September 2009 Archives

The Indie Book of the Year Award 2009

The winner of the Indie Book of the Year Award for 2009 has been announced as Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.

The shortlist for the award - which included The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper, a book we thought wouldn't lose the Melbourne Cup if it was entered - was announced back in August.

Reprint: Obituary - Henry Kingsley

Kingsley, Henry, brother of the late Canon Kingsley; born in 1830, was educated at King's College, London, and Worcester College, Oxford. He left Oxford in 1853, and proceeded to Australia, where he resided five years, returning in 1858. He has contributed to the North British and Fortnightly Reviews, and to Fraser's and Macmillan's Magazines. His best-known works are "Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn," published in 1859; " Ravenshoe," in 1861; "Austin Elliot," in 1863; "The Hillyars and the Burtons: a Story of Two Families," in 1865; " Leighton Court: a Country House Story," in 1866; and afterwards published, in the Gentleman's Magazine, "Mademoiselle Mathilde." Since then he has written three novels: "Stretton," "Hetty," 1871; and "Old Margaret," 2 vols., 1871. Leaving his work of story writing for a time, he undertook the editorship of the Daily Review, the paper which represents the Free Church party in Edinburgh. Finding a difficulty in getting a war correspondent he went to the campaign himself, was present at the battle of Sedan, and was afterwards the first Englishman in the town. After eight weeks of experience as war correspondent, Mr. Kingsley returned, and, giving up the Daily Review after eighteen months' editorship, took to his old work as a novelist.

First published in The Mercury, 24 June 1876

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

Note: Henry Kingsley was born on 2 January 1830 and died on 24 May 1876.

Reading Notes: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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I won't say a lot about the Harry Potter novel I'm been reading, mainly because it doesn't fit my self-imposed boundaries on this weblog, but it does raise some interesting thoughts about the modern reading experience.

You'll be aware by now, hopefully, that the series of Harry Potter novels was completed by Deathly Hallows in 2007, and that the film adaptations of the books are still rolling out.  The sixth of them, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released only a few months ago - there are two more to come, both based on the last book in the series.

It was probably the fact that I took my ten-year-old along to the latest film that reminded me that I still had book number 7 to finish, and as he was desperate to read the sixth and seventh books in order I decided I'd better get to it as soon as I could.

It's probably been three or four years since I dipped into the literary HP universe, but the films occasionally turn up on the home TV and I watch a bit of them with the kids, marvelling at some parts and cringing at others.  This acts as a visual reminder about the intricacies of Harry's life, his friends and his enemies, so I didn't really need a lot of back-story in the novel to get back into the flow of the novel.  And to Rowling's credit she doesn't go in for the "And as you will recall, Harry,..." infodump technique, she's got too much ground to cover for that, and she can safely presume a high level of back-story familiarity on the part of her readers. 

Film adaptations of novels are quite common and there have been times when I've read the book before I watched the film, and vice versa.  So that experience is familiar enough, but Harry Potter moves into something a little different.  I'm fully aware of some film adaptations that I will not see on the basis that I enjoyed the book so much I don't want my vision of the work affected by someone else's: The French Lieutenant's Woman is one that comes immediately to mind. 

But I'm wondering if this is the first time I've read a series of books, while at the same time watching a sequence of films based on the earlier books in the series? 

Since these films started to be produced in 2001 we've had the Twilight series on film falling into this same category, Dexter and True Blood on television, and probably a number of others.  I haven't read the books these TV and film series are based on, so Harry Potter is the only one of its type that actively affects me.  And I'm wondering if my reading experience has been significantly changed by this juxtaposition of film and book?  And, if it has, is there any way to quantify the amount? 

I doubt it. Whenever I read this latest novel, my mind's eye conjures up the actors from the films in place of any written description of the characters, and I suspect that in the future I won't be able to differentiate the book from the film. I can't help it; it's the way I'm wired.

Australian Bookcovers #179 - Steal Away by Garry Disher


Steal Away by Garry Disher, 1987

Angus and Robertson edition, 1987

2009 Nobel Prize for Literature

It's coming near to October which means the announcement of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature is only just around the corner. As is also usual, speculation has begun across the literary and bookmaking world as to the likely names to be announced in Stockholm early next month.

The UK bookmakers, Ladbrokes, is generally across all this and has again released its odds for the 2009 prize. It's choices are:

  • Amos Oz 4/1
  • Assia Djebar 5/1
  • Luis Goytisolo 6/1
  • Joyce Carol Oates 7/1
  • Philip Roth 7/1
  • Adonis 8/1
  • Antonio Tabucchi 9/1
  • Claudio Magris 9/1
  • Haruki Murakami 9/1
  • Thomas Pynchon 9/1
  • Thomas Transtromer 12/1
  • Arnošt Lustig 16/1
  • Atiq Rahimi 16/1
  • Don DeLillo 16/1
  • Ko Un 16/1
  • Les Murray 16/1
  • Mario Vargas Llosa 16/1
  • Yves Bonnefoy 16/1
  • Cees Nooteboom 20/1
  • Peter Handke 20/1

Other than Murray, Peter Carey is at 66/1 and Malouf at 100/1. In 2008 Les Murray was given odds of 10/1, and in 2007 his odds were 6/1. By comparison Peter Carey was at 40/1 in 2008, and 25/1 in 2007. Looks like they are all slipping. Not sure why.

Apart from Ladbrokes, the best site to check out is the complete review, who actually know who all these people are.

Peter Temple Interview

truth.jpg     Peter Temple's new novel, Truth, is published by Text Publishing today, and, as you might expect given the reception the author's previous novel, The Broken Shore, received, you're going to see a lot about this book over the coming weeks. I've spoken to three people who have read this novel already (one's a book reviewer, one used to work at Text and one still does) and they have all been very impressed with it.

Amazon in the UK has the book's publication there set for 7 January 2010 from Quercus, and Amazon in the US lists a date of 13 April 2010 from Random House (Canada).

Jason Steger, of "The Age" travelled up to Ballarat to interview the author on the eve of the book's publication:
Truth is not a sequel to The Broken Shore, more a companion piece. Temple was worried that readers might get the impression that it heralded another series. (Not that he's done with either Cashin or Irish. Both pop up in Truth; walk-on roles that show his affection for them. And there will be more Irish down the track.)

Temple has always been interested in power and its exercise - ''what I see as the disintegration of things, the way every step forward carries with it its own slide backwards, that all the things we try to do even with the best of intentions are doomed''. And the bleak political world he unmasks in the book? Simply the way he sees it. ''It is the perception of reality. What is the reality itself? People don't really know.''

He doesn't like to make things easy for the reader; indeed he likes to make things as complex as he can. That's largely for his own benefit - when he reads other writers of crime he finds them never as complicated as they should be. ''I hate having things spelled out to me.''
Needless to say, we're all champing at the bit to get our hands on this books here at Matilda.

Poem: To Content by E. O'S (Edward O'Shaughnessy)

Content! thy throne as was thy birth,
Is in supernal realms; of earth
   No denizen art thou;
Then, much as I may wish thee mine,
I will not bend before thy shrine,
   Nor waste for thee one verse.

Thou art the theme of poets' lays,
The idol of the sages' praise,
   Who bid mankind be free
From human passions and desires,
All the wild tumults hope inspires,
   And seek alone for thee.

'Twere right; did not experience teach
How useless is the truth they preach;
   "Content is happiness."
We know it, but as well we know
There is no happiness below,
   Thou stranger here no less.

The tenant of the lowly cot
Finds thee no sharer of his lot,
   As dreaming bards still chime;
Thou fliest from peasant, prince, and sage,
From ardent youth, from hopeless age,
   From sex, and rank, and clime.

Wealth, rank, and power, lead mortals on
With hopes of joy that oft is won,
   Tho' short, imperfect, vain,
But who seeks thee, and spurns at these,
Seeks what on earth heaven's fixed decrees
   Forbid him to attain.

Star of their course, let virtue shine,
And all they may of bliss divine,
   She gives mankind to feel,
And gives to those who seek the strife,
Of power and fame, as those whose life
   Ne'er own'd ambition's zeal.

Then goddess, tho' thy lover, I
Forswear myself thy votary, --
   To Hope alone I bow;
Whose joys, still withering and still blooming,
Are yet more real than aught illuming
   This dreary path below.

First published in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 5 April 1831

Reprint: Tendencies of Australian Literature


If an intelligent and industrious Englishman, with no previous knowledge of Australia, set himself to a careful study of its literature, with the object of learning something of the habits and customs, the thought, and the ideals of this newest of the nations, he would land himself in very strange places. If he took the resolution of visiting Australia, and of living among the people for some years, he would discover that his industry and his intelligence had combined to mislead him utterly, and that his studies had taken him altogether away from even an approximately correct apprehension of Australian life, in its smaller as well as in its greater aspects. The total output of Australian literature -- leaving out journalism -- is considerable in quantity. It may be divided into two sections. The first comprises poems and fiction on the English model; the second is made up of books whose inspiration and colouring are Australian. The first section belonged particularly to a period when the standard of general education in Australia was not high, and when the educated portion of the community still thought of themselves as in exile, and spoke of England as "Home." How persistent was that tradition will be apparent when we remember that even a few years ago Australians of the second and third generations invariably spoke of a visit to England as "a trip Home." There were no Australian publishers willing to take big risks of the narrow local market, and they had no means of access to the English book circles. Teaching, too, in the Universities and in schools, was for a long time invariably on the English model, with no attempt to meet and cope with local needs, and separate ideals. Such novelists as Henry Kingsley and Miss Ada Cambridge, to name two who had some vogue, used Australia merely as a setting; their characters in thought and in action were entirely English. That cult persists even today, although not so marked, and the writers who follow it have their market in England rather than in Australia. Even Kendall, whose reputation will be revived some day when the babel noises of present day jingle are subdued, used the Australian bush rather as a convenience than as an inspiration. Were he alive to-day, when there is a community life, and some independence of thought and culture, he might have initiated a school of Australian poetry of high distinction. Of other Australian poets Brunton Stephens, and, on occasion, Essex Evans, were close to Kendall, and Victor Daley, who failed, had both inspiration and the gift of poetic language which, unhappily, were suppressed by the conditions of his living, and emerged only in flashes. He might have been the most distinctive of Australian poets, but produced little which will find a place in any carefully compiled anthology.

Two men among the earlier writers -- and one was a Scotchman -- left their mark, not so much by the excellence of their work as by the influence which they have exerted on popular taste, and on the men who cater for it. Gordon introduced the song of the bushman and his horse; Marcus Clarke popularised the convict and the bushranger. Gordon loved bush life and horses, and the most popular of his poems have all the freshness of open air life. Then came a period of idleness on the part of the muse, which was broken, when Mr. A. B. Patterson caught the popular ear with "The Man from Snowy River." The note was taken up, and an infinite number of tunes have been written on it. A few of the versifiers, like Gordon and Mr. Patterson, have been men acquainted with the bush and with horses; others, living in the cities, have exploited the theme for all and more than it is worth. Their readers, most of whom live in England or in Australian cities, are satisfied, and so the jingle passes current as poetry, and we have pictures of the bush and its life which are not recognisable by those who know it, and which find their inspiration in some imagined ever-pending gloom, and ignore the real beauty which belongs even to the sunlit plains. Following the lead of Marcus Clarke, a host of writers dived into old records, or used their imaginations, and so for a considerable period it was almost impossible to find a work of fiction dealing with Australian life which had not as its centre of interest some dreadful story of the convict system, or some highly-coloured account of a bushranger. "Rolfe Boldrewood" reached high-water mark with his romantic "Robbery Under Arms," and lent some glamour to the drab and dismal reality of bushranging. But no other writer came near to that achievement, and probably not one of their books will survive, except an a curiosity of literature. "Rolf Boldrewood" made two other notable contributions, which might have set a fair standard for a distinctively Australian school of fiction. "The Miner's Right" and "The Squatter's Dream" were careful and faithful accounts, in the guise of fiction, of critical periods of Australian history, written by a man who had an extensive first-hand knowledge, derived from his experiences as a pastoralist and a magistrate. Both have fallen into undeserved neglect, and might with advantage, and even profit, be revived.

The latest discovered tendency in Australian literature is one which might make us despair of its future. A group of writers in verse and in prose has taken up the larrikin of Sydney and Melbourne, and has found him a gold mine. The most notable is Mr. C. J. Dennis, whose "Sentimental Bloke" and "Ginger Mick" have achieved a success as extraordinary as it is undoubted. The "larrikin" and his female compeer are not at all admirable persons, and the conditions of their lives are such as to beget sorrow for their degradation rather than to call for its exaltation. But, worst of all is the fact that their doings and their thoughts and their living are made visible by the vehicle of a language as degraded as their lives. It is a sad commentary on the educational system of Australia that books written in the most villainous slang of the dregs of the city populations are to-day easily ahead of all others as "best sellers." Amidst all this noise we do, it is true, catch murmurs of sweeter and nobler singing, and the contributions of Miss Ida Rentoul as artist, and her sister as a writer of verse, are representative of the real Australia and of the true beauty and romance of the bush. But the prevailing tendency of Australian literature is downward.

First published in The Mercury, 15 June 1918

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

Notes: I just love the condescending attitude of the writer here. The essay starts with a barely disguised lament that certain poets didn't live long enough to gain an audience in England - and thereby gain a level of approval - and ends with a frontal assault on any literature deemed to be about the "villainous slang of the dregs of the city populations". Come on, people, literature should be all sweetness and light, uplifting and wholesome, and concern "admirable persons". Got that?

Lost in the Flood

Sarah Weinman, of the "Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind" weblog, reports that Maxim Jakubowski who used to run the Murder One bookstore in the heart of London's bookshop district, has taken on the role of running a new crime fiction publishing imprint "maXcrime".  First book to be published under that label will be Hit by Tara Moss. 

You might remember that I was rabbitting on about "steampunk" a few weeks back, extolling its virtues as the next big thing.  In case you still didn't understand what that genre was all about then "The Clockwork Century" weblog provides a definition: "Steampunk is a style (of books, clothes, video games, movies, etc.) that draws its inspiration from old science fiction stories. By 'old' I mean Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, and their ilk. Steampunk art is often (but not strictly always) indicative of a place and/or time wherein steam is the dominant form of high technology. Or at least it usually looks like it is."  There is more besides.

Lisa Hill really gets into Passarola Rising by Azhar Abidi on her weblog, calling it "wonderfully, fabulously imaginative" and "a little gem".  It must be nearly three years ago that I said here that I needed to read this book.

Estelle, of "3000 Books", continues her look at the other side of publishing with her interview with Belinda Leon at Oxford University Press.  Best line: "I'm a huge book nerd. I love reading, and I love books. All about them, the smell, the feel, opening a new one fresh from the store, opening an old one from a second hand store and finding someone's writing in it. There was also something about the process of a book that seemed so mysterious. How do you get from someone tapping away at a screen and turn it into a book? Do authors write in Word? is there a special program they need to use to make a book? HOW DOES IT WORK?"

It appears rather quiet on the Australian litblog front this past week.  Maybe the writers are finishing off their next books, the young at heart are getting over the after-effects of the Melbourne Writers Festival, and the others are hanging out for the end of the footy season.  The grand final of the Australian Football League, by the way, looks like being a classic on Saturday: the two best teams of the year will fight it out, one is seeking redemption for a poor end to 2008, the other is seeking its first premiership in 43 years, and the day looks likely to be cold and wet and thundery with maybe even some hail thrown in for good measure.  All the ingredients for a BBQ.  And, yes, I will be at one - just not wearing the Hawaiian shirt this year.

Nick Cave and The Death of Bunny Munro

Nick Cave's second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro has been out for a while now. A lot of discussion about the book has revolved around the covers used in the various editions around the world. So I've included the three major English language editions below in the order of their publication. It's an interesting exercise in pitching to the respective markets, though I seriously doubt US readers will have any idea of what the book is about from their cover.

death_bunny_munro_aus.jpg  Australian edition - Text Publishing - 3 August 2009
death_bunny_munro_us.jpg  US edition - Faber and Faber - 1 September 2009
death_bunny_munro_uk.jpg  UK edition - Cannongate Books - 3 September 2009

The author is interviewed by Claire Suddath in "Time" magazine.

Did you really write the book's first chapter on your iPhone?
I actually did. I was amazed it had this little keyboard in it. I'm a techno-moron and it had this keyboard that spellchecked as you wrote. It was a good way to start writing the novel because I wasn't taking it seriously, I was just checking out my phone. The rest I wrote by hand.

There's a soundtrack that goes with the book. Why did you decide to make that?
I wanted to change the way the novel was presented. We looked at all the different formats we could do and the audio book was extremely exciting to me. I read the novel onto something like seven CDs and we scored it and put music to the whole thing. If you listen to it on headphones it's extraordinary, like a hallucination or something. It's psychedelic. It's an audio book like nothing you've ever heard. There's also a Bunny Munro app for the iPhone but I haven't worked out how to download it yet.

If I were a citizen of Warracknabeal, where Cave was born and grew up, I'd be very, very afraid.

You can read more about the book at its dedicated website and read an extract from the novel here.

Reprint: Australian Novels: Two £500 Prizes Awarded

SYDNEY, Tuesday, In the "Bulletin" competition for the best novel written by an Australian prizes of £500 each have been awarded for the stories "A House is Built," by Flora S. Eldershaw and Marjorie Barnard (Sydney), and "Coonardoo," by Katherine Susannah Prichard (Western Australia). The third prize was awarded for "Men are Human," by Vance Palmer (Queensland).

There were 542 novels in the competition.

First published in The Argus, 22 August 1928

Note: what intrigues me about this is the number of novels entered for the competition. I'm not sure of the period covered by this prize, though I suspect it was only a year or two - A House is Built was published in 1928, Coonardoo in 1929, and Men are Human (interesting title!) in 1930 - which means there were a vast number of novels being written in Australia in the late 1920s.

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

Handwriting versus Typing


Almost from the beginning the "Handwriting versus Typing" quandary was never a question worth considering for me: my hand-writing has been woeful since I started nearly fifty years ago.  Right from the beginning I was one of the worst in my class; the refrain of "Peter, Paul and Perry" (yes, very droll) still rings loudly in my ears.  I have no idea of why I was so bad. 

My mother and father were both left-handed, but I came out right-handed after a left-handed older brother.  Both my parents had dodgy writing, probably caused by the schooling they received in an era when children were actively encouraged, if not forced, to write right-handed.  My father still writes in an over-the-top left-handed style, brought about, he once told me, due to the need not to smudge the ink with his sleeve as it followed the line of his script.  This leads to a highly sloped style which is difficult to understand if you're not used to it.  My mother, as best I recall, wrote in a flowing small script that seemed to imply or skip over letters as much as delineate them.  They were both idiosyncratic, but they had the advantage of being, in the main, consistent.  My writing was never like that.

From an early age I was thought to have poor spelling in class as my "a" ended up looking more like an "o", "r" and "p" and "n" were confused and the script never stayed on course, drifting over and above the lines with wild abandon.  Taking French dictation at high school was a nightmare.

It was all really hopeless. I gripped the pen too hard when I was young in an attempt to control what was delivered and ended up with a large callous on the top-left of my middle finger that I can still see today. I tried slowing down but that didn't help.  Ink, pencil, ballpoint pens, it was all a mess and never seemed to improve no matter what I did.  One teacher explained to my parents that it was all because my "brain moved too fast" or some-such mumbo-jumbo.  That didn't make much sense to me then, nor now. 

I was short-sighted from my early teenage years but that doesn't explain much.  It wasn't my sight that was a problem, and I don't think it was hand-to-eye co-ordination.  I played a lot of sport and while I wasn't a star I did all right, not good enough to go on with anything but okay. I reckon if I was really bad I would have given up way before I did.

For a short period in late high school things improved a little and the small snippets of my writing from that period that are still around are vaguely legible.  And then came university, and the speed writing required to keep up with lecture notes destroyed any writing abilities I may have attained.  I could read what I wrote, other people couldn't be bothered, and I didn't blame them.  Luckily enough I asked for a typewriter for a birthday present about that time and from then on typed everything I needed anyone else to read: letters and essays being the bulk of them.

Oddly enough, although I've been typing for over 35 years I've never learnt how to touch type.  I figured out pretty early how to type at a reasonable clip using only two, then three and occasionally four fingers.  Back in the 1960s in Australia, boys did woodwork and girls did typing at school. There wasn't a choice in the matter, and even if there was it wasn't one you'd want to consider.  I tried a few PC-based lessons a few times over the years but they tended to slow me down and they seemed like more of an imposition than an improvement.

So I'm stuck with typing everything except small notes, which I tend to print.  A long time ago I could read my own writing.  Now, only a few days have to pass and it's all a mystery to me, a scrawl, the modern equivalent of a "thumbnail dipped in tar".  Don't get me wrong, it's not that I dislike copper-plate script.  On the contrary, it's a talent I wish I had.  I fear, however, that it, along with the inability to draw anything recognisable other than a silhouette elephant, is a skill that will be forever out of my reach.

[See Umberto Eco's thoughts on this matter.] 

Australian Bookcovers #178 - The White Woman by Liam Davison


The White Woman by Liam Davison, 1994

Cover design by Michael Ward using a photograph by Craig Voevodin

(UQP edition 1994)

Tom Keneally Interviews

peoples_train.jpg With his new novel, The People's Train already published in Australia, and due for release in the UK in October, Tom Keneally has been interviewed in both countries.

In "The Guardian", Keneally was gave short answers to questions supplied by Rosanna Greenstreet.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Intolerance of people. I no doubt dislike it because I have some of it in me, but what I'm talking about is ethnic myth-making about a group, glib but deadly regurgitations of hysteric myths. Really, really hate it.
What makes you depressed?
The sins and gaucheries of the past. Then the decay of life generally.
Who would play you in the film of your life?
Bob Hoskins or Danny DeVito.
What is your favourite smell?
The sea.
What is your favourite word?

As he was in Brisbane recently for the Writers' Festival there, Keneally spoke to a gathering at the University of Queensland in an event sponsored by the Fryer Library. And there was a good reason for that. Des Houghton was there for "The Courier-Mail".

Imagine Brisbane as a Bolshevik sanctuary, a centre for revolutionary thought - a town where reds shamelessly refuse to hide under beds.

It used to be that way.

From 1910 until the Roaring Twenties, the Marxists pedalled their poisonous ideology in their own edition of Izvestia, infiltrating the unions and scrapping with police at public rallies. Brisbane was the Zurich of the southern hemisphere, a magnet for socialist exiles fleeing Russia.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen would turn in his grave.

Now, Australia's best-loved gnome, Tom Keneally, has written a historical fiction based on the life of a leading anarchist Artem Sergeiev, who made it to Brisbane.

While in Brisbane, Keneally also took time to promote his other new book, Australians: Origins to Eureka, and made some comments which would apply equally to fiction and non-fiction.
Writing was like death or like giving birth, he said. It was something you had to do alone.

"The solitude of writing can make you a little strange," Keneally added.

It was hard to shut out dark thoughts that a book might receive negative reviews.

When he was young, Keneally said he foolishly believed "the world needs this book".

When he left the priesthood after six years he felt "useless", had trouble attracting female company and found great solace in writing.

"Now writing is a transcendental joy, a sense of the wow factor, a sense you have become more than the sum of your parts," he said.

Poem: The Poet's Luck by D.M.W. (David McKee Wright)

If, with some sudden witchery of rime,
My laureate head I smote against a star,
And knocking it a little sideways, made
A void in Nature, would the neighbours care?
Would Jones foresake his joyous pumpkin patch
To gaze across the fence in silent awe
For one brief moment? Would Bill Henderson
Renounce at eve his deep verandah chair,
And speak of other things than wind and sun
And the land's need of moisture? Vain the hope.
Somewhere are those would mouth my music o'er
In shady gardens murmurous with bees,
Or in the cool of some book sanctuary
Thrill inly with a quiet ecstasy
Born of my rimes. Some faintly-fashioned maid
Would shrine me as a master in her thought,
And deem me most worthy of the crown
Long worn by Frances Ridley Havergal.
Some pressman, hot from the large butcher-house
Of language and romance and poesy,
Would slap a hearty hand upon my back,
And praise me as a weakling of the craft
Whereof himself was master. While the gods,
Rapt in large wonder, almost stood aside
As they would call me to another throne
Set in Olympus -- mocking idiot Fate
Would still award the most unequal prize,
Red shining gold for their fly-haunted tripe,
And copper for the full rich wine of song.

First published in The Bulletin, 31 December 1908

Note: Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) was an English religious poet and hymn writer.   

2009 Prime Minister's Literary Awards Shortlists

The shortlists for the 2009 Prime Minister's Literary Awards have been announced.

From the website: "The Prime Minister's Literary Awards celebrate the contribution of Australian literature to the nation's cultural and intellectual life.

The awards, held annually, recognise literature's importance to our national identity, community and economy. A tax free prize of $100,000 is awarded to the works judged to be of the highest literary merit in each of two categories: fiction and non-fiction."


The Pages - Murray Bail (Text Publishing)
People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks (Harper Collins)
Wanting - Richard Flanagan (Random House)
Everything I Knew - Peter Goldsworthy (Penguin Books)
One Foot Wrong - Sofie Laguna (Allen and Unwin)
The Boat - Nam Le (Penguin Books)
The Good Parents - Joan London (Random House)


Van Diemen's Land - James Boyce (Black Inc.)
Doing Life: A Biography of Elizabeth Jolley - Brian Dibble (UWA Press)
Gough Whitlam: A Moment in History - Jenny Hocking (Melbourne University Publishing)
The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island - Chloe Hooper (Penguin Books)
House of Exile: The Life and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nelly Kroeger-Mann - Evelyn Juers (Giramondo)
Drawing the Global Colour Line - Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds (Melbourne University Publishing)
The Henson Case - David Marr (Text Publishing)
American Journeys - Don Watson (Random House)

The winners of these awards will be announced by the end of the year, presumably. I can't find any specific date on the website.

2009 Australian/Vogel Award

The winners of the 2009 Australian/Vogel Literary Award have been announced.

The joint winners are:

Utopian Man, by Lisa Lang


Night Street, by Kristel Thornell

This award is for an unpublished manuscript by an Australian writer under the age of 35. It carries prize-money of $A20,000 (which will be shared this year) and guarantees publication by Allen & Unwin within the next 12 months. Previous winners of the award have included: Tim Winton, Brian Castro, Kate Grenville, Mandy Sayer and Andrew McGahan.  I've read a number of the winners and can safely say they were all worth reading.

Reprint: A Fair Pioneer: Jennings Carmichael by Henry Tate

Posterity will be interested in the pioneers who broke the hard and stony ground in the dawn of artistics Australianism. The fact that women achieved an early prominence should come to be regarded as typical of the modern advance in the status of the feminine sex. Australia's dawn period may be said to have closed with the Boer War, 1899. Towards the end of this period, in the early nineties, the poems of Miss Jennings Carmichael began to engage the attention of Australian verse lovers. These poems were perhaps the first produced by an Australian woman to achieve distinction as possessing an intrinsically Australian interest. As in the case of Adam Lindsay Gordon, Australia is indebted to "The Australasian" for the world-wide dissemination and recognition of the poems of this fair pioneer.

Grace Jennings Carmichael was born at Ballarat in 1868. Her father, Archibald Carmichael, was a pioneer of early mining days. Jennings went to live at Orbost, Gippsland, when she was three years old. There she developed her love and lore of the bush. Her contributions to "The Australasian" reached London, and made such a favourable impression in English literary circles that in 1895 a fine collection of her poems was published in London by Messrs. Longmans, Greene, and Co. Mr. J. F. Hogan, writing at Westminster in 1895, points out that Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall both died "before they could enjoy the satisfaction of seeing their works published in London amid a chorus of critical approbation." He also remarks that the Australian bush is one of the keynotes of the poetry of Jennings Carmichael. This phase of her work monopolises attention here, but those who may read or reread her for her intrinsically Australian work will not lightly pass by what may be called, for distinction's sake, her cosmopolitan poems of first-rank quality. "Late Laurels," perhaps the finest of all poetical tributes to the memory of Lindsay Gordon, the children's poems, and the striking "Remonstrance" compel mention. Other equally fine work must be passed over in favour of the authoress's accomplishment in the domain of a distinctively Australian imagery and thought.

In "A Wallaby Christmas-tide" delicate and suggestive Australian images begin to be found.

"The bush must do for our church to-day,
   And birds be the bells to call us.
The breeze that comes from the shore beyond,
   Through the old gum branches swinging,
Will do for our solemn organ chords
   And the sound of children singing."
Her word-pictures of the bush are notable for truthful suggestion peeping through her choice of tranquil moods.
"The dreamful distances, where blue mist fills
   The bushy spaces. . . ."
And again:-
"The ranges haunted by a wraith of rain
When lightwood flowers."
The heat of a summer evening is deftly suggested in --
"The young night lies upon the quiet land,
   By large horizons rimmed,
The winds are blowing from the low sea strand,
   The distant hills are dimmed.
Dusk's sweet irresolution lingers round,
   Blurring the faint outline
Of fences pencilled on the sunburnt ground,
   And shadowy sheep and kine."
Here the word-glimpse of the fences, seems to throw a glamour over the whole stanza.

She is fond of singing the "wattle spangles," but her themes are never vapid. She remembers that the wattle blooms in advance of spring.

"You seem to forget the wind and the wet,
   Brave little blossoms bold!
You claim no right from the tardy sunlight,
   But break your buds of gold,
'Neath a gloomy sky, where the storm clouds fly
   And the rain mists are unrolled."
Among the birds the kookaburra is one of her favourites. She finds something better than "ghastly mockery" in his resonant challenge.
"I did not know the sunward side of wings
   ln shadow overhead,
Nor understand why every wild bird sings
   As if its young were fed!"
She notices where he goes.
"The barren, broken limb is thine by choice."
and is gently philosophical concerning his abode:
"Oh, happy birds, let's hear you while we may,
   Dear laughing birds, sing on!
A morn may dawn when we shall wait in vain
   For voices that are gone!
Sing, dearest birds! No cruel hand is here
   To still your strenuous lay;
Only a heart that loves you tarries near
   Your nests to-day!"
Like all imaginative Australians, she finds and yearns towards a new music in the bush -- a music deeper than externals, and yet impregnated with the natural sounds of the hills and gullies.
"Each soaring eucalyptus, lifted high,
   The wandering wind receives;
I watch the great boughs drawn against the sky,
   Laden with trembling leaves.
A soft, harmonious music, full and rare,
   Murmurs the boughs along,
The voice of Nature's God is solemn there,
   In that deep undersong."
She hears
"Delicate airs and harmonies pass,
   Subtle and swift, through the bowing grass."
She has left us many of these pictures, much of this music, culled in those more innocent years, and it is pleasant to think of her roaming along some
'"Dear old road, wheel-worn and broken,
   Winding through the forest green,
Barred with shadow and with sunshine,
   Misty vistas drawn between.
Grim, scarred bluegums ranged austerely,
   Lifting blackened columns each
To the large fair fields of azure,
   Stretching over out of reach."
Jennings Carmichael began a successful series of lectures on "The Spirit of the Bush," at the Masonic Hall, Melbourne, in 1895. Some Melbourne citizens still remember that evening. The slender, youthful charm of the poetess, her earnestness, and the interest that her personality lent to the pictures she unfolded of the beauties of the Australian bushland, remained as a vivid memory long after the untimely mists of Fate had descended upon the white gowned figure, and the sweet voice sang no more.

First published in The Argus, 11 March 1922

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

I can find practically no poetry by Jennings Carmichael anywhere on the internet, with the exception being "A Woman's Mood".

You can also read Henry Lawson's poem written about the poet.

Combined Reviews: The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper

tall_man.jpg Reviews of The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island
Chloe Hooper

[This book won the following non-fiction awards: NSW Premier's Literary Award, Australian Book Industry Award, Indie Award, Davitt Award, Ned Kelly Award, John Button Prize, Victorian Premier's Literary Award, and Queensland Premier's Literary Award.]

From the publisher's page

The Tall Man is the story of Palm Island, the tropical paradise where one morning Cameron Doomadgee swore at a policeman and forty minutes later lay dead in a watch-house cell. It is the story of that policeman, the tall, enigmatic Christopher Hurley who chose to work in some of the toughest and wildest places in Australia, and of the struggle to bring him to trial. Above all, it is a story in luminous detail of two worlds clashing - and a haunting moral puzzle that no reader will forget.

This book originally started as an essay published in the March 2006 edition of "The Monthly". This essay won a Walkley Award in 2006.


Jennifer Moran in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "The Tall Man explores many themes -- the uneasy relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, the legacy of our cruel history, the poverty and problems that beset many remote Aboriginal communities, the unequal application of justice -- but at its heart is a compelling human story in which hasty passion and terrible chance propelled one man to defend his character and his profession and the other to a painful, untimely death...Hooper has gathered material from many oral and written sources. An index would have been useful and her notes and attribution could have been less casual. Still, this carping should not detract from what she has accomplished -- a thoughtful, perceptive examination of an important Australian tragedy."

Alison McCullough in "The New York Times": "Hooper followed the case and its main characters for two and a half years, and she does their complexity a remarkable justice. She became involved a few months after Doomadgee's death, when a lawyer representing the island's Aboriginal community said he needed a writer. Hooper's first book, A Child's Book of True Crime, was a novel -- arguably a curious grounding for a work like this one. Or perhaps it set the stage perfectly, with its clever and penetrating account of a gruesome murder. Yet Hooper surely could not have foreseen the tempest into which she was stepping with the Doomadgee case."

Sophia Romano on ABC Online: "In taking up the task of capturing the death of Cameron Doomadgee and the events which followed Chloe Hooper gives dignity to all the victims, both Indigenous and police, without losing sight of the central issue. Pain leads to pain. Violence to violence. The rest remains to be seen...There are so many good elements to this book it must be read by all Australians, Black and White."

Short Notices

Susan Whelan on Suite101: "Chloe Hooper brings a voice of reason and reflection to this complex situation. Both her personal observations and detailed research are presented in a way that stirs a desire within the reader to follow her search for truth and justice through to its eventual conclusion."

Joe Case on the "Readings" weblog: "From the first pages, it's clear that you're in the hands of an extraordinary writer, one who spins out perfectly observed sentences and intricate observations, in a manner eerily reminiscent of Helen Garner (who calls this book 'enthralling')."

Fleur Taylor on the "Socialist Alternative" website: "Hooper has said that she didn't want to write a book about issues; she wanted it to be about people. But no person exists outside of the society that creates them. Hooper's investigation of how Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley killed Cameron Doomadgee in a police station in 2004 lays bare the workings of Australian racism in a way that will leave you breathless with rage and sorrow."


Chloe Hooper in conversation with Sally Warhaft on "The Monthly" website.
Benjamin Law in "The Courier-Mail".


The Prologue in "The New York Times".
An extract in "The Age".


The book has its own website.

Hooper published a follow-up essay, "In search of Palm Island's true victims", on the Crikey website in October 2008.

You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)

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The Alien Onions remember where they were when the shock of the new was still something to savour. 

Genevieve has been tinkering with the look of her weblog.  Which I think is a good idea for all of us every few years or so.

We've all groaned aloud upon reading some terrible prose in a multi-billion-selling mega-blockbuster from some author or other - it's hard to forget Thomas Harris's trouser trout, try as I might (see Hannibal chapter 20) - and now that Dan Brown's latest novel is out and about, Brian Joseph Davis of "The Globe and Mail" has decided to edit the first two chapters of his previous novel - you know, the church one - to show the author how it should be done. Davis might have found Brown's formula: "Maybe using the adverb 'slowly' seven times in your first 10 pages is the secret to good writing." 

Kerryn Goldsworthy gives her rules for writing reviews, covering the reviewer's responsibilities to the author, the reader, the literary editor and to the reviewer herself. It's a good set to work with. 

In an interesting look at the underside of the Australian publishing industry Estelle, of "3000 Books", interviews Stephanie Stepan who is an intern in the publicity department of Text Publishing.

Getting in early, in fact very early, Lisa Hill has predicted The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy as the winner of the 2010 Miles Franklin Award.

2009 Melbourne Prize for Literature Shortlists

The finalists for the 2009 Melbourne Prize for Literature have been announced.  You can read further details of the awards here.

Melbourne Prize for Literature 2009

Best Writing Award 2009

Look Who's Morphing, Giramondo

The Tall Man, Hamish Hamilton/Penguin
Everything Beautiful, Pan Macmillan

Killing, Melbourne University Press

There is also a Civic Choice Award which is basically a Readers' Choice award with the candidates being those on the Best Writing Award list.  That award will be announced on 27th November.  Presumably the two major awards will also be announced on that date.

Tom Keneally on Book Imports

Ursula Heger has interviewed Tom Keneally for "The Courier-Mail".  Keneally was in Brisbane over the weekend for the Writers' Festival there and spoke mainly about the debate regarding book imports into Australia.

"The abolition of copyrighting will not bring the cost of books down, it will only mean that there is less Australian publishing and it will be of a lower quality," he said.

"When I began writing there was no Australian copyright, and as a result, there wasn't a lot of Australian publishing - our books weren't popular."


Mr Keneally rejected the notion that lifting the bans would reduce the cost of books in Australia.

"It used to be the case, that they were so (more expensive), but under pressure from Amazon and from the possibility that the Government might decide to abolish Australian copyright they have become much cheaper," he said.

"The people that are behind the drive to bring an end to Australian copyright are Dymocks and Big W. Now these are not people known for lowering prices. They are known for knocking off the opposition, then charging whatever they like."

Clive James Watch #14

Reviews of Revolt of the Pendulum: Essays 2005-2008

John Gardner in "The New Zealand Herald": "What unites James' approach to the disparate subjects in this collection, drawn from his essays between 2005 and 2008, is a habit of analysis that encourages you to seek out what he is writing about or, if you have already read or seen it, drives you back to the original to re-examine your own conclusions. Inevitably you may not always agree with James who is nothing if not opinionated."

David Free in Quadrant magazine: "For more than forty years now Clive James has been writing criticism in which this sort of trick is routinely worked. The essays -- of which this is the eighth volume, leaving aside a couple of best-of compilations -- have always been the spine of his achievement. And the achievement, now that the distracting matter of his television career is out of the way, is at last starting to be appreciated for its heft as well as its dazzle. The 2007 publication of Cultural Amnesia -- the book that will stand as his critical masterwork, unless in this indecently fruitful late phase of his he favours us with something still better -- has surely put the question of James's literary status beyond a doubt, at least among people capable of reading that book at the level at which it was written. There are still plenty of critics around who aren't capable of that, of course. We will get to them. But among critics who matter, there seems to have been a general coming-around to the proposition that James is one of the great essayists of our time: humane, lively, formidably intelligent, and -- to use a word that the radical like to think they have a monopoly on -- committed."

Gavin McLean in "Otago Daily Times": "Even at second-best, at his most ephemeral, James still excites envy; his wit, breadth of knowledge and his language amaze. He is seldom absent from his work, whether he is discussing old mates, art, poetry or Formula 1 drivers. He's clearly vexed about how the world will view his legacy, complaining about literary editors' reluctance to take a prime time TV performer seriously as a poet. At times Clive James the intellectual and Clive James the blokey social commentator find it difficult to inhabit an ego as big as his."

Essays by James

James's essay, "A Veil of Silence over Murder" published in the September 2009 edition of Standpoint gets stuck in early: "Of all the liberal democracies, Australia is the one where the idea is most firmly entrenched among the local intelligentsia that the culture of the West is the only criminal, all other cultures being victims no matter what atrocities they might condone even within their own families." He accuses Australian feminists and intelligensia (these are not mutually exclusive, nor is one a full sub-set of the other) of a lack of intestinal fortitude, especially when it comes to the treatment of women in non-Western societies and cultures. 

Shakira Hussein takes an opposing view in Crickey, while the "High Windows" weblog is glad that James remembers Pamela Bone in his essay, but finds the exercise a little self-centred.  


James doesn't make it sound easy for Elizabeth Grice to interview him for "The Telegraph":

Clive James issues more warnings than a swine flu directive. He claims to be a terrible interviewee, all over the place, evasive. When he hears the doorbell go, he predicts that the photographer is about to have "the worst half-hour of his life." He is a bad subject: uneasy, and his eyes are too small. Yet he agrees that time's ravages are not as disastrous in his case as they might have been. "The smartest move I ever made in showbusiness," he says, "was to start off looking like the kind of wreck I would end up as. I was already aged in the wood."

But he settles down and becomes more revealing than he usually is:

And talk he certainly can. Thoughtful stuff, inconsequential stuff, funny, opinionated, quotable stuff. He's only once stuck for an answer - to the question: what is it he wants to leave behind? "I honestly don't know," he says, grimacing. If he's lucky, it might be one book. A fistful of poems. A few sentences. That's all a man can expect - though being James, he does hope for better than that. His first tranche of autobiography, Unreliable Memoirs, may survive, he thinks (it should). His poem What Happened to Auden deserves a place in literature's time capsule. And if it's a sentence, he fears it will be the "wrong" one - the one where he describes Arnold Schwarzenegger as "a brown condom full of walnuts". Though his description of Barbara Cartland's eyes as "the corpses of two crows that had flown into a chalk cliff" must be a populist contender.

Clive James Website

On the Clive James website, Series 5 of the "Talking in the Library" video interviews is now available.  James talks to Alexei Sayle, Catherine Tate, Claire Tomalin, Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons, Victoria Wood, Nick Hornby, Professor John Carey and Stephen Fry.

On the audio side, the complete first 2009 series of the BBC Radio 4 "Point of View" program is also available. 


Oliver Kamm warns against accusing James of Illiteracy.

Australian Bookcovers #177 - The Velodrome by Liam Davison

The Velodrome by Liam Davison, 1988
Cover Illustration: John Mitchell
(Allen & Unwin edition, 1989)

Anson Cameron Interview

stealing_picasso.jpgAnson Cameron's fifth novel, Stealing Picasso, is based on the unsolved theft, and later return, of Picassso's Weeping Woman from the National Gallery of Victoria back in 1986.  It's a most peculiar case and one ripe for a speculative literary novel.  The author was interviewed by Catherine Keenan for "The Age".

There are plenty of wild, invented details in Cameron's funny, occasionally stinging work. There's a frustrated art teacher called Turton Pym, gnashing his teeth that his contemporaries Brett Whiteley and John Olsen have become famous while he can't get a single canvas finished. There's a benighted soul who loves Michael Jackson so much he gets surgery to look like him, then finds his world tipped upside down when his idol is charged with molesting kids.

And there are enough double and triple-crosses to explain why, after all these years, no one has discovered who the Australian Cultural Terrorists were and why they did what they did.

Yet some of the most outlandish-seeming details are true. Such as the fact the thieves left a sign on the wall saying the painting had been removed to the ACT. Staff assumed this meant the National Gallery in Canberra - it was nearly two days before anyone realised their $1.6 million investment had been nicked.

Poem: Bill's Opinion by Jemima Beaumont Fletcher

Oo's the pote laureate, yer want ter know?
Now, blime, coves, the joker makes me blush
By arskin sich a question. Yus, yus, yus!
They aint got any reverent feelins now,
Them blokes that torks about Horstralian potes
As if they was a mob of ewes an rams
Sent to the show. Taint right. Now, Bill an me --
Bill Shakespeare's often at our place these times --
Aint never found out oo's the greater pote,
Himself or me. I think e skites the best
In blood an thunder pieces, though, my oath,
My own Ned Kelly epic aint too stinkin.
But when it comes to little simple things
About a bloomin kid oose mother croaked,
Bill owns that e carnt touch me. Then me hodes
About Hortstalia's navy. Bill carnt show
Nothin to equal them, an owns e carnt.
"It's great," says e, "now blime if it aint,"
An slaps is thigh. Now what I want ter know,
When all the bloomin torkers ave their day,
What price the best Horstralian pote, cash down,
Before I enter for the bloomin at
Of gory tin? Lawson an Paterson,
Grant Hervey an the rest have wrote some stuff
That even Bill admires. Chris Marlowe dont.
But Chris goes always strong for Roderic Quinn,
And reckons Adams an Will Ogilvie
Ave points that rather andicap old Greene.
But what's the use of torkin, wot's the price?
There's the respect that weighs with Bill an me.

First published in The Bulletin, 4 June 1908

Note: This poem forms a part of the responses to The Bulletin's call for nominations for an Australian poet laureate. You can read another one here.

Reprint: Racing Poetry

The triumphs of the turf are seldom, if ever, celebrated in verse; for though it is a theme which affords countless incidents which might fitly be commemorated in song, yet it must be confessed that racing men are not usually of a poetical turn of mind, and the ordinary poet is certainly not often addicted to the pleasures of the racecourse. There have been, however, within recent years two poets of no slight degree of excellence -- one in England and the other in Australia -- who, from pure love of the subject, have obtained no insignificant success when dealing with sporting subjects. Major Whyte Melville, indeed, confined his powers in this direction to verses either commemorative of some famous hunting run or of some favourite steed; but his prose works were seldom without one or more thrilling accounts of races in which the heroes of his novels were more or less directly interested. Adam Lindsay Gordon, also an Englishman by birth, drew, on the other hand, his inspiration principally from the racecourses of Australia, and, though his chef-d'oeuvre, "How We Beat the Favourite," is the description of a steeplechase in the old country, yet his description in verse of the Melbourne Cup of 1867, won by Tim Whiffler, stands perfectly unique as a specimen of what racing poetry should be, and shows how fascinating such might well become when treated in an equally effective and natural manner. How true to life, and yet what sterling poetry, are the following lines, descriptive of the race-course just before the start for an important race, all who have been present at the Derby at Epsom, or at a Melbourne Cup race, can testify:

There's a lull in the tumult on yonder hill,
   And the clamour has grown less loud,
Though the Babel of tongues is never still
   With the presence of such a crowd,
The bell has rung. With their riders up
   At the starting post they muster,
The racers stript for the Melbourne Cup
   All gloss and polish and lustre.
And the course is seen with its emerald sheen
   By the bright spring-tide renewed.
Like a ribbon of green, stretched out between
   The ranks of the multitude.
No poet has ever drawn a picture more true to nature, but Gordon had a thorough knowledge of his subject as well as an enthusiastic love of the sport which he describes, which enabled him, even more than Whyte Melville, to bring to the eye of the reader the scene he thus portrays. And moreover, in the stanza which describes the finish of the race --
They're neck and neck; they're head and head;
   They're stroke for stroke in the running;
The whalebone whistles, the steel is red;
   No shirking as yet or shunning.
One effort, Seagull, the blood you boast
   Should struggle when nerves are strained;
With a rush on the post by a neck at the most
   The verdict for Tim is gained --
-- one can imagine the two horses coming up the straight and the excitement of the struggle culminating as the winning horse forges first past the post, and the numbers proclaiming the result to the multitude are hoisted amid breathless silence --
When, with satellites round them, the centre
   Of all eyes, hard pressed by the crowd,
The pair, horse and rider, re-enter
   The gate, mid a shout long and loud.
In his verses, however, it will be seen that Gordon invariably regarded the turf from its most favourable aspect. It was the race itself, the struggle for supremacy between horses, that he loved to record; but the dark and tortuous ways of turf diplomacy he wisely leaves altogether on one side; and the only time he refers to it he shows his distaste for the subject in the following verse:
Hark! the shuffle of feet that are many,
   Of voices the many-tongued clang:
"Has he had a had night? Has he any
   Friends left?" How I hate your turf slang.
'Tis stale to begin with, not witty,
   But dull and inclined to be coarse ;
But dull men can't use (more's the pity)
   Good words when they slate a good horse.
In the hunting poetry of Whyte Melville, the same enthusiastic love of the horse for his own sake is observable. In his prose works indeed, as for instance, in "Digby Grand," Melville describes incomparably all the various episodes connected with racing in a true and graphic manner; but he, like Gordon, reserves his poetry to commemorate the performances of some equine favourite, or the deeds of some noted champion on the racecourse or in the hunting field. In this the two men are identical; both have ridden their rides as well as written about them, and both are animated with the feeling that Gordon expresses --
In their own generation the wise may sneer,
   They hold our sports in derision;
Perchance to sophist or sage or seer
   Were allotted a graver vision.
Yet if man, of all the Creator planned,
   His noblest work is reckoned,
Of the works of His hand, by sea or by land,
   The horse may at least rank second.
While Whyte Melville speaks of the death of a favourite in lines which express something of the same idea:
For never man had friend
More enduring to the end,
Truer mate in every time and tide.
Could I think we'd meet again,
It would lighten half my pain,
At the place where the old horse died.
As poets, however, there can be no comparison between the two men. Whyte Melville when he left prose and took to verse was distanced by the more dashing Australian writer whose genuine poetic instinct, combined with a keen perception, places him on a par with the most celebrated of our more recent poets. Of all Whyte Melville's songs "The Clipper that Stands in the Stall at the Top" has perhaps more of the ring which marks Gordon's poetry, though such lines as--
We are in for a gallop, away, away;
I told them my beauty could fly ;
And we'll load them a dance ere they catch us to-day,
For we mean it, my lass and I.
She skims the fences, she scours the plain,
Like a creature winged, I swear.
With snort and strain on the yielding rein,
For I'm hound to humour the mare --
show an equally keen appreciation of the enjoyment of the gallop which Gordon expresses by --
The measured stroke on elastic sward
   Of the steed three parts extended
Hard held, the breath of his nostrils broad
   With the golden ether blended.
Then the leap, the rise from the springy turf,
   The rush through the buoyant air,
And the light shook landing; the veriest serf
   Is an emperor then and there.
It must be esteemed a great misfortune to racing as a sport that Gordon's unhappy and untimely death deprived the world of any more of his stirring racing lyrics, which not only tend to make the sport more popular for its own sake, but bring into prominence the real object of the turf, and the pleasure which may be derived from it, both of which seem at times to be almost totally obscured by the mercenary motive with which racing nowadays is conducted. Anything that tends to elevate the turf in the eyes of the public and to increase its popularity, independent of the totalisator and the betting ring, is to be welcomed with gratitude, and few people can read " How We Beat the Favourite" without some genuine sporting interest being excited in their breast, and without feeling some interest in the struggle so graphically related. Thus it is, the poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon, described by him to his English compeer, Whyte Melville, as --
Rhymes rudely strung, with intent less
   Of sound than of words,
In lands where bright blossoms are scentless,
   And songless bright birds,
are now, years after his death, just coming into notice in his native land. The recent numbers of the Sporting and Dramatic News hold notices all more or less complimentary on his poems, and, as a consequence, they will probably come under general observation in the old country. There they will certainly be welcomed and eagerly read ; for there, at least, are many kindred spirits who will agree with him --
If once we efface the joys of the chase
   From the land and outroot the stud,
Good-bye to the Anglo Saxon race,
   Good-bye to the Norman blood.
First published in The Brisbane Courier, 19 June 1885

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

You can read the full text of the Gordon poems:
"How We Beat the Favourite"

Of Helen Garner and J.M. Coetzee

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I haven't written much here lately about the on-going problems I have had with the old, archived entries on this weblog.  Mainly that's because it a long tedious process with, I assume, little interest to anyone other than myself.  But the one thing this process of re-posting does provide me is the opportunity to re-read pieces that have appeared here over the years.

Just recently I've been looking at a number of my "author watches" - posts in which I attempt to provide a series of catch-up links relating to one specific author - and just this morning I was editing the Helen Garner Watch #2 post which mainly dealt with reviews of her latest novel, The Spare Room.

As a part of that re-editing I had to go back to some reviews of Garner's novel to ensure my posts were aligned properly and easier to read.  In particular, I had another look at Robert Dessaix's review of the book in The Monthly, and I was quite taken by how critical Dessaix had been about Garner's insistence in referring to The Spare Room as a novel.  He also criticises the author's earlier works, The Children's Bach and Cosmo Cosmolino, for the same reason, stating "They are all of them fine works of art and innovative explorations of literary approaches to non-fiction, every one of them an outstanding example of stylish reportage, but none of them is a novel. So why does Helen Garner at the very least collude in having them called novels?" 

My view at the time, and the one I still hold, is that if Garner wants to call her works "novels" then that is what they are.  To assume that a reader's view of a book holds greater weight and credence in the wider world than that of the writer strikes me as nonsense.  I can argue till I'm blue in the face that The Road is science fiction, but if the author doesn't think it is, then it patently isn't.  I will argue for that novel's inclusion in the sf canon as much to show how the edges of the sf genre blur into other categories as to poke a bit of fun at readers who say they don't read sf, yet are quite willing to read this novel, and Harry Potter and Margaret Atwood, and lots more besides.

And the reason why this topic has come up again is the Combined Reviews post I wrote earlier today regarding J.M. Coetzee's latest book Summertime.  While not having read either book, I am struck by the similarities:  Garner has a protagonist named Helen in her book, and Coetzee has a protagonist named John Coetzee in his; Garner's novel is a fictionalised account of a personal experience, and Coetzee's is a fictionalised account of a part of his own life.  Is there much of a difference?  Not to me. 

I've quoted Peter Craven's review of Summertime in my Combined Reviews post and it's interesting to note that he refers to the work as a "more or less fictionalised memoir" and as a "book", but never as a "novel". You might think that a rather pedantic debating point; I don't, and I don't think Craven does either.  I believe he chose his words very carefully.

So what of Craven's view of Garner's book?  In his selection of best books for the 2008-09 summer period for, co-incidentally, The Monthly, Craven refers to it as the author's "first novel in years", firmly flagging it as fiction, which he first did in a profile of the author for "The Age" newspaper in March 2008.

Will Dessaix now review Coetzee's book and re-define it as a "memoir" rather than a "novel"?  Based on Craven's view of the two books you'd have to think so.  I'll keep an eye out.  

Combined Reviews: Summertime by J.M. Coetzee

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summertime.jpg Reviews of Summertime
J.M. Coetzee
Random House

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize.]

From the publisher's page

A young English biographer is working on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. He plans to focus on the years from 1972 - 1977 when Coetzee, in his thirties, is sharing a run-down cottage in the suburbs of Cape Town with his widowed father. This, the biographer senses, is the period when he was finding his feet as a writer.

Never having met Coetzee, he embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to him - a married woman with whom he had an affair, his favourite cousin Margot, a Brazilian dancer whose daughter had English lessons with him, former friends and colleagues. From their testimony emerges a portrait of the young Coetzee as an awkward, bookish individual with little talent for opening himself to others. Within the family he is regarded as an outsider, someone who tried to flee the tribe and has now returned, chastened. His insistence on doing manual work, his long hair and beard, rumours that he writes poetry evoke nothing but suspicion in the South Africa of the time.

Sometimes heartbreaking, often very funny, SUMMERTIME shows us a great writer as he limbers up for his task.


David Grylls in "The Sunday Times": "Ostensibly, Coetzee projects himself as a marginal, maladroit figure, a failure in love and literature. But is this really unsparing self-dissection or a sophisticated exercise in self-approval? In Summertime he has in effect drafted his own obituary. Perhaps his next book will come equipped with its own reviews -- all ghosted, in suitably downbeat mode, by JM Coetzee."

James Ley in "Australian Book Review": "The novel's use of multiple perspectives often makes John seem distant, almost a secondary figure in his own book, as the personalities of the various interviewees assert themselves, but it also functions as a way to voice -- indeed, to overtsate -- every imaginable self-doubt and criticism in a blunt and objective manner. Summertime uses this scourging negativity in the way that Thomas Bernhard's novels use anger: it becomes the book's driving force, the source of its intellectual and creative energy."

Michela Wrong in "The Spectator": "Two previous volumes -- Boyhood and Youth -- recounted the author's childhood in the Western Cape as the son of middle-class Afrikaners and his move to London, where he tried his hand as a computer programmer. Like Summertime, both of those books used the distancing third person, as though Coetzee simply could not bear the intimacy of a life conveyed first-hand. In this volume he goes one step further along the path of self-elimination, viewing his experience exclusively via the insights of outsiders, almost all of them women...One admires the art. The writer's ironic detachment, his playful tweaking of narrative conventions and readers' expectations, causes a wry curl of the lip. But at the end the reader is left hungering for some form of resolution, an end to this game of bluff and double-bluff."

Boyd Tonkin in "The Independent": "Summertime extends a chain of fictionalised memoirs that began with Coetzee's Boyhood (subtitled, as here, 'scenes from provincial life') and continued in Youth. Yet it also returns to the ironic, self-mocking -- and always deniable -- dramatisation of a parallel life that he recently undertook in Diary of a Bad Year...Of course, Summertime is fiction above all -- 'auto-fiction', if you prefer. All the same, it dwells on a time and place where manipulated versions of character and identity could dictate not merely the difference between success and failure, acceptance and rejection, but even life and death. It matters decisively who tells an individual's story -- and how they opt to tell it...The book will easily wrongfoot any naïve seeker of correspondences between art and life. That is part of its point -- but so too is the tender and incisive portrayal of thwarted feelings in a time of troubles, and the robustly drawn women who give this anaemic anti-hero lessons in a tougher kind of truth."

Geordie Williamson in "The Australian": "Summertime might well be read as a literal rendering of the author's dictum from his early critical work, White Writing: 'Our craft is all in reading the other: gaps, inverses, undersides; the veiled, the dark, the buried, feminine; alterities.'...Indeed alterity, the philosophical principle of exchanging one's perspective for that of another, is what drags Summertime out of the mire of subjectivity and self-loathing that sometimes bogged Boyhood and Youth...This rather dry, theoretical reading does not do Summertime full justice, however. The book is richer and more vivid than that. Like Philip Larkin, whose poem Posterity is written from the posthumous viewpoint of a creative artist imagining his biographer at work, and who takes the opportunity to mockingly construct his own epitaph, Coetzee's death frees him from the old constraints. Not only does Coetzee dose himself with self-ridicule, he also permits his self-construction some naked displays of emotion."

Peter Craven in "The Age": "It's a very odd, brilliantly executed book that might come across as doodlingly narcissistic if we did not know that it was the work of the notably retiring and austere writer, J. M. Coetzee. If we didn't know that, then the tenor of the book, the glow of puzzled expectation that we bring to it, would be different...The last part of the book is made up of extracts from his journal entries focused on his ageing and ailing father, who appears intermittently in the preceding pages as a frail and constricting figure. The account of the father has, in a way nothing else in this book does, an overwhelming poignancy...It is as if Coetzee has finally let himself go, the one moment in this book that has the unmistakable authority of the signature of the great novelist, J. M. Coetzee, is in this portrait of the frail figure who did and who didn't dominate his life and who allows him, by some untoward principle of impersonality, his self-defining moment."

Thomas Jones in "The Observer": "Summertime plays with the question, which Coetzee seems to find genuinely baffling as well as wryly amusing, of why people should be at all interested in him as a human being...A novel so flagrantly autobiographical as Summertime appears to test that assumption to its limits. But then again, considering that Coetzee has changed the most basic fact of his life -- whether he is alive or dead -- for the purposes of the novel, readers have no grounds for believing that anything else they are told about the character John Coetzee necessarily holds true for his eponymous creator."

James Urquhart in "The Independent on Sunday": "Billed as the third instalment of a trilogy of fictionalised memoir begun with Boyhood, these 'scenes from provincial life' are evocative rather than literal, the impressionistic testimonies forming a stylised work far removed from the conventional nuts and bolts of a curated life. JM Coetzee flourishes within this ambiguous literary distancing, which he used to great effect in his last novel, Diary of a Bad Year, whose subject was also a crotchety old writer and Coetzee cipher...How far the reader wants to map the somewhat wintry lament of Summertime back on to JM Coetzee's life depends on how far one is willing to extrapolate plausible fact from nuanced, many-layered fiction. What Summertime offers is a subtle, allusive meditation: an intriguing map of a weak character's constricted heart struggling against the undertow of suspicion within South Africa's claustrophobic, unpoetic, overtly macho society."


You can read an extract from the book published in "The New York Review of Books".

2009 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards Winners

The winners of the 2009 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards were announced in Brisbane last night.  The winners were:

Fiction Book Award

Wanting by Richard Flanagan, Random House Australia (Knopf)

Non-Fiction Book Award

The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island by Chloe Hooper, Penguin Group (Australia)

Unpublished Indigenous Writer - Arts Queensland David Unaipon Award

The Boundary by Nicole Watson

Film Script - Pacific Film and Television Commission Award

Mary and Max by Adam Elliot, Melodrama Pictures Pty Ltd

Television Script - QUT Creative Industries Award

False Witness by Peter Gawler, Screentime Pty Ltd

Drama Script (Stage) Award

Realism by Paul Galloway, Currency Press

Poetry Collection - Arts Queensland Judith Wright Calanthe Award

The Striped World by Emma Jones, Faber and Faber

Australian Short Story Collection - Arts Queensland Steele Rudd Award

The Boat by Nam Le, Penguin Group (Australia)

Children's Book - Mary Ryan's Award

Little Blue by Gaye Chapman, Little Hare Books

Young Adult Book Award

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard, Allen & Unwin

Science Writer Award

Pasteur's Gambit: Louis Pasteur, The Australasian Rabbit Plague and a Ten Million Dollar Prize by Stephen Dando-Collins, Random House Australia (Vintage)

History Book - Faculty of Arts, University of Queensland Award

Stella Miles Franklin by Jill Roe, HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Literary or Media Work Advancing Public Debate - The Harry Williams Award

Code of Silence by Sarah Ferguson, ABC Four Corners

There was also the "Emerging Queensland Author - Manuscript Award" on the shortlists but which doesn't seem to have been awarded.  I can't determine if it was, but the information has not been released, or if none of the manuscripts were considered worthy of the award. 

You can read the "Courier-Mail's" response to the awards and the full shortlists.

2009 Man Booker Prize Shortlist Announced

The shortlisted works for the 2009 Man Booker Prize have been announced.

A.S. Byatt The Children's Book
J.M. Coetzee Summertime
Adam Foulds The Quickening Maze
Hilary Mantell Wolf Hall
Simon Mawer The Glass Room
Sarah Waters The Little Stranger

Australian interest this year rests with J.M. Coetzee who will be vying for his third Man Booker Prize after winning for Life and Times of Michael K. in 1983 and Disgrace in 1999.

The winner of the 2009 prize will be announced on Tuesday 6th October.

You can find the the list of 13 longlisted titles here

Reprint: A War Correspondent in Peace

"Banjo"' Paterson, who is doing special work for the "Sydney Morning Herald," wrote thus to that paper on Monday:- Coonamble is now the centre of the disturbance in the shearing world. On arrival in the town one sees that the camp of the shearers' forces is now about 300 strong. Every train is watched along the line by pickets. The train, during the construction of the line, does not go faster than a man on a bicycle. As each train approaches, shearers, from the tents, sheds, and humpies forming the camp, stream out. They are mostly men on bicycles, there being very few horses among them. Crowds of shearers meet the train, and persuade any shearer-like man to go to the camp. "Come on, old man, we will treat you well," they say. If even the man is disposed to refuse it would take a very courageous person to decline the invitation. All the roads are picketed. To-day hundreds of shearers in town met in the main street, and were talking of the court decision -- the fining of their leaders. Shearers interviewed say that they must fall in with their leaders, but some of them think the strike is inopportune at present. The shearers are masters of the situation, but the effect of the fines will probably make a difference. The town is like a town in war time -- no one dares to express an opinion except after a careful survey of the surroundings. The pastoralists are waiting for their time. They can wait now that rain has fallen and no grass seed is threatening. Further troubles are unlikely, as matters are at a deadlock here. It is hoped that a settlement will come from outside.

First published in The Advertiser, 29 August 1902

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

Australian Bookcovers #176 - The Half-Burnt Tree by Dymphna Cusack


The Half-Burnt Tree by Dymphna Cusack, 1969
Jacket design by Gerry Lants
(Readers Book Club edition, 1970)

The Next Big Thing?


Chris Lawson, of the “Talking Squid” weblog, has alerted us to the new YouTube trailer for Scott Westerfeld’s upcoming novel Leviathan.

As Chris puts it, this is “seriously cool”, but it also brings to mind a discussion that ran here on this weblog a few weeks back. In a piece about the current flood of vampire media - books, film and television - I alluded to a James Bradley interview in which he mentioned that the “undead” genre might be on the wane. Which then led me to ponder what might be the “next big thing”.

Various correspondonents, including my 16-year-old daughter, thought vampires still had a lot more to offer in the YA world, and I was happy to accept that. My question really went to: what happens after that?

We all know the effect that the Harry Potter books had on the younger section of the reading public - and, yes, the older one as well - but the last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published on 21 December 2006, nearly three years ago. The “big thing” after that was the Twilight series of teenage vampire novels from Stephanie Meyer, the first of which was published on 5 October 2005, and the second, New Moon, on 6 September 2006. So, by the time the Harry Potter series of novels had run its course, the Twilight series was in second gear and accelerating fast. Now, although Meyer - unlike Rowling - is still publishing novels in her preferred genre, the Twilight books at least have come to an end with the fourth in the series, Breaking Dawn, being published in August 2008.

All of which, in my view, leaves a bit of a gap. And it was this gap that I alluded to in my earlier post. One of the commenters on that earlier blog suggested “steampunk” might be the genre to step up and make its mark.

worldshaker.jpg For those not in the know, “steampunk” according to Wikipedia, “is a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date.”

It’s a genre that doesn’t restrict itself to strictly adult or YA literature: novels fitting the description can easily be read by readers across the age-spectrum and therein lies its appeal. Quest adventures fit, as do “alternate histories” and “gaslight romances”. Works such as The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, Perdido Street Station by China Miéville, and Worldshaker by Richard Harland all fall under the steampunk umbrella.

Zombies and werewolves, by their very nature are too bloody to have much more than a peripheral appeal. The same might have been said of vampires originally - if you’ve seen the 1920s film Nosferatu you’ll understand what I mean - but Meyer, and Anne Rice before her, have shifted the boundaries of the vampire genre away from the blood and more towards the romance. I just can’t see the same emphasis shift happening with zombies, with their mindless brain-munching, or werewolves whose monthly human cycle is punctuated with brief stints of ultra-violence.

No, I think the “next big thing” will probably occur within the steampunk genre. There will be enough elements to attract both young male and female readers and enough adults will be able to remember their youthful infatuations with balloons and steam trains, dark foggy laneways, and things that go bump in the night. And, if that’s the case then I also suspect that Scott Westerfeld and Richard Harland might well be in the forefront of that new movement.

Poem: Song by "Young Fiffey"

"To any tune you like."

   All the times now are chang'd,
   All men's minds are derang'd,
They're turning hunters of gold. 'Tis too bad,
   Some leaving a station,
   Some pre-occupation;
By Jove, tbey are all California mad.

   Our great Poet's going,
   For gold he'll be hoeing,
Or maybe he'll wash the dust out of the sand.
   He's leaving a gold mine,
   That in his verse does shine,
Our own mighty Poet, the pride of our land.

   And when that he is gone,
   Oh! where will we find one
To write 'bout thie Bulls and the trials in town.
   There is not one fit, sir,
   With him to compete, sir,
From the great Aristocrat down to the Clown.

   Ye nine lovely beauties,
   (Oh teach him his duties,)
I pray you prevent him from going away.
   Pray keep him contended,
   With rhymes to be "prented,"

   For I certainly think he'll never say nay.
   For the rest of the chaps, What e'er their mishaps,
I care not a toss, what their fortune may be,
   For I am quite callous,
   To prose making fellows,
A rattling young rhymer's the fellow for me.

First published in The Argus, 9 July 1849

Reprint: The Yorick 2. - Letters of Marcus Clarke Part 2

What follows is the second part of a selection of letters sent by Marcus Clarke (author of such works as His Natural Life) to his friend and fellow writer George Gordon McCrae in the 1870s).

(e) Anxious as ever for McCrae to do well in the world; asks for his companionship, offers him work, and suggests political illustration:
To G.G. McC.--
O where and O where is my Highland laddie gone? I received the Johnsonian episode with Boswellian comments; but not the little book.
A confiding publisher wishes to publish "Pretty Dick" with etchings, but I am trying to get him to do "Shadow and Shine" with woodcuts. "Will you be in it, Mr. P.?" (Thackeray at Honeyman's party.) The publisher stands the racket and we share the plunder if there is any, and the honor and glory if there isn't. Come and see a cove. The pipe of peace, and the bowl that maddens but does not exhilarate shall be thine.
At home at Public Library on Thursday at 4 pm.
Historical fresco for the new Law Courts -- the "Portonian" whacking A.T. Clark with the "Zulu bodyguard" sharpening his teeth in the background.
'Ow's 'Icks?


(f) Clarke not in good health. Contemplates moving his household. Great welcome promised to McCrae. Clarke's whimsical address: "The Lodge in the Garden of Cucumbers":

Dear McCrae.--
Many thanks for your kind note. I have been deuced bad, and am now a little better, and visit the Library -- at the glimpses of the moon -- with goggles concealing my manly optics.
To add to my delight, the eldest boy has indulged in a little spree of measles all to himself, and, as we are going to move next week to a place nearer Balaclava, you can guess that the young rascal's selfish sport has a little incommoded us.
Do not address again to the Lodge in the Garden of Cucumbers, but to the Library. The new house is called "Sunnyside" -- principally because it is as damp as blazes (rather Oirish this) -- and is elegantly situated in Chapel-street, next to the residence of Tom Miller (be God, sir!) and opposite the Wesleyan Chapel (God be good to us!), the State School (och the haythins!) is forninst the door, and a mighty civil butcher round the corner, me dear, who shall (wid the mercy of Mary!) have the providin' a cut av the primest for ye when you do us the honor of puttin' your legs under the Filtre-and-Clarico mahogany!
'Ow's 'Icks?

Yours always,

(g) An invitiation for McCrae to see Clarke's play "A Daughter of Eve":

The O'Crae,--
Sor. -- A select parthy of the nobilitee visit the Bijou Theatre on Monday nixt, whin Oi have the pleasure to projuice a new comedee entoitled " A Daughter of Eve." I take the liberthee to enclose to yez an order of admission, and hope to have the hoight of happiness to see yez or some of your friends occupoying the sates resarved for yez.
Recave, Sor, the assurance of me distinguished considerayshun, and belave me to remane, Sor,

Your most obarydynt,
De Philthre and Clarryco.

(h) Clarke speaks lightly to his old companion about hard times. He makes fun of his illness, congestion of the liver, the disease that finally killed him:

Misther O'Donahoo -- ye divil -- It is mesilf that confisses ye to be the pink of purloightness, but if ye call sometime when I'm in the way, honey, 'twould be more plazing to me.
Och, Mister O'D, but ye don't know what I've gone through of late. Me sainted ancesthor the Juke -- God rest his sowl in glory -- left the family diamonds just a trifle encumbered, and 'tis Oi that have the negociatshuns with the Damned Derondas. I've been likewise laid up with a pain in me timpir -- a calamitee which, I trust, yer free from, Misther O'd -- and the lift lobe of me liver has done himsilf the honor to git congisted. Och, wirrastrue, and it is far to Munster, me dear!
But I can guess what you'll be sayin', Macre of the Mountain, whin you read these few and unpretendin' lines. You'll be sayin': "A weel!" and "Ay mon!" and "A's aw for that, ma jo," and other remairkable oberservaitions diggit oot o' your wame ma mannie! By the little toenail of a fastin' priest on the twentieth Tuesday after Thrinity (and that' a big oath) it's me that ye want behoind ye with me paadeen, my spalpeen and me sprig of the right rale plant that grows grim and gory out of Saxon blood on the rare ould soil, the Immerald Oile, ye black-hearted Sassanach! Faix, Oi'd rattle the ash twigs about the ears of the dragoons of Killermany and send that bloody Beruadotte to the roight-about wid wan of the largest fleas in his avincular anathomy that iver took up habitation in the corpus humanum, Misther O'Donahoo! By the ninth sthripe on the left-leg garter of the varginal Saint Bridgit, but 'tis Terry O'Flynn, O'Philtre Juke of Clarico and Marquis of Poldoody's Nook, in the bight of the Divil's Bit that would make them shake their shirt-tails to the tune of "Wigs on the Green."

Yours in disgust,

First published in The Bulletin, 6 February 1929

Note: the first part of this essay was published last week.

This Is Your Land

The Alien Onions are having trouble resisting the urge to go out and buy new editions of books they already own, purely because of the new edition bookcovers.  This is not normally a problem for me other than for various editions of The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke by C.J. Dennis.  Given that the bulk of the editions of that book I'm missing date from the 1910s and 1920s and don't have jackets anyway, I'm not overly worried that I'll be swayed by the artwork. I just buy them because, well, I want them. 

kimbofo has decided to, maybe, go on a D'Arcy Niland reading binge over the next month.  She recently bought 4 Niland novels which is a bit more impressive than it sounds: Kim is based in the UK and these books have been out of print for ages.  Her version of The Big Smoke (great Australian title that) looks like it might well be the 1978 Australian penguin edition, which was the book's most recent printing.  Interesting to see paperbacks like this migrating so far.

Jonathan Strahan has been using a Sony Reader for about a year and is generally happy with it. He has some interesting comments on the whole process of e-book reader use versus print.

Judith Ridge, of the "Misrule" weblog, isn't too happy with some comments made recently by Ramona Koval on ABC Radio Nationals' "The Book Show", about children's book authors.

Online Poetry: "The blog of my enemy is failing" by Karen Andrews

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Based loosely on the classic snark poem, "The Book of My Enemy is Remaindered" by Clive James, is Karen Andrews's poem "The blog of my enemy is failing", which is published on the Overland weblog.

Of special note:

Now, soon my own blog could fail,
though not to the catastrophic extent
the failure of my enemy's blog has managed to achieve,
since in my blog's particular case it will be due
to an alexa glitch, or borked Technorati - -
merely a temporary error.

To which might be added, ISP outage or database crash

Cate Kennedy Interview

world_beneath.jpgBetter known as a short story writer, Australian author Cate Kennedy has ventured into longer territory with her debut novel, The World Beneath.  She is interviewed by Susan Wyndham for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

"I heard someone once say, 'You must feel different now that you've moved to the big pool from the toddler pool,' " she says of her change of form. "I quite bridled at this because I don't think the short story is a toddler pool. In a way it is more like the beautiful diving pool - it's not the shallow pool, it's the smaller pool that takes a lot of practice to do the one entry perfectly."

The novel required new techniques - more complex structuring, multiple viewpoints and more introspection from the characters. "I did feel I had all this space to swim around in," she says, "and I wanted to make sure I was as careful with each of the scenes or fragments as I am with a short story, because the amazing thing with a short story is you have nowhere to hide."

Kerryn Goldsworthy has further things to say about this book, and this quote, on her weblog "Australian Literature Diary".

Online Fiction: "The Ruined Queen of Harvest World" by Damien Broderick

Damien Broderick's short sf story, "The Ruined Queen of Harvest World", is now available on the website.

[Thanks to Genevieve for the link.]



Melbourne Writers Festival Reports #4


I've fallen behind in these Melbourne Writers Festival reports - put it down to business, work, attending the Ned Kelly Awards, weekend stuff and, well, life.  But the festival is now over and if I don't get to these reports soon they'll be so far out-of-date as to be nearly less than useful.

On Thursday last week Sheryl Clark was looking forward to attending sessions on the Friday and the weekend.  That's what I call dedication.

Hackpacker went to the digital publishing sessions on Thursday.  The "State of Digital Publishing" panel suggested we may be changing "what" we read, along with the "how". And there were also a marketing session, and Nick Earls, which seems to have finished things off quite well for him.  

Angela Meyer, of the "LiteraryMinded" weblog was hosting parties in the evening as well as attending sessions during the day.  I've done that before and five days is my absolute limit.  I met her on Friday night and she was looking a little tired, though by no means as much as I thought she would.

Thuy Linh Nguyen ran hard all day Thursday, going to one session after another, and Jabberwocky found some short story writing inspiration..

Friday and Angela Meyer was still running, Sheryl Clark got to attend those sessions she was looking forward to, the "Speakeasy" weblog ruminated about digital publishing, and Jackerwocky was impressed with Wells Tower - that's the author not some cocktail or apartment block - as was Hackpacker.

And through it all the Melbourne Writers Festival blog kept me greatly entertained, finishing up with some photos at the end.

Which actually alleviates one of the only things I think this whole blogging exercise, by so many people, could have done to improve a little - photos.  Maybe next year, along with the written accounts, the MWF people could engage a photographer or two.  Just a suggestion you understand, the rest of it was pretty damn good.

2009 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards Winners

The winner of the 2009 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards were announced last night.

The winners are:

Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction

The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas (Allen & Unwin)

Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction

The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island - Chloe Hooper (Hamish Hamilton)

C.J. Dennis Prize for Poetry

The Golden Bird - Robert Adamson (Black Inc)

Louis Esson Prize for Drama

Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd - Lally Katz (Malthouse Theatre)

The Prize for Young Adult Fiction

Something in the World Called Love - Sue Saliba (Penguin)

The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate

Death in the Mountains - Lisa Clifford (Macmillan) 

The John Curtin Prize for Journalism

The Penalty is Death: Inside Bali's Kerobokan Prison - Luke Davies (The Monthly)

The Prize for Best Music Theatre Script

Shane Warne The Musical - Eddie Perfect (Token Events) 

The Prize for Science Writing

The Rise of Animals: Evolution and Diversification of the Kingdom Animalia - Patricia Vickers-Rich (JHU Press)

The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer

Sufficient Grace - Amy Espeseth

You can read the full list of the shortlisted works here.

Reprint: The Poet Gordon and Marcus Clarke

Miss Marian Marcus Clarke, daughter of the novelist, visited Parliament House on Tuesday afternoon, and was introduced to the Speaker (Hon. F. W. Coneybeer), who conducted the lady over the legislative halls. Miss Clarke, who was introduced to several members, was greatly interested in being shown the corner in the old Assembly Chamber where the poet Adam Lindsay Gordon sat in the sixties, before he took up his residence in Melbourne, and became the friend of her father. Marcus Clarke made the acquaintance of the poet at the Old Yorick Club. The novelist formed a warm affection for the poet, and they were much together. No one more deeply mourned Gordon's tragic end than Clarke, as was shown by the eloquent and sympathetic preface he wrote for the posthumous edition of his collected poems. The scenes of Gordon's Parliamentary days were pointed out to Miss Clarke by Mr. Fred Johns, who is fortunate in having for publication among his biographical memoirs the manuscript of a sketch of Marcus Clarke specially written for the Australian biographer by George Gordon McCrae, an intimate of Australia's greatest novelist, and the last survivor of the notable Melbournian circle which made the beginnings of Australian literature in the sixties.

First published in The Advertiser, 31 May 1916

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

J.M. Coetzee Watch #14

Reviews of Summertime

Note: the bulk of the major papers have yet to review this new novel, but some have started to appear. I suspect a "Combined Reviews" entry will be required in the next few weeks.

David Grylis in "The Times".

Who is JM Coetzee? In one sense the answer is obvious: world-famous novelist and writer, twice winner of the Man Booker, winner of the Nobel prize for literature. But in another sense "JM Coetzee" is a persona created by the author, especially in his ­volumes of "fictionalised memoir". ..

...the third volume of the ­trilogy, Summertime, focuses on his return to South Africa, covering 1972 to 1977 when he was "finding his feet as a writer". Like Boyhood and Youth, it refers to "Coetzee" in the third person ("He is the product of a damaged childhood"), thus distancing the autobiographical element. But it adds a startling new dimension of literary artifice: the deployment of a postmortem biographer.

"Dovegreyreader" thinks it "an amazingly clever book, an enduringly, circuitously fascinating novel that I will dwell on for a long time to come, perhaps even unravel much of the essence and fallibility of biography and how it can so easily become a fiction, a story, in the process."

Mark Rubbo on the "Readings" website: "I can't say that I understood Summertime, but it lingers pervasively in my mind. I would love to hear the real Coetzee talk about this book but I doubt that I ever shall ... "

Review of Life and Times of Michael K.

Sam Jordinson is reading all the winners of the Booker prize and reviewing them as he goes for "The Guardian". He finally gets to Life and Times of Michael K.:

All of [the story] is told in fewer than 200 pages. But if it's a thin book, that's not because Coetzee doesn't have a lot to say, or doesn't paint a vivid picture. It's just that his prose is as lean and spare as Michael after months of bugs, pumpkins and sunlight. At its best his writing moves like a cracking whip.

But in spite of such pleasures, I have serious doubts. My main concern is Michael K himself. He's more of a plot device than a real man, and we are constantly reminded how simple Michael is, and how little he understands . Yet he is able frequently to outwit those who would capture him, to work irrigation systems and grow crops, build shelters and -- most jarringly -- speak eloquently and ask endless searching questions.


Coetzee's latest novel Summertime has been longlisted for the 2009 man Booker Prize. You can read some of the reactions to that longlisting in "The Age", "The Australian", "The Financial Times, "The Guardian", "The Telegraph", and by James Bradley.

Coetzee was shortlisted for the Best of the Booker prize, arranged to celebrate the prize's 40th anniversary this year, for his novel Disgrace. The prize was awarded to Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children.


Coetzee visited Oxford, UK, in June and gave a reading from Summertime, the upcoming third volume of his fictionalised autobiography.

You can also read extracts from Summertime in "The New York Review of Books".

2009 John Button Prize

Chloe Hooper, who seems to be winning just about everything this year, has also been awarded the inaugral John Button Prize, for the "best piece of non-fiction writing on politics or public policy in the previous 12 months", for her book, The Tall Man.

You can read the list of works on the shortlist for this award here and on the longlist here.

Australian Bookcovers #175 - Black Lightning by Dymphna Cusack


Black Lightning by Dymphna Cusack, 1964

(Heinemann edition 1964)

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