July 2009 Archives

It came as a shock to see in a law report recently that, when the accused said that he would call two of his cobbers to give evidence in his favour, the magistrate rebuked him. "We don't want to hear 'cobbers' here," he said; "cut out the slang." "What is slang? "Cut it out" is surely a specimen of moderately vigorous slang, but "cobbers," no matter how the word is used to-day has at least an older origin to boast. Why this hostility to a word that in Australia is by now surrounded with meaning and glow? Was it perhaps because the accused, being accused, was not to enjoy himself with the use of such a warm and comfortable word! Or was it the magistrate's general opinion that slang, as opposed to "grammar" was demoralising in all circumstances? But then, why did he say "Cut it out"? We are to suppose that he, like most of us, could not tell where the border ran between slang and current usage. Unlike some of us, though, he ventured to be dogmatic on the subject.

Words in their contraction and expansion, their strange development upward or outward or downward, are simply mesmeric in their fascination. Human minds have caused them to change, have made them work hard, or have left them to obsolescence. "Cobber," I believe, was an old, sound North of England dialect word, and it has somebow become adopted by Australians. The late Barbara Baynton, the distinguished story writer, when republishing her early book, "Bush Studies," renamed it "Cobbers," the word that by 1918 or so had become so general. "Cobbers" will probably persist a long time, side by side with "mates," both familiar to Australians. In England the corresponding words, each slightly different, are "chums" and "pals." But which of these words is slang and which not? The Oxford Dictionary says that "chum" dates from 1684, but its etymology is dubious. No suggestion of slang. As for "pal," it is frankly labelled slang, but its etymology is not dubious, it is English gipsy. In other words, it comes near what George Borrow's fascinating friends would call "thieves' Latin." "Mate," of course, has its origin as "one of a pair, especially of birds"; but its chief use is given as "(In working classes) companion, fellow-worker (also as general form of address)." This use is commoner, surely in Australia than abroad. Professor Walter Murdoch, for instance, in his recent book of essays, says he felt instantly at home when, on his landing at Fremantle after travel, someone said to him, "Got a match, mate?" One more word in this group" "bloke" is described, not as slang, but as a colloquialism. So where exactly are we, and where is our dogmatic magistrate?

The Reporter Standardises

At all times it has been difficult to write down the words and phrases of human beings as they normally use them, and to suggest their rhythm. Most reporters evade the difficulty by standardising language and summarising ideas. A "Hansard" report set down verbatim, and without any doctoring from beginning to end, has, indeed, been heard of with some delight, but only for a short stretch. On the other hand some reporters in different periods have been given space and verge enough to produce a facsimile of a witness's garrulity and idiom. Some of the law reports round about 1726 were so full and vivacious, reproducing even the Liverpudlian accent of a North of Englander with a cold in the head, that the poet Gay had only to use them as a basis for much of the speech in "The Beggar's Opera." While we cannot expect such vivacious reproductions as a common thing to-day, our sense of humour may protest against the other extreme. ln a newspaper report some years ago there was an account of shooting in Fitzroy. It was dark, every house in the lane was suspect; one window shot up: a woman's voice said: "Whom do you want?" Whom, indeed! Would any policeman "want" anybody after such a flawless, unexceptionable use of the objective case at such an emotional crisis! That final "m", I dare swear, was put on in the office.

On the whole, it is easier to write safe "grammar" than to write idiom: that is, to write stiffly and formally instead of racily and with atmosphere. It has often been a usage of writers of the past to divide their characters into gentlemen and workmen. So long as a gentleman, or the author himself, is holding the floor, the speech is uniform, buckram, dull. Immediately a member of the lower order enters, the page is spattered with apostrophes, denoting dropped g's, dropped h's, irregularities in pronunciaton, and general disturbance. it is usual in such pages to meet with words like "pritty," but when one asks how otherwise the gentlemen would pronounce the word, there is no reply. "Pretty women": how does anyone speaking English to-day pronounce those words if not as "pritty wimmen"? Indeed, if all our ordinary talk were written down in accurate phnetic script instead of in the comically false conventions of our ordinary spelling, it could easily be shown that while irregularities and clippings and variations are more or less usual among all types of speakers, no one, no one at all, pronounces English as it is spelt.

First published in The Argus, 6 June 1931

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

Note: the second part of this essay wil be published next week.

Outlaw Pete

Mark Day, journo with "The Australian", (in fact, nearly a 50-year veteran according to his blog) gets stuck into the teenagers of today for what appears to be no apparent reason - someone on a skateboard cut him off perhaps.  Lili Wilkinson didn't take too kindly to his sentiments and wrote and told him so.  Day was always asking for it with statements like: "...in the face of evidence that young people are not reading."  Which face is that Mark?

Sheryl Clark went along to the Crime and Justice Festival held in Abbotsford in July. She was at the same Stuart McBride session (the interview with Lucy Sussex) as myself.  Sheryl thought some of Lucy's questions were disjointed.  The problem was that McBride was very slow to start off and seemed to jump around a bit - I actually whispered that to my wife at the time.  Once he settled down to a narrative style rather than static answers the interview seemed to flow pretty well. It's a common problem.

Angela Savage was also at the festival, but in a moderator capacity.  I'm sorry I missed the Disher panels, but real life, in the form of my son's basketball, intervened.

Kim Wilkins is rather upset at a note in "The Australian" which disparaged an Agent and an Author.  I remember reading the comment at the time and thinking it seemed a little funny.  I couldn't understand why an agent would say that about their author.  Anyway, Wilkins has the full story plus quotes.

"Adelaide from Adelaide" is in Edinburgh with her children and pondering the problems of being a writer and a mother.  I suspect the answer lies in treating the writing like a job: you leave the home behind in the morning and return in the evening.  The intervening hours are just plain "work", boredom and all.

2009 Man Booker Prize Longlist

The 2009 Man Booker Prize Longlist was announced yesterday and there is at least one novel, by Coetzee, that may cause a little consternation amongst some readers.  Namely, is it fiction or not? This reminds me a little of Tom Keneally's Schindler's Ark, about which I had long discussions, and a minor "edit war",  on Wikipedia.

Anyway, the longlist comprises:

AS Byatt - The Children's Book
JM Coetzee - Summertime
Adam Foulds - The Quickening Maze
Sarah Hall - How to Paint a Dead Man
Samantha Harvey - The Wilderness
James Lever - Me Cheeta
Hilary Mantel - Wolf Hall
Simon Mawer - The Glass Room
Ed O'Loughlin - Not Untrue & Not Unkind
James Scudamore - Heliopolis
Colm Toibin - Brooklyn
William Trevor - Love and Summer
Sarah Waters - The Little Stranger


I haven't paid as much attention to the possible entries on this list as I have in the past, so I can't give you any thoughts on a possible shortlist, let alone a winner. "The Times" ponders the omissions - Atwood, Keneally, Banville - and indicates that the bookies are tipping Coetzee.

Morris Gleitzman Interview

Australian writer Morris Gleitzman was interviewed on the ABC TV program "Talking Heads" last night.  Gleitzman is the author of such books as Once, Then, Toad Rage, and Bumface.  If you missed it you can watch the program again via the ABC's iView (though you'll have to search for it on the main page as it seems impossible to link to a specific program), or read a transcript of the interview.   

PETER THOMPSON: So did you find with those early books that you were sort of leap-frogging about your own recognition of what was possible?

MORRIS GLEITZMAN: Yeah, absolutely, because up until then I'd always - in the back of my mind when I was having story ideas, I was having to think, "Well, what sort of budget is this going to be? Is it - if it's fitting into a TV series, I'm gonna have to tell this story using existing characters. If it's gonna be an Australian movie, up to a certain - beyond a certain budget it's gonna need an American star, so can I put an American character in this story?" Suddenly, writing books, there was none of that, because on the page no one idea costs any more to write or read than any other idea. So, my first few books included a story, Two Weeks with the Queen - a boy whose younger brother is discovered to be very seriously ill and Colin, the main character, is sent off to London so he won't have to witness his younger brother's death and he decides to borrow the Queen's family doctor to try and cure his brother and he tries to climb over the back wall of Buckingham Palace -

PETER THOMPSON: Obviously unaffordable from a film point of view.

MORRIS GLEITZMAN: Well, difficult, difficult, yeah. I think the third or fourth book I wrote, Blabbermouth, is about a girl unable to physically speak. The whole book is a kind of thought monologue by the character, and it would be a difficult thing to do on the screen. They had to use voiceover and various other techniques when they did adapt it for the screen.


Extract: Summertime by J.M. Coetzee

"The New York Review of Books" has published an extract from Summertime, J.M. Coetzee's upcoming third volume of his autobiography.

Australian Bookcovers #170 - Jungfrau by Dymphna Cusack


Jungfrau by Dymphna Cusack, 1936

Cover painting: Interior with Blue Painting 1956, by Grace Cossington-Smith. design: Dimitrios Frangoulis

(Penguin edition, 1989)

2009 Byron Bay Writers' Festival

The 2009 Byron Bay Writers' Festival will be held over the weekend of 7-9 August, with workshops starting on August 3.  As usual they have a pretty extensive program with 4 programming streams, another of book launches and many featured events.  The reports coming out of this festival are always good.

Aravind Adiga Profile

I'm still a bit dubuous about whether or not I should be including Aravind Adiga here as an "Australian" writer.  He was educated in Sydney and his father still lives there, but the author seems to spend the bulk of his time in India these days, when he's not on a literary promotion tour.  We'll stay with him for a while. 

While I attempt to come to grips with that dilemma Adiga was interviewed by Fiona McCann in "The Irish Times".

'I've failed at just about everything I've tried," says Aravind Adiga with convincing diffidence. "Which is why I've got to be a novelist." He is sitting in a hotel bar at Dublin Airport, fresh off a flight from London where he's been promoting his new book, Between the Assassinations , less than a year after taking home the Man Booker Prize for his debut novel, The White Tiger . Yet despite the latter's international success, Adiga seems determined not to rest on his laurels. The Indian author's face is boyish, its expression earnest, and he speaks quickly in a musical accent, his sentences spilling forth as he insists that writing is his last resort. "I'm good at nothing else. What else can I do? I flopped as an academic and I don't like being a journalist, so there's not much else to do really. This is it. This is what lazy people end up doing."

For a man with the literary world at his feet, Adiga is astoundingly self-deprecating. Despite placing pieces in prestigious publications, such as Time magazine and the Financial Times during his short-lived journalistic career, he still describes it as "something to do before I did my novel". It was a career, he says, he began mainly to guard against his insecurity about returning unemployed to India after studies at Columbia University in New York and Oxford.

A novel about an Indian character's experiences in Australia would, while being topical, also tend to sway me.

Poem: Ballad by Delta

That song doth cause my tears to flow,
   My care-worn heart to mourn;
It calls to mind the days gone by,
   That never can return
It tells of hopes that brightly shone,
   When life was in its spring,
And love made earth a paradise,
   And life a charmed thing.
When joy lit up the face with smiles,
   And played the heart along;
And she I loved so fervently,
   Was wont to sing that song!

I bear those old, familiar words,
   And listen to that air,
Until my bosom's finest chords,
   A mournful echo are:
I've sat beneath the forest tree,
   That shades the humble cot,
Where dwelt my love, to hear her sing;
   How changed is now my lot:
The tree, the cot, are standing still,
   Where they have stood so long;
But she is sleeping in the grave,
   That used to sing that song!

First published in The Argus, 1 September 1851

Parallel Import Restrictions - A Voice of Sanity

The concept of balance induces me to bring to your attention an essay in yesterday's "Age" regarding the Parallel Import Restrictions.  This essay, by Text publisher Michael Heyward, puts the opposite point to view to that offered by Allan Fels that I discussed yesterday.  So why didn't I mention it then?  I put it down to skipping over it due to the red film that had formed over my eyes.

Here is just one paragraph of interest:

Australian readers now have real choice about where to shop and how much to pay for a hugely diverse range of books. And under current law they can buy any book they want online even if there is an Australian edition available. Retailers can at any time order any book from anywhere at the request of the consumer. No bookseller in the US or Britain has this right.

There are more as you might expect.

Reprint: Our Secret Books: A Visitor's Dilemma by Vance Palmer

An American publicist has been making exploration into Australian literature, present and past. He confesses that the task has been extraordinarily difficult. The books that would have made a complete survey possible were simply not to be had though he was willing to pay nearly twice as much for them as the prices at which they were first published. One bookseller even refused to sell copies of certain books on the ground that they were so rare that they ought not to be taken out of Australia. As for others, consistent advertising failed to bring a single copy to light.

What is anyone who wants to burrow into our past, literary or historical, to do about it? Of course there is the Mitchell Library in Sydney, which meets every demand and is a national asset that will grow in value with the years. But not every serious student can go there to work. And, apart from serious students, there are casual explorers who want to fill in, for their own satisfaction, the empty outlines of our past. There are the visitors who, in passing through our public libraries are naturally anxious to see what books have been written in or about Australia. How are their demands met? Is there anything to show that we are a literate people, interested in our own history, our topography, or the imaginative rendering of our own lives?

The answer must be a fairly emphatic negative. Such books of value as we have produced are usually hidden away, like the family photograph-album of which we are secretly ashamed. Lately I watched a foreign sailor wandering round the vast circle of the Melbourne Public Library and slowly spelling out the lettering of the varied categories of books. He came to rest finally at one tiny shelf in the geographical section labelled Victoria, and took down a volume, his eyes growing large and puzzled as he pored over the pictures. Evidently he wanted to know what the country was like beyond the streets and houses that were not so different from other streets and houses he had seen. But what met his inquiring gaze? Pictures of seals on icefloes, of men in furs, of wooden ships being buffeted by Arctic seas! He turned to the next book on the shelf and it was the same. Ice, sailing-ships, white landscapes, with little black dog-teams straining over the snowy expanse! He put the book down gently and stole off, as if all he had heard about the Antipodes being the country of "upside-down" were true.

Fruits of the Search

If he had explored further on the Victorian shelf he would have found similar books - "A Naturalist at the Poles," Stefannson's "Friendly Arctic," Bilby's "Among Unknown Eskimos" - but no book about Victoria. On the New South Wales shelf he would have found "People of the Twilight" but no book about New South Wales. To be sure, the shelf higher up, labelled Australia would have provided some books about the country, although a meagre and rather uneven collection. Let us suppose though that he had been tempted to explore for pure literature. On a tiny shelf near the roof he would have found a label, "Australian Poetry," attuned to works by Wilfrid Gibson and other modern English poets but not a single Australian book! An eye familiar with the names of Australian writers might have detected a mixed collection of Australian verse farther along on the "Contemporary Minor Poetry" shelf but one does not begin by expecting a visitor to have such a knowledge of names.

A complete circling of the reading room would, in fact, lead a stranger to believe that it held fewer books on Australia than on, say, Peru. That would be an error, for a student with a precise knowledge of what he wanted could by a somewhat laborious search in the card-catalogue of the inquiry-room finally unearth many needed volumes. All students have not this precise knowledge, though, nor should they require it. As for the visitor - well, he probably goes away feeling that, if we have such a perfunctory regard for our own books, there cannot be much in them that would interest him.

To the Lending Library, much the same criticism would apply. In the fiction department there is a shelf labelled as containing the works of Edna Lyall; but there is no evidence that Henry Lawson ever lived and wrote. Another shelf is apparently reserved for the diverting novels of P. G. Wodehouse; but none for Rolf Boldrewood's. Of course fiction is only a minor concern of the Lending Library; the books of general interest are good, both in quantity and quality, but the lack of any guide to Australian work is astonishing and regrettable.

Forgotten Novels

The trouble with our books is that they go out of print quickly and are soon unprocurable. If suburban libraries had formed a habit years ago of buying all Australian books of a certain quality they would have been sure of something that had, at least, historical value. As it is,they have quantities of outmoded "best sellers" that can interest no one. I have diligently searched the shelves of a local library for Louis Stone's "Jonah," Barbara Baynton's "Human Toll," Albert Dorrington's "Castro's Last Sacrament," but I might as well have searched for black opal in a heap of discarded potch.

It is time that a little more attention was paid to the whole subject. In the Public Library the stock of Australian books seems, as far as one can gather, to be fairly adequate; it is the burrowing for them that is difficult. Surely a small section of the reading-room could be devoted exclusively to a representative collection of them, even if such an arrangement meant interfering with the present harmony of design. Most readers would be glad to have easy access to some of them; the visitor would be made aware of their existence. At the very least a catalogue might be printed that would give clear and intelligible guidance to both visitor and student.

The buying and arrangement of books in an Australian library must always be a difficult matter. There are books of absolute and books of relative value, and most Australian books fall into the latter class. But they should have at least as much prominence in our líbraries, as Australian pictures in our galleries. No one can feel much satisfaction in the perfunctory way in which they are treated at present.

First published in The Argus, 23 November 1929

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

Parallel Import Restrictions - The Saga Continues


I guess I shouldn't have been at all surprised to see Allan Fels (former Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) have an essay published in "The Age" today responding to the report from the Producticity Commission on Parallel Import Restrictions on books in Australia.  But, really, some of his statements are a little hard to swallow.

Take his first paragraph as an example:

Australia needs a loftier debate about book prices now that the Productivity Commission has demolished the arguments of opponents to lifting parallel import restrictions (PIR). We had been told books are actually cheap in Australia. Wrong. The commission found that books are much more expensive than in comparable foreign markets -- all due to parallel import restrictions.

By "loftier" I suspect he means at a level that deals with economics rather than culture, 'cos it's all about the bottom line isn't it?  And I really did like the point he makes that "the Productivity Commission has demolished the arguments of opponents", which brings the jargon of sports commentary to a cultural issue.  Oh, sorry, economic, not cultural.  Must try to remember that.  They disagreed with opposing viewpoints, put another, and came up with a recommendation.  This seems to amount to a "demolition".  Not sure how.  Didn't even know we were scoring points here.  Must pay more attention in future.

Sentence two reads: "We had been told books are actually cheap in Australia."  I'd like to know by whom.  Most commentators agreed that books in Australia were probably, on the whole, somewhat more expensive than similar books overseas, and that there were reasons for that.  So this is really a cheap debating trick - taking an extreme position of a few of your opponents and applying it to every opponent as if they all agree with it - which we can ignore.

Which leads us directly to sentence four, the best of the lot: "The commission found that books are much more expensive than in comparable foreign markets -- all due to parallel import restrictions."  Really?  ALL of it?  Every single cent?  No accounting for equipment and wage costs, shipping expenses, GST?  Bloody GST, Allan.  There's 10% right there.  What's the VAT on books in the UK? 

Skimming the rest of the essay - have to watch the blood pressure you know - I got the impression these were the major points.  The rest was just expansion and wordage. 

There are four sentences in Fels's first paragraph and the only one I agree with is sentence three: "Wrong."

Instances of Matilda #5

Interview with Chris Andrews

Chris Andrews is one of those Australian writers that you will probably never get to hear of, and yet he has had a profound impact on the international world of letters over the past few years.  Andrews is the Australian translator of writers Roberto Bolaño and César Aira. He has worked on five books by Bolaño: By Night in Chile (2003), Distant Star (2004), Last Evening on Earth (2007), Amulet (2008), and Nazi Literature in the Americas (2009).  From César Aira, he has brought us three: An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (2006), How I Became a Nun (2007), and Ghosts (2009)..  He was interviewed on "The Mooksee and the Gripes" weblog.

Q:  Mr. Andrews, I'd like to begin by asking about your pathway to your current work translating Roberto Bolaño and César Aira.  How long have you been translating, and why from Spanish?

I studied literature, French and Spanish, at university and started translating in the mid-1990s with travel narratives (including Ana Briongos' memoir Black on Black about living and travelling in Iran) and some short stories (including Cortázar's uncollected, early story "The Season of the Hand").  I wanted to translate longer works of fiction, but it's hard to get a contract; there's simply not much work for translators of fiction into English.  With Bolaño, I had a lucky break: I was approaching publishers in England, expressing interest in translating work, and it happened that I visited Christopher Maclehose at The Harvill Press in London shortly after he had acquired the rights to By Night in Chile.  That was in 2001.  He asked me what I had been reading and I spoke enthusiastically about Bolaño (I had just read The Wild Detectives).  Harvill already had a translator lined up for By Night in Chile, but when that fell through, they needed a replacement, so they asked me for a sample, then commissioned me to translate the book.  Barbara Epler at New Directions published By Night in Chile in the United States, and I've been working directly with her since Last Evenings on Earth (which was originally commissioned by Harvill but published first by New Directions in the United States).

Thanks to kimbofo and her "Reading Matters" weblog for this link.

Reprint: The Maligned Publisher

It would, I think, be an exaggeration, says "Penguin" in the "Nation," to maintain that publishers are enemies of the human race. Their crimes are enormous, but so is their patience under censure. Byron is credited (incorrectly, I believe), with having asserted that Barabbas was a publisher. It would be nearer the truth to say that Moses was a publisher. For the meekness of most publishers is amazing. Everybody criticises them. Nobody has a good word to say for them; they seldom say a good word for themselves. And when we condescend to tell them how to carry on their business, they admit every defect we point out, and placidly proceed to make large fortunes on the good old lines and in complete disregard of our criticisms. Even the societies that exist to harass them achieve very little in the way of impairing their prosperity. Until recently authors had the great advantage over publishers that they could write novels recounting the iniquities of publishers, and compel publishers to publish them. With the advent of publishers who are also novelists, this is likely to be changed. We have now such ambidexters as Mr Grant Richards and Mr Herbert Jenkins, who can write novels with their right hands while they are busy publishing with their left. Perhaps as actor managers rule the stage, so the day is coming when publisher novelists will be the autocrats of the world of books.

First published in The Argus, 16 December 1916

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

The "Gothic" James Bradley


After valiantly working his way through scads of vampire-themed literature, tv and film Australian author James Bradley published his views on the whole genre in the July issue of the "Australian Literary Review".  And then, last week, he continued with a discussion with Ramona Koval on ABC Radio National's "Book Show" about the same subject.  Maybe he's now becoming the vampire "go-to" guy in Australian letters. 

Anyway, one point he made in his discussion on the radio came after Koval asked him if the current vampire trend would continue.  Bradley pointed out that if publications such as the ALR were writing about a cultural trend then it was probably already over and done with.  The next question, of course, is: what's next?  Bradley didn't know - and I can't blame him for that as I don't think anyone else does either.  So I went to the prime source of wisdom in matters of this sort: my sixteen-year-old daughter.  She just looked at me blankly.  Stephanie Meyer is old hat now. The American television drama series True Blood is now the front-runner, and, though she hadn't yet seen anything of the British TV series Being Human, she was aware of it.  But the whole vampire thing seems to still have a fair way to go she thought.  I asked if she had any hint of the "next big thing", and it was at that point over breakfast that I was convinced, yet again, that she thinks I'm a total idiot.

Andy Griffiths Interview

In "The Sydney Morning Herald" Marc McEvoy profiles Andy Griffiths - author of such works as The Day My Bum Went Psycho, Zombie Bums From Uranus and Bumageddon: The Final Pongflict - as his new book Just Macbeth is released.

"Shakespeare was quite a challenge," he says, glancing at the meal. "He is all about language. We had to get the meaning over as clearly as possible without roadblocks or ambiguity."

Just Macbeth begins with a ghoulish concoction that would put anyone off their food. A toe of frog, an eye of newt, a tongue of dog and a toad bubble away in the three witches' cauldron but the ingredients from the original play are accompanied by Wizz Fizz and some chicken jokes - and the cauldron is really a food processor.

The book is based on a play Griffiths wrote for the Bell Shakespeare Company last year. It attracted huge crowds when it was performed in Sydney and Melbourne under the direction of Wayne Harrison.

Australian Bookcovers #169 - After China by Brian Castro


After China by Brian Castro, 1992

Cover art and design: Leisha Owen

(Allen & Unwin edition, 1992)

This novel was shortlisted for the 1993 Miles Franklin Award.

Poem: To J--- K--- by D. L.


O Jamie, lad, ye should think shame,
Your yet unsullied name to stain,
By pilfering the works of others,
To prove you are poetic brothers.

'Tis hard to climb Parnassus height
By those who have not genius bright ;
But harder far to keep that road
Inspired by neither man nor God.

Many have tried its height to scale,
Who wished they ne'er had left the vale,
But been content, quite free from strife,
In the abode of humble life.

But should you still incline to scribble,
And at the muse desire to nibble :
Just try to weave it from your head,
Which will yield dross, tho' twere but lead.

But when you other media take,
To raise your fame, 'tis sad mistake;
You'd better in oblivion hide
Your unknown and ignoble head.

So, Jamie, don't neglect advice,
For you can have it at your price;
But should it make you rather pensive,
Be sure it was not meant offensive.

First published in The Argus, 8 January 1850

Tougher Than the Rest


"Lorelei V" strikes a rather Pre-Raphaelite pose on her weblog photo, which is a touch different from the cover of the new Nick Cave novel from Text Publishing.  She interviews Caro Cooper at the publishing house to find out all about it.  

Abbey's Bookshop lets us in on some of the books we can expect to see in the shops this coming end-of-year festival thingey - there are certain "C" words that may not be spoken this early in the year.

Pavlov's Cat gets a haircut ahead of the launch of the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature.  (Oh, god, is that twitter trying to sneak in the back door?) Which reminds me I must get out and buy myself a copy. It's always fun playing "But they forgot about..."

Judith Ridge, of the "Misrule" weblog, travelled to the UK recently for a Diana Wynne Jones conference, delivered a paper and got a good write-up in "The Guardian".  The paper's reporter described Judith as her "favourite speaker of the weekend". 

I've watched Test cricket at Lord's but I've never had my name featured on a billboard like the "Alien Onion" crew.

2009 Melbourne Writers' Festival


The 2009 Melbourne Writers' Festival will be held from August 21 to 30 and the full program was released today as a lift-out in the print version of "The Age" newspaper and as an internet version on the festival's website.

The opening keynote address will be delivered by Bernard Schlink at the Melbourne Town Hall on Friday 21st.  The address will be preceded by the announcement of the winners of "The Age" Book of the Year Awards.

Interesting point first up (with more to follow): Jessa Crispin (founder of the Blog of a Bookslut weblog) is running a workshop titled: "Being a Critic During the Death of Print".  Mark Sarvas, who runs The Elegant Variation weblog, was here last year but that was on the back of the publication of his first novel.  Is Crispin's appearance the first sign that mainstream literary festivals are taking note of literary weblogs?

Reprint: Poetry Made to Order

Many Australians from all the States, remembering his Anzac prose epic, are keenly gratified to learn that John Masefield has been persuaded by the Melbourne Centenary Committee to become one of their notable guests at the forthcoming Victorian celebrations. Never before has a Poet Laureate of England visited the Greater Britain overseas. His Victorian hosts, of course, do not expect the King's poet to bring a Centenary ode in his pocket, for like his predecessor, Robert Bridges, Masefield has never written verses to order. Everyone recalls how an American journalist, piqued at Bridges' refusal to be interviewed on his arrival at New York, referred to his years of silence in the piquant phrase, "The King's Canary refuses to twitter." But if Robert Bridges' successor to the royal butt of madeira or its equivalent will not arrive in Australia on the wings of song, the Melbourne Centenary authorities have already discovered with no small perplexity that the Commonwealth has an abundance of native poets. "We were a nest of singing birds," said Dr. Johnson with a laugh, when referring to his Pembroke days at Oxford. The Victorian Centenary Committee has proved that Australia is a nest of singing birds. They offered five prizes of ten guineas each for the five best poems suitable for setting to music with the object of obtaining a Centenary anthem, and 279 entries were received. It is true that the judges were not satisfied with any of the poems, and made no award; but they found out at least how many people in Australia are ready to make poetry to order. It almost amounts to mass-production - this Centenary ode making. Had a score of poets hymned the praises of Melbourne as no mean city nobody would have been surprised. But what are we to make of that number multiplied fourteen times? Verse-making on such a scale is an industry rather than an art. The Centenary adjudicators, however, have not given up hope of securing a masterpiece by competition, though they have improved their method of attaining it. They have decided to commission five capable poets to write a worthy Centenary poem at a fee of 10 guineas each. They then propose to give a prize of 50 guineas for the best musical setting to the best commemoration ode.

Can poetry be made to order? is the question raised by such poetical contests. The Romans, a prosy race on the whole, used to say that a poet was born, not made; but Tennyson altered this proverb to the epigram that a poet is both born and made. The Greeks, a poetical race if ever there was one, were continually holding verse contests in their palmy Periclean days. Their great dramatists,Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, sometimes won and sometimes missed winning the tragic prize at the famous Dionysiac festivals at Athens. Pindar wrote his Olympian odes to the order of any victor who would pay for them.There is a story to the effect that Simonides, employed by a stingy Greek princeling to celebrate a chariot race which the latter had won with mules, sang the praises of these half-asses to the great indignation of his patron. Only when the fee was doubled did these mules become the progeny of fiery steeds. Even Herodotus, the father of history, recited part of his nine books at a Greek eisteddfod for a substantial reward. Though his readings approached more nearly to a recital by Dickens they were chosen as the result of a competition. One might trace such poetic contests down the centuries, among the troubadours and the minnesingers of mediaeval France and Germany, while the bards and minstrels of Wales and the Borderland chanted their lays in honour of their lords, and not seldom at their command. As for the English laureates, some of the best bad English poetry is to be found among the Georgian birthday odes of Colley Cibber and Pye. Only with the arrival of Wordsworth were these obligatory odes dropped. Southey's "Vision of Judgment" was the last birthday performance, for after Byron's brilliant satire they died a violent death. Yet Tennyson, of his own free will, so far as a poet sensitive to public expectation may be called free, practically wrote to order his magnificent "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington," his resonant welcome to Alexandra -"Sea King's daughter from over the sea," his "Ode sung at the opening of the International Exhibition," his noble "Dedication" of the "Idylls of the King," and at the request of the Prince of Wales the first great imperial poem at the opening of the Indian and Colonial Exhibition-"Britons hold your own!" Command poetry may be great poetry: it depends upon who is commanded.

The Melbourne Centenary Committee is following numerous Australian precedents in its effort to secure a fine poem as the permanent memorial of its October celebrations. In the old Macquarie days Michael Massey Robinson, a compulsory immigrant, used to recite an annual ode on the royal birthday, and had for reward neither cask of sherry nor keg of rum, but two cows from the Sydney cow pastures - milk for milk and-water odes. Everybody knows that it was the winning of a prize Australian poem that induced Kendall to start on his disastrous sojourn in Melbourne, the poet who was at his happiest in quiet sylvan places like Mooni and Araluen. The advent of the Commonwealth brought its crop of competing poets, though not one of them was peer with our James Brunton Stephens, whose "Forecast" of 1877 will ever shine as a bright morning star in the firmament of Australian poetry. It was another Queensland poet, George Essex Evans, who won a prize for an ode on the inauguration of the Commonwealth - a stately piece of rhetorical declamation. Yet with all these precedents to support the rights of poetry made to order it must be admitted that in these modern days prize poetry, like prize novels, has usually something forced and strained about it. It is, of course, the democratic way of settling who shall celebrate our national occasions in the absence of an Australian laureate, and it would be mere snobbery to hold that poets are indifferent to the stimulus of guineas. But what a crowd of poetasters vainly urge their Pegasus to soar with a golden spur! Assuredly the poet's cloth-of-gold cannot be bought or sold by the yard.

Not here, O Apollo,
Are paints meet for thee.

First published in The Courier-Mail, 14 April 1934

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

[Note: you can read an account of John Masefield's visit to C.J. Dennis's house later in 1934.]

Productivity Commission Report on Book Sales in Australia

The Productivity Commission has handed down its report on book publishing and selling in Australia, and, to no-one's amazement, it has recommended the complete scrapping of any restrictions on publishing in this country.  This was only to be expected.  When the only section of the industry calling out for the change are the large book-chains, and with authors, publishers, and State governments arguing against it, the result was a foregone conclusion. 

The major reason given for the report is that it will make books cheaper for the average consumer.  Oh, really?  Surely the best and quickest way to make books cheaper is to scrap the 10% GST charged on their sale as was argued for about 10 years ago when the Goods and Services tax was introduced.  But that's a different part of government so a GST reduction was never going to happen.

The only outcome from that was possibly conceivable from this report was the one delivered.  I can't remember the last time a major report was commissioned that concluded that the status quo was the best option: there must be an episode of "Yes, Minister" that deals with this - I just can't identify it at the moment. No public servant is going to accept spending a large amount of money on a report to be told that, actually, the current system was the best option. How would they be able to justify that in a management meeting?

The major arguments for the lowering of prices for consumers revolve around the situation of book sales in New Zealand and and music sales in Australia.  I haven't seen anything much about New Zealand books sales and the fate of small independent booksellers and publishers, other than a comment on radio from Henry Rosenbloom - of Scribe Publishing - that New Zealand publishing was in a complete mess.  But according to the Productivity Commission's backers, everything is just fine across the Tasman.

On the music front we have a better set of arguments to consider.  Last Friday, Mark Seymour, ex-frontman of the Australian band "Hunters and Collectors" had an opinion piece published in "The Age" which argued that a similar scrapping of protection for Australian music publishing in the early 1990s had a devastating effect.  Given he is someone who has been involved in that industry since the late 70s or early 80s I would tend to believe him before many others who tout the opposing viewpoint.

I've never been a fan of fixing something that wasn't broken, especially when that something is vibrant and viable. 

I know I tend to concentrate a lot on this weblog on what has happened in the past, but in this situation I am reminded of C.J. Dennis's letter to "The Argus" newspaper that I reprinted here last year.  In that letter he stated that he wanted a level playing field for Australian authors in American publishing.  His point was that American writers and publishers would get a far better deal in Australia than Australian writers and publishers could ever hope to get in America.  If the Productivity Commission's report is accepted by the Federal Government I fear that the same situation will apply in Australia as well. 

Richard Harland Interview

Richard Harland is hoping that his latest novel, Worldshaker, will prove to be a break-through work for him.  Gary Kemble interviews the author on the "Articulate" weblog.

Q. What's the appeal of alternative history, both for writers and readers?

I suppose it appeals to the what-if side of our minds. History could so easily have taken a different turn. For me, the appeal is especially that it allows the imagination to create fantasy worlds very different to the standard Tolkien/medieval norm. (I've got nothing against Tolkien/medieval fantasy, but there are so many other possibilities to explore!) By separating off from real history only in the Napoleonic period, I can bring in a more political state of the world and alternative versions of the industrial age.

Q. Similarly, steampunk is a hugely popular subgenre (arguably a genre in and of itself). What's the appeal?

Maybe it's a nostalgia from the time when machines looked like machines, when you could watch their workings and grasp what was happening. Nowadays, on the other hand, the technology is hidden away inside bland white or silver boxes, and you can't do anything even if you open the boxes up.

I bought my first new car in 20-odd years some months ago, and got a huge shock to learn that I'm not even allowed to fiddle with the engine. Not that I was ever very good at fiddling with engines - which is probably why I like making up forms of machinery that never quite existed in real history.


Combined Reviews: Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga

between_assassinations.jpg Reviews of Between the Assassinations
Aravind Adiga

[This novel was shortlisted for the Best Book award in the South East Asia and the Pacific region of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.]

From the publisher's page:

The dazzling new book from the winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize: one of the summer's most eagerly anticipated works of fiction. In Between the Assassinations, Aravind Adiga brings to life a chorus of distinctive Indian voices, all inhabitants in the fictional town of Kittur... His new book sizzles with the same humour, anger, and humanity that characterized The White Tiger. On India's south-western coast, between Goa and Calicut, lies Kittur -- a small, nondescript every town. Aravind Adiga acts as our guide to the town, mapping overlapping lives of Kittur's residents. Here, an illiterate Muslim boy working at the train station finds himself tempted by an Islamic terrorist; a bookseller is arrested for selling a copy of The Satanic Verses; a rich, spoiled, half-caste student decides to explode a bomb in school; a sexologist has to find a cure for a young boy who may have AIDS. What emerges is the moral biography of an Indian town and a group portrait of ordinary Indians in a time of extraordinary transformation, over the seven-year period between the assassinations of Prime Minister Gandhi and her son Rajiv. Keenly observed and finely detailed, Between the Assassinations is a triumph of voice and

Nirpal Dhaliwal in "The London Evening Standard": "Having excoriated the pretensions and injustices of modern India, he's now written an historical piece situated between the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and her son, Rajiv, that ended the Nehru dynasty's 40year monopoly of Indian politics. Located in the fictional south Indian town of Kittur, it consists of a series of vignettes weaving together characters from a variety of castes, religions and backgrounds to give a textured and intimate sense of the exhausting complexity of Indian life and its stifling social attitudes -- very much like R K Narayan did with his Malgudi novels but with a dark and smutty sense of humour...Addressing India's strengths with the unsentimental candour that he applies to its weaknesses would be the mark of a pioneering novelist. Readable as his new book is, he missed an opportunity truly to become the trailblazer that many think he already is."
Susan H. Greenberg in "Newsweek": "Like an Asian sister city to Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, the fictitious town of Kittur, India, is full of anguished souls trying to find their place in the world. They fight, love and struggle their way through the overlapping stories in Between the Assassinations, the nimble new work from Aravind Adiga, the Indian writer who won Britain's Man Booker Prize last year for his savage first novel, The White Tiger. With his latest book, Adiga, 34, strengthens the brash voice that echoed through his debut...As literature, Between the Assassinations feels slighter than The White Tiger. But as a portrait of India, it's far richer and more nuanced, encompassing the perspectives of Muslims, Hindus and Christians; rich and poor; young and old; upper caste and lower."
Lee Thomas in "The San Francisco Chronicle": "Kittur is a microcosm of India as a whole: Deep divisions run along lines of caste, religion, class and politics; rapid modernization strains these traditional categories. In many ways, the vignettes in Between the Assassinations flesh out the question at the heart of The White Tiger: Where is the justice in one man ruling another simply though the accident of his birth? Welcome to most of human history...The stories provide an intimate setting for revelation. Like passing through a congested street on a rickshaw, the reader encounters all quarters of the city, all strata of the populace."
Peter Parker in "The Sunday Times": "Once again, Adiga concentrates on the inequalities between rich and poor, employers and employees, servants and those they serve, and many of the stories deal with the problems of caste. He has said he wants to portray the underclass that forms the vast bulk of India's population -- and when he turns his attentions to the well-off pupils at St Alfonso's Boys' High School or the denizens of a salubrious suburb at the edge of a forest, the stories are less engaging...Adiga is at his best when describing the everyday realities of village people who escape to a big city, or are sent there by their families, and end up living on the streets and doing the most menial jobs."

Short notices
Chandrahas Choudhury on the "Good Read" weblog: "On a map of India Kittur would only be a finger-joint away from R.K. Narayan's Malgudi, but the savagery of Adiga's material and his slashing style make for an atmosphere worlds away from the older writer's gentler ironies and greater tolerance for life's injustices. Adiga's great theme is power relations -- between rich and poor, master and servant, high caste and low caste, majority and minority -- and, as a consequence of these relations, moral perversion and subaltern rage."
The"Something about Everything" weblog: "The texture of Between the Assassinations is different from the The White Tiger but like it the lens is angled directly over India's social landscape.But the main theme, the one at which the author hacks away relentlessly, is that of power relations-rich-poor,high caste-low caste,majority-minority and last but not the least, between the English-speaking and those who can't, but are captivated by the aura of the language; as in case of Ziauddin, 'Whenever a word was said in English all work stopped, the boy would turn around and repeat the word at the top of his voice, "Sunday-Monday, Goodbye, Sexy!", and the entire shop shook with laughter.'"

2009 John Button Prize Longlist

Back in April we reported that a new literary prize had been announced.  That prize aimed to honour the memory of John Button, ex-politician and writer, who died last year.  We can now report that the longlisted works for the 2009 John Button Prize have now been released:

Articles and Essays

Robyn Archer - "Industry that pays, and art that doesn't"

Don Watson - "Once upon a time in America"

Galarrwuy Yunupingu - "Tradition, truth and tomorrow"

Geoff Russell - "J'acccuse.... CSIRO"

Marcia Langton - "The end of big men politics"

Michael Fullilove - "Hope or glory? The Presidential election, foreign policy and Australia"

Laura Tingle - "On our selection"

David Heatherington - "Reimagining the Australian settlement"

Annabel Crabb - "Stop at nothing: The life and adventures of Malcolm Turnbull"

Kate Jennings - "American revolution"

Tim Flannery - "Now or never"

Paul Toohey - "Last drinks"

Guy Pearse - "Quarry vision"


Peter Hartcher - To the Bitter End

Peter Van Onselen and Philip Senior - Howard's End: The Unravelling of a Government

Sarah Maddison - Black Politics

Geoffrey Robertson - The Statue of Liberty

Paula Shaw - Seven Seasons in Aurukun

Chloe Hooper - The Tall Man

Peter Singer - The Life You Can Save

Michelle Schwarz - A Question of Power

Quentin Beresford - The Godfather

Mark Davis - The Land of Plenty

Greg Buckman - Tasmania's Wilderness Battles

David Marr - The Henson Case

Ben McNeil - The Clean Industrial Revolution

Geoff Boucher and Matthew Sharpe - The Times Will Suit Them

Andrew Scott - Politics, Parties and Issues in Australia: An Introduction

Gideon Haigh - The Racket: How Abortion Became Illegal in Australia

Margot O'Neil - Blind Conscience

Tony Taylor - Denial

The existence of a longlist leads me to believe that a shortlist will also be announced at some time, but I can't find out when.  In any event the winner will be announced at the inaugural John Button Lecture at the Melbourne Writers Festival on August 28th.

Australian Bookcovers #168 - Double-Wolf by Brian Castro


Double-Wolf, Brian Castro 1991

Cover art and design: Leisha Owen

(Allen & Unwin edition 1991)

This novel was shortlisted for the 1992 Miles Franklin Award.


2008 Australian Literary Society Gold Medal

The Australian Literature Society Gold Medal for 2008 has been awarded to The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.

The society's website has a detailed judges' report on the novel.

The shortlisted works were:

Divine Comedy: Journeys through a regional geography.   John Kinsella (UQP)
Her Father's Daughter.  John Clanchy  (UQP)
House of Exile: The Life and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nelly Kroeger-Mann. Evelyn Juers (Giramondo)
Telling a Hawk from a Handsaw.  Chris Wallace-Crabbe (Carcenet Press)
The Slap.  Christos Tsiolkas  (Allen & Unwin)
The Spare Room.  Helen Garner (Text)


Frank Burkett Interview

It's not often that we link to interviews with unpublished authors.  And it's not because we don't want to, it's just that there generally aren't any out there.  Kathleen Noonan has changed that with an interview with Queensland author Frank Burkett, for "The Courier-Mail". Burkett has written a crime novel, A View from the Clock Tower, which has been chosen from 700 entries from around the world to appear on the shortlist for the Debut Dagger Award from the Crime Writers Association of the United Kingdom.

Burkett's novel follows a young man, Jack Bellamy, in his search for the truth behind his parents' mysterious murder-suicide in Moreton Bay. It takes him from an orphanage in Nudgee to the sugar paddocks around Mackay, where he explores family secrets and digs up the truth.


Burkett, 58, started A View From the Clock Tower in 2007. During a week off work, he headed to a beach house with his computer and dogs and punched out the first draft. On retiring last year, he finished it.

"I thought, 'What next?' I contacted the Queensland Writers Centre and then a little crime-writing group in Brisbane.

"Someone there said, 'You have a week before deadline to enter it in these awards in London'." He sent off a synopsis and first chapter and forgot about it.

Six weeks later a letter arrived from Britain, announcing his nomination.

No word yet on when the novel wil be published.

Poem: The Right by Edmund Teesdale

To those who spake in Freedom's cause!
   Those men of old,
Who formed and set her deathless laws
   In Godlike mould!
Who saw the truth, and spake it out
Till thousand throats took up the shout,
And bore it down the stream of time,
O'er every sea, through every clime,
      In cadence deep !

To those who bled in Freedom's van,
   In days gone by!
Who lifted up poor trampled man
   From Slavery.
And bade him gase beyond the earth ;
Who hewed the way for Freedom's birth,
And left their names on history's page,
The watchword of an after age
      In Freedom's fight !

To those who died. The martyr host
   Who gave their breath--
Who made the right their trust and boast,
   E'en to the death :
Enthusiast minds of impulse strong,
Crushed by Oppression's dastard throng :
Oh, may their deeds nerve heart and hand,
Their souls pervade each struggling band,
      Their faith uphold!

To those who sang the ragged rhyme
   In chorus wild,
Or tuned the sweet melodious chime
   In hymnings mild?
The prophet-bards who loved their kind,
And left their legacies of mind,
For man of every hue and name,
To feed the intellectual flame,
      And cheer the way.

To those who live amongst us now!
   Those patriot men
Who dare lift up the earnest brow
   And strive again?
Oh may we love and bear them up,
And snatch the hemlock from their cup;
Whilst side by side in Freedom's cause,
We struggle hard for equal laws
   With tongue and pen!

First published in The Argus, 12 May 1851

2008 Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History

The winners of the 2008 Prime Minister's Prize for Australian History have been announced.

As in 2007 two winners were chosen:

Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica by Tom Giffiths

The Lamb Enters the Dreaming: Nathanael Pepper and the Ruptured World by Robert Kenny

Instances of Matilda #4


Mary Shelly

With its shocking theme of father-daughter incest, Mary Shelley's publisher--her father, known for his own subversive books--not only refused to publish Mathilda, he refused to return her only copy of the manuscript, and the work was never published in her lifetime.

His suppression of this passionate novella is perhaps understandable--unlike her first book, Frankenstein, written a year earlier, Mathilda uses fantasy to study a far more personal reality. It tells the story of a young woman whose mother died in her childbirth--just as Shelly's own mother died after hers--and whose relationship with her bereaved father becomes sexually charged as he conflates her with his lost wife, while she becomes involved with a handsome poet. Yet, despite characters clearly based on herself, her father, and her husband, the narrator's emotional and relentlessly self-examining voice lifts the story beyond autobiographical resonance into something more transcendent: a driven tale of a brave woman's search for love, atonement, and redemption.

It took more than a century before the manuscript Mary Shelley gave her father was rediscovered. It is published here as a stand-alone volume for the first time.

From Melville House Publishing.

[Okay, it's not the exact spelling but...]

Reprint: Australian Literature

"One of the things that makes me waver in my faith for the future of Australian literature in the decay of humour," said Mr. F. W. Eggleston in an address to the Australia Literature Society last night. "Even the Irishmen have lost their sense of humour. There are fewer jokes in Bernard O'Dowd's works than in the Bible. After all the only cure for democracy is laughter, or - if you think that treason - laughter is the only thing that makes democracy tolerable." The subject of Mr. Eggleston's address was the influence of nationality on Australian literature. He said that Australia had produced no really great author, although much capable and conscientious work was being done. Since Bernard O'Dowd left off writing the nation's songs to write its laws, there had been no considerable figure in Australian literature. The best newspapers of the Commonwealth were making a definite attempt to create a literary tradition, and the standard of professional writing was high, despite the fact that writers appeared to be paid in inverse ratio to their qualities. A significant feature of Australian literature was the indifference of the public. The cardinal defect of Australian literature was that it showed lack of confidence in ourselves. When Australian writers gave their work a general appeal and ceased to imitate they would express a point of view that would be recognised as Australian.

First published in The Argus, 19 March 1929

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

Hungry Heart

Is it just me or are authors getting young and younger these days?  Twenty, twenty-one I can understand, but 12?

Jonathan Strahan has been busy editing anthologies and single-author collections this year and gives a run-down on his first half of 2009.

Pavlov's Cat revisits the 2009 Miles Franklin Award shortlist and lists the novels by women that didn't even make the longlist.  It is a surprisingly good selection, and would have made a surprisingly good shortlist.

If you thought that literary hoaxs and cons were a relatively modern invention then you would be unaware of the story of convict George Barrington.  In "The Age" Simon Caterson provides just enough detail about The Celebrated Barrington: A Spurious Author, the Book Trade, and Botany Bay by Nathan Garvey to make it a must-read.

Salt Publishing explains the "10 Ways to Take a Bad Author Photo".  More big hats I say.

Extract: The Tower by Michael Duffy

"The Sydney Morning Herald" is serialising extracts from Michael Duffy's new crime novel The Tower.  The first two extracts (of eight) have been made available and the book will be published by Allen & Unwin in August.

2009 Crime and Justice Festival

The 2009 Crime & Justice Festival will be held at the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, from Friday July 17 to Sunday 19th, 2009. Tickets are now available, information about which you can get at the festival's website. There is also a full program available [PDF file]. The guest list includes: Mark Abernethy, Garry Disher, Raimond Gaita, Andrea Goldsmith, Stuart MacBride, Angela Savage and Lucy Sussex.

M.J. Hyland Interview

M.J. Hyland, whose second novel Carry Me Down was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize and the 2007 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, has just published her third novel, This Is How.  The author will be attending the 2009 Brisbane Writers' Festival and spoke to Madeline Healy of "The Courier-Mail".

Her novel This is How tells the story of Patrick Oxtoby, a outsider struggling to find his niche in life, a place where he fits in. His fiancee breaks off his engagement so Patrick leaves home and moves to a boarding house in a seaside village. Struggling to fit in and make new friends, he cannot shake the feeling that nobody likes him.

As his disappointments in life build up, his actions lead to devastating consequences for him, his family and many of those surrounding him.

"There is an escalation in him, a swelling, a maddening," Hyland says. "I spent three years concocting this idea. I've read lots of really good serious literary fiction which has helped me write this.

"But most inspiring was an interview with Tony Parker. It was in a book called Life After Life: Interviews with 12 Murderers and after reading the third interview I decided my next novel would be based on that murderer," she says.


The Penguin Century of Australian Stories, edited by Carmel Bird 2000
Cover painting: Moyes Bay Beaumaris by Frederick McCubbin 1887
(Penguin edition 2000)

Currently Reading


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



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


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



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

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



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

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

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Disher's anti-hero is back after an absence of ten years with a gritty, fast, noirish struggle for survival. All the best aspects of Disher's work are on display here.



 Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
A Young Adult steampunk novel set at the start of an alternate history First World War. Fast-paced, intriguing and totally captivating.



 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Dick's novel of the near future when the difference between human and android is barely discernible. One of the great all-time sf titles.



 American Journeys by Don Watson
Watson journeys into the heart of America, by train and car. There he discovers the best, and the worst, of humanity and society.



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2009 Best First Novel at the Ned Kelly Awards. Murder in the art world involving political intrigue and business corruption in Melbourne.


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