Walters (University of Queensland Press)

The winners will be announced on Tuesday 16th September.

Phillip Gwynne Profile

Phillip Gwynne, author of Deadly, Unna? which was adapted for the screen under the title Australian Rules, is interviewed in "The Sydney Morning Herald" by Keith Austin. The writer's new novel is a crime thriller set in Darwin.

The plot of the new book concerns a body found in a billabong and the main protagonist is Dusty Buchanon, a female Northern Territory Police Force detective who has two dogs and drives a beaten-up ute. Interestingly, one of Gwynne's sisters, Colleen Gwynne, is a cop in the Northern Territory Police Force who has two dogs and drives a beaten-up ute. "Yes," he says, "my sister is a detective in Darwin. Well, she's a commander now. She was in charge of the [Peter] Falconio case, so she's not just a PC Plod, she's fairly high up.

2008 CBCA Book of the Year Award Winners

The winners of the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year awards have been announced. We published the
full list of the nominated titles back in April.

The winners were:

Book of the Year: Older Readers
The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett (Viking)

Honour books:
Black Water by David Metzenthen (Penguin)
Marty's Shadow by John Heffernan (Omnibus)

Book of the Year: Younger Readers
Dragon Moon by Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books)

Honour books:
Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp by Odo Hirsch (A&U)
Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!) by Sherryl Clark, illus by Elissa Christian (Puffin)

Book of the Year: Early Childhood
Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley by Aaron Blabey (Viking)

Honour books:
Cat by Mike Dumbleton, illus by Craig Smith (Working Title Press)
Lucy Goosey by Margaret Wild, illus by Ann James (Little Hare Books)

Picture Book of the Year
Requiem for a Beast by Matt Ottley, (Lothian)

Honour books:
Dust by Colin Thompson and 13 other illustrators (ABC Books)
The Peasant Prince by Anne Spudvilas, text by Li Cunxin (Viking)

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
Parsley Rabbit's Book about Books by Frances Watts, illus by David Legge (ABC Books)

Honour books:
Girl Stuff: Your Full-on Guide to the Teen Years by Kaz Cooke (Viking)
Kokoda Track: 101 Days by Peter Macinnis (Black Dog Books)

Crichton Award for New Illustrators
Santa's Aussie Holiday by Anna Walker, text by Maria Farrer (Scholastic)

Poem: The Horse Poet by D. (Edward Dyson)

The late "Joe" Giuliani (champion rider) had two bitter unconquerable dislikes -- viz., horse-poets and motors, in that order of detestation. -- Bulletin, 21/5/'08.

Observe the Horse-poet, camerado:
He is full, positively full, of strange oaths,
And quaint, unusual blasphemies;
Weird, unconvincing reminiscences are his,
Likewise he is dirty.
         Dios! but he is dirty!
Hearken while he skites!
He speaks of a race run "in blanky old Dynamite's year."
It appears that he owned Dynamite,
         Also he trained him,
         He taught him to jump,
         He steered him in his every race,
         He weighed in and out with him;
The animal owed all, abso-blanky-lootly all, of its success in life to him
         The Horse-poet;
         Whom mark closely.

Hold while he tells of his astuteness.
Of Ikey O'Brien he now sings, and of the latter's pathetic fatuity.
Ike, when up against the Horse-poet, was, it appears, a Poor Circumstance always;
He was a Mug, a Lamb, a Jay,
An over-ripe financial vegetable from which the rind might be peeled
         In huge lumps
         And quantities.
The road to Randwick is paved with bust pencillers
All named Isaac O'Brien,
And each the victim of the Horse-poet,
The triumphant person,
Who knows men and things.

Gather ye now, camerados, around the bowed knees of his Pegasus,
He will tell you how he did it all.
Or rather, on second thoughts, he won't;
For his methods are Indescribable.
Likewise it were useless in any case to attempt to describe them; for they are Inimitable.
And it is just as well that they are,
Since there is no money in them;
In which respect they resemble the Horse-poet,
         Who has done all things,
         And most men,
            Yet remains, withal,
            (Or durned near it);
         And sick of Life,
One of whose Supreme and Mysterious Wonders he nevertheless continues to be.

First published in The Bulletin, 28 May 1908

The Line

Some people can find themselves more than a little overtaken by the personality of certain bush poets.

Danielle Torres includes A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute in her list of books for "War in Fiction, Part 2, WW II".

Matt Rubinstein's novel A Little Rain on Thursday is to get a German edition, titled Ein leichter Regen am Donnerstag. Which pretty much stands as a literal translation. Something new, I think.

Twitchy Finger's favourite part of Banjo Paterson's "Clancy of the Overflow" are the lines:

And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plain extended,
And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.
If you look at the banner of this weblog you'll see mine.

Susan Johnson Interview

Matthew Condon has interviewed author Susan Johnson, for "The Courier-Mail", as her new novel, Life in Seven Mistakes, becomes available.

"As I went along I realised I was going to be writing a whole life virtually from birth to death in various guises with members of this family," Johnson says. "I started to think about the whole notion of the seven ages of man and around the idea of life as a big mistake.

(The novel has, as one of its epigraphs, the quote from Shakespeare's As You Like It: "And one man in his time plays many parts, His act being seven ages.")

"I had a notion very early that we all go through life and we make these choices and decisions and we're acting in a rational mode, but in fact my experience of existence is that our choices and how we live are acted out on a deeply irrational level and we don't know how we live.

"I kept the idea that life, in essence, is like one long series of mistakes in the sense that we bumble through and we really don't know what we're doing."

Reviews of Australian Books #93

The first review I've seen of Margo Lanagan's upcoming novel, Tender Morsels, appears in "Locus" magazine, from Gary K. Wolfe. (This is hardly surprising given the book isn't released for some months yet.) This review starts off with a very good explanation of the YA marketing and publishing category, its position and its implications. "Lanagan's Tender Morsels is perhaps best approached without any YA preconceptions, for reasons that become apparent before we're halfway through the prologue, which begins literally with a roll in the hay ('you have the kitment of a full man,' explains the witch to the dwarf, 'however short a stump you are the rest of you.')...By its second half, Tender Morsels begins to take on a density and moral complexity almost suggestive of a George Eliot novel, with its decades-long narrative arc, its shifting relationships, its questions involving responsibility, misdirected love, and the nature of families. Or maybe it's simply a more expansive exploration of the kinds of worlds we've glimpsed in condensed form in some of Lanagan's stories -- it's certainly more leisurely in its development, and more accessible in its prose (those who find Lanagan's characteristic neologisms and swaggy narrative voices a challenge may view this with some relief, though she's still one of the few authors who could get away with a line like 'she cackled ivorily'). Either way, it's a brilliant realization of a brilliant promise, and a profoundly moving tale. "

Louise Swinn is very impressed with Susan Johnson's new novel, Life in Seven Mistakes, in "The Sydney Morning Herlad": "There will be a whole host of readers looking forward to the latest release by Susan Johnson, readers who have enjoyed her work since Messages From Chaos 20 years ago or readers who joined in more recently for her painful memoir, A Better Woman, or for her novel inspired by the life of Charmian Clift, The Broken Book. Johnson has shown substantial breadth. She has a knack for presenting what can be unbearable in reality, of rendering it on the page with tremendous heart, making it readable and going one step further: somehow managing to make it enjoyable."

Short Notices

Diana Carroll in "The Independent Weekly" reviews Dreamland by Tom Gilling: "Gilling knows Sydney well and has a fine insight into that shadowy world where public and private lives collide in the media, the boardroom, and the courtroom. His characters are believable, ordinary people placed in extraordinary situations. And he tells a good story. I loved this novel from the beginning to the very last page; unfortunately, I felt badly betrayed by the ending and desperately wanted more. Apart from that small disappointment, this is an accomplished novel from a very talented Australian author."

The "ScrippsNews" website takes a look at Garth Nix's "The Keys to the Kingdom" series of YA novels and is pretty impressed: "Nix's series has developed a deservedly loyal following that has impatiently awaited each installment. These are books that can easily take repeated readings -- there's so much detail in each one that it's hard to take in all at once. For better or for worse, however, it's not a series that can be read out of order; instead, readers need to take the time to wade through each volume to truly understand what's going on."

On her "Reading Matters" weblog, kimbofo considers Thirteen Tonne Theory: Life Inside Hunters and Collectors by Mark Seymour to be an excellent read: "'s a wonderful, if slightly worthy, warts-and-all account that fans will find fascinating."

Johnnie Craig, on the "I Have Grave News" weblog judges Disquiet by Julia Leigh to be a triumph: "A multitude of underlying plotlines, personal dramas and secret histories bubble just beneath the surface, and Disquiet could easily have evolved into a weighty family saga; yet the things we don't discover carry the same weight as those we do."

James Purdon in "The Observer" on The Resurrectionist by James Bradley: "Bradley has tamed the scattershot plotting of his earlier work into a prose of neat vignettes, catching the gore of the mortuary slab and the seedy high of the opium den."

The "Tuesday in Silhouette" weblog on The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser: "It's one of those books that hums quietly along; even though extraodinary things may happen, it really does feel like an everyday kind of travel. It just pulls you along as the characters journey through life. That's what I loved about it. The writing. The writing was quite lovely."

The "Light the Shade" weblog on The Art of the Engine Driver by Steven Carroll: "One aspect of Steven's writing amazes me, and that is his wonderful talent of being able to deliver the ending to a story before its truly begun without losing the reader. I am not sure if other people would find this delightful as I do, or irritating, and indeed in other books I have found the looking forward such as 'this would be a moment they would remember for years to come' or 'this single moment, Jack would ponder many times in his future' to be an annoying way of underlining text to ensure the reader knows its important. But in this story I found it charming, in an odd way, it is like being let in on a secret that only you and the author share."

2008 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards Shortlists

The shortlisted works for the 2008 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards have been announced.

The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction
Diary Of A Bad Year, JM Coetzee (Text Publishing)
The Lost Dog, Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin)
The Spare Room, Helen Garner (Text Publishing)

The Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-fiction
Van Diemen's Land, James Boyce (Black Inc)
Napoleon, Philip Dwyer (Allen & Unwin)
Ferocious Summer, Meredith Hooper (Allen & Unwin)
Detainee 002, Leigh Sales (Melbourne University Publishing)
Muck, Craig Sherborne (Black Inc)

The Prize for Young Adult Fiction
Solo, Alyssa Brugman (Allen & Unwin)
Pool, Justin D'Ath (Ford Street Publishing)
Tomorrow All Will Be Beautiful, Brigid Lowry (Allen & Unwin)

The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer
Conditions of Return, Daniel Ducrou
Going Finish, Mandy Maroney
In Search of the Blue Tiger, Robert Power

The C J Dennis Prize for Poetry
Event, Judith Bishop (Salt Publishing)
Press Release, Lisa Gorton (Giramondo Publishing)
As We Draw Ourselves, Barry Hill (Five Islands Press)

The Louis Esson Prize for Drama
When the Rain Stops Falling, Andrew Bovell (Brink Productions)
The Story of the Miracles at Cookie's Table, Wesley Enoch (Currency Press)
Toy Symphony, Michael Gow (Belvoir Street Theatre)

The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate
Out of Control: The Tragedy of Tasmania's Forests, Richard Flanagan (The Monthly)
Trapped in the Aboriginal Reality Show, Marcia Langton (Griffith Review)
Love and Money, Anne Manne (Quarterly Essay)
The Exiled Child, Meera Atkinson (Griffith Review)

The Prize for a First Book of History
Van Diemen's Land, James Boyce (Black Inc)
The Lamb Enters the Dreaming, Robert Kenny (Scribe)
Pistols! Treason! Murder!, Jonathan Walker (Melbourne University Publishing)

The Prize for Indigenous Writing Anonymous
, Yvette Holt (University of Queensland Press)
Me, Antman & Fleabag, Gayle Kennedy (University of Queensland Press)
Fight for Liberty and Freedom: The Origins of Australian Aboriginal Activism, John Maynard (Aboriginal Studies Press)

The John Curtin Prize for Journalism
The Search for Edna Lavilla, Eurydice Aroney and Sharon Davis (Radio Eye, ABC Radio National)
Shame Job: Circle of Abuse, Nick Farrow and Sarah Ferguson (Sunday Program, Nine Network Australia)
Out of Control: The Tragedy of Tasmania's Forests, Richard Flanagan (The Monthly)

The Prize for Best Music Theatre Script
The Hanging of Jean Lee, Libretto by Jordie Albiston and Abe Pogos. Composed by Andrée Greenwell. Based upon the verse history by Jordie Albiston (Green Music with The Studio, Sydney Opera House)
The Wild Blue, Music, lyrics and book by Anthony Crowley (St Martins Theatre)
Crossing Live, Words by Matthew Saville. Music by Bryony Marks (Chambermade)

The Grollo Ruzzene Foundation Prize for Writing about Italians in Australia
See Naples and Die, Penelope Green (Hachette Australia)
Head Over Heel, Chris Harrison (Murdoch Books)
Antonio's Seed, Merry Watson (Jeremiah's Circle Publishing)

The winners will be announced at a presentation dinner on Monday 1st September.

World SF Convention Returns to Australia

At Denvention 3, the 66th World Science Fiction Convention, Australia was chosen as the site for the 68th Worldcon, to be held in Melbourne from September 2-6, 2010. This will be the fourth time the Worldcon has been held in Australia, following the very successful 1975, 1985 and 1999 conventions.

The convention will be known as Aussiecon 4, and will feature author Kim Stanley Robinson, long-time sf fan Robin Johnson, and local artist Shaun Tan as its Guests of Honor. Worldcons are large gatherings of readers, writers, artists, editors, publishers, film-makers, costumers, and musicians -- from all around the world -- who gather in one place each year to celebrate the science fiction, fantasy, horror, YA and related genres. We are expecting around 2,500 members to attend the convention which will make it the largest such event ever held in this country.

2008 Prime Minister's Literary Awards

The shortlisted works for the 2008 Prime Minister's Literary Awards have been announced. These are the major literary awards (worth $100,000, tax free, in each of the Fiction and Non-Fiction categories) that were foreshadowed by the incoming Australian Government at the end of 2007. The major controversy about the awards being that the Prime Minister will supposedly make the final decision on the winners. Those winners will be announced in the coming months, but I can't seem to find an actual date on the website. Given this is the first year for these awards that's not such a bad thing. The administrators just have to pick a particular date that will be consistent in the years ahead.

The shortlisted works are:

Burning In by Mireille Juchau
El Dorado by Dorothy Porter
Jamaica: A novel by Malcolm Knox
Sorry by Gail Jones
The Complete Stories by David Malouf
The Widow and Her Hero by Tom Keneally
The Zookeeper's War by Steven Conte

A History of Queensland by Raymond Evans
Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time by Clive James
My Life as a Traitor by Zarah Ghahramani with Robert Hillman
Napoleon: The Path to Power, 1769-1799 by Philip Dwyer
Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers by Philip Jones
Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer
Vietnam: The Australian War by Paul Ham

Matilda Returns

I'm back on deck, so posting will recommence over the next few days. Some of the standard weekly features might take a while to restart, however.

2008 The Age Book of the Year Shortlists

The shortlisted works for 2008 The Age Book of the Year have been announced.

The shortlists are as follows:

Diary of a Bad Year, J.M. Coetzee
Burning In, Mireille Juchau
The Orphan Gunner, Sara Knox
The Good Parents, Joan London
Breath, Tim Winton

I Am Melba, Ann Blainey
Van Dieman's Land, James Boyce
An Exacting Heart, Jacqueline Kent
A Family History of Smoking, Andrew Riemer
American Journeys, Don Watson

Not Finding Wittgenstein, J.S. Harry
Shades of the Sublime, John Kinsella
Bark, Anthony Lawrence
Typewriter Music, David Malouf
Scar Revision, Tracy Ryan

The winners of the awards, as well as the Book of the Year (the best of the best), will be announced at the Melbourne Writers' Festival later in August.

Matilda Waltzes

I'm off to the US for a week and a bit, attending the World Science Fiction Convention in Denver, Colorado. Hopefully, I'll have some good news when I get back regarding the 2010 convention which we're bidding to have return to Australia. Posting will be sporadic at best and most probably non-existent. Stay well and keep reading.

Poem: The Editorial We by Gilrooney (R.J. Cassidy)

We are the corpse behind the walls
   That writes of sea and sky;
We are the individuals
   Who obsoleted "I."
We are the men who turn the wheels --
   Cohorts of Destinee!
We are the saints whom no one paints --
   The Co-essential We!

We've hitched our dreams unto the stars
   But, oh! the plural curse
Has quite absorbed our highest pars,
   And commandeered our verse!
We are the sullen slaves who write
   That all men may be free;
But, as I said, we're really dead --
   Our coffin's labelled "WE"!

First published in The Bulletin, 14 May 1908

The Tin Wreath: The Poet of Politics

The feature of this week's contribution to the question of the head which will fit the tin hat of Australasian poesy is the astonishing boom of Grant Hervey. It may humbly be pointed out, in answer to Harrison Owen, that the Australasian Laureate will not be a political, but a poetical, appointment. If England likes to give an Awful Austin a tun of wine, that is England's concern. The title deeds of that topmost selection on Mount Parnassus-Kosciusko will be presented to the best poet -- as Poet -- in Australasia, provided he is not too dead. The hardware wreath is for "the best of the splendid Australasian band of poets."

Many other contributions are held over. Advocates must be brief.

The Poet of Politics

Some readers of the gore-colored page may be rather surprised at my tip for the Poet Laureate Stakes, though I doubt not that it will also find many backers. Let me here point out that the editor in his unlimited wisdom has asked: "Who is the best of the splendid Australasian band of poets?" The office of poet-laureate -- in the Cold Country, at any rate -- has always been a sort of semi-political "grip". Thus, in the lifetime of A. Swinburne, the billet is filled by A. Austin. Swinburne is undoubtedly a greater poet, but he is utterly unsuited for the job of laureate. The poet-laureate, I take it, should voice the political ideals and aspirations of the Nation, leaving such articles as sunsets, gloamings, love and snow-capped peaks to be dealt with by brother bards. A. Swinburne is "hot stuff" when it comes to sunsets and so forth, but, being a republican, he could not voice the political ideals of a people confessing to a limited monarchy and a
House of Lords. Swinburne's Republicanism would offend the Cold Country -- as it did the late Victoria -- but Austin's tripe, such as "How Can I Best Serve My King?" pleases it. Thus in considering the claims of our various bards to the Tin Laurel Wreath, we should, I think, ask ourselves: Who is it who best voices our political ambitions and ideals? To which I reply -- Grant Hervey. That Australia possesses greater poets must be obvious to all who have made even a cursory study of Australian verse; Quinn, Daley, Adams, Lawson (whose claims are sure to be advocated by many), and perhaps half-a-dozen others have reached a higher poetic level; but none of these, I venture to say, have so consistently and eloquently voiced the staunch political creed of the Australian Democracy. A firm believer in a White Australia, a stalwart Protectionist, a loyal Democrat, a staunch Australian patriot, and -- last but not least - a Man, is Grant
Hervey. If a selected volume of his verse were published, Britishers and foreigners, by reading it, would learn of our political ideals and our sturdy democratic creed. I do not say that all of Hervey's work is admirable; some of it, I think, would have been better unwritten; he had produced some poor stuff -- as did also W. Shakespeare -- but the great bulk of his work is of a very high order. I know of no other bard who can infuse the same grandeur and terrible earnestness into a political poem as can Hervey. His lofty style disinguishes his poetry from the ordinary political rhymes we all know so well. He is already admired by many sturdy Australians, and he has every right, I consider, to the paltry Tin Laurel Wreath. Failing G.H., I should say Essex Evans, but at present I shriek for Grant Hervey every time.

First published in The Bulletin, 23 April 1908


  • this piece follows on from a similar essay that was posted last week on this weblog.
  • Grant Hervey's Australian Dictionary of Biography webpage.
  • You can read poems by Grant Hervey here, here, here, and here. Although it should be pointed out that these are not examples of his political works.
  • The phrase "gore-colored page" refers to the section of The Bulletin titled "The Red Page", which was, in fact, printed on garish red paper and acted as a wrapper for the main part of the magazine. This section contained - in the inside pages - book reviews, literary essays, poetry and literary news. At this time it was being edited by Arthur Henry Adams, who probably wrote the introductory paragraph.
  • Algernon Charles Swinburne Wikipedia page.
  • Alfred Austin Wikipedia page.

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