September 2008 Archives

Australian Bookcovers #131 - The Escapades of Ann by Edward Dyson


The Escapades of Ann by Edward Dyson, 1919
(The Bookstall Company 1919 edition)

Tim Winton Watch #6

Reviews of Breath

Robert Wiersema in "The Ottawa Citizen": "We book reviewers, as a rule, like to keep some professional distance in our writing. Sometimes, though, with certain books or authors, one wants to simply rave, the way one might in a bar or a coffee-shop, sitting with fellow book-lovers. In that spirit, reader to reader, let me say this: you've gotta read Tim Winton...An Australian export, Winton is, without exaggeration, one of the most formidable voices in contemporary writing. Twice nominated for the Booker Prize, with a world-wide readership and almost universal critical acclaim, Winton has 20 books to his credit, every one of them unique and surprising...Winton writes with a stunning, simple clarity. Largely plain-spoken and emotionally direct, the novel shifts into an elevated prose during moments of risk and beauty, and particularly those times when the two combine. The characters are carefully drawn, and reveal themselves slowly over the course of the novel...Breath is powerful and enthralling. It will make many readers uncomfortable, but that, in some ways, is its greatest strength."
"The Free Lance-Star": "Winton's descriptions are almost always sure-handed, but his grasp and description of the surfing scenes in the book give a scary feel to catching waves or for waves catching the surfers...Breath is a slender little novel but a good introduction into Winton, though not nearly as nuanced or ambitious as his best-known Cloudstreet. Breath shows off what Winton does best -- he doesn't bore, he doesn't philosophize, he just digs deep enough to expose the people he has created, who bear a striking resemblance to the humanity around us."
"Blogcritics" magazine: "Long ago, Freud introduced the concept of thanatos, the so-called death instinct. Many have dismissed or even ridiculed this notion, so un-Darwinian in its nature. How can we have a death instinct, when all instinctual drives seem based on preserving and extending life? Yet Winton shows even more persuasively in story form what Freud tried to outline in theory. Winton's characters reveal a barely hidden passion for non-existence, and death lingers at the fringes of almost every scene in this penetrating novel."
"": "This reader was awed by Winton's ability to craft the written word, and his fierce desire to explore human nature. I was certainly not feeling a need to visit the place that Winton took me, but I am changed for the better. Breath, a metaphor for life itself. So simple it seems, but so fragile it remains, so easily stopped."

Short notices

"Jenny's Reading Blog": "I couldn't understand why this book hadn't been marketed to teenagers until I got to the last few chapters. It was a teenage rites of passage novel with a very dark and out of their depth twist. I suddenly thought I really would not like my 15 year old reading this, but I couldn't put it down myself."
The "Bookwookey" weblog: "Winton's writing can make the most overworked of themes - adolescent angst - live again. One of the reasons I keep coming back to him as a writer, even when I quake in my boots after reading some scenes of abuse in his short stories that I have never gotten out of my mind, is because his musicianship with my language can make me hear and see things as if for the first time."
"The Houseboat of Decadence" weblog: "I have now finished Breath by Tim Winton. I enjoyed it and it has retained a place on my bookshelf. It captured things as beautifully as all his other writing has but my writer/editing alarm rang when right towards the end of the book it lost the gentle rhythm he'd created. I suspected that either he or his editor had put the pedal to the metal in some regard towards the end and the story sort of rushed into the conclusion. His books don't usually trip over and land in a heap like this so I suspect that the whisper I'd heard that he hadn't written a book for some years perhaps had put some pressure on."
"The Real Bookish" weblog :"Reading Tim Winton's Breath is as if plunging into the water, having a good swim, and then re-immerge, feeling refreshed. This is one of the most beautifully written books I have read. Winton's writing is magical; I finished it in two sittings despite the limited time I have for reading."
"Otago Daily Times": "I read less Australian fiction than I should, but this 40-something chap once again had me spellbound, reading Breath over the breakfast table, on the bus, way too late at night, finishing it on the second day...Winton writes with a sense of passion and authenticity that even a non-surfer like me can appreciate, bringing to the page the redemptive beauty of the sport."


"The Age:

Surfing, says Tim Winton, is not the sort of activity that's an easy fit with a literary readership. "Adultery might be," he muses. So he's been surprised and delighted by the extraordinarily rapid success of his latest novel, Breath. The risky adventures of teenage boys surfing off the Western Australian coast, the thrill and the compulsion and the damage done, have struck a mysterious chord with readers and reviewers in London, New York, Toronto and Holland.


Winton is patron of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, and he recently joined forces with a number of other artists to participate in an auction to raise funds for "the marine charity's campaign to stop targeted shark fishing on the Great Barrier Reef."

"The Life of Brian (or Lack Thereof)" by Maree Spratt

Maree Spratt has been named the winner of the State Library of Queensland's Young Writers Award. "The Courier-Mail" has
reprinted her story on their website.

Robert Dessaix Interview

Robert Dessaix, author of such works as Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev and the novels Night Letters and Corfu, returns with a new work, Arabesques: A Tale Of Double Lives. As the book is due for release on October 1st, the author is interviewed in "The Sydney Morning Herald" by Helen Greenwood. He describes the book as:

"A conversation about travels and reveries", as he says in his introduction, might do. Less pithy but more accurate would be: "Travels with some friends in the footsteps of famous French author Andre Gide."

"The publisher likes the word memoir," Dessaix says, "because sales and marketing know how to spell it. So they call it travel memoir and I suppose it is. [But] I'm really travelling in my head as much as through the world."


Dessaix doesn't go on the road with Gide as a biographer or as the kind of cultural tourist who tracks down plaques on buildings. "I travel in order to experiment with who I am," says Dessaix, who lives in a large house near Hobart. As he moves around, from Portugal and France to Algeria and Morocco, he muses, questions and imagines. Love, eros, intimacy, friendship and marriage are in his sights - and he stalks his quarries like a man making a nature documentary about a rare and exquisite beast. Dessaix, like Christopher Isherwood, is the camera.

Poem: Mr. Fillemupagain by Creeve Roe (Victor Daley)

When you first come to the city
   With a seething rural brain,
And are just a little witty,
   And, though verdant, not too vain --
You will meet a jovial fellow,
   With a beaming smile and bland,
Who will state, in accents mellow,
   That he's proud to shake your hand.

      He will ask you, then, to test
      Any drink you fancy best,
And if times are very flush with him he'll treat you to champagne,
      He will fill you, good and square,
      To the tap-roots of your hair --
For a free and festive soul is Mr. Fillemupagain.

He will stand in pose dramatic,
   Like a histrionic star,
And remark in tones emphatic,
   Which will echo through the bar,
That he's read your Book of Verses,
   Which he knows will bring you fame...
You'll imbibe your drink with curses,
   But you'll listen all the same.

      You will see him everywhere.
      He has always time to spare.
You will meet him on the Block, and in the most secluded lane.
      You are bound to strike him, too,
      At each musical shivoo --
For a plentiful old bird is Mr. Fillemupagain.

Grown familiar then, and bolder,
   He will talk till all is blue;
And, while weeping on your shoulder,
   He will quote your verse to you;
Till you wish that ere you'd written
   Rhymes, in idle moments bred,
You had been by someone smitten
   With a hammer on the head.

      But he doesn't care a rap,
      And calls you "Dear old chap!"
And defies the crowd to name a Bard, in colored print of plain,
      Who is fit to lace the shoes
      Of your shovel-footed Muse --
Oh, a gushing, slushing friend is Mr. Fillemupagain!

Young Bush Genius, pray take warning,
   And, when you behold him -- flee!
If you do not, some fine morning,
   On the road to Waverley,
He will -- when your hearse draws level
   With his pub -- say, with a wink,
"Yes, I knew him well, poor devil:
   He destroyed himself with drink."

      He admires your writings much;
      And your fine poetic touch
Makes the Toohey tears run down his nose in sentimental rain;
      But when cold you lie and dumb,
      He will say you wrote on Rum,
For a Fiend disguised in Fat is Mr. Fillemupagain.

First published in The Bulletin, 10 June 1899
[In the last stanza above, "Toohey" refers to the Sydney brewery.]

It's Hard to be a Saint in the City

Shane Jiraiya Cummings speculates that sf and fantasy publishing in this country is headed for a bust over the next 12 months or so.

The Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival, which runs from October 21-26, features a number of Australian writers: Gail Jones, Nam Le, and Shaun Tan. It's the geek in me that notices they also have Ursula K. Le Guin on the list, which means they have a Guest of Honor from both the first and fourth Aussiecons. It's just the way I'm seeing the world at present.

Max Barry sets out to convince you that you really should have a big bag of cement in the shed or basement, just in case there a fresh body you need to get buried in a hurry. I think there's half a bag in my shed. Sizes up the family, "Hmmm, might be enough."

Robert Drewe, in "The Age", ponders "At every writers' festival, in every session, you can depend on the work-habits question. Someone always wants to know the author's routine. There must be a secret -- what is it? Hitting the desk at four in the morning? Or keeping ordinary office hours? Writing 2000 words a day, no matter what? A room facing north? Regular tai chi exercise breaks? A state-of-the-art laptop? A Mont Blanc fountain pen and special ink imported from Romania? A school exercise book and a Garfield mug of sharpened 2B pencils?"

And, speaking of festivals, it appears that the Brisbane Writers Festival, has achieved a "triumph of books over star authors".

Letter from C.J. Dennis to The Argus



Sir,-Will you favour me with space in your columns to bring under notice of the public the injustice Australian authors suffer by reason of the manufacturing clause in the United States Copyright Act. In the hope that Mr. Hughes will find time to look into the matter before leaving London. I have cabled the following to him, and quote it because it puts our case in a nutshell:- "William Morris Hughes. Australia House, London. United States authors secure Australian copyright by merely selling a copy of American edition in London. To obtain United States copyright Australian authors must set up, print, and bind in United States. Pray inform Imperial authorities your intention to introduce bill reciprocating United States manufacturing clause. No other course likely bring about settlement in our lifetime."

Foreign authors were unable to secure copyright in the United States until 1891, and were glad, to accept any sort of protection, however inequitable, against the American "pirate" publisher. At that time the United States had few authors worth the attention of the British "pirate" publisher but, it is very different now, as a glance round our bookshops will show. American books are everywhere. Indeed, in 1891 the value of American literary property bore very much the same relation to the British that Australian literary property now does to the American.

The United States will never voluntarily remove this injustice, and negotiation would not bring about a settlement in the lifetime of any living Australian author. But if the Commonwealth Parliament passed an act restricting United States authors' copyright here in the way United States restricts us there, a satisfactory settlement would probably be arrived at within twelve months. At any rate, until Congress gave redress we should have the satisfaction, of knowing that what's sauce for the Australian goose is sauce for the American gander.-Yours, &c.

Toolangi, June 19.


First published in The Argus, 21 June 1919.
[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]
William "Billy" Hughes was Prime Minister of Australia from 1915-23.

Exposing Untruths

After exposing the fraud of Norma Khouri's memoir Forbidden Love back in 2004, Malcolm Knox now looks at another memoir of suffering, Cola's Story by Cola Bilkuei.

After the Khouri affair, publishers promised to investigate their authors' backgrounds. But a publisher's task in checking on its author is very different from that of the journalist in uncovering a fraud. The publisher has little incentive to unveil a lie. The publisher is unwilling to commit scarce finances to a job that may confirm the author was trustworthy after all, leaving the publisher with a credible book that has sucked in too many resources to make a profit.

With Cola, I was asked to do the checking. It was, of course, impossible to verify exact dates from deep inside his African childhood. Most of his family, including his mother, two brothers and two sisters, died from war and disease. All he has left is his father and Monyleck, who live in Sudan and speak no English. Short of going to Sudan, there were limits on how much I could verify there. If Cola was a liar in the Norma Khouri class, he could line me up to speak to Sudanese impostors who would cover for him.

Kathy Lette Profile

Kathy Lette, author of Puberty Blues, Mad Cows, How to Kill Your Husband and the upcoming To Love, Honour and Betray (Till Divorce Do Us Part), is interviewed in "The Sydney Morning Herald" by Lucy Cavendish.

But while thousands of women love Lette's books and the endless punning (she is the mistress of "tongue-fu", as she calls it), she has her critics.

Years ago she got mauled by the broadcaster Melvyn Bragg on the Radio 4 program Start The Week. One theory often bandied around about Lette is that she is a feisty, ballsy broad who talks about sex incessantly and loudly because she has an inferiority complex and, consequently, is always trying to shock.

Lette rolls her eyes when I tell her this. "Oh, yeah," she says. "When I came over from Australia with Geoffrey it caused such a stir that everything pales in comparison. I'm used to the fact that the English upper class have a degree in condescension."

Aussiecon 4 on the Radio

In my capacity as co-chair of Aussiecon 4 - the World Science Fiction Convention we are holding here in Melbourne in 2010 - I was interviewed on the radio (774 ABC) this morning by Rhys Muldoon.

Here are a few observations in near chronological order:

1. ABC radio rings and I'm in the bedroom, with the family down the far end of the house - which is strangely quiet for a morning. I decide that I have to remember I am only talking to only one person, not an invisible audience of thousands.

2. The first voice I hear is one of the radio people who refers to the worldcon as a "sci-fi" convention, a term that is guaranteed to get my hackles up. Second decision: don't correct them, unless you can turn it into a joke. Third decision: don't try to be funny.

3. Next is the show's producer who wants to know how I should be introduced, ie what's my position. They take this "co-chair" business in their stride. Don't even question it.

4. No matter how much you convince yourself you won't do it (no, no don't even think about it) you end up saying, "Morning Rhys, how are you?" Damn, should have stopped at Rhys.

5. Don't know if I am thankful that Red Symons is on holidays or not.

6. As expected, Rhys (well, we're BFFs now aren't we?) concentrates on sf media. He
brings up "Battlestar Galactica" - the new version - which I say is one of the most political shows currently on television, and good space opera - lots of big things being blown up. Much later I mention Dr Who... Hang on, isn't this supposed to be a literary convention?

7. When's the crazy costume question going to come up?

8. Rhys asks: "What sort of organising do you have to do over the next two years?" And you think: he reckons we're dragging the chain; how much organisation do you need for 3,000 geeks? The nerves are bringing out the paranoia. So I attempt to get back to safe ground and pull the conversation back to the literary side of the convention, and the program: five days of 5 or 6 program streams, running from 9am to 6pm, with extra major events in the evenings. "There's a lot of work to be done," I point out. By this time I think I'm starting to sound rather needy.

9. He actually hasn't mentioned geeks yet. I think I have an answer for that. And I'm still waiting for the costume question.

10. He asks about what I was interested in when I was younger, and Dr Who pops into my head. Hadn't meant to, but we seem to be stuck on television. Mentioning Dr Who I say that my son (once and future BFF) started watching the new Dr Who at about the age I started watching the original. Not sure if Rhys rapidly figures out that makes me rather ancient. But he runs with it okay, and we discuss the Stephen Moffat episode "Blink", which won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation - Short Form. I mention the Hugos more in hope than expectation.

11. Of course, there's no chance to get any more information out about what the convention's all about, as even I can tell through the nerves that the end is nigh.

12. And that question arrives at last: "So are you going to be dressed up?" "No", I reply, "I think wearing a suit and tie is too much dressing up for me." "Good man," he says. And it's over.

13. In retrospect it's probably lasted about 10 minutes. Felt like two.

14. The family thinks I did well - as they would - and my son is particularly chuffed that he got mentioned on the radio. (It's rather sad that someone my age has to suck up to
his own kids for approval.)

15. I'm exhausted. 16. No mention of geeks, for which I am grateful. Some of my rehearsed lines don't get a run. Maybe next time. And I didn't get to remind Rhys that he'd appeared in the sf television series Farscape. A missed opportunity. One of many.

2008 "Australian Book Review" Poetry Prize

The "Australian Book Review" Poetry Prize, worth $4000 plus publication in the magazine, is back on. Entries close on 10th December 2008. To quote from the press release:

"The guidelines and application form are now available on the ABR website: Poets must reside in Australia or be Australian citizens living overseas. Each entry must be a single poem of no more than 100 lines. Multiple entries are permitted, and all poems will be judged anonymously. A shortlist comprising a maximum of six poems will be announced and those poems published in the March 2009 issue of ABR. The winner will be announced in the April 2009 issue."

Combined Reviews: Shatter by Michael Robotham

shatter.jpg Reviews of Shatter by Michael Robotham

[This novel won the 2008 Ned Kelly Award for Best Novel, and was shortlisted for the 2008 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award.]

Sue Turnbull in "The Age": "Shatter is Robotham's fourth psychological thriller in a series that is not quite a series, featuring as it does a cast of diverse characters who come in and out of focus. We've met O'Loughlin before in both Suspect and Lost (now reissued as The Drowning Man, probably to avoid confusion with that TV show)...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...Thematically complex, artfully tructured, beautifully written and observed, Shatter confirms Robotham's place in the front row of crime."
Damien Gay on the "Crime Down Under" weblog: "In just three books Michael Robotham has established himself as a master storyteller whose new releases are much anticipated both home and abroad. He consistently crafts impressive thrillers around intriguing scenarios...Combine the hard work gone into character development with Robotham's free-flowing writing style, evidence of a natural storyteller at work, and readers will have no trouble becoming fully involved in Shatter." Peter Millar in "The Times": "Shatter is a gripping journey into the weaknesses and strengths of the human psyche, a story of humanity and inhumanity -- and how one can become the other -- and how depravation and cruelty can be the flip side of love...It is the inevitability of the plot's development that builds the tension and will have you turning the pages compulsively, desperate to get to the end, but not daring to miss a word."

Short Notices

Susanna Yager in "The Telegraph": "Robotham's convincing portrayal of Joe, whose devotion to his work is endangering his marriage, is matched by that of the killer, whose own knowledge of psychology is being used for horrific revenge...It's a clever novel by a very talented storyteller."
Boomerang Books: from a "fairly standard opening, Michael Robotham constructs a psychological thriller of surprising depth and at times almost unbearable tension. This reviewer was forced to cover the lower portion of some pages with a hand, to keep from jumping ahead."
"It's a Crime" weblog: "For me, Michael Robotham's thrillers remain essential reading that demand some booking of 'time out' from normal life. And so it came to pass that his latest, his fourth novel in this series, Shatter did exactly that. I could have read this in one sitting, but one or two or more sittings had to suffice - due to some essential house moving - it all had to be done, including the reading of this novel."
"Mysteries in Paradise" weblog: "I have already listed Michael Robotham as one of my favourite authors and this book I think is probably his best."
"Memorable TV": "With a genuine air of creeping menace, Shatter is fast paced, sometimes scary and with an overall melancholic vibe that puts it a notch above similar fare."
"Chris High" weblog: "Michael Robotham's third outing for his Clinical Psychologist, Joe O'Loughlin, Shatter, is without doubt and from first to last, a book to cherish...Fast paced and rich descriptions make the reader feel as though they are in the same room as the characters which, to be fair, is both good and bad. Good that it is so real. Bad if you want to get to sleep without checking the wardrobe and locks just one last time."
"Reviewing the Evidence": "Shatter showcases some top-notch storytelling. It's always polished, assured and absolutely gripping."


Robotham's website has a lot more material about the book, as well as the first chapter of the novel available for download.
You can read a transcript of a discussion between Michael Robotham, Peter Temple and Jason Steger from the 2008 Crime and Justice Festival.


As we used to say when playing marbles back when we were kids: "Slips!" (Means I made a mistake but I can take it back 'cos I said "slips" before you noticed; or some such explanation.) Seems I logged onto the old weblog this morning, updated a few entries only to find they had been posted by "larrikin" instead of this guy. Must fix that.

Kate Grenville Interview

Kate Grenville was interviewed by Kerry O'Brien on ABC1 last night, and the video of that interview is available on the programs's website. Be aware, though, that it may not remain there for very long.

Melbourne Writers' Festival 3

As a final report on the Melbourne Writers' Festival, we have Mark Sarvas, author of Harry, Revised, and litblogger on "The Elegant Variation". Mark was here promoting his book at the festival and has summed up the whole event quite succinctly: "Wonderful festival, great facilities and enthusiastic audiences." It's always interesting to read the views of those participating in a literary festival, along with those attending. Some good photos as well.

Australian Bookcovers #130 - Woman of the Inner Sea by Tom Keneally


Woman of the Inner Sea by Thomas Keneally, 1993
(Coronet 1993 edition)

2008 "The Australian"/Vogel Literary Award

The winner of the 2008 "The Australian"/Vogel Literary Award has been announced as Andrew Croome, for his novel Document Z. The award is presented to the best unpublished manuscript from an Australian writer under 35.

The shortlisted works were:
Jeremy Chambers, The Vintage and the Gleaning
Andrew Croome, Document Z
Demet Divaroren, Orayt?
Rachel Hennessy, The Heaven I Swallowed
T.R.Magarey, Credible Deterrent: A Folly in Parts
Threasa Meads, Nobody

You can read further details about these works here.

Author Name Change

Some time back on this weblog I attempted to explain the reason why I persisted with a pseudonym. Basically, the argument ran, I started this weblog and didn't know where it would take me, nor what sort of response I would get; a pseudonym seemed like a minimum form of protection and, I figured, it would be pretty easy to find out who I was for
real - my name was up there on the "About Me" page. But the argument was a pretty thin one and I always thought I might get around to scrapping the mask and stepping out firmly into the light. I just never got round to it. Then, earlier today, I read a note on a weblog that implied that people using pseudonyms on weblogs have "something to hide". And that got me to thinking about the whole thing again. So, this is the first post under a new name. Meet the new blogger; same as the old blogger.

Kate Grenville Profile

With her new novel, The Lieutenant, about to be published, Kate Grenville is interviewed in "The Courier-Mail" by Matthew Condon.

Despite her enviable backlist, including Lilian's Story, Dark Places, Joan Makes History and The Idea of Perfection (winner of the Orange Prize), the novel about convict William Thornhill and his family scratching out a new life in the earliest days of white Australia carried her into a new literary stratosphere.

However, it also altered her view of herself and her work.

"The more important transformation was the inner journey that I went through which gave me a sense that I belong here in Australia," she says by phone from her home in Canberra.

"That my obligation, as well as my desire, was to understand more, to find out more, to open myself up to its past.

"I think before, like many Australians, and at some deep level, I was looking overseas, thinking of myself as some sort of European.

"I really don't any more."

The Lieutenant is Grenville's second window into the origins of NSW settlement, and is as positive and touching as The Secret River is sad and brutal. Grenville said the two books formed a mirror image, are "kind of yin and yang".

2008 Dylan Thomas Prize for Young Writers

The authors shortlisted for the 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize for Young Writers have been announced. The list includes:
Caroline Bird (UK)
Ceridwen Dovey (South Africa)
Edward Hogan (UK)
Nam Le (Vietnam/Australia)
Dinaw Mengestu (Ethiopia)
Ross Raisin (UK)

The winner of the award will be announced in November 2008.

Poem: The Feast of Life by Louis Esson

      "The Pride of Life has ceased;
      Life is no more a Feast,
A banquet that the Pagan gods provide."
      So in a chamber bare,
      Upon an attic stair,
The Poet penned his lurid ode with pride.

      "Vixi." He dipped his pen
      In purple ink, and then
Wrote: "Semiramis I have looked upon,
      Seen wall o'er high wall rise
      Until the threatened skies,
And hanging gardens ranged round Babylon.

      "At Athens, Carthage, Tyre,
      I gratified desire;
In beaked Phoenician ships I made my way.
      In Egypt, by old Nile,
      I learned the Sphinx's guile,
And I have flung the dice in Nineveh.

      "The world grows drab and grey,
      But I have had my day.
The Golden House of Nero was my home.
      Once, when the Eagles soared
      And Caesar's legions roared,
I wore the purple of Imperial Rome.

      "Of Joy appointed Priest
      I spread the gorgeous Feast
Of peacocks' brains and tongues of nightingales.
      Flower crowned, drank Coan wine
      In festivals divine
At thought of which the stoutest stomach quails,

      "On silken couch reclined
      Like gods we lay and dined,
Refreshed with Dacian combat, Grecian song;
      On ladders dwarfs tossed balls,
      Birds sang round frescoed walls,
And Syrian damsels swayed to flute and gong.

      "What cared I that the flood
      Of Time was choked with blood
When Martial mocked, and Ovid tales did spin?
      Their verses crooned that bliss is
      But roses, wine and kisses,
What though the Stoic Schools which deem it sin!

      "The List of Life is done.
      We turn beneath the Sun
Bound to the iron wheel of Circumstance.
      But poets yet shall rise
      To offer sacrifice
Within the smoking temples of Romance.

      "Drag to the dust cold Truth
      That, pledged to recless Youth.
Of Pleasure I be King; of Sun, High Priest.
      Yea, I would rule once more
      A Roman Emporer,
Though all the world were butchered for one Feast."

      The youth disbursed his rent,
      Then brushed his hair, and went
To find a place where food was not too dear.
      A waitress came; and shy
      He stammered, said he'd try
A bath bun, and a glass of ginger beer.

First published in The Bulletin, 9 July 1908

Reprint: Readers and Writers by Nettie Palmer

It seems to have escaped the notice of publishers that in the last two years a new reading public has been created, surely a public with very definite tastes. The antebellum critics used to complain that nearly all novels were written for women. Women alone had time to read fiction extensively, therefore they set the standards and forced the writer to adopt their point of view.

Novelists like Mr. Arnold Bennett and Mr. Wells, even if they did not write entirely about women, wrote of women's interests, and when men of such literary distinction adjusted the scope of their work to the public demand, what could be expected of the regular caterers for the circulating libraries.

It is an undoubted fact that the most popular writers in recent years have been women, and that those whose outlook was masculine and who concerned themselves with the problems of a man's world have found it hard to get a hearing. Mr. Joseph Conrad is probably the most distinguished writer of English fiction to-day; yet, though he is possessed of an attractive style and personality, it is only lately that he has gained any general recognition. Indeed, it was only the publication of "Chance," a book that sparkled with epigrams upon women, that secured him his very mild popularity. Hitherto he had written of the terror and beauty of the sea, of matters of courage and physical endurance, of problems of masculine honour - and apparently the ordinary reader was not interested inthese things.

But a new reading public has been created, an entirely masculine, one. The men in camp and in the trenches form a public quite different from that of the circulating libraries, and we know that their appetite for books is very hearty. Men read now who had little time for reading in their lives before, and gift books are extensively bought for them, especially for Christmas mails. Yet it seems probable that the literary taste of those soldiers in the trenches is quite different from that of their mothers and sisters, and that the writer for men is sure of an audience at last.

One would have thought that some publisher with enterprise and imagination would have taken advantage of the new conditions, but on looking through the Christmas catalogues one does not find any great change. An estalished writer still turns out an annual novel, and there are innumerable books for boys and girls. As far as Australian work is concerned, the dearth of books for men is particularly striking, and surely disappointing, both to our soldiers in the field and to those who send them books. Even publishers, however, may be said to have their lucid intervals, one of which occurred when it was decided to publish, and in every way to spread, the work of Mr. C. J. Dennis. His success of last year has been followed by another, and nobody could call the second book a mere echo of the first. "The Moods of Ginger Mick" might well have been a writer's first - work, for it reads with all the bloom still on it; full of gusto and enthusiasm for its subject. It is obviously, however, the work of a writer who does not rush into book covers, but who throws away probably more work than he completes. In this way Mr. Ezra Pound's literary debut was made 10 years ago. His book of poems in free rhythm was prefaced by an announcement that he had written and burnt three hundred sonnets. One would like to guess that Mr. Dennis had made quite a gallery of studies of Ginger Mick before giving us his portrait.

For it is a portrait we are shown, not a fancy sketch. On the other hand, the figure of Trent may be called a fancy sketch, and one fancies Mr. Dennis would not have presented it without a subconscious realisation of a public other than the one that first gave him his reputation. Ginger Mick from Eastern Market was real to Mr. Dennis, at least in some of his moods. Take the poem "War," the finest in the book, surely a masterly study in hesitation, worked out in the most happy Dennis verse, the cold, straight iambics that he rhymes so unobtrusively and well. Ginger Mick has heard of the war, and is very much annoyed by it; that is the situation. He is annoyed because the idea of the war interferes with his satisfaction in his trade and daily life. He is haunted by the war, asks his friend to give him "the strength of it," and is still more annoyed the more he understands about it. It is like watching a bird fascinated by a snake, but Ginger Mick is a bird who retains most of his will-power, and the poem ends as it began with a repudiation of the war so far as it concerns Ginger Mick, who still shouts, "Rabbee! Wile Rabbee!" The point, which was, of course, implicit in this poem, is that the next begins by informing you that Ginger Mick actually has "mizzled to the war." Mr. Dennis is at his best in such circum stances as these, where his theme is a kind of irony with glimpses of beauly half showing through. The beauty in "War" is implicit and pervasive, far more telling than the decoration flung by handfuls into "A Letter to the Front," about "ole sweet melerdies" and "bird-tork in the gums."

The same kind of power is shown in that ghoulish, ingenious piece, "Rabbits," which is unfortunately marred by a last verse that could only have been meant for the gallery. Ginger Mick is in the trenches on Gallipoli, and feels horribly like a rabbit in a warren. In view of his past life as a rabbit-hawker it is as if he had gone to the next world and suffered retribution in one of the Lower Circles. He thought he had left rabbits behind in Australia, and now it seems to him

"A narsty trick
To shove 'im like a bunny down a 'ole."
In this light way, with an imagination all the more powerful for being fantastic, we are made to feel trench warfare at its dullest and weariest. It is in the restrained humour of a piece like this that Mr. Dennis's creative faculties find their fullest scope.

He is not so happy in the poems that rely less on restraint and irony than on lyrical force. A lyric, after all, is essentially short, a "swallow-flight of song," and a long poem in a lyrical measure will not, all things being equal, succeed so well as a long poem in a quiet metre. This is a generalisation, and has exceptions; but on the statistics kept by the Muse of Poetry it is shown to be ultimately true. Mr. Dennis's poems are, of course, all long, as poems go, for each one contains a good deal of story and drama, affecting more than one person or one mood. There is a promised unity of mood, certainly, in Ginger Mick's rhapsody about being made "Lance Corperil," comparable for its ecstasy with Christina Rossetti's "My heart is like a singing-bird."

Ginger Mick, however, cannot stop with saving how happy he feels, for he must give you a series of camp pictures, all very good of their kind, but not fit to be packed into a passionate lyric. Further, when he has told you how happy he feels he breaks off to tell you how sad he feels too, and the poem is plainly meditative, contemplative, except for its misleading, dancing metre. This is to say that Mr. Dennis sometimes tries to do too much, to blow from all quarters at once, like the four winds in Virgil. Like all artists he is at his best when he knows his limitations and uses them.

Mr. Will Ogilvie's new book, "The Australian and Other Verses," is less important, for though his technical skill is consider able, most of the freshness has gone out, of his work. It was the spontaneity of his early verses that gave them their undeniable charm. He came to the bush with the fresh eyes of a romantic young Scotchman, and, finding a life that pleased him, he wrote about it with the verve and gaiety of a man who was a dashing horseman as well as a poet. But literature depends on something more than high spirits and a capacity for rhyme. Mr. Ogilvie's emotions and style are alike too facile, and it is to be feared that he has already given us his finest-work. His talent was not quite rich enough to meet all the demands his early popularity made upon it, and even the best of these later verses are merely the shadow of past accomplishments.

First published in The Argus, 11 November 1916
{Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]
The full text of Dennis's The Moods of Ginger Mick is available here.

Combined Reviews: The Zookeeper's War by Steven Conte

zookeepers_war.jpg Reviews of The Zookeeper's War by Steven Conte
Fourth Estate

[This novel won the 2008 Prime Minister's Literary Award for Fiction, and was shortlisted for the 2008 Commonwealth Writer's Prize Year: Best First Novel - South East Asia & South Pacific region.]

John Bailey in "The Age": "It's a ripper premise -- British bombs laying waste to wartime Berlin, as the husband and wife in charge of the city's zoo fight to save their animal charges from decimation and starvation. This is the landscape of Australian Steven Conte's debut novel and it's one littered with literary craters. Luckily, it's built on foundations strong enough to survive its weaknesses...Conte's prose style is unhurried and unforced, rarely indulging in acrobatic feats and only occasionally hinting at the journeyman status sometimes evident in first novels."
Stella Clarke in "The Australian": "Conte has hit on the unusual, intriguing effect created by setting war fiction among caged beasts. This imbues it with an awful urgency, and a poignant, unexpected perspective. Wastelands strewn with the corpses of big cats, alien aquatic creatures blasted out of their fragile prisons, animals left above ground to take the full force of bombing raids while their owners drop into burrows of safety: all this tilts the story away from the usual anthropocentric narrative focus...Beyond its tangential setting in a menagerie, the appeal and success of this novel probably hinges on Conte's vigorous evocation of wartime Berlin. His emotional explorations are often superficial and erratic, but his hammer and nail construction of Berlin in 1944 and his plausible evocation of his characters' predicaments are lively."
Karen Lamb in "The Australian Literary Review", as part of a review of 4 first novels: "If Anatomy of Wings [by Karen Foxlee] suggests how lying of a certain kind can lead to death, then Steven Conte's The Zookeeper's War reminds us that history demonstrates that telling the truth can be even more treacherous. The novel is set in wartime Berlin, a time not kind to secrets or truth, when the Gestapo decided whether you were a lie or a life...Interestingly, the simple expositon of ruthlessness in a novel set in this period does not necessarily offer much to readers. In Conte's story, the intrigue lies at the human level of choices made and the exercise of individual will. The people who fascinate us are those who didn't, or wouldn't tell on others...While this provides an effective metaphorical framework for the inhumanity in the world of humans, the strength of The Zookeeper's War is Conte's meticulous and nuanced observation of character and conduct."

Further details about the novel can be found at the author's website.

Open All Night

"The Guardian" newspaper has compiled a set of "digested reads" for all 6 books on this year's Man Booker shortlist. A good way to appear as if you've read them when, clearly, you don't have the time.

Ampersand Duck got along to the ceremony for the Prime Minister's Literary Award; shook Kev's hand, and spoke to our Pete. Not a bad night overall.

Author, critic and academic, Kerryn Goldsworthy, has decided to put her "Pavlov's Cat" out to pasture and start a new venture titled "Still Life With Cat". Apparently it was easier than revamping the old one. Seems I was the first Bloglines subscriber for this new weblog. Just thought you might like to know that.

And straight after writing that last paragraph I came across the following note attached to a Wikipedia edit: "you never have a comma after first word in a sentence. You're WRITING - not speaking." News to me.

The Victorian Premier's Literary Awards has a category for poetry named after C.J. Dennis, and back in Auburn, South Australia, where the poet was born, the C.J. Dennis Literary awards are presented to schoolchildren in both and short story categories.

The Kan Family visited Winton in Queensland, where "Waltzing Matilda" was written. A very quiet place by the looks.

2008 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards

The winners of the 2008 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards have been announced.

The winners are:

Science Writer Award
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
"In My Shoes", Quentin McDermott and Steve Taylor (Four Corners, The ABC)

Film Script - Pacific Film & Television Commission Award
"Prime Mover", David Caesar (Porchlight Films)

Drama Script (Stage) Award
"When the Rain Stops Falling", Andrew Bovell (Scott Theatre)

Television Script - QUT Creative Industries Award
"Underbelly: Episode 7 - Wise Monkeys", Felicity Packard (Screentime)

History Book - Faculty of Arts, University of Queensland Award
Drawing the Global Colour Line Professor Marilyn Lake and Professor Henry Reynolds (Melbourne University Publishing)

Non Fiction Book Award
Muck, Craig Sherborne (Black Inc)

Fiction Book Award
The Spare Room, Helen Garner (Text Publishing)

Poetry Collection - Arts Queensland Judith Wright Calanthe Award
Typewriter Music, David Malouf (University of Queensland Press)

Australian Short Story - Arts Queensland Steele Rudd Award
Someone Else, John Hughes (Giramondo Publishing)

Emerging Queensland Author - Manuscript Award
Omega Park, Amy Vought Barker

Unpublished Indigenous Writer - The David Unaipon Award
Every Secret Thing, Marie Munkara

Children's Book - Mary Ryan's Award
The Peasant Prince, Li Cunxin and Anne Spudvilas (Penguin Group Australia)

Young Adult Book Award
Requiem for a Beast, Matt Ottley (Lothian Children's Books an imprint of Hachette Livre Australia)

You can read the full shortlists for the awards here.

Reviews of Australian Books #94

"The Age"

Felicity Plunkett on Life in Seven Mistakes by Susan Johnson: "Johnson uses a plaited structure for her novel, cutting the line of the present's chronological forward-movement with segments of the past that have built this present. Each blast of heat from the past brings about some melting, so that things within the family begin to shift. This structure elegantly reinforces the overarching metaphors of heat and cool."

Juliette Hughes on I Dream of Madga by Stefan Laszczuk: "If the circumstances in the story are dire, the tone and treatment are astonishingly humorous and assured. Tragi-comedy is a damn difficult thing to pull off, and Laszczuk does it with wicked style...Despite all the bizarre deaths and wrenching loss, there is nothing gloomy about this book. There is another girl, there is the
possibility of redemption, there are points of joy and ironic humour through all the darkness. One thing that Laszczuk does well is write about sex: he has a kind of honest cheerfulness about it that allows tenderness, humour and realness. It's a gift all too rare when the prizes usually have to be given for badly written sex description."

"The Courier-Mail"

Cheryl Jorgensen on Ghostlines by Nick Gadd, which won the author "the Victorian Premier's Prize for an unpublished manuscript in 2007. It is a crime novel which relies on a cleverly constructed plot, and although the main villain is a psychopath, leaving several bodies in his wake, we readers do not have to attend the site of execution or wade through the victims' viscera."

Jason Nahrung on The Daughters of Moab: "Sydney writer Kim Westwood makes a grand debut with this post-apocalyptic vision of Australia...The prose is beautiful, possibly too beautiful, with a denseness of description that at times serves to be obfuscatory rather than descriptive or informative. It adds a surreal quality, enhanced by use of present tense, that reduces the tension and pace of the journey.

"The "AntipodeanSF" website on Incandescence by Greg Egan: "The title says it all. Greg Egan is the eponymous incandescent Aussie hard SF author, and his latest novel, Incandescence, is a tour-de-force of scientific extrapolation that delivers us into the far future and introduces us to concepts and ideas that uphold the tenet that complexity is ultimately driven by simplicity. Here is evolution on the edge, an electronic society on the edge, and astrophysics on the edge."

Dean, "The Happy Antipodean", looks at The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper: "Just prior to reading this book I finished a biography of the literary journalist Martha Gellhorn. The contrast between the 'old school' of Gellhorn - who did a lot of coverage of WWII - and Hooper's equitable method is tonic...Gellhorn never didn't take sides. Hooper refuses to, and her book -- which in her cover blurb Helen Garner says is 'enthralling' and 'studded with superbly observed detail' -- is all the richer for it."

Short Notices

Eva's "Book Addiction" weblog: "I've finally finished the lusciously thick and richly illustrated second volume of the 'Monster Blood Tattoo' trilogy, and I'm horrified that there is only one more to go...Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish (Putnam, 2008) is, like its predecessor Foundling (Putnam, 2007), a dark and dense pleasure indeed."

The "Hall of the Mountain King" weblog on Sabriel by Garth Nix: "The book features a darker tone that reminds me a bit of Michael Moorcock's Elric tales, yet the action is fast and lively and less brooding than those books."

"DoveGreyReader Scribbles" about Feather Man: "Rhyll McMaster has created a memorable character in Sookie but also somehow maintained an emotional distance which feels like reader safety. First person narrative defines thought processes with pinpoint accuracy, not only Sookie as a child but as teenager and young woman too."

The "Tuesday in Silhouette" weblog on The Memory Room by Christopher Koch: " I floated through it with a reasonable amount of enthusiasm, and once or twice I even became immersed it in. It does, however, lack credibility/consistency at many levels."

Clive James Watch #9

Cultural Amnesia

In "The New York Sun", Allen Barra brings the book by James into his musings on Tony Curtis: "Many a highbrow raised a brow high last year when the critic Clive James, in his book Cultural Amnesia, included just three movie actors among his selections of the most significant cultural figures of the century. They were Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, and ... Tony Curtis...That's right. Not Brando or Olivier or even John Wayne, but the Jewish kid from the Bronx, Bernie Schwartz -- the guy who wore a dress in his most popular movie and whose most famous line in a film can't be recited without inciting snickers: 'Yonder lies the castle of my fad-dah.'"

In Edinburgh

Alan Chadwick has a chat with James before "Clive James in Conversation" and "Clive James in The Evening" featured at the Edinburgh Festival.
The "Broadway Baby" website did a review "...In Conversation": "..if you want to spend an hour drawn into a space where you feel that you would like to pull up a chair, sit down with a cuppa and join in with a pair of erudite and intelligent speakers and laugh along with them, you cannot go wrong here."

Essay by James

In "Poetry" magazine, James writes about poems that sparkle: "Any poem that does not just slide past us like all those thousands of others usually has an ignition point for our attention." Touching on Gerald Manley Hopkins, Shakespeare, Amy Clampitt, Larkin, and Auden along the way.

Review by James

James reviews Artists in Exile by Joseph Horowitz for "The Times": "Imagine Balanchine watching a bunch of cheerleaders and you've got this book in a flash. Vignettes are its basic strength, as was bound to be true. The subject of the twentieth-century European artists in exile is too big for one book...Joseph Horowitz gets the story into a single volume, Artists in Exile, by concentrating on a single destination, America, and even then he trims the field. His subtitle 'How refugees from twentieth-century war and revolution transformed the American performing arts' leaves out the writers, painters, photographers and architects, which means we aren't going to hear much about any of the Mann clan, and nothing at all about Mondrian, Ernst, Léger, Moholy-Nagy, Mies, Gropius, Andreas Feininger, Lyonel Feininger ... but let's stop."

In Sydney

James has been in Sydney, of late, hosting the Sydney Symphony's "Movie Music: Crime Time", featuring the scores of many of Hollywood's greatest composers. Helen Barry reviewed the show for "Australian Stage". As did the "allrite rite" weblog, who thought that James "wasn't in good form tonight, stumbling over his words at times and appearing quite tired. He only truly came alive for political quips." And while he is in Sydney, James will be Guest Editor of "Time Out (Sydney)". The magazine runs a small editorial from the author along with a reading list of recent James material.


You might recall that James used to write the lyrics for Pete Atkin songs. If you stumble across "Midnight Voices" - the Pete Atkin web forum - you'll find that Rob Spence recently delivered a paper on James's lyrics to an academic conference in Denmark. Seems to have gone down rather well.

Australian Bookcovers #129 - The Survivor by Tom Keneally


The Survivor by Thomas Keneally, 1969
(Fontana 1979 edition)

Digitised Newspapers at the National Library of Australia

David, at the "Sarsaparilla" weblog, has alerted me to the Australian National Library's newspaper digitisation project. According to the website:

The National Library of Australia, in collaboration the Australian State and Territory libraries, has commenced a program to digitise out of copyright newspapers. We are creating a free online service that will enable full-text searching of newspaper articles. This will include newspapers published in each state and territory from the 1800s to the mid-1950s, when copyright applies. The first Australian newspaper, published in Sydney in 1803, is included in the Program.
As someone who looks at a lot of very old newspapers I can only applaud this initiative, as it will certainly make my personal projects a lot easier in the future. At present, only a very small number of newspaper issues have been digitised but that number will continue to grow. So far it looks like the project has picked one or two newspapers in each Australian state, and chosen only a few contiguous years.

Part of the difficulty here concerns the availability of the material and whether or not it is out of copyright. The paper chosen from Victoria is "The Argus" and thus far the project has digitised each edition from 1915-1925 and from 1945. Given that this paper published 6 editions a week - with the possible exceptions being Good Friday, ANZAC Day and Christmas Day - there are approximately 310 editions a year. The early years of the paper, which was printed in broadsheet format, contained 8 pages per weekday and 16 pages on a Saturday. Not a lot by today's standards, but you have to see the material to understand how much text they were able to squeeze into those pages: advertisements were nearly all of the "classified/textual" variety and pictures were almost non-existent.

Most of the originals of these old papers in libraries are bound into large ledger style volumes, so scanning in the central gutter - the part of the paper that is closest to the spine of the books - is fairly difficult without breaking open the books and laying the pages flat. Some modern photocopiers scan an opened volume by tilting the books during the process to get full access to the pages. But this presupposes that the central gutter is wide enough to allow for this. Modern books are formatted with the fore-knowledge that the pages would be bound between covers; newspapers had no such knowledge and the gutter margin, in many cases, is very narrow. By the look of the "Argus" pages here I suspect they have utilised microfilm copies of the papers rather than the original sheets.

There is both good and bad in that approach. Good because you can actually get the scanner to see all of the page, and bad if the only film you have available is one that has seen a lot of use. Microfilm readers are notorious for scatching the film, which, when copied using any form of photograph or photocopying process, leaves long black streak marks across the final image. This is merely a nuisance when it comes to reading that image, but a hindrance when the digitised image is optically scanned and run though a character recognition process as it is here. For that is the final aim of this whole project: not only to make photo images of the newspaper pages available to the world at large, but also to convert the embedded text into editable files. This is a wonderful idea of course, because it makes available the full text of this material, not just a graphic image.

I've transcribed a number of pieces from old newspapers and magazines over the years. Most of it poetry but, more recently, a number of prose pieces that I've posted here. This has involved a complete re-typing of the material because I found out, fairly early, that basic Optical Character Recognition (OCR) run through a basic scanner was - well - pretty crap. I seemed to spend longer fixing the material than I would have if I typed it out straight from the start. The NLA's OCR results tend to be of a different breed all together. And of interest is the fact that you can register as an editor on the NLA website and actually correct the scanned result of the text yourself. For example, on Tuesday 21st November 1916, "The Argus" printed the following:

Mr. C..J. Dennis, author of "Tile Senti- mental Bloke" and "The Moods of Ginger Mick," has resigned from the position of secretary to Senator Russell, .Assistant Minister in the Federal Cabinet. ' He in- tends to retire to the country for 1 time to give his undivided attention to the produc- tion of another book.
Or so the scanned version showed. This was pretty easy to convert to a corrected version:
Mr. C.J. Dennis, author of "The Senti- mental Bloke" and "The Moods of Ginger Mick," has resigned from the position of secretary to Senator Russell, Assistant Minister in the Federal Cabinet. He in- tends to retire to the country for a time to give his undivided attention to the production of another book.
You could almost do that without the original text being handy.

And then sometimes you get something like this:

Sir Herbert Wallen, professor of poetry at Oxfoul, read an inlet c-ting papct on "Oversea« Poetrv" nt the Jtovnl Colonial Institute on Wcdnesdiy He said that Aus- tralian poetr} was still I irgely "open jur," anti consisted of poems ot men, action, nnd movement Sir Hcibcit Warien pud n tribute to the woik ot ]'--cx Hvuns, Arthur Adams, anil John Sandes amongst Hie younger generation Ile jaitl that Ml jCvuns's "Commonwcilth Ode" was a "laureate piece" worthv to live Although he lind been startled bv the slang used by U J. Dennis, his woik was leal pootiy.
Which has a sort of poetry all of its own.

A friend told me recently that New Zealand is way ahead of Australia in terms of digitising its newspapers, so its good to see us starting to catch up. I'll be using this site as a major resource over the coming years, and you'll start to see some of the results of that here quite soon.

2008 Prime Minister's Literary Awards

The winners of the 2008 Prime Minister's Literary Awards were announced in Canberra on Friday night.

The winners were:
The Zookeeper's War by Stephen Conte

Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers by Philip Jones

The full list of the shortlisted works are available here.

Poem: The Poet by Kokak (Ernest O'Ferrall)

Continuing, Mr Lasker argued that bursaries should be tenable at the University in courses other than the arts and part of the science course. What was the use of such a literary degree to a poor man? He might get a position as a tutor. Mr Hogue: He might develop into a poet. - Daily paper.

To be a poet is to bring
A furrowed brow, a piece of string,
And pen and ink and paper white Into a lonely room at night,
And, while the wingéd hours do fly,
To write a rhyme a crown will buy.
Whereas, when first ye sat ye down,
Ye dreamed the rhyme would buy a crown.

To be a poet is to owe,
And here and there in stealth to go;
To fly on swift impassioned feet
From wrathful traders in the street;
For odes and lyrics, tho' they be
Exquisite, are not currency.
No butcher will an MS. take
As fair exchange for good rump steak.

To be a poet is to graze
Old Pegagsus for many days
Upon the dismal fields of hash,
And afterwards to flog and lash
The ancient steed, who loudly squeals,
And spurns the paper with his heels,
Till he arrives, foam-splashed and spent,
Where the ode ends that pays the rent.

To be a poet, I'm afraid,
Is but a sorry sort of trade.
The poet never can compete
With grocers who sell things to eat;
And golden dreams, and visions bright,
Will never stay an appetite.
Likewise the yearnings of the soul
Don't equal one small sausage-roll.

Ah! often from my attic high
I've watched banana-men go by.
And thought how vain 'twould be to shove
A truck piled high with odes to Love,
And lyrics sweet, and sonnets too,
About the suburbs, as they do
The yellow fruit we know so well,
Which seems so readily to sell.

He is a wretched fool indeed
Who yearns the intellect to feed.
A poet cannot sink his teeth Into the freshest laurel-wreath.
Oft, when from lodgings I've been sent,
I've thought "There's little nourishment
In writing verse. At any price,
A poem is but food for mice."

First published in The Bulletin, 19 March 1908

How I Began to Write by Rolf Boldrewood (Part 2)

The last station having been sold, there was no chance of repairing hard fortune by pastoral investment. "Finis poloniae." During my temporary sojourn in Sydney, I fell across a friend, to whom, in my palmy days, I had rendered a service. He suggested that I might return to profitable use of facile pen, and some gift of observation. My friend, who had filled various parts in the drama of life, some of them not undistinguished, was now a professional journalist. He offered to introduce me to his chief (the late Mr. Samuel Bennett), proprietor of the "Town and Country Journal," and did so. That gentleman, whom I shall always remember gratefully for his kind and sensible advice, gave me a commission for certain sketches of bush life, a series of which appeared from time to time. Shortly afterwards, I wrote my first tale, "The Fencing of Wanderoona," succeeding which, the "Squatter's Dream" and others, since published in England, appeared in the weekly paper referred to. Thus launched upon the "wide, the fresh, the ever free" ocean of fiction, I continued to make voyages and excursions theron, mostly profitable, as it turned out. Varied colonial experience, the area of which became enlarged when I was appointed a police magistrate and goldfields commissioner in 1871, supplied types and incidents. This position I filled for nearly twenty-five years.

Although I had, particularly in the early days of my goldfields duties, a sufficiency of hard and anxious work, entailing serious responsibility, I never relinquished the habit of daily writing and story weaving. Nor did I, on that account, neglect my duties, I can fearlessly aver. The constant journeying, riding and driving over a wide district, agreed with my open air habitudes. The method of composition which I employed, though regular, was not fatiguing, and suited a somewhat desultory turn of mind. I arranged for a tale, by sending the first two or three chapters to the editor, and mentioning that it would last a twelvemonth, more or less. Then the matter was settled. I had but to post the weekly packet, and my mind was at ease. I was rarely more than one or two chapters ahead of the printer; yet, in twenty years, I was only once late with my instalment, which had to go by sea, from another colony. Every author has his own way of writing, and this was mine. I never but once completed a story before it was published. And on that occasion it was -- sad to say -- declined by the editor. Not in New South Wales, however, and as it has since appeared in England, it did not greatly signify.

In this fashion, "Robbery Under Arms" was written for the "Sydney Mail," after having been refused by other editors. It has been successful; and, though I say it, there are few countries where the English language is spoken, in which it has not been read. I was always satisfied with the honorarium which my stories yielded. It made a distinct addition to my income, all of which, as a pater-familias, was needed. I looked forward, however, to making a hit some day, and with the publication of "Robbery Under Arms" in England, that day arrived. Other books followed, which have had a gratifying measure of acceptance by the English-speaking public of home and abroad.

As a prophet, I have not been "without honor in my own country." My Australian countrymen have supported me nobly, which I take as an especial compliment, and an expression of confidence, to the effect that, as to Australian matters, I knew what I was writing about.

In all my relations with editors, I am free to confess that I have always been treated honorably. I have had few discouragements to complain of, or disappointments, though not without occasional rubs and remonstrances from reviewers for carelessness, to which to a certain extent, I plead guilty. In extenuation, I may state that I have "hardly ever" had the opportunity of correcting my proofs. As to the attainment of literary success, as to which I often receive inquiries, as also how to secure a publisher, I have always given one answer. Try the Australian weekly papers, if you have any gift of expression, until one of them takes you up. After that the path is more easy. Then perserverance and practice will ordinarily discover the path which leads to success.

A natural turn for writing is necessary, perhaps indispensible. Practice does much, but the novelist, like the poet, is chiefly "born, not made." Even in the case of hunters and steeplechasers, the expression "a natural jumper" is common among travellers. A habit of noting, almost unconsciously, manner, bearing, dialect, tricks of expression, among all sorts and conditions of men, provides "situations." Experience, too, of varied scenes and societies is a great aid. Imagination does much to enlarge and embellish the lay figure, to deepen the shades, and heighten the colors of the picture; but it will not do everything. There should be experience of that most ancient conflict between the powers of Good and evil, before the battle of life can be pictorially described. I am proud to note among my Australian brothers and sisters, of a newer generation, many promising, even brilliant performances in prose and verse. They have my sincerest sympathy, and I feel no doubt as to their gaining in the future, a large measure of acknowledged success.

As to my time method, it was tolerably regular. As early as 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning in the summer, and as soon as I could see in winter, I was at my desk, proper or provisional, until the hour arrived for both bath and breakfast. If at a private house, I wrote in my bedroom. I corrected in the afternoon, when my official duties were over. At home or on the road, as I had much travelling to do, I wrote after dinner until bed-time, making up generally five or six hours a day. Many a good evening's work have I done in one of the clean and quiet, if unpretentious roadside inns, common enough in New South Wales. In winter, with a good fire, and the inn parlor, all to myself or with a sensible companion, I could write until bed-time with ease and comfort. My day's ride or drive might be long, cold enough in winter or hot in summer, but I carried paper, pens, ink, and rarely missed the night's work. I never felt too tired to set to after a wholesome, if simple, meal. Fatigue has rarely assailed me, I am thankful to say, and in my twenty-five years of official service, I was never a day absent from duty, on account of illness, with one notable exception, when I was knocked over by fever, which necessitated sick leave. It has been my experience that in early morning the brain is clearer, the hand steadier, and the mental tone more satisfacory than at any other time of the day.

First published in The Town and Country Journal, 1 October 1898
[The first part of this essay was published last week.]
Wikipedia pages are available for: Boldrewood and Robbery Under Arms

When the Lights Go Out

Susan Johnson ponders the feelings of Australian writers abroad.

Juliet Marillier explains some of her working methods as she heads towards the deadline for her next novel. It all sounds a little scary to me.

If you ever wondered why Australian poetry wasn't much appreciated outside of Australia, then maybe this piece from "The Argus" from 10 December 1924 might just have the answer:

Lecturing before the Empire Poetry League on "Australian Poetry," Mrs W.A. Holman criticised Mr C. J. Dennis's "Sentimental Bloke." She said that although she had met many Australian types she had never met the "Sentimental Bloke." The language of the poem savoured of Whitechapel rather than of Australia. A member of the audience remarked that no Australian poem expressed a longing for the home country. Mrs Holman said that the only poem she knew expressing a home-sick feeling was one by Adam Lindsay Gordon written to his sister a year after he arrived in Australia.
The poem she refers to by Gordon may be "To My Sister". But it's hard to be sure as Gordon wrote this on 4th August 1853, three days before he sailed to Australia.

Remember last week when I said that Sean Williams's latest "Star Wars" tie-in novel was heading for #1 on "The New York Times" bestseller list? Well, Sean has a scan of the list from 7th September, and, yep, there he is on top of the pile. I'd frame it if I was him.

Susan Johnson Interview

Susan Johnson, author of Life in Seven Mistakes, is interviewed by Jane Sullivan for "The Age".

Her work has been acclaimed, shortlisted for many awards, published in Australia, the US, Europe and Britain. Yet she feels underappreciated, especially in her own country [snip] The problem, as Johnson sees it, is that she writes the kind of book (literary but also accessible) that is not recognised or rewarded by the Australian literary community.

"In the US, there's a greater community of writers like me: Anne Tyler, Ann Patchett, Geraldine Brooks, even Jonathan Franzen. But here, there isn't the critical support for my kind of writing, it's almost not taken seriously, and I'm becoming very aware of that at my age."

So she's relieved and delighted that her new novel, Life in Seven Mistakes, has had a good reception in Australia. "I'm really thrilled that this time I've had new young reviewers who seem to get it."

2008 Prime Minister's Literary Awards

It took me a while to find out that the Prime Minister's Literary Award winners will be announced on Friday 12th September - and then only because Ampersand Duck said that she had scored an invite. I'll just have to sign up for the e-newsletters in future.

Combined Reviews: A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

fraction_of_whole.jpg Reviews of A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

[This novel was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize.]

Emily Maguire in "The Age": "Packed with plots, sub-plots, sub-sub-plots, tangents, flashbacks, diversions, philosophical wanderings and spectacular set pieces, this enormous debut novel from Australian Steve Toltz is in many ways a perfect example of what British critic James Wood calls "hysterical realism". Wood's term is supposed to be a criticism, but I use it here descriptively. A Fraction of the Whole is, as Wood would say, a 'perpetual motion machine', but it's one fuelled by brilliant ideas and driven by an original, bracing and very funny voice."
Lon Bram in "The Courier-Mail": "Steve Toltz's A Fraction of the Whole begins deceptively enough with a brilliantly funny monologue in which every sentence is a quotable aphorism clothed in light-hearted observations about human behaviour. Imperceptibly, the story leads into stressful descriptions and dramatic situations analysis and philosophy are easily assimilated through the formidably sustained use of humour -- black humour painted pink; sarcasm and cynicism made risible because it rests on a masked but inexhaustible well of compassion...And all of this in a suspenseful, captivating novel in which every page challenges our notions, ranging from love triangles to crime, politics and religion."
Adam Lively in "The Times" : "The Australian Steve Toltz's exuberantly entertaining debut novel is the kind that poses a conundrum for your humble hack. Reviewing comic novels is rather like playing tennis with a soap bubble -- if the thing's any good, you feel like just saying, "Hey, this is funny -- go away and read it", which is hardly FR Leavis. And if it isn't any good, then you come on heavy and sound like a curmudgeon. For what could be more blameless than trying to make people laugh?...Fortunately, there is plenty to laugh at in A Fraction of the Whole -- and also, goodness knows, there is plenty of plot, since the book has the dimensions of a family Bible (if this a fraction -- my God, what is the whole?) and the narrative pace of a puppy with attention-deficit disorder."
Tom Chiarella in "Esquire": "Here's my problem: Pretty much every time I get to the last 50 pages of a long novel, I wonder, What the hell did I read this for? All that time. All the lost hours. You can almost feel veins pulsing in the writer's temples. Yet for some reason, I take a look at the first page anyhow, because somewhere inside I am convinced that long books must still matter. Maybe this one will be worth it, I hope -- then I go in, falling to my knees, belly down under the pages...Well, A Fraction of the Whole (Spiegel & Grau, $25), by Australian Steve Toltz, is that rarest of long books -- utterly worth it -- which is why you'll have to bear with me on portents of this next line: This book is witty and intellectual, a physical comedy and literary rant all at once."
John Freeman in "The New York Times": "Someday in the future, when novels are considered quaint as daguerreotypes and Corvettes run on lemonade, literary historians will look at our age and see a generation of novelists in thrall to the first person. One can't open a first novel these days without being grabbed by the lapels and made to listen. Old men, young children, even the dead want to yak at us. Never has fiction been held aloft by so many filibusterers...Steve Toltz hails from Australia, where the badgering first person runs deep, so A Fraction of the Whole, his 530-page debut, grows in the shadow of great expectations. But can it do more than just talk our ears off?"
Frank Cottrell Boyce in "The Guardian": "It's a hard book to describe; whoever wrote 'rollicking' on the press release, for instance, should buy a dictionary. Dante's Paradiso is more rollicking than this. It's a fat book but very light on its feet, skipping from anecdote, to rant, to reflection, like a stone skimming across a pond...The same people keep popping up in the most unlikely places, like watching a lot of Road Runner cartoons one after the other: the more you admire the inventiveness and hope of Wile E Coyote, the more you can't bear to look as he plunges off the edge of the canyon. Fools ask why the Coyote is so fixated on Road Runner. Haven't they noticed that in all the wide desert there's nothing else moving? In all our lives, no matter how far we roam, how much we achieve, we were only ever after the attention and approval of a very small number of people -- our parents, our children, our lovers."
Jonathan Gibbs in "The Independent": "A 700-page debut novel will always generate a certain amount of attention. The special appeal of the Big Book is that it is going to achieve something greater than the sum of its many parts. To do all that with your first book shows ambition of potentially megalomaniac proportions. And megalomania is the defining characteristic of Steve Toltz's book, set largely in his native Australia ('our demented country')...There is no perspective, no sense of how seriously we are supposed to take it all. A Fraction of the Whole contains some awful dud patches, and some sparkling comic writing. It bounces with sarcastic aphorisms and invincible gags -- many of which reveal themselves, a moment or two after reading, to be arrant nonsense."
Peter Robins in "The Telegraph": "Toltz has the flair and most of the gifts required to write a really good comic novel: A Fraction of the Whole shows that to excess. Perhaps his next book will make up the remaining fraction."
Joel Yanofsnky in "The Montreal Gazette": "There was a time when it was automatic: You cut a first novel some slack. Reviewers, readers, too, were expected to take into account a rookie author's limitations. That often meant understanding when the story was, say, overly autobiographical, when it wasn't imaginative or ambitious enough...But times have changed. Now, first novels are like blockbuster movies and breakfast sandwiches: you go big or you go home...In his debut, A Fraction of the Whole, Australian writer Steve Toltz goes really big. It's not just that this picaresque saga of the criminal and crazy Dean family clocks in at 530 pages. Or that Toltz's mix of know-it-all philosophizing and comic shtick seems to set him up as a successor to literary whiz-kids like Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen."

Short Notices

"Blogcritics Magazine": "I will wait with some interest to see if Steve Toltz can capture lightning in a bottle twice. His first book could be his best, a feat never to be repeated. That would make it a masterwork. It could be just the first in a series of mammoth volumes, each peeling back layers of the society in which we live, showing us absurdity from the inside, skewering us from the viewpoints of a series of odd characters."
"Time Out London": "A Fraction of the Whole is marketed as a novel and a half -- and it's about half a novel too long. Toltz constantly tries to be linguistically innovative and the result is inconsistent. It is both tiresome and frustrating. He obviously has the talent to use language energetically, but the clunky passages, of which there are many, make one long for a ruthless editor."


Malcolm Knox interviewed the author for "The Sydney Morning Herald".
You can also get a fair amount of material at the novel's website.
And you can read an extract from the novel on the "Guardian"'s website.

2008 Man Booker Prize Shortlist

The six shortlisted works for the 2008 Man Booker prize have been announced.

The shortlisted works are:

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

Australia is represented by Steve Toltz, although Aravind Adiga has lived in Sydney and undertook some education there. The Penguin Australia website indicates that he currently lives in Mumbai.

Peter Carey Watch #8

Review of His Illegal Self

Gavin McLean in "Otago Daily Times": "Carey jumps around with flashbacks and changes of narrative voice, but although there is some masterful dialogue and a couple of good scenes, he somehow doesn't quite pull it all together."


Carey features in the second Faber podcast. The "News from the Boston Becks" weblog picks Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang as one of its top 25 novels of the 21st century. Seems a little early for such lists.
Wesley Stace picks the same novel for his "top 10 ventriloquism books" in the "Guardian". I don't think he's talking about stuffed puppets here.
And Colum McCann picks My Life as a Fake as one of "Top 10 novels on poets" for the same newspaper. The operatic version of Bliss will premiere in 2010, from Opera Australia.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the Booker Prize, the "Guardian" asked a judge from each year to discuss the inside story of how the winner was decided. Blake Morrison writes about 1988, and Philip Hensher contemplates 2001.

Ten Years Ago

Caryn Jones reviewed Jack Maggs for "The New York Times".
Carey published an essay in the Travel section of "New York Magazine", titled "Sydney Side Up".

Twenty Years Ago

Berryl Bainbridge reviewed Oscar and Lucinda for "The New York Times".
And the author was awarded the Booker Prize for this same novel.

Stefan Laszczuk Profile

Christopher Bantick interviews Stefan Laszczuk for "The Courier-Mail".

Laszczuk says that the genesis for the story, understandably, came from some of his experiences. Still, he makes the point, that it is not an autobiography.

"Originally, it was going to be the story of one person who worked in a bowling alley. This is not heavily autobiographical, but I guess after over 250,000 words cut down to 70,000 words, there was a lot of shifting of the scenes," he says. "It's a book which is imaginative but with some elements of my life recalled. The novel was written to a predetermined structure as part of a PhD thesis."

The tone of the novel is often comic, with some moments of pensive reflection. By writing about two characters, which are suggestive of being basically dysfunctional people, Laszczuk says that he was influenced by writers who know how to hook readers.

Laszczuk's latest novel is the Vogel Award winning I Dream of Magda

Australian Bookcovers #128 - The Cut-Rate Kingdom by Tom Keneally

The Cut-Rate Kingdom by Thomas Keneally, 1980
(Penguin 1984 edition)

Melbourne Writers' Festival Reports 2

The 2008 Melbourne Writers' Festival is now finished and the second round of reports have been appearing.

Hackpacker laments the way bloggers were put down at the Festival. This goes the the very nature of thesetype of Festivals. The problem with charging a ticket price for each session means that the general audience wants to see "names" on the panel items. And, to be frank, so would I at $17 or so a pop. But the consequence of this is that you get a general consistency of message. Where are the articulate amateurs? Nowhere to be seen I suspect.

Angela Meyer kept bumping into authors at the Festival - which is hardly surprising - only to have them seemingly avoid her.

More Readings' photos.

Estelle, from "3000 Books", worked on a number of sessions but was still able to give her "best-of", etc, lists.

Sue Burszytynski concluded that YA and genre writers didn't get a lot of exposure.

And, finally, Readings gives the list of the bestselling books of the Festival.

Robert Gray Profile

Robert Gray, winner of the Patrick White Award in 1990 and author of an autobiography titled The Land I Came Through Last, is interviewed in "The Sydney Morning Herald" by Valerie Lawson.

Patrick White once accused Gray of writing too much about trees. But it was Gray's instinctive, early connection to the natural world that led to his eventual success as a poet. As well, that helped him survive the burden of his home life.

His father was a drunk and his mother a devout Jehovah's Witness, a religion Gray describes as "dolorous, dreary and puritanical". With those parents and an accompanying posse of eccentric aunts and uncles, "people expect me to be neurotic", Gray says, but "I think I'm very normal".

We meet at his Rose Bay apartment, which is light and white and scattered with delicate sculptures of female nudes, the work of his partner, Dee Jones. The stylish interior is hers, Gray says. If it were up to him, he would live in a spartan room, such as the philosopher, Wittgenstein, preferred - minimum furniture, card tables, shadeless light bulbs.

Wittgenstein. Now that's a name that doesn't usually bob up in an interview but Gray's conversation is a compendium of references, quotations, allusions, and similes. Within the first few minutes, he quotes Siegfried Sassoon and Wallace Simpson and goes on to Dr Johnson, Baudelaire, Sartre, Chekhov, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Hemingway, a roll-call of writers, reflecting a life spent with his nose in a book, not only at home, but during 20 years of working in bookshops.

Poem: "Ars Longa, Lodger Brevis" by Nero

He came to stay, across the way. The landlady was proudly gay,
   For he was no "rough workin' man,"
But read a book with studious look, or p'raps a pen and paper took
   To give his wondrous thoughts a plan.

For he was learned. 'Twas said he earned much gold by verse that in him burned;
   He toned the squalid street anew,
When he would go with footstep slow, and meditating brow and low,
   Past, when the evening odors blew.

"There goes ther pote," with awestruck note, would slip the gaping youngster's throat,
   As by their shabby cots he went;
And maidens too, brown-eyed and blue, blushed shyly as he sauntered through
   With weight of inspiration bent.

But lack-a-day! It's say to say what happened one regretful day,
   Or rather night. His dreamy eye
Forgot to dream, as it would seem, for, ere the morn's most youthful beam,
   He'd flown, and left his rent-bill high.

First published in The Bulletin, 16 July 1908

J.M. Coetzee Watch #10

Various Web Notes

The reviews of the Philip Glass opera Waiting for the Barbarians, based on Coetzee's novel of the same name, continue with this Steven Ritter piece in "Audiophile Audition".
In "The Guardian", Tim Parks picks the top 10 20th century political novels, which includes Life and Times of Michael K., but nothing by Orwell, which seems a little strange.
Back in 2005, in the same paper, Segun Afolabi picked the same novel as one of the top 10 "on the move" books.
In an essay about the business of book blurbs in "The New York Times", Rachel Dinadio notes that Coetzee may not talk to the media but he is rather keen on providing quotes for bookcovers.
Coetzee has paid tribute to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died on August 3rd, calling him "a colossus of our times" and "a great Russian patriot".
In a review of The Pages by Murray Bail in "The Guardian", Hermoine Lee finds "The tone of Bail's oblique, demanding, intelligent, sardonic work reminds me of JM Coetzee's cryptic narratives, where the reader is never sure how far to invest in the characters."

Five Years Ago

David Lodge reviewed Elizabeth Costello in "The New York Review of Books".

This novel (as one must call it for want of a better word) requires, and rewards, at least a second reading, but even then its import remains ambiguous, partly because of the way it mixes and transgresses generic conventions. Elizabeth Costello consists of eight chapters and a postscript, though the chapters are called "Lessons" (whether they are lessons for the central character or for the reader is not made clear -- perhaps both). Six of the Lessons have appeared in print before, which is not in itself remarkable, but two of them have been published previously as an independent work, which is unusual. These were the Tanner Lectures, a series dedicated to the discussion of ethical and philosophical topics, which Coetzee gave at Princeton University in 1997-1998, under the title "The Lives of Animals."
Coetzee has never sought popularity or celebrity. His books are always unsettling, unexpected, and uncomforting. He seems a rather aloof figure in the contemporary literary world, who seldom gives interviews, and often declines to collect his prizes in person. But he is one of the few living writers routinely described as "great."
Also in the same magazine, a month or so previously, Coetzee reviewed The Pickup and Loot and Other Stories, both by Nadine Gordimer.
At the heart of the novel of realism is the theme of disillusionment. At the end of Don Quixote, Alonso Quixana, who had set out to right the wrongs of the world, comes home sadly aware not only that he is no hero but that there are no more heroes. As stripper-away of convenient illusions and unmasker of colonial bad faith, Gordimer is an heir of the tradition of realism that Cervantes inaugurated.
With the end of apartheid and the relaxation of the ideological imperatives that under apartheid had overshadowed all cultural affairs, Gordimer was liberated from such self-laceration. Her latest fiction shows a welcome readiness to pursue new avenues and a new sense of the world.

How I Began to Write by Rolf Boldrewood (Part 1)

For publication, I mean. Having the pen of a ready writer, by inheritance, I had dashed off occasional onslaughts in the journals of the day, chiefly in defence of the divine right of kings (pastoral ones); I had assailed incoherent democrats, who perversely denied that Australia was created chiefly for the sustenance of sheep and cattle, and the aggrandisement of those heroic individuals who first explored and then exploited the waste lands of the Crown. The school of political belief of which I belonged derided agriculture, and was subsequently committed to a scheme for the formation of the Riverina into a purely pastoral kingdom or colony. A petition embodying a statement to the effect that it was wholly unfitted for the sustenance of a population dependent upon agriculture was forwarded to the Secretary of the Colonies, who very properly disregarded it. The petitioners could not then foresee the stacking of 20,000 bags of wheat, holding four bushels each, awaiting railway transit at one of the farming centres of this barren region in the year 1895. Allied facts caused me to reconsider my very pronounced opinions, and, perhaps, led others to question the accuracy of theirs. My deliverances in the journals of the period occurred in the forties and fifties of the century, and gradually subsided.

I was battling with the season of 1865 on a station lately purchased, at not great distance from the flourishing town of Narrandera, then consisting of two hotels, a small store, and a large graveyard, when an uncertain-tempered young horse kicked me on the ankle with such force and accuracy that I thought the bone was broken. I had ridden at daylight to count a flock of sheep, and could scarcely crawl back to the huts without assistance, such was the agony. I sat down on the frosted ground, and pulled off my boot, knowing how the leg would swell. Curiously the thirst of the wounded soldier immediately atacked me. My room in the slab hut, preceding the brick cottage then in course of erection, was, to use Mr. Swiveller's description, "an airy and well-ventilated apartment." It contained, in addition to joint stools, a solid table, upon which my simple meals of chops, damper and tea were displayed three times a day by a shepherd's wife, an elderly personage of varied and sensational experiences.

I may mention that the great Riverina region was as yet in its unfenced, more or less Arcadian stage, the flocks being "shepherded" (expressive Australian verb, since enlarged as to meaning), and duly folded or camped at night. Something of Mrs. Regan's independent and advanced tone of thought may be gathered from the following dialogue, which I overheard:

Shady township individual - "Your man shot my dorg t'other night. Wot d'yer do that fer?"

Mrs. Regan - "Cause we caught him among the sheep, and we'd a shot you if you'd bin in the same place."

Township individual - "You seem rather hot coffee, missus! I've 'arf a mind to pull your boss next court day for the valley of the dorg."

Mrs. Regan - "You'd better clear out and do it then. The P.M.'s a comin' from Wagga on Friday, and he'll give you three months, like as not. Ask the pleece for yer character."

Township individual - "D---n you and the pleece, too! A pore man gets no show between the traps an squatters in this bloomin' country. Wish I'd never seen it!"

This was by way of interlude, serving to relieve the monotony of the situation. I could eat, drink, smoke, and sleep. But my injured leg -- worse than broken -- I could not put to the ground. Neither had I company of any kind nor description, save that of old Jack and Mrs. Regan, for a whole month. So, casting about for occupation, I bethought myself that I might write something for an English magazine. The subject I pitched upon was a description of a kangaroo drive or battue, such as were then common in Western Victoria, which I had lately quitted. The kangaroo had become so numerous that they were eating the squatters out of house and home. Something had to be done; so they were driven into yards in great numbers and killed. This severe mode of dealing with the too prolific marsupial in whole battalions, I judged correctly, would be among the "things not generally known" to the British public.

I sat down and wrote a twelve-page article describing a grand muster for the purpose at a station about twenty miles from Port Fairy, and seven miles from my own place, Squattlesea Mere.

The first time I went to Melbourne I posted it, with the aid of my good friend, the late Mr. Mullen, to the editor of the "Cornhill Magazine," and thought no more about the matter. A few days afterwards, my neighbour, Adam M'Neill, of North Yanko, hearing of my invalid state, rode over, and carried me off to his hospitable home. I had to be lifted on my horse, but after a month's rest and recreation was well enough to return to my pastoral duties. I was lame, however, for quite a year afterwards, and narrowly escaped injuring the other ankle, which began to show signs of over-work.

Just about the time of my full recovery, I received a new "Cornhill Magazine" and a business-like note from Messrs. Smith and Elder, forwarding a draft, which added to the honor and glory of seeing my article flourishing in a first-class English magazine, afforded me much joy and satisfaction. The English review notices were also cheering. I thereupon dashed off a second sketch, entitled "Shearing in Riverina," which I dispatched to the same address. The striking presentment of seventy shearers, in a big Riverina shed, all going their hardest, was a novelty also to the British public.

The constant clash that the shear-blades make
When the fastest shearers are making play,
as Mr. Barton Paterson ("Banjo") has it, in "The Two Devines," more than twenty years later, challenge attention. This was accepted. I received a cheque in due course. This came at a time when such remittances commenced to have more interest for me than had been the case for many years past.

The station was sold in the adverse pastoral period of '68-69, through drought, debt, financial "dismalness of sorts," but that is another story. Christmas time found me in Sydney, where it straightaway began to rain with unreasonable violence and persistency, (as I thought), now it could do me no good; never left off, in fact, for five years. The which, in plenteousness of pasture, and high prices for wool and stock, were the most fortunate seasons for squatters since the "fifties," with their accompanying goldfields prosperity.

First published in The Town and Country Journal, 1 October 1898
[The second part of this essay will be published next week.]

Real World

What's it like releasing a book that you are told, prior to launch, will debut at #1 on the New York Times hardback bestseller list? Ask Sean Williams. He knows.

Rebecca Starford, deputy editor of "Australian Book Review", discusses the price of books in Australia, especially as Penguin have decided to release 50 "Popular Penguins" in Australia at $9.95 a pop. Non-Australian readers might find even that price steep, but in a country where the average paperback starts at over $20, the Penguin price is very, very noticeable. And welcomed.

Anita Heiss prints the speech made by Terri Janke to launch Anita's new novel Avoiding Mr Right. Anita also mentions that the Australian Society of Authors has donated one dollar for each of its members ($3,078 in total), to the Indigeous Literacy Project.

And on the same topic, Judith Ridge went to a book launch that brought home the significance of the Project.

Philip Pullman lists The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay as one of the 40 works on his essential reading list.

Angela Meyer has published a short interview with the author of I Dream of Magda Stefan Laszczuk (only 5 questions - about the size of our Crime Fiction Snapshots from earlier this year) on her "LiteraryMinded" weblog.

2008 Maroondah Writers' and Readers' Festival

The 2008 Maroondah Writers' and Readers' Festival will be held over the weekend of October 3-5 and this year's theme is crime. The full program (which starts with a dinner with Shane Maloney on the Friday night) is available on the festival website. It appears that most program items will take place at Tintern Girls Grammar, 90 Alexandra Rd Ringwood East, and at Ringwood Library in Melbourne's eastern suburbs.

2008 Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize

"Island" magazine runs the Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize each year. The entry conditions state that submissions may only be a single poem, or linked suite of poems, not longer than 100 lines. The winner of the 2008 prize was Angela Malone for her poem "Drawing in the Birth Room".

Highly Commended were:
"Bedroom Ceiling Fan" by Mike Ladd
"Good Nighting the Mirror" by Kristen Lang
"Retrospective" by Joan Kerr

The "Guardian"'s World Literature Tour

The Guardian's World Tour of Literature is heading to Australia. Basically the newspaper runs it as a means of introducing a country's literature to its readers by requesting suggestions about the best books to read.

I made a suggestion a few years back with my list of 10 "Essential Modern Australian Novels", and kimbofo also put forward her proposal for "Favourite Novels about Australia" about the same time. There are only a couple of overlaps between those two lists. Failing those two there is always Jane Gleeson-White's list of 50 Australian classics. That compilation is more emcompassing as it includes poems, short stories, non-fiction and biographies, rather than the straight list of novels that Kim and I came up with. In any event, go have a look at the Guardian site and enter your suggestions.

I'm interested to see the final results even if they may be skewed somewhat to more recent Australian works. By the way, the original article features a photo taken in Melbourne of an old W-class tram. And it looks like the shot was taken from the middle of Swanston Street - looking south towards the Shrine - with cars in it. How old? Probably twenty years. You'd think they'd try to find something a little more up-to-date. But maybe that's an indication of the suggestions they are looking for. And the first suggestion: "I think joining world literature to Australia is a very good idea." Oh dear. You can just tell what the tone of the conversation is going to be like.

2008 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards Winners

The winners of the 2008 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards were announced last night.

The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction
The Spare Room by Helen Garner (Text Publishing)

The Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-fiction
The Ferocious Summer: Palmer's Penguins and the Warming of Antarctica by Meredith Hooper (Allen & Unwin)

The CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry
Press Release by Lisa Gorton (Giramondo Publishing)

The Louis Esson Prize for Drama
"When the Rain Stops Falling" by Andrew Bovell (Brink Productions)

The Prize for Young Adult Fiction
Tomorrow All Will Be Beautiful by Brigid Lowry (Allen & Unwin)

The Prize for a First Book of History
The Lamb Enters the Dreaming: Nathanael Pepper and the Ruptured World by Robert Kenny (Scribe)

The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate
"Trapped in the Aboriginal Reality Show" by Marcia Langton (Griffith Review)

The Prize for Indigenous Writing
Anonymous Premonition by Yvette Holt (University of Queensland Press)

The Prize for the Best Music Theatre Script
"The Wild Blue" by Anthony Crowley (St. Martins Theatre)

The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer
Going Finish by Mandy Maroney

The Grollo Ruzzene Foundation Prize for Writing about Italians in Australia
Head Over Heel by Chris Harrison (Murdoch Books)

The John Curtin Prize for Journalism
"Out of Control: The Tragedy of Tasmania's Forests" by Richard Flanagan (The Monthly)

You can read the full list of shortlisted works here.

Australian Bookcovers #127 - A Dutiful Daughter by Thomas Keneally

A Dutiful Daughter by Thomas Keneally, 1971
(Angus & Robertson 1971 edition)

2008 Australian Romantic Book of the Year

The "BoomerangBooks" website is reporting that Duet by Kimberley Freeman has won the Long Category ection of the 2008 Australian Romantic Book of the Year awards. One Night Before Marriage by Anne Oliver won the award in the Short Category. The full list of the shortlisted works is available on the Romance Writers of Australia website.

Clive James Watch #8

Short Notices

Steve in Brisbane writes about Unreliable Memoirs (the first volume) on his weblog "Opinion Dominion", and finds it to be "laugh out loud funny".

Five Years Ago

James reviews Aldous Huxley by Nicholas Murray in "The New Yorker".

Shining a light in [Huxley's] eyes is a good way to start, because his eyesight, or lack of it, ruled his life more than he was willing to let on. He could talk about a wall-size Veronese as if he could see it in a single glance. Actually, he had to look at it a few square inches at a time. Chief among the many merits of Nicholas Murray's new biography, "Aldous Huxley" (St. Martin's; $29.95), is that it appreciates the full weight of his early tragedies without overdoing the retroactive prediction of their effects on his future behavior. But underdoing it would have been a grievous fault. One of the tragedies was the early loss of his beloved mother, another was the loss of a beloved brother; but those were merely devastating. What happened to his eyes changed the way he saw the world. Later on, as a grown man, he had to read about the discovery of antibiotics by holding his face very close to the page. Had they arrived earlier, his disease, an inflammation of the cornea, would have been cured instantly. As things were, he was left at the age of sixteen with only one eye functioning, and that only partly. He was one of Eton's star pupils, but from then on nothing was effortless.

Clive James on YouTube

James was interviewed leading up to the announcement of the Orwell prize earlier this year. Part 1 runs for 10 minutes, and part 2 for a touch over 7. And James's acceptance speech is also available.


Clive James's book Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time has been shortlisted for the non-fiction category of the Prime Minister's Literary Awards.

2008 Ned Kelly Awards Winners

The 2008 Ned Kelly Awards (which honor crime writing in Australia) were presented in Melbourne on Friday 29th August, as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival.

The winners were:

Shatter by Michael Robotham

First Novel
The Low Road by Chris Womersley

Red Centre, Dead Heart by Evan McHugh

Lifetime Achievement
Marele Day

You can read the full list of nominees here.

Currently Reading


 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.


Bomb, Book and Compass

 Bomb, Book and Compass by Simon Winchester
The amazing tale of Joseph Needham and his exploration of the history of China. The story is very interesting even though the writing is somewhat flat.


Recently Read



 The Lost City of Z by David Grann
The story of Percy Fawcett's obsessive search for a lost city in the Amazon. It cost him his life in 1925 but he might just have been right.



 The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Grossman's take on the "magician-in-training" fantasy sub-sub-genre. Starts off being rather derivative but slowly morphs into something very interesting.



 The Years That the Locust Hath Eaten by Marjorie Quinn
The long-delayed publication of the memoirs of Sydney poet Marjorie Quinn. An intimate portrait of the Sydney literary scene between the wars and one woman's struggle for a literary life.



 Whispering Death by Garry Disher
Disher is back with another Hal Challis/Pensinsular Murder mystery. As good as ever but this time with more dead bodies, and an intelligent, elusive burglar.


the complaints.jpg

 The Complaints by Ian Rankin
Rankin's new crime series, following on from the very successful Rebus novels. As good as ever.



 The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry
Fry's second autobiographical volume of memoirs. The name-dropping is relentless, but we forgive everything to allow Fry to tell his story.



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



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



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



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



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

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



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

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

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