September 2010 Archives

Review: Advice to Young People on Leaving Home by Grace Lax

advice_young_people.jpg    Grace Lax
Advice to Young People on Leaving Home
Affirm Press, 177 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Bernadette Gooden

Is it just me? Is it just me who found this a boring, stale, trite, unfunny waste of paper?

This book purports to be a guide to "social, etiquettal, and homing tips" for young people leaving home, written by Mrs. Grace Lax, who appears to be an Edwardian society matron transported into the present day, or vice versa. It is illustrated with Edwardian prints and bound to look like a book from that period. Mrs. Lax takes us through all the topics that need to be covered, including recipes, drug use and sex. This is all presented in what is supposed to be, I'm sure, an amusing and scintillating rant full of double entendre and perverse naughtiness.

Maybe I spent too much time when I was growing up enjoying The Goons, Monty Python, The Goodies, Norman Gunston, Dame Edna, French and Saunders and Hyacinth Bucket. They have all mined similar material over the past 50 years, and they were really funny when they did it for the first time.

When I was a young teenager, my siblings and I spent many a rainy afternoon rejigging Biggles, Enid Blyton and Mum's old Girls Annuals from the 40's into orgies of double entendre, rewriting the captions under old illustrations etc. This sort of thing has been done in every university rag, previous send-ups of self help books, inspired hundreds of ranges of greeting cards and, frankly, this reviewer is over it.

The main sin of this book is that it is not funny. At the end of every page I found myself yawning a gigantic ho hum. I was going to give you a few examples of what I mean, but....hey... we're here for a good time...not a long time. If you want to make a special trip to see if I am a jaded wanker, go to a bookshop, get out the book, open it at any page, and see what you think!

Maybe it is just me.

Australian Books to Film #49 - Tomorrow, When the War Began


Tomorrow, When the War Began, 2010
Directed by Stuart Beattie.
Screenplay by Stuart Beattie, from the novel by John Marsden.
Featuring Caitlin Stasey, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lincoln Lewis and Deniz Akdeniz.

2010 Victorian Premier's Literary Award Winners

The winners of the 2010 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards were announced last night.

The winners are:

The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction
Truth, Peter Temple, Text Publishing

The Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-fiction
Reading by Moonlight: How Books Saved a Life, Brenda Walker, Penguin Group Australia

The Young Adult Fiction Prize
Raw Blue, Kirsty Eagar, Penguin Group Australia

The CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry
Possession, Anna Kerdijk Nicholson, Five Islands Press

The Louis Esson Prize for Drama
And No More Shall We Part, Tom Holloway, A Bit Of Argy Bargy

The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate
Seeing Truganini, David Hansen, Australian Book Review

The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer
House of Sticks, Peggy Frew

The John Curtin Prize for Journalism
Who Killed Mr Ward?, Janine Cohen and Liz Jackson, Four Corners, ABC Television

The Prize for First Book of History
Becoming African Americans: Black Public Life in Harlem, 1919-1939, Clare Corbould, Harvard University Press

The Prize for Indigenous Writing
Legacy, Larissa Behrendt, University of Queensland Press

Reprint: Drunkenness and Poetry

BENDIGO, Wednesday - A married man named James Dennis Meehan was, at the Bendigo City Court today charged with having been found in an intoxicated condition on the licensed premises of the Kimberly Hotel on May 11. Mr. E. W. Kirby, who appeared for the defendant said that his client was not in a drunken state within the meaning of the act; he was merely recovering from the effects of drink, and had delirium tremens. In a New Zealand case the distinction had been drawn that a man was not in a state of intoxication unless he had lost the normal control of his bodily and mental faculties.

Mr. R. B. Anderson, J.P., who presided on the bench, gave the following definition of drunkenness -

"He is not drunk who on the floor,
Can drink, and ask for more.
But drunk is he, who prostrate lies,
Upon the floor, and cannot rise."

(Laughter.) The man had been arrested at the instance of his wife, and her object had been served. The defendant would be discharged.

Meehan promised to go straight away and sign the pledge. Mr. Anderson advised him "not to go to the nearest pub and wet it."  


First published in The Argus, 14 May 1908

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

Australian Bookcovers #227 - Dark Places by Kate Grenville


Dark Places by Kate Grenville, 1994
Cover painting: Chesham Street by George Lambert, 1910
Macmillan edition 1994

Combined Reviews: Wyatt by Garry Disher

wyatt.jpg    Wyatt
Garry Disher
Text Publishing

[This novel won the 2010 Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction.]

From the publisher's page

Wyatt's been away. Now he's back.

Garry Disher's cool, enigmatic anti-hero has been, uncharacteristically, out of action for a while. Now there's a new Wyatt--and his legion of fans will not be disappointed.

The job's a jewel heist. The kind Wyatt likes. Nothing extravagant, nothing greedy. Stake out the international courier, one Alain Le Page, hold up the goods in transit and get away fast.

Wyatt prefers to work alone, but this is Eddie Oberin's job. Eddie's very smart ex-wife Lydia has the inside information. Add Wyatt's planning genius and meticulous preparation, and what could possibly go wrong?

Plenty. And when you wrong Wyatt, you don't get to just walk away.

Taut plots, brilliant writing and relentless pace; plus an unforgettable cast, including the ever-elusive Wyatt himself: these are the hallmarks of Garry Disher's Wyatt series.

Graeme Blundell in "The Australian": "In Wyatt, Disher revives the series' character loosely borrowed from Richard Stark's famous hard-nosed thrillers about an American career criminal known as Parker. Parker defines amoral: he murders, robs, and extorts as the need takes him. Just as Wyatt does. And like Stark, Disher never invites us to judge Wyatt; just to watch him work. Motivated only by self-interest, the professional thief was without conscience, the success of his life measured only in birthdays. Robbery, sometimes murder, always betrayal; too many grievances and shot nerves, too many bolt holes with low ceilings, wiry carpets the consistency of a kitchen scourer and Aborigines on black velvet in wooden frames on the walls.

"The last Wyatt book, The Fallout, appeared in 1997 and Wyatt was tired. For the first time, he was beginning to question his life. Disher left him to hide away while he developed his brilliant Detective Inspector Hal Challis in an ensemble procedural series set on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula.

"Disher's police fiction is a kind of barometer of prevailing social forces and tensions in the community, especially in the outlying badlands of Australia's coastal towns, where he sets acts of deep, dark, destructive psychology.

"With Wyatt, he's back in the big smoke. All we learn at the outset is that the thief has been away for some years. The rest is rumour, the kind that makes people apprehensive, and that's fine with Wyatt."

Sue Turnbull in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "The first sentence of Wyatt reads: 'Wyatt was waiting to rob a man of $75,000.' Waiting, as we have come to appreciate, is a condition of Wyatt's existence. Indeed, it is his capacity to wait, quietly and coolly, which is the secret of his success. Unlike the rest of the human race, Wyatt never acts hastily. His every move is calculated and efficient. One can't help but admire him for that economy of motion even if he is a crook.

"But there are mitigating factors to his thievery. Wyatt has a code. He only steals from the corrupt and foolish, which makes him almost as endearing as Robin Hood. The man he is waiting to steal from is a corrupt harbourmaster taking bribes. The big heist that constitutes the major plot line involves stealing from jewellers who are themselves fencing stolen jewellery.

"The complicating factors in this endeavour include another effective career criminal who is not impressed by Wyatt's intrusion. The dastardly Frenchman Alain Le Page differs from Wyatt in only one critical dimension: he has no code. Nor has the mesmerising Khandi Kane (not her real name), who erupts into the action like a creature from the black lagoon of a perverse masculine fantasy. Khandi, a former pole dancer, thrusts herself into the middle of a muddle, which begins with Le Page and stops with Wyatt, while completely stealing the show. Wyatt is wicked and wonderful. Welcome back, Wyatt."

Chris Flynn on "The Book Show": "Disher apparently wrote this latest tale due to constant requests from readers, which might indicate a previous knowledge is required. Given the story is set entirely in Melbourne, it's actually very accessible for anyone coming to his work for the first time. You don't need to have read any previous Wyatt novels. Melbourne is in fact a character all itself in this, with Disher providing vivid descriptions of the Southbank apartment block where Wyatt lives, the Vic market, Frankston, High Street Armadale and the Botanic Gardens. It's kind of exciting sitting back to watch a fast-paced crime thriller play out in such familiar surroundings...There's real technique on show here. Disher wastes no time and keeps his prose terse. The dialogue is sharp and most importantly, not so Aussie that it jars. That perhaps explains why his books are so popular overseas. And when it comes to action, it's so fast and hard-written that it becomes a blur, a flurry of activity that dazzles the senses. Next thing you know, someone's dead and you're left reeling. It's quite an art writing fiction of any kind that makes the reader want to devour the whole book in one sitting. In that respect, Disher succeeds where most writers fail. Wyatt is a thrill-laden pleasure. I can't wait to read the others."

Short notices

Karen on the "Crimespace" weblog: "It's been quite a wait for the latest WYATT novel - The Fallout was published in 1997. I for one was rather excited to hear the news that there was a book on the way last year and I've been somewhat impatiently waiting for it to appear since then. As with all these greatly anticipated books, there's always that nasty little voice at the back of your head wondering if the anticipation might be building an unreasonable expectation.

"But this is a Garry Disher novel, and it's a WYATT novel and it's almost impossible to contemplate the idea of disappointment. Partly because these books are so incredibly well written; partly because Wyatt is such a tremendous character; and partly because there is absolutely nothing like a change of style. The Wyatt novels are theft / heist based novels. Not to say that people don't die in these books, but Wyatt doesn't set out to murder - he's all about the perfect plan. Intensive and careful preparation; a level of planning that makes this ex-Project Manager's heart beat all that bit faster; extreme care in the conduct of the operation; extreme care in the execution of a get out of trouble fallback. Wyatt's a cool, hard, ruthless man who will take steps if backed into a corner. And he's very very very dangerous when crossed...Wyatt is what Wyatt does, and let's hope it's not too long before he does it all again."

"The Independent Weekly": "The thrills are solid and, even though the villains are almost caricatures because the reader is concentrating on Wyatt and willing to go with him all the way and see his adventure through to the bitter end, it doesn't matter. In this regard, the book does much more than most crime fiction because it genuinely holds the attention from the opening line to the last sentence...Yes, it's another story about theft, murder and double-cross, but in Disher's deft hands it's easy to believe that such things happen every day. For fans of the genre, this new novel is a joy."


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.


You can read an extract from the novel on the author's website.

Poem: A Ballad of Burdens by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson

The Editor wrote his political screed
   In ink that was fainter and fainter;
He rose to the call of his country's need,
And in spiderish characters wrote with speed,
   A column on "Cutting the Painter".

The "reader" sat in his high-backed chair,
   For literals he was a hunter;
But he stared aghast at the column long
Of the editorial hot and strong,
For the comp. inspired by some sense of wrong
   Had headed it "Gutting the Punter".

First published in The Sydney Sportsman, 24 April 1923

Tenderness on the Block

Kimbofo, ex-Australian, current-UK resident lit blogger, apparently doesn't like the concept of writing in books: "Indeed, I'm happy to report that The Canal, easily consumed in a few sittings, is the least boring novel I have read in a long while. I found it so thought-provoking that I committed what I regard as a cardinal sin, as far as books are concerned, and defaced every second or third page by underlining entire passages and scribbling notes in the margins."  Surely not a cardinal sin.  Hardly a sin at all.  It's not something that I do, generally preferring to use small, sticky flags to indicate parts of a book I would like to refer to in a review, but I really don't see anything wrong with writing in a book or underlining sections.  

James Bradley was in Melbourne for one day during the recent sf convention and he and I contrived to completely miss each other in the mayhem.  Still, he seems to have got over that disappointment, to be very excited about his new book.

In "The Times" Barry Forshaw and Laura Wilson pick the best crime novels for each year for 2000-09. Of Australian interest is the choice of The Broken Shore by Peter Temple as the best novel for 2006.

Even after 21 books, Kim Wilkins, this time masquerading as "Kimberley Freeman", still has feelings of trepidation whenever a new book hits the stands.

We already have an on-going series of books titled The Year's Best Australian Science Fiction, and now we learn that this will be joined by The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror.  Doesn't seem that long ago that filling one such book with any story in the genre, let along "the best", would have been near impossible. That, or very, very slim.


Reprint: Australian Authors II: Louis Stone by Aidan de Brune

Louis Stone, the author of "Jonah," and "Betty Wayside," is one of the most remarkable of Australian authors. His books, published in England, were allowed to go out of print during the War, and are now almost unobtainable. Second-hand copies of ''Jonah" have been sold for as much as £2/10/ each. Competent critics declare that this book is a worthy successor to "Robbery Under Arms" and "For the Term of His Natural Life" amongst Australian novels that can properly be called "classic."

''With one book," declared A. G. Stephens, when "Jonah" was first published, "Mr. Stone has put himself in the front rank of Australian authorship." Mr. John Galsworthy wrote- "I have lapped up your novel, which I consider extraordinarily actual, vivid, and good."

With such praise it is difficult to understand why Mr. Stone's book was ever allowed to go out of print. Australian authors have certainly had small encouragement from their own countrymen in the past. The new edition of "Jonah," which is to be published this year by The Endeavour Press in Sydney, will make tardy amends to Mr. Stone for twenty years' neglect of his masterpiece.

What is it that makes "Jonah" a really great book? Norman Lindsay perhaps supplied the answer when he wrote: "Louis Stone's streets and people are instantly vitalised and known at a glance." Let us take an example of his descriptive power. It is the reader's introduction to Mrs. Yabsley, the mountainous washer woman pilosopher:- "Cardigan Street was proud of her. Her eyes twinkled in a big, humorous face; her arm was like a leg of mutton; the floors creaked beneath her as she walked. She laughed as a bull roars; her face turned purple; she fought for air; the veins rose like cords on her forehead. She was pointed out to strangers like a public building as she sat gossiping with her neighbours in a voice that shook the windows. Her sayings were quoted like the newspapers. Fraymen laughed at her jokes."        

Note with what artistry the novelist has built up a complete picture in simple words. We note the same forceful quality in the description of Jonah himself, the larrikin hunchback, with his "large head, wedged between the shoulders as if a giant's hand had pushed it down, the masterful nose, the keen grey eyes, and the cynical lips."    

Jonah is truly an unforgettable character. Born in the squalor and cruelty of slum life, he becomes leader of the "Push," and dictator of its fierce laws. One of the most terrifying passages in all literaure is the description of the Push "dealing out stouch" to a victim: 'The Push opened out, and the man, sobered by danger, stood for a moment with bewildered eyes. Then, with the instinct of the hunted, he turned for home and ran. The Push gave chase. Again and again the quarry turned, blindly seeking refuge in the darkest lanes. As his pursuers gained on him he gave a hoarse scream -- the dolorous cry of a hunted animal. But it was the cat playing with the mouse. The bricklayer ran like a cow, his joints stiffened by years of toil; the larrikins, light on their feet as hares, kept the pace with a nimble trot, silent and dangerous, conscious of nothing but the desire and power to kill."        

From this fierce and savage environment Jonah escapes, thanks to Mrs. Yabsley's motherly humorous advice and the influence of his own baby son, by Mrs. Yabsley's daughter, Ada. When Jonah first sees the baby, "flesh of his flesh; bone of his bone," "He remembered his deformity, and with a sudden catch in his breath, lifted the child from its cradle and felt its back, a passionate fear in his. heart. It was straight as a die . . ."Sool 'im!" he cried at last, and poked his son in the ribs."                    

From that moment his regeneration begins. "'e's the only relation I've got in the world; 'e's the only livin' creature that looks at me without seein' my hump," says Jonah to Mrs. Yabsley. The story of his victory over sordid surroundings, and of how the larrikin and wastrel wins   through to self-respect is told throughout with the sureness of touch and gift for observation that only great novelists possess.

Louis Stone, a quiet-speaking and cultivated man, is now living in retirement at Randwick. He was born in Leicester, and came to Australia as a child. He is a graduate of Sydney University, and was a schoolmaster for many years. His favourite authors are Flaubert and Virgil. He has a keen appreciation of classical music, of which he is an accomplished critic. With these scholarly interests it is all the more remarkable that the theme of his magnum opus should have been the lowest life of Sydney's slum streets, but to the humanist all life is interesting and this perhaps explains why Mr. Stone turned to a subject which most writers would have found unattractive, or too difficult. It is well that he did so.

The larrikin pushes of Sydney, have almost entirely disappeared. But in one great book that interesting phase of Australian evolution has been put on record for all time.

First published in The West Australian, 8 April 1933

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

Australian Books to Film #48 - Mao's Last Dancer

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Mao's Last Dancer 2009
Directed by Bruce Beresford.
Screenplay by Jan Sardi, based on the autobiography by Cunxin Li.
Featuring Chi Cao, Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan and Joan Chen.

Reprint: C. J. Dennis in War Time by Dora Wilcox

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In the British military hospital, which, with its 2,000 beds, and its quarters for M.D.'s, sisters, and orderlies, housed the population of a small town, came many sick and wounded Dominions men.

A Maori might be seen there, lying between a South African and a French-Canadian, and by December, 1916, the English nurses had begun to realise that Australians belonged, mentally and physically, to a race apart.

When, in that month, the V.A.D. went on duty in Ward H5, she was surprised to see the man from Monaro deep in a book, for never before had he shown any interest in literature.

"What is it? Is it good?" she asked.

"Bonzer!" he answered, handing it over. She was still more surprised to find that it was a volume of verse. It was, in fact, the first copy of "The Sentimental Bloke" that she had seen.

It went the round of the ward. All the Australians read it, all the New Zealanders, and many of the British Tommies; pages from it became incorporated in the general talk.

"You're looking down on your luck this morning," someone would say, and the Digger would reply:

"Too right. Sister. Me flamin' spirit 'as the flamon' 'ump!"

When the war was over, and the V.A.D. carne to Australia, she met C. J. Dennis at a luncheon party in Melbourne. Remembering those past days in the hospital, she looked at him with reverence. Was he, she wondered, the herald of a new form of Australian poetry -- a poetry which should be "understanded of the people," and give delight to simple and unlearned men?

She wonders still . . .

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 July 1938

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

Australian Bookcovers #226 - Joan Makes History by Kate Grenville


Joan Makes History by Kate Grenville, 1988
Cover design and illustration by Gregory Rogers
University of Queensland Press edition 1988

Review: Inhuman by Anna Dusk

inhuman.jpg    Anna Dusk
Transit Lounge Publishing, 286 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Bernadette Gooden

Sally Hunter is a young teenager growing up in a small country town in Tasmania where everyone knows everyone else's business. She is part of a dysfunctional family that is being raised by a single mother. Her father is dead, and she has 2 brothers. She seems to be at odds with everyone from the start, feeling physically and mentally different from others. This starts to manifest itself in feelings of illness and heightened sensual perception.

This is a rite of passage story with a big difference. Not only is she struggling with teenage angst, but also the growing awareness that she is turning into a werewolf.

The story, told through Sally's eyes, becomes increasingly disturbing as the beast within her emerges and she embraces her true nature. Written in a powerful style that ranges from exhilarating flights of the almost interdimensional joy she feels in her animal body, to confronting descriptions of her compulsion towards killing and eating, to the physical aftermath that has on the human part of her existence.

As people start being murdered in the town, the realistically observed characters that inhabit it collide head on with horror in the way of all good stories of this genre. This is a gore fest, with plenty of hot, teenage, animal sex going on to lure potential victims. Soon other questions are raised. Is Sally the only killer, or are there others like her? What will happen when her family confront what they already suspect?

This is not a story about evil, but about difference, and how we embrace our true nature, our faults and the beast within all of us. Sally and all her friends speak in the spare, expletive-based, Aussie teenage slang we are all familiar with, and it reinforces how savage teenagers can be to those around them, even when they are not turning into werewolves!

This is definitely a book for older teens and adults. There are a lot of sex, violence and drug references. It is, however, well written and very creatively crafted. A cracking good read that builds to an exciting climax, apparently there is a sequel coming up. I'll be looking out for that.

J. J. Cooper Interview

deadly_trust.jpg  When you're trying to increase your name-recognition as the author of a specific form of action thriller it helps if you can get another big-name to endorse your style. Brisbane author JJ Cooper has done just that in securing a front-cover comment from Lee Child, author of the best-selling Jack Reacher novels.

Cooper's hero, Jay Ryan [interesting initails there] has now appeared in the author's second book, Deadly Trust, which has just been published. He was interviewed for "The Courier-Mail" by Bruce McMahon.
Cooper was already a huge fan of Child and his former military policeman, Jack Reacher, who wanders the US as a lone ranger, resolving many-faceted dramas with guile and fists.

"I wanted to write something similar to the Reacher series and that's what I set out to do - that quick writing, precise and that doesn't have to be proper English per se," explains Cooper, 39.

"I'm not a literary fiction writer and I don't ever intend to be. I'm a commercial writer, looking for something for readers to enjoy. I write for entertainment."

Cooper's hero is Jay Ryan, now a former army interrogator looking to enjoy the quiet life between Byron Bay and Brisbane in Cooper's second book. But someone's out to kill him and there's an anthrax attack on the Gold Coast. What follows is Ryan's one-man battle against enemies within and without.

Deadly Trust is a fine, fast-paced thriller that manages to use a southeast Queensland landscape without parochial cringe and successfully introduces an action man with flaws, unlike some previous efforts from ex-British soldiers-come-authors. And like the aforementioned Reacher, Ryan travels pretty light with just the credit card in his boot.

Poem: The House in Which the Poet was Born by Anonymous

A noble mansion sure it was;
   All that such could be made; 
Adorn'd with tower and turret high,
   And lofty colonnade.
Around it, doubtless, widely spread,
   Lay lawns of smoothest green; 
And far beyond, in dense array, 
   Deep, still, green woods are seen.

And at the door brave lacqueys stood         
   In vestments trimmed with gold,
And toward the pile in glittering rows 
   Proud equipages roll'd.
And there in chamber damask-hung,
   And gay with mirrors bright, 
The infant bard -- the child of song -
   First woke to life and light.

Was it not so? Shake not thy head, 
   Nor treat my dream with scorn;
It was in such a house and room
   The Poet sure was born.
Where else could one foredoom'd to hold
   0'er human hearts such sway -
Where else so great a lord of thought
   Be usher'd into day?

Hard by the road a humble cot
   Uprears its roof of thatch,       
The walls tenacious clay secures,
   The crazy door a latch;

Here in a chamber rude and mean,
   Of aspect all forlorn,
Within a recess deep and dark,
   The glorious bard was born.

No festive boards for him were spread;
   Nor came there courtly throng,
In smiiles array'd, and gay attire, 
   To hail the child of song.

Stern poverty sat lording it 
   Within that drear abode,
And little dreamt its inmates of
   The gift had been bestow'd.

But proud would many a palace lord 
   Have been if such a lot,
Had fallen to him, as fell that day
   Upon the peasant's cot.

First published in The Moreton Bay Courier, 1 January 1848

2010 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards Shortlists

The shortlisted works for the 2010 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards have been released.

The shortlists are:

The Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction

Parrot and Olivier in America, Peter Carey, Penguin Group Australia
The Bath Fugues, Brian Castro, Giramondo Publishing
Summertime, J.M. Coetzee, Random House Australia
Jasper Jones, Craig Silvey, Allen & Unwin
Truth, Peter Temple, Text Publishing

The Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-fiction

Popeye Never Told You: Childhood Memories of the War, Rodney Hall, Murdoch Books
A Swindler's Progress: Nobles and Convicts in the Age of Liberty, Kirsten McKenzie, UNSW Press
Captain Cook Was Here, Maria Nugent, Cambridge University Press
Otherland: A Journey With My Daughter, Maria Tumarkin, Random House Australia
Reading by Moonlight: How Books Saved a Life, Brenda Walker, Penguin Group Australia

The Young Adult Fiction Prize

Raw Blue, Kirsty Eagar, Penguin Group Australia
Swerve, Phillip Gwynne, Penguin Group Australia
Beatle Meets Destiny, Gabrielle Williams, Penguin Group Australia

The CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry

Beneath Our Armour, Peter Bakowski, Hunter Publishers
Possession, Anna Kerdijk Nicholson, Five Islands Press
The Adoption Order, Ian McBryde, Five Islands Press

The Louis Esson Prize for Drama

Moth, Declan Greene, Arena Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre
And No More Shall We Part, Tom Holloway, A Bit Of Argy Bargy
Furious Mattress, Melissa Reeves, Malthouse Theatre

The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate

Patriot Acts, Waleed Aly, The Monthly
Stupid Money, Gideon Haigh, Griffith Review
Seeing Truganini, David Hansen, Australian Book Review

The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer

Winsome of Rangoon, Michelle Aung Thin
House of Sticks, Peggy Frew
Cambodia Darkness and Light, Andrew Nette

The John Curtin Prize for Journalism

Shutting Down Sharleen, Eurydice Aroney and Tom Morton, Hindsight, ABC Radio National
Who Killed Mr Ward?, Janine Cohen and Liz Jackson, Four Corners, ABC Television
Stop at Nothing: The Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull, Annabel Crabb, Quarterly Essay

The Prize for First Book of History

From Superwoman to Domestic Goddesses: the Rise and Fall of Feminism, Natasha Campo, Peter Lang International Academic Publishers
Becoming African Americans: Black Public Life in Harlem, 1919-1939, Clare Corbould, Harvard University Press
Rethinking Antisemitism in Nineteenth-Century France, Julie Kalman, Cambridge University Press

The Prize for Indigenous Writing
Legacy, Larissa Behrendt, University of Queensland Press
Ten Hail Marys, Kate Howarth, University of Queensland Press
Hey Mum, What's a Half-Caste?, Lorraine McGee-Sippel, Magabala Books

 The winners will be announced at a dinner to be held on September 28th.

Reprint: Australian Authors: Norman Lindsay by Aidan de Brune

Norman Lindsay, artist, philosopher, and novelist, is an Australian phenomenon. His fame is world-wide. Like Nellie Melba, he has surprised the world with the possession of a rare gift, and shown that genius can be native to this land of empty spaces and a small population. Norman Lindsay is acknowledged to be the greatest living illustrator in black-and-white, and one of the finest craftsmen with the pen who has ever lived. Even those who dislike the nude in art, which Norman Lindsay lavishly displays, are compelled to acknowledge the incomparable dexterity and technical excellence of his work.

He is many-sided. In his serious work as an artist he has proved himself a master of oil-painting, water-colour, etching, wood engraving and dry-point. His pen and ink illustrations to the sumptuous editions of Greek and Roman classics which have been published in London are sought by collectors of rare books throughout the world. In the spacious gardens of his home at Springwood, in the Blue Mountains, there are dozens of life-size sculptures which he has modelled. In his studio there are numerous models of sailing-ships in full rig, among them the clipper Thermopylae and an Elizabethan warship, which experts consider to be perfect in every detail. His model of Captain Cook's Endeavour is preserved in the Melbourne Museum. For twenty years he was principal cartoonist on the Sydney 'Bulletin' and he still contributes occasional humorous drawings and cartoons to that journal. He is a brilliant conversationalist and charming host. His home at Springwood has been a place of pilgrimage for many celebrated people, such as Anna Pavlova, Fritz Kreisler and Melba, who have been eager to pay their respects to an Australian who has proved his claim to the title of genius.

Norman Lindsay is the author of a number of books. "The Magic Pudding", a humorous tale for children, written and illustrated by him, is an Australian "best- seller." It was published by Angus and Robertson, Ltd. "A Curate in Bohemia," published by the N.S.W. Bookstall Co., Ltd: was written many years ago. It deals with the humorous aspect of life amongst the artists in Melbourne, in the 'nineties. More than 50,000 copies have been sold. Turning to more serious themes, in "Creative Effort," published in London, in 1924, Norman Lindsay expounded the philosophical basis of artistic endeavour. A philosophical novel, in dialogue, "Madame Life's Lovers," published in London, in 1929, gave further expression to the serious side of his thoughts.        

Leaving the artistic theme, he described in "Redheap," published in London and New York, in 1930, the humorous aspects of family life in an Australian mining town of forty years ago. Exception was taken to the book by the Australian Customs officials, who ordered the return of 10,000 copies to London. "Redheap" has now been turned into a play by Floyd Dell, the celebrated American dramatist, and is to be produced in New York this year. When "Redheap" was banned, Norman Lindsay left Australia, declaring that a country which consistently neglected its authors or treated them shabbily was not a properly civilised place. He travelled through America and England, and incidentally arranged for the publication of more of his novels. Two of these, "Mr. Gresham on Olympus" and "The Cautious Amorist," have recently been issued in both London and New York. Although not banned; it is difficult to obtain them in Australia, owing to the curtailment of book importing by adverse exchange rates and prevailing economic conditions.    

In London, Norman Lindsay persuaded Mr. P. R. Stephensen, a Queensland Rhodes Scholar with practical experience in book publishing in England, to undertake the organisation of an Australian Book Publishing Company, to encourage the work of our local authors. On Mr. Stephensen's arrival in Australia four months ago, the Bulletin Newspaper Company agreed to place its organisation and resources at the disposal of the new firm, of which both Mr. Lindsay and Mr. Stephensen are directors.          

This new Australian publishing house will begin issuing books next month under the imprint of The Endeavour Press. The press-mark of the firm is a design of Captain Cook's Endeavour in full sail, designed by Norman Lindsay. The first novel issued will be a new book by Norman Lindsay, entitled "Saturdee," a humorous story about Australian schoolboy pranks, mischief and fun. Its appearance will be eagerly awaited.  

First published in The West Australian, 1 April 1933

Note: you can read a little about the banning of Redheap here.

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

2010 John Button Prize Winner

The John Button prize has been named in honour of the late Senator and Industry Minister and is given "to the best piece of non-fiction writing on politics or public policy in the previous 12 months."  Judging is by a panel of nominated persons, including Nobel literature laureate JM Coetzee.

The winner of the prize was recently announced as being Peter Sutton, for his book The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the end of the Liberal Consensus.

The shortlisted works for the 2010 prize were:

Paul Kelly, March of Patriots
Noel Pearson, Radical Hope
Peter Sutton, The Politics of Suffering
Laura Tingle, "Tensions escalate over Rudd's kitchen cabinet"

2010 Age Book of the Year Award Winners

The winners of the 2010 "Age" Book of the Year Award were announced during the Melbourne Writers Festival.

The winners were:

Lovesong by Alex Miller

Ten Hail Marys by Kate Howarth

Pirate Rain by Jennifer Maiden

You can read the full shortlists here.

Jessica Anderson (1916-2010)

tirral.jpg  It was very remiss of me, a month or so back, not to make mention of the passing of Jessica Anderson, author of the Miles Franklin Award winning novels Tirra Lirra by the River (1978) and The Impersonators (1980).

Anderson was best known for these two works but she was also the author of another 5 novels and a collection of short stories. This might be considered a rather low level of output of a career that started in 1963 and concluded in 1994 with the publication of One of the Wattle Birds in 1994, but the work was of consistently high quality, and we should be grateful for that.

Jessica Anderson was born in Gayndah, Queensland, in 1916 and lived most of her life in Sydney, other than a few years in London. She started her career as a novelist rather later in life than most, although she had previously written short stories for newspapers and novel dramatisations for radio.
You can read tributes and obituaries from:
The Australian Society of Authors
"Australian Book Review"
"The Australian" newspaper
"The Sydney Morning Herald" newspaper
"Overland" magazine

2010 Ned Kelly Award Winners

The winners of the 2010 Ned Kelly Awards were announced during the recent Melbourne Writers Festival.  These awards honour the best Australian writing within the crime genre during the previous year.  They are presented by the Crime Writers Association of Australia.

The winners were:

True Crime

Kathy Marks, Pitcairn: Paradise Lost, Harper Collins

Best First Fiction

Mark Dapin, King of the Cross, Macmillan

Best Fiction

Garry Disher, Wyatt, Text

SH Harvey Short Story Award

Zane Lovitt, "Leaving the Fountainhead"

Lifetime Achievement

Peter Doyle

2010 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards Winners

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

J.M. Coetzee, Summertime, Random House Australia

Emerging Queensland Author - Manuscript Award
Noel Mengel, RPM

Unpublished Indigenous Writer - Arts Queensland David Unaipon Award
Jeanine Leane, Purple Threads

Non-Fiction Book Award
Mark Tredinnick, The Blue Plateau: A Landscape Memoir, University of Queensland Press

History Book - Faculty of Arts, University of Queensland Award
Ian Hoskins, Sydney Harbour: A history, University of New South Wales Press

Children's Book - Mary Ryan's Award
Sally Murphy, Toppling, Illustrated by Rhian Nest James, Walker Books Australia

Young Adult Book Award

Richard Yaxley, Drink the Air, Richard Yaxley

Science Writer Award
Sonya Pemberton, Catching Cancer, December Films and Pemberton Films

Poetry Collection - Arts Queensland Judith Wright Calanthe Award
Peter Boyle, Apocrypha, Vagabond Press

Australian Short Story Collection - Arts Queensland Steele Rudd Award
Karen Hitchcock, Little White Slips, Picador

Literary or Media Work Advancing Public Debate - The Harry Williams Award
Clive Hamilton, Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change, Allen & Unwin

Film Script - Screen Queensland Award
Shirley Barrett, South Solitary, Macgowan Films Pty Ltd

Drama Script (Stage) Award
Rick Viede, Whore

Television Script - QUT Creative Industries Award
John Misto, Sisters of War, Australian Broadcasting Corporation/Pericles Film Productions Pty Ltd

Reprint: To the Editor of the Herald: Steele Rudd by J. Le Gay Brereton

Sir, - We must be heartily grateful, in these days of anxiety, to any man who can lighten our troubles -- who can make us temporarily forget our difficulties in the relaxation of pure amusement. "With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come;" and no Australian writer has provoked more abundant mirth than the veteran humourist, Steele Rudd. The Fellowship of Australian Writers gives us all an opportunity to acknowledge practically our goodwill to our cheerful friend. This month it presents, as a testimonial to Steele Rudd, a performance of five brief Australian plays, written respectively by Vance Palmer, Louis Esson, Basil Garstang, Carrie Tennant, and Nora McAuliffe. His Excellency, Sir Philip Game, and Lady Game, recognise the significance of the occasion, and extend their patronage. It Is to be hoped that all who desire to recognise the worth of Steele Rudd will make an attempt to be present on August 21 and 22, especially as, in view of the financial stress, the prices of admission are only two shillings and one shilling. The tickets may be obtained at Paling's, where seats may be booked. Let us encourage the fellowship in its good work by turning up to demonstrate our appreciation of the author of "On Our Selection."

I am, etc.,


First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 August 1931

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

2010 Davitt Award Winners

The winners of the 2010 Davitt Awards have been announced. "The Davitt Awards (named in honour of Ellen Davitt (1812-1879) who wrote Australia's first mystery novel, Force and Fraud in 1865) are presented by the Sisters in Crime Australia association. The awards are presented for Australian crime fiction, by women, for both adults and young adults."

The winners in each category were presented in Melbourne on Saturday 28th August.

The winners were: 

Adult Fiction
Sharp Shooter by Marianne Delacourt

Children's and Young Adult Fiction
Liar by Justine Larbalestier

True Crime
Lady Killer: How Conman Bruce Burrell Kidnapped and Killed Rich Women for Their Money by Candace Sutton and Ellen Connolly

Readers Choice
Forbidden Fruit by Kerry Greenwood

Leanne Hall Interview

this_is_shyness.jpg  In 2009 Leanne Hall won the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing for her novel This is Shyness. That novel has now been published and the author has been interviewed by Jo Case for
The book began with the names of Wildgirl and Wolfboy, the two narrators, and thinking about what kind of place they would inhabit led to the 'suburb of darkness idea'. From there, the central theme of the one long night emerged. 'I wanted to write about one of those really, really crazy magical nights - probably one of the first really crazy magical nights you ever have as a teenager - and how you never forget that kind of situation.'

The teenagers in the book are vividly drawn - not just their youthful bravado and conscious hipster cool, or the delicious, volatile fizz of attraction at that time of life, but their transitional state. They're no longer children, but not yet adults - and while they're both on an irreversible path away from childhood, they're young enough to relish a brief return to some of its forgotten pleasures, even (perhaps especially) as their problems - and their feelings for each other - are anything but childish. Wolfboy and Wildgirl ride their bikes and explore underground tunnels on their quest to recover a precious item of stolen property from the sugar-crazed Kidds. 'I thought it was pretty funny to set a couple of urban streetwise teenagers on a quite old-fashioned quest for an object,' laughs Leanne. 'To me that was the biggest joke, to send these really cool teenagers on a quest for an object, which is such a sort of dorky childhood thing.'

2010 Man Booker Prize Shortlist

The shortlisted novels for the 2010 Man Booker Prize have been announced.

The shortlisted works are:

Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America (Faber and Faber)
Emma Donoghue, Room (Pan MacMillan - Picador)
Damon Galgut, In a Strange Room (Grove Atlantic - Atlantic Books)
Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury)
Andrea Levy, The Long Song (Headline Publishing Group - Headline Review)
Tom McCarthy, C (Random House - Jonathan Cape)

Interesting to see that both Mitchell and Tsiolkas were dropped off the longlist.  If Carey wins he will be the first three-time winner.  He is also the only previous winner of the award on this year's shortlist.

The winner will be announced on Tuesday 12th October, 2010.

Australian Bookcovers #225 - Dreamhouse by Kate Grenville


Dreamhouse by Kate Grenville, 1986
Jacket design by Chrisopher McVinish from an illustration by Cynthia Breusch
UQP edition 1986

Prizes, prizes, prizes...and the Hugos

Seems that the major items of interest, on the Australian literature scene, over the past two weeks has been the number of awards that have either announced their winners or short/long lists.

One that I was involved with was the Hugo Awards (for excellence in the fields of science fiction and fantasy for 2009) which were announced at Aussiecon 4 on September 5th.  The major Australian interest was Shaun Tan's win for Best Professional Artist, which was met with wild applause on the night.  You can read the full list of winners here, and even have a look at the voting and nominating statistics.

 The Hugo Award itself looked like this:



The rocket is standard from year to year but the base - this year designed and built by Nick Stathopoulos with input from Lewis Morley and Grant Gittus - is left to the convention committee to organise.

Details of other awards will follow over the next few days. I didn't think you would appreciate getting them all in one big lump. 

Currently Reading

A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
The second volume of Martin's monumental Song of Fire and Ice Sequence. Not as good as the first volume and acts more as a stage-setting set of exercises.


The Sense of an Ending

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
The 2011 Man Booker Prize winner. Not Barnes's best book but highly readable and echoes some of his very early work.


Recently Read

Hook's Mountain

Hook's Mountain by James McQueen
McQueen's sadly neglected novel from the early eighties. A WW II returned serviceman dives headfirst into environmental confrontation. This may be Australia's first "eco-terrorism" novel.


The Troubled Man

The Troubled Man by Henning Menkell
Menkell's last "Kurt Wallander" novel. As the detective investigates the disappearance of his daughter's future parents-in-law he encounters dark clouds everywhere, including his own life, past and future.



Shatter by Michael Robotham
This 2008 Ned Kelly Award winner is an excellent thriller featuring a revenge-seeking ex-army killer, and a physically and mentally scarred psychologist who races to avoid being the next victim.


Odd and the Frost Giants

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman's coming-of-age story about a crippled boy and his attempt to save Asgard from the Frost Giants.


Goldilocks Enigma

The Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies
Davies's investigation into why the universe is like it is - "weak", "strong" and "final" anthropic theories all get a going over.


The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.jpg

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann
A collection of Grann's journalism featuring tales of murder, madness and obsession. Varied but generally fairly interesting, and sometimes just plain bizarre.



Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell's investigation of why some people are more successful than others. Interesting but not up to his previous work.



The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin
Rankin's second novel featuring his new detective Malcolm Fox of The Complaints. There are echoes of Rebus here, but it still has some way to go to reach those heights.


Bomb, Book and Compass

 Bomb, Book and Compass by Simon Winchester
The amazing tale of Joseph Needham and his exploration of the history of China. The story is very interesting even though the writing is somewhat flat.



 The Lost City of Z by David Grann
The story of Percy Fawcett's obsessive search for a lost city in the Amazon. It cost him his life in 1925 but he might just have been right.



 The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Grossman's take on the "magician-in-training" fantasy sub-sub-genre. Starts off being rather derivative but slowly morphs into something very interesting.



 The Years That the Locust Hath Eaten by Marjorie Quinn
The long-delayed publication of the memoirs of Sydney poet Marjorie Quinn. An intimate portrait of the Sydney literary scene between the wars and one woman's struggle for a literary life.


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