March 2009 Archives

2009 National Biography Award Winner

I am Melba by Ann Blainey has been named the winner of the 2009 National Biography Award.

The shortlisted works were:

I am Melba by Ann Blainey (Black Inc.)
Arthur Blackburn VC: An Australian Hero, His Men, and Their Two World Wars by Andrew Faulkner (Wakefield Press)
The Bone Man of Kokoda by Charles Happell (Macmillan)
The Flower Hunter: the Remarkable Life of Ellis Rowan by Christine and Michael Morton-Evans (S&S)
Desert Queen: The Many Lives and Loves of Daisy Bates by Susanna De Vries (HarperCollins)
Tom Wills: His Spectacular Rise and Fall by Greg de Moore (Allen & Unwin)

Australian Bookcovers #155 - An Item from the Late News by Thea Astley


An Item from the Late News by Thea Astley, 1982
(UQP 1984 edition)
Cover drawing by David Seibert

Paul Jennings Interview

"The Courier-Mail" newspaper out of Queensland continues its good work interviewing Australian authors with Christopher Bantick this week talking to Paul Jennings. The author is probably best known for such works as Wicked, Unreal!: Eight Surprising Stories, and Unbelievable!: More Surprising Stories. His latest work is The Nest, a novel for young adults.

Obsessive compulsive behaviour as a topic for a book is about as far away from toilet humour as a writer can get.

So when Melbourne-based author Paul Jennings who is well-known for his many quirky and funny children's stories, decided to write on the topic in his latest book The Nest (Penguin, $19.95) it took him four years to complete.

"I've never taken as long over a book. The Nest took me four years. The story was quite a struggle. I start most books with my reader in mind. With this book, I began with the idea that I would write about a boy who had unwanted thoughts and images that were disturbing," Jennings says.

"I knew straight away that it couldn't be for primary school children with that topic. I don't believe that you should present the world to be a dark and scary place to this age group.

"At one stage I even thought it might be an adult book. Then I came to the conclusion that the person I wanted to speak to was aged about 15."

You can also read an extract from the novel on the Penguin Books website.

2009 Barbara Jefferis Award Winner

Although there isn't anything yet on the Australian Society of Authors website (not even the shortlist unfortunately), Rosemary Sorenson of "The Australian" newspaper announced on Saturday that the winner of the 2009 Barbara Jefferis Award is The Spare Room by Helen Garner.

The shortlisted works were:
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks(HarperCollins)
The Spare Room by Helen Garner (Text)
The Lifeboat by Zacharey Jane (University of Queensland Press)
Addition by Toni Jordan (Text)
The Good Parents by Joan London (Random House)
The Last Sky by Alice Nelson (Fremantle Press)

Poem: The Demoralising Effect of the Ostrich Habit by Foe

He never realised what the British command of the sea really meant until he engaged in that trip. - "Doctor" Ward, of Sydney Telegraph

The greatest editor is he
   Who trains each thinking cell,
So that he sees when he should see --
   When all the facts fit well.

The wisest editor you'll find,
   Of all the thinking throng
Is he who goes extremely blind
   When all the facts are wrong.

Now he who props a falling cause
   Like Freetrade, I surmise,
And is a medico of laws
   Must be both great and wise.

Therefore, he sees when all is well,
   And doesn't when it's not,
Because he's trained each thinking cell
   For sense or simple rot.

Self-hypnotised, he proves at will
   That black is virgin white;
Long years he practises until
   He comes to think he's right.

Then all is well; his agile brain
   O'er rocky places vaults;
And, if he would come back again,
   He lightly somersaults.

But turning Reason inside out --
   Rightly the sport of Youth --
Brings on short-sightedness and doubt
   And mars the hunt for Truth.

The fact long balanced on its head
   Is difficult to place
When you require the thing instead
   To look well on its base.

And facts seem hardly facts at all
   When many you have blinked,
And said the writing on the wall
   Was wrong -- or indistinct.

Then plain statistics in a row
   Convey no picture true;
Romance lives in each folio
   Of ev'ry book of blue.

To be "impressed" -- to "realise,"
   'Tis necessary then
To gaze on things with startled eyes,
   And peer and gaze again.

Then home you come with knowledge packed,
   And serve out from your store,
With pride and joy, some simple fact
   That all men knew before.

First published in The Bulletin, 23 September 1909

Linda Jaivin Interview

Linda Jaivin's latest novel is titled A Most Immoral Woman. Deborah Bogle interviewed the author for "The Courier-Mail".

"Good writing about sex is like good writing on any subject," Jaivin says. "The words must express exactly what the author wants to express, and do it in a way that feels fresh and interesting while advancing the plot and -- or -- revealing something about character.

"Bad writing about sex is always much worse than bad writing about nearly any other subject you can name," she says.

There is a scene in her new novel, A Most Immoral Woman (Fourth Estate, $32.99), where Jaivin guesses she walked that thin line, and perhaps even teetered over the edge.

"I have a moment in here where I felt I was going for it, where all of her clothes fall to the floor in order," says Jaivin, reaching for the book. "The urgency with which furs and hats and shoes and gloves were discarded and top bodice, under-bodice, gored skirt, petticoat, corset cover, busk, corset, chemise and drawers whispered to the floor," she reads.

"How can that be urgent?" she adds, hooting with laughter. "But that's obviously from my standpoint -- done as a funny line, and maybe I'll get the bad sex award for that."

The New Timer

Susan Wyndham of "The Sydney Morning Herald"'s "Entertainment" weblog is a judge of this year's Barbara Jefferis Award and noticed the rather bleak nature of many of the entries.

If you've ever wondered what this whole sf genre is all about, then Jonathan Strahan may be able to provide some guidance. He's going to be commenting each week about one classic sf story on the "Locus" magazine weblog. The list of 43 stories is based on the magazine's "1999 All-Time Readers Poll Short Story List", and covers the years 1940-1985; I did say these were classics. It's a tad top heavy with Ellison stories, and the list is very US centric: the only Australian connection I can find is "The Game of Rat and Dragon" by Cordwainer Smith from 1955. I wrote about that author here a while back. Nevertheless it looks like being worth watching. Garth Nix thinks Jonathan should anthologise the whole set. Adding in his comments as introductions to each story would also be a good idea.

Mike Glyer on "File 770" announces that Bruce Gillespie won the Best Fan Writer category of the 2009 Fanzine Activity Achievement (FAAN) Awards. Bruce was Fan Guest of Honour at the 1999 Worldcon (Aussiecon 3) and has been publishing since the 1960s. You can read back issues of "Steam Engine Time" and "SF Commentary" on the "" website.

Miriam Burstein, "The Little Professor", has been reading Kisses of the Enemy by Rodney Hall.

Pavlov's Cat attended the book launch of Tracy Crisp's novel Black Dust Dancing, and writes of what she saw there - in words and pictures. Tracy is the blogger at "adelaide from adelaide".

The bloggers at "Alien Onion" have noted that the Melbourne Writer's Festival isn't interested in The Great Australian Novel right now; they want The Great Australian Text Message, or Gr8 Oz Txt Msg if you prefer.

Angela Meyer and Gerard Elson have a look at the print and film versions of Watchmen on Angela's "LiteraryMinded" weblog.

Malla Nunn Interview

Malla Nunn published A Beautiful Place to Die (a detective novel set in 1950s South Africa) last year, and has just returned to Sydney after a book tour through the US and Canada. She spoke to Winsor Dobbin for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

A new paperback edition of A Beautiful Place To Die will be released in Australia by Macmillan on April 1 and Nunn has already made a lot of progress on the second novel of what she hopes will become a series featuring Cooper, a '50s man with new-age sensibilities; and a few skeletons in his closet.

"If I'd written about a man truly of his times, I don't think we'd really like him - it's a difficult line to tread," she says. "He's a guy that I hope existed somewhere, in some form, in 1950s South Africa."

At that time, the colour of a man's or woman's skin mattered far more than guilt or innocence - and as someone who lived in the apartheid state I was amazed at how well Nunn captured the sense of malevolence and hopelessness.

"I drew heavily on the experiences of my parents and my grandmother," she says. "There is something about people who consider themselves to be above everyone else - a casual brutality about their lives.

"They may not even set out to be like that but fear, fear of the unknown, drove people to enact those laws."

2009 NSW Premier's Literary Awards Shortlists

The shortlists for the 2009 NSW Premier's Literary Awards have been released. The winners will be announced by the NSW Premier on Tuesday 18 May.

The Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
Helen Garner - The Spare Room
Kate Grenville - The Lieutenant
Julia Leigh - Disquiet
Joan London - The Good Parents
Steve Toltz - A Fraction of the Whole
Tim Winton - Breath

The Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction
James Boyce - Van Diemen's Land
Robert Gray - The Land I Came Through Last
Chloe Hooper - The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island
Dmetri Kakmi - Mother Land
Jacqueline Kent - An Exacting Heart: The Story of Hephzibah Menuhin
Christina Thompson - Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All

The Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry
Michael Brennan - Unanimous Night
David Brooks - The Balcony
Sarah Holland-Batt - Aria
LK Holt - Man Wolf Man
Kerry Leves - A Shrine to Lata Mangeshkar
Alan Wearne - The Australian Popular Songbook

The Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature
Dianne Bates - Crossing the Line
Michelle Cooper - A Brief History of Montmaray
D.M Cornish - Monster Blood Tattoo Book Two: Lamplighter
Alison Goodman - The Two Pearls of Wisdom
Nette Hilton - Sprite Downberry
Joanne Horrniman - My Candlelight Novel

The Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature
Urusla Dubosarsky & Tohby Riddle (Illustrator) - The Word Spy
Bob Graham - How to Heal a Broken Wing
Sonya Hartnett and Ann James (Illustrator) - Sadie and Ratz
Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King (Illustrator) - Perry Angel's Suitcase
Tohby Riddle - Nobody Owns the Moon
Shaun Tan - Tales from Outer Suburbia

The Community Relations Commission Award
Anna Haebich - Spinning the Dream: assimilation in Australia 1950 - 1970
Philip Jones and Anna Kenny - Australia's Muslim Cameleers: Pioneers of the Inland 1860-1930s
Jacqueline Kent - An Exacting Heart: the Story of Hephzibah Menuhin
Michelle Offen - East West 101: Chapter 5 - Haunted by the Past
Malcolm Prentis - The Scots in Australia
Eric Richards - Destination Australia: Migration to Australia Since 1901

The Gleebooks Prize
James Boyce - Van Diemen's Land
Tim Flannery - Quarterly Essay 31: Now or Never, a Sustainable Future for Australia? Gideon Haigh - The Racket: How Abortion became Legal in Australia
Chloe Hooper - The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island
David Love - Unfinished Business: Paul Keating's Interrupted Revolution Jonathan Richards - The Secret War: a true history of Queensland's Native Police

The UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing
The winner of the UTS Glenda Adams Award is chosen from entries submitted for the Christina Stead Prize. There is no shortlist for this award.

The Play Award
Andrew Bovell - "When the Rain Stops Falling"
Brendan Cowell - "Ruben Guthrie"
Tom Holloway - "Don't Say the Words"
Daniel Keene - "The Serpent's Teeth"
Damien Millar - "The Modern International Dead"
Tom Wright - "The Women of Troy"

The Script Writing Award
David Caesar - "Prime Mover"
Greg Haddrick, Felicity Packard & Peter Gawler -"Underbelly: Series 1"
Anna-Maria Monticelli - "Disgrace"
Sean Nash - "All Saints Episode 447: Not What You'd Expect"
Louis Nowra and Rachel Perkins and Beck Cole - "First Australians"

NSW Premier's Translation Prize and PEN Medallion
Harry Aveling
David Colmer
Alison Entrekin
Simon Patton
Kevin Windle

In addition to the above categories, the judges will pick a Book of the Year, which is basically the best of the categories winners. There is also a People's Choice award. This is open to the public to vote on their choice of Best Fiction from the titles submitted for the Christina Stead Prize. Voting is only open to NSW residents, and will end on May 11.

David Malouf Profile

"The Weekend Australian" has published a large profile of Australian author David Malouf as his new novel, Ransom, is about to be released.

"I want books to unfold as if they were dreams and even to have the logic of dreams," Malouf says, sitting at his kitchen table in inner-suburban Sydney one recent afternoon. He rarely gives interviews, but his first novel in several years is about to appear and his publishers, presumably, have persuaded him. "I deliberately don't plan where the writing is going so that things can happen with the same unpredictability, with the same process of association rather than logical unfolding. That provides something for the reader as well: the reader has something like the same sense of discovery that the writer does. "As a writer, discipline for me is to learn more and more how to fall quickly into that state."
The publisher's page has a release date of 1 April 2009, and the following description of the book:
With learning worn lightly and in his own lyrical language, David Malouf revisits Homer's ILIAD. Focusing on the unbreakable bonds between men - Priam and Hector, Patroclus and Achilles, Priam and the cart-driver hired to retrieve Hector's body. Pride, grief, brutality, love and neighbourliness are explored. The minute you finish this novel you will want to return to the beginning and start all over again.

Australian Bookcovers #154 - A Kindness Cup by Thea Astley


A Kindness Cup by Thea Astley, 1974
(Penguin 1989 edition)
Cover illustration and design by Celia Bridie and Ann Wojczuk

Combined Reviews: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

people_of_book.jpg Reviews of People of the Book
Geraldine Brooks

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2009 Barbara Jefferis Award.]

From the publisher's page:

People of the Book crosses continents and centuries to bring stories of hope amidst darkness, compassion amidst cruelty, all bound together by the discoveries made by a young Australian woman restoring an ancient Hebrew book. When Hanna Heath gets a call in the middle of the night in her Sydney home about a precious medieval manuscript that has been recovered from the smouldering ruins of war-torn Sarajevo, she knows she is on the brink of the experience of a lifetime. A renowned book conservator, she must now make her way to Bosnia to start work on restoring the Sarajevo Haggadah -- a Jewish prayer book -- to discover its secrets and piece together the story of its miraculous survival. But the trip will also set in motion a series of events that threaten to rock Hanna's orderly life, including her encounter with Ozren Karamen, the young librarian who risked his life to save the book. As meticulously researched as all of Brooks' previous work, People of the Book is a gripping and moving novel about war, art, love and survival.
Clare McHugh in "The New York Sun": "In reality, People of the Book is of much more substance than Dan Brown's overwrought, silly, and ultimately distasteful thriller could ever hope to be -- yet Ms. Brooks's work is just as entertaining. She has accomplished something remarkable, fashioning a story that is compelling and eminently readable, even as she maintains high intentions and an earnest purpose."
Ursula Le Guin in "The Guardian" "Her performance will satisfy many readers. The tale is full of complex twists and turns, with even a bit of mystery plot towards the end; there's sex, a rather tenuous love story and the obligatory descriptions of acts of violence...The story sprawls, but it is all firmly planned and plotted -- possibly too firmly...Full of action but with no leavening of humour, no psychological revelations, no vivid language to focus description, the chapters grind on. Most unhappily for a historical novel, there is little sensitivity to the local colour of thought and emotion, that openness to human difference which brings the past alive."
"Publisher's Weekly" concludes: "Brooks is too good a novelist to belabor her political messages, but her depiction of the Haggadah bringing together Jews, Christians and Muslims could not be more timely. Her gift for storytelling, happily, is timeless."
Janet Maslin in "The New York Times": "the intense bibliographic appeal of People of the Book turns out to be a mixed blessing. It lands Ms. Brooks neck-deep in research. It overburdens her tale in ways that make it more admirable than gripping."
Ami Sands Brodoff in "The Globe and Mail": "'Haggadah' stems from the Hebrew root hgd, 'to tell,' and the rescue and preservation of the Sarajevo Haggadah dramatized in People of the Book brings home with fearsome clarity how inextricably linked are words and human life: the people who created the book, owned it and later rescued and preserved it endured pogroms, the Inquisition, exile, genocide and war."
Terri Schlichenmeyer in "The Eagle-Tribune": "People of the Book starts out slow; so slow, that I wasn't sure I could make it through almost 400 pages. There's a lot of setup to make the story work, and not much happens for the first couple segments. In the end, I was glad I stuck it out...With time-framing reminiscent of Pulp Fiction, some factual history, the existence of a real book and a fictional character who is increasingly easy to like, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Brooks takes you on a five-century trip from Bosnia to Venice, Vienna to Spain, and inside mosques, churches and torture chambers...If you like historical mysteries, antique-hunting or The DaVinci Code, pick up People of the Book. This book about a book is a double delight for anyone who craves the written word."
Susan Comninos in "The Philadelphia Inquirer": "the novel, in its proselytizing zeal for universality, sometimes puts anachronistic lingo in the mouths of its medieval characters. For instance, the refusal of a Moorish slave girl to humiliate a Christian woman -- by painting her naked likeness for their Muslim captor -- is explained by a self-help declaration: " 'No ... I can't do this. I know what it is to be raped. You can't ask me to assist your rapist.'"...People of the Book shouldn't have to rely on such heavy-handed prose or pointed making of points. A simple explication of the real-life story of the Sarajevo haggadah -- one of individual bravery in the face of a larger brutality -- would have sufficed."
Lisa Fugard in "The New York Times": "We are left wishing Brooks had found a less obtrusive way to gather up the many strands of her narrative. While peering through a microscope at a rime of salt crystals on the manuscript of the Haggadah, Hanna reflects that 'the gold beaters, the stone grinders, the scribes, the binders" are "the people I feel most comfortable with. Sometimes in the quiet these people speak to me.' Though the reader's sense of Hanna's relationship with the Haggadah rarely deepens to such a level, Geraldine Brooks's certainly has."
Felicity Plunkett in "The Age": "Hannah's Australianness felt, to me, slightly anachronistic, or confected, or perhaps made with an eye to the international audience the Australian-born, US-based Brooks no doubt commands...In other respects, Brooks' characterisation is remarkable. Her ability to evoke the conflicts that tear at an otherwise-devout Rabbi, or the altruism of resistance in, for example, a young Muslim wife in Sarajevo in the 1940s, is exceptional...Brooks' ability to take an initial inspiration and weave from fact a vibrant fiction situates it within the rich seams of 'faction', increasingly frequent in contemporary writing."
Michael Upchurch in "The Seattle Times": "Brooks may be spelling out her message a little too explicitly here, and the way her imagined histories interlock can be a tad too schematic. But she does a sterling job of reminding readers how art objects -- no matter how damaged or fragile -- link epoch to epoch and world to world, putting the conflicts and follies of our own time into context."
Nancy Wigston in "The Toronto Star": "Brooks's major challenge remains the existence of a book that ought not to exist but stubbornly does. She allows herself considerable leeway -- rooted in history and logic, it must be said -- when it comes to her account of its creation: extraordinary storytelling meets extraordinary reality...In our world, 'no one expects the Spanish Inquisition' evokes the famous Monty Python sketch. But Brooks shows that for considerable chunks of time in Europe, many did expect the torturers...Brooks opens windows onto forgotten worlds, matching her stories to historical truths. Throughout, the survival of the Sarajevo Haggadah speaks with its own thunderous eloquence."

Short notices
Lena on "The Reading Obsession" weblog: "I loved the book! The writer really caught the essence of the struggles of the Jewish people throughout history and really drew me into the story. It is not an 'on the edge of your seat' kind of book, but if the reader is looking for a wonderfully engaging story with a bit of a historical feel to it this book is a perfect fit for that type of reading."
Danielle Torres on the "Work in Progress" weblog: "The chapters alternate and with each chapter we discover what actually happened to the manuscript -- the hands it passed through to those who created it. It's all very creatively presented, and it seems that Brooks has certainly done her research well. Oftentimes in novels like these one period or plotline will dominate the other, but I was quite content with both the story set in the present and the individual pieces of the story in the past. I found it all interesting -- not ever wishing I could hurry on to a more exciting part of the story."
On the "Green Chair Press" weblog: "I am amazed by the amount of research that Brooks must have done to write her book. There's lots of information about bookbinding and conservation, as well as an incredible amount of historical detail. The adventures of the main, present-day narrator, Hanna, are awfully contrived, but the interspersed stories imagining the history of the Haggadah are much better. Certainly reading it was a fine way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon!"

You can listen to the author talking about her book on All Things Considered, from Minnesota Public Radio.
Bron Sibree in "The Courier-Mail":

Despite having written three historical novels, Brooks says she cannot fully explain her fascination with the past..."I liked history in school, but I was much more animated by politics, by the things that were really happening in society around me," she says...She likes too, to joke about her on-the-page attraction to men of the cloth -- "vicars, rabbis, imams, I don't know why" -- but insists she is not religious herself...She adopted the Jewish faith when she married fellow Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author Tony Horwitz -- more, she says, out of a sense of obligation to history than to faith..."I'm very interested in all those big life-and-death questions, but haven't found answers to them in any spirit in the sky."
Jessica Yadegaran talks to the author for "The Mercury News".
Brooks was interviewed by "The BookGuys" for their radio program, and the interview is available for download for audio streaming.
You can also listen to a radio interview with the author from station KCRW, and watch a video interview on Australia's Channel Nine.

You can read an essay by Brooks about the historical background to her novel published in "The New Yorker". It deals with the "Chronicles about Muslim librarian Dervis Korkut's heroism in Sarajevo during World War II."
If you're looking for more information about the author and her books you can find it on her website.

Wendy Harmer Interview

With her fourth novel for adults, Roadside Sisters, due out on March 30th, Wendy Harmer talks to Madeline Healy of "The Courier-Mail".

"I wouldn't trust myself to write a literary novel because I'd want to make it funny."

A veteran in radio (she spent 11 years hosting Sydney radio station 2Day FM's top-rating breakfast show), Harmer says she aims to write books all readers can enjoy.

"A lot of the time people come to me and say, I read your book in one sitting," Harmer says. "And I think, I wish I'd made it more complex or more literary, but I do love the fact that I've written a book people find easy to read. The way I write is to write books without bumps. I don't like having to go back in a book to try to work out who is who, and what's happened before."

Harmer says there is a lot of snobbery about women's fiction and that literary critics think chick lit "will rot your teeth".

"I think on most bedside tables there will be a copy of a chick lit book, a favourite classic and a magazine," Harmer says. "Chick lit sells and that's helping keep the industry going, especially at the moment."

Poem: The Poet's Kiss by Henry Lawson (Part 2)

She pictured him with burning eyes,
   And heavy hair thrown back
From gloomy brows so worldly wise
   And sadly on the rack.
A wasted form -- transparent hands
   That angels might caress;
A heart that ached for many lands,
   And clean but careless dress.

She longed to take those hands of his,
   And, with her spirit, bow,
And kiss them, if she dared not kiss
   His lips, or gloomy brow.
She longed to look into his eyes,
   And ask him, with a sigh,
If they might meet in Paradise --
   And then go home and die.

They'd three green seasons after brown
   (So runs the world away);
They sent her down to Sydney town
   To have a holiday.
In fear and trembling -- yet with joy --
   In fluttering hope and doubt,
And, eager-hearted as a boy,
   She sought her poet out.

She found him too, no matter how,
   Nor does it matter where;
The gloom upon his grimy brow
   Was hidden by his hair.
The poet's words were thick and slow,
   The poet's chin was slack;
His bloodshot eyes were burning, though,
   And one of them was black.

His clothes were careless, right enough,
   But they were far from clean,
And he was, briefly -- in the rough --
   The Man He Might Have Been.
He heard her worship with a laugh,
   Her sorrow with a frown --
He scrawled a drunken autograph,
   And borrowed half-a-crown.

The sky is lead -- storm-waters whirl
   Down gullies deep and dark,
And there's a disillusioned girl
   Far out at Stringybark.
And, after all, there is a chance,
   This is a song of woe --
'Twas sung to buy a pair of pants,
   And that is all I know.

First published in The Bulletin, 13 May 1909
[Note: the first part of this poem was published last week .]

Combined Reviews: Wanting by Richard Flanagan

wanting.jpg Reviews of Wanting
Richard Flanagan
Random House

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2009 Miles Franklin Award.]
From the publisher's page:
It is 1839. A young Aboriginal girl, Mathinna, is running through the long wet grass of an island at the end of the world to get help for her dying father, an Aboriginal chieftain. Twenty years later, on an island at the centre of the world, the most famous novelist of the day, Charles Dickens, realises he is about to abandon his wife, risk his name and forever after be altered because of his inability any longer to control his intense passion.

Connecting the two events are the most celebrated explorer of the age, Sir John Franklin - then governor of Van Diemen's Land - and his wife, Lady Jane, who adopt Mathinna, seen as one of the last of a dying race, as an experiment. Lady Jane believes the distance between savagery and civilisation is the learned capacity to control wanting. The experiment fails, Sir John disappears into the blue ice of the Arctic seeking the Northwest Passage, and a decade later Lady Jane enlists Dickens' aid to put an end to the scandalous suggestions that Sir John's expedition ended in cannibalism.

Dickens becomes ever more entranced in the story of men entombed in ice, recognising in its terrible image his own frozen inner life. He produces and stars in a play inspired by Franklin's fate to give story to his central belief that discipline and will can conquer desire. And yet the play will bring him to the point where he is no longer able to control his own passion and the consequences it brings.

Inspired by historical events, WANTING is a novel about art, love, and the way in which life is finally determined never by reason, but only ever by wanting.

Don Anderson in "The Australian".
Without doubt a main subject of Wanting is what its author calls the "catastrophe of colonialism". Notions of the "savage", the "other", warp all sorts of notions and arguments. Thus, one-third into the novel, a propos allegations of Franklin's crew's cannibalism, Dickens asserts: "We all have appetites and desires. But only the savage agrees to sate them with all the attendant horrors that ensue." Almost at the novel's end, however, Dickens, his cheek pressed on stage against Ellen's "uncorsetted belly", notes that "he, a man who had spent a life believing that giving in to desire was the mark of a savage, realised that he could no longer deny wanting".
"Publisher's Weekly": "The interlaced stories focus on conquering the yearning that exists both in the Aboriginals and the noble English gentlemen, and though Flanagan has a tendency to hammer home his ideas, his prose is strong and precise, and the depiction of desire's effects is sublime."
[Note: the novel won't be released in the USA until May.]
Magdalena Ball on The Compulsive Reader website: "One of the key objections I had to Richard Flanagan's last novel, The Unknown Terrorist was that it put the ideology first: making a political point at the expense of the characters and the plot. This isn't at all the case in Wanting. Indeed, in Wanting, as in Gould's Book of Fish, the whole notion of historical fact becomes subservient to the greater truth -- that of human nature -- the most fundamental of emotional responses and how they underpin the making of history. Wanting is a novel that traces the trajectory of desire...Like good poetry, the novel is full of correspondences, connections, and vivid imagery."
You can read further reviews on the book's dedicated website.

Short notices
Boomerang Books: "Flanagan treads a fine line. He doesn't imply that the British were all cruel, or that the Aborigines were entirely victims or 'noble savages'. There is a spectrum of perspectives, from the brutal to the misguided-and even the supportive. It must be difficult to write a novel like this without judging, excusing or idealising."
Readings: "Wanting is a powerful piece of writing that affects in many ways. Above all, it's about unbridled desire and its tragic consequences."
Sandra Hogan on the "M/C Reviews" website: "Wanting is a sad, vivid book in which Flanagan expresses his very strong feelings about the painfulness and uncertainty of life through powerful, compact prose. This artfully constructed novel, with its variety of astonishing characters and stories, is introduced deftly in short, contrasting chapters, bringing the reader back in small climaxes to the central theme of conflict between reason and wanting. A good deal of craft has gone into this book with its clear, spare writing style and --ironically, given the theme -- deep, but controlled emotions."

Jason Steger interviews the author for "The Age".
Simon Bevilacqua interview in "The Mercury".
Sally Warhaft interviews the author on Slow TV.
Ramona Koval spoke to Flanagan on "The Book Show" on ABC Radio National in November.

Video clips relating to the novel
Book trailer
Interview: Part 1 - What led you to write WANTING?
Interview: Part 2 - Who are the main charcaters in WANTING?
Interview: Part 3 - What would you consider to be the themes of WANTING?
Interview: Part 4 - How are the lives of Charles Dickens and Mathinna connected?
Interview: Part 5 - There are fictional and historical characters in the story. How much licence did you take with the facts?
Interview: Part 6 - How different was it writing the script for Baz Luhrmann.

ABC television gardening legend Peter Cundall launched the novel in Launceston, Tasmania.

2009 Man Booker International Prize

The Judges' List of contenders for the 2009 Man Booker International Prize have been announced. "The Man Booker International Prize differs from the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction in that it highlights one writer's continued creativity, development and overall contribution to fiction on the world stage. It is awarded every two years." This year 14 authors from 12 different countries have been included on the list: seven of the authors are writers in translation.

The authors are:
Peter Carey (Australia)
Evan S. Connell (USA)
Mahasweta Devi (India)
E.L. Doctorow (USA)
James Kelman (UK)
Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru)
Arnošt Lustig (Czechoslovakia)
Alice Munro (Canada)
V.S. Naipaul (Trinidad/India)
Joyce Carol Oates (USA)
Antonio Tabucchi (Italy)
Ngugi Wa Thiong'O (Kenya)
Dubravka Ugresic (Croatia)
Ludmila Ulitskaya (Russia)

The winner will be announced in May 2009.

Brothers in Arms

Is it just me or...

bolanor.jpg haighg.jpg

Roberto Bolano and Gideon Haigh

2009 Orange Prize for Fiction Longlist

The longlist for the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction has been announced, with a couple of Australian novels making an appearance. This prize is "awarded annually for the best original full-length novel by a female author of any nationality, written in English and published in the UK in the preceding year." (Wikipedia)

The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide
The Lost Dog
by Michelle de Kretser

The shortlist will appear on 21 April, with the winner announced on 3 June.

Lee Fox Interview

Lee Fox, author of the children's book Jasper McFlea Will Not Eat His Tea (illustrated by Micth Vane) is interviewed by Fran Metcalf for "The Courier-Mail".

Apart from writing books, Fox conducts writing and reading workshops for school children.

It's an ironic outcome, she says, since she was raised in a family that didn't read much by a father who believed women were made to be wives and mothers.

"When I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher but when I asked Dad about how to become one, he said you needed to go to university but that girls didn't need to get an education so I should just forget about that," she says.

"There were no books in our house when I was growing up.

"I discovered the library when I was seven and my best friend took me there.

"I was amazed that you could take three books home and bring them back the next week and get three more."

350,000th Visitor

Sometime in the mid-day hours of 17th March, this weblog received its 350,000th visitor
since I started collecting statistics on October 19, 2005. This note is here for housekeeping purposes only.

2008 Australian Shadows Award Winner

The Australian Horror Writers Association has announced that "The Claws of Native Ghosts" by Lee Battersby has won 2008 Australian Shadows Award. This award is "presented by the AHWA and judged on the overall effect - the skill, delivery, and lasting resonance - of a work of horror fiction written or edited by an Australian and published either in Australia or overseas." Gary Kemble interviewed the author for the ABC's weblog "Articulate".

Q. There's been a lot of talk about a renaissance in Australian horror writing - what's your take on this? Is it all hot air or are Australian horror writers making their presence felt on the world scene?

Australian horror is very vibrant within the Australian speculative fiction scene right now, but any writer who limits themself to one form of expression is tying their fortunes to the whims of the marketplace. Five years ago, horror was destitute as an art form, and it might be again in another five. I enjoy writing darker stories, because I'm a cynical curmudgeonly old pessimist who tortures kittens and puppies of an evening, and I'm glad to see a plethora of markets for my work, but I have other sides to my writing, and most successful writers of my acquaintance can say the same (maybe not the torturing kittens bit...).

There are a lot of Australian writers being noticed internationally, but there have been for ages - Garth Nix isn't a horror writer, nor is Sean Williams, Sara Douglass, Sean Tan, or John Birmingham, and they've all been walking the big stage for a good number of years. Quality rises, that's the only real rule. We have some brilliant dark writers working in this country, from Terry Dowling (who's been internationally noticed forever), through Brett McBean, Rick Kennett, Paul Haines, and any number more that you could care to name. If they're still producing brilliant work, at an international level, in 10 years time, then we should start talking about a golden age of horror. Not just yet. Right now it's just a damn good playground to play in.

Australian Bookcovers #153 - A Descant for Gossips by Thea Astley


A Descant for Gossips by Thea Astley, 1960
(UQP 1991 edition)
Cover design by Craig Glasson using "Palmwoods" by John Rigby (1986)

Jennifer Fallon Interview

Jennifer Fallon, author of the The Demon Child, The Second Sons, The Hythrun Chronicles and The Tide Lords series of fantasy novels, is interviewed by Gary Kemble for the ABC's "Articulate" weblog.

Q. You're a speculative fiction writer, but I'd like you to speculate on the future of Australian speculative fiction! How will technology affect the lives of Australian writers? Is the tyranny of distance a thing of the past?

As a writer from Alice Springs who is published all over the world, I've never considered the tyranny of distance in the first place. I had an agent in Sydney for two years before I met her. I was published for three or four years before I ever met my Australian editor. I've never even spoken on the phone to my US or UK publishers, or my US or European agents. The world functions quite well on email.

As for the future of Australian spec fic, I'm probably not the person to ask. This is partly because I don't think of myself as specifically an "Australian" spec fic writer. I'm just a writer and my work is just as valid (or not, if it sucks) as any writer from the US, the UK or Outer Mongolia. I've never expected or assumed that being Australian makes a difference.

2009 National Biography Award Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2009 National Biography Award has been announced.

The shortlisted works are:
I am Melba by Ann Blainey (Black Inc.)
Arthur Blackburn VC: An Australian Hero, His Men, and Their Two World Wars by Andrew Faulkner (Wakefield Press)
The Bone Man of Kokoda by Charles Happell (Macmillan)
The Flower Hunter: the Remarkable Life of Ellis Rowan by Christine and Michael Morton-Evans (S&S)
Desert Queen: The Many Lives and Loves of Daisy Bates by Susanna De Vries (HarperCollins)
Tom Wills: His Spectacular Rise and Fall by Greg de Moore (Allen & Unwin)

The award is judged by Louis Nowra, David Headon and Michael McGirr. The winner will be announced at 11am, Monday 30 March at the State Library of NSW.

Poem: The Poet's Kiss by Henry Lawson (Part 1)

A comedy -- a tragedy --
   A broken head, or egg --
And some of us would laugh to see
   A blind man's wooden leg.
So much that seemeth sad is gay --
   That seemeth weal is woe --
That, till it's sung, I cannot say
   If this song's sad or no.

Her freckled face was small and sweet,
   Her large grey eyes were sad;
Through cold and slush, and dust and heat,
   She slaved to help her dad.
By ridges brooding ever now,
   And gullies deep and dark,
She milked the everlasting cow
   Out there at Stringybark.

It was a fearsome life indeed,
   That few might understand;
Her only pleasure was to read
   The poets of the land --
The songs of drovers far away,
   Of love, and city strife;
And Men that Might Have Been -- 'twas they
   Who brightened her young life.

And when the evening milk was set,
   And poddy calves were fed,
And when she'd cooked what she could get
   For Dad and Tom and Ted,
And when she'd penned the calves and bought
   The morning's firewood in,
She had a rest (as so she ought)
   And read THE BULLETIN.

There was a bard who sang the Bush,
   The ocean wide and wild,
The bushmen and the city push --
   She'd read him when a child:
He sang of Hope and grim despair,
   Of backs bent to the rod,
Of fights for freedom everywhere,
   And -- oh! he was her god.

He sang of gaunt bushwomen slaves,
   Of bush girls sad and lone;
Of broken hearts and lonely graves
   (Of others' and his own);
He sang of many a noble deed,
   And many an act of grace:
And, all her life, since she could read,
   She'd longed to see his face.

First published in The Bulletin, 13 May 1909
[The second part of this poem will be published next week.]

Number 1 Fiction Bestseller: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas


It's already hitting the high points. Photo taken: 13.03.2009

2009 ALS Gold Medal

Susan Wyndham, of "The Sydney Morning Herald", has announced that the shortlisted works for the 2009 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal have been released.

The shortlist is as follows:
Her Father's Daughter by John Clanchy (UQP)
The Spare Room by Helen Garner (Text)
House of Exile by Evelyn Juers (Giramondo)
Divine Comedy: Journeys through a Regional Geography by John Kinsella (UQP)
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (Allen & Unwin)
Telling a Hawk from a Handsaw by Chris Wallace Crabbe (Carcenet)

No word at this time as to when the winner will be announced. You can see the list of previous winners on Wikipedia.

2009 Miles Franklin Award Longlist

The actual 2009 Miles Franklin Award Longlist of novels has now been announced. This is the real deal, not to be confused with those lists of "possibles" I've been toying with over the past day or so.

Addition Toni Jordan, Text Publishing
A Fraction of the Whole Steve Toltz, Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Books)
Breath Tim Winton, Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Books)
fugative blue Claire Thomas, Allen & Unwin
Ice Louis Nowra, Allen &Unwin
one foot wrong Sofie Laguna, Allen & Unwin
The Devil's Eye Ian Townsend, Fourth Estate (HarperCollinsPublishers Australia)
The Pages Murray Bail, Text Publishing
The Slap Christos Tsiolkas, Allen & Unwin
Wanting Richard Flanagan, Knopf (Random House Australia)

Of my original list of 22 possibles, I missed the books by Thomas and Laguna. However, of my suggested longlist of 12 I only picked four of the final selection. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing but I foolishly challenged Kerryn Goldsworthy - who blogs over at "Still Life with Cat" - to see who would pick the most. I had a bottle of wine on the outcome, as well as a bottle on each of the next two levels - the shortlist and the winner. If you're interested in watching a slow train wreck of confidence then I suggest you check out Kerryn's original selection, and the follow-up. It's in the comments sections that all the action takes place.

So it's Goldsworthy: 1, Middlemiss: 0. Two sets left. Excuse me, have to go limber up.

The shortlist will be released on 16 April.

Shut Out the Light

Thirdcat is back in Adelaide and suffering a form of performance anxiety. And then she posts a link to the review.
Bravery indeed. But it all seems to have worked out well.

SF writer John Scalzi proposes a statute of limitations on spoilers, citing the recent film version of Watchmen as an example. It's 23 years old now and he reckons he should be able to say what he likes about it.

Sarsaparilla, one of the better Australian literature plus weblogs going around (bastards!), dropped off the internet radar late last year but has now been resurrected in lite form prior to a new launch sometime soon.

It's not Australian but it is about Shakespeare so I guess that overrides everything else. Charlotte Higgins, of "The Guardian", is not convinced the newly discovered portrait of Shakespeare is anything of the sort. I tend to agree. When I saw it on the television news a day or two back and heard that it was supposed to represent Bill only 6 years before his death, that is at age 46, I just about choked on my glass of red.

Hoaxes are always good fun, so long as you aren't the "hoaxee". ABC News in the USA lists its 19 famous literary hoaxes. Keep an eye peeled for Forbidden Love by Norma Khouri. Which all goes well with "Jennifer Byrne Presents: Literary Hoaxes" which aired on ABC Television (Australia) this week.

If you've ever wondered if mining your own family for material is the right and proper thing to do, then I suggest you don't read this. Kim Forrester has the rest of the relevant links fully covered.

The 2009 Tournament of Books is running in the US and the latest match-up is The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga vs Harry, Revised by Mark Sarvas. I mention this because Adiga is now being described as Indian/Australian and Sarvas was here for last year's Melbourne Writers' Festival. And because I think the whole idea rather amusing.

2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize Regional Winners

The regional winners of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize have been announced.

In the South East Asia and the Pacific region (which includes Australia) the winner of the Best Book was The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, and the winner of the Best First Book was The Year of The Shanghai Shark by Mo Zhi Hong of New Zealand.

You can see the full list of shortlisted titles in each region here. The overall winner of the Best Book and Best First Book
prizes (chosen from the winners in each region) will be announced in May 2009.

Marshall Browne Profile

Marshall Browne's new novel, The Iron Heart, features his German auditor Franz Schmidt, who first appeared in The Eye of the Abyss in 2002. Browne now has three series running: Italian Inspector Anders (see my review of Inspector Anders and the Blood Vendetta), Japanese Hideo Aoki, and the German Franz Schmidt.

The author talked to Jason Steger for "The West Australian".

Browne says he is interested in damaged heroes: Schmidt has only one eye; Anders only one leg; and he says that while Aoki is "intact physically, he's not intact psychologically. He's got a lot of things missing from his make-up in that respect."

But he writes from an image, not the character. Anders he saw in his mind's eye getting off a train in Italy and walking in a funny way. "I thought he's got an artificial leg and he was coming to this southern Italian town where there was a lot of trouble and there was a woman and she was going to take him further into this trouble. All this came in the first 30 seconds of thinking about it in bed one morning."

Schmidt was different, but not much. An image of him walking with a woman and a child to catch a tram in what looked like a German city in the 1930s. The eye problems came from Browne's father, who had just lost one.

Some writers plot their crime fiction to the nth degree; not Browne. He says he doesn't know where he's going when he starts a novel. "I set off and hope for the best. There's a lot of false starts, a lot of revision, but I'm not planning the end at all. I don't think I'd find it too interesting if I knew what was going to happen at the end."

2009 Miles Franklin Award Longlist Possibles #2

I really should not have been surprised, over the past few years, that Kerryn Goldsworthy (current book reviewer for "the Sydney Morning Herald" and ex-Miles Franklin Award judge) should have been able to predict the shortlist and then, later, the winner of the award. She reads many more of the possible nominees that I ever could, and she has the added advantage of being aware what the judges look for: insider knowledge no less. This year she's gone one further by taking my list of longlist possibles, then picking the full longlist of between ten and twelve, a shortlist of six and then a winner. Not being one to pass up such a challenge here's my longlist:

The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide
His Illegal Self by Peter Carey
Wanting by Richard Flanagan
The Spare Room by Helen Garner
Everything I Knew by Peter Goldsworthy
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
The Steele Diaries by Wendy James
Life in Seven Mistakes by Susan Johnson
Addition by Toni Jordan
The Good Parents by Joan London
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Breath by Tim Winton

My shortlist:
The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide
The Spare Room by Helen Garner
Life in Seven Mistakes by Susan Johnson
The Good Parents by Joan London
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Breath by Tim Winton

And my winner: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

Now I'd be quite willing to bet Kerryn a bottle of red on each part of this award process, with the proviso that we can re-set our choices for shortlist and winner after the longlist is announced. Trouble is, I know I'm going to get soundly beaten.

2009 Miles Franklin Award Possibles

The longlist of novels for the 2009 Miles Franklin award will be announced on 12 March (tomorrow) by the trustees of the prize. As I have produced in the past, here is a list of possible inclusions on that list:

The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide
The Pages by Murray Bail
His Illegal Self by Peter Carey
The Biographer by Virginia Duigan
Wanting by Richard Flanagan
The Spare Room by Helen Garner
Everything I Knew by Peter Goldsworthy
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
The Steele Diaries by Wendy James
The Lifeboat by Zacharey Jane
Life in Seven Mistakes by Susan Johnson
Addition by Toni Jordan
The Good Parents by Joan London
Deception by Michael Meehan
The Last Sky by Alice Nelson
Ice by Louis Nowra
The Landscape of Desire by Kevin Rabelais
The Shallow End by Ashley Sievwright
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
The Devil's Eye by Ian Townsend
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Breath by Tim Winton

Any others you can think of?

Marion Halligan Interview

Marion Halligan, winner of the Nita Kibble Literary Award and Age Book of the Year Award for Fiction, has a new novel, Valley of Grace, in the bookshops. The author is interviewed in "The Courier-Mail" by Christopher Bantick.

Given that Valley of Grace began as a short story, the development of the characters is patiently paced and methodical. This is a marker of how Halligan works. She wants her readers to know her characters well before she introduces the thematic concerns.

"All my novels are really a set of short stories. This was very evident in Lovers' Knots, which was a family saga with all the boring bits left out. I can see this in Valley of Grace, where we have a set of characters. We all live our lives like this. We are the heroes of our own stories but we're the small players in others stories as well.

"The way I had structured the novel, there are a set of characters with their own roles, and yet roles in other peoples' lives. They are all knotted together. It is a technique that I love.

"There is a linear narrative movement in Valley of Grace where there is a beginning and resolution at the end. But it is essentially the knotting up in the middle that really interests me.

"There are several kinds of relationships here and one of the things strongly evoked, besides the desire to have babies, is the importance of sex in the story."

2008 Australian Fiction Award Winners (Update)

As we head into the 2009 Australian literature award year, I thought it interesting to put together a table of the major award winners, for literary fiction, from 2008. I don't intend to draw any conclusions from this, but you should feel free to do so.

ABC Fiction AwardKain MassinGod for the KillingABC Books
The Age Book of the YearTim WintonBreathHamish Hamilton
ALS Gold MedalMichelle de KretserThe Lost DogAllen & Unwin
Australia-Asia Literary AwardDavid MaloufThe Complete StoriesKnopf
The Australian/Vogel Literary AwardAndrew CrommeDocument Z(manuscript)
Colin Roderick AwardMalcolm KnoxJamaicaAllen & Unwin
Barbara Jefferis AwardRhyll McMasterFeather ManBrandl and Schlesinger
Miles Franklin AwardSteven CarrollThe Time We Have TakenHarperCollins
Nita Kibble Literary AwardCarol LefevreNights in the AsylumVintage Books
New South Wales Premier's Literary AwardsMichelle de KretserThe Lost DogAllen & Unwin
Prime Minister's Literary AwardSteven ConteThe Zookeeper's WarFourth Estate
Queensland Premier's Literary Awards Helen Garner The Spare Room Text Publishing
South Australian Premier's Awards Roger McDonald The Ballad of Desmond Kale Vintage Books
Victorian Premier's Literary Awards Helen Garner The Spare Room Text Publishing
Western Australian Premier's Book Awards Stephen Scourfield Other Country Allen & Unwin

This table comes from a Wikipedia entry, titled 2008 in Australian literature that I've put together. It forms part of a continuing series of year-based pages that I am slowly developing for the encyclopedia. So far I've covered the years 2004-2008. I would like to emphasise the "slow" part of the previous sentence. These pages all hang off the List of years in Australian literature entry, which aims to give a very brief overview of Australian literature from 1770 to date. There are a lot of gaps, which tends to reflect my knowledge more than anything else.

Update: I left out a few awards which I have now added in.

2009 Barbara Jefferis Award

The weblog of "Australian Literary Review", "A Pair of Ragged Claws", has announced that the shortlist for the 2009 Barbara Jefferis Award has been released. This award, which was first presented in 2008 to Feather Man by Rhyll McMaster, is presented to "the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society".

The shortlisted works are:
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks(HarperCollins)
The Spare Room by Helen Garner (Text)
The Lifeboat by Zacharey Jane (University of Queensland Press)
Addition by Toni Jordan (Text)
The Good Parents by Joan London (Random House)
The Last Sky by Alice Nelson (Fremantle Press)

The winner will be announced on Friday March 27.

Australian Bookcovers #152 - One of the Wattle Birds by Jessica Anderson


One of the Wattle Birds by Jessica Anderson, 1994
(Penguin 1994 edition)
Cover design by Joanna Hunt

Poem: A Boomerang by D.M.W. (David McKee Wright)

It was a tender-pinioned little thing,
      The song I made.
I said: "Go spread your silver-silken wing,
Fly to the kindly editor and sing,
      All unafraid,
And home again some store of treasure bring."

Swiftly it sped upon its happy way
      Down the sweet wind;
It left its little perch at peep of day,
Three weeks in Sydney town it made its stay.
      "With thanks declined"
It fluttered home to say.

I sent it out upon another flight,
      But it came back;
No editor was gladdened at the sight,
Nor bade it sing for the dull world's delight;
      It learned the knack
Of boomeranging home again all right.

Now strive all fowls against my bird in vain,
      It bears the palm;
Home-seeking pigeons with despair are slain
What time the editor hath read my strain
      And said one damn,
For swift as light my song is back again.

First published in The Bulletin, 16 September 1909

Life Itself

Judith Ridge announces another loss in the world of Australian children's literature with the passing of children's book illustrator Kilmeny Niland - a daughter of Ruth Park and D'Arcy Niland.

Sean Williams is appearing at the Adelaide Fringe festival next week, discussing authors who have inspired him.

Flinders University has announced a new web-based literary journal, "Transnational Literature", which has an impressive advisory board. The first issue is dated November 2008.

James Bradley is waiting for a time traveller. A bit to the left James.

If anyone takes my upcoming hint and mentions Garry Disher's Wyatt novels to the Hard Case Crime publishers in the US, I would be: a) pleased the books have found a new home, and b) quite happy to have my name applied to a victim in any future volume in the series. It's the least I can do.

And in a case of "I see you watching me watching you", Margo Lanagan has mentioned my "Margo Lanagan Watch #2" post of last week on her weblog, as well as the note I sent to the Moleskinerie blog about her notebook post from her time as resident blogger at the State Library of Victoria. Now, if Margo mentions this post, my head can safely implode, and I might get some sleep.

Melbourne's Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas

You'll recall that in August 2008 Melbourne was named the second UNESCO City of Literature. That resulted in the announcement that the State Library of Victoria would host a new Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas. The first director of that centre was announced at the end of 2008 as Caro Llewellyn, then New York-based. A month or so back Llewellyn withdrew from the position citing unexpected personal events. So the hunt was on again for another director.

Now the centre has appointed Chrissy Sharp, the Australian general manager of Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. You can read more background about this story by Susan Wyndham.

Steven Amsterdam Interview and Review

Steven Amsterdam, author of Things We Didn't See Coming, is interviewed by Kevin Rabalais for the "Readings" weblog.

Things We Didn't See Coming, Amsterdam's debut novel, is that all-too-rare book that will incite a cult following, while simultaneously welcoming popular appeal. This is fiction of high order, and in it Amsterdam establishes himself as a writer of great vision and compassion.

The novel begins on New Year's Eve 1999. As Y2K fears escalate, the nameless narrator, aged ten in the first chapter, flees an anonymous city with his parents to hole up at his grandparents' house in the country. In the ensuing chapters, Amsterdam tracks his narrator through an unspecified country that has been ravaged by plague, drought, fires and floods. There are barricades and quarantines.Wars rage across the country's desolate landscape. Amsterdam invents horses that are bred to ride on water after the melting of the ice caps and throws in a fair share of sex, drugs and guns. This is the Wild West without cowboy hats, science fiction without the science, some kind of radical and daring offspring of Cormac McCarthy and Philip K. Dick.

The first review of the book I've seen is by Angela Meyer on the "LiteraryMinded" weblog, who says:
Things We Didn't See Coming is a series of vignettes, from different stages of the unnamed protagonist's life in a dystopian alterno-present/future. It is a post-apocalyptic story, but told in a hard-boiled, yet highly resonant literary style. The sentences are sharp, the character is hard and the environment is one of rapid change and ruin -- but throughout there is also deep resistance. The book acts to massage you at your core, and every secondary character met along the way (no matter how fleeting) leaves a poignant stain on character and reader. They are examples from all of humanity's shredded social standings -- how different people would deal with natural disasters, segregation (between urban and land environments), political situations (and radical politics), survival against disease, and more.

2009 Nebula Awards

The shortlists for the 2009 Nebula Awards have been announced. These awards are presented each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America across the categories of Novel (40,000 words or more), Novella (17,500 to 40,000 words), Novelette (7,500 to 17,500 words), Short Story (under 7,500 words) and Script (for a movie, TV or radio show, or a play). While it isn't actually a Nebula Award, the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy is presented at the same ceremony as the main awards. In 2009, Monster Blood Tattoo: Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish has been nominated for this award. You might remember that Justine Larbalestier won the Norton back in 2007 for her novel Magic or Madness.

Australian Bookcovers #151 - Taking Shelter by Jessica Anderson


Taking Shelter by Jessica Anderson, 1989
(Penguin 1989 edition)
Cover design by Todd Radom.

Combined Reviews: Breath by Tim Winton

breath.jpgReviews of Breath
Tim Winton
Hamish Hamilton
[This novel has been shortlisted for the Best Book award in the South East Asia and the Pacific region of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. It won the 2008 Age Book of the Year Award for Fiction.]

From the publisher's page:

More than once since then I've wondered whether the life-threatening high jinks that Loonie and I and Sando and Eva got up to in the years of my adolescence were anything more than a rebellion against the monotony of drawing breath.

Breath is a story about the wildness of youth - the lust for excitement and terror, the determination to be extraordinary, the wounds that heal and those that don't - and about learning to live with its passing.

In his first novel for seven years, Tim Winton has achieved a new level of mastery. Breath confirms him as one of the world's finest storytellers, a writer of novels that are at the same time simple and profound, relentlessly gripping and deeply moving.


James Bradley in "The Age": "For, in many ways, it is the idea of damage - personal, psychic, physical - that Winton returns to time and again and it is this undercurrent of pain that lends his often fractured narratives their urgency and brooding power. Whether it is a girl with a finger lost in an accident in a story such as 'Abbreviation' or the shattered Luther in Dirt Music, almost to a one, Winton's characters are caught in a struggle with the fact of their pasts and more particularly with their own need to blot out or escape those pasts whether through drugs or drink or simply a retreat from the world around them and themselves... It's unlikely Winton has ever written as well as he writes in Breath, a book that marries the lyricism of work such as Cloudstreet to the adamantine hardness of the stories in The Turning. Time and again his descriptions of the ocean and the littoral break free of the page, revealing this landscape with a clarity and an intimacy that lets us see it anew."
Andy Martin in "The Independent": "Unlike just about everyone else, I thought Winton's early work wildly over-written. Like a Dylan Thomas poem transported to Western Australia and doing hard labour: lots of great vocabulary, but nothing much happening. In Breath, he has finally found an objective correlative, surfing, to carry his tough, visceral lyricism. Winton on a wave is irresistible."
Stephen Abell in "The Telegraph": "Reading Winton's latest novel, Breath, one begins to recognise that his prose is a small-town songline: the dirty, droning music of life in working-class Western Australia; the hum within the lives of people stranded in that 'strange and tough' part of the world."
Kathryn Crim in the "Los Angeles Times": "Winton often locates a transcendent wisdom in nature, letting it guide his analogies to time, space, longing and the sort of existential entrapment that comes from being born into a
particular place and culture. This is the recipe for his soaring popularity in his native Australia and also the reason he has garnered an international audience. In his best moments of controlled, evocative storytelling, though, Winton's descriptions eschew metaphor altogether and instead masterfully balance visual imagery with colloquial language. In Breath, the waves underpin the episodic narrative, whose most vivid moments occur at sea. It achieves that essential quality of a short novel: Its poetry becomes its imperative, its motivating and most risky venture."
Rónán McDonald in the "Times Literary Supplement": "Like Hardy's Wessex or Faulkner's Mississippi, the Western Australian landscape has been consecrated by Tim Winton's fiction. He has been garlanded with literary awards and acclaim in his native Australia, and has been twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize. His work is preoccupied with wounded or troubled characters, often haunted by their past, who set out on actual or psychological journeys in search of purpose, meaning and redemption. Dirt Music (2002) depicts a vast, hostile outback in which the individual self is tiny and threatened. In Breath, the sea takes on a comparable role as an immense elemental force that simultaneously compels and controls the protagonists...While Breath deals with primal, mythic conflicts -- the clash of wilderness and civilization, self and society, youth and age -- it does not strain for epic effect."
Carolyn See in "The Washington Post": "Breath, Winton's latest novel, is stunning in the depth of its audacity. Because, when you think about it, breath is our relationship to the cosmos. We breathe in an iota of the universe, we breathe it out; without it, we die. But then why is there something in us that makes us want to hold our breath as kids until we pass out, or makes us just stop breathing while we're sleeping until our rattled partners shake us awake?"
John Repp in "The St Petersburg Times": "Despite its flaws, Breath should enhance Winton's American reputation. It's a fast read that digs deep, proving once again that in the hands of a skilled writer, the metamorphosis from child to adult can yield fresh iscoveries."
Stephanie Johnson in "The New Zealand Herald": "Breath's characters and story hang in the reader's mind for days after finishing. Strangely and beautifully, it resonates more as a lengthy poem rather than a novel, perhaps because the notion behind it is so metaphorical and profound: breath and the fear of losing it. This is despite the voice not being particularly poetic and the sometimes heavy-handed Australianisms."
Ian Mcgillis in "The Calgary Herald": "In a novel whose characters are compelled to test the limits of the flesh, much depends on Winton being able to convey some of that rush, and he does."
Darryl Whetter in "The Vancouver Sun": "For all its mid-sized accuracies, Breath doesn't fully transcend surfing or its protagonist to make a lasting, universal statement...One consequence is the mixed blessing of the novel's close, a slippery dénouement in which intelligent emotional confessions are made but too many years and crises slide by too quickly. In short, we see little connection between the adolescent surfer who risks his life in one spot but not another, who is loyal in some ways but not others, and the articulate but distant adult he becomes."
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."
"HeraldTribune": "The book's central metaphor of breathing, that most essential function for life, works its way through many aspects of the novel and the characters who people it. Although the beauty and danger of surfing stand at its center, Breath expands far beyond the sea to the base instincts and involuntary actions that keep us alive. What it means to go beyond the involuntary, to challenge one's very soul, is at the heart of the matter."
Bradley Winterton in the "Tapei Times": "Winton is clearly pushing the boundaries of the dangerous sports genre to include, despite the everywhere laconic style, some questioning thoughts. His conclusions are usually ambivalent, and indeed ambiguity characterizes his attitudes in other spheres as well...So -- pro or anti surfing in possibly lethal situations? Pro or anti teenage drug use? Pro or anti the outer reaches of sexual experimentation? Winton offers a sphinx-like stare, and his final position on all these issues remains a fascinating, but to the last undivulged, secret."

Short notices

"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 New Yorker" on Breath:"Winton's latest novel is both a hymn to the beauty of flying on water and a sober assessment of the costs of losing one's balance, in every sense of the word."
"Words and Flavours weblog: "Can breathing be more than a requirement for life and become an addiction? In Breath, Tim Winton plays on our attachment to that fundamental action to explore his characters' addictions to the extreme and the dangerous."
The novel made "Seth's Notable List" for 2008: "The more time that goes by since my reading this book -- back in July -- the more I realize that it's really staying with me."


Aida Edemariam in "The Guardian".
Lisa Wrenn in "PopMatters".
Jane Sullivan in "The Age".

Eva Hornung Interview

Eva Hornung, under the name Eva Sallis, published Hiam, which won the Australian/Vogel Literary award in 1997, and The Marsh Birds, which was shortlisted for a number of Australian literary awards in 2006. Now the author has a new novel, Dog Boy, about to be published. She spoke to Jane Sullivan of "The Age".

She's always written, but never thought of herself as a writer until her first novel, Hiam, won the Vogel award. That affirmation sparked an intense six-week creative period. She wrote during all her waking hours and produced drafts of two novels, though it then took seven years to get them into print.

In Hornung's latest story, Romochka, a four-year-old boy living in Moscow, is abandoned by his parents. He finds refuge with a mother dog he calls Mamochka, who gives him milk, and he begins a difficult and dangerous new life in the mother's lair with her offspring. Most of the story is told from Romochka's point of view: a boy who, fighting daily for survival, identifies far more with dogs than with humans.

"I hope it's a disturbing book," Hornung says. "I don't think there are any easy answers about our relationship with animals, except that animals are perhaps closer to us than we think."

She expects readers will see the novel as a departure from her previous fiction -- written under the name of Eva Sallis -- which is mostly about the experiences of migrants and refugees, particularly from the Arab world. "But for me, it's really harping on the same old things. The notion of where the self resides, and under what pressure the self expands or contracts. What it means to belong, whether in family, community, nation -- or species."

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