November 2009 Archives

Emma Jones Interview

Emma Jones's first poetry collection, The Striped World, won the Best Poetry Collection Award at the Queensand Premier's Literary Awards announced in September, and has since gone on to win the Felix Dennis award for debut poetry in the UK. The volume has now also been shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (which "rewards the best work of literature (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama) by a UK or Commonwealth writer aged 35 or under") alongside such writers as Aravind Adiga and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The winner of this award will be announced later today, UK time.

The poet is currently writer-in-residence at the Wordsworth Trust at Grasmere in the Lake District, and spoke to Peter Wilson for "The Australian" newspaper:

Sitting in her small cottage, Jones, 32, tries to explain the origins of her writing and casts her mind 17,000km and 25 years away to a house in Concord in Sydney's inner west. "We moved into a house when I was about seven and my parents found a crate of books that I guess the people had left up in the loft. They just laid all the books out saying 'Do you want any of these, because most of them were good'.

"There was one book that I still have. It is my most precious book. It was a 1950s kids' retelling of Greek myths and I loved this book. I was kind of fixated with it and I think that was what really started me, because I got really interested in mythology and things like that."

Softly spoken and with a slightly vulnerable manner for a 32-year-old, Jones is a touch nervous about giving her first lengthy interview because she fears it may be too early in her career to be receiving more attention than other poets.

Poem: The Maxim by Edmund Fisher


Of all the maxims I retain
Within the precincts of my brain
   There's one I'm quoting daily;
Which maxim of immortal truth,
Distasteful to my callow youth,
   Was uttered by Disraeli.

Lord Beasconsfield, as he became
(Beneath this English titled name
   His ancestry concealing).
Said lightly -- meaning to express
Love's attitude to lowliness --
   "Man serves a woman kneeling."

With passioned prayer and tender plaint
He pays his homage to the saint,
   And soulful sighs he heaves her:
But -- note the words I now repeat --
But "when he gets upon his feet
   He walks away," and leaves her.

The lady, though she storm or scoff,
Cannot prevent his walking off
   Abstractedly, or gaily;
The passion-flower is born to die,
And man is bound to justify
   The maxim of Disraeli.

It worried me when'er I knelt,
For, all the times, I always felt
   That soon I must be going;
And from one's knees it's hard to rise
If tears from sweet Belinda's eyes
   Are picturesquely flowing.

But as I knew we had to part,
The scruples in my honest heart
   I never failed to smother.
Such loves are holy. In the past
Each seemed more holy than the last --
   Then, why not try Another?

And were the lady staunch and true,
Or just a flirt, the sky was blue
   And all the hours were golden.
For love's divinest ecstacies
To her who kept him on his knees
   The lover was beholden.

Perchance the dream would sweetly end,
And she would call me "dearest friend,"
   Or treat me "as a brother,"
And softly speak with smile serene
Of all the raptures that had been --
   Then, why not chase Another?

Ah! like the moons that wax and wane,
The roses died and bloomed again,
   And fresh young charms each gal'ad.
Inflamed by new poetic fire
I gratified my new desire
   To write another ballad.

And now I lilt the easy lay
Of one who knelt, and walked away
   When love had spent its fever,
The maxim printed on my mind
Forbade me (who says Love is blind?)
   To be a self-deceiver.

First published in The Bulletin, 11 February 1909

2009 Walkley Non-Fiction Book Award Announced

The winner of the 2009 Walkley Non-Fiction Book Award was announced last night.

The winner was:

Churchill and Australia by Graham Freudenberg

You can read the full shortlist here.

Reprint: Misprints: The Deeds of Printers' Devils by Nettie Palmer

What the authorised function of a printers' devil is, we are not clearly informed. To wait about in a hopeful and yet unhelpful way, to drip with ink, to annoy - these are some of his habits. It may be humbly suggested, though, that his chief power is to cause misprints. How he does so it is not for an outsider to say; whether by clouding the printer's mind or by jerking the machine, who knows? The fact is, though, that misprints, some of them blatant, ugly, and obvious, others insidious and specious, do appear in the most surprising places. Who could possibly be responsible for them, if not the printer's own devil.  

The obvious kind of misprint, in which the type is somehow pied and the reader is suddenly confronted with a word like pxvtur, is harmless enough. One simply passes by on the other side. There is one standard and unpronounceable group of letters that is apt to appear at the end of a paragraph. Printers can tell you about it. It is caused be the printers' devil having things all his own way on the linotype for a few seconds: it is probably his swear word, and our failure to pronounce it is fortunate. There are other misprints of the same kind, ugly enough, but so quickly recognised that they also are harmless. Books published soon after the war were subject to them. Some French books published before the stabilisation of the franc were faulty enough to make the reader's reason totter at the end of every line, where the printer - or his devil - repeatedly printed words from the close of line two in the line before, and vice versa. No serious harm was done, though, for the reader was at least aware that something was the matter, and he could, in addition to the pleasure of reading the complex sentences of Marcel Proust, enjoy a little mental puzzle over the transposition of those words. Hardly fair to the aesthetic quality of Proust, you will say, but considered as a deed of a printers' devil, this disturbance was so slight that one can almost praise it. Only the crudest kind of devil will let you see that he is misleading you.

It is the disguised misprint that is dangerous. When the trail of the serpent is visible all over a landscape, we know where we are; but when the printers' devil has made a visitation upon a paragraph and left it, apparently, a smiling Eden still we are his prey. It is tardy that the inspired enemy does anything so crude as to insert a negative or to omit one: but his attentions often have that effect, yet leave the sentence flowing as naturally as if it had been so conceived by the writer. In a notebook I have collected a few of these particularly devastating specimens of the misprinter's subtle art. The specimens are not amusing: they have none of the racy charm possessed by the howler or the spoonerism: they are simply deplorable.

Bald or Bold?

Here is one of the very simplest. The writer of an article was regretting the limitations of the modern neat-and-complete flat, from which all the impedimenta of living seemed to be excluded, its inhabitants "apparently preferring this balder kind of existence". The printers' devil called it a "bolder" kind of existence, wiping out the whole argument by a single letter. Again, in a recent novel, came an innocent looking sentence in a passage that went towards building a certain character: the sentence dealt with "Boyd's enforced friendliness," not such a bad phrase for a certain type of human association, except that it was totally opposed to the rest of the description. Thinking it over - though for a reader to think it over is against the printers' devil's rules - you could only feel sure that what the author had written was "unforced friendliness." That was a misprint of great wiliness.

To bring about either of those effects the operator had to alter a letter, but he can manage by the alteration of something even less, a mere comma, or dash, or point. It is not enough, for his purpose, to leave the mark of punctuation right out, for the reader's eye instinctively puts one in - yes, even into a lawyer's document if it be it all intelligible. It is necessary for the imp to insert a false stop in some vital place. Even if he fails to bring about an entire collapse of the passage he may at least hope for an effect of confusion that will be ascribed wholly to the author. There is a famous passage in "Ultima Thule"   in which a comma does all the misprinting that it could hope to accomplish with its modest powers. The German baron, a naturalist and musician, who has come on a visit to Richard Mahony, in a bush township, is talking to the little son whom he has stirred by Schumann's music. Cuffy jumps about crying, 'I will say music, too, when I am big' ' but his friend answers:  

"Ja, ja, but so easy is it not to shake the music out of the sleeve!... Here is lying" - and the baron waved his arm all round him - "a great, new music hid. He who makes it, he will put into it the thousand feelings awoken in him by this emptiness and space, this desolation; with always the serene blue heaven above, and these pale, sad, so grotesque trees that weep and rave. He puts the golden wattle in it, when it blooms and reeks, and this melancholy bush, oh, so old, so old, and this silence as if death that nothing stirs. No, birdleins will sing in his musik."  

A Case for Controversy.

Well, there is the intrusive comma, between "No" and ' birdleins." The whole passage is controversial in theme, and when its argument is complicated by the presence of a misprint, you have all the material for a knotty passage that will engage the apparatus criticus of scholars with variorum editions in centuries to come. You see, the question is that of the silence of our bush. What remains most in our minds, the silence of our plains, on which trees have been destroyed and the birds banished, or the mountain forests and gullies of our vast coastal fringe, where birds sing, not only for a season as in Europe, but literally all the year round? Again, in this passage, is it the author speaking her own opinion, or is she content to utter the outlook of a European 50 years ago? So we wonder and discuss, but while the book is still fairly new we can simply leap over the misprint. The Baron meant that there would be "no birdleins" - may our grey harmonious thrush and all her ravishing cousins forgive him! Let this be put on record as the true reading, though the comma has been wrongly inserted in both the English edition and the reset American edition. So it becomes clear that printers' devils are not hampered in their movements: they can cross the Atlantic, they are as mobile as Puck.

There is again another kind of printers' devil very hard to endure: this is the self-righteous type. The alterations made by this evil genius are made with an ostentation of zeal for someone's welfare or reputation, the individual being probably either an author or a publisher. Thus a poet who uses the word "mystery," intending it for a dissyllable with a tremolo, will find it printed "myst'ry"; the printers' devil would assure him that it was thus rendered more "poetical." At times certain authors have had fixed ideas of spelling which have been at variance with the convictions of this all-too-learned, all-too-hidebound variety of hypercritical imp. All through Meredith's novels the e is retained in words like judgement: he liked it so, and he succeeded in bringing it off. But then Meredith was a publishers' reader, and he would know how to lord it over whole legions of printer's devils if necessary. Other authors are less successful. ln a recent essay Mr. Hilaire Belloe complains that it is almost impossible for an author to follow his own notions of spelling: "if you do you are in for lifelong war with the printers. For 40 years have I now attempted most firmly to fix and root the right phrase 'an historian' into the noblest pages of English but the bastard 'a historian' is still fighting for his miserable life, and may yet survive." One may demur, not to Mr. Belloc's facts of experience, but to his theology. The guilty person was hardly a printer: more likely a printers' devil had tampered with his modestly noblest English.

First published in The Argus, 4 October 1930

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

Kate Grenville Watch #6

Reviews of The Lieutenant

Bill Marx in the "LA Times": "The Lieutenant compels as a historical novel exploring the sins of Australia's colonial past, an admirable testament to the necessity that the West learn to appreciate rather than condemn the Other. But Grenville's most thrilling achievement is to filter that lesson in social acceptance through the computational consciousness of a man whose head is in the stars."

Corrina Lothar in "The Washington Post": "At the heart of The Lieutenant lies the conflict that has long troubled modern man, a conflict given voice at Nuremberg: What is a soldier's obligation to disobey an order when it is against the law of humanity. Therein lies true tragedy."

Alison McCulloch in "The New York Times": "The Lieutenant is less a story of colonial struggle and encounter than The Secret River, and more the richly imagined portrait of a deeply introspective, and quite remarkable, man."

Teddy Rose on the So Many Precious Books, So Little Time weblog: "I loved Kate Grenville's The Secret River ... and was highly anticipating her next book. While I quite enjoyed it, I didn't love it like The Secret River. It took a long time for me to warm up to the character of Daniel Rooke . Once he started his relationship with the natives, I did warm up to him and loved reading about his special friendship with Tagaran. The problem was that it took well over 100 pages to lead up to this and it didn't last very long. I would have like to explore the relationship further."

The Synchronised Chaos weblog: "Scientific field observations as literary narrative hark back to centuries ago, to the days of the Origin of Species and to Captain Cook's descriptive logs. An educated person could be a writer, scientist, sailor, and humanist with opinions on a variety of topics, and everything would come through in his or her diary. Grenville's The Lieutenant draws upon and builds on that tradition, with historical and technical information enriching her distinctive, human characters' journey towards intercultural understanding."

Daisy's Book Journal weblog: "This was such a good book. It was based on real events (which are explained in the author's note at the end), but remains a work of fiction. I loved it from the very beginning. The story was accessible, interesting, heart-warming and tender. I was particularly fond of Rooke's work in astronomy and linguistics. His passion for these subjects were so thrilling, it was hard for me not to get caught up in it, too. When I got close to the end of the book, I had to put it down for and leave it for a few days. I generally have to do that when a book gets too emotional. No use me being a basket case for the rest of the day or not being able to sleep. Also, I really didn't want this book to end, so the little break prolonged it for me."

A number of reviews by readers are included on the BookBrowse website.

Grenville penned an author's note at the end of The Lieutenant.  The Meet at the Gate website has reprinted it.

Review of The Idea of Perfection

Bonnie on The Orange Prize Project: "Three times married Harley Savage is a master quilter and has a 'dangerous streak.' Douglas Cheeseman is a gawky engineer who's former wife has described him as a 'bridge bore.' They both arrive in Kararakook, NSW, she to help set up a pioneer heritage museum and he to direct the tearing down of the old bridge that has been deemed unsafe. Their developing relationship is explored in Kate Grenville's 2001 Orange Prize winning novel and within its' 400 pages lies a gem of a story.The beauty of this book is the detailed development of these two quirky characters, both so unsure of, and reticient to share too much of, themselves. Grenville masterfully, brings them together, and because of her attention to detail, you find yourself cheering them on and hoping that the author doesn't disappoint in the end. She doesn't."

Reviews of Dark Places

Blakkat Ruminations weblog: "It's reading a book like 'Dark Places' that really brings home to me the power of fiction and its ability to illuminate lives, past and present, that non-fiction or bare historical facts cannot hope to plummet the depth of. 'Love in the time of Cholera' resonated with me in the same way. The only similarity between the two is that they expose and reflect on male arrogance in the face of rampant (apparently) female desire around the turn of the last century, but it's probably more to do the with brutal honesty of the central character, the attention to detail and the authenticity of characters and setting that support the narrative that brings me to compare the two books in the first place."

Angela Meyer on the LiteraryMinded weblog: "The novel is told confrontingly and effectively in first person - and I have to say - I love a challenging narrator who both repels me and draws me in. On the whole I was fascinated by the way Singer saw the world around him. Grenville is a very accessible writer, at times a little too close to lacking subtlety. I found this too when I read The Secret River, but friends encouraged me to go back to the earlier works. And Dark Places did captivate me more than River."


Lynn Walsh took some writing tips from Grenville's book Searching for the Secret River.

SlowTV has a a video of Grenville's presentation to the 2009 Melbourne Festival of Ideas, titled "Writers in a Time of Change".  The video is split into two parts.

Grenville spoke at the `Amazing Women' literary function at the National Library of Australia about the books that had inspired her as a child.

Sophie Lee Interview

Sophie Lee is best known as an actor who appeared in such films as The Castle and Muriel's Wedding.  In 2007 she released a novel, Alice in La La Land, and she has now had published a children's book titled Edie Amelia and the Monkey Shoe Mystery.  As that book is appearing on the shelves she is interviewed by Fran Metcalf of "The Courier-Mail".

"I was really proud to work in the Australian film and theatre industries," she says. "But acting involved waiting for somebody to green-light your work a lot of the time and I am someone who really loves to work hard. There's something about feeling like you've done an honest day's work that I really love."

The bright lights of film and theatre that once mesmerised Lee began to dim as the grind of auditions and travel rubbed against her new-found role as a mother in 2003.

She enrolled in creative writing at University of Technology, Sydney and wrote her first book which also contained striking similarities to her own life.


Sir - I was much amused last week to see that an hon. member of the House of Assembly enlivened the usual dulness of debate, by a speech of a very witty and highly poetical character. I am informed that the hon. member is not only the Tom Hood, but the Tom Moore of the Parliament, and moreover that he entertains the highest possible opinion of his own transcendant talents. I rejoice to see that he casts aside, with the boldness of true genius, those trammels, which unhappily have shackled so many other great poets, both of ancient and modern times, and with a lofty scorn scatters to the winds all rules as to the number of feet in the lines of his poetry. I speak of it as his, for it is evident that most of it is decidedly original, like the hon. member for the heights of Parnassus himself ; for instance, or, to speak more classically, "exempli gratia" --

"I hear a monster in the lobby roar,
Say, Mr. Speaker, shall we closely bar the door;
Or madly daring shall we let him in,
That we may have to put him out agin."
Here there is also a little liberty taken with the pronunciation, but this is perhaps pardonable, as also is the extra fut in the second line. The delicate allusion to that fierce animal, the Gorilla, which is so much dreaded by the hon. member, cannot be too highly appreciated, and that noble disinterested-ness which prompts the hon. member "madly daring to let him in, that they might have to put him out agin" must claim the admiration of every lover of fair play.

But I will not take up more of your space in eulogising the poetry of the hon. member. I have seen some of a similar style issued under the signature of " R. Venn, butcher, Currie-street west;" but no doubt Mr. Venn, who is a knowing one, pays the hon. member for Mount Parnassus to do it for him. There have also lately appeared some poetical advertisements from another well known tradesman, which from the style I judge must have emanated from the same source. I am anxious to know whether the poet is open to an engagement to supply a weekly poetical advertisement for a contingent reimbursement, to


First published in The South Australian Advertiser, 18 October 1861

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

Helen Garner Watch #8

Reviews of The Spare Room

Liesl Schillinger in "The New York Times": "The Spare Room reads like an unsparing memoir in which flashes of dark humor and simple happiness (a magic show, a grandchild's flamenco dance, a shared joke) lighten the grim record of an overwhelmingly difficult chapter in a woman's life, a chapter whose meaning she still struggles to decipher years on, whose sharper entries still stab her conscience, but can't be erased by time."

Jenn's Bookshelf weblog: "The Spare Room by Helen Garner is a short in length but is a very powerful little book. In a short span of time, it describes how cancer can effect a relationship. Garner's writing is painfully honest. Her characters are very real, almost too real at times. There were aspects about each of the characters that I liked and disliked. I commended Helen for her selflessness in agreeing to care for Nicola. At the same time, it angered me when, not a week into Nicola's stay, she begain to complain about how difficult the task was. And I commended Nicola for not giving in to her cancer, but was horrified at just how much she'd put her body through in the slight chance it might cure her of the disease. And the trust she put into this medicial center with very little proof of the treatment's effectiveness."

rosyb on the Vulpes Libris weblog: "This is a book about dying. About cancer. About the appalling strains that are put on the living in the face of terminal illness; about how people cope; about how people lie to themselves and to others, determined to cling onto life no matter what. About how all of us cling to certain values for comfort, how none of us can really give each other what we want and need...Stylistically, at first I did not take to this slim volume which -- in a reflection of the title -- seemed just a little too spare for my liking. Laying my cards on the table, despite the current fashion, I'm not always a fan of ultra-sparse elegance. It tends to  strike me in the same way as minimalist interior design: too controlled and lacking in personality. Garner is not a visual writer and I began to get frustrated with wanting to SEE things:  the characters and environment, particularly as it is set in Australia -- a country I have never even visited. I felt starved of visual detail and, being a visual person, I missed that...However, as I progressed beyond the beginning of the book, the sparse prose seemed less like a self-conscious style so much as a baldness, a rawness -- an attempt, perhaps, to present a no-bones account, a stark account of a painful reality. Garner might not draw many vivid pictures of the outside world, but she is masterful at drawing believable and absorbing psychological portraits of her characters...I found myself completely engrossed."

Review of Joe Cinque's Consolation

Squibs and Sagas weblog: "Joe Cinque's Consolation attempts to be a testimony of Joe Cinque's life but is actually a testimony on three main fronts.  Firstly, it is a testimony of Mrs Cinque's grief as filtered by Garner.  Secondly, Garner provides a testimony as a personal witness of the trials and thirdly, the binding of her life to the narration of this tale is a testimony to her own life and mental state at the time.  It is not the whole story and it holds a lot of prejudices and assumptions, but don't all testimonies?"


Jason Steger, of "The Age", reported on a proposal to adapt Garner's novel, The Spare Room, for the stage.  The play is to be written by British actor Eileen Atkins, with the aim being that Venessa Redgrave might also feature in the production.

Simon Thomas sees similarities between the UK covers for The Spare Room and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

Garner launched Anna Goldsworthy's memoir, Piano Lessons, in Melbourne in October.  SlowTV was there and the video of that event is now available.

Elizabeth on the Sixth in Line weblog, contemplates her relationship with, and feelings for, Helen Garner and her work:

I want to write to Helen Garner again and tell her how sorry I am. In my last letter to her I think I was trying to show off, trying to show her how clever I was under the guise of trying to get her to take me seriously in relation to my thesis topic. But now I suspect she will only experience my writing as pompous and peacock.

I am ashamed of my desire to impress Garner, my desire to seduce her, to make her my friend, to want her to rely on me for something, anything however small, just as I rely on her. I have to remind myself that I am a reader, one of many, an admiring reader perhaps but like everyone else, especially those who try to write themselves, I am prone to fits of jealousy. 

Australian Bookcovers #187 - The Fallout by Garry Disher


The Fallout by Garry Disher, 1997
Allen & Unwin edition, 1997
Cover design: Karen Carter. Cover photograph: Michael Killalea

#6 in the Wyatt series

Note: again, not the best reproduction, for which my apologies.

Best Books of the Year 2009 #4 - "The Observer"

"The Observer" newspaper out of the UK uses the method of asking a range of poets, writers and reviewers to chose their best books of the year for them.

Peter Carey appears to be the only Australian invited to participate, and he has chosen Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie, and Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

The Australian books in the list include:
The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper, chosen by Colm Toibin: "It is told with a novelist's eye for detail and flair for narrative, but there is also a passionate engagement with the story in all its complexity and a sort of rage that make the book utterly compelling."
Wanting by Richard Flanagan, chosen by Mariella Frostup: "..a brutal evocation of the fate of a young Aboriginal girl, adopted by the governor of Van Diemen's Land and his wife, and later discarded."
Ransom by David Malouf, also chosen by Mariella Frostup: "..a wonderful retelling of the encounter between Achilles and the Trojan King Priam in prose that's so good you want to eat it."

Poem: The Bard by Anonymous

He had wander'd wide in his minstrel pride,
   When Spring was upon his breast;
And his way was afar o'er turf and tide,
   For he sought a minstrel's rest!
From the fields of his home his brows were crown'd,
   A kindred's hands onwreathe'd them;
But in knightly courts my songs shall sound,
   Be honour'd the hard that breath'd them,
The world shall learn to prize the name
   Of them she loves in story!
So spake the voice of life's first fame,
   And he went in his spirit's glory.

He had wander'd long; but there came from far,
   With his tresses gray through years,
And a soul where blight had wrought its war,
   An aged man in tears.
On his bending form, with chords unstrung,
   A wither'd branch thrown o'er it,
The silenc'd charms of his loneness hung,
   And weary was he that bore it.
His freezing hand essay'd in part;
   'Twas vain - no voice was spoken!
Spent on the strings his struggling heart, --
   His heart, with his harp, was broken!

First published in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 3 August 1830

Reprint: A Round with Kipling by C. J. Dennis

A newspaper correspondent recently made the rather rash statement that the present writer might be chosen in place of Mr Rudyard Kilping to write an ode for Victoria's War Memorial Shrine. As an alternative, the correspondent made the still rasher suggestion that, were a competition to be made of it, Mr Kipling might come off second best.

This is a case in which I think I might reasonably cry, "Save me from my friends!" without any suggestion of false modesty.

The thing has troubled me so persistently since the question was mooted (I disapprove or people who moot things) and my mind has been so obsessed by the mere thought of such a terrible ordeal that I actually dreamed the other night that the contest had been arranged, and was in the course of happening - not, as might be thought, at our various study desks, but in a queer sort of boxing ring with highbrow seconds in either corner and a referee whom the somewhat crude spectators referred to as "Bill," but who bore a remarkable resemblance to William Shakespeare.

At the first sound of the gong, Rud. Kipling hopped in and socked me on the jaw with a sonnet. I tried to counter with a dirty elegiac stanza, but he came in with his left and landed me again with an Alexandrine verse to the heart that fairly rocked me on my metric feet.

For obvious reason, I don't remember much more of that round, nor of the next; for he launched his sudden attack again and got me a beauty with a piece of anapestic verse just above the belt. I tried to reply rather weakly, with a hendecasyllabic rhyming; but the man suddenly became a whirlwind, got in several quick dactylic cadences, a couple of hexametres, and finally sent me down for the count with an octosyllabic jolt to the jaw.

Ruddo Kipling had my measure from the very start; and, when eventually I awoke, I decided that, if the contest ever did really happen, I would go forearmed to the fray with a rhyming dictionary in one glove and a thesaurus in the other.

First published in The Herald, 2 January 1934

Interview with Kaaron Warren

slights.jpg    Kaaron Warren is an Australian writer of dark fiction currently based in Fiji. Her short fiction has been published in Year's Best Horror and Fantasy and Fantasy Magazine, amongst others. Her first horror novel, Slights, has just been published by Angry Robot Books in the UK, who also intend to publish her next two: Mistification and Walking the Tree.

Prior to the publicaton of Slights, Warren spoke to Robert Hood:
RB: As you see it, who or what has inspired your writing, thematically and stylistically?

KW: I take inspiration from everywhere! Singing Karaoke the other night, as I am wont to do, I chose "Hotel California". As I reached the end, I thought, "This song is a perfect short story, and ends in exactly the right place." I've listened to that song over a lot of years, and I've always known this. It ends in exactly the right place. "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." I love that. Leaves a lot to the imagination, but puts you on the path to where they want you to go. What happens next is up to the listener. To the reader. This inspires me to end my stories in the right place!

Thematically, I'm inspired by the news, by the stories I hear, by the things I see. You never know when an idea will pop up. I recently read Magog by Andrew Sinclair. Written in 1972, it's a story of London, really, written in a vicious tone I loved. Throughout, I made notes, inspired by a sentence or a comment he made. Things like; he talked about three hundred dogs dumped on a bare rock in the Bosphorus. How you can see this island, with 299 skeletons chewed, one showing no signs of being eaten at all? This is something I could build a story around.

Stylistically, I'm inspired by writers like Raymond Carver, whose sparse fiction is so evocative it breathes. By William Golding, who writes diverse, deep fiction in his own clear voice. By Harlan Ellison, for his wild imagination he turns into real stories.

Really, I'm inspired by everything I read, good and bad. The bad helps me avoid the bad, the good spurs me to better work.

Best Books of the Year 2009 #3 - "Young Adult Library Services Association"

The Young Adult Library Services Association, which is affiliated with the American Library Association has chosen its Best Books of 2009 for Young Adults.

In the Fiction section they chose:

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier

Geraldine Brooks Watch #8

Reviews of People of the Book

Jennifer Crocker on the "Tonight" website from South Africa: "Geraldine Brooks takes the reader on a history tour of note with People Of The Book, stopping along the way in the breathtaking sweep of her narrative to examine anti-semitism, the gruelling effect of war, and how love might be able to salvage the whole sorry mess...With her skill as a writer she handles her subject matter, which is based on a true story, with care."

Fiona on "a reader's random ramblings" weblog: "As an Australian, it is nice to read books with Australian voices and settings. Sometimes, however, Australian authors seem very self-conscious of their international readers, and tend to throw around a lot of Aussie slang for the sake of it. I think Brooks fell into this trap. At times I was cringing as the 'ockerisms' were flying!..I would recommend this book to readers who like to learn a little something as they're reading. It's a work of fiction, but is inspired by the true story of a Hebrew book known as the Sarajevo Haggadah."

People of the Book was shortlisted for the 2009 Prime Minister's Literary Award, and also shortlisted for the Library of Virginina Awards.

Review of March

"Kate's Library" weblog gave the book four out of five: "This is a fantastic work of historical fiction on many levels - first being that it weaves another level to "Little Women", a solid classic (one of my favorites!). There are many times when the novel flashes back to March's early years as a husband and father - and I can picture the characters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Brooks describes these scenes well, but in a much more mature voice. She has taken this classic tale and added another layer to the story - focusing not on the little women left behind, but on the harsh realities of the times, and on the marriage of Marmee and March."

Review of Year of Wonders

Dominique on the "Coffee Stained Pages" weblog: "Brooks evokes the disgusting nature of the disease with skill...Yet Brooks tells this tale of suffering, love, friendship and sacrifice so masterfully that even I, of a squeamish disposition, remained transfixed to the end."


The author is interviewed by Michelle Breidenbach for the "" website.

In "People of the Book," your character Hanna talks about how some foreign correspondents have "it can't happen to me" optimism and some are cowards. Where do you fit in?

I was the one, "It can't happen to me." I was in sort of a state of a certain amount of optimism. When you're in one of those places that's in crisis, when you see the news, you only see the violence. But you don't see that there are thousands of people living ordinary lives in those places at the same time. I guess I just identified with the people who were getting on with their lives.

In the afterward for "People of the Book," you thank all the people who shared their real stories with you. Why didn't you write their true stories? Why did you switch to writing fiction?

Because there's so much history of the Haggadah that you just can't know. It's just impossible. It was hard enough to track down the details of what happened during World War II, but to go back beyond that, to Venice in 1609 or to medieval Spain, we just have no idea who made that book, why they illustrated it at a time when that wasn't so common and then how it survived the Inquisition. The fact is that fact runs out very quickly with that story. So the only way to tell it is to take what's known and then fill in the voids with imagination.


Brooks spoke at the 21st annual PEN/Faulkner Fiction Gala in late September in Washington D.C., on the subject of "revelation".  And she also gave the Kenneth Binns Lecture at the Flight of the Mind conference, held in Canberra over the weekend of October 24-25.
In a piece on swine flu, Chris Skaugset compiles a list of books dealing with disease epidemics, on which he includes Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks.

Reprint: Hermannsburg Mission: More Authors Assist

Autographed Copies Sell Quickly

The example set by Mr. William Hatfield and Mrs. AEneas Gunn in assisting the appeal for £1,800 to defray the cost of piping to provide a permanent water supply for the Hermannsburg Mission in Central Australia has evoked a generous response from other Melbourne authors, who have presented autographed copies of their books for sale. Mr. Tarlton Rayment has presented a dozen inscribed copies of his book, "The Prince of the Totem." Mr. R. W. E. Wilmot has presented a dozen inscribed copies of his book, "Defending the Ashes," and Mr. Erle Cox has presented a dozen inscribed copies of "Out of the Silence," the novel which first appeared in serial form in "The Argus." Mr. Edgar Holt has presented six inscribed copies of his book of poems, "Lilacs Out of the Dead Land." Messrs. Hutchinson and Co. Ltd. have presented, on behalf of Mr. Charles H. Holmes, six signed copies of his "We Find Australia."

All these books, except Mr. Holmes's,  which will be available on Monday, will be on sale at Robertson and Mullens.   Those presented by Messrs. Rayment and Wilmot will be sold at 10/ each. Mr. Holmes's book, signed by the nuthor, will be available on payment of 14/6. The novel by Mr. Erle Cox will be sold at 6/. Mr. Holt has authorised the sale of his poems at 7/6 a copy, and he will present six more copies when these have been sold. Typical of the inscriptions placed on their books by the authors is that of Mr. Tarlton Rayment, who has written, "The brown birralilees cried gullee, gullee (water, water), and the white man answered by sending the stream of life through a water-pipe at Koporilja."

Within an hour of the opening of Robertson and Mullens yesterday 12 more copies of Mr. William Hatfield's novel, "The Desert Saga"; 12 copies of "The Little Black Princess," signed by the authoress, Mrs. AEneas Gunn, and presented by Robertson and Mullens; and six copies of "We of the Never Never," presented by Mrs. AEneas Gunn, were sold. Several copies of Mrs. Gunn's books have been taken to the shop to be autographed at a cost of 5/.

First published in The Argus, 2 March 1934

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

This piece follows on from two letters to the editor of The Argus, firstly from William Hatfield and then from AEneas Gunn, that were published here over the past two weeks.

Combined Reviews: Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett

butterfly.jpg    ButterFly
Sonya Hartnett
Penguin Books

From the publisher's page

Here is Plum Coyle, on the threshold of adolescence, striving to be new. Her fourteenth birthday is approaching: her old life and her old body will fall away, and she will become graceful, powerful, at ease. The strength in the objects she stores in a briefcase under her bed -- a crystal lamb, a yoyo, an antique watch, a penny -- will make sure of it.

Over the next couple of weeks, Plum's life will change. Her beautiful neighbour Maureen will begin to show her how she might fly. The older brothers she adores -- the charismatic Justin, the enigmatic Cydar -- will court catastrophe in worlds that she barely knows exist. And her friends -- her worst enemies -- will tease and test, smelling weakness. They will try to lead her on and take her down.

Who ever forgets what happens when you're fourteen?


Sophie Masson in "The Australian":

The first novel of Sonya Hartnett's that I read was the haunting Wilful Blue (1994). Hartnett's lush yet fresh prose, spiced with gothic, her novel's combination of intense observation, sensual detail, pervasive melancholy, sensational events and characters with unusual, fin-de-race names, had for me more the feel of, say, American southern literature, or the work of writers such as Wilkie Collins, than what we were accustomed to in Australian literature... ...Hartnett's interest is in the way families work -- especially unhappy ones, of course, following Tolstoy's dictum -- and most especially in sibling relationships, whether it's the twisted sibling relations of Sleeping Dogs or Princes, or the more positive ones of Butterfly. The way in which family relations, especially between siblings, can alleviate or worsen the loneliness of the individual is important in most of her books, but especially so in this one.
Owen Richardson in "The Age": "When Sonya Hartnett published Landscape with Animals under a pseudonym, it was for fear this novel might end up falling into the hands of her younger audience: it was definitely not a book for kids. This one isn't either but it's not R-rated, though illicit love is here, and teenage dread and cruelty, and the kinds of ghosts haunting the suburbs that perhaps can only be seen by adolescents, just as dogs can pick vampires...While Hartnett doesn't overcook the ordinary miseries of childhood, nor does she lacquer them and protect us with nostalgic humour, and even if you had nicer friends when you were 13, you'll squirm in recognition."

Anna Solding in "The Independent Weekly": "Hartnett has the kind of writing style that grows on you. At first I was wondering what all the fuss was about - she has been hailed as the 'finest writer of her generation' -- but then exquisite turns of phrase appear out of nowhere and begin to linger at the back of your mind."

Lavinia Greenlaw in "The Guardian": "Sonya Hartnett is an acclaimed author of young-adult fiction whose Thursday's Child won the 2002 Guardian children's fiction prize. Butterfly is billed as her first adult work, but could be just as happily read by someone of 13. While this breadth of tone is impressive, it leaves the book unsettled. Although full of insight and wit, it never quite takes shape."

Short Notices

Cultural Gal on the "MelbArts" weblog: "Hartnett's many skills are in full play in this beautifully crafted novel. There are secrets in this quiet suburban world, secrets the characters keep from each other for fear of losing everything they value most. These secrets fuel the momentum of the narrative that Hartnett so carefully builds, keeping the surprises coming."

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

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

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

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


Christopher Bantick in the "Courier-Mail".
Jo Case on the "" website.
Sally Warhaft on "SlowTV".
Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM's "Life is Beautiful".

Film Adaptation of Tomorrow Novels by John Marsden

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In June this year I posted about the upcoming film adaptation of John Marsden's Tomorrow series of novels. Now things have progressed and a website dedicated to the films and the books is available.

"The Herald" is reporting that filming has begun in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, which will probably mean that the first in the series will be hitting our screens at the end of 2010, at the earliest.

Australian Bookcovers #186 - Port Vila Blues by Garry Disher


Port Vila Blues by Garry Disher, 1996
Allen & Unwin edition, 1996
(Cover design: Karen Carter. Cover photograph: Michael Killalea)

#5 in the Wyatt series

100 Books of the Noughties

The Telegraph from the UK has created their list of the 100 books that defined the Noughties.  As you might expect, it is dominated by British and US books but a few Australian, or quasi-Australian entries sneak in.

The Crimson Petal and the White
by Michel Faber
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Boyhood, Youth, Summertime by J.M. Coetzee

I would have thought The Road by Cormac McCarthy would have been higher than number 52.  Maybe the film has taken too long to be released.

You can compare this list to the one in The Times which lists the 100 best books of the decade.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
Youth by J.M. Coetzee
The Arrival by Shaun Tan

And here The Road gets the number 1 spot.  And, believe it or not, I didn't know that before I wrote about the Telegraph's list.

[Thanks to "The Literary Saloon" for the links.]

Larissa Behrendt Interview


Larissa Behrendt's first novel, Home, won the Best First Novel award for the South East Asia and South Pacific Region of the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize. That novel told the fictionalised story of her father's search for his Aboriginal identity.

Her latest novel, Legacy, is to be launched in Brisbane on November 20th and leading up to that event she spoke to Kathleen Noonan of the "Courier-Mail":

In Legacy she wanted to tell the story of the group of passionate young men and women who in 1972 established the Australian Tent Embassy in front of Parliament House.

The story centres on the relationships of fathers and daughters but strong indigenous women stalk the pages.

"I guess I've seen so many strong women," she says.

"If ever I hear white people say that Aboriginal culture oppresses women, I think: 'You ever been to a Redfern meeting?'

"I know there is violence against women in some households, but I grew up with a very different point of view.

"At most indigenous meetings, it is like this. The women sit back and let the men go on and on, doing all the grandstanding. Then the women go: 'Are ya done? Are ya finished? Right, this is what we're gunna do'."

Poem: The Australian Guitar by G. A. M. L.


While Albion's poets sweetly sing,
   And breathe the soul inspiring ode,
From the fair land where freedom dwells
   And commerce finds a safe abode;
Shall Austral's minstrel ne'er awake
   The song of the Southern star
Nor in his own calm summer eve
   Awake the light guitar.

While Scotia's ministrels swell their lyres
   To lays of their stern native land,
And Erin's harp responsive rings,
   From her green isle's more verdant strand;
Shall Austral's muse lie ever still
   Nor lisp an echo from afar?
Nor to the lays of the sunny clime
   Awake the light guitar.

Nor shall the lovers tale be told
   In weak words of moving void;
But the thrilling chords waft his plaint,
   In language not to be denied.
And Yarra's banks shall list his lay
   Whilst borne on the calm evening air,
Amidst Accasia's rich perfume
   He wakes the light guitar.

But bark, what murmurs fill the air,
   We bear the galling yoke no more
The cherished boon though long denied,
   Shall quickly reach our gladden'd shore;
And freedom's name shall fire the song,
   We bear the trammelled chains no more!
And bards to the new choral strain
   Shall wake the light guitar.

First published in The Melbourne Argus, 27 June 1848

The Fuse

Margo Lanagan is helping out her Russian translator of Tender Morsels.  The word under discussion here is "mudwife" - which Margo explains is a corruption of "midwife".  Just goes to show how much we take more granted in our use of our language.   And if you want to know what a World Fantasy Award looks like then here is Margo's.

Chris Lawson trawls the list of search engine phrases readers have used to get to his weblog "Talking Squid".  Some of them are very odd.

Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld have been offering writing tips for those attempting NaNoWriMo - which is short for National Novel Writing Month; a concept that gets people to commit to writing a novel of 50,000 words during November.  Justine's latest tip: turn the Internet off.  Good tip if you want to get anything done actually.

Tired of hunting down living authors to question, Lucy Sussex decides that dead ones stay put and has an interview with Barbara Baynton (dead since 1929) in the latest issue of Midnight Echo.

"Hackpacker" has been inside the new Centre for Books and Writing in Melbourne and has come back with pictures.

Combined Reviews: The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy

world_beneath.jpg    The World Beneath
Cate Kennedy
Scribe Publications

From the publisher's page

Once, Rich and Sandy were environmental activists, part of a world-famous blockade in Tasmania to save the wilderness. Now, twenty-five years later, they have both settled into the uncomfortable compromises of middle age -- although they've gone about it in very different ways. About the only thing they have in common these days is their fifteen-year-old daughter, Sophie.

When the perennially restless Rich decides to take Sophie, whom he hardly knows, on a trek into the Tasmanian wilderness, his overconfidence and her growing disillusion with him set off a chain of events that no one could have predicted. Instead of respect, Rich finds antagonism in his relationship with Sophie; and in the vast landscape he once felt an affinity with, he encounters nothing but disorientation and fear.

Ultimately, all three characters will learn that if they are to survive, each must traverse not only the secret territories that lie between them but also those within themselves.


Jo Case in "Australian Book Review": The World Beneath skewers the same contemporary sacred cows as the recent bestseller Stuff White People Like,a book that slyly reveals the irony at the heart of inner-urban middle-class culture: everyone desperately trying to express their individuality by embracing the same 'unique' trends...This is a thought-provoking journey into contemporary Australia; an impressive début novel."

Kerryn Goldsworthy on her "Australian Literature Diary" weblog: "In some ways Kennedy is working the same territory as Christos Tsiolkas's The Slap: contemporary domestic realism focusing on parenting and on conflicting cultural values. But there's less cultural diversity, fewer characters, less sex, more social history, and a better plot." Kerryn points to both Jo Case's review and the Susan Wyndham interview (see below). Jo Case responds in the comments section.

Lisa Hill on the "ANZLitLovers" weblog: "The World Beneath is uniquely Australian. The main action of the novel takes place in the Tasmanian Wilderness, and two of its central characters came of age in the defining political moment of 1983 -- the fight to save the Franklin River. What is so interesting is the intersection of the intense significance of this moment for Rich and Sandy, with their daughter's indifference to it. It's all too long ago for fifteen-year-old Sophie, and she's heard about it too many times...The World Beneath takes a while to lure the reader in, because these three characters are each in their own way so tiresome that you don't want them in your life, not even in the pages of a book! But then before you know it you are there in the Tassie wilderness with Sophie and Rich and it's so compelling you can't put it down." Lisa picks it early for the 2010 Miles Frankin Award.


Susan Wyndham interviewed the author for the "Articulate" weblog.
Peter Mares on ABC Radio National's "Book Show".
Fiona Purdon in the "Courier-Mail".

Reprint: Henry Kingsley: Novelist's Australian Years: Appeal for a Monument

Is Henry Kingsley read now? Not much, perhaps; yet there are many middle aged readers who recall his books with pleasure, and for all Australians he should have particular interest as a resident in the pioneer days and as the writer of two good novels treating of that period. These are "Recollections of "Geoffrey Hamlyn" and "The Hillyars and the Burtons."

"I took your advice and reread 'Geoffrey Hamlyn,'" says a letter received from England recently by Mr. Tom Roberts. "I originally read it when I was 15 years old, and I still had a recollection of some passages in it. Were you aware when you advised me to read this book of Henry Kingsley's that this author (who did so much for Australia) lived for over 12 years and died and was buried in this little old village of Cuckfield? I sought out his grave in the parish churchyard. A small wooden cross of oak, with his name hardly discernible, marks his last resting-place, and in a very short time this will have mouldered away, unless replaced by a more permanent monument. What an opportunity for Melburnians to do something in the way of homage to the memory of the first writer of fiction weaving a spell of romance around early Australian days.

"His former residence is much the same as when he lived in it, and is, curiously, next to the village library, built of recent years. The present residents allowed me to look over it, and there are a number of small panels around the sitting-room fireplace which he painted. They are well preserved."


The Kingsleys were a remarkable family. Henry was the youngest of three sons of the Rev. Charles Kingsley. The eldest, Charles, a clergyman, was the author of 'Westward' Ho," "Alton Locke," "Hereward the Wake," and other favourite novels and miscellaneous writings. The second, George Henry, a doctor of medicine, was joint author with the Earl of Pembroke of "South Sea Bubbles," an early book on Pacific Island voyaging. The daughter of Charles is "Lucas Malet," a leading novelist, and the daughter of George was Mary Kingsley, who wrote on her travels in West Africa. Henry Kingsley was born at Barnack, Northamptonshire, on January 2, 1830. He was educated at King's College, London, and at Worcester College, Oxford. Much was being heard in England at that time of the wonders of the goldfields, and with some fellow students Kingsley sailed for Australia in 1853. Though he was in this country for five years, he was one of the visitors who did not make a fortune, whether from gold-seeking or from other activities; yet experience is always artistic gain to the born novelist, and this was shown in Kingsley's case after he had returned to England.

"Desultory and unromantic employment" is one description of the way in which his Australian years passed. For a time he was in the mounted police, and there is a story that his term was brought to an end by his refusing to attend an execution. But Kingsley did not care to talk about that period. One of the scenes in "Geoffrey Hamlyn" is a description of visit to a condemned cell by one who had been a friend of the fated bushranger in their youth in England. Tragedy and comedy, quiet humour, and quiet pathos, all have place in Henry Kingsley's books.


"Geoffrey Hamlyn," published on his return to England, was his first book, and it rapidly made its mark both there and in Australia. His masterpiece, the powerful ''Ravenshoe," followed; then "Austin Elliott"; and the fourth book was another Australian novel, '"The Hillyars and the Burtons," an account of the experiences of two English families in the new land. They are fresh, vivid, attractive books, those Australian volumes of Kingsley's, and they give good pictures of the life of the early settlers, so different from that of the age of motor-cars, of closer settlement, and of other modern changes. Such books have historic value in addition to their value as entertainment. Most of Henry Kingsley's writing has an effect as of pleasant easy talk with a friend. It is very "human." Precise critics may say that often his English is not "correct" but he is one of the authors who have qualities beyond mere correctness. "His best novels," says-Francis Hindes Groome, "are manly, pathetic, strong; yet even the best are full of most obvious faults - elementary solecisms, bad Irish and worse Scotch dialect, frequent improbabilities and occasional impossibilities. Besides, as the critics have told us, they all 'lack distinction of style.' Yet how noble (he loved that epithet) they often are! That a story should move one to tears or laughter, better still to both, is a true test of excellence; Henry Kingsley's stories are hard to read aloud for wanting to laugh, or else wanting not to cry."


Kingsley wrote 19 books - novels, stories, or sketches - and edited or compiled others. In 1864 he married his second cousin, Sarah Maria Kingsley, and they settled at Wargrave, near Henley-on-Thames. A few years afterwards he was in Scotland as editor of the "Edinburgh Daily Review." With the coming of the Franco-German War, Kingsley went as correspondent for his paper. He was present at the Battle of Sedan, and was the first Englishman to enter the town afterwards. "Valentin" is a story of Sedan. His later works were written in London, and then at "The Attrees," Cuckfield, Sussex, where he died after some months' illness on May 24, 1870. There are Australian references in his fantastic story for children "The Boy in Grey," and in other writings. Two of his essays are keenly appreciative of the work of the explorers Sturt and Eyre.

Henry Kingsley is a healthy, manly writer; one whom it is refreshing to know. There are many, no doubt, who would be glad to mark their appreciation of his work and personality, and of his association with Australia, by subscribing to a fund for the erection of a memorial on his grave. Mr. Tom Roberts's correspondent is another Australian artist, Mr. H. Walter Barnett, now resident in Italy. He suggests that the monument should not be costly or elaborate, but something simple and significant, formed perhaps of Australian granite. The Vicar of Cuckfield, Canon Wilson, is interested in the writings of Henry Kingsley, and is in sympathy with Mr. Barnett's proposal.

First published in The Argus, 10 April 1826

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

2009 Melbourne Prize for Literature

In Melbourne last night the winners of the 2009 Melbourne Prize for Literature were announced.  The prize is awarded in two categories: the main prize for a body of work, and a Best Writing Award for an author under the age of 40.

The winner of the main prize was Gerald Murnane, and the Best Writing Award went to Nam Le for his book The Boat.

You can see the whole list of authors and works shortlisted for each award here.

Regulatory Regime for Books in Australia

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I've covered a little of the debates regarding the Productivity Commission's report of some months back that recommended changing the current book importation rules for Australia.  Basically, a lot of the large book chains in Australian wanted an open market on books.  That would mean that any book could be sold in Australia at any time from any publisher.  This was supposed to mean that book prices would fall across the board - higher competiton and all that.  Most writers, literary associations and publishers were not convinced, and a large campaign was mounted to get the Federal Government to maintain the current arrangements.

In a Press Release from the Ministers of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research today, Dr Craig Emerson has stated that the current regime for book importation will remain.

This is what is known as "a good thing".

An interesting sentence in the PR reads as follows: "In the circumstances of intense competition from online books and e-books, the Government judged that changing the regulations governing book imports is unlikely to have any material effect on the availability of books in Australia."  Something more to ponder on the new book formats. 

Poem: Armistice: To His Dead Cobber from the Sentimental Bloke by C. J. Dennis

I'm sittin' 'ere, Mick -- sittin' 'ere today,
Feelin' arf glum, 'arf sorter -- reverent.
   Thinkin' strange, crooked thorts of 'ow they say:
   "The 'eads is bowed thro' all a continent";
An' wond'rin' -- wond'rin' in a kind of doubt
   If other coves is feelin' like I do,
Tryin' to figure wot it's all about,
   An' -- if it's meanin' anythin' to you.

Silence ....... The hour strikes soon thro' all the land
An' 'eads bend low.  Old, mate, give me your 'and.
      Silence -- for you, Mick, an' for blokes like you
      To mark the Day -- the Day you never knoo.

The Day you never knoo, nor we forget ....
   I can't tell why I'm sittin' 'ere this way,
Scrawlin' a message that you'll never get --
   Or will you?  I dunno.  It's 'ard to say.
P'raps you'll know all about it, where you are,
   An' think, "Ah well, they ain't too bad a lot."
An' tell them other digs, up on your star
   That now, or nevermore, they ain't fergot.

Silence ....... Not 'ere alone, Mick -- everywhere --
In city an' country 'eads are bare.
      An', in this room, it seems as if I knoo
      Some friend 'oo came -- Old cobber!  Is it you?

My 'eart is full, Mick ..... 'Struth! I ain't the bloke
   As well you know, to go all soft an' wet.
Fair's fair, lad.  Times I've known when you 'ave spoke
   Like you was tough an' 'ard as 'ell -- an' yet
Somethin' behind your bluff an' swagger bold
   Showed all them narsty sentiments was kid.
It was that thing inside yeh, lad, wot told.
   It made you go an' do the thing you did.

Silence ...... There's mothers, Mick, you never knoo
No mother.  But they're prayin' for you too.
      In every 'eart -- The Boys! The Boys are there,
      The Boys ...... That very name, lad, is a pray'r.

The Boys!  Old cobber, I can see 'em still:
   The drums are rollin' an' the sunlight gleams
On bay'nits.  Men are marchin' with a will
   On to the glory of their boy'ood's dreams.
Glory?  You never found it that, too much.
   But, lad, you stuck it -- stuck it with the rest,
An' if your bearin' 'ad no soulful touch,
   'Twas for OUR souls that you went marchin' -- West.

Silence ...... The children too, Mick -- little kids,
Are standin'.  Not becos their teacher bids:
      They've knoo no war; but they 'ave stopped their play
      Becos they know, they feel it is The Day.

So may it be thro' all the comin' years.
   But sorrow's gone, lad.  It's not that we know.
The sobbin's passed, 'ole cobber, an' the tears.
   An' well we un'erstand you'd 'ave it so.
But somethin's deeper far than that 'as come,
   Somethin' a mind can't get within its bounds,
Somethin' I can't explain.  A man is dumb
   When 'e thinks .... Listen!  'Ear the bugles sound!

      *                    *
      *                    *
      *                    *

Well, Mick, ole cock, I dunno why I've wrote,
   It's just to ease a thing inside wot says
"Sit down, you sloppy coot, an' write a note
   To that old cobber of the olden days.
E'll know -- for sure 'e'll know."  So lad, it's done,
   Work's waitin', an' a man can't get in wrong;
Our goal is still ahead.  But yours is won:
   That's the one thing we know, lad, so -- So long!

Silence ...... It's over, Mick; so there you are.
I know you're 'appy up there on your star,
      Believe us lad, that star shall never fall
      While one is left to say "Gawd keep 'em all!"

First published in The Herald , 11 November 1927

[Today is Remembrance Day.]

Reprint: Mrs. Aeneas Gunn's Help

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Sir - I read with great interest Mr. William Hatfield's letter this morning and I find it a most practical lead to his fellow authors in Australia. In my more favored land of the Never-Never with our 45 miles of river frontage, we knew neither drought nor water famine but as the years have passed on, two of my bushmen whose names appear in "We of the Never-Never" - Neave's Mate and poor little Tam-a-Shanter - have both perished on terrible dry stages farther afield. So, with great pleasure, I now offer to the Hermannsburg Mission Appeal Fund, in their names, on behalf of myself and my publishers, 12 copies of "The Little Black Princess," the gift outright of the publishers, autographed and inscribed by myself. From myself more personally, I offer six copies of "We of the Never-Never," also autographed and inscribed. The copies of "The Little Black Princess" are now on sale at Robertson and Mullens at 10/- a copy (representing 4ft. of piping), the whole of which amount will be paid into "The Argus" Appeal Fund. The copies of "We of the Never-Never" will not be available until the end of next week, as we are awaiting supplies. Also, if anyone already having a copy of either of my books wishes to have it inscribed and autographed in the name of the appeal fund, I shall be happy to do that through Robertson and Mullens for the fee of 5/- a copy, representing 2ft. of piping, to be paid into your fund-Yours, &c.,


Hawthorn. Feb. 28.

First published in The Argus, 1 March 1934

Note: this letter was written in response to another from William Hatfield that I published here last week.

Best Books of the Year 2009 #2 - "Amazon"

| 1 Comment releases their editors' choice of the best 100 books of the year around this time - all lumped together.

The only Australian book I could find on the list:

The Forgotton Garden, Kate Morton

On the other hand splits its choices across 12 categories.

In Biography they chose The Blaze of Obscurity: The TV Years by Clive James.
In Fiction they chose The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave.

2009 Walkley Award for Non-Fiction Shortlist Announced

The shortlisted works for the 2009 Walkley Award for Non-Fiction have been released.

The works on the list are:

Graham Freudenberg, Churchill and Australia, Pan Macmillian
Sally Neighbour, The Mother of Mohammed, Melbourne University Press
Gerard Ryle, Firepower, Allen & Unwin

You can read the full longlist here.

The winner of the award will be announced on Thursday November 26.

Australian Bookcovers #185 - Crosskill by Garry Disher


Crosskill by Garry Disher, 1994
(Allen & Unwin edition, 1994)
Cover by Karen Carter

#4 in the Wyatt series

David Foster Interview

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sons_of_the_rumour.jpg    With Sons of the Rumour, his first novel in seven years, about to be published, Miles Franklin Award winner David Foster talked to Paul Sheehan of "The Age".
Foster does not do small themes, not half measures. He is a scholar. He reads his favourite author, Juvenal, in the original Latin (self-taught). He won the University Medal for Chemistry at Sydney University. He has a PhD in biological inorganic chemistry from the Australian National University. He undertook postdoctoral study at the Institute for Cancer Research at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a gifted naturalist. (''Botany is one of the less egotistical fields.'') He's also been a drummer, a prawn fisherman and a postie. He was until recently a beekeeper (''They died this winter''). He turned to literature belatedly. Sons of the Rumour is his 13th novel and 15th book.
With such a long a gap between books, he is unsure about the reception the new novel will receive, but busies himself thinking about the next book, growing food, and working on a postal run in Bundanoon to keep the cash flow going. ''I get on the old Honda 90, out in the wind and rain. It keeps you honest.''

2009 Patrick White Award

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Beverley Farmer, author of such works as Milk and The House in the Light, has been announced as the winner of the 2009 Patrick White Award.

This award was created by Patrick White using his prize-money from his Nobel Prize for Literature.  Its aim is to recognise writers whose highly creative work over a long period may not have received the attention it deserved.  The full list of previous winners can be found on the award's Wikipedia entry.

Poem: Disillusion, or the Mistaken Muse by O. C. Cabot

   The poet at his window sat,
      A pen was in his hand;
   Beside him dozed the household cat,
      And peace was on the land;
The autumn sunshine, streaming in, was beautiful and bland.

   Far off, the breakers moan
      Along the shore, rock-starred;
   It seemed as if their monotone
      Was calling to the bard --
While, down below, his landlady was tidying-up the yard.

   He looked abroad, and then above,
      Toward the dazzling blue;
   Like some despairing, captive dove,
      A mournful glance he threw;
And sadly sighed, because his soul sought inspiration new.

   Alas! the breakers helped him not --
      The dazzling sky was dumb --
   And, though he thought an awful lot,
      Ideas would not come;
And he was not of those who fly to red, delusive Rum.

   Sudden and fierce a trumpet pealed
      Upon the autumn air;
   And instantly the poet wheeled
      And trembled in his chair --
"The Muse be praised!" he cried, "who sent that thought-awakening blare.

   "It shivers through my seeking brain
      And drowns the breakers' roar,
   And brings before my vision plain
      The awful pomp of war --
I hear them marching down the street -- I wonder what's the corps?

   "Ah, splendid lads in uniform
      Who guard our country's coast,
   And plunge through battle, fire and storm,
      A stern, undaunted host --
Right worthily have ye been dubbed the Nation's proudest boast!

   "The sun is sparkling on your helms,
      Your bayonets blaze bright,
   Like beings from heroic realms
      Ye burst upon the sight!
And, oh! my spirit yearns and burns to join ye in the fight!

   "I never heard the bugle call --
      Hark! There it swells again! --
   But Memory lifts the Past's dim pall
      And shows me clear and plain
The glorious wars your fathers waged -- and never waged in vain.

   "That martial sound reveals to me
      Each shrouded battlefield --
   Ten thousand gallant hearts I see,
      Who died but would not yield
When, from the grim, unconquered square, the shattered squadrons reeled!

   "Ha! Let me write!" He seized his pen
      The while his spirit glowed,
   And wrote in haste -- "Our fighting men:
      A Military Ode!"

   Then rose to view that stirring scene;
      But this was all it showed --
A bugle-playing ice-cream man come slowly up the road!

First published in The Bulletin, 9 July 1908

Best Books of the Year 2009 #1 - "Publishers Weekly"

"Publishers Weekly" (sic) puts out a long list of their best 100 Books of the Year about this time.  I couldn't find any Australian books on the general list but on the Children's list we have:


Tales from Outer Suburbia
Shaun Tan (Scholastic/Levine)
Tan proves that his prose is every bit as hypnotic as his artwork in this wondrous collection that reveals the banality and strangeness of the suburbs.

Bookcover Comparison - On the Turning Away

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You might remember this little co-incidence of book covers which showed high-divers against a clear sky background. Now we have the following:

lovesong.jpg    stealing_picasso.jpg

Not quite the same but an interesting similarity in style. Is this a neck fixation?

Reprint: Classic Authors: Mrs Aeneas Gunn


Manuscripts For National Library

The standing of Mrs. Aeneas Gunn as one of the classic authors of Australian literature gives a special interest to her recent presentation to the National Library at Canberra of the original manuscripts of her two books, "The Little Black Princess'" and ''We of the Never Never."

In addition, Mrs. Gunn has presented some short notes on the history of these books, which will be of great interest to students of Australian literature. "The Little Black Princess," her first book, had many vicissitudes, so that at one time its author feared it had become "a little white elephant."          

Written as an experiment preliminary to the larger work on her outback experiences, the story was submitted to a Melbourne publisher and shown by him to Professor Baldwin Spencer. Through him, it was sent to a firm in London, who agreed to publish it at "half profits to the author." Though 4,000 copies were printed and sold, there were still "no profits."

Finally, with the aid of the Incorporated Society of Authors, Mrs. Gunn recovered "all rights" in her book, together with the stereotype plates, negatives and manuscript, and a bill for £15 for her share of "losses incurred."

In the following year, the book was re-pubiished by Hodder and Stoughton, but by 1921, having issued some 6,000 copies, they considered that the market had reached saturation point. So once again the, author found herself with "all rights" and a huge case, of stereotype plates, etc., with £32 customs duties to pay!

Finally the publication was taken over by Messrs. Robertson and Mullens, of Melbourne, and to-day it has sold 114,000, and is still in steady demand.

The early history of "We of the Never Never" was hardly less eventful, though by then Mrs. Gunn was able to some extent to profit by her previous experience. London publishers found it "too local for general interest," and it was rejected in quick succession by five publishers (including the Religions Tract Society) before being "placed" with Hutchinson and Co.

Once published, with a short interruption when the type was commandeered to be melted down for use as ammunition during the war, the book has sold well, and the English editions now total 150,000 copies. In 1927, Robertson and Mullens brought out an abridged edition for schools, and this has now passed its 50th thousand.

Such is the story of the manuscripts, heavy with the dust of publishers' offices, which have now found a permanent home in the National Library.

Mrs.Gunn has added to this gift a biographical record of the characters of "We of the Never Never," bringing their lives down to the present time, and a very interesting collection of original letters by and relating to them.

In view of the close association of Messrs. Robertson and Mullens with the publication of Mrs. Gunn's books, it is interesting and appropriate that the idea to preserve these historical manuscripts in the National Library originated with Captain C. H. Peters, the manager of that firm. He has also given invaluable help in selecting and gathering the material and having it despatched to Canberra.    

First published in The Canberra Times, 28 July 1937

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

Notes: The Little Black Princess was first published in 1905, We of the Never Never was first published in 1908.

I especially like the note here that the printing plates had "to be melted down for use as ammunition during the war".

Alex Miller Interview

lovesong.jpg    As Alex Miller's ninth novel, Lovesong, is published, Angela Meyer was asked to interview the author by the Readings website.

The interview also carries the note that Angela is now acting editor of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. On top of her excellent weblog LiteraryMinded you wonder where she finds the time to sleep.
After finishing Landscape, Miller took time off to read. Sitting by the fire with his daughter, he was on the last few pages of Edward Said's Musical Elaborations when his daughter asked him what he was going to do next. Miller had just read Said's memory of seeing Louis Malle's film Les amants, which went something like this: 'An innocuous tale of a man, an unknown unnamed stranger who comes down the road and meets an unknown unnamed woman, and they become lovers, so then he moves on and everybody's happy.' He told his daughter, 'I'm going to write a simple love story'. And she said, 'Dad, love's not simple, you should know that'.
Miller's unadorned prose has a sneaking effect. Simple moments between characters catch you up hours, or even days, later. I relay this to Miller with the example of Landscape of Farewell. There is a scene where Max, the German character, is fetched a cane by Dougald, his Aboriginal friend and temporary housemate. I was telling my sister about how much I loved this moment -- the way Max imagines Dougald's perception of him as an old man, and accepts this -- and I searched for the moment in the book to read it to her, as I mark my favourite passages by turning the pages down. I was surprised to find I had not marked the passage at the time -- the moment in the story had only resonated much later.

Weblog Book Reviewing


There are times when I read things on the net or in newspapers and I just know, straight away, that I had better not post anything about it for a few days.  You know the line "Never drive when angry"?  The same thing applies to writing for the internet.  Once written and posted it never disappears.  Far better to walk away and let it lie. 

And sometimes a piece just sets up a slow burn that doesn't seem to fade. 

In her "Overflow" column in "The Australian" over this past weekend, Rosemary Sorenson made a number of points regarding book reviewing and the blogging world, none of them complimentary. 

Sorenson's main point is the following: "It turns out many publishers solicit reviews from bloggers by sending them free books, who then write effusive reviews about them. 'Viral marketing', the kind some bloggers help along so willingly, is not so innocent after all."  This note has, I presume, arisen because some authorities in the US have decided that there appears to be a sort of "cash-for-comment" (or in this case "book-for-comment") situation with some US-based literary weblogs. The contention being that publishers will send books to weblogs with the expectation that a favourable review will be written.  The implication is that this is a form of "viral marketing" that weblogs have been party to, but which they haven't divulged until now.  Just think of the Sydney radio jocks, in the early part of this decade, making favourable comments about certain financial and telecommuncations companies that they had previously criticised, adversely.

The point might be made that Sorenson is only talking about US weblogs and has made no implication about Australian versions.  You can argue that all you like, but I don't think the writer's intention was to be country-specific.

The trouble with this sort of argument is that it's almost impossible to dispute.  Whatever I say will be taken as an attempt by me to portray myself in a favourable light and therefore suspect: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks".  Well, "old fart", anyway.

So, herewith a summary of some relevant points I have made on this weblog in the past, and which I think are worth repeating:

1. Publishers send books to weblogs such as this for publicity purposes - just as they do with any media outlet: newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, etc, etc.  The idea behind this, I guess, is that any mention, anywhere, is a good thing.  They request a copy of the review, which seems only fair.  I've never had a note from a publisher implying that anything will follow from a favourable or a non-favourable review.  

2. Weblogs provide an additional review source for these publishers.  Not a replacement, not better, just an alternative.

3. Have I been approached to "publicise" a book for a publisher on this weblog?  Yes.  Has the expectation been that I only say favourable things about it?  Probably, but as I refused the invitation I don't really know.

4. Do I accept advertising?  No.  I've been asked a number of times, but I'm not interested.  This is a hobby not a commercial proposition.  Some webloggers feel the need to ensure their venture is profitable, or at least revenue-neutral. That's up to them. 

5. Has anyone attempted to "buy" this weblog?  Well, I'm not sure about "buy", as no mention of money or anything else was mentioned. I declined the offer before it got any further than the initial approach.  This is a hobby - see note 4 above. 

6. If I write an effusive review of a book it's because I really liked it.  I don't write hatchet jobs.  It costs a lot to get a book published, in time, money, effort and emotion. If a group of people consider that a book has enough going for it to ensure it gets in front of readers then I'm not going to dismiss all of that work as meaningless.  It's the job of a reviewer to find the worth in a book as well as to warn against the shortcomings.

There is probably more, but that's enough.  Readers have to read book reviews with a critical eye, the same way they should read the books themselves.  I identify whether or not the book under review is a "review copy", and has therefore been supplied by a publisher, or is a "private purchase".  After that it's up to you.

2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

The long, longlist of books nominated for the 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award have now been announced. The full list contains 156 titles from all parts of the globe, and, as usual, I've made an attempt to list all the Australian books on the list.  Which also means that I've probably missed a few, in which case please feel free to write and let me know of any omissions.

The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
His Illegal Self, Peter Carey
God of Speed, Luke Davies
Wanting, Richard Flanagan
The Spare Room, Helen Garner
The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton
A Fraction of the Whole, Steve Toltz
The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas
Breath, Tim Winton
Sea of Many Returns, Arnold Zable

Reprint: Mr. Hatfield's Gift


Sir -As one interested in native welfare, I should like to make a small contribution toward the Hermannsburg Mission water supply scheme. My publishers Messrs. Angus and Robertson, have joined me in presenting a dozen copies of my novel "Desert Saga" - which deals with a fictitious branch of the Arunta tribe, who eventually get an assured water supply through the co-operation of a white settler - the books to be sold and the proceeds handed to "The Argus" fund. Anyone who feels that some measure of recompense is due to the peaceful people, whose land this originally was, could scarcely demonstrate it in a more practical or useful manner. I happened to be at Hermannsburg, and I drove Mr. Talbot, of gold exploration fame, out to Koporlija springs to survey levels, &c, for the scheme, and heard his report on the practicability of the project. At present 16,000 gallons a day of excellent water go to waste in desert rocks and sand, while a few miles away the natives have to watch their irrigable patch of fertile land lie idle when the well adjacent goes dry. They only want the pipes, £1,800 worth. They can do all the rest. One hears that the native is a useless, idle fellow, but to see the excellent water conservation works already carried out at the mission is to find proof to the contrary. There the aborigines have done everything, from excavating the material with which to make their own concrete to the last trowelling off of the surface. Scurvy decimated the Hermannsburg tribe in the recent five years' drought, when a small vegetable ration would have kept the natives alive and well. I hope that in this last week of the drive "The Argus" will succeed in getting the balance of the amount required for this humane work. This year when Melbourne folk are celebrating the hundredth anniversary of their acquisition of this land, worth many millions of pounds, surely the city itself can vastly oversubscribe such a small sum to soften the existence of those last remnants of a race dispossessed and fast dying out. My books, specially inscribed and autographed, will be on sale at Robertson and Mullens, at 10/ each (4ft. of piping).

-Yours, &c.


St Kilda. Feb. 27.

First published in The Argus, 28 February 1934

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

Notes: William Hatfield (1892 - 1969), whose original name was Ernest Chapman, wrote seven novels for adults, three for children and a number of non-fiction works, including Australia Through the Windscreen.


Poem: A Racing Rubaiyat by C. J. Dennis

Awake!  For now no longer does the Fear
Of Loss uphold Resolves of yester year:
   And, lo, the Layer of the Odds pours forth
His Spring Song to the Punter's eager Ear.

Come, book the Bet.  And on the clamorous Ring
The care-won caution of a Twelve-month fling.
   Who knows?  Tomorrow we may get the tip
That robs the Racing Game of all its sting.

Think; in the Paddock you may meet a Bloque
Who whispers secret Things about a Moke;
   And, if you back It and, perchance, It win,
The World is yours, and Life becomes a Joke.

The Owner's lips are lockt; the Trainer sighs,
And then goes dumb; the Tipster deals in lies.
   But what of that?  Throw down the Gage to chance:
Grasp a pin bravely, lad, and shut your eyes.

And if the Tip you take, the Cash you bet
End in the Nothing all things end in, yet,
    As Lessons learned last Year were this Year scorned,
So this Year's lessons next year you'll forget.

And when Thyself with listless Foot shall pass
Amongst torn Tickets littering the Grass,
   Reflect, some tens of thousands share your shame;
You are but merely one more Silly Ass.

First published in The Herald, 5 November 1934

[Today is Melbourne Cup Day.]

Australian Bookcovers #184 - Paydirt by Garry Disher



Paydirt by Garry Disher, 1992
(Allen & Unwin edition, 1992)
Cover design: Siren

#2 in the Wyatt series

2009 Prime Minister's Literary Awards Winners

The winners of the 2009 Prime Minister's Literary Awards have been announced today.

The winner of the fiction award was The Boat by Nam Le, and the non-fiction award was shared between House of Exile: The Life and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nelly Kroeger-Mann by Evelyn Juers and Drawing the Global Colour Line by Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds.

You can read the full shortlists here.

2009 World Fantasy Awards

The 2009 World Fantasy Awards were presented at the convention held in San Jose over the weekend.

The full list of nominees is available here. A number of Australians were up for awards and it's a great pleasure to congratulate Margo Lanagan, whose novel Tender Morsels tied for the Best Novel Award (with The Shadow Year by Jeff Ford), and Shaun Tan who won the award for Best Artist.

The 2011 World Fantasy Convention will be held in San Diego.  

Australian Literary Monuments #27 - C. J. Dennis


C.J. Dennis Memorial Hall - Toolangi, Victoria

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The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.jpg

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