September 2012 Archives

Poem: Songs That I Know by A.G. MacGregor

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I know the songs of ancient Greece and Rome,   
Of Jason faring forth across the foam
To win the fleece, and safely bring it home.  
Narcissus, who was punished for conceit,
And Amazons who scorned the fireside seat,
But with the fiercest warriors would compete.
These songs I know and love!  

I know the English songs of Wode and Thor;
Of Jack o' Lanterns, dancing on the moor,
And witches burned by judgment of the law.   
I also know those songs of dim blue sky,
Of ordered woods and fields of golden rye,
Of trim clipped hedge, and brooks where fat trout lie.
These songs I know and love!

Then some quite other songs from these I know;
Sung by a friendly bunyip, whispering low,
Of warriors and lubras long ago,
Whose only dogs were warrigals made tame.   
Who danced corroborees and hunted game  
Around Port Jackson, long before we came.
These songs I know and love!

But dearer to my heart than all of these
Are those sweet songs, borne on each scented breeze
From wattle groves where sip the native bees.   
Give me the joyfully tinkling waterfall,
Half hidden by great spreading treeferns tall.   
These are the songs that do my heart enthral.   
These songs I know and love!  

I know the song each shy bush dweller sings,
From daybreak, when a small grey bellbird rings --
"Awake thou lazy one and stretch thy wings!"
Till all the golden air with sound vibrates
And every feathery throat with song pulsates
To join their music with wild mountain spates.
These songs I know and love!  

Oh, give to me the songs of mountain trails,
Where tall gums groan in grip of Winter's gales:  
Where golden glow of camp-fire leaps and fades,  
And kookaburras laugh the sun to rest
Behind grey mountains in a crimson West.
Of all the songs, my own land's I love best.
Her songs I know and love!  

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 November 1930

Combined Reviews: Piano Lessons by Anna Goldsworthy

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piano_lessons.jpg    Piano Lessons
Anna Goldsworthy
Black Inc Publishing

[This memoir has been shortlisted for the Best Writing Award of the 2012 Melbourne Prize for Literature.]

From the publisher's page:
In this remarkable memoir, Anna Goldsworthy recalls her first steps towards a life in music, from childhood piano lessons with a local jazz muso to international success as a concert pianist. As she discovers passion and ambition, and confronts doubt and disappointment, she learns about much more than tone and technique. This is a story of the getting of wisdom, tender and bittersweet.

With wit and affection, Goldsworthy captures the hopes and uncertainties of youth, the fear and exhilaration of performing, and the complex bonds between teacher and student. An unforgettable cast of characters joins her: her family; her friends and rivals; and her teacher, Mrs Sivan, who inspires and challenges her in equal measure, and who transforms what seems an impossible dream into something real and sustaining.


Zora Simic for "The Monthly": "At first glance, Anna Goldsworthy's memoir, Piano Lessons, appears rather modest: she revisits her childhood and adolescence in comfortably suburban Adelaide, with the passing years marked by her development as a classical pianist under the tutelage of her piano teacher, Mrs Eleanora Sivan, a Russian émigré and one of a formidable line of teachers dating back to the nineteenth-century Hungarian composer Franz Liszt...what Goldsworthy manages to pull off in Piano Lessons is far richer than a mere catalogue of achievements or self-congratulatory reminiscence. With eloquent flair and deft insight, she manages to convey the magical effects of fine teaching, an often-mysterious process that can easily turn attempts at translation into utter cliché. Here, however, the student matches the teacher: the memoir can be read as a product of their shared labours. Goldsworthy's writing, like Mrs Sivan's pedagogic style, is both disciplined and impassioned - and sometimes cleverly revealing - with just the right amount of self-mockery."

Lisa Hill on the "ANZ LitLovers LitBlog": "Gifted in every way, Goldsworthy set herself one target after another: academically, a scholarship to Pembroke, top marks and dux of school; musically, mastering a progression of composers, collecting A+ exam results, prizes in performance and a scholarship to the Texan Christian University. She tells this story with honesty and self-deprecating humour, sharing her earnest adolescent efforts to be like the other girls, her ineptitude behind the wheel of a car, and the compulsive thought processes that guide her through the terrors of rehearsal and performance."

"Publishers Weekly": "Australian pianist Goldsworthy was nine years old when she began instruction with the renowned Russian pianist Eleonora Sivan, now relocated to Adelaide. Their pupil-master relationship grew and deepened over the next decade, rendered here in serene, clear, elegant prose, as Goldsworthy, the child of two doctors and musicians, blossomed into a stunning stage force and a vessel of Sivan's deeply intuitive music instruction. Over her meticulous stages of instruction, Sivan took on each composer in turn--Bach was like God, she noted, offering 'peace, of course, and bells,' while Mozart was like Midas, 'every sound he touches turns into song'--and Goldsworthy tidily arranges her memoir according to their embarking on these composers' works, from Shostakovich to Liszt."


Andrea Goldsmith for "Readings".
Richard Fidler for ABC Radio "Local Conversations".
Helen Garner on "Slow TV".


The book launch on "YouTube":

The Scourge of Book Bloggers

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According to Peter Stothard, the chair of this year's Man Booker Prize judging panel, book bloggers are harming literature. His idea is that if the mass of uninformed opinion gradually outweighs that of the "literary critics...then literature will be the lesser for it".  He does go on to say that some bloggers are okay, but the sub-text is that the bulk of them aren't.

This is very much the "us" and "them" argument which I thought went out the door after the Second World War.  Maybe we should hand out certificates to those who can talk about literature "properly" and disallow anyone else from talking about it.  Yeah, that'd work.

Reprint: Review

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POEMS AND SONGS by HENRY KENDALL. Published by J. R. Clarke, 356, George-street, and printed by F. Cunninghame, 184, Pitt-street, Sydney. 114 pages, 8vo.

We are always happy to receive fresh flowerets for the Chaplet of Australian Poesy, and it is thus with feelings of unaffected pleasure that we take up the neat little volume of poems recently published by Mr. Henry Kendall, some of whose compositions (distinguished by their smoothness of versification and elevated turn of thought) have already appeared in these columns. Mr. Henry Kendall is a poet of much promise, a native of New South Wales, whose inborn genius has already gained for him a respectable standing as a colonial writer, and who is, doubtless, destined, at no very remote period, to assume an honourable place amongst the constantly increasing ranks of British authors. Already the English Athenaeum has made favourable mention of the name of this young Australian, and has quoted a set of verses written by him -- doing justice to the abilities of the youthful aspirant after fame, and encouraging him to proceed onward in the toilsome ascent of Mount Parnassus. It is an old adage -- so old that it remains embalmed in the idiom of a dead language -- that "A poet is born -- not made," and Mr. Kendall would certainly appear to be one of the fortunate few who may fairly advance his claim to be so described. The forty-five poems which are now placed before the public in this little work are an incontestable proof of the talent of the author -- of his passionate love of the sublime and beautiful, and of his ambition to give utterance to thoughts that may long live in the stately rhythm and sonorous cadences of the English tongue. One very pleasing characteristic of his writings is the the obvious fact that he delights to draw his imagery from Australian scenery, and is evidently thoroughly familiar with its distinctive peculiarities, and its many singular beauties-and deeply impressed with that vague and dreamy tone of thought generated by a personal contemplation and consideration of all that is to be seen in the wilds of the bush, whether in the pathless solitudes of the interior or in the woody mist-laden glens of our picturesque coast scenery. Mr. Kendall resided, we believe, for some time in the beautiful southern district of Kiama, and expatiates with all a poet's enthusiasm upon the glorious scenery with which that secluded and lovely locality everywhere abounds; its rugged barrier of mountains, its pleasant, rolling hills, verdant valleys, pretty homesteads, and sparkling streamlets something rather unusual in Australia), seem to have awakened in the soul of the young Australian all the spirit of poetry. In the third poem of the series he thus expresses himself in language which will give the reader a very fair idea of his style.

      Kiama slumbers robed with mist
      All glittering in the dewy light
         That, brooding o'er
         The shingly shore,
      Lies resting in the arms of night!
      And foam-flecked crags with surges chill,
      And rocks embraced by cold-lipped spray,
      Are moaning loud where billows crowd,
      In angry numbers, up the bay.
      The holy stars come looking down
      On windy heights and swarthy strand;
         And Life and Love --
         The cliffs above --
      Are sitting fondly hand in hand!

The following poem on "The Muse of Australia" contains some very fine lines, and will be read with pleasure, although it is not entirely free from a degree of carelessness and obscurity which might have been beneficially avoided, especially in the second stanza. The first verse appears to us to be, as a description of scenery, particularly graphic and well expressed:

   Where the pines with the eagles are nestled in rifts,
   And the torrent leaps down to the surges,
   I have followed her, clambering over the clifts,
   By the chasms and moon-haunted verges.
   I know she is fair, as the angels are fair,
   For have I not caught a faint glimpse of her there;
   A glimpse of her face, and her glittering hair,
         And a hand with the Harp of Australia!    

   I never can reach you, to hear the sweet voice
   So full with the music of fountains!  
   Oh, when will you meet with that soul of your choice,  
   Who will lead you down here from the mountains!  
   A lyre-bird lit on a shimmering space,  
   It dazzled mine eyes, and I turned from the place,
   And wept in the dark for a glorious face,
         And a hand with the Harp of Australia!

Mr. Kendall has written, we perceive, several poems in which he has idealised the war songs of the aboriginal natives, and thrown a veil of poetry over much that in the actual facts of savage life cannot but be homely and unpleasing, if not absolutely barbarous. In this he has done no more than avail himself of a poet's license -- seizing the more picturesque points as they presented themselves, and passing over all that interfered with the more ideal. Viewed in that light "Kooroora," "Urara," and "Ulmarra" are poems that will not be read without some considerable pleasure. The "Song of the Cattle Hunters," "The Wild Kangaroo," "The Barcoo," and "The Opossum Hunters" are pieces of far greater merit, and contain many passages evincing powers of description, and a degree of thought which would do honour to a much more experienced writer. Mr. Kendall is always pleasing where he depends solely on his own unassisted powers, and only fails when he adopts the ideas and mannerisms of other writers. This he does sometimes (perhaps unconsciously) in a style that cannot be approved of. The grand, quaint metre of Edgar Poe has, doubtless, a peculiar charm in its rhythmical cadence, but his obscurities are defects which it is impossible to justify, and therefore most undesirable to imitate. It is also, we must here remark, much to be regretted that the poem entitled "The Maid of Gerringong" should not have been carefully revised for the author before it went to press. It contains (on page 92) lines which are mere adaptations from the second, third, and fourth stanzas of a poem that appeared in the Nation newspaper about fifteen years ago -- the exquisite beauty of which doubtless captivated the taste of the youthful writer until imagination and memory must have become absolutely blended together. The lines we refer to are as follows :

   Did the strangers come around you, in the far-off foreign land!
   Did they lead you out of sorrow, with kind face and loving hand!
   Had they pleasant ways to court you-had they silver words to bind?
   Had they souls more fond and loyal than the soul you left behind?
   Do not think I blame you, dear one! Ah! my heart is gushing o'er
   With the sudden joy and wonder, thus to see your face once more,  
   Happy is the chance which joins us after long long years of pain;
   And oh, blessed was whatever sent you back to me again!

name of the author is unknown to us, but it was printed under the signature of "Mary."  

It is always more agreeable to praise than to censure, however gently, and we have thus much pleasure in concluding this notice by republishing Mr. Kendall's admirable poem "The rain comes sobbing to the door," which is, to our taste, one of the best in the whole book.


   The night grows dark, and weird, and cold; and thick drops patter on the pane;
   There comes a wailing from the sea ; the wind is weary of the rain.
   The red coals click beneath the flame, and see, with slow and silent feet,
   The hooded shadows cross the woods to where the twilight waters beat!
   Now fan-wise from the ruddy fire, a brilliance sweeps athwart the floor;
   As, streaming down, the lattices, the rain comes sobbing to the door:
         As, streaming down the lattices,
         The rain comes sobbing to the door,

   Dull echoes round the casement fall, and through the empty chambers go,
   Like forms unseen whom we can hear on tip-toe stealing to and fro,
   But fill your glasses to the brims, and through a mist of smiles and tears,
   Our eyes shall tell how much we love to toast the shades of other years!

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 October 1862

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

Australian Bookcovers #323 - The Deep Field by James Bradley

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The Deep Field
by James Bradley, 1999
Cover design by Antart
Sceptre edition, 1999

Robert G. Barrett (1942-2012)

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robert_barrett.jpg    The Australian writer Robert G. Barrett has died after a long battle with cancer. Best known for his novels featuring his hard, street-wise character, Les Norton, Barrett wrote over 20 novels starting with You Wouldn't be Dead for Quids in 1984. He turned to writing after sustaining a work place injury and taking a writing course. His novels were very popular in Australia and he is said to have sold over 1 million copies of his books.

My Books by Dierdre Tregarthen

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Old friends of mine, who stay when humans leave me,
   Whose presence, like the stars, in darkness shine,
I never need to fear that you will grieve me,
   Old friends of mine.  

Here, one will fire my blood with laughter's wine,
   And this, with faery arts, from care reprieve me:
And that one charm with poetry divine.

Well tried and proved, from age you still retrieve me,  
   All moods you cater for with wisdom fine;
And until life may end, I pray, receive me,
   Old friends of mine.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 1927

Margo Lanagan Interview

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margo_lanagan.jpg    Margo Lanagan's most recent book is Sea Hearts (aka The Brides of Rollrock Island), a young adult fantasy novel. She recently spoke to Stephen C. Ormsby about the writing and publishing trade:

Do you see the future of fantasy and science fiction as bright? If so, which authors are driving it?

Oh, fantasy and science fiction are very bright, particularly as the movie industry is becoming capable of reproducing our stories on-screen so much better now.

Who's driving it? Well, the huge sellers, Rowling and Meyer, are kicking the market along nicely. I wouldn't say there were particular authors who were leading either genre in new directions; we're all following our own obsessions, and we move the thing along (and in a thousand different directions at once!) collectively rather than individually.

What themes are being overused?

Any theme that's being picked up because the author thinks it's trendy, rather than because it's something they want in their heart to explore. I think if you've got a burning desire to write YOUR vampire or mermaid novel, you shouldn't be put off by people saying that that horse has bolted.

Are movies of books ruining the book?

Sometimes they are; sometimes they're doing absolutely staggeringly wonderful things for the book. The movie of The Hunger Games, for example!

I know, you don't quite mean that. But no, movies and novels are two different experiences, and a novel continues existing, with its own integrity, even after a movie's been made of it, whether that movie reduced or insulted the book or whether it extended and enriched our experience of the story. Books have nothing to fear.

Do you see ebooks threatening traditional publishing?

Not threatening, just adding a whole array of new challenges. I've no doubt that the best and most flexible publishers will survive the onslaught of epublishing and go on to great things.

Amusing Literary Terms #5 - Tmesis

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Tmesis is the insertion of one or more words between the words that make up a compound phrase. For example: "what-so-ever" inserted in the middle of "whatever."

- from

It may not actually be a literary term but it is pretty amusing none-the-less.  And thinking about it I wonder if it can be used to describe the Australian practice of inserting the word "bloody" into other words: such as "abso-bloody-lutely".  Which then leads me to C.J. Dennis's poem "The Australaise".

2012 Western Australian Premier's Book Award Winners

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The winners of the 2012 Western Australian Premier's Book Awards have been announced.

The winners were:

WA History
Justice: A History of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia, Fiona Skyring

Children's Literature
Sam, Grace and the Shipwreck, Michelle Gillespie, illustrated by Sonia Martinez

All That I Am, Anna Funder

Cloudstreet - Three-part TV miniseries adaptation, Tim Winton & Ellen Fontana

Her Father's Daughter, Alice Pung

Young Adult Fiction
Only Ever Always, Penni Russon

The Argument, Tracy Ryan

Digital Narrative
Machine Man, Max Barry

People's Choice
All That I Am, Anna Funder

Premier's Prize
Justice: A History of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia, Fiona Skyring
One of the major features of the exhibition of Australian books, which is, perhaps, the most interesting and surprising facet of Australian Authors' Week, is the number and importance of the volumes written by women.

The list of those who have won recognition, both at home and abroad, is long, and, considering our short literary history, and the even shorter time that has elapsed since women entered this field, imposing.

Victorian-born Henry Handel Richardson (Mrs. J. G. Robertson) is one of those whose names first leap to mind when a survey of Australian literary endeavor is being made. Critics in England and America were quick to notice and acclaim the splendid work in her first novel, "Maurice Guest," published in 1908, and those who praised her in those early days had their prophecies more than borne out when the three books making up her famous trilogy, "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony," appeared.

This author's work lacks the sensational pages and meretriciously "clever" touches that would undoubtedly make it better-known among that great reading public which can provide a novelist with ocean-going yachts and several cars, or condemn her to comparative financial obscurity.

But by a relatively small audience-- numerous enough overseas to be important--Henry Handel Richardson is regarded as an outstanding figure, one whose writings will undoubtedly remain when more talked-of books are sifted out on to the dust-heap of mediocrity.

In Helen Simpson we have another woman whose reputation in her own land pales beside the acclaim her books have brought her in other English speaking countries. Miss Simpson, although she has written for the stage, is best known by her novels. "The Woman On the Beast" was a particularly fine example, both of her ability as a story-teller and of her craftsmanship. "Boomerang," a novel that could be compared with any book written by a woman of recent years, won her the distinction of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for 1931. Her latest book, "Saraband For Dead Lovers," will be no disappointment to admirers of her talent.

Other Famous Figures

The name of Katherine Susannah Pritchard is better known in this country, as is her work, than that of either Henry Handel Richardson or Helen Simpson. "Coonardoo," joint winner with "A House is Built" of the first Bulletin Novel Competition, brought her name well before the public, but even before that she had made her own circle of admirers with earlier novels.

Possibly no book written by an Australian, and very few written by any woman, has met with the unanimous praise that critics gave to Miss Christina Stead's "Salzburg Tales" on its publication in London. It was compared, and not unreasonably, in scope and understanding and craftsmanship with the most famous classic collections of its type. The "Salzburg Tales" is certainly a splendid achievement, and one that, even without Miss Stead's later book, "Seven Poor Men of Sydney," would qualify her for an eminent position in the ranks of contemporary writers.

Success came to G. B. Lancaster with the publication of "Pageant," one of the most colorful and capable of Australian historical novels. This book sold extraordinarily well not only in the Commonwealth but overseas, and, as a picture of the Tasmania of a bygone day, has certainly given the author a definite place in Australian letters.

Mention has been made of "A House is Built." This novel of early Sydney was the work of two women, Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw, and is an excellent piece of work, and a fine kaleidoscope of the era with which it deals.

Poetry and Criticism

To do full justice to the fine work that has been done, and is being done, by Australian women in literature would demand a book rather than a short article. Still unmentioned are novelists of the calibre of Winifred Birkett, whose "Earth's Quality" was recently reviewed by us, Henrietta Drake-Brockman, author , of "Blue North," Mary Marlowe, and, among the writers of juvenile books, Ethel Turner and Mary Grant Bruce.

Then there are the writers of verse: Mary Gilmore and Dorothea MacKellar, whose names have become household words, and Zora Cross, some, of whose best sonnets have not yet achieved their full recognition. Nor, in a country sadly lacking in critical standards, should Nettie Palmer be overlooked. Mrs. Palmer's flair for work of good quality, her honesty of outlook, and genuine critical ability place her in that numerically inconspicuous, outnumbered band of Australian critics who know.

First published in The Australian Women's Weekly, 13 April 1935

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

2012 Colin Roderick Award Shortlist

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The shortlists for the 2012 Colin Roderick Award have been released.  Thos award recognises 'the best book published in Australia which deals with any aspect of Australian life', and is open to books published in the previous year in all fields, including works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

The shortlisted works are:

The Sons of Clovis: Ern Malley, Adoré Floupette and a Secret History of Australian Poetry, David Brooks
Alexander Macleay: from Scotland to Sydney, Derelie Cherry
The Taste of River Water, Cate Kennedy
An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark, Mark McKenna
End of the Night Girl, Amy Matthews
Foal's Bread, Gillian Mears
Bite Your Tongue, Francesca Rendle-Short

The winner will be announced on October 19.

Australian Bookcovers #322 - Wrack by James Bradley

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Wrack by James Bradley, 1997
Cover design: Vivien Sung
Vintage edition, 1997

Combined Reviews: How to Make Gravy by Paul Kelly

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how_to_make_gravy.jpg    How to Make Gravy
Paul Kelly
Penguin Books

[This memoir has been shortlisted for the Best Writing Award of the 2012 Melbourne Prize for Literature.]

From the publisher's page:
This extraordinary book had its genesis in a series of concerts first staged in 2004. Over four nights Paul Kelly performed, in alphabetical order, one hundred of his songs from the previous three decades. In between songs he told stories about them, and from those little tales grew How to Make Gravy, a memoir like no other. Each of its hundred chapters, also in alphabetical order by song title, consists of lyrics followed by a story, the nature of the latter taking its cue from the former. Some pieces are confessional, some tell Kelly's personal and family history, some take you on a road tour with the band, some form an idiosyncratic history of popular music, some are like small essays, some stand as a kind of how-to of the songwriter's art - from the point of inspiration to writing, honing, collaborating, performing, recording and reworking.

Paul Kelly is a born storyteller. Give him two verses with a chorus or 550 pages, but he won't waste a word. How to Make Gravy is a long volume that's as tight as a three-piece band. There isn't a topic this man can't turn his pen to - contemporary music and the people who play it, football, cricket, literature, opera, social issues, love, loss, poetry, the land and the history of Australia ... there are even quizzes. The writing is insightful, funny, honest, compassionate, intelligent, playful, erudite, warm, thought-provoking. Paul Kelly is a star with zero pretensions, an everyman who is also a renaissance man. He thinks and loves and travels and reads widely, and his musical memoir is destined to become a classic - it doesn't have a bum note on it.


Michael Dwyer in "The Age": "Any gravy worth its salt begins with the juice. In that regard, Paul Kelly's sprawling memoir has a flying start. For 30 years he has been simmering the meat and potatoes of life into potent reductions of words and music. We add water, a pinch or two of our own experience, and voila: the magic of song...The lyrics to about 110 of Kelly's songs are the essence of this readable, ramshackle tome of essays, memories, legends, journal entries, letters and lists. Alphabetically arranged from Adelaide to Zoe, they're printed in enigmatic blue ink, as if to suggest shimmering depths of thought and myriad possible meanings and inspirations lurking inside...Clearly, and to the lasting good of our forgetful nation, keen observation has been ground zero for Kelly's craft since he dropped out of university in Adelaide 'to choose and read books in [his] own time'. From etymology to Tuvan throat singing, his appetite for understanding is as eager as his instinct for human justice. With the Bible under one arm, Shakespeare's collected works under the other and volumes of Proust and poetry teetering among the countless cassettes and LPs counting the beats from Louis Armstrong to the Triffids, no wonder every passage of blue ink sends his mind swimming off in another direction."

Deborah Crabtree for "Bookseller + Publisher": "Part memoir, part tour diary, part song-writing manual, this sprawling book is filled with all manner of letters, lists, confessions, hymns and yarns. Kelly's 100-plus songs begin each chapter (alphabetically) followed by a story that loosely or closely relates to the song. That Kelly is a consummate storyteller is evident in his song-writing. Here he has space to explore his storytelling skills further, which he does admirably, weaving in and out of the past and present easily and with an intimacy that invites the reader into his world. This book is full of tales that will delight Paul Kelly fans, and will appeal to anyone with an interest in popular music."

Iain Shedden in "The Australian": "There are cobwebs in Paul Kelly's shed. Normally, spiders wouldn't get much of a chance to be so industrious in this environment because at every available opportunity the prolific Kelly would be in there doing what he does best: writing songs. But for more than two years the little work station out the back of Kelly's St Kilda home has lain dormant. He hasn't written one song in that time. The singer has had other things on his mind...Despite Kelly having had the longest lay-off in his songwriting career, songs are very much at the forefront of his latest project. What began six years ago as a new way to play some of his material in concert -- presenting it alphabetically from A to Z across four nights -- has evolved into something quite different: his memoirs...How to Make Gravy is an offshoot of the A-Z idea, with each of the 100 songs from his 300-plus catalogue inspiring or linking in some way to the essay, historical tract or musing on anything from cricket to bad coffee that accompanies it. It's not a typical memoir, not chronological and not always about the writer, although we do learn more about him than he has revealed before."


In conversation with Robert Forster.

Michael Green for "Readings".


You can read an excerpt from the novel on "The Music Network" website.

The song.

The Library by Alice Gore-Jones

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Set in the mellow silence of the room
   Great carven bookshelves laden with grave books,
Dim faded rugs, spoils of an ancient loom,
   Deep cushioned chairs, and dreamy inglenooks.

The atmosphere is fragrant with a scent
   Where bowls of roses spill their rich perfume.
While to the whole austerity is lent
   By a white statue shining through the gloom.
A garden slumbers where the sunlight gleams,
   A bee is humming on the drowsy air:
This is the home of peace -- and yet there seems
   A subtle restless stirring everywhere.

High carven book-shelves laden with grave works
   Of stern philosophy and staid desire:
Beneath some cover young Adventure lurks;
   Romance is smiling with her lips of fire.

The sunlight weaves strange patterns on the floor.
   The air grows tremulous with muffled strife.
If I but turned a leaf, through its white door
   A thousand shining ghosts would leap to life.

First published in The Bulletin, 1 January 1920

Reprint: David McKee Wright by J. Le Gay Brereton

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I think I have not hated any man. -- Dark Rosaleen.

David McKee Wright once told me that he tried to make his poems "simple, sensuous, and sweet." It was an accident of memory, as well as a natural bias, that made him substitute sweetness for passion in the Miltonic trinity, but all readers of "An Irish Heart," his most important published collection, will agree that he achieved remarkable success in his aim. Simplicity is everywhere, in the definite outlines, the honest thought, the dreams that unfold like green leaves the clear expression. And no less noticeable is the profusion of his sensuous imagery that makes us see, hear, and touch what he describes -- for example, the

         Winged palace of delight,
      Against the pale sky lifting green
         Its soaring peaks of malachite;

And the whisper and murmuring mirth when --

      The tall trees talk
      Where the dry leaf laps the stalk,
      And the summer wind goes by,
      Making a laugh and a sigh;

And the light touch of soft lips when the fairy was gracious to blind Ryan--

      Och, she kissed like a butterfly's wing,
      When it touches a weed on the wall.

And sweetness seems the most essential of all his poetic qualities, for it is the constant expression of what was naturally in his heart. It is in his quiet love of beautiful things, his tender humour, his faith in human nature, his hopes for the future of mankind, and the musical modulations of his verse. And sweetness does not exclude passion; but, in Wright's poetry, is often the fine savour of the heady wine. Passion with him is not violent, however deep, however exquisite. Everything seems to be magically softened and transfigured, and realities have the charm of what is at once remote and familiar, like fresh and clear reflections, or memories recovered and represented in dreams. He can be forceful, but he never lacks artistic delicacy. He handles words with the same sure and caressing touch with which I have seen him lifting and turning the unset gemstones which he loved for their colour and form and lustre.

As a metrical artist, he made an exceedingly valuable contribution to our national literature. The Australian muse had been too often slatternly, a virago carelessly singing a heartstirring strain in an uncultivated voice. Wright was skilled and careful, and could take liberties with his metres without clumsily doing them injury. Influenced definitely by the modern school of Irish poets, chiefly W. B. Yeats, he could vary stress and quantity in weaving a lovely wavering pattern of words. And sometimes as the voice lingers over a series of long syllables, one feels how he must have delighted in the sounds that he dropped with that reiterated emphasis:

      'Tis far away and far to keep,
      And winding is the road,
      And I have fifty fields to reap
      With white corn sowed.

Those who have heard him repeat or read verses that he appreciated will know just how the music of his own poems can best be rendered. A soft voice was his, answering consciously to every wave of the verse as an exultant swimmer feels himself rise and fall to the full rhythm of the sea.

Perhaps from his Irish fairies he learned something of his suave manner and his insidious speech, for, city-dweller though he was, there was something of the faun about him. Irresponsible, impulsive, warm-hearted, and humorously tolerant, he moved among men, but how different was their world generally from his. Where they saw stone walls and rigid barriers, he ran with the shee over the green hills and felt the freedom of the wind. Holding the leafy wealth which is given to those who have kissed the lips of the good people, he was careless of worldly riches. An indefatigable worker, producing vast quantities of marketable literary and journalistic ware, he was able to win money though he could never keep It. Meticulous in his handling of verse, he was blithely careless of his handling of money. One afternoon, when I was lunching with him rather late, he cashed a cheque for me to save me the trouble of going to the bank. That, for him, was the end of the transaction. He forgot about it. Many a long month afterwards he sent me the cheque. Imploring me to tell him how it had come Into his possession, and apologising for having neglected to apply it for some charitable purpose. Those who knew him will understand. He was well paid for his work, and he was lavish in reward of those who did him service. So genorous a man must needs die poor, for he lived as though he possessed the purse of Fortunatus. He has left a fine heritage for all Australians, no doubt; but it is in the delicate workmanship of precious verse.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 February 1928

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

2012 Man Booker Prize Shortlist

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The shortlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize has been released.  I don't think this prize needs much introduction these days, so the novels on the list are:

Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books)
Deborah Levy, Swimming Home (And Other Stories/Faber & Faber)
Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Alison Moore, The Lighthouse (Salt)
Will Self, Umbrella (Bloomsbury)
Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis (Faber & Faber)

With only one author having been shortlisted previously (Mantel) and only one winner (again Mantel) it's a fresh look at the novel.  No Australians.  But there weren't any on the longlist either.

The winner will be announced on Tuesday 16 October.

Gillian Mears Interview

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gillian_mears.jpg    Gillian Mears has had a big year with her novel Foal's Bread, being shortlisted for most of the major Australian literary awards, and winning a few of them, including The Age Book of the Year Award and the Prime Minister's Literary Award. She spoke to Estelle Tang for the "Kill Your Darlings" weblog.

In the preamble to Foal's Bread, there's an exhortation: 'Man, woman, boy or girl, when you arrive at the jacaranda tree, take a lick of your horse's salty neck.' Is this something you did when riding a horse? What of your own experiences on a horse did you draw on for this book?

I grew up in northern NSW, in Grafton, and probably from the age of 9 to 20 nothing was more important for me than riding horses, and horses. Grafton is a very subtropical, humid town, so often there were lots of storms. So prior to a storm, the humidity builds - and my horse would often develop a very deep sweat. So it was a just a delicacy, really, to take a little lick.

Was that out of dehydration or was it more of a physical bond you felt with the horse?

The latter. It was a playful thing to do. It's incredible how salty a horse's neck is. I had read somewhere that during World War I the soldiers would be very starving for salt so they would lick the light horses. That always stayed with me.


It is beautiful how memories can coalesce in a way that is unexpected, especially throughout a life that goes unfulfilled. I want to talk about that great chasm between promise and lack of fulfillment. What is it about fallen dreams that strikes us so much when we read other people's stories?

I knew when I set out to write Foal's Bread that I did want to fill my readers with a feeling of yearning. And the unfulfilled promise of Noah Nancarrow, nothing does that more profoundly for me. Lainey, her daughter, realises that the thing her mother most didn't want to be was mediocre. And with all the Olympics frenzy at the moment - there's something unbearably empty about winning, and yet it quite clearly pierces the public's longing for triumph. So I think I was interested in writing about those things in the high jump world, something which is a totally deceased world, really.

Australian Bookcovers #321 - Careless by Deborah Robertson

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Careless by Deborah Roberston, 2006
Cover design by Gayna Murphy, Greendot Design
Picador edition 2006

2012 Melbourne Prize for Literature

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The finalists for the 2012 Melbourne Prize for Literature were recently released. "The Melbourne Prize for Literature 2012 is part of the annual Melbourne Prize cycle and is run by the Melbourne Prize Trust." The Prize is awarded each year and cycles through the fields of Urban Sculpture, Literature and Music.

The finalists are:

Melbourne Prize for Literature 2012

Alison Lester
Robert Manne
Alex Miller
Joanna Murray-Smith
Peter Temple

Best Writing Award 2012

Tony Birch, Blood
Anna Goldsworthy, Piano Lessons
Sonya Hartnett, The Children of the King
Paul Kelly, How to make gravy
Wayne Macauley, The Cook
David McCooey, Outside
Favel Parrett, Past the Shallows
Craig Sherborne, The Amateur Science of Love
Carrie Tiffany, Mateship with Birds
Ouyang Yu, The English Class

The Melbourne Prize is awarded to a Victorian writer for lifetime achievement (previous winners have been Helen Garner (2006) and Gerald Murnane (2009))  The Best Writing Prize is for a single work.

The winners will be announced in Melbourne on November 19.

Combined Reviews: Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany

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mateship_with_birds.jpg    Mateship with Birds
Carrie Tiffany
Pan Macmillan

[This book has been shortlisted for the 2012 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Fiction.]

From the publisher's page:
On the outskirts of an Australian country town in the 1950s, a lonely farmer trains his binoculars on a family of kookaburras that roost in a tree near his house. Harry observes the kookaburras through a year of feast, famine, birth, death, war, romance and song. As Harry watches the birds, his next door neighbour has her own set of binoculars trained on him. Ardent, hard-working Betty has escaped to the country with her two fatherless children. Betty is pleased that her son, Michael, wants to spend time with the gentle farmer next door. But when Harry decides to teach Michael about the opposite sex, perilous boundaries are crossed.

Mateship with Birds is a novel about young lust and mature love. It is a hymn to the rhythm of country life - to vicious birds, virginal cows, adored dogs and ill-used sheep. On one small farm in a vast, ancient landscape, a collection of misfits question the nature of what a family can be.


Helen Elliott in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Always, always judge a book by its cover. Exuberant, droll, dashing, the cover of Mateship with Birds is a seduction. The text behind the picture is neither exuberant, droll nor dashing but it is equally seductive. And as to the odd title, it is not about mateship at all; it's about sex and it might just be the sweetest book about sex you will ever read...Carrie Tiffany's prize-winning debut novel, Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living (2003), was set in the Victorian countryside in 1933 and told of an unlikely relationship. Mateship with Birds has certain similarities...The book is almost under-written. It has, most unusually, a subterranean vitality that enables her to write of the natural world in a thrilling way. This natural world is her real subject and sex is a major part of that world."

David Sornig in "The Melbourne Review": "Given the genesis of the novel in places of intimacy and of carnal want, it should come as no surprise that its hook is to offer one (though I'm not saying which) of the classic romance trajectories. Its potential lovers might overcome the obstacles set before them, but just the same they might have been delivered the stuff of their potential out of order, in a knot that cannot be undone...Tiffany's writing tends toward the tangible; it reflects her own listening, her own observation. The country 'gets dark from the ground up' it has 'linen skies' and Harry eats 'a Sao dry just to put something in his mouth, just to hear the sound of it breaking rudely in his head - like kindling; like words.' "

Lisa Hill on the "ANZ LitLovers Liblog": "Mateship with Birds is a clever title for this book. While' bird' can mean both the winged variety and in slang, a sexually attractive woman, 'mateship' draws on dual meanings too: mating - finding a mate, courtship rituals and mating for life; and also the Australian notion of mateship - meaning a special kind of friendship: laconic, but loyal: an indivisible, enduring bond between equals. In an Australian bush town in the 1950s, the wooing of a woman is more complex than the instinctive courtship of birds, but if it succeeds, the down-to-earth relationship that emerges is solid and strong, a mateship for life. But how best can a lonely man achieve it? A slow, careful campaign that shows what a great father he'd be? Or give in to instinct and be a lover, as the birds do?"

Belinda McKeon in "The Guardian": "1953: an outpost in the Australian bush. We meet Harry, a middle-aged farmer to whom his cattle are like family and for whom his land is an extension of his own skin; and Betty, the life-worn single mother who lives across the way. You get the picture, or you think you do: dust and heat and isolation, all rolling out in a landscape of great natural beauty, alongside inner lives of loneliness and disappointment...But Carrie Tiffany's second novel is a smart and gutsy intervention in the bucolic set-up of its own making; her characters do very little of what we expect they might do, and plenty of what they feel like doing. 'Instinct, / from where I stand ... looks like love,' Harry remarks in his birdwatching notebook - yes, he is a farmer who keeps a birdwatching notebook, and not just any birdwatching notebook, but one which reads like an Elizabeth Bishop poem. Tiffany's novel is a frank and bewitching consideration of instinct, and of the ways in which it thrums through our every move."


Gregory Day for "Readings".

Michael Cathcart for "Radio National".

Angela Meyer on her "LiteraryMinded" weblog.

Poem: The Busted Bard by C.J. Dennis

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["We do not pay for poetry." - Announcement in a Sydney theatrical paper.]

O bard, all baggy at the knees,
Whose goods the soulless bailiffs seize!
Bard, with the frayed, unlaundered cuff.
Get off old Pegasus!  Enough!

For, mark the stern and cold decree --
They "do not pay for poetry."
Rise and gard of commerce don:
Alas! they occupation's gone!

Go, get thee to a draper's store,
And learn by heart the draping lore.
Go, place thyself before the stock
And vend the unaesthetic sock.

Go, learn by groceing art to rob,
And peddle butter to the mob.
Go 'mong or merce or haberdash,
Or with the butcher butch for cash.

Go, e'en to win a humble meal,
And burgle, garrot, thug, or steal.
Some fresh employment you must choose,
For there's no money in the Muse.

O bard, your soul's dark curtains draw --
This, this is sure the final straw! --
And chant the doleful dirge with me:
"They do no pay for poetry!"

First published in The Gadfly, 23 October 1907

Note: this differs from the poem, with the same title, that Dennis wrote for The Critic in 1905.

Reprint: The Unread Australian by C.J. Dennis

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Refusal to recognise one's country's faults (said the small bald monologist) is no part of any man's patriotic duty; if, indeed, patriotism is a quality still to be commended.

We Australians have recently been told by a friendly American, whose opinion we are forced to respect, that we are in no sense to be regarded as a book-loving people, since, in the matter of libraries, we are behind the nations and behind the times.

To other native Australians whose early environment was such as mine, this statement may come as a shock to their national pride, and call for some readjustment of values. In every home that I occupied as a youth in the Australian hinterland there existed a library or at least a fairly well-stocked book case; and so it was in the homes of my intimate friends. Thus I assumed, rather indolently, that these were typical Australian homes.

This belief was further strengthened by a statement then current that, in the matter of verse, if not of other literary matters, Australians bought (and presumably read) more books in proportion to population than any other people. That statement received wide publicity and general credence in my young days, and we rather plumed ourselves upon it. Today I have grave doubts about it.

Upon my removal to the city (went on the monologist, helping himself from my cigarette case), I naturally consorted with rather bookish men - men who took some interest in modern literature and had at least a passing knowledge of the major classics. Not that we were intellectually snobbish in any degree. On the contrary, such attention as we gave to the reading of books (chiefly for pleasure) we regarded as a quality shared by all fellow Australians of average intelligence. Again, this was a rather lazy assumption, born of national pride, that we took little pains to justify.

And side by side with this assumption, was that other one - so easily acquired in those days and in the environment I inhabited - that Australians were the salt of the earth, unequalled in intelligence, initiative, commonsense, sterling honesty and freedom from trammelling tradition. For tradition appealed to me at that time, never as a source of inspiration but ever as a handicap to a mentally bright and freedom-loving people.

This rabid Australianism was not perhaps altogether a bad thing at that period; for its exaggerated tendency did help to combat a certain anti-Australianism in regard to industry and manufacture that was concurrently rife in many quarters.

Do not assume, however, that since then I have swung to the other extreme and slunk into the slough of a sense of national inferiority. Far from it. My opinion of my fellow Australian is still high, but it is qualified by chastening experience.

I do not know if or how my book-loving friends of the old days awoke to a measure of disillusionment that served to temper and sanely modify our exaggerated patriotism. To me the awakening came with a series of shocks hotly resented at the time.

The first shattering explosion came, I remember, when an artistic friend, returning after a long sojourn abroad, referred to Australia ("His own Australia," I remember thinking) as "an almost purely agricultural community with a very limited appreciation of literature and an artistic and aesthetic sense that was almost negligible."

I fiercely denied the charge and began to argue warmly. But as he cited instance after instance, made point after point, I found myself seeking excuses. Then, realising that the necessity for excuse betrayed a losing case, I fell sulkily silent while he proceeded to harrow my tenderest susceptibilities with bitter home-truths.

After that I began, so to speak, to sit up and take notice. I began to make inquiries, to employ private tests and engage in devious and secret questionnaires that left me wondering how and where I had acquired my estimate of the well-read Australian.

Somewhere about that time I heard and accepted the true tale of the eminent Victorian pastoralist who, about to entertain an honored visitor from overseas, decided to install a library to impress his distinguished guest. Having erected costly shelves, his next move was to telegraph to a city bookseller for "half a ton of books."

That is an instance, exaggerated slightly if you like, of the average Australian's attitude toward books as a means even of pleasurable relaxation.

And by average Australian I do not refer only to the sport-loving artisan or clerk or shop hand but also to the professional man, the merchant, and to many others regarded as our leading citizens both in town and country.

The truth may be unpleasant to many, but the fact remains that, as a nation, Australia is not a book-loving land. And I know that librarians, publishers and booksellers will support that truth.

The luxury of reading is, after all, rather an acquired taste, and if the average busy Australian has failed to acquire it, that is not so much to his own discredit as to that of our educators, our leaders of thought and, in a measure, to our Governments.

By the way (concluded the monologist) are those imported cigarettes in your case? Thanks. I'll smoke my own; they're Australian.

First published in The Herald, 30 June 1934

Film Adaptation of The Riders

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News has been released that Tim Winton's novel, The Riders, is set for a film adaptation.  The project will feature Sam Worthington (Avatar, Clash of the Titans, Man on a Ledge) in the lead role as Scully, with director duties going to Robert Connolly (The Bank, Three Dollars, The Slap).  Also slated to appear are Charles Dance, Alexandra Maria Lara, and Timothy Spall.

Filming is due to commence in February 2013.

2012 John Button Prize Winners

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A couple of days back the winners of the 2012 John Button Prize were announced.  "The John Button Prize seeks to enhance the quality of public policy writing and debate in Australia" and is named after the late Victorian Labour Senator.

John Button Prize
Man-Made World: Choosing between progress and planet by Andrew Charlton

John Button Schools Prize
Anjali Bethune of Ruyton Girls School

Combined Reviews: A History of Books by Gerald Murnane

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history_of_books.jpg    A History of Books
Gerald Murnane

[This book has been shortlisted for the 2012 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Fiction.]

From the publisher's page:
The major work of fiction in this collection, 'A History of Books', explores the relationship between reading and writing in twenty nine sections, each of which begins with the memory of a book that has left an image in the writer's mind. The memory of the books themselves might have faded, but the images remain in their clarity and import - scenes of discord and madness, a stern-faced man, a young woman on a swing, a glass of beer and rays of sunlight, mountain and woodland and horizon - images which together embody the anxieties and aspirations of a writing life, and its indebtedness to what has been written and read. 'A History of Books' is accompanied by three shorter works, 'As It Were a Letter', 'The Boy's Name was David' and 'Last Letter to a Niece', in which a writer searches for an ideal world, an ideal sentence, and an ideal reader.


Peter Craven in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Gerald Murnane is a novelist with an absolute distinctiveness and distinction, who has found a unique voice without compromising with the world of storytelling and narrative expectation, with realism and colour, and the paraphernalia of readability...He is forever writing sentences about the writer who is writing sentences. He has a pedantic, seemingly monotonous style in which the barest notations of an imaginary set-up (a stick writer who writes something called fiction in skeletal form but yields such reality as there is: a grassland here, a woman there, racing, the residuals of a Catholic country upbringing) are allowed to predominate. Yet what wonders Murnane derives from his old, familiar songs and their variations...This is a grey, sad book that glows with grandeur. It is full of a sense of the loneliness of children, the loveliness of girls; and it is mighty with the power of the suggestion (as much spectral as spiritual) that it is the flicker of light and the suggestion of feeling that create the greatest of the worlds we have...Murnane is a wonderful writer."

Don Anderson in "The Australian": "In 1982 a landmark event took place in Australian letters. Norstrilia Press, a small venture associated with science fiction publishing, produced The Plains by then 43-year-old Melburnian Gerald Murnane, whose two previous books, Tamarisk Row (1974) and A Lifetime on Clouds (1976), were more recognisable as conventional novels than this new work...The Plains, while extending some of the concerns of the books that came before it, might best be regarded as a meta-novel, a prose text that appears like a novel while offering a commentary on the nature and art of the novel. It is an abstract commentary on the nature and place of landscape in Australia. It is like rural Patrick White with the people removed. It is a tour de force...Barry Oakley has suggested the only writer Murnane can be compared with is Jorge Luis Borges. Perhaps he recalls rather some amalgam of Italo Calvino and Samuel Beckett. All of Murnane's six subsequent works of fiction would repeat and extend the project of The Plains. Australian literature would never be the same again. Murnane had initiated a paradigm shift."

Will Heyward for "Readings": "A History of Books (which is published with three shorter works) is Gerald Murnane's tenth book of fiction, and its concerns are writing, reading and memory. It is divided into nine sections, each of which explores in detail the images that have been left in an unnamed narrator's by certain books. The narrator moves imperceptibly from one memory to another, from one book to another, from image to image, never making pronouncements, always suggesting, giving the reader a glimpse at something beyond the bend. The final paragraph is sublime."

Jennifer Mills for "Overland", quoted on The Wheeler Centre site: "There's a theory that all writing is performance. A text is a performance which is generated by an author but takes place in the reader's imagination: the writer uses the tools of language to generate specific thoughts and feelings in the mind of a reader, where language leaps a gap of imprecision and is translated into images. Secondly, writing is apparently contingent on a credible performance of being a writer: attaching oneself to a particular identity and all of its activities, such as drinking, being socially awkward, and reading a lot of books (Margaret Atwood called success at this performance 'getting into the magic anthill')...If this return to first principles sounds like an archaeological way to review a book, then it is because Gerald Murnane's A History of Books is not a work of fiction in the ordinary sense of the word, but a sort of meta-fiction, a catalogue of books from the decayed library of memory."

Andrew Reimer for "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Throughout his career, Murnane has sought precision and clarity of expression. All redundancies - individual characteristics or picturesque descriptions, for instance - are shunned. Even names are absent from his later work. A History of Books carries this tendency to extremes. Practically the only name that flits across this text is Clarisse, a character in Robert Musil's The Man without Qualities - though neither Musil's name nor the title of his novel is mentioned...The section of A History of Books that alludes to Musil's novel begins with these words: 'After his thirty-seventh year, a certain man would sometimes catch sight of a certain few volumes on one of his bookshelves ...' Each of the 30 sections of A History of Books begins in this manner. A certain man of a certain age - young, middle-aged or elderly - confronts a certain book by a certain writer that conjures vivid images in that reader's mind, even though those images are not connected with the contents of the book. Indeed, those readers at different stages of their lives - and it is obvious that they are all the same reader - have often forgotten all but a detail or two of the books that had once made such an impression on them...All this constitutes, I think, a curious aesthetic (and even perhaps psychological) theory. The significance of fiction does not reside in a work's characters or views of the world, but in the unrelated images it conjures up in the reader's mind."

2012 Queensland Literary Awards

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The winners of the 2012 Queensland Literary Awards were announced last night.  These are a privately-funded set of awards set up to replace the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards which were axed earlier this year.

The winners were:

Unpublished Indigenous Writer - David Unaipon Award
Story by Siv Parker

Emerging Queensland Writer - Manuscript Award
Island of the Unexpected by Catherine Titasey

Literary or Media Work Advancing Public Debate - Harry Williams Award
The Australian Moment: How We Were Made for These Times by George Megalogenis

Science Book Award
Sex, Genes and Rock 'n' Roll by Rob Brooks

History Book Award
Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia by Bill Gammage

Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse

You can read the full list of shortlisted works here.

Reprint: Larrikins' Laureate by J.K.E.

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C. J. Dennis has the distinction of being one of the few in Australia (or anywhere else) who has made a living by writing poetry. "The Sentimental Bloke" went into five editions in three months. In less than 18 months it sold 66,145 copies.

How this and other successful books of verse by the same author came to be written, and something of the man who wrote them, are described in 'The Making of A Sentimental Bloke," by Alec. H Chisholm (Georgian House, Melbourne, 10/6). Strangely enough Dennis, "the laureate of the larrikin," was a country-bred boy. He was brought up very strictly by two maiden aunts in Laura, South Australia. Mr. Chisholm suggests that the contrast between his up-bringing and his subsequent literary output is not without its psychological significance. However, at 17 he was standing on his own feet and discovering values for himself. He became junior clerk to a solicitor, was for a time on the staff of the "Critic," a social weekly and then at the age of 29 founded an illustrated journal, "The Gadfly" -- devoted to cheerfully malicious comment on the Australian scene at large, and in particular to light satirical verse by its editor, C. J. Dennis."

Financial difficulties ended that venture, but not before it had given him an avenue to express his undoubted talent for verse-writing. In 1908 an artist friend, Hal Waugh, established him at Toolangi, 40 miles east of Melbourne, and here he lived for the remaining 30 years of his life. A few years later he met Mr. and Mrs. J. G. Roberts, who introduced him to a fraternity of writers and artists whom they entertained at their home at Sassafras. He had already published his "Backblock Ballads" (1913) and a few verses that were the forerunners of "The Sentimental Bloke." But the publication of that book in 1915 gave him immediate security and confidence for the future. His subsequent output, "Ginger Mick," "The Glugs of Gosh," "Doreen," and other books contributed to his popularity.

C. J. Dennis's own contacts with the types of people in his books was perhaps more slight than his skill in delineating them would suggest. Mr. Chisholm suggests that he drew some inspiration from Louis Stone's novel of larrikin life, "Jonah" (1911). Stone is quoted as having said: "That man Dennis is a scoundrel. He has taken his ideas from my book. I should like to meet him and tell him what I think of him!"

Original Creations.

Nevertheless, Dennis's characters were original creations, and whatever literary derivations he might have made from Stone's book or elsewhere cannot detract from his own achievement. In addition, he gave permanence to the type of larrikin slang current at the time. In later years he married and lived in his quiet hills home at Toolangi, where the spirit of the bush-bred boy found peace and happiness. These years produced his final volume, "'The Singing Garden" (1935).

"Dennis," writes Mr. Chisholm, "developed a sustained and sustaining interest in the sunlit world about him... Wild birds were not subjects for study, but 'mates' and, in some instances, 'personalities.' Two especially solemn-looking kookaburras became known as Bernard O'Dowd and Archie Strong, after a couple of eminent literary figures in Melbourne." Here, because Dennis was unable to visit Melbourne himself, Masefield went to see him. Of Dennis at the time of his death, Masefield said: "A charming fellow and a delightful host...Poetry with such a universal appeal, reaching all classes of readers, must have great merits."

While one wonders what is his appeal to the present generation, it is interesting to note that one of the latest additions to the Australian Pocket Library was "The Songs of A Sentimental Bloke," with the original illustrations by Hal Gye.

First published in The West Australian, 21 September 1946

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

Emily Maguire Interview

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fishing_for_tigers.jpg    Emily Maguire burst onto the Australian literary scene with her first novel, Taming the Beast, in 2004. She is now back with her new book, Fishing for Tigers and she was recently interviewed by Bronte Coates for "Readings".

Your first novel, Taming the Beast, portrays an intimate relationship between a female student and her male teacher. Here, you explore a relationship between an older woman and younger man. How aware were you of differences and stereotypes while writing these characters?

Age and gender and all that play a part in who we are, but how much of a part and in what way varies enormously. It would be a mistake to attempt to write 'an eighteen-year-old' or whatever. I can only write this particular eighteen-year-old and that particular thirty-five-year old woman and so on. So, in that sense, I'm no more aware of stereotypes related to their ages than I am about anything else. They each are who they are.

As for the differences between characters of different ages, well, again, it's more about how those differences (and similarities) play out in specific situations. In the case of Taming the Beast, that relationship is criminal as well as unethical. In Fishing for Tigers it's an unusual pairing, but the ethical questions it raises are more slippery. The specific life experiences and associated vulnerabilities of Mischa and Cal are, arguably, more important in terms of how their relationship plays out than the age difference.

2012 Hugo Award Winners

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The 2012 Hugo Awards, honouring the best in the science fiction, fantasy and related fields, were announced at Chicon 7 (the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago) over the weekend. These are awards voted on by members of the Worldcon and, as such, are very highly prized by recipients.

There were only two Australians shortlisted this year in three categories, with the only winner being Peter Nicholls, for:

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

Australian Bookcovers #320 - The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy

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The World Beneath
by Cate Kennedy, 2009
Cover design by Miriam Rosenbloom
Scribe Publications edition 2009

2012 Davitt Award Winners

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The 2012 Davitt Awards were presented at a ceremony in Melbourne on Saturday night.  These awards are convened by Sisters in Crime and honour works by Australian women writers in the crime and mystery fields, fiction and non-fiction.

The winners were:

Best True Crime
Cold Case Files by Liz Porter

Best Young Fiction
Surface Tension by Meg McKinlay

Debut Fiction
Beyond Fear by Jaye Ford

Best Adult Fiction
A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill

Readers' Choice
Beyond Fear by Jaye Ford
The Brotherhood
by Y.A. Erskine

Amy Espeseth Interview

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sufficient_grace.jpg    Scribe Publications certainly seem to be able to pick some very interesting sounding novels. One of their latest is Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth. The author spoke to Deborah Robertson for "Readings". Excellent cover as well.

In her entrancing debut novel, Sufficient Grace, winner of the 2009 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, Amy Espeseth takes us into a community of Pentecostal fundamentalists and tells a mighty tale of sin and retribution, intimately examining the lives of people whose religion is a warm yet claustrophobic embrace.

Set in rural Failing, Wisconsin, the novel is narrated by thirteen-year-old Ruth: 'Daddy says you can tell a lot about a man's heart from the way he kills a deer. First off, a body don't shoot if he ain't willing to take it all the way. A guy takes a bad shot and wounds something good, he best get himself ready for some long trails tracking.'

Sufficient Grace is not a novel built from research or flights of fancy, but one that is deeply embedded in its author's own experience. Of Norwegian descent, Amy Espeseth was born into a fundamentalist Pentecostal family in Barron, Wisconsin, in 1974. She has lived in Australia for the past 16 years, but given her novel's keen sense of authenticity and rootedness, it was inevitable when we met that I ask her about autobiographical influences.

'For as much as I notice the small little details of the world,' says Espeseth, 'I tend to be pretty blind and ignorant about the details in my writing, and I would never have thought that I was writing about my childhood until it was pointed out to me that Ruth is very similar in nature and background and appearance and a lot of other things to me, so probably it was the closest I could get to writing in my own voice without writing a memoir.'

Poem: A Ballade of Books by S. Elliott Napier

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Crude, garish, and much-batter'd band,
   Now long-neglected and forlorn;
Unkempt, unlovely, there they stand.
   Their bindings loose, their pages torn
   And much by moist young fingers worn;
Yet once what magic broth they'd brew --  
   Those books we smile at now with scorn --
The good ship Faery's wondrous crew!     

Crusoe, affrighted on the sand,  
   "Brer Rabbit," chuckling in the thorn,
Fair Alice, down in Wonderland,
   And Vanderdecken on the Horn --
   Fiend-driven, reckless, and foresworn,  
These were our own, tried thro' and thro',
   Whose friendship could no bribe suborn --
The good ship Faery's wondrous crew!    

Crooning their songs upon the sand,  
   The sirens knew us; 'mid the corn  
The poppy elves would hold our hand
   And with their blooms our brows adorn.
   With eastern djinn and Northern Norn   
We childishly familiar grew;
   For they in those old books were born --
The good ship Faery's wondrous crew!


Crusader Time! Thy sword hath shorn
   And purged full many a faith deem'd true.
And so with ours -- but, ah! we mourn   
The good ship Faery's wondrous crew!

First published
in The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 October 1926

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