April 2012 Archives

Combined Reviews: Blood by Tony Birch

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blood.jpg    Blood
Tony Birch

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
The country we were driving through was flat as an iron and bone dry. The sky was big, blue and empty, except for a flaming ball of sun, low in the sky. It had tracked us all day liek a satellite and it looked about read to explode.

Jesse has sworn to protect his sister, Rachel, no matter what. It's a promise that cannot be broken. A promise made in blood. But, when it comes down to life or death, how can he find the courage to keep it?

Set on the back roads of Australia, Blood is a boy's odyssey through a broken-down adult world.


Conrad Walters in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Blood, Birch's first published novel, carries echoes of the semi-autobiographical stories that weave together in his first story collection, Shadowboxing: violent men, a first-person narrator, fleeting yet tangible moments of joy and a hand-to-mouth life on the fringes where money is visible but forever out of reach. The voice, too, confirms Birch's mastery of a young protagonist whose experience informs knowledge that exceeds his years but never cloys with precociousness. Through Birch's hand, Jesse's view of his world deftly balances the naivete of youth and insights forged through hardship...As with Birch's short stories, the writing here is unadorned, the language bordering on plain. But beneath this, the author explores Jesse's desperation to escape and his fear of what will happen to Rachel if he follows Gwen's selfish example."

Ed Wright in "The Australian": "This absorbing and endearing tale of children in adversity is the debut novel by Tony Birch, an accomplished short-story writer and longstanding teacher of creative writing at the University of Melbourne...There have been quite a few adult novels in recent years that focus on the children of the underclasses. Blood has some correspondence, for instance, to Mandy Sayer's The Night Has a Thousand Eyes. DBC Pierre's Booker prize-winning Vernon God Little is another. Of course, the featuring of underprivileged children in novels is nothing new. Charles Dickens made a career out of it and in the Australian canon there are wonderful stories such as Ruth Park's The Harp in the South and Doris Pilkington Garimara's Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence...This voice never slips. It never feels confected or overplayed. This draws you into the story and makes Blood feel like it is more than the sum of its parts. For a first innings in the long form, it's impressive stuff."

Jo Case for "Readings": "This is a fractured fairytale, a dark Australian road story, but also an affecting tale about the bond between a brother and sister, and how the most unexpected people can transform lives. Birch delivers edge-of-your-seat suspense and engrossing characterisation in equal measures."


Sarah L'Estrange on ABC radio National's "The Book Show".
Jo Case for "Readings".
Richard Aedy on ABC Radio National's "Life Matters".
Lisa Hill on the "ANZ LitLovers LitBlog" weblog.


The author, on the writing of his novel, for "Meanjin".

Poem: An Afternoon Rhyme by Henry Halloran

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They say that we've no ballads got
   Anent this glorious nation,
Nothing of gold, or wool, or rot,
   Or Land Administration;
Nothing that Free Selection shows
   Above all other dreaming,
In making men the deadliest foes
   In "mail" and "dummy" scheming.

Well! these are hardly worth a song,
   They masque, in grand designing
The principles of "right" and "wrong"
   And constant undermining.
But surely we may find a theme,
   To fill a native ditty,
To float down Time's eternal stream,
   In honour of our city.

Of schemes I've heard of half a score
  That led to wealthy marriage;
That led -- but I must say no more --
   They flaunt it in their carriage.
I would not say a word of these,
   They are not bright and rosy,   
But e'en at the Antipodes
   May seem a little nosey.

Is there not some redeeming name
   O'er which the Muse may sorrow,    
And wish for it undying fame
   To gild Australia's morrow?
Bright artist of the pensive brow,
   Who toil'd in Rome's old city,
And toiling died, yet claims e'en now     
   Our deepest love and pity.    

I'll try some day a song of thee,
   Fair Adelaide, who ever
Breathed hopes that sought eternity
   For Art's sublime endeavour:
Who hungered not, and thirsted not,    
   For gold or adulation;
But sought that pure and perfect lot
   That dignifies a nation.      

Of Harpur I would say a word --  
   Sweet Dora's lyric lover --  
Whose song was one of wounded bird,   
   Of swan, or plaintive plover:
For now adown the fall of years,
   It sounds to hearts unheeding,   
His countrymen can shed no tears,   
   Tho' Pity self were pleading.  

Of Kendall, too, I might, perhaps,
   Say something when Time hurries  
To perfect peace the wayward lapse  
   Of Life that shades and worries.   
And e'en of Charley Tompson say --
   An earlier bard than any --
A something of her minstrel's lay,  
   Forgotten by the many.      

Nay, e'en of "Stolen Moments" Truth
   Might send some words of praising;
Of "Murmurs," which the pride of youth    
   Breathed forth with zeal amazing.   
Tho' not from Shelley-Swinburne mine,
   Nor Poe-cum-Browning meted,   
They held, in many a pregnant line,    
   What might be fairly treated.        

But politics make irons hot
   For each poetic sinner;    
An inquisition's deftly got   
   To grill him for a dinner.      
And so e'en strangers in the land,    
   Who work for leagues and booty,   
Will raise the scorner's fulsome hand   
   In criticisms sooty.  

But yet the rose must be the rose,
   The brier but the brier;             
Despite of friends, despite of foes,         
   Despite of ape and liar.
Despite of flatterers run mad,       
   Of harlequins and whipsters;
No genuine fame may ere be had
   By acrobats and tipsters.          

Adown a pleasant valley runs
   A silver brook, and sighing     
Sings in the light of quenchless suns,   
   In tones that are undying,         
Of her -- that artist pure and fair --
   Who, for her country's glory,    
Surrendered life without despair,  
   And long shall live in story.

First published
in The Australian Town and Country Journal, 5 May 1883

SF Awards

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The Shirley Jackson Awards were established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic, and are, of course, named after the author of such works as "The Lottery" and The Haunting of Hill House.

Amongst the nominees for the 2011 awards are:

Novella: "And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living" by Deborah Biancotti
Edited Anthology: Ghosts by Gaslight edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers

The award winners will be announced on Sunday, July 15, at Readercon 23 in Burlington, Massachusetts.

And the British Science Fiction Association has announced its award winners for 2012 with Peter Nicholls winning in the Non-Fiction catgeory for editing The SF Encyclopedia, 3rd edition with John Clute, David Langford and Graham Sleight.

Jungle Work

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After my note earlier this week about Text Publishing re-issuing a number of Australian classics, I came across news of one person's attempt to rekindle interest in Joseph Furphy's classic Such is Life by making a short film of an excerpt of the book.  Might work if it wins a short film contest but I can only see it getting lost on YouTube somewhere.  I applaud the thought however.
There's a mildly amusing joke somewhere about a young Irish literature student starting work on a construction site and being asked if he knew the difference between a girder and a joist.  I don't think J. M. Coetzee had that in mind when he wrote this piece about the young Goethe for The New York Review of Books.

Penguin Books in Australia has started to release a series of short literary works called, reasonably enough, Penguin Shorts.  They follow the same format and coloring as their re-issued classics but have been released as ebooks, and James Bradley has details of his novellette, Beauty's Sister, which is part of the series.
Clive James has been in the news for a number reasons lately - his on-going ill-health and some extra-curricular activities being among them - but this essay from an issue of Poetry magazine returns him to his literary youth when he encountered William Empson, one of his poetry heroes. I don't have that luxury as all mine are dead.
Commentary magazine has released its list of books for summer reading - Northern hemisphere of course.  They've included Peter Carey's novel The Chemistry of Tears and describe the author as a "perennial favorite for the Nobel Prize," and Kate Grenville's novel Sarah Thornhill.

Reprint: Our Australian Poets: Henry Halloran by Zadriel

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"I wish I had some of the versifying talent of Halloran," exclaimed Sir Thomas Mitchell (he was then engaged on the translation of "Camoens"). "I would make this a rhyme, not a prose transalation, as I must now call it." "Mr. Halloran?" I rather queried than said. "Yes; he is in my office. I call him our colonial Lovelace, or Davenant; but I expect he will make a name for himself." "Unless," I answered, "He might have too many sheep on a Shenstone's Leasowes. Don't you think, Sir Thomas, we have poetry enough?" "No. We never have had, nor never will have too much of the right sort. Poetry is the grand purifier of the wave of intellect which keeps seething and boiling around us. We owe more to our poets than we do to our prose writers, just as a Christian would know more of the Psalms than he would of any other portion of the Scripture." "Give me the songs of a nation and I shall know know how to rule it," said a great man, and if the more elaborate works of Campbell or Burns, or of Moore were forgotten, "Ye Mariners of England," "Scots Wha Hae," or the "Sweet Yale of Avoca," would be remembered as long as our language is spoken." Here," said an old and valued friend to me, who had been long prostrated by that terrible affliction, a nervous disorder, "here I have received more benefit from those few lines of good old quaint and pious George Herbert than I have from the Pharmacopiae. Shall I repeat them to you?" "Do."

   Who would have thought my withered soul
      Should have recovered greenness?
   It was gone quite underground, as flowers depart
      To see their mother-root, when they have blown
   Where they together all the hard weather
      Dead to the world, kept house unknown.

   And now in age again I live and write;
      I once more smell the dew and rain,
   And relish versing. Oh! my only light,
      It cannot be that I am he
   On whom thy tempests fell all night.

I have never had the pleasure of reading Mr. Halloran's poems in a collected form, nor do I even know whether they have been published; but from the different fugitive pieces of his which I have met with in the colonial newspaper press, he is a poet of no mean order; more classical, I should say, than artistic, breathing a deep spirit of refinement, which is the more remarkable as he wrote at a time when the grossest sensuality was the order of the day. Like most men who are not compelled to depend upon their pen for subsistence, there is nothing paradoxical in his effusions; there is an easy, quiet flow of gentlemanly, good humored musical rhyme, more of the Corinthian than the Doric about it, more of the urbe in rure than the rus in urbe, and, above all things, possessing the rare merit of modern poetry-- that is, of being understood. When I first saw Mr. Halloran, he was in a carriage; when I last saw him he was in a carriage; and I sincerely trust that he will ascend Parnassus in the same vehicle, and get crowned, too, as one of first who stepped boldly forward as a purifier of the public taste.

First published in The Queenslander, 10 April 1869

Great Australian Authors #58 - Henry Halloran

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Henry Halloran

Reprint: The Late Mr. Henry Halloran, C.M.G.

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The death of Mr. Henry Halloran, C.M.G., occurred on the 19th instant at his late residence at Mowbray, Ashfield. As a very old colonist, the name of Mr. Halloran has long been familiar in New South Wales, his frequent contributions to the press, and his readiness on all occasions to use his gifts for the celebration of any event of public interest having won for him a place among the poets of Australia. Mr. Halloran was a native of South Africa, having been born in 1811 at Capetown, where his father was rector of the grammar school and chaplain to the forces. After some residence in England he came out to this colony, entering the Survey Office in 1827, and continued in the Civil Service for a period of 51 years, when he retired on a pension, having risen to the position of Principal Under-secretary, in which he was considered to have shown remarkable administrative ability. In 1841 he married the eldest daughter of Mr. Underwood, of Ashfield Park, and has left a numerous family to mourn their loss. Mr. Halloran was an intimate friend of Charles Harper, Henry Kendall, and other notable men in the early days of literature in the colony. His funeral took place on Sunday last in the presence of a large number of friends. The remains were deposited in the family vault in the burial ground attached to St. John's Church, Ashfield.

First published
in The Illustrated Sydney News, 27 May 1893

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


Letty Fox: Her Luck by Christina Stead, 1946
Jacket illustration by Gilbert Stone
Angus & Robertson edition, 1974

Australian Classics Re-emerge

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michael_heyward.jpg    Michael Heyward, founder and publisher at Text Publishing, is undertaking a program of reprinting a number of Australian Literature classics - books that are out of print and which have been neglected for too long. He was interviewed for "The Age" by Michael Short.

In explaining the project during our interview, the full transcript of which and a short video are at theage.com.au/opinion/the-zone, Heyward gives a definition of what makes a book a classic.

''There is something about them that remains new, fresh, shocking, challenging, confronting and energising.

''The thing about old books that I find mysterious and interesting is that reading them now, we are readers who the writer could not have imagined.

''We belong, from the point of view of the book, to the unimaginable future, and it's when a book passes that test of moving beyond the circumstances of its publication, where people are either cheering it on or they're howling at it or whatever, and it encounters readers who have no prior interest in the book, no preconception about whether it's good or bad and different, that's when you get a really fascinating reading experience.''

Australia is a nation of readers; we have long had a relatively high consumption of books per person. Paradoxically, though, we publish a relatively low number of books compared with other industrialised, rich nations.

You can read the full list of the books published to date here. There is the distinct possibility of more to follow.

Poem: The Old Bohemian by Victor J. Daley

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The  world was in my debt,
   I was the Friend of Man,
When, years ago, I met
   The Old Bohemian.

His hat was shocking bad,
   He wore a faded tie,
And yet, withal, he had
   A moist and shining eye.

And though his purse was lean,
   And though his coat was dyed,
He had a lordly mien
   And air of ancient pride.

We sat in a hotel,
   And drank the amber ale;
And as I touched the bell
   I listened to his tale.

He told me that some day
   In his place I would be;
But all the world was gay ---
   No use in warning me.

He spoke of high Desire
   And aspirations true;
And flamed again the fire
   In eyes of faded blue.

"By God!" the old man said,
   "The days of old were grand;
I painted cities red,
   I owned the blessed land.

"I loved, when I was young,
   The girls in all the bars;
And, coming home, I hung
   My hat upon the stars.

"And O, the times were glad!
   Such times you never knew;
And O, the nights we had!
   And O, the jolly crew!

"Where are the songs --- the talk ---
   The friends that used to be;
I with my shadow walk
   At last for company.

And though we missed the bays,
   That Poets we would be;
And though we missed the bays
   We lived our Poetry!

"We talked and talked and talked,
   And slowly, one by one,
My old companions walked
   Into the setting sun."

The old Bohemian said,
   "The world owes nought to me,
I lie upon the bed
   Which I made --- carefully.

There is one way to play
   The mad Bohemian game,
I found and took the way ---
   And you will do the same."

Ah, that was years ago,
   When skies were bright and blue,
And now, alas, I know
   His prophecy was true.

Yet fill the glass once more,
   Bohemians, and sing ---
Upon another shore
   There waits another Spring!

First published in The Bulletin, 28 September 1901

Reprint: The Australian Poets' Poet

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Some years ago the Melbourne "Argus" took a plebiscite of its readers in order to discover was regarded as the greatest poet. The first votes went in order to Adam Lindsay Gordon, Henry Clarence Kendall, and "Banjo" Paterson, while Victor Daley got only 49 votes compared with Gordon's 459. However democratic the method may be, the proper places of our poets on the slopes of our Australian Parnassus can hardly be decided by a referendum. It is just thirty years since Victor Daley died, and in the interval Gordon's bust has been placed in Westminster Abbey. But the lapse of years has not changed the verdict of Bertram Stevens. -- "Though Daley never appealed to so large an audience as the ballad-writers he was the writer best beloved of the writing clan." There is something fine and delicate in the tones and undertones of Victor Daley that has appealed irresistibly to our younger singers. If Edmund Spenser has been called "the poets' poet" in the noble sequence of English song, so in the briefer annals of Australian verse Victor Daley has earned a similar title by virtue of his two slender volumes of exquisite poetry -- "Dawn and Dusk" (1898) and "Wine and Roses" (1911). Daley is a lyrical poet, pure and simple, and though he experimented in "His Mate" with the ballad it was only to discover that he had picked up the wrong instrument. For "His Mate" is not a ballad, after all, but a mystic parable on the text, "I was thirsty and ye gave me drink." Victor Daley did not belong to the school of galloping rhymesters. He belonged to the tribe of Coleridge, Swinburne, Rossetti, and W. B. Yeats. The love of words and the concord of sweet sounds was in his bones. His imagination minted lovely imagery as the poet only can and a versifier never. He has no lesson to teach us unless it be to glimpse the flying skirts of evanescent Beauty and pursue her to her ethereal palaces. No Australian poet before him created so many of those images which only a poet conceives. His verse is woven of rainbows. It proves nothing any more than a strain of sweet music from the horns of Elfland. Daley lived in the realm of pure poetry where everything is transfigured as in a golden sunset. His themes are the joys of youth and sighs for youth's passing.

He sings a convivial song, too,
but with a difference. It has none of the "clinkum -- canikin -- clink" of Shakespeare's tavern ditty, yet it has a fine extravagance of its own.  

   If beings of mythology
      Could live at my commands,
   Briareus I'd choose to be
      Who had a hundred hands;
   And every hand of mine   
   Would hold a pint of wine.

   And of those beakers ninety-nine
      With white wine and with red
   Should brim for dear old friends of mine.
      The living and the dead. 
   By Pluto, there would be
   A noble revelry!

   Then let us unto Bacchus sing
      Evoe! up and down--
   For Bacchus is the wisest King
      Who ever wore a crown;
   His vine-leaves hide from view
   More wit than Plato knew.

Bacchanalian poets have written
in this strain while leading abstemious lives, but Daley lived his poetry too much for that enviable achievement. Although his second book is called "Wine and Roses" Daley is rarely the poet of the pot. When he sings of wine he does it with the pathetic grace of Omar --

   Very often when I'm drinking
      Of the old days I am thinking,
   Of the good old days when living was a joy.
      When I see folks marching dreary
   To the tune of Miserere --
      Then I thank the Lord that still I am a boy.

The poems where we really
savour the quintessential Daley, the gossamer-weaver, are such as this-- "Sunset, a fragment." Who, we ask, can sing of sunset with any freshness? Daley certainly does when he sings --

   Down in the dim sad West the sun
      Is dying like a dying fire.
   The fiercest lances of his light
      Are spent; I watch him drop and die
   Like a great king who falls in fight;
      None dared the duel of his eye
   Living, but, now his eye is dim,
   The eyes of all may stare at him.

And then we have the simple
intensity of "Passion Flower" with the same thought at its root as Leigh Hunt's "Jenny Kissed Me"

   Choose who will the better part,
   I have held her heart to heart;
   And have felt her heart-strings stirred,
   And her soul's still singing heard,
   For one golden haloed hour,
   Of Love's life the passion-flower.
   So the world may roll or rest--
   I have tasted of its best,
   And shall laugh while I have breath
   At thy dart and thee, O Death.

Many of Daley's original meta
phors have a haunting beauty. So he speaks of the insect Homer "singing his Iliad on a blade of grass." The funeral procession of a dead girl winds along "like a black serpent with a snow-white bird held in its fangs." And who can mistake the Celtic glamoury of the simile of the sun sinking "like a peony drowning in wine," which comes from an exquisite poem "A Sunset Fantasy," one of his very best, a poem which surely answers his own description --

   A scented song blown oversea,
      As though from bowers of bloom;
   A wind harp in a lilac tree
      Breathed music and perfume.

We seek in vain in Daley for profundity either of passion or of philosophy. He bears the heart of a boy, kindling to the raptures of youth echoing its sadness and revealing its undying charm. His strange poem "Ponce de Leon" expresses his longing to voyage with that conquistador of the Floridas.

   "Grieved am I, senor, and sorry,"
      Very courteously it said,
   "But I may not take you with me --
      But I only take the Dead.
   These alone may dare the voyage,
      These alone sail on the quest,
   For the fount of Youth Eternal,
      For the Islands of the Blest."

It was Daley's aspiration to write "songs and sonnets carven in fine gold." Of the eight sonnets he preserved the best is ''Anacreon," ending --

   There's honey still and roses on the earth
   And lips to kiss and jugs to drain with mirth,
   And lovers walk in pairs, but she is gone . . .
            Anacreon, Anacreon.

Daley's verse owes little to our Australian scenery beyond its golden sunshine. It seems rather to be an emanation from the Celtic wonderland, the true home of his spirit -- "His best verse," said Strong, "has peculiar grace and distinction, and sometimes achieves an almost Heinesque quality, as when he addresses his soul,"

   Be still and wait, O caged immortal Bird,
      Thou shalt be free;
   Not all in vain hast thou the voices heard
      Of lives to be.
   Be still and wait! No being that draws breath
      Thy bounds can set;
   Though God Himself forget thee, Faithful Death
      Will not forget.

Zora Cross has characterised Daley's verse with the same fine perceptiveness which marks his own laurel tribute for the brow of Kendall--

   Song was his friend and by a lyric thread
   He drew the waggon of Romance this way,
   And tossed her laughing spells about our day,
   That we might know pure Beauty had not fled,
   Old Poesy his wine and Rhyme his bread.
   Much did he find to share with mates born gay
   In blithe Bohemia that heard him play
   Harps of the wind full-stringed by fingers dead;
   A singing dreamer in a singing land,
   His jesting lips gave mirth to Death -- not tears. 

First published in The Courier-Mail, 18 May 1935

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

Combined Reviews: Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville

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SarahThornhill-aus-cover.jpg    Sarah Thornhill
Kate Grenville
Text Publishing

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
From the beginning Jack and I was friends. Somehow our way of looking at things fitted together.

He never called me Dolly, the way the others did, only my full and proper name.

Sarah Thornhill is the youngest child of William Thornhill, convict-turned-landowner on the Hawkesbury River. She grows up in the fine house her father is so proud of, a strong-willed young woman who's certain where her future lies.

She's known Jack Langland since she was a child, and always loved him.

But the past is waiting in ambush with its dark legacy. There's a secret in Sarah's family, a piece of the past kept hidden from the world and from her. A secret Jack can't live with. A secret that changes everything, for both of them.

Kate Grenville takes us back to the early Australia of The Secret River and the Thornhill family. This is Sarah's story. It's a story of tangled secrets, a story of loss and unlooked-for happiness, and a story about the silent spaces of the past.

This powerful novel will enthrall readers of Kate Grenville's bestselling The Secret River, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.


Stella Clarke in "The Australian": "The novel is simply and beautifully narrated. Sarah tells it as it might be thought or spoken, in bits of sentences. She is illiterate but highly observant, sensitive to the splendour of her surroundings on the Hawkesbury River. Staying within the limits of Sarah's immaturity and understanding, the historical lineaments of the time remain indeterminate, slowed to the pace of domestic life...Grenville's three novels have been deluged by commentary on her treatment of the Australian past, over and above discussion of their merits...She found herself on perilous ground following the success of The Secret River, when historian Mark McKenna pilloried her for historical hubris, along with critics like me for not being critical...In recent years, a forest of journalistic and academic work has rehearsed and extended the original spat. (Just last year, for example, Rodopi Press published Australian National University academic Kate Mitchell's Australia's "Other" History Wars: Trauma and the Work of Cultural Memory in Kate Grenville's The Secret River.) The novel, with associated commentary, turned up on educational curriculums. In the history v fiction debate, Grenville is totemic."

Belinda Mckeon in "The Guardian": "It is with often marvellous vividness and clarity that Grenville evokes Sarah's world, from childhood on the Hawkesbury, through an adolescence of idealistic love, to a marriage towards which she goes with a resigned heart but of which she ultimately makes a fine hand. Sarah is well inhabited by her creator, and through the eyes of this young woman, the physical and cultural strangenesses of a nation still clambering into existence spring richly to life. But the much-signposted secrets ride roughshod over this character rather than drawing her compellingly on; they take too much of the narrative's oxygen for Sarah ever to be able to negotiate towards them a convincing relationship. Their elements and repercussions come to seem stockpiled rather than layered. The attention given to their many constituent parts can seem hasty or rushed: there is a lost brother about whom the reader can barely care, and a secret child who is introduced and abandoned too quickly. Most problematically, there is a journey far afield that would seem almost epic in its importance to Sarah, and in its demands as a plot point, and yet which is over within a matter of pages, dispatched before it has even begun. Sarah Thornhill, a character of great spirit and determination, surely deserves more."

Delia Falconer in "The Monthly": "Each of the three books in Kate Grenville's loose trilogy - The Secret River (2005), The Lieutenant (2008) and now Sarah Thornhill - is an act of atonement. Each recognises the damage done to Indigenous Australians by Sydney's colonisation, and writes a sincere 'sorry' back into the past...Less bound to the historical record, Sarah Thornhill is an instantly warmer, less wistful book. Its narrator, Sarah, youngest child of The Secret River's William, possesses an independent-mindedness that anticipates the modern scepticism toward empire that would enter our history books in the 1980s...Grenville's great strength is her sensual fleshing-out of the past, the Hawkesbury's lovely 'surge and bubble'. Her vision of our colonial history is at once compelling and fable-like, as she writes contemporary white self-knowledge back into it."

Mark Sanderson in "The Telegraph": "Kate Grenville's novel covers much the same ground - physically and mentally - as her award-winning The Secret River. It is a tale of white versus black in the early days of New South Wales, a time of 'cruelties and crimes, miseries on every side'...Grenville's aim is to give a voice to her forebears and show how they and their country fought for an identity. 'They called us the Colony of New South Wales,' says Sarah. 'I never liked that. We wasn't new anything. We was ourselves.' Her wonderful account shows how hard it can be simply to be yourself."

Arifa Akbar in "The Independent": "Thornhill's crime, Sarah's guilt and her siblings' blindness, so Grenville's novel implies, is the nation's. There is one Thornhill sibling who rejects his family's wealth and lives among the wronged. This, like Sarah's final act, seems like the noble, and the most difficult, way to atone. If fault is to be found, then it is Sarah's unconflicted acceptance of her inherited guilt, though this is also what makes her heroic...The book is also about the confused identities of colonisers...It is both brilliant fiction and illuminating personal history."


Michael Cathcart on ABC Radio Natonal's "Books and Arts Daily" program.
Stephanie Cross in "The Independent".
Andrew Williams on the Metro website.
Eileen Battersby in "The Irish Times".


See this essay, "The Strangeness of the Dance: Kate Grenville, Rohan Wilson, Inga Clendinnen and Kim Scott" by Alison Ravenscroft on the "Meanjin" website.

Kate Grenville introduces Sarah Thornhil:

You can read what the author has to say about the book, including the background, excerpts and "Notes for Book Groups".

Reprint: Victor Daley's Last Work

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Most of the work in Victor J. Daley's
"Wine and Roses," is so good as to deserve to be called splendid. There is every evdence of a fine poetic sense of things, graceful reflectiveness and truth and moderation of statement. Probably no recent book of poems published in Australia is of quite equal merit. There is in much Australian verse a kind of rather obvious insurgent note, a tendency to arraign the scheme of things which seems founded more on personal feeling than on philosophy -- a flavour of wilful pessimism which seems incongruous in a new country. Nothing is more marked, at any rate, among the male writers than an absence not so much of the religious tone but of the spirit of reverence, and of the awe and mystery of things which feeling has furnished the mould for the highest and most lasting achievements. But it is plea- santly evident in Daley's work. He has an appreciation of the wonder of life and the universe, and has to a degree escaped the desiccating influence of the "Bulletin" school, which is frequently excellent in technique but burdened with its "passion" and cynicism.

The opening poem is on "Romance.":--

   Right grim gods be Reality and iron-handed Circumstance.
   Cast off their fetters, friend! Break free! -- and seek the shrine of fair Romance.
   And when dark days with cares would craze your brain, then she will take your hand,
   And lead you on by greenwood ways unto a green and pleasant land.

There may be a suggestion of jingle, but it is a graceful piece of work. The "Spring Song," too, is buoyant and beautiful:--

  "I am the Vision and the Dream
      Of trembling Age and Yearning Youth;
   I am the Sorceress Supreme.
      I am Illusion; I am truth.

   I am the queen to whom belongs
      The royal right great gifts to give;
   I am the Singer of the Songs
      That lure men on to live and live."

In "Players" there is the same perception of
underlying, beauty:

  "The things that are; the things that seem--
      Who shall distinguish Shape from Show?
   The great processional, splendid dream
      Of life is all I wish to know.
   There lives -- though Time should cease to flow,
      And stars their courses should forget--
   There lives a grey-haired Romeo,
      Who loves a golden Juliet."

"The Old Bohemian" has a touch of
Thackeray, for whom Daley seems to have much regard, and whose spirit he has largely caught:

  "Where are the songs -- the talk --
      The friends that used to be?
   I with my shadow walk
      At last for company."

Quotation, however, does not do justice to
the sustained beauty of this book, which will charm not only those who like observance of form but all, whether their tastes be simple or cultivated, who like the spirit of poetry. It is a good book of poems that can keep a reviewer reading till midnight, but these poems did that. They are excellent work and attain high water mark for literary and artistic execution. The book contains a well-written memoir of the author, who died in 1905, a victim to consumption. The get-up of the volume could not be better, paper, print, and everything being of the first class. (Sydney: Angus and Robertson.)

First published in The West Australian, 22 April 1911

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

The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead, 1940
Jack Illustration by Sir Russell Drysdale, Two Children 1946
Angus and Robertson edition 1979

Combined Reviews: The Precipice by Virginia Duigan

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precipice.jpg    The Precipice
Virginia Duigan
Random House

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
Thea Farmer, a reclusive and difficult retired school principal, lives in isolation with her dog in the Blue Mountains. Her distinguished career ended under a cloud over a decade earlier, following a scandal involving a much younger male teacher. After losing her savings in the financial crash, she is forced to sell the dream house she had built for her old age and live on in her dilapidated cottage opposite. Initially resentful and hostile towards Frank and Ellice, the young couple who buy the new house, Thea develops a flirtatious friendship with Frank, and then a grudging affinity with his twelve-year-old niece, Kim, who lives with them. Although she has never much liked children, Thea discovers a gradual and wholly unexpected bond with the half-Vietnamese Kim, a solitary, bookish child from a troubled background. Her growing sympathy with Kim propels Thea into a psychological minefield. Finding Frank's behaviour increasingly irresponsible, she becomes convinced that all is not well in the house. Unsettling suspicions, which may or may not be irrational, begin to dominate her life, and build towards a catastrophic climax.


Felicity Plunkett for "The Australian": "The novel revolves around transgression. At school, Thea has been powerful and controlling, yet ultimately destroyed by a charismatic and manipulative young male teacher. Duigan examines the operations of power within schools and teachers' subsequent loss of that automatic authority in retirement, something exacerbated, in Thea's case, by the humiliation and guilt she experiences. This guilt, which relates to having let down her guard with the younger teacher, stays with Thea and shadows her interaction with her new neighbours. She is determined never to be vulnerable again and to avoid a similar mistake...The beauty of mistakes, though, lies in their infinite variety. Watching as Thea avoids one mistake and lurches into another is compelling. Duigan's gorgeously evoked Blue Mountains landscape made me think of the vertiginous Scenic Railway at Katoomba. Once you're locked in, its incline -- the steepest of any railway in the world -- lies ahead, impossible to avoid."

Karen on the "AustCrime" weblog: "This is most definitely not a book for readers who like events declared right up front, and investigations and resolutions with everything neat, tidy and answered at the end. It's not even a book that declares a "crime" or a problem blatantly, although I suppose it might be possible to take an educated guess at where we could be heading, if you have the time, or the inclination to want to try to double guess the author. But it's really not that sort of a book. THE PRECIPICE is very much a psychological thriller, moving seamlessly from the resentful mutterings of a grumpy old woman, through the development of a cessation of hostilities rather than friendship with the young girl, to a minefield of responsibility and dilemma. There's the odd stutter and stumble along the way - they could be plot vagaries, they could equally be the vagaries of a tricky narrator...The book is undoubtedly one of those slow burn, sleeper type thrillers. "


Brooke Hunter on the "Femail.com.au" weblog
Fran Metcalfe for the "Courier-Mail".


You can read an extract from the novel.

Poem: The Song and the Singer by Edward Dyson

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My poet wrote: "Ah! blissful days
   Where Healesville's golden surges rise.
Ah! sweet, warm nights when hidden ways
   Brought thee to me with starlit eyes.
No more of joy can love reveal.
   When other flames illume the night,
In all their glory, dear, I feel
   Thy subtle warmth, and see thy light."

   There came to me a thought of awe:
   "Here's one that reeks not mortal law,
   A lover lion-like and free.
   Ah! Lord, send such a love to me."

My poet wrote: "I scorn the lays
   Of puny circumscribed life.
Give me my foe, and tumbled days,
   The wounds and fever of the strife.
I rive with scorn their little laws,
   Their measured rules I laughing try,
And throw them from my limbs as straws,
   For I must live, or I will die.

   With heating pulse I read his line,
   And whispered, "Here is the fine,
   Exalted soul. He seems to speak
   From some wind-polished mountain peak."

My poet wrote: "The open way,
   The great sea racing 'neath the sky,
These keep me drifting night and day.
   My tent is broad, its roof is high.
By writhing plain and mountain crust
   I chase the eagles on the wing.
Nought will from my unburied dust
   But restless vines and creepers spring."

   I said: "Here is the stir that shook,
   And oped the wide world like a book,
   The poet-soul implanted in
   Some bearded, hook-nosed Bedouin.

At last I saw a little man
In down-heeled slippers and a fez,
Who hastened with a painted can,
And watered all his cabbages.
There rooted in a wee backyard,
By stings of heat and storm forsook,
Is living still my splendid bard.
His wife she has a famished look.

   'Tis said, what's learned in suffering
   The animated poets sing.
   But with a keener note is trilled
   A gnawing instinct unfulfilled.

First published in The Bulletin, 24 May 1917

Accidentally Like a Martyr

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It appears that the incoming Liberal/National Party government in Queensland has decided to scrap the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards as a cost-cutting exercise.  Saving approximately $250k out of a $40bn budget seems rather petty.  I think the Arts community in that state is probably in for a bit of a hammering over the next few years.  However, in the wake of this decision, comes the news of a movement to continue the awards under a different name.

And then in the state due south of Queensland, the Conservative Government of Barry O'Farrell is "reinvigorating" his Premier's Literary Awards.

Chong went along to the Wheeler Centre recently to hear Robert Dessaix speak.  Good illustrations as well.

I Know I've Made It as a Writer When...

Sonya Hartnett has been included on the longlist for the 2012 Carnegie Medal for her novel The Midnight Zoo.

I haven't read Dead Europe by Christos Tsiolkas so can't actually be sure that this adaptation is of his novel.  The in-coming links seem to imply that it is.

Interview with Peter Carey

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Peter-Carey-2012.jpg    Jan Dalley, of the "Financial Times", recently had lunch with Australian author Peter Carey over a few glasses of red in New York. The author's latest novel, The Chemistry of Tears, is either just out, or just about to be, in the US. And while it's always interesting to hear a writer talk about his latest book, don't we just long for a mention, a mere hint, of the next book? Course we do.

So, I foolishly ask, does he feel jaded about US politics and the upcoming election? Suddenly, a small flash of temper. "I'm not jaded, I'm enraged, which is a little different!" Obama, he says fiercely, "tricked us".

Carey, who has had dual US-Australian citizenship since 2002, adds: "I wept when he was elected, with pleasure and joy. We never thought he was a radical but we did believe he would try to do what he said. But he was not able to, and he has a passionate belief in compromise, that's who he is. It was f**ked from the beginning. Meanwhile the other lot have got worse."

For his next book, Carey is harnessing this head of steam to fuel a new challenge, "to deal with political events in Australia". It will be, he says, a story of three generations, running from the Battle of Brisbane in 1942, through 1975, "when the American government f**ked over the Australian government", up to the present day. "I feel strongly about it - it'll be really good to write an Australian book. I often have to go back on business but otherwise my relationship with my country is through the newspapers."

I'm lost. Battle of Brisbane? "Yeah, no one knows about that." Over the course of two days in November 1942, it turns out, Australian troops and American troops attacked each other in the streets of Brisbane, with violent incidents, gunfire, barricades; there were several deaths. As for Carey's take on the constitutional crisis of 1975, we'll have to wait for the book for that. He has set it in a place just like Bacchus Marsh (where his brother and sister still live), and its narrator, an unreliable journalist, is just Carey's age. But the guy's nothing like him, he insists - although "everyone wants you to be writing about yourself".

Reprint: Edward Dyson

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Prominent amongst the early band of bush balladists developed by the Sydney "Bulletin" and yet with a distinctive note of his own is Edward Dyson. A. B. Paterson, Henry Lawson, John Farrell, and Edward Dyson, it has been said, all graduated in the same school, that of journalism and the Sydney "Bulletin" was their nursing mother. John Farrell is the oldest member of this little group, Edward Dyson is the youngest. Like Lawson, Dyson has written wore notable work in prose than in verse, but his poems constitute a unique contribution to the literature of Australia.

''There is a certain similarity of style running through the whole four," says Henry G. Turner, of this group, in "The Development of Australian Literature," and though they frequently view the same subject from a totally opposite standpoint, the influence of Adam Lindsay Gordon, of Bret Harte, and of Brunton Stephens is in them all." Apart from their common interest in singing in differing strains of the life of the bush, Dyson is distinguished from the other members of this group in the peculiar inspiration he drew from the mines and the miners in the days when it was possible to invest mines and mining fields with a poetical glamour. Dyson is also distinguished by a genial humour, which in his prose run to the broadest farce.

In an account he once wrote of his methods of work, Edward Dyson asserted that he went though "a process of soakage and seepage." He said that he allowed his experiences to soak for years in his memory before he attempted to draw upon them for use in fashioning stories and verses, as he held that experience needed the mellowing influence of time before it acquired literary value. His variegated literary output must therefore be regarded as the evidence of a rich and varied experience which has "soaked and seeped," in his own geological metaphor, through the personality of the writer.

Edward Dyson was born at Morrison's, near Ballarat, in 1865. His family had come to Australia in 1852 and were in the thick of all the gold rushes of the period. Shortly after Edward's birth the family moved to the big mining field of Alfredton. Later moves carried the family to Melbourne, Bendigo, and Ballarat until, when Edward was 11 years old, they were back at Alfredton again. In the meantime the big mines had closed down and the worked-out shafts and abandoned workings excercised a peculiar fascination for the young Dyson, to be reflected in such of his later work as "The Worked-out Mine," with its--

  "Above the shaft in measured space
      A rotted rope swings to and fro,
   Whilst o'er the plat and on the brace
      The silent shadows come and go.

   And there below, in chambers dread,
      Where darkness like a fungus clings,
   Are lingering still the old mine's dead,
      Bend o'er and hear their wisperings." 

Other experiences of this period when Dyson actively shared the adventures of the youngsters of his age, are no doubt reflected in the rollicking boys' story - "The Gold Stealers," in which Waddy forms a counterpart of Alfredton. Before he had reached 13, Dyson had set out to explore the world as assistant to a hawker, his adventures in this capacity providing the raw material for his later story "Tommy the Hawker." Returning to Ballarat, he worked for a while as whim boy, his recollections of this life providing the foundations for his most effective poem, "The Old Whim Horse," paralleled by Dyson's own dream, as he sang:--

  "See the old horse take, like a creature dreaming,
      On the ring once more his accustomed place;
   But the moonbeams full on the ruins streaming
      Show the scattered timbers and grass-grown brace;
   Yet he hears the sled in the smithy falling,
      And the empty truck as it rattles back,
   And the boy who stands by the anvil, calling;
      And he turns and backs, and 'takes up slack.'"

Later mining at Clunes and Bungaree, on the alluvial field at Lefroy in Tasmania, and then back as a trucker in a deep mine, and afterwards at battery building in Victoria, Dyson became familiar with every detail of the mining life of the period. This experience is all reflected in his first book of poems ''Rhymes from the Mines and other Lines," published in 1896. In "The Trucker," in particular is a vivid account of the life of the lads which Dyson had shared:

  "Yes, the truckers' toil is rather heavy grafting at a rule --
      Much heavier than the wages, well I know:
   But the life's not full of trouble and the fellow is a fool
      Who cannot find some pleasure down below."

And in "The Prospectors" he paints the characteristics of a type that is by no means extinct to-day:--

  "We are common men with the faults of most, and a few that ourselves have grown,
   With the good traits, too, of the common herd, and some more that are all our own;
   We have drunk like beasts and have fought like brutes, and have stolen and lied and slain.
   And have paid the score in the way of men -- in remorse and fear and pain.
   We have done great deeds in our direst needs in the horrors of burning drought,
   And at mateship's call have been true through all to the death with the Furthest Out."

It has been said that Dyson's poems, on their first appearance, suffered by comparison with those of Paterson and Lawson because his mining songs lacked any distinctive Australian note, but it is certain that the vivid realism, the genial sense of humour and the kindly human understanding which inspires these simple poems will ensure that the best of them will live.

In his prose work Dyson has achieved a number of successes. "Fact'ry 'Ands" and "Benno" were responsible for the creation of characters which have become as well-known as the most famous characters of Dickens. The characterisation is fine throughout, but the humour runs to the broadest farce.

"Below and On Top," and "The Missing Link," contain some of the best of Dyson's short stories. With "In the Roaring Fifties," a more ambitious novel, published in 1906, Dyson was less successful than with his lighter sketches. Many other short stories have not yet appeared in book form.

Altogether Edward Dyson has been responsible for a notable addition to the literature of Australia. He has opened new veins and exploited them according to their peculiar requirements. Lacking the imagination which would have raised his creations to the higher levels of literature, he has shown himself a faithful recorder of much that is interesting and a versatile and adaptable craftsman. Living wholly by his craft he has shown that it is possible even in Australia to devote a life to writing and manage to live.

First published in The Morning Bulletin [Rockhampton], 12 January 1931

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

Film Adaptation of The Turning by Tim Winton

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Tim Winton's The Turning, which Austlit refers to as comprising "...seventeen overlapping stories of second thoughts and mid-life regret set in the brooding small-town world of coastal Western Australia," is to be adapted into a film with each story to be directed by a different director. 

There are some rather interesting names attached to the project including Cate Blanchett, David Wenham and Mia Wasikowska.  But film?  And seventeen directors?  I would have thought a television series might have been a better option.

And to show you how confusing this all is, the Internet Movie DataBase has an entry for the film but with the three listed above slated for acting roles rather than anything directorial. IMDb only has 10 directors listed.  Well, that's a relief.

2012 Hugo Award Nominations

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The nominations for the 2012 Hugo Awards were announced last week.  These honour the best sf, fantasy, horror etc published in the previous year.

Australians nominated (names in bold):

Best Related Work
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition edited by John Clute, David Langford and Peter Nicholls

Best Fancast
The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe

Best Editor, Short Form
Jonathan Strahan

The winners will be decided by votes cast by the members of this year's World Science Fiction Convention, Chicon 7, to be held in Chicago in August this year.

Combined Reviews: Animal People by Charlotte Wood

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animal_people.jpg    Animal People
Charlotte Wood
Allen & Unwin

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
'He could not find one single more word to say. I just want to be free. He could not say those words. They had already withered in his mind, turned to dust. He did not even know, he marvelled now, what the hell those words had meant.'

Acclaimed novelist Charlotte Wood takes a character from her bestselling book The Children and turns her unflinching gaze on him and his world in her extraordinary novel, Animal People. Set in Sydney over a single day, Animal People traces a watershed day in the life of Stephen, aimless, unhappy, unfulfilled - and without a clue as to how to make his life better.

His dead-end job, his demanding family, his oppressive feelings for Fiona and the pitiless city itself ... the great weight of it all threatens to come crashing down on him. The day will bring untold surprises and disasters, but will also show him - perhaps too late - that only love can set him free.

Sharply observed, hilarious, tender and heartbreaking, Animal People is a portrait of urban life, a meditation on the conflicted nature of human-animal relationships, and a masterpiece of storytelling. Filled with shocks of recognition and revelation, it shows a writer of great depth and compassion at work.


Angela Meyer in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Stephen is a complex and challenging character (one of the siblings in Wood's previous, brilliant novel, The Children)...At times the reader may relate to Stephen when he feels upset, humiliated, confused, angry. But it is also suggested Stephen views life through a slightly blurred lens. One hint that Stephen is not seeing clearly is that whenever he thinks of his girlfriend Fiona, and her girls, it's with deep love and affection. From the beginning, then, it seems that breaking up with her may not be the best thing to do...Besides this main narrative drive - whether or not he will break up with Fiona - there are the ordinary moments in Stephen's day, such as talking to his mother on the telephone about the new TV she wants to buy. These moments are compelling because they are recognisable. But the novel's observations also compel because of a subtle tragicomedy. There are so many moments that feel simultaneously familiar and strange, humorous and sad: a security guard on a Segway, old people seeking seats on the bus, a paramedic dressed as a fairy. There's even a Kafkaesque sense of persecution: Stephen as one against the world...This is a compelling and ultimately moving novel that cements Wood's place as one of the most intelligent and compassionate novelists in Australia."

John Purcell on the "Booktopia" blog: "I read Charlotte Wood's novel Animal People twice. I think it's one of the best contemporary novels I have read. But I cannot review it. I tried a number of times and failed each time. I only recently realised why this is. I don't want to review Animal People. I want to recommend it...The trouble is, I can't recommend it to just anybody...Sure, some part of me wants to help encourage complacent book club readers the world over to read it. I would like to think it would do them good (and Charlotte Wood's bank balance good). But, if the truth be told, I don't want them to...If they read it they may want to discuss it, as few people these days can understand a book without first discussing it with their peers. They may take the central character of Animal People, Stephen, and compare him with people they know. They may debate whether he is a sympathetic character or not. They may ask what the significance of the dog might be, what the title means, what the ending means. I don't want them to do any of these things. I want them to wander away from the safety of the group. I want them to let their guard down. I want them to be smacked in the face by Animal People. If they're not willing to take a few hits, I don't think they deserve to read Animal People."

Heather Dyer in "Bookseller+Publisher": "Clever and compassionate, Animal People will appeal to anyone who likes a story about relationships. Charlotte Wood has described this novel as a companion to The Children (Stephen is one of 'the children'), but it also works as a standalone novel."

Jo Case for "Readings": "Charlotte Wood's The Children is among my favourite Australian novels: she's just so good at the dynamics of relationships and minute social observations that give worlds of information about the people and places she captures. Woods' writing reminds me of Helen Garner's, in that it's easy to read, but deceptively so: it's rich with ideas and absolutely distinctive in its voice...So, I was pretty excited to receive Animal People, which follows one (monumentally bad) day in the life of middle-aged man-child Stephen, as he prepares to break up with his girlfriend. Stephen was a character in The Children, and others moonlight here too, but you don't need to have read that novel to thoroughly enjoy this one...Thoroughly recommended; it made me laugh and cry."

Clare Strahan on the "Overland" blog: "Wood's mastery of detail opens up the novel's sense of the whole in a very real way. One day offers an insight not only into Stephen's whole life but into 'society', into the weaving of personal and social, the bubble of internal experience and its fragility - the way it bumps up against (or crashes into) the hard edges of others (or our perception of others) and, sometimes, finds sanctuary, protected by the embracing places that are compassion and love...Wood gives us a clear picture of the (irrational?) fears and petty incomprehensions, prejudices and anxieties that drive Stephen from moment to moment during the chaos of a truly shitty day, but Stephen's overarching pathology is not explained: his compulsion to destroy what is good in his life is mysterious, as is his lovely girlfriend Fiona's love of him. "


Jo Case for "Readings".
Heather Dyer in "Bookseller+Publisher".
ABC Radio National's "Book Show".
Sandra Hogan on the "Perilous Adevntures" weblog.

Reprint: The Adventures of a Push

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"Benno; and Some of the Push," by Edward Dyson. (N.S.W. Bookstall Co., Sydney.) In his "Fact'ry "Ands," Mr. Dyson proved himself a master craftsman in the handling of Australian slum slang; and in continuing his comic history of a Melbourne paper-bag factory, he displays an even more copious vocabulary of language, that would tax the philological understanding of Professor Max Muller himself. Nevertheless, what might have been less intelligible to the linguistic pundit than Sanskrit in Assyrian cuneiform character, is probably quite easily understanded of the people constituting a Little Bourke-street push. Even when not absolutely lucid to a reader whose slum dialect education has been somewhat neglected, the language of Benno and his pals is always patently expressive and picturesquely forceful. Thus, for example, one may not know the precise meaning of the following exordium -- "G'out, yer monkey-mugged slum mungrool, yer'll cop yer doss" -- but no reader is liable to misconstrue it as a flattering eulogy or a polite invitation to afternoon tea. Mr. Dyson's factory hands are, of course, wildly, grossly exaggerated; but they are not intended to be more than expressive and suggestive caricatures. Their ruggedly rhetorical vituperation and cryptic verbiage lend force and point to situations and incidents which, despite a not inconsiderable flavouring of humour, would sound somewhat flat in decorous English. It is true that the vraisemblance of the dialogue is somewhat marred by the rigorous exclusion of the larrikin's pet adjective and substantive and of his most vigorously damnatory expletives -- but that was virtually unavoidable. A taste of Mr. Dyson's quality may be given, however, in respect to a desperate fistic duel between rivals in the affections of a flirtatious "donah." The Helen who had caused this war, it may be explained, was from the hue of her capillary attractions known as "Ginge." Thus speaks the jealous factory knight:

 "It's all fixed up, Mills."  

 "Wot! as she guv yeh brusher?" cried the packer.  

"No blinded fear. Ginge know's w'en she's got a good thing. The fight's 'ranged 'tween me 'n th' other bloke. We fight the prelim to the Bull Green 'n Coffee Hogan scrap et th' Smithers St. Hathletic room, Monday night fortnight, catch-weights, for harf a Jim 'n a five bob side wager-eight rounds, one t' win. Markis o' Queensbee rules, four ounce gloves 'n regerlation trunks. Prelimery starts punctooal at eight. Prices, two, one, and a tizzie. We've both signed harticles."  

"Good e-nough !" said the packer. I mus 'ave a deener's worth iv that."

Anyone who wishes to part with a "deener" can get for the money the whole worth of Benno and his push, whose adventures, it may be explained, have previously been chronicled in the "Bulletin. They are unmistakeably Bulletinesque.

First published in The Western Mail, 9 September 1911

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

House of All Nations by Christina Stead, 1938
Jacket illustration by Gilbert Stone
Angus and Robertson edition 1974.

Combined Reviews: Spirit of Progress by Steven Carroll

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spirit_of_progress.jpg    Spirit of Progress
Steven Carroll

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
A sleek high-speed train glides silently through the French countryside, bearing Michael, an Australian writer, and his travelling world of memory and speculation. Melbourne, 1946, calls to him: the pressure cooker of the city during World War II has produced a small creative miracle, and at this pivotal moment the lives of his newly married parents, a group of restless artists, a proud old woman with a tent for a home, a journalist, a gallery owner, a farmer and a factory developer irrevocably intersect. And all the while the Spirit of Progress, the locomotive of the new age, roars through their lives like time′s arrow, pointing to the future and the post-war world only some of them will enter.


Geordie Williamson in "The Australian": "Steven Carroll's novel, a prequel to the fictional trilogy for which he is best known and justly admired, endorses the Nabokovian project in all sorts of ways. Spirit of Progress holds to a languid pace at odds with the famous Victorian express train of its title, slowing time 'til it thickens to a concentrate of thought and event...Likewise, the book's narrative voice is passed on from generation to generation, person to person, building a communal portrait from singular selves...hose who have read earlier titles in Carroll's Glenroy series will recognise his method. Tales of ordinary heartbreak, told in a gentle and melancholy register; lives viewed from past, present and future perspectives in a godlike 360-degree pan. All of it taking place in a world over which history, in the guise of progress and modernity, keeps breaking like a wave...Yet the author's inveterately poetic and philosophical prose sheds an ennobling light on this shifting Australian existence. It softens rough edges, untangles human confusions, lends eloquence to otherwise inarticulate women and men...Indeed, in so lovingly and obsessively chronicling one suburb in an emerging metropolis over four novels Carroll has done for Melbourne's post-war fringes what John Updike did for urban Pennsylvania in his Rabbit tetralogy: transmute the grey facts of daily life into light and luminous art."

Jo Case for "Readings": "Spirit of Progress is a wonderfully Melbourne book, with a rich cast of characters. It's a prequel to Steven Carroll's much-loved Glenroy trilogy, featuring engine driver Vic, wife Rita and son Michael, catching the family poised on the brink of entering the world of these books: Rita is pregnant with Michael, and the novel ends with them visiting the wooden frame that will become their family home, in a suburb in the process of being born...This novel, divided into short chapters and replete with crisp, evocative imagery, is an easy but deeply satisfying read. It cannily transports the reader to the streets, cafes, galleries and workers' cottages of 1960s Melbourne - and engrosses us in the fate of Carroll's beautifully drawn characters...Highly recommended."

Andrew Reimer in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Burnt Norton, the first of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, inspired and gave shape to Steven Carroll's The Lost Life, a lucid and elegant fable of unfulfilled love. Poetry still courses through Carroll's imagination. One of the characters in his new novel is a real estate developer called Webster. As Webster pores over the map of a subdivision of land near Melbourne, his still absorption is compared to Caesar's in front of his maps and to Michelangelo's in the Sistine Chapel - ''inert, inspiration having travelled to him from the stars''...These echoes of W.B. Yeats's Long-Legged Fly reveal significant aspects of Carroll's imagination and ambitions. He is a writer steeped in the traditions of European high culture and philosophical (or at least ethical) speculation. His methods are fundamentally analytical - he probes his characters' inner lives, projecting them against mundane, sometimes banal, reality. Poetry and a sense of history give shape and substance to such banalities. So the kitchen sink (the title of one of the chapters), where one of the characters stands, ''is the still point around which it all turns'' - recalling again the rarefied world of Burnt Norton...The focus of Spirit of Progress is not poetry, however, but a painting, Sidney Nolan's striking Woman and Tent, first exhibited in Melbourne in 1946. The main portion of Carroll's novel occupies three days in July of that year."

Clive Tilsley in "Bookseller+Publisher" magazine: "Reading Spirit of Progress was one of the most enjoyable things I have done for a long time. I picked it up immediately after finishing Graham Swift's new novel Wish You Were Here and it felt good to move from a grey, foot-and-mouth-diseased Britain to a bright, openedspaced Australia. It took me back to my primary-school days when we would watch films about the construction of a new and exciting Australia. The films were black and white and may have been made around the time that this book is set...I am sure everyone who has read the 'Glenroy' series will welcome this addition. If Graham Greene can have the phrase 'Greene-land' used to celebrate his fictional world, I hope Steven Carroll gets recognition for the Australia he records. Perhaps it should be called 'Carroll-land'."


Tim Elliott in "The Sydney Morning Herald".
ABC Radio National's "Book Show".
Jo Case for "Readings".
Blanche Clark in "The Herald-Sun".


The author gave a talk at Abbey's Bookshop in Sydney:

More Shades of Grey

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A few weeks back I noted the rise and rise of a novel by Australian writer Amanda Hayward titled Fifty Shades of Grey.  As also mentioned John Birmingham stated that it was really just fan fiction, in this case Twilight fan fiction based on the vampire novels of Stephanie Meyer, with names changed to protect the "innocent".

This novel has started to cause a fair bit of comment, not least because it was picked up at auction by big US publisher Vintage for seven figures at auction.  That's enough to get the attention of most people in the publishing world.  In the wake of this attention Elizabeth Minkel has now written a piece about the book, and on fan fiction generally, on the weblog "The Millions". 

For those not sure about what this is all about it's best to start with a few definitions.

Back when I started in sf fandom in the mid-70s the term "fan fiction" referred to science fiction stories written by fans and published in small print-run magazines called "fanzines".  These stories were original, often poorly written, and never intended for publication to a wider audience.  The writers were basically just starting out and wanted to just see their names in print.  But the point was, they were original. At that time there weren't a lot of media fanzines in Australia - fanzines dedicated to discussing an sf film or television series: Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who etc - but as these started to increase in number it became clear that they were publishing sf stories using the characters from these films and tv series as the centre-pieces for their work.  And the definition of the term "fan fiction" slowly morphed into what it is deemed to be today.

By the way, don't confuse "fan fiction" with "faan fiction" which is rather different in that it uses the actual names of sf fans in sf parodies or comedies - see "Tuckerization" as an example.

So "fan fiction", and its strange off-spring "slash fiction", started in the media world, concentrating on the big and small screens for inspiration. And then, sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, it began to change and enlarge and look to books for source material.  The Harry Potter novels of J.K. Rowling may well have been the kick-off for this, though I'm sure there were instances of Tolkein and Anne McCaffrey fan fiction beforehand.  But Rowling's novels, the fenzy that surrounded them and the subsequent films, really kicked fan fiction into another world.  Stephanie Meyer's work, which always seemed to me to ride on the coat-tails of Rowling, merely continued the fan fiction trend in a similar way. 

All of which has brought us to where we are now - with a Twilight-inspired piece of fan fiction riding high in the publishing world.

Minkel raises the point that this is nothing new: citing Tom Stoppard's play Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, based on Hamlet; and Peter Carey's novel Jack Maggs, based on Dickens's Great Expectations. True, but the original works here were classics, way out of copyright and basically available to anyone to use.  The current crop of fan fiction relies on recent works, which are still under copyright, and there lies the major difference. 

Maybe I'm implying an injustice on Hayward that isn't fair.  Maybe, and it seems like this might be the case, she took her early Twilight-inspired fan fiction and morphed it into something similar but recognizably different. If so she has made the leap that she needed to make. I hope others that might be tempted to follow her success also follow that path.

There is nothing new under the sun in the field of literature; it's all in the author's intentions.  Homage is fine, theft is not.

Matilda's Absence

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My ISP is having massive internet connection problems and this blog has been off-air for the past day or so as a result. He's doing the best he can but it looks like we'll probably be having more of these outages in the future.

The Beauties and Furies by Chrstina Stead, 1936
The cover shows a detail from "Portrait of Lucie Beynis" by Grace Crowley
Virago edition 1985

2011 Aurealis Awards Finalists

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The nominated works for the 2011 Aurealis Awards have been announced.  These awards aim to honour the best in Australian sf, fantasy and horror.  Winners will be announced on May 12th in Sydney.

Fantasy Novel

The Undivided by Jennifer Fallon (HarperVoyager)
Ember and Ash by Pamela Freeman (Hachette)
Stormlord's Exile by Glenda Larke (HarperVoyager)
Debris by Jo Anderton (Angry Robot)
The Shattered City by Tansy Rayner Roberts (HarperVoyager)

Fantasy Short Story

"Fruit of the Pipal Tree" by Thoraiya Dyer (After the Rain, FableCroft Publishing)
"The Proving of the Smollett Standforth" by Margo Lanagan (Ghosts by Gaslight, HarperVoyager)
"Into the Clouds on High" by Margo Lanagan (Yellowcake, Allen & Unwin)
"Reading Coffee" by Anthony Panegyres (Overland)
"The Dark Night of Anton Weiss" by D. C. White (More Scary Kisses, Ticonderoga Publications)

Science Fiction Novel

Machine Man by Max Barry (Scribe Publications)
Children of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy (HarperVoyager)
The Waterboys by Peter Docker (Fremantle Press)
Black Glass by Meg Mundell (Scribe Publications)
The Courier's New Bicycle by Kim Westwood (HarperVoyager)

Science Fiction Short Story

"Flowers in the Shadow of the Garden" by Joanne Anderton (Hope, Kayelle Press)
"Desert Madonna" by Robert Hood (Anywhere but Earth, Coeur de Lion)
"SIBO" by Penelope Love (Anywhere but Earth, Coeur de Lion)
"Dead Low" by Cat Sparks (Midnight Echo)
"Rains of la Strange" by Robert N. Stephenson (Anywhere but Earth, Coeur de Lion)

Horror Novel

No Shortlist or Winning Novel - Two Commendations
The Broken Ones by Stephen M. Irwin (Hachette)
The Business of Death by Trent Jamieson (Hachette)

Horror Short Story

"And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living" by Deborah Biancetti (Ishtar, Gilgamesh Press)
"The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt" by Paul Haines (The Last Days of Kali Yuga, Brimstone Press)
"The Short Go: a Future in Eight Seconds" by Lisa L. Hannett (Bluegrass Symphony, Ticonderago Press)
"Mulberry Boys" by Margo Lanagan (Blood and Other Cravings, Tor)
"The Coffin Maker's Daughter" by Angela Slatter (A Book of Horrors, Quercus)

Young Adult Novel

Shift by Em Bailey (Hardie Grant Egmont)
Secrets of Carrick: Tantony by Ananda Braxton-Smith (black dog books)
The Shattering by Karen Healey (Allen & Unwin)
Black Glass by Meg Mundell (Scribe Publications)
Only Ever Always by Penni Russon (Allen & Unwin)

Young Adult Short Story

"Nation of the Night" by Sue Isle (Nightsiders, Twelfth Planet Press)
"Finishing School" by Kathleen Jennings (Steampunk!, Candlewick Press)
"Seventy-Two Derwents" by Cate Kennedy (The Wicked Wood - Tales from the Tower Volume 2, Allen & Unwin)
"One Window" by Martine Murray (The Wilful Eye: Tales from the Tower Volume 1, Allen & Unwin)
"The Patrician" by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Love and Romanpunk, Twelfth Planet Press)

Children's Fiction (told primarily through words)

The Outcasts by John Flanagan (Random House Australia)
The Paradise Trap by Catherine Jinks (Allen & Unwin)
"It Began with a Tingle" by Thalia Kalkapsakis (Headspinners, Allen & Unwin)
The Coming of the Whirlpool by Andrew McGahan (Allen & Unwin)
City of Lies by Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

Children's Fiction (told primarily through pictures)

The Ghost of Annabel Spoon by Aaron Blabey (author and illustrator) (Penguin / Viking Books)
Sounds Spooky by Christopher Cheng (author) and Sarah Davis (illustrator) (Random House Australia)
The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen (author) and James Foley (illustrator) (Fremantle Press)
The Deep: Here Be Dragons by Tom Taylor (author) and James Brouwer (illustrator) (Gestalt Publishing)
Vampyre by Margaret Wild (author) and Andrew Yeo (illustrator) (Walker Books)

Illustrated Book / Graphic Novel

Hidden by Miranda Burton (artist and Illustrator) (Black Pepper)
Torn by Andrew Constant (author) and Joh James (illustrator), additional illustrators Nicola Scott, Emily Smith (Gestalt Publishing)
Salsa Invertebraxa by Mozchops (author and illustrator) (Pecksniff Press)
The Eldritch Kid: Whiskey and Hate by Christian Read (author) and Michael Maier (illustrator) (Gestalt Publishing)
The Deep: Here Be Dragons by Tom Taylor (author) and James Brouwer (illustrator) (Gestalt Publishing)


Ghosts by Gaslight edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers (HarperVoyager)
Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2010 edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Ticonderoga Publications)
Istar edited by Amanda Pillar and KV Taylor (Gilgamesh Press)
The Best Science Ficton and Fantasy of the Year Volume 5 edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade Books)
Life on Mars edited by Jonathan Strahan (Viking)


Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti (Twelfth Planet Press)
Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines (Brimstone Press)
Bluegrass Symphony by Lisa Hannett (Ticonderoga Publicatons)
Nightsiders by Sue Isle (Twelfth Planet Press)
Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twelfth Planet Press)

Stephanie Alexander Interviews

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stephanie_alexander.jpg    Stephanie Alexander is best known for her monumental The Cook's Companion, the first port of call for nearly every Australian cook, including this one. But Alexander has just written a memoir titled A Cook's Life and has been talking about it.

Chris Gordon of "Readings" spoke to her:

Stephanie, congratulations on your book. I would have thought it quite a brave book to write, as an exposé of your life. What prompted you to share your memories and experiences now?

I have explained in the introduction of A Cook's Life the exact moment when I decided to try and write my memoirs. And sometimes it was painful and sad to remember and reflect, and at other times I was delighted with the memories that flooded in. It seemed important to try and acknowledge the importance of both.

The book is a memoir, rather than an autobiography. It is not a record of my entire life, day by day. Very early on I realised that my recollection of many of the important dates in my life was infuriatingly vague. I knew when I was born, when my siblings were born, and I could easily recall watershed years of school entry, university entry, travelling to Europe the first time, and opening restaurants, but within these huge chunks of living I had to do much digging into old notebooks and cross-referencing my guesses with the memories of my friends.

I loved reading about your early life and trying to pick the experiences and influences that would have an impact on you later. It does like seem like your mother was pretty extraordinary - can you tell us more about your childhood and how that's shaped you today?

I am aware that my childhood was very different to the experiences of most of my contemporaries and I am what I am today because of the influence of both my parents. Food, friendship, books and an interest in the wider world were part of my life ever since I can remember.
And Andrew Stephens had lunch with her for "The Age":

The many thousands who own Alexander's 1126-page tome The Cook's Companion might feel as if they know her already, as if she lives in their kitchen as an ''encouraging friend''. The new book brings this extraordinary person into deeper, nuanced relief: frank and informative (especially about Melbourne's restaurant history), the pages are also tempered with emotion, humour and a wonderful appreciation of pleasure and hard work. Her book gently insists through its account of her projects, family, great friendships and, through it all, her love of food, that life is intricate, a honeycomb of feelings, triumphs and loves, alongside some dreads - and regrets.

During its creation, editors asked whether she really wanted to keep certain passages in which the much-admired Alexander allows self-criticism to filter through. Yes, she did want to keep them. It was important, she says, to offer the whole of herself. ''I think I am very hard on myself ... I would be dishonest to leave that out.''

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