May 2010 Archives

2010 Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelists

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper has once again chosen its selection of the Best Young Novelists in Australia.

This year they have chosen:

Kalinda Ashston, author of The Danger Game
Andrew Coombe, author of Document Z
Emily Maguire, author of Taming the Beast
Craig Silvey, author of Jasper Jones

In 2009 the paper selected Nam Le, Alice Nelson, Kevin Rabelais and Steve Toltz.

Australian Bookcovers #211 - Selected Verse of C. J. Dennis


Selected Verse of C. J. Dennis chosen and introduced by Alec H. Chisolm, 1950
Angus and Robertson edition 1960

Poem: A Sorrowful Stave by Patrick O'Maori (David McKee Wright)

The world is fair, I do not care a rap,
Here seated on the bush-clad Maungatapu,

Any by my side a maiden fair and comely
Who wears the ancient, noble name of Cholmondeley.

If she were gone, I would not care a rap who
Might sit upon the top of Maungatapu;

But, certain as her Christian name is Nelly,
I love to sit beside Miss Cholmondeley.

Which simple tale, in rhythm and rhyme,
Reveals the glory of our tongue sublime,

And gives the needed explanation well
Why rhyming bardlets never learn to spell;

For, using English methods free and flowery,
We needs must get to work to mangle Maori.

First published in The Bulletin, 18 August 1910

Reprint: In the '90s. When Stevenson Came to Sydney by W. Farmer Whyte

      Ah! Did you once see Shelley plain,
         And did he stop and speak to you.
      And did you speak to him again?
         How strange it seems and new!

With these well-known lines Richard Le Gallienne begins his interesting book, "The Romantic '90s," published in 1926; and he goes on to write in his breezy way about the men of the time -- the poets and novelists, the playwrights, the actors, and the artists -- many of whom were his personal friends. But there is one in this gallery whom he never met and knew only by correspondence. This is Robert Louis Stevenson. "Since Byron was in Greece," wrote Edmund Gosse to Stevenson, "nothing has appealed to the ordinary literary man so much as that you should be living in the South Seas." For R.L.S. had made his home in Samoa. There, at Vailima, high up in the hills overlooking Apia, he lived in the nineties, and there, at the end of 1894, he died and was buried.

But Stevenson visited Sydney two or three times, and there are still living in our midst a few of those who "saw him plain" and stopped and spoke to him. Death has taken nearly all of them, and only the other day the "Herald" published a notice of the death in London of one of these old Sydney friends. This was Mr. Percy F. S. Spence, the Australian artist, who made a pencil sketch of Stevenson's head in Sydney, and sold it in 1890 to the National Portrait Gallery, London.

If you possess a copy of "The Antipodean," the illustrated annual which was edited by George Essex Evans and John Tighe Ryan and published by George Robertson and Company in Sydney in the nineties you will see some very dainty pen-and-ink sketches by Percy Spence illustrating a poem by Stevenson -"To my old familiars." And as a frontis-piece to the annual there is a signed photograph of RLS taken by Falk. There is no finer portrait of him in existence and as one looks upon his features -- the sprawling hair across the lofty forehead, the large dark, observant eyes the long, straight, flawless nose the uncommon mouth -- the mouth of the brilliant conversationalist and raconteur -- and the straggling moustache and little tuft under the lower lip, one can imagine how the people in Sydney's streets must have turned to look at him. A vivid personality, If ever there was one!  


Mr. John Tighe Ryan, who was for many years editor of the "Catholic Press," has given us, in "The Antipodean," an interesting account of the great novelist whose fame goes on increasing with the years. "When I first saw Robert Louis Stevenson," he writes, "he was snugly ensconced in an easy-chair, a book on his knee and a smoking cigarette in his right hand. A glass of sherry was within reach on a little round table occupying the only space not filled by books, magazines, women's hats, and photographs -- the books being mostly presentation copies of poems which poured in upon him the moment it was announced that the master was in Sydney. Wreaths of light blue smoke were floating about the room. He had just risen from an afternoon nap and sleep, he said, was still in his head. I carried away in my memory recollections of the tones of the low, clear, but soft voice, with the slight Scotch accent, which added to the picturesqueness of the phrases; the rare gesture; the thin bronzed face changing with every mood; the fine sparkling eyes, so far apart; the active figure, so spare that in a windstorm it might require the leaden shoes of Philetas. I saw him often after that, for there were many things to attract me to the charmed circle of the Stevensons. The novelist's mother, who has kept a complete record of his boyhood, left for England while the family were in Sydney to arrange her affairs in Scotland before finally settling down in Samoa. The novelist himself is a laborious writer but when his work is done the breath of life is in every touch. Words are to him what colours are to the painter. Careless in personal dress, he is a stickler for literary style. Fame is caught by the turn of phrase. He reads his matter over time after time, fashions and re-fashions, and lives and revels in his work."

Then there is a reference to Mrs Stevenson - not the mother but the wife. "Once or twice, when I called at the hotel, I found Mrs. Stevenson leisurely smoking a cigarette and conversing with a group of friends. She is the most charming of women. There is beauty and character in that dark complexioned face, with the big soft eyes which can be so stern."

And do we not all of us know the beautiful lines which Stevenson himself wrote abou her?

         Trusty, dusky, vivid, true,
         With eyes of gold and bramble-dew,
         Steel-true and blade-straight,
         The Great Artificer Made my mate.


If my recollection is not faulty, Mr. Ryan once told me that the hotel where the Stevensons stayed was the old Oxford in King-street. I think it is the Union Club which is referred to in the following passage:- "A friend of mine saw Stevenson in what he swears was a 'mad mood.' They were at a Sydney club when R.L.S., who is the most genial of companions, suddenly rose from his seat and apparently forgetful of his surroundings, walked hastily up and down the room. His eyes were ablaze, his gaze intent, fierce and savage. Occasionally he stopped to make a few notes on a slip of paper on the table, then resumed his walk with feverish excitement, his lips moving all the time as if in conversation with unseen beings. The others smoked silently or read the papers throwing furtive glances at the spare figure, who seemed to them to have been taken possession of by a foreign devil. He was then engaged on 'The Wrecker,' and perhaps it was at this moment in the club room that he inspired the massacre of the crew of the 'Flying Scud'."  

This account of one of Stevenson's "mad moods," when he seemed to be taken possession of by some unseen power and to lose all consciousness of time and place, agrees with what his cousin, Graham Balfour, in the "Life," and H. J. Moors author of "With Stevenson in Samoa," tell us. But in the "Herald" of September 23, there appeared an article by "G. C." which leads one to believe that it was not "The Wrecker" Stevenson was thinking   about at the time, but the Rev. Dr. Hyde's attack on Father Damien. His reply is a famous thing. It was in Sydney that the Damien Letter was first printed in pamphlet form. It was printed privately and I have never been able to find out where. I wonder if Lady Jersey knows?


Why do I mention Lady Jersey? Well, she was one of Stevenson's friends, and during a visit she made to Samoa, accompanied by her brother, Captain Leigh, and her daughter, Lady Margaret Villiers, she was herself associated with him in a little book that was privately printed. This was "An Object of Pity," and the year was 1892. The Open letter to Dr. Hyde was printed in Sydney on March 27, 1890.

Mr. Moors, in his book, gives away a secret -- he tells us that our Governor's wife passed herself off under an assumed name on a certain famous occasion. "On August 23, a dinner in Samoa was given by King Malietoa Laupepa to the distinguished visitors. But Lady Jersey was not content with seeing the acknowledged King of Samoa -- she wanted also to visit Mataafa, the rival claimant to the throne. To do this great secrecy was necessary, as it would never do for it to become publicly known that the wife of the Governor of New South Wales had visited the "rebel king"; and accordingly it was as his cousin, 'Amelia Balfour,' that Mr. Stevenson introduced her ladyship to Mataafa, and it was as 'Amelia Balfour' that she was presented with the customary bowl of kava. Despite all precautions, however, news of the visit leaked out and so seriously was it regarded that I believe the British Consul received a severe rap on the knuckles from the Home authorities for conniving at it."

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 December 1933

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

2010 National Biography Award Winner

The winner of the 2010 National Biography Award has been announced as Brian Matthews for his book, Manning Clark: A Life.

You can read the full shortlist here.

Reprint: Letter to the Editor: Poetry in Australia by Mary Gilmore

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Sir, - Poetry in Australia is, for the present, in the doldrums as far as publication is concerned, and I should say that it is largely because the psychic and intellectual human cry for rhythm, and for the implied musical effect of language as used in poetry, has been met by radio programmes -- and met by these more as a novelty than as an actual substitute. The novelty wearing off, it may again be that poetry will become a recognised national need, and once more a national mode of expression. The wealthy and the so-called intellectual classes have never been the supporters of literature in its highest form here. Otherwise, as they have greatly increased in numbers and possessions of late years, poetry would still be supported as when they were a small part of the population. It was the common people and their more or less nomadic offspring who stood to the Australian writer. It was the boundary-rider and the stockman, together with the horse-lover generally, who made Gordon's fame. It was the increase, through sheep, of the shearer and the drover made Henry Lawson and Paterson the men of their hour. Actually the shearing sheds and the cattle camps were the intellectual theatres of Australia, and it was in those theatres, writers' names were made when made at all.

But machinery came, and poetry declined because machinery replaced working men. It also made the semi-nomadic the permanently housed, because they had to have a fixed job. As a housed people they took to the gramo- phone, first, and radio afterwards. Consequently one book, poem, or song, reached ten thousand ears at once. There became no need for memory; a clock (and a programme) ticked the hour. There was no need for a bookshelf even of only one book, for an announcer's voice struck and held the ear. But (and this is something) as a part of its food for natural growth and the maintenance of an active level, human nature consistently asks for the new, and mechanical repetition becomes in the end its own destroyer. After a time it cannot produce anything that is effectively freshening. So perhaps one day Australia will regain her name as a land of song and of verse. The letters appearing in this paper may be the first spring crocus of that renewal. The desire to see Christopher Brennan published in enduring form, is equally the desire to see Australia stand face to face among the writers of the world, and not as an almost invisible and unconsidered joint at the end of a long tail.

I am. etc.,  


King's Cross, July 21.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July 1936

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

2010 NSW Premier's Literary Award Winners

The winners of the 2010 NSW Premier's Literary Awards have been announced.

The winners were:

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
J.M. Coetzee, Summertime Random House Australia (Knopf)

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction
Paul McGeough, Kill Khalid: Mossad's Failed Hit ... And the Rise of Hamas Allen & Unwin

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry
Jordie Albiston, the sonnet according to 'm' John Leonard Press

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature
Pamela Rushby, When the Hipchicks Went to War Hachette Australia

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature
Allan Baillie, Krakatoa Lighthouse Penguin Group (Australia)

Community Relations Commission Award
Abbas El-Zein, Leave to Remain: A Memoir University of Queensland Press

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing for Fiction
Andrew Croome, Document Z Allen & Unwin

Script Writing Award
Jane Campion, Bright Star Jan Chapman Films
Aviva Ziegler & Veronica Fury, Fairweather Man Fury Productions

Play Award
This category did not have a shortlist. This year a grant of $30,000 will be made
available to support professional development opportunities for new playwrights in New
South Wales in 2011.

NSW Premier's Prize for Literary Scholarship
Philip Mead, Networked Language: Culture and History in Australian Poetry Australian Scholarly Publishing

The People's Choice Award 
Cate Kennedy, The World Beneath Scribe Publications

Book of the Year 
Paul McGeough, Kill Khalid: Mossad's Failed Hit ... And the Rise of Hamas Allen & Unwin

Special Award 
The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature 

You can read the full shortlists here.

Australian Bookcovers #210 - A Book for Kids by C. J. Dennis

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A Book for Kids by C. J. Dennis, 1921
Cover by C. J. Dennis
Angus and Robertson edition 1958

Rebecca James Interview

beautiful_malice.jpg    Back in October last year "The Wall Street Journal" wondered if Rebecca James might be the next J. K. Rowling. They based that thought on the upcoming publication of James's first novel Beautiful Malice which they said had "become a publishing phenomenon that is sparking an aggressive bidding war world-wide."

That novel is now published and the Booktopia weblog decided to ask the author "ten terrifying questions":
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Because when I tried out for the Sydney Philharmonic they laughed?

6. Please tell us about your latest novel?

I won't rewrite the back cover blurb because you can find that anywhere so I'll just say what I think Beautiful Malice is about. It's about friendship - and how sometimes you can have a friend who isn't good for you. It's about family and love and loyalty and betrayal and the aftermath of murder and how you have to keep on hoping even when you are afraid to. And that probably sounds very ambitious and like TOO MUCH ALREADY but I hope that it successfully combines all the above with a compelling plot.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I certainly hope they're entertained enough to read to the end! It would be a terrific bonus if they are also keen for my next book.

Poem: The Villian by Eardley Turner

"This wheeze, my boy," the boss had said,
   "Will get the biggest laugh
That ever yet was credited
   A mummer. I don't chaff --
No matter what has gone before,
The audience will scream and roar!"

The first night of the panto. came,
   My brother-comics I
Looked on with scorn; I meant to shame
   Their efforts by-and-by.
Scene 4 -- remember, if you please,
Was where I had to work the "wheeze."

The moment came! I cracked the joke
   Then waited for the scream;
But ne'er a sound the silence broke --
   It seemed a ghastly dream.
I woke up when, instead of cheers,
Hisses and hoots assailed my ears!

Hisses and hoots! I left the stage,
   Looking and feeling blue;
The prompter, eager to assuage
   My grief, said: "Thought yer knew,
That other bloomin' comic, he
Cracked that before yer in Scene 3!

 First published in The Bulletin, 17 November 1910

George Robertson, who did more for Australia and her literature than any man who had lived before him, finished his life work a few hours since and passed quietly away.'

Many an able pen will be engaged in piecing together an appreciation of the man to whom the nation is so greatly indebted. But no man, or woman, be they ever so appreciative, will do better work than was done nearly 23 years ago by Henry Lawson, whom the late George Robertson loved with all his heart.

I had the privilege of seeing the poet and his publisher at close quarters over a long term of years, and saw both in their best and happiest moods. It was also my joy to hear Mr. Robertson read his Lawson from the manuscripts and from the galley proofs, and later on from the finished volume, named "In the Days When the World was Wide," which was the second book of importance published by Angus and Robertson during the year 1895.

The firm's first was "The Man from Snowy River," by A. B. Paterson, which introduced a new note into our national poetry, and began the work that within a few years was to make the name of Angus and Robertson a household word throughout Australia. George Robertson, and not his partner, Donald Angus, had the guiding hand in that great venture. I was close enough to both at that time to feel that the older man was not so interested or so hopeful of the Paterson and Lawson ventures as his humour-loving and far-sighted junior.


"Snowy River" was fashioned on Rudyard Kipling's "Departmental Ditties and Barrack Room Ballads," which were being widely read at that time.

In type, paper, binding, set-up, and everything else, the Australian book was to be quite a facsimile of the others. A copy of that first edition is at my elbow now, the end papers yellow and stained with age, and the lettering just a little less bright than it was when I covered it with the scarlet cloth used in the Book Club nearly 38 years ago.

Pasted inside the cover of "Snowy River" is a notice announcing that "A volume of poems by Henry Lawson would appear." At that time, the name of the book had not been decided upon. The name "Banjo" did not appear either on the title page or at the close of Mr. Paterson's short introduction. The volume was an immediate success. From that day on, George Robertson began to mount the ladder by which he rose to fame among the publishers of the world.

Strange to say, the firm's first book was not dedicated to anyone. That feature was overlooked. Henry Lawson's "In the Days When the World was Wide" had two dedications, one to "J. F, Archibald" and the other in verse "To an Old Mate." And, occupying a place at the end of this volume appeared Angus and Robertson's first announcements. Among these appeared "My Sundowner and other Poems," by John Farrell; poems by Victor Daley, "Rhymes from the Mines" and other lines, by Edward Dyson; and "A Saltbush Certainty," by A. B. Paterson, whose name on one of these pages figures before The Banjo in brackets.

Some time during 1910, Henry Lawson, who had had 14 years' experience of his publisher, wrote, "The Auld Shop and the New," published and privately circulated during 1923, which, on the title page, he confesses to have "Written specially for 'The Chief,' George Robertson, of Angus and Robertson, as some slight acknowledgement of and small return for his splendid generosity during years of trouble." Only 75 copies of this little volume were put into circulation. My copy is No. 16. It is a great treasure, full of priceless pen pictures well known to all who frequented the Auld Shop in Castlereagh-street. Unfortunately, there are too many libellous references in the story. These Henry Lawson hoped the "partners would take in the 'spirit' in which he had written them. The 'Auld Shop and the New' was to be the property of the head of the firm, to do with as he likes, and to be added to as the years go on."


"To express great praise or gratitude in the rhyme itself, or to tone or smooth it down, would be to spoil the 'art' (or artfulness) of the thing and be false to the idea of the 'inspiration' of it," Henry Lawson wrote in the preface to the volume.

Mr. Robertson held the verses on the original foolscap sheets on which they were written in pencil, until a year after the poet's death, before publishing them. They were part of a parcel of work which I had bought for inclusion in "The Skyline Riders," but were obviously not for publication. After holding them for some time I gave them to Mr. Robertson.

Every word in the prose story appealed to "the Chief," as Henry Lawson called him. Nothing that Lawson wrote made him laugh so hilariously. Only Lawson could have painted such faithful word pictures of the old shops long since passed away.

Mr. Robertson, in his notes on "The Auld Shop," said he could fill a volume with stories of "the Dane," as his co-religionists styled him.

Among other statements made in that contribution, Mr. Robertson tells of purchasing Henry Lawson's first book of poems for £54, the sum of £14 being paid to him in advance.  

"The volume." he says, "was to be produced at the publishers' risk. When 'Snowy River' had proved such a great success, we voluntarily wrote to Lawson to say that we would cancel the straight out sale and consider the £54 a payment in advance of half profits. In a short time we were forced to buy him out again."

No publisher ever did more for one of his clients than the late George Robertson did for Henry Lawson. Few men have done more for their adopted country. His life work left Australia better, brighter, happier, and more hopeful than he found it.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 September 1933

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

2010 National Biography Award Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2010 National Biography Award [PDF file] has been released by the State Library of New South Wales.

The shortlisted works are:

Andrew Fisher: Prime Minister of Australia by David Day (HarperCollins)
Doing Life: A Biography of Elizabeth Jolley by Brian Dibble (UWA Press)
House of Exile: the Life and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nelly Kroeger-Mann by Evelyn Juers (Giramondo Press)
Manning Clark: A Life by Brian Matthews (Allen & Unwin)
Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography by Jill Roe (HarperCollins)
The Weight of Silence: A Memoir by Catherine Therese (Hachette Australia)

The winner will be announced on May 17th.

Hugo Award e-Book Packet

The Hugo Awards are one of the major awards presented within the sf/fantasy field, and the only one to have a wide, general readership as voters. The World Fantasy Awards shortlists are mainly chosen by a judging panel, with the winners picked by the same panel, and the Nebula Awards have their shortlists and winners chosen by members of the Science Fiction Writers of America.

It has recently become the custom each year for the organising committee of the World Science Fiction Convention, at which the Hugo Awards are presented, to make available an electronic collection of material covering the shortlisted works in all categories.  This has again been done this year by the organising committee of Aussiecon 4, to be held in Melbourne in early September, and you can find full details of the electronic package on their website. 

The interesting thing about this is that you can read full electronic copies of all nominated works of fiction, including all shortlisted works within the novel, novella, novelette and short story categories.  There are also full-length copies and excerpts from the other relevant categories such as Related Work, Graphic Story, Semi-Prozine, Fanwriter and Fanzine, as well as Art Samples by nominees in the Professional and Fan Artist categories.  All in all its a great way to sample the current sf and fantasy fields.

Of course there's a catch.  This packet has been designed, with the help of the respective publishers and authors, to help readers decide on their voting choices for the awards, so the packet is only available to members of Aussiecon 4.  But that is easy enough to rectify by either purchasing an attending or supporting membership of the convention, both of which will provide access to the packet and the opportunity to vote in the award process.

If you've been reading this weblog for a while you'll be aware that I do have a vested interest in this, in that I'm on the organising committee of Aussiecon 4.  Doesn't matter. With six full novels and many works of lesser length for $A70, I think the packet is pretty good value.

Australian Bookcovers #209 - Rose of Spadgers by C. J. Dennis


Rose of Spadgers by C. J. Dennis, 1924
Cover by Hal Gye
Angus and Robertson edition 1982

Poem: Rude Rhymes by Horace Stubbs

Away up near the Bowen Hills,
   Hard by the Exhibition, 
Are gardens placed by cunning hands
   In excellent position;
And thither in the spring-time sweet,
   As well as in the autumn,
I go to hunt for errant rhymes,
   And tarry till I've caught 'em.

Tis hard to woo them from the shade
   Wherein they love to gambol;
As if each tree of sounding name
   Were but a wayside bramble;
They round the Pittospori skip,
   Or in Gardiniæ dally;
Or from Convolvulaceæ sip,
   Or from the bush-house sally.

I think they tread upon the beds ---
   'Tis very wrong -- in fact
I Agree to punish them -- when caught ---
   With prickles of the Cacti.
They fan themselves with broad palm leaves,
   Crack jokes about the fig-tree;
They fight the genii of the place,
   And always claim the vict'ry.

At length each rude and errant rhyme
   Along the pathway lumbers,
Too tired for play, yet loth to help
   This minstrel with, his numbers.
Yes! Life is full of trouble -- but
   Of all the plagues that meet us
The greatest for a weary Bard
   Are certainly -- mosquitoes!

First published in The Queenslander, 16 July 1887

Weblog Problems

I apologise for any drop-outs of this weblog over the past few days: I was having a bit of trouble with my domain name renewal.  That seems to be fixed now and hopefully things will be back to relative normaliy.

The Female Eunuch at 40

In this month's "Australian Literary Review", Germaine Greer reflects on her book The Female Eunuch and the effects it has brought about after 40 years.  She doesn't seem overly happy with the changes she sees in modern society:

Among the impossible demands that are still being made of the woman of 2010, as they were of the woman of 1970, is that she stay forever young, when our pedophilic culture makes clear that actual adulthood is already too old. Why else would Kate Moss, who has the body of a 12-year-old, be the rich world's favourite model? The anguish to which The Female Eunuch addressed itself is more acute now than it has ever been. Little girls are frantic about the least sign of fat on thighs or buttocks; girl children are starving themselves; girl toddlers everywhere are hideous in pink, which they wear as a uniform confirming sexual identity. Teenagers are demanding augmentation mammoplasty and their parents are happy to pay for it, because they think it will confer self-esteem and confidence. As if.
She doesn't think she will be remembered well, if at all.  I'd like to think she was wrong.

Clive James Watch #16

Reviews of The Blaze of Obscurity: The TV Years

Christopher Tayler in "London Review of Books: "James's memoirs sometimes present themselves as the serio-comic case history of a bizarre personality disorder that causes him to act, speak and write like Clive James. Twenty-nine years, so far, in the making, they operate on a double time-scheme. The figure who writes each book from a stance of increased wisdom with regard to his bungling younger self slowly changes his aims and methods, evolving in tandem with the figure he depicts. Unreliable Memoirs (1980), the first instalment, which tells the story of his childhood and youth in the Sydney suburbs, was written when he was 40, already well known but not yet a household name...there's a feeling that the real story - the story of a writer with a powerful sense of the ridiculous slowly turning into someone with only a vestigial one - is being simultaneously shirked and relived. The things James does now are characteristically wide-ranging, including as they do maintaining his extensive personal website and a reactivated musical career with Pete Atkin, but by 2001 the tendency to project himself as a sage in print had got out of hand."

James Panichi on ABC Radio National's "Book Show": "If the self-justification eventually becomes annoying, it's because loyal readers would have been expecting more. If there is someone who has what it takes to examine the interplay between cultural values and the role of television in western society it's Clive James. Here's a brilliant writer who went from a childhood in Australia, in which TV didn't exist, to a world in which the medium has become everything. Yet James has little to say about that transformation. He gets bogged down in the weirdness of the scenarios his producers have put him in, and neglects to examine the role TV is playing. But there may be a happy ending. Now in his 70s, James is focusing on his writing. If there is another instalment of his memoirs in the works, his fans may find a chronicle of this part of his life more palatable. Clive James the writer is a lot easier to love."


Alyssa McDonald in "The New Statesman":

You turned 70 not long ago. Looking back over the years, would you say there was a plan?
In retrospect, it looks like a master plan, but I just followed my nose. There are still things I haven't done - I need another 40 or 50 years of life. They say the first person who'll live to 150 is already alive, but I've got a feeling it's probably not going to be me.

Your career has had a very broad scope. Was that intentional?
It just feels like a natural consequence of the way the mind works. I just want to use every possible means of expression. The way fields of creativity connect and develop is one of the interesting things about life.

What would you still like to do?

Every writer would like to write a play. For one thing, it pays well.


"A Perfect Market" in "Poetry Magazine".


James was nominated for the poetry category of the Costa Book Awards for his collection Angels Over Elsinore, but was beaten to the award by A Scattering by Christopher Reid.

The "Chester Chronicle" chose James as providing one of the quotes of 2009: "The smartest move I ever made in showbusiness was to start off looking like the kind of wreck I would end up as. I was already aged in the wood."

Australian Bookcovers #208 - Jim of the Hills by C. J. Dennis


Jim of the Hills by C. J. Dennis, 1919
Cover by Hal Gye
Angus and Robertson edition 1983

Combined Reviews: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

jasper_jones.jpg    Jasper Jones
Craig Silvey
Allen & Unwin

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2010 Miles Franklin Award and for the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction - NSW Premier's Literary Awards. It also won the Indie Book of the Year Award in 2009.]

From the publisher's page

Late on a hot summer night in the tail end of 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, is startled by an urgent knock on the window of his sleep-out. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the regional mining town of Corrigan. Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlie eagerly steals into the night by his side, terribly afraid but desperate to impress.

Jasper takes him through town and to his secret glade in the bush, and it's here that Charlie bears witness to Jasper's horrible discovery. With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion as he locks horns with his tempestuous mother; falls nervously in love and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend, Jeffrey Lu.

And in vainly attempting to restore the parts that have been shaken loose, Charlie learns to discern the truth from the myth, and why white lies creep like a curse. In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.

Michael Williams in "The Monthly": "The prose is at times a little forced, the plotting and characterisation occasionally clichéd; but none of that matters. If we see a more entertaining, more heartfelt piece of Australian literature in the next 12 months it will be a rare year indeed. Amid the glimpses of small-town bigotry and adult compromise, Jasper Jones offers tender moments of adolescent romance and irresistible vignettes of friendship and quiet triumph. The exultation contained in the description of a cricket game featuring Charlie's irrepressible best friend ("Jeffrey Lu on debut") is enough alone to earn this book sentimental-classic status."

Rebecca Starford in "The Age": "Craig Silvey showed great promise in 2004 with the publication of his debut novel, Rhubarb. At 22, he had a flair for linguistic experimentation: with tone, rhythms and dynamics. Rhubarb was replete with strange syntax, puns and invented words. Overall, the consensus was that Silvey had talent and, with maturity, he would produce better work...In some ways his new book lives up to these expectations. Far tamer in style, Jasper Jones has a similar comedic spirit and precociousness. This time, however, Silvey has written for young adults as well as adult readers. Perhaps the younger age of prospective readers weakened more critical reflection: Jasper Jones, like Rhubarb, is marred by tedious repetition and occasional childish wit...Jasper Jones is not without flaws. But when Silvey remembers to tone down the puerility, it is an engaging historical portrait of an ambitious, intelligent boy labouring often amusingly under the parochialism of an isolated town."

Short notices

"Boomerang Books" weblog: "The feel and smell of small-town Australia are evoked skillfully, and yet (many) literary references are to US classics, Mark Twain and especially To Kill a Mockingbird. Elements of the coming-of-age story are mixed with those of the detective novel, livened with scenes of laugh-aloud humour. The sparring dialogue between Charlie and his friend Jeffrey, and the references to aspiring novelists will seem -- to some readers -- true to character, to others, tiresome. Jasper Jones, the Aboriginal scapegoat for the town's misadventures, is elusive and independent to the end. Themes of courage and cowardice, and the vitality of the ever-observant Charlie, will ensure this book's appeal especially to readers who are young and/or male. "

"Readings": "It's a riveting tale, set in 1960s small-town Australia, about a young, bookish adolescent who is drawn into events surrounding the grim disappearance of a local girl when the solitary Jasper Jones, a rebellious mixed-race older boy (in the town's eyes, 'a Thief, a Liar, a Thug, a Truant') comes asking for his help...Deeply thoughtful, remarkably funny and playful, this is a gloriously Australian book about outsiders and secrets (both ordinary and extraordinary)."

"aussiereviews": "Jasper Jones is a brilliant novel which manages to blend terrible, tragic events with touches of romance, plenty of humour and characters who are easy to like. Set in a (fictional) small mining town in country WA, against a backdrop of true events of the 1960s including the Vietnam War, the hanging of the 'Nedlands Monster', the disappearance of the Beaumont children and Doug Walters test cricket debut, the author manages to create a believable setting for his tale, and to draw the reader in to the lives of Charlie and his friends...This is a story which draws the reader in and, when it is over, leaves them wanting more. These are hard characters to have to leave behind."

"Whispering Gums" weblog: "There are many thematic and stylistic things that can be talked about in this book, making it a good one for discussion but, in the end, it is a fairly traditional coming-of-age story in its style, tone and structure. That said, if you like such stories, as I do, there's a good chance you'll find this a compelling and entertaining even if not a particularly challenging read. And is there anything wrong with that?"


Erica Vowles on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show".


Silvey discusses the novel on YouTube.

Book trailer:

Poem: The Muses of Australia by Victor Daley

She plays her harp by hidden rills,
   The sweet shy Muse who dwells
In secret hollows of the hills,
   And green untrodden dells.

Her voice is as the voice of streams
   That under myrtles glide;
Our Kendall saw her face in dreams,
   And loved her till he died.

At times, by some green-eyelashed pool,
   She lies in slumber deep;
Her slender hands are white and cool
   As are the hands of sleep.

And, when the sun of Summer flaunts
   His fire the hills along,
She keeps her secret sunless haunts,
   And sings a shadowy song.

She weaves a wild, sweet magic rune,
   When o'er the tree-tops high
The silver sickle of the moon
   Shines in a rose-grey sky.

But in the dawn, the soft red dawn,
   When fade the stars above,
She walks upon a shining lawn,
   And sings the song of Love.

But, lo, the Muse with flashing eyes,
   And backward-streaming hair!
She grips her steed with strong brown thighs,
   Her panting breasts are bare.

In trances sweet, or tender dreams,
   She has not any part ---
Her blood runs like the blood that streams
   Out of the mountain's heart.

Her lips are red; the pride of life
   Her heart of passion thrills;
She is the Muse whose joy is strife,
   Whose home is on the hills.

Her voice is as a clarion clear,
   And rings o'er the hill and dell;
She sings a song of gallant cheer ---
   Dead Gordon knew her well.

She checks her steed upon a rise ---
   The wind uplifts his mane ---
And gazes far with flashing eyes
   Across the rolling plain.

Who comes in solemn majesty
   Through haze of throbbing heat?
It is the Desert Muse, and she
   Is veiled from head to feet.

Yet men the Mountain Muse will leave,
   And leave the Muse of Streams,
To follow her from dawn to eve ---
   And perish with their dreams.

She passes far beyond their ken,
   With slow and solemn pace,
Over the bleaching bones of men
   Who died to see her face.

Her secrets were to some revealed
   Who loved her passing well ---
But death with burning fingers sealed
   Their lips ere they could tell.

In silence dread she walks apart ---
   Yet I have heard men say
The song that slumbers in her heart
   Will wake the world some day.

She is the Muse of Tragedy,
   And walks on burning sands;
The greatest of the Muses Three
   In our Australian lands.

First published in The Lone Hand, 1 August 1907

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