June 2009 Archives

Matilda Waltzes

Just a quick note to let you know that I will be away on holidays with the family for the next two weeks. Postings will resume in the first week of July.

Australian Crime Fiction

Stephen Knight, author of Crime Fiction 1800-2000: Detection, Death Diversity and Continent of Mystery: A Thematic History of Australian Crime Fiction, has written a brief overview of Australian crime fiction for "The Age".  In this essay he name checks such people as Peter Temple, Peter Corris, Garry Disher, Kerry Greenwood, Marshall Browne and Lucy Sussex amongst many others.  If you're interested in learning more about how the genre is handled in this country then this is a pretty good launching-pad.

2009 Australian Book Industry Awards Winners

The winners of the 2009 Australian Book Industry Awards were announced in Sydney last night. The winners were:

Independent Bookseller of the Year
VIC - Readings Books Music Film Carlton

Bookseller Marketing Campaign of the Year
Readings Books Music Film Carlton, for The Boat by Nam Le

Book of the Year
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (Allen & Unwin)

Newcomer of the Year (debut writer)
The Boat by Nam Le (Penguin Australia)

Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2009
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (Allen & Unwin)

General Fiction Book of the Year
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (Allen & Unwin)

Book of the Year for Older Children (age range 8 to 14 years)
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta (Penguin Australia)

Book of the Year for Younger Children (age range 0 to 8 years)
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes written by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (Penguin Australia)

General Non-Fiction Book of the Year
The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper (Penguin Australia)

Biography of the Year
The Lucy Family Alphabet by Judith Lucy (Penguin Australia)

Illustrated Book of the Year
Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)

International Success of the Year
Penguin Australia, for various Sonya Hartnett titles

Marketing Campaign of the Year
Penguin Australia, for Popular Penguins by various authors

Distributor of the Year
United Book Distributors

Publisher of the Year
Penguin Australia

Small Publisher of the Year
Black Inc.

You can read the full shortlists here.

Reprint: A Halting Pegasus


Melbourne, April l8.

Francis Ducker, the plaintiff in a suit before Judge Gaunt to-day, provoked great amusement by conducting his own case largely in blank verse. He opened to the jury, as follows.-

The charges of the legal bar are much too high for me,
So now to-day I plead my cause in simple manner here,
Against a doctor of the law, the lion, in his den.
The verse went on to explain that the defendant (Mr. A. E. Jones, solicitor and barrister) through not carrying out certain instructions had made the plaintiff lose £40. Two authorities were quoted by the plaintiff in blank verse to support a certain contention, and then he proceeded to outline his case once more in verse.

His Honor - This is not the first time you have burst out into poetry.

The Plaintiff - Unfortunately, no; but it helps me as a sort of tonic.

Finally judgment, with costs, was entered for the defendant, who denied the retainer, or any breach or neglect of duty.

First published in The Advertiser, 19 April 1904

Craig Silvey Interview

With his new novel, Jasper Jones, out and about - his first since Rhubarb seven years ago - Craig Silvey speaks to the Boomerang Book blog.

What drew you to writing a "Southern Gothic"-style book set in Australia?

Initially it was no more than the fact that I wanted to have a go. I've always adored Southern Gothic fiction. There's something very warm and generous about those regional American writers like Twain and Lee and O'Connor, and it seemed to be a literary ilk that would lend itself well to the Australian condition. It was only after the themes announced themselves, and I realised where the book was headed that it seemed so apt and important to have these literary elements.

Out of Jasper, Charlie and Jeffrey - which one is most like Craig Silvey? Is there anything autobiographical about any of them, or any of your other characters for that matter?

I like to think I'm fairly evenly distributed through the three boys, though Charlie probably bears the larger share of my character, simply because we come to know him so well. Like Charlie, I was a bookish kid who was terrified of girls and insects but like Jeffrey Lu, I was also a cheeky, unflappable little antagoniser. I think, though, as I grow older, I'm evolving more and more into Jasper Jones: a little quieter, a little stronger, and a little more solitary.

Australian Bookcovers #166 - Dear Writer by Carmel Bird


Dear Writer, Carmel Bird 1988

Penguin edition, 1988

Tim Winton Watch #9

Reviews of Breath

Boyd Tonkin in "The Independent: "...Winton's way with a breaking wave shows off all the springy dash of of his action-laden prose. Yet, much as "Pikelet" from a deadbeat sawmill town adores the sea, what lends Breath its buzz is the kid's rite-of-passage rendezvous with love and sex."

Angela Meyer on the "LiteraryMinded" weblog: "The calmness of the ending, the realism and matter-of-factness of Pike's experience and story means that elements of the book - the melancholy, the inevitability, the continued interior circling over the desires of the past - still resonate."

"A Progressive on the Prairie" weblog: "You could summarize Tim Winton's Breath by saying it's a novel about a two Australian teenagers who perfect their surfing skills under the tutelage of a reclusive mentor. Of course, that would be like saying Fight Club is a novel about young men in an illicit fighting club."

Tania McCartney on the "Australian Women Online" weblog: "The guts of Winton's novel is beautifully expressed, not only through his infallible ability to describe the human experience, but also through a very believable and affable storyline that skirts the edges of morality and self-respect, and even manages to conjure the ability to be downright creepy. Despite a quickly wrapped-up ending that leaps and bounds suddenly and a little disappointingly across the years, it's clear to the reader that this story wasn't meant to unravel an entire lifetime. It was instead written with dedicated focus on a small part of Pikelet's life that shaped his destiny like a tri-fin thruster. It's just too bad that I wanted a more drawn-out ending. This was all Winton wanted to give -- and it works."

Geeta Sharma Jensen on the "PopMatters" weblog: "...it's a coming-of-age tale that manages to seem fresh, for its young protagonist discovers not only the powerful lure of sex but also the powerful thrill of testing oneself against nature. The story unfolds easily, with language that bucks and flows in irresistible hallmark Winton style."

Promotion of Breath

Foyles and Picador have teamed up in the UK to promote a series of book for summer.  The first of these will be Winton's Breath.

Breath has won the 2009 Miles Franklin Award, and you can view his acceptance speech.


Winton has been chosen as one of Western Australia's top citizens.


Poem: A Jacobite in Love by Edyson (Edward Dyson)

But few of us who live the life
   In single woe or beatitude,
Or take the customary wife,
   And raise the regulation brood,
Are really loved at any time
   With that fine frenzy which the bards
Have raved about in torrid rhyme.
   This fact the wiser man regards
With calm content, if but a few
Who love him not pretend they do.

No lurid loves have been our own,
   Which, like snap-dragon, offer sweets,
And burn the fingers to the bone
   That dip to take the dainty meats.
A dimpled form, a merry eye,
   A kindly heart -- this much for us,
And though she fail to melt and sigh
   We shall not make a graceless fuss,
If but she spice a little sense
Of liking with a warm pretence.

We boast unto no great extent
   Adoring us made many grieve,
But some have paid the compliment
   Of very pretty make-believe;
And looking back on one or two,
   On Ruth demure and radiant Rose,
In gratitude we weave a few
   Well-meaning rhymes, and here propose
For happy victims -- all the host --
"The Young Pretenders," boys, a toast.

First published in The Bulletin, 31 May 1906

Film Adaptation of John Marsden Novels

The “Monsters and Critics” website is reporting that a series of films is to be produced based on the “Tomorrow” series of young-adult novels written by John Marsden. The first film is to be written and directed by Stuart Beattie who previously worked on the screenplays for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and “Australia”.

The plan is to make a series of three films based on the first three novels in the seven-volume series, and then to follow this up with a TV series if the films are well-received. It is hoped production will commence in September.

2009 Miles Franklin Award Winner

Tim Winton has been announced as the winner of the 2009 Miles Franklin Award for his novel Breath.  This makes Winton the first four-time winner (in his own right) of the award, as he previously won for Shallows in 1984, Cloudstreet in 1992 and Dirt Music in 2002.  Thea Astley also won the award four times but shared the award twice.

Winton did not attend the ceremony in Sydney and accepted his prize via a video link.  He took the opportunity in his acceptance speech to again argue against the proposed change to Australian territorial copyright legislation.  If the new regulations were in place - to restrict territorial copyright to 12 months following publication - he would have accepted the award holding an imported edition of his novel. 


shallow_end.jpg headlong.jpg

Brian Castro Interview

Brian Castro's latest novel, The Bath Fugues, has just been published by Giramonda and the author is interviewed in "The Australian" by Miriam Cosic.

The very act of writing, he says, is fugue-like. "I'm doing counterpoint all the time: argumentation within myself, and then flying off into animaginative fantasy and coming back to thereality." Yet he says, with hindsight: "I think this is one of my most disciplined books. I wasn't conscious of it at the time but putting it into this form is a discipline."

The idea of the fugueur tempts him as a novelist, he says, not as a man. "As a novelist, the best moment is to be in flight from the real world so that you can actually write," he says. "I like living in that moment."


He took his undergraduate degree in French literature at the University of Sydney, his master's in American literature. Living and teaching in Paris for a year had a huge effect on him: "It changed my view of writers, of how they can be respected. You come back to Australia and they say, 'Aw, whaddya write?' 'Aw, do ya make a living out of it?"' He mimics a drawling accent. "It's so crude."

Castro's irritation with his own country's anti-intellectualism has spilled out before. When he took the manuscript of Shanghai Dancing to publishers, even those who had published him before, he was told to tone it back -- dumb it down, he would say -- and he refused. And made a fuss about it in public.

He was saved by Ivor Indyk, publisher of Giramondo Press, who is as intellectually uncompromising as he is. Shanghai Dancing was published unchanged and, vindicating writer and publisher, went on to win prizes and sell respectably enough. It's still in print, unusual in these times when unsold books are cleared out and remaindered within months of publication.

The Text Prize for Young Adult & Children's Writing

Text Publishing have opened their "Prize for Young Adult & Children's Writing" for 2009 - actually the prize was open for submissions from May 4, but some of us are a bit slow of the mark. The prize is worth $10,000 and a contract to publish the work with Text Publishing.  Submissions close on July 31 with the winner to be announced during the Melbourne Writers' Festival, during the last week of August 2009.  Full details of submission criteria are available from the publisher [PDF file].


Sir,-I must depend upon your courtesy to allow me in space in your columns for this letter. I wish to deny the authorship of certain silly verses recently printed in Queensland newspapers in association with my name. I wish it to be distinctly understood by the duped editors of the journals in question, that I have never been north of this colony, and that I am not a contributor to Queensland prints. I suppose that the author of the miserable hoax, perpetrated in the verses refered to, intended to be funny at my expense, but I am sure that the editor of the Courier will agree with me in submitting that my friend's joke is a poor thing after all. A parody of my style would have been perfectly legitimate but a forgery extending to a stranger's name is simply an act of impertinence -Yours,

Colonial Secretary's Office, Sydney, August 4

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 8 August 1868

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

2009 Dorothy Porter Poetry Prize

Meanjin magazine has announced the formation of the Dorothy Porter Poetry Prize to be awarded to the best poem published in the magazine during a given year.  Named in honour of the author of such works as The Monkey's Mask and El Dorado, the prize will be judged by Andrea Goldsmith and Kristin Henry and announced in December issue of the magazine.

Australian Bookcovers #165 - Automatic Teller by Carmel Bird


Automatic Teller by Carmel Bird, 1996

Viking edition, 1996

2009 Miles Franklin Award Preview


With the winner of the 2009 Miles Franklin Award to be announced on Thursday, Jason Steger takes a look at the contenders in "The Age".

The shortlist comprises:
The Pages by Murray Bail
Wanting by Richard Flanagan
Ice by Louis Nowra
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Breath by Tim Winton

My tip is, and has been for a few months now, The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, though I wouldn't be too surprised if Tim Winton picked up another Miles gong.

Poem: The Bards Who Bite Your Lug by Edyson (Edward Dyson)

I love to hear my country's moods
   Translated into living song,
And walk with awe where multitudes
   Of sweet Australian singers throng.
But late suspicion comes to me --
   Not cannibal nor prowling Thug
Is half as dangerous as he,
   The bard who bites your lug!

He comes in many shapes, his guise
   Ascetic is or amorous;
His mood is sometimes old and wise,
   And sometimes young and frivolous.
If you're a reverent denizen,
   A simple, mute, admiring mug,
You feel a thrill ecstatic when
   The poet bites your lug.

How oft the suave, beguiling voice
   Has praised "that little thing" of mine!
How sweet the cadences: "How choice--
   How musical the second line!"
But well I knew the tones of guile
   Were but the operator's drug
To lull the sense to stupor while
   The poet bit my lug.

Ear-marked are half Australia's sons
   With teeth of poets blithe or dree,
And wise is he who reads and runs
   To dodge the child of poesy.
"Beware this animal, it bites!"
   Should be upon the forehead dug
Of that fine soul who rhymes and writes,
   The bard who bites your lug.

First published in The Bulletin, 2 August 1906

Gabrielle Carey interview

Gabrielle Carey, author of Puberty Blues with Kathy Lette, has just published a memoir, Waiting Room, and she discusses it and her sadness over the recent death of her mother, with Lissa Christopher for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

Amid all the sadness, Carey is also experiencing "this rush of things I want to write. I'm beginning to believe that maybe all my life, the way to deal with pain has been to transform it into art - if what I do is art - to transform it into something else, take it out of yourself and put it somewhere else that makes it bearable."

In Waiting Room, Carey describes the drive to write as a symptom of malfunction.

"Once, when Brigie [Carey's daughter] was about eight, I thought I noticed the kind of withdrawn behaviour that I had exhibited as a child - the kind of psychology that leads a person to go silent, to ruminate and then, finally, to write things down. I went into an immediate panic and arranged an appointment with a child psychologist."

Despite Carey's fears, however, the writing condition is not manifest in Brigid, now an adult. "She's into fashion and beauty," Carey says, seeming pleased - and yet not so pleased. "My children are much more rounded healthy individuals than I am."

Most of Waiting Room was written about seven years ago, when Joan Carey was diagnosed with a brain tumour. It describes her catastrophic memory loss and muses on her taciturn, stoic-to-a-fault approach to life; the role of the middle-aged parent caught between the needs of their own children and an ailing parent; and Carey's passionate desire to know her mother more intimately. 

Reprint: Such was Life for Joseph Furphy

Full, Authoritative Biography of an Australian Classic

The famous recommendation to publish Joseph Furphy's Such Is Life, by Tom Collins, was written by that first-class critic, A. G. Stephens, publications adviser to the Bulletin: "This book contains all the wit and wisdom gathered in Furphy's lifetime: it is his one book -- it is himself. It is thoroughly Australian -- a classic of our country. The interest is diffused and slow, and the sale would be slow. It is a book for intelligent bushmen, and for those city men who can appreciate it. It is solid, yet never dull, and the author is a man with brains and a sense of style."

Apart from Such Is Life -- and the story excised from it before publication and printed later as "Rigby's Romance" - little has been known of Furphy by the ordinary reader, although two pamphlets on him were brought out in recent years, Joseph Furphy: the Legend of a Man and His Book, by Miles Franklin, in association with Kate Baker (Sydney:Angus and Robertson, for the Commonwealth Literary Fund), is therefore important. It is not a "legend," it is the first complete authentic account of Furphy and his work.

The main events of Furphy's life can be told briefly. He was born at Yering, Vic, in 1843, one of the five children of hard-working, intelligent parents. He went to small country schools. He worked for about 20 years around the country on harvesting and mining machinery, on pioneering a selection and other hard labour, and for seven or eight years carrying in Riverina with his own bullock-team. He had many friends, good health, no vices. He never attempted to save time or money. So about 1890 he was glad of a job in his brother's iron foundry at Shepparton. With regular hours for the first time in his life, he wrote stories and verse for papers and magazines, and by 1897 had finished Such Is Life. After delays, doubts, and cutting, it was published in 1903.

The book was widely reviewed in Australia, on the whole intelligently and favourably. The London Athenoeum gave it a long notice, appreciative but critical. One of the best reviews is by Furphy himself, in two long instalments, for the Bulletin.

The book sold very slowly, until in 1917 Miss Baker - "that gallant standard-bearer for Furphy," Stephens called her - bought the remaining sheets from the Bulletin for £50, collected £20 to pay for binding, and sold them to a small but growing public. Everyone concerned had lost money by the classic.

The year after Such Is Life came out, Furphy followed his grown-up family to Perth, WA. There he helped his sons set up their homes and business. He read tremendously, wrote little or nothing. While preparing to harness a hired horse to a cartload of castings he had a heart attack and died in a few minutes, in 1913.

A number of poems were published in 1916. Such Is Life was published in an abridged English edition in 1937, and is to be republished for the Literary Fund in full this year.

Furphy's wide reading, his political, moral, and religious views are well to the fore throughout his writings. Here are some typical remarks: "One aspires to know human history from the time we left the treetops down to the present year, so that it all appears like a personal recollection." He was unmusical and had little knowledge of art.

"I didn't want a church that prohibited actual vice - for I am not vicious - but I wanted one that would expel me with contumely for having two coats while another bloke had none. At present I belong to a church which has only one member: There were two of us, but the other got fired out on his ear for being an Imperialist during the South African War."

"The successful man is the pioneer who never spared others; the forgotten pioneer is the man who never spared himself, but, being a fool, built houses for wise men to live in, and omitted to gather moss. The former is the early bird; the latter is the early worm."

His ideal Christian was Dr Charles Strong; his ideal democrat was Bernard O'Dowd. He called himself a "State Socialist," i.e., a Socialist, as distinct from an anarchist.

Miss Franklin's biography is a first rate contribution to our understanding of Furphy, but it has two noticeable defects. The events of Furphy's early life are told without order, and as if the fortunes of Miss Baker were of first concern; and the last chapter, where Furphy is compared with James, Proust, Joyce, and Huxley, is just inept. Whatever the criteria for Furphy, and they are high, they are not these.

First published in The Argus, 27 January 1945

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

The Big Muddy

Jessa Crispin is "on the hunt" for fabulous fiction for Summer Reading and, for the "NPR" website, choses Joan London's novel The Good Parents.

As "The Australian" discovers writing a book is just the first step; you then have to find a publisher which may well be the hardest part. "Vivienne Kelly wrote four unpublished manuscripts before her debut novel, Cooee, was published by Scribe last year."

Judith Ridge had a very busy month of May; two writers' festivals resulting in a bad cold will do that.

Genevieve Tucker has all the links you could possibly want regarding the recent Emerging Writers'Festival. 

Jennifer Fallon lists 10 things a writer should never blog about.

Tony Park went along to the Literati writers' event on the Gold Coast and had a great time, even if his mate and fellow writer, Peter Watt, was stuck at home surrounded by floodwaters.

I know that Mark Twain toured Australia in the 1890s, that he went along to the Melbourne Cup and wowed all and sundry, but I didn't know that he'd actually visited Horsham.   I have a nephew living there.

Arthur Upfield and the Outback Murders

Back in November last year I reprinted a piece I had found in a newspaper concerning the appearance of Arthur Upfield, the Australian crime writer from the 1920s to the 1960s, as a prosecution witness in a court case in Western Australia.  The Murchsion Murders, as they came to be known, have now been dramatised for a television series which will be broadcast from this Sunday night on ABC Television.

"The Age" newspaper today carries details of the series, the background, the story and the locations.

Combined Reviews: Addition by Toni Jordan

addition.jpg Reviews of Addition
Toni Jordan
Text Publishing

[This novel was shortlisted for the 2009 Barbara Jefferis Award, and longlisted for the 2009 Miles Franklin award.]

From the publisher's page:

Grace Lisa Vandenburg counts. The letters in her name (19). The steps she takes every morning to the local café (920); the number of poppy seeds on her slice of orange cake, which dictates the number of bites she'll take to finish it. Grace counts everything, because numbers hold the world together. And she needs to keep an eye on how they're doing. Seamus Joseph O'Reilly (also a 19, with the sexiest hands Grace has ever seen) thinks she might be better off without the counting. If she could hold down a job, say. Or open her kitchen cupboards without conducting an inventory, or make a sandwich containing an unknown number of sprouts. Grace's problem is that Seamus doesn't count. Her other problem is...he does. Addition is a fabulous debut novel. Grace is witty, flirtatious and headstrong. She's not a bit sentimental but even so, she may be about to lose track of the number of ways she can fall in love.

Clare Scobie in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "The publishers were right in their glowing accolades for Addition. Toni Jordan has created such a real character in Grace that you are cheering her on, willing her to get to the top of the staircase, intact and unharmed. Jordan's voice is distinctive, refreshing and very Australian. Her debut novel is juicy and funny, just like its protagonist; even if I glazed over some of the numbers (there are just so many), this is a gem."
Carmen Klassen in "The StarPhoenix": "Addition is about a girl's obsession with counting, true, but it's also about falling in love and learning how to change without losing yourself in the process. It is a clever and original novel that is sure to make you laugh out loud."
Jo Case in "Australian Book Review": "Addition raises a lot of questions about our values and our society, couched in disarmingly easy-to-read prose. Why is a banker, not a baker, considered a good catch? How many of us watch more life on screen than we experience outside our homes? Why is there so much pressure to be like everyone else? What is 'normal'? Is our society over-medicalised?...The central relationships in the books are lovingly rendered, all the more so for Grace's lashings of spot-on satire about them all."

Short notices

Catherine Taylor in "The Guardian": "Brimming with sarcastic humour, Grace is an enjoyably eccentric narrator, and although the gift-wrapped denouement is pure saccharine, Jordan writes sympathetically about her neurosis."
Christina Koning in "The Times": "Bringing a quirky humour and a sympathetic view of diversity to her story, the author sustains the momentum to the end of this engaging romantic comedy."
You can read a number of small reviews on the Richard and Judy Book Club site.
Claire Looby in "The Irish Times": "Toni Jordan's debut is mature, witty and entertaining and earns her a place in the growing ranks of Australian popular fiction writers."
"The Book Chick" weblog: "This book was about being true to yourself no matter the circumstances and it was also about accepting your personal quirks as something to be valued, rather than feared."


Louise Swinn on the "Readings" weblog.
Fiona Gruba in "The Sydney Morning Herald".
"Life Matters" on ABC Radio with Richard Aedy.
Angela Meyer on the "LiteraryMinded" weblog.
Toni Jordan on YouTube talking about her book.


For "The Guardian" newspaper Jordan chose her "Top 10 Flawed Romantic Heroes".

Richard Harland Interview

As his new novel Worldshaker hits the stands author Richard Harland is interviewed on the "HorrorScope" weblog by Shane Jiraiya Cummings.

Your novels have ranged from horror to science fiction, young adult, and now steampunk. Is there a genre you prefer to write in?

RH: "I like hopping between genres, but the logic of marketing says you should build a brand, so that readers know what they'll be getting when they see your name on a book. I guess I've come to a stage in my career when I need to do a bit of brand building -- which luckily coincides with the fact that, of all fantasy sub-genres, steampunk/Victoriana is my most natural territory, my home ground. I have plenty of steampunk writing in me, and it'll be a long way down the track (gods willing!) before I get bored with it. I'd love to be the Steampunk King!

"I've written adult, YA and children's, but it's never a big issue for me. Although Worldshaker is marketed as YA, it's really crossover, just as good for adult reading. I wouldn't have written a single word differently if I'd planned it for an adult readership. It became YA only because of the age of the two main characters--after making that decision, I never gave another thought to YA or adult. Fantasy easily overleaps those categories anyway."

Reprint: An Australian Literary Melba?

On 29 September 1931 "The Argus" newspaper published the following cable from London:


No Literary Melba.

British Diarist Puzzled.

LONDON, Sept 28

" Peterborough," the diarist of the "Daily Telegraph " apropos of the opening at Australia House of an exhibition of works of Australian authors, writes: -"The discerning have no need of an introduction to the works of Henry Handel Richardson, but names familiar to the majority of British people may be counted on the fingers of one hand such as Marcus Clarke, Rolf Boldrewood, Adam Lindsay Gordon, and Henry Lawson. Visitors to the exhibition familiar only with this genre will find that Australian literature has changed with Australian life. Writers are no longer much concerned with the simple joys and romance of the open air. They have become urban and complex." After paying a tribute to Professor Hancock's study of Australia, the diarist says: - "It remains an odd fact which has never been satifactorily explained that Australia has a less notable record in letters than in music or painting. Where is her literary Melba?"

A few days later, on 2 October, the Melbourne-based writer Nettie Palmer attempted to provide an answer in a letter to the editor:


Sir-Others will doubtless point out the ineptness of the overseas opinion quoted in your cable messages to-day, that "Australia has never produced a literary Melba." May I suggest that the comparison should never have been made. The career of Melba, who as an artist was an interpreter and not a creator, was essentially a public progress, a series of triumphs with the highest possible visibility. It was never suggested that Melba should augment her glory by spending her whole life in strict seclusion and so writing, with great intensity, a masterpiece or two. Why, then, should a writer's true significance be measured by the external fame of a Melba?
- Yours, &c.,
Hawthorn. Sept. '29

2009 Kibble and Dobbie Awards Winners

The winners of the 2009 Kibble and Dobbie Awards have been announced as follows:

Kibble Award: An Exacting Heart: The Story Of Hephzibah Menuhin by Jacqueline Kent

Dobbie Award: Fugitive Blue by Claire Thomas

You can read the shortlists for both awards here.

2009 Ditmar Awards

The 2009 Ditmar Awards - Australian sf and fantasy awards as voted by readers - were announced at Conjecture, the Australian National Science Fictoon Convention, over the weekend.  The winners were: 

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism and Review
Kim Wilkins, "Popular genres and the Australian literary community: the case of fantasy fiction" in the Journal of Australian Studies

Best New Talent
Felicity Dowker

Best Professional Achievement
Angela Challis, for Black, the Australian Dark Culture Magazine

Best Fan Production
ASif!, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Gene Melzack

Best Fan Artist
Cat Sparks for Scary Food Cookbook

Best Fan Writer
Rob Hood, for Undead Backbrain

Best Professional Artwork
Shaun Tan, for Tales from Outer Suburbia

Best Collected Work
Dreaming Again, edited by Jack Dann

Best Short Story
Tie between Margo Lanagan "The Goosle" and Dirk Flinthart "This is not my story" (ASIM #37)

Best Novella/Novelette
"Painlessness" by Kirstyn McDermott

Best Novel
Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

In addition the following two awards were presented

Peter McNamara Award
Sean Williams

A. Bertram Chandler Award
Rosaleen Love

Australian Bookcovers #164 - The Common Rat by Carmel Bird



The Common Rat by Carmel Bird, 1993

Cover Illustration by Anita Mertzlin. Cover design by Meredith Parslow.

(McPhee Gribble edition 1993)

Poem: Shelley by Robert Wisdom

Thine was a love-fraught mission, glorious bard,
   To raise the flag of Liberty unfurled,
   And pave the way for truth throughout the world -
Hatred and calumny thy sole reward -
   Nature and Love and Poesy combined
   To mould and animate thy godlike mind.
Faith, Tyranny, and Custom thou did'st scorn -
   Foul mists that darken Truth's resplendent day -
And petty hopes and fears of low cares born,
   Spurning the dull earth and its joys away:
As far aloft by noblest impulse driven
   The eagle soars in majesty and might.
Beyond the clouds that 'neath the cope of Heaven
   Screen from his view the sun's etherial light.

First published in The Maitland Mercury, and Hunter River General Advertiser 4 February 1854

Reprint: Obituary: Mr. Guy Boothby

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LONDON, February 28

The death is announced of Mr. Guy Newell Boothby, the well-known novelist, who was a native of South Australia, being the eldest son of Mr. Thomas Wilde Boothby, for some time member of the House of Assembly, and grandson of Mr. Justice Boothby.

Mr. Guy Boothby was born on October 13, 1867, in the house of his grandfather, who was living then in what is now the Passionist Monastery, at Glen Osmond. He was a son of the late Mr. T. W. Boothby, formerly member of Parliament for Victoria. When 23 years old he became private secretary to the Mayor of Adelaide, and assisted in carrying out the arrangements for the first big ball given by Mr. Cohen, in the Exhibition Building. He was always of a literary turn of mind, and many playgoers will remember the production of his drama, "The Jonquil," at the Theatre Royal, where it was far from successful. His first writing of any importance was an account of his bush travels, but his success as a novelist was the result of his creation of the wonderful character of Dr. Nikola, in "A Bid for Fortune." Some people think Dr. Nikola was made to do duty altogether too long in Boothby's novels, but there is no doubt he achieved a remarkable success as a story-writer, an avocation which he must have found very profitable. His output of fiction was considerable, as, apart from short stories, he published during the past ten years about two dozen stories. His best-known were Dr. Nikola, Dr. Nikola's Experiment, In Strange Company, A Sailor's Bride, The Marriage of Esther, and A Lost Endeavor. He married an English lady, Miss Rose Bristowe. Of late years he had resided near Brighton, Sussex, where he found time for rearing prize dogs, horses, and cattle, as well as collecting live fish from all parts of the world.

In answer to a request made by an interviewer of the London Weekly Sun, some time ago, Mr. Guy Boothby explained his methods of work. They were somewhat paralysing. He got up at a fearful hour in the early dawn, when Londoners were just going to bed. His two secretaries had to be there at 5.30 a.m. He talked his novels into a phonograph, and when he had talked enough his secretaries transcribed it direct on the typewriter. A telephone communicated from his room to theirs, as to every part of his large estate.

I asked mildly (says the interviewer) what time Mr. Boothby went to bed, if, indeed, he ever did so, and was told at 9 p.m.

"You must get through heaps of work?"

"Oh, I've finished one novel in the morning and begun another in the afternoon before now. Have to, the work comes pouring in so. Luck? Not much! I had 10 years of steady rejection, without a spark of success to begin with; then I met Kipling in Australia, about '90, and his encouragement helped to keep my heart up. We've been great friends ever since; he's a double man to me - Kipling the Great Man and Kipling the Pal, but I like the Pal best. Well, my first book appeared in '94, when I was 27, and since then I've published 11 others; four are running serially, four more the publishers have got, and six others are in hand." He smiled at my wide-open eyes of surprise. "You see," he added, "I don't take literature seriously."

"But art --" I was beginning, when --

"Art's got nothing to do with it," said

Mr. Boothby, "there's no art in literature!"

"What!" I felt myself turning pale. Shade of Matthew Arnold, no art in literature! To one who had sat in turn at the feet of all the little gods in Grub-street - imbibed their philosophy, and sworn by their catchwords - such a statement seemed the sheerest blasphemy. I expected to see a bolt from heaven descend on the rash speaker. But Guy Boothby sat unmoved and smiling. ". . . . Not in literature as I make it," he continued, and it was once more possible to breathe. "You see, if a man can do a thing easily, without effort, that is to say, it can't very well be an art. You paint or write because it's in you; where does the art come in? You might as well say that driving a butcher's cart is an art. Of course, there's more of it in painting than in literature, because you have to study technique, and so on."

"But surely literature has its technique too? Henry James --"

"Oh, Henry James is a stylist, and doesn't come into the question. Suppose I choose to spend two years on a book, like some of my esteemed contemporaries. . .and . . . perhaps I'd be an artist too; but it would bore me to death to stick at one so long. Style? Read some of the reviews, and you'll see that I've no style!"

This was embarrassing, but Mr. Boothby continued serenely - "No, if all I'm told is true, I'm not an artist, but I turn out books that seem to interest folk and take them out of themselves for a bit, and in return I have everything I want, country house, kennels, stables, and er - well, if you must have it, secretaries who get up at 5.30 a.m. With regard to my work, I never let myself forget what Kipling once said to me, 'Boothby, remember that your appreciation of A's work is just what A thinks of yours!' "

Mr. Josiah Boothby, C.M.G., when seen late on Tuesday night by a representative of The Advertiser, was much surprised to hear of his nephew's death. Asked to give some particulars of the deceased author, Mr. Boothby said -

"It is a long time since he left South Australia, and I'm afraid that I can't say much about him on the spur of the moment. He was the son of Mr. Thomas Wyld Boothby, my brother, who represented the South-Eastern district in Parliament for some time. He was the eldest of three children, all boys, and was born, I think, at Glen Osmond, in 1867. He was therefore only in the prime of life, as it were. His brothers are Benjamin and Herbert, and they, like poor Guy - whose full name was Guy Newell Boothby - live in England. His mother before marrying my brother was Miss Hodding, whose people lived at Fullarton. Guy was only in his teens when the whole family left for England, but he returned when he was about 22, and almost immediately became private secretary to Mr. Cohen, the Mayor of Adelaide. It was at that time he took to writing. He wrote a play called 'The Jonquil,' and it was produced by a set of amateurs at the Theatre Royal, with Guy in the leading male part. He stayed at my father's house while in Adelaide, and was very fond of fiction, his room being always full of light literature. Before he left Australia finally for the old country he and a friend travelled extensively in the back country of Queensland and Central Australia. They drove a buggy, and saw a lot of back country life. After he had been home for some time, I think about 10 or 12 years ago, he married an English lady, Miss Bristowe. He had three children, one boy and two girls. The last letter we had from home informed us that he was unwell, but I had no idea that his illness was serious."

On hearing of Mr. Boothby's death Mr. Cohen expressed his deep regret, and kindly volunteered some information as to his own relations with the deceased novelist. Mr. Cohen stated that Mr. Boothby about 15 years ago entered the services of the Adelaide Corporation. He began in the capacity of a cadet, but shortly afterwards was promoted to the rank of junior clerk. He served for some time as a junior clerk, and was then elevated to the position of senior clerk. Not long afterwards Mr. Cohen was elected Mayor of Adelaide. Immediately Mr. Cohen took office he appointed Mr. Boothby as his private secretary. This was in the year 1890-1. Mr. Cohen stated that Mr. Boothby, with his literary turn, was not contented with his position. He held that there was little opportunity for him to rise in the service of the corporation, and consulted Mr. Cohen as to whether he should not leave and proceed to Brisbane, where he believed there was a wider opening for his talents than Adelaide could offer. Recognising his ability and the small possibility of his having the opportunity to rise to any appreciable degree for some years in the corporation employ, Mr. Cohen, rather reluctantly, advised him to go. Mr. Boothby proceeded to Brisbane, and subsequently journeyed to England. He formerly corresponded frequently, but Mr. Cohen had not heard from him by letter for some years.

First published in The Advertiser, 1 March 1905

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

Guy Boothby Wikipedia page.

State Library of Victoria #1


Forecourt of State Library of Victoria showing promotion for "Independent Type: Books and Writing in Victoria" exhibition
James Brunton Stephens's poem "My Other Chinee Cook" is a strange little thing.  Its basic aim is to present an amusing anecdote where the butt of the joke is the subject of the poem and his wife, a quintessential form of Australian self-deprecating humour. Yet, to modern eyes, it can come across as rather racist, and somewhat off-putting.

The poem here is a sequel to "My Chinee Cook" which was published in the same 8 March 1873 issue of "The Australasian", the weekend companion to the Melbourne daily "The Argus".  That first poem tells the story of a man and wife who hire one Chinese cook after another, until they chance upon one who is just perfect - cooking, cleaning, and carrying out all manner of household duties for only room and board.  It's a situation that's just too good to be true. All good stories have to end badly and this first Chinese cook is found to be a jewel thief when he attempts to sell the wife pieces of jewellery from a Sydney robbery.

"My Other Chinee Cook" also concerns a brilliant cook but with a bit of a difference.  Here the cook has a "secret" recipe for "rabbit pie" which some might find rather disturbing.  This is a funny poem: the set-up is good, the final put-down delightful.  The high and mighty are brought to their knees, vomiting up the delicacy they had so enjoyed just moments before, and the pathetic scene at the end is delivered with just the right amount of pathos.  The problem I have with it is that it is just not very well put together: too often the rhythm is broken by just one too many syllables ("When my lad should bring our usual regale of cindered joint," and "And I never saw him more, nor tasted more of rabbit pie").   Given a choice I suspect I would have chosen the first "Chinee Cook" poem, though I can certainly understand the editor's decision here.

The concept of a Chinese cook is quite a common one in Australian folklore, with the most recent occurrence being in Baz Luhrmann's recent film Australia.  We see it now as a cliche, but, in 1873, it was probably quite a normal situation.  It's not the simple fact that the cook is Chinese that gives the poem its racist flavour, it's the overall tone of the piece: "He was lazy, he was cheeky, he was dirty, he was sly," being merely the introduction.  Even so, I'm of the view that we have to apply different criteria to written works of the past, acknowledging the state of the country and society of the time.  I'm not ignoring it, just attempting to allow it to sit within its historical context.

For a period after the death of Henry Kendall in 1882 Stephens was considered one of the leading lights of Australian literature: he wrote three novels and a play, but was probably best known for his five collections of verse. And now he is mostly forgotten, not even being included in Harry Heseltine's 1972 volume The Penguin Book of Australian Verse.  It seems like everyone you've ever heard of is there, except Stephens.

Text: "My Other Chinee Cook" by James Brunton Stephens

Author bio: Australian Dictionary of Biography 

Publishing history: First published in "The Australasian", 8 March 1873; and subsequently in Stephens's popular verse collection My Chinee Cook and Other Humorous Verses, 1902.

Next five poems in the book:

"Bell-Birds" by Henry Kendall

"Are You the Cove?" by Joseph Furphy ("Tom Collins")

"How McDougal Topped the Score" by Thomas E. Spencer

"The Wail of the Waiter" by Marcus Clarke

"Where the Pelican Builds" by Mary Hannay Foott

Note: this post forms part of my series on the poems contained in the anthology 100 Australian Poems You Need to Know edited by Jamie Grant.  You can read the other posts in this series here.

2009 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize Longlist

"The Guardian" newspaper out of the UK has released its longlist of titles for its 2009 Children's Fiction Prize.  Amongst those selected is Then by Morris Gleitzman.

2009 Australian Book Industry Awards Shortlists

The shortlists for the 2009 Australian Book Industry Awards have been released. The winners will be announced in Sydney on 23 June 2009.

Independent Bookseller of the Year
NSW/ACT - Gleebooks
Qld - Riverbend Books & Teahouse
SA/NT - Imprints Booksellers
Tas - Fullers Bookshop Hobart
VIC - Readings Books Music Film Carlton
WA - Bookcaffe

Bookseller Marketing Campaign of the Year
Avid Reader, for Growing Up Asian in Australia by Alice Pung
Avid Reader, for Wild Tea Cosies by Loani Prior
Pages & Pages Booksellers Mosman, for The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
Readings Books Music Film Carlton, for The Boat by Nam Le
Robinson's Bookshop, for Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

Book of the Year
Breath by Tim Winton (Penguin Australia)
Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)
The Boat by Nam Le (Penguin Australia)
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (Allen & Unwin)
The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper (Penguin Australia)

Newcomer of the Year (debut writer)
A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (Macmillan Publishers Australia)
I Dream of Magda by Stefan Laszczuk (Allen & Unwin)
Never Say Die by Chris O'Brien (HarperCollins Publishers Australia)
The Boat by Nam Le (Penguin Australia)
The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow by A.J. Mackinnon (Black Inc.)

Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2009
Breath by Tim Winton (Penguin Australia)
The Boat by Nam Le (Penguin Australia)
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville (The Text Publishing Company)
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (Allen & Unwin)
The Spare Room by Helen Garner (The Text Publishing Company)

General Fiction Book of the Year
A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (Macmillan Publishers Australia)
All Together Now by Monica McInerney (Penguin Australia)
How To Break Your Own Heart by Maggie Alderson (Penguin Australia)
The Build Up by Phillip Gwynne (Macmillan Publishers Australia)
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (Allen & Unwin)

Book of the Year for Older Children (age range 8 to 14 years)
A Rose for the ANZAC Boys by Jackie French (HarperCollins Publishers Australia)
Dragon Dawn by Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books)
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta (Penguin Australia)
Home and Away by John Marsden, illustrated by Matt Ottley (Hachette Australia)
Pip: The Story of Olive by Kim Kane (Allen & Unwin)

Book of the Year for Younger Children (age range 0 to 8 years)
Enigma written & illustrated by Graeme Base (Penguin Australia)
Possum and Wattle: My Big Book of Australian Words written & illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft, (Little Hare Books)
Sunday Chutney written & illustrated by Aaron Blabey (Penguin Australia)
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes written by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (Penguin Australia)
The Dog on the Tuckerbox written by Corinne Fenton, illustrated by Peter Couldthorpe, (Black Dog Books)

General Non-Fiction Book of the Year
1788 by David Hill (Random House Australia)
Life in His Hands by Susan Wyndham (Macmillan Publishers Australia)
The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper (Penguin Australia)
The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow by A.J. Mackinnon (Black Inc.)
What's Happening to Our Girls by Maggie Hamilton (Penguin Australia)

Biography of the Year
I am Melba by Ann Blainey (Black Inc.)
Never Say Die by Chris O'Brien (HarperCollins Publishers Australia)
Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography by Jill Roe (HarperCollins Publishers Australia)
The Lucy Family Alphabet by Judith Lucy (Penguin Australia)
The Man Who Owns the News by Michael Wolff (Random House Australia)

Illustrated Book of the Year
A Brush with Birds by Penny Olsen (National Library of Australia)
Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)
The Artist's Lunch by Alice McCormick & Sarah Rhodes, (Murdoch Books)
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by Michel Streich (Allen & Unwin)
Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye edited by Margo Neale (National Museum of Australia)

International Success of the Year
HarperCollins Publishers, for Hammer of God by Karen Miller
Penguin Australia, for various Sonya Hartnett titles
Random House Australia, for The Floods by Colin Thompson
The Text Publishing Company, for The Spare Room by Helen Garner
The Text Publishing Company, for Addition by Toni Jordan

Marketing Campaign of the Year
Allen & Unwin, for Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
Allen & Unwin, for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
Penguin Australia, for Breath by Tim Winton
Penguin Australia, for Popular Penguins by various authors
Random House Australia, for Occy by Mark Occhilupo & Tim Baker

Distributor of the Year
Alliance Distribution Services
Harper Entertainment Distribution Services
Hinkler Books
Random House Australia
United Book Distributors

Publisher of the Year
Allen & Unwin
Hachette Australia
Penguin Australia
Random House Australia
The Text Publishing Company

Small Publisher of the Year
Black Dog Books
Black Inc.
Giramondo Publishing Company
University of Queensland Press
Wakefield Press

Melbourne Bookstore Closes Its Doors

McGills Bookstore is set to close its doors after some 149 years in the business.  The lease on the Elizabeth Street store is running out and negotiations over a new contract have broken down.

McGills was a funny sort of place; not overly big on the standard range of novels, but specialised in newspapers and magazines from round the world combined with a large non-fiction section upstairs.  "The Age" newspaper is reporting that the presence of a large Angus & Robetson bookstore practically next door might have had some influence.  That and the fact that a lot of overseas newspapers now have a web presence so sales of the print editions have now fallen sharply.

It will be missed.

"The Age" Short Stories

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In addition to the Peter Temple short story I posted about yesterday, "The Age" also published stories by Nikki Gemmell ("Into the Light") and Gregory Day ("A Duty to Jenny") over the weekend.

Sonya Hartnett Watch #2

Reviews of Butterfly

Cultural Gal on the "MelbArts" weblog: "It's wonderful that such a sterling writer is able to bring to such glittering life the complex, deeply felt experiences of young people. But just as youth is wasted on the young, it would be a sin if Hartnett's audience was confined to the under-16s...Hartnett's many skills are in full play in this beautifully crafted novel. There are secrets in this quiet suburban world, secrets the characters keep from each other for fear of losing everything they value most. These secrets fuel the momentum of the narrative that Hartnett so carefully builds, keeping the surprises coming...Indeed, there's almost a thriller element to the novel: until the very end we don't know exactly what will happen. At one point towards the close Hartnett plays with this mounting sense of dread, keeping us guessing as to whether she'll choose a conventional melodramatic device or a more nuanced resolution."

Sarah on the "I loved it..." weblog: "How does Sonya Hartnett know me so well? I swear that she was watching me grow up and saw every excruciating moment of my adolescence. Admittedly it was the 80s and everything was cringeworthy! She manages to capture the universal aspects of growing up and all the self doubt and casual cruelty that is so much a part of life as a teenager. I think Hartnett is a revelation. I adore her writing in a way that defies description."

Karen on the Book Bath weblog: "In some ways this book is two or three stories within one - but you never feel as though too much has been taken on by the author. Hartnett balances the characters and the story lines beautifully. This book was not at all what I expected when I started reading it but once I accepted this I enjoyed the rather uneasy storyline."

Madeline Wheatley of The Book Bag weblog gave the novel 4.5 stars: "Award winning Australian author Sonya Hartnett writes powerful, disturbing tales. This is no exception. Some of the events in this novel are extreme, yet believable, largely because of the vividly realistic character of Plum."

I.E Sawmill on The Literateur website was put off by the cover at first: "The cover is actually quite an inoffensive combination of yellows and pinks with flowers trailed all around in an attractive pattern. I was still at this point fully in the bigoted stages of reviewing and could not help a Pavlovian response to such stimuli: Yellow + Pink + Floral Decoration = book aimed for a female audience. Dare one say, chick-lit. This seemed at odds with the jacket's alliterative promise of 'deceit', 'despair' and 'desperation'. Those three words, in conjunction with the title, implied a gritty account of 'coming of age'...The novel has moments of great comedy, insight and fine descriptive inventiveness. Overall, however, Butterfly is something of a moth to its own flame. The tone and pace do not quite justify the book's ricocheting from flippancy to po-faced truisms and, at times, it feels as if it has suffered for lack of editing. As it stands, Butterfly is not a great deal more than the sum of its parts. Those parts are enjoyable enough, but one suspects that Hartnett is capable of much, much better."


The production company Monkey Baa has developed a theatrical adaptation of Hartnett's novel Thursday's Child. The play features a young cast, is directed by Sandra Eldridge and will tour nationally until November 13.

Hartnett appeared at the Sydney Writers' Festival and the Boomerang Books blog went along to see her: "Girl politics features heavily in Sonya Hartnett's Butterfly, and when asked about teenage girls and their penchant for bitchery, Hartnett had some fun ("Sometimes you see it and you're just like... 'Arrghh, you little cretins.'"). She based the manuscript on the teen-girl relations she witnessed twenty years ago (when the novel is set). She gave the first draft to her fourteen-year-old neighbour, Matilda, and after finishing it, Matilda approached her and asked, "How did you know how the girls at [school's name] acted?" So, clearly, nothing's changed in the world of teen-girl relations. Hartnett joked that no-one ever admits to being the schoolyard bitch - grab one hundred middle-aged women and ask them, and they'll all say they were the girls that suffered through high school. "Where do those girls go [after high school]? Do they just disappear?""

Sally Wahaft on Slow TV.

Ramona Koval on The Book Show on ABC Radio National.

Australian Bookcovers #163 - The Bluebird Cafe by Carmel Bird


The Bluebird Cafe by Carmel Bird, 1990

Cover illustration by Annie Mertzlin

(McPhee Gribble edition, 1990)

Jack Irish Returns

Jack Irish, Peter Temple's flawed Fitzroy lawyer, made a come-back over the weekend by way of a short story in "The Age". 

Irish originally appeared in four novels published between 1996 and 2003:

Bad Debts (1996)

Black Tide (1999)

Dead Point (2000)

White Dog (2003)

Morris Gleitzman Interview

Australian children's and Young Adult author, Morris Gleitzman, is interviewed in Meanjin by Sophie Cunningham.  Gleitzman is the author of such novels as Wicked!, Bumface, Toad Rage, and Give Peas a Chance. The interview mainly concerns his latest book, Then.

SC: The first novel, Once has got more jokes and it's slightly more light-hearted--as much as the subject matter allows. But Then is very gothic and dark.

MG: I'd hesitate to say 'gothic' because that to me is a kind of cultural literary style. And there is humour in Then because Felix is still optimistic despite the grim circumstances. I'm trying to re-create some of the darker moments of our species' behaviour in a way that will have meaning for younger readers. I knew when I decided to write a book for my age group of readers--which is pretty much eight and up--set against the Holocaust, many or most of my readers wouldn't be familiar with the circumstances of World War Two or the Holocaust.

SC: Aren't these subjects taught?

MG: They're taught at some schools but there's a lot of freedom at primary schools for teachers to devise their own areas of curriculum. So there are some primary schools where they're doing the Holocaust, perhaps as a part of related studies or maybe as part of World War Two. But there are many students who don't touch on all this until two or three years into high school. So I couldn't count on all of my readers understanding the historical context and the social context. I didn't want to make these books a history lesson in terms of the full sweep of the information of the time, but I needed to have enough of the historical context so it would make sense to readers fresh to the whole thing. That is why I decided to structure the first book as a journey of discovery for Felix. I wanted to do it that way for some other reasons as well but I realised it would allow my younger readers to go on that journey of discovery with him and gradually encounter some of the realities of that time and that place. 

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