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Peter Porter (1929-2010)


The UK-based Australian poet Peter Porter has died at the age of 81.  

Porter was born in Brisbane in 1929, and, after working as a journalist in his home town he emigrated to England in 1951.  In 1955 he joined The Group, a collection of poets based in London who were dissatisfied with the way poetry was being read aloud in Cambridge University.  It was his association with this group that led to the publication of his first collection of poetry in 1961, Once Bitten Twice Bitten. Twenty-two further collections of poetry followed.

By the end of his life Porter was considered one of the best poets working in English.  He was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2004, and in 2007 was made a Royal Society of Literature Companion of Literature, an honour that is bestowed on a maximum of ten living writers.

A number of tributes have now been published including those written by James Bradley, on his weblog "City of Tongues", and Stephen Romei on "A Pair of Ragged Claws", the literary weblog of "The Australian" newspaper.

Australian Writers on Postage Stamps

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Australia Post is set to honour six Australian authors as living legends with a new stamp release scheduled for today.  Peter Carey, Bryce Courtenay, Tom Keneally, David Malouf, Colleen McCullough and Tim Winton will each appear in two images on 55c stamps - one from the present and one from the past.

This release follows the 2009 Living Legends postage stamp release that honoured legends of the screen: Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman and Geoffrey Rush.

You can get further details of the various products in the release here.

Regulatory Regime for Books in Australia

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I've covered a little of the debates regarding the Productivity Commission's report of some months back that recommended changing the current book importation rules for Australia.  Basically, a lot of the large book chains in Australian wanted an open market on books.  That would mean that any book could be sold in Australia at any time from any publisher.  This was supposed to mean that book prices would fall across the board - higher competiton and all that.  Most writers, literary associations and publishers were not convinced, and a large campaign was mounted to get the Federal Government to maintain the current arrangements.

In a Press Release from the Ministers of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research today, Dr Craig Emerson has stated that the current regime for book importation will remain.

This is what is known as "a good thing".

An interesting sentence in the PR reads as follows: "In the circumstances of intense competition from online books and e-books, the Government judged that changing the regulations governing book imports is unlikely to have any material effect on the availability of books in Australia."  Something more to ponder on the new book formats. 

A Pardon for "The Breaker"?

breaker_morant_portrait.jpg    "The Age" newspaper is reporting today that a push is underway to obtain a pardon for Harry "Breaker" Morant.

Morant, along with Peter Handcock and George Ramsdale Witton, were court-martialled and convicted, in January 1902, of the murder of a number of prisoners of war during the Boer War in South Africa. Morant and Handcock were executed by firing squad on 27th February 1902. Witton's sentence was commuted and later overthrown.

In 1979 Kenneth Ross wrote a play, "Breaker Morant", based on the incident. The play was later adapted for the screen by Bruce Beresford with Edward Woodward as Morant, and Bryan Brown as Handcock.

As well as being a soldier and horseman, Morant was also a poet, of reasonable quality, in the bush ballad style popular in Australia in the late 19th century.

The bulk of his poems (about 60 in all) were published in The Bulletin. These poems were collected and published in one volume in 1980. The most poignant of these being "Butchered to make a Dutchman's Holiday", written while Morant was waiting for his death sentence to be carried out.

This latest push for a posthumous pardon is based on a call for a re-examination of the trial proceedings, with the argument being that Morant and his co-accused were not allowed a reasonable period to prepare their case and were not allowed to call certain witnesses in their defence. The release of Witton in 1904 after a review of the case would tend to lend some credence to the new arguments. There seems to be little doubt that Morant did commit the acts of which he was accused. The question that remains is whether or not he was just "following orders" from the British High Command - though this was later dismissed as a legitimate defence during the Nuremberg Trials following World War II - and whether he was executed in order to ensure that the incident and the policies around it would be "hushed up" and forgotten.

It is interesting to note that Morant and Handcock remain the only two Australians ever convicted of war crimes.

Melbourne Bookstore Closes Its Doors

McGills Bookstore is set to close its doors after some 149 years in the business.  The lease on the Elizabeth Street store is running out and negotiations over a new contract have broken down.

McGills was a funny sort of place; not overly big on the standard range of novels, but specialised in newspapers and magazines from round the world combined with a large non-fiction section upstairs.  "The Age" newspaper is reporting that the presence of a large Angus & Robetson bookstore practically next door might have had some influence.  That and the fact that a lot of overseas newspapers now have a web presence so sales of the print editions have now fallen sharply.

It will be missed.

Melbourne's Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas

You'll recall that in August 2008 Melbourne was named the second UNESCO City of Literature. That resulted in the announcement that the State Library of Victoria would host a new Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas. The first director of that centre was announced at the end of 2008 as Caro Llewellyn, then New York-based. A month or so back Llewellyn withdrew from the position citing unexpected personal events. So the hunt was on again for another director.

Now the centre has appointed Chrissy Sharp, the Australian general manager of Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. You can read more background about this story by Susan Wyndham.

Australia-Asia Literary Award Suspended

"The West Australian" newspaper is reporting that the Australia-Asia Literary Award will not be held during 2009.

Arts Minister John Day said the total prize money, format and timing of the Australia-Asia Literary Prize, which was claimed by revered Australian writer David Malouf last year, was under review and expected to be finalised by the middle of this year. "There will not be an Australia-Asia Literary Award held in 2009, although it is expected that the award will be held in early 2010, pending the review recommendations."
I thought the whole thing overly ambitious when it was first announced. And the prizemoney was a peculiar figure, set, it seeemd, to ensure it was the highest in the country: at $110,000 it was $10,000 more than the Prime Minister's Literary Award amount.

Melbourne Looks for New Literature Centre

"The Age" is reporting that Caro Llewellyn has withdrawn from taking up the role of director of Melbourne's new Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas, citing unexpected personal reaosns for her decision. Llewellyn was appointed at the end
of 2008 with the expectation that she would take up the director's post in May this year.

ABC Books Folded into HarperCollins

"The Sydney Morning Herald" is reporting that ABC Books - the publishing arm of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation - will be taken over by HarperCollins publishers as of May this year. This will mean the end of the ABC Fiction Award, and entries will now be directed to the HarperCollins-sponsored Varuna manuscript award. The ABC media release gives the bare bones of the story, as you might expect. Further details are available on the Crikey website.

UNESCO City of Literature

UNESCO has named Melbourne as its second City of Literature, after Edinburgh received the first such award in 2004. Beyond the obvious attention this will bring, as well as a new Centre for Books and Ideas that the State Government will build in the city, I'm not sure what this announcement will mean on the ground. However, as I'm involved with the organisation of a major literary event in a couple of years time, I guess I'll find out soon enough.

New Banjo Paterson Poems

"The Courier-Mail" is reporting that a number of unknown Banjo Paterson poems have been found. The poems were hand-written, above his signature, in an old cash book dating back to the Boer War. Paterson was a war correspondent for "The Sydney Morning Herald" and "The Age" during that war, sailing to South Africa in October 1899.

World SF Convention Returns to Australia

At Denvention 3, the 66th World Science Fiction Convention, Australia was chosen as the site for the 68th Worldcon, to be held in Melbourne from September 2-6, 2010. This will be the fourth time the Worldcon has been held in Australia, following the very successful 1975, 1985 and 1999 conventions.

The convention will be known as Aussiecon 4, and will feature author Kim Stanley Robinson, long-time sf fan Robin Johnson, and local artist Shaun Tan as its Guests of Honor. Worldcons are large gatherings of readers, writers, artists, editors, publishers, film-makers, costumers, and musicians -- from all around the world -- who gather in one place each year to celebrate the science fiction, fantasy, horror, YA and related genres. We are expecting around 2,500 members to attend the convention which will make it the largest such event ever held in this country.

Australian Authors' Book Club Days

In a rare, and pleasing event for Australian publishing, two Australian authors have been chosen as part of the summer reading list for the Richard and Judy TV Book Club. This is the UK equivalent of Oprah's Book Club and inclusion on the lists can lead to a massive list in sales. The Australian books chosen are Addition by Toni Jordan, and The esurrectionist by James Bradley, which I reviewed here a couple of years back. Jason Steger, of "The Age", talked to Bradley about it over the weekend. [Second item down.]

Back to Booktown

The first Booktown event in Clunes, Victoria, was held in May 2007, and was a big success. Now we have news that a second event will be held in the town over the weekend of May 3-4. The website now contains details of the bookshops and maps of their locations in the town, as well as details of how to get there by public transport.

Miscellaneous News Items

Novelist Sophie Cunningham has been named as the new editor of Meanjin, replacing Ian Britain who held the post for six years. "Her plans include running longer essays in Meanjin and building up the magazine's online component." Cunningham occasionally writes for the "Sarsaparilla" weblog.

The "Mania Movies" website is reporting that: "Two-time Oscar winner Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) has just inked a nonexclusive deal with United Artists, which will give him an opportunity to produce, write and direct at least two features a year through his new production company Hwy61. As we announced earlier this month, United Artists took on the rights to the Ranger's Apprentice [by Australian author John Flanagan] fantasy series and this latest deal with Haggis has him writing the screenplay alongside his daughter and possibly directing."

"The AHWA is pleased to announce the imminent birth of Midnight Echo - the Magazine of the Australian Horror Writers Association. Midnight Echo aims to showcase the quality and diversity of the modern horror and dark fantasy genres. Particular emphasis will be placed upon Australian authors, but international voices will also be included." The "OzHorrorScope" weblog has more on this.

In the week ending January 26, Shaun Tan's The Arrival was 7th on "The New York Times" Bestselling Picture of the Week list.

The National Book Critics Circle has started providing a winter selection of Good Reads. This year's list includes Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee, and People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.

Miscellaneous News Items

In "The Sydney Morning Herald": An Australian book, The Ernies Book - 1000 Terrible Things Australian Men Have Said About Women, is receiving more attention in the UK than here. Hardly surprising, as most Australian men wouldn't believe what was in it, and most Australian women would've heard worse. The worst thing I ever heard said about a woman was said in mixed company by a man about his ex-wife. I should have picked him up on it, but didn't - it being his house and his lunch - to my regret. And then, a few years later, I heard the same thing said by a woman on an episode of "Ab Fab". Doesn't matter, I still think it's a terrible thing to say.

In "Publisher's Weekly": "For Plume, Kate Davis bought North American rights to Alice Pung's Unpolished Gem. This debut memoir, personally recommended to Putnam by house author Amy Tan, is about a Chinese-Cambodian family trying to live the Australian Dream without losing themselves, and the author's coming-of-age trapped between these cultures. The book won the Australian Newcomer of the Year Award at the 2007 Australian Book Industry Awards. Sophy Williams at Black Inc. Books in Melbourne made the sale, and Plume will publish as a paperback original in early 2009."

Major booksellers in Australia are refusing to stock the new biography of Tom Cruise by Andrew Motion. Sure wrecks my reading year.

2009 Clarion South

Clarion South is a biennial sf and fantasy writers' workshop held in Queensland. Sean Williams posts with the news that he will be one of the tutors for the 2009 workshop. He joins Marianne de Pierres, Margo Lanagan, Jack Dann, Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant. Applications open February 1, 2008.

Lonely Planet Publishing Sold

Lonely Planet, the iconic Australian publisher of travel guides has been sold to the commercial division of the BBC in a deal reportedly worth $A200 million. BBC Worldwide aims to expand the business by branching out into magazines and television programs, though it is not expected that the editorial guidelines for the books will change in any significant way. The publishing business will remain at its current Footscray location under the same management.

Stephen King in Australia

Major League baseballer Mark McGwire was said to spend his off-seasons in Adelaide as he had friends there and could walk the streets completely unnoticed. Bruce Springsteen found something similar last time he was in Australia.

The point is, though, McGwire didn't visit sport stores and browse the baseball bats, and Springsteen steered clear of guitar shops. But I guess Stephen King just couldn't help himself when he was sprung surreptitiously signing books - his own presumably - in an Alice Springs bookstore. A few years back King drove a motobike around the backblocks of Queensland unannounced. Seems he's on a similar excursion this time. Just do the Aussie thing - leave the guy alone.

Australian Literature Chair

Federal Education minister, Julie Bishop, has announced that the Australian Gvernment will allocate funds to $A1.5m to create a Chair of Australian Literature in an Australian university. No decision has been made as to the location of the position, and all universities in the country are being asked to submit bids for the funding. This announcement follows on from recent concerns that not enough Australian literature was being taught in our universities.

Victorian Booktown

By all reports, the initial book event held in Clunes, Victoria, just outside Ballarat, went down a treat (see my note on this earlier). I read somewhere that some 6,000 visitors made it to the town during the day, so there were massive traffic jams. The booksellers who attended were very happy with the response, with a number seriously contemplating re-locating to the town. The momentum is working in the right direction, it seems.

Booktown for Victoria

Anyone who has had the pleasure of wandering the small streets on Hay-on-Wye, on the English-Welsh border, will understand the wonders to be found on a town that is wall-to-wall bookshops. Hay-on-Wye was established in 1961 and, since then, over 20 other such booktowns have appeared around the world. Now, there is news that the small township of Clunes, about 20 kilometres north of Ballarat in Victoria, has decided to try to set up Australia's first dedicated booktown. It will take a while, but already there are two bookshops in the town and others look sure to follow.

"To get the ball rolling, the town will host the first Clunes Book Town for a Day event, on May 20, from 9am-4pm. The day will consist of more than 50 rare and second-hand booksellers setting up stalls in the old buildings. There will also be food stalls, wine asting, art and collectables. Barry Jones will talk about his latest book, A Thinking Reed, and ABC Radio National will record a program for its books show from Clunes. There will be a rare book worth $800 hidden among the shops that will cost only a few dollars for the finder." Clunes is also on the edge of the Australian Pyrenees, a wonderful wine district, so there is some degree of synergy in the location. Well, there is for me anyway.

Tim Winton's Next Novel

The "mediabistro" weblog is reporting that Tim Winton has sold a new novel, titled Breath, to Picador. No details about dates are available at this time.

Just Some General News Items

Ron, the creator and co-ordinator of the "Patrick White Readers' Group" weblog, has decided to shut the group down. It seems that a call for a show of interest in another White title returned only two replies. Ron's done a good job with this, and it's a pity to see it go, but we all need to recognise when an idea has run its course.

Sarah Weinman, on the "Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind", points to an interview with Anthony Cheetham on the Bookseller website. Who's he you may well ask? Well, he's the owner of Quercus Publishing, the publishing house that released Peter Temple's novel The Broken Shore in the UK. I can't access the Bookseller site as it is subscription-only, but the short piece on Weinman's weblog puts the Temple publication into some context. It also mentions that Quercus will publish Adrian Hyland's novel Diamond Dove. And if you access the publisher's website and have a wander through the publications list you'll see that they are also publishing In the Evil Day (which my father told me was better than Broken Shore) and a Jack Temple Omnibus, both by Peter Temple. A bit further down we see that the house will also be releasing a Parker Omnibus by Richard Stark. Now we just need someone to send Cheetham a copy of one of Disher's Wyatt novels.

From an email I recently received: "Australian Book Review and the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) have much pleasure in announcing the second Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay, one of the world's most lucrative essay prizes. The winner will receive $10,000. "All non-fiction subjects are eligible, from memoir to literary studies to politics to natural history. "The closing date is August 31, and the winner will be announced in December 2007." The competition conditions are available from the ABR website.

Ern Malley Musical

Some of the poems of Ern Malley have been set to music by members of the Faculty of Music at the University of Melbourne. The resultant musical, "The Ern Malley Project", will be presented at the Castlemaine State Festival on Saturday 7th April, at 1pm and 4pm. Castlemaine is about 90 minutes north of Melbourne in the state of Victoria.

[Thanks to the Literary Saloon at the complete review for the link.]

Borders in Trouble in the UK

"The Guardian" is reporting the following:

The US books chain Borders, which also owns Books etc, looks set to pull out of the UK market as it relaunches its website and concentrates on revamping its core US books chain. It said today it will explore "strategic alternatives" for its international division, largely the UK and Ireland but also including operations in Australia and New Zealand. This is likely to see the business sold, or franchised, in which case the stores could retain the Borders name.
No news as yet as to when this change will take place.

Publisher Drops Children's Thriller

"The Australian" reports that Scholastic Australia has dropped plans to publish John Dale's children's thriller, Army of the Pure. The paper is reporting that the publisher decided on this course of action after it found that booksellers and librarians would not stock the book because the villian is a Muslim terrorist. Excuse me?

Comparisons are being made to Andrew McGahan's Underground and Richard Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist, both of which feature terrorists who "are portrayed as victims driven to extreme acts by the failings of the West." They seem to be doing pretty well at present. This story is being picked up in other places around the world.

Patrick White's Papers

The big literary news of the day is the discovery of a "treasure trove" of written material left behind by Patrick White after his death. In "The Sydney Morning Herald", David Marr (who wrote the definitive biography of the writer) reports that the find includes "photographs of the young swell at Cambridge in the 1930s; precious letters saved from the thousands he'd received in a long lifetime; the old man's beret and beanie; theatre programs from four continents; a pile of recipes in his own hand; and the carbons of half a dozen brutal letters of dismissal of old friends, old agents and politicians he'd once supported."

Apparently the material was found stuffed into drawers and cupboards around his house on the edge of Centennial Park in Sydney after his death in 1990. Contrary to the wishes expressed in White's will, his literary executor, Barbara Mobbs, did not destroy the material but kept it and has since offered it to the National Library of Australia. Workers at the library have been cataloguing it since mid-August.

Business Award for Readings Bookshops

Readings Bookshops have been presented with "The Age"/D&B Business Award in the retail category. This is a great little bookshop chain of five stores in inner Melbourne suburbs: Carlton, Port Melbourne, St Kilda, Malvern and Hawthorn. I'm lucky to be able to call the Hawthorn store my local. A wonderful place to browse.

New Young Author on the Block

Young author makes good out of the slush pile. The media just loves these sort of stories: Alexandra Adornetto is a 14-year-old Melbourne high school student who has just signed a two-book deal with publisher HarperCollins. This is based on the submission of her first manuscript, The Shadow Thief, a young-adult novel which will be published in the middle of next year. She was interviewed on Melbourne's 774 ABC radio station by Red Symons this morning, and if her performance there is anything to go by she'll do very well.

Chris Masters on His New Book

Over in the comments section relating to my Chris Masters/Alan Jones posting of yesterday, Dean, of the Happy Antipodean weblog, alerts us the news that Chris Masters was interviewed on the ABC TV's 7:30 Report last night. You can read the transcript of that interview on the program's website.

Jonestown by Chris Masters

Back in July I reported on the fracas that was surrounding the publication of Jonestown by Chris Masters.

In essense, the book is a biography of Alan Jones (Sydney talkback radio host, beloved of our current Prime Minister) which was originally commissioned by ABC Books (the publishing arm of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation), subsequently withdrawn by them and later picked up by Allen and Unwin. Anyway, the book is now out and "The Age" is publishing extracts - which don't appear to be on the website unfortunately - and the controversy continues. Today Masters explains that he feels let down by the ABC Board, and has denied he aimed to 'out' Jones's sexuality, which I thought was pretty common knowledge anyway. Chris Masters is a journalist and writer of integrity. You can make up your own mind about Alan Jones.

Carmen Callil in Trouble

The British-based writer and former publisher Carmen Callil is in trouble in New York over her book, Bad Faith. The book tells the story of Louis Darquier, the Vichy official who arranged the deportation of thousands of Jews from France. A party in her honour was due to be held at the French embassy but was cancelled when one invitee refused to attend and complained about one paragraph in the book's postscript. This paragraph was read as criticising Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, likening their actions to those of Vichy officials in the Second World War. It seems that speech is not as "free" as some in the US would have us believe.

First Tuesday Book Club

A month or so back, we reported on plans by ABC television to introduce a monthly books program. Now those plans have been put in place and First Tuesday Book Club will premiere on Tuesday August 1st at 10pm. As previously noted, the program will be hosted by Jennifer Byrne and will also feature a panel of booklovers including actor and author Jacki Weaver, Gardening Australia host Peter Cundall, blogger Marieke Hardy, and Jason Steger, literary editor of "The Age". The first books up for discussion will be American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald.

Bookshop Chain Plans to Expand

Angus & Robertson, one of Australia's largest chain of bookshops, has announced plans to expand its nationwide network of 170 stores by adding another 45 over the next two years. It appears that A&R are positioning themselves as a general/discount bookseller, filling the gap between Borders and Dymocks at the top end, and KMart and other discount stores further down. It appears that, given the chain's current spread, that the additional stores are not aimed at solely expanding their geographical coverage.

Books Banned in Australia

The Australian Classification Review Board has banned two radical Islamic books, the first books banned in Australia in decades. The Australian Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, has now called for even tougher laws to ban such publications, according to a report in "The Australian".

And this "came after the Australian Federal Police and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions both ruled that the books did not constitute sedition under new anti-terror laws passed last year."

So we are in for another round of security law tightening. I wonder when this will start affecting fiction. If a novelist describes a scene that can be construed as being instructive about a terrorist act, then that book might also be banned. I can think of a few that might fall foul of this law. Innocuous in themselves, but if you look at them in a certain light, as bureaucrats are wont to do, they could appear to be far more dangerous than they actually are.

Time to start getting a tad concerned I think.

The ABC Board and Alan Jones 3

"The Australian" newspaper has been running pretty heavily with the Alan Jones biography story over the past week, with no less that 5 items being printed. On July 4th came the news that the ABC's lawyers had given the go-ahead for the book to be published, "insisting the corporation could defend any defamation action launched by the radio broadcaster."

Two days later and David Salter (who used to be executive producer of the BC's "Media Watch" program) got stuck into the the ABC over its decision: "It's distressing to discover Aunty can now be so two-faced and craven. ABC Books is happy to trade on the huge market awareness and credibility of the ABC brand, but its courage apparently fails it when faced with the challenge of putting some real editorial gristle behind its own imprint." And then put the knife in where it deserved to go: "Anyone who still doubts the ABC is succumbing to a new order of top-down conservatism should ponder recent history. Previous boards and managements were made of sterner stuff. In 1993 the ABC Books logo appeared on Paul Barry's The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer, a robust biography that traversed material as contentious as anything we might expect to read in Jonestown."

Simon Kearney then revealed further details about the ABC Board discussions, along with the news that a print-run of 30,000 was being touted. On the same day, July 6th, came the report that five leading Australian publishers were vying to pick up the publication rights to the book - you'd couldn't buy this sort of publicity. Which was followed on the 7th July with the news that the publisher Allen & Unwin would be the publisher of Chris Masters's book. To be frank, I hope that's the end of it. Until publication day at any rate.

The ABC Board and Alan Jones 2

The Board of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has confirmed that it made the decision to dump the proposed biography of Alan Jones by ABC journalist Chris Masters. Normally decisions such as this would have been taken by ABC Enterprises, a section of the ABC which handles publishing. The Federal Opposition is claiming political interference in the decision, but the Prime Minister has denied any involvement.

Tim Winton and Lockie Leonard

An item that I missed a few months back relates to the filming of a 26-part series of Tim Winton's children series of stories about Lockie Leonard. The production started in February and was due to run for six months, based in and around the town of Albany in Western Australia.

In other Winton related news, Ray Lawrence, director of the wonderful Lantana and the current release Jindabyne, attempted to make a film version of Winton's Booker shortlisted novel The Riders, but he was unable to raise the necessary finance.

C.J. Dennis Back at the Bar

C.J. Dennis spent the latter part of his life in Toolangi, a small hamlet some 15 minutes from Healesville in Victoria's Yarra Valley. Since the early 1970s the town has been without a hotel after the previous one was destroyed in a fire. That hotel has now been rebuilt and a report in the Upper Yarra Mail states that the main bar will be given the title of "I Dips Me Lid" in honour of Toolangi's most famous resident.

See the poem "I Dips Me Lid" for an example of the usage. Of course, the most famous use of the phrase occurs in Dennis's poem The Intro, from his verse novel The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke. The relevant verse is as follows:

O' course we worked the oricle; you bet!
But, 'struth, I ain't recovered frum it yet!
   'Twas on a Saturdee, in Colluns Street,
   An' -- quite by accident, o' course -- we meet.
Me pal 'e trots 'er up an' does the toff --
'E allus wus a bloke fer showin' off.
   "This ere's Doreen," 'e sez.
"This 'ere's the Kid."
      I dips me lid.

The ABC Board and Alan Jones

Sitting down here in Melbourne it's hard to understand the influence radio jocks, like Alan Jones, have on the general public in Sydney. It's only when news filters out about his friendships with the high and mighty within Australia's Conservative fraternity that we get an inkling of what he is capable.

Now comes the news that the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) has bowed to pressure from Jones and his lawyers to cease the proposed publication of a book, titled Jonestown (great title by the way), by Chris Masters. This book was commissioned by the board four years ago but has now been put on hold under the threat of legal action by the book's subject. Firstly, the threat is reasonable enough. Chris Masters is a major, multi-award-winning journalist in this country working for the television current affairs program Four Corners. Chances are the resultant book was not going to be a flattering portrait. So you can understand why Jones would want to put a stop to it any way he could.

The problem lies in the way the ABC Board capitulated over the legal threat. Reports are that the book was raked over by any number of legal experts so, presumably, the material in it was deemed balanced enough to be reasonable. But it seems the Board could not accept the risk. And today we read that various other journalists within the ABC have expressed their displeasure at the decision. One wonders how much this has to do with the recent appointment of Keith Windschuttle and Janet Albrechtsen as directors of the Board. Both are considered to have a decided right-wing cultural agenda and to be admired by our current Prime Minister. Just wondering.

"The Age" and the Miles Franklin Award

Nathan Hollier, editor of Overland magazine, takes up the discussion of the Miles Franklin Award in "The Age" this morning. Hollier takes a similar approach to the award as Jane Sullivan and myself, though he does state: "Perhaps Australia does need a new literary prize, for which the novels of all Australian writers can be considered, but it also certainly still needs the Miles Franklin. The short-listed novels for this year's award are all centrally concerned with Australian history, society and culture, and often, as Castro suggested in relation to his own novel, in a very critical way. In the absence of an award with the particular, thematic provisions of the Miles Franklin, publishers - and major publishers in particular - would be much less likely to publish those works specifically concerned with our society and culture."

The winner of the 2006 award will be announced on Thursday, 22nd June.

Australian SF Radio Podcast

Jonathan Stahan (over on his weblog Notes From Coote Street) alerts us to the fact that the Perth-based sf radio show, Faster Than Light, now has a blog, and is podcasting their show. Three programs are now available for download. So far the blog only has postings announcing the availability of the podcasts. Hopefully more will be featured in the future.

The radio program is hosted by Grant Stone and Wolfe Bylsma, and features news and reviews of the sf and fantasy fields in books, film and tv.

Orbit Books to Launch New Australian Imprint

Recently announced on the Orbit UK website: "Orbit's parent company Hachette Livre is to launch two new SF and Fantasy imprints in the USA and Australia. Orbit, an imprint of the Little, Brown Book Group (formerly Time Warner Book Group), is the UK's leading SF and Fantasy imprint, and the launch of Orbit USA and Orbit Australia will give it a major presence in the three largest English-language markets in the

[Thanks to Jonathan Strahan and the Articulate weblog for details of this.]

2006 "Sydney Morning Herald" Best Young Australian Novelists

Susan Wyndham details the selection of this year's "Sydney Morning Herald" Best Young Australian Novelists. The list: Stephanie Bishop Leigh Redhead Tony Wilson Markus Zusack The judges of the award were Wyndham, novelist Kerry Greenwood, and SMH literary editor Catherine Keenan.

Ginger Mick Takes to the Stage

C.J. Dennis's verse novel, The Moods of Ginger Mick, his follow-up to The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, has now been adapted for the stage.

"Ginger Mick at Gallipoli debuted as a four-man song-and dance act on Anzac Day last month. It stars Joe Clements as Mick, Bruce Kerr as his mate, Billo, with Brendan O'Connor and Craig Annis juggling peripheral characters, with Dennis' colourful Aussie lexicon intact."

The play has been developed by Melbourne's Petty Traffikers theatre company, and the current production runs from May 23 to June 11, Tuesday to Sunday, at Fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, city.

Might see if I can take meself along to this one.

Books on Australian Television

"The Age" today reports that ABC television has commissioned a series of programs about books and publishing.

Journalist and publisher Jennifer Byrne is set to give Oprah a run for her money. She will host First Tuesday Book Club on ABC TV. Byrne will be joined by (you guessed it) a panel of book lovers and experts who will discuss titles from fiction, non-fiction, biography, thriller, romance and history genres. Byrne, publishing director at Reed Books in the mid-1990s also fronted the ABC's My Favourite Book special. She said the show would "hunt out the best and liveliest of the new, the memorable of the old - and everyone's invited". ABC TV head of arts and entertainment Courtney Gibson said that the show - to air the first Tuesday of each month from August 1 - would include online viewer discussion.
One program a month! Well, at least it's better than the nothing we are experiencing at present.

A New Fantasy World Takes Shape

South Australian writer and illustrator D. M. Cornish has signed a substantial deal with Omnibus Books to publish his Monster Blood Tatoo trilogy of fantasy novels. "The Australian" reports that he had been working on his world-building for almost 15 years until a chance encounter with a publisher lead to the publication contract.

The first volume of the trilogy, Foundling, will be published in the US on May 18 by Putnam.

Future volumes will also be published in May over the next two years.

Australia's Prime Minister and the Literature Syllabus

"The Age" is reporting today that the Prime Minister is complaining about the modern school English syllabus and how it is being "dumbed down". In response, the paper has also printed a response by Peter Craven who states that "Howard has a point - even if he fails to understand it."

It strikes me that this is becoming an annual event - pick an item off the English school reading list and lay into it. Howard puts his argument thus: "...we need a curriculum that encourages an understanding of the high quality literature and not the rubbish." The question is, John, who's to say what is rubbish, and what is not.

I remember being taught "A School for Scandal" back in high school in the early 70s, and let me tell you, that was rubbish: a bedroom melodrama with added slapstick that the Carry-On gang did far, far better. I had no idea of how it could have related to me or my worldview at that time, assuming I had one, which is doubtful.

Now Shakespeare, on the other hand, was good, but the teaching of it was crap. How can a 15-year-old possibly hope to understand the overwhelming ambition and lust for power that fuels Lady Macbeth or Richard III? Same for the war poetry. The Vietnam War was on at the time but I suspect none of us knew anyone actually in the war, and most of us wouldn't have had anyone in our immediate family who had been to either World War II or the Korean War. We only studied World War I poetry anyway, and then it was only Owen and Sassoon; Australian poets like Dennis or Gellart or Palmer or Manifold didn't get a look in.

Every middle-aged generation complains that the literature read and studied by the younger generation is crap. It's par for the course. I remember being told on a number of occasions that reading science fiction and comics was bad for me, that I should read good books (hence my unfortunate addiction to Enid Blyton in my pre-10 years). And yet here I am reading as much as anyone else I know, other than those reviewing for a living.

It's not the product so much as the person reading it. It's not so much the "canon" as the way it is taught. Fix that and the rest will fall into place. Yes, even episodes of the worst television soap opera you can think of are worthy of study. You just have to know how to tackle it.

J.M. Coetzee and the Universities

Speaking before an audience of international vice-chancellors at the Association of Commonwealth Universities Conference of Executive Heads in Adelaide, J.M. Coetzee has called for a change in the emphasis of university teaching.

"Should we be worried that the graduating students are equipped to write novels and stories and plays for today's literary market but not well informed about the history of these forms or about what has been achieved in the forms in the past?" Coetzee asked.

It is a question, he says, that has bothered him for some time.

Celebrity Authors

We had the Madonna book show, and now, it appears, Kylie Minogue is going to follow suit by writing a children's book for Puffin.

Now, I've got nothing against Kylie, she does her job well and I've been impressed with her staying power over the years, but an author? I wonder if she'll do a Stephen King and ask for a $1 advance against royalties. I somehow doubt her management would have a bar of that. It'd be a good gesture though, and show she is at least confident about her work.

The piece in "The Age" is reprinted from "The Guardian".

True Blue Coetzee

As foreshadowed last week, J.M. Coetzee took Australian citizenship yesterday in a ceremony at the Adelaide Writers' Week. Coetzee was sworn in by Federal Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone in front of some 200 people, including Cornelia Rau - falsely detained by immigration officials last year. Would have been interesting to see the minister's face when she noticed Ms Rau. I would have paid good money for that. Kerryn Goldsworthy has indicated that she intends to post about this ceremony on her weblog. It's not there yet, so we'll just keep gently prodding.

Second Auction of Australiana Collection

Last year, about this time, I reported on the first sale of items from the Rodney Davidson Collection of Australiana. Now the second auction is about to take place and Jane Sullivan, of "The Age", has been a long to have a look.

The first sale returned $A5.7million, and while that figure may not be reached this time, the "second Melbourne sale, featuring 200 books, maps and documents from the period 1810 to 1850, also promises to attract huge interest. Jonathan Wantrup, executive director of Australian Book Auctions, which is handling the sale, says the Davidson collection is the world's finest and most comprehensive private collection of Australiana."

The piece also includes some nice stories about the book collecting trade. Some publisher should get Davidson to write his memoirs. It would make interesting, and amusing, reading.

Australian Libraries

Australian libraries nationwide have combined to enable access to their catalogs via the new Libraries Australia web portal.

Details were announced in "The Australian" yesterday along with the note that the portal would go live next Monday, February 27th. Oddly enough I seem to be able to access it today, so maybe it's just up in beta mode before the full-blown release next week.

This looks like being an excellent resource.

Penguin Australia's Backlist

Penguin Australia is obviously having trouble with its backlist, as it announces a plan to cut royalty rates for backlist authors from 10% down to between 6 and 8. The reasons given are that this will allow some titles to be reprinted which, at the higher royalty rate, would not be viable, and that this is current business practice in New York or London.

[Thanks to the mediabistro: GalleyCat for the link.]

Garth Nix and Sir Thursday

Sir Thursday, the next volume in Garth Nix's "The Keys to the Kingdom" series, will be published worldwide in early March 2006. On Amazon, the paperback has a current sales ranking of 137 in the UK, and the hardback a ranking of 437 in the US. Very respectable numbers indeed.

In the lead-up to publication, you can play an online game based on the series at the Scholastic website. You can also read the prologue to the novel on Garth's website.

[Thanks to Liz at A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy for the game link.]

Victorian Premier's Reading Challenge

The Victorian Premier's Reading Challenge is on again this year after a successful debut in 2005. In that year some 60,000 students from 1300 schools met the challenge.

The aim of the challenge is to promote the art and enjoyment of reading amongst Victorian school students, aged 4 to 15. Certificates are provided to students in years 3 - 9 (ages 8 to 15) who read 15 books (10 or more from the specified list), and to students in prep - 2 (ages 4 to 7) who read or experience 30 books (20 or more from the list) between the start of the school year and the end of August.

The full booklists are
pretty comprehensive.

Australia Day

It's hot, it's Australia Day (which usually means lounging around the house doing very little except watching the cricket and the tennis, reading books and visiting the new niece - by the name of Grace), so little in the way of weblogging will be done.

On the news front, a quick skim of the recipients of the Australia Day honours reveals Dr Inga Clendinnen awarded an Officer (AO) in the General Division: "For services to scholarship as a writer and historian addressing issues of fundamental concern to Australian society and for contributiing to shaping public debate on conflicting contemporary issues."

There may be others, but it's a long list.

Upcoming Australian SF/Fantasy/Horror

You can read a list (with descriptions and the occasional book cover) of the upcoming Australian sf, fantasy and horror books. This was put together in October last year by Garth Nix and Jonathan Strahan, so some of the books listed will already be in the shops. The authors have attempted to be as all-inclusive as they can but some items will have slipped the net. Nonetheless, it's an impressive piece of work.

Note: the catalogue is a PDF file of some 400k.

[Thanks to Jonathan Strahan and his weblog Notes from Coode Street for the link.]

Pitching Opportunity for Unpublished Novelists

Conjure, the 2006 Australian
National Science Fiction Convention, is offering Australian unpublished novelists of Speculative Fiction the opportunity to pitch their work to Stephanie Smith, Senior Editor of the Voyager imprint of HarperCollins Australia.

Interesting idea. In order to be considered you have to fill out the entry form (downloadable from the website), and submit it, the first 20 pages of the manuscript and a one page pitch. If you're not sure about the pitch side of things, then have a look at Miss Snark's weblog. Over the few weeks or so she has been accepting novel synopses from her readers and commenting on them from her agenting perspective. Lots to learn here.

Forthcoming Australian Books for 2006

"The Age" and "The Australian" have posted their annual lists of forthcoming books. Here are the ones I'm looking forward to:

Passarola Rising, Azhar Abidi (February)
Dreams of Speaking, Gail Jones (February)
The Resurrectionist, James Bradley (March)
Carry Me Down, M.J. Hyland (March)
Theft: A Love Story, Peter Carey (April)
Tuvalu, Andrew O'Connor (August)
The Unknown Terrorist, Richard Flanagan (November)

Crime Fiction
The Apricot Colonel, Marion Halligan (February)
A Hal Challis novel by Garry Disher (September)
A Jack Irish novel by Peter Temple (October)
Sucked In, a Murray Whelan novel by Shane Maloney (November)

Speculative Fiction
Magic Lessons, Justine Larbalestier (March)
The Keys to the Kingdom, Book 4: Sir Thursday, Garth Nix (March)

Bi-Plan Houses, Les Murray (April)

Graphic Novel
The Arrival, Shaun Tan (October)

Asbestos House: The Unauthorised Story of James Hardie Industries, Gideon Haigh (February)
An autobiography by Robert Hughes (July)
An autobiography by Barry Jones (September)
A History of Victoria, Geoffrey Blainey (October)

The Australian papers neglected to list the forthcoming Speculative Fiction so I've grabbed what I can find from the list published in Locus in early December 2005.

Kings of the Hill

Long term readers may remember news items from earlier in the year dealing with the collapse of the Australia-wide bookselling chain, Collins. Deeply involved in that collapse was one of my favourite bookstores, Hill of Content, at the top end of Bourke Street, here in Melbourne.

The bad news at the time involved the collapse, the good news was that the bookshop in question was rescued by 4 bookshop owners who already owned Collins franchises, which hadn't been affected by the business problems. Now the even better news is that the other Collins franchisees have banded together to form a new company, which is thriving. And the Hill of Content is going from strength to strength.

Internet book sales are a threat, but also an opportunity. "People look up the books on the net and come into our shop and order it," Mrs Johnston said. "People just love to come in and feel and smell the books."

Books on ABC's Radio National

Currently hosting Radio National's Books and Writing on Sundays at 1pm, Romana Koval will move to "The Book Show" in 2006. This is a new program which will air at 10am each weekday and run for 40 minutes. This is a big increase and can only be applauded. "The Age" has more details about the program today. The hope here at Matilda is that the ABC will see its way clear to make the programs available via Podcast as is done with the current program.

J.M. Coetzee and the Social Sciences

In a speech at a ceremony to award him an honorary degree from the University of Adelaide, J.M. Coetzee has said that social science graduates are undervalued and ignored by the corporate world. Coetzee said the social sciences enabled humans to "come to know themselves better and perhaps even become better people".

True Crime Exploitation?

The Peter Falconio murder trial has been dominating the news media, print and television, over the past couple of months and now, with the guilty verdict handed down, the rush is on to produce the first book about the case. First cab off the rank will be British writer Richard Shears' 86,000-word book, Bloodstain: The Vanishing of Peter Falconio which is due to be in the bookshops some time later today; only two days after the end of the trial. In Australian terms this must be some sort of record. And if that's not enough, we can expect to see another four or five appearing over the next 12 months. The age of celebrity continues unabated.

Geraldine Brooks Again

The 2006 Richard and Judy Book Club has released its list of 10 titles, and Geraldine Brooks's March has been included. "The Times" estimates that this will increase sales of the book five-fold. As the paper says: "Richard and Judy, the Channel 4 presenters, are acknowledged as the kingmakers of the British book market." A bit late for the 2005 Christmas market but a post-holiday sales boost is always something to look forward to.

[Thanks to The Literary Saloon for the links.]

John Fowles Dead

The English writer John Fowles has died at his home in Dorset at the age of 79 after a long illness. While not an Australian writer, Fowles did write The French Lieutenant's Woman, one of my all-time favourites. He will be missed.

National Treasures from Australia's Great Libraries

This month's issue of
the "National Library of Australia News" reports on the upcoming touring exhibition National Treasures from Australia's Great Libraries. Years in the planning this exhibition will bring together such items as Ned Kelly's helmet (from his seige at Glenrowan) and his Jerilderie Letter (which was the inspiration for Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang), Captain James Cook's Endeavour journals, John Lewin's Birds of New Holland from 1808, P.L. Travers's annotations on her copy of the Disney screenplay for the film Mary Poppins, and Shane Gould's diary from the 1972 Olympics.

It looks like being a collection to cater for all tastes. The exhibition will start at the National Library in Canberra (from 3 Dec 2005 - 12 Feb 2006) and will then move on to the State Library of Victoria and then to all other State Libraries around the country.

Peter Temple News

From "The Guardian" Bookseller column: "Most of us would be content with founding two major publishing houses. But Anthony Cheetham, who was pushed out of Orion in a coup two years ago, is at it again. He's investing in a new company, Quercus, which will specialise in crime fiction and reference books with a twist. Cheetham knows the worth of good partners: the crime list will be run by Otto Penzler, the New York bookseller, and former Fourth Estate publisher Christopher Potter will join the editorial board.

"Quercus (Latin for oak tree) has already signed some promising American crime and thriller writers - Joyce Carol Oates, Andrew Klavan, Thomas Cook, Joe Gores - and the highly rated Australian author Peter Temple. Its first two "smart, approachable" reference books will be Speeches That Changed the World and Universe, an illustrated tour of the cosmos. As larger publishers become ever more cautious, Quercus will have no problem finding quality material. But after seeing his Orion and Century absorbed into European conglomerates, Cheetham is determined to keep things small and independent. Quercus will publish 30 books in its first year and keep a close eye on overheads, meaning it can be profitable on sales of a few thousand copies of each. The bedrock of its list will be linked to the contract books business run by Cheetham's partner Mark Smith - deals with US booksellers like Barnes & Noble enable larger print runs and cheaper cover prices." Which gives a little more information than is probably necessary but the context is important here.

2005 Literature Board Fellowships

Each year the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts accepts applications from writers across all disciplines and genres for various fellowships and grants. This year's list (warning: PDF file) has been released and contains some interesting reading.

Top of the list are the Fellowships which are two-year grants:
Kate Llewellyn, for non-fiction and poetry
Margo Lanagan, for young adult literature
Philip Salom, for poetry.

Margo announced this a week or so back on her weblog. She could hardly contain herself.

Others who received grants and who have been mentioned on this weblog:
Sarah Armstrong
Steven Carroll
Sophie Cunningham
Robert Dessaix
Sonya Hartnett
Frank Moorhouse
Ian Townsend
Charlotte Wood

Congratulations to all writers. I'm sure this will make their writing over the next year or so somewhat easier.

Time Magazine's Best Novels in English

The Time magazine critics, Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo have published a list of what they consider are the best novels published in English since 1923. And why that date? 'Cos that's the year Time started publication, so I guess it's as good a date as any.

All in all, it's a pretty good list. We could quibble about various entries here and there, but we won't as we haven't read all of them. It's nice to see Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman made it - it's an old favourite and it normally gets dumped on from a great height.

As far as I can tell the only Australian book on the list is Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children. I didn't take it on holidays but it has now moved to the "to-be-read" pile in the bedroom. One of them anyway.


And so, another new term gets coined to explain a concept that takes too long to say all the way through. Basically a "blook" is a book serialised in the form of a weblog. You can read one of the first at

And even before you can blink comes the news of "The Lulu Blooker", a prize for the best blook published in a particular year. With Cory Doctorow involved and $2,000 to the overall winner, it is not to be sneezed at.

I had an idea for one of these a few months back, even before I knew of the term. Didn't get round to it. Of course.

Once Upon a Deadline: A Writing Marathon

A strange item has come into my possession. I quote:

"On Saturday 15 October, eight writers will compete against each other to win $5,000. Over the course of the day, the writers will move around eight inner-Sydney locations composing an original 1200 word story based on their journey around the city.

"The competitors are a mix of well-known and emerging writers: Kate Forsyth, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Lewie JPD, Terri Janke, John Larkin, Mary Moody, David A. Rollins and the current Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year, Roxzan Bowes.

"At 7.30 pm, the writers will read their stories to an audience at the Paddington RSL Club. At the end of the night, the judges, who include Booker Prize-winning author, Thomas Keneally, the Sydney Morning Herald's literary editor and author, Malcolm Knox, and one of Australia's most prolific indigenous writers, Dr Anita Heiss, will award $5,000 to the author of the story they deem the best. Tickets are available on the door or by calling 02-9360 3200."

Short story writing considered as a down-hill bicycle race?

UpComing Australian SF Books

The following new Australian SF Books will be published in the coming months:

September 2005
Night People, Anthony Eaton

October 2005
Priestess of the White, Trudi Canavan
The Fiction Factory, Jack Dann et al.

November 2005
The Well of Tears, Cecilia Dart-Thornton

December 2005
Beyond Singularity, Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois, eds

January 2006
Modern Greats of Science Fiction : Nine Novellas of Distinction, Jonathan Strahan, ed
Giants of the Frost, Kim Wilkins

February 2006
Voidfarer, Sean McMullen
Fantasy: The Best of 2005, Jonathan Strahan & Karen Haber, eds
Geodesica: Descent, Sean Williams & Shane Dix

March 2006
K-Machines, Damian Broderick

April 2006
The Keys to the Kingdom, Book 4: Sir Thursday, Garth Nix

Children's Book Week

Children's Book Week starts this Saturday 20th August and runs to the 26th. The aim of the week is to promote book reading amongst children. The Australian Children's Book of the Year Awards are announced on August 19th.

Romance Writers of Australia

Carolyn Webb, of "The Age", profiles a number of Australian Romance writers in the lead-up to their annual conference, which runs from August 26 to 28, in Melbourne. The bonus this year is that the RWA has had their conference recognised as an umbrella event attached to the Melbourne Writers' Festival. A major coup I suspect.

As might be expected, the main thrust of the piece is that these writers don't get any form of respect in the literary world. This has also the experience of crime and science fiction writers in the past. Their public perception has changed gradually over the years but it seems that the romance field lags somewhat.

The romance genre is not one I visit very often and I think that, like all other artistic endeavours, Sturgeon's Law applies: "90% of everything is crap." The corollary of which is that 10% is pretty good to excellent. The difficulty with any genre lies in getting that 10% noticed.

Books Alive 2005

The 2005 Books Alive campaign has begun. The following is extracted from the Australia Council website:

"Federal Minister for the Arts and Sport, Senator Rod Kemp officially launched Books Alive 2005 at a public event this morning at Westfield Miranda in Sydney's southern suburbs.

"At the same time Deborah Thomas, Editorial Director of The Australian Women's Weekly, launched Hell Island the new short novel by Matthew Reilly written exclusively for this year's Books Alive.

"Until August 31 Books Alive will give away a free copy of Matthew Reilly's Hell Island with any book purchased from The 2005 Books Alive Great Read Guide.

"The Guide is the cornerstone of this year's promotion. A fresh, contemporary list of 50 great books for adults and children, it will be distributed to 2.5 million Australians throughout the campaign, encouraging them to buy a book. The Guide aims to simplify the world of books and empower occasional readers to make more satisfying reading choices.

"The 50 books include five celebrity choices:

Layne Beachley, Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch
Liz Ellis, Dirt Music by Tim Winton
Mark Ferguson, Atonement by Ian McEwan
Rove McManus, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay and
Ian Ross, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.

"In addition to Matthew Reilly's book, over half the titles in The Books Alive Great Read Guide are by Australian writers, including Helen Garner, Andy Griffiths, David Malouf, John Marsden and Di Morrissey.

"Books Alive is the biggest promotion of books and reading staged in Australia. It is funded by the Australian Government, developed through the Australia Council for the Arts and supported by the Australian book industry.

"Books Alive runs from 27 July to 31 August 2005."

Don't you just love sentences like: "The Guide aims to simplify the world of books and empower occasional readers to make more satisfying reading choices"?

What's the word "empower" doing in there? This is just marketing-speak for "help" isn't it?

And the list of books? Forget it. Can't find it anywhere. You can get a copy in the August issue of "The Australian Women's Weekly". But surely it should be listed on the web somewhere. The Books Alive website doesn't help. It's generally referred to as "closing the loop".

[Update: a further web search has found the list of books on the Language Books Centre website, for which I am grateful.]

Dangerous Areas of Study

First it was nuclear physics, and now it's terrorism studies. It's getting hard to figure out what to study these days. "The Age" reports that "A Monash University academic has warned 200 students enrolled in a terrorism studies course that they could be monitored by intelligence agencies."

Abraham, an Australian-born convert to Islam and honours student in the course, was questioned by Australian Federal Police last Thursday about books he had bought and borrowed from the university library. He was interviewed yesterday on ABC radio by Jon Faine. I remember reading a similar case to this from the US recently about a journalist who was raided after she had borrowed and/or purchased certain books on the FBI's watch list. That was a lot more heavy-handed but even the questioning of the student seems out of order to me. Terrorism is a legitimate subject for study and, regardless of what the AFP says, it certainly appears Abraham was targetted because of his religion. If not, then what about all the other students in his class?

This is a worrying trend in Australian politics. I don't see how anyone can say they are defending Australia's way-of-life by chipping away at the very foundations of what makes it the place it is. Expect to see more of this in future.

Forgive and Forget?

Gregory David Roberts, author of the best-selling novel Shantaram, is back in Melbourne speaking to a conference of English teachers. Roberts was originally named Gregory Peter John Smith, under which name he robbed a number of building societies and other Melbourne city businesses at gun-point in 1977-78: a good friend of mine worked at one of them. According to "The Age" today, the rights to his novel have been bought by Johnny Depp and Roberts is now working on the screenplay.

Letters from a Detention Centre - Follow-Up #2

Back in March I posted an entry relating to the case of immigration detainee Peter Qasim. His case had been taken up by Greg Egan, well-known Perth sf writer, and later by Dick Smith. Now comes the news that Qasim has been released from detention, and an Adelaide hospital, and may be granted a permanent visa by Minister Vanstone.

All I can say is, about time.

Unlikely Place for a Book Launch

On Monday, under the gallows of the Old Melbourne gaol, John Bryson, author of Evil Angels, launched a new book by Kevin Morgan, titled Gun Alley: Murder, Lies and Failure of Justice.

The book tells the story of Colin Ross, who was hanged on April 24, 1922, for the rape and murder of schoolgirl Alma Tirtschke. Morgan, however, believes the wrong man was sentenced to death and executed and explains all in his new book. "What is sought is nothing less than a complete quashing of the 1922 verdict by the jury."

And it appears he has the backing of Melbourne lawyers Ian Hill, QC, and Tony Hargreaves in his attempt to return the case to the Court of Appeal. The State's Attorney-General, Rob Hulls, has stated that a quashing of the conviction is possible if the Court is satisfied that key evidence in the original trial was flawed.

Collins Booksellers Follow-Up #2

"The Age" today reports that the Hill of Content, a major bookshop which has operated at the top end of Bourke Street in Melbourne for the past 80-odd years, has been rescued after the collapse of the Collins bookshop chain. The owners of current Collins franchises in Sale and Bairnsdale have purchased the shop and aim to run it as before. Making a profit this time, hopefully. The other good news is that the very knowledgable full-time staff in the shop will be kept on.

Collins Booksellers Follow-Up

I was in the Hill of Content Bookshop the other day and was saddened to see the greatly reduced stock on offer. This shop was caught up in the Collins Booksellers collapse of a couple of months ago. Since then there have been rumours that someone was intending to purchase the shop to keep it running as a going concern. I look forward to the improvement. The Chadstone shop in Melbourne's eastern suburbs has closed and been replaced by yet another clothing store, and the "Sydney Morning Herald" reports that several Collins franchises have now been taken over in and around Sydney. So there is some movement.

Nick Earls Back at School

Nick Earls, the author of such novels as Zig Zag Street and 48 Shades of Brown, was invited recently to visit Wavell State High School, on Brisbane's northside, to address a group of talented students.

His basic advice to aspiring young writers is good advice for all: "To be a successful novelist you need to have the freedom to let yourself play with ideas, the discipline to sit down and turn them into something, and the persistence to stick with them during the years when publishers and the world at large reject what you are doing."

It would be a good thing if more writers were able to do this sort of thing. The funding for this was provided by the school's P&C Association.

Victorian Librarians Top 100 Books

Librarians in Victoria have voted for their "Librarian's Choice Top 100" and the full list has just been released (note: PDF file). The top 10 is pretty predictable:

1. Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkein
2. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
3. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
4. Dirt Music - Tim Winton
5. A Fortunate Life - A.B. Facey
6. Cloudstreet - Tim Winton
7. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
8. Perfume - Patrick Suskind
9. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling
10. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver

There are 18 Australian works on the final list.

The Mystery of the Missing Copyright Holder

A report in the "Sydney Morning Herald" reveals that "December Boys, based on a 1963 novel by Australian author Michael Noonan, is to be the first post-Harry Potter project for British actor Daniel Radcliffe." As you might expect, this has provoked some determined bidding for the publishing rights for the original novel.

All well and good, you might say. But there's a problem. Noonan died in 2000, and, while he married Jan Pearce in 1993, she has yet to be contacted as she is on holidays. Added to that his former lietrary agency sold out in the 1990s and there is a feeling that Noonan may have left the publishing rights to his works to someone other than Pearce. Ah, the joys of copyright.

[Update: seems my user registration for SMH has been splatted. I'll get the link in later today hopefully.]

Political Book Launch

It's not often that book launches make front-page news in this country, but the new biography of recently-retired Federal ALP leader Mark Latham has done just that.
The book, Loner: Inside a Labor Tragedy by journalist Bernard Lagan, was launched on Wednesday by ALP Senator John Faulkner. In the book Latham lets fly at all and sundry, blaming them all for the ALP loss at the Federal election last October. All, it seems, bar himself.

Rare Book Theft

In a smash-and-grab raid early Tuesday, a man stole two dozen antiquarian books from the shop window of a Prahran antiquarian book-seller. The books were valued at approximately $10,000 and included such items as a rare edition of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and works by John Steinbeck and Sir Walter Scott. The alleged thief has been apprehended but now professes no knowledge of the whereabouts of the books. I have the same problem in my house.

Literary Find in a Charity Booksale

It may not be a Gutenberg Bible but the discovery of a rare Peter Carey is certainly work a few pennies: approximately $800 actually. The first edition of Carey's The Fat Man in History is rather rare and to find one amongst donations to a charity auction is an added bonus.

Australian Bestsellers

The Australian Publishers
has released its survey of the bestselling books in Australia
for the period April 1 2004 to March 31 2005. As you might expect Dan Brown
dominated the Adult Mass Market Paperback section with the top four books all
selling over 225,000 copies.

Selected Top 10s:

Adult Hardbacks
Brother Fish, Bryce Courtenay (over 250,000 copies)
Guinness World Records 2005, Clair Folkard, ed. (over 160,000)
Trace, Patricia Cornwell (over 100,000)
The Turning, Tim Winton (over 95,000)
Da Vinci Code: The Illustrated Edition, Dan Brown (over 95,000)
Instant Cook, Donna Hay (over 85,000)
Hover Car Racer, Matthew Reilly (over 75,000)
Nights of Rain and Stars, Maeve Binchy (over 70,000)
The Broker, John Grisham (over 65,000)
The Cook's Companion - 2nd Edition, Stephanie Alexander (over 65,000)

Adult Trade Paperbacks
The Reef, Di Morrissey (over 105,000)
Phaic Tan, Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner & Rob Sitch (over 95,000)
Ultimate Weight Solution, Phil McGraw (over 90,000)
3rd Degree, James Patterson (over 75,000)
Mao's Last Dancer, Li Cunxin (over 73,000)
Girl in Times Square, Paullina Simons (over 65,000)
Wild Lavender, Belinda Alexandra (over 63,000)
Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Aron Ralston (over 63,000)
The Narrows, Michael Connelly (over 63,000)
Honeymoon, James Patterson (over 55,000)

Australian Adult Fiction
Brother Fish, Bryce Courtenay
The Reef, Di Morrissey
Phaic Tan, Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner & Rob Sitch
The Turning, Tim Winton
Hover Car Racer, Matthew Reilly
Wild Lavender, Belinda Alexandra
Angel Puss, Colleen McCullough
Dirt Music, Tim Winton
The Naked Husband, Mark D'Arbanville
Shiver, Nikki Gemmell

Self-Publishing Success Story

Every now and then someone makes a success of self-publishing their own book. Such a story is told in today's "Age" about the Melbourne writer Euan Mitchell who thinks of himself as a "punk publisher". Mitchell published 7,000 copies of his first book Feral Tracks for a cost of $20,000. It made $4,000 profit, but he had to handle everything himself, and he had to quit his day job. Added to that commitment he had industry experience behind him as he had worked as a senior editor at a large Melbourne publishing house. So he knew the business, he knew what sold, and he knew how to sell it.

The poster boy for self-publishing in Australia is Matthew Reilly who produced his first novel Ice Station in this way and used some well-thought out marketing techniques to get his book in the right places. Self-publishing is not for everyone but there are some successes. I was pleased to see that "The Age" article does give some figures on the numbers of people attempting this method, and the number of failures. It makes for depressing reading.

Australia PEN

Somewhat late in the piece I've come across news that Australia PEN has announced the creation of "a new award recognising 'an achievement in promoting freedom of expression, international understanding and access to literature as expressed in the charter of International PEN.' The award is named in honour of Thomas Keneally for 'his lifetime's commitment to the values of PEN'. The inaugural recipient of the prize is Joesoef Isak, the Indonesian publisher and translator who was imprisoned for ten years for publishing such works as the novels of Pramoedya Ananta Toer."

You can read the full press release relating to the announcement of this award on the Australia PEN website.

[Thanks to the April/May newsletter of Austlit for the details of this award. The quote at the top is from that newsletter.]

Death of Sara Henderson (1936 - 2005)

Best known for her book From Strength to Strength, published in 1993, the author and pastorlist Sara Henderson has passed away, aged 68, in a palliative care ward of a hospital at Caloundra, on the Queensland Sunshine Coast. Henderson was named Australian Businesswoman of the Year in 1991 after turning round a $750,000 debt on a Sydney-sized cattle property in the Northern Territory. She became the public face of BreastScreen Australia, urging Australian women over 50 to have regular mammograms. Five years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer herself. She underwent surgery and appeared to have beaten the disease. She was also the author of the works: The Strength In Us All; The Strength of Our Dreams; In Addition, Some of My Friends Have Tails; Outback Wisdom and A Year at Bullo.

Mark Latham's Memoirs 2

The news that Mark Latham was touting his memoris has struck a bit of a nerve, with Murray Waldren (literary editor of "The Australian") weighing in this morning. After comparing Latham's asking price of $100K against former-PM Bob Hawke's advance of $200K and Labor strongman Graham Richardson's advance of $100K, Waldren asks the pertinent question: "if the public didn't buy Mr Latham at the last election, why will it buy him now?"

Mark Latham's Memoirs

Former leader of the federal opposition, Mark Latham, is attempting to flog his memoirs, according to a report in today's "Sydney Morning Herald". "It is understood that Mr Latham, who was famous for his acerbic tongue in and out of Parliament, has targeted former colleagues, staff and media figures." Bids of up to $100,000 have been reported.

Collins Booksellers Fallout

I suppose somewhere in the back of my head I knew that the Hill of Content bookshop, at the top end of Bourke Street in Melbourne, was a Collins bookshop. The one thing I didn't know was that it was owned by Collins and not run as a franchise. And, after yesterday's announcement that the Collins Bookstores chain had gone into voluntary adminstration, that this has meant that one of the best bookstores in the city would be closing its doors, according to today's "Age" newspaper.

This bookstore has always been one of my favourites. It caters for the eclectic taste with good ranges of literary, Australian and crime fiction, history, travel, science and general non-fiction books. You don't get discount books or "blockbuster tables" - I can't recall seeing that book by Dan Brown in the store, though that might well be because I wasn't looking for it. It will be a great loss to the Melbourne literary scene if it closes down. "The Age" does report, however, that there are two parties interested in purchasing the bookshop. I hope that is the case, and I hope it is allowed to retain its independent feel in whatever guise it finds itself in the future.

Collins Booksellers Finishes Up

Collins Booksellers, Australia's third largest national bookseller, has gone into
voluntary administration. A report in today's "Australian" newspaper states that the bookshop chain owes $7.5 million to creditors. "The Sydney Morning Herald" also runs with the news that: "The company's biggest unsecured creditors are publishing firms such as Harper Collins, which is owed $1.2 million, Macmillan Publishers ($833,000), Random House Australia ($813,000) and book distributor Alliance ($744,000)." The administration order applies only to the 23 company-owned stores and not the other 31 Collins stores which are run on a franchise basis. What effect this will have on the local publishing scene cannot be foreseen at this stage and it may be some time before the fallout settles down. Sharp-eyed readers will recall an earlier note regarding this.

J.M. Coetzee Reads in Public

Now that we have taken J.M. Coetzee to our hearts and accepted him into the Australian literary fold I can tell you that he has opened the 20th CĂșirt Literature Festival in Galway. He also "read from his new novel, the as yet unpublished Slow Man, which explores the travails of an elderly amputee, who is trying to adapt to life after losing his leg in a traffic accident."

[Thanks to Maud Newton for the link.]

Mary Poppins Statue Row

Today's "Courier-Mail" from Brisbane reports on a row brewing over the construction, purchase and siting of a statue of the fictional character Mary Poppins in the town of Maryborough in Queensland. Mary Poppins was made famous in the 1960s due to the release of the film Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrew and Dick Van Dyke. The author of the original story, Pamela Travers, was born on 9th August 1899 in Maryborough, subsequently moving to London where she died in 1996. The local council in Maryborough have decided to purchase a $60,000 bronze statue of the character to be erected in the town. As it happens, there already exists such a statue, which was created three years ago, but which the council rejected - something to due with the nose apparently.

Patrick White's House Sold

"The Sydney Morning Herald" reports this morning that Patrick White's house has now been sold, for $3 million to an undisclosed buyer. The National Trust, which had hoped to buy the property at auction with funds from the public and various Australian governments, is rather bewildered by it all. "The four White estate beneficiaries - the Art Gallery of NSW, The Smith Family, Aboriginal Education Council, and the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association - declined to comment."

Locus 2004 Recommended Reading List

Locus Magazine, which styles itself "The Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field", released its 2004 Recommended Reading List in February, but negligent as I am, I'm just catching up with it.

The Australian entries in the list that I can identify are:

Fantasy Novel:
Glass Dragons by Sean McMullan
Young Adult Book:
The Keys to the Kingdom: Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix
Black Juice by Margo Lanagan
The Locus Awards: Thirty Years of the Best in Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Charles N. Brown & Jonathan Strahan
Science Fiction: The Best of 2003 edited by Karen Haber & Jonathan Strahan
Best Short Novels 2004 edited by Jonathan Strahan
x, y, z, t: Dimensions of Science Fiction by Damien Broderick
"Water Babies" by Simon Brown
Short Stories:
"Clownette" by Terry Dowling
"Earthly Uses" by Margo Lanagan
"Red Nose Day" by Margo Lanagan
"Rite of Spring" by Margo Lanagan
"Singing My Sister Down" by Margo Lanagan

My apologies if I've left anyone off the list. Write and let me know if this is the case and I'll update the entries.

Death of John Brosnan (1947-2005)

Australian author and science fiction fan, John Brosnan has been found dead at his home in Harrow, England. The cause of his death is not known at this time but it appears he had been dead a few days when found.

Brosnan was born in Perth in 1947 and moved to Sydney in the late 1960s after discovering sf fandom via the pages of Australian Science Fiction Review, and meeting its editor John Bangsund. In Sydney he met such people as John Baxter and joined ANZAPA (Australian and New Zealand Amateur Publishing Association), where he was quite an active member in its early years. He was part of the Big Bus Trip, along with Ron Clarke, that transported several fans overland from Australia to London in 1970.

After settling in London he began life as a freelance writer with mixed results. His first book, James Bond in the Cinema was published in 1972, and he followed this up with various other books on cinema with his most recent being The Primal Screen: A History of Science Fiction Film, in 1991.

In addition to his cinema works he produced a number of crime and science ficton novels and in the 1990s wrote two comic fantasy novels, Damned & Fancy and Have Demon Will Travel, somewhat in the vein of Terry Pratchett. He was never an overly successful writer, failing to find an audience who appreciated his particular sense of humour, but he leaves behind an interesting body of work.

I only met him once, in 1987. I had travelled to London with Justin Ackroyd (now proprietor of Slow Glass Books in Melbourne) to attend the 1987 World Science Fiction Convention in Brighton. Our first exploit was to crash a party thrown by the author Robert Holdstock and it was there that Brosnan sidled up to me when he realised I had the only Australian wine in the place. We talked for some time that afternoon and he seemed genuinely surprised that I knew who he was.

I've always liked his fannish writings, and I got to like the man that afternoon in 1987.

[UPDATE: Bruce Gillespie has written a much better obituary for John Brosnan than ever I could. He also includes John Baxter's notes on Brosnan, and Brosnan's most recent letters to Bruce's fanzine Science Fiction Commentary.]

When is Non-Fiction Just Made Up

Dr Therese Taylor, a lecturer in contemporary history at Charles Sturt University, has published an article in the latest issue of "The Diplomat" arguing that Burned Alive by Souad, an account by an anonymous Palestinian woman who tells of being set alight by her brother-in-law for falling pregnant out of wedlock, is a work of fiction.

According to a report in "The Australian", Dr Taylor attempted to contact the author in order to verify some of the details in the book. These attempts were resisted and Dr Taylor has reached the conclusion that the book is a work of fiction rather than a factual account. This is all very reminiscent of the problems with Forbidden Love by Norma Khouri which was "outed" as fiction last year.

Patrick White's House, Auction Result

This morning's "Sydney Morning Herald" reports that Patrick White's house was passed in at auction yesterday. Against an estimated value of $3.5 million, the highest bid lodged was for $1.8 million. "A private treaty sale is now being negotiated."

This result has prompted the National Trust to resume its calls for State and Federal Governments to pitch in to purchase the house for the nation.

Previous mentions of this news item have appeared here.

Patrick White's House Up for Auction

Back in February I reported on the plan to sell Patrick White's house in Sydney, and the attempt by a number of prominent Sydney-siders to raise the funds necessary to buy the house. Now comes the news that the house will actually go up for auction this coming Saturday. Only approximately $100,000 was pledged for the appeal, and as the estimated selling price is a cool $3.5million, the money fell a long way short. Neither State nor Federal Governments deemed it important enough to intercede. As Matthew Condon states in his "Courier-Mail" report:

      "If only White had also represented his country in cricket, or rugby league or
      union, or won a clutch of gold medals at an Olympic Games. If only White had
      scored an Academy Award, or been a billionaire property developer, or been a
      talkback radio host for much of his career.

      "Silly, silly Patrick. Spending his whole life thinking about the past, present
      and future of his country, distilling its rhythms and thoughts, penning
      petty little words and thinking they may contribute to his nation's culture."

Australiana Collection Follow-Up

Back on 2nd March I reported on the upcoming auction of Rodney Davidson's major Australiana collection, probably the biggest such collection in private hands. Details of the first of those auctions are now in,
and it appears that Davidson did very nicely thank you very much. The first sale of 204 items grossed $A5.7 million, which included "an Australian record for a printed book, [being] the $768,900 (including buyer's premium) paid for Willem de Vlamingh's Journaal wegens een Voyagie of 1701, a Dutch account of Vlamingh's journey to Swan River in 1696-97."

Australian Bookshop Chain in Trouble

A report in today's "Australian" newspaper states that the Collins chain of Australian booksellers is experiencing financial difficulties, and has decided to cancel their annual Mothers' Day catalogue - the second busiest after Christmas.

"Collins managing director David Dean sent an email to suppliers last week cancelling all back orders, including all April and May new releases." This does not look good. Reasons cited for the downturn include "Aggressive overseas companies such as Borders and Amazon have made the specialist retail trade tougher, and discount stores such as Kmart and Big W use heavily discounted books as 'loss leaders' to entice people into their variety stores." Three stores have recently closed in Melbourne suburbs and you would have to think that more are to follow.

Jed and His Two Dads - Dear, Oh Dear

The New South Wales right is outraged that children in that state's schools are being taught (no, brainwashed) about same-sex marriages and their familes. It seems that 8-year-old Brenna Harding has written a series of books with her lesbian mother featuring Jed and his Two Dads. "Nationals leader Andrew Stoner yesterday said the books are another example of 'political correctness gone mad'." And good old Rev Fred Nile, scourge of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, says the books are "homosexual propaganda aimed at brainwashing children at such a sensitive age...It's a disgrace." Both have called on NSW Premier Bob Carr to ban the books from the state's schools. Brenna Harding, you may recall, caused something of an uproar a few months back, when she appeared on the ABC's Playschool children's television program with her two mothers. And good on her I say. But she'd be a handful if she can stir up this much trouble when she's 8. What's she going to be like when she's 18, running for Parliament. Now there's an idea.

[Thanks to Bookslut for the link. "The Daily Telegraph" is not a newspaper I read often - actually, at all - but I have decided to add it to my regular list. If only for the amusement value.]

Young Australian Author

Melbourne schoolboy Alex Lewis, 15, took his father's advice about the story he was working on ("a piece of crap"), ditched it and started on "Zero Summer", a reflection of the internal emotions and motives of adolescents during a trip to the beach. That work has now won Lewis first prize in the Somerset College National Novella writing competition for secondary students. Given that the competition is open to all students under the age of 19 he has done particularly well. The $3,000 first prize isn't too foul either.

Movement at the Lonely Planet Station

The website reports that Lonely Planet founder Katharine Leck, and Sales & Marketing Director Andy Riddle are leaving the travel-guide book publisher. The publisher is relocating back to Melbourne from London and Leck has decided against making the move. Riddle is moving on to another role. There doesn't appear to be anything on the Lonely Planet website relating to this.

[Thanks to MobyLives for the link.]

The Death of a Bookshop

Litblogs around the globe have been lamenting the loss of quality second hand bookshops of late. Melbourne is no exception in this regard as Vin Maskell reports the closure of Slightly Bent Books in Williamstown, after 13 years in business. This not a shop that I ever visited but the loss of any such shops is a loss for all booklovers. The reasons given are the ever-increasing rents and the opening of more and more chain bookstores through the suburbs. I fear this news is to become a common occurrence in the years ahead. On a happier note, the proprietor, Helen Green, will not be lost to the bookselling trade as she intends opening a weekend shop in the central Victorian country town of Talbot.

2005 London Book Fair

The 2005 London Book Fair, which runs from March 13-15, is featuring Australian and New Zealand Publishers as its Market Focus. This Book Fair is aimed fairly and squarely at the trade section of the book business: publishers, booksellers, agents and technical professionals. With nearly 2000 exhibitors and over 24,000 attendees it is huge by any measure. Let's hope some good deals for Australian, and New Zealand, books comes out of it.

A New Look at the Literature Board

The vexed question of grants to Australian writers is about to be revisited by the Literature Board, according to Susan Wyndham of "The Age".

This has always been an area of the arts that has attracted a lot of interest and criticism over the years, most of it derogatory. Those that get the grants are extremely happy and won't say a bad thing about the Board and those don't get them tend to be extremely unhappy about the whole process. Alex Miller, probably has the most interesting comment about the granting process: "Some people think that writers over 35 shouldn't get grants, but in my opinion writers under 35 shouldn't get them. They should get a book or to under their belts, do the hard yards."

There is a lot to be said for that approach. It certainly means that the grants go to writers who have proved themselves in the publishing marketplace and who have achieved this by doing what writers have done since time began: working at writing part-time till they perfect their art and get published. I don't believe you can compare the practice of granting monies to writer with supporting athletes in their youth. The career path of the two groups are vastly different, and the approachs they must take to achieve a high level in their chosen professions suffer no real comparison.

Now that is not to say that I think the amount of money given to writers and the amount given to athletes in this country is in a good balance, on the contrary. I would like to see vastly more sums provided to support writers in this country. We just have to do it the right way. We have to ensure that grants are provided which enrich the Australian culture, are provided for books that explore the Australian continent, its peoples and its history. But we also need to provide those grants to people who have something to say, not to those who just know how to write a good grants proposal.

Australiana Collection to Go to Auction

After working on his collection for over 55 years, former National Trust Chairman and President Rodney Davidson has decided to put his unique collection up for auction. The Davidson collection consists of over a thousand items - books, maps, documents and manuscripts - relating to the early exploration and settlement of European Australia. Some of the pieces are unique and some are the only known copies in private hands, so it represents quite an opportuity for other collectors or libraries to enhance their own collections. The collection will be offerred in three stages over 2005-06 with the first auction to be held in Melbourne on Monday 7th March at 7:00pm. Australian Book Auctions, which is handling the sale, has a catalog available for purchase. Even the catalog looks like being of some value - aesthetic as well as for research purposes - for some time to come.

In January of this year, ABC Television's "7:30 Report" interviewed both Rodney Davidson and Jonathan Wanthrup (from Australian Book Auctions) about the collection and the sale. A transcript of that report is available. And Davidson was interviewed by "The Age" in November last year.

[Update: details of the results of this sale are now available.]

Patrick White's House

20 Martin Road, Centennial Park, Sydney, was Patrick White's home for the last 26 years of his life, until his death in 1990. It is now in private hands and is coming up for sale in the near future. Now a number of prominent Sydney-siders (including author Tom Keneally, actor Kate Fitzpatrick, activist Jack Mundey, and National Trust president Barry O'Keefe) have started a campaign to raise money to purchase the property in order to preserve it as a centre for Australian literary studies. The group has been canvassing both the NSW State Labor government and Federal conservative coalition to pitch in to help raise the $A4million asking price. The group intends also starting a fund to accept monies from the public to reaching the target. Patrick White is Australia's only Nobel Laureate, receiving the award in 1973, and, given the paucity of preserved literature-related sites in this country, I believe this is an excellent opportunity to utilise something of significance before it's turned into a high-rise apartment block. The difficulty would appear to be, according to Tom Keneally, that White was a grumpy old bugger who did not endear himself to politicians or "barbarians" of any persuasion. But the world needs more grumpy old buggers and I hope this campaign succeeds.

Australian Plays and Film Scripts Not Up to Standard

Two different versions of a similar theme appear in "The Age" and "The Australian" this morning. John Polson, director of the Siam Sunset and Swimfan is back in town to promote his latest film, Hide and Seek. Jim Schembri, from "The Age" hears that he would love to make his next film back in Australia, but the major problem lies with "the script...We have a writer problem in this country....Whenever I get scripts from Australia they're not good enough. Our scripts have got to get better, our development has got to get better, not just with more money but smarter. Maybe we need smarter people actually giving the notes to filmmakers, maybe we need better film schools."

In a similar vein, "The Australian" reports on "Writing Courses in Crisis", referring to undergraduate course for playwrights in Australia. In a nutshell, there aren't any. Actors are doing well on the international stage and screen (think of Mel Gibson, Cate Blanchett and Judy Davis who came though the National Institute of Dramatic Art), but writers are not anywhere near as visible. The few programs that are starting up, such as the Premier's Drama Award in Queensland and Blueprints in Sydney, have to exist in a world where TV and film dominate and live theatre venues are closing around the country.

University of Queensland Press in Trouble

The Brisbane Courier-Mail reports today that the University of Queensland press is in a spot of trouble, with a large finiancial debt leading to a wide-ranging staffing restructure, and publishing down-grade. UQP have published such authors as Peter Carey and David Malouf, but with Carey moving on to follow his favourite editor and Malouf in "semi-retirement" the press has found it tough of late. Now a number of organisations, such as the Literature Board and the Australian Society of Authors along with individual authors of the standing of Malouf, Tom Keneally and Kate Grenville have demanded an explanation and a re-evaluation.

Channelling Agatha 4

Lawyers have been approached by the owners of the Agatha Christie copyright to determine if Jessica Adams's story, "The Circle", has plagiarised Christie's story "The Idol House of Astarte". If Adams has not contracted lawyers of her own then I strongly suggest she does so. The best course of action, as I see it, is for her to acknowledge the similarities in the stories and to apologise for any inadvertent copying. No-one in their right mind will think worse of her for it. But the longer she denies any wrong-doIng, deliberate or otherwise, the harder it will be to come back.

Lucy Sussex Story on the Web

Melbourne author Lucy Sussex has a story, "Matricide", featured this week on the website. This follows A. Bertram Chandler's story, "Familiar Pattern", of last week.

Channelling Agatha 3

Two separate approaches to accusations of "literary plagiarism" were on display over the weekend in Australia. The "Sydney Morning Herald" reports that Murray Bail has been accused of lifting some passages from a textbook about eucalypts for his Miles Franklin and Commmonwealth Writers' award-winning novel Eucalyptus. Bail has stated that he is aware of the problem now that it has been pointed out and that he intends talking to his publisher about including an acknowledgement in future editions of the book.

The novel is currently being filmed in New South Wales with Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman in two of the three lead roles (Geoffrey Rush had to pull out due to filming clashes) so future editions will be pretty much assured. Bail has taken the direct approach of admitting the obvious copying (which amounts to about 180 words out of a 90,000 word novel) and has offered an explanation for how it came about. This is a pretty sensible attitude and will probably mean that the "controversy" will be dead within a week.

On the other hand, the question of how much an author has read, has remembered or has just invented afresh is at the heart of the Jessica Adams issue that I have detailed wice previously in the past week. Literary journalist Murray Waldren leads off a discussion in the "Weekend Australian" by outlining the cases for and against Adams, but not coming to any conclusions. Adams then follows this with her account of what has happened, basically stating that there are vast difference between the two stories, and that she had never read the original Christie story in the first place. Which is fair enough, though I think her tone in the early part of her piece does nothing to endear her to Christie fans. And appearances are important here.

Bail has been conciliatory and acknowledged that there is a problem. Adams says there isn't a problem and she isn't to blame anyway. I have read neither story and I don't have an opinion at this point. So I decided to do a Google search for Christie's story "The Idol House of Astarte". The first thing I came to was the realisation that this is a "Miss Marple" story. Even I, who is definitely not a reader of Christie's works, am aware of Miss Marple and of the author. I don't really see how you can be English literate and not be. And even if you haven't read the stories themselves there have been countless film and television adaptations of the works swimming around in the cultural aether for the past 60 years or so. Some of that will inveigle its way into a writer's sub-conscious, only to re-surface some time later in seemingly different guise. Is that what has happened here? I have no idea. I doubt if Jessica Adams knows either. But some form of acknowledgement that such a thing is possible might well have helped her cause.

"The Australian" newspaper has also decided to make available the two stories in question (in PDF form) so readers can decide for themselves. And now having read the two stories, in order of publication, I can make a few points:
1) I don't think I'll read anything by either author again - neither story was particularly good.
2) I am willing to believe Adams when she says she didn't plagiarise the Christie story
but, in all major aspects, they are the same: the set-up, the plot, how the murder is committed, how it is explained, how it is solved and the final outcome. It is hard to see how anyone could stick to an argument that they are totally different. I just don't believe that Adams would be so stupid as to deliberately plagiarise a story by someone as well known as Agatha Christie. It beggars belief that she could have thought that she could have gotten away with it. Her best course of action from here is to follow Murray Bail's lead and just apologise. It would appear that her whole reputation is at stake, and in the Australian literary world that is somethng you don't want to lose. If in doubt, just ask Helen Darville.

Victorian Premier's Reading Challenge

Yesterday, the Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks, launched his Reading Challenge at the State Library. The aim of the challenge is to get the 458,000 children in all Victorian schools (both government and non-government) between years 3 and nine (ages of say 8 and 14) reading again. The goal is to choose 12 books and read them over the next six months. The main aim is not to teach, but to reintroduce reading as a pleasurable experience.

The Challenge is being run in conjunction with the "Sunday Age" which led off the event with its main editorial yesterday. Registration for the challenge starts this Friday, 6th February, and in order to help people along the organisers have provided booklists split into age groups: years 3 and 4; 5 and 6; and 7, 8 and 9.

About a year ago, the then Federal Opposition Leader, Mark Latham, started a campaign to get parents to read to their children every night. Needless to say, the Federal Government took the piss out of this suggestion at every opportunity, thereby attempting to gain cheap political advantage at the expense of a decent and worthwhile initiative. Hopefully the State Opposition will back this campaign for all its worth.

There should be further announcements about this challenge over the weeks ahead. I would enter my 12-year-old daughter into the challenge, but she'd get through the 12 books in about a fortnight. I'll get her to look through the list for her age-group though. There might be one or two there she hasn't read.

Channelling Agatha 2

Queensland writers Nick Earls and Rebecca Sparrow have joined the "alleged plagiarism" argument, as reported yesterday, by jumping in on the side of Jessica Adams. A report in today's "Courier-Mail" has Earls "outing" himself as a plagiarist of his own work, and stating that "In a world of millions of stories, it's inevitable that stories will have similarities." The holders of the Agatha Christie British copyright have been notified. The matter is in the hands of their lawyers. Jessica Adams has her say in the "Sydney Morning Herald". I mentioned yesterday that this looked like turning into a Fairfax vs. Murdoch tiff. It ain't over

Channelling Agatha

"The Australian" today carries two reports of a possible case of plagiarism involving "Best-selling Australian author and Fairfax newspapers astrologer Jessica Adams". Take note of the "Fairfax" reference; "The Australian" is a Murdoch paper as you will recall. Adams has a story titled "The Circle" published in a New Year edition of The Big Issue, a newspaper which helps homeless people. It seems that this Adams story closely resembles one written in the 1920s by some long-forgotten writer named Agatha Christie. Expect the merde to fly over this one.

Australia Day Honours

The field of Literature didn't fare terribly well in this year's Australia Day honours, with only Alan Hopgood being awarded Member (AM) in the General Division. He was cited: "For service to the performing arts as actor, playwright and producer, and to the community through raising awareness of men's health issues." Hopgood is probably best known for the plays "And the Big Men Fly", "For Better or Worse" and "The Carer"; the film scripts for "Alvin Purple", "Alvin Purple Rides Again" and "The True Story of Eskimo Nell"; and for television scripts for such series as "Blue Heelers" and "Neighbours". He has just completed a play based on the war-time diaries of Weary Dunlop, titled "Weary".

EBay Item of Note

Listed today on EBay Australia: "UNPUBLISHED MANUSCRIPT/NOVEL/162865 WORDS" - Item number: 7949533764. The author describes this work as follows: "This 177 A4 page manuscript was written by myself over a period of two and a half years (started 1999). After finishing the actual story I began the arduous task of spelling and grammer. Still in dire need of these things being done correctly I have grown increasingly impatient and finally tired of the whole task of completing these final tasks myself and have therefor decided to sell the manuscript as is. It has never been assessed proofwritten or submitted for publication. It is in its raw form and fourth and final draught before grammer and spelling is completed. The storyline is totally completed."

The paragraph above is copied directly from the Ebay entry. And, err, umm, needs a bit of editing methinks. I really don't know what to say about this. Does the author think that this manuscript (and by implication any manuscript) has an inherent value just because someone has spent the time to write it? Maybe. In which case this whole thing is every sad. It needs to be pointed out that it now isn't even worth the paper it is typed on. And unread, why would anyone buy it? And the asking price? The seller has placed a reserve on the item of $500. I fear they are going to be very disappointed.

Australia's Humane, Moral Immigration Policy. Cough.

Yet again the Australian Government has shown its true colours in regards to its immigration/refugee policy with the news that a Rebel Writer Faces Extradition to Iran. The writer in question is Ardeshir Gholipour who has been detained by the Australian Government since 2000 as it sought to examine his application for refugee status. Five years? Come on.

The facts of the case seem pretty clear and the support for his application from local writers and International PEN should surely have provided all the necessary information. But obviously not enough. Even faced with the evidence that Gholipour's fellow writers have been murdered and imprisoned for daring to write articles critical of the Iranian Government stands for nothing, as far as Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone is concerned.

Each time I come across items such as this I think the Government must surely have learnt the lesson of compassion by now and will act humanely and responsibly. And each time I am bitterly disappointed. Bastards!

Elliot Perlman in the Wars

Ron Hogan, over on his literary weblog Beatrice, reports on a reading by Elliot Perlman in Manhattan. Seems the poor bloke suffered a broken arm rushing for a plane in Seattle. It's good news that Perlman is on a book tour, but bad luck that he has been injured this way. Let's hope he took out LOTS of travel insurance.

Forthcoming Australian SF and Fantasy

Sara Douglass has c coming out from Tor, in the US, in January 2005. This was originally published in Australia in 2000 by HarperCollins. It is the second novel in her "Crucible" historical fantasy trilogy, and follows The Nameless Day.

Sean Williams gives all the appearances of a one-man industrial complex with his crowded up-coming publishing schedule: Geodesica: Agent, with Shane Dix, is due in February from Ace (US) and HarperCollins (Australia); The Blood Debt in March from HarperCollins Australia; and The Resurrected Man in April from Prometheus Books. Jennifer Fallon has Warrior: The Hythrun Chronicles Book Two coming from HarperCollins in January.

The Right Hand of God by Russell Kirkpatrick will be published in Australia by HarperCollins in February 2005. It's interesting that each of these writers has their own website which contain lots of information for readers. Douglass, Williams and Fallon have written a number of books and so will have realised what publicity (and connecting to their fans) can do for an author's work, but even Kirkpatrick, with his third book about to be released, has learned the value of author promotion.

Germaine Greer Drops Out

Out of Big Brother that is. We might all have been more than a tad surprised that the ex-pat Australian author decided to join the cast of BB in the UK in the first place, but surprised at her leaving it? I don't think so. Not that she has decided to give a reason as of this time. All she had to say was that it was a load of crap. We would all have understood.

[Thanks to the Bookslut weblog for the link.]

2004 Best of Year Books

By now, hopefully, all the "Best of..." lists that are going to be published have been. There seems to be hundreds of the bloody things. And it seems almost an impossible task to get on top of them. Australian books included:

The Bride Stripped Bare by "Anonymous", in the "San Francisco Chronicle's" Best Books of 2004.
The Hamilton Case by Michelle de Krester, in "The Seattle Times" "Best Books 2004: Scene of the Crime's Top 12"; and in "The New York Times" "100 Notable Books of the Year", Fiction and Poetry Section.
Queen of the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood, in "January Magazine's" "Best of Crime Fiction 2004".
The Tyrant's Novel by Tom Keneally, in "The New York Times" "100 Notable Books of the Year", Fiction and Poetry Section.


Molvania: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry by Santo Cilaura, Tom Gleisner and Rob Sitch, in "The Village Voice's" "Top Shelf: Our 27 Favourite Books of the Year".
A Death in Brazil: A Book of Omissions by Peter Robb, in "January Magazine's" "Best of Non-Fiction 2004".
In Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare in "The Economist's" "Best Books of 2004" History section. There are probably others but these are the only ones I've been able to track down as of this time.

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