July 2012 Archives

Australian Bookcovers #315 - The Riders by Tim Winton

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The Riders by Tim Winton, 1994
Cover design by John Landy and Mary Callahan
Pan edition 1995

Isobelle Carmody Interview

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isobelle_carmody.jpg    Australian fantasy author Isobelle Carmody has a new book out titled Metro Winds. This is a collection of short stories and features a series of takes on traditional fairy tales. The author spoke to Samantha Selinger-Morris for "The Age":

Why, you wonder, has Carmody taken a proverbial shredder to the usual fantasy archetypes and instead dragged her otherworldly characters through the dross of ordinary life?

''Because I think there's this perception that fantasy and fairytales don't have anything to say about life,'' says Carmody, one of Australia's most successful fantasy writers. ''And the thing is, fairytales were once a very gritty way for people to dialogue about aspects of life. Once upon a time, if you wanted to talk about the notion of child abandonment, of a mother not being a good mother, that's built into the mother who sends the babes into the woods and they use the bits of bread or stones to come home again. [These stories were] a way of looking at these possibilities that you didn't talk about.

''I don't believe in fairies floating around and I don't believe in telepathy but there are things I want to say that just simple real-life stories don't let me say.''

The key to why Carmody would turn to fairytales to explore real-life heartache lies with the author's childhood. Her upbringing has many of the markings of a tale by the Brothers Grimm.

2012 RITA Award

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The RITA awards are presented each year by the Romance Writers of America, and this year the winner of the award for Best Contemporary Single Title was Boomerang Bride by Australian writer Fiona Lowe.

2012 Kibble and Dobbie Literary Awards

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five_bells.jpg    The winners of the 2012 Kibble and Dobbie Awards have been announced. Gail Jones won the Kibble Award for her novel Five Bells, ...

and Favel Parrett won the Dobbie award for her novel Past the Shallows.    past_the_shallows.jpg

Poem: Olden Rhymes by F.W. Hulme

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Why do ye scorn the rhymes of France,
   O Austral song-birds! And why, pray,
Neglect the joyous old romance,
   Sweet echoes of a bygone day,
   There is a beauty in the lay
That mocks old Time's severest test;
   Believe me, singers, when I say
That olden rhymes are far the best.

In their defence I couch a lance
   Of verse at once both grave and gay,
Of honeyed notes that in life's dance
   Oft ease sad hearts -- oft cares allay.
   I don my armour for the fray,
And set me forth upon my quest:
   To prove to all who say me nay
That olden rhymes are far the best.

Choose Austral themes, in the expanse
   Of ballads, rondeau, roundelay,
In these old shapes you will entrance
   Both heart and brain to do your sway;
   As a great master who doth play
Some old-time air, lulls us to rest,
   And in his mastery doth betray
That olden rhymes are far the best.


Australians, thus your art display!
   And so to you my plaint's addrest:
Remember, when you verse essay,
   That olden rhymes are far the best.

First published in The Bulletin, 11 July 1896 

Searching for a Heart

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In the past couple of days we've learned that the Australian Federal Government will not attempt to stop David Hicks from obtaining royalties from his memoir of his time in Gitmo.  John Birmingham reckons Hicks is a "disgraceful tool", but thinks the government is even worse for wasting time, money and effort to stop the author from receiving his dues. He's right, as usual.

At any one time there's always someone in the Australian literary blogging community who appears to be in the ascendant - maybe they are just about to have a major work published or appear to have their finger on the pulse of what is going on.  A few years back it was Angela Meyer who ran the Literary Minded weblog for Crikey and who has now pretty much become established everywhere.  We now only await the first novel.  Currently I have my eye on Estelle Tang, proprietor of the 3000 Books weblog and an editor at Oxford University Press. She answers a few questions for the Wheeler Centre which will give you some idea of what she is up to.

Justine Larbalestier describes her recent visit to a Sydney high school to talk about her latest book, Team Human, and, in the process, remembers a visit to her high school back when she was in year 10 by a very, very scarey author.

Chris Womersley has been nominated for a CWA (Crime Writers' Association) Gold Dagger Award in the UK for his novel Bereft.  

Ailsa Piper's new book details her "sin-walk" of 1300 kilometres across Spain.  Her essay on the Meanjin blog about her bookshop pilgrimage around Australia seems to have been no less enlightening.

I reckon if Kim Wilkins worked as a dominatrix she'd make a fortune.  She offers advice to writers: basically, shut up and get on it with.  As she says: "And all this is true, I know, because I am a fucking expert and I am always right."

2012 Crime and Justice Festival

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Details of the 2012 Crime and Justice Festival have now been released along with a special announcement

Basically, the festival runs in Melbourne from 16-18 November and the special guest is a certain Scottish crime writer who is also International patron of the festival.

Reprint: Furnley Maurice. A Many-Sided Poet by Nettie Palmer

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Sometimes we are forcibly reminded that Australia is as big as Europe-without-Russia, or bigger. We remark that to send a letter from Brisbane to Melbourne is like writing from London to Madrid, or further. Then we notice that a book, which is quietly published in Melbourne, seems to Brisbane like something foreign, or, indeed, does not seem anything at all, since it is probably unknown. The poet who usually has chosen to be known as "Furnley Maurice," then, has published four sizable books of poems, but none of those books has made him known to Brisbane, and it is necessary to announce them as if they were new.

Four Volumes (1) "Unconditioned Songs."

The first book of Furnley Maurice's poems was not even published under his pen-name. In 1913 this book, "Unconditioned Songs," appeared anonymously, published by S J. Endacott, of Melbourne. The point of mentioning the publisher's name is that, for want of an other, it was taken to be the author's. I remember quite well seeing some striking lyrics from that book quoted in "T. P. Weekly" as the work of "S. J. Endacott Melbourne." So that was all the poet got for his anonymity! The book had considerable recognition, some reading it for the intenser of its little lyrics, and some for the sympathetic child songs. As for the title of the book, I take it to mean that the songs were -- what they were, fresh, free, not written to order. Here is a "Song":--  

   Give me rivers to cool my hands,
   Give me hills for stay!  
   I have a fear an' a little fear
   I hurt my love to-day.    

   There was no word, only those eyes
   Looked dim with smothered pain,
   A little thing an' a little thing,
   But it breaks my heart in twain!  

The noticeable quality in the whole book was freshness. It was as if you had found some opals in the rough, still in the matrix: it made the poems in many other books seem only like cut glass. Scattered through "Unconditioned Songs" there were, as I have mentioned, a few delightful songs about children, one giving a picture of a tiny boy in some sort of rocking-cart--

   Off to Carpentaria,
   Ireland, and Samaria,

and his tiny downfall. These verses were significant, for it was out of their big brothers that the second large book that Furnley Maurice published was made.

(2) "The Bay and Padie Book."

The whole title of this book was, "The Bay and Padie Book, Kiddie Verses."  The intention was modest; a collection of simple little songs and meditations arising naturally out of a happy suburban home, with its typical joys and sorrows. Two little boys are, I suppose, the heroes -- sometimes also the villains. The book has passed through at least four editions, and I am not sure that its rearrangement in the last of them has left a particularly jolly piece in the front. It was a sort of inspired catalogue of delights, each verse ending,

   Oh, what a lot of lots of things
   For little boys to do! 

Other pieces have more realisation of the occasional hardness of life: days in bed with a cold, baths when heads have to be washed and soap gets in a person's eyes, days when you're playing in the garden and nothing goes right, the wind blows toys away, pussy runs off, and

   Something comes and compradicks
   Everything I play ....  
   Daddy, God's been 'noying me
   All this day!

The book has two distinct kinds of poems in it -- those supposed to be said or thought by the children, which are printed in ordinary type and those that are grown-ups' meditation about the children, printed in italics. This distinction is important, but rather hard to sustain the two kinds overlap here and there. There was that one where the little boy came in quietly and told his mother that he had been out to the pool in the paddock, and "The sky was in the pool!"  You are conscious of the awe in the words: it is not a poem for children, for all its actuality. A "Kitchen Lullaby" makes a good song for a very tiny child to hear, and another isolated quatrain makes an evening song of its own:-  

   Half-past bunny time,  
      'Possums by the moon,
   Tea and bread and honey time,
      Sleep time soon.

(3) "Eyes of Vigilance."

If Furnley Maurice has been best known, in recent years, by the "Bay and Padie Book," his name, ten years ago, was associated with one remarkable poem, first published by itself in 1916, later included in his solid book, "Eyes of Vigilance," which appeared in 1920. That poem was called, "To God, from the Weary Nations," and was first published during the war. It was a piece of dignified musing, an ode with some superb lines, and a fine movement: a poem that met with heartfelt appreciation from many who felt the same, but were doomed to remain inarticulate. It uttered what we have all felt since, if not at the time: the pity of war!' It gives a realisation of

   The foe that lies in death magnificent, and cries, with mystic faith,
   All men are brave and bright and somewhere loved.

Republished in "Eyes of Vigilance," the war being over, the long poem was called, "To God from the Warring Nations."   Professor Walter Murdoch in his second version of an Oxford Anthology of Australasian Verse, printed, "To God, from the Warring Nations," in full, an extraordinary tribute of praise to a poem of such inconvenient length for an anthology.

The rest of "Eyes of Vigilance," which makes a large collection, circles, on the whole, round the theme of that longest poem. There is a large group of sonnets, most of them about the war, and its crashing into the life of man. Here is a sestet:-  

   These shall return; The mountains and the haze,
   The blue lobelias ledging all the lawns,
   The pixies, the lost roads, and the sun-blaze,
   These waters surge to-morrow to this shore --
   All these things shall return with other dawns
   But pity to the heart of man no more.

There was another sonnet, though, published in January, 1918. It was daringly called "Peace, 1918," and throbbed with a lovely radiance of hope. It took for an image a room, and a woman in it with kettles shining and polished, everything in order. In the last line she spoke, "The Prince may come to-night!" And that was written in the darkest of moments that did, after all, just come before the dawn.

(4) "Arrows of Longing."  

Of the fourth book it seems hardly fair to speak at all, and yet it contains much of Furnley Maurice's best work. The trouble is that it was published in an expensive and very limited edition, of which probably only a very few copies are left. Some few of the best poems in it have crept into an anthology or two, but what the public needs is a volume of Furnley Maurice collected from all four of his published books, and including the best of what he has written, even since "Arrows of Longing," that large and well-filled book, was published about 1921. If, in "Eyes of Vigilance," Furnley Maurice had been somewhat tendencious, propagandist, in "Arrows of Longing," he is propagandist for beauty only. Perhaps in the early book his theme was pity, and in the later one beauty. It is when he gives this beauty a local habitation that he names her best: -

   The drifts of forest light;
   Trees in a stormy night;
   Bush echoes, ocean's unresolving tone  
   Or groups of falling chords, melting to one;
   The softness of a kookaburra's crown
   The wind puts softly up and softly down;
   His eyes of love that inmost humanly speak
   Peering in softness o'er that murderous beak!

Perhaps it is for these intense glimpses of beauty in natural things which many have "seen without seeing" that we welcome Furnley Maurice most. It is only right to add that with all his poetical vision he has also a rare wit, and that his critical prose at its highest is very effective indeed. His influence on his fellow writers has all been in the direction of building up a body of literature that should be recognisable as our own,"racy of the soil." A small book of essays, "Romance", published a few years ago, expressed some of his literary opinions.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 24 December 1927

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

2012 Prime Minister's Literary Awards Winners

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gillian_mears.jpg    The winners of the 2012 Prime Minister's Literary Awards were announced recently. The winners were:

Fiction - Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears
Poetry - Interferon Psalms by Luke Davies
Non-fiction - An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark by Mark McKenna
Prize for Australian History - The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia by Bill Gammage
Young adult fiction - When We Were Two by Robert Newton
Children's fiction - Goodnight, Mice! By Frances Watts, illustrated by Judy Watson

Amusing Literary Terms #1 - Dischism

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Every form of human endeavour has its own jargon, its own lexicon and its own store of just-plain-weird terms.  The literary world is no different.  Herewith the first in a series of amusing literary terms I've come across.


Intrusion of author's physical surroundings (or mental state) into the narrative. Like the character who always lights a cigarette when the author does, or is thinking about how they wished they hadn't quit smoking. In more subtle forms, the characters complain that they're confused and don't know what to do -- when this is actually the author's condition. - From the  Turkey City Lexicon, attributed to Thomas M. Disch.

2012 Man Booker Prize Longlist

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The novels on the 2012 Man Booker Prize longlist have been released.  You could be forgiven for thinking that the list is becoming more and more "British" as only 3 others are included (one Malaysian, one South African and one Indian).  The difficulty we always have with these lists is that we don't know what was entered or called in by the judges.  But really, NO Australians?  In the year of All That I Am and Foal's Bread?

The longlist:

Nicola Barker, The Yips (Fourth Estate)
Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident (Sceptre)
André Brink, Philida (Harvill Secker)
Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books)
Michael Frayn, Skios (Faber & Faber)
Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Doubleday)
Deborah Levy, Swimming Home (And Other Stories)
Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Alison Moore, The Lighthouse (Salt)
Will Self, Umbrella (Bloomsbury)
Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis (Faber & Faber)
Sam Thompson, Communion Town (Fourth Estate)

The shortlist of 6 novels will be announced on September 11 with the winner named on October 16.

2012 ALS Gold Medal Winner

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foals_bread.jpg    Foal's Bread, by Gillian Mears, has been awarded the Australian Literary Society's Gold Medal for 2012.

Reprint: Furnley Maurice. Passing of a Poet by R.G. Howarth

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Furnley Maurice, whose real name was Frank Wilmot, has just died in Melbourne. One has to live in Melbourne, perhaps, to understand fully the high literary reputation that is his there. But whatever else may be said, it must be acknowledged that for many years he had been a force in poetry and criticism -- not to speak of publishing, for at the time of his death he was manager of the Melbourne University Press.

If he is known at all widely here, it is for his fine poem "To God: from the Warring (originally "Weary") Nations," written in 1917; for his children's verse, "The Bay and Padie Book," and for his more recent "Melbourne Odes," one of which gained the prize in the Dyer Centenary   Competition.

Other noteworthy publications of his are "Romance," a collection of literary essays, and the two successive books of verse, "Arrows of Longing" and "The Gully," which are patriotic poems in the truest sense. He once co-edited and published a magazine called "The Microbe" -- clearly a Rossetti culture!

Anthologists, when they consider his work, seem mostly to seize on a piece about a dust-bin, which, if nothing else, will assure him the popular immortality of the back-lane romancer.

Differing Opinions

There are detailed and, I think, generous appreciations of his work in Green's "Outline" of Australian Literature, and Morris Miller's bibliography of the same. My own impression, stamped deeper by a number of readings at various times, is that while his unconventionality in thought and form is admirable, his total achievement considerable, he belongs to the   "Phoebus Car-out-of-control" school of poets. As Ben Jonson said about Shakespeare (or didn't he?), he should have put the brake on. In other words, he wrote too much too fast, and almost any one of his longer pieces would bear reshaping, rephrasing, and certainly condensation. This may more readily be believed when I mention that he commonly let himself go in free rhymed verse -- which could often well stop anywhere. His early poems, according to Morris Miller, were remarkable for "brevity of words." That may have been because he began writing under the influence of O'Dowd.

It is too soon, however, to attempt to estimate Furnley Maurice fully. Perhaps his best merit is that he is a poet who can be read by all. What poet could wish more? 

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 February 1942

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

Australian Bookcovers #314 - In the Winter Dark by Tim Winton

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In the Winter Dark by Tim Winton, 1988
McPhee Gribble edition 1989

2012 Bendigo Writers' Festival

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Bendigo's first writers' festival will be held over the weekend of August 10-12 2012.  Confirmed guests include Gideon Haigh, Leigh Hobbs, Margo Lanagan, Alex Miller, Don Watson and Alexis Wright.

Alex Miller Interview

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alex_miller.jpg    Alex Miller is in Europe promoting his latest novel Autumn Laing. When he was in Ireland he spoke to Arminta Wallace for "The Irish Times":

"One of the pleasures of writing fiction," he says, "is that if you get the setting right, and if you get the story right - the situation blowing up like a beautiful big storm cloud - characters arrive fully formed. And you think, Yes, I'll have that one, and that one; thanks, mate. It's a wonder. And a great delight to see them. They come in out of the mists of nothing, with gestures already developed."

Miller is forthright and opinionated, with the confidence that comes from a lifetime of work in his field - he's 76 - and a plethora of prizes, including two Miles Franklin Literary Awards, a Commonwealth Writer's Prize, even a Chinese Annual Foreign Novels 21st Century Award.

What interests him most in fiction, he says, is the complexity of human relationships. That, he says, is what novels should be about - and what keeps them interesting to us. He achieves this in spades in Autumn Laing, whose gossipy, fully rounded central characters weave an ensemble dance as compelling as any soap opera. He says he wrote the book in five months. "And it's the biggest book I've ever written. But it's all of a piece. All of a mood."

Poem: To a Youthful Writer by Will Carter

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Read, youthful writer, read,
   If thou wouldst shape a song;
Learn of the hearts that bleed,
   The souls that suffer wrong.

Draw from the mint of minds
   That have enriched the past;
Raise the dark, dusty blinds,
   And thy brave song shall last.

Think of the lovely rose,
   With morning jewels bright;
The only gems it knows
   Are teardrops of the night.

Its tints the rainbow lends,
   Of purest radiancy;
Its scent the soil upsends,
   By Nature's alchemy.

Glean, youthful water, glean,
   The field is rich and vast.
Write what thy soul has seen,
   And thy great song will last.  

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 December 1935

The French Inhaler

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And again I picked the title for this post before the items listed below were discovered.  The aptness of the titles in this series is starting to get a little scary.

Susan Johnson has been receiving mixed reviews for her latest novel My Hundred Lovers.  She details some of the differences and notes that they "say as much about the reader as about the book."  Reviewers should aim for an unbiased, objective approach, rather than one based solely on the subject material, or their perceived view of it.

Angelique Montaine is a Frenchwoman living in Australia who slowly came to the realisation that while she knew a bit about Australian film and music she knew next to nothing about Australian literature.  That led her to start a blog on the subject, written in French.  She describes how and why this came about in a piece for Meanjin.

Debut Adelaide author Hannah Kent seems to have hit the big-time with her novel Burial Rights. The novel is described as "a historical novel based on Agnes Magnusdottir, a servant convicted of murder and beheaded in Iceland in 1830." 

This year's Melbourne Writers' Festival has appointed three official bloggers and you can meet Angela Meyer, Stephanie Honor Convery, and Mark Welker on the MWF blog.

American science fiction writer Mary Robinette Kowal runs a weblog called "Mary Robinette Kowal", which seems fair enough.  Lately she's been running a series of guest posts by writer friends titled "My Favourite Bit", in which the authors discuss their favourite parts in or about their latest book.  Sean Williams gets in on the act as he discusses Trouble Twisters: The Monster, his collaboration with Garth Nix.

From time to time London-based ex-pat kimbofo runs a "Triple Choice Tuesday" on her weblog "Reading Matters". This gives various readers, writers and bloggers the opportunity to describe three books which mean a lot to them under the categories "a favourite book", "a book that changed my world", and "a book that deserves a wider audience".  This week's triple-treater is Australian author Alex Miller.

Peter Carey's novel Oscar and Lucinda has been chosen by John Mullen, in The Guardian, as containing one of the ten best horse races in literature.  It's been so long since I read the book that I don't remember any horse races at all in the novel.

2012 Melbourne Writers Festival Program

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The program for the 2012 Melbourne Writers' Festival was released today.  You can get a hard copy by buying a paper version of The Age or you can go to the Festival website to browse and book your tickets.

Director Steve Grimwade offers some highlights.

2012 Davitt Award Nominees

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The longlisted works for the 2012 Davitt Awards have been released.

From Wikipedia: "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. They were established in 2001."

The lists are:

Adult Crime Fiction

Sydney Bauer, The 3rd Victim (PanMacmillan)
A.A. Bell, Hindsight (HarperCollins)
Claire Corbett, When We Have Wings (Allen & Unwin)
Sandy Curtis, Fatal Flaw (Clan Destine Press)
Miranda Darling, The Siren's Sting (Allen & Unwin)
Virginia Duigan, The Precipice (Random House)
Y A Erskine, The Brotherhood (Bantam/Random House)
Helen Fitzgerald, The Donor (Allen & Unwin)
Jaye Ford, Beyond Fear (Bantam/Random)
Sulari Gentill, Decline in Prophets (Pantera Press)
Carol Gibson, Click Click, You're Dead (Zeus Publications)
H.M. Goltz, Death by Sugar (Atlas Productions Publishing Company)
Kerry Greenwood, Cooking the Books (Allen & Unwin)
Judy Johnson, The Secret Fate of Mary Watson (HarperCollins)
Sylvia Johnson, Watch Out for Me (Allen & Unwin)
Adriana Koulias, The Sixth Key (Random House)
Phyllis King, ed., Scarlet Stiletto: The Second Cut (Clan Destine Press)
Carolyn Morwood, Death and the Spanish Lady (Pulp Fiction)
Jennifer Rowe, Love Honour & O'Brien (Allen & Unwin)
Kim Westwood, The Courier's New Bicycle (Harper Voyager)
Nicole Watson, The Boundary (University of Queensland Press)
Helene Young, Shattered Sky (Hachette Australia)
Tracey O'Hara, Death's Sweet Embrace (Harper Voyager)
Children's/Young Adult

J.C Burke, Pig Boy (Random House)
Ursula Dubosarsky, The Golden Day (Allen & Unwin)
Susan Green, The Truth about Verity Sparks (Walker Books)
Jacqueline Harvey, Alice-Miranda at Sea (Random House)
H J Harper, Star League series - Book 1: Lights, Camera, Action Hero!; Book 2: Curse of the Werewolf; Book 3: Raising the Dead ; Book 4: The Ninja Code (Random House)
Karen Healey,The Shattering (Allen & Unwin)
Nansi Kunze, Dangerously Placed (Random House)
Gabrielle Lord, Conspiracy 365 (Scholastic Australia)
Sophie Masson, The Understudy's Revenge (Scholastic Australia)
Tara Moss, The Spider Goddess (PanMacmillan Australia)
Meg McKinlay, Surface Tension (Walker Books)
Belinda Murrell, The Ivory Rose (Random House)
Joanne Van Os, The Secret of the Lonely Isles (Random House)
Lili Wilkinson, A Pocketful of Eyes (Allen & Unwin)
True Crime

Carol Baxter, Captain Thunderbolt and His Lady: The true story of bushrangers Frederick Ward and Mary Ann Bugg (Allen & Unwin)
Jo Chandler and Christine Nixon, Fair Cop: Christine Nixon (Melbourne University Press)
Rachael Jane Chin, Nice Girl: Whatever Happened To Baby Tegan Lane? (Simon & Schuster)
Helen Cummings, Blood Vows: a haunting memoir of marriage and murder (The Five Mile Press)
Nichola Garvey, Beating the Odds (Harper Collins)
Fiona Harari, A Tragedy in Two Acts: Marcus Einfeld and Teresa Brennan (Victory Books)
Wendy Lewis, The Australian Book of Family Murders (Pier 9/Murdoch Books)
Liz Porter, Cold Case Files: Past crimes solved by new forensic science (PanMacmillan)
Vikki Petraitis, The Frankston Serial Killer (Clan Destine Press)

The winners will be announced at a ceremony to be held in Melbourne on Saturday September 1st.

Reprint: Louis Stone. His Forgotten Novels by Nettie Palmer

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Lately I have been re-reading Louis Stone's novel, "Jonah," first published in 1911. The chief impression it leaves is a secondary one, a feeling of sadness that such fine work should be ignored and forgotten. For it is ignored; people will be saying that they wished Australia had produced a novel about larrikin life in Sydney, a novel which would show our larrikin emerging from push life, and becoming a commercial magnate, a novel showing the contrast between sordid, slumming Sydney, and the exquisite movement and colour of the harbour; well, here is the novel they dreamt of, and they have not read it. I feel inclined to take them on a personally conducted tour through its subtly wrought chapters.

A "Written" Book.

"Jonah" is a book in which every page, as a novelist said to me lately, "feels written." What that means is, I think, that the words are not slammed down in a hit-or-miss fashion. The author has felt aware that he has only, let us say, about ninety thousand words to use, and that there must be no waste pages, no dead paragraphs, no words that are mere counters. Perhaps his best drawn side character is Mrs. Yabsley, the good humoured, selfless old charwoman who becomes Jonah's mother-in-law. The careful drawing of Mrs. Yabsley is a specimen of what I mean by "writing"; every word is faithful to its task, thus:

Mrs. Yabsley came to the door . . . and surveyed Cardigan-street with a loving eve. She had lived there since her marriage 20 years ago, and to her it was the pick of Sydney, the centre of the habitable globe. She gave her opinion to every new-comer in her tremendous voice, that broke on their unaccustomed ear like thunder:

"I've lived 'ere ever since I was a young married woman, an' I know wot I'm talkin' about. My 'usband used ter take me ter the play before we was married, but I never see any play equal ter wot 'appens in this street, if yer only keeps yer eyes open. I see people as wears spectacles readin' books. I don't wonder. If their eyesight was good, they'd be able ter see fer themselvs instead of readin' about it in a book. I can't read myself, bein' no scholar, but I can see that books an' plays is fer them as ain't got no eyes in their 'eads."

The matter does not end there with Mr. Yabsley's dogmatic statement. The author makes you feel that you really do see that street through Mrs. Yabsley's lively, interested eyes. This Cardigan-street is a Sydney variant, perhaps, of the street known as "Little Lon" in Melbourne, celebrated variously by Louis Esson and C. J. Dennis. It is the street of pushes, stray hawkers, family rows ex- pressed out of doors, feuds, struggles, love making, bargaining; yes, it does give you a contempt for people in spectacles staring at a book! Then you suddenly remember that this is all being brought before your mind through the pages of a book, a book extraordinarily weil written. You realise again that the art of letters is a consider- able one.

Jonah Himself.

In very many novels, especially those in a bizarre setting, the hero is negligible, a mere figure-head, as we say, or a tailor's dummy. Not so with "Jonah," whose real name, used in commercial circumstances as time went on, was Joseph Jones. The reader finds no difficulty in believing that Jonah really was a powerful character, powerful in physique and in personality. His physical deformity accompanies our thoughts of him: we remember his tragic tramp and his over-long arms, remember them especially when Jonah is torn between two sets of motives. You feel he is a spirit in prison: yon can even believe in his passion and talent for music, although his only instrument is the mouth organ he won in a shilling raffle. It is important to emphasise this power of Louis Stone's to portray an artistic temperament: very few novelists can make you believe for a moment in the "artists" they describe. Can't we all remember novels in which we are assured that the hero was a wonderful painter, the despair of all rivals alive or dead, and how we felt that nothing less than some "habeas corpus" of his canvases would make us believe for a moment that this dull person ever knew how to mix paint at all? As for the musician in an ordinary novel, with his power of binding his audience in a spell, whatever he played, we usually want to tell him to go and break stones. Jonah does not come before us as a skilled musician, not a prodigy of any sort; but we do believe that he cared for music, and that it was real to him. Parallel to this, we believe in his bewildered physical power and his business shrewdness. Jonah's rise in life through skilled use of advertisement and publicity at a time when such things had not been exploited as they are to-day makes very interesting reading, like a development of some chapters in the early part of H. G. Wells' "The World of William Clissold." Jonah began as assistant to an old-fashioned cobbler, but felt that he was getting no further on. Borrowing a little money, he started an opposition business just across the road. At first he got no custom, his former boss was known, and he was not. Soon, though, hearing his wife say how cheap some baby's bonnet was at four and   eleven, he asked if it would really have been dearer at five shillings:-

"Why don't yer say five bob, an' be done with it?" said Jonah.

"But it ain't five bob; it's only four and eleven," insisted Ada, annoyed at his stupidity.

"An' I suppose it'd be dear at five bob?" sneered Jonah.

"Any fool could tell yez that," snapped Ada.

This discussion bore fruit in Jonah's cynically practical business head. He advertised flamboyantly that he would mend men's shoes for 2/11, and women's for 1/11, while his former chief's old dingy sign, from which "the paint was peeling, still said: "Gent's, 3/6; Ladies. 2/6." In addition, Jonah announced a "While You Wait" service, and bribed a friend to come in and read a newspaper, and spectacularly wait. The miracle was done! In a while Jonah had a special trade sign, and a chain of shops, through Sydney suburbs. It is only after this that he draws breath and emerges, for one of two brief episodes, on the Harbour; you then realise that you have been in Sydney all this time, seeing the tapestry from the wrong side -- the seamy side.

Jonah's Mates.  

Yet that wrong side, was not all sordid. Jonah's friend of his early push days, known as Chook, was a youth with a pretty wit, and his idyllic little love affair holds very genuine sweetness to the very close of the book. ' And humour -- humour of the heavy, farcical kind in his foolish, selfish, step-mother-in-law; humour of delicate moments in his relations with his sweetheart, Pinkie, with her pale face and hair the colour of a new penny. Chapter by chapter, the episodes of their developing life are charming, and also solid. At the end of the book, though, comes the question of why these episodes do seem to float away from the mind. In some books, the framework is so firm and well balanced that at the close you see every episode even more clearly than while you were reading it. In others, the close means a breaking up. "Jonah" is not quite "fitly framed together"; that is its weakness, in spite of all its other strength. Every chapter is rather too much like a separate still-life study, though not "still" within the boundaries of the separate, lively chapter! The story does not quite carry all the characters along in its sweep: when Jonah takes up his new commercial existence, Chook is never mentioned again except in his wholly separate environment. You never hear Chook mentioning Jonah's rise in life, or comparing it with his own struggles as a green- grocer. You never hear Jonah wishing he had lived on with Chook. They are separated, watertight, further from each other than Cardigan-street was from the Habour. Still, Chook and Pinkie and the rest remain as excellent sketches. The whole book is a sketch-book of types very difficult to capture, and we feel they have been saved for us between the covers of "Jonah." It is a book that certainly ought to be republished and well distributed.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 7 January 1928

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

Sue Woolfe Interview

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oldest_song_in_the_world.jpg    Sue Woolfe is probably best known for her 1996 novel Leaning Towards Infinity, which won the South East Asia and South Pacific Region Best Book award in the 1997 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and the 1996 New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, Christina Stead Prize for Fiction. She has just published her latest novel, The Oldest Song in the World, and she spoke to Linda Morris for "the Age":

The extremities of Australia's interior and the blunderings of well-intentioned whites are what salt Woolfe's fourth novel, The Oldest Song in the World, a departure of backdrop and topic for the award-winning novelist who has tended to familiar urban settings in her long fascination with frustrated genius and the bonds between mothers and daughters.

Woolfe's first novel in nine years begins as a familiar fish-out-of-water tale before opening out into a novelistic exploration of the disconnect between black and white culture via a heroine marooned by personal adversity.


The interior first beckoned in 2005, two years after publication of her third novel, The Secret Cure, while on sabbatical from the University of Sydney, where she teaches creative writing. Her daughter, Kitty, had been offered work experience in a remote Aboriginal settlement in the Northern Territory and Woolfe accompanied her for an initial two-week sojourn, then stayed for more than a year and a half.

In that dry brush country, nursing children in her lap, Woolfe would muse for hours on what drew the eyes of indigenous women to the horizon, how Aboriginal culture valued companionable silence over idle chit-chat, and the complex web of kin that leaves little room for friendships.

All the while Woolfe wrote, without once inciting curiosity about the thoughts she put on paper. It occurred to Woolfe, a writer by stubborn temperament and profession, that this was a truly non-materialistic, paperless culture. ''I remember walking up the road and it was a sunny afternoon, not too hot, and all the women of the family were lying on a verandah, a lot of undulating bodies, and they were chatting about this and that, and I had this immense sense of what a lonely society we are.''

2011 WA Premier's Book Awards Shortlists

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The shortlisted works for the 2011 Western Australia Premier's Books Awards have been released.

The shortlisted works are:

Young Adults

Crow Country: Kate Constable (Allen & Unwin)
Horses for King Arthur: LS Lawrence (Omnibus Books)
The Coming of the Whirlpool: Andrew McGahan (Allen & Unwin)
The Dead I Know: Scot Gardner (Allen & Unwin)
Only Ever Always: Penni Russon (Allen & Unwin)
Whisper: Chrissie Keighery (Hardie Grant Egmont)


All that I Am: Anna Funder (Penguin Group)
Caleb's Crossing: Geraldine Brooks (HarperCollins)
Five Bells: Gail Jones (Random House Australia)
Foal's Bread: Gillian Mears (Allen & Unwin)
The Cook: Wayne Macauley (Text Publishing Company)
The Street Sweeper: Elliot Perlman (Random House Australia)


Anytown: Hellie Turner (Jeddah Productions)
Burning Man: Jonathan Teplitzky (Archer Street Productions)
Cloudstreet: Tim Winton & Ellen Fontana (Penguin Group)
Mad Bastards: Brendan Fletcher & Dean Daley-Jones (Bush Turkey Films)
The Good, the Bad and the Baba: Philip Dalkin (Media World Pictures)
Waltzing the Wilarra: David Milroy (Currency Press)

WA History

A Garden on the Margaret: the Path to Old Bridge House: Gillian Lilleyman (Gillian Anne Lilleyman)
Fremantle Port: John Dowson (The Chart and Map Shop)
Government House and Western Australian Society 1829-2012: Jeremy Martens (UWA publishing)
Justice: A History of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia: Fiona Skyring (UWA Publishing)
Powering Perth: A History of the East Perth Power Station: Lenore Layman (Black Swan Press)
Triumphs and Tragedies: Oombulgurri an Australian Aboriginal Community: Neville Green (Hesperian Press)


Armour: John Kinsella (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Interferon Psalms: Luke Davies (Allen & Unwin)
Lines for Birds: Barry Hill & John Wolseley (UWA Publishing)
Surface to Air: Jaya Savige (University of Queensland Press)
The Argument: Tracy Ryan (Fremantle Press)
The Taste of River Water: Cate Kennedy (Scribe Publications)

Children's Books

A Bus Called Heaven: Bob Graham (Walker Books)
Archie's Letter: Martin Flanagan Illustrations by Ainsley Walters (One Day Hill Publishing)
Brotherband 1: The Outcasts: John Flanagan (Random House Australia)
On Orchard Road: Elsbeth Edgar (Walker Books)
Sam, Grace and the Shipwreck: Michelle Gillespie Illustrations by Sonia Martinez (Fremantle Press)


1835: The Founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia: James Boyce (Black Inc.)
An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark: Mark McKenna (Miegunyah Press)
Hiroshima Nagasaki: Paul Ham (Harper Collins Publishers)
Her Father's Daughter: Alice Pung (Black Inc.)
Paramedico: Around the World by Ambulance: Benjamin Gilmour (Murdoch Books Australia)
Black Swan: A Koori Woman's Life: Eileen Harrison & Carolyn Landon (Allen & Unwin)

The winners will be announced on September 20.

Reprint: Obituary. Mr Louis Stone

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Mr. Louis Stone, novelist, who died at his home at Randwick on Monday, at the age of 63 years, was the author of "Jonah," a story which dealt with the life of the larrikin element of Sydney of about 30 years ago. It was first published in London in 1911, and re-published in 1933. Mr. Stone was also the author of "Betty Wayside," which was published in London in 1914. He retired from the Education Department a few years ago, for health reasons. He had been first assistant at the Coogee Public School and a teacher at the Sydney Boys' High School. Mr. Stone came to Australia with his parents when 12 years of age, from Leicester, England, where he was born. After some years in Brisbane, he came to Sydney in 1885. He entered the Education Department. Mr. Stone was a fine musician. His wife, formerly Miss Abbie Allen, was a pianist and a member of a prominent musical family. Mrs. Stone survives him.

The funeral took place yesterday to the Randwick Cemetery after a service at the home conducted by the Rev. A Morris who also officiated at the graveside.

The chief mourners were Mrs Stone (widow), Messrs. A. T. Allen, F. W. Allen, S. Allen, Wilfred Allen and Roy Allen (brothers-in-law), and Miss  Dora Allen (sister-in-law)/ Others present included  Messrs. H. W. Moffitt, T. A. Lawler, J. Wolinski, W. H. Woodward, Scarlett, Mr. and Mrs. William Moore, Messrs. Roderic Quinn, Mick Paul, Green, Davies, C. Kinsela, A. Woolland, W. Lawson, H. and H. W. Webb, Wallace, P. Waterman, Miss Jean Wallace, Mr. and Mrs. H. Julius, Messrs. L. Cutler, W. Barnes, Thornton, Oates, Smedley, Bosward, Mason, Proud, J. Fitzgerald, Mesdames Mooney, N. Lindsay, Green, Flowers, Gibb, Messrs. Singleton, Homer, Martin, C. Morrisby, Misses H. Holloway, Russell, McKern, E. Dwyer, Soutar, Garrett, B. and E. Bubb, Warren, Bertie, and Sabine, Dr. Mackaness, Mesdames Fossell, Buettel, Craig, and Chapman, Messrs. G. L. Dwyer, O. and W. Young, W. S. Russell, and Brown.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 September 1935

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


The Bugalugs Bum Thief by Tim Winton, 1991
Cover illustration by Carol Pelham-Thoman
Puffin edition, 1998

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