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Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 9th

Book & Publishing News

Here are the nominees and winners from the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards:
CHILDREN’S FICTION- ‘Star Jumps’ by Lorraine Marwood
FICTION- ‘Dog Boy’ by Eva Homung
NON-FICTION- ‘The Colony: A History of Early Sydney’ by Grace Karskens
YOUNG ADULT FICTION-‘Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God’ by Bill Condon

This Weeks Reviews:

John Reviewed- ‘Resistance’ by Owen Shears

RESISTANCE by Owen Shears was published 2007 by Faber & Faber and has been translated into ten languages and was short listed for the Writer's Guild of Great Britain Best Book Award 2008. Currently under preproduction as a film.

I first discovered the writer Owen Shears on ‘A Poet’s Guide to Britain’, ABC 2, Sunday at 8.55pm and was an instant fan. Owen Sheers was born in Fiji in 1974 and brought up in Abergavenny, South Wales and has published 2 books of poetry and a novella and his work has been nominated for a number of awards.

The plot is based on a very creative premise, presupposing that the Germans defeated the Normandy landings of 1944, and counter-attacked so powerfully that they soon occupied almost the whole of Britain. The premise is actually based on historical facts that Shears discovered when working as a builder’s laborer one summer in a Welsh valley. During the war evidently men had been recruited into a Special Forces division dedicated to resisting German occupying forces, should Britain be occupied which was a distinct possibility. This particular genre is described as ‘alternative history’ or ‘counterfactual’ and in the spirit of Philip Roth’s ‘The Plot Against America.’
Sheers takes readers to a small Welsh village during a speculative WWII – featuring a German invasion of Britain . It’s 1944 and Sarah Lewis and the women in Ochlon valley are left alone after all the local men disappear one night without warning. The women’s worlds suddenly shrink to the day-to-day struggles to keep their sheep farms going until the war comes to their doorsteps in the form of Captain Albrecht Wolfram and his men, who have a murky mission to carry out in the valley. Wolfram, despite being a Nazi Captain emerges as atypical, having studied history at Oxford before the war and more interested in classical music and history than the business of war.
Promising to leave the women alone, the Germans occupy an abandoned house and the two camps keep mostly to themselves until a harsh winter takes hold, and it becomes clear that the locals and the Germans will have to depend on one another to survive. When the weather breaks and the valley reopens to the world – and hence the war – the peculiar idyll threatens to shatter. This is pretty much the plot outline, relying on the tension between these 2 groups of sworn enemies living together in this winter-bound valley.
There are mysteries and revelations: why have the soldiers been ordered to come to this particular valley? Will the men return? What will be the nature of the relationship between Sarah & Wolfram? How will the story end? It would be unfair to to reveal any of these details.
Shears is a poet at heart and he expresses this poetry in his prose too. He gives readers a wonderful sense of place in this valley with its day to day rhythms of farming and sheepherding and the connection to the land and its animals. Particularly poignant is Sarah’s dedication to keeping a diary for her absent husband detailing the small changes in nature and the farm as the seasons roll by.
The valley is cut off from the rest of the world and the only information about the outside world comes through a crackling radio broadcast which gradually reveals a picture of the gradual take-over of the country by the invading German army. The destruction of London and the major landmarks we take for granted today is particularly touching depicting the possible outcomes had that war been quite different. We learn of the almost total destruction of London buildings and Nelson’s column at Trafalgar square being dismantled and taken to Berlin as a war trophy while in small English villages groups of citizens are being executed for resisting the occupying forces.

The story has a lot to say about the futility of war and its effect on individuals. Its strength lies in the fact that it goes beyond the sorts of stereotypes of individuals that now, more than 50 years on we have come to see as normal. It is also a stark reminder of the effects an occupying force can have on a population, something Western colonialism perhaps hasn’t yet quite understood. Dare I saw the occupation of Australia is one case in point. This is a poetic and impressive story with much to tell contemporary readers.

This Weeks Poem:

“Small Man With Tree (After Domenico Tiepolo)”- by Peter Steele SJ
This poem comes from a published collection of his works ‘A Local Habitation: Poems and Homilies’, it is based on a passage from Luke 19: 1-10 in the bible.


This week’s music featured Australian artists:
-‘Rock It’ by Little Red
-‘Day Too Soon’ by Sia from her album ‘Some People Have Real Problems’
-‘Poorhouse’ by The Audrey’s from their album ‘Sometimes The Stars’

November 16th

This Weeks Review: 'Fall Girl' by Toni Jordan

Reading this book was really refreshing. Here is a newish young female novelist who is prepared to write an unashamed piece of pure escapism and does so with style and flair.
Perhaps the title is in danger of telegraphing the book’s denouement, but if the end of heroine Della/ “Ella’s” journey isn’t quite what she had hoped for, the ride is certainly entertaining. In a recent interview, author Toni said: “I’ve tried to channel my love for screwball romantic comedies of the 40s and 50s into a modern story – a novelist’s ‘Charade’ or ‘To Catch A Thief’ except set in contemporary Melbourne…fascinating characters, intricate plots, witty dialogue and sexual tension. I only hope I have done them justice.” Well, Toni, I think you have.

Della and her extended family are eccentric in way we don’t often encounter: they are ‘con artists’ with a na├»ve Robin-Hood principle backing their often-grand highly illegal schemes for making money. Their whole lives – where they live, the daily and weekly routine, their identities, issues of security and secrecy dictate their comings and goings. Every moment is devoted to the sourcing, planning, and precise execution of serial ‘dodginess’ involving everything from carrying out phoney real estate deals to selling shonky patent medicines. The elegant, confident and articulate Della is sure she is onto a winner with her elaborate plan to relieve a ‘ridiculously wealthy’, handsome young millionaire, Daniel, of many thousands which will finance a spurious field research program to prove that the ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ is still at large in the Wilson Promontory National Park.
Masquerading as Dr ELLA Canfield, evolutionary biology academic extraordinaire, she sets up the interview with the respective foundation, secures the promise of a sizeable grant and sets off – in a very amusing sequence – for a field trip in order to demonstrate to Daniel just how his money will be spent. As the blurb says, “Someone is going to take a fall.”
Because this is a ‘sting’ story, I will say no more. Things move at a rattling pace throughout, but it is the characters who got my attention – the sincerely amoral family: father, stepmother, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, hanger-on Jerome and Della’s would-be-boyfriend, Tim. They represent a highly original take on the Fagin syndrome…One thinks of the British Ealing comedies [“The Lavender Hill Mob”!] of the early 50s as well as the more sophisticated American films already cited.

This is pretty daring stuff in that it defies genre which of course should guarantee Toni a broad reading audience. The dialogue is sharp and has an authentic contemporary ring. The locations – Melbourne and the Prom – are handled with sureness. It would make a good film.
I know we will be reading Toni Jordan again. An earlier novel, “Addition” ,is next on my list. She has the gift of telling a good yarn fluently and in a way that kept me turning the pages.

Published by ‘text’,2010,pp 234,rrp $32-95.

“Hand Me Down World” by Lloyd Jones

Doesn’t the variety of the human imagination just floor you? It does me. The way composers can continue to invent new tunes –and make them into songs and orchestral suites and symphonies and operas….Or the ways painters can ‘create’ new colour combinations into shade and tones and shapes that give us new visions of the world?...And the novelty of our WRITERS! Well, that is largely what “The Blurb” is about: giving you, dear reader , some of the NEW that is around in books and ideas.
New Zealand novelist, LYOYD JONES, reminded us last year about an awful civil war which raged on our northern doorstep not long ago – on the island of Bougainville – in his award-winning “Mister Pip”. Since then, he has given us an ’uneven’ [in the opinion of or reviewer] anthology of short sties, “The Man In The Shed”. Lately he is back to his best, thank heavens, with another highly-original yet topical story with “Hand me Down World”.
“Ines” is an African woman whose short-term lover kidnaps their baby son in northern Africa which leaves her utterly distraught, but not to the extent that she gives up on life. She determines to seek out both, and to get her child back. Now, you can see the possibilities for an emotional ‘journey”/”road” novel in the making. Jones manages to create the woman’s world as she moves from Africa into Italy and then northern Europe. But it isn’t until the second half of his novel that he really takes us into Ines’ mind. Until then we must be content with the viewpoint of several very different people she encounters, and this is the particular skill Jones manages in this remarkable book. Each of these people not only tell us her piece of the global story, but incidentally and importantly present an opinion on her situation. This in turn forces the reader to contemplate Ines’ plight – and the situations so many thousands face in today’s world, the stateless refugees who knock daily at the doors of us, the wealthy and comfortable. Jones re-awakened in me the shame I feel as an Australian whose successive governments effectively shut the gate on the trickle of supplicant-refugees coming to my country. Ines’ story is very moving, especially when Ines is finally able to be with her son in Berlin.
Of course, the son had been “handed on” in a sense early in the book; Ines is on occasion literally handed on, and not always kindly. Jones is a very compassionate writer, but avoids sentimentality. I suspect it is his journalism background that enables us to see his Italy, and particularly Berli [….which has been to the fore for me of late, with a TV documentary last week about Weimar Germany and :the real “Cabaret’”. There was the new Le Carre novel with its hints of his early classics “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold”, etc.] Jones has a rather spare writing style; there aren’t many adjectives or adverbs. None of those purple patches, so dreaded by teachers of English [and creative writing] Listen, for example, to Defoe, one of Ines’ lovers, talking about his stroll through Berlin on World Cup Day : pp 175-6.

Text Publishing, 2010, pp 313, rrp $32-95,pb.
SCORE: ***+

Author Interview: Toni Jordon author of “Fall Girl”

We spoke with Toni Jordon this week about her new novel “Fall Girl”. Toni also writes a weekly column for The Age as well as teaching creative writing.

Toni on the warm response her book has received
I was not expecting the response that this book got because you can’t fit my work into the box of typical genres.

Toni on the inspiration for “Fall Girl”
Classic 50s and 60s romantic comedies…People think it [romantic comedies] has to be brainless these days, but I wanted to make something that was genuinely funny.
Films are helping to portray the brainless side because the actors and actresses these days are young and can’t seem to carry off deeper, underlying stories.
My novel is a character driven comedy that can only have a funny line because it comes from that character.

Toni on her writing
I write by word count. I sit down every day and have to write at least 1500 good words before I finish for the day.

Toni on her first novel “Addiction” being made into a movie
Screen writing structure is a specific skill and I could not do it. If they [the screen writers] need more dialogue, I would be happy to write more, so that book can translate to the screen well.

This Weeks Poem:

“The Sharpener ”- Chris Wallace Crabbe


This week we played the following tracks:
-‘Dance, Dance’ by Fall Out Boy, covered by the String Quartet Tribute to Fall Out Boy. This was an instrumental version using only string instruments.
-‘Talking Like I’m Falling Down Stairs’ by Sparkadia. This is the first single to be released off their new album coming out in 2011.