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Midnight Echo - New Fiction e-Zine

"Horrorscope", the Australian Dark Fiction weblog, interviews Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond, the new editors of Midnight Echo, the Australian Horror Writers Association's (AHWA) new fiction e-zine.

What are you looking for in a 'Midnight Echo' story?

Kirstyn McDermott: To put it simply: Very Good Stories. That's what every editor is after, right? Neither Ian nor myself have a particular "wish-list" of the types of stories we want. As long as they keep our interest to the final page, it doesn't matter which part of the genre they fall within. Scare us, disturb us, make us laugh or just creep us out: we are open to just about anything as long as it's well told. Speaking for myself -- with and without my editor's hat on -- I like reading stories that I wish I had written. Make me envious of your work, and there's a good chance I'll arm-wrestle Ian to make sure your story is accepted!

Ian Mond: It's very hard to answer this question without speaking in generalities and clich├ęs. As Kirstyn says, the most important thing is a good story. But we're also finding that we're drawn to the stories that also show some ambition and don't just rely on the tried and true horror tropes. But mostly, it's all about good storytelling.

The End of "The Bulletin"

A couple of weeks back, when I was in Tasmania on holidays, I heard the announcement that "The Bulletin" magazine was closing down after 128 years.

For those unfamiliar with the periodical, it can be considered as a Australian equivalent of "Time" or "Newsweek": a weekly current affairs magazine with an Australian focus. But it didn't start that way. If you've been reading this weblog for a while you'll notice that I post transcripts of Australian poems each Saturday. The bulk of these first saw publication in "The Bulletin". When Archibald and Haynes started the magazine in 1880 it had an aim of being a publication of political and business commentary, with some literary content; similar, in fact, to how it ended its run this year. But soon after it began publication, and certainly by the mid 1880s, it became known as the "bushman's bible", reaching all parts of the country (and presumably New Zealand) with a circulation around 80,000 by 1900, when the population was about 3.8 millions.

"The Bulletin" was a curious beast early on. Wikipedia describes it as follows: "Its politics were nationalist, anti-imperialist, protectionist, insular, racist, republican, anti-clerical and masculinist - but not socialist. It mercilessly ridiculed colonial governors, capitalists, snobs and social climbers, the clergy, feminists and prohibitionists. It upheld trade unionism, Australian independence, advanced democracy and White Australia. It ran savagely racist cartoons attacking Chinese, Indians, Japanese and Jews, and mocking Indigenous Australians. The paper's masthead slogan, 'Australia for the White Man,' became a national political credo."

Which is a political and social philosophy that sounds remarkably similar to a certain Australian political party of the late 1990s and early 2000s. And yet it was still able to publish a body of literary works which form a major part of the foundations of our current view of Australian literature. "The Bulletin" published such major writers as Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson, Mary Gilmore, C.J. Dennis, Barbara Baynton, Joseph Furphy, Bernard O'Dowd, Miles Franklin, Kenneth Slessor, and Christopher Brennan, amongst many, many others. It just goes to show that art can flourish even where the politics is barren and harsh.

So it is rather sad to see the magazine come to an end. But it's time is now gone. The periodical that I read on microfilm in the State Library changed its character in the 1960s and 1970s back to the current affairs publication of its beginnings. It wasn't what I read back then, preferring instead the "Nation Review" weekly newspaper, which I still miss. "The Bulletin" is dead but I've still got hundreds of back issues to get through. And if you think I'm living in the past, you're probably right, and it doesn't bother me in the slightest.

Notes:
Founders of Our Literature entry for J.F. Archibald.
Ex-editor Garry Linnell laments the loss.
Damien Murphy provides a potted history.
Noel Murphy has a look at J.F. Archibald and his connections to Geelong.
And David Barnett, in "The Canberra Times", dances on the grave and blames the left. Quelle surprise!

harvestmagazine

"harvest" is a new magazine starting up out of Melbourne, with the byline of "a literary quarterly for literate quarters", which pretty much sums it up. Their submission deadline for the first issue is November 30, but as they talk a lot about submission guidelines and submitting proposals for work it might be a bit too late to get into this first issue. This first issue is due for publication in March 2008. Subscription details will also be released in the new year.

[Link via HorrorScope.]

The March 2007 Issue of "The Australian Literary Review"

The March 2007 issue of "The Australian Literary Review" is published this week as a supplement to Wednesday's "The Australian" newspaper, and I'm somewhat disappointed with it.

I'll admit up-front that the bulk of my reading is fiction, of one genre or another, so I tend to skim through the contents of literary journals such as this looking for the reviews that will appeal to me. I realise they aren't going to be full of the stuff I want but do assume that, normally, fiction will appear there somewhere. Well, not this month it won't. This month it's wall-to-wall non-fiction.

If you've been reading between the lines of some comments I've made in my "Weekend Round-up" posts over the past few months, you will have noticed that I haven't been mentioning very many works of fiction over that time. I have just been putting this down to a lack of new Australian fiction hitting the market. That might be the case for a week-on-week book review section of a major newspaper, but a monthly? Surely not. Surely there is enough around in any given month to score a mention of some sort.

In order to put this into context I thought I'd compare "The Australian Literary Review" with the other major Australian literary review journal in an attempt to come to some sort of conclusion. The other journal under consideration is "Australian Book Review".

I've mentioned ABR on this weblog from time to time. For a long period it has been the prime and premier source of book reviews in this country. It's a glossy, monthly magazine, about quarto sized, chock full of book reviews, which, until recently, appeared to be solely Australian in nature (writer, subject, publisher or context). It's reviews are grouped within each issue by subject, and the March 2007 issue contains the following: Memoir, Middle East, Politics, Media, Art, Sociology, Cultural Studies, Music Fiction, Literary Studies, Reference, Australian History, Journals and Poetry. (Please note, I've left out a few sections here - sections which are specific to this journal - such as letters, prizes and lectures. I'm concentrating on the reviews). Each of these sections contains detailed reviews of several books, a total of 27 in all.

"The Australian Literary Review" follows a similar layout with its reviews, though, in this case, the journal is printed on tabloid-sized newsprint, with each page being approximately twice the size of those in ABR. The sections it covers this month are: Politics, Economics, Education, Religion, Literature, and Biography. A total of 13 books.

You'll see a difference in the number of books under review for a start. Don't take a lot of notice of this, that isn't really what I'm interested in. And if you get bogged down simply on overall numbers you'll miss the point. The point is that ABR reviews 3 works of fiction this month and the ALR none.

It's not that there isn't any "worthwhile" fiction around to review, (the ABR looks into the new Tom Keneally, the latest Steven Carroll and a first novel by Lindsay Simpson), so we have to assume that a specific decision was made not to review any fiction in ALR this month - which is worrying enough - or, worse still, that the lack of fiction reviews has something to do with the journal's association with "The Australian" newspaper. In other words, maybe fiction reviews aren't being published in the ALR because they've already been covered in the weekend editions of the newspaper.

I got the idea when the ALR was re-launched last year that it was aiming to have a fair degree of independence, so this last possibility is especially worrying as it implies that editorial policies of the ALR are being dictated by what is, and is not, reviewed in the main paper. If this is the case then there should be some correlation between the number of fiction titles reviewed in "The Australian" over the past few months, and the lack of any in ALR this month. A quick search back over the afore-mentioned "Weekend Round-up" posts for January and February shows that the "Weekend Australian" reviewed a total of 4 novels in that time - I missed a week so it might have slightly higher, I doubt by much. Which tends to suggest that the main paper isn't reviewing much in the way of Australian fiction either.

Yet, if you venture back only as far as October last year, when this version of the journal was launched, the ALR reviewed 6 fiction titles in one issue.

So, let's assume that the ALR is trying to stand on his own two feet, and that it is making its own decisions, without regard to what is happening in its parent publication. And in that event I wonder what sort of audience they are currently aiming at. I would tend to suggest it's not one that reads a lot of fiction. It's not me.

Etchings

Ilura Press is publishing a new Australian literary magazine titled Etchings, and the first issue is now out.

The magazine is descibed as "a triannual publication with an international focus, dedicated to showcasing new work by emerging and established writers and artists." They are currently accepting submissions for the second issue.

In addition to the magazine, "Ilura Press is also running a 'Fiction Quest' competition for unpublished novels. The shortlist has been generated and the two winners (the prizes being a $5,000 advance each) will be announced in early December. We will be publishing novel-length fiction from 2007."

It will be a hard road, but I wish them well.

The Australian Literary Review

The November issue of "The Australian Literary Review" was published yesterday. Titled a "Biography special" it features reviews of new memoirs by Robert Hughes, Clive James, Gabrielle Carey, and Barry Jones. There's also another appreciateive review of Andrew McGahan's new novel, Underground. Seems the "Oz-lit" police aren't as vocal as Gregory Day suspected they would be.

Australian Literary Review

I should have mentioned this last week but forgot. "The Australian" newspaper has published the second issue of its monthly "Australian Literary Review" - the bulk of which appears to be available on their website. Check it out, there's some good stuff in there. I'm thinking about writing a piece on the publishing of fine fiction, a subject that is addressed by James Bradley and Matthew Kelly.

Cosmos Magazine

Cosmos Magazine, which subtitles itself as "The Magazine of Ideas, Science, Society and the Future", also publishes fiction, mostly of the Australian science fiction variety. The latest story is "Empathy" by Chris Lawson. Other stories from back issues are also available. It seems it takes a couple of months after a story is featured in the print edition that it appears on the website. Seems about right.

{Thanks to the Talking Squid weblog for the link.]

Wet Ink: The Magazine of New Writing

A new literary magazine is appearing soon out of Adelaide. Wet Ink describes itself as: "a magazine that is dedicated to publishing new and exciting writing."

I don't recognise any of the editorial staff but on the advisory board they have: J.M. Coetzee, Richard Hosking, Ioana Petrescu, Judith Rodriguez, Eva Sallis and Thomas Shapcott. And a couple of these names ring a bell. The aim is to publish 4 issues a year, with the first issue to appear this month.

[Thanks to Maud Newton for the link.]

Shadowed Realms

The Nov/Dec 2005 issue of Shadowed Realms, Australia's Dark Flash Fiction Online Magazine has now been made available online. The current issue features stories from Poppy Z. Brite, Robert Hood, Shane Jiraiya Cummings, Lee Battersby and others.

National Library of Australia News

Each month the National Library of Australia publishes a 24-page colour magazine, giving details of various exhibitions, events and publishing ventures being undertaken at the library in Canberra.

This month's issue features an article by Ann Moyal, titled Alan Moorehead: A Rediscovery, which introduces her new biography of the author. The articles also states that this will be the first in a new series of Australian lives being published by the library.

"Born in Melbourne in 1910 and educated at Scotch College, with a BA from Melbourne University, [Moorehead] had by the 1960s built a larger reputation than any other Australian writer. The author of the great wartime campaigns of the Western Desert and Europe, African Trilogy and Eclipse, biographer of Montgomery and Churchill, a writer of some 21 best-selling books, and one of the major travel writers of his times, Moorehead was a household name in Britain, widely renowned in the USA for his essays in the New Yorker, and commanded world audiences through translations of his work into French, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Hebrew, Egyptian, Arabic and Japanese."

But little known in his own country it appears.

The Monthly

With the release this week of the new literate magazine, The Monthly, "The Age" takes the opportunity to profile the magazine's publisher Morry Schwartz. "It's the quality of the writing that's going to be most important but that doesn't mean it won't be serious and won't be political - it will be all those things. It will be a bit like any number of magazines that thrive overseas." Schwarz is the publisher behind Black Inc books.

Contributors to the first issue include Don Watson, Mungo MacCallum, Tim Lane, Brian Toohey, John Birmingham and Helen
Garner. I think it will take a while to settle down; certainly the layout needs a bit of work. I aim to subscribe and hope it fills a huge gap in the Australian literate magazine market.

Items in "The Bulletin"

The Australian current-affairs magazine "The Bulletin" has played a long and glorious part in the history of Australian literature over the past 125 years. During the period from 1880 to about 1920 it was a major publisher of such poets as Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson, Victor Daley, Mary Gilmore, and C.J. Dennis (amongst many others). But over the past few years it has moved away from publishing poems and stories, and now even book reviews are few and far between.

The most recent issue is the 125th anniversary edition and carries two articles about the magazine's history: "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" about the life and legacy of the magazine's founder J.F. Archibald; and "Lore of the Land" about the magazine's place in the rural side of the Australian nation in its early days. Other than that there is one, one, minor review of the short story collection: Zero Break: An Illustrated Collection of Surf Writing edited by Matt Warshaw. And that's it.

I'm not sure how "The Bulletin" presents its web-based material as yet. The two major articles mentioned are available on the magazine's website, but only to subscribers to the printed version. In the previous issue things were a bit better: Sally Blakeney both profiles and interviews author Peter Goldsworthy; and there are reviews of Hill of Grace by Stephen Orr, Taking Care of Business by Peter Corris, and Heavenly Pleasures by Kerry Greenwood. This may mean that "subscriber-only" material is only restricted for the week between issues; I've have to check back next week. And the thing that really topped off my feelings of disappointment with the current issue? The cover features a portrait of the late Princess Diana, Princess of Wales. Enough already. Can't we just move on?

Quarterly Essay 16 - "Breach of Trust" by Raimond Gaita

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It's hard to believe that Quarterly Essay is now four years old. It has become such a part of the landscape of political debate in this country in that time that I find it pretty much indispensable. Although not all essays in the series have created a large amount of debate, there have been a few that have really got under the skin of a number of media pundits. I think in particular of John Button's "Beyond Belief - What Future for Labor?" in QE 6, "Beautiful Lies - Population & Environment in Australia" by Tim Flannery in QE 9, and the most controversial, Germaine Greer with "Whitefella Jump Up - The Shortest Way to Nationhood" in QE 11, which was selectively and massively mis-quoted by the mainstream media. The storm that one raised still sends ripples through Australian politics from time to time.

So the Quarterly Essay series has covered a number of topics, most, it must be said, from a center-left standpoint. And this has enraged the attack dogs of the current Federal Government, who have the view that the whole of the media is out to get them: a typically paranoid worldview that is held by every political party when in power. If they actually sat back and thought about it for a moment they might take the view that their policies are actually being discussed, and it is the Australian way to attempt to intimidate and attack the best players on the opposition side. But, of course, that would lead to an acceptance of the fact that some people out there might not, deep down, like them very much. Heaven forbid.

Which brings us to the latest Quarterly Essay 16, titled "Breach of Trust - Truth, Morality and Politics" by Raimond Gaita. Gaita is Professor of Moral Philosophy at King's College, University of London and Professor of Philosophy at the Australian Catholic University, so is perfectly positioned to argue "for a conception of politics in which morality is not an optional extra". His main Australian "targets" in this essay are the politicians who have the power to shape the current Australian thinking and the future of Australian society. In other words, the current Federal Government. As soon as I picked up the current issue and started to read, I could visualize the hackles starting to rise on the neck of the Liberal Party's href="http://www.tonyabbott.com.au/">Tony Abbott. He's not one to take any form of criticism lightly. I can only assume that the current "silly season", when everyone is more interested in sunshine and sport, is the only thing that has kept him slavering all over the newspaper "Op-Ed" pages in response to this essay.

I've been having a lot of trouble coming to terms with the re-election of the Howard coalition government in last October's Federal election. I haven't been overly enamoured with the other side of politics (the Australian Labor Party) for the past several years, but I felt they had a reasonable chance this time of upsetting a government which I considered had lost its way, and lost the trust of the Australian people. The final result, where the coalition won control of both Houses of Federal Parliament, shocked and appalled me, and proved that, as a political pundit, I have no idea.

John Howard and I go back a long way. My memory of events thirty years ago may not be exactly correct but I have read recently that Howard entered Federal politics in the general election in 1974, the election that returned the Whitlam Government. As best I can figure out, that was the first election in which I was legally entitled to vote and, given that voting is compulsory in Australia, it was the first election in which I cast a ballot. So Howard has been a part of my visual and auditory landscape for the whole of my political life. It is not something I look back on very kindly.

Howard's political history is long and detailed: he became Minister for Special Trade Negotiations in 1975 and then Treasurer in Fraser's Government in 1978; he was Leader of the Opposition more times than I care to remember, and was finally elected Prime Minister (the position he had always coveted) in March 1996. He has been in that position ever since, recently becoming the second longest-serving PM in the nation's history, only behind his hero Robert Menzies. Whichever way you look at it, whatever side of politics you find yourself on, you have to admit that John Howard is the consummate Australian politician of his generation. No one has had anything like the effect on the Australian ethos and the way Australia is viewed by the rest of the world. Bill Bryson may not be able to remember his name from one week to the next, but George Bush sure knows where and who he is. And that state of affairs might have more to say about where this country currently finds itself than I care to think about.

Australia has changed in the past ten years or so, and changed for the worse. I'm not one to hark back to the days of my youth and see a wide land of sunny skies and bright, smiley people. The country I grew up in the sixties and early seventies was a gauche, insular backwater. Nouvelle cuisine was defined as putting mayonnaise on your fish and chips. The pubs shut at six o'clock and indigenous Australians weren't counted in the census, let alone having the right to vote. And then things started to change in the early seventies. Whitlam was elected in 1972, the Vietnam War ended, and a new wave of immigrants started to arrive in this country from South East Asia bringing with them a new social order. And in this midst of all this stood John Howard, alone of his Federal cabinet colleagues (so the story goes) to vote against allowing the "boat people" of the late seventies special immigration status. While everyone at that time was looking ahead, Howard harked back to the fifties with its white picket fences; husband, wife and three kids on a suburban quarter-acre block; and only white faces as far as the eye could see. He hasn't changed - he did say that he would be the most conservative Prime Minister Australia has ever had in 1996 - but has now changed the political/media landscape to such an extent that his brand of "liberal" conservatism is now mainstream. I hated it. I hated the whole idea that what I saw as the "Australian way of life" - a classless society where everyone is given a fair go regardless of race, colour or creed - was being subverted into a division of the "haves" and "have nots". And I started to be ashamed to say I was Australian. How could I justify my love of the country and its people when the only face it showed to the world was a narrow-minded, bigoted, selfish nature? Whenever I defended the place I felt I was really trying to convince myself more than the listener of the country's worth. And I seriously considered leaving, packing up the family and heading off to the United Kingdom, where I could look back on the Australia I knew and loved with the rose-coloured glasses of the ex-patriot. But I'm still here, and still annoyed, and still ashamed of what's going on.

Which is why it is such a relief to come across something like the following: "There is therefore no reason for those who were depressed by Howard's victory to feel ashamed of being Australian, though they have reason to feel ashamed of some things Australia has done. The present and the past of most countries is a mixture of good and evil. One can be proud of the good things and ashamed of the evil while loving the country and its people. Sometimes it is a painful love." Gaita explores the questions of trust, and why it is important, for politicians. He acknowledges that they must sometimes be "economical with the truth" about specific issues but argues for a sense of morality and ethics that sits above the day-to-day political manoeuverings. I would have liked him to skewer a few more current politicians by name but I suspect he may well have thought this would diminish his message. He states: "Illiteracy about the nature of politics and about the
relation between it and morality distorted our public life long before the Howard years. It would be foolish to believe that the Prime Minister has been responsible for it. Intentionally or not, however, he and his government have deepened it and profited from it."

I don't believe that reading this essay has changed my view of where Australia is at present and where I see it going. It has, however, put a number of things into a bit more perspective and offered a few pointers about how to reconcile short and long term politics. I can see that I will have to come back and re-read this essay some time in the next year or so. A second reading might give me the perspective I need to appreciate the arguments somewhat better. I hadn't meant to go on this long with this "review". I just tend to get a bit carried away when it comes to talking about current politics and politicians. There hardly seems to be sense of vision amongst any of them. And that pains me a lot.

Australian Book Review, No. 267

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I hadn't specifically intended to write an introductory note to this weblog but the most recent issue of The Australian Book Review, Dec 2004-Jan 2005, No. 267, contains a lead essay by editor Peter Rose which raises a number of interesting questions, so you get one almost by default.

Originally delivered as the 2004 Barry Andrews Lecture at the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Academy, Rose's essay, titled "The Sound and the Fury: Uneasy Times for Hacks and Critics" addresses the general subject of reviewing and literary criticism: the type, the length and the purpose. Let me state at the outset that I don't consider myself a critic. I don't even consider myself a reviewer, just a lazy reader with some opinions who thinks he knows what he likes. I have no trouble in reading long critiques, short reviews, or hack jobs, so long as the piece is entertaining and gives me an idea of whether or not I should seek out the publication. And that last is the real point. I want to know if the reviewer liked the thing or not. Rose on the other hand states: "It all goes, I suppose, to the question as to where our greatest responsibility lies as critics. Is it to the reader, the author, posterity, one's literary editor, 'the market', one's nationality, the broader culture?" And having stated the question answers it with: "Well, I believe that our ultimate responsibility is to the work itself - the novel, the slim volume, the memoir, the play, the film - not to its hopeful maker, intended audience or national honour." Which confuses me somewhat.

The two most important parties in any reading experience (Rose includes plays and film here but I'm trying to simplify things a bit) are the authorial team (the writer, the editor, the publishers) and the reader. If the reader is to enjoy (assume this includes learn from, adore, or any other appropriate verb) then the authorial team has to get its act working properly. If that happens then it should find an appreciative readership - it may not, but it should. So the authorial team shouldn't, in my view, aim for a specific market. (If they get the package right the market will follow.)

The reviewer, however, has to. They need to place the work into a reasonable context - the general fiction landscape, the work's genre, the author's past work, and so on. I have severe limitations when it comes to reviewing - I read fiction for enjoyment in the first instance, if I learn something in the process then all the better, but it is not something I set out to achieve. Non-fiction tends to run the other way, with the proviso that if I don't enjoy it then I won't learn anything.

Rose continues later to add a bit of context to his previous statement when he says that the fundamental responsibility of a critic is "...to do justice to a book and to assess its contribution to our collective literature..." Which probably explains my confusion. That is something I cannot do as I don't have the knowledge or skills. All I can do is to assess whether or not it's worth spending your beer money to buy the work. That'll have to do.



You can get a bit of an idea of what sort of work is included in the current issue of the ABR on the web page. The page devoted to number 267 prints the Rose essay mentioned above, plus another 6 reviews out of the 33 included in the printed version. So it's a bit like other literary review journals out there on the web in that it provides a taster, an appetizer if you will. And let me tell you, it's a very comprehensive meal being offered in this magazine. There are reviews in the categories of Politics (3 reviews/5 books), Anthology (3/4), Journals (1/3), Garden History (1/2), Food (1/2), Memoir (5/6), Art (2/2), Fiction (5/9), Poetry (2/3), Music (1/2), Cultural Studies (2/2), Philosophy (1/1), History (2/2), Military History (1/1), True Crime (1/1), Children's Picture Books (1/3) and Young Adult Fiction (1/3). If you add to this 2 poems (by Clive James and John Slavin), Letters, National News, a Commentary piece, and Best Books and Best Children's Books selections, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who wasn't covered by at least one section here.

The fact that all items under review are "Australian" only adds to the feeling that this is a good piece of work. The reviewing is uneven, of course. I get the feeling in about half the pieces that the reviewer didn't know what to think, or, at least, they write like they don't. But that harks back to my preferred form of review rather than the intent of this magazine, so you can take that statement under advisement. I like this magazine. It covers the Australian literary scene pretty well. I would like more fiction reviews, but, as Rose states in his essay, they cover as much as they can, which amounts to about half the Australian fiction output each year. Better than all the newspapers in Australia put together I suspect.

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