Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kate Holden podcast - click here

I had to apologise to Kate Holden when I met her, I'd been flagrantly stating that I was interviewing a former prostitute and heroin addict - 'sexy' and glib catch phrases. The apology was simply about that - that she, as an intelligent, informed, reflective and reconciled woman in the 21st Century had become reduced to that for promotional purposes.
Kate is a professional writer with a regular column for the Saturday Age newspaper, she is a voracious reader and thinker with a tendency to overshare. The thing that struck me most, though, while interviewing this sweet, gently witty woman, was the simple fact that she has reconciled her time as a pariah (try and tell me that being a heroin addict is not the paedophilia of drug addictions) with her day to day existence - and that has made her appear more whole than a lot of the sanctimonious bores we encounter day to day.
  Simply put, there is no apparent hypocrisy about her being.
Kate has written two books, both memoirs, covering different times in her life. In My Skin (2005) began as a project while she was studying and eventually ending up in a bidding war between publishing houses - with Text Publishing winning out. The Romantic was published by Text earlier this year. In My Skin tells the story of Kate's time as a junky and as a prostitute. She was writing a diary when she was using, and while she says that the diary, on re-reading, is boring 'got to get clean, going to get clean, getting clean starting after this taste,' - it helped bring back snippets of her life then that allowed her to flesh out the memoirs. And, there is a fair bit of flesh in it.
The Romantic, a slightly sarcastic title, tells of Kate's time in Italy, and the process of reconciliation - life as junky and hooker merging with a drug free and free sex life. How do you tell a lover of your past - and should you even tell them at all? Recounted through the story of a series of lovers, saunters past Byron's house, reading Casanova in a hotel alone, ferocious sexy fucking and an eventual fiance in the form of an Italian Stallion it is a gorgeous conclusion to In My Skin.
There is a wordsmith at play here - and at least a couple of hearty tales - have a listen to Kate describe some of these things in her own words.

For further information, check out Kate's website

The Romantic
by Kate Holden
Text Publishing 2010

The recorded interview was first played on Edge Radio on Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Final events 2010 and the odd opportunity -

As the Christmas drag race begins - the one where we paradoxically forget that we cross the finish line at the same time and all as exhausted as each other - here are some events happening around Hobart and some opportunities that may interest you.
   The Tasmanian Writers' Centre has a great connection with other island based writers and those on Prince Edward Island in Canada in particular. Established Tasmanian writers are invited to apply now for a four week exchange on the island. This is offered in partnership with the Hobart City Council and more details can be found on the Tasmanian Writers' Centre website.
  The Writers' Centre are also hosting an evening called 'The Underbelly of Hobart' with Geoff Dean and John Tully on December 15th at the Lark Distillery -sure to be a good evening as it coincides with their end of year celebrations.  This is also the launch of John Tully's book Dark Clouds on the Mountain, organised by the gorgeous Hobart Bookshop.

   Fullers Bookshop is hosting one more event for the year - and it's a celebration of Christmas and cooking with cookbook author, quiet acheiver and purveyor of recipes that work, Belinda Jeffery. Judith Sweet, the respected former cooking show host and Mercury Columnist is hosting the evening (with canapes and sparkling) -  and there is an excessive lucky door prize of a mountain of cook books. PS Mountain is the official collective noun for cookbooks. Tickets for this are available now at Fullers Bookshop 
  Australian Poetry (supported by the Pratt foundation) are offering a Poet In Residence grant of $20 000. Details are available, again, from the Tasmanian Writers' Centre's website.
     Australian Poetry is also looking for a selection panel of industry leaders and established poets. If you are an established poet, publisher or representatieve of a poetry organisation. To express your interest, email Paul at Australian Poetry.
    And that, my friend, is not the end. It is just a winding down of things as everyone becomes mercenary- and then in January in Hobart we have MoFo. Phew, no doubt there will be some book and word related events humming around thatglorious hub. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Salley Vickers interview

Recently in Australia as a guest of Melbourne's Wheeler Centre, Salley, who had been invited to speak on the theme of life and death in her work, found the time to speak to me for Edge Radio's Book Show.
    Jungian Psycholanalyst, former Booker Prize judge and of course loved and lauded author of Miss Garnet's Angel, and most recently Dancing Backwards, Salley spoke about how she wrote her first novel at age nine, when "at a rather ordinary primary school," a teacher recognised her boredom and set her the task of writing a book. With this exercise, she created the blueprint for her further work and, as with most of her books, death was an inportant theme.
     Through her training in pyschoanalysis and her (alluded to) signifigant spiritual experiences, Salley talks about how myth colours her writing, her envy that David Malouf beat her to the story of Hector, Priam and Achilles in 'Ransom' and how, she says "Freud has got it wrong."
    Salley talks about translation and the mystical experience that occurs with this process. "how two people can suddenly manifest themselves in a third reality... the invisible that stands between the author and the reader.

There's more too - listen here - she's truly captivating.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Podcast here: Lisa Lang talks about 'Utopian Man,' E.W. Cole and winning the Vogel prize

Utopian Man
By Lisa Lang
Allen and Unwin, 2010

Lisa Lang won the Vogel prize for the manuscript of Utopian Man, a glorious fictionalised account of the life of E.W. Cole, a visionary who is best known today for creating the childhood stalwart Coles Funny Picture Book. In HIS day (1880s Melbourne), Cole had a bookstore that encompassed a full city block, replete with monkeys, a fernery and a tea room. With more than 1 000 000 books and white wicker chairs for reading, this was a unique and before-its-time venture in a Melbourne that was awash with gold dust.
Lang has developed Cole as a person, the reader experiences his fears, worries, manias and family joys and travesties.
Listen to Lisa talk about Cole, her writing life - and the parts she left out of the book.

Monday, October 11, 2010

When is a book not a book?

Chris Porter has a magnificent view from her house which is perched on the skirt of a mountain looking down at the beautiful Derwent River.On the day I visited her it was a bright sunlight sparkling sea kind of day with even a hint of warmth in the sun.
    Her house has big windows looking out on the view though from the moment I stepped through her door I was captivated with the sculptures she is making from books.

I'd had a serendipitous meeting over the counter at work, chatting with some regular customers who mentioned they had a sculpture made from a book. The next day they even bought it (made by Chris) in to show me, which is an especially lovely thing for customers to do- and they also put me in touch with her - which is even lovelier.
"I don't just use any old book," Chris said - and on closer inspection there is a lot more to find - language, art, drama and poetry are all there. A dictionary has made for a particularly intricate piece.
   Chris entered in to the world of book sculpture or "page or book folding" as she calls it, when she started making books from scratch. This process has evolved now - and she sources her books from op shops and charity stalls. She has also been given copies of favourite books to transform into art-as-memento for people.
A book sculpture can take anywhere from fifteen minutes right through to hours and hours and while Chris acknowledges that she is not alone in creating art from books she doesn't use a scalpel like some other practitioners of this art.

This, of course, begs the question; when is a book not a book?

There may be some people who are horrified that a book can be used for anything other than reading - but a book is a consumer product- and, sacrilegious as this may sound and with a full acknowledgment that a book CAN transform your life, there are a lot of books that end up at the rubbish tip. Take a look at the book shelves in any op shop - full of microwave cookery books and never opened school issue dictionaries - and novels that do not deserve a second reading.
When Chris starts her tricky folding and evolves these books into sculpture that are both decorative she is also recycling.
They are a perfect way for a book to finish its life - and show a lovely evolution of Chris' creativity - moving from the art and craft of making books from scratch, through to book rescue and transformation. She is also preserving a form of the book that, as we lurch in to the digital, may become a mere museum piece.

Chris can be contacted at chris.porter (at)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Podcast: Van Badham chatting about 'Burnt Snow' and witchcraft and blogging and art and digital immigrants and more

    Van Badham operates at high velocity and reveals a depth of interests in this interview - all done with a strange aplomb, considering she's been 'on the circuit' of launches and writers festivals for months now. Listen to her talk about her new novel Burnt Snow (Pan 2010),

Van also talks about some of the spaces her research in to witchcraft have taken her - and our (interviewers') propensity to assume she's a witch herself.
Proud to be taking up the mantle of speculative fiction, Van Badham, has been hithero known for her "politically corrosive" plays. She talks about her move from "hardcore radical theatre person" to writing teenage genre fiction - and how the fit is perfect.
There's a lot more in this interview - Van's highly entertaining - and here's a link to her blog

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Podcast: Cameron Hindrum talking about this year's Tasmanian Poetry Festival

Remember 'Shaddup You Face' by Joe Dolce? - well, the man's a poet - and he will be at this weekend's Tasmanian Poetry Festival in Launceston. And no, it is not a gimmick.
    The Tasmanian Poetry Festival is about to celebrate its 25th consecutive festival. It is a unique event happening over one weekend in the Launceston (this year 1-3 of October) - and is about the art of poetry and celebrates its form in many guises. There are poets from the North and the South of the state, the mainland and overseas - reading their work at venues around Launceston - and, of course, there is the pinnacle of poetry blood sport, the "hotly contested and bitterly fought out" contest on Saturday.
   Listen to Cameron Hindrum the festival organiser and a poet in his own right talk about the contest and provide some hints on wrangling poets - as well as the details of this weekend's events.

PS It seems that a gamut of poets is the collective noun.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Podcast - click here: Chris Womersley talks about his latest novel 'Bereft,' his reading life and being on the writers festival circuit

by Chris Womersley
Scribe 2010
ISBN 9781921640605 

I can't say too much about Bereft because I could be gushy - but -
This is a wonderful story, gorgeous writing - there's magic, lucidity and pain. It's reminiscent of Murray Bail with its Australian echoes - though it is a universal story.

Quinn Walker returns home after World War One. Home is Flint, a small town in NSW. He fled home as a child, unjustly accused of his little sister's murder. His family believe he was killed in the war.
Sadie Fox is a young orphan waiting for her brother to return from the war, she is persecuted by powerful, yet malevolent people of Flint. She is magical and an innocent with powers.
It is about story telling, siblings, family love that endures  - as well as its dissolution. It tells of the time following World War One - the flu epidemic, resentment against soldiers who lived to tell their tales -
Bereft is being hailed as a gothic novel, though I've not read enough in that genre to label it so.
In the podcast Chris talks about writing the book, his influences and spiritualism (amongst other things).
Have a listen - and I'd love to read your comments.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Book Is Dead. Long Live the book

This article was first published in The Apple, Spring 2010

Like everything else in the entire universe, the book industry is undergoing change.
Right now, these changes are affecting everyone from writers to readers to publishers, designers, PR people and booksellers – and it is possibly the most monumental change in this industry since the Gutenberg press was invented. The latest change, unsurprisingly, has involved the digital world; the internet, social media, E-publishing and the ebook readers that many of us now own.
Amazon recently released some possibly dodgy figures which may or may not show that they are selling more E books than hard covers – and regardless of the veracity of those figures –we are living in a time when we can believe that the ebook is surpassing the solid, tactile, page scented, perfect weighted, nostalgia creating, good old book in sales.
Inside the publishing industry over recent months there have been gargantuan conflicts. Macmillan, one of the world’s biggest publishing houses, pulled all their titles from Amazon during a recent ebook pricing ‘negotiation’ (read: war). Amazon eventually capitulated to the prices demanded by Macmillan. More recently Andrew ‘The Jackal’ Wylie, possibly the world’s best known representative of writers and their estates, has entered the fracas. His stable includes Salman Rushdie, John Updike, Nabokov, and Philip Roth. He created the aptly named company Odyssey Editions to work with Amazon, cut out the publishers and sell ebooks directly to the public. Random House (another large publisher) responded by stating they will no longer do business with Wylie.
Many a reader is left, hands in the air, wondering where our next fix of words could come from, and how we are to administer it. Are we still using eye droppers or is it time to mainline? Amazon and Apple are the main competitors in the Beta versus VHS style battle that is happening with ebook readers. The main sparring partners are Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s Ipad though Sony and even Angus and Robertson with their cheaper ebook reader, the Kobo, are popping up for the odd skirmish on that battlefield. The one thing that seems to be established is the format in which ebooks will be published – Epub.
Supporting the entire industry on their backs with Atlantean poise, are the writers. With the onset of the ebook and reduction in printing and shipping costs, there is a hope that they will be able to take a bigger share of the profits. Writers are also being pushed towards dancing the cyber dance – tweeting, facebooking, maintaining a website and blogging. Ebooks may also change they way they write.
Many writers are embracing these tools, entering into the world of product promotion, the product being themselves, not necessarily their words. There are lots of authors in the twitosphere, John Birmingham, perhaps, being the most prolific. Straddling various genres, David Mitchell, Stephen Fry, PM Newton, and Young Adult writers, Kate Gordon and Penni Russon are some of the others that are actively embracing social networking – and they seem to enjoy it.

Cate Kennedy, on the other hand, has spoken strongly against the need for authors to get their hands dirty in an online sense. Her concerns, while she is not a luddite, are that there is a very fine line between “the blog and the blah,” and that the dedicated time a writer needs to foment and compose their words is being eroded by the push to maintain an online presence. “Toxic,” is the word she used.

The circle then comes around to reviewers and online commentators about books and writing. The rise of the blogger is exponential and as daily circulation of newspapers lessens and literary pages are cut, the online commentary becomes more and more crucial for discussion and promotion of books and writing.

There is no denying that the book industry needs an online presence – and that writers need bloggers and reviewers to help them shift their product. Consumers of words and audiences at literary events seek information online and all of the major literary journals in Australia have blogs. Meanjin and Overland have recently launched a collaborative blog called Meanland, which is looking specifically at reading in an age of change – and it has been shown that participation in the arts online translates directly to increased audiences for arts in the ‘real world.

The Book is Dead. Long Live the Book.

Post Script: Since this article was first published, Andrew Wylie and Random House has declared a truce. Wylie has removed titles by authors including Nabokov, Orhan Pahmuk and John Updike from the Odyssey Editions publishing list, leaving him with just seven titles.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Have you published a book? Tasmanian? Member of the Tasmanian Writers' Centre?

The Tasmanian Writers' Centre is now calling for your books released in 2010 to be included in our major publicity tool for the year, the Tasmanian Writers' Centre Summer Reading Broadsheet.  

Last year's broadsheet was a huge success, promoting more than fifty new books by Tasmanian writers, at no charge to our members.  Around 2000 copies were distributed to the public through the Centre, bookshops, State Libraries, literary events, and major festivals including From France to Freycinet in Swansea and Junction 2010 National Regional Arts conference in Launceston.  

This is a key service for Writers' Centre members*, so if your book was (or will be) released this year, read our guidelines below, and send your information and a copy of your book to us by Thursday 7 October.  We look forward to featuring your work!

Chris Gallagher, 

* join up at


What will appear in the broadsheet?
Cover images will be black and white, and printed at a thumbnail size, about 3cm tall by 2 cm wide. Your book title and author's name will 30 words of text will appear beside it. Layout will be similar to last year's broadsheet, copies are still available from the office.

Can I have a larger cover image?
Yes, if you would like a larger cover image, about 5cm tall x 3cm wide, you can have this for $45 payable to the Writers' Centre. 

What if I had more than one book out in 2010?
You can submit a separate cover image and 30-word description for each 2010 book.

What if my book is not out yet?
We can accept material for books which will be released before 31 December.

What do I need to send?
Email to
  • Your cover image as a JPEG of 300 dpi, postcard size or larger;  or as a PDF.
  • The book title and author's name.  
  • Up to 30 words of text to promote the book. It can be good to include a short endorsement quote. Your 30 words must include the price and availability details, and exclude the book title and author's name.  
  • A copy of your book for promotional use in the Writers' Centre library, and to allow staff to see your new work. Mail books to the Centre at 77 Salamanca Place, Hobart Tas 7000.  
  • If you would like a larger cover image, specify this in your email and pay $45 to the Centre by Thursday 7 October.

When should I send my material?
Submissions close at 5pm on Thursday 7th October.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Click here: podcast of Ramona Koval chatting about her reading life - and her new book.

I host The Book Show - and Ramona Koval hosts The Book Show. That statement is not as strange as it first may seem. Ramona hosts a daily show on a national broadcaster and I host a weekly one on a local community radio station. She has been broadcasting for around twenty years, I have been broadcasting for three years. Ramona has interviewed the likes of A.S. Byatt, Judith Wright, Ian McEwan, Toni Morrison and Mario Vargas Llosa. I have not.
  The authors above are some of the interviews featured in Speaking Volumes: Conversations with Remarkable Writers (Scribe 2010). It is a collection of interviews that not only gave me insight into writers, their writing and their stories, it allowed me to slowly interrogate the practice of interviewing.
   I won't write much more - just to let you know that Ramona makes for a gorgeous interviewee. She talks about reading Kafka at age 12,  runs through some tricks for young players, stories from her reading life, her move from science to letters and the importance of curiosity. 
Have a listen - and I'd love to read your comments -

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hobart book related activites that you may like to attend

There are some good lookin' events happening in Hobart over the next week or so -
    Tonight (Wednesday 8th) Michael Veitch will be launching Wasted: the true story of Jim McNeil, violent criminal and brilliant playwright by Ross Honeywell at 5.30 at the Hobart Bookshop.

Ross will also be coming in to the Book Show on Edge Radio on Tuesday, 28th of September to chat about his book - and Jim McNeil.

    Next Monday night Fullers Bookshop's XYZ reading 'community' will be getting together in the Afterword Cafe at Fullers to talk about Raymond Chandler's book Cathedral. XYZ is a unique set up - it diverges from the traditional tea and scones/red wine 'book discussion group' with an invigorated examination of texts.
    Next Wednesday evening (15 September) you'll be ripped to shreds with choices - Warren Boyle is launching a great collection of craftyness - Stephen French's Handmade in Tasmania (published by, the Place and Experience poetry competition results will be announced at The Lark - as part of the Tasmanian Writers' Centre's event - Novelists on Place and Experience - Robyn Mundy and Danielle Wood will be in conversation - I would love to attend this though I can't teleport yet and I'll be in Magnificent Melbourne (yes, it deserves the capitals) - at the launch of Lisa Lang's novel Utopian Man. Lisa won the Vogel prize last year for her unpublished manuscript - and the book has been published by Allan and Unwin.
    The Writers' Centre have also just released their program of workshops for the rest of the year - with some excellent ones on the list - there's one on blogging - check their website for more details.
    On Friday 17th is an event that is garnering a lot of attention - Anna Krien will be in conversation with Amanda Lohrey. Both women have just had books published by Black Inc- Reading Madame Bovary by Amanda- and, the one that has particularly piqued my interest is Anna Krien's exploration of the situation in Tasmania's forests, Into The Woods. This is happening at Fullers Bookshop at 6pm. I will be speaking to Anna on Edge's Book Show on Tuesday 21st - and you'll also be able to listen to a podcast of that interview soon - right here.

    I think I may have missed Shane Crawford in Hobart - he's a footy player and is often referred to as Crawf. (I learn new things all the time) -and he had written a book. I am still, however, dedicated to Chris Judd, because he weaned the Carlton boys off yellow food and taught them how to eat a salad.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Podcast - Children's Book Week

Children's Book Week is an annual event that is celebrates, not very surprisingly, children's books. For me, it used to mean getting dressed up. Not in a sparkly dress kind of way, but getting dressed up as a character in a book.
Here's a photo of me dressed as the Queen of Hearts, from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland

Children's Book Week is organised by The Children's Book Council of Australia and this year was the 65th. That makes it the longest running children's festival in the entire country. Happy 65th, Children's Book Week.
    Prizes are awarded in various categories to authors of childen's books. I remember when Victor Kelleher won for Master of the Grove. That was in 1983, the same year that Pamela Allen's Who Sank The Boat won the award for Best Picture Book. It is hard not to get nostalgic when reading the lists of the winners from when I was little- the lists have made memories tumble back into view. Memories of the corner of the school library I liked to read in, the embossed golden stickers on the prize winning books, how reading made me feel then - and I feel warmed to write that reading still does the same thing.
    My Mum taught me how to read before I went to school - she is very proud of this - and I am so grateful to her for the time and energy spent. Thanks Mum - you set me on a career trajectory at age four.When I meet parents who talk about their child's love of reading I feel so relieved for the parents and excited for the child - so many worlds and so much learning awaits.
    When you listen to this post's podcast you will hear these young people talking about "all the secrets that you never find out til the end," "the words and the enjoyment of reading," "the exciting adventures" and "imagining things that usually don't happen - and "that you can get included in someone else's life" - they're talking about books and reading in their young lives.
They're reading Deltora Quest, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the perennial Harry Potter, Septimus Heap - new and exciting writing for young people that I've not read. They're also reading Christobel Mattingley, who I read and loved. It's glorious to think that the charts for their reading lives are created as they go - and that no two are the same, though there will be many similar passages - as well as some profound divergence.
oh - and here are this year's winners.
PS A massive thank you to Emma, Renee, Jess, Jess, Lilly, Hannah, Maggie and April - for being so generous with their reading lives - and for starring on Edge Radio's Book Show:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Events in Hobart Bookland

Some events for you Oh! Hobartians or those visiting Hobartside - and don't forget, there's a well known poet in town - Chris Wallace-Crabbe. Considered one of Australia's best poets, a literary critic and an educator, he is in town for the month of August. The Tasmanian Writers' Centre have organised that.

Tomorrow night (Wednesday 18 August) at the Lark Distillery Chris Wallace-Crabbe will be in conversation with another poet, Sarah Day.

- oh! - and a festival celebrating a dead playwright who was known as um ah what's his name? Shakespeare. Yes: the Australian Shakespeare Festival is happening NOW

The Hobart Bookshop and Ginninderra Press invite you to the launch of three books:
Robert Cox's Agony and Variations. This collection of short stories will be launched by Geoffrey Dean.
Steve Tolbert's young adult novel O'Leary: JI Terrorist Hunter will be launched by Dr Pam Allen (the world can never have too many young adult terrorist stories) and Stephen Matthews will launch Ian Kennedy Williams' Fugitive Places. Stories From A Suite Of Hotels.
5.30pm Thursday 19th August - all at Hobart Bookshop, which you will find perfectly nestled on the good side of Salamanca Square. Support small press. (subliminal messaging).
Fullers Bookshop, Tasmania's leading indie, will be hosting activist and human shield, Donna Mulhearn talking about her book Ordinary Courage next Tuesday, 24th of August at 6pm and on Saturday 28th at 3.30 Anjum Hasan, author of Lunatic in my Head and Big Girl Now will be visiting Fullers on behalf of Brass Monkey Press - an exciting new initiative in Australian publishing that will bring new books from the Indian sub continent.
And - round one of the Ulyssean Battle will be happening tonight (August 17), 6pm in the Afterword Cafe at Fullers - the first discussion of the Big Bad Book sessions - informally talking about Ulysses.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rocks In the Belly by Jon Bauer

Rocks In The Belly
Jon Bauer
Scribe 2010

This is an unpleasant book. It is a harrowing read that may result in a feeling of despondency for the reader.
It is the story of a boy and a man, the same person at age eight and at age 28. It is told in intersecting chapters in the first person. He is an only child in a family who cares for foster children and when the family fosters a child called Robert his jealousy becomes unmanageable. The story of the eight year old's psychological decline as a child is echoed in his behavior, when, as a 28 year old he returns home to care for his mother.
The reader is acquainted with the mother only through her son's voice. When we meet her she is already suffering from a cancerous tumor that is expanding in her brain. She is fading in and out of lucidity and the reader, like her son, is sometimes left wondering exactly how compos mentis she is - or isn't. She experiences moments of clarity which are a shock to her son.
There are echoes of MJ Hyland in this book - her most recent novel This Is How is the story of a young man struggling with his guilt. There was an effective banality in her writing - a young man skirting his emotions, just as Bauer's unnamed protagonist does.
The childish voice of the eight year old is engaging and resonant. The childish justifications, interpretations ring true.
"I cry a lot in bed now and I’ve been thinking about it and decided I cry for two reasons 1. I don’t know why we’re here. Humans. Which makes me really sad."
The 28 year old seeks to escape his situation with drink, drugs and sex. His barely suppressed anger arises in a horrific and violent incident later in the book.
As the story progresses it becomes clear there is no happy ending. The damage has been done and as it draws to a close the tragedy is heightened.
Even as I write this review I can feel the book in my guts, slightly queasy with the horrible recognition that Jon Bauer has written extremely well about human nature, suffering, thwarted childhood and fear of death. Pain and suffering - a couple of givens in our lives.
Many of us read to reinforce strange notions of a world of joy, light and irreverence. I like a book that slams the wind out of me, leaves me doubled over and gasping. This is what I find life affirming and Bauer, who is in Australia on a Distinguished Talent visa, has done this effectively.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

'The Crime of Huey Dunstan' by James McNeish

The Crime of Huey Dunstan
by James McNeish
Text Publishing

The eponymous crime of Huey Dunstan is the vehicle through which the story of the life of Ches, an 80 year old pyschologist specialising in trauma, is told.
Huey is a young man convicted of a violent murder which, from all accounts, is out of character. Ches is called to provide expert witness for the defense and he starts to believe there must be a deeper psychological motive for the murder.
Huey's crime, subsequent trial and Ches's strangely driven investigation allow the psychologist to recall and relate times in his life that give the reader a greater sense of the man - and a profound understanding of the crime. This layering of the story reveal his younger self, growing up in postwar UK, joining the navy, his decision to become a psychologist. It also a love story, a gentle love story of a decades old marriage, all the familiarity and affection that go with a successful marriage.
Ches begins to lose his sight soon after his marriage and McNeish's reflective, insightful descriptions of the experience of blindness showcase the writer's sparsely poetic style;
"You know the that lovely creaking sound of the thwarts you get when you're at sea? The sound you get lying in your bunk below the waterline when the ship rolls? That's what a blind man feels when he enters into the windiness of the day with his pores pricked."
The novel is progressed by such descriptions, which allowed this reader to really engage with the descriptive yet tight writing.
This is a book that straddles the genre/literature divide. It could be termed a literary thriller and sit as easily in a general fiction section as the crime section of a bookshop - it is narrative driven and involves a crime.
It raises some of the same questions as the awarding of the Miles Franklin award to Peter Temple's 'Truth' did - Can a genre novel be adequately considered literature? - and it answers with a resounding yes.
McNeish has crafted a novel that not only tells a curious story of an intelligent and seeking man reflecting on a long life, he has hung it from the suspenseful scaffolding of the story of the eponymous crime.

"I stumble out to study the miseries of the world as best I can" says Ches - and in letting him do so, McNeish has given the reader opportunity to also study these miseries.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Delicious crafty and writerly opportunity


Local creatives Ben Walter and Kelly Eijdenberg have received funding from the Australia Council to produce a new book featuring a collaboration between young Tasmanian writers and craft artists.
Ben Walter, a local writer and assistant manager of Fullers Bookshop, says “opportunities for young writers are thin on the ground in Tasmania, so we’re really happy to provide a chance for them to get involved.”

They are calling for short stories responding to the title of their book – I Sleep in Haysheds and Corners.

The best ten entries will be published in the book, and also, given to local craft artists to respond to using their practice. Images of the craft items will serve as illustrations for the book, and the items will also be displayed in an exhibition in their own right.
Book designer Kelly Eijdenberg comments, “While fine art and literature are no strangers, you don’t often see collaborations between fiction and the recently-revived art of craft – this will be a fusion that we anticipate will produce exciting and unexpected results.”
Submissions from writers to 'I Sleep in Haysheds and Corners' must be received by October 1st. The stories must be under 1000 words and written by Tasmanian people under the age of 30. Stories must also keep to the guidelines which are available from

Successful contributors will be paid $150.

Opportunity for Tasmanian playwrights

PlayWriting Australia Creative Development Studio, Winter Session

11‐13 October 2010
PlayWriting Australia, the national peak body supporting the development of new Australian writing for performance, is currently calling for applications from Tasmanian playwrights for the next Creative Development Studio, taking place in Sydney from 11 to 13 October 2010.
The Creative Development Studio provides playwrights with resources to address specific issues in a new script through leading an intensive, three‐day workshop.
The aim of the programme is to help solve the problems that are preventing theatre companies from producing otherwise performanceready plays, ultimately bringing more – and higher quality – new Australian stories to the theatre.
This year, the Winter Session, is being offered exclusively to support a Tasmanian playwright to attend the Studio in Sydney this October. The successful applicant will receive return airfares and accommodation, as well as a venue, access to a director, dramaturg and actors to assist them in the
development process.
“Great plays sometimes need just a couple more days with actors and a creative team before a theatre company bites,” PlayWriting Australia’s Artistic Director Chris Mead says. “The Creative Development Studio is that rare chance. It offers top‐line artists the opportunity to get together and refine, hone and genuinely distil the playwright’s vision. Tasmania has some great theatre artists and we’re looking forward to backing one to see another brilliant new Aussie play on our
Applicants are encouraged to present a clear artistic vision for the development process and demonstrate how the Studio has the potential to significantly enhance the future life of the work.
The playwright must normally be resident in Tasmania and be available to travel to Sydney on 11‐13 October 2010.
Closing Date: Applications are open now, and must be received by PlayWriting Australia by Friday 13 August 2010.
Further info: Contact PlayWriting Australia on (02) 8571 9177 or via email at or check out our website for full application guidelines:
MEDIA ENQUIRIES: Amanda Macri, 02 8571 9172 or

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Book Launch at Hobart Bookshop

The Hobart Bookshop is pleased to invite you to the launch, by Sarah Day, of Ginny Jackson's book The Still Deceived.

Where: The Hobart Bookshop
When: Thursday July 15th, 5:30pm

All welcome to this free event.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Podcast here:Doctor of Fantasy, Tansy Rayner Roberts

Last Tuesday Tansy Rayner Roberts came in to the studio. She is author of a number of books, most recently 'Power and Majesty' which is the first of three in the Creature Court Series (Harper Voyager, 2010). Tansy is a Doctor of Classics, a mother, a prodigy, somewhat of a cause celebre when she was first published at age 19 and she makes for a good interviewee with her knowledge of the writing, the world and her passion for the Romans.
'Power and Majesty' is "effectively a superhero story or urban fantasy," firmly placed in the genre of fantasy. Tansy identifies as a writer of fantasy "(it) is a particular kind of escapism," she said, and while there is the argument that all writing is escapism, fantasy takes you further, allows you escape more - because it is often set in other worlds. It is literary tourism and readers experience a world completely other than their own. She mused on the seeming decline in popularity of science fiction as compared to fantasy - speculating that "the reason sci fi has retreated so much - space ships and computers - is because our world is already sci fi and what fantasy offers is a world that is not already there, a dip into a world that is different without giving up our creature comfort, our twitter and our microwaves."
Tansy was has been known to me for many years - when she was 19 (11 years ago) she was feted as a prodigious new talent. She had her first novel published at that tender age - in an industry that was as difficult to gain a foothold in then, as it is now. Describing the publication of her first novel as "a bolt of luck" (she won a competition by a publisher looking to increase their science fiction and fantasy titles), she acknowledges that it's not every 19 year old who has a completed fantasy novel in their bottom drawer.
She says it's "not one of those things where you pay your dues, it was bang! and get your book published." While she suggests "it is tempting when you're a teenager to write fantasy because you don't know very much about the real world, so making it up from scratch seems easy," it is a rare bird who has the novel, submits it, is published once - and then published again and again and again.
And it is fantasy that she has returned to, and that she still draws a lot of satisfaction from - the possibility of redesigning a world from the bottom up. It has, she believes, a lot of elements in common with the historical novel; the need to provide the reader the the background experience as well as the narrative of the story.
Tansy started young - reading full length novels by age five, planning her first 20 volume fantasy epic at age 12.
Her process of writing has evolved from precious to practical. When she began to write seriously for publication she could have no one else in the house, only one spot she could sit in and no sound whatsoever. That has all changed since she has had children - and she squeezes in squirts of writing between naps and drop offs and pick ups - "I just write, I have a lap top, write anywhere, have learnt to write with music, even if there are lyrics."
Her characters keep her entertained "I have definatley been surprised," she says - "it's more like having pets - you think you know what your cats get up to when you're out of the house but you come back and they surprise you."
'Power and Majesty' is volume one of three, involving many characters each with their own back stories, connections and passions. "spreadsheets are my friend," says Tansy. This way she knows what happened to her characters five to ten years before, and what the other characters were doing at that time. "I want to write about them as adults and because of that, even in adult fantasy, most people start the story with the young farm boy when he's 15 - they have character, ex lovers and baggage."
She is in the process of editing volume two of the Creature Court Trilogy - and has just received the edit letter "it's hard, I think that the freaking out is part of the process. You read through, you flail your arms 'how can they misunderstand my genius?' then you get over it and have a cup of tea and then you say "yeah, they have a point." The edit process is obviously crucial to publication - and writer, editor and publisher want the best book they can make. "Writers who can't take criticism at all are never going to improve never going to become better writers and develop their craft."
Tansy has a PhD in Classics - and she sees parallels in contemporary fantasy writing and in some classical writing "there are definately a lot of elements of classical stories that we now recognise as fantasy, a lot of stories that were treated as history but they had Gods walking in - as modern readers we think 'now, hang on, that was Aphrodite walking past, should I suspend my disbelief now?' mythology didn't seem quite as obsessed as pinning down what was real and there was not as strong a line between history and mythology as we draw now."
"Look at 'The Odyssey,' a marvellous work of fantasy full of Cyclops and sorceresses and amazing magical adventures."

The full interview is available for podcast by clicking on the title above.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Julian Burnside, doublespeak and city crushes

I have a crush on Melbourne, a big, exhilarating crush. Last week when I popped over, ostensibly to visit my darling friends J and E and see their new house and cat, I also wanted to touch on some of the things that make Melbourne a UNESCO International City of Literature.
This status was accorded the black garbed city in August 2008 for reasons as described by UNESCO "a city of extraordinary diversity in literary activity, Melbourne is a vibrant arena for the creation of literary works, home to diverse publishers and publications and populated with an disarming number of diverse thinkers. It hums with wordiness, from low to high. Edinburgh is the only other UNESCO-deemed City of Literature. (see. link below)
Not strangely, my endeavour to savour the city of literature involved books and words. So one morning I stayed in my pyjamas and read the latest Australian Literary Review. In the evening, we drank feisty red and debated the merits of twitter and reading in digital form.

The next day I visited Polyester Books on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy. Polyester's subtitle is 'some weird shit' - and it certainly has had some weird shit on its shelves. Instead of the bookshop's standard biography, fiction, art, health, etc sections Polyester's shelving system runs something like 'drugs, sex and rock and roll, subversive fiction and the banned-do-not-tell-the-federal-police-section'
I was pleased to see both The Anarchists Cookbook and Hightimes displayed, as both of these have been banned at various times in our recent history. I didn't see any snuff films, though did see Hunter S, erotica and street art in abundance.
Polyester is a mutinous hub but there's nothing there that's more outrageous than you'll find on the shelves of a well versed indie elsewhere - there is just more of it. Polyester, may you continue to serve your subversive, slightly titillating role well into the future. Oh, and dust your shelves darlings, the dust is not edgy.
And - the highlight of my visit to my biggest crush city, was to hear Julian Burnside speak as part of the Lunchtime/Soapbox series at the Wheeler Centre.
The Wheeler Centre is the hub of Melbourne's lit-cit status. It is subtitled 'Books, Writing, Ideas' and it is, in their words, "a new kind of cultural institution. The Wheeler Centre. A centre dedicated to the discussion and practice of writing and ideas."

Train, tram and a couple of footsteps got us to the door at the Little Lonsdale entrance, which is on the side of the State Library. We were greeted in the foyer, with a smile, that included the eyes; genuine and lovely, and ushered in to a large, packed room. We nuzzled our way in to a corner and listened to a humourous and incisive talk by Julian Burnside titled 'Mind Your Language'.
Julian Burnside is known to many as a defender of the powerless - notably, asylum seekers under a Howard government. He is a wise, well spoken barrister who has spoken loudly, acted profoundly and caused change for the better in contemporary Australian society.
He talked about the "plague of doublespeak," and how it's not the misuse or erred use of language or grammar that riles him, it is the deliberate obfuscation of meaning that results from doublespeak. Some examples he gave were from the Vietnam war, "energetic disassembly" meaning an explosion and "incontinent ordinance" instead of bombs that hit schools by mistake.
"Doublespeak means that you can smuggle uncomfortable ideas in to comfortable minds," and it is "language covered with an ambiguous figleaf," he suggested, potently. Examples he gave of language used powerfully and honestly included Rebecca West, in her essay 'Greenhouses for Cyclamens" where she wrote about the Nuremburg trials and Patrick Leigh Fermour's "dazzling use of metaphor." "Language like this speaks with force and clarity - the message remains long after the words have faded."

Thanks for having me Melbourne, I am looking forward to seeing you again soon.

UNESCO City of Literature:

Video of Julian Burnside's talk at The Wheeler Centre

Podcast: Iain McIntyre - How to make Trouble and Influence People

This is an interview I did with Iain McIntyre, author of 'How To Make Trouble and Influence People' (Breakdown Press 2009). It's a ripper of a book featuring collection of exactly what the title suggests, making trouble and influencing people - in varied and creative ways. It also contains interviews with some of Australia's better known trouble makers, including Pauline Pantsdown, John Safran and some of the Chaser crew.

The interview was broadcast on Edge Radio's Book Show in April this year.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How a poem frames a page

Leaving the studio after our on air conversation, Anne Kellas and I chatted about the nature of the (possibly, nearly, obsolescent) book - in book format - and she commented that a poem is restricted in a book - and how, by itself on a loose piece of paper, it frames the page.

Kellas is a poet, has always been a poet though was wary to call herself one, or even a writer, until one day it just became apparent to her that she was. She just was.
She has lived in the UK and also Australia, more specifically, Tasmania, where she arrived with her husband and sons after they chose not to live in Apartheid ridden South Africa. "We did not imagine Mandela would be free in our life times."

The poem that begins her first collection of poetry, 'Poems From Mount Moono' (1989) is actually the 'introduction to the author' - 'To Anne Kellas, in exile' - by Lionel Abrahams. She gently riles against the title of poet in exile, suggests that an exiled writer is one who has no choice - and that she chose to leave South Africa - though goes on to acknowledge that exile is about loss - and she lost her homeland to Apartheid.

Home is a recurring theme in both collections of her poems - as are tigers.
Her second collection 'Isolated States' was published by Cornfield Press in 2001 and she is currently working on her third.

Kellas, who is nearly sixty, softly spoken and considered with her words and language, first fell for Shelley in a poetic sense, more recently being inspired by contemporary Australian poets, Robert Adamson and Eric Beach - and translations of Georg Trakl.
She confessed to having had an allergy to poetry for a while and to not being "the world's biggest fan" of ABC Radio's Poetica, but recently did a u-turn back to poetry by going back to her first poetic loves, Shelley and Yeats.
To hear her read her own poems out loud on the show tonight completely changed my 'reading'of them. Thoughtfully paced, considerately weighted on words I would have skimmed, the poems took on a new and more powerful life. She felt, has felt, that poetry read out loud, by its author, is really being dictated by another poet residing in their heads - I imagine, for example, that any poems I read out loud in my early twenties would have the rhythm of Ginsberg, as they may have Mary Oliver coursing through them now.

Kellas teaches poetry - and feels that the crystalisation of our language, which is what poetry does, is teachable to those who recognise that. She works with each student from the point where the student is - and recognises the need for encouragement - and laments the abuse of empty criticism.

Of more robust and necessary criticism, she calls for non poets to review poetry - in more mainstream media - and I agree.... we need more poetry in our lives, we need poetry to be more accessible. We need to allow the insight and magic in poems into our lives - to swoon us away from scientific fragmentation and a periodic table view of this universe.

Anne will be reading at the Poets' Republic in July,
coedits The Write Stuff along with Giles Hugo
Blogs @
and tweets @

An event:

The Hobart Bookshop invites you to attend the presentation of the Eve Masterman Poetry Prize. Eve, who will be celebrating her 103rd birthday, will present the prize.

When: Sunday June 6th, 2.30pm
Where: The Hobart Bookshop

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Gore, sex, Death and vernacular

I chatted to Anna Dusk on The Book Show ( Anna is Melbourne based, Tasmanian born, Oatlands raised. Her first published novel is 'In-Human' - which, on the blurb, is likened to a cross between 'Catcher in the Rye' and 'Buffy.' Not having 'Buffy' as a benchmark, nor any recent horror reading to compare it to, I found it a visceral and furious read. It is the story of Sally Hunter, a teenager in small town Tasmania, who finds herself, painfully at first and more and more elatedly as the story wears on, turning werewolf. Sally becomes a hunter, a drunken sex fiend furious teenager - and she goes on a killing spree. The story is fuelled by violence though there is a narrative that does propel the reader forward.
Anna and I talked about the process of writing such anger, we talked about what propels us towards fear, why there is such an industry for horror - why do we seek to become paralysed. 'In Human' isn't a scarey novel as such, though fear definately enveloped this reader.

And - having spent about 50 000 hours of the last week endeavoring to podcast this interview I'm leaving you all on tenterhooks.

Now, there's a lovely word, tenterhooks.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Award-winning writer, regular writer for The Owner Builder magazine, and blogger Sharyn Munro will be at the Hobart Bookshop on Thursday May 13th from 5.30. Pete Hay will introduce her, and Sharyn's books 'Mountain Tails' and 'The Woman on the Mountain' will be available.
Event supported by the Tasmanian Greens.
All welcome to this free event.

The Hobart Bookshop
22 Salamanca Square
Hobart Tasmania 7000
P 03 6223 1803 . F 03 6223 1804

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Book slut and tanka

With a name like mine sometimes it is difficult not to be slutty about books. I have seriously indulged lately - and one little tome that I can now justify the purchase of was just used for the first time. The (Penguin) 'Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory' has just saved me from a potentially awkward conversation with Chris Gallagher, the lovely director of The Tasmanian Writer's Centre (TWC) (see earlier blog post). TWC are holding a series of workshops throughout April and May (excuse late post, but I have been far, far away). Their workshops include ones on creative non-fiction (a genre I love to pieces beginning with Capote's 'In Cold Blood'), Haiku (yeah yeah, know all about it, did it in grade 6) and Tanka. Tanka. Lovely word, solid and quite visceral - but what on earth? 'A Japanese lyric form of thirty one syllables in lines of five/seven/five/seven/seven syllables. Also known as Waka or an Uta it originated in the 7th Century and is regarded as the classic Japanese poetic form.' (Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory' Penguin, 1999 p901.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Isable Allende, the nature of arguing and the notion of trash.

....last night I finished "Island Beneath The Sea' by Isabel Allende. I feel dirty and disappointed.
What has changed since 'Eva Luna' and 'House of Spirits' curled my teenage toes?
Well, I have changed and so has Allende - and she has changed more than me.
Both Eva Luna and 'House of Spirits' stand up today and resonate for what they are - harbingers of the end of the boom in Latin American Magical Realism. Yes, lacking the scope and depth of Garcia Marquez or Llosa - though spirited and delightful reads about magic lived in real life.
Allende's literary career began then - and her writing career has boomed since.
She struck lit dirt with the sweet yet dark stories of Eva Luna - and it has been downhill since then.
With her latest offering, I felt as if my synapses shrivelled up and cowered, before eventually breaking off and clogging my entire brain as I continued to read.
For a woman who has lived through personal tragedy she has an inordinate ability to skim the surface, the scummy and un-nourishing surface, of the human condition.
I got in to a 'discussion' last week with a friend, quite a heated one, as neither of us are skilled at argument to foment conversation - about whether it is better to read 'trash' than to not read at all - a week ago I believed it was better to read than not - better read than dead, if you will allow me that distortion, though having finished the Allende, I feel it important to delve deeper in to that notion.
In this casestudy 'Island Beneath the Sea' is the trash. It is predictably mainstream 20th Century Latin American: historic, hysteric, histrionic.
Beginning in the 1700s on the island of Saint Domingue (now Haiti) it tells the inter-generational story of a French plantation owner and his slaves.
It is impossible to believe that Allende does not have a researcher - and in some parts of the book it seems she is quoting directly from the researcher's notes - or the things she jotted down as she spoke with historians, copied from historic sources in the library or transcribed from her personal shorthand as she watched documentaries.

So - why is reading trash better than reading nothing:

1) one becomes aware of how one does not want to write
2) 'Trash' often features time and place of social and political import- and this provides the reader with opportunity to glean what the author has learned from their researcher.
3) reading is always better for the brain and mind than zonking our in front of the television (the song is quite simply NOT 'books; drug of a nation'). There is more active brain activity when reading than when watching the box.
4) we read for different reasons; to transform, to inform, to entertain, to waste time, to enhance time. All of these reasons are as valid as the other.

So - yes, even after the saccharine torture of 'Island Beneath The Sea' I still think that it is better to read 'trash' than to not read at all.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Bone People and memory

This week, for the first time in a long time, I am getting house mates. I'm a little nervous about this - as it has been my very own space for a long time. There will need to be some compromises on my part - no whole evenings spent in the nude, no smoking inside, no washing up left for weeks on end, and the removal of around four thousand precariously wobbly piles of books. I live in harmony with meat eating slugs and ants. The ants and I have already had to compromise. They avoid the kitchen and I avoid their four lane highway that runs along the step into the toilet. The slugs I have no power over - though they will not slug the way through bicarb.
The ants in the loo are quite lovely, and often I linger longer to watch them streaming back and forwards. They don't sleep, or if they do, they sleep in shifts. There used to be a lithe resident spider in the corner of the toilet too - until my mother visited - and cleaned the room up.
I read Keri Hulme's Booker winning 'The Bone People' many years ago and, when I remember it, my heart leaps in a good way. One of the aspects of the book is that one of the protagonists, whose name eludes me, lives in a magic castle of a house and has fungi that glows on her staircase. I remind myself of this when I welcome spiders and ants in to my toilet.
What else do I remember about 'The Bone People'? and is it really true:
the story of a woman taking refuge a long way from home, a denial of her past that somehow comes back to her. A young boy called Simon. He was force-fed heroin. There must be love somewhere too. The child is damaged, but is redeemed or saved. I remember that the language was not ornate but the images I created from the book were rich rich rich.

I gave this book as a present to dear friends, which means that I truly valued my time reading it.

I will re-read it. Is it still in print? I wonder. The ants scurry.

PS - please note - this is NOT a plea for remedies to remove slugs and ants from indoor living. Do not send suggestions, however well meaning you are.

Monday, January 18, 2010

...this is how I feel.....

My main read/squeeze right now is 2666 by Bolano. It is an epic that he wanted published in 6 parts - but was (posthumously) published as one. Epic far ranging stories set all over and hung together by a series of true murders that happened in the nineties in Santa Teresa, Mexico. His writing is harsh, insightful and beautiful and smashes the face of Latin American writing. It is a visceral (if you'll 'scuse the savage pun) and I feel a deep welling of emotion even thinking about his words.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Unsigned Author

I peddle, push and purvey.

Though I am the pusher, I am as much of a sucker as those to whom I fob my wares.

My wares are the ether around which the written word resides. The space outside a novel, everything that is, essentially, superfluous to the text. It is the cult of the author and the author as fetish.

I broadcast the story around the story – the author’s life, how they write, what inspires them, what they read, as well as the story of the industry around books; the prizes, legislation affecting the industry, awards and accompanying gossip. I yearn to hear the story OF the author, not just the story By the author.

In Bolano’s book The Savage Detectives, he tells the story of young writers as detectives seeking an elusive poet – they are seeking her, not her words. In 2666 he writes of the intellectuals whose livelihoods are made by another elusive author, in this case the real or imagined BennoVon Archimboldi. He toys with the reader, like me, who appears to need to know where the author sits, stands and lies in order to truly understand and give credence to the story.

Obviously, to know the time and space where the author writes from helps to understand (and to accept in some cases) the attitudes of the text. It places it within a historical or cultural context and if we bring something of our knowledge to that reading, we can glean more from the words themselves.

In the past, without the time and space shattering communication mechanisms such as the internet it was simply not possible to have such a cult around the authors, though we know that there was a demand for Mark Twain on the speaking circuit.

The 2009 arch-version of this circuit is the Writers’ Festival – of which there is a massive proliferation, generally aimed at middle class ladies, that augments the business around books.

Writer speak, reader buy.

And writer sign, reader buy.

One of my favourite childhood memories occurred in C1978 (??) in the Long Gallery. My mother took me to a book signing. The book was The Hills of the Black Cockatoo and the author was Pat Peafield Price. As a child this book took on significance much greater than the story. It became a valued item, something which somehow gave me a lot more than the story itself.

What changed with that lithe little tome, what altered the weight of the words once the author had inscribed it with her magic, her pen and with the hand that wrote the words. What was it that my few nervous childhood moments in the presence of Pat that made this work weightier for my conditioning mind?

I recently encountered a Buddhist monk signing the books of his teacher – and enquired how he, who views the world through lenses of impermanence and non attachment, could justify putting his mark in this book. He answered that that we know sales improve with signed copies, and that will take his teacher’s message further.

It’s true – signed books sell more copies and the cynics say that once a book is signed, if it doesn’t sell, it can not be returned the publisher, though this is less the case than it once was.

A gentle paradox in the face of the increased pecuniary value of the signed book by a dead author is that a personalised dedication from the dead author lessens its value in the auction house, though it has more importance to those who know to whom it was dedicated.

The written word can transform the reader, can vault you to a place you did not know existed, can allow you insight and can entertain – whether the copy is signed or not, yet despite the magical qualities afforded the written word, it is an industry. We consume books and words- just as we consume food, clothes, and widescreen televisions. There are people who work in this industry and need to be paid, there is money to be made from the words and to be able to get the words out there money must be made. The snake eats its own tail.

Of course, there are purists out there – people who consume the text and nothing but (“the words alone transform me, to know of the author’s divorce is merely crass.”)Those who are transformed by the essence – and there are the prurient (“it is absolutely crucial to know what type of drug Kerouac was on when he wrote each book.”) and everyone in between.

We can read the stories of the writer or the writers’ stories. They are all part of a cycle of narrative. Stories within, like Matryoshka dolls, though they’re far from uniform and sometimes impossible to prise apart.

What I really truly don’t understand, though, is why the big fuss that Pearl Jam wouldn’t sign autographs on their recent tour.

...originally published in 'Apple' - Summer '09 '10. 'Apple' is the magazine of the marvellous Tmaggots

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Review of ‘No Weather For A Burial’
David Owen
Forty Degrees South, 2009

‘No Weather For A Burial’ is the latest in a series of crime novels by David Owen set in Tasmania that feature the same world weary detective – Detective Inspector Franz Heineken – aka Pufferfish. Yes – Pufferfish is back, after a 12 year hiatus.

‘No Weather..’ is Tas Noir, the setting is as important as the tried and tested scaffolding of most crime novels on which it is strung:

An aging, and no doubt ruggedly handsome, detective with a questionable past and a bitter divorce behind him (Pufferfish) faces down, not only a curious cast of criminals, but also sceptical and thwarting senior police officers to overcome obstacles (after being led down various gardens paths) to ultimately solve one – or possibly more crimes. Plus love interest.

Pufferfish fits the bill – he has been forced to leave his homeland, the Nederlands, under a cloud to eventually arrive in Tasmania and forge a new career in the TPF (Tasmanian Police Force – one of myriad acronyms in the book, others, deliciously include FU, TROG and ABCD – Above and Beyond the Call of Duty).

At the beginning of the book, Pufferfish returns from three months of long service leave, a lot of it having been spent at his shack on Bruny where he estimates he has caught and eaten about four grand of cray, to begin a hunt for the disappeared wife of a Ferntree based, wheel chair ridden Professor of Egyptology. Already the sense of place in this book becoming crucially apparent.

The story is transformed with a king tide revealing a recently dug grave on a remote beach on the ‘Peninsula, building as the search for the identity of the game-hunter’s deer bagged corpse begins - bringing in deer hunters from the midlands, waterfront nightclub owners from’ the Bay, fishermen from the West Coast, ex boxers from the’Bunna and bikers from Sydney. Pufferfish and his cop cohorts have to travel to most corners of the state as well as to Sydney – of course taking the reader with them to experience these places.

‘No Weather’ is a solidly structured novel, though the key to transforming it into one that is better than the average is the character of place – in this case, Tasmania. The state, its climate, its peculiar North, South, East, West parochialism are captured with accurate intensity and hang all the more flesh on the crime scaffold.

The parochial subtleties of this island are rolled out by Owen with an eye for detail and in an informed manner. “Out here Franz, we’re masters of improvisation. We supplied most of the islands wealth but you bastards out East, don’t give a toss,” Owens has a Strahan based character say.

Place is a character crucial in a lot of crime writing– the more extreme the better;
Arnaldur Ingridason’s Reykjavik, Steig Larsson’s Sweden or even Peter Temple’s bushfire shadowed Melbourne are vital to the telling of these stories and without the Tasmanian setting of Pufferfish it would not be as interesting to local readers, or as informative and curious to readers abroad.

And Tasmania is, despite what those of us for whom this is home think, an extreme location.

Owen has an outsider’s eye for observation and an insider’s awareness of nuance, having arrived in Tasmania in the early nineties via South Africa, London and Melbourne – and a writer’s scholarly approach to text – his most recent publications are part of a natural history series published by Allen and Unwin.

Pufferfish’s character is written in the first person and present tense. This results in some strange turns of phrase “we stand, self feeling a tug in the lower back” but also adds to the noir-esque-ness and transports the reader with a gum-shoe gritty detective novel tone. The narrator/writer also has a propensity to have Pufferfish refer to himself in the third person occasionally though this is skillfully written and adds to the ‘voice of god’ style narration that pervades the book.

What is missing in this crime novel, though definitely not lacking, is the often superfluous violence described in florid detail – we are a savvy reading audience, one that is often unfortunately inured to graphic depictions of murder, rape and mutilation on the page and screen. This violence becomes more pronounced when read as the reader is left to create those details ourselves. ‘No Weather’ proves that gratuitous violence is not required to further a plot.

Crime novels are crime novels, they offer the reader the vicarious thrill of having a crime solved before your eyes, there is no pressing need for intellectual engagement – the story is spelt out for you in clear language, the crime novel does not aspire to be ‘art’ or transformative literature – and the reader can rest easy, despite gnawed fingernails and edge of the seat reading – there will be a resolution.

Paige Turner November

  Edging towards the end of the year and towards summer, towards Christmas and all it allows us to manifest. Good luck and good sleeps to ...