Recently in Authors Category

Interview with Russell B. Farr

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Ticonderoga Publications is a small press based in Perth which specialises in science fiction short story collections. The founding editor is Russell B. Farr. He recently spoke to the Speakeasy weblog.

Speakeasy: Can you tell us a little about Ticonderoga Publications (TP) and its place in the Aussie speculative fiction (SF) community?

Russell Farr (RF): Ticonderoga Publications started in 1996 initially to produce a chapbook of the Howard Waldrop and Steven Utley story, Custer's Last Jump, as I was involved in a convention bringing Waldrop to Australia. It was a small print run, Shaun Tan provided the cover, and it sold for $7.95. At the time Jonathan Strahan and Jeremy G. Byrne were doing remarkable things with Eidolon - both the magazine and also books - and they put up with me hanging around asking dumb questions. At the time the main indie book publishers were Eidolon, Mirrordanse (Bill Congreve) and, standing head and shoulders above them, was Aphelion (the late, great Peter McNamara). I thought what they were all doing was pretty cool, so I was soon following along, publishing collections of stories by Steven Utley, Simon Brown, Stephen Dedman and Sean Williams.

Jump forward to 2012 and we're still going. We've expanded to include my wonderful fiancé, Liz Grzyb, as business and creative partner, and we've got between 25-30 titles in print. We've published collections by Angela Slatter, Lisa L. Hannett, Kaaron Warren, Felicity Dowker, Justina Robson, Lucy Sussex, Greg Mellor, the late Sara Douglass, and a number of others. We've been able to produce a number of anthologies, a Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror series, and next year will start publishing original novels.

We've never set out to have an agenda, or a place in the Australian SF community, we just happily hang out there and make what I hope are good books. We don't really see ourselves as catering to any niche, just publishing what appeals to us - we see so many fantastic writers and want to share them with the world.

Christopher Koch Interview

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lost_voices.jpg    Born in 1932, Christopher Koch has won the Miles Franklin Award twice, for The Doubleman in 1985, and for Highways to a War in 1996. He is now back with a new novel, Lost Voices, and he recently spoke to Susan Wyndham for The Age.

The book a man produces at 80 might be seen as a map of his life's deepest concerns, and so it is with Christopher Koch's Lost Voices. The novel, like the man, has returned to his native Tasmania and it began, he says, with his ''interest in the idea that the past resonates off the future. I've done it before in Out of Ireland and Highways to a War, but this time I wanted it to be within a family.

''I wanted to look back from a distance at my childhood. This is probably the least autobiographical book I've written in terms of the characters, but I've tried to create a sense of what it was like here in the 1940s. At my age you realise you are living in a different world from the one you grew up in.''

[...]

In Lost Voices, ''every character in the 19th century has a counterpart in the 20th century''. In life, Koch says, ''things that happen in the past have counterparts in the present. We have ancestral memories - it sounds a bit far out but so many Australians go to Europe to the places of their ancestors and recognise those places.'' Koch himself remembers travelling through Switzerland and feeling that he'd been in a particular valley before.

He also cites scientific research into animal memory. ''Chickens run from the shadow of the hawk and they have never seen a hawk; certain memory circuits are inherited from the mother. If animals have this, why should it not be stronger in humans?''

Charlotte Wood Interview

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Charlotte_Wood.jpg    Charlotte Wood is the author of four novels, editor of the anthology Brothers and Sisters, and Love and Hunger, a mediation on the pleasures of simple food. She recently spoke to Jo Case for the Wheeler Centre.

Do you identify as an Australian writer?

I don't especially, but I'm often told that I am a particularly Australian writer. I think it's more a result than from intent; particularly in my last couple of novels (The Children and Animal People), I've written about what I've seen around me in contemporary Australia.

I think perhaps it's something akin to having an Australian accent - something you can't help - rather than a conscious thing.

So, it's not that you're setting out to be a particular kind of Australian, or that you think of yourself as an Australian writer?

I don't even know what makes a writer Australian, apart from working here - but even that is debatable when you think about Peter Carey or Shirley Hazzard. I remember hearing a Canadian publisher at one of our writers' festivals say, 'If I'm going to publish an Australian novel, it's got to be really Australian. It's got to be identifiably Australian, otherwise why don't I just publish a Canadian novel?' And I thought, well how would you know what's 'really Australian'? And perhaps you might publish it because it's interesting.

I once had a meeting with an agent in London, who wasn't interested in my work. That part was fine, but she said, 'Look, write something really Australian and then we can talk'. I was completely bamboozled - I thought, 'I don't know what you're talking about.'

But I think what she was trying to say, basically, was 'be more like Tim Winton'. I can see why readers abroad might pick him as especially Australian, given the settings for much of his work, but it's a bit depressing if that's all they see. He writes very beautifully about a great many things other than landscape and Being Aussie. Like being a son, a lover or father or a brother, about self-destruction, about growing up, about mystery, and regret ... just about being human really, I think. Sometimes I wonder what he must feel about being so corralled into being the 'Aussie story' pin-up boy. I would find it depressing if I were him.

This agent ... I was sort of just sitting there like an idiot, and then she said, 'Oh, Scots writers are always moaning because we say, we want proper Scottish writing and they say, this is Scottish writing."

Tara Moss Interview

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assassin.jpg    Tara Moss moved to Australia in 1996 and published her first novel, Fetish in 1999. Since then she has gone on to be one of the highest-selling crime writers in the country. Her latest novel, Assassin, has just been released and she spoke to Karen Hardy for The Age. She began by talking about recent misogynist statements from the likes of Alan Jones.

"We should call out inappropriate comments, like these ones, when they're made; we should encourage women to follow their dreams, whatever they might be; encourage more women to take part in public life, if they're able. Obviously it's not the life everyone would choose but there is real value in encouraging women to not only know they're able to take part in public life in a significant way but in showing it as something aspirational.'' She sees something of this in her role as an author. Her latest book, Assassin, the sixth and final installment in the Makedde Vanderwall series, is out now.

''I'm a crime novelist so it's a tricky one because the world of crime is depressingly filled with statistics about violence against women ... men tend to commit crimes, particularly violent crimes, and women, in the majority of those cases, tend to be the victims. It's a very depressing reality.

''As a crime writer, being able to capture the reality of what's going on around you, you do end up writing about violence against women. To balance that it's important to have strong female characters, ones who are police officers, who are survivors, who are able to deal with this very ugly element of society in a way that's inspiring and constructive.''

With her heroine Mak, Moss wanted to create a character who was strong and smart ''but slightly naive at the beginning so that I could take her on a journey and give her an arc of sort through the series''.

Cate Kennedy Interview

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cate_kennedy.jpg    Cate Kennedy came into notice with her novel The World Beneath in 2009, but she is mainly known for her short stories. She has a new collection of them titled Like a House on Fire and she recently spoke to Helen Garner for "Readings".

'Everything's ordinary in my work,' she says when we sit down to talk about her new short story collection, Like a House on Fire. 'The whole confessional thing, where you're always taking your own emotional temperature, is no use to me. I don't have any lofty ambitions. And I don't want characters who are larger than life. I live in a very ordinary place, a farm on a river. I listen to other people and I hear what they're saying. The gift is the ordinariness - things that are well-used, unexpressed, taken for granted. I love to look at those things in a fresh way.

'People often say there has to be drama in a story, but I think, what about the day after the drama? You've had the baby or the bike accident, and you wake up the next morning. I'm really interested in aftermath - what we do with what's happened to us.'

'Like the woman in your poem who's lost a baby,' I say. 'Every morning waking is like going through a windscreen.'

'Yes,' she says, 'I'm interested in the way people behave when power has been stripped from them. The way they put themselves back together again. Not so much what they're feeling or thinking, but what they do. We're revealed by our actions. I want people in my stories to act, even if what they're doing seems distorted or deformed by the damage that's been done to them. That's what keeps me watching them.'

Interview with Lily Brett

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lily_brett.jpg    Lily Brett won the NSW Premier's Literary Award for Fiction in 1995 for her novel Just Like That, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, South East Asia and South Pacific Region, Best Book award in 2000 for Too Many Men. She recently published her fourth novel, Lola Bensky, and spoke to Jessica Au for "Readings"

Lola Bensky follows a 19-year-old rock journalist as she traverses the music scene from London to LA in 1967. You also began your career writing for Australian rock newspaper Go-Set at 18. Do you think that writing from or of ourselves allows for greater depth or truth?

I think that one way or another we all write from our own experience. No-one else is creating the characters or the stories. Whether the facts or the storylines match our real lives is irrelevant. I think it is important to write about what you know. What you care about. What matters.

I try to be as honest as I can when I write. I try not to flinch or to disguise or shy away from something that might feel very painful to me. I want people to know who they are reading about, whether the character is a rock journalist or a private detective.

Lola shares several contemplative moments with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and co. - music icons that you also interviewed over the years. There's a charisma and vulnerability to each of these characters as we see them through Lola's eyes. How do you approach writing these real-life personalities in fiction?

When I write about real-life personalities in fiction, I want to make those portraits as accurate as I can. I want to portray the people I am writing about as real people, which they are. I did this in my novel, Too Many Men, with Rudolph Hoess, the commandant of the death camp Auschwitz. I wanted to show Rudolph Hoess as a real person - a husband, a father, a hard worker, someone we could all identify with, not as someone you could easily dismiss as just a monster.

I thought about Lola Bensky and that period of time in the mid to late 1960s for many years before I wrote the book. I made a lot of notes. When I did start writing it was very intense. I worked seven days a week for 11 months. I barely went outside. I was certain that I must be suffering from a vitamin D deficiency because of the lack of sunlight.

I love the feeling of being immersed in a novel. Being so steeped in another world that that world becomes your reality. For the entire time I was writing Lola Bensky I was in 1967. The fact that it was 2011 barely registered. One of the surprising things about writing is that if you are still enough, memories and feelings that have been buried for decades can emerge with great clarity.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.'

Clive James Interview

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nefertiti.jpg    You get the impression from this interview that Brian Appleyard originally wanted to talk about Clive James's new volume of poetry Nefertiti in the Flak Tower. But life tends to get in the way so a lot of the interview concentrates on the poet's health issues, work plans, and family complications. Whatever the original intention the final outcome is very interesting indeed.

"I had suicidal thoughts when I was young. I fancied myself as a melancholic, quite a lot of people do, it's a fashionable thing. Anyway, all these ideas were coming to me when I was going to sleep, ideas of self-destruction. They all promptly vanished the moment I was under real threat. There was a sudden urge to live. I wanted to do more, to write more."

It was, for a long time, not clear that he would make it. Close to death on several occasions, his intake of medication seems to have been vast and not always welcome: "They once gave me a mood stabiliser because I was getting a little ratty. I mean, the last thing you want as a writer is a mood stabiliser."

[...]

He has always written poetry. This, he says, is his best book -- "I have never before reached this pitch of intensity" -- but it is also his darkest. Well known for his television shows, his comical memoirs and his hilarious book reviews, he has, as a writer, always been much darker than his public persona would suggest. One review that he wrote about The Incredible Hulk was included as part of an English exam. A woman who sat the exam paper recently wrote to tell him she had to be escorted from the room because she was laughing so much.

Toni Jordan Interview

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nine_days.jpg    Toni Jordan came to our attention back in 2008 with her first novel Addition, which was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. She is now back with her third novel, Nine Days and she recently spoke to Linda Morris for "The Age":

At a guess, the photograph [see cover at top] was taken some time in 1940, probably at Melbourne's Spencer Street Station. War had been declared in Europe and Menzies was backing Britain, boots and all. Neither the limbless veterans of Pozieres nor Europe's grim battlefield graveyards could check the enthusiasm of Australia's sons busting to fight for the Empire...

...Text publisher Michael Heyward had come across the still many years before while flicking through the archives of Melbourne's State Library and passed it to Jordan as she was casting about for an idea for her next novel.

''I noticed how gorgeous it was,'' Jordan says. ''It is a really heartbreaking moment but I didn't know if it could translate into something, and I really didn't think it would.''

She stuck the picture over her desk and for almost a year thought she'd never find a story to match its intimacy and grandeur.

Then, one day in July last year, the story came tumbling out. ''I just thought and I just typed.''

Chloe Hooper Interview

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the_engagement.jpg    Chloe Hooper's first novel was A Child's Book of True Crime back in 2002. That was followed by the very successful non-fiction work,The Tall Man. Now she has returned to fiction with The Engagement. The author recently spoke to Jane Sullivan for "The Age":

"I had a dark night of the soul after this book went to the printer,'' Chloe Hooper confesses. ''I thought, 'Don't tell me I've just done a literary Fifty Shades of Grey'.''

Let's be clear about this. Hooper's second novel, The Engagement, is not a sadomasochistic romp designed to titillate millions of women readers. It's a sophisticated, multilayered work that combines the headlong appeal of a thriller with a nuanced mystery about our darker sexual and romantic desires.

What it does do, however, is pose much the same questions as everyone is asking about the extraordinary Shades of Grey phenomenon. What is it that women fantasise about, and why? Do they want to be their dream man's bride, or sex slave?

Hooper, aged 39, a tall, slim woman with clear pale eyes, is best known in Australia for her acclaimed 2008 non-fiction book The Tall Man, but started out as a novelist (her first novel, A Child's Book of True Crime, came out in 2002 and was shortlisted for the British Orange Prize for women's fiction). She did her homework after she finished The Engagement and read Fifty Shades of Grey, which she found very formulaic.

Jacinta Halloran Interview

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pilgrimage.jpg    Jacinta Halloran was shortlisted for a Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer in 2007. That manuscript was subsequently published by Scribe under the title Dissection. Halloran has now published her second novel, Pilgrimage, and she recently spoke to Jane Sullivan for The Sydney Morning Herald:

We're talking at a cafe near Halloran's home in Elwood, where she lives with her husband and three children. She's a slight, slim figure dressed in shades of brown, with expressive hands, and is all too aware that in her novels and short stories she tends to write about female doctors facing a personal crisis.

But she says that's not autobiographical. ''I'm interested in writing about a character who has tried to live her life and, for whatever reasons, circumstances have conspired and she ends up in a situation where things haven't turned out the way she might have hoped.

''How does she move on to make sense of her life? I'm interested in struggle and how that might or might not be resolved.'' She laughs. ''I'm not really interested in happy things.''

Pilgrimage came about after Halloran took a two-week trip to Romania to see ottoman carpets at the Black Church in Brasov. She had a vague idea she would like to set a novel overseas and Romania sounded inspiring: ''Transylvania! The Black Church!''

What she found was a sombre country still recovering from the repressions of the Ceausescu regime, a great sense of hospitality and pride in local customs, and the glimmerings of a story.

Belinda Castles Interview

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hannah_emil.gif    Belinda Castles won the Australian/Vogel Award back in 2006 for The River Baptists and, while it has been some time between drinks, she has returned in 2012 with her second novel Hannah & Emil. She recently spoke to Jessica Au for "Readings":

Tell us about writingHannah & Emil - where did the idea start for you?

Hannah and Emil is based on the lives of my grandparents. As a child I knew bits and pieces about their lives but there were two secrets that emerged when my German grandfather died. One was that my grandmother was Jewish, and so then were her sons, and that my grandfather had had a German family before meeting my grandmother. His German son died fighting for the Hitler Youth Army. This was made doubly poignant because my grandfather's father was murdered by the Nazis.

These facts stayed with me and later in life, when I received a batch of letters my grandmother had written to Melbourne from Kent after WWII to friends there, I felt that I had her voice. As soon as I expressed interest in writing this book, there was a deluge of papers, photographs, anecdote - a real treasure trove. It became something I had to do, a responsibility to my family and to myself.

Paul D. Carter Interview

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eleven_seasons.jpg    Paul D. Carter's novel, Eleven Seasons, won the 2012 Australian/Vogel Award earlier this year. The author recently spoke to Angela Meyer for the Melbourne Writers Festival blog:

I like how the novel interrogates different cultures around the game--good and bad--through Jason's encounters. Was it important to you to shine a light on both the positive and negative aspects?

My greatest aim with this novel was to write a book that dealt with football but which non-followers of the game could appreciate. I wanted to get the reader to think of football as a sphere in his life that was interdependent with the other spheres in his life: his relationship with his mother, his relationships with his friends, his relationships with girls. Football is something he uses for a sense of selfhood and direction, in the same way that other people might embrace music or dance to provide themselves with these things.

This said, I felt it was important to look at the way the way football culture might inhibit him as much as it provides him with solace. I think it can be easy to escape the hard work of growing up and figuring yourself out if you are part of a club or institution that does this figuring out for you. I think this issue extends to cultural pursuits outside of football as well, but in football it is quite explicit.

Geoffrey McGeachin Interview

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blackwattle_creek.jpg    Geoffrey McGeachin won a Ned Kelly Award for his 2010 novel, The Diggers Rest Hotel, the first Charlie Berlin novel. Now he's back with a follow-up, Blackwattle Creek, and he was interviewed for the Penguin website on its release.

What is your new book about?

Blackwattle Creek catches up with Charlie Berlin in 1957, ten years on from his introduction in The Diggers Rest Hotel. Berlin is still a Melbourne copper, still dealing with the traumas of his wartime service but he is now married with kids and a house in the suburbs. He seems to be holding it all together but an apparently simple request from his wife to have a chat with a just-widowed friend leads to his life spiralling out of control as he's embroiled in events that take him down a very dark path.

What or who inspired it?

I wanted to pick up Charlie ten years later and see how he was coping and also to see how Australian society was changing over that period. This took me to 1957 post-Olympics Melbourne and I had an idea about an object being inadvertently placed into a coffin and having to be retrieved. That actually came about from my father's favourite cap being put into his coffin rather than placed on top with his wartime medals. Though his cap was never retrieved the incident gave me an idea for a story where a soldier's medals are accidentally placed inside the coffin and when his widow asks for them back she sees something disturbing. Coming across something called Project Sunshine, while doing research, let me tie in British atomic testing in Australia, radioactive fallout and Cold War paranoia, and then I was off and running.

What was the biggest challenge, writing it?

My biggest challenge was probably making time since I have a parallel career as a photography teacher. I love historical research and creating characters and letting my imagination wander so I need a fair bit of mulling time - a few extra hours in the day or days in the week would be useful.

Robert Hughes (1938-2012)

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robert_hughes.jpg

Robert Hughes (1938-2012), the expatriate Australian art critic and writer, has died in New York after a long illness.  There are many obituaries out there already and by reading them you'll get a good idea of what he did and what he wrote.  A couple of good pieces that you may well miss have been written by Chong on his Culture Mulcher blog for Crikey.


Elsewhere:

"The Age", "The Australian", "Herald Sun", "The Sydney Morning Herald", "The Brisbane Times", "The Guardian", "The Telegraph", "The New York Times", "The Los Angeles Times", "The Financial Times".

Mike Shuttleworth Interview

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mike_shuttleworth.jpg    Mike Shuttleworth is the program director for the 2012 Melbourne Writers Festival. As the event gets closer, he spoke to The Wheeler Centre blog.

This is your first year as program manager with the Melbourne Writer's Festival. What's been the best thing about the job so far?

Working with a fantastic and dedicated team has been amazing. We have programming committees with a lot of expertise and that helps, too. Steve Grimwade's understanding of how to put a festival together is something to marvel at.

What's been your biggest challenge?

Aligning guests to panels so that we can show writers to their best is obviously what it's all about. Making use of visiting writers' time, so that they are busy - but not beaten like a rented mule - is always a challenge, so there is a lot of negotiation that goes on well before we launch.

Getting my head around a program with 400 writers, 350 sessions and some big international programs has been pretty challenging. It has been full-on since February, when we put the schools program to bed, and will remain that way until late on Sunday 2 September when Robert Dessaix gives the closing night address. He really is an extraordinary and singular voice in Australian writing.

Mischa Merz Interview

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bruising.jpg    I must admit that, post Ali, I haven't had a lot of interest in boxing. In the sixties and seventies it seemed to be a global cultural phenomenon. Maybe because, aside from the Olympics, it was the only sport that seemed to be televised and viewed across the world. I've noticed the steady rise of women's boxing, but only in passing. Angela Meyer may have a similar overall view of the sport - I can't be sure - but she was certainly intrigued and captivated by Mischa Merz's Bruising, an account of her life in the ring. Meyer interviewed the author for her weblog LiteraryMinded.

You mention in the book that women are encouraged to be aware of aggression, or aggressive exercise as catharsis, but are generally discouraged to take it as far as fighting. Do you think many women might be held back by what they still see as 'inappropriate' displays of strength and ferocity?

I think probably less and less with each generation. Women of my age (without being too specific) were probably more self-conscious and you still hear them worry about building too much muscle or looking strong. And in some of the classes I have taken they are appalled at the suggestion of hitting someone. Even when I ask them to hit me, who has been hit many times and is virtually immune to it, they shake their heads as if I have asked them to decapitate me. Others are more keen to give it a go and a small number of them can be quite dangerous and I have to really watch myself with them. Back when I started, though, aggression by women was still regarded as something only the insane or hysterical would do or maybe a last resort for a woman being attacked. People struggled with the idea that it was functional rather than emotional and that physical aggression has legitimate application in sport. But this idea that you only hit someone if you're upset or out of control made it hard for women to take it on. They quite naturally didn't want to look crazy. And fair enough. But these days I see teenage girls really mixing it up and getting very physical and aggressive in sport without a second thought. I think there's a parallel with surfing. Women's surfing has really taken off in the same time frame as I have been boxing and they had to deal with the same doubts and discouragement. But then men were teaching their daughters from young and so a whole bunch of women have popped up fully formed. But there is still a bit of resistance with boxing. Men still say things like 'girls are too pretty to box' as if there are no pretty boys also boxing. It also implies that a woman's looks are more important than anything else about them. But I've seen quite a few women now with slightly bent noses and frankly, it enhances their looks. Maybe that's just me seeing them through the skewed eyes of a fanatic. I tend to regard anyone with a broken nose as being slightly more beautiful.

Venero Armanno Interview

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venero_armanno.jpg    Venero Armanno's ninth novel, Black Mountain has just been published by University of Queensland Press. He spoke to Jessica Au of the "Readings" weblog:

The novel takes us from the sulphur mines of Sicily to the slopes of Mt Etna and into the centre of 20th century Paris - what was a research process like?

Both those areas you mention were infinitely fascinating to me, so there came a time when I had to physically force myself to quit the research and actually start writing.

Really, the terrible nature of life and death in the sulphur mines, juxtaposed with the excesses of life in the Paris of the twenties - especially in the maisons closes (legalised high-class brothels) - could have kept me occupied another ten or twenty years.

The thing is, I'm a writer of fiction, so I always need to remind myself that research isn't 'story' and that there is a time to absorb all that research, and consider it, then more or less forget it and start to concentrate on characters and what their particular journeys might be.

I will say though that I've now got material enough for plenty more books that might flow from Black Mountain. We'll just have to see if this one finds a readership interested in seeing what might come next.

Nicki Reed Interview

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unzipped.jpg    Nicki Reed's debut novel Unzipped is published this month by Text. She spoke to the "Readings" website about the novel, seeing it in a bookshop for the first time and Daniel Craig.

Tell us about the first time you ever saw one of your books in a bookshop.

The first time I saw Unzipped was at Readings Carlton. I looked at it and couldn't look at it. I didn't cry but I considered it. I was with a friend and she took a photo of >me and the book on her phone. Later I walked past the Australian authors section and there was that beautiful cover, face-out and eye-level, shock and delight and good measure of 'eh?!'

In an alternate life, what would you be if not a writer?

Who needs an alternate life? I've got two lives. The writing life, where I've written a novel, had it published, people care what I think and my domestic life, three sons and a husband, parent teacher interviews, wrestles over homework and kisses goodnight. It is peculiar to turn up to a photo shoot and an interview then get back into your car and be who you were before. See missed calls from your other life. Which Nicki will I be today?

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.

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."

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.''

Clive James - Not Dead Yet

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It seems that the news of Clive James's imminent demise was rather over-cooked.  Yes, he's unwell. No, he's not dropping off the twig just yet.

It seems the reports were a little doctored by a certain media outlet to give the impression that James was on the way out.  The man himself explains, and John Birmingham sees an interesting side of the story.

Clive James Health Update

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Back in December I mentioned here that Clive James was unwell with leukemia and lung problems.  He has now admitted that he thinks he'll never visit Sydney again as his lung problems make it impossible for him to fly.  Reading between the lines, you'd have to conclude that he doesn't think he'll have much longer.

Adam Ford Interview

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adam_ford.jpg    Adam Ford is a poet and novelist who lives in Castlemaine in country Victoria. The "Wild Colonial Girl" is aiming to move to that town and recently spoke to Adam about living in Castlemaine and the literature scene there.

Are there any books set in the area?

Fiction? Not that I know of, which is unforgiveable of me. There probably are -- I'll have to look into that. I have read a few local histories, and know of some others that are about. I have also read and heard a number of poems about the area, but nothing specifically set up as "poems about Castlemaine".

What's Castlemaine Word Mine? Why was it set up?

I came along post-establishment, but the brief version is that it's a group of writers who've set up a non-profit organisation to promote writing and reading in the area. We run a monthly reading series and are starting to offer a few writing workshops as well. We have worked and are developing plans to work more in partnership with other writing and reading organisations in the area, like the local library, local art festivals, local independent journalism websites and the like. We were set up around mid-2011, so it's early days for us yet.

Peter Carey's New Award

Further to the entry on Peter Carey's latest novel on Monday comes the news that the author was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday honors announced on Monday.  You can read reactions from "The Age" and "The Australian".

Paul D. Carter Interview

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eleven_seasons.jpg    Paul D. Carter recently won the Australian-Vogel Literary Award for his novel Eleven Seasons. This is a rare beast, an Australian novel about sport, which follows the young career of Jason Dalton who joins the AFL team Hawthorn. The author spoke to Chris Flynn for "Readings".

After setting out to write a sports story (inspired by the baseball prologue in Don DeLillo's Underworld), Carter quickly realised that there was more value in using AFL as a means to explore how young men mature into adulthood, or in some cases, avoid doing so: 'It's hard being young because you have no autonomy and you have a lot of anger, a lot of angst. Sport, music, fashion, having a place to go can help sublimate those feelings into a safe place, which is self-productive.' Eleven Seasons not only tackles these feelings of needing to belong but also raises vital questions about how cloistered education and young adult life can be.

'What's the difference between being a man and being an adult? Is the world of football, which is full of men, a substitute for being an adult? What is it that characterizes a man as being distinct from a boy? Richard Ford said in The Lay of the Land that being a man is all about showing hardness. I think that's pretty true. Male models never smile, Clint Eastwood never smiles, rich men on magazine covers never smile. There's a firmness, a hardness there, you've graduated from being a boy, you carry the weight of something. The best representations of masculinity often come across in performance. The characters in the book, particularly at the football club, are constantly expressing their manliness through bravado.'

Tony Cavanaugh Interview

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promise.jpg    Tony Cavanaugh has been best known to date for his scriptwriting for film and television. Now he has turned his hand to a novel and has produced Promise, about a psychopath who targets teenage girls. He was interviewed by Steve Dow for "The Age":

It took Cavanaugh, who lives on the Gold Coast, just three months of full-time writing, often beginning at 3am, to produce Promise, about a psychopath, Winston, who stalks the Sunshine Coast hinterland armed with extensive readings in the serial killer literary canon and the psychological tropes of "cognitive thinking" and "catastrophising", and who is being pursued by Darian Richards, a retired, clever and superficially misanthropic homicide detective.

Clearly there was a creative upside to the dark mood in which Cavanaugh found himself after the recent "reasonably traumatic" collapse of his marriage to film writer and director Simone North - he produced her film I Am You, based on the real story of the murder of a teenage girl - but he wouldn't recommend others follow a course of separation and divorce to fuel a first novel.

The father of three has dedicated Promise to his children Delaware, Charlie and Scarlett, but wants his youngest to wait before reading it; the graphic noir nature of Winston's brutality required the author to take cold showers.

Garth Nix's Big Idea

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A few days back I linked to an interview with Garth Nix regarding his new novel, A Confusion of Princes. Garth has now written a short piece about how it came about for John Scalzi's blog "Whatever".  As Scalzi puts it, Nix's journey "is best described as a series of detours".  Nix, himself, says:

I'm not sure any of my novels have any one big idea. I like the concept of a humongous idea striking suddenly, after months or possibly years of lying around doing not much at all, allied with the popular belief that post-lightning all you have to do is retreat to a darkened room and bash out the words, a kind of a minor bureaucratic tidy-up after the brilliance of the lightning bolt.

Maybe it does work like that for some writers. But for me the ideas are more like sparks of static electricity. Mostly small, and myriad, and occasionally annoying. They are also not random, but generated by the act of writing (in which I would include daydreaming, note-jotting and open-mouthed musing to say, the neighbourhood cat). The writing generates more ideas, in turn inspiring more writing, which generate more ideas and so on.

In the case of A Confusion of Princes, it would need the psychoprobe of classic science fiction to identify and separate all the ideas and the seeds for those ideas. This is because it took me a long time to write this book, while I was also writing other books, so I can't remember. (To tell the truth, even when I write a book quickly I find it difficult to identify the genesis of any particular idea. Usually I just make something up that sounds plausible.)

Drusilla Modjeska Interview

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the_mountain.jpg    Drusilla Modjeska is best known for her non-fiction (Poppy, The Orchard and Stravinsky's Lunch being prime examples), but now she has decided to take a wander down the fiction road with her first novel The Mountain, She was recently interviewed by Geordie Williamson for "Readings":

'Looking back, I think I was always a kind of novelist in hiding and I rather wish I'd learned the art of fiction after Poppy. I guess the reasons I didn't are complex - to do with having one foot in the university system, probably psychological reasons going back to childhood when I'd get into trouble for my 'stories' (my mother called them my embroidery!) and also a deep vein of interest in history which also goes right back to early days of school.'

Just as tough to resolve was the question of relations between history and invented experience, since Modjeska's academic background had in the past placed her on the other side of the divide. The challenge, she says, 'was learning to trust the characters as the foundation of the novel and let the history speak through them'. It is a measure of her success that the huge amounts of information contained in The Mountain - from the early years of independence to Highland bark-cloth design, traditional land ownership and forest exploitation - are allowed to unfold through characters' individual experience rather than editorials embedded in the text.

The question all of this information raises is more personal: to what degree has the author's life informed The Mountain? While Modjeska is at pains to explain that the novel is not autobiographical, she readily admits how deeply it has been informed by her time in Papua New Guinea (she did go into the field with her then husband, and completed a year at university in Port Moresby before moving to Australia in the early 1970s), by her return trips, and by her wide reading of history, poetry, fiction and anthropology by locals and outsiders. More recently, Modjeska's efforts to establish small-scale education and arts-based projects in two villages has renewed her ties to PNG:

'I like Hilary Mantel's phrase "informed imagination" and that's how I think of it, and what I hope I have come some way towards achieving. So yes, the "history", the background against which the lives and loves of the characters take shape is 'informed' and I hope will be recognisable to others who have lived through those extraordinary years, but it is as much an exercise in "imagination"... For instance, while Rika and Aaron are fully imagined characters, the conflicting pressures on them - political, emotional, cultural - are informed by what I have seen, and known (in others) and read.'

James Bradley Interview

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james_bradley.jpg    Sydney-based writer James Bradley was recently awarded the Pacall Prize as Australia's best critic. He publishes his reviews and critical essays in newspapers such as "The Age", "The Sydney Morning Herald" and "The Australian" as well as a number of Australian literary magazines. He also blogs at "City of Tongues" where he occasionally reprints his critical works. I've always liked James's reviews: he isn't genre-centric and is quite willing to review science fiction on television as well as literary novels. Added to that you always come away from one of his reviews knowing full well if the work under discussion is worth your time. A rare ability these days it seems.

Stephen Romei interviewed James, after his win, for "The Australian":

Q: James, congratulations on winning the Pascall. What does this award mean to you?

A: It's incredibly exciting and very flattering. But it's also slightly humbling, because I tend to think of myself as a jobbing writer rather than something as exalted as a critic.

Q: As the judges say, you are a practicioner-critic, someone who experiences both sides of the fence. How does this inform your approach to reviewing? And, more broadly, what are your principles for reviewing, what do you set out to achieve, in the review itself and in the wider cultural/literary discussion?

A: I think people tend to assume reviewing and writing are somehow at odds with each other, but I've never really felt they are. But I think novelists probably do approach books slightly differently to other readers, since it's difficult for us not to be aware of how mysterious the process of creation actually is, or to turn off that bit of the brain that is looking at the nuts and bolts and wiring and wondering how they pulled that off. Likewise as a writer I suspect you're a bit more aware of the way something sits in a living tradition: if somebody's writing about something the chances are it's responding to things you've thought about as well, or even written about, so there's a real thrill (and sometimes a little bit of envy) when you see someone really knock something out of the park. Whether any of that shows up on the page I don't know, but I think it's there nonetheless.

As for principles, someone once said that the only bad writing is dishonest writing, and I tend to agree. The best thing you can do is write from the heart and talk about how you felt and what you think. Part of that is about being honest about what you thought, but it's also about acknowledging your own prejudices and being prepared to acknowledge critical judgements are always provisional. I know a lot of the writing I'm proudest of is writing where I'm trying out ideas, or exploring something I'm not quite sure about. Partly that's because the best writing is always actively engaged with thinking something through, but it's also because it helps break down the barrier between the reader and the writer, and to make them part of the process. One of the reasons I hate pontificating in print is because critical writing should always be part of a conversation, and nothing kills a conversation quicker than some windy know-all.

Basically though, I write about books and film and television because I love them and find them endlessly pleasurable and exciting, and I want to find a way of sharing that passion. In my experience most critics are basically enthusiasts, and I'm no different.

Garth Nix Interview

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confusion_princes.jpg    Garth Nix has turned his hand to space opera with his new novel, A Confusion of Princes. The book was released in Australia in mid-April, and in the UK and USA in mid-May. The author was interviewed by Michael Levy for "Publishers Weekly".

Although you've written science fiction in the past, you're best known for your fantasy series. Why write one versus the other?

I'm not sure that there's anything that you can't do in either form. In any genre you're working in you can always find a way to tell a particular kind of story. I love fantasy, I love science fiction, I love all kinds of fiction, in fact. I don't particularly know why I chose to write a science fiction story except that the book seemed to lend itself to a science-fictional setting. I could probably have written it as fantasy, too - a story about a vast empire and near-immortal princes who are reborn and who are superior to normal humans in many ways except ethically, but for some reason I wanted to write a space opera adventure so that's the story that came out. A Confusion of Princes has a classic coming-of-age structure, it's a bildungsroman, so the core characteristics of the story, the setting and the tropes, are less important than the human story at the center.

A Confusion of Princes is dedicated to Robert A. Heinlein and Andre Norton, the best YA science fiction writers of the mid-20th century. What does Princes owe them?

I've dedicated the book to Heinlein and Norton because their young adult books were very important to me growing up. One of the things I wanted to do with A Confusion of Princes was to write a modern version of the kind of adventure story that I loved when I was young, and that I still read, one that will work for teenagers and adults, and hopefully that's what I've done. This is a naval story too, so there's probably some C.S. Forester in there, as well. Also, someone asked me the other day if I was a fan of Roger Zelazny's Amber books, which I am. They're about the political machinations of princes seeking power, so there's probably a Zelazny influence as well as many others. Authors are influenced by everything they've ever read. If you've read widely enough it helps you create your own mix.

Susan Johnson Interview

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hundred_lovers.jpg    Susan Johnson's latest novel, My Hundred Lovers, is about to be released. The author spoke to Helen Greenwood for "The Age":

Johnson's latest book, My Hundred Lovers, brings wit and ambition to a mock memoir by a woman called Deborah.

Johnson imagines Deborah's life through her bodily memories and devises a bold structure based on 100 sensual moments.

The lovers of the title are not what you might expect. Chapter 16 is ''Giggling'', chapter 49 is ''A dress'', chapter 67 is ''Breasts''. Of course, Johnson trawls through Deborah's sexuality. One chapter is called ''Three men in one day'' and in another we meet ''The Deflowerer, again''. The final, enigmatic chapter is simply ''The Hundredth Lover''.

''For women, sex, eroticism and sensuality are really linked; they are not compartmentalised,'' Johnson says. ''So when people ask is it literally 100 lovers, I say, no, it's actually 100 moments of the loving life of the body and the body's lovers.''

Her book knits together themes that run through her six other novels: eroticism and sensuality, expatriation, her love of France, writing and art, and the complexities of relationships between men and women.

Clive James Watch #18

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Nefertiti in the Flak Tower

Clive James has recently released a new collection of poetry titled Nefertiti in the Flak Tower

He spoke to Mark Colvin on the "Friday Late" program on ABC News.
Derwent May reviewed the collection for Standpoint magazine and titled his piece "Never a Dull Verse".

Daily Telegraph

James is the current, or possibly recent, television reviewer for "The Daily Telegraph" in the UK.  His most recent columns are as follows:
April 12 - on The Syndicate
April 5 - Why British TV drama has lost the plot.
March 30 - They didn't see the iceberg? Neither did we

The Telegraph doesn't mention that James is on leave or why the most recent review is April 12.

Book Review

James reviews Masscult and Midcult by Dwight Macdonald for "The Atlantic":

"As with all great essayists, his writing had a poetic component, but it was a poetry cleansed of poeticism. No modern American prose writer of consequence ever postured less: compared with him, Mary McCarthy is on stilts, Gore Vidal grasps a pouncet-box, and Norman Mailer is from Mars in a silver suit. At his best, Macdonald made modern American English seem like the ideal prose medium: transparent in its meaning, fun when colloquial, commanding when dignified, and always suavely rhythmic even when most committed to the demotic.

"In fact, he seemed to get his rhythm from ordinary conversation: the hardest trick for a prose writer to pull off, because vulgarity always threatens. Macdonald, however, was poised even when he joked. His wonderful book Parodies--wonderful because the choosing is done with an ear for true wit--was constantly in print up until 1985, so he could never have quite been forgotten, but people did forget that his prose was interesting no matter what he talked about. Right through the war, he railed against the Allied bombing campaign. His humane articles never had a chance of affecting anything, because the Allied effort was dictated by the necessity to win, not by ethics; but the articles are still interesting. A dull paragraph wasn't in him."

Other

A comment forum which started in January 2008, in The Fortean Times, about an article that James wrote for The Monthly, is still going strong.

Bill Moyers interviews James on the publication of his book Cultural Amnesia.  The video upload is dated 4 May 2012, but the book was released in 2007.

Anna Funder Interview

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anna_funder.jpg    At the end of April Anna Funder was interviewed by Farid Farid for SBS. At the time of this interview the author's novel All That I Am had been longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. That has since been upgraded to a shortlisting.

The idea of refuge and exile figures in nuanced ways in your latest work, how do you feel in general towards Australia's stance with its treatment of refugees in their latest waves?

I was deeply depressed and bewildered by our treatment of refugees earlier this decade - and not only refugees. The careless exile of Vivian Solon, the reckless imprisonment of Cornelia Rau, who was mentally ill. It shames me that my country allowed refugees seeking asylum here from terrible situations to be imprisoned indefinitely without trial. It made me think very differently about what it was to be Australian. I felt that horrors were happening - suicides, hunger strikes, the permanent psychological maiming of children in suburbs not far from where I lived. I think to some extent it's still going on.

The gender controversy surrounding Miles Franklin has subsided this year with seven women including yourself being nominated for the prize, how do you feel about the whole debate?

I think that the statistics speak for themselves - too few great women writers are recognized in prizes, review space and reviewing. After that, it gets more complicated - a lot more complicated. Writing really well, independently and for the long haul takes vast repositories of self-confidence, a kind of self-belief that can be hard for sane, well-socialised women to sustain. But it can be done. And, of course, great works come also from the mad and anti-social among us too.

Peter Carey Interview

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chemistry_of_tears.jpg    Nina Caplan interviews Peter Carey, for "New Statesman", as his latest novel is published in the US:

Why is Carey so fond of these lurid, self-aggrandising lawbreakers? Most of his novels contain at least one. "I have a bad character." What, "Sumper, c'est moi"? He's joking, I think, and anyway, all characters are partially "moi". But this does seem an odd way to deflect my attention from his roots.

I can understand his reluctance: geographical stereotyping is reductive and Australians have suffered from this more than most. Until recently, white Australia was a fledgling, trying to emulate, overtake and detach itself from the mother country all at once; then there's the fraught history of white Australia's mistreatment of the original inhabitants. This book is partly about the difficulties we all have in seeing what we do not wish to see. Carey cites the New South Wales Aboriginals failing to register the incoming ships of the First Fleet "because they did not know such things existed"; a stunning piece of wilful blindness mirrored by the Englishmen, who then nearly died of starvation while surrounded by the indigenous notion of plenty. There is no tree of knowledge in the sunburned country - on the contrary. It occurs to me that if your homeland's original sin is all about obfuscation and you have ideas you wish to present clearly, it makes sense to take to your heels. Still, only an Australian would turn coming from Australia into the conversational equivalent of a crime.

But then, Carey writes incessantly about crime. His second book of short stories is en­titled War Crimes; his first, The Fat Man in History, posits a post-Marxist world where being obese is a criminal activity. He invents thieves and liars and gambling addicts and, yes, convicts. As for Ned Kelly, Carey's extraordinary act of ventriloquism had the dubious distinction of making Australia's most notorious crim an international sensation. Of the central trio in The Chemistry of Tears, one, as we have seen, almost wound up a convict (he narrowly escaped becoming a parricide, too); another is a thieving, dipsomaniac horologist, and, while Henry seems the soul of probity, he might be said to be guilty of plagiarism - a favourite Carey sin.

Elizabeth Harrower Interview

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watch_tower.jpg    I had dinner recently with W.H. Chong, cover designer for Text Publishing, and he was extolling the virtues of a book that Text were about to re-issue in their Classics line. The book was The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower. "Never heard of it," I said. He just looked at me like I was an idiot. I checked up on the author when I got home. And, yes, he was right, I really am an idiot.

As the book is being distributed Gay Alcorn interviewed the author for "The Age":

Harrower is 84, tall and straight-backed, dressed stylishly in black pants, black top and a neat neck scarf. Her fourth and last novel, The Watch Tower, was published in 1966. This month it was re-published as a Text Publishing Classic, one of 30 remarkable, and mostly out of print, Australian books. She is immensely pleased, having thought that nobody would again talk about Elizabeth Harrower, novelist, until she was dead.

..Harrower was close to Patrick White, in 1973 Australia's first winner of the Nobel prize for literature. She was friends with celebrated writers Christina Stead and Kylie Tennant and writer and political adviser Richard Hall. She was a close friend, too, of painter Sidney Nolan and his wife Cynthia. Her friends urged her to write, and were cross when she did not.

''Patrick was always very angry with me for not writing, enraged, he was horrible. Only people who really care about you care about whether you are doing that or not.'' She brings out a book White inscribed for her in 1986. ''To Elizabeth, luncher and diner extraordinaire. Sad you don't also WRITE.''

Over three hours, first at her apartment overlooking a glorious Sydney Harbour, then at lunch at a local restaurant in the inner city, Harrower tries to explain what happened. It is the first interview she has given for more than 20 years, and she talks about everything - and quizzes her interviewer in detail about all of life's doubts and joys - but she is reluctant to analyse her books and there are long pauses when she grapples with the question of why she stopped writing.

It's not as though she ran out of things to say - ''there were probably too many things to say''. It's not as though her work was poorly received - her second novel, The Long Prospect, was described as ranking ''second only to Voss as a post-war work of Australian literature''. It's not as though she was busy raising children - she never married and is childless. She doesn't dismiss the question as irrelevant, either. ''It's a very good question,'' she says.

Wendy James Interview

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the_mistake.jpg    Wendy James, who I interviewed here on "Matilda" way back in 2006. Now she has just had her fourth novel, The Mistake, published by Penguin. Recently she spoke to Angela Savage:

Out of the Silence mixes characters from real life -- like feminist suffragette Vida Goldstein and working-class country girl Maggie Heffernan -- with fiction, producing a novel that is compelling and informative. How did you come across these characters?

I'd read about Maggie Heffernan in books and articles about 19th century Australian women's history. Her story has been written about fairly frequently; it's almost a case study. I'd read about Goldstein in other contexts as well, because of her work for the suffrage and also as a pacifist, but the unexpected connection between these two very different women was immediately exciting. So many things that interest me about the nineteenth century (and ours, too) -- in particular issues surrounding class and gender -- could be explored using a compelling real life story.

You refer to the Lindy Chamberlain case in The Mistake in exposing the media's role in shaping public opinion. Were there any other real life cases or characters that inspired the novel?

The novel's initial inspiration came from the story of Keli Lane, the water-polo champion who was recently convicted of murdering her infant daughter, Tegan. Tegan hasn't been seen since she was discharged from hospital with her mother in 1996, and despite extensive police searches, authorities have been unable to locate her. Lane herself maintained throughout the period of investigation (though her story changed) that the child had been adopted out unofficially. The case is certainly sensational, but it was the attitude of some media -- including various internet sites -- that really struck me. The focus was all on Lane's perceived "character" -- promiscuous, secretive, ambitious, a liar -- rather than the available, and completely circumstantial, evidence. Like Chamberlain before her, Keli Lane was found guilty in the court of public opinion even before she went to trial.

Interview with Peter Carey

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie Alexander Interviews

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

Chris Gordon of "Readings" spoke to her:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M. L. Stedman Interview

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light_between_oceans.jpg    It seems to be the time of the debut Australian novelist. After the publication of The Rook by Daniel O'Malley a few weeks back we now have The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman, an Australian author living in London. Seems publishers on both sides of the Atlantic were rather keen on this one. The author was interviewed for "The Age" by Linda Morris.
In the US, Stedman procured a ''high six-figure'' for this, her first novel-length manuscript, a rare book that crosses literary and commercial fiction. ''It was wild, just so far beyond my experience and imagining. I have no explanation for it,'' she says of the bidding war. Stedman interviewed each interested publisher, clear-eyed and stubborn in her intent to find someone who recognised her endeavours to explore life's eternal questions about truth, redemption and the nature of happiness for a broad readership of women and men.

Her belief in the authority of the reader lies partly behind her attempts to maintain relative anonymity in the wake of her mass-market success.

Her official biography comprises a single line: ''M.L. Stedman was born and raised in Western Australia and now lives in London.'' Even her first name, Margot, is concealed.

And, yes, there is a book trailer:

Discussion of Christopher Brennan, Part 3

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The following is the third of a three-part discussion of the works of Christopher Brennan that took place in the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald during 1936.  It began with a report of a lecture by Hilary Lofting, and continued with an essay by John Sandes on the merits, or otherwise, of Brennan's poetry.

CHRISTOPHER BRENNAN.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD.  

Sir,-In last Saturday's issue, under the heading "Literary Misapprehension," Mr. John Sandes says: "Mrs. Mary Gilmore wrote in a letter to the Editor of the 'Herald': "The desire to see Christopher Brennan published in enduring form is equally a desire to see Australians stand face to face among the writers of the world." Then he adds, "It may surprise Mrs. Mary Gilmore to learn that Chris. Brennan's poetical work, or, at any rate, a large part of it, was published by subscription in Sydney."

May I reply that it is no surprise to me, as I bought several copies of this collection, as well as of the smaller book. But these are but a portion of his work, and it was to a complete edition of all he did that I referred, and because no partial collection can give him the standing in Europe that his scholarship should command. Mr. Sandes in his article does not mention either Brennan's published prose or his lectures -- which even in notes were literature. It was in the desire to see all this published that I wrote the letter referred to by Mr. Sandes; and this Is, I am told, the aim of the executors. I have been told that the volume in contemplation will be about four times as large as the (sectional) one that was published by subscription.

I am, etc.,

MARY GILMORE.

King's Cross. Sept. 7.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 September 1936


CHRISTOPHER BRENNAN.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD.

Sir,-Mrs. Mary Gllmore's letter in your issue of September 10 covers the ground in relation to the partial collection of Brennan's poetry mentioned in Mr. John Sandes's intensely interesting article. May I, as the lecturer from whose words this discussion sprang, add that I also have known this partial collection for many years, that I, in fact, read my excerpts from it at the fellowship address in question?

The theme of that address was that a "complete" collection of the work of an Australian major poet should be made available before its absence becomes a present reproach and a future loss to Australian Imagination and scholarship.

I am, etc.,

HILARY LOFTING. Sydney, Sept. 12.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 September 1936


HOMAGE TO BRENNAN.    

TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD.  

Sir,-There has been much wild talk and there has been much lip service about Australia's greatest poet. We think that those of our readers who were friends of Brennan in his life, and the still larger number to whom he is an honoured name, will be glad to realise that there is no call for lamentation over the prospective loss of his work.

Brennan, before his death, had the insight to make one of his dearest and loyalest friends, R. Innes Kay, his literary executor, and Mr. Kay's loyal and thorough stewardship has prevented any ill-judged, sporadic, and inaccurate publication of Brennan's work, and has prepared the public for the edition of the forthcoming Brennan omnibus. The editing of this omnibus will be in the hands of a committee, Messrs. R. Innes Kay, J. J. Quinn, and C. H. Kaeppel, with Miss Kate Egan, treasurer, and Miss K. Donovan, secretary, It will include every surviving thing that Brennan has written, with the possible exception of his lectures on the Homeric question and his compositions in German, which have now only an antiquarian interest. The omnibus would have appeared long since, but for the difficulty in securing a small portion (not more than ten per cent.) of Brennan's work that was in the hands of others. But the committee felt, and rightly, that the omnibus should be definitive.

There is another matter to which with great happiness we refer. All lovers of Brennan's work have noted the irresistible songfulness of some of his lyrics. No one has noticed it better than Mr. Horace Keats. It has been our privilege to hear his first scores of "The Wanderer" cycle. Properly to appraise them, would, we think, take a Strangways. We would only say we recall the singing fairy of "Midsummer Night's Dream," and, that hearing them, we heard the fusion of two artists-the poet and the musician. That these gems of art will be heard in England and America it is good to know, but we may be acquitted of any parochialism if we are avowedly glad that they will be heard first in Australia -- at the forthcoming series of lectures on Brennan, all of which will conclude with selections from the Wanderer cycle, played by Mr. Keats and sung by his gifted wife, so well known by her platform name, Miss Barbara Russell.

I am, etc.,

KATHLEEN DONOVAN.

Hon. secretary, Chris Brennan Committee.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 September 1936

Note: this last letter was originally published on this weblog on 6 April 2011.  I've reprinted it here as it fits the rest of the discussion.

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

Discussion of Christopher Brennan, Part 2

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The following is the second of a three-part discussion of the works of Christopher Brennan that took place in the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald during 1936.  It began with a report of a lecture by Hilary Lofting, and will conclude next week with letters to the paper in reply to the essay below.

BRENNAN'S POEMS.

A Literary Misapprehension.

(BY JOHN SANDES.)

Mr. Hilary Lofting, in addressing the Fellowship of Australian Writers on July 15 on the poetry of the late Chris. Brennan, stated, according to the report in the "Herald" next morning, that "there is no published collection of his works." Mrs. Mary Gilmore, who is herself a well-known authoress, in referring to the statement by Mr. Lofting, wrote in a letter to the Editor of the "Herald". "The desire to see Christopher Brennan published in enduring form is equally a desire to see Australians stand face to face among the writers of the world." It may surprise the lecturer, and also Mrs. Mary Gilmore, as well as the reading public in general, to learn that Chris. Brennan's poetical work, or, at any rate, a large part of it, was published by subscription in Sydney, shortly before the war, by G. B. Philip and Son, Pitt-street. A few copies of it are still available at the publishers' well-known bookshop.

Turning over a mass of old letters and papers recently, this present writer came across a cutting from a Sydney morning newspaper. The cutting was printed early in the fateful year 1914. The journal itself has since passed away, or, perhaps, it might be more truthfully said of it, in the words of another great poet, that it

    " . . . has suffered a sea-change into something rich and strange."

The cutting contained a review article entitled "Three Poets," "An Appreciation." It dealt with "Poems" by Christopher Brennan, The Witch Maid" by Dorothea Mackellar, and "The Three Kings" by Will Lawson. The reviewer, in introducing the three, remarked that "they had little in common except for the share that each of them manifested in those inborn qualities of sympathy, reflection, intuition, depth of feeling, sensitiveness to beauty, and gift of expression, which help to make the poet as distinct from the verse-writer." He went on to observe that the poetical works of the three poets were "as dissimilar from each other as a Tschalkowsky symphony, a group of Schubert's "Lieder," and a collection of Sousa's marches -- but they all have poetry in them."

WARM EULOGY.

There is no lack of enthusiasm for Chris. Brennan's poetical merits in the review. "Mr, Chris. Brennan's large and handsomely-produced volume," we read, "brings together a mass of poetic work the composition of which has extended over many years. The author has long since established his claim to be recognised as a writer of marked originality, whose deep thought is set forth in an ornate diction, jewelled with far-sought words and phrases, that not seldom dazzle the reader so thoroughly that it is difficult to make out the outline of the idea under the rich and glittering dress in which it is presented. Mr. Chris. Brennan's poetry is not easy reading. His appeal is to the lettered few. Not at the first, or even at the second, reading will the line and mass of his thought emerge from his verse, but gradually there dawns on one an impression that this poet's plummet goes down to the profundities -- that he takes soundings in a mighty ocean where the purely lyric poets never venture. A huge discontent with the present ways of living looms up with menace. One might say that the Celtic temperament of the poet has -- blended with it -- something of the old Hebraic denunciatory fire."

That Judgment seems to be in general agreement with the opinion of Mr. Hilary Lofting that "one had almost to study Brennan's verse before one could like it." The reviewer, however, goes on to show that the poet is not always obscure and also that at times Chris. Brennan wrote not only with Hebraic fire, but also with the prophetic gift of one of those old Hebrew seers. Take, for instance, those typically Brennanesque verses ending with a prophecy the fulfilment of which at the present time, more than twenty-two years after the critique was printed, appears -- not only to the members of the Rositrucian Order at Perth, who are bent on building an asbestos tower from which to view the conflagration, but also to many millions of other people -- to be dismally imminent.

The first line of the first verse shows that the piece was written in the poet's youth. Here are the verses, sombre and powerful in thought, vividly clear in expression, assuredly indicating "a huge discontent with the present ways of living":

   The yellow gas is fired from street to street,
      Past rows of heartless homes and hearts unlit,
   Dead churches, and the unending pavement beat
      By crowds -- say, rather, haggard shades that flit.

   Round nightly haunts of their delusive dream,
      Where'er our paradisal instinct starves,
   Till on the utmost post its sinuous gleam
      Crawls on the oily water of the wharves.  

   Where Homer's sea loses his keen breath, hemmed
      What place rebellious piles were driven down --
   The priest-like waters to this task condemned
      To wash the roots of the inhuman town!

   Where fat and strange-eyed fish that never saw
      The outer deep, broad halls of sapphire light,
   Glut in the city's draught each namelss maw --
      And there wide-eyed unto the soulless night.

   Methinks a drown'd maid's face might fitly show
      What we have slain, a life that had been free,
   Clean, large nor thus tormented-even so,
      As are the skies, the salt winds and the sea.

   Shall we be cleansed, and how? I only pray
      Red flame or deluge may that end be soon.

That last line stands out stark and grim at the present crisis in the history of civilisation.

The reviewer in his notice comments: "Unlike a great deal of the poetry in this volume, that passage is perfectly straightforward. And it opens vistas. It grips the mind." That cannot be denied. But it is the grip of horror, not of pity. How differently Tom Hood has treated the same "motif" in those lines that begin

   Take her up tenderly,
      Lift her with care.
   Fashioned so slenderly,
      Young, and so fair.

"THE WANDERER."

The reviewer reports that there are four long poems in Chris. Brennan's book, the parts of each being loosely connected together by a central idea epitomised in the title. Also there is a set of epilogues. He picks out specially "The Wanderer," because, he says, in it the central thought is clearer, as well as nobler than in the others, while the diction is at the same time less heavily loaded with illusion and more apt in helping the reader to comprehend the complex of scenes, ideas, and emotions, that the author conjures up. "Yet even this poem," he says, must be read again and again before its full meaning beats into the mind. The reflections of an old man with a lifetime of memories behind him -- memories of wife and child long dead, memories of hunger and cold, and everlasting struggle -- arouse clear-cut mental pictures, and the poignant sympathy that is, in fact, a shivering realisation that what the poet describes may be the lot of any one of us some day." Then he adds: "Yet one has sudden glimpses of a new outlook'" and he quotes these lines from "The Wanderer":

   You at whose table I have sat, some distant eve,
   Beside the road, and eaten, and you pitied me,
   To be driven an aimless way before the pitiless winds;
   How much ye have give, and knew not, pitying foolishly!
   For not alone the bread I broke but I tasted, too.
   And you unwitting live, and knew the narrow soul
   That bodies it, in the landmarks of your fields,
   And broods dumbly, within your little season's round
   Where after sowing comes the short-lived summer's mirth.

   And after harvesting the winter's lingering dream,
   Half memory and regret, half hope crouching beside
   The hearth that is" your only centre of life and dream;
   And, knowing the world how limitless and the way how long
   And the home of man how feeble and built on the winds;
   I have lived your life, that eve, as you might never live,
   Knowing and pity you if you should come to know.

Here is the reviewer's summing-up of the poet's message: "That passage conveys the impression somehow that one has been living in a narrow box and that the bottom has suddenly dropped out of it, precipitating one that the immensities. We find in this poem that profound dissatisfaction with life as it is today, which is the moving spirit of all evolutionary progress, and also a noble craving to fight againnst the powers of evil. There is no happiness in inertia. Energy for the strenuous upward climbing, and courage for the combat -- these are the themes of Mr. Brennan's muse."  

Within the past few days this present writer held in his hand, in the publishers' bookshop, one of the large handsomely produced volumes of Chris. Brennan's "Poems" referred to in the old, faded, yellowing "appreciation." It awakened poignant memories. It is the same book, but it was not the identical copy of it that was received two and twenty years ago, "With the compliments of the publisher -- For Review."

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 September 1936

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

Discussion of Christopher Brennan, Part 1

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The following is the start of a three-part discussion of the works of Christopher Brennan that took place in the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald during 1936.  It begins with a report of a lecture by Hilary Lofting, a Sydney journalist and brother of Hugh Lofting (author of the Dr Doolittle books), about the Australian poet Christopher Brennan (1870-1932).

"Only Major Poet": Christopher Brennan

"Christopher Brennan is our one major poet, and there is no published collection of his works. It is a standing disgrace."

This statement was made by Mr. Hilary Lofting, the author, at a meeting of the fellowship of Australian Writers at the Shallmar Cafe last night, when he pleaded for recognition of the poetical talents of the late Christopher Brennan.

Mr. Lofting said that Brennan had been a member of his household during one of the last years of the poet's life. One had almost to study Brennan's work before one could like it.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 July 1936

And in response:

Christopher Brennan: To the Editor of the Herald.

Sir,-In his address to the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Mr. Hilary Lofting said: "One had almost to study Brennan, work before one liked it." Then, striking a comparison, he offered the supplementary remark that it needed three hundred years of Shakespeare to be liked. A quip, droll enough to have made old Chris shake his sides, if he had been there to hear it.

Later on in the evening, Mr. Lofting specified it as being "our job to read and know Brennan . . . " a splendid idea for those who can spare themselves "that time which never can return." But, "extra jocum," one cannot govern taste; because no man considers rightly who is unable to think for himself. Moreover, genius owes nothing to testimony; or, if it does, we might subscribe to a new maxim, "Poeta fit non nascitur." In the present case it seems certain that Brennan will come to his fame with a merry wind. During the period of his life, he was a very dear and lovable man; one who, in the words of Edward Gibbon, "multiplied his own experience by reading and reflection, and lived in distant ages and remote countries."

I am etc.

HUGH MCCRAE.

Camden, July 17.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 1936

And then:

Christopher Brennan and Fame

Sir, - In regard to his letter in this morning's paper, there is no one more capable of assessing the place of Christopher Brennan, either personally or in his prose and poetry, than Hugh McCrae, and it is always a delight when he writes of anyone. But may I seem to differ and yet go further than Mr. McCrae, and say that perpetuity rests, not on genius, but on rag paper? Genius dies, books perish, but rag endures. Because of this I last week formulated a proposal to the Fellowship of Australian Writers that it initiate a movement for a subscription rag-paper edition of Brennan's complete works. Perhaps there might be a conference arranged of heads of all the bodies interested in scholarship, art, and literature, so that something universal could be done. Brennan was a scholar as well as a writer, and art should be represented in all our commemorating and perpetuating books.

I am, etc.,

MARY GILMORE

King's Cross, July 20

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 July 1936

Followed by:

Chris Brennan.

Sir, - The recently published remarks of Mr. Hilary Lofting as to Chris. Brennan and the subsequent correspondence appearing in your columns are very encouraging. They give, not more heart -- for it is a labour of love for the man as much as his work - but more promise to the writer and Mr. J. J. Quinn in their joint labour already well advanced, of the publication next year of as complete an edition of Chris's prose and verse as the reluctance of some who survive him to produce his books and manuscripts will permit. It is hoped soon to give your correspondents and others interested in the publication of Chris's works an opportunity of displaying that interest in a practical manner. Every time I read in the Press enthusiasms from admirers of Brennan's verse, I am reminded of an occasion when Chris's intellectual attainments being exclusively in eulogy, the late A. G. Stephens stamped angrily about the grass saying, "Why doesn't somebody say what a lovable man he was?" We shook hands. In conclusion, may I ask for leave, publicly, to thank Mr. Hugh McCrae for his letter.

I am. etc.,

CHRIS'S EXECUTOR.

Sydney, July 24.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July 1936

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

Note: This discussion will continue on Friday with a long reply by John Sandes

Interview with Deborah Robertson

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sweet_old_world.jpg    Deborah Robertson's debut novel, Careless, in 2006, received a lot of attention. It was the winner of the Nita Kibble and Colin Roderick awards; shortlisted for the Age Book of the Year Awards, the NSW Premier's Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Australian Book Industry Awards, Western Australia Premier's Book Awards an the Miles Franklin Award; and longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Orange Prize. A formidable list. And now the author has released her second novel, Sweet Old World. She spoke to Susan Wyndham:
Writing the novel wasn't simple, either. ''I didn't really know what it was when I wrote it the first time,'' Robertson says. It began as the story of three sisters who collaborate to make a baby - one gives an egg, one her womb and the third, infertile sister would raise the child.

''I worked on that for a year, 18 months,'' Robertson says. ''I'd been writing in Perth and turning my wheels and not getting any traction and I thought, OK, I'll upset the apple cart and see what happens.''

...

Her next move, in 2009, was from Perth to Melbourne.

''It just had to be a big city and I wanted weather as radically different from Perth as possible but not Tasmania. I was trying to make things as hard as possible for myself. I think I write best when things are extreme or I'm in a particular period of intensity in my life. I sort of carve books out of myself.'' She achieved her aim. Living alone in Fitzroy North, she became completely absorbed in her work.

''This is the hardest book I've ever written in ways I could never imagine, probably because of the intense solitary nature and the fact that nothing around me was familiar,'' she says. ''It was essentially a convent life but the devotion was writing. It burned away the last of my illusions about what would be expected of me in a committed writing life.''

Kate Grenville Interviews

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kate_grenville.jpg    As Kate Grenville's latest novel, Sarah Thornhill, is published in the UK, she is undertaking a ranging book tour of the UK and Ireland. She spoke to Stephanie Cross of "The Independent":

Opening in 1816 on New South Wales's Hawkesbury River, Sarah Thornhill picks up where The Secret River left off, and reunites readers with the Thornhill clan. The head of the family, a figure based on Grenville's own forebear, was a thief "sent out" from London to Australia, there becoming a successful farmer. The exact details of Grenville's ancestor's story are lost to history, but the fictional Thornhill is involved in the massacre of Aborigines.

For Grenville, the trilogy has been a very personal undertaking. "The Secret River began because, at the age of 50, I suddenly realised I knew nothing about how my own family had got its foothold in Australia," she explains.

And to Andrew Williams of the Metro website:

What is your new book, Sarah Thornhill, about?

It's set in colonial Australia and it's about a woman who discovers an ugly family secret concerning a massacre of aboriginal people and what she does about it.

You've written about this subject before - why are you interested in it?

When I was growing up we weren't taught these aspects of Australia's past - it was all about pioneer heroes. It's no good trying to ignore it - let's look at it and acknowledge the wrongs committed in the past. One well-documented case is the Waterloo Creek massacre in New South Wales in 1838, one of the very few cases that came to court. Perpetrators of massacres weren't often caught - and if they were, they were often let off. This massacre involved aboriginal women and children being chained neck-to-neck, taken up a hill and shot. Their bodies were burned. This aspect of our history needs to be acknowledged and my way of addressing it is by writing books.

Not everyone is so keen to acknowledge it, are they?

No. A little while ago, we had something called the 'history wars' in Australia, in which two schools of historians were at each others' throats - one group said aboriginal people died out due to measles. The problem with finding written evidence is it was in no one's interest to write: 'We went out and shot 12 aboriginal people today.' However, they did write things such as: 'We went out with our rifles and dispersed the natives.' The word 'dispersed' comes up again and again in the records and you can guess it probably meant we shot at them and shot some of them.

And also to Eileen Battersby of "The Irish Times":

The sparky, intelligent Grenville is direct and, though she remains on the polite side of blunt, a realist who speaks her mind. There is a likable energy about her and a curiosity about everything. Her daughter, Alice, has recently graduated from a combined arts and science degree - "Can you imagine? What a fabulous mixture of information" - and is currently minding baby sloths.

Grenville reads widely and carefully and misses little. "It's not easy being a writer, it's not easy being a woman writer and it's certainly not easy being an Australian woman writer." Her prose is deliberate and carefully weighted. She explains the difficulty of coming of age in Australia at a time when history had an official version that deleted many of the uglier facts. "We were horrified by the Nazis and by the Afrikaners, and yet we had our own crimes that we had not dealt with. And you have to remember that when I was young - I was born in 1950 - most Australians still regarded England as home. Imagine that: 'home' a place you had never been to. We were far closer to Asia than to Europe."

She took an arts degree at Sydney University and, true to the ritual adhered to by generations, set off for England, where she worked at a number of jobs, including film editing, and even developed a short-lived version of an English accent. But, as she says, "I am an Australian", and it seems she was fated to be a writer: her father had written three books in his retirement, and her mother provided a valuable legacy of stories, "stories that didn't always have all the facts, so I had to find them".
Australian, UK and US bookcovers:




SarahThornhill-aus-cover.jpg    SarahThornhill-uk-cover.jpg    SarahThornhill-us-cover.jpg

Hilary McPhee Interview

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hilary_mcphee.jpg    Continuing Jason Steger's literary lunches, this past week he spoke with Hilary McPhee, who, in 1975, founded McPhee Gribble publishers with the late Di Gribble.

The last time I saw Hilary McPhee was at a distance. It was October at the funeral of Di Gribble, her great friend and cohort in the publishing company, McPhee Gribble. She looked - not surprisingly - stricken with grief.

The two were in the vanguard of Australians trying to break the British grip on domestic publishing. They acquired rights from the US, tried to build a list of books in translation and first published writers such as Tim Winton and Helen Garner.

''It's very hard,'' she says now, ''when a friend who has been an absolutely critical part of your life is no longer there. Her daughter Anna, my god-daughter, is very like Di, very forthright. I said to Di before she died that she'd left us with Anna, 'who is going to remind us of you all the time because she's so like you'. In manner and character.''

Margo Lanagan Interview

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sea_hearts.jpg    Margo Lanagan has just published her new novel, Sea Hearts, her first since Tender Morsels in 2008. The author was recently interviewed by Gabrielle Wang.

What is your daily writing routine?

Get up as early as possible and, before I'm awake enough to attack myself with criticisms, start writing (I write the first draft of everything longhand, in biro on lined bank-weight paper). If I can get in a couple of hours before breakfast, that sets me up for a productive rest-of-the-day.

Breakfast, then head off to my rented Writing Room, two blocks from my house. Install myself there, immerse myself again. I still aim for ten pages a day - I'm not allowed to beat myself up about it if I don't make the count, but I do have to try. I've found that if I'm on a roll and write substantially more than ten pages, I'm in fact stealing words (and likely slightly sloppy words) from the next day.

Sometimes the ten pages are done by 11am, sometimes it takes a full 8 hours to get them. Whatever's happening, don't let anxiety leak into the process. Keep it as enjoyable and hopeful as possible. Writing snacks: raw carrots, Vita-Weats, anything crunchy - but low fat (don't want to get sleepy!) - I literally chew my way through plot glitches. If I can, stop writing at a point in a scene where something interesting's about to happen, to make it easy to start again next day.

Debut Novel: The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

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the_rook.jpg    A new debut novel, The Rook, by Australian author Daniel O'Malley is picking up some good coverage from critics and readers alike (it currently has an Amazon rating of 5 stars). Lev Grossman, in "Time" magazine, lists the novel as one of the seven books he's looking forward to in 2012. "Publisher's Weekly" gave the novel a starred review (no link as you have to be a subscriber to see any content on their website), and "Library Journal" described it as: "Part suspense, part dark humor, this debut is rumored to be one of those up-all-nighters." Which isn't too shabby.

The author has his own website set up for the book and there is a Youtube video:


Carrie Tiffany Interview

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carrie_tiffany.jpg    It's been a while since we've heard from Carrie Tiffany. In fact it's been seven years since she published her first novel, Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living, to widespread acclaim, including being shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and Orange Prize. Now she's back with her new novel, Mateship with Birds, and Susan Wyndham interviewed her for "The Sydney Morning Herald" and "The Age".

''I don't go round making up stories,'' she says. ''There's so much narrative in our lives.'' For her, writing is ''an act of collage, free association, memory, noticing and putting things together. I don't write in a particularly linear way. When I've amassed a certain amount of material I print it out, put it on the floor, move the furniture, walk around it and think, where are the connections?''

With a masters degree in creative writing and success as a fiction writer, she still works full-time as a journalist for an income but also for ideas and a love of the land and its people. She has written for "The Victorian Landcare Magazine" for 15 years and when we talk she is working on a government white paper on biodiversity and ''a weeds thing''.

''It takes me into a world that is interesting,'' Tiffany says.

''I'm not sure about a career as a writer. I'm not interested in novels set in coffee shops.''

Peter Carey Interview

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peter_carey.jpg    As Peter Carey's new novel, The Chemisty of Tears, hits the bookshelves, he is interviewed in "The Age" by Simon Mann:

These days, anything written about Carey inevitably carries the label ''dual Booker winner'', noting the fact he is almost alone in twice winning Britain's top literary accolade, for Oscar and Lucinda in 1988 and True History of the Kelly Gang in 2001. They and his load of other trophies might add uncomfortably to the weight of expectation success brings. But Carey says he is only aware of the self-imposed pressure, that doing what he does always ''feels risky and difficult''.

''Writers, at least writers of fiction, are always full of anxiety and worry,'' he says. ''It's never any different, because in the end what you do is make the difficulty for yourself, which is the novel.''

Reflecting further, he adds: ''The real anguish is just making the thing and then, after that, well, it's awful to be criticised and it's awful to be not liked, it's awful to be any of those things. Basically, the writer of fiction is the person who comes in every day and puts his head up his bum and goes to work.''

Colleen McCullough Interview

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colleen_mccullough.jpg    The Age newspaper is rather taken lately with the idea of interviewing someone over lunch. Its not a bad idea - it gets the subject a little more relaxed and you get the added bonus of covering the restaurant/cafe as well. Recently Jason Steger met up with Colleen McCullough in the Sofitel in the city.

She has come to Melbourne for a day. Not from her home on Norfolk Island, where she lives in a house she bought more than 30 years ago on the proceeds of her rather successful second novel, The Thorn Birds. She's been in Sydney talking about her new book, Life without the Boring Bits, a sort of memoir cum collection of essays cum rant that is very Colleen. But she can't get back home for a while because there aren't many flights to her outpost in the Pacific.

Last time I saw her was in that home she shares with her husband, Ric Robinson, a Norfolk Island local. It was not long before she was due to have a major operation and, to be honest, I wondered whether I'd see her again. But here she is, I'm happy to say; a bit frailer but undaunted. She takes a lot of aspirin - ''a wonderful drug'' - and still loves a fag. And she still has her raucous laugh.

Shaun Tan in Conversation

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Gaiman and Tan.jpg    Neil Gaiman and Shaun Tan seem to be developing something of a double act these days, appearing on stage at literary events around the world. The two met last year at the Edinburgh book festival, and Gaiman recently wrote up their conversation for The Guardian newspaper.
Neil Gaiman: Your stuff is always laconic. One of the things I love about it is that a picture is worth a thousand words and you make your pictures work very hard.

Shaun Tan: Part of it is that I don't trust myself as a writer. I still lack confidence, probably because the first 20 or so stories I wrote were roundly rejected. I actually started out as a writer and then converted to illustration because I realised that there was a dearth of good illustrators in genre fiction, at least in Australia at that time. I diverted all of my resources to visual imagery, and as a result I noticed that my writing did become more and more pared down, until it started to approximate my normal speaking patterns. When I write a story I imagine I'm telling it to someone like my brother. And we don't talk that much [laughs] - it condenses everything down and that's a very Australian thing, too.

Clive James Interview

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clive_james.jpg    Clive James has been unwell.

Not in the Jeffrey Barnard sense, but in the kidney failure, lung disease and leukemia sense. But he's 72, and still belting out the essays and books, the most recent of which is A Point of View, which contains transcripts of the radio talks he did for BBC's Radio 4 over the past several years.

As the book hits the shelves in time for Christmas, James was interviewed for The Australian news paper by David Free:
And even with his cancer in remission, James must pay regular visits to a clinic for blood infusions. "My immune system is being successfully replaced with an immunoglobulin drip-feed that encourages reading for at least a couple of hours a week."

All this means that James, at the moment, can't be interviewed except by email. This isn't a bad arrangement when you're interviewing one of the wittiest writers in the world. It will, however, make it hard for me to throw in the standard references to the man's physical appearance, the firmness of his handshake and what kind of beverage he leans back to sip on while considering his answers.

Improvising, I offer James the chance to provide a scene-setting description of himself. "Surprisingly hale and hearty-looking for someone described in the newspapers as being at death's door," he replies. "Clive James gives few outward signs of feebleness to anyone who did not know him when his energy was unimpaired. When he sets the kitchen on fire, as old men are inclined to do, he is a little slow at getting to the blaze. His eyes are a bit screwed up, but he hopes to get that fixed."

It hurts to think of James as an old man. If he is one, then those of us who grew up with his books and television shows must be growing old, too.

Janette Turner Hospital Interview

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janette_turner_hospital.jpg    Janette Turner Hospital is probably best known as the author of the novels Orpheus Lost and Oyster. She has also written a number of short stories which have appeared in 6 separate collections. The latest of these, Forecast: Turbulence, has just been released. The author was recently interviewed for The Australian by Stephen Romei:
Like Shirley Hazzard, but more prolific. Not like Peter Carey, though: no matter how celebrated he becomes overseas he will almost be more famous, some might say notorious, in the country he left 20 years ago. Like Carey, Hospital tries to teach would-be writers the art and craft of fiction: would-be American writers mainly, he at the City University of New York, she at the University of South Carolina.

When I mention to a well-read friend that I'm interviewing Hospital and that her new book, Forecast: Turbulence, includes a beautiful memoir set in Brisbane, she says, "Oh, she's Australian?" Yes, she is, as Australian as Hugh Jackman, who features as an object of desire in two of the short stories in Hospital's new book. As Australian as Patrick White, in whose name a literary award is given each year to an important writer the judges consider to be under-recognised. Hospital picked it up in 2003.

If Hospital presents as something of an enigma, she is partly to blame, or credit, for that. Late in our interview, when I mention the topical debate about the under-representation of women in literary culture, especially on the prize circuit, it's news to her.

"It's been a long time since I worried at all about what happens to the book," she says. "I'd rather not do interviews, I would rather not be profiled, I'd rather live my private life and enjoy the pleasures of writing."

Sara Douglass (1957-2011)

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sara_douglass.jpg    Sara Warneke (better known by her pen-name Sara Douglass) has died at the age of 54.

Born in Penola in South Australia she attended school in Adelaide and became a Registered Nurse before studying early modern English History at the University of Adelaide. She later became a lecturer in medieval history at la Trobe University in Bendigo, Victoria.

She wrote a number of novels without success before trying her hand at fantasy and being signed to HarperCollins Voyager in 1995, a fantasy publishing list that has flourished over the years, most probably as a direct result of the huge success that Douglass achieved. Over the years she published 20 novels and received a number of awards in the Australian fantasy field.

She died in Hobart on September 26 of ovarian cancer.

Obituary by Lucy Sussex in The Age.

Nick Earls Interview

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true_story_of_butterfish.jpg    Nick Earls, author of Zigzag Street, Bachelor Kisses and Perfect Skin, has branched out into the crime field with his latest novel, The True Story of Butterfish. He was recently interviewed for The Age by Linda Morris.
Earls's prolific oeuvre of 12 novels and two short-story collections has steadily built him an international reputation as a contemporary writer who makes comic yardage - from subtle irony to groan-out-loud gags - out of the emotional entanglements of decent men during episodes of self-evaluation and transformation: ''I knew these men in the world, people who thought a lot and sometimes talked a lot, thinkers to the point of overthinkers who sometimes underestimated their competence and often didn't realise their strengths and I had not seen them much in fiction.''

Joshua Lang, Earls's lead character, is an internet blogger trading in pop-culture trivia to pay the bills, and an occasional spin doctor willing to turn a blind eye to a tawdry secret or two, his ambitions of living the gonzo life long behind him.

Dogged by self-recriminations following a disastrous relationship, Lang is not so much mean as dispirited, morose with the choices he's made in life.

''I had a narrator who was a thinker and who could, in his own way, crack wise even if a lot of it stays inside, and I was aiming for a certain directness with the narration,'' Earls says. ''Maybe that puts Josh not a million miles from Philip Marlowe.''

Peter Salmon Interview

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coffee_story.jpg   Peter Salmon is an Australian writer now living in England, and his first novel, The Coffee Story, will be released later this week. The publishers, Hachette, describe it as "A wild, caffeine-fuelled deathbed confession of love and betrayal that spans four continents." The author was interviewed for Readings bookshop by Kabita Dhara.

Coffee, its production and consumption, obviously plays a major role in your novel. There are beautifully evocative passages describing the roasting and grinding and preparation of the perfect cup of coffee, and some of your characters have an encyclopaedic knowledge of coffee. Where did your particular interest in coffee come from? And how do you brew your perfect cup?

Legend has it my first words were 'cup coff' so it was obviously there pretty early. And working at the wonderful Readings in Lygon Street cemented the love. It really is the best drink in the world. As for the perfect cup, the best coffee I've ever had was the coffee I had in Harar recently - a superb coffee is taken for granted, and any family that beckons you to join them will always have a glorious cup for you. I hate tea, by the way. Just so you know.

You have a very distinctive style. Which books and writers do you think have influenced you stylistically? And which books and writers do you look to for inspiration?

As I said, I'm not a lover of the 'well-crafted novel' - I like a book that is not afraid to digress, to obfuscate, and do the odd thing that annoys the reader. I really like the strange ... Books like Memoirs of My Mental Illness by Judge Schreber, and The Robber by Robert Walser (best opening lines ever - 'Edith loves him. More on this later.'). Plus Proust and Henry James, both of whom are far stranger than they are given credit for. But I guess if there is one book that informs The Coffee Story more than any other, it's The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow - frankly, I owe him most of the royalties. Don't tell him though. Please.

Craig Sherborne Interview

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amatuer_science_of_love.jpg    Craig Sherborne is best known for his two volumes of autobiography, Hoi Polloi (2005) and Muck (2007), but has now produced his first novel, The Amateur Science of Love, which has just been published by Text.

He recently spoke to Liza Power from "The Age":

After the death of his close friend, the great poet Peter Porter, last year, Sherborne wrote a tribute. He began: ''[Poetry] wasn't just some media voice reducing human experience to sound bites and headlines. It was the highest application of language. It was the most resonant chiming of music and meaning: 'I play the sad music my conscience urges.' ''

Fittingly, then, The Amateur Science of Love began as a poem. Titled Showing, it painted the portrait of a mastectomy patient, Sherborne's then lover, and was written when its author was in his late 20s. Later published in his collection titled Bullion in 1995, it was a turning point.

''It was the first decent poem I'd ever written,'' he says. ''I hadn't really written anything I'd liked much, apart from a play for Radio National. It was difficult subject matter but I felt I'd suddenly found my voice: the tone, structure, simplicity, unpretentiousness. [Writing it] felt like finding my purpose in life.''

Its second beginning, a short story titled Unforgiven, was published in The Monthly in 2008. Like its later incarnation as a novel, it's a love story and while it begins ''To be unforgiven is no great shame'', both tales unfurl in a way that suggests otherwise.

''The idea that got the book started was this person trying to redeem himself, sitting down to write a testament. He's failed the relationship [he's in] but he can't ask for forgiveness because the only person he can ask has died. He has to redeem himself to himself. And maybe that's just making excuses but it's crucial to his survival. Unless he does it, he's less than half a human being.''

Geraldine Brooks Interview

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calebs-crossing-198x300.jpg    A new novel from Geraldine Brooks is always major event in Australian publishing - you'll recall she won the Pultizer Prize for March back in 2006. So as she has her latest book, Caleb's Crossing, out in the bookshops, the writer is interviewed by Mark Rubbo for Readings.

In an interview you said that your journalistic training meant that you threw words down on the page and then fixed them up later. The voice in this book, the young woman Bethia who befriends the young Indian, is perfect in expression and tone and is as one would imagine a young woman in the seventeenth century would write. This seems to belie the 'throwing down of words'. Can you tell us - how you do find the voice?

Some days the writing is fluid, some days not. Those days, you go back to the ma- terial the next day, and revise and revise until it feels right. The voice for Bethia was more difficult than many because there is little written by colonial women or girls before 1750 that has survived, and my tale takes place 100 years earlier. I had a few shards of verbatim court records, a few letters and so forth from the period, but not a lot. I had to create her voice from these scant raw materials.

The impact of Europeans on the indigenous society and culture seems peripheral to the American story. Do you agree, and is this something Caleb's Crossing is trying to redress?

I would disagree with that. I think it is integral to the story, which doesn't mean there aren't the same controversies, the same labelling as 'black armband history' that we encounter in Australia when someone tries to probe first contact and the history of indigenous relations with European colonists.

Hazel Rowley (1951-2011)

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hazel_rowley.jpg    Hazel Rowley, the Australian biographer, has died in New York at the age of 59.

Rowley was born in Lodon and migrated to Adelaide, South Australia, with her family at the age of 8. She achieved a PhD in French from the University of Adelaide before moving to Melbourne and lecturing at Deakin University.

She is probably best-known in this country for her biography Christina Stead, published back in 1993. Following this publication, she moved to the US where she tackled, with much success and praise, a biography of
Richard Wright in 2001, and then Tete-a-Tete: The Tumultuous Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, in 2005, before writing her most recent biography of the Roosevelts, Franklin & Eleanor. She was due to tour Australia celebrating the publication of this book, before she suffered a series of strokes and a heart attack that led to her death. She will be greatly missed.

Shaun Tan and Oscar

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the_lost_thing.jpg   Shaun Tan's short animated film, The Lost Thing, based on his book of the same name, has been nominated for an Oscar. This, of course, puts Tan into rather rarefied company.

The nominees in this category are:

"Day & Night" Teddy Newton
"The Gruffalo" Jakob Schuh and Max Lang
"Let's Pollute" Geefwee Boedoe
"The Lost Thing" Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
"Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)" Bastien Dubois

Gerard Elson, from Readings bookshop, interviewed Tan back in November about the making of the film. The interview page contains a link to the film's trailer.


The Awards will be presented in Los Angeles on 27th February.

A paragraph in the obituary column recently took my thoughts back to a small room on an upper floor of a building in the heart of Brisbane. I see again a troop of fairies dancing about the whitewashed walls of that dingy little chamber-green fairies, pink fairies, and elves of other colours: some coy, some roguish, and all very dainty. Some are frolicking; others are perched sedately on the crowns of mushrooms and toadstools. Between the elfin groups are several small paintings and a number of inscribed photographs, of poets and musicians. The floor space of the room is equally crowded, it has shelves containing large quantities, untidily arranged, of articles and poems clipped by their author from newspapers and magazines; a small table, upon which rests a vase of flowers and a battered old typewriter; a chair facing the machine, and a visitor's chair near the door; an ancient couch to provide surcease from labour, and, supporting the gesture of hospitality made by that second chair, a small primus stove. In the chair facing the typewriter, her elbows resting on the table, and her dark, unusual eyes glowing behind glasses, sits the woman who is literally the presiding genius of this room. It is she who has caused the fairies to dance on the walls, even as she caused them during many years to dance on the printed page.

Alas, though, I write only of a memory. The fairies of the city room vanished some years ago when failing health compelled their creator to forsake the spot, and she herself was "made one with Nature" on March 18, when, as the obituary columns recorded, Mabel Forrest, poet and novelist, passed away. By that event Australia lost one of the most gifted women she has ever produced. Nevertheless, I for one am not wholly sorry that she has gone. She had suffered much, in many, ways, especially so in recent years. Indeed, she gave considerably more to life than life gave to her. Almost it seemed that the high gods, having equipped this daughter of a Queensland station with strange talents -- strange in the sense that poetic ability did not "run in the family," and was not stimulated by education determined capriciously to plague her with mundane misfortunes.

Thus there was not perhaps one year of her married life free from misadventure of some kind. Nor did she experience calmness in widowhood and middle-age. Her aged mother was killed in a street accident; various little affairs of business"went wrong," and in the meantime a weak heart frequently left her prostrated and unable to work. Her consolations were the affection of her daughter -- and of late of her grandchildren -- her poetry, her friends, her fairies, and, season by season, flowers of all kinds. Rarely did the table in the quaint little Room of the Fairies lack flowers from various gardens of Queensland.

Facility in Versemaking

Surely Mrs. Forrest's life was a striking example of courage and industry in the face of adversity. For more than 30 years she contributed a steady stream of verse and short stories to publications throughout Australia -- and recently England and America -- and for a considerable portion of that time her typewriter was her sole means of livelihood. No other woman in the Commonwealth has contrived to maintain herself by freelance work for such a long time. Five books of verse and four novels -- most of them published within the last 10 years -- represent a considerable achievement for any Australian, but   these are merely a modest portion of the entire body of literary production accomplished by Mrs. Forrest. Necessarily much of her work was "pot-boiling," and of no real merit, but the amount of good verse relative to the total quantity written by this industrious and sorely-tried woman is somewhat astonishing.

Both the quantity and the quality is explained by the fact that she was a "natural" poet. It is an odd thing that women poets in Australia appear to be more facile than men. At any rate, Mrs. Forrest's verse fell from her typewriter with extraordinary sureness. A brain teeming with elfin fancies and colours created ideas without stint, and happy words waited upon the ideas right heartily, so that the writing of a poem was less of a tax upon her mentality than it was upon her physical resources. It was a custom of hers to write me gossipy letters on the back of carbon copies of poems that had won approval from various editors, and in every instance it could be noted that the "second thoughts," the alterations," were very few. Many of the verses went from the typewriter to print without a word being amended. The one weakness was punctuation -- and in this Mrs Forrest was not singular among women writers.   Once an academic visitor -- he was among those who had the superficial impression that the signature, "M. Forrest," belonged to a man -- attempted to present her with a book dealing with the niceties of verse-making. The idea, it seemed, was to improve her work technically. Mrs. Forrest would have none of it. She had never "learned" verse-making, she said, and did not propose to begin after she had won editorial and public approval for a quarter-century. So, sitting in her little Room of the Fariies, she smiled blandly across the typewriter at her mentor, just as she smiled at scores of other visitors who came to offer either advice or homage, and then she went on with her work in the some old non-technical way.

A Poet's Self-epitaph

Poems came to Mrs. Forrest of their own accord, as it were. More than once she dreamed of a colourful scene, or a gay romance, and set it down in verse soon after waking. Sir Matthew Nathan, then Governor of Queensland, once described to her a 15th century window in his English home, and was charmed soon afterward to receive a dainty poem, full of quaint conceits, framed around that window. Several years ago I wrote in a book of the glories of the Macpherson Range, and told of the things to be seen and heard when sitting on a doorstep at dawn on the edge of a jungle. That "doorstop at dawn" caught Mrs. Forrest's fancy, and the verses she wrote around the phrase contained imaginings even brighter than the original scene. Another "objective" poem, and a charming trifle it was, had

her old typewriter as its subject. Another, vivid and colourful, was based upon a picturesque pumpkin seen at the Brisbane Show. (Did not Furnley Maurice once say that he would like to write a poem on an old boot?) Mrs. Forrest also wrote in verse what may be regarded as her own epitaph. Imagining the poet to die in the autumn -- which she herself did -- she wrote three verses mingling colour and irony, and then added this expressive verse:-  

   If I should make her epitaph
      It would be writ in petals fair:
   'Twould be half sob and half a laugh
      The scented phrase I'd fashion there   
   (More true than chiselled ones, perchance),   
   "She used to hear the fairies dance".

No other Australian poet, with the possible exception of Hugh McCrae has displayed such aptitude for creating pictures in verse. Colour for her had "a universal tongue" and under its influence her fancy roamed in far places. She had never travelled. "It is extraordinary," she once said to me, "that I am always in the same place while my friends move around the earth." Nevertheless her vivid imagination took her to scenes denied to others. She roamed in secret places of the earth, among vanished nations, in Eastern cities, in glorious gardens, among "peach blossoms blowing over sodden grass," beside singing brooks, and even   among "ribbons on city counters, rolled like tyres for pixy cars." She was fond of the verse of Lord Dunsany, and when she read his phrase, "And the butterflies sang of lost pink cities," she was away immediately on wings of fancy to that enchanted spot: -

   The city that I know to-day is grey,  
      Grey river and grey tower and greyer street;
   But sometimes, at the coming of the spring
      I hear a distant fluting, honey sweet,
   And guess, unseen, a ghostly player cries     
   The lost pink cities of the butterflies.

Life, as I have said, frequently bore very harshly upon Mabel Forrest, but always there were compensations; always there were the "lost pink cities of the butterflies." It is, I think, by and through these compensations that she would wish to be remembered -- not as the woman who smiled wanly and said, "I have had a dreadful time this year," but as the poet who "used to hear the fairies dance."

First published in The Argus, 6 April 1935

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

Interview with DBC Pierre

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lights_out.jpg  Although his latest novel, Lights Out in Wonderland, has been out and about for about six months now, DBC Pierre is interviewed by Laura Barnett for The Guardian. It's only a short piece, but newspapers seem to be becoming more and more reluctant to make such pieces available on their websites.
What got you started?

Anger. I was unemployed, and had just spent a day feeling overwhelmingly disenchanted. In anger, I wrote a sentence and then a paragraph and then a page. And then I just kept going.

What was your big breakthrough?

The mind and person and spirit of the literary agent Clare Conville. I found her after 12 rejections, and she absolutely understood what I was trying to do.

Which writers do you most admire?

Gore Vidal - he was my first exposure to free-form writing. And Thomas Mann, for the utter and absolute beauty of his writing.

What's the greatest threat to literature?

Profit. Markets pull away from quality and head for the quick, easy and low. As more people are interested in Katie Price than Ernest Hemingway, the market will naturally exponentiate in her direction.

Ruth Park (1917-2010)

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ruth_park.jpg

Ruth Park, the New Zealand-born Australian author, died in December at the age of 93. Best known for her novel The Harp in the South (along with its sequel Poor Man's Orange) and for her children's series featuring The Muddle-Headed Wombat, Park won the Miles Franklin Award for Swords and Crowns and Rings in 1977.

Born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1917, Park arrived in Australia in 1942 where she met and married the writer D'Arcy Niland. Her first novel, The Harp in the South, was published in 1948 after winning The Sydney Morning Herald Literary Competition in 1946 - the novel was serialised in that newspaper in 1947. She followed this with a sequel, Poor Man's Orange, in 1949.

As well as her literary novels she wrote extensively for children, winning the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, Children's Book award in 1981 for When the Wind Changed, and the Children's Book Council Book of the Year Award in 1981 for Playing Beatie Bow. Her Muddle-Headed Wombat series started in 1962 - after originally appearing in a radio serial in the 1940s - and continued until the early 1980s. The books were extensively published in overseas markets.

Playing Beattie Bow was filmed in 1986, and both The Harp in the South and Poor Man's Orange were adapted for television in 1987.

You can read obituaries of the author here:

The Australian
The Courier-Mail
The Herald-Sun
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Clive James Watch #17

Review of Revolt of the Pendulum: Essays 2005-2008

Nicholas Lezard in "The Guardian": "When a collection of James's essays slides out of the Jiffy bag, other books can wait a while, for James's is the one I want to read first, even if I've read half the pieces before. But you or I won't have read more than half, and probably not even half, because we don't subscribe to all the magazines that James contributes to. We aren't aware of the Monthly (Australian, founded 2005) or the Australian Literary Review, and we don't see the New York Times as often as we'd like to. And we've never had a chance to get our hands on Previously Unpublished.

"Here, then, you might think, is more of the same, and if you've made up your mind one way or the other about Clive James then you might see little point in changing it. After all, his is a consistent viewpoint, informed as it is by experience, learning, and a fondness for the political centre. He spends just as much time telling off the left as he used to, in terms that suggest doctrinaire ideological positions indicate a tin ear when it comes to listening to history."

Reviews of The Blaze of Obscurity 

Mark Broatch in "Sunday Star Times" (NZ): "Readers interested in the man behind the ego may indulge in psychological biography beyond what he allows us: his absence as a father, the avowed uxorialism (an unexpected paean to his wife appears about halfway) and two daughters, the endless pursuit of female attention, the guilt about 'wasting time' on TV's evanescent virtues. But James admits/claims that he himself doesn't know what he is out to achieve, let alone why.

"Among all the creation, the essays (Cultural Amnesia being a high point), the memoirs, the novels, the busy website, the boy from South Sydney claims poetry is his true passion. Yet being Clive James, verse becomes another arrow in his quill to beguile, seduce, persuade. He notes in Blaze that a visiting Stirling Moss, the racing car driver, beat him to the Sydney university beauty simply by dint of sheer charisma, when James' poems had failed to make an impact. This was 50 years ago. It seems Clive James' attempts at seduction will never stop as long as he draws breath. And with his gifts, that is something for which we should be truly grateful."

Sunil Iyengar in "The New Criterion": "...James's most pointed barbs are reserved for himself. The author is shown as a young terror, donning a cape and mask at nightfall, ransacking construction sites and decimating lawns with makeshift scooters. In relating each childhood sequence, James's tone is wry and bemused, happily void of neurotic tics or psychobabble. Yet the shade of his father is never absent. For much of the book, the young James questions his own virility, latches onto strong male figures, and tries hard to alienate his mother. Nonetheless, the two bonded over a ritual viewing of four movies a week: 'My mother and I quarreled frequently but we reached a comforting unanimity on such matters as what constituted a lousy picture.'"

Essays

"How Broadway Conquered the World" - Atlantic Monthly

"Rocket Man" - review of Every Riven Thing by Christian Wiman in The Financial Times.

"Words Fail in the Pacific" - review of HBO mini-series "The Pacific"

Interview

Prior to an appearance at the Richmond Festival in late November, James spoke to Will Gore of the "Elmbridge Guardian".

Other

The Wikiquote site has a number of quotes taken from James's works.

Reprint: Australian Authors VIII: Vance Palmer by Aidan de Brune

When you begin reading any book or magazine story written by Vance Palmer, you may do so with the comfortable feeling that you are going to be well satisfied when you reach the end. There is nothing erratic about his literary work; it is level, flawless and polished, like a table made from Queensland silky oak by a cabinet-maker who takes pride in his trade. Vance Palmer is an accomplished journeyman -- a craftsman in words who has served his apprenticeship thoroughly, and has mastered his trade, giving you guaranteed good value for money when you buy what he has made with his pen. "A typical Vance Palmer four-square yarn," means a story well constructed, written with care, with no loose ends in the plot, and no slovenly phrasing. His name on a book is a trade mark that you can trust.

Discussion of the major Australian novelists of to-day invariably begins with the brilliant constellation of women writers who have come to the fore in recent years. Henry Handel Richardson, Brent of Bin Bin, Katherine Prichard, Velia Ercole, Barnet Eldershaw, G. B. Lancaster, Alice Rosman, Helen Simpson -- a surprisingly strong list of Australian writers -- to begin with, all known and respected in England and America -- and all women! The discussion turns to men writers. Invariably someone says, 'Well, there is Vance Palmer. . . ' His name comes first to mind. With Dale Collins and Jack McLaren he has presented the Australian theme to English and American readers in a certain virile, straight forward, sincere and unassuming way that lacks the wild emotional force of the woman writers but is no less convincing and genuinely Australian for that. Here is the Australian male in literature, modern but capable and full of a quiet strength, as he is in life.

Like the "Champion Ringer" famed in western shearing sheds, Vance Palmer comes from Queensland. He was born in Bundaberg, the sugar-town at the mouth of the Burnett River. In his early and impressionable youth he must have seen the picturesque gangs of Kanakas cutting the tall green cane and singing their deep-voiced Island songs as they flashed the broad cane-knives, in the sunlight. He would have seen, too, the white labourers, the roughest-mannered but physically the most perfect speciments of masculinity to be found anywhere on the earth, arriving at the cane fields after shearing sheds were cut out, for a few months' big pay and desperately hard work, "cane-slogging." Perhaps he saw fights and riots between Kanakas and white labourers, or watched great muscled timber fellers, stripped to the waist, sweating in the sun as they cleared the jungle from the Isis scriblands, revealing the rich, red volcanic loam where in more and more sugar cane was to be planted. Perhaps, too, he went to the Sand Hills, where the Burnett River flows out to the ocean, and watched the gulls planing over the dunes where another young native of Bundaberg, Bert Hinkler, made and flew box kites the size of aeroplanes even before the triumphs of Wilbur Wright and Bleriot. And no doubt in the Burnett River young Palmer caught eeratodi, the archaic fish that can live out of water, and are found only in that stream.

Colour, strength, romance, during the impressionable age of childhood gave him a background for his writing which he has never lost, for all his later sophistication and urbanity, and world-travelling, and painfully acquired "literariness." Asked recently to express an opinion on Australia as a literary theme. Palmer replied:

"A man can only write about the life he knows. If he is an Australian he will naturally take his themes from his own country. I have written countless magazine stories set in places as far apart as China and Mexico, but I wouldn't attempt any serious work set in those countries -- they don't stimulate my deepest interest. Australia can provide all the themes required by any writer who knows his country."

There is a brave and heartening declaration from one who has travelled all the world, and proved himself a master of the literary trade! Vance Palmer has been four times to London on literary business, and once on the business of the A.I.F. He spent a year travelling through Russia and Siberia, in the days before the revolution, incidentally learning much about his job of writing from the works of the great Russian masters, Tolstoi, Gorki, Dostoevski, Poushkin -- all geniuses of narrative style and psychological insight. He has sojourned in the colourful East, and has lived through the uncertainties, terrors and comedy of a revolution in Mexico. Yet always he has returned to Australia, and in his serious work it is always of Australia that he writes. His early days in Bundaberg, and at the Ipswich Grammar School (Queensland's "Athens"), the days which he spent as a jackeroo on a Western Queensland cattle station, and what he noticed when living on the edge of the crashing surf at Caloundra, near Brisbane, or during the year which he spent recently on Green Isand, near Cairns, on the Barrier Reef -- these essentially Australian experiences have given him and will continue to give him, the inspiration for his best work.

His books, like those of all the best Australian authors, are difficult or impossible to obtain from Australian book sellers; who will offer you, instead, English "throw-out" lines if you ask for decent reading matter. Something will be done about this, no doubt, when Australian publishing gets firmly established. The best of Vance Palmer's novels, all recently published in England, are "The Man Hamilton" (1908), "Men are Human" (1930), "The Passage'' (1930), and "Daybreak." "Men are Human" and "The Passage" were "Bulletin" prize-winners. A collection of his short stories, entitled "Separate Lives," was published in 1931; and a book of plays entitled "The Black Horse" was issued in 1924.

He is one of the foremost of the gallant band who are endeavouring to convince the Australian public that Australia as a country is interesting to read about. "It will probably take a lot of writing, of the highest class," he says, "to convince Australians that their life is as interesting as any other."

Vance Palmer's work is of the "highest class," and we are proud of him for that reason.

First published in The West Australian, 20 May 1933

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

D. M. Cornish Interview

factotum_au.jpg   Factotum, the third book in D. M. Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo series has now finally been published. The author spoke to the "SFRevu" website:
SFRevu: The story you've written--about Rossamünd Bookchild and his path to self-knowledge, in a fascinating world full of exotic individuals, monstrous dangers and astounding settings--is a true epic. How did you set about writing this adventure?

Cornish: One word at a time, forming into one sentence at a time, gathering in to one paragraph at a time, slowly accreting into a chapter, into an entire novel. Writing feels like internal juggling, like there is a thousand balls in the air and I have to keep each one up or all will fall.

During the whole process I have been very aware of making sure my style of writing in some way fitted the setting, that the texts read in some part as if they may have well come from the Half-Continent themselves, that they were written by a denizen of that place - which in a way I suppose they are.

SFRevu: What sorts of stories influenced or inspired you, specifically in terms of TFT?

Cornish: Hmm, no surprises, the first to be named is Mr Tolkien's little set, LotR, in close combination with Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast novels: E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, H.P. Lovecraft's The Curious Case of Charles Dexter Ward (and everything else he has ever written), Frankenstein, anything by Kafka, Mr Steinbeck's Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, Steppenwolfe by Hesse, The Last of the Mohicans and Deerstalker by James Fennimore Cooper, King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (and everything else he has done), Poe, Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Having C.S. Lewis's Narnia series read to me as a child, and also his book Out of the Silent Planet and the two other books that are a part of that series. Batman: The Dark Night Returns by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo, Elektra: Assassin by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz, Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, Homer's Iliad, anything by Ms. Austen (except perhaps Mansfield Park - I like her when she is being less acid), all the wonderful monsters in Orion by Masamune Shirow, Nausicaä by Hayao Miyazaki, Master & Commander by Patrick O'Brian (and the entire Aubrey/Maturin series - though only after a reviewer in the Washington Post mistook him as an influence on my writing when reviewing Foundling (TFT Book 1)).

Let's see, what else? Avenues & Runways by Aidan Coleman, Our Language by Simeon Potter, Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. I could go on and on but I have to stop somewhere...
Other book covers:
factotum_uk.jpg  factotum_us.jpg
UK edition  US edition

Reprint: Australian Authors VII: Dulcie Deamer by Aidan de Brune

Dulcie Deamer has had an adventurous life. She was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1890, her father being a doctor.

She never went to school, her mother being her sole teacher. At the age of eight she was allowed the unrestricted run of her father's fine library, and she read the novels of Lord Lytton and Sir Walter Scott, abhorring -- as she confesses -- all "children's" books. Her hobbies were natural history and archaeology, and whatever books she wanted on these subjects were bought for her. From the very beginning, any information she could obtain concerning the Stone Age drew her like a magnet. She disliked dolls, adored animals, and preferred trees and flowers to the society of other children.

At eleven she began to write verses. A year later her family moved to Featherstone, a tiny bush township in the North Island, and here for five years she ran wild, riding unbroken colts, shooting, learning to swim in snow-fed creeks, and going for long, solitary rambles of explora- tion through the virgin bush. It was here in the thick scrub, where there was always the risk of encountering wild cattle or a wild boar, that what she describes as ''memories of the Stone Age" came to her. And so, when the newly-started 'Lone Hand" magazine startled Australasia by offering a prize of 25 pounds for the best short story submitted to it, Dulcie Deamer, then 16, sent along her first serious prose effort -- a story of the savage love of a cave-man.

It won -- and altered the whole course of her life.

For some years previously her parents had been training her for a stage career. This original idea was not abandoned. At 17 Dulcie Deamer was touring New Zealand with a little company playing melodrama in all the back-block townships. It was thus she met her future husband, Albert Goldie, who was at that time business manager for one of Williamson's companies.

A whirlwind courtship ended in a marriage in Perth, Western Australia -- the bride being not yet 18. Then came a tour of the Far East, with Hugh Ward's London Comedy Company, which her husband was then managing. Here all manner of adventures befell the young actress-authoress. A bomb was thrown into her carriage in the streets of Bombay, where anti-British rioting had broken out.

Luckily it failed to explode. She was caught in another riot in the Temple of Kali, in Calcutta, and only saved by the intervention of a Brahmin priest. A fat Bengalese millionaire, hung with necklaces of pearls the size of broad beans, nearly succeeded in trapping her into his harem, and in China she saw execution grounds littered with freshly severed heads.

These excitements provided material for
an Indian novel, which was published in New York, which city she visited when she was 21. In the meantime a book of her collected Stone Age stories had been published in Sydney, and three sons had been born to her.

In the following years she visited Lon
don, Paris, and Rome, and her family had increased to six. During a second visit to the United States she was involved in strike riots in the vicinity of Chicago, and had to run for her life from a couple of bayonet charges, when the military were called out, the strikers having turned the street cars loose under their own power, and started to wreck the suburb with torn up paving stones. Previously to this she had been booked to sail on the ill-fated Titanic, but had changed her plans at the last moment, and taken passage on the Olympic, sailing four day sooner. To gain experience on this voyage she travelled steerage with thirteen hundred imigrants from every European country.

She was again in America during the
Great War, and witnessed all the frenzies of Yankee excitement on Armistice Day.

Immediately after the war three of her
novels were published in London and New York-- "Revelation," "The Street of the Gazelle," and "The Devil's Saint." Her work is strongly coloured with imagination. "Revelation" and "The Street of the Gazelle" deal with Jerusalem in the time of Christ, "The Devil's Saint" is a mediaeval romance dealing with witch-craft and black magic.

Finally she returned to Sydney, which
she had for long regarded as "home." Here she settled down to journalism, but by no means had finished with adventures, one of which was a visit to the famous Homebush abattoirs, disguised as a man, for no woman is allowed to witness the actual killing.

During the last few years a de luxe
edition of her short stories ("As It Was in the Beginning") was published in Melbourne, with illustrations by Norman Lindsay, and a volume of her poems ("Messalina") has recently been brought out in Sydney. She has now turned her attention to play writing, her first play being produced last year. She hopes to contribute screen stories to the newly established Australian film industry. She has written a number of serials for Australian papers, and is now engaged in a new long novel, which will be published in Australia by the Endeavour Press towards the end of the year.

First published in The West Australian, 13 May 1933

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

Roger McDonald Interview

Please tell us about your latest novel...

When Colts Ran began differently from my other novels. It did not grow out of itself in the same way. Its parts originated in long stories, almost novellas, with a variety of main characters. First there was a failed novel about a runaway boy (Colts) and his bumptious mentor, an old soldier (Major Buckler). I finished that novel ten years ago; it was about to be published as "To the Night Sky" when I backed out because of a nagging feeling that I had failed to bring it to a proper finish. Over the next decade parts of what became When Colts Ran were published as stories in "The Bulletin", "Best Australian Stories", and "Making Waves: Ten Years of the Byron Bay Literary Festival". Another part won the O. Henry Prize as one of the best twenty stories published in the USA (2008). The accolades encouraged me to bring them together but they had much more in common than a collection of short stories. Then I'd written a story about a rugby playing minister who became a quadriplegic, and another about two boys who witness a horrific car accident. They became part of the mosaic.

Colts, the runaway boy, the title character, passes through the seven ages of man in this novel - he is present in every chapter from adolescence to old age, watching, walking away, coming back, reliable, unreliable, losing himself in drink and dreams, while rousing love, affection, and sometimes terminal exasperation. Colts is my hymn to the virtues of failure, the way life has of conveying hope while "singing of despair" (to adapt Cyril Connolly's phrase on F. Scott Fitzgerald).
While not actually a "book trailer", the book's publisher has released a video of the author talking about the book:

Reprint: Australian Authors VI: "Banjo" Paterson by Aidan de Brune

If the Commonwealth Government were to appoint an Australian Poet Laureate there can be no doubt that the first holder of that high office would be Andrew Barton Paterson, known far and wide as "Banjo" Paterson. His name is a household word. More truly than any other of our numerous Australian poets, he has expressed the spirit of this land in verse.

"Banjo" Paterson, now nearing seventy years of age, is the undisputed Dean of Australian, poetry. His verses, since they first began to appear in the "Bulletin," fifty years ago, have been receited throughout the length and breadth of the land, in shearing sheds, at bush concerts, wherever two or three Australians have gathered around a camp fire. The rollicking rhythm of his ballads, the apt phrases, sometimes slangy, sometimes high poetry, have brought joy to hundreds of thousands of readers and listeners.

While poets of high-falutin "schools of thought" have piped in their thin and genteel voices to meagre audiences of bored listeners, this robust singer of the wide plains and monutains of the bush laud has "bestrode them like a Colossus." The people, with their true instinct to recognise what is sincere in art, have given "Banjo" Paterson the applause which only a major poet can command. Over 100,000 copies of "The Man from Snowy River" have been sold. Probably there is not a man, woman, or child in Australia who does not know at least some of Banjo Paterson's verse by heart.

Australia's Poet Laureate has had an interesting and varied career and a wide experience of both bush and city life. He was born in 1864 at Narrambla, Xew South Wales, and was educated at the Sydney Grammar School. He practised as a solicitor for fifteen years before deciding to take up journalism, when his verses were beginning to make him famous.

"The Man from Snowy River" was published in book form in 1895, and from that time his position as a national songster was assured.

He was editor of the "Evening News" for five years, and acted as correspondent of the London "Times" on sugar-growmg, pearl-diving, and Australian subjects generally. When the Boer war broke out, he went to South Africa as Reuter's correspondent.

On the outbreak of the Great War, in 1914, he volunteered for active service wilh the A.I.F. Though over military age, he was given the rank of major, joined the Remount Unit, and saw service in Egypt and Palestine.

He has travelled extensively outback, particularly in Central Australia and the Northern Territory, where be went buffalo shooting. In one of his verses he describes typical buffalo country:

   Out where the grey streams glide,
      Sullen and deep and slow,
   And the alligators slide
      From the mud to the depths below,
   Or drift on the stream like a floating death 
   Where the fever comes on the south wind's breath
      There is the buffalo..

In addition to "The Man from Snowy River" he has published "Rio Grande's Last Race," and "Saltbush Bill," besides a novel entitled "An Outback Marriage," and a humorous book entitled "Three Elephant Power." He has also edited a collection of "Old Bush Songs."

Now, after a silence of many years, he has ready a new book of poems, which will be published before Easter, by The Endeavour Press, with illustrations by Norman Lindsay. The most popular poet and the greatest illustrator in Australia will thus collaborate for the first time in the pages of a book, though it was Norman Lindsay who designed the original cover for "The Man from Snowy River."

The title of the new verses is "The Animals Noah Forgot." In a foreword the poet explains that the native bear refused to go in the Ark because Noah did not carry a stock of gum leaves-- and the platypus refused because he was afraid of being trodden on by the elephant!

Most of the poems deal in a humorous, but very understanding way, with the Australian bush animals.

The wombat, for example:

   The strongest creature for his size,
      But least equipped for combat,
   That dwells beneath Australian sides is Weary Will the Wombat.

The Platypus, who "descended from a family most exclusive":

   He talks in a deep unfriendly growl
      As he goes on his journey lonely;
   For he's no relation to fish nor fowl,  
   Nor to bird nor beast, nor to horned owl.
      In fact, he's the one and only!

The bandicoot, who "will come to look at a light, and scientists wonder, why":

   If the bush is burning it's time to scoot
   Is the notion of Benjaimn Bandicoot.

The flying squirrels:

   Never a care at all Bothers their simple brains;
      You can see them glide in the moonlight dim
   From tree to tree and from limb to limb.
      Little grey aeroplanes.

These few quotations show that none of the poet's old brilliance of phrase has been lost. Besides descriptions of the bush animals, there are poems on shearers, bullock drivers, cattle dogs, and a rattling good ballad of the Army Mules, which would be a credit to Rudyard Kipling, if that Dean of English Poets had rhymed it.

The multiude of admirers of Australia's national poet will welcome his "return to form." The young poets of the post-war generation might well study this book, and take a lesson from one of the "Old Hands" at the game of versifying. It is only by sheer hard work and a constant observation of men and nature that poetry euch as "Banjo" Paterson's, which looks so easy, is written.

My literary work? Well, about fifty to sixty serials, under various nom de plumes in London and New York -- some dozen of them only appearing in book form. Not until I had completed the walk around Australia, and had settled down in Sydney again, did I attempt to make use of my partiality for crooks and their works. My first story on these lines was "Dr. Night," published in the "World's News." Then followed "The Carson Loan Mystery" published by the N.S.W. Bookstall Company, Ltd., of Sydney. A little later the "Daily Guardian" (Sydney) ran "The Dagger and Cord" as a serial, and immediately it ended in the newspaper Messrs. Angus and Robertson, Ltd., published it in book form. Then, in the columns of the "Daily Guardian" followed "Fingerprints of Fate" (published by Angus and Robertson, Ltd., under the title of "The Shadow Crook"), and "The Little Grey Woman." Since then I have devoted myself more particularly to serial writing, under my own name and nom de plumes, totalling in all fourteen stories. My amusements? Two absorbing ones. Writing mystery stories and entreating federal politicians to foster a national Australian literature. The first easy -- the other apparently very difficult.

First published in The West Australian, 6 May 1933

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

Note: The last paragraph of this essay is a strange one: why did de Brune think it necessary to include his own literary bibliography?  As a means of implyig he knew what he was talking about?  Given that he had a partial biography published the previous week in this same series of articles, you'd have to think that he had a certain number of words to fill about Peterson and ran a tad short.

Tim Flannery Interview

when_colts_ran.jpg   Roger McDonald's previous novel, The Ballad of Desmond Kale, won the Miles Franklin Award in 2006, so each new book will be greeted with a high degree of expectation. His most recent novel, When Colts Ran, is now published by Random House. The author spoke to "Booktopia":
here_on_earth.jpg   Tim Flannery, best known for his book The Weather Makers and for his time as Australian of the year in 2007, has released a new title, Here on Earth. On the eve of its release he spoke to Kathleen Noonan from "The Courier-Mail":
In a new and ambitious book launched recently, Here on Earth: An Argument For Hope, Prof Flannery sets out to chart two histories: the twin stories of our planet and our species. But when he talks about the future of the planet, mining and climate change is never far from the conversation.

In the book, he quotes American ecologist Aldo Leopold: "One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen."

So, how do the Tim Flannerys of the world stay optimistic in a world of wounds?

In other words, how do scientists looking at the devastating impact of humans on the planet's ecosystems, notably climate change, and not become raging, throw-their-hands-in-the-air pessimists?

He says narrow horizons and short time frames are always misleading and we need to take a long view to see the truth path of our evolutionary trajectory.

"I am hopeful because I am taking the long view. In writing this book, despite the challenges we now face, I feel optimistic for the future for our children and grandchildren. It's only by seeing the planet in that way can you see the potential for hope."

Prof Flannery, the mammalogist and palaeontologist, environmentalist and global warming activist who in 2007 was named Australian of the Year, has spent a lifetime examining the destruction of land and sea. This is his first major work since The Weather Makers in 2005, which argued that, if climate change was not slowed, it would cause mass species extinctions.

Yet, the new book is Prof Flannery's most hopeful writing yet. He says if we survive this century, future prospects will be enhanced.

The book was launched by actor Cate Blanchett in Sydney, and you can watch a video interview with the author from ABC Radio National Breakfast.

Kate Morton Interview


distant_hours.jpg   Kate Morton, author of The Shifting Fog (aka The House at Riverton) and The Forgotten Garden, now has her third novel, The Distant Hours, published this week by Allen & Unwin. She was interviewed recently by Rosemary Sorensen for "The Weekend Australian".
The Distant Hours begins with a prologue quoting a (fictional) classic tale called The True History of the Mud Man, written by the father of three spinster sisters living in the crumbling Milderhurst Castle in Kent. Then, the story's narrator, Edie (who Kate admits is in many ways much like the author), begins her part of the story.

"It started with a letter," she writes. "A letter that had been lost a long time, waiting out half a century in a forgotten postal bag in the dim attic of a nondescript house in Bermondsey." Going on to muse about the sighing of thwarted messages and letters that eventually "make their secrets known", Edie then laughs at herself, pleading with the reader: "Forgive me, I'm being romantic."

"It's not a self-conscious decision to write the way I write," Edie's real-life creator says. "It's what I like to read, so it's very natural to me. Before The Shifting Fog I'd written pretty crappy manuscripts, but when I wrote that one, I had no expectations of publication. I'd just had a baby (Oliver, now six), and I can be very honest, my thoughts and expectations about publication had dried up.

"As I was writing it, I said to Davin [her husband] many times, "This is really fun, but no one is ever going to want to read this. It's for me.' "

A video trailer for the novel has been produced:

Sean Williams Interview

force_unleashed_2.jpg   Adelaide writer Sean Williams has been writing authorised novels within the Star Wars universe for some time now. His latest, The Force Unleashed II, was released at the beginning of October in the US. He spoke to George Ivanov, in a 2-part interview, about how this all came about, and why he still does it:
What attracted you to write in the Star Wars universe and what sustains your interest in it?

I love a good space opera adventure story. There's no point in hiding it, and no shame in admitting it. Star Wars gives me a chance to play with a bunch of wonderful toys without having to worry too much about how it all works. (There is part of me that always wants to sneak a bit of real science in, just to keep it relatively grounded, but I am very aware that this not what Star Wars is all about, as opposed to, say, the Doctor Who I also loved as a kid, which is very much about hammering home the scientific method, if hidden behind a lot of hand-waving.) So preposterous plots, huge set-pieces, iconic characters, humor, romance - Star Wars has it all. Brilliant.

One of the things I love perhaps a bit too much about working in the extended universe is just how large and baroque the EU has become. A lot of it remains internally consistent and rigorous - amazingly so, in fact - but there are nonetheless so many threads that haven't been tied off, so many places and beings that have been mentioned only once, that I can't help but want to come to their aid, to lift them out of obscurity, to remind readers that this is a rich and varied galaxy full of wonders and terrors both. Sometimes I get into trouble with my editors for being too obscure, but I figure it's a risk worth taking. And always, among the millions of fans of the EU, there's at least one who appreciates the effort.

Reprint: Australian Authors IV: Miles Franklin by Aidan de Brune

Thirty years ago literary circles in Australia were astounded by the publication of an extraordinary book, written by a girl of sixteen, Stella Miles Franklin. The title of the book was audacious -- "My Brilliant Career." The "brilliant career" of a girl of sixteen might have meant any thing -- a reading of the book itself shows that it meant a great deal. The story is in the form, partly, of fiction, and partly of autobiography, and it bears on every page the imprint of sheer genius. It throbs with a passionate love of the Australian bush, and particularly of horses, and with an equal passionate hatred of the cruelties of life endured by the people on the land, particularly by the women. It is the first statement, and to this day it remains the greatest statement, of the case for Australian bush womanhood.

In a preface to the book Henry Lawson said:-- "The description of bush life and scenery came startlingly, painfully real to me; and I know that, as far as they are concerned, the book is true to Australia -- the truest I ever read. She has lived her book, and I feel proud of it for the sake of the country I came from, where people toil and bake and suffer, and are kind."

The youthful author herself says in her introduction: -- "This is not a romance. I have too often faced the music of life to the tune of hardship to waste time in snivelling and gushing over fancies and dreams. .... Do not fear encountering such trash as descriptions of beautiful sunsets and whisperings of wind. We (999 out of every 1,000) can see naught in sunsets save as signs and tokens whether we may expect rain on the morrow. There is no plot in the story, because there has been none in my life, or in any other life which has come under my notice."

But the last chapter swells to a magnificent paean of youth's brave challenge to the world: -- "I am proud that I am an Australian, a daughter of the Southern Cross, a child of the mighty bush. I am thankful I am a peasant, a part of the bone and muscle of my nation, and earn my bread by the sweat of my brow, as man was meant to do.    

"Ah! my sunburnt brothers -- sons of toils and of Australia -- I love and respect you well, for you are brave and good and true. I have seen not only those of you with youth and hope strong in your veins, but those with pathetic streaks of grey in your hair, large families to support, and with half a century sitting upon your work-laden shoulders. I have seen you struggle uncomplainingly against flood, fire, disease in stock, pests, drought, trade depression, and sickness, and yet have time to extend your hands and hearts in true sympathy to a brother, in misfortune, and spirits to laugh and joke and be cheerful.  

''And for my sisters a great love and pity fills my heart. Daughters of toil, who scrub and wash and mend and cook, who are dressmakers, paperhangers, milk-maids, gardeners, and candle-makers all in one, and yet have time to be cheerful and tasty in your homes, and make the best of the few cases to be found along the dusty track of your existence. Would that I were more worthy to be one of you --- more a typical Australian peasant -- cheerful, honest, brave!      

"I love you. I love you. Bravely you jog along with the rope of class distinction drawing closer, closer, tighter, tighter around you. A few more generations, and you will be enslaved as were ever the moujiks of Russia. I see it, and know it, but I cannot help you. My ineffective life will be trod out in the same ground of toil. I am only one of yourselves, I am only an unnecessary, little bush commoner. I am only a -- woman!

"The great, sun is sinking in the west, grinning, and winking knowingly as he goes, upon the starving stock and drought smitten wastes of land. Nearer he draws to the gum-tree, scrubby horizon, turns the clouds to orange, scarlet, silver, flame, gold!  Down, down he goes. The gorgeous, garnish splendour of sunset pageantry flames out; the long shadows eagerly cover all; the kookaburras laugh their merry mocking good-night; the clouds fade to turquoise, green, and grey; the stars peep shyly out; the soft call of the moke-poke arises in the gullies! With much love and good wishes to all -- Good-night!  Goodbye!  Amen!"  

The MS. of "My Brilliant Career" was taken to England by Earl Beauchamp, then Governor of New South Wales, and it was published by Blackwood, of Edinburgh. Like many another fine Australian book it has been allowed to go out of print, and copies are now quite unobtainable. Perhaps it will be re-issued by one of our Australian publishing houses soon. Meanwhile, what happened to Miles Franklin? She went abroad, and has been lost to Australia for more than twenty years. She threw herself into organising work for the Feminist Movement in the United States of America, wrote thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, and made speeches in every State of the Union. When the war broke out she went to Salonika with the Scottish Women's Hospital. After the war she had a most responsible position as secretary of the housing committee in London. In all these years of great organising achievement she   was definitely lost to Australian life and letters.  

Now she has returned to her native land. A year ago a book appeared, "Old Blastus of Bandicoot," under her name. The book is modestly described as an ''opuscule," but all the old fire and dash is there. John Dalley, in the Sydney "Bulletin," sums up what many other critics have said about this book: "The characterisation's the thing. Nothing so good has been done in any previous novel about the Australian bush."

This year the Endeavour Press will print and publish in Australia a sprightly detective story by Miles Franklin, entitled "Bring the Monkey!"-- modestly described as a "light novel." Is that, then, the whole story of Miles Franklin? We shall see. Is it likely, or possible, that a writer of such power and sheer genius as the author of "My Brilliant Career" should have been silent for more than twenty years?

Miles Franklin will not admit it, but whether she likes it or not people are identifying her with the mysterious "Brent of Bin Bin," whose books (published by Blackwood, of Edinburgh, be it noted) are acknowledegd to be the finest presentation in fiction of the Australian outback epic which have yet been written. "Brent of Bin Bin" loves the bush and understands horses, and hates injustice to bush women, as only the author of "My Brilliant Career" and "Old Blastus of Bandicoot" could love, and understand, and hate.

The "Brent of Bin Bin" triology ("Up the Country," "Ten Creeks Run," "Back to Bool Bool") are already Australian classics. Despite the fact that they are difficult to obtain, as are most Australian books published overseas, they have gone into numerous editions, and are hailed by a multitude of discerning readers as being absolute portents for the future of the Australian novel -- a real and true portrait, not a caricature, of outback life.

If Miles Franklin is also "Brent of Bin Bin," then she is the greatest Australian bush novelist alive. And if she is only Miles Franklin of "My Brilliant Career" and "Old Blastus of Bandicoot" she takes second place to one writer alone -- the tremendously gifted and mysterious author who writes in Miles Franklin's manner under the pseudonym of "Brent."

First published in The West Australian, 22 April 1933

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

Reprint: Australian Authors III: Bernard Cronin by Aidan de Brune

Bernard Cronin, president of the Society of Australian Authors, is one of those stalwart "professional" writers whose books command a world sale; but unlike some of the other Australian authors of this class, he has not gone abroad to live and work in exile, away from the source of his inspiration.

He accepts the challenge which the Australian bush offers to writers of major fiction.

"The writer in the Old Country," he has stated, "finds his scenery, as it were, ready made for him. In this country it is definitely not to be found upon the surface of things. One has to dig deeply to become aware of the very great natural beauties of the Australian landscape. Real treasure is mostly of the buried variety. To my mind there is more character in an old Aussie gum tree than in any other tree I ever heard of. Incidentally, I should say that that much abused genius, D. H. Lawrence, came closer to an understanding of the spirit of the Australian landscape than any other writer, local, or imported, has yet done. He is the first scribe definitely to sight the real genii of the bush."    

We may take this to mean that Bernard Cronin is intrigued by Australia as a literary theme, but he does not "sentimentalise" his subject.

"Our trouble is that we lack real breeding, and crudeness is a poor scaffold for the Arts. Further, the indifference of our rulers to the absolute need to develop a national soul has not made matters any better. Hansard will never make this country aware of the sublimities of human destiny. We need to see Australia from her own standpoint, and with her own individuality. The Arts are our only hope of salvation."

By this last phrase our fierce realist is revealed as an idealist, after all. The title of his new book, "The Sow's Ear," which will be published this year in Australia, shows that the author is concerned with making something fine from our "crude" material. The story is set in the Tasmanian timber country, in the days before the war. It is a ruthless exposure of the tragic life of young girls enslaved by the system of marrying without love, at the command of domineering parents. The heroine longs for something better, but must accept her fate. In her passionate desire to escape from the bondage of the bush, she works to win for her two little daughters the chance in life which was so bitterly denied to herself.

Bernard Cronin's novels all have this "fierce'" quality. He has aimed at exposing what he considers to be wrong, stupid or uneconomic. In this sense he is the strongest of the Australian writers who wish to make us aware of our short comings, so that we may eliminate them, and become a truly civilised nation.

He is fully equipped for the literary task which he has set himself. He came to Australia forty years ago, at the age of six years, in charge of the captain of the old Orient steamer Austral. On the way out he nearly killed an able seaman, who was painting the ship's side, holding to the deck with one hand. Young Cronin jumped with both feet on the sailor's hand, "just to see what would happen." The sailor let go, but was providentially rescued.      

Perhaps it was this impish spirit of curiosity that eventually led Cronin to become a writer, and to jump, figuratively, upon the fingers of his Australian readers. "I am not really pugnacious," he says, "but I resent with violence anything that strikes me as being cheap." He tells us that he began to write as soon as he learned that a pencil may be sharpened by biting it.

He decided to become a farmer, and entered the Dookie Agricultural College. In 1901 he was dux of the college and gold medallist. He then had jackeroo experience on Kewita Station, South Gippsland, and Ulupna Station, in the north-east of Victoria, before taking up cattle farming on the north-west coast of Tasmania, where he remained for ten years. His experience there has provided him with material for nearly a dozen novels and serials, and innumerable short stories.

He has published the following novels: "The Coastlanders," 1918; "Timber Wolves," 1920; "Bluff Stakes," 1922; "Salvage," 1923; "Red Dawson," 1927; "White Gold," 1927; "The Treasure of the Tropics," 1928; "Dragonfly," 1928; "Toad," 1929; "Bracken," 1931; and, in conjunction with Arthur Russell, "Bushranging Silhouettes," 1932. Six of these novels have been issued by London publishers in cheap editions -- a sure proof of their popularity.

Now living in Melbourne, Bernard Cro nin has revealed the humanitarian impulse which lies below his "fierceness" by his work for the Derelict Society, which he founded in conjunction with Gertrude Hart. He is also the founder of the Society of Australian Authors, and has shown a very great zeal in striving to remove the handicaps under which our writers have to work. "There is much to discourage the Australian writer," he says. "Nevertheless, he holds steadily to his job. He hopes that the pioneering work which he is doing will prove an invaluable foundation for the generation of writers to come. Give him the support of his own Government and public, and he will win to wider distinction inside a decade. But he'll win through, anyway."  

When Australian authors have finally won recognition from their own people, the name of Bernard Cronin will stand high in the roll of honour of those who have fought for this objective.

First published in The West Australian, 15 April 1933

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

Note: interesting last paragraph.  I'd tend to say that Bernard Cronin has been largely foregotten.

David Malouf Watch #3

Reviews of Ransom

Psita Chakravarty In "The Telegraph" (Kolkatta, India): "He tells his story with a vital immediacy, picking out details in his lucent prose. The sharp edges of experience are made to gleam with a peculiar intensity. Malouf treats of lofty characters and situations...If at times he borders on the overly sentimental, the emotional impact of the story remains undiminished. For Malouf's readers share with his lead characters that most powerful thing -- the knowledge of mortality."

On the "A Momentary Taste of Being" weblog: "Ransom is a short book, an exquisitely carved book, a book of deep and harrowing emotion and a reminder of what is important in life.  I suspect that this is one of those books that will speak more to age than to youth--more to those who have had children and who know what it would feel like to make Priam's journey."

Anne Moore on the "Inform Enlighten Entertain" weblog: "In the original text, this ransom is mentioned in a few lines. Malouf takes that moment and opens it up, creating a character who discovers his humanity in the enemy's embrace. This is a lovely read."

Donald Brown in "The Quarterly Conversation": "Malouf delivers a lesson on how the novel, against epic conventions (or, perhaps, as social equality vs. hierarchy), aspires to a glimpse of individuality that is meaningful because we have to imagine it as our own, as something we too have seen and contain. We are both Priam marveling at Somax's way with an anecdote and Somax marveling at his daughter-in-law's skill. The fact that Somax also mourns a dead son is the kind of novelistic coincidence that lets us suspend disbelief for a purpose. We want to see that the grief Priam faces in outliving a son can be borne, must be borne, by all parents so afflicted, whether a ruler or a cartdriver. This lesson we might suppose we already know. But Priam doesn't, and seeing him grasp it is one of the payoffs of Malouf's account."

Also reviewed on the "Bibliojunkie" weblog.

Ransom has been shortlisted in the Fiction category of the 2010 Prime Minister's Literary Awards.

Various Ransom book covers:

ransom.jpg    ransom_uk.jpg    ransom_us.jpg
Australia  United Kingdom  USA


Review of An Imaginery Life

On "BookCrossing": "Malouf has created a raw yet beautifully poetic novel. Malouf has artfully (almost cryptically) delved into the contemporary arguments 'How does one determine barbarian and civil' and 'How to inhabit a place without occupying it'? More powerfully, he shows how one man can loose himself in while being a member of a prestigious society yet discover himself on the outside of the known world and know the life he is supposed to live."

Other

Malouf wrote about the power of music for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

In June, David Malouf was a guest of a fund-raiser for "Australian Book Review". Chong was there and reported on it for Crikey.  He was asked to take some photos of the event but wasn't pushy enough to get the best shots.  He decided to draw the writer instead.  A better solution in my mind.

For the BBC, Nick Bryant chose Malouf as one of eight "Famous Australians you've never heard of." For the BBC audience that is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First published in The West Australian, 8 April 1933

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

J. J. Cooper Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reprint: Australian Authors: Norman Lindsay by Aidan de Brune

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

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

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

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

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

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

First published in The West Australian, 1 April 1933

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

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

Jessica Anderson (1916-2010)

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

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

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

Leanne Hall Interview

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

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

Alexandra Adornetto Interview

halo.jpg  Alexandra Adornetto came to prominence back in 2006 when she signed a two-book deal with HarperCollins as a 14-year old. Now with three books in the original series completed she has started a new young adult trilogy, this time featuring angels. As the book is published in Australia the now 18-year-old is interviewed by Blanche Clark for "The Courier-Mail".
But Adornetto has cracked a tougher market, signing a $100,000-plus publishing deal in the US for her young adult trilogy about angels. The first book, Halo, is out tomorrow in Australia and she will embark on a US tour to promote the book next month.

"I had so many people saying to me, 'It's very, very hard to get published in the US' and I thought, 'OK, maybe in a couple of years, I'm just going to slog away at it'," Adornetto says.

"And then it happened so quickly."

Last year her publisher at HarperCollins, Lisa Berryman, sent the Halo manuscript and a synopsis for the next two books to US literary agent Jill Grinberg, who is based in New York.

Grinberg represents the cream of Australian young adult authors: John Marsden, Garth Nix and Melina Marchetta, to name a few.

"Jill Grinberg called me up at the end of last year and said, 'I think you should come over to meet with some publishers'," Adornetto says. "I did my last exam and literally got on a plane and went to the US."

Five days later she was signed to Feiwel and Friends, an imprint with Macmillan. I ask Berryman later how significant this deal is.

"It's unreal. It's extraordinary," she says. "Alex is going off to this huge author tour and she is covering most of the US. This is something they are not doing for everyone any more because it's so expensive, so it's a coup on every level."

The book has also been sold to Atom in the UK, Twilight author Stephenie Meyer's publisher.

Shirley Hazzard Interviews

shirley_hazzard.jpg    As she approaches her 80th birthday in January 2011, Shirley Hazzard has been interviewed by "The New Yorker" about "travel and transit", and by Richard Ford at the PEN World Voices Festival in May.

"The New Yorker":
When did you begin travelling?

When I was still just a girl. My father was in the diplomatic service, and we moved with his postings. I lived for some years in the Far East, for instance, and it was quite wonderful. The transition and shifting from one place to another meant that I had no education, really. Of course I went to school with I was little, but it was not possible through adolescence to keep an absolute continuity of things. I never went to university, for instance, and there were long gaps in any kind of organized studies.

Did you regret this lack of formal education?

I think that moving around contributed immensely to my life. I would never say that I suffered from it at all. It was quite the opposite. I am uneducated in a sense, but I did read all the time, and I knew very marvellous people. I may be wrong in saying this, but I haven't felt any great privation, because I read constantly and learned other languages. It was reading that was most important to me.

It sounds as though travelling and reading are closely related for you.

All the intellectual pleasure I had as a child came from reading. It was such a pleasure, this act of reading and discovering, and of course it whetted my appetite all the time. One travelled in the reading, as it were.

Richard Ford:

Hazzard said poetry was "the longest important thing in my life." Ford said he thinks writers now "feel challenged to be tough on the page." Hazzard said we are lucky to have "a very flexible language" but that it is nonetheless "a challenge to find another shade or tone."

Richard Ford: "Do you think places have spirits?"

Shirley Hazzard: "I don't know how to express that. A place is always changing... and yet the language gives us continuity. I wish I had a more romantic vision of place."

Richard Ford: "What is the hardest part of being a writer?"

Shirley Hazzard: "I like writing dialogue. I like to have an open ear for speech."

Richard Ford: "Is there something you don't like about writing?"

Shirley Hazzard: "No."

Shirley Hazzard: "Well, writing checks or something."

Richard Ford: "Literary theory has pretty well strangled itself."

Shirley Hazzard: "I don't feel we need to be instructed all the time. The more criticism the less spontaneous acceptance there is."

This interview was recorded and you can watch it here.

Jon Bauer Interview

rocks_in_the_belly.jpg   Jon Bauer's debut novel, Rocks in the Belly, is about to be published by Scribe. Meanjin magazine's blog, "Spike", interviewed the author in the lead-up.
Do you keep a writer's notebook (or equivalent)? If so, can we take a peek - what's something you jotted down recently?

I think the good ideas don't need writing down, but in those anxious moments where the fear of losing one might be keeping me preoccupied or awake, I'll make a note in my phone in the form of a reminder.

Then days later I might be having a coffee with someone, or wake up in the morning to something like: Man steals dogs for glory of reuniting them; Cancer cry for speech; Two with Jung; Fists thing; Love over lover.

I put reminders in my phone too, for errands I have to run. Often reminders that have begging messages attached to them where I've tried to coerce the future-me. 'Book dentist. Go on. You know you should!'

But there's always the snooze option, so my mobile is like this little snow plough of jobs to do and stories to write that I repeatedly snooze. 'Pay gas bill. Do! Go on! You know you should!' Snooze.

Jonathan Strahan Interview

jonathan_strahan.jpg  West Australian Jonathan Strahan is a nominee for a 2010 Hugo Award in the category of Best Editor, Short Form. Leading up to the announcements of the winners at the World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne in September, Jonathan was interviewed by Ian Nichols in "The West Australian". (And, no, that is not a photo of me.)
Strahan's love of science fiction and fantasy started when he was a child but his involvement in the scene began when he walked into a little bookshop in Subiaco looking for a copy of Larry Niven's The Integral Trees, and was introduced to the world of fandom. That was in 1984. In 1990 he became part of the editorial team at the seminal small-press magazine Eidolon and he has been an editor for 20 years, working with some of the most famous names in the business, such as Jack Dann, his co-editor on Legends [of Australian Fantasy], and for many publishers. And now he has been nominated for a Hugo, the highest accolade in the world of science fiction, as best short-form editor for the third time, at the World Science Fiction Convention, Aussiecon 4, to be held in Melbourne in September.

The first time he was nominated "it was a bolt from the blue . . . I was floating for weeks". This time it's a home convention.

"It's an honour," he says. "There will be many people I know in the audience; my whole family will be there. If I win, it will be special." All three of the Australian nominees for the Hugo Awards are from WA, including Shaun Tan, who is also a guest of honour.


Interview with Christos Tsiolkas

the_slap.jpg   The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas has been published in Britain to a number of rather glowing reviews. A while back he was interviewed by Tom Shone from "The Times":
"I think Australian writing has been locked up in the shadow of the English and the Irish," he says. "In the sense that Australians don't want to write the Australian novel, they want to write the perfect English novel or the perfect Irish novel. What I love about the Americans is that they have found an English that is distinctly theirs." He could as easily be talking about his own declaration of independence with The Slap, a tremendously vital book in every sense. Completed at a gallop, it fairly crackles along, juiced up with novelistic licence and peeled-eyeball candour, the characters driven by their appetites into a thrilling, vital approximation of what it is to be alive. When he handed the book to his editor, she got back to him in just three days. It should have told him something.

"I had no idea [The Slap] was going to take me to Lexington Avenue. I really didn't. Trying to stand back, I'm interested in why it has proved so popular. I wonder what it says about contemporary writing -- can you be popular without being populist? Can you write for a large audience in a way that allows you to do the best work you can that is not condescending?"
The interview is titled "Novel of the year?" which might be a good pointer come Man Booker longlist time.

D. M. Cornish Interview

monster_blood_tattoo.jpg   D. M. Cornish, author of the "Monster Blood Tattoo" novels Foundling and Lamplighter was interviewed by the people at "The Enchanted Inkpot" weblog.
Ello - I am a true fan of the Monster Blood Tattoo series. From the title of the series to the intricate details of your world building, I am completely overwhelmed with admiration. The thing about this series is that it sinks into your psyche and you just can't forget it. The Half-Continent is filled with amazing and frightening monster, but some of your human characters are even more frightening. Where did all these creatures come from? How did you create them? Did you have a lot of nightmares when you were younger?

DMC - Well, firstly, thank you for such encouraging praise! As to where all the beasties both human and non come from, I can not rightly say. Certainly a wide cross-section of influences have played their part, from Star Wars and Doctor Who, LotR, Narnia, the Cthulhu Mythos and all that, through manga (Akira, Orion, Appleseed, Ghost In The Shell for example), and of course all the real and wonderful horrors of real creation - the slimy, thorny, snaggle-toothed critters lurking in the oceans and hidden places. Really, as I sit to write/draw a beastie for a text, I find myself making it up in the moment, with ideas swirling and coagulating as need dictates. I do not think I have more than the usually share of nightmares - my dreams are certainly very vivid, often with a strong narrative that will link one dream to the next through a night's sleep.

Ello - I understand that it took you 10 years to create the Half-Continent. What was those 10 years working on this world like? Were you surprised to find the world you were creating was coming so incredibly to life?

DMC - I reckon it has been about 18 years since I first began to pointedly create what has eventually become the Half-Continent - and I am creating it still. There have been moments when I have indeed realised and been very grateful to have (after so long a period of invention) a setting functioning well enough to employ in a story. Then I wonder to myself, How on earth did this happen? It was certainly a very natural evolution, an often unconscious expression of some urge turning away inside me.
The third novel in the series, Factotum, will be released in Australia in October this year.

Margo Lanagan Short Interview

margo_lanagan.jpg   Margo Lanagan, Sydney-based author of Tender Morsels, talks to "Spike", the Meanjin magazine blog:
Do you write full time or do you have a 'day job'? How does this help/hinder your writing?

Oh, I have a day job, three days a week technical writing, currently for the University of NSW. It helps because it keeps a trickle of money coming in; also because it stops me climbing into my own navel and disappearing totally inside myself and my own obsessions. It makes me converse with more normal people. It makes me go on trains and buses and acknowledge that there are other people in the world, with lives that are different from, but just as important as, my own. And many of those lives don't have books in them; or they have enormous textbooks in them (MACROECONOMICS or MUSIC AND EMOTION) rather than novels or short-story anthologies.

On the other hand (whine), it takes up a lot of TIME, you know? When I could be writing works of genius. And completing them so much faster. Or so I tell myself.

However, day job work tends to make me more efficient - and possibly, even, more productive, I hate to admit - because I have to plan, and organise myself around an already-given shape to the day. If I start with nothing, I can just faff away whole weeks looking sideways at the work-in-progress and not doing anything about it.

Sue Woolfe Interview

sue_woolfe.jpg    Sue Woolfe, author of Leaning Towards Infinity, was interviewed this evening on the ABC TV program "Talking Heads". You can read the transcript of the interview here.

Morris Gleitzman Interview

now.jpg    Morris Gleitzman has recently published Now, the third book in a trilogy following Once and Then, and was last week interviewed by Marc McEvoy for "The Age".

These books are getting rave reviews, not least from my 11-year-old son who is now holding out for this latest book.
Gleitzman has never been afraid to confront young readers with serious issues. Boy Overboard is about a family living under Taliban rule in Afghanistan who seek asylum in Australia; and Two Weeks with the Queen is about a boy whose brother has cancer and who befriends a gay man dying of AIDS.

And in 2004 the then-immigration minister Amanda Vanstone accused Gleitzman of political propaganda for writing about refugee children in detention in Girl Underground. This was despite it being an uplifting tale focusing on everyday concerns of children with an undercurrent of humour (like all his stories). "I would never write stories with only despair and defeat and the dark side of life," he says.

"It's our potential for good stuff I'm most interested in exploring but that has most meaning when juxtaposed with things that can go wrong."

Gleitzman says he is concerned that the media can encourage children to develop a pessimistic view of the world: "I want to help children develop strengths that allow them to feel they don't have to push things away mentally . . . If we 'cotton-ball' kids, it produces adults who are too scared to think for themselves and are easily manipulated."

Les Murray Television Interview

les_murray.jpg   Les Murray, one of Australia's premier living poets, was interviewed by Peter Thompson on ABC TV's "Talking Heads" this evening. You can read the transcript of the program here.

John Birmingham Interview

after_america.jpg    John Birmingham, Australian author of After America, blogger, and newspaper columnist has been interviewed by "The Australian Literature Review" weblog.

Do you read much Australian fiction, and do you have some favourites (other than your own)?

I'm a big fan of Matt Condon's work. I think every book he's written since The Pillow Fight has been worthy of being stamped with a big fat Novel of the Year stamp. He is the best literary novelist working in this country today. Of the genre writers, I can't go past one of Peter Corris's Cliff Hardy novels without immediately placing it within my possession. He seems to have written hundreds of these things, but they never lose their freshness and sizzle.

Is there any specific kind of fiction you would like to see more of in Australia?

Zombie-First Fleet-Time travel-crossovers. I don't know why we don't see more of these. The field is wide open, people!

Many books about fiction writing neglect character, or treat the topic haphazardly or in an overly structured way. What is your response to the suggestion that the book How to be a Man, by yourself and Dirk Flinthart, could be a useful tool for writers to use for thinking about developing fictional characters?

My response is flabbergasterment! That is the first time anybody has suggested that to me ever. But I guess when thinking it, about the way we build characters for novels, yeah, why not. I might even do it myself next time. The character question is an interesting one though. A lot of literary fiction seems to emphasize character, and in particular internal character struggles, over story. That's why I think, for the most part, literary fiction doesn't sell very well. People like stories. Having said that, of course, one of the most frequent criticisms of genre fiction is that the characters are all wooden and two-dimensional. And look, often that's true. But often it's not. I just finished a book by Peter V. Brett, The Desert Spear, the second in his demon war series. And instantly people are rolling their eyes and thinking, oh God, not another sub-Tolkien sword and sandal marathon. But they'd be wrong to think that. Pete's book is awesome, not just because of the really tight control he wields over a truly epic narrative, but because his command of character is every bit as good as any self-declared literary novelist.

Benjamin Law Interview

family_law.jpgBenjamin Law may not be a name known to many in the Australian literary world, but he is the senior writer on Frankie magazine and has now published his first book, The Family Law, about his eccentric family. Marieke Hardy interviewed him for "Readings".
Law himself seems unfazed by the thought of splashing his dirty laundry across the page, and insists that nothing about the book is exaggerated. 'You don't have to manufacture drama in my family. Just put any two members in the same room, and it's like a chemistry experiment - something will happen. Or perhaps it's an experiment in zoology. Shark versus squid, that type of thing'.

Ben and I first became aware of each other's work when both regularly contributing to the gorgeous 'sharp, witty, everyday and anecdotal' Frankie magazine. Initially shy in correspondence, our online banter soon became freeform and relentless; a friendship blossoming through a desire to both impress and shock. Through our written work - not only for Frankie, but also, in Ben's case publications such as The Monthly and The Big Issue - we both enjoy a flirtation with what author David Sedaris refers to as 'the illusion of intimacy'. Allowing readers in to a degree that - to the observer - may appear dangerous to the author's privacy, or lack thereof.

But it's one thing for Law to reveal gasp-inducing facts about his own sex life and personal bathroom habits (to say any more would, I'm afraid, be what's known in the industry as a 'spoiler'), quite another altogether to drag in extended family members. Law's brothers and sisters get the full going-over in Family Law, and his mother and father seem to fare in similarly raw terms.

Lauren Fuge Interview

when_courage_came_to_call.jpg  Lauren Fuge was a 14-year-old schoolgirl when her query proposal to Random House Australia produced a request to see the rest of her manuscript. Two years later her first novel, When Courage Came to Call, has been published and she has now been interviewed by Louise Schwatzkoff for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

For Fuge, writing provides an escape from mundane reality. While her friends wallpaper their bedrooms with music posters and celebrity photographs, Fuge covers hers with plot lines and imaginary maps.

"Real life isn't terrible but it's a bit boring," she says. "I want some more excitement so I read and I write."

Along with her school books, her shelves are jammed with fantasies and war fiction. "I'm a sucker for fantasy worlds. I love them so much," she says.

"I always liked reading because it was an escape but then I realised I didn't have to be stuck in other people's adventures. I got the urge to do it myself."

When Courage Came to Call is not a fantasy, though it takes place in an imaginary universe. The characters are soldiers, rebels and criminals, wielding rifles rather than magic wands. Fuge acknowledges a debt to John Marsden's young adult classic Tomorrow When the War Began. She also drew on history classes about World War I and newspaper stories about criminal gangs.

The story is gripping but clearly not the work of a mature author. The political tensions between warring nations are explained with clunky simplicity. The characters - except for the narrator and the villain - are loosely sketched. Fuge tends to describe their attributes rather than allow them to emerge through the action. Still, the same could be said of many an adult writer.

For all the detail about explosions, weaponry and military hierarchies, she confesses her research process was somewhat haphazard. She wrote every night after dinner and homework, then checked the details later. It took two months to finish.

"When I started, I was going to set it in World War II but after about 100 words, I decided not to. It would mean I had to do research and I'm lazy, so I just decided to make up a new world."

Randolph Stow (1935-2010)

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The expatriate West Australian author, Randolph Stow, has died at his home in England at the age of 74.

Stow was born in Geraldton, Western Australia, in 1935. He followed his education at the University of WA with lecturing in English Literature at the Universities of Adelaide, WA and Leeds. He worked on an aboriginal mission as an anthropoligist and as a patrol officer in the Trobriand Islands. He had lived in England since 1966.

In 1958 he won the second Miles Franklin Award for his novel To the Islands, and in 1979 he was presented with the Patrick While Literary Award.

Many tributes to the author are already starting to appear with a number of people commenting on Stephen Romei's piece on The Australian newspaper's literary blog, "A Pair of Ragged Claws".

Rebecca James Interview

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

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

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

6. Please tell us about your latest novel?

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

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

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

Clive James Watch #16

Reviews of The Blaze of Obscurity: The TV Years

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

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

Interview

Alyssa McDonald in "The New Statesman":

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

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

What would you still like to do?

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

Poetry

"A Perfect Market" in "Poetry Magazine".

Other

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

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

Helen Garner Watch #9

Reviews of The Spare Room

Steven Riddle on the "A Momentary Taste of Being" weblog: "I have finished my first book of the decade, and I could wish that it had been some other.  Not that this isn't a superb, compact, beautiful, and harrowing book.  It is.  In every respect it is well composed and beautiful executed. However, it is the kind of book that fills me with anxiety and dread--and I can't really say why--only that for me it is so."

"Crayongirl's Blog": "It might be short, but it truly is beautifully written.  The details leap out of the page, as Helen becomes more distressed by her friend's illness she focuses more on the beauty around her, noticing the red hue of a pot or the smell of coffee haunting the house after an evening of attempts at coffee enemas...It may sound strange to say, but I really enjoyed this book.  It was beautiful, haunting and elegiac, the prose was spartan but held such a variety of emotions from page to page."

Jess on the "Start Narrative Here" weblog: "The emotional impact on the reader doesn't come solely from the question of the morality of shady alternatives that falsely encourage hope in terminally ill patients, but rather the strength of the relationship between Nicola and Helen, even at its darkest and when all hope appears to be lost. As an unashamedly selfish twenty-something, it made me ask myself the question of how far would I be willing to go for someone I care about? What responsibilities to our loved ones do we hold in our relationship with them? To what extent are we willing to accept responsibility of their well being? In The Spare Room, Helen is happy to take on the draining routines of care even though she wasn't asked, but she also recognizes her own inability to fully deal with the situation."

Genevieve Fox writes of various reactions to the book amongst her fellow book club members.

"The Guardian" chose The Spare Room as one of "The Decade's Best Unread Books" describing it as: "This deceptively slight novel is as good as anything Canongate has ever published. Or will publish. It's deceptive in many ways and I think its great subtlety is one of the reasons that it will only get fully appreciated over time. I've read it three times now and on each occasion my awe at what Garner has achieved increases. The Spare Room is a brutally honest novel about death, friendship and emotional dishonesty, written in prose that manages to be both delicate and visceral. It was overlooked by all the judges of the literary prizes in this country and these prizes are key for a book like this to sell in any serious quantity. But I still remain confident that this exceptional book will be come to be widely regarded as a modern classic. Because that is what it is."
 
Other

Mae, of the "Mad Bibliophile" weblog, went along in February to see Helen Garner in conversation with Jennifer Byrne at the new Wheeler Centre in Melbourne.

You can see some video of that night's events.

Kate Grenville Watch #7

Review of The Idea of Perfection

Jill on "The Orange Prize Project" weblog: "A word of caution to readers who haven't read The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville. It's like a wonderful homemade soup. You first add the ingredients, slowly stir and then after hours of simmering, it becomes a tasty delight. The Idea of Perfection took a few chapters to get going, but readers who stick with this story are in for a wonderful literary experience...Through this character-driven story, Grenville showed readers that perfection is nothing more than an idea - a perception held by an individual. The perfect face, perfect marriage and even a perfect bridge are never really perfect. Anyone can find a flaw. However, it's the flaws that make those things so interesting."

Reviews of The Secret River

On the "Joe Bloggs" weblog: "It's a well told story, based a little on the true experiences of the authors ancestors. It is full of wonderful descriptions of Australia and its contrast with grey London. The dialogue is written in italics, which I found a little distracting, but it is a wonderful, simple tale, well told. I'm not sure about the title, I found it a little misleading but you make your own mind up. A great read."

On the "Lady of Leisure" weblog: "Grenville makes it clear that the growth and settlement of white people comes at a huge moral price for the settlers. Murder, a crime which in most cases was far worse than the ones for which they were sent to Australia in the first place, became an accepted method of dealing with the 'blacks'. It was justified as necessary in order to survive. This must have weighed heavily on the minds of those men and women involved. Despite this,  as Grenville points out, future generations, even the children of the original settlers, are unaware of this guilt."

Reviews of The Lieutenant

On the "Melbarts" weblog: "This is a work of huge imaginative power and grace. Grenville has a distinctive, authoritative take on the historical novel; rather than overburdening the reader with realms of historical fact, she wears her obviously considerable research extremely lightly. Historical details unfold as they are needed for the momentum of the narrative...The book, then, is deeply political but in no way is it politically correct. Nor should it be seen as a substitute for history: hopefully it will send scurrying to the history books those interested readers searching for more background information."

Natasha Tripney in "The Observer": "Writing in a clear, simple style, Grenville elegantly evokes the wonder and tension inherent in the first meetings between these two different worlds."

Lesley McDowell in "The Independent": "Kate Grenville's latest novel, about a young 18th-century English astronomer who is among the first settlers and soldiers to arrive in New South Wales, is historical fiction elevated into the category of 'literary fiction', not so much by its research as by its psychological truth. Historical writers know that their readers demand a certain level of information: we want to learn about times different from our own, and it's not so much recognition that we crave in our ancestors as a sense of their difference...The Lieutenant is a lovely example of historical fiction at its best: complex, demanding, and always revealing."

Interview

On the author's website.

Other

Grenville reflects on her use of historical material in her recent work, in an essay titled "The Novelist as Barbarian" for the Naional Library of Australia.

On Slow TV, the author discusses:

The Lieutenant (Part 1)
The Lieutenant (Part 2)
Writers in a Tme of Change, her keynote address at the 2009 Festival of Ideas, held at the University of Melbourne.

The "Booklover Book Reviews" weblog gives an overview of all of Grenville's novels.

Tom Keneally Watch #11

Reviews of The People's Train

Tom Adair in "The Times": "Why bother with Thomas Cook? For the price of a novel step aboard a Thomas Keneally tour of the world without leaving your armchair. Take off to Africa (Towards Asmara), the Middle East (The Tyrant's Novel), to America (Confederates) or to wartime Germany (Schindler's Ark)...Keneally's tours outshine his titles. The People's Train (emblematic of the Russian Revolution), is yet another lacklustre title. But, once aboard, the author's restlessness pays off. You're en route to Australia via Shanghai, then on to Russia, surveying the turbulent years of the early 20th century...A lesser writer might lazily have succumbed to historical hindsight, but Keneally portrays the mayhem of Russia in flux with a stringent adherence to the order (and disorder) of things. He presents in convincing minutia the Russia that is, creating a brittle verisimilitude that makes its melodramatic endgame surprisingly real."

Jon Wright on the "Bookmunch" weblog: "Keneally does a superbly consistent job of capturing his protagonist's voice. There is something faintly ridiculous about someone of Samsurov's radical credentials bothering himself with Brisbane's parochial issues, and his sense of muted dissatisfaction (even boredom) -- did he really escape incarceration and flee Russia via Japan and Shanghai for this -- is portrayed with great skill. He is meant for greater things and, in fact, the reader is alerted to this fact from the outset. The first part of the book is introduced as the retrospective memoir of Samsurov, "Late Hero of the Soviet Revolution," so we know all along that, come 1917, he will be back in the motherland, leading the charge...There are a few moments in Keneally's book when pedagogy trumps narrative flow, and this is a pity. Samsurov has a habit of explaining various aspects of Russian life or history to one of his Brisbane interlocutors in conspicuously precise detail: this sometimes feels like the author filling in potential gaps in his readers' knowledge, and it is all rather heavy-handed. This minor flaw aside, it is hard to fault Keneally's book. He paints a vivid portrait of what it must have felt like to be a Russian émigré stranded in early twentieth-century Australia but, just as importantly, it tells us a great deal about Australia's response to the world-changing events that were gradually coming to a boil."

Review of Australians: Origins to Eureka

Chris Saliba on "Webdiary": "In this new history of Australia novelist Thomas Keneally takes the reader from our continent's origins, some 45 millions years ago, when the landmass that is now Australia broke away from the super-continent known as "Gondwana". (The southern landmass Gondwana also comprised of India, Africa, South America and Antarctica. The name given to the other, northern landmass is Laurasia.)  Australians ends with the Eureka uprising, that extraordinary event of Australian history, which forged the iron in the nation's democratic soul. Privilege, authoritarian government, political chicanery, the interests of money, nepotism, all would feel the inexorable, countervailing forces of popular democratic agitation..Australians is a grand and absorbing feast of a book. There were many sections that I lingered over slowly, savouring Keneally's gift for bringing such a wide cast of characters to life, making the book a real experience. Keneally also writes in a witty, almost lapidary prose that is most appealing."

Review of Schindler's Ark

Lorraine Douglas on "The Complete Booker": "Keneally began researching and writing his documentary style novel - Schindler's Ark. I feel this first title signifies the Biblical message of Schindler's salvation of the Polish Jews he rescued in his factory in WW2. Akin to Noah saving mankind on his ark, Schindler's factory was considered a safe haven - almost like paradise compared to the concentration and labour camps of the Nazi regime. In many references in the book, Schindler is compared to and considered God...This is a powerful and unforgettable story...There is a real human touch to Keneally's writing which helped me to feel the intensity of the Holocaust and realize the message of Schindler's life."

Other

Keneally chose 5 books about Russia for "The Moscow Times".

It seems the author is rather prone to wardrobe malfunctions, of a sort.

Keneally will be appearing at the 2010 Auckland Writers and Readers festival - 12-16 May.  He also gave the opening address at the 2010 Adelaide Writers' Festival.

And he ponders the Archibald Prize.

Patricia Wrightson (1921-2010)

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patricia_wrightson.jpg   Doyen of Australian writers for children and young adults, Patricia Wrightson has died at the age of 88.

Wrightson was the author of 28 novels, from The Crooked Snake in 1955, to A Wisp of Smoke in 2004. She was the winner of many prizes in Australia including: the Children's Book Council Book of the Year Award in 1956 for The Crooked Snake, in 1974 for The Nargun and the Stars, in 1978 for The Ice is Coming, and in 1984 for A Little Fear. She was awarded an OBE for services to writing in 1978, and the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1986. The Children's Writing Award category of the NSW Premier's Literary Awards is named in her honour.

Not a lot of obituaries have been printed as yet, but you can get some idea of the esteem in which she was held by reading the following:

ABC News

"The Australian newspaper

"The Daily Examiner" newspaper, Grafton

Judith Ridge on the "Misrule" weblog

Jonathan Shaw on his weblog

,A href=http://www.smh.com.au/national/obituaries/author-delved-into-world-of-children-20100401-ri05.html>"The Sydney Morning Herald" newspaper

Michael Robotham Interview

bleed_for_me.jpg    Michael Robotham is the author of a number of excellent crime thrillers including Lost, Suspect, and Shatter. HIs latest novel, Bleed for Me, has just been published and over the weekend he was interviewed by Jason Steger.
Robotham is one of those writers who doesn't plot in advance. He started the book twice, discarding 30,000 words of very different novels each time. ''It's like digging and you find a little dinosaur bone and you start brushing away and you don't know if you've found a massive dinosaur or a buried dog bone.''

He wouldn't have it any other way. ''If I knew what was going to happen right through from chapter to chapter it would be like a normal job. I wouldn't be excited about going to work every day. Things happen when I write that excite me, things surprise me, things shock me and things frighten me. And if they do me, they must the reader as well.''

But if the writer is in control, how can this happen?

''Like in all drama, you create these seeds of conflict, put your characters under pressure and see how they react. And suddenly you either come up with something new to throw into the mix to totally turn everything on its head or a character will react in a way you don't sort of expect.''

Peter Goldsworthy Interview

gravel.jpg   Peter Goldsworthy, author of Everything I Knew, has published a new collection of eight stores titled Gravel. He was interviewed by Angela Meyer for the "LiteraryMinded" weblog.

The book is published by Penguin Books, under the Hamish Hamilton imprint.

You're skilled at capturing that moment of erotic awakening, in 'The Nun's Story', and also in Everything I Knew. It's the kind of topic that draws the reader in through memory, the senses and the imagination. Is the best kind of art, for you, something that stirs the intellect, emotions and physical body all at once?

Exactly. Too much literary fiction is pure confection - all head; too much popular fiction is cheap emotions - all heart. There are great exceptions; there is nothing human - nothing of the heart - in Borges' best stories, and they are wonderful. But he knew to keep them short; he would never risk boring us with a novel. I want - unhumbly - to speak to all the organs at once. I've often written about this - as essay called the Biology of Literature, for one - how writing can make us weep and laugh of course, but can make the goosebumps rise (Robert Graves' test of great poetry), or make our hairs stand up on end, or fill us with awe, or stop us sleeping for days.

Which story in Gravel was the most difficult to write, and why?

Hard to say. They are always a mixture of pain and pleasure. 'Sometimes pus, sometimes a poem - but always pain', the poet Yehudi Amichai wrote. 'Shooting the Dog', perhaps - a story that was given to me by my wife Lisa, from her days as a young teacher in the bush. Or the last one, on the love between a middle-aged man and a school girl.
As a child I was pretty often covered in various forms of gravel rash - falling off bikes, tripping in the school playground, which always seems to be covered with bitumen - so I cringe just a little every time I see that cover.

David Malouf Watch #2

Reviews of Ransom

Elizabeth Speller in "The Independent": "David Malouf's book is born of war. He was first gripped by the stories of the eighth-century BC Iliad as a Brisbane schoolboy in 1943, living among sandbagged buildings and watching constant American troop movements north to the battles of the Pacific. He began this novel 60 years later, drawing on that ancient tale of war just a year or so after the destruction of the World Trade Centre...It is not surprising that his take on extreme and seemingly inexorable violence should be told from the sidelines and should speculate on the back-story of the Trojan war: on bruised humanity, of small glances and fancies, hopes and fortunes dashed, rather than the clash of weapons and heroic egos. But the themes of this apparently simple, yet immensely moving, modern novel are still vast: loss, forgiveness, love and redemption."

David Hebblethwaite on his "Follow the Thread" weblog: "What I take away the most from Ransom is the portrait of a world which is not my own. I haven't the knowledge to judge how authentic is Malouf's depiction of ancient times (and it's a legendary version, anyway), but it's convincing enough for me. This is a society to which the idea of things happening by chance is an alien concept, where everyone is bound to the stations given them by the gods, even a king: he must be seen to be a king, becoming more 'object' than individual - which is why Priam's plan to disguise himself causes such controversy. It takes some effort to connect with this world that thinks so differently, and so it should - but the reward is a fully immersive tale."

Tom Holland in "The Guardian": "If Classic FM published fiction, then Ransom is the kind of novel that would surely result. David Malouf's reworking of the climactic episode of the Iliad demonstrates that epics are no less susceptible than symphonies to being chopped up and repackaged in accessible, bite-size chunks...No one, and certainly not a writer as talented as Malouf, can go far wrong with material like this. As in the Iliad, so in Ransom, the moment when Priam finally meets Achilles and states his mission brings a lump to the throat. Both the lyricism of his prose and the delicacy of his characterisation enable Malouf to avoid the risk of bathos that so often stalks novelists when they try to update epic. He also manages to avoid another tripwire with his treatment of the gods: the immortals, though they manifest themselves throughout the novel, tend to do so elliptically, appearing on the margins of Priam's vision, or else by revealing personal knowledge of a character that no mere mortal could be expected to know."

Darryl Accone mentions Malouf's novel in an essay entitled "Of Walls, Wars, Food and Games" in the "Mail and Guardian": "Malouf moves imaginatively and thoughtfully beyond Homer, the precursor he always respects. There is no expedience to his embellished and enlarged tale, which concentrates on Priam's attempts to recover Hector's body from Achilles. Ransom has been 66 years in the making, from a rainy afternoon in 1943 when Malouf first encountered the story of Troy. For him, and for us, it has been worth the wait."

Edmund White in "The New York Times": "Mr. Malouf is an Australian writer and perhaps his fascination with the wisdom of "barbarians" comes out of his interest in the Aborigines of his country; Mr. Malouf's masterpiece, "Remembering Babylon," is about a 19th-century white adolescent sailor who falls overboard and spends years living among the Aborigines. He nearly forgets English and adopts the culture of the tribe he lives with..."Ransom" is a similarly serious, often beautiful examination of the contrast between the simple sincerity of the carter and the strangely abstract existence of the king. It is dignified and thought-provoking -- but it doesn't seem to me to be exactly a work of art, to be fully realized and embodied in the lives of its characters. It is more a metaphysical inquest than episodes from messy, contingent experience."

Articles by Malouf

In December, Malouf wrote a piece for The Australian newspaper calling for the preservation of Yungaba, an historic building in Brisbane that was threatened with demolition.

"The Sydney Morning Herald" published an extract from Malouf's essay On Experience, which was to be published by Melbourne University Press.

Interview

Anna Metcalfe in "The Financial Times".

Others

The Red Room Company has video-taped a talk by David Malouf titled "The Wordshed, David Malouf in the House of Writing."
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Each part runs about four minutes.

The author paid a visit to homeless Clemente students  at Mission Australia, who are studying Remembering Babylon.

Lisa Hannett Interview

Lisa Hannett is a recent graduate of Clarion South, the science fiction and fantasy writers workshop held in Queensland each year. A story of hers, "The Good Window", was featured on the "Fantasy Magazine" website in September last year.  She has now been interviewed on that website by T. J. McIntyre:

What inspired "The Good Window"?

I'd had a few of the story's elements kicking around in my mind for a while, but a flight I took from Tasmania home to Adelaide last year was the catalyst I needed to bring them all together. Basically, we had just taken off and the plane had made a really sharp turn--so sharp that all I could see out my window was vibrant green grass, dense forests, and sparkling waters. No horizon, just ground. And since Adelaide's been experiencing intense drought for years, Tasmania's lush landscape came as a shock. It was such a contrast to what I'd gotten used to seeing at home! So, since I generally tend to think morbid thoughts at the beginning of my flights, I looked out at this gorgeous view and thought, 'If the plane crashed right now, this would be the last thing I saw. Apart from the plummeting towards death part, that wouldn't be half bad.'

Once the plane righted itself, I started thinking about how our perspectives--literally, what we see when we look out at the world--influence the way we experience life. From there it was a quick step to: What if a character's world view was mostly based on what she saw outside her window each day?

You can also read another interview with the author which was conducted as part of the 2010 Australian Specfic Snapshot.

Kirsten Tranter Interview

the_legacy.jpg   Kirsten Tranter's first novel, The Legacy, is the first of two she is contracted to write for HarperCollins. As the book is released she was interviewed by Miriam Cosic for "The Australian".
She first toyed with the idea of her novel while escaping the reality of Darwin, in the Northern Territory, a location she didn't find conducive to working on her thesis. Her husband had taken a job here in indigenous media. "I was a bit isolated," she says, clearly understating her point. "There was no one to talk to about my work, no one within a 5000-mile radius."

She filled in time by toying with the idea for a book - how easy it would have been to disappear, or to be disappeared, during the attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001 - and wrote a few tentative chapters. It began to overlap with another idea: an alternative take on Henry James's most famous novel. "I always wanted to rewrite that story because I can't stand the way it ends," she says. "I felt indignant about it, maybe more than most ... There was something about the way [Isabel Archer] just disappears into a depressing, mysterious future. And for a lot of people who lost people in 9/11, it was very hard to accept that they had died. People were always described as missing, that was in the notices all over the city." Tranter was living on the Lower East Side when it happened. After Darwin, Tranter put the novel on the backburner. She came back to Australia in 2006 after her son, Henry, was born. Teaching a writing course at a university, she felt inspired to return to fiction. "I started thinking of myself as a creative writer again, and someone said, 'You should apply for an Australia Council grant; it will only take you a day to do it.' "

She had nearly finished her thesis. Her fellowship had run out. She was also teaching Shakespeare at another university, working as a part-time research assistant there and doing part-time work for her mother's company, Australian Literary Management. A grant sounded handy: she applied to the Australia Council and succeeded. "I didn't clear the decks and sit down to write until I finished my dissertation," she says. "Then I wrote it really quickly. I was ready to write it."

Garry Disher Interview



wyatt.jpg    Garry Disher's new novel, Wyatt, has just been published by Text Publishing. It is the first novel in the Wyatt series since The Fallout in 1997.

He was recently interviewed by Jo Case for "Readings":

Wyatt is 'an old-style hold-up man: cash, jewels, paintings'. He avoids the drug scene and is restricted in what he does by the fact that new technology has outstripped his expertise. Is there a certain appeal in writing an 'old-style' criminal like him? Does this add an extra challenge for you when deciding which situations he'll be embroiled in, and how he'll deal with them?

It's probably beyond my skills to create a loveable drug dealer. The face of crime has changed with drugs. There's a greater chance of viciousness and unpredictability when greed, addiction and huge profit potential are involved. Besides, it's more fun, and somehow more worthy, to show Wyatt holding up a payroll van rather than ripping off an addict or a dealer. The problem for me (and him) is finding ways to get the cash without having to hire a dozen guys with specialist technical know-how and gadgetry, not to mention showing the reader how it all works.

Your books - both the Wyatt and Challis and Destry series - are often very Melbourne in tone. Wyatt evokes a range of city locations, from Frankston's teenage mothers, to dodgy stallholders at the Queen Vic markets, architectural monstrosities in Mount Eliza and young yuppies in Southbank. How important is place to your writing?

Setting should be a vital element of all fiction and it's crucial in crime fiction. From a writing craft point of view, I can't see the characters until I see the ground they walk on, and vice versa. Setting is useful in all kinds of ways: adding to our sense of the characters, creating an appropriate mood (e.g., distress), appealing to our senses (we've all had a bus belch on us), and, more broadly, showing the social as well as the topographical diversity of a region.

Peter Temple Interviews

Peter Temple's novel Truth was published in October 2009 and has been receiving its fair share of attention.

I missed an interview with the author published in "The Australian" in October. Temple was interviewed by Peter Craven:

Truth comes to take in corruption in high places, intrigue in the police force, marital infidelity and family dysfunction, as well as the encircling drama of Victorian bushfires. So was he at work on Truth as towns outside Melbourne were burning down? "Oh, yes. I was writing this book until two months ago, but I knew long before the fires that it had to have the fires in it, that it was book set in high and dangerous summer."

What's the process of writing like for him? He looks at me as though this is an old story. "I wouldn't say I was fluent. There are days when it comes easily, after weeks of muddling. But the days that come easily aren't necessarily the better days in terms of the result. I often get bogged down and, when I do, I might jump three chapters ahead. In the end it's like repairing a tapestry.

"It's when there's the sense of urgency that I start to enjoy it. That's when it begins to take hold of you and you get the sense of the right words for stages and for the patterns that have formed." He is attracted to the drama of the crime story. "I like having a plot, I like characters with a reason to get up in the morning."

Temple couldn't make it to the UK for the recent launch of his novel there, but Bob Cornwell of TW Books was able to interview him by email:

Bob Cornwell: When we last met, after winning the 2007 CWA Gold Dagger for The Broken Shore, you were already talking about that book as the first part of a possible trilogy. How did you arrive at that idea?

Peter Temple: It came to me while I was finishing The Broken Shore. Stephen Villani had a bit part and I liked him as a character: knowing, sardonic, much older in his manner than his contemporary Joe Cashin. I thought he might deserve his own book and I began thinking about his life and his city, and that became Truth. But I don't know about a third instalment. I need to do something else. Get out more.

The book has been long in the writing. More relaxed deadlines this time around? Did the (I believe) unprecedented award from the Australia Council for the Arts in any way enable you to take what you have called "a longer swing at it"?
I was able to take my time with Truth and for that I'm indebted to the Australia Council's wonderful policy of giving money to all kinds of writers, even those badged as crime writers. Before this taxable gift, I've always written under the pressure of bills. Of course it is not in the interests of publishers for writers to escape the lash of need, but mine is patient - not happy but patient.

You normally work from a "feeling" about what you want to do. What was that feeling this time?
Melbourne is a city changing faster than many of its inhabitants like. I wanted to write something that could capture its present and its recent history through the hard eyes of a cop twenty-five years in the job. I did my usual fiddling around, trying to find a score for the story, trying to find a voice for Stephen Villani, trying to avoid exposition as far as possible, losing faith, and giving up on the enterprise from time to time.

Clive James Watch #15

Reviews of The Blaze of Obscurity: The TV Years

Roland White in "The Sunday Times": "Most television memoirs instinctively take on a chat-show format. Celebrities, dear friends all, are wheeled on to tell their stock anecdotes. The Blaze of Obscurity is more thoughtful about the mechanics and indeed the purpose of television, but James is not above a bit of celebrity work if the context requires it. He spotted Nigella Lawson's potential when everybody else thought she was too posh. He interviewed Leonard Bernstein while the conductor's hand was looking for a route into James's trousers, and he enjoyed several lunches with the Princess of Wales. He is entranced by Jane Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, found Ronald Reagan to be a showbiz trouper, and once changed the set of his show because Pavarotti was too bulky to tackle stairs...As James cannot find it within himself to write a dull paragraph, his book is an entertaining read. But there's no hiding the fact that the material on showbusiness and television has been well worked elsewhere."

Robert Yates in "The Guardian": "As always with James, the temptation is to play the man and not the ball - so willing is he to present a large, vivid target. Someone less inclined to provoke ridicule might not have written, en passant: 'I had been so caught up with learning to read Japanese' or: 'When waiting in the car with my driver, I would read to him from Simenon or Maupassant.' But what's a little ridicule next to James's fabulous appetites, next to his desire to acquire fresh knowledge and his delight in showing off? Besides, what a treat for the driver to have a little Maupassant in his ear while idling...Mostly, he relishes the experience - he has never lacked the conviction, he writes, that he was the 'natural centre of attention'. And he takes great pleasure in being invited to handsome places where there are beautiful women to entertain. Again, ridicule if you will, but he gets the self-tease in first."

Roger Lewis in "The Daily Mail": "Has there ever been a more vivid example of cultural schizophrenia than Clive James? On the one hand, he is mad keen to tell us about his highbrow achievements and credentials...Pitching hard for Elder Statesman in the Republic of Letters status, our author brags that in the grand salons of London, 'at the same table as David Hockney, Philip Roth, Harold Pinter and Sir Isaiah Berlin, it was flattering to be treated like one of the boys'....Let's hope they didn't think the portly James was the wine waiter. But that's what being a VIP celebrity artist is all about, isn't it? Your contacts. 'I made a conscious effort to remember it all,' says James, as if he was Marcel Proust...Unfortunately, he seems to have forgotten everything when it came to writing this book. He doesn't even let us know his own wife's name. Is this discretion, or a simple inability to focus on anything outside his own immediate frame of Humpty Dumpty big-head reference."

Essays

"Head and Shoulders Above the Rest" - The achievements of some people stand so tall, a statue in their honour can never match up.

"When Doing Nothing is an Option" - Living in a democracy can be trying, until you think of the alternatives.

"Climate Change - A Story Too Often told the Same Way" - Having one-sided discussions about climate change helps no-one.

"Automate at Your Peril" - Computerised systems may be useful but they can also get things very wrong.

"One Lesson to Teach the Young" - The young are the future, but they must still be reminded of the lessons of the past.

Extract

"The Times" published an extract from James's latest volume of his autobiography, The Blaze of Obscurity.

Interviews

James was interviewed by Andrew Denton for the latter's ABC TV "Elders" program.  You can watch the video of that interview, and read the transcript, here.

James Campbell in "The Guardian".

YouTube now has available an interview with Billy Connolly by Clive James.  It comes in two parts.

Other

James attended the London launch of the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature and had a few things to say about the contents, according to James Delingpole of "The Telegraph".

James's poetry collection, Angels of Elsinore, was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award.

James and the novelist Martin Amis appeared on a Manchester University panel discussion regarding the subject of ageing.  You can download a podcast of that discussion here.

Charlotte Wood Interview

brothers_sisters.jpg    At the end of 2009 Charlotte Wood (best known as the author of such novels as The Submerged Cathedral and The Children) released an anthology of stories titled Brothers and Sisters. She spoke to Jo Case of the "Readings.com" website:
The stories in Brothers and Sisters were all specially written for this anthology. What made you decide to commission new works rather than anthologise existing stories?

It was initially my publisher's idea - Jane Palfreyman's - to commission entirely new stories, and as soon as she said it, the whole project became much more exciting. Somehow, the writers agreeing to write to a theme injected the anthology with an element of risk, and therefore of energy, that I don't think it would have had otherwise. There was always the danger that having agreed, one might find one had nothing to say, so I suspect some of us had to work really hard, pushing our work in new directions in order to discover a way into the topic. I know some of the writers (including me) found the whole process much more confronting than they'd expected.

I think the commissioning of new works also had the unexpected side effect of giving the anthology a cohesion it might not otherwise have had. Obviously an editor's personal literary tastes come into play in choosing contributors like this (rather than existing work choosing us, as it were, simply by relating to the topic), so I think some common ground between the writers - a precision with language, a reflectiveness, a kind of smokiness - lies beneath the collection as a whole.

Alexandra Adornetto Book Deal

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"Beattie's Book Blog", out of New Zealand, is reporting that young Melbourne author Alexandra Adornetto has landed a six-figure publishing deal in the US for a YA trilogy.

The trilogy centres around three mysterious teens who enrol in a local high school. Nobody knows the truth: that they are angels on a mission to save a world on the brink of destruction. When Bethany, the youngest angel, falls for her classmate Xavier, she faces a frightening decision; will she defy the laws of Heaven by loving him?
You might remember that Adornetto made headlines a few years back when she signed a publishing deal with HarperCollins in Australia when she was only 13.

Di Morrissey Interview



silent_country.jpg    Di Morrissey is the author of some 17 novels, starting with Heart of the Dreaming in 1991. Along the way she has published such works as Blaze, The Reef, The Valley, Monsoon and The Islands. Her latest novel is titled The Silent Country, and as it appears in local bookshops she has been interviewed by Madeline Healy for "The Courier-Mail":
Morrissey, a former journalist, has written 17 books, most of which have made it to the Australian bestseller lists and a number of which are set in the Outback.

"Once I've got the place I just go there and people generally tell you stories and you hear stories," she says.

She has travelled to, and set her books in, Hawaii, South America, Vietnam and throughout Australia many times.

"You can't write about a place if you haven't been there," she says. "It's my journalistic background."

Morrissey began her writing career as a cadet at Consolidated Press before heading to London's Fleet Street. She spent eight years working on TV's Good Morning Australia, putting the writing career on the backburner, until she took the plunge and moved to Byron Bay to write.

"I have a writing cabin in Byron Bay with a little wooden hut out the back and I also have a house on the river about four hours out of Sydney," she says.

"I can work anywhere but it is nice to have a space where there are no distractions. You are more focused."

Morrissey's books are steadfastly set outside of major cities, a choice she has made because of her love of rural landscapes.

"I like to write about the colours of the Outback," she says.

"Getting off the bitumen and walking to the special places with indigenous guides is what I like. And to see it through their eyes is a real honour."


Emma Jones Interview

striped_world.jpg
  
Emma Jones's first poetry collection, The Striped World, won the Best Poetry Collection Award at the Queensand Premier's Literary Awards announced in September, and has since gone on to win the Felix Dennis award for debut poetry in the UK. The volume has now also been shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (which "rewards the best work of literature (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama) by a UK or Commonwealth writer aged 35 or under") alongside such writers as Aravind Adiga and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The winner of this award will be announced later today, UK time.

The poet is currently writer-in-residence at the Wordsworth Trust at Grasmere in the Lake District, and spoke to Peter Wilson for "The Australian" newspaper:

Sitting in her small cottage, Jones, 32, tries to explain the origins of her writing and casts her mind 17,000km and 25 years away to a house in Concord in Sydney's inner west. "We moved into a house when I was about seven and my parents found a crate of books that I guess the people had left up in the loft. They just laid all the books out saying 'Do you want any of these, because most of them were good'.

"There was one book that I still have. It is my most precious book. It was a 1950s kids' retelling of Greek myths and I loved this book. I was kind of fixated with it and I think that was what really started me, because I got really interested in mythology and things like that."

Softly spoken and with a slightly vulnerable manner for a 32-year-old, Jones is a touch nervous about giving her first lengthy interview because she fears it may be too early in her career to be receiving more attention than other poets.

Kate Grenville Watch #6

Reviews of The Lieutenant

Bill Marx in the "LA Times": "The Lieutenant compels as a historical novel exploring the sins of Australia's colonial past, an admirable testament to the necessity that the West learn to appreciate rather than condemn the Other. But Grenville's most thrilling achievement is to filter that lesson in social acceptance through the computational consciousness of a man whose head is in the stars."

Corrina Lothar in "The Washington Post": "At the heart of The Lieutenant lies the conflict that has long troubled modern man, a conflict given voice at Nuremberg: What is a soldier's obligation to disobey an order when it is against the law of humanity. Therein lies true tragedy."

Alison McCulloch in "The New York Times": "The Lieutenant is less a story of colonial struggle and encounter than The Secret River, and more the richly imagined portrait of a deeply introspective, and quite remarkable, man."

Teddy Rose on the So Many Precious Books, So Little Time weblog: "I loved Kate Grenville's The Secret River ... and was highly anticipating her next book. While I quite enjoyed it, I didn't love it like The Secret River. It took a long time for me to warm up to the character of Daniel Rooke . Once he started his relationship with the natives, I did warm up to him and loved reading about his special friendship with Tagaran. The problem was that it took well over 100 pages to lead up to this and it didn't last very long. I would have like to explore the relationship further."

The Synchronised Chaos weblog: "Scientific field observations as literary narrative hark back to centuries ago, to the days of the Origin of Species and to Captain Cook's descriptive logs. An educated person could be a writer, scientist, sailor, and humanist with opinions on a variety of topics, and everything would come through in his or her diary. Grenville's The Lieutenant draws upon and builds on that tradition, with historical and technical information enriching her distinctive, human characters' journey towards intercultural understanding."

Daisy's Book Journal weblog: "This was such a good book. It was based on real events (which are explained in the author's note at the end), but remains a work of fiction. I loved it from the very beginning. The story was accessible, interesting, heart-warming and tender. I was particularly fond of Rooke's work in astronomy and linguistics. His passion for these subjects were so thrilling, it was hard for me not to get caught up in it, too. When I got close to the end of the book, I had to put it down for and leave it for a few days. I generally have to do that when a book gets too emotional. No use me being a basket case for the rest of the day or not being able to sleep. Also, I really didn't want this book to end, so the little break prolonged it for me."

A number of reviews by readers are included on the BookBrowse website.

Grenville penned an author's note at the end of The Lieutenant.  The Meet at the Gate website has reprinted it.

Review of The Idea of Perfection

Bonnie on The Orange Prize Project: "Three times married Harley Savage is a master quilter and has a 'dangerous streak.' Douglas Cheeseman is a gawky engineer who's former wife has described him as a 'bridge bore.' They both arrive in Kararakook, NSW, she to help set up a pioneer heritage museum and he to direct the tearing down of the old bridge that has been deemed unsafe. Their developing relationship is explored in Kate Grenville's 2001 Orange Prize winning novel and within its' 400 pages lies a gem of a story.The beauty of this book is the detailed development of these two quirky characters, both so unsure of, and reticient to share too much of, themselves. Grenville masterfully, brings them together, and because of her attention to detail, you find yourself cheering them on and hoping that the author doesn't disappoint in the end. She doesn't."

Reviews of Dark Places

Blakkat Ruminations weblog: "It's reading a book like 'Dark Places' that really brings home to me the power of fiction and its ability to illuminate lives, past and present, that non-fiction or bare historical facts cannot hope to plummet the depth of. 'Love in the time of Cholera' resonated with me in the same way. The only similarity between the two is that they expose and reflect on male arrogance in the face of rampant (apparently) female desire around the turn of the last century, but it's probably more to do the with brutal honesty of the central character, the attention to detail and the authenticity of characters and setting that support the narrative that brings me to compare the two books in the first place."

Angela Meyer on the LiteraryMinded weblog: "The novel is told confrontingly and effectively in first person - and I have to say - I love a challenging narrator who both repels me and draws me in. On the whole I was fascinated by the way Singer saw the world around him. Grenville is a very accessible writer, at times a little too close to lacking subtlety. I found this too when I read The Secret River, but friends encouraged me to go back to the earlier works. And Dark Places did captivate me more than River."

Other

Lynn Walsh took some writing tips from Grenville's book Searching for the Secret River.

SlowTV has a a video of Grenville's presentation to the 2009 Melbourne Festival of Ideas, titled "Writers in a Time of Change".  The video is split into two parts.

Grenville spoke at the `Amazing Women' literary function at the National Library of Australia about the books that had inspired her as a child.

Sophie Lee Interview

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Sophie Lee is best known as an actor who appeared in such films as The Castle and Muriel's Wedding.  In 2007 she released a novel, Alice in La La Land, and she has now had published a children's book titled Edie Amelia and the Monkey Shoe Mystery.  As that book is appearing on the shelves she is interviewed by Fran Metcalf of "The Courier-Mail".

"I was really proud to work in the Australian film and theatre industries," she says. "But acting involved waiting for somebody to green-light your work a lot of the time and I am someone who really loves to work hard. There's something about feeling like you've done an honest day's work that I really love."

The bright lights of film and theatre that once mesmerised Lee began to dim as the grind of auditions and travel rubbed against her new-found role as a mother in 2003.

She enrolled in creative writing at University of Technology, Sydney and wrote her first book which also contained striking similarities to her own life.

Helen Garner Watch #8

Reviews of The Spare Room

Liesl Schillinger in "The New York Times": "The Spare Room reads like an unsparing memoir in which flashes of dark humor and simple happiness (a magic show, a grandchild's flamenco dance, a shared joke) lighten the grim record of an overwhelmingly difficult chapter in a woman's life, a chapter whose meaning she still struggles to decipher years on, whose sharper entries still stab her conscience, but can't be erased by time."

Jenn's Bookshelf weblog: "The Spare Room by Helen Garner is a short in length but is a very powerful little book. In a short span of time, it describes how cancer can effect a relationship. Garner's writing is painfully honest. Her characters are very real, almost too real at times. There were aspects about each of the characters that I liked and disliked. I commended Helen for her selflessness in agreeing to care for Nicola. At the same time, it angered me when, not a week into Nicola's stay, she begain to complain about how difficult the task was. And I commended Nicola for not giving in to her cancer, but was horrified at just how much she'd put her body through in the slight chance it might cure her of the disease. And the trust she put into this medicial center with very little proof of the treatment's effectiveness."

rosyb on the Vulpes Libris weblog: "This is a book about dying. About cancer. About the appalling strains that are put on the living in the face of terminal illness; about how people cope; about how people lie to themselves and to others, determined to cling onto life no matter what. About how all of us cling to certain values for comfort, how none of us can really give each other what we want and need...Stylistically, at first I did not take to this slim volume which -- in a reflection of the title -- seemed just a little too spare for my liking. Laying my cards on the table, despite the current fashion, I'm not always a fan of ultra-sparse elegance. It tends to  strike me in the same way as minimalist interior design: too controlled and lacking in personality. Garner is not a visual writer and I began to get frustrated with wanting to SEE things:  the characters and environment, particularly as it is set in Australia -- a country I have never even visited. I felt starved of visual detail and, being a visual person, I missed that...However, as I progressed beyond the beginning of the book, the sparse prose seemed less like a self-conscious style so much as a baldness, a rawness -- an attempt, perhaps, to present a no-bones account, a stark account of a painful reality. Garner might not draw many vivid pictures of the outside world, but she is masterful at drawing believable and absorbing psychological portraits of her characters...I found myself completely engrossed."

Review of Joe Cinque's Consolation

Squibs and Sagas weblog: "Joe Cinque's Consolation attempts to be a testimony of Joe Cinque's life but is actually a testimony on three main fronts.  Firstly, it is a testimony of Mrs Cinque's grief as filtered by Garner.  Secondly, Garner provides a testimony as a personal witness of the trials and thirdly, the binding of her life to the narration of this tale is a testimony to her own life and mental state at the time.  It is not the whole story and it holds a lot of prejudices and assumptions, but don't all testimonies?"

Other

Jason Steger, of "The Age", reported on a proposal to adapt Garner's novel, The Spare Room, for the stage.  The play is to be written by British actor Eileen Atkins, with the aim being that Venessa Redgrave might also feature in the production.

Simon Thomas sees similarities between the UK covers for The Spare Room and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

Garner launched Anna Goldsworthy's memoir, Piano Lessons, in Melbourne in October.  SlowTV was there and the video of that event is now available.

Elizabeth on the Sixth in Line weblog, contemplates her relationship with, and feelings for, Helen Garner and her work:

I want to write to Helen Garner again and tell her how sorry I am. In my last letter to her I think I was trying to show off, trying to show her how clever I was under the guise of trying to get her to take me seriously in relation to my thesis topic. But now I suspect she will only experience my writing as pompous and peacock.

I am ashamed of my desire to impress Garner, my desire to seduce her, to make her my friend, to want her to rely on me for something, anything however small, just as I rely on her. I have to remind myself that I am a reader, one of many, an admiring reader perhaps but like everyone else, especially those who try to write themselves, I am prone to fits of jealousy. 

Interview with Kaaron Warren



slights.jpg    Kaaron Warren is an Australian writer of dark fiction currently based in Fiji. Her short fiction has been published in Year's Best Horror and Fantasy and Fantasy Magazine, amongst others. Her first horror novel, Slights, has just been published by Angry Robot Books in the UK, who also intend to publish her next two: Mistification and Walking the Tree.

Prior to the publicaton of Slights, Warren spoke to Robert Hood:
RB: As you see it, who or what has inspired your writing, thematically and stylistically?

KW: I take inspiration from everywhere! Singing Karaoke the other night, as I am wont to do, I chose "Hotel California". As I reached the end, I thought, "This song is a perfect short story, and ends in exactly the right place." I've listened to that song over a lot of years, and I've always known this. It ends in exactly the right place. "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." I love that. Leaves a lot to the imagination, but puts you on the path to where they want you to go. What happens next is up to the listener. To the reader. This inspires me to end my stories in the right place!

Thematically, I'm inspired by the news, by the stories I hear, by the things I see. You never know when an idea will pop up. I recently read Magog by Andrew Sinclair. Written in 1972, it's a story of London, really, written in a vicious tone I loved. Throughout, I made notes, inspired by a sentence or a comment he made. Things like; he talked about three hundred dogs dumped on a bare rock in the Bosphorus. How you can see this island, with 299 skeletons chewed, one showing no signs of being eaten at all? This is something I could build a story around.

Stylistically, I'm inspired by writers like Raymond Carver, whose sparse fiction is so evocative it breathes. By William Golding, who writes diverse, deep fiction in his own clear voice. By Harlan Ellison, for his wild imagination he turns into real stories.

Really, I'm inspired by everything I read, good and bad. The bad helps me avoid the bad, the good spurs me to better work.

Geraldine Brooks Watch #8

Reviews of People of the Book

Jennifer Crocker on the "Tonight" website from South Africa: "Geraldine Brooks takes the reader on a history tour of note with People Of The Book, stopping along the way in the breathtaking sweep of her narrative to examine anti-semitism, the gruelling effect of war, and how love might be able to salvage the whole sorry mess...With her skill as a writer she handles her subject matter, which is based on a true story, with care."

Fiona on "a reader's random ramblings" weblog: "As an Australian, it is nice to read books with Australian voices and settings. Sometimes, however, Australian authors seem very self-conscious of their international readers, and tend to throw around a lot of Aussie slang for the sake of it. I think Brooks fell into this trap. At times I was cringing as the 'ockerisms' were flying!..I would recommend this book to readers who like to learn a little something as they're reading. It's a work of fiction, but is inspired by the true story of a Hebrew book known as the Sarajevo Haggadah."

People of the Book was shortlisted for the 2009 Prime Minister's Literary Award, and also shortlisted for the Library of Virginina Awards.

Review of March

"Kate's Library" weblog gave the book four out of five: "This is a fantastic work of historical fiction on many levels - first being that it weaves another level to "Little Women", a solid classic (one of my favorites!). There are many times when the novel flashes back to March's early years as a husband and father - and I can picture the characters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Brooks describes these scenes well, but in a much more mature voice. She has taken this classic tale and added another layer to the story - focusing not on the little women left behind, but on the harsh realities of the times, and on the marriage of Marmee and March."

Review of Year of Wonders

Dominique on the "Coffee Stained Pages" weblog: "Brooks evokes the disgusting nature of the disease with skill...Yet Brooks tells this tale of suffering, love, friendship and sacrifice so masterfully that even I, of a squeamish disposition, remained transfixed to the end."

Interview

The author is interviewed by Michelle Breidenbach for the "Syracuse.com" website.

In "People of the Book," your character Hanna talks about how some foreign correspondents have "it can't happen to me" optimism and some are cowards. Where do you fit in?

I was the one, "It can't happen to me." I was in sort of a state of a certain amount of optimism. When you're in one of those places that's in crisis, when you see the news, you only see the violence. But you don't see that there are thousands of people living ordinary lives in those places at the same time. I guess I just identified with the people who were getting on with their lives.

In the afterward for "People of the Book," you thank all the people who shared their real stories with you. Why didn't you write their true stories? Why did you switch to writing fiction?

Because there's so much history of the Haggadah that you just can't know. It's just impossible. It was hard enough to track down the details of what happened during World War II, but to go back beyond that, to Venice in 1609 or to medieval Spain, we just have no idea who made that book, why they illustrated it at a time when that wasn't so common and then how it survived the Inquisition. The fact is that fact runs out very quickly with that story. So the only way to tell it is to take what's known and then fill in the voids with imagination.

Other

Brooks spoke at the 21st annual PEN/Faulkner Fiction Gala in late September in Washington D.C., on the subject of "revelation".  And she also gave the Kenneth Binns Lecture at the Flight of the Mind conference, held in Canberra over the weekend of October 24-25.
 
In a piece on swine flu, Chris Skaugset compiles a list of books dealing with disease epidemics, on which he includes Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks.

Larissa Behrendt Interview



legacy.jpg   

Larissa Behrendt's first novel, Home, won the Best First Novel award for the South East Asia and South Pacific Region of the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize. That novel told the fictionalised story of her father's search for his Aboriginal identity.


Her latest novel, Legacy, is to be launched in Brisbane on November 20th and leading up to that event she spoke to Kathleen Noonan of the "Courier-Mail":

In Legacy she wanted to tell the story of the group of passionate young men and women who in 1972 established the Australian Tent Embassy in front of Parliament House.

The story centres on the relationships of fathers and daughters but strong indigenous women stalk the pages.

"I guess I've seen so many strong women," she says.

"If ever I hear white people say that Aboriginal culture oppresses women, I think: 'You ever been to a Redfern meeting?'

"I know there is violence against women in some households, but I grew up with a very different point of view.

"At most indigenous meetings, it is like this. The women sit back and let the men go on and on, doing all the grandstanding. Then the women go: 'Are ya done? Are ya finished? Right, this is what we're gunna do'."


David Foster Interview

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sons_of_the_rumour.jpg    With Sons of the Rumour, his first novel in seven years, about to be published, Miles Franklin Award winner David Foster talked to Paul Sheehan of "The Age".
Foster does not do small themes, not half measures. He is a scholar. He reads his favourite author, Juvenal, in the original Latin (self-taught). He won the University Medal for Chemistry at Sydney University. He has a PhD in biological inorganic chemistry from the Australian National University. He undertook postdoctoral study at the Institute for Cancer Research at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a gifted naturalist. (''Botany is one of the less egotistical fields.'') He's also been a drummer, a prawn fisherman and a postie. He was until recently a beekeeper (''They died this winter''). He turned to literature belatedly. Sons of the Rumour is his 13th novel and 15th book.
[snip]
With such a long a gap between books, he is unsure about the reception the new novel will receive, but busies himself thinking about the next book, growing food, and working on a postal run in Bundanoon to keep the cash flow going. ''I get on the old Honda 90, out in the wind and rain. It keeps you honest.''

Alex Miller Interview

lovesong.jpg    As Alex Miller's ninth novel, Lovesong, is published, Angela Meyer was asked to interview the author by the Readings website.

The interview also carries the note that Angela is now acting editor of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. On top of her excellent weblog LiteraryMinded you wonder where she finds the time to sleep.
After finishing Landscape, Miller took time off to read. Sitting by the fire with his daughter, he was on the last few pages of Edward Said's Musical Elaborations when his daughter asked him what he was going to do next. Miller had just read Said's memory of seeing Louis Malle's film Les amants, which went something like this: 'An innocuous tale of a man, an unknown unnamed stranger who comes down the road and meets an unknown unnamed woman, and they become lovers, so then he moves on and everybody's happy.' He told his daughter, 'I'm going to write a simple love story'. And she said, 'Dad, love's not simple, you should know that'.
[snip]
Miller's unadorned prose has a sneaking effect. Simple moments between characters catch you up hours, or even days, later. I relay this to Miller with the example of Landscape of Farewell. There is a scene where Max, the German character, is fetched a cane by Dougald, his Aboriginal friend and temporary housemate. I was telling my sister about how much I loved this moment -- the way Max imagines Dougald's perception of him as an old man, and accepts this -- and I searched for the moment in the book to read it to her, as I mark my favourite passages by turning the pages down. I was surprised to find I had not marked the passage at the time -- the moment in the story had only resonated much later.

Tom Keneally Watch #10

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Reviews of Australians: Origins to Eureka

australians.jpg    Marian Quartly in "The Brisbane Times": "Historians tend to argue that novelists don't write real history, but Keneally's work denies this. His detailed demonstration that the making of Australian democracy is part of world history places this work as an original contribution to Australian historiography. His knowledge of the roots of English and Scottish radicalism and Irish republicanism enables him to locate transported convicts and their crimes within networks of resistance whose significance is global."

"Boomerang Books" weblog (reprinted from "Australian Bookseller & Publisher" magazine): "Is Tom Keneally a novelist who also writes history, or a historian who also writes novels? The question is academic, but his skills as a novelist certainly explain how he can convincingly mould a cast of literally thousands of characters together into compelling social history. In the introduction to his latest offering, subtitled Origins to Eureka, Keneally pledges to tell 'the stories of a number of Australians from the Pleistocene Age to 1860'."

Interviews

Keneally in conversation with Brian Johns for SlowTV. This video was recorded at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year.

Reviews of The People's Train

James Urquhart in "The Independent": "Thomas Keneally's 26th novel shares the military fascination of his recent works while reaching as far back as his 1982 Booker Prize-winning Schindler's Ark for comparable historical weight...Keneally hints at a sequel to this impressive odyssey, taking Artem through the horrors of the civil war. That might allow more space for examining the anguished ethics of the revolutionary project, sidelined here by the bold sweep of history."

Edward McGown in "The Telegraph": "Keneally's most famous work, Schindler's Ark, made fresh the horror of the Holocaust by centring on the contained, moral crisis of one man. Here, the author consciously abstains from the pleasures of a taut narrative focus. The People's Train is a disjointed work whose digressions are sometimes frustrating. However, the novel succeeds in casting an uneasy spell."

Marcel Theroux in "The Financial Times": "The novel is pacy and packed with incident, but the welter of detail tends to overwhelm the characters. They're all rather sketchily drawn. Even the supposedly heroic Samsurov comes across as doctrinaire and one-dimensional -- a square-jawed homo sovieticus like the ones seen driving tractors on Soviet-era posters."

Lesley Chamberlain in "The New Statesman": "The People's Train combines a fluency of narrative with woodenness of thought. It is that rare thing: a novel with too much action, and too little attention paid to language and style...Reading any text is a kind of detective assignment, and I found myself scouring these pages for the reason Keneally chose this particular subject matter. I arrived at the following hypo­theses. First, that he did so in order to remind an Australian readership what was happening in their country -- as far as the workers' movement was concerned -- in the run-up to 1917. The author sees the story as one of limited worker protests, attracting sporadic middle-class sympathy (principally from spirited women) as well as a great deal of police brutality, and a let-down on the part of the Australian Socialist Party."

Other

Keneally pitches in to protest against a reality television show being filmed at on a local historic site.

Melina Marchetta Interview

pipers_son.jpg    Melina Marchetta is the author of 4 major YA novels so far: Looking for Alibrandi, Saving Francesca, On the Jellicoe Road, and Finnikin of the Rock, All of these novels have won the author major awards: she won the Children's Book Council Book of the Year Award, Book of the Year: Older Readers for Alibrandi in 1993, and for Francesca in 2003; Finnikin won the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA), Australian Book of the Year for Older Children in 2009, and Jellicoe Road was the winner of the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature in 2009. So any new work by the author is greatly anticipated.

Marchetta's next work is titled The Piper's Son and will hit Australian bookstores in March 2010. In the lead-up to that book launch, the author is interviewed by Kirsten Hubbard on the "YA Highway" weblog.
Why YA?

When I write, I don't think of audience except for myself. I'm my audience. But in saying that I love that young people read my books. I didn't realize how important it was to me until adults went around saying that Jellicoe was too complex for young people. It's not complex at all. You just can't skim read it.

I've said before that there is such a lack of pretension in novels written about young people and I love the community of writers and publishers. I'm not sure where The Piper's Son will fit in, because it's a sequel to Francesca, but they're older and it's about the next generation as well. But I think my YA readership is aged between 13 and 80 something so I have the generations well covered.

Do you believe your publishing journey has been more challenging as an Australian author?

I think all publishing journeys are challenging. Of course it takes long to have recognition overseas. I received a bit of notice with Francesca in the US and have a bit more with Jellicoe, and there is a small fan base in Germany, Italy and Indonesia, but my readership is very different here in Australia. My first novel, published seventeen years ago (Looking for Aibrandi) was studied by senior school students as part of the school curriculum and became an award winning film so I've always had a profile in Australia.

You can read more about the author and her works on her website.

David Malouf Watch #1

Reviews of Ransom
ransom.jpg

Alberto Manguel in "The Australian": "Ransom, his first novel in 10 years, it must be said at once, is (however abused the word) a masterpiece, exquisitely written, pithy and wise and overwhelmingly moving, constructed with invisible, successful craft that leaves the reader wondering how in the world it has been done... All of Malouf's books might bear the title of his early masterpiece, An Imaginary Life: in each, an individual (the poet Ovid, Frank Harland in Harland's Half-Acre, Jim Saddler in Fly Away Peter, Gemmy Fairley in Remembering Babylon) weaves together, from the bewildering tangle of the world, the strands of a self-portrait through which the reader can make sense of our inherited chaos. Every life is imaginary, in that each one of us must imagine it in order to live it out fully."

Peter Rose in "Australian Book Review": "Ever since [An Imaginary Life], Malouf's characters, mostly men, often young, have been drawn to 'the very edge of things'. Not for him the promiscuous alliances or metropolitan mires of an Iris Murdoch or Philip Roth or Alan Hollinghurst. So often, paired or alone, his characters slip away from the centre, 'relegated to the region of silence'. The effect, in Malouf's superb prose, is usually transformative. To paraphrase Ovid, these exiles will be separated from themselves and yet be alive."

"Boomerang Books" weblog: "If someone has a strong interest in classic literature, history, or is even drawn to fantasy novels (often built up from myth and history, and notions of honour) they will probably treasure this, as will anyone who enjoys literature on a sentence-level. Malouf's rendering of Ancient Greece is gorgeous, fantastical, and yet earthly, humble, and relatable."

The book was also discussed on ABC Television's "First Tuesday Book Club".

Interviews

Malouf was interviewed by Ramona Koval on ABC Radio National's "Book Show", and, while the audio is no longer available, the website does carry a transcript of the interview.

Rosemary Sorenson discovers where Malouf's love of Homer originated, for "The Australian".

Other

Malouf offered his thoughts on the 2009 Man Booker Prize, prior to the announcement of the winner, finding he couldn't choose between the Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and J.M. Coetzee's Summertime.

The Brisbane-based Expressions Dance Company used Malouf's memoir 12 Edmonstone Street as an aid for remembering childhood experiences.

The author was recently at the Sprung writers festival in Albany, Western Australia.

Tom Keneally Watch #9

Reviews of The People's Train

peoples_train.jpg    Patrick Allington in "Australian Book Review": "...Keneally builds terrific momentum by drawing on extraordinary events: the Russian Revolution and the onset of World War I.  If the scaffolding of this novel is now and again exposed, that is something historical fiction can never fully overcome."

Francesca Beddie in "The Australian": "Fortunately, it is in Paddy's stories that Keneally rescues his novel from becoming an idealised account of socialist aspirations. We experience episodes of the arbitrary violence that punctuates the history of Russian communism. These depictions are sharp, surprising and brutal. They need to be there."

Mike Crowl in "The Otago Times": "The historical sequence approach of the novel means there's little real interplay between the characters; those who get involved with each other often slide out of view without a sense of loss to other people...And the large cast becomes a welter of names for the reader to contend with, even though a few are recognisable for their later part in history."

"Readings" website: "Based on a true story, THE PEOPLE'S TRAIN brings the past alive and makes it resonate in the present. With all the empathy and storytelling skills that he brought to bear in SCHINDLER'S ARK, Tom Keneally takes us to the heart of the Russian Revolution through the dramatic life of an unknown, inspiring figure."

"Femail.com.au" website: "In The People's Train, Tom Keneally is able to effortlessly weave historical fact with fictional imaginings. His ability to capture these moments in time leave an indelible mark on the reader's consciousness. Whether it be the small town feel of sleepy Brisbane in 1911 or the passion and energy of the Russian Revolution, Tom is a master of conveying time and place. His characters are fully realised with their virtues and foibles on display. Once again the Booker Prize winning novelist, Tom Keneally has shown that he's one of Australia's leading writers."

Phil Shannon on the "Green Left Review": "... if the [promised] sequel has the historical integrity and thoughtfulness as The People's Train, it will be worth waiting for."

Interviews

Re The People's Train: Keneally discusses the novel with Margaret Throsby on ABC Radio National's Classic FM; and Rosanna Greenstreet of "The Guardian"; and Des Houghton of "The Courier-Mail".

Other

Keneally discusses The People's Train on a Random House video.

"The Coming Dark" by Angela Slatter

Angela Slatter has conducted a round-table discussion, with a number of Australian up-and-coming sf&f writers, on the following topic: "We've had the apocalypse penciled in for a while now, so how are some of us going about documenting the coming dark? How is our changing, frayed environment affecting the writing of authors on our side of the literary divide?" 

Taking part are Deborah Biancotti, Kaaron Warren, Peter Ball and Jason Fischer and the final result appears in "The Internet Review of Science Fiction".  As Angela introduces it: "Funnily enough, the day we finished this was the day the dust storms started and the sun turned red - some of Deb Biancotti's photos of the apocalypse are there too."

Gerald Murnane Interview

barley_patch.jpg    Probably best known for his haunting novella, The Plains, Gerald Murane has published rather few volumes of fiction - about 7 in a 35 year writing career - and none since Emerald Blue in 1995.

Murnane was awarded the Patrick White Award in 1999 and was given an Australia Council emeritus award in 2008.

Now he has released Barley Patch from Giramondo Publishing and he has been interviewed by Simon Caterson of "The Australian".


Murnane uses fiction to reach for a truth beyond simple storytelling. Barley Patch is a book about another, more perfect book never destined to be written, one, perhaps, that is ultimately impossible to create. It is like a big, polished stone thrown into the babbling brook of ordinary novels.

"Must I write?" is a question the author says he has pondered for decades. "I have several times, not in sadness or despair, just given up writing fiction," he says. "The main reason (is) that I didn't have anything important to say. Several times from the 1990s I would say, 'That's it, I've written enough.' "

Murnane disarmingly concedes he has had a "chequered" career, often switching publishers and producing books that attracted international and scholarly attention, especially in Sweden and Germany, but didn't make him much money.

He says his current publisher, Ivor Indyk, has revived his writing career. Indyk's imprint, Giramondo Press, republished Murnane's first book, Tamarisk Row, in 2008, together with an essay collection Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs.

Barley Patch is his first new full-length work of fiction since 1995, and he is relishing the freedom he now has with Giramondo. "Given the impossible chance to do things differently, I wouldn't have tried so hard in earlier years to write long books or short pieces; I would have allowed things to take their own shape and their own length. Of course, the publishers would not have indulged me when I was younger the way Ivor has."

Andrew McGahan Interview

wonders_godless_world.jpg    Andrew McGahan is best known for his Miles Franklin Award-winning novel The White Earth, and for Praise, which won the author the "Australian"/Vogel Award in 1991.

His latest novel, Wonders of a Godless World, has just been released and you can see a promotional trailer for the book here.

From the publisher's page: "The witch, the virgin, the archangel, the duke and an orphan meet in the extraordinary new novel from the award-winning Andrew McGahan -- an electrifying, tumultuous story of inner demons, desire and devastation, a powerful and apocalyptic tale that sweeps the reader from the beginning of time to the end of the earth."

Leading up the release of the book, Jo Case interviewed the author for the "Readings" weblog.
Wonders of a Godless World is heavily reminiscent of myth or fairytale: its population of archetypes, the element of parable, the magic realist or fantastical element. What drew you to using this form? Was it your intention to create a kind of contemporary fable?

Actually, my intention at the very beginning was just to find some way to indulge my schoolboy fascination for unusual natural disasters. Originally, I was trying to come up with a story that involved no human characters at all, instead using only the forces of nature interacting in a kind of wordless planetary drama. I couldn't make that idea work, but then the orphan and the foreigner emerged. The orphan -- a girl freakishly in tune with the planet and its processes, but so out of tune with humanity that she can't talk or even remember her own name. And the foreigner -- a man utterly out of tune with the planet and doomed time and time again to die in natural disasters, and yet whose own outrage always brings him back to life. From there, all the weird and interesting stuff about Earth that I originally wanted to explore could be played out in the relationship between these two.

But having allowed humans into the picture, I was still keen to keep them at a distance. Hence no one is allowed a name or any normal dialogue or even, when it comes to the five or six peripheral characters, much individual personality. So yes, because of that the story takes on an otherworldly or mythic or fairytale tone, and I was happy to go along with it, but it was more of a side-effect than a central purpose.

Peter Carey Watch #12

News of Parrot and Olivier in America

As seems usual these days, Carey's next novel will have a staggered publication schedule across Australia, the UK and the US, with different covers in each region.

The Australian edition will be published by Penguin on 26th October. Their description of the book:



parrot_and_oliver_aus.jpg     Olivier is a young aristocrat, one of an endangered species born in France just after the Revolution. Parrot, the son of an itinerant English printer, wanted to be an artist but has ended up in middle age as a servant.

When Olivier sets sail for the New World - ostensibly to study its prisons, but in reality to avoid yet another revolution - Parrot is sent with him, as spy, protector, foe and foil. Through their adventures with women and money, incarceration and democracy, writing and painting, they make an unlikely pair. But where better for unlikely things to flourish than in the glorious, brand-new experiment, America?

A dazzlingly inventive reimagining of Alexis de Tocqueville's famous journey, Parrot and Olivier in America brilliantly evokes the Old World colliding with the New. Above all, it is a wildly funny, tender portrait of two men who come to form an almost impossible friendship, and a completely improbable work of art.

The UK edition will be published by Faber & Faber on 4th February 2010. The publisher's blurb from Amazon UK reads:

Olivier is a French aristocrat, the traumatized child of survivors of the Revolution. Parrot the son of an itinerant printer who always wanted to be an artist but has ended up a servant. Born on different sides of history, their lives will be brought together by their travels in America. When Olivier sets sail for the New World, ostensibly to study its prisons but in reality to save his neck from one more revolution -- Parrot is sent with him, as spy, protector, foe and foil. As the narrative shifts between the perspectives of Parrot and Olivier, and their picaresque travels together and apart - in love and politics, prisons and the world of art -- Peter Carey explores the adventure of American democracy, in theory and in practice, with dazzling wit and inventiveness.
The US edition will be available on 20th April 2010 from Random House. The Amazon US blurb reads:
From the two-time Booker Prize-winning author: an irrepressibly funny new novel set in early-nineteenth-century America.

Olivier -- an improvisation on the life of Alexis de Tocqueville -- is the traumatized child of aristocratic survivors of the French Revolution. Parrot is the motherless son of an itinerant English engraver. They are born on different sides of history, but their lives will be joined by an enigmatic one-armed marquis.

When Olivier sets sail for the nascent United States--ostensibly to make a study of the penal system, but more precisely to save his neck from one more revolution--Parrot will be there, too: as spy for the marquis, and as protector, foe, and foil for Olivier.

As the narrative shifts between Parrot and Olivier--their adventures in love and politics, prisons and finance, homelands and brave new lands--a most unlikely friendship begins to take hold. And with their story, Peter Carey explores the adventure of American democracy with dazzling inventiveness, and with all the richness and surprise of characterization, story, and language that we have come to expect from this superlative writer.

An excerpt of this novel will be published in Granta 108: Chicago. Which seemed to amuse Victoria Lautman who asked Granta editor John Freeman how it came to be included.

Review of His Illegal Self

Although this review by Janette Turner Hospital was originally published in February 2008, it seems to have become available on The Monthly website just recently: "The strength and beauty of Carey's novel lies in the perspective of his very young protagonist. Che is bewildered, frightened, vulnerable, wise, completely loveable. His grandmother, protectively, had banned both TV and newspapers from his universe, so Che has had to assemble his history and his identity from overheard fragments and from furtively collected newspaper clippings."

Review of My Life as a Fake

The "Fantasy and SiFi Fiction" weblog is a bit in two minds about the book, calling it "a strange, multi-layered journey through a man's past, his artistic inspiration and his products, both illusory and real." And later: "Overall the pace of the book is varied and, here and there, one feels that Peter Carey has over-complicated things and thus detracted from the directness that could have achieved increased impact."

Interviews

Carey talks to John Freeman of Granta magazine but his upcoming novel in a video interview.

Other

In my last "Peter Carey Watch" I mentioned that Melbourne composer Brett Dean was working on an opera based on Carey's novel Bliss. "The Financial Times" is now reporting that Dean has premiered some of the components of that opera at the Cabrillo Music Festival, in Santa Cruz, California. And "The Age" is reporting that Opera Australia will take the opera to the Edinburgh Festival in 2010.

While not about Carey directly, this history of the Faber & Faber publishing house does mention him; referring to the author as one of the "big bankers for the publisher".

In case you keep track of these things, a signed, first-edition of The Big Bazoohley was auctioned recently on eBay for $US24, and a signed, first-edition of Tristran Smith is currently running at $56.53.

Peter Temple Interview

truth.jpg     Peter Temple's new novel, Truth, is published by Text Publishing today, and, as you might expect given the reception the author's previous novel, The Broken Shore, received, you're going to see a lot about this book over the coming weeks. I've spoken to three people who have read this novel already (one's a book reviewer, one used to work at Text and one still does) and they have all been very impressed with it.

Amazon in the UK has the book's publication there set for 7 January 2010 from Quercus, and Amazon in the US lists a date of 13 April 2010 from Random House (Canada).

Jason Steger, of "The Age" travelled up to Ballarat to interview the author on the eve of the book's publication:
Truth is not a sequel to The Broken Shore, more a companion piece. Temple was worried that readers might get the impression that it heralded another series. (Not that he's done with either Cashin or Irish. Both pop up in Truth; walk-on roles that show his affection for them. And there will be more Irish down the track.)

Temple has always been interested in power and its exercise - ''what I see as the disintegration of things, the way every step forward carries with it its own slide backwards, that all the things we try to do even with the best of intentions are doomed''. And the bleak political world he unmasks in the book? Simply the way he sees it. ''It is the perception of reality. What is the reality itself? People don't really know.''

He doesn't like to make things easy for the reader; indeed he likes to make things as complex as he can. That's largely for his own benefit - when he reads other writers of crime he finds them never as complicated as they should be. ''I hate having things spelled out to me.''
Needless to say, we're all champing at the bit to get our hands on this books here at Matilda.

Nick Cave and The Death of Bunny Munro

Nick Cave's second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro has been out for a while now. A lot of discussion about the book has revolved around the covers used in the various editions around the world. So I've included the three major English language editions below in the order of their publication. It's an interesting exercise in pitching to the respective markets, though I seriously doubt US readers will have any idea of what the book is about from their cover.



death_bunny_munro_aus.jpg  Australian edition - Text Publishing - 3 August 2009
death_bunny_munro_us.jpg  US edition - Faber and Faber - 1 September 2009
death_bunny_munro_uk.jpg  UK edition - Cannongate Books - 3 September 2009

The author is interviewed by Claire Suddath in "Time" magazine.

Did you really write the book's first chapter on your iPhone?
I actually did. I was amazed it had this little keyboard in it. I'm a techno-moron and it had this keyboard that spellchecked as you wrote. It was a good way to start writing the novel because I wasn't taking it seriously, I was just checking out my phone. The rest I wrote by hand.

There's a soundtrack that goes with the book. Why did you decide to make that?
I wanted to change the way the novel was presented. We looked at all the different formats we could do and the audio book was extremely exciting to me. I read the novel onto something like seven CDs and we scored it and put music to the whole thing. If you listen to it on headphones it's extraordinary, like a hallucination or something. It's psychedelic. It's an audio book like nothing you've ever heard. There's also a Bunny Munro app for the iPhone but I haven't worked out how to download it yet.

If I were a citizen of Warracknabeal, where Cave was born and grew up, I'd be very, very afraid.

You can read more about the book at its dedicated website and read an extract from the novel here.

Tom Keneally Interviews

peoples_train.jpg With his new novel, The People's Train already published in Australia, and due for release in the UK in October, Tom Keneally has been interviewed in both countries.

In "The Guardian", Keneally was gave short answers to questions supplied by Rosanna Greenstreet.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Intolerance of people. I no doubt dislike it because I have some of it in me, but what I'm talking about is ethnic myth-making about a group, glib but deadly regurgitations of hysteric myths. Really, really hate it.
What makes you depressed?
The sins and gaucheries of the past. Then the decay of life generally.
Who would play you in the film of your life?
Bob Hoskins or Danny DeVito.
What is your favourite smell?
The sea.
What is your favourite word?
"Illimitable."

As he was in Brisbane recently for the Writers' Festival there, Keneally spoke to a gathering at the University of Queensland in an event sponsored by the Fryer Library. And there was a good reason for that. Des Houghton was there for "The Courier-Mail".

Imagine Brisbane as a Bolshevik sanctuary, a centre for revolutionary thought - a town where reds shamelessly refuse to hide under beds.

It used to be that way.

From 1910 until the Roaring Twenties, the Marxists pedalled their poisonous ideology in their own edition of Izvestia, infiltrating the unions and scrapping with police at public rallies. Brisbane was the Zurich of the southern hemisphere, a magnet for socialist exiles fleeing Russia.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen would turn in his grave.

Now, Australia's best-loved gnome, Tom Keneally, has written a historical fiction based on the life of a leading anarchist Artem Sergeiev, who made it to Brisbane.

While in Brisbane, Keneally also took time to promote his other new book, Australians: Origins to Eureka, and made some comments which would apply equally to fiction and non-fiction.
Writing was like death or like giving birth, he said. It was something you had to do alone.

"The solitude of writing can make you a little strange," Keneally added.

It was hard to shut out dark thoughts that a book might receive negative reviews.

When he was young, Keneally said he foolishly believed "the world needs this book".

When he left the priesthood after six years he felt "useless", had trouble attracting female company and found great solace in writing.

"Now writing is a transcendental joy, a sense of the wow factor, a sense you have become more than the sum of your parts," he said.

Tom Keneally on Book Imports

Ursula Heger has interviewed Tom Keneally for "The Courier-Mail".  Keneally was in Brisbane over the weekend for the Writers' Festival there and spoke mainly about the debate regarding book imports into Australia.

"The abolition of copyrighting will not bring the cost of books down, it will only mean that there is less Australian publishing and it will be of a lower quality," he said.

"When I began writing there was no Australian copyright, and as a result, there wasn't a lot of Australian publishing - our books weren't popular."

[snip]

Mr Keneally rejected the notion that lifting the bans would reduce the cost of books in Australia.

"It used to be the case, that they were so (more expensive), but under pressure from Amazon and from the possibility that the Government might decide to abolish Australian copyright they have become much cheaper," he said.

"The people that are behind the drive to bring an end to Australian copyright are Dymocks and Big W. Now these are not people known for lowering prices. They are known for knocking off the opposition, then charging whatever they like."

Clive James Watch #14

Reviews of Revolt of the Pendulum: Essays 2005-2008

John Gardner in "The New Zealand Herald": "What unites James' approach to the disparate subjects in this collection, drawn from his essays between 2005 and 2008, is a habit of analysis that encourages you to seek out what he is writing about or, if you have already read or seen it, drives you back to the original to re-examine your own conclusions. Inevitably you may not always agree with James who is nothing if not opinionated."

David Free in Quadrant magazine: "For more than forty years now Clive James has been writing criticism in which this sort of trick is routinely worked. The essays -- of which this is the eighth volume, leaving aside a couple of best-of compilations -- have always been the spine of his achievement. And the achievement, now that the distracting matter of his television career is out of the way, is at last starting to be appreciated for its heft as well as its dazzle. The 2007 publication of Cultural Amnesia -- the book that will stand as his critical masterwork, unless in this indecently fruitful late phase of his he favours us with something still better -- has surely put the question of James's literary status beyond a doubt, at least among people capable of reading that book at the level at which it was written. There are still plenty of critics around who aren't capable of that, of course. We will get to them. But among critics who matter, there seems to have been a general coming-around to the proposition that James is one of the great essayists of our time: humane, lively, formidably intelligent, and -- to use a word that the radical like to think they have a monopoly on -- committed."

Gavin McLean in "Otago Daily Times": "Even at second-best, at his most ephemeral, James still excites envy; his wit, breadth of knowledge and his language amaze. He is seldom absent from his work, whether he is discussing old mates, art, poetry or Formula 1 drivers. He's clearly vexed about how the world will view his legacy, complaining about literary editors' reluctance to take a prime time TV performer seriously as a poet. At times Clive James the intellectual and Clive James the blokey social commentator find it difficult to inhabit an ego as big as his."

Essays by James

James's essay, "A Veil of Silence over Murder" published in the September 2009 edition of Standpoint gets stuck in early: "Of all the liberal democracies, Australia is the one where the idea is most firmly entrenched among the local intelligentsia that the culture of the West is the only criminal, all other cultures being victims no matter what atrocities they might condone even within their own families." He accuses Australian feminists and intelligensia (these are not mutually exclusive, nor is one a full sub-set of the other) of a lack of intestinal fortitude, especially when it comes to the treatment of women in non-Western societies and cultures. 

Shakira Hussein takes an opposing view in Crickey, while the "High Windows" weblog is glad that James remembers Pamela Bone in his essay, but finds the exercise a little self-centred.  

Interviews

James doesn't make it sound easy for Elizabeth Grice to interview him for "The Telegraph":

Clive James issues more warnings than a swine flu directive. He claims to be a terrible interviewee, all over the place, evasive. When he hears the doorbell go, he predicts that the photographer is about to have "the worst half-hour of his life." He is a bad subject: uneasy, and his eyes are too small. Yet he agrees that time's ravages are not as disastrous in his case as they might have been. "The smartest move I ever made in showbusiness," he says, "was to start off looking like the kind of wreck I would end up as. I was already aged in the wood."

But he settles down and becomes more revealing than he usually is:

And talk he certainly can. Thoughtful stuff, inconsequential stuff, funny, opinionated, quotable stuff. He's only once stuck for an answer - to the question: what is it he wants to leave behind? "I honestly don't know," he says, grimacing. If he's lucky, it might be one book. A fistful of poems. A few sentences. That's all a man can expect - though being James, he does hope for better than that. His first tranche of autobiography, Unreliable Memoirs, may survive, he thinks (it should). His poem What Happened to Auden deserves a place in literature's time capsule. And if it's a sentence, he fears it will be the "wrong" one - the one where he describes Arnold Schwarzenegger as "a brown condom full of walnuts". Though his description of Barbara Cartland's eyes as "the corpses of two crows that had flown into a chalk cliff" must be a populist contender.

Clive James Website

On the Clive James website, Series 5 of the "Talking in the Library" video interviews is now available.  James talks to Alexei Sayle, Catherine Tate, Claire Tomalin, Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons, Victoria Wood, Nick Hornby, Professor John Carey and Stephen Fry.

On the audio side, the complete first 2009 series of the BBC Radio 4 "Point of View" program is also available. 

Other

Oliver Kamm warns against accusing James of Illiteracy.

Anson Cameron Interview

stealing_picasso.jpgAnson Cameron's fifth novel, Stealing Picasso, is based on the unsolved theft, and later return, of Picassso's Weeping Woman from the National Gallery of Victoria back in 1986.  It's a most peculiar case and one ripe for a speculative literary novel.  The author was interviewed by Catherine Keenan for "The Age".

There are plenty of wild, invented details in Cameron's funny, occasionally stinging work. There's a frustrated art teacher called Turton Pym, gnashing his teeth that his contemporaries Brett Whiteley and John Olsen have become famous while he can't get a single canvas finished. There's a benighted soul who loves Michael Jackson so much he gets surgery to look like him, then finds his world tipped upside down when his idol is charged with molesting kids.

And there are enough double and triple-crosses to explain why, after all these years, no one has discovered who the Australian Cultural Terrorists were and why they did what they did.

Yet some of the most outlandish-seeming details are true. Such as the fact the thieves left a sign on the wall saying the painting had been removed to the ACT. Staff assumed this meant the National Gallery in Canberra - it was nearly two days before anyone realised their $1.6 million investment had been nicked.

Cate Kennedy Interview

world_beneath.jpgBetter known as a short story writer, Australian author Cate Kennedy has ventured into longer territory with her debut novel, The World Beneath.  She is interviewed by Susan Wyndham for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

"I heard someone once say, 'You must feel different now that you've moved to the big pool from the toddler pool,' " she says of her change of form. "I quite bridled at this because I don't think the short story is a toddler pool. In a way it is more like the beautiful diving pool - it's not the shallow pool, it's the smaller pool that takes a lot of practice to do the one entry perfectly."

The novel required new techniques - more complex structuring, multiple viewpoints and more introspection from the characters. "I did feel I had all this space to swim around in," she says, "and I wanted to make sure I was as careful with each of the scenes or fragments as I am with a short story, because the amazing thing with a short story is you have nowhere to hide."

Kerryn Goldsworthy has further things to say about this book, and this quote, on her weblog "Australian Literature Diary".

J.M. Coetzee Watch #14

Reviews of Summertime

Note: the bulk of the major papers have yet to review this new novel, but some have started to appear. I suspect a "Combined Reviews" entry will be required in the next few weeks.

David Grylis in "The Times".

Who is JM Coetzee? In one sense the answer is obvious: world-famous novelist and writer, twice winner of the Man Booker, winner of the Nobel prize for literature. But in another sense "JM Coetzee" is a persona created by the author, especially in his ­volumes of "fictionalised memoir". ..

...the third volume of the ­trilogy, Summertime, focuses on his return to South Africa, covering 1972 to 1977 when he was "finding his feet as a writer". Like Boyhood and Youth, it refers to "Coetzee" in the third person ("He is the product of a damaged childhood"), thus distancing the autobiographical element. But it adds a startling new dimension of literary artifice: the deployment of a postmortem biographer.

"Dovegreyreader" thinks it "an amazingly clever book, an enduringly, circuitously fascinating novel that I will dwell on for a long time to come, perhaps even unravel much of the essence and fallibility of biography and how it can so easily become a fiction, a story, in the process."

Mark Rubbo on the "Readings" website: "I can't say that I understood Summertime, but it lingers pervasively in my mind. I would love to hear the real Coetzee talk about this book but I doubt that I ever shall ... "

Review of Life and Times of Michael K.

Sam Jordinson is reading all the winners of the Booker prize and reviewing them as he goes for "The Guardian". He finally gets to Life and Times of Michael K.:

All of [the story] is told in fewer than 200 pages. But if it's a thin book, that's not because Coetzee doesn't have a lot to say, or doesn't paint a vivid picture. It's just that his prose is as lean and spare as Michael after months of bugs, pumpkins and sunlight. At its best his writing moves like a cracking whip.

But in spite of such pleasures, I have serious doubts. My main concern is Michael K himself. He's more of a plot device than a real man, and we are constantly reminded how simple Michael is, and how little he understands . Yet he is able frequently to outwit those who would capture him, to work irrigation systems and grow crops, build shelters and -- most jarringly -- speak eloquently and ask endless searching questions.

Awards

Coetzee's latest novel Summertime has been longlisted for the 2009 man Booker Prize. You can read some of the reactions to that longlisting in "The Age", "The Australian", "The Financial Times, "The Guardian", "The Telegraph", and by James Bradley.

Coetzee was shortlisted for the Best of the Booker prize, arranged to celebrate the prize's 40th anniversary this year, for his novel Disgrace. The prize was awarded to Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children.

Other

Coetzee visited Oxford, UK, in June and gave a reading from Summertime, the upcoming third volume of his fictionalised autobiography.

You can also read extracts from Summertime in "The New York Review of Books".

Michael Duffy Interview

the_tower.jpgBack in July I posted about the serialisation of an abridged version of Michael Duffy's novel The Tower appearing in "The Sydney Morning Herald".  That novel has now been published and the author has been interviewed by Karen on the "AustCrime Fiction" weblog.

AUSTCRIME:  Good crime fiction seems always to address issues of social concern - no matter what period in history the books come from.  What issues do you think really should have a light shone on them?  Are there any particular issues you were trying to draw upon in THE TOWER?

MD: Globalisation (see above) and post-natal depression. When I decided to make Troy a pretty ordinary bloke in his early thirties, I looked around for a plausible reason why his life might become upset. Problems with marriage are pretty high on the list for many people at that age. In this case it's Anna's (his wife's) long-running post-natal depression and how it destroys the emotional and physical intimacy they once had, and how he finally responds to that.

AUSTCRIME:  Are you planning a next book featuring Troy and McIver?  What other characters do you see reoccuring from THE TOWER?

MD: I'd like to do a series in which Troy matures, which is something we don't see in a lot of crime series but which I think they're well suited for. I'd be very keen in a second book to get Susan Conti, a detective in The Tower, into the Homicide Squad where she will work closely with Troy. It was my original intention that she be a more major figure in this novel, but unfortunately it became too crowded.

Tom Keneally Watch #8

Review of Schindler's Ark

"The Guardian" has been running a series of reviews of past Booker winners and recently it became Keneally's turn.

Keneally doesn't flinch from this horror. He has, in fact, an eye for detail that will break your heart. A suitcase out of which tumble "gold teeth still smeared with blood". A 10-year-old girl who "carried her terror unsupportably, the way adults will, unable to climb on to a parental chest and transfer the fear." A female prisoner who provides weekly manicures for a camp commandant. These sessions resemble the ones that she used to give in the Hotel Cracovia before the war, right down to the polite small talk. The only major difference is that the commandant always sits with a loaded revolver at his elbow. One day she asks why it is there. "In case you ever nick me," he tells her.

I could pick out any number of similar brushstrokes that show the repulsive darkness of the Holocaust. But the triumph of this book is that it also shows the light in its masterful portrait of Oskar Schindler.

Other

After he wrote Schindler's Ark in the 1980s, Keneally sold a lot of his papers associated with the novel to a dealer.  Those papers were subsequently acquired by the State Library of NSW in 1996.  Just recently, while working her way through all the papers in the six boxes, a researcher came across a copy of the actual 13-page list compiled by Schindler.

Keneally has been mischievously been suggesting that current Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull should join the Labor Party, citing Billy Hughes as a precedent.

It should be hardly surprising that Keneally has made the list of the top 100 Irish-Australians.  He's there alongside Ned Kelly, Redmond Barry, Les Darcy and Fanny Durack.

The author has recently appeared at the Salisbury Writers Festival discussing classes for writers, amongst other things, after previously appearing at the Byron Bay Writers' Festival discussing Jane Austen, and also about sport, writing and just about anything else he could think of.

Interview

Keneally was interviewed by Luke Slattry for "The Australian" nespaper.  I reported on that interview here

Morris Gleitzman Interview

Morris Gleitzman has just published a new novel, Grace, and is interviewed in "The Age" by Michael Lallo.

Belief is the theme of his latest novel, Grace, about an 11-year-old girl whose family is torn apart by a Christian cult. Gleitzman is no longer religious - he describes himself as a humanist now - but is at pains to state his book is not an ''anti-religion'' tale.

''I'd been thinking about that stage of life when we start to think a bit for ourselves and get a sense of how the world works,'' he says. ''What we took to be true - the immutable truths of our childhood, the opinions, attitudes and beliefs of our parents and other adults - we're maybe starting to question some of them. A lot of parents welcome this, but I think they're put on the spot a bit because their authority is being challenged.''

It's tempting to believe Grace was inspired by a certain Christian sect that has been in the news lately. But it's not. Rather, Gleitzman interviewed several former members ''from a range of fundamentalist communities'' and read many books and articles to better understand their experiences.

Richard Newsome Interview

billionaires_curse.jpgFirst time author Richard Newsome, winner of the 2008 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing for his book The Billionaire's Curse, is interviewed by Fiona Purdon for "The Courier-Mail".

The Billionaire's Curse started more than a decade ago as a bedtime story Newsome developed for [his children] Sam and Ruby. To help him remember the ever-expanding plot Newsome started writing down the events and the book slowly evolved.

For eight years the author "fluffed around" writing "bits and pieces" and then three years ago the family, who had been living in Sydney, moved to Brisbane and Newsome quit his high-flying career in the media to write full time.

His wife Kath worked in public relations full-time and Newsome gave himself two years to write and polish the manuscript. In between school pick-ups and drop-offs and household chores Newsome would churn out about 1500 words a day.

Once he finished the manuscript he gave himself a year to get it published. He sent it to about 15 British agents and was rejected by all of them.

"The rejections all came back at the same time, every day I would go to the post box at the same time and see a rejection slip, it was very depressing," he says.

Andrew Croome Interview

Andrew Croome's novel, Document Z, won last year's "Australian"/Vogel Award and has now been published by Allen & Unwin.  The book tells the story of the Petrov Affair, the defection of a couple of Soviet agents in Australia in the 1950s. The author is interviewed by Madeline Healy for "The Courier-Mail" who finds he discovered a lot of material in the national archives.

A royal commission was ordered by Menzies and the documents, which were never publicly released, were alleged to provide evidence of an extensive Soviet spy ring in Australia.

"You go through those archives in Canberra," Croome says, "and end up finding the most amazing documents. There are newspaper articles of anything reported at the time, lists of objects in houses because ASIO had rented safe houses, and even diaries of every moment of Petrov on certain days.

"I found it all fascinating. Getting closer and closer to the original files made me realise it was a great story. I came across a person called B2 who is mentioned in the book - and that's how he was mentioned in the files."

Croome says the files revealed spy codes and ASIO monitoring activities in the 1950s.

"There is a whole lot of spy talk in the files such as 'shadowing operations' and 'reliable citizens'.

"There were code names everywhere and it was great to read all of that."

Susanna de Vries Interview

Brisbane author Susanna de Vries has a new book, Females on the Fatal Shore, just out which has a number of elements that could be taken as a re-telling of the Lady Diana Spencer story.  In this case, however, the book is set in 19th-century rural Queensland, and is just one of the stories featured.  The author spoke to Fiona Purdon of "The Courier-Mail". 

"It's an era of aristocrats, it's a very structured society, the Georgian society, and Stephen [Lamprell Spencer] did the unforgivable: He married a seamstress and he became seriously religious," de Vries says.

"He wanted to make a lot of money in Australia and then go back to England and show his family he had made good.

"But he bought too many cattle runs and then suffered depression. Australian history is full of boom and bust stories."

Clive James Watch #13

Reviews of The Revolt of the Pendulum: Essays 2005-2008

Adam Mars-Jones in "The Observer": "The arguments in Cultural Amnesia had been enriched by a long process of fermentation and filtering. The Revolt of the Pendulum is a much more ordinary book, a standard collection of reviews and oddments, though it recycles from the magnum opus in the opening essay about Karl Kraus. It's also more revealing about the civil war between cultivation and blokeishness inside Clive James, the inner aesthete and the inner mocker. Down-to-earth intellectual is not the easiest role to take on."

Lynn Barber in "The Telegraph": "Not all the essays in this book are about Clive James, though a surprisingly high proportion of them are. But the meatier offerings are book reviews written for The New York Times, the TLS, or an Australian periodical called The Monthly. (Nowadays he largely avoids "the second-rank literary editors of London" and their proclivity for 'lively copy'.) There is an excellent essay on "Kingsley and the Women" which draws on personal knowledge of the Amis family, and an affectionate portrait of Robert Hughes, again using personal knowledge. (Though James claims to despise literary gossip, he is very good at it.) But most of the time his criticism is devoted to showing off."

Sam Leith in "The Spectator": "Pendulum, eh? Well, there's certainly something swing- ing back and forth here. Two years ago, lest we forget, Cultural Amnesia came out -- all 900-odd pages of it. Now here's Clive with another fat wedge of 'essays', some of which are essays, and some of which are more recognisable as old book reviews and feature pieces for newspapers. In the section marked 'Handbills' he reproduces pieces he's written to promote his stage shows; in 'Absent Friends', addenda to obituaries...It seems rather a monumental way of presenting ephemera, but it emerges piecemeal in this book that James is starting to hear the guy with the scythe and the persistent cough. He's thinking about how he'll be remembered. He's building monuments to himself. "

James Mitchell on the "Independent News and Media" website: "Most essayists and columnists are used to their work being considered ephemeral: their timely pieces, briefly entertaining and informative, froth and disappear, deservedly...Clive James is an exception. The variety is amazing; the wit is sharp but seldom painful; the sheer enjoyment of learning something new - and communicating that knowledge and pleasure - all mark him apart."

Essay by James

"The Necessary Minimum" - James on poet Dunstan Thompson for "Poetry" magazine July/August 2009.

One-Man Show

James is taking his current one-man show to Edinburgh in mid-August and then to other parts of the UK up till November.  The full schedule is on his website.

Poetry

The August issue of the "Australian Literary Review" included James's poem "Aldeburgh Dawn", and in reply, Guy Rundle proceeded to tear it to bits on Crickey:

Why do people keep publishing this stuff? It's not as if James doesn't give us a clue -- in his unentertaining novel The Remake, he has a stocky character named 'CJ' jogging around a track. Who's that guy someone asks? Writer, someone replies, "his poetry sounds like reproduction furniture looks."

The fact that this line is exact and telling suggests James's tragedy: he's a gag writer and whatever lightning-strike gave him that skill simultaneously foreclosed the capacity to do something else. The more he strains to take the world seriously (witness his 900 page Cultural Amnesia, a self-serving book of drive-by essays, dedicated to Aung Sung Suu Kyi, among others) the more awful the result.

Stephen Romei, editor of the "Australian Literary Review" discusses it all on his weblog, "A Pair of Ragged Claws".

Interview

As James begins his one-man show at the Edinburgh Festival, he is interviewed for "The Independent" by Christina Patterson:

The problem with interviews, however, is that you don't get to write them. Well, I do, obviously, but he doesn't. "If you'll forgive me," he says, in the tone of a politician preceding a blistering attack with the phrase "with all due respect", "it's a very approximate form of getting at what someone means. And, in my case, I like to think I do it for myself. To that," he adds, "the argument is 'you're just asking to construct your own image' and the answer is, 'well, yes'." Clive James is also, clearly, a brilliant bunch of arguments. He's a brilliant bunch of questions, a brilliant bunch of answers, and soliloquies and theories and counter-theories. No need for an interviewer, really, except that I'm here and I'd quite like to do it.

So why, I ask, desperate to chip in, does he submit himself to a process he describes as "agonising"? "When I'm on the road doing a stage show," he says, "I owe something to the impresario. And I want to fill the house. And a one-man show doesn't fill itself automatically. But left to myself, I probably wouldn't do it. I find that I can write it better." Gee, thanks. Actually, I've no doubt that Clive James could write it better. This, after all, is the man whose TV reviews for The Observer were read even by people who didn't watch TV, the man whose hilarious memoirs have all been bestsellers, the man whose book of essays, Cultural Amnesia, was hailed by J M Coetzee as "a crash-course in civilization". But an interview, to state the absolute bleeding obvious, is a different thing. It's not a monologue, it's an encounter, written by somebody else. And of course it's "approximate". Isn't all journalism approximate?

Other

 James didn't actually want to be the next Oxford professor of poetry.

 

Tom Keneally Profile

As he awaits the publication of not one but two books over the coming weeks, Tom Keneally is profiled by Luke Slattery in "The Australian".

The sources for Keneally's novels are often historical, and he typically weaves fiction's thread through history's fabric. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith was inspired by the true story of the mixed-race Jimmy Governor. It was "the neatness of the events as they existed in history" that appealed to the author. But he was also alert to the tale's contemporary moral resonance. Written at the time of the 1967 referendum on allowing the commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people, and published in 1972 at the height of the protest movement, Jimmie Blacksmith was as a conversation with its time.

Keneally is not, in this sense, a writer of period-piece historical fiction. It is not so much the pastness of the past as its presence that interests him. Academic historians often deride historical fiction with what Keneally believes is some justification, but he defends history as a legitimate subject for fictional treatment. "I like to choose the small, salient, marginal event that can light up history in fiction, light up the past and light up the present," he says.

He gives ex-Prime Minister John  Howard a good serve as well.

Keneally's novel The People's Train is out today.  And his new non-fiction work, Australians, will be released by Allen & Unwin on September 1st.

Morris Gleitzman Interview

Australian writer Morris Gleitzman was interviewed on the ABC TV program "Talking Heads" last night.  Gleitzman is the author of such books as Once, Then, Toad Rage, and Bumface.  If you missed it you can watch the program again via the ABC's iView (though you'll have to search for it on the main page as it seems impossible to link to a specific program), or read a transcript of the interview.   

PETER THOMPSON: So did you find with those early books that you were sort of leap-frogging about your own recognition of what was possible?

MORRIS GLEITZMAN: Yeah, absolutely, because up until then I'd always - in the back of my mind when I was having story ideas, I was having to think, "Well, what sort of budget is this going to be? Is it - if it's fitting into a TV series, I'm gonna have to tell this story using existing characters. If it's gonna be an Australian movie, up to a certain - beyond a certain budget it's gonna need an American star, so can I put an American character in this story?" Suddenly, writing books, there was none of that, because on the page no one idea costs any more to write or read than any other idea. So, my first few books included a story, Two Weeks with the Queen - a boy whose younger brother is discovered to be very seriously ill and Colin, the main character, is sent off to London so he won't have to witness his younger brother's death and he decides to borrow the Queen's family doctor to try and cure his brother and he tries to climb over the back wall of Buckingham Palace -

PETER THOMPSON: Obviously unaffordable from a film point of view.

MORRIS GLEITZMAN: Well, difficult, difficult, yeah. I think the third or fourth book I wrote, Blabbermouth, is about a girl unable to physically speak. The whole book is a kind of thought monologue by the character, and it would be a difficult thing to do on the screen. They had to use voiceover and various other techniques when they did adapt it for the screen.

 

Aravind Adiga Profile

I'm still a bit dubuous about whether or not I should be including Aravind Adiga here as an "Australian" writer.  He was educated in Sydney and his father still lives there, but the author seems to spend the bulk of his time in India these days, when he's not on a literary promotion tour.  We'll stay with him for a while. 

While I attempt to come to grips with that dilemma Adiga was interviewed by Fiona McCann in "The Irish Times".

'I've failed at just about everything I've tried," says Aravind Adiga with convincing diffidence. "Which is why I've got to be a novelist." He is sitting in a hotel bar at Dublin Airport, fresh off a flight from London where he's been promoting his new book, Between the Assassinations , less than a year after taking home the Man Booker Prize for his debut novel, The White Tiger . Yet despite the latter's international success, Adiga seems determined not to rest on his laurels. The Indian author's face is boyish, its expression earnest, and he speaks quickly in a musical accent, his sentences spilling forth as he insists that writing is his last resort. "I'm good at nothing else. What else can I do? I flopped as an academic and I don't like being a journalist, so there's not much else to do really. This is it. This is what lazy people end up doing."

For a man with the literary world at his feet, Adiga is astoundingly self-deprecating. Despite placing pieces in prestigious publications, such as Time magazine and the Financial Times during his short-lived journalistic career, he still describes it as "something to do before I did my novel". It was a career, he says, he began mainly to guard against his insecurity about returning unemployed to India after studies at Columbia University in New York and Oxford.

A novel about an Indian character's experiences in Australia would, while being topical, also tend to sway me.

Interview with Chris Andrews

Chris Andrews is one of those Australian writers that you will probably never get to hear of, and yet he has had a profound impact on the international world of letters over the past few years.  Andrews is the Australian translator of writers Roberto Bolaño and César Aira. He has worked on five books by Bolaño: By Night in Chile (2003), Distant Star (2004), Last Evening on Earth (2007), Amulet (2008), and Nazi Literature in the Americas (2009).  From César Aira, he has brought us three: An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (2006), How I Became a Nun (2007), and Ghosts (2009)..  He was interviewed on "The Mooksee and the Gripes" weblog.

Q:  Mr. Andrews, I'd like to begin by asking about your pathway to your current work translating Roberto Bolaño and César Aira.  How long have you been translating, and why from Spanish?

I studied literature, French and Spanish, at university and started translating in the mid-1990s with travel narratives (including Ana Briongos' memoir Black on Black about living and travelling in Iran) and some short stories (including Cortázar's uncollected, early story "The Season of the Hand").  I wanted to translate longer works of fiction, but it's hard to get a contract; there's simply not much work for translators of fiction into English.  With Bolaño, I had a lucky break: I was approaching publishers in England, expressing interest in translating work, and it happened that I visited Christopher Maclehose at The Harvill Press in London shortly after he had acquired the rights to By Night in Chile.  That was in 2001.  He asked me what I had been reading and I spoke enthusiastically about Bolaño (I had just read The Wild Detectives).  Harvill already had a translator lined up for By Night in Chile, but when that fell through, they needed a replacement, so they asked me for a sample, then commissioned me to translate the book.  Barbara Epler at New Directions published By Night in Chile in the United States, and I've been working directly with her since Last Evenings on Earth (which was originally commissioned by Harvill but published first by New Directions in the United States).

Thanks to kimbofo and her "Reading Matters" weblog for this link.

The "Gothic" James Bradley

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After valiantly working his way through scads of vampire-themed literature, tv and film Australian author James Bradley published his views on the whole genre in the July issue of the "Australian Literary Review".  And then, last week, he continued with a discussion with Ramona Koval on ABC Radio National's "Book Show" about the same subject.  Maybe he's now becoming the vampire "go-to" guy in Australian letters. 

Anyway, one point he made in his discussion on the radio came after Koval asked him if the current vampire trend would continue.  Bradley pointed out that if publications such as the ALR were writing about a cultural trend then it was probably already over and done with.  The next question, of course, is: what's next?  Bradley didn't know - and I can't blame him for that as I don't think anyone else does either.  So I went to the prime source of wisdom in matters of this sort: my sixteen-year-old daughter.  She just looked at me blankly.  Stephanie Meyer is old hat now. The American television drama series True Blood is now the front-runner, and, though she hadn't yet seen anything of the British TV series Being Human, she was aware of it.  But the whole vampire thing seems to still have a fair way to go she thought.  I asked if she had any hint of the "next big thing", and it was at that point over breakfast that I was convinced, yet again, that she thinks I'm a total idiot.

Andy Griffiths Interview

In "The Sydney Morning Herald" Marc McEvoy profiles Andy Griffiths - author of such works as The Day My Bum Went Psycho, Zombie Bums From Uranus and Bumageddon: The Final Pongflict - as his new book Just Macbeth is released.

"Shakespeare was quite a challenge," he says, glancing at the meal. "He is all about language. We had to get the meaning over as clearly as possible without roadblocks or ambiguity."

Just Macbeth begins with a ghoulish concoction that would put anyone off their food. A toe of frog, an eye of newt, a tongue of dog and a toad bubble away in the three witches' cauldron but the ingredients from the original play are accompanied by Wizz Fizz and some chicken jokes - and the cauldron is really a food processor.

The book is based on a play Griffiths wrote for the Bell Shakespeare Company last year. It attracted huge crowds when it was performed in Sydney and Melbourne under the direction of Wayne Harrison.

Richard Harland Interview

Richard Harland is hoping that his latest novel, Worldshaker, will prove to be a break-through work for him.  Gary Kemble interviews the author on the "Articulate" weblog.

Q. What's the appeal of alternative history, both for writers and readers?

I suppose it appeals to the what-if side of our minds. History could so easily have taken a different turn. For me, the appeal is especially that it allows the imagination to create fantasy worlds very different to the standard Tolkien/medieval norm. (I've got nothing against Tolkien/medieval fantasy, but there are so many other possibilities to explore!) By separating off from real history only in the Napoleonic period, I can bring in a more political state of the world and alternative versions of the industrial age.

Q. Similarly, steampunk is a hugely popular subgenre (arguably a genre in and of itself). What's the appeal?

Maybe it's a nostalgia from the time when machines looked like machines, when you could watch their workings and grasp what was happening. Nowadays, on the other hand, the technology is hidden away inside bland white or silver boxes, and you can't do anything even if you open the boxes up.

I bought my first new car in 20-odd years some months ago, and got a huge shock to learn that I'm not even allowed to fiddle with the engine. Not that I was ever very good at fiddling with engines - which is probably why I like making up forms of machinery that never quite existed in real history.

 

Frank Burkett Interview

It's not often that we link to interviews with unpublished authors.  And it's not because we don't want to, it's just that there generally aren't any out there.  Kathleen Noonan has changed that with an interview with Queensland author Frank Burkett, for "The Courier-Mail". Burkett has written a crime novel, A View from the Clock Tower, which has been chosen from 700 entries from around the world to appear on the shortlist for the Debut Dagger Award from the Crime Writers Association of the United Kingdom.

Burkett's novel follows a young man, Jack Bellamy, in his search for the truth behind his parents' mysterious murder-suicide in Moreton Bay. It takes him from an orphanage in Nudgee to the sugar paddocks around Mackay, where he explores family secrets and digs up the truth.

[snip]

Burkett, 58, started A View From the Clock Tower in 2007. During a week off work, he headed to a beach house with his computer and dogs and punched out the first draft. On retiring last year, he finished it.

"I thought, 'What next?' I contacted the Queensland Writers Centre and then a little crime-writing group in Brisbane.

"Someone there said, 'You have a week before deadline to enter it in these awards in London'." He sent off a synopsis and first chapter and forgot about it.

Six weeks later a letter arrived from Britain, announcing his nomination.

No word yet on when the novel wil be published.

M.J. Hyland Interview

M.J. Hyland, whose second novel Carry Me Down was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize and the 2007 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, has just published her third novel, This Is How.  The author will be attending the 2009 Brisbane Writers' Festival and spoke to Madeline Healy of "The Courier-Mail".

Her novel This is How tells the story of Patrick Oxtoby, a outsider struggling to find his niche in life, a place where he fits in. His fiancee breaks off his engagement so Patrick leaves home and moves to a boarding house in a seaside village. Struggling to fit in and make new friends, he cannot shake the feeling that nobody likes him.

As his disappointments in life build up, his actions lead to devastating consequences for him, his family and many of those surrounding him.

"There is an escalation in him, a swelling, a maddening," Hyland says. "I spent three years concocting this idea. I've read lots of really good serious literary fiction which has helped me write this.

"But most inspiring was an interview with Tony Parker. It was in a book called Life After Life: Interviews with 12 Murderers and after reading the third interview I decided my next novel would be based on that murderer," she says.

 

Craig Silvey Interview

With his new novel, Jasper Jones, out and about - his first since Rhubarb seven years ago - Craig Silvey speaks to the Boomerang Book blog.

What drew you to writing a "Southern Gothic"-style book set in Australia?

Initially it was no more than the fact that I wanted to have a go. I've always adored Southern Gothic fiction. There's something very warm and generous about those regional American writers like Twain and Lee and O'Connor, and it seemed to be a literary ilk that would lend itself well to the Australian condition. It was only after the themes announced themselves, and I realised where the book was headed that it seemed so apt and important to have these literary elements.

Out of Jasper, Charlie and Jeffrey - which one is most like Craig Silvey? Is there anything autobiographical about any of them, or any of your other characters for that matter?

I like to think I'm fairly evenly distributed through the three boys, though Charlie probably bears the larger share of my character, simply because we come to know him so well. Like Charlie, I was a bookish kid who was terrified of girls and insects but like Jeffrey Lu, I was also a cheeky, unflappable little antagoniser. I think, though, as I grow older, I'm evolving more and more into Jasper Jones: a little quieter, a little stronger, and a little more solitary.

Tim Winton Watch #9

Reviews of Breath

Boyd Tonkin in "The Independent: "...Winton's way with a breaking wave shows off all the springy dash of of his action-laden prose. Yet, much as "Pikelet" from a deadbeat sawmill town adores the sea, what lends Breath its buzz is the kid's rite-of-passage rendezvous with love and sex."

Angela Meyer on the "LiteraryMinded" weblog: "The calmness of the ending, the realism and matter-of-factness of Pike's experience and story means that elements of the book - the melancholy, the inevitability, the continued interior circling over the desires of the past - still resonate."

"A Progressive on the Prairie" weblog: "You could summarize Tim Winton's Breath by saying it's a novel about a two Australian teenagers who perfect their surfing skills under the tutelage of a reclusive mentor. Of course, that would be like saying Fight Club is a novel about young men in an illicit fighting club."

Tania McCartney on the "Australian Women Online" weblog: "The guts of Winton's novel is beautifully expressed, not only through his infallible ability to describe the human experience, but also through a very believable and affable storyline that skirts the edges of morality and self-respect, and even manages to conjure the ability to be downright creepy. Despite a quickly wrapped-up ending that leaps and bounds suddenly and a little disappointingly across the years, it's clear to the reader that this story wasn't meant to unravel an entire lifetime. It was instead written with dedicated focus on a small part of Pikelet's life that shaped his destiny like a tri-fin thruster. It's just too bad that I wanted a more drawn-out ending. This was all Winton wanted to give -- and it works."

Geeta Sharma Jensen on the "PopMatters" weblog: "...it's a coming-of-age tale that manages to seem fresh, for its young protagonist discovers not only the powerful lure of sex but also the powerful thrill of testing oneself against nature. The story unfolds easily, with language that bucks and flows in irresistible hallmark Winton style."

Promotion of Breath

Foyles and Picador have teamed up in the UK to promote a series of book for summer.  The first of these will be Winton's Breath.

Breath has won the 2009 Miles Franklin Award, and you can view his acceptance speech.

Other

Winton has been chosen as one of Western Australia's top citizens.

 

Brian Castro Interview

Brian Castro's latest novel, The Bath Fugues, has just been published by Giramonda and the author is interviewed in "The Australian" by Miriam Cosic.

The very act of writing, he says, is fugue-like. "I'm doing counterpoint all the time: argumentation within myself, and then flying off into animaginative fantasy and coming back to thereality." Yet he says, with hindsight: "I think this is one of my most disciplined books. I wasn't conscious of it at the time but putting it into this form is a discipline."

The idea of the fugueur tempts him as a novelist, he says, not as a man. "As a novelist, the best moment is to be in flight from the real world so that you can actually write," he says. "I like living in that moment."

[snip]

He took his undergraduate degree in French literature at the University of Sydney, his master's in American literature. Living and teaching in Paris for a year had a huge effect on him: "It changed my view of writers, of how they can be respected. You come back to Australia and they say, 'Aw, whaddya write?' 'Aw, do ya make a living out of it?"' He mimics a drawling accent. "It's so crude."

Castro's irritation with his own country's anti-intellectualism has spilled out before. When he took the manuscript of Shanghai Dancing to publishers, even those who had published him before, he was told to tone it back -- dumb it down, he would say -- and he refused. And made a fuss about it in public.

He was saved by Ivor Indyk, publisher of Giramondo Press, who is as intellectually uncompromising as he is. Shanghai Dancing was published unchanged and, vindicating writer and publisher, went on to win prizes and sell respectably enough. It's still in print, unusual in these times when unsold books are cleared out and remaindered within months of publication.

Gabrielle Carey interview

Gabrielle Carey, author of Puberty Blues with Kathy Lette, has just published a memoir, Waiting Room, and she discusses it and her sadness over the recent death of her mother, with Lissa Christopher for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

Amid all the sadness, Carey is also experiencing "this rush of things I want to write. I'm beginning to believe that maybe all my life, the way to deal with pain has been to transform it into art - if what I do is art - to transform it into something else, take it out of yourself and put it somewhere else that makes it bearable."

In Waiting Room, Carey describes the drive to write as a symptom of malfunction.

"Once, when Brigie [Carey's daughter] was about eight, I thought I noticed the kind of withdrawn behaviour that I had exhibited as a child - the kind of psychology that leads a person to go silent, to ruminate and then, finally, to write things down. I went into an immediate panic and arranged an appointment with a child psychologist."

Despite Carey's fears, however, the writing condition is not manifest in Brigid, now an adult. "She's into fashion and beauty," Carey says, seeming pleased - and yet not so pleased. "My children are much more rounded healthy individuals than I am."

Most of Waiting Room was written about seven years ago, when Joan Carey was diagnosed with a brain tumour. It describes her catastrophic memory loss and muses on her taciturn, stoic-to-a-fault approach to life; the role of the middle-aged parent caught between the needs of their own children and an ailing parent; and Carey's passionate desire to know her mother more intimately. 

Richard Harland Interview

As his new novel Worldshaker hits the stands author Richard Harland is interviewed on the "HorrorScope" weblog by Shane Jiraiya Cummings.

Your novels have ranged from horror to science fiction, young adult, and now steampunk. Is there a genre you prefer to write in?

RH: "I like hopping between genres, but the logic of marketing says you should build a brand, so that readers know what they'll be getting when they see your name on a book. I guess I've come to a stage in my career when I need to do a bit of brand building -- which luckily coincides with the fact that, of all fantasy sub-genres, steampunk/Victoriana is my most natural territory, my home ground. I have plenty of steampunk writing in me, and it'll be a long way down the track (gods willing!) before I get bored with it. I'd love to be the Steampunk King!

"I've written adult, YA and children's, but it's never a big issue for me. Although Worldshaker is marketed as YA, it's really crossover, just as good for adult reading. I wouldn't have written a single word differently if I'd planned it for an adult readership. It became YA only because of the age of the two main characters--after making that decision, I never gave another thought to YA or adult. Fantasy easily overleaps those categories anyway."

Sonya Hartnett Watch #2

Reviews of Butterfly

Cultural Gal on the "MelbArts" weblog: "It's wonderful that such a sterling writer is able to bring to such glittering life the complex, deeply felt experiences of young people. But just as youth is wasted on the young, it would be a sin if Hartnett's audience was confined to the under-16s...Hartnett's many skills are in full play in this beautifully crafted novel. There are secrets in this quiet suburban world, secrets the characters keep from each other for fear of losing everything they value most. These secrets fuel the momentum of the narrative that Hartnett so carefully builds, keeping the surprises coming...Indeed, there's almost a thriller element to the novel: until the very end we don't know exactly what will happen. At one point towards the close Hartnett plays with this mounting sense of dread, keeping us guessing as to whether she'll choose a conventional melodramatic device or a more nuanced resolution."

Sarah on the "I loved it..." weblog: "How does Sonya Hartnett know me so well? I swear that she was watching me grow up and saw every excruciating moment of my adolescence. Admittedly it was the 80s and everything was cringeworthy! She manages to capture the universal aspects of growing up and all the self doubt and casual cruelty that is so much a part of life as a teenager. I think Hartnett is a revelation. I adore her writing in a way that defies description."

Karen on the Book Bath weblog: "In some ways this book is two or three stories within one - but you never feel as though too much has been taken on by the author. Hartnett balances the characters and the story lines beautifully. This book was not at all what I expected when I started reading it but once I accepted this I enjoyed the rather uneasy storyline."

Madeline Wheatley of The Book Bag weblog gave the novel 4.5 stars: "Award winning Australian author Sonya Hartnett writes powerful, disturbing tales. This is no exception. Some of the events in this novel are extreme, yet believable, largely because of the vividly realistic character of Plum."

I.E Sawmill on The Literateur website was put off by the cover at first: "The cover is actually quite an inoffensive combination of yellows and pinks with flowers trailed all around in an attractive pattern. I was still at this point fully in the bigoted stages of reviewing and could not help a Pavlovian response to such stimuli: Yellow + Pink + Floral Decoration = book aimed for a female audience. Dare one say, chick-lit. This seemed at odds with the jacket's alliterative promise of 'deceit', 'despair' and 'desperation'. Those three words, in conjunction with the title, implied a gritty account of 'coming of age'...The novel has moments of great comedy, insight and fine descriptive inventiveness. Overall, however, Butterfly is something of a moth to its own flame. The tone and pace do not quite justify the book's ricocheting from flippancy to po-faced truisms and, at times, it feels as if it has suffered for lack of editing. As it stands, Butterfly is not a great deal more than the sum of its parts. Those parts are enjoyable enough, but one suspects that Hartnett is capable of much, much better."

Other

The production company Monkey Baa has developed a theatrical adaptation of Hartnett's novel Thursday's Child. The play features a young cast, is directed by Sandra Eldridge and will tour nationally until November 13.

Hartnett appeared at the Sydney Writers' Festival and the Boomerang Books blog went along to see her: "Girl politics features heavily in Sonya Hartnett's Butterfly, and when asked about teenage girls and their penchant for bitchery, Hartnett had some fun ("Sometimes you see it and you're just like... 'Arrghh, you little cretins.'"). She based the manuscript on the teen-girl relations she witnessed twenty years ago (when the novel is set). She gave the first draft to her fourteen-year-old neighbour, Matilda, and after finishing it, Matilda approached her and asked, "How did you know how the girls at [school's name] acted?" So, clearly, nothing's changed in the world of teen-girl relations. Hartnett joked that no-one ever admits to being the schoolyard bitch - grab one hundred middle-aged women and ask them, and they'll all say they were the girls that suffered through high school. "Where do those girls go [after high school]? Do they just disappear?""

Interviews
Sally Wahaft on Slow TV.

Ramona Koval on The Book Show on ABC Radio National.

Morris Gleitzman Interview

Australian children's and Young Adult author, Morris Gleitzman, is interviewed in Meanjin by Sophie Cunningham.  Gleitzman is the author of such novels as Wicked!, Bumface, Toad Rage, and Give Peas a Chance. The interview mainly concerns his latest book, Then.

SC: The first novel, Once has got more jokes and it's slightly more light-hearted--as much as the subject matter allows. But Then is very gothic and dark.

MG: I'd hesitate to say 'gothic' because that to me is a kind of cultural literary style. And there is humour in Then because Felix is still optimistic despite the grim circumstances. I'm trying to re-create some of the darker moments of our species' behaviour in a way that will have meaning for younger readers. I knew when I decided to write a book for my age group of readers--which is pretty much eight and up--set against the Holocaust, many or most of my readers wouldn't be familiar with the circumstances of World War Two or the Holocaust.

SC: Aren't these subjects taught?

MG: They're taught at some schools but there's a lot of freedom at primary schools for teachers to devise their own areas of curriculum. So there are some primary schools where they're doing the Holocaust, perhaps as a part of related studies or maybe as part of World War Two. But there are many students who don't touch on all this until two or three years into high school. So I couldn't count on all of my readers understanding the historical context and the social context. I didn't want to make these books a history lesson in terms of the full sweep of the information of the time, but I needed to have enough of the historical context so it would make sense to readers fresh to the whole thing. That is why I decided to structure the first book as a journey of discovery for Felix. I wanted to do it that way for some other reasons as well but I realised it would allow my younger readers to go on that journey of discovery with him and gradually encounter some of the realities of that time and that place. 

Will Elliott Interview

Will Elliott had great success with his debut novel, The Pilo Family Circus, and now has his second book about to be released.  This new one, Strange Places, is a memoir, with the main subject being Elliott's schizophrenia.  The author spoke to Owen Richardson in "The Age".

In his late teens and early 20s Elliott underwent two psychotic episodes, the second of which ended with his being diagnosed as schizophrenic. Now 30, Elliott hasn't experienced a relapse and has decided to tell the story, at some cost to his present comfort.

"To go back and immerse myself in it, and especially the first symptoms in the early days, it was embarrassing for me," Elliott says. "It was the opposite of pleasant nostalgia, to keep going back over that and checking that it was all arranged properly was the worst part for me. I don't know how it is going to be having other people reading these intimate and not exactly flattering details."

One of the things Elliott says he is uncomfortable about revealing is his conviction that various members of his family were a threat to him; at one point he was on his way to see his father and put a pair of scissors in his pocket in case he got attacked, and there was a long period when he thought the song lyrics his older brother was writing for their heavy metal band were a series of attacks on him.

Appealingly but rather unreasonably, perhaps, Elliott is worried about how this might come across: "You could argue that that was just a symptom and not a sign of ill character, but it still makes me feel a bit squeamish."

Karen Miller Interview

 Karen Miller is the author of the "Kingmaker, Kingbreaker" and "Godspeaker" series of fantasy novels.  Back in March she spoke to the "Blogging the Muse" weblog.

TH: It has been said that a writers, each time they achieve one goal, such as publication, simply trade up to a succession of new sets of problems. At this stage in your writing career, how do your concerns differ from when you were just starting out?

KM: Well, being an aspiring author is in fact quite a simple, uncomplicated thing. All your energy is focused on getting the nod. That's not to say it isn't hard, because it is. It's hard, it's often disheartening and painful. But there's a clarity of purpose to it. So before I was published, all I thought about was: Will I ever be good enough for someone to say yes?

Then someone said  yes, you're good enough, and that was  mindblowing and wonderful and actually very empowering.  As a result,  here are the things I worry about now, in no particular order:

Have I got complacent? Am I repeating myself? Can I make my next deadline? Is this book an improvement on the last one? Will I disappoint my existing readers? Will I find new readers? Am I justifying my publishers' faith in me? Can I deliver what I told them I can deliver? Should I be thinking about the next potential project? How long will it be before I can't think of anything new to say? Should I be doing more  blogging and stuff? Is there really a bias against women writers in spec fic or am I losing my mind? My new book's coming out -- is it going to bomb? Will everybody hate it? Will it finish my career? People are going through tough times, does that mean my life as a full time writer is over?

I have no idea if other writers worry about this stuff. I only know that I do, and sometimes I feel quite overwhelmed.

Peter Carey Watch #11

Regarding His Illegal Self 

Katy Guest reviewed the new paperback edition in "The Independent": "A consumate plotter, the multi-Booker-winner Peter Carey packs a lot of distance and a great deal of stuff into this teeming novel about a boy's childhood."

Matthew Condon discusses the novel with Carey at the Adelaide Writers' Week on Slow TV - Part 1 and Part 2.

Parrot and Olivier in America

Carey's next novel, Parrot and Olivier in America, will be published in Australia by Penguin in November, ahead of its international release in 2010.  There isn't much news out about it but the Penguin Books news letter has some details (see the April 29, 2009 entry). 

Australia's Review of Copyright and Territorial Publishing Rights

In January this year Carey published an essay in "The Age" arguing against any relaxation of the current copyright and territorial publishing arrangements covering the Australian publishing industry. 

You can read also Carey's submission to the government inquiry. (PDF file.)

Other

Canadian short story author Alice Munro has won the third Man Booker International Prize, for which Peter Carey was shortlisted.

In my last "Peter Carey Watch" I mentioned that the Scottish national opera company was performing an opera based on Carey's short story "Happy Story", and now "The Age" is reporting that "composer Brett Dean, who lives in Melbourne, and his librettist, Amanda Holden, who lives in London" have mostly finished a three-act opera based on Bliss.

The Australian National Portrait Gallery has made available Lewis Morley's photographic portrait of the author, dating from 1989.  

Carey's laptop, upon which he composed True History of the Kelly Gang, is part of "The Independent Type: Books and Writing in Victoria" exhibition which is currently on show at the State Library of Victoria.

Michael Gerard Bauer Interview

Last week "The Australian Writer's Marketplace"  conducted an online forum with YA author Michael Gerard Bauer and they have now posted some highlights of that session on their website.

Kate: How conscious are you of the influence of your locality when writing? 
MGB: Quite a bit. I taught at Marist Brothers in Brisbane and I based the school setting for "Don't Call me Ishmael" on that. I felt the Ashgrove location a great deal in The Running Man and made a conscious decision to use the real suburb and street names in the story because it was based on some childhood memories of growing up there.

Robyn: Do you think having been a teacher has helped you as a writer, and if it has, what have you found most valuable about it?
MGB: Yes, definitely. I think it gave me a good understanding of the people I was writing about. I certainly couldn't have written ishmael as well without drawing on my teaching years. During teaching I also read lots of YA books and loved them. Now when I visit schools to talk I feel very comfortable in that environment.

Bauer's 2006 novel Don't Call Me Ishmael won the 2007 New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, Ethel Turner Prize, and the 2008 Festival Awards for Literature (SA), Children's Literature Award.

 

Jennifer Mills Interview

Her first novel, The Diamond Anchor, was reviewed here yesterday and last weekend Jennifer Mills was interviewed by Steve Dow for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

She began writing her own book alternating between May and Grace's voices, but settled on writing almost entirely in May's voice; an interesting choice given Mills has more the restless soul of a Grace. Perhaps, she agrees, she was interested in getting inside the head of someone who wants to settle down where they were born. "I guess I'm trying to deal with how my generation, as very transient people, build a sense of home and belonging," she says. Her second novel, in progress, will be a dark tale about a hitchhiker; a few years ago Mills thumbed lifts while travelling through Europe, Turkey and the United States. "I came back to Australia and knew I didn't want to live on the east coast again; I wanted to do something different." That was three years ago and she has been in Alice Springs since, and "it's very much home now".

Peter Corris Interview

Since the early 1980s Peter Corris has been producing a series of crime novels featuring his PI Cliff Hardy. His latest, Deep Water, is the 35th in the series, and as it is released Marc McEvoy interviewed the author for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

Although Corris invented the character of Hardy in 1976, it took five years to find a publisher for his first novel, The Dying Trade. Once a punchy, beer-swilling philanderer, Hardy is less sexist now. His evolution during the series mirrors the changes in his creator.

"I stopped smoking about one or two books in - Cliff stopped smoking," Corris says. "I started jogging and trying to take better care of myself five or six books in - Cliff starts exercising. I try to keep alcohol consumption down - likewise, Cliff cuts down his drinking."

The changes are sometimes structural, such as when Hardy's office in Darlinghurst was renovated in real life, so he has since moved to Newtown.

Sometimes Corris even plants books he's reading in the plot, which help punctuate the action. In Deep Water Hardy reads Julian Barnes's Arthur And George and James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia. "Cliff's never read anything I haven't read," Corris says.

But Corris insists Hardy is a complete fantasy figure in the way the detective can prevail against the odds. "His physical capabilities are way beyond anything I could do . . . and his sexual prowess is considerably greater than mine," Corris says with a grin. "But the sense of humour, the take on life, the take on politics and religion - these are absolutely me."

Corris invented Hardy after reading American crime fiction writers Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Ross Macdonald. "Hardy was a straight pinch from Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe," he says.

I seem to remember reading a piece of Corris's in an issue of the late-lamented "National Times" from the late 70s or early 80s - about the time the Hardy series started. As I recall Corris was at a crime convention somewhere in the States and told someone there that he intended to write an ongoing PI crime series set in Sydney. They just about laughed in his face. Not any longer I suspect.

Deborah Forster Interview

Deborah Forster's first novel, The Book of Emmett, has just been published, and she spoke to Jo Case from Readings about the novel, Melbourne and her previous work as a journalist.

This is a very Melbourne novel, anchored in a rich sense of place -- not just the "blasted landscape" of Footscray, but the cramped streets of North Melbourne, the Lifesaver-coloured cottages of Kensington and the perfect peaches and strong coffees of the Queen Victoria markets. How integral was the setting for you?

I see place as another character in this novel and I wanted the place and the people to reflect each other, to reflect the toughness of Footscray people as well as their sweetness. I love those places. That Footscray has gone now, it's changed as everything always changes. When I was a kid, I wasn't so crazy about it. I craved trees and flowers and pretty houses, much more like it's become. Originally the book was set more in North Melbourne and I researched the market and discovered there's a cemetery still under the big car park. A cemetery was strictly divided according to race and religion. Amazing. I lived in North Melbourne when I was young and grew to love it. The Queen Victoria Market is beloved in this city and it seems almost spiritual to me in its beauty. All that glorious fresh food.

Max Barry Interview

Max Barry, author of the novels Jennifer Government and Company, has started releasing a novel online, one page a day. You can try out page one of Machine Man for free.

Angela Meyer, of the "LiteraryMinded" weblog, was so intrigued by the concept that she asked the author about it all.

It's not like it's never been done before, but you may be one of the first Australian authors depositing installments of a novel into cyberspace day-by-day with Machine Man. What made you decide to tell this particular story this way?

I really liked the idea of each installment being short. I love the net, but never thought it was a great way to deliver novels, because novels demand long periods of undivided attention, whereas I can't read more than eight sentences of anything online before feeling the urge to check my email. And that's including when I'm reading my email.

So a novel delivered one chapter at a time via the web never seemed right to me -- particularly a novel written as a regular print book. The art and medium just didn't fit. But I heard about these tiny, bestselling Japanese novels delivered via text message, and found that intriguing. At that time I had the basic idea for Machine Man and a few hundred dull, ponderous words that sucked all life out of it: when I thought of that idea in a compressed, electronic format, it came alive again. The format changed the nature of the story.

Kristina Olsson Interview

Kristina Olsson's second novel, The China Garden, has been chosen as the April selection for the "Courier-Mail" Big Book Club. The author is interviewed in the paper by Madeline Healy.

That Olsson has written a story of an "odd or lost boy" should not surprise. Her mother Yvonne, on the run from her abusive husband, had her first child Peter snatched from her arms by his father on a train when he was one. The family did not see Peter again until he was 37. He later contracted polio and faced challenges.

"In all of the writing I've done there's been an odd boy, a boy missing someone," Olsson says. "Because there has been missing boys in my family. I guess it's a way of bringing them home for me; it's a preoccupation."

The story of her brother Peter will be told in Olsson's next book, a memoir tentatively titled Lost Boys, which traces the lives of Yvonne and her family.

But The China Garden, Olsson says, was the book she had to write before the memoir, while she gathered permission to write Lost Boys after her mother died in 2001. "I couldn't write my mother's story as fiction -- it needed to be non-fiction and I needed to talk to all of the family before I did that," Olsson says.

Garry Disher Interview

Liz Porter, of "The Age", talks to Garry Disher, Victorian-based author of the Challis and Wyatt series of crime novels.

"Social diversity creates social tension," says the writer, who has just had Blood Moon published, his fifth book in the series featuring crimes that happen on the watch of Detective Inspector Hal Challis of the Waterloo police crime investigation unit.

"There are disadvantaged housing estates a couple of kilometres away from wealthy communities. That kind of social tension leads to crime and helps me to find plots. The fallout of poverty and job loss are just as important to me as matters of police procedure.

"I don't want to beat the reader over the head with a message. But crime fiction does give you the room to explore strain in the community. Literary fiction has let us down in that regard." But is there enough crime on the peninsula for a writer whose books are gritty and realistic as Disher's?

"I reckon I have bumped up the murder rate significantly," he says. "But there have been some horrifying crimes on or near the peninsula. Just reading the local paper I get a sense of an undercurrent of small, mean and petty crimes -- muggings, thefts and bashings."

The interview also brings the excellent news that Disher has a new Wyatt novel just about finished. It is due
for release next year.

Paul Jennings Interview

"The Courier-Mail" newspaper out of Queensland continues its good work interviewing Australian authors with Christopher Bantick this week talking to Paul Jennings. The author is probably best known for such works as Wicked, Unreal!: Eight Surprising Stories, and Unbelievable!: More Surprising Stories. His latest work is The Nest, a novel for young adults.

Obsessive compulsive behaviour as a topic for a book is about as far away from toilet humour as a writer can get.

So when Melbourne-based author Paul Jennings who is well-known for his many quirky and funny children's stories, decided to write on the topic in his latest book The Nest (Penguin, $19.95) it took him four years to complete.

"I've never taken as long over a book. The Nest took me four years. The story was quite a struggle. I start most books with my reader in mind. With this book, I began with the idea that I would write about a boy who had unwanted thoughts and images that were disturbing," Jennings says.

"I knew straight away that it couldn't be for primary school children with that topic. I don't believe that you should present the world to be a dark and scary place to this age group.

"At one stage I even thought it might be an adult book. Then I came to the conclusion that the person I wanted to speak to was aged about 15."

You can also read an extract from the novel on the Penguin Books website.

Linda Jaivin Interview

Linda Jaivin's latest novel is titled A Most Immoral Woman. Deborah Bogle interviewed the author for "The Courier-Mail".

"Good writing about sex is like good writing on any subject," Jaivin says. "The words must express exactly what the author wants to express, and do it in a way that feels fresh and interesting while advancing the plot and -- or -- revealing something about character.

"Bad writing about sex is always much worse than bad writing about nearly any other subject you can name," she says.

There is a scene in her new novel, A Most Immoral Woman (Fourth Estate, $32.99), where Jaivin guesses she walked that thin line, and perhaps even teetered over the edge.

"I have a moment in here where I felt I was going for it, where all of her clothes fall to the floor in order," says Jaivin, reaching for the book. "The urgency with which furs and hats and shoes and gloves were discarded and top bodice, under-bodice, gored skirt, petticoat, corset cover, busk, corset, chemise and drawers whispered to the floor," she reads.

"How can that be urgent?" she adds, hooting with laughter. "But that's obviously from my standpoint -- done as a funny line, and maybe I'll get the bad sex award for that."

Malla Nunn Interview

Malla Nunn published A Beautiful Place to Die (a detective novel set in 1950s South Africa) last year, and has just returned to Sydney after a book tour through the US and Canada. She spoke to Winsor Dobbin for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

A new paperback edition of A Beautiful Place To Die will be released in Australia by Macmillan on April 1 and Nunn has already made a lot of progress on the second novel of what she hopes will become a series featuring Cooper, a '50s man with new-age sensibilities; and a few skeletons in his closet.

"If I'd written about a man truly of his times, I don't think we'd really like him - it's a difficult line to tread," she says. "He's a guy that I hope existed somewhere, in some form, in 1950s South Africa."

At that time, the colour of a man's or woman's skin mattered far more than guilt or innocence - and as someone who lived in the apartheid state I was amazed at how well Nunn captured the sense of malevolence and hopelessness.

"I drew heavily on the experiences of my parents and my grandmother," she says. "There is something about people who consider themselves to be above everyone else - a casual brutality about their lives.

"They may not even set out to be like that but fear, fear of the unknown, drove people to enact those laws."

David Malouf Profile

"The Weekend Australian" has published a large profile of Australian author David Malouf as his new novel, Ransom, is about to be released.

"I want books to unfold as if they were dreams and even to have the logic of dreams," Malouf says, sitting at his kitchen table in inner-suburban Sydney one recent afternoon. He rarely gives interviews, but his first novel in several years is about to appear and his publishers, presumably, have persuaded him. "I deliberately don't plan where the writing is going so that things can happen with the same unpredictability, with the same process of association rather than logical unfolding. That provides something for the reader as well: the reader has something like the same sense of discovery that the writer does. "As a writer, discipline for me is to learn more and more how to fall quickly into that state."
The publisher's page has a release date of 1 April 2009, and the following description of the book:
With learning worn lightly and in his own lyrical language, David Malouf revisits Homer's ILIAD. Focusing on the unbreakable bonds between men - Priam and Hector, Patroclus and Achilles, Priam and the cart-driver hired to retrieve Hector's body. Pride, grief, brutality, love and neighbourliness are explored. The minute you finish this novel you will want to return to the beginning and start all over again.

Wendy Harmer Interview

With her fourth novel for adults, Roadside Sisters, due out on March 30th, Wendy Harmer talks to Madeline Healy of "The Courier-Mail".

"I wouldn't trust myself to write a literary novel because I'd want to make it funny."


A veteran in radio (she spent 11 years hosting Sydney radio station 2Day FM's top-rating breakfast show), Harmer says she aims to write books all readers can enjoy.

"A lot of the time people come to me and say, I read your book in one sitting," Harmer says. "And I think, I wish I'd made it more complex or more literary, but I do love the fact that I've written a book people find easy to read. The way I write is to write books without bumps. I don't like having to go back in a book to try to work out who is who, and what's happened before."

Harmer says there is a lot of snobbery about women's fiction and that literary critics think chick lit "will rot your teeth".

"I think on most bedside tables there will be a copy of a chick lit book, a favourite classic and a magazine," Harmer says. "Chick lit sells and that's helping keep the industry going, especially at the moment."

Lee Fox Interview

Lee Fox, author of the children's book Jasper McFlea Will Not Eat His Tea (illustrated by Micth Vane) is interviewed by Fran Metcalf for "The Courier-Mail".

Apart from writing books, Fox conducts writing and reading workshops for school children.

It's an ironic outcome, she says, since she was raised in a family that didn't read much by a father who believed women were made to be wives and mothers.

"When I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher but when I asked Dad about how to become one, he said you needed to go to university but that girls didn't need to get an education so I should just forget about that," she says.

"There were no books in our house when I was growing up.

"I discovered the library when I was seven and my best friend took me there.

"I was amazed that you could take three books home and bring them back the next week and get three more."

Jennifer Fallon Interview

Jennifer Fallon, author of the The Demon Child, The Second Sons, The Hythrun Chronicles and The Tide Lords series of fantasy novels, is interviewed by Gary Kemble for the ABC's "Articulate" weblog.

Q. You're a speculative fiction writer, but I'd like you to speculate on the future of Australian speculative fiction! How will technology affect the lives of Australian writers? Is the tyranny of distance a thing of the past?

As a writer from Alice Springs who is published all over the world, I've never considered the tyranny of distance in the first place. I had an agent in Sydney for two years before I met her. I was published for three or four years before I ever met my Australian editor. I've never even spoken on the phone to my US or UK publishers, or my US or European agents. The world functions quite well on email.

As for the future of Australian spec fic, I'm probably not the person to ask. This is partly because I don't think of myself as specifically an "Australian" spec fic writer. I'm just a writer and my work is just as valid (or not, if it sucks) as any writer from the US, the UK or Outer Mongolia. I've never expected or assumed that being Australian makes a difference.

Marshall Browne Profile

Marshall Browne's new novel, The Iron Heart, features his German auditor Franz Schmidt, who first appeared in The Eye of the Abyss in 2002. Browne now has three series running: Italian Inspector Anders (see my review of Inspector Anders and the Blood Vendetta), Japanese Hideo Aoki, and the German Franz Schmidt.

The author talked to Jason Steger for "The West Australian".

Browne says he is interested in damaged heroes: Schmidt has only one eye; Anders only one leg; and he says that while Aoki is "intact physically, he's not intact psychologically. He's got a lot of things missing from his make-up in that respect."

But he writes from an image, not the character. Anders he saw in his mind's eye getting off a train in Italy and walking in a funny way. "I thought he's got an artificial leg and he was coming to this southern Italian town where there was a lot of trouble and there was a woman and she was going to take him further into this trouble. All this came in the first 30 seconds of thinking about it in bed one morning."

Schmidt was different, but not much. An image of him walking with a woman and a child to catch a tram in what looked like a German city in the 1930s. The eye problems came from Browne's father, who had just lost one.

Some writers plot their crime fiction to the nth degree; not Browne. He says he doesn't know where he's going when he starts a novel. "I set off and hope for the best. There's a lot of false starts, a lot of revision, but I'm not planning the end at all. I don't think I'd find it too interesting if I knew what was going to happen at the end."

Marion Halligan Interview

Marion Halligan, winner of the Nita Kibble Literary Award and Age Book of the Year Award for Fiction, has a new novel, Valley of Grace, in the bookshops. The author is interviewed in "The Courier-Mail" by Christopher Bantick.

Given that Valley of Grace began as a short story, the development of the characters is patiently paced and methodical. This is a marker of how Halligan works. She wants her readers to know her characters well before she introduces the thematic concerns.

"All my novels are really a set of short stories. This was very evident in Lovers' Knots, which was a family saga with all the boring bits left out. I can see this in Valley of Grace, where we have a set of characters. We all live our lives like this. We are the heroes of our own stories but we're the small players in others stories as well.

"The way I had structured the novel, there are a set of characters with their own roles, and yet roles in other peoples' lives. They are all knotted together. It is a technique that I love.

"There is a linear narrative movement in Valley of Grace where there is a beginning and resolution at the end. But it is essentially the knotting up in the middle that really interests me.

"There are several kinds of relationships here and one of the things strongly evoked, besides the desire to have babies, is the importance of sex in the story."

Steven Amsterdam Interview and Review

Steven Amsterdam, author of Things We Didn't See Coming, is interviewed by Kevin Rabalais for the "Readings" weblog.

Things We Didn't See Coming, Amsterdam's debut novel, is that all-too-rare book that will incite a cult following, while simultaneously welcoming popular appeal. This is fiction of high order, and in it Amsterdam establishes himself as a writer of great vision and compassion.

The novel begins on New Year's Eve 1999. As Y2K fears escalate, the nameless narrator, aged ten in the first chapter, flees an anonymous city with his parents to hole up at his grandparents' house in the country. In the ensuing chapters, Amsterdam tracks his narrator through an unspecified country that has been ravaged by plague, drought, fires and floods. There are barricades and quarantines.Wars rage across the country's desolate landscape. Amsterdam invents horses that are bred to ride on water after the melting of the ice caps and throws in a fair share of sex, drugs and guns. This is the Wild West without cowboy hats, science fiction without the science, some kind of radical and daring offspring of Cormac McCarthy and Philip K. Dick.

The first review of the book I've seen is by Angela Meyer on the "LiteraryMinded" weblog, who says:
Things We Didn't See Coming is a series of vignettes, from different stages of the unnamed protagonist's life in a dystopian alterno-present/future. It is a post-apocalyptic story, but told in a hard-boiled, yet highly resonant literary style. The sentences are sharp, the character is hard and the environment is one of rapid change and ruin -- but throughout there is also deep resistance. The book acts to massage you at your core, and every secondary character met along the way (no matter how fleeting) leaves a poignant stain on character and reader. They are examples from all of humanity's shredded social standings -- how different people would deal with natural disasters, segregation (between urban and land environments), political situations (and radical politics), survival against disease, and more.

Eva Hornung Interview

Eva Hornung, under the name Eva Sallis, published Hiam, which won the Australian/Vogel Literary award in 1997, and The Marsh Birds, which was shortlisted for a number of Australian literary awards in 2006. Now the author has a new novel, Dog Boy, about to be published. She spoke to Jane Sullivan of "The Age".

She's always written, but never thought of herself as a writer until her first novel, Hiam, won the Vogel award. That affirmation sparked an intense six-week creative period. She wrote during all her waking hours and produced drafts of two novels, though it then took seven years to get them into print.

In Hornung's latest story, Romochka, a four-year-old boy living in Moscow, is abandoned by his parents. He finds refuge with a mother dog he calls Mamochka, who gives him milk, and he begins a difficult and dangerous new life in the mother's lair with her offspring. Most of the story is told from Romochka's point of view: a boy who, fighting daily for survival, identifies far more with dogs than with humans.

"I hope it's a disturbing book," Hornung says. "I don't think there are any easy answers about our relationship with animals, except that animals are perhaps closer to us than we think."

She expects readers will see the novel as a departure from her previous fiction -- written under the name of Eva Sallis -- which is mostly about the experiences of migrants and refugees, particularly from the Arab world. "But for me, it's really harping on the same old things. The notion of where the self resides, and under what pressure the self expands or contracts. What it means to belong, whether in family, community, nation -- or species."

Margo Lanagan Watch #2

Reviews of Tender Morsels

Ken on the "Neth Space" weblog: "The underlying reality of humanity lies at the heart of this story. It's a world of overwhelming cruelty interspersed with acts of incredible kindness and everything in between."

Deirdre Baker in "The Toronto Star": "Based on the tale Snow White and Rose Red and a Catalonian bear ritual, this powerfully imaginative, compelling novel explores trauma and desire, transformation and healing. Lanagan's vivid language and masterful use of mythic imagery give it extraordinary depth and beauty."

"BookLoons" weblog: "Though her story begins in darkness and abuse, Margo Lanagan moves it steadily and assuredly into the light, with strong (mainly female) characters, intriguing magics, and beautiful writing. Tender Morsels will stay with you long after you turn the last page."

"The Celebrity Cafe" weblog: "The plot moves like a leaf caught in the river's grasp, sometimes speeding along over white water and other times floating aimlessly. There are bright moments when the course is clear and well written here and there, but the uneven narrative and disconcerting point of view changes make Tender Morsels a thorny story to follow."

Review of Red Spikes

"Needs More Demons?" weblog: "Lanagan isn't one for big dumps of exposition. She demands a willingness to read a few pages before you're quite sure what's going on, and perhaps to re-read as your understanding grows. Her prose and structure are fiercely economical."

Review of short fiction

"Chasing Ray" weblog on "The Goosle": "It's hard to simply recommend "The Goosle" because it is upsetting -- it disturbs as much as it enlightens. But some stories are supposed to scare the crap out of us; some stories are supposed to make us wary for what might come or thankful for what we have."

Interviews

Lynne Jamneck on Suite101.com:

You deal with a number of dark themes in your latest novel, Tender Morsels, including rape and sexual abuse. How do you respond to those who would object that this is not a book suitable for young readers?

I'd agree that it isn't a book that's suitable for all young readers. I'd agree that it shouldn't be compulsory reading on a school curriculum. However, I think young readers generally have a pretty clear idea what they're ready for and what they can't handle yet, and I'd say, 'How about we put it out there where they can find it, and trust them to walk away from it if it's too much for them?' I would also point out that it's not the best book for adults to read if they're in any kind of fragile state. It's a very intense book; it kicks you around emotionally. You need to be feeling resilient to take on the first part, particularly.

Margo was also a part of my Australian LitBlog Snapshot in December 2008 (the link isn't working for this at present).

Other

"Publisher's Weekly" chose Tender Morsels as one of its best children's books of the year for 2008, stating: "Dense, atmospheric prose holds readers to a cautious pace in an often dark fantasy that explores the savage and gentlest sides of human nature and how they coexist."

In addition, Tender Morsels appeared on the "best of 2008" or "recommended reading for 2008" lists from the following: "Locus" magazine, "School Library Journal", and Amazon.

In early February 2009, Margo Lanagan was "blogger-in-residence" at the State Library's Reading Victoria program. You can read the introductory post here.

This continued a busy schedule for the author in the early part of 2009 as she had previously appeared as one of the tutors at the 2009 Clarion South writer's workshop in January.

Clive James Watch #12

Review of Angels over Elsinore: Collected Verse 2003-2008

Bill Greenwell in "The Independent": "Much of the verse collected here (from 2003-2008) is very funny. James can write slow-fuse poems as well as George Burns told jokes. They develop, do a little hoofing along the way, arrive at a well-timed, laconic conclusion. James being James, there is a casually rich mix of cultural allusions, but the most important quality is complete clarity. Sometimes he can be sonorous, and achieve only a slightly artificial note of grandeur, as in a poem about a painting: 'Art must choose/ What truly merits perpetuity/ From everything that we are bound to lose.' This is that fatal thing, not-quite-Larkin."

You can read the title poem of this collection here.

Essay by James
"Getting rich quick - and having much more money than you ever need - will look as pointless as taking bodybuilding too seriously, says Clive James", on the BBC News website.

In "Poetry" magazine, James has a second look at Stephen Edgar's poem, "Man on the Moon", and comes to realise why he thought it was so good on the first look.

Interviews
James is interviewed about his musical interests by Paul Mardles for "The Guardian".

Unquestionably, James knows how songwriting works, having made six albums in the 70s with Pete Atkin, who wrote the folky music to his sidekick's pointed words. Now, three decades after being "blown away by punk", their back catalogue is to be reissued, encouraging James to begin writing lyrics anew. "And I think I've improved," he says, referring to his new-found uncomplicated style. "Maybe a 30-year layoff is about right."

If James has improved with age, he is hardly unique. James Taylor has grown more interesting, he says. Ditto Leonard Cohen, whom he used to find "boring". "But then I caught on that he had the secret because even then he would produce a couple of lines that were lovely, like, 'There's a funeral in the mirror and it's stopping at your face.'" He exhales, dramatically, and pulls a startled face. "I was like, 'Wow! How did he do that?'" Some of Dylan's lyrics, too, he says, invite the same response. "Yes, I'm a huge admirer." He pauses. "Well, with qualifications. I believe I'm notorious for saying that there is no stanza in a Dylan song that is all as good as its best line, and that there's no song that's all as good as its best stanza. And I think that's largely true."

In the "Haringey Independent", James wonders: "I sometimes look at my row of books and TV programmes and think, 'How did I manage to fit that all in?'"


Video
Clive James and Robert Hughes discuss Jack Kerouac, in 1959 (!).

Other
James recently delivered the give the first Lord Forte Memorial Lecture, under the heading "Writers on Cities". The author took Florence as his subject and Sarah Sands of "The Financial Times" was there to listen.

James will be appearing at the Cheltenham Town Hall in Gloucestershire later this year.

On February 1st, the South Bank Show was broadcast on ITV1 in the UK. It carried the following description: "Beyond the Footlights. The arts show returns with a look through the register of those students of the comedic arts who learnt their trade among the Footlights at Cambridge University. Stephen Fry, Griff Rhys Jones, John Fortune, Clive James and David Mitchell top the bill as pontificators on the influence of the Footlights on mainstream and alternative comedy. Plus a plethora of comic clips featuring alumni of this ultimate school of comedy. Presented by Melvyn Bragg."

Kate Grenville Watch #5

Reviews of The Lieutenant

Jay Parini in "The Guardian": "Grenville inhabits characters with a rare completeness. The focus of The Secret River was the highly circumscribed mind of Thornhill. In The Lieutenant, Rooke's thoughts and perceptions take centre stage; the whole world unfurls from his viewpoint, and little escapes his capacious intellect. He revels in everything from mathematical problems to Latin declensions...Grenville explores the natural rifts that arise between settlers and native people with a deep understanding of the ambiguities inherent in such conflicts."
Melissa McClements in "The Financial Times": "Sydney-born author Kate Grenville tackled the evils of colonialism in her previous novel, The Secret River, about a London thief who is deported to Australia. His desire for private land leads to violent clashes with the Aborigines, who are bewildered by the very concept of possession. In Grenville's latest book, she again examines the colliding worlds of the Georgians and the Aborigines, at a time when Australia was a dumping ground for Britain's overcrowded penal system. The Lieutenant, however, is a story of burgeoning comprehension, rather than mutual miscomprehension...In less capable hands, this could make The Lieutenant either mawkishly sentimental or rigidly polemical, but Grenville manages to avoid both. Genuinely affecting, her new novel is another capable tranche of character-based, historical fiction and a worthy foil to its predecessor."
Lucy Atkins in "The Times": "Initially, the novel is hard-going. There is plenty of information about Rooke -- his interest in mathematical constructs or rocks or the mechanism of a rifle, his mum's oatmeal, his little sister. But he seems documented rather than felt, perpetually once removed. This may be a deliberate strategy, but it makes the early part of the book feel distinctly flat. Then, about halfway through, Rooke's emotional journey really kicks in...Inevitably, 200-odd years of retrospective guilt hang over this book. But Grenville's touch is light here, too. There are occasional nods to history (Tagaran's language, observes Rooke, has 'the very cadence of forgiveness') but no self-indulgence."
Marg on the "Reading Adventures" weblog: "Not long before I started blogging back in 2005, I read The Secret River by Kate Grenville. Set at the time of the First Fleet it looked at the relationship between white settlers and the native Australian Aborigines who were already here. Grenville returns to this same setting in The Lieutenant...Whilst the setting is similar, there are significant differences between the two stories. In this novel, Grenville has pared the narrative right back to the basics of the story. We are very much focussed on Rooke's life, and his interactions. For me, this made The Lieutenant a much stronger, more interesting book."

Review of The Secret River

Wendy on "The List - Books for the Obsessive Reader" weblog: "Grenville shows the wide gap between English and Aboriginal cultures...and the tremendous misunderstanding fueled by an inability to adequately communicate. Her prose is magnificent as she describes the land of Australia and gradually builds the tension between the characters, before bringing the novel to its inevitable and devastating conclusion. I was completely absorbed by this historical piece of work which is evocative, poetic and pulsing with the life of a time far in the past."

Essays by the Author

Grenville discusses the origins of The Secret River for "The Guardian" Book Club. You can also read John Mullan's piece about the same book for the same Book Club.

Author appearances

The author will be appearing at the Perth Writers' Festival at the end of February
2009.

Interview with Katherine Scholes

Tasmanian author Kathreine Scholes has a new novel out, The Hunter's Wife. As it is released she is interviewed by Christopher Bantick for "The Courier-Mail".

Scholes had finished the manuscript for The Hunter's Wife before she returned to Tanzania last year. What readers will find is a novel written by someone who knows the country intimately. She says that even after more than three decades, there was a profound sense of belonging.

"I really felt incredibly strongly connected to the landscape," she says. "This was interesting as we landed in Zanzibar on the coast which is tropical and nothing like where we grew up. Just as Tasmania has become such a part of me, I was often puzzled how this far inland area of East Africa on a flat dusty plain, how that could feel like home to me. It did; right down to the smell of the dust."

So notwithstanding her evocative return to the land of her childhood, does Scholes feel more African than anything else?

"I do," she says without hesitation. "I actually came home to Tasmania feeling I was a born-again Tanzanian. When I went back, I was welcomed as a Tanzanian. I was referred to as a child of the land. It felt very special."

Interview with Kate Morton

Kate Morton is the author of two novels, The Shifting Fog and The Forgotten Garden. The second of these has been selected for Queensland's Big Book Club, and, as Morton gets ready the tour the state for the Club, she is interviewed for "The Courier-Mail" by Madeline Healy about her upcoming novel.

Set in 1940s England in the Kentish countryside, The Distant Hours looks at a time in World War II when the English were convinced a German invasion was not far off.

"And of course there's a bit of the future in there as well," Morton says.

She likes to mix up the past and present, taking readers on a journey back into the last century where secrets are uncovered and questions answered.

"But I wouldn't call myself a historical novelist," Morton says.

"I pick periods I'm interested in but wouldn't say I write historical fiction. I don't think that way because my interest in the past is always in relation to the future.

"The 20th century is a gift for me as a novelist."

J.M. Coetzee Watch #13

Reviews of Disgrace

Sowmya on the "Shallow Thoughts to profound Insights" weblog: "The entire book is from the protagonists perspective. Only his thoughts, view points and philosophy is projected. As one reads the book, one understands the other characters only from the conversation that the protagonist has with them. Nothing is explained. One also feels the frustrations the protagonist feels because he cannot understand the people around him. The reader cannot too. In course of reading the book, the reader experiences only the protagonists world because that is the only 'truth' that is projected. It is like living life without feedback. Uni-dimensional."

Spudz on the "Eclectic Indulgence" weblog: "I found myself lacking any interest in the characters, and the African landscape was not shown as beautiful or hideous... it was simply not shown. If I wasn't continually reminded the story took place in Africa, I wouldn't have noticed a difference. The prose was poor and the plot simply had trouble developing."

Reviews of Waiting for the Barbarians

"Book Club Classics" weblog: "Coetzee does create a 3-dimensional character in the narrator and his journey from a position of power to imprisonment to humility was reluctantly engaging. I also enjoyed contemplating what 'freedom' means when one is imprisioned -- freedom of thought, freedom of action, freedom of belief."

Other

The Harvard Crimson magazine names Coetzee as one of its "Five Melancholy Elderly Literary Men": "On this list, J. M. Coetzee is the youngest -- and the most melancholy. In his famous 1999 novel Disgrace, he showed the late-life education of a literature professor forced, in a post-literate age, to teach 'Communications'. He returned to the
theme in his more recent novel -- it was released on Dec. 27, 2007, to avoid end-of-the-year-list mania on the blogs -- Diary of a Bad Year. More humane and generous than Disgrace, less tightly controlled, the book nonetheless argues that no one reads books anymore." The others on the list are John Updike, V. S. Naipaul, Philip Roth and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

"The Existence Machine" weblog posts a quote from Youth.

"The Visual Wikipedia" has produced a kind of mind map based on Coetzee which allows you to navigate his career and works using visual cues. It looks like the text is taken from the standard Wikpedia entry on the author.

Upcoming

A new book, Summertime, is due out in the UK in early September. Can't find any mention of it on the Text Publishing website, the author's most recent Australian publisher.

Sonya Hartnett Watch #1

Reviews of Butterfly

Sophie Masson in "The Australian":

The first novel of Sonya Hartnett's that I read was the haunting Wilful Blue (1994). Hartnett's lush yet fresh prose, spiced with gothic, her novel's combination of intense observation, sensual detail, pervasive melancholy, sensational events and characters with unusual, fin-de-race names, had for me more the feel of, say, American southern literature, or the work of writers such as Wilkie Collins, than what we were accustomed to in Australian literature... ...Hartnett's interest is in the way families work -- especially unhappy ones, of course, following Tolstoy's dictum -- and most especially in sibling relationships, whether it's the twisted sibling relations of Sleeping Dogs or Princes, or the more positive ones of Butterfly. The way in which family relations, especially between siblings, can alleviate or worsen the loneliness of the individual is important in most of her books, but especially so in this one.
Owen Richardson in "The Age": "When Sonya Hartnett published Landscape with Animals under a pseudonym, it was for fear this novel might end up falling into the hands of her younger audience: it was definitely not a book for kids. This one isn't either but it's not R-rated, though illicit love is here, and teenage dread and cruelty, and the kinds of ghosts haunting the suburbs that perhaps can only be seen by adolescents, just as dogs can pick vampires...While Hartnett doesn't overcook the ordinary miseries of childhood, nor does she lacquer them and protect us with nostalgic humour, and even if you had nicer friends when you were 13, you'll squirm in recognition."

Kristy on the "Books in Print" weblog: "Sonya Hartnett's novels are read by adults and young adults alike, and her first novel since being awarded the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (March 2008) will no doubt appeal to an audience well beyond the age of the protagonist...Butterfly is beautifully written and cleverly expresses the trials of early adolescence..".

Bookman Beattie on "Beattie's Book Blog": "Hartnett is a demanding author, she leaves much to the reader's interpretation; that is one of her hallmarks. So another impressive work of literary fiction from her but not one that worked for me."

Reviews of The Ghost's Child

Linda Newberry in "The Guardian": "It's a story that seems bigger than its generously spaced 192 pages, and the stylised illustrations by Jon McNaught -- waders silhouetted on a shore, dolphins thronging in a yacht's wake, a cloud of butterflies -- add to the sense of travelling through a world both familiar and strange."
Celia Keenan in the Irish "Independent": the book "is a poetic and beautifully written story in which an old woman is visited by a ghost child on the opening pages. Love and loss are both sensitively evoked against the backdrop of inevitable death."
Mrs. D. on the "Daniel Boone Regional Libray" weblog: "Such a lovely little book! Mrs. D. is so grateful that every once in awhile a fine writer will attempt to make us think about important things and give us a chance to learn some wisdom rather than merely entertaining us!"
Allison on the "Thumbs Up" weblog: "In the end I don't think this is thumbs up material. For such a short book it is still slow and I don't see it as having wide teen appeal."

Reviews of The Silver Donkey

Angela Youngman on the "Monsters and Critics" website: "Beautifully written with simple shadowy illustrations; this is a book to treasure. It is imaginative, and thoughtful. War is not shown as glorious -- it is shown as sad and useless. You can really feel the tension, the way in which the children strive to understand and help."

Reviews of Surrender

Lisa May on the "Look at that Book" weblog: "Hands down, Surrender is a fantastic book...I wouldn't recommend it for younger readers, though.. the story is bleak and heartbreaking."
quippe on "LiveJournal": "Despite some well executed tense moments, this book is overwritten in a prose that's sometimes a rich shade of indigo. Lacking the action and pace to be the thriller that it advertises itself as, the twist ending so cliche that I almost threw the book at the wall on reading it."

Interviews

Jo Case on "Readings.com".
Christopher Bantick in "The Courier Mail".
Margaret Throsby on "Life is Beautiful", ABC Classic FM.

Other
Hartnett will be appearing at the 2009 Perth Writers' Festival.

Peter Porter Interview

An interview I missed when I was interstate over the Australia Day long weekend is Darleen Bungey's with poet Peter Porter published in "The Australian" newspaper.

Porter's dreams, he let slip in an earlier conversation, are still apocalyptic and continue every night. By day, he hunts them back down and fashions them into intricate works. "Poetry has to be made, it doesn't lie around waiting for you to pick it up; words are its material," he says. Porter doesn't use these images from what he calls "the alternative world" directly, but tries to capture their strange atmosphere. "The waking life is constantly under control but produces all the material the sleeping life uses," he says. "Things that are only reportage in life come alive in the experience of the dream world. A poet has to have invention, like a novelist, you don't just sit there and pour a bucket of blood over the page."


Porter's invention is broad. He employs all manner of rhyme, meter and form, with a rich variety of stage and cast, from the interior of a quiet English church to a war-waging Greek god; from felines to contemporary fat cats; from a Renaissance painter to a serial killer; from the shores of the Shoalhaven River on the NSW south coast to the mouth of the Deben Estuary in Suffolk, England.

While he often uses colloquialisms, he freely quotes German and Latin and some of the most obscure words in the English language. "Poetry," he says, "is language at its most concentrated form."

Sonya Hartnett Interview

A new Sonya Hartnett novel is always a treat in our house, as it is one of the few novels that my wife, my teenage daughter and I will all be guaranteed to read. Her latest, Butterfly, is out and about in the bookshops and she is interviewed by Christopher Bantick in "The Courier Mail".

Hartnett makes tea and with Shiloh at her feet reflects on her own teenage years.

"I can't remember particularly having an extremely difficult teenage-hood," she says. "I had an older sister who did the extreme things on behalf of all of us. I used to watch her and her behaviour and say that it was really stupid and embarrassing. I wanted to keep a lid on it as a teenager.

"I certainly had my moments. I had feelings of such frustration and rage and self-hatred; all the kinds of things that you go through. I was not a wild kind of kid. If anything, I just became more withdrawn and sullen. I guess I came through my teenage years relatively unscathed."

Even with Hartnett as an emerging writer as a teenager, it comes as a surprise when she says being an author was not an aim.

"I never knew when I was an adolescent that I was going to be a writer, I still don't. Adolescence was when I started to write. Back then was when I was really absolutely in love with doing it.

"It was a feeling that was to last until I got to my early 30s. That sustained me for a long time. But back in those days, this was the time when I really used to fall in love with my characters. That's long in the past."

Sonia Orchard Interview

Jacinta Halloran, of Readings bookshop, interviews Sonia Orchard, whose new novel The Virtuoso has just been released. The novel draws on the life of Australian pianist Noel Mewton-Wood, who committed suicide in London, in 1953, at the age of 31.

When writing fiction about a real person, the border between fact and fantasy can sometimes become problematic for the novelist. The creation of a fictional narrator relieved Orchard of some of her concerns in this regard. "I initially struggled with the notion of how much I should stick to the facts [of Mewton-Wood's life] but, once I had decided to write from the point of view of a fictional and very unreliable narrator, I felt the problem was solved. I also follow the postmodern idea that there is no one absolute truth and that every viewpoint has its own agenda." However, she coloured The Virtuoso with anecdotes from Mewton-Wood's friends, and stayed true to factual details concerning his concert dates and programming details. "These things gave me something to work with."

The narrator of The Virtuoso is a remarkable creation. Through him, the intriguing life of Mewton-Wood is chronicled with meticulous detail, and yet there is much about Mewton-Wood -- his deeper thoughts and feelings about his art and his talent -- that the narrator does not know or understand. By creating this obsessed and somewhat deluded narrator, Orchard has intentionally left us with a sense of mystery surrounding Mewton-Wood's true self. "I fell in love with Mewton-Wood during my researching of his life, so I wanted to write about him from the perspective of an obsessed fan or lover. There remains something elusive about him. People I interviewed had contradictory ideas about his personality and no-one really understood why he committed suicide."

Christos Tsiolkas Interview

In addition to the "Combined Reviews" post, of a few weeks back, regarding The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, we can now add Angela Meyer, of the "LiteraryMinded" weblog interviewing the author.

One of the main themes through the book, to me, seems to be the notion that we live now, in Australia, in an age of new conservatism and over-the-top political correctness. Is this something you wanted readers to think about?

At one point while working on the second draft of the novel I was tempted to put a prologue and an epilogue, the prologue being just before the "Tampa" election and the epilogue being just after Rudd wins the most recent election. I'm glad I didn't do that as it is obvious that readers can do that work for themselves and that it might have been misread as an end-of-an-era critique which is not how I imagine the world and communities the characters in The Slap live in. It is too simplistic and facile to place all that is unsettling or ugly or uncomfortable in contemporary Australia on John Howard's shoulders and not to see the continuity in politics and practices between Keating, Howard and Rudd, for example. It seemed to me that a significant change occurred in Australian society over the last twenty years that has seen a withering away of traditional notions of Australian class and of a supposed ethos of egalitarianism. That was a very conscious decision to set the novel in the backyards and bars and coffee shops of a new middle-class which does not necessarily look or sound anything like the middle-class that usually inhabits the pages of Australian fiction or is on our cinema and television screens. This is a middle-class as much wog as it is anglo, a middle-class that emerges as much from the working class as it does from the world of universities and the eastern suburbs. This shift in the cultural landscape of urban Australia is about money, the global economic boom of the nineties and early twenty-first century, and because it is about capital and status the values embodied in this shift are conservative and materialistic. In a strange way the book may turn out to be an end-of-an-era work not because of the electoral shift from Liberal to Labor but because of the consequences of the contemporary economic crisis.

And that statement makes it even more imperative that I pick up a copy and read it.

Shaun Tan Watch #1

Note: this will probably be a long one. I'm way behind on checking out Shaun Tan's links.

Reviews of The Arrival

David Mathews on the "express buzz" website: "Straddling the divide between children's picture book and adult graphic novel to splendid effect, The Arrival, by Australian illustrator Shaun Tan, is one of those rare beasts: a wholly graphic fiction that dispenses with the use of words entirely. Rare, because it is so remarkably difficult -- when attempting to tell an engaging and comprehensible story solely in pictures -- to avoid a descent into monotonous exposition."
Douglas on the "Hell in a Kiss" weblog: "The photorealistic drawing precision of the known, devoid of any identification, is in constant interaction with the imaginative plane of the new and the strange. They playfully mix into landscapes of the mind where history and the future blend effortlessly and everyday objects are enveloped with the magical aura of an archetype nostalgia and an imprecise shape of things to come. If nevertheless, this is a measure of the things to come from Shaun Tan, then we are in for some pleasant surprises in the future."
The "From Word to Word" weblog: "I was at the library with my two sons, and I happened to see Shaun Tan's The Arrival out on a table as I was following my youngest on his energetically random path. I read as I followed, and I was soon utterly immersed in the story, in its blending of the fantastic and the familiar, in its almost tactile sense of intimacy."

Reviews of Tales from Outer Suburbia

"Publisher's Weekly" gave it a starred review (it's a fair way down the page): "The term 'suburbia' may conjure visions of vast and generic sameness, but in his hypnotic collection of 15 short stories and meditations, Tan does for the sprawling landscape what he did for the metropolis in The Arrival...Ideas and imagery both beautiful and disturbing will linger."
Neel Mukherjee in "Time" magazine: "Deploying pen and ink, pencil, woodcuts, crayons and oils, the drawings in the book are exalting, filling you with joy and revelation. But crucially, Tan can also write: his stories effortlessly rearrange the pattern of reality in prose that is evocative and supple."
Barbara Taylor in "The London Free Press": "Tales From Outer Suburbia demands an alert reader accepting of a fresh approach to life and literature. Within, you'll discover 15 wonderfully wacky, yet poignant stories in 96 unusually illustrated pages. The artwork is a feast for your eyes ranging from watercolours to hand-written notes to the table of contents neatly recorded on separate postage stamps. I resisted the temptation to first thumb through the colourful pages, and was later rewarded by many an abrupt, surprise ending."
Letha Colleen on the "...pursuit of happiness" weblog: "It's a collection of short stories that introduces off kilter characters and elements into neighborhoods and towns that otherwise might be perceived of as mundane. As each story is different so too are the illustration styles."
Amanda Growe and John Lucas on the "straight.com" website from Vancouver: "Tales From Outer Suburbia is more than a kids' book but not quite a graphic novel. If this latest work from Shaun Tan -- the acclaimed Australian author and illustrator behind The Arrival and The Red Tree -- is hard to categorize, that's only fitting, since the book is filled with stories that aren't quite stories. Rather, they're descriptions of the weird denizens and absurd happenings of a seemingly mundane anyplace called Outer Suburbia, where things tend to turn up in unexpected places."
JK on the "The Keepin' It Real Book Club" weblog: "Tales from Outer Suburbia is a collection of stories that whimsically tap into the imaginative potential of suburbia - often considered a sort of sterile, mass-produced cultural wasteland (a judgment not far from the truth, says this former suburbanite). Yet tales from outer suburbia challenges this stereotype, transforming suburbia into a portal to another fantastical world (literally in one story, in which a family discovers they have a secret inner courtyard in their home). Suburbia is no longer drab and dull, but rather a
departure point for any number of possible adventures."

Excerpts

"New York Magazine" has published a seven-page excerpt from Tales from Outer Suburbia.

Adaptations

A theatrical adaptation of The Arrival by Kate Parker and Julie Nolan will play at the upcoming Auckland Festival, 5-22 March 2009.
Tan is working on an animated version of his book The Lost Thing, scheduled for release in late 2009, according to Tor.com. The webpage also includes a link to a 5 minute documentary on the adaptation.

Interviews/Videos

The "inframe.tv" website films Australian artist and writer Shaun Tan introducing and discussing his work.
Lia Graigner on the "Walrus Magazine" blog.
Bernie Goedhart in "The Montreal Gazette".
Irene Gallo on "Tor.com".
Michael Shirrefs on "The Book Show", ABC Radio National.

Other

Tan has supplied the interior illustrations for Kelly Link's new short-story collection Pretty Monsters. You can get more information about that here.
There's an illustration from The Red Tree here.
And lastly, don't forget that Shaun Tan will be a Guest of Honour at Aussiecon 4, the 2010 World Science Fiction Convention being held in Melbourne in September 2010.

Tim Winton Watch #8

Reviews of Breath

Bradley Winterton in the "Tapei Times": "Winton is clearly pushing the boundaries of the dangerous sports genre to include, despite the everywhere laconic style, some questioning thoughts. His conclusions are usually ambivalent, and indeed ambiguity characterizes his attitudes in other spheres as well...So -- pro or anti surfing in possibly lethal situations? Pro or anti teenage drug use? Pro or anti the outer reaches of sexual experimentation? Winton offers a sphinx-like stare, and his final position on all these issues remains a fascinating, but to the last undivulged, secret."
Tom Sutcliffe, in an article about surprises in the world of the arts in 2008, is amazed that the Winton's book didn't make the Booker long list.
According to Nielsen BookScan, Breath sold 126,000 copies in Australia in 2008.

Short Notices

"Meeting in the aisle" weblog: "I am the first to admit I am not a member of the Tim Winton Fan Club, though I do read his stuff and even like it when I do and seem to tear through them with alarming speed for someone who tries desperately to make books last longer. The four hours it took me to make it from cover to cover for this book is a case in point - I still had 7 HOURS on a bus to go -- and would have loved to have taken longer. I think I read Winton's books so quickly because I am one, in a sense." I'm not sure how that works.
"Words and Flavours weblog: "Can breathing be more than a requirement for life and become an addiction? In Breath, Tim Winton plays on our attachment to that fundamental action to explore his characters' addictions to the extreme and the dangerous."
The novel made "Seth's Notable List" for 2008: "The more time that goes by since my reading this book -- back in July-- the more I realize that it's really staying with me."

Review of The Turning

The "into the quiet" weblog: "The Turning is a mind-blowing read. Truly. It's actually a collection of short stories, but it transcends this form and slowly and strikingly becomes a novel. As soon as I finished it I wanted to read it again."

Review of An Open Swimmer

"Tall in the land of stories" weblog: "Winton's style is sparse, and his prose stripped, pared, bordering on brutal. Language and words serve inadequately his task of bringing to paper the feelings and emotions of people, the sweeping grandeur and irresistible, immutable forces of nature. The land he lives in, the world his characters inhabit, is ancient, an overpoweringly forceful existence that pre-dates man. Perhaps, in a primordial land, about an ancient earth, one can only speak in stunted words, half-sentences, broken thoughts. Perhaps, with those long-buried memories of humans at the mercy of the elements, the half-remembered/half-forgotten terrors of existence haunting like the distant sounds of the sea, one can only write like Tim Winton. His humour is sardonic, and often oblique. In his world, in our world, emotions are simple."

Review of Dirt Music

"Flourless chocolate cake" weblog: "Unlike Cloud Street, which is difficult to engage in initially, Dirt Music is easy to immerse yourself into immediately...Personally I am not a great fan of metaphorical writing and tend to prefer a rollicking read. Winton provides both in this novel. While the plot was thin in some spots, this did not take away any of the suspense and I found that I did not want to put it down."

Film Adaptation of Dirt Music

The current rumour is that Russell Crowe will replace Heath Ledger in the cast. The Internet Movie DataBase still has Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz signed up.
The director, Phillip Noyce, has told "The Australian" newspaper that production won't start until at least 2010. Something to do with a certain Baz Luhrmann film hogging all the Outback air it seems.

Alexandra Adornetto Interview

As the third book in her Strangest Adventures series, Von Gobstopper's Arcade, is about to be published Alexandra Adornetto is interviewed in "The Courier-Mail" by Amanda Horswill. (You may recall that Adornetto received a two-book contract from HarperCollins a few years back when she was only 13.)

"Literature has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I can't think back before a time that I didn't love writing and reading. When I was really young my mother would read poems to me. I loved Edgar Allan Poe - I am sure I didn't understand it but I loved it. Then I went on to write poems and short stories. On holidays I would just write about anything and describe it - like a tree if that was all I could find.

"I never thought about writing a novel until I was 13 and that happened by chance. I was on school holidays and I was bored and I thought I just wanted to do something to occupy myself, instead of asking 'What can I do mum, entertain me'.

"I started and it really just took over, and I realised, 'Wow, this is an amazing experience'. I loved doing it."

Peter Carey Watch #10

Review of True History of the Kelly Gang

Lubna Ahmed on the "Wooden Trunk" weblog: "Contrary to the title, the story is a work of fiction on Ned Kelly's life and his rise (or is it fall?) to becoming an outlaw. Told in first person by the leader of the Kelly Gang, the story starts with his childhood and family history and moves on to his later years. The book is divided in 13 sections, called parcels, each with a small summary of its contents, giving it a very authentic air. So much so that I had to keep reading the actual version of the incidents and remind myself that it is fiction, not biography that I am reading."

Review of My Life as a Fake

"Mindful Pleasures" weblog: "Carey's My Life As A Fake is surprisingly good, considering the lukewarm-at-best reviews it received upon publication. It's a very enjoyable, original, quite clever literary novel--perhaps too clever for its own good, since it apparently flew over the heads of most reviewers. They failed to appreciate Carey's deliberate, often subtle, sometimes intertextual, provocations of disbelief, his many signals that the text we're reading is, like all the other narratives and texts it contains, a 'fake,' a fiction the validity of which must be questioned and the motives of its teller examined. It's a delicious book, delightful, maybe the most purely enjoyable thing Carey has yet written."

Other

In a review of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, Prof Mike compares the book to Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang: "Perhaps most striking is McCarthy's use of nineteenth century vernacular. In this sense it is slightly redolent of Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang (or should it be the other way round?)."
Winnipeg's "Uptown Magazine" gets a bit over-stretched in attempting a linking phrase: "And speaking of Nobel Prize winners, Peter Carey never disappoints. Latest proof: His Illegal Self (Random House Canada), a novel concerning a maternal love story between the child of domestic terrorists and an unwilling nursemaid."
Well before he left Bacchus Marsh to become the writer that he is today, Peter Carey was mentioned in "The Adventure of Black Peter", a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle: "In this memorable year '95, a curious and incongruous succession of cases had engaged his attention, ranging from his famous investigation of the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca--an inquiry which was carried out by him at the express desire of His Holiness the Pope--down to his arrest of Wilson, the notorious canary-trainer, which removed a plague-spot from the East End of London. Close on the heels of these two famous cases came the tragedy of Woodman's Lee, and the very obscure circumstances which surrounded the death of Captain Peter Carey. No record of the doings of Mr. Sherlock Holmes would be complete which did not include some account of this very unusual affair."
Peter Carey will be appearing at the New York State Writers Institute on April 7th.
Scotland's national opera company will be performing a number of new operas this year, one of which will be titled "Happy Story" written by David Fennessy and Nicholas Bone, and based on a short story by Peter Carey.
The Australian National Portrait Gallery has made available Peter Carey in Kelly Country (2000) by Bruce Armstrong.

Helen Garner Watch #7

Reviews of The Spare Room

"Publisher's Weekly": "Garner (Monkey Grip) employs her signature realism in this stunted novel about the infuriating and eye-opening experience of caring for a terminally ill loved one."
Madeleine Keane, who is literary editor of "The Sunday Independent" chose the book as one of her books of the year: "The Spare Room by Helen Garner (Cangonate) was an exquisitely-crafted novel which dealt with death -- and the indignities and injustices of cancer -- delicately and unflinchingly with humour and humanity. An overlooked gem."
Natasha on "The Book Crowd" weblog: "I read this book in one night, do I need to say anymore?...I loved this book, the emotions and frustrations seemed quite real, it was a brilliant read that opened my mind to new ways of thinking, living, feeling and understanding."
Harriet Klausner on the "Genre Go Round" weblog: "Although Helen's eternal squabbling and lecturing become irritating as she either needs to support her friend's dying wishes, which centers on miracle treatments that probably will fail or toss her out, readers will relish this poignant character study as the reactions to how to behave when pending death seems shortly."
Keri on the "bloody_keri" weblog: "This is a beautiful, haunting novel that feels like a rare jewel in that way some books do. It's too brief, and that's the first compliment I give it, a rare one given the simple yet devastating subject matter: a woman caring for a friend who is dying in the last stages of cancer. Not something I would normally want to dig into for too long and generally, the more abbreviated the better. Death is easy; the process of dying is one of those unspeakable things; the enormous white elephant in the room. Many writers have touched it, some with more success than others, but I don't think any book I've read on the subject captures the jarring mix of comedy, love and grief this one does."
Simon Savidge on the "Savidge Reads" weblog: "Well to say that I agree with all the praise from the other book bloggers have been giving this would be an understatement, in fact to say that I was blown away by it would be a complete understatement. Like many others I don't know how this didn't get onto the Man Booker long or short list." Simon also prints both the UK hardback and paperback covers for this book. The hardback is a realistic interpretation of the Text Publishing cover but the paperback has taken a different tack, one that I think is rather boring. As Simon asks, "why have they given it a new cover that simply doesn't make sense for a spare room and I can't see a single man reading on the tube etc."

Review of The Children's Bach

"The Resident Judge of Port Phillip": "I think that brevity is an intrinsic feature of this book. Like a small Bach piece, it is short and self contained, simple and yet complex. It takes a slice of life in 1980s Melbourne, and in this regard, Garner's keen observations almost provide an ethnographic (and now historical!) artefact...This is not the stuff of crashing drama: it's lived-in life, with fallible and flawed human people, mess, and making do."

Review of The Feel of Steel

Anne-Marie on the "Archives Tragic" weblog: "Helen Garner's essay collection The Feel of Steel has been republished by Picador this year and it brings forth again her lovely piece 'Woman in a green mantle'. Garner's work holds appeal for archives tragics in something like the way that Janet Malcolm's does. Wide and acute observation is bound to bring out, somewhere along the line, insights about the records and record-creation parts of our lives."

Interviews

Video of the author being interviewed by Richard Fidler, on "The Conversation Hour", ABC Radio, dated 8 December 2008.

Other

Suse recounts an anecdote from a friend about the origins of a character's name in Monkey Grip.

Clive James Watch #11

Reviews of Opal Sunset: Selected Poems, 1958-2008

Benjamin Lytal in "The LA Times": "Opal Sunset contains poems of compact grace and steady, modest emotion. James' lines, anchored by memorable phrases and obviously the production of a serious verbal talent, more than fulfill James' meager definition of poetry, that it be sayable."

Articles by James

What we need is thinking action heroes, but less swearing.
Under the title "Terror Chic", James looks at a film adaptation of the events surrounding the Baader Meinhof terrorists in Germany in the mid-late 70s. Trouble is, he hasn't seen the film. This is never a good idea. He also criticises Spielberg's film Schindler's List as it "left some of us wondering just how useful a contribution it was, to make a movie about how some of the Jews had survived, when the real story was about all the Jews who hadn't": thereby criticising a film for what it isn't, rather than commenting on what it is. Two major critical faults in the one essay, which is a bit disappointing. I'm afraid there might be more, but I had to stop there.
In "World famous. Within our borders" James concludes that there "is no Australian national identity crisis and never has been."
And, in an essay that I can relate to, he ponders "The brilliance of creative chaos". Though, in my case, it's not too brilliant and not very creative. I just make do with the chaos.

Poetry by James

"The Guardian" published the author's poem "Under the Jacarandas".
And "The New Yorker" has made "Signing Ceremony" available.

Other

James picks his best books of the year for the "Times Literary Supplement".
"The New York Times" chose Opal Sunset as one of its best books of the year for 2008.
The blogger on the "Nigel Beale Nota Bene Books" weblog, posts six fun things about Clive James.
Lastly, be aware that Revolt of the Pendulum, the next instalment in James's multi-volume autobiography, will be out in July 2009.

Katherine Johnson Interview

Katherine Johnson's first novel, Pescador's Wake, has just been published by HarperCollins. It concerns Patagonian toothfish and a real-life chase of an illegal fishing boat in the treacherous high seas near Antarctica. The author is interviewed in "The Courier-Mail" by Fiona Purdun.

"The conditions are so extreme, with the storms and icebergs, the Southern Ocean is one of the most dangerous spots in the world," she says.

"It's like another world down there and people are risking their lives for the sake of fishing. I was wondering what personal dramas prompted them and this played on my mind.

"What motivates Australians to go to such lengths to protect the seas and be prepared to take on such danger? What's it like to be on board one of these boats, what's it like to be back on shore.

"It's such a dangerous way of making a living especially when many people on these illegal vessels are poorly paid."

Johnson looked over an apprehended fishing boat,Taruman, which was docked at Hobart as part of her research. She also interviewed long-time fisherman Martin Exel because even though it is a fictional story she "felt an obligation to make sure it was credible and accurate with what it's like to fish on the Southern Ocean".

Eddie Campbell Interview

Comics writer and artist Eddie Campbell, who now lives in Australia, is interviewed by Tom Spurgeon on "The Comics Reporter" website.

TOM SPURGEON: I don't think it fully registered with me before, but you have a massive collection of your autobiographical work coming out in 2009. I always thought that this was a natural for a book at some point and I look forward to it with a not insignificant smile on my face. Is there a reason this seemed attractive to you right now?
EDDIE CAMPBELL: The evolution of our medium has made this the right time. If you think back, at first we'd publish serial comics because that was what the economics permitted (all those "mini" and "maxi" series). Then we would gather the material into a book. The medium developed to the stage where a publisher could pay an author an advance to take himself away and make the whole book before showing any of it. We now find ourselves at an even more advanced stage, where several of a veteran author's books are gathered into a huge compendium. Thus Will Eisner's Life in Pictures, which collected his various books that had an autobiographical element, Gaiman's Absolute Sandman, Gilbert Hernandez' Palomar, etc.
Campbell is probably best known as the artist on the graphic novel From Hell, which was written by Alan Moore.

Tom Keneally Watch #7

Reviews of Searching for Schindler

Dwight Garner in "The New York Times": "The book was published as fiction, Mr. Keneally writes, because: 'I felt that in Schindler I had written as a novelist, with a novelist's narrative pace and graphicness, though not in the sense of a fictionalizer. If three or four people told me that Schindler had more or less said certain things, I certainly put them in quotation marks, but otherwise the manuscript was largely innocent of dialogue.' He adds: 'For both commercial reasons and reasons of passion, I didn't want this book stuck in that section against the back wall of most American bookstores labeled JUDAICA.'"
Laura L. Hutchison in "The Free-Lance Star" considers the book "one to put on your 'list'".
"Lighthouse Patriot Journal": "you enjoyed the original story, you will also enjoy this follow up. Stephen Spielberg stated that he would have added film time if Keneally had written this book before the film was created."

Interview

Nicholas Wroe in "The Guardian".

Keneally has written about relations between Aboriginal and white settlers in Australia as well as European dealings with white Australia. He has produced novels and non-fiction books about the American civil war and the Irish diaspora. He has written about the fight for independence in Eritrea and repeatedly circled the events and implications of the second world war.

It is a fascination he traces back to childhood. "The town where I grew up had two Aboriginal settlements. Questions of the balance between races and, when two races don't get on particularly well, how they behave towards each other were everywhere. This was wartime, and the notion that Catholics couldn't be trusted if it came to the crunch, because they would side with the Pope not the Queen, was very strong. It is essentially the same rhetoric that is currently used against Muslims, and even at the time that fascinated me as much as it scared and affronted me. This stuff has always been my bag. It's what I'm interested in."

Other

The DVDTimes website from the UK provides a review of The Devil's Playground, a film by Fred Schepisi that featured Keneally in an acting role.
The same website reviews the film adaptation of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.
The National Library of Australia has recently acquired an extensive selection of Tom Keneally's papers.

Richard Flanagan Watch #2

Reviews of Wanting

"Publisher's Weekly": "The interlaced stories focus on conquering the yearning that exists both in the Aboriginals and the noble English gentlemen, and though Flanagan has a tendency to hammer home his ideas, his prose is strong and precise, and the depiction of desire's effects is sublime."
[Note: the novel won't be released in the USA until May.]
Magdalena Ball on The Compulsive Reader website: "One of the key objections I had to Richard Flanagan's last novel, The Unknown Terrorist was that it put the ideology first: making a political point at the expense of the characters and the plot. This isn't at all the case in Wanting. Indeed, in Wanting, as in Gould's Book of Fish, the whole notion of historical fact becomes subservient to the greater truth -- that of human nature -- the most fundamental of emotional responses and how they underpin the making of history. Wanting is a novel that traces the trajectory of desire...Like good poetry, the novel is full of correspondences, connections, and vivid imagery."
Sandra Hogan on the "M/C Reviews" website: "Wanting is a sad, vivid book in which Flanagan expresses his very strong feelings about the painfulness and uncertainty of life through powerful, compact prose. This artfully constructed novel, with its variety of astonishing characters and stories, is introduced deftly in short, contrasting chapters, bringing the reader back in small climaxes to the central theme of conflict between reason and wanting. A good deal of craft has gone into this book with its clear, spare writing style and --ironically, given the theme -- deep, but controlled emotions."

Other mentions of the novel

ABC television gardening legend Peter Cundall launched the novel in Launceston, Tasmania.

Screenplay for Australia

A lot of coverage has been given to Baz Luhrmann's new film Australia but the bulk of it has concerned itself with Nicole Kidman and her acting abilities. Rarely has there been much in the way of critical thought applied to the screenplay. In "The Australian" David Stratton states: "With considerable help from computer-generated material, Luhrmann creates a genuinely spectacular saga with this often impressive film; a cattle stampede towards a precipice and a Japanese bombing attack on Darwin are among the highlights. Still, given the status of his distinguished collaborators on the film's screenplay -- Ronald Harwood, Richard Flanagan and Stuart Beattie -- it's surprising so many cliches have found their way into the story. Given Luhrmann's fondness for old movies and popular songs, it's not surprising he manages to make frequent reference to The Wizard of Oz (which was released in 1939) and its famous song, 'Over the Rainbow', unlikely as this channelling may seem at first."

Review of The Sound of One Hand Clapping

kimbofo listed this novel as one of her favourites of 2008. She reviewed the book back in March: "The Sound of One Hand Clapping is a book about new beginnings that shatters the myth of Australia as the 'lucky country'. It does not shy away from presenting white Australians as uncouth, uncultured and racist at a period in the country's history at which immigration was running at an all-time high. For that reason alone, it is a refreshing -- and challenging -- read."

Interviews

Sally Warhaft interviews the author on Slow TV.
Ramona Koval spoke to Flanagan on "The Book Show" on ABC Radio National in November.

Kate Grenville Watch #4

Reviews of The Lieutenant

"New Zealand Listener": "Grenville's great victory in this book is to show us that language is so much more than vocabulary or even grammar and syntax -- for this unlikely pair, it was 'not just the words and not just the meaning, but the way in which two people had found common ground and begun to discover the true names of things'. In short, she concludes, you can't learn a language without entering into a relationship and, in a sense, making a map of it."
"Bookbath" weblog: "I loved this seemingly simple but powerful book -- even though this is a fictionalised account based on the life of a real person, William Dawes, I think it can still possibly inform us of some of the events and feelings of this traumatic and often violent part of this countries past -- obviously still from the perspective of a white person which needs to be taken into account in our reading of this book."

Review of The Secret River

"Book Awards Reading Challenge" weblog: "Grenville's account of the struggles between the colonists and aboriginal people was eye-opening and compelling. In a modern context, we know what happened of this struggle, but it was mesmerizing and suspenseful to see this story play out in an early 19th century setting."

Other

"The Canberra Times" sent Gia Metherell along to see Grenville discuss The Lieutenant at a literary lunch.

Tim Winton Watch #7

Reviews of Breath

"HeraldTribune": "The book's central metaphor of breathing, that most essential function for life, works its way through many aspects of the novel and the characters who people it. Although the beauty and danger of surfing stand at its center, Breath expands far beyond the sea to the base instincts and involuntary actions that keep us alive. What it means to go beyond the involuntary, to challenge one's very soul, is at the heart of the matter."
"the simplest game" weblog: "It's a great book, a beautiful book, a book to be inhaled in a single lung-bursting gulp."
1morechapter" weblog: "Ugh. I thought this was about a teen boy surfing in Australia. I wanted it to be about a teen boy surfing in Australia. And it was, for about 150 pages, then it goes off into a weird and extreme area that I will not mention here. I feel ripped off because I enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book, but then to have to be subjected to...blech." The problem with this review lies in the second sentence: don't go into a book expecting one thing and, if you don't get it, criticise the book for it. Read it for what it is, not what you wanted it to be.
Notes on the cover rather than the words.

Reviews of Cloudstreet

The BookFreaks featured the novel at a recent book group meeting.

Film adaptation of Dirt Music

Director Philip Noyce is worried that "The rise in popularity of internet blogs and gossip sites means a film's chances of success can be ruined before it is even finished.." He puts the point that every screening of a film will be reviewed by someone and that review will find its way around the world in no time. Which is true. It just points to a need to get things right before allowing any test screenings.

Theatre adaptation of Cloudstreet

A recent adaptation in Perth: "The WA Academy of Performing Arts production of the [novel]... under the direction of Kate Cherry, the newly appointed Black Swan Theatre Company artistic director, it will be the first WAAPA production of the play."

Other

Winton's short story "The Water Was Dark" has been adapted into an eight-minute short film by ScreenWest.

Interview with Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury

"Publisher's Weekly" interviews Australian author Mem Fox, and her England-based illustrator Helen Oxenbury, as the two set out on a publicity tour of the US in October.

Surely your collective fan base is wondering, What took so long? Had teaming up ever been suggested before?

MF: Needless to say, because Helen is the grande dame of picture books, Allyn had previously sent her several manuscripts by me and by other authors, but Helen turned them all down until Ten Little Fingers moved her to say yes. I think it was the simplicity of the text that she liked.
HO: I suppose living at opposite sides of the world doesn't help, as proved to be the case as I am so computer illiterate, hate the telephone and am lazy at letter writing. Allyn Johnston had sent me picture book texts by different authors for some years but nothing had taken my fancy, until that is, she sent me Ten Little Fingers.

Tom Keneally Watch #6

Reviews of Searching for Schindler

Elaine Feinstein in "The Times": "This is not a sentimental book. Keneally has to accept that Schindler came into Poland in the first place largely to make money. It was an ambition soon jeopardised by his horror at the brutality he witnessed...it is Poldek who is the star of this memoir. Ingenious and fearless, he knows exactly how to flatter men with a sense of importance, and women of all ages with their beauty."
Ed King in "The Sunday Times": "Though much here is quite familiar, this is such a fascinating story, surrounded by so many enigmas that it is well worth another visit."
Anne Applebaum on "American Enterprise Institute": "Descriptions of the process by which novelists come to create their works are invariably far less interesting than the works themselves. And that, unfortunately, also proves to be the case with Schindler's Ark, the book which became the movie, Schindler's List, and which has now inspired the memoir, Searching for Schindler. In this not entirely necessary work of non-fiction, the Australian novelist, Thomas Keneally, recounts, in breathless detail, the amazing coincidence (an encounter in a Beverly Hills leather-goods shop) which led him to the Schindler story; the travels around the world (to Israel, Poland, Germany) during which he put together the manuscript; the various legal and publishing squabbles which preceded the book's publication; and, of course, the serendipitous set of circumstances which led the director, Steven Spielberg, to make the film which made Keneally famous."
Don Oldenburg in "USA Today": "Keneally engages the reader with tales about himself as well. He writes about becoming a novelist, his creative anxieties that fueled the writing process, his experiences with publishers and the toll writing the book took on him and his family."
Claire Allfree in "Metrolife": "Oddly for such a story, this book is only intermittently fascinating: Keneally's companionable tone rambles; the history of the Polish ghettos has been told before; while too much personal detail is given at the expense of real insight into the novel's artistic and ethical challenges."
Doug Childers in inRich.com: "Searching for Schindler is a memoir with a narrow focus, and it doesn't attempt to achieve the emotional depth of Schindler's List. Instead, Keneally offers an enjoyably languid, loosely structured account of how a book -- one of Keneally's 40-some publications -- came to be written and filmed."
Michael Harris in the "Los Angeles Times": "Searching for Schindler is really two books. One is Keneally's own story, which might be subtitled 'Working-Class Boy From the Outback Makes Good'. It describes how he began his novelistic career at a time when Australians still felt culturally inferior to England and Europe. Used to keeping his expectations low, suspicious of glamour and pretense, Keneally tried not to be overwhelmed when good fortune -- the Man Booker, a big Hollywood contract, lucrative lecture tours, a chance to hobnob with Bill and Hillary Clinton at the movie's premiere -- descended on him like a ton of gold ingots...The second book, the story of Schindler's List, is a bit of a hodgepodge. Keneally explains once again the roles his various interviewees played in history, but the original novel is a much clearer reference. He relays a few movie-star anecdotes, speculates no more successfully than the rest of us on how 'High Europe' could have been capable of genocide and grumps that, despite the film's success, he remains 'fundamentally unimpressed by cinema as compared to writing.'"
Julia Pascal in "The Independent": "Keneally could have shared a disturbing voyage into the ethics of profiting from so much horror. Instead, he gives a tedious description of his journeys, banal domestic details and moments of homespun philosophy. His style is sometimes clumsy, often superficial and occasionally cliché-ridden. Keneally admits his lack of experience of the European Jewish world and of Holocaust history when he first meets Poldek. This book shows how little progress has been made. Keneally writes of the Jews as 'a race'. If he had read the Nuremberg Laws he would know that this is how Hitler saw the Jews and that such categorisation led to the Final Solution."
"The New York Times" has made the first chapter of the book available.

Review of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

"The Devil Drives" weblog: "In the novel, Jimmie Blacksmith hopes to earn respect by following the ambitions of the white man. Instead he endures repeated insults and degradations. Finally, he snaps...Where does the responsibility for these crimes lie? What is the place of Indigenous peoples in (post-)colonial societies and how should they live? These questions resonate across time, cultures, and societies. This is a great book."

Other

Keneally organised a meeting between a class of students and Steven Spielberg, the director of Schindler's List.

Dorothy Porter Notes

Newspaper and mainstream media reports regarding the death of Dorothy Porter are
starting to appear with the following of interest:
ABC Online
"The Advertiser"
"The Australian"
"The Canberra Times"
"The Herald-Sun"
Readings bookshop
"The Sydney Morning Herald"

And while these reports deal with the facts, it's the weblogs where the personal and literary interactions between the author and reader can be best understood. Here are a few - there will be others.

Tom Cho only met the poet once or twice. "Whether I met Dorothy in person or not barely matters anyway; the flesh and blood author is usually incapable of living up to our image of them."

Richard Watts felt himself privileged to have worked alongside Porter once or twice.

Andrew Wilkins writes of reading The Monkey's Mask for the first time in manuscript and deciding on the spot to persuade his publishing partners to take on the book. I'm glad he did. Karen Chisholm was the first to alert me about the news yesterday morning, promting me to contact a friend for confirmation.

Karen had just finished answering a series of questions for an upcoming issue of "Deadly Pleasures" magazine in which she related her feelings of surprise on reading El Dorado.

I never met Dorothy Porter but did have contact with her at one time. Back in 2000 I was updating a webpage I was maintaining on the Miles Franklin Award. In adding the shortlisted works for that year I inadvertently listed her verse novel What a Piece of Work as having been written by "Dorothy Parker" - as I'd never heard of Dorothy Porter before I just had a major brain slip. Anyway, the correct Dorothy emailed me to point out the typo and was very gracious about it, stating that she was rather flattered by the comparison. She could have really let rip over the error; she didn't. I don't know how long it took me to change the listing but I think you could have measured it in nanoseconds.

The one thing this interaction did do was to send me out looking for her work. I came across The Monkey's Mask first off, and experienced a reaction similar to Karen's above; I'd never read anything like it before. I wasn't so enamoured by her other verse novels as I felt the books needed a strong plot to drive the work through the verse. But I persisted, as did she, and was rewarded by the publication of El Dorado last year. This seemed to be where Porter did her best work in the verse novel form: a strong story-line backed by brilliant poetry.

She had made this little backwater of literature her own. There aren't many authors you can say that about.

Dorothy Porter (1954-2008)

"The Age" newspaper has announced, and I've had it confirmed by a reliable source, that Australian poet Dorothy Porter passed away this morning, aged 54.

Porter will be best known for her verse novel, The Monkey's Mask, which was made into a film of the same name in 2000. Her verse novels What a Piece of Work and Wild Surmise were both shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, and her most recent work, El Dorado, was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award and Prime Minister's Literary Award.

John A. Flanagan Interview

John A. Flanagn is best known for his series of "Ranger's Apprentice" books for children. He has now turned his hand to adult crime novels and was interviewed recently by Leonie Jordan on the "Boomerang Books"
weblog.

You are best-known for your "Ranger's Apprentice" children's fantasy series. What prompted you to branch out into adult crime and what appeals to you most about this genre?
I've always chosen to write the sort of books I enjoy reading. Typically, over the years, this has meant fantasy and crime fiction. And Storm Peak isn't a branching out. In fact, I was developing it at the same time I was working on the "Rangers" series. It's just that "Rangers" found a place in the market first. As to the crime genre, I'm more concerned with character interaction against a crime and/or action background than in creating a "whodunnit?" type of book. There's obviously a mystery to be solved in Storm Peak but personally, I think it's secondary to the action and the interaction of the main characters.

Your prose style in Storm Peak is at times reminiscent of "hardboiled" crime writers such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett: laconic, wry, punctuated by terse, deadpan remarks. Which authors were you most influenced by when writing the novel?
Thank you for the reference to Raymond Chandler. He was one of my earliest influences and I loved his style. Then I followed the English author Gavin Lyall, who had a wonderfully wry style in his earlier novels. Since then, I've loved the work of Ed McBain -- the master of dialogue, Michael Connelly, Nelson de Mille and James Lee Burke. All of these writers excel in character-driven stories. They all create characters the reader cares about.

Peter Carey Watch #9

Review of The Fat Man in History

"Aussie Reads" weblog: "Overall, these stories are a little odd (some are just downright weird) but they each have an important message to impart. Most importantly they are all enjoyable to read."

Review of Wrong About Japan

Kelly McClintock on "Student Travel Blog": "The book is an engaging mix of observations, history, anecdotes, and description in which the author comes to re-examine his own preconceived ideas about Japan. Peter Carey exposes a startlingly modern view of Japan while pursuing his son's love of anime and manga -- Japanese comic books. Carey reveals a country where the past is becoming as forgotten as the museums that house it."

Other

Contemporary Australian composer, Brett Dean, is writing an opera based on Carey's first novel Bliss. A selection of songs from that piece, titled "Songs of Joy", premiered in Liverpool, UK, recently. "The Times" reports that the complete work will debut in 2010. Doesn't say where, however.
Carey appeared on a panel, at the New Yorker Festival, along with Hari Kunzru, and Gary Shteyngart, on the subject of "Outlaws."
Patrick Ness, author of The Knife of Never Letting Go, discusses his literary influences: "The author I admire most is Peter Carey, who I think is amazing, particularly in how his books seem to be just a smaller slice of a larger imagined world. I love that, the way you can pick up all kinds of richness in his books just by inference, so I'm huge fan of that."
Ross Raisin is a bit of a fan as well.

Jill Roe Interview

Jill Roe, author of Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography, the new biography of the author that took some 26 years to finish, is interviewed in "The Courier-Mail" by Christopher Bantick.

After the publication of My Brilliant Career in 1901, Franklin was compared in the Glasgow Herald with the Brontes. She left Australia in 1906 for America with several unpublished works in her luggage. She was a feminist and for a decade she worked for the women's labour movement in Chicago. For Roe, Franklin's independence and feminism underscored something else.

"What I find most admirable about her is her resilience. She just kept going. Writing is a disease and she did this while being fiercely independent. She was in the foreground of the first wave of feminism and she didn't take a step back as a person in anything.

"She left Australia for a long time and she did this for literary reasons. Miles wanted to see how she would be regarded abroad. She had the belief that she'd pull through but, even so, she took a risk leaving Australia and she wondered if she had made the right choices."

J.M. Coetzee Watch #12

Review of Waiting for the Barbarians

Zach Hitchcock on the "Floggin' and Bloggin'" weblog: "After reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness for a few weeks, one would generally not be extremely excited to explore yet another short colonization novel that takes place around the turn of the century; however, after only reading three chapters, I can honestly say I am surprised to find I thoroughly enjoy J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians. Given the long, tedious, and often tangential narration of Conrad's novel and considering the fact the curriculum intends for us to compare the two books, I found myself not at all apprehensive about reading Coetzee's story and constantly procrastinating on the completion of the assignment. Yet, as I began reading, I honestly could not put it down. One of the first things that jumped out at me is simply the style in
which Coetzee writes. Using prose, colloquial language and a vivid present tense, the style of the book's narration creates a very captivating discussion effect, as if the Magistrate is actually with you face-to-face, telling you his story."

Review of Life and Times of Michael K.

Michael Cheney, whose "The Mumpsimus" weblog is one of the best litblogs around, has been teaching Life and Times of Michael K. for his course on Outsiders, considers what appeals to him about Coetzee: "As I read Michael K. this time, I tried to think about what it is in Coetzee's work that so appeals to me. It's no individual quality, really, because there are people who have particular skills that exceed Coetzee's. There are many writers who are more eloquent, writers with more complex and evocative structures, writers of greater imagination...And then I realized that I was marking up my teaching copy of Michael K. as if I were marking up a poem. I looked, then, at my teaching copy of Disgrace, from when I used it in a class a few years ago. The same thing. Lots of circled words, lots of 'cf.'s referring me to words and phrases in other parts of the book. Lots of sounds building on sounds, rhythms on rhythms in a way that isn't particularly meaningful in itself, but that contributes to an overall tone-structure, a scaffold of utterance to hold up the shifting meanings of the story and characters."

Review of Disgrace

The "Among the Tumbled Heap" weblog ponders "The Tao of Coetzee": "Against the sometimes brutal backdrop of rural South Africa, Coetzee's story illumines the complexities of disgrace and what it means to be disgraced, spiraling deeper and deeper into both our personal and corporate conceptions of guilt and justice...There is no dualism for Coetzee. An act of 'disgrace' is simultaneously [an] act of 'redemption.'..There is nothing but dualism for Coetzee. There is disgrace and redemption. There is justice and injustice. Good and evil."

Review of Diary of a Bad Year

"Irish Times": "This is a novel for our times in its content and in the exacting way it may be read -- the essays first or in parallel? It ranges in tone from news-stand fiction to Joyce's artistic distance of a writer sitting on a cloud. It's full of surprises but not for the slothful."

Article by Coetzee

Coetzee reviews David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair by Irìne Nímirovsky, for "The New York Review of Books": "The problem for Nímirovsky as a budding writer in the 1920s was that aside from her facility in the French language, the capital she commanded on the French literary market consisted in a corpus of experience that branded her as foreign: daily life in pre-revolutionary Russia, pogroms and Cossack raids, the Revolution and the Civil War, plus to a lesser extent the shady world of international finance. In the course of her career she would thus alternate, according to her sense of the temper of the times, between two authorial selves, one pur sang French, one exotic. As a French authoress she would compose books about 'real' French families written with an irreproachably French sensibility, books with no whiff of foreignness about them. The French self took over entirely after 1940, as publishers became more and more nervous about the presence of Jewish writers on their lists."

The Nobel Prize

Apparently Coetzee had two very different reactions to winning the prize. Doris Lessing is friends with Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer and so was forewarned about what to expect in her Nobel year.

Other

Coetzee was recently a member of the jury for the Estoril film festival in Portugal.

James Cowan Interview

James Cowan, who won the Australian Literary Society's Gold Medal back in 1998 for his novel A Mapmaker's Dream, is interviewed in the "Sunshine Coast Hinterland Times".

James has returned to Australia with a swag of new manuscripts which he is now preparing to publish with planned visits to agents in America and the UK. "The novel The Deposition was published in Argentina before I left. It's a novel set in Palestine 6 months after the death of Christ. It looks at the doubts in the mind of one of the Jewish high priests on the Sanhedrin that convicted Christ, and his doubts about the good sense of that decision. I've written a book of four essays called Quartet on the nature of power. I've just finished my first modern novel in 20 years called The Shores of Philae, set in Egypt. It's a modern love story.
[snip]
James Cowan commented on his astonishing range of literary interests and at 66, where he is headed as a writer. "I've never wanted to be pigeon-holed. I think I have come from that old tradition of literature where writers should not just be writing good novels or poetry, but should also try to take on big themes. For example, in my latest book (The Deposition) I am looking again at the story of those who survived the death of Christ. At first I thought, you can't write about Christ, it's been done to death. But, as a writer, you've got to take on some of the big subjects to see if there's anything new to say about them. So I am constantly looking for ways of re-expressing old virtualities; seeing whether or not you can extract new flecks of gold out of old stories. A writer can't afford to just sit there and write about realities as they are. He has to dig deeply into the great issues of all time.

Margo Lanagan Watch #1

Reviews of Tender Morsels

Van Ikin, in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Proclaimed as Lanagan's first novel 'for adults', Tender Morsels is far more than that: it is a towering work of imagination in which a supremely talented writer opens rich new frontiers."
"Eva's Book Addiction" weblog shows the cover of the US edition, with the note that the book is aimed at grades 9 and up. I assume that means 14+: "From its truly horrifying and brutal beginning to its satisfying but bittersweet end, this novel is mesmerizing. Language (characters speak in a country dialect that sounds both fantastical and utterly authentic) and tone remain consistent, whether the story is being told from Liga's damaged but sweet perspective, from the perspective of one of the Bears who ends up in Liga's heaven, or from those of any number of other carefully drawn characters. No one is perfect -- all have flaws, some much more than others -- but we can understand, if not sympathize with, each person. Often wrenching, at heart this is a truly tender story of healing, growing, and redemption."
Sarah Miller, on her "Reading, Writing, Musing..." weblog: "Once upon a time, the skeleton of this story was called Snow-White and Rose-Red. Like all fairy tales, it left much unexplained. Too much. Well, Margo Lanagan took those bones and added muscle and guts, bracing the loose joints of the plot with her characters' emotions, motivations, and histories. That's the secret of successful retellings: fleshing out the gaps that relied almost entirely on the readers' willful ignorance or suspension of belief, yet still leaving room for the existence of magic. And Lanagan knows how to handle magic delicately enough to make it believable: Tender Morsels revolves around magical doings, but never degrades enchantment to the level of coincidence." Miller concludes that this was "quite possibly THE best reading experience" she had had all year (her caps).
Lucas Klaus goes all zombie on us in his short note, stating that "Bottom line, I envy Margo Lanagan's brain and want to steal it."
The "Chicago Tribune" newspaper: "This dark, medieval fairy tale is as complex and brilliant as it is disturbing...The prose in this extraordinary fantasy is exquisite."

Interviews

David Larsen in "The New Zealand Herald".

Lanagan has been writing all her life, ever since she and her older sisters began competing to get stories and poems published in the local Catholic weekly as children. She continued writing poetry through her teens and 20s. "But I really wanted to have an audience, a bigger audience than poetry was probably ever going to reach, and I also wanted to write more generously. I wanted to write big flowing things, rather than just fill up one page with very intense language and thought."
[snip]
The particular thing she needed to clear her mind in order to write was, literally, "tender morsels'." She was working full time at this point, as a technical writer for a food packaging manufacturer, commuting 90 minutes every day. This, and bad memories of her previous crash and burn novel experience, made her decide she needed to break her intended novel down into bite-size pieces - into tender morsels. "I made a deal with myself that I would produce one short story every week, while I was commuting, and that every story would jump off from one central story. So that at the end, at the worst, I'd have a bunch of connected short stories, and at the most I might have something that could eventually turn into a novel."
I have linked previously to Jeff Vandermeer's interview for "Clarkesworld" magazine, and to Gavin J. Grant's interview on "Blog of a Bookslut", but it's worth repeating those links here.

Other

Lanagan launched her book once at "Conflux", an sf convention held in Canberra in early October. Sarina Talip, of "The Canberra Times", spoke to her there: "I moved over into fantasy partly because my ideas were just getting odder and odder and I thought I would see what fantasy writing was like," the author said.

The other book launch was at Berkelouw Books in Leichhardt, Sydney, and Judith Ridge was there with her camera.

On Stephanie Campisi's eponymous weblog, Lanagan lists her favourite bookshops.

Other works

Lanagan has a short story, "The Goosle", in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow. Richard Larson reviewed the book on the "Strange Horizons" website: "There are plenty of other brave choices by Ellen Datlow in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Most notable is the inclusion of Margo Lanagan's 'The Goosle', an update to the Hansel and Gretel story which has generated a fair amount of controversy..The subject here is child abuse, and the power dynamics of abuse in general, during an apparent sequel to what is already a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story, one in which Hansel has escaped the witch's evil intentions but his sister (Kirtle, not Gretel, in Lanagan's telling) has, alas, been consumed...'The Goosle' is not an easy story, and Margo Lanagan is not a writer who makes easy choices. Aversions to certain pieces of fiction, however, should be based on the quality of the writing and the effectiveness of the storytelling rather than knee-jerk reactions to particularities of troublesome content.."

Larson points us to another review of the same book and the same story, by Dave Truesdale on the SF Site website, who sees the story in an entirely different light: "I really don't know where to begin in describing 'The Goosle' by Margo Lanagan, except to say it is a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story. Lanagan turns this traditionally gruesome fairy tale into one of child porn (depending on your point of view) and repeated homosexual rape of a child (Hansel)...With several other stories in this collection aimed at juveniles or teenagers (the Ballingrud and the Cadigan), I find this story highly inappropriate." He criticises the story for its "shock value", using that word-set no less that six times in his short review. I think I got the impression he wasn't keen on it.

Amanda Lohrey Interview

As her new novella, Vertigo is released by Black Inc., Amanda Lohrey is interviewed by Christpher Bantick for "The Courier-Mail".

Lohrey, who lived for a while in Brisbane, has based the book on a place that is not identifiably set in Tasmania. It is far more like Queensland, with its warmer temperatures.

"Landscape affects people," she says. "I think there is a great love for your country. For me, it is more intense as I get older. D.H. Lawrence writes in Kangaroo that there is a strange beauty about Australia. I do think, though, that with sea-changers, the change takes place before you actually make the move.

"This might be partly to do with age. As you get older, many people become jaded. Australians have a great love of the open spaces and this is what many sea-changers look for. Still, while men may exhale a great sigh of relief, women may miss the social contact more."

Clive James Watch #10

Reviews of Opal Sunset: Selected Poems, 1958-2008

Abigail Deutsch reviews the collection for "The Village Voice": "James's artistry lies in his ability to seem both casual and careful: He observes an imperfect world with acerbic off-handedness, often setting his informal voice within formal verse. His ambling iambics snap into regularity right when they should, just when they become, as James writes, 'Scared into neatness by the wild sublime'...For all the piercing confession that marks these pages, James's is a roving sympathy, landing on the handicapped child, the inspired vagabond, the fellow poet. And, being James, he's occasionally less than sympathetic."
David Orr in "The New York Times": "What James wants to do here, of course, is establish that one may be a full-fledged, divinely inspired Romantic poet without doing the things that full-fledged, divinely inspired Romantic poets supposedly do. (You know, striding across darkling moors, engaging in passionate and poisonous affairs, swooning, judging the Academy of American Poets' James Laughlin Award, etc.) This is both touching and unnecessary. As he rightly notes, the only thing that actually matters is the poetry itself, and while the politics of the literary world can sometimes obscure that fact in the short term, the truth will generally out -- if only because readers eventually stop caring who had coffee with Robert Lowell or slept with Lorine Niedecker."
In "Newsweek", Katie Baker takes a brief look: "Part anthology of his best, part showcase for his new verse, the book displays the same formidable erudition and giddy love of pop culture that infuses James's prose: in his stanzas, Hamlet and Plato get equal play with Elle Macpherson."

Articles by James

Interviewing Secrets - "The Australian broadcaster gets far better results webcasting in his own home than making television studio interviews".
Salman Rushdie talks to Clive James.
"A Point of View: The name's Bond, Clive James Bond".
James ponders elections, especially in the light of the recent US Presidential version.
James pays tribute to Pat Kavanagh, the UK literary agent, who died recently.

Video Interviews by James

James interviews Barry Humphries

Short Notices of Other Things

The "Christmas Reading List" weblog on Cultural Amnesia: "...at the heart of the book is something that I often brood over, the pursuit of knowledge and the way in which knowledge and talent are drained by death. Where do memories go when the vessel that carries them ceases to be? And perhaps, more importantly, is there a responsibility in reading. Is it increasingly a revolutionary act."
"The Guardian" looks at James's poem "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered" in an essay about remaindered books.

Ivan Southall (1921-2008)

Ivan Southall, Australian writer of children's books and memoirs, has died at the age of 87. Southall won the CBCA Australian Children's Book of the Year on four occasions: Ash Road in 1966, To the Wild Sky in 1968, Bread and Honey in 1971 and Fly West in 1976. His novel Josh won the Carnegie Medal (UK) in 1971, becoming the first Australian book to do so.

A retrospective of his work was held by the State Library of Victoria in 1998 and is still available online.

Notices about the author can be found at:
ABC News
"The Age"

Adrian Hyland Interview

Adrian Hyland, author of Diamond Dove which has just been published in the UK, is interviewed by Stuart MacBride for "Shots Magazine".

SM: Diamond Dove is one of those wonderful novels that really envelops the reader in a culture that they probably never get to experience first hand. What made you decide to set the story in the world of the outback?

AH: I lived for many years in the outback -- went there straight after Uni, and the place kind of crept -- well, roared like a wildfire into my soul. I did a bit of mining and station work, then ended up working in Aboriginal community development -- which sounds impressive, but in fact meant bouncing around the Tanami Desert with a Toyota full of Aboriginal people -- sometimes taking them back to places they'd walked out of thirty years before. I've travelled pretty well everywhere, lived in a lot of far-flung places, but Central Australia remains the most fascinating place I've ever seen. All of the big questions -- development vs. environment, the spiritual vs. the material, toast vs. cereal or fry-up -- are there, in your face. The human comedy unravels before your eyes: you've got hippies and rednecks, superannuated commies, grey nomads, miners, pastoralists, boozers, bruisers, substance-abusers and some really weird people -- have you seen Wolf Creek? - living cheek by jowl. Most importantly, of course, there were the Aboriginal people: they were the touchstone for me.

SM: Well, it certainly comes across. Emily Tempest is a great central character, someone who's got a foot in both camps -- the settler and the aboriginal -- but as a middle-aged white bloke did you get any stick for writing from the point of view of a young black girl?

AH: Not yet, but there's still plenty of time, if anybody's interested. I was writing about people I knew and loved. I've never met anyone quite like em. They're beautiful people, rich in spirit of place and the funniest buggers you could ever hope to meet -- I spent many a night by a camp fire rocking with laughter. I wanted to bring that world to life, and I'd like to think that my intentions were honourable.


[Thanks to Aust Crime Fiction for the link.]

Susan Johnson Interview

Susan Johnson, author of Life in Seven Mistakes, has reprinted an interview she gave with "The European English Messenger" journal.

Q: The idea of a writer struggling to combine the demands of creation with a child and husband is a common floor in some of your books such as A Better Woman, The Broken Book and Life in Seven Mistakes. Can it be seen as a gleam of your own life?

A:
Most definitely. I read an article by the Irish writer and Booker Prize winner Anne Enright recently in which she said that she didn't understand writers who felt children were the enemies of promise, and she felt that the pram in the hall was a fine thing for a writer. Well, yes, I agree emotionally -- having children is the ultimate way of engaging with the world in a very hands-on, visceral way, and it stretches you emotionally in very challenging ways (Fay Weldon says you can believe you are a nice person until you have children!) However, it is also exhausting, time-consuming, expensive and very, very hard. I have discovered that, deep-down, I believe in a very unreconstructed, antediluvian way that a "real" artist gives her life over to art, and doesn't compromise her art by having children! In some ways I DO think that having children slowed me up, and profoundly compromised me for all times. And yet having children also engaged me with life on the deepest level, and who knows if my writing might be a more sterile, impoverished thing if I hadn't had them? I think all writers are quite good at giving reasons why they are as never as brilliant as they might have been, and perhaps the having/not having of children argument is simply another version of that! (Arguably the world's deepest, richest, most wonderful books have been written by childless women, so having a child is therefore not a passport into a "better" or deeper emotional state, or resonance: having a child does not automatically make you a "better" person, or indeed a better writer). I do know my life is enriched by my children, but I am not entirely sure my art is...it is very, very hard for me to combine writing with running a household, having children, and a marriage. Most of the world's greatest women writers did not have children. This is not an accidental fact.

Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief amongst other works, is interviewed in "The Courier-Mail" by Kathleen Noonan, and he's quite candid about the luck he's had.

Early on in Zusak's writing life, living at home in Sydney's western suburbs, he scratches away at stories when not at school or playing football.

He sends them off to various publishers.

"Usually you hear nothing. But one day, I get this letter back saying, 'No thanks, but you do have promise'."

That is enough to fire his passion and make him decide to be a writer.

Later he rings the publisher to talk to the letter-writer to get more advice, believing she is an editor. No. She doesn't work there. She never did.

She was just a work-experience student who was given the rejection letter to write.

Zusak laughs. "So you see, I based my entire career path on a work-experience girl's advice. How random is that?"

Christos Tsiolkas Interview

Christos Tsiolkas's new novel is titled The Slap, which seems vaguely appropriate when I see a photo of the author - he always seems like he has been, or is about to be, slapped. Just me, I guess. I always look like I have a very bad case of gas in all my photos. Anyway, the author is interviewed for the "Readings" weblog by Belinda Monypenny and Jo
Case.

What was your inspiration for writing such a grounded, earthy novel in a domestic, suburban setting after the globetrotting sprawl of Dead Europe?

Dead Europe was a very difficult novel to write. It took time for it to find its form; it also took me, in the writing of it, into dark and fearful places. As a writer you take on aspects of your characters and if you are not careful the world you are creating begins to blend with the world you actually inhabit. That's not only a problem for yourself, but more importantly, for the people around you.

So I started working on notes for The Slap towards the end of writing Dead Europe as a way of escaping the bleak world of racist Europa and also as a return to just the pure joy of writing. To use a musical metaphor, which I am prone to, I wanted to just "riff", create characters and scenarios and stories and see where they took me. I think suburbia, such a part of the Australian experience, has always interested me; the push-pull of it. Suburbia tends to be viewed as static in our cultural and literary representation and I think that's simply not true. What does the new "wog", aspirational suburbia look like? That seemed a good jumping-off point for a novel.

Richard Flanagan Watch #1

Reviews of Wanting

Don Anderson in "The Australian".

Without doubt a main subject of Wanting is what its author calls the "catastrophe of colonialism". Notions of the "savage", the "other", warp all sorts of notions and arguments. Thus, one-third into the novel, a propos allegations of Franklin's crew's cannibalism, Dickens asserts: "We all have appetites and desires. But only the savage agrees to sate them with all the attendant horrors that ensue." Almost at the novel's end, however, Dickens, his cheek pressed on stage against Ellen's "uncorsetted belly", notes that "he, a man who had spent a life believing that giving in to desire was the mark of a savage, realised that he could no longer deny wanting".
Short Notices

Boomerang Books: "Flanagan treads a fine line. He doesn't imply that the British were all cruel, or that the Aborigines were entirely victims or 'noble savages'. There is a spectrum of perspectives, from the brutal to the misguided-and even the supportive. It must be difficult to write a novel like this without judging, excusing or idealising."
Readings: "Wanting is a powerful piece of writing that affects in many ways. Above all, it's about unbridled desire and its tragic consequences."

Video clips relating to the novel

Book trailer
Interview: Part 1 - What led you to write WANTING?
Interview: Part 2 - Who are the main characters in WANTING?
Interview: Part 3 - What would you consider to be the themes of WANTING?
Interview: Part 4 - How are the lives of Charles Dickens and Mathinna connected?
Interview: Part 5 - There are fictional and historical characters in the story. How much licence did you take with the facts?
Interview: Part 6 - How different was it writing the script for Baz Luhrmann.

Interviews

I've previously linked to this interview with the author by Jason Steger, which was published in "The Age" at the start of November.
Flanagan is also interviewed in "The Mercury" by Simon Bevilacqua.

Webpage

The publisher has created a webpage for the novel which includes details of the book as well as where Flanagan is appearing this week in Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Other

Flanagan has received a writing credit on the new Baz Luhrmann film Australia, and "The Weekend Australian" magazine provides some details about how the collaboration came about.
In a piece in "The West Australian", Flanagan reveals the real-life inspiration for the character played by Hugh Jackman in the film.
The author was featured recently on ABC TV's "Australian Story". You can still watch that program on the show's website.
And related to that television program is a report from "The Mercury" newspaper detailing some comments Flanagan made about retired Tasmanian premier Paul Lennon.

Juliet Marillier Interview

Juliet Marillier, New Zealand born and Australian resident, writer of historical fantasy, (The Sevenwaters Trilogy, Saga of the Light Isles, and The Bridei Chronicles) is interviewed by Therese Walsh on the "Writer Unboxed" weblog, as her new novel, Heir to Sevenwaters is published.

What would you like people to know about the story itself?

HEIR TO SEVENWATERS is a stand-alone novel but shares the same setting as my first series, the Sevenwaters Trilogy. In other words, it's set in Ireland in early Christian times. It's a blend of romantic historical novel and folkloric fantasy. People need not have read those earlier books to enjoy this one. The first person narrator is the daughter of an Irish chieftain, whose world is turned upside down when a devastating event befalls her family at the birth of a long-awaited son. Clodagh's main skill lies in household management. She likes her world orderly and calm. Now she must undertake a desperate journey into an unknown realm in an attempt to put things right for her family. Her companion on this quest is not the highly suitable young man she likes, but a more mysterious character who has far too many secrets to be trusted.

Helen Garner Watch #6

Reviews of The Spare Room

Raffaella Barker in "The Independent": "It is difficult to get excited about this book. Helen Garner is a good writer. This is her first novel in 15 years and she has a gift for creating a scene and illustrating character that is airy and enduring and essentially Australian. No one who gets through this book would deny that Garner is skilful. Given that the central character is a woman writer in her sixties called Helen, it is probable that this is a cathartic exercise for her following a traumatic life experience of her own, but I am not convinced that it needs to be inflicted up on the reading public. It is just too depressing. It is the business of a novel to transform experience, not just for the sake of it but to illuminate our minds and to touch our hearts. If we want veritas we read non fiction, and there are numerous moving memoirs about cancer which may well provide comfort through the solidarity of shared experience and which could perhaps show us how to grieve."
David Pullar on PopMatters: "On first appearances, The Spare Room should be a difficult read. This is not for the words and sentences therein: it's a short book and written in clear, simple prose. It's more that the content appears heavy and rather bleak. The story goes something like this: an older woman provides her spare room to a friend with terminal cancer who is in town for treatment. 'Not a barrel of laughs,' you would think...Humour is not just an occasional relief in The Spare Room, it's actually the lifeblood of the book. The old cliché that 'you've got to laugh' in the face of tragedy is given new meaning by Garner. For all the sickness and suffering and thankless service involved in the story, it's only an acute sense of the absurdity of the situation that keeps the heroine (also named Helen) sane."

Other

Garner's novel, The Spare Room, won the top prize at the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, and at the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, in September.
At the National Library in Canberra in October "Helen Garner, Alex Miller, Robert Drewe, Frank Moorhouse and Alexis Wright were among the authors who spoke at a colloquium in honour of Bruce Bennett, emeritus professor at the University of NSW at the Australian Defence Force Academy."

Ten Years Ago

Don Anderson on Garner's My Hard Heart: Selected Fictions, in "Australian Book Review".

What do we talk about when we talk about Helen Garner? About her writing, that is, about such a consummate novella as The Children's Bach, about extraordinary stories such as "A Vigil", in Cosmo Cosmolino, about the eponymous "Postcards from Surfers", and a dozen others? We talk about domestic realism, we talk about fiction that encompasses not merely the present supposedly self-obsessed Baby Boomer generation but children and grandparents also, we talk about discipline, control, and the assurance that more is less. We talk, despite her 'despair of feeling trapped inside [my] own style' (in True Stories: Selected Non-Fiction, 1996, from which my epigraph also is taken), of a virtuoso who hit her distinctive style early -- in Honour, say -- and has progressively refined it to more and more subtle effect. We think of a connoisseur of the moral and emotional life who renders these with unflinching honesty, whatever the cost, whatever the pain, to herself and others. We -- or, rather, I -- talk about her modesty, while not assuming patriarchally that woman ought to be modest, but with Jane Austen's letter of 1805 in mind: 'If [s]he were less modest, [s]he would be more agreeable, speak louder & look Impudenter; -- and is it not a fine Character of which Modesty is the only defect?'

Peter Goldsworthy Profile

Peter Goldsworthy's seventh novel, Everything I Knew, has just been published and is bound to cause a bit of a stir. The author was interviewed by "The Age".

Based on elements of his own childhood - including teenage crushes on teachers - Everything I Knew is about growing up, friendship, forbidden desires and what happens when boundaries are crossed. It's set in the 1960s in Penola, a small-time country town in South Australia's Coonawarra region, where Goldsworthy lived as a child and where he experienced his "first sexual stirrings". Goldsworthy says he has long been interested in "the eros between teacher and student" and wanted to explore it in his book.

Richard Flanagan Profile

Richard Flanagan's new novel Wanting is now in the shops and the author is interviewed in "The Age" by Jason Steger.

Richard Flanagan knows that some people will read his new novel, Wanting, as a historical novel and pillory him for that. But he has been a historian in another life and knows it is not for him.

"History, like journalism, is ever a journey outwards and you must report back what you find and no more. But a novel is a journey into your own soul and you seek there to discover those things that you share with all others. In reading you sense the divine, the things that are larger and greater and more mysterious than yourself."

Wanting is 19th century in location and characters: polar explorer and governor of Van Diemen's Land, Sir John Franklin, and his wife, Lady Jane; Mathinna, the Aboriginal girl they adopt and later abandon; and the great literary voice of the time, Charles Dickens.

But Flanagan is adamant it is not a historical novel. What's wrong, he asks, with writers using history; they have been doing it forever. What about Shakespeare's use of Holinshed's Chronicles? "Shakespeare was completely fictionalising the people who were then the great celebrities of English."

You have to think that all Australian novelists will need to develop a similar response given the way Kate Grenville was criticised for The Secret River. It would be nice to be able to read novels in isolation without the need for some sort of framing mechanism to separate them from other literary, social and political considerations. But we can't. Novels exist and live in the real world and the better ones have an effect beyond the boundaries of their covers. We can't expect the forces at work to only act in one direction.

Graeme Base Profile

Graeme Base, author and illustrator of such works as Animalia, The Eleventh Hour and Uno's Garden is interviewed by Sherrill Nixon for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

In Animalia he successfully fought against his publisher's attempt to simplify the vultures' language on the V page (words such as "vociferous verbosity" and "vexatiously vocalising"). A decade later he waged a battle over Uno's Garden when the American marketing gurus wanted to declare it a "fun math book" on the cover, rather than leave it to the reader to discover the clever maths component of this book, primarily about the balance between civilisation and nature.

"Maybe I will be brave enough to say this: the problem is more evident in America, where there's the need, it seems to me, to spoonfeed," Base says. "You can't leave something slightly ambiguous or not show the solution ... they needed explanation for something where my inclination was to not explain but to ask the reader to work it out or to slowly realise there's something else going on here."

The author's latest work, Enigma, is now out from Penguin.

Bryce Courtenay

Australian author Bryce Courtenay was recently recruited by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu "for the book, film and travelling exhibition by the American photographer Andrew Zuckerman, all titled Wisdom. Zuckerman travelled the world, filming, photographing and interviewing luminaries such as Nelson Mandela, Clint Eastwood, Malcolm Fraser and Henry Kissinger." In a talk the author gave at the State Library of New South Wales to mark the opening of the exhibition, "The Sydney Morning Herald" reported: "I thought it was a gag," he says. "None of us believes we have wisdom. Wisdom isn't a commodity that many of us particularly like to have anyway, because it sounds presumptuous and it sounds precocious." The exhibition runs at the State Library of NSW until November 16.

Margo Lanagan Interview

As her latest novel, Tender Morsels, is released in the US Margo Lanagan is interviewed on the "Bookslut" weblog by Gavin J. Grant.

Is the reader a tender morsel you chew over as you write?

The reader is not exactly the farthest thing from my mind as I write a story, but they're some distance off. I've found that it just gets in the way of the writing if I think of any reader bar myself, until quite a way along in the process.

That said, the reactions I get make me think that, yes, people can feel a bit chewed up and spat out after having read a Lanagan story. And Tender Morsels is no different; it really puts you through the mill before the good stuff starts. All the way along, though, I scatter pretty things, sparkly things, so that you'll have a hard time resisting being drawn into my lair. And afterwards, you'll be so glad you visited!

Kate Grenville Watch #3

Reviews of The Lieutenant

Stella Clarke in "The Australian Literary Review": "You have to admire Kate Grenville, not only because she is among Australia's elite novelists, but also because of her tenacity. Here she is again, with The Lieutenant, daring to dabble in Australia's fraught, and still unsettled, British settler history...Arguably, ethical commitment is what characterises Grenville's fictional harrowings of Australia's violent past. It is evident in this new novel, and might be understood to validate her fictional embellishments of a handful of facts...Previously, however, Grenville hasn't just remade mainstream history. Her 1988 novel Joan Makes History was a lively, irreverent burlesque that subversively caught up the sort of female experience that traditional accounts let fall. Though The Lieutenant is edging her into the standard historical novelist box, her most successful earlier novels (Lilian's Story, 1994, Dark Places, 1995, and The Idea of Perfection, 2003) were original, darkly comic, profoundly probing explorations of vulnerable, odd or deviant people trying to make their stories prevail. Obliquely, they dealt with the extent to which power and authority dictate which accounts of events achieve currency...Grenville's novel suggests a laudable determination to guard storytellers' jittery claims on history, but at the price of truly startling inspiration. The historians' high dudgeon has apparently succeeded."
Genevieve Barlow in "The Weekly Times": "Were there doubters among the early white settlers to Australia who did not agree with the British way of settling another people's country? Perhaps it is Grenville merely recasting the scene and imbuing it with 21st century sentiments and regrets...This easy-to-read book set this reader thinking about the attitudes of many of our earliest settlers towards Aborigines."
Nigel Krauth in "The Australian": "At school I learned that the first 50 years of non-indigenous Australian history was a period of exploration, part of a grand project of European discovery. In my textbook, contact with 'the natives' was present