February 2010 Archives

Poem: David McKee Wright's Grave: At Emu Plains by Zora Cross

Poet, believe me, you are happiest,
Who lie for ever sleeping on this hill,
The river winding by at its smooth will,
No greater weight than grass upon your breast
Nor friend, nor foe can aggravate your rest,
Deep-bosomed in eternal peace, and still
As the wide sky, who takes her lazy fill
Of silence, immemorially blest.

I walk the razor-edge of life alone
In quest of that you found -- the perfect end
To all endeavour praise and petty blame --
Tumultuous love to the last breath out-thrown.
Oh, be to me the memory of a friend
When in proud terror I cry on God's name.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 July 1930

Combined Reviews: The People's Train by Tom Keneally

peoples_train.jpg    The People's Train
Tom Keneally
Random House

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers' Prize in the South East Asia and Pacific region.]

From the publisher's page

Artem Samsurov, a charismatic protege of Lenin and an ardent socialist, reaches sanctuary in Australia after escaping his Siberian labour camp and making a long, perilous journey via Japan. But Brisbane in 1911 turns out not to be quite the workers' paradise he was expecting, or the bickering local Russian emigres a model of brotherhood.

As Artem helps organise a strike and gets dangerously entangled in the death of another exile, he discovers that corruption, repression and injustice are almost as prevalent in Brisbane as at home. Yet he finds fellow spirits in a fiery old suffragette and a distractingly attractive married lawyer, who undermines his belief that a revolutionary cannot spare the time for relationships. When the revolution dawns and he returns to Russia, will his ideals hold true?

Based on a true story, THE PEOPLE'S TRAIN brings the past alive and makes it resonate in the present. With all the empathy and storytelling skills that he brought to bear in SCHINDLER'S ARK, Tom Keneally takes us to the heart of the Russian Revolution through the dramatic life of an unknown, inspiring figure. Like Schindler, Samsurov was no saint, but he was an individual who played a vital role in world-changing events.


Francesca Beddie in "The Australian": "The novel is able to capture the ordinary things that happen during war: flirting, love and, as Paddy observes, the continued workings of the lower end of government -- mail, lamp lighting, trams -- even while the tsar is being toppled. We are privy to conversations that range from the political to the petty. (What a shame these are not marked by punctuation, which would have made them easier to follow.)..Fortunately, it is in Paddy's stories that Keneally rescues his novel from becoming an idealised account of socialist aspirations. We experience episodes of the arbitrary violence that punctuates the history of Russian communism. These depictions are sharp, surprising and brutal."

Giles Foden in "The Guardian": "Thomas Keneally is one of the historical novel's most expert practitioners, and his new book sees him back on the form that produced Schindler's Ark, which won the Booker Prize in 1982. Although there are locomotives in The People's Train, the train of the title appears little...The historical reality is that there's a working-class radical tradition in Australia of which many non-Australians are not aware, and this once included a flourishing Russian community in pre-first world war Brisbane. The story of one of its actual members (Artem Sergeiev) is Keneally's template...[In the second half] we see Artem move away from us, as if diminishing in a lens of a telescope held at the wrong end. Our sense of the past is like that, too, but we are lucky in having authors such as Keneally who know how to dramatise the telescope's turning around from time to time, bringing 'there' and 'then' into the here and now."

Lesley Chamberlain in "The New Statesman": "The People's Train combines a fluency of narrative with woodenness of thought. It is that rare thing: a novel with too much action, and too little attention paid to language and style...It is possible that your reviewer is at bottom a churlish Cadet who would have opposed Lenin. So, if you're still a Bolshevik at heart and wish that history hadn't happened, do give this novel a chance. If you wish historians had not exposed the real, ruthlessly manipulative and murderous Lenin, you may even like The People's Train."

James Urquhart in "The Independent": "Thomas Keneally's 26th novel shares the military fascination of his recent works while reaching as far back as his 1982 Booker Prize-winning Schindler's Ark for comparable historical weight...Paddy's testimony, as that of a staunch disciple, is somewhat monochrome compared to the more complex ambiguities of Keneally's recent novels, which all more explicitly revile the waste of war... examined moral courage in battle, while The Office of Innocence tested spiritual leadership in wartime. The Tyrant's Novel recorded the slide from integrity to complicity with an oppressive regime, whereas Bettany's Book tackled ideas of democracy under siege. 'We can have a revolution,' Artem assures Paddy, 'but it will take time to overthrow the squalor of the human soul.'"

Edward McGown in "The Telegraph": "The People's Train is a formidable feat of literary ventriloquism. The first half of the novel reads exactly like the memoir of a devout Bolshevik in 1911 -- giddy on the chilly idealism of revolutionary thinking. Artem's wilfully stolid language perfectly captures his passionately earnest character. Yet at times the novel is throttled by its own verisimilitude. It is almost as if Keneally has so entered into the real Artem Sergeiv's mindset that he has half an eye on pleasing an imagined, Soviet censor. Terrible things happen to Artem, yet he often seems trapped in faintly unreal postures of stock, communist defiance -- giving the impression you are reading a Party primer on Marxist best practice...Keneally's most famous work, Schindler's Ark, made fresh the horror of the Holocaust by centring on the contained, moral crisis of one man. Here, the author consciously abstains from the pleasures of a taut narrative focus."

Robert Epstein in "The Independent": "The dark relationship between individual and society is a vexed, and vexing, subject in Russian history - and so, too, in The People's Train, Thomas Keneally's at-times brilliant retelling of the experiences of two men in the lead-up to, and during, the momentous October Revolution of 1917...Reading at times like a cross between Peter Carey and Tom Rob Smith's Child 44, Keneally has delivered a broad-ranging piece of historical fiction that approaches his best. Given that his best is the 1982 Booker-winning Schindler's Ark, that is high praise indeed."

Short Notices

Readings: "Based on a true story, THE PEOPLE'S TRAIN brings the past alive and makes it resonate in the present. With all the empathy and storytelling skills that he brought to bear in SCHINDLER'S ARK, Tom Keneally takes us to the heart of the Russian Revolution through the dramatic life of an unknown, inspiring figure."

Patrick Allington in "Australian Book Review": "...Keneally builds terrific momentum by drawing on extraordinary events: the Russian Revolution and the onset of World War I.  If the scaffolding of this novel is now and again exposed, that is something historical fiction can never fully overcome."

Francesca Beddie in "The Australian": "Fortunately, it is in Paddy's stories that Keneally rescues his novel from becoming an idealised account of socialist aspirations. We experience episodes of the arbitrary violence that punctuates the history of Russian communism. These depictions are sharp, surprising and brutal. They need to be there."

Mike Crowl in "The Otago Times": "The historical sequence approach of the novel means there's little real interplay between the characters; those who get involved with each other often slide out of view without a sense of loss to other people...And the large cast becomes a welter of names for the reader to contend with, even though a few are recognisable for their later part in history."

"Femail.com.au" website: "In The People's Train, Tom Keneally is able to effortlessly weave historical fact with fictional imaginings. His ability to capture these moments in time leave an indelible mark on the reader's consciousness. Whether it be the small town feel of sleepy Brisbane in 1911 or the passion and energy of the Russian Revolution, Tom is a master of conveying time and place. His characters are fully realised with their virtues and foibles on display. Once again the Booker Prize winning novelist, Tom Keneally has shown that he's one of Australia's leading writers."

Phil Shannon on the "Green Left Review": "... if the [promised] sequel has the historical integrity and thoughtfulness as The People's Train, it will be worth waiting for."


UNSW TV with Sunil Badami.

Margaret Throsby on ABC Radio National's Classic FM.

Rosanna Greenstreet of "The Guardian".

Des Houghton of "The Courier-Mail".

Peter Mares on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show".


Tom Keneally discusses the novel on Random TV.

2010 CAL Scribe Fiction Prize Winner

The winner of the 2010 CAL Scribe Fiction Prize has been announced.  The winner was Maris Morton, who, in her 70s, is being compared to Mary Wesley who also published her first novel in her eighth decade.

You might recall the shortlist was announced in December for a prize that is for unpublished manuscripts for writers over 35.  George Dunford and I decided that it should be called "the wrinkly".

Henry Lawson's Foreword for C. J. Dennis

The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke was the first of CJ Dennis's "verse novels" and introduced the Sentimental Bloke, Doreen and Ginger Mick. Lavishly illustrated by Hal Gye (whose larrikin cherubs will be forever linked with The Bloke) it was first published in 1915 by Angus & Robertson of Sydney, with an introduction from Henry Lawson.

Dennis wrote to Henry Lawson in the lead-up to the publication of the first edition and, while I don't have a copy of Dennis's letter, here is Lawson's reply:

[26 March 1915]

Dear Den,

Of course I will you ole fool. Just got your letter. By a coincidence, that doesn't seem strange to me. I showed one of yours - the last ["Sentimental Bloke Gets Hitched"] to Geo Robertson, of A & R, one morning about a week ago, when he was in a bad temper. It tickled him immensely, and, incidentally, cleared up the whole atmosphere of the shop. (He's been hitched twice). Hadn't seen your work before because of "war troubles" and he hasn't been reading the "Bully" [Bulletin] for many months. Saw Bert Stevens this morning. Will write at length tomorrow.

I dips me lid.

Yours ever,

Henry Lawson

And the Foreword, as printed in the first edition, is as follows:

My young friend Dennis has honoured me with a request to write a preface to his book. I think a man can best write a preface to his own book, provided he knows it is good. Also if he knows it is bad.

The Sentimental Bloke, while running through the Bulletin, brightened up many dark days for me. He is more perfect than any alleged "larrikin" or Bottle-O character I have ever attempted to sketch, not even excepting my own beloved Benno. Take the first poem for instance, where the Sentimental Bloke gets the hump. How many men, in how many different parts of the world -- and of how many different languages -- have had the same feeling -- the longing for something better -- to be something better?

The exquisite humour of The Sentimental Bloke speaks for itself; but there's a danger that its brilliance may obscure the rest, especially for minds, of all stations, that, apart from sport and racing, are totally devoted to boiling

"The cabbitch storks or somethink"

in this social "pickle found-ery" of ours.

Doreen stands for all good women, whether down in the smothering alleys or up in the frozen heights.

And so, having introduced the little woman (they all seem 'little" women), I "dips me lid" -- and stand aside.


SYDNEY, 1st September, 1915.

Australian Bookcovers #199 - Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan

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Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan, 2001
Jacket design by Mary Callahan
Picador edition 2001

2010 Commonwealth Writers' Prize Regional Shortlists

The shortlisted works for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers' Prize have been announced.

In the South East Asia and Pacific Region, of which Australia is a part, the shortlisted works are:

Summertime by J.M Coetzee (Australia)
A Good Land by Nada Awar Jarrar (Australia)
The Adventures of Vela by Albert Wendt (Samoa)
Singularity by Charlotte Grimshaw (New Zealand)
The People's Train by Thomas Keneally (Australia)
Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey (Australia)

And, in the same region, the nominations for the Best First Book are:

The Ice Age by Kirsten Reed (Australia)
After the fire, a still small voice by Evie Wyld (Australia)
Look Who's Morphing by Tom Cho (Australia)
Document Z by Andrew Croome (Australia)
Come Inside by Glenys Osborne (Australia)
Siddon Rock by Glenda Guest (Australia)

The regional winners for Best Book and Bests First Book will be announced in Delhi in early April with the overall winners in each category to be announced on April 12.

Poem: Rudyard Kipling by Zora Cross

Listen! In the square to-night
A band is playing. And rat-tat-tat  
A muffled drum beats Time to flight.
Comrade brothers, what was that?  
The jest dies on the colonel's lips.
The room is hushed. And eye seeks eye.  
The whispered word in panic trips.
O Simla Hills! Officers! Good-bye.
The mystic fountain-waters play.
God's gate clicks. Footsteps mid the flowers!
And half a dream from yesterday
"They" run to tell her "He is ours."
Yet Heaven splits on a dismayed cry.
Earth aches unto the inmost core,  
"Ah!" An international sigh ...
Rudyard Kipling sings no more.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 February 1936

2010 Speculative Fiction Snapshot

Back in 2005 Ben Peek took it upon himself to conduct short interviews with as many Australian speculative fiction writers as he could over a one week period - he got in touch with 43 of them.

Then in 2007 another group followed up Peek's original and interviewed 83 authors and editors.

Now a similar group to the 2007 people, has decided to do it all again in this week leading up to February 22nd.

You can read all of the interviews, as they happen on the following weblogs:

Random Alex
girlie jones
Nothing Rhymes with Rachel
stiching words, one thread at a time

I'm interested to see that one of the common questions they all ask is: "Are you planning to go to Aussiecon 4 in September?"  And it seems the bulk of them will be there.

Western Australia Literary Awards

Back in October 2008 the first longlist for the newly created Australia-Asia Literary Award was unveiled.  This award was the region's largest and aimed to bridge the gap between books published in Australia and in the wider Asian area, presumably to raise public awareness of books rarely seen.  The idea was a good one, and, while that first longlist did appear a little too centred on Australian works, it was a start.

In November 2008, David Malouf's The Complete Stories was announced as the winner of that first award, and then things went a little quiet.  In February 2009 we were told that the award was being suspended and "was under review".  Another award was expected to be given in 2010.

But now it appears that whole thing has been cancelled.Western Australia's Culture and Arts Minister John Day, recenty announced that the Australia-Asia Literary Award was to be discontinued, and that $80,000 of the prize-money allocated for that award was to be allocated to the Western Australian Premier's Book Awards. 

In some ways this is a bit unsurprising.  While the nature of the award was a good one, the prize-money seemed rather high for just one category (fiction) and really wasn't given any amount of time to bed itself into the Australian, and Asian, literary landscapes. People can't assume that awards of this sort will automatically be accepted by the reading public purely because the prize-money is going to generate some level of publicity. 

Comments about the decision can be found at ABC News, and the Literary Saloon weblog.

Reprint: Ada Cambridge: A Remarkable Woman by A. G. Stephens

In Melbourne, on July 19, died, in her 83rd year, a remarkable Australian-Englishwoman - Mrs. George Cross - more widely known by the maiden name which she used in her literary writings - Ada Cambridge. Her husband, for many years an Anglican clergyman in Victoria, died fourteen years ago. Of her numerous family of children, a married daughter and a son survive, residing in Melbourne. One baby died in infancy, another in boyhood, another (she wrote) "in the prime of his young man-hood - which for me had altered the whole face of the world and of the future."

Ada Cambridge was born in the English fen country, at St. Germains, in Norfolk, in 1844. Her father had a small middle-class estate; her mother was a country doctor's daughter. She was educated by governesses at home, and gave early tokens of literary talent. Her family life was strictly religious; her first poetical essays, "Hymns of the Litany" and "Hymns on the Holy Communion," were devoted to religious themes. At the age of 25 she married G. F. Cross, an ordained clergyman of the Church of England, who was coming to labour in Australia - then considered "a country of blacks and bushrangers." With him she reached Melbourne in August, 1870, and during many years performed all the duties of a bush clergyman's wife in different country districts of Victoria.  


Although her family was comparatively well to-do, Ada Cambridge had been trained to make all her own clothes as a girl; she made her own wedding gown. In her book entitled "Thirty Years in Australia," published 23 years ago - and still one of the best books of Australian reminiscence - she related how "housework has all along been the business of life; novels have been squeezed into the odd limes." "I made all my children's clothes, until the boys grew beyond their sailor suits, and the girl put her hair up."

A wonderful woman, indeed. Husband and family; births and deaths; a list of twenty published books - written, as she said, "most of them, to buy nice things for my babies; because there were always babies and never enough nice things for them"; and withal, an invalid for long, yet making her own dresses, curtains, and floor-coverings, and at first with her husband's assistance - her own furniture: breaking up her home seven times - until her husband was appointed canon in charge of Holy Trinity Church at Williamstown, Melbourne (1893 to 1912).

The Rev. George Cross also was no weakling. His wife records how, during part of his clerical country life, he seemed to live in the saddle, leaving it only to eat and sleep. "The following is the programme for a monthly Sunday in Wilcannia, where the breaking-in began. Up at 4 a.m. Breakfast at a station 25 miles distant. To morning service five miles (in an open shed, the congregation sitting on wheat stacks or what not). Dinner near by, and ride of twelve miles for afternoon service. Ride of seventeen miles home." (Total, 59 miles). "He was always fresh at the end of this tremendous day, or, at any rate, not more than pleasantly tired. The horse, too, which had carried him all day, though glad to reach its journey's end, was undistressed. It was by no means an exceptional day's work for an Australian horse."

"Only once," Mrs. Cross relates, "do I remember seeing George thoroughly knocked np." On this occasion he drove to a bush funeral 25 miles, rode 25 miles further, and 25 miles back, and then 17 miles home. "With temperature over 100deg., and the wind in the north, George was really tired out for once."


In 1875, Mrs. Cross commenced writing for "The Australasian" and other papers a series of novels of Australian life; most of which were subsequently published in book form in London. During many years, her prolific pen wrote a book a year. By 1890, both here and in England she was regarded as a popular novelist. The Australian element gave her books a pleasant novelty for English palates; yet, since she wrote as an Englishwoman, her work did not seem to English readers uncouth or foreign - as books more typically Australian seem often. For the serial rights of "A Marked Man" "The Australasian" paid Mrs. Cross £197. Other successful books were "The Three Miss Kings" and'"A Little Minx." These, with many more, that won temporary credit, have now gone down the hill of oblivion. Some of them can still be read with pleasure, but they have been supplanted by the never-ending new growth of popular fiction.

In 1908 Mr. Cross received news of an English legacy; and the wife who had left England with him in 1870, "a five-weeks bride," returned with him to her birthplace, "an old woman." This English journey, both sad and delightful, is chronicled in "The Retrospect" (1912). All Ada Cambridge's relatives, and most of her friends, had passed away; husband and wife soon returned to their home in Australia.

Four years later George Cross died, and in 1912 his widow travelled once more to Eng- land, intending to reside there. After some years she returned to her son and daughter in Melbourne. For a long time her writings had been widely spread; she had contributed much to English and American magazines. Gradually her circle of activity narrowed; and the woman who died in Melbourne last week had grown weary and frail: death came as a release from the trouble of long life.

The great crisis of that life came in 1887, when Ada Cambridge was 43 years old. During many years she felt that her passionate spirit had been thwarted and repressed. Though educated as a strict churchwoman, her questing striving mind was caught by the wave of 19th century doubt of theology, and she became in effect a Rationalist before Rationalism. Only the broadest church could have held her - and she had married a strict churchman. She closed her mouth; and, in the cant phrase, did her duty. But her mind could not be closed. For half her life she was at war with her environment.

She turned herself into a valiant clergyman's wife. She bore children; attended church, organised charity, presided over sewing meetings - she did her duty. She strangled her dreams, silenced her mind, and conformed. But her doubt and discontent persisted, with an anguish increased by the arduous and overdriven life she was often called upon to lead. From time to time she had written poems of personal unhappiness, intellectual septicism - some of them representing moods of married life; others, new beliefs gained in the process of thought and experience.


In 1886, at a period of physical instability and storm, Ada Cambridge gathered these poems together, and sent them to London for publication. Her small book of "Unspoken Thoughts" appeared next year. Perhaps 600 copies were printed; perhaps 50 copies came to the authoress in Australia. Her name did not appear on the title-page, and in the writing an effort had been made to suggest that the author was a man.

A few copies were circulated in Australia. Brunton Stephens in Brisbane received one, and its influence is seen in some of his own verses, and in those of two other Queensland writers to whom he lent the book. Henry Parkes in Sydney received one; and wrote in it:

   "Strong book and true,  
   One of the few
   That speak in tones
   Which Nature owns --
   That speak in sooth
   The bitter truth."

But the shock to the Rev. George Cross was overwhelming. He learned that his wife had questioned Divine wisdom and doubted Eternal Hope. He read "A Wife's Protest" against the physical side of marriage: he read "An Answer" to pleading - "Thy love I am. Thy wife I cannot be." These poetical attitudes may have represented long-past feelings: but, to an Anglican clergyman in Victoria in the 'eighties, the fact that his faithful spouse, his valiant partner, could dream such thoughts, and write them, and publish them - even anonymously, and however included with other poetical works - was horrifying.

In the upshot. Ada Cambridge wrote to her publishers in London to destroy the edition of the book; and this was done. She herself, greatly troubled, came to Sydney for a time, and at Como, on July 28, 1887, wrote her beautiful sonnet, "Peace":


   The red rose flush fades slowly in the west;
   The golden water, basking in the light,
   Pales to clear amber and to silver-white;
   The velvet shadow of a flame-crowned crest
   Lies dark and darker on its shining breast --
   Till lonely mere and isle and mountain-height   
   Grow dim as dreams in tender mist of night,
   And all is tranquil as a babe at rest.
   So still! So calm! Will our llfe's eve come thus!   
   No sound of strife, of labour, or of pain --
   No ring of woodman's axe - no dip of oar.
   Will work be done, and night's rest earned, for us?
   And shall we wake to see sunrise again?
   Or shall we sleep - to see and know no more?

Ada Cambridge returned to Melbourne and her home; atonement was made; by-and-by she recovered health and spirits: life grew easier, in spite of griefs; she was able to write later that "a woman is really only free, and able to enjoy herself, at sixty." Long before she died her "Unspoken Thoughts" were buried and forgotten. Yet, thirty years later, she cherished an intellectual regret that "I was never able to let myself go."

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 31 July 1926

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

Note: Although this essay implies that Cambridge's poetry collection, Unspoken Thoughts, is lost, you can read an e-book version [PDF format] of the book from SETIS - The University of Sydney's literature digitisation project.

Words Out and About: New Occupation

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It can be a little hard to see but have a look at the occupation below the proprietor's name.

Damn good kebabs as well.

Reprint: Australasian Verse

The inclusion of Australia in the "Oxford"' series is welcome, and no better editor than Professor Walter Murdoch could have been found for the "Oxford Book of Australasian Verse." The name of our poets is legion, their fertility is enormous, and perhaps for that very reason Australian poetry shows to better effect in an anthology than in a library. Professor Murdoch has been wide in his range and judicious in his choice. The fact that there is not a "book" to one's credit does not stand in the way; some of the best work, indeed, is culled from fugitive publications by comparatively unknown men. One is glad to see, for instance, that "Australia Felix," by Mr. Dowell O'Reilly, has received a more permanent setting and a larger audience. And there are many other poems by young singers, who have already deserved their niche in our temple, although a less painstaking editor might have overlooked them. Professor Murdoch is as discriminating in his selection from those whose names are household words with us. But this anthology has one disability which, though he is not responsible for it, prevents it from being wholly representative of Australian poetry. The "inexorable necessities of copyright" have compelled him to omit many flowers from his garland. An anthology which contains nothing of the work of Daley, Brunton Stephens, Essex Evans, John Farrell, Barcroft Boake, Major Paterson, Mr. Henry Lawson, Mr. W. M. Ogilvie, and Miss Zora Cross, to name only a few, does not give to the world the best fruits of Australian poetry. (Oxford University Press.)

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 October 1918

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

Note: I think there is a misprint here and the author actually is referring to William H. Ogilvie, not "W. M.".

A Film Adaptation That Never Was

Following on from yesterday's post about the Australian Book Review's list of the favourite Australian novels, and the second place position of Henry Handel Richardson's novel sequence, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, I came across the following this morning:



NEW YORK. Dec 11 - A film based on "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony," by the Australian woman author Henry Handel Richardson (Mrs. I G. Robertson) will be made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, says Hedda Hopper. Hollywood columnist for the "New York Daily News."

Material will be taken from the novels "Australia Felix," "The Way Home," and "Ultima Thule," and made into one script.

Rumours are that Greer Garson and Gregory Peck are in line for the principal roles.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 December 1945


The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan, 1997
Cover photograph of Arabella Wain by Simon Caldwell
Picador edition, 2000

Quote: Books You Don't Know

There is more than one way not to read, the most radical of which is not to open a book at all.  For any given reader, however dedicated he might be, such total abstention necessarily holds true for virtually everything that has been published, and thus in fact this constitutes our primary way of relating to books.  We must not forget that even a prodigious reader never has access to more than an infinitesimal fraction of the books that exist.  As a result, unless he abstains definitively from all conversation and all writing, he will find himself forever obliged to express his thoughts on books he hasn't read.

- How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard, p3

Australian Book Review Favourite Australian Novels

Back in October I mentioned that the Australian Book Review was conducting a poll of its readers to determine their favourite Australian novel.  The February 2010 issue of the magazine contains the details of that poll.  The top ten novels chosen were:

1. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
2. The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson
3. Voss by Patrick White
4. Breath by Tim Winton
5. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
6. My Brother Jack by George Johnston
7. The Secret River by Kate Grenville
8. Eucalyptus by Murray bail
9. The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead
10. The Tree of Man by Patrick White

And I reckon the only surprise on that list would be the placing of Winton's Breath.  It's only been out a year or so, and yet came in at number 4.  Winton has another novel in the top twenty: Dirt Music in at number 13, and White also had The Vivisector at number 14.

In all, 290 novels were nominated and ABR has supplied the full list. If you were looking for a definitive list of Australian fiction you could do worse than check this out.

Poem: John Galsworthy by C.J. Dennis

Yesterday's cables announce the death of John Galsworthy, the famous English novelist, playwright and philosopher.

Not for vague honors, not for treacherous power
   He lived and toiled thro' this, his earthy span;
But to uphold and cultivate the dower,
   God-given, for enlightment of man,
Here was no tale of talents mis-applied,
But of gifts to the last hour multiplied.
Grave, kindly scrivener, moved to no swift wrath
   By tyrannies or Greed's condoning pleas:
Pity was there for Vandal and for Goth
   Clutching insensate at earth's vanities.
Pity was there, with truth and justice, when
He held his shining mirror up to men.
That they might see themselves; not as they seem
   To smug content and sleek complacency
Lulled by the opiate of their false dream;
   But as some wise, kind visitant might see
And weigh and, by wise standards, judge the worth
Of all the sad frailities of earth.
So he has lived; and so he lays him down
   Leaving a picture with us at the end,
Not of some grim reformer's fretful frown;
   But of a pitying, understanding friend.
And if, thro' him, this blundering world should gain
One mite in wisdom, life were not in vain.

First published in The Herald, 2 February 1933

Kirsten Tranter Interview

the_legacy.jpg   Kirsten Tranter's first novel, The Legacy, is the first of two she is contracted to write for HarperCollins. As the book is released she was interviewed by Miriam Cosic for "The Australian".
She first toyed with the idea of her novel while escaping the reality of Darwin, in the Northern Territory, a location she didn't find conducive to working on her thesis. Her husband had taken a job here in indigenous media. "I was a bit isolated," she says, clearly understating her point. "There was no one to talk to about my work, no one within a 5000-mile radius."

She filled in time by toying with the idea for a book - how easy it would have been to disappear, or to be disappeared, during the attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001 - and wrote a few tentative chapters. It began to overlap with another idea: an alternative take on Henry James's most famous novel. "I always wanted to rewrite that story because I can't stand the way it ends," she says. "I felt indignant about it, maybe more than most ... There was something about the way [Isabel Archer] just disappears into a depressing, mysterious future. And for a lot of people who lost people in 9/11, it was very hard to accept that they had died. People were always described as missing, that was in the notices all over the city." Tranter was living on the Lower East Side when it happened. After Darwin, Tranter put the novel on the backburner. She came back to Australia in 2006 after her son, Henry, was born. Teaching a writing course at a university, she felt inspired to return to fiction. "I started thinking of myself as a creative writer again, and someone said, 'You should apply for an Australia Council grant; it will only take you a day to do it.' "

She had nearly finished her thesis. Her fellowship had run out. She was also teaching Shakespeare at another university, working as a part-time research assistant there and doing part-time work for her mother's company, Australian Literary Management. A grant sounded handy: she applied to the Australia Council and succeeded. "I didn't clear the decks and sit down to write until I finished my dissertation," she says. "Then I wrote it really quickly. I was ready to write it."

Reprint: An Appreciation. Professor J. Le Gay Brereton by Zora Cross

Professor J. Le Gay Brereton, whom "The Sydney Morning Herald" has wisely chosen as judge in connection with the prize for an ode on the opening of Parliament at Canberra, is one of the most modest of men. The last thing in the world that he seeks is publicity: and, for that very reason, he is apt to miss some of the honour that is his due. Though the professor's popularity is in no doubt among his associates, the measure of his achievement may sometimes be overlooked. He was born in Sydney and educated at the Sydney University, where he is now Professor of English. He early displayed a taste and gift for poetry, and, both in school and University days, carried off many prizes for English verse. His first book of rhyme, "The Song of Brotherhood," was written in his undergraduate days. In the Long Vacation of 1893-1894 he "humped his bluey" with the poet, Dowell O'Rellly, across Tasmania, and this resulted in "Landlopers," one of his well-known books of prose.

There is about Professor Brereton's work a chastity of thought and manner, and a simplicity that belongs to the best in English poetry. He never attempts the bizarre which often becomes the ridiculous in the end. His verse forms are always correct and the treatment generally the very happiest. In such a poem as "The Pine" there is something of exquisite grace, English in touch, yet so delicate in feeling as to be pure Greek.

   Deep, sighing whisper in the pine.
      My soul is listening.
   For many, many songs like thine
      The spirit voices sing.

   A secret spot my soul has found
      Where naked she may stand,
   And bathe her in the sea of sound
      That rings the quiet land.

Has "The Pale Portress" death ever been expressed in so finely touching a stanza as this:

   She is sleek and silent and strong and wise,
      And the soothing touch of her soft, cool hand
   Stirs broken thoughts of a home that lies
      In the woods of the western land.

Every form of verse, from ode to sonnet, from narrative verse to tender love lyric, has been handled by the poet with melody and feeling. His feeling for the right word makes him a model for the young student. The movement of his beautiful ode, "Epithalamium," is sustained with a spiritual magic controlling the rush of sound most skilfully. Often the dewiness and freshness of the Elizabethans, which are met with in his verse, come like the fragrance of newly-opening roses, or, since the poet is in essence our own and intimately Australian with the scent of rain-splashed gum-blossoms, the sunlight yellow and golden about them, and the bees eager for the honey.

There is much more of the bush man than the book man in the soul of this poet. It was in the memorable year 1894 that Professor Brereton met Henry Lawson through the introduction of Mary Gilmore. He remained a friend to Lawson till the time of the latter's death - a friend, and, I think, an influence. Because of the place he has attained in Australian letters the competition which the "Sydney Morning Herald" is now holding must go down to posterity with an added interest to all lovers of our poetry. He who wins the prize may be proud indeed, both on account of the occasion and the judge.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 March 1927

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

Combined Reviews: Lovesong by Alex Miller

lovesong.jpg    Lovesong
Alex Miller
Allen & Unwin

From the publisher's page

Strangers did not, as a rule, find their way to Chez Dom, a small, rundown Tunisian cafe on Paris' distant fringes. Run by the widow Houria and her young niece, Sabiha, the cafe offers a home away from home for the North African immigrant workers working at the great abattoirs of Vaugiraud, who, like them, had grown used to the smell of blood in the air. But when one day a lost Australian tourist, John Patterner, seeks shelter in the cafe from a sudden Parisian rainstorm, the quiet simplicities of their lives are changed forever.

John is like no-one Sabiha has met before - his calm grey eyes promise her a future she was not yet even aware she wanted. Theirs becomes a contented but unlikely marriage - a marriage of two cultures lived in a third - and yet because they are essentially foreigners to each other, their love story sets in train an irrevocable course of tragic events.

Years later, living a small, quiet life in suburban Melbourne, what happened at Vaugiraud seems like a distant, troubling dream to Sabiha and John, who confides the story behind their seemingly ordinary lives to Ken, an ageing, melancholy writer. It is a story about home and family, human frailties and passions, raising questions of morals and purpose - questions have no simple answer.

Lovesong is a simple enough story in many ways - the story of a marriage, of people coming undone by desire, of ordinary lives and death, love and struggle - but when told with Miller's distinctive voice, which is all intelligence, clarity and compassion, it has a real gravitas, it resonates and is deeply moving. Into the wonderfully evoked contemporary settings of Paris and Melbourne, memories of Tunisian family life, culture and its music are tenderly woven.


Geordie Williamson in "The Monthly": "The usual remark to be made about novels that rely on simplicity to generate their effects is that such clarity is deceptive. But with an author such as Miller - whose prose reads clear as running water, and whose insights into the ethics of storytelling, the sadness of ageing and the motions of the heart are laid out with such directness - perhaps simplicity really is the aim and the end. It is the intricate yet enduring mechanism of a successful marriage that is truly complex; Miller's fiction is the pellucid medium through which that complexity gleams."

Andrew Hamilton on "Eureka Street": "Lovesong is a novel that explores its own wellsprings. The situations of its characters and its locations refract Alex Miller's own experience. Ken, the narrator is an ageing, widowed writer who listens to the story of a man whom he meets at a local pastry shop. The story rekindles his own desire to write another novel...Such intense self-reference could produce a clever, hermetic novel. But Lovesong is simple and lucid, its complexities those that a humane eye will recognise in any human life."

Judith Armstrong in "Australian Book Review": "While there is great variety in Miller's novels, readers know that they can expect thoughtful treatment of significant but non-apocalyptic themes, among them attachment to land or country; displacement to new settings; deeply valued family life, often in conflict with other, equally honorable aspirations, such as the artistic vocation. Few people, of course, choose books for the sake of theme alone, what is most reliable is Miller's gift for inclusiveness. As readers, we feel instantly drawn into the lives of his characters, at home in their homes...For this reason, I am willing to bet that Miller is a favourite with book clubs -- far from a put-down. Where would literary fiction be without its constant readers?..how relieved they are when the choice falls on a work that is both sympathetic and stimulating, inclusive and interesting, thought-provoking yet able to be read in bed. The faithful will feel well rewarded by Lovesong."

Short Notices

Mark Rubbo for "Readings": "Lovesong is a beautiful novel, very different to Miller's last four books. In some ways it is reminiscent of Conditions of Faith, which also had French and Tunisian connections, but it is not only the absolutely gripping story of Sabiha and John that makes this book so interesting, but the experience of the ageing writer, who is sucked back into telling a story."

Boomert for "Boomerang Books": "Alex Miller returns to the realms of romance and desire, longing and solitariness, transience and creativity in his new deep, yet playful novel Lovesong; sure to appeal widely through its astute charm and emotional essence."

Adair Jones: "Lovesong is the kind of novel that will have you thinking--and feeling -- long after you finish it."

You can read a number of other reviews of the book here.


Ramona Kaval on ABC Radio National's "Book Show".


Angela Meyer for "Readings Monthly".


On "SlowTV" you can watch the speech given by Paul Beilharz at the launch of the novel in October 2009.

The author has built a number of webpages dedicated to the book which you can find here.

2010 Writers at the Convent Literary Festival

The third annual Writers at the Convent Festival will be held this weekend (February 12-14) at the Abbotsford Convent.

Guests include: Alan Attwood, Roger Averill, Tony Birch, Danielle Clode, Catherine Deveny, Garry Disher, Alex Miller, and Matthew Reilly.

A full program is available on the festival's website.

Australian Bookcovers #197 - Death of a River Guide by Richard Flanagan


Death of a River Guide by Richard Flanagan, 1994
Cover illustration by Patrick Hall
Penguin edition 1996

Garry Disher Interview

wyatt.jpg    Garry Disher's new novel, Wyatt, has just been published by Text Publishing. It is the first novel in the Wyatt series since The Fallout in 1997.

He was recently interviewed by Jo Case for "Readings":

Wyatt is 'an old-style hold-up man: cash, jewels, paintings'. He avoids the drug scene and is restricted in what he does by the fact that new technology has outstripped his expertise. Is there a certain appeal in writing an 'old-style' criminal like him? Does this add an extra challenge for you when deciding which situations he'll be embroiled in, and how he'll deal with them?

It's probably beyond my skills to create a loveable drug dealer. The face of crime has changed with drugs. There's a greater chance of viciousness and unpredictability when greed, addiction and huge profit potential are involved. Besides, it's more fun, and somehow more worthy, to show Wyatt holding up a payroll van rather than ripping off an addict or a dealer. The problem for me (and him) is finding ways to get the cash without having to hire a dozen guys with specialist technical know-how and gadgetry, not to mention showing the reader how it all works.

Your books - both the Wyatt and Challis and Destry series - are often very Melbourne in tone. Wyatt evokes a range of city locations, from Frankston's teenage mothers, to dodgy stallholders at the Queen Vic markets, architectural monstrosities in Mount Eliza and young yuppies in Southbank. How important is place to your writing?

Setting should be a vital element of all fiction and it's crucial in crime fiction. From a writing craft point of view, I can't see the characters until I see the ground they walk on, and vice versa. Setting is useful in all kinds of ways: adding to our sense of the characters, creating an appropriate mood (e.g., distress), appealing to our senses (we've all had a bus belch on us), and, more broadly, showing the social as well as the topographical diversity of a region.

Poem: Robbie's Statue by Henry Lawson

Grown tired of mourning for my sins --
    And brooding over merits --
The other night with bothered brow
   I went amongst the spirits;
And I met one that I knew well:
   "Oh, Scotty's Ghost, is that you?
And did you see the fearsome crowd
   At Robbie Burns's statue?

"They hurried up in hansom cabs,
   Tall-hatted and frock-coated;
They trained it in from all the towns,
   The weird and hairy-throated;
They spoke in some outlandish tongue,
   They cut some comic capers,
And ilka man was wild to get
   His name in all the papers.

"They showed no gleam of intellect,
   Those frauds who rushed before us;
They knew one verse of 'Auld Lang Syne --'
   The first one and the chorus:
They clacked the clack o' Scotlan's Bard,
   They glibly talked of 'Rabby;'
But what if he had come to them
   Without a groat and shabby?

"They drank and wept for Robbie's sake,
   They stood and brayed like asses
(The living bard's a drunken rake,
   The dead one loved the lasses);
If Robbie Burns were here, they'd sit
   As still as any mouse is;
If Robbie Burns should come their way,
   They'd turn him out their houses.

"Oh, weep for bonny Scotland's bard!
   And praise the Scottish nation,
Who made him spy and let him die
   Heart-broken in privation:
Exciseman, so that he might live
   Through northern winters' rigours --
Just as in southern lands they give
   The hard-up rhymer figures.

"We need some songs of stinging fun
   To wake the States and light 'em;
I wish a man like Robert Burns
   Were here to-day to write 'em!
But still the mockery shall survive
   Till the Day o' Judgment crashes --
The men we scorn when we're alive
   With praise insult our ashes."

And Scotty's ghost said: "Never mind
   The fleas that you inherit;
The living bard can flick them off --
   They cannot hurt his spirit.
The crawlers round the bardie's name
   Shall crawl through all the ages;
His work's the living thing, and they
   Are fly-dirt on the pages."

First published in The Bulletin, 23 Februay 1905

Reprint: Australian Literature

Recently the Melbourne publishing house of Lothian, Limited, offered a prize for the best critical study of Australian literature since the beginning of the century. It was won by Mrs. Nettie Palmer, whose essay has now been printed under the title of "Modern Australian Literature." The term modern is, of course, relative. All Australian literature is technically modern, even the compositions of the illustrious Judge Barron Field and the candid Mr. Barrington. But Mrs. Palmer uses it to define the scope of her inquiry, which covers the period since Federation. There are a few inaccuracies in points of detail. Wrong dates, for example, are assigned to the volumes of plays by the late Adrian Consett Stephen and Mr. Arthur H. Adams. But these do not detract from the value of a comprehensive, discriminating, and sympathetic appreciation of our literary output during the twentieth century. "Concerning matters of taste, there can be no disputation," and, no doubt, many readers will disagree with not a few of her estimates. To some writers she would seem to do more than justice; to others, less. Of Mr. Bernard O'Dowd's "The Bush" we are told that, "taken in its breadth and its great depth, this is a poem so notable that it is hard to look for its fellows in English since 1900." This is a large statement. Notable the poem certainly is, but one would have said that in respect of the qualities predicated, Mr. Thomas Hardy's "Dynasts" ranks higher. Again, there are some rather curious omissions. Dr. L. H. Allen is mentioned only for his "Billy Bubbles," and Mr. J. H. M. Abbott, who has to his credit several capital novels of the old regime, only for his sketches of the South African War. And in the biographical and historical sections, surely Professor G. C. Henderson's "Life of Sir George Grey," and Professor G. Arnold Woods' "Discovery of Australia" deserve a place.

Mrs. Palmer's study makes one realise how greatly our literature has widened in range and increased in volume since the beginning of the century; and it is in the field of poetry that the development has been most striking. Our poetry has emancipated itself from old conventions, and freed itself from the fetters of parochialism in an amazing fashion. Australian poetry has passed through several phases. Originally it was imitative. Our singers saw their own land almost through alien eyes, and modelled themselves more or less successfully on English masters. Even in Kendall, the greatest, there are many echoes. Then they learned to look inward for inspiration, and there arose the "bush-school," racy of the soil, careless of form, rather self-conscious in their determinatlon to be Australian. The Pegasus they bestrode was a stockhorse; their muse the robust divinity who presided over the racecourse, the drovers' camp, and the shearing shed. It is the custom now to sneer at these bush balladlsts, and certainly their work had not that universality of appeal which is the touchstone of the truest poetry. But they served their purpose. They infused Australian poetry with fresh vigour and vitality. They marked an inevitable stage in our poetic growth, and they prepared the way for a new generation with a different impulse. Are we evolving a distinctively Australian literature? With all deference to those who contend that we are, the tendency seems, in poetry at any rate, to be in the opposite direction. Individual writers may seek to interpret the spirit of their land. Mr. Bernard O'Dowd may unfold to us the mystery and magic of the bush; Miss Dorothea Mackellar may address her passionate invocations to her country and draw unforgettable pictures of its beauties. But can it be said that our contemporary poetry as a whole has characteristics which distinguish it as Australian? Much of the most significant work that is being produced has no necessary relation to Australia at all. Many of our best writers know no country. One might search the poetry of Mr. Hugh McCrae, Mr. David McKee Wright, or Professor C J. Brennan - to take three instances at random - in vain for anything of which one could say: "This could only have been written by an Australian."

In her essay Mrs. Palmer observes that our literature "has had to struggle with a stubborn soil." This is a familiar complaint, and it is voiced again by Mr. Hector Dinning in a recent number of the "London Mercury." Mr. Dinning repeats the usual lament. He deplores the lack of encouragement given to local literature by Press and publishers. Chesterton, St John Ervine, and Belloc would starve here - as journalists. Australians show but a scanty appreciation for the work of their fellow-countrymen, save in its more mediocre forms. A taste for the homegrown article should be inculcated, and much in a similar strain. Yet Mr. Dinning himself supplies the explanation of the state of affairs which arouses his ire. Australia has a population of less than six millions. The class which, in older countries, provides an audience for the best in literature, art, and the drama is here so small that it can hardly be said to exist. The average man, whether in Australia or England, is frankly a Philistine. He "knows what he likes," and though his likes may make the elect shudder, he is quite unconcerned. He will read "The Sentimental Bloke" or the novels of Nat Gould with gusto, but the most polished essay, the most poignant lyric will leave him cold. He prefers a less rarified atmosphere. As population grows, the number of persons interested in the first rate will increase; while it remains small, literature will be at a disadvantage. The establishment of an Australian Academy of Letters has been advocated. It might help towards the improvement of standards, but the influence it could exert would be limited. The elevation of popular taste is a slow business, and literature is unresponsive to artificial stimuli. The ages of patronage in literature have never been the greatest. 

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July 1924 (editorial)

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

I had never really considered Marcus Clarke to be much of a poet until I come across this poem - and, by that, I mean from a point of view of quantity rather than quality, having never encountered any poetry by him previously. The Australian literature resource Austlit lists 129 works by the author but only 9 poems.  Granted not all possible publication sources have been indexed, but the major magazines and newspapers show that Clarke was more a novelist, journalist and playwright than poet.

So we come to Clarke's poem of a day in the life of a restaurant waiter, the first truly urban poem in the collection so far.   

The eponymous waiter is given a hard time by all sections of the tavern's clientele. He is yelled at, abused, and cursed by all as he tells the story of his day.  It comes across as one mad rush oorm one dish to another, from one glass or porter to a "soda and a dash".  He is given little rest.

An interesting aspect of the poem is the glimpse it gives of the eating habits of the people of Melbourne in the 1870s: we see mutton chops and steak along with coffee, toast, flathead (fish), ham and beef for breakfast; and there's oxtail soup, curry, cold boiled beef, irsh stew and pickled cabbage for lunch. The poet doesn't actually detail any dinner-time fare but you get the impression that steak and oinions, pork and greens, and spirit-reared cow-heel might just be on the menu.

By the end of the day the waiter has about had it, contemplating the "hideous Babel" that he encounters in the tavern as his "soul is slowly melting" and his "brain is softening fast".  Does man live only to eat, he wonders.  From his perspective that's all there is: eating, shouting, drinking - like something from a Gordon Ramsay kitchen without the swearing.  Or, at least, without the swearing appearing here.  If he was writing today I doubt whether Clarke, or his editor, would have been so restrained.

Clarke was believed to drink heavily - which may have contributed to his early demise at the age of 35 - so we can be fairly certain that the poem is told from his experiences watching put-upon slave labour going about their work.  It's a form of drudgery, I suspect, still very much in evidence today.

Text: "The Wail of the Waiter" by Marcus Clarke

Author bio: Australian Dictionary of Biography 


Publishing history: First published in The Bulletin on 29 September 1900, and subsequently reprinted in Freedom on the Wallaby: Poems of the Australian People (1953), The New Oxford Book of Australian Verse (1986 and 1996), and The Oxford Book of Australian Light Verse (1991).

Next five poems in the book:

"Where the Pelican Builds" by Mary Hannay Foott

"Catching the Coach" by Alfred T. Chandler ("Spinifex")

"Narcissus and Some Tadpoles" by Victor Daley

"Nine Miles from Gundagai" by Jack Moses

"The Duke of Buccleuch" by JA Philp

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

2009 Locus Recommended Reading List

About this time each year Locus, "the magazine of the science fiction and fantasy field", releases its recommended reading list for the previous calendar year.  So, naturally, they have now put out their lists for 2009.

Australian items on the list:

Young Adult Novel
Liar by Justine Larbalestier
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

A Book of Endings by Deborah Biancotti
Oceanic by Greg Egan

Anthology - Original
The Dragon Book edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois
The New Space Opera 2 edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan
X6 edited by Keith Stevenson
Eclipse Three edited by Jonathan Strahan

Anthology - Bests
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Three edited by Jonathan Strahan

"Horn" by Peter M. Ball (Twelfth Planet Press)
"Hot Rock" by Greg Egan (Oeanic)
"Wives" by Paul Haines (X6)
"Sea-Hearts" by Margo Lanagan (X6)

"The Qualia Engine" by Damien Broderick (Asimov's 8/09)
"The Wind Blowing, and this Tide" by Damien Broderick (Asimov's 4-5/09)
"The Heart of the City" by Garth Nix (Subterranean Summer '09)
"Siren Beat" by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Siren Beat/Roadkill)

Short Story
"On the Destruction of Copenhagen by the War-Machines of the Merfolk" by Peter M. Ball (Strange Horizons 7/6/09)
"In the Lot and in the Air" by Lisa Hannett (Clarkesworld 7/09)
"Ferryman" by Margo Lanagan (Firebirds Soaring)
"Living Curiosities" by Margo Lanagan (Sideshow)

Note: this list has been updated from the original post due to the iformation contained in the comments.

Reprint: Australian Films

Mr. C. J. Dennis's Views.

Mr. C. J. Dennis, author of "The Sentimental Bloke," spoke yesterday about the prospects of film production being a financial success in Australia. He had just arrived from Melbourne, where the screen version of "The Sentimental Bloke" has been enjoying a singularly successful season.

The basic fact about production in Australia, he said, was that, if enough money had been spent on a film to make it a real success, the Australian market would not be big enough to recoup expenses. The film must be shown abroad. And to have an appeal in other countries it must bring to the screen something that was typically Australian, and therefore new to those other countries. It would be hopeless, for instance, for Australian producers to try and compete with Elstree by dealing with drawing-room comedy. They should look about them and select some characteristic feature of Australian life; then build their stories on that, instead of starting with a story and then trying to adorn it with local colour. The country teemed with subjects. He himself was busy on a scenario based on the timber industry, whose activities he had observed personally in Victoria. The Australian timber-getter was a person very different from the American lumberman, who had figured from time to time on the screen. The great point was that scenarios must be written as a result of personal observation. This was borne in upon him recently when, as literary adviser to the Efftee Film Company, he had examined a thousand scenarios that had been submitted by members of the public. Among the thousand less than 10 deserved a moment's consideration. This did not mean that the Australian writer, as a class, was of low mentality. To expect any standard in the writing of scenarios before there was a practical outlet for this sort of work would be unreasonable. Just now, tried and proved successes like "The Sentimental Bloke" and "On Our Selection" were being done for the screen. He hoped that very soon scenarios written specially for screen purposes would come into favour with producers.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 June 1932

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

2010 Age Short Story Competition

I negelected to report on the winners of the 2010 Age Short Story competition earlier this year - partly because I couldn't find the stories on the website and partly because I, well, forgot.

Anway the winners of the competition were:

Winner: "Flat Daddy" by Louise D'Arcy
2nd: "Can't Take the Country Out of the Boy" by Joanne Riccioni
3rd: "The Chinese Lesson" by Ryan O'Neill

Lost Man Booker Prize

Back in 1970, just two years after the prize was first awarded, the Booker Prize (as it was then known) changed its eligibility criteria.  No longer was it to be awarded retrospectively, but would be judged on works in the year of the prize itself.  Well, actually, from September to September each year.

Anyway, 1970 marks a "lost year" in which a number of books were not eligibile for the prize - falling between the gaps as it were.  The Miles Franklin Award also changed its selection criteria in 1988 but handled that change by not awarding a prize in 1988.  As far as I am aware no novels dropped out of contention as a result.

The Booker Prize people, however, have decided to fix this problem by announcing "The Lost Man Booker Prize" to cater for those novels that were ineligible due to their publication dates.  Three judges have been appointed and a longlist of 22 novels has been announced.  From this longlist, the judges will select a shortlist of 6 novels (the list to be released in March), and the winner will then be determined via a readers' vote on the Man Booker Prize.  That winner will be announced in May of this year.

The longlist of novels for this one-off award is as follows:

Brian Aldiss, The Hand Reared Boy
H.E.Bates, A Little Of What You Fancy?
Nina Bawden, The Birds On The Trees
Melvyn Bragg, A Place In England
Christy Brown, Down All The Days
Len Deighton, Bomber
J.G.Farrell, Troubles
Elaine Feinstein, The Circle
Shirley Hazzard, The Bay Of Noon
Reginald Hill, A Clubbable Woman
Susan Hill, I'm The King Of The Castle
Francis King, A Domestic Animal
Margaret Laurence, The Fire Dwellers
David Lodge, Out Of The Shelter
Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat
Shiva Naipaul, Fireflies
Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander
Joe Orton, Head To Toe
Mary Renault, Fire From Heaven
Ruth Rendell, A Guilty Thing Surprised
Muriel Spark, The Driver's Seat
Patrick White, The Vivisector

The two Australians on the list are Hazzard and White.

The extra criterion for selection was that the books had to be still in print and generally available today.  I've read a grand total of four of them, which doesn't strike me as very good at all.

Australian Bookcovers #196 - The Bay of Contented Men by Robert Drewe


The Bay of Contented Men by Robert Drewe, 1991
Jacket illustration: Last Night I Dreamed I Went to Mandalay Again by Vivienne Shark Le Witt, 1985
Picador edition 1991

Film Adaptation of The Eye of the Storm by Patrick White

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It appears that Australian film director Fred Schepisi is attempting to make a film adaptation of Patrick White's novel The Eye of the Storm.  Trouble is he's run into trouble with financing and, according to Peter Craven in "The Age", unless the money is in place soon the delicate balancing act that is film pre-production will all come tumbling down.

This film production had completely slipped past me, as so many do, but I was tempted to run a bit of a search on the director and the proposed film.

Schepisi's IMDb entry doesn't list The Eye of the Storm as being in either development or pre-production. Although, interestingly enough, it does indicate that Schepisi is developing a film version of Grenville's The Secret River, and one other film that doesn't ring any bells.

The Screen Australia website lists two funding entries for the film: one in September 2001, when Jon Hewitt was lined up as director, Jon Hewitt, Anthony Waddington and Belinda McClory as writers and Anthony Waddington as producer;  and the most recent in April 2007 with Schepisi on board as director, Waddington still as producer, and Judy Morris as writer.

Not that the two attempts are a problem, you'd expect this to be a difficult project requiring a fair degree of lead-up work to get it off the ground.  Some of those attempts are just not going to make it.  But Peter Craven obviously doesn't think that the film will be made without direct senior government intervention.  And given the fact that we're now in an election year, I can't see the Federal Government ponying up a few millions to make it happen.  It would just be too easy a target for the Opposition.

I'll keep an eye on developments.

Currently Reading


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



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


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The third book in the MBT series. Will we finally find out who Rossamund really is? And will we be sad to leave this fully-realised fantasy world? I suspect the answer will be "yes" to both.



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



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

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



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

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

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



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



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



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



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


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