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Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 25th

Book & Publishing News:

*“Women on the Road” will be on at Airey’s Inlet, Feb 19-20,featuring a host of well-known Victorian writers. Check out for more information.

* POETRY AT THE [Geelong] LIBRARY will be on Feb 6th at 3pm. More information on next week’s program.

* Australia’s premier living poet, Les A. Murry, will be speaking at Queenscliff Uniting Church at 11.30 am, Thursday Feb 10th,sponsored by The Bookstore in Hesse Street. Talk plus lunch- $30.

* “Our” James Murphy – James was the brilliant, regular commentator on world affairs on Denis’ morning program while at Deakin – featured in the recent “Age” editorial praising the innovative scheme begun last year to get outstanding graduates into schools. James teaches in Horsham and not only loves his job, but was also nominated for an Australian Teaching Award.

*Winner of “The Blurb’s” first competition, in 2010,was Maria Frend. There will be a MONTHLY competition again in 2011. $75 worth of book on offer! So keep tunning in!

* “His last Duchess” is a new novel based on Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue “MY last Duchess”. It had better be good. I’ll read the poem for you soon.

* Next week I will review another “Mafia” genre book – “The Deeds Of My Fathers”. Intriguing.

* Did you read the winning entry in “The Age’s” Short Story Competition over the Christmas period? Sure, all writers take poetic licence, but I wondered whether Murray Middleton was a tad lazy in calling “Bundaburra” a town……when it is, in fact, a creek [barely] near Forbes? I liked his mention of Parkes Leagues Club: your host was refused entry to the dining-room there in 1969 for having hair over “collar-length” and wearing a Nehru jacket, not the prescribed collar-and-tie.

* The latest edition of “HEAT”, the literary magazine from the Uni. of Western Sydney, will probably be the last. They have published some excellent work over 16 years.

* “The Blurb” welcomes contact from local history groups. I look forward to speaking with Marg Coper and the Meredith group soon about some recent work in print.

* Simply nostalgia; nothing to do with books…Did you enjoy Sunday night’s documentary on ABC2 about the ever-beautiful and -committed Joan Baez?

This Week’s Review: ‘Notorious’ by Roberta Lowing

I seem to have had to work harder on this review than of any other for a while [ and, in retrospect, I don’t think I did KATHERINE’s book justice last week] “Notorious’ is so much more than the sum of its parts, yet those parts are themselves often brilliant: the locations, the poetic language, the seven intriguing main characters, the timeless relevance of the themes [loss of belief, international politics, aesthetic questions, neo-imperialism.]
I am not sure, however, whether the author finally pulled it off. Or whether I “got it” – who IS who, and WHERE and WHEN…For one thing, I am not very familiar with neo-IRomantic French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, which means I may have missed a whole thread of literary allusions. In the meantime, I was often reminded of TS Eliot’s “The Waste Land” which burst on the literary world not long after Rimbaud’s sojourn in his [the novel’s] desert. I was reminded too of Francis Thompson’s 1896 poem “The Hound Of Heaven” which the novelist almost paraphrases at times…In the 1990s.English novelist Jim Crace wrote “Quarantine”, an intriguing short novel about Jesus’ in the wilderness [from Luke’s Gospel.] On top of all this, someone reminded me that our author was for many years the chief film and TV writer for Fairfax.
What, then, is “Notorious” about? I look to Ockham and quote liberally from Jane Gleeson-White in a recent “Overland” [Issue 201,p 38-9.]
“…a fractured narrative told in several voices that reaches from Rimbaud’s desert wanderings in the 1890s to the Iraq war of the 21st century. In an asylum near Abu N’Af near Casablanca- an asylum in which the poet once sort refuge – a woman lies dying. She has walked out of the desert, her impossible survival without water or maps a mystery for those who care for her: the poetry-loving Frenchman Rene lafirche and the enigmatic Sister Antony. Into this sanctuary comes a jaded Australian embassy official, John Devlin, who has been sent to interrogate the woman… [ – apparently by the CIA!] …Lowing constructs a gripping, labyrinthine thriller that unfolds against brutal and beautiful landscapes – the desert, the mountains of Sicily, the jungle of Borneo, the streets of Casablanca. Clearly we have here a very ambitious novel. I remember being similarly astonished by the scope of “Cloudstreet” all those years ago; don’t be surprised if this novel receives similar attention. I could quote numerous passages of luminous yet compressed description – of buildings and seascapes, for example – that I went back and read again.
It is somewhat a LOVE story, but also has the elements of a “Le Carre” thriller. As with so many recent Australian novels of quality, there is a fascination with the novel as history, as Gleeson-White remarks in her discussion. While I would still be severely challenged to provide a linear summary of the plot of “Notorious”, it is an outstanding novel. I await
your reading of it, listeners, and I look forward to discussing it with some of you, my friends.

SCORE: ****+
‘Notorious’ by Roberta Lowing ,A&W pb,pp 496,rrp $45

This Week’s Poem:

We ran out of time this week, to present a poem on air, but I had wanted to read from the Francis Thompson 1896 poem “ The Hound of Heaven”. Next week, hopefully….

Interview: Max Cooke- Veteran Piano Maestro

I felt very humbled speaking to Max Cooke, one of our Great Australian’s, surely. Here he was, discussing his memoir: “ A Pedagogue On The Platform – Max Cook’s Life In Music”, on our little program, the day before a grand performance by 100 pianists at “Rippon Lea” as a fund-raiser for the National Trust, and Max is in his 90s…Still teaching and still vitally interested in the pedagogy of music.
Some of our listeners will remember Max’s piano-playing from the days of ABC Concerts at the old Plaza and GAMA theatre. He actually finished his secondary schooling at Geelong College where he was taught by the wonderful George Logie Smith. Several notable locally-born musicians [Roger Heagney, for example] studied under Max at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music where he was Dean in the 1950s – and the work of which has been almost a lifelong passion.
It was evident from our brief conversation that Max is one of those rare RENAISSANCE persons, the lifelong learner: he reflected that he was almost 40 years into teaching music before he began fully to realize what the psychology of music and the learning thereof was about. The ‘science’ of learning, and knowledge about the piano as an instrument, led him in new directions. Max has been long involved in exceptional work on the relationship between general personal well-being and music. Indeed he wonders whether we all should not take pause and contemplate the impact music therapy/appreciation might have on the world’s ills; we already know that children who ‘learn’ music therapy thereby enhance their ability to learn across the board. He cited Finland where music therapy is part of all schools’ core curriculum.
Currently Max is tutoring two outstanding students, one from Indonesia, the other from China. He noted the abilities of Asian students in piano, drawn from an inherent awareness of cultural values – and a fierce work ethic.
Max’s very interesting and well-presented memoir is available from READINGS [in Carlton and Hawthorn] or from him directly, [Phone 03 9822 2959.]

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January 18th

Book & Publishing News:

* Australian history students, awaken: Alan Frost is having another word on the “Why Botany Bay?” debate in his new book “Botany Bay: The real story”. I’ll talk about it later in the year.

* REVIEWERS: “The Blurb’ would welcome some new reviewers. Send us your review of anything you’ve read lately, about 2000 words, and we will likely present it [and/or you] on an upcoming program.

* “Can the book survive?” was put to four well-known book people [including publisher Richard Walsh] by “The Age” Weekend magazine, as they were asked to assess four of the latest e-book offerings. Have you some thoughts on this? Ring in and tell us, or email.

* “WOMEN ON THE ROAD” is an exciting initiative from Aireys Writers Group. Coming up mid-Feb. More later.

* WHO WON THE BOOKER PRIZE FOR FICTION ION 2010? His book was reviewed on this program late last year. Be the first to tell us and you can pick up $75 worth of books from “The
Blurb”. Phone The Pulse Reception or email.

* “BOOK-TO-FILM” Number 4+: I started to watch Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s’ Dracula’” last week…Bram would have been turning over in his grave [boom! boom!]…The 1970s’ film by Stanley Kramer of the 1968 minor classic “Bless the Beasts and the Children” was on one of the new digital channels recently: A fine film of a very good novel by a Glendon Swarthout; probably hard to find these days…And I am waiting with baited breathing for the new “True Grit” film, screening Feb 27th. I loved the understated novel [which was an early English text for this teacher in NSW around 1970]; the first film version was great with fat, overweight John Wayne as fat, overweight “Rooster Cogburn” - who doesn’t quite prove to be of “true grit”.

* The “What Is Poetry?” discussion continued in the pages of “The Age” last week, thanks to a nice little piece by traditionalist David Campbell who was mourning the passing of knowledge of the “classics’ of “The Banjo” and Lawson…Well, a bit of the verse each wrote might be “classy” poetry, but not much according to most reasonable criteria. The point needs to be made, however, that too few English teachers READ poetry much less feel like they can or want to TEACH it.
The next day’s “Age” printed a good letter from a Melbourne primary teacher who maintained her school did all sorts of things poetic from Prep to grade Six…My remarks refer to secondary schools I taught in for 40 years in two states….What do you think? Does it matter?

This Week’s Poem:

This week’s poem is “Gardeners” by Bruce Dawe, a hymn of praise to his wife.

I see you as a gardener
who plants in other’s hearts
those seeds and precious seedlings
from which each flower starts
- your seeds are all those kindnesses
and seedling deeds that grow
and flourish in your presence
wherever it is you go.
I’ve seen your goodness also
beneficent as rain
to arid soils of suffering Bring hope and life again.
One spring you brought me happiness
and even now you feed
me with your love and beauty
who otherwise were weed…

In prayers, in thoughts, in words as well,
In all you seek to do
- I see Jesus walking,
conversing there with you,
as gardener to gardener,
considering each way
to make a sad world brighter,
day by gospel day.[2010,”Madoona” magazine.]

Author Interview: Katherine Howell author of “Violent Exposure”

Bernard had the pleasure of talking with Gold Coast-based Katherine on “The Blurb” last week.

Here is a summary of what she had to say:

Sydney-born Katherine now lives on the Gold Coast and is completing a PH.D [on female detectives in contemporary fiction] while continuing to write her crime procedural novels about the work in Sydney of one Ella Marconi.
Katherine’s professional background provides a rich perspective to her writing as she worked for 14 years as an ‘ambo’ paramedic. We spoke about the immediacy of the human crises paramedics encounter every day – and how [ I would say very successfully] Katherine incorporates this in the four books published so far.
We talked about establishing authenticity in crime fiction [without resorting to the near-porn of some TV series?] and Katherine mentioned Michael Connelly and early Patricia Cornwell as some examples. She feels it is very important to get the ‘factual feel’ right.
Bernard was delighted when she cited JAMES LEE BURKE as her favourite detective writer with our PETER TEMPLE as another worthy mentor. She tries to keep to a discipline of at least 1500 words a day though not necessarily on a continuous project.
In the meantime she is working on a Ph D thesis [on female protagonists in crime fiction.]

This Week’s Review: ‘Violent Exposure” by Katherine Howell

I have always derived great relaxation from reading crime fiction, especially in recent years when there was so much other “heavy stuff” to get through. As a kid, it was John Buchan, Ellery Queen and Edgar Wallace. Agatha Christie I found boring. Of late, as listeners to this program would know, we have had available to us heaps of very good novelists in this genre, both overseas and here in Oz. Katherine was new to me, so I read not just her latest, but the previous “Cold Justice”. She now has four books featuring her murder investigation policewoman, Ella Marconi.

What sets Katherine’s books apart from her Australian colleagues is not only the freshness of her main character – she is so ‘natural’ – but more so the ‘naturalism’ of the crime scenes the reader encounters. No, I don’t mean “Silent Witness”, etc–style gore. You see, Katherine brings to her writing what every writer does, I suppose – her own previous life. It’s just that pre-professional writing, Katherine was an “ambo” paramedic, for 14 years. Not only, then, do we get factual realism; she also brings us right into the personal experiences of these modern-day heroes. Indeed, though her paramedics are, on one level, supporting actors, their presence in each of the novels I’ve read are what holds the books together. And I mean that in the most positive sense. Think about it. Murder scene… there are going to be paramedics around, aren’t there – before the ubiquitous [on out TVs] CSI types get there. Ambo’s have long been sort of heroes of mine – and the SES people: they are there at all those horrible “accident” sites, night after night. What about their trauma? Katherine indirectly asks and answers this question.
Anyway I am sold on Katherine’s writing, especially on the newest book: I could see real development, particularly in the subtlety of the plotting here. The reader is led for a bit, up a cosy garden path: woman bashed, husband missing, as is a young female employee of the pair. Ah, domestic violence, we crow. Another procedural...Boring. Well, Katherine is too good for that. As we cruise the streets of Sydney, either in the ambulance or with Ella, we recognise that there is more to urban crime than gangsters.
Meanwhile, Ella’s romance is not so romantic and we get to know her Mum and Dad as Dad encounters illness – which happens with the parents of early-middle age cops!
Katherine’s Sydney is not so far as interesting as Peter Corris’ – or Garry Disher’s or Shane Moloney’s Melbourne for that matter [much less Rankin’s Edinburgh or Burke’s “bayou country”…I wonder why she didn’t try BRISBANE, a bit overlooked by our crime writers [though brilliantly depicted on the screen in that hilarious David Wenham Film…the name of which name escapes me.] The great David Malouf did some wonderful work with Brisbane…
Anyway the crime fiction of Katherine Howell is well worth a look.

SCORE: ***+
Katherine Howell: “Violent Exposure”.Macmillan pb, pp 312, rrp $ 32-99.

Next Week:

Next week I will be speaking on air with Geelong-educated veteran piano maestro Max Cooke as we discuss his recent memoir, “A Pedagogue on the Platform”.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 11th

* Welcome to another year with booklovers the world over on “The Blurb”. Yes, we are a bit late starting this third year of the program, but here we are today– Zane and I – with news about books and writing, an interview with a promising young Australian novelist , Katherine Howell, some beaut music…and the usual lots of useless chat from me, probably.
Our beloved Rhia is unable to be with us this year due to a change in her uni timetable; but she will be keeping everyone up-to-date via the blog, accessible through THE PULSE website: most of what you hear from 3pm each Tuesday will be available in print by the following Friday, especially all-important publishing details of the books we talk about. And please WRITE to us, or PHONE in. We dearly want to know what you think about our show, about what you are reading and so on.

Book & Publishing News

* Have you been reading the diet “Age” over the last few weeks? Brigid Delaney [ whom I interviewed this time last year about her book, “This Restless Life”] has been writing a weekly column. Dare I say, I am quite intolerant of the rubbish that passes for “journalism” in so may of the “soft” columns our papers foist on us these days. Thank heavens, we don’t have to put up with Catherine D or Marieke any more. [Save the trees!] A couple of weeks ago [28/12/1o],Brigid wrote “Bogan benefits lost on smug intellectuals”, her very best column to date, I feel. Humour, insight, political savoir – all the stuff of good magazine writing. The girl has real talent. I emailed her and told her to write a novel; “in the pipeline”, she assured me [from Thailand!]

* There won’t be too many changes to “The Blurb” this year…More listeners: tell your friends. A monthly competition with good book prizes; listen in next week. We have regular interviews; I thought we might give interviewees more of the run of the show – a la M Throsby [ABC FM], lets them choose the music. PATON BOOKS [show sponsors] will have a spot monthly to talk about their stocks, maybe do reviews; I look forward to hearing from Kathryn soon.

* Geelong Regional Library will speak with us each month too. So many great things happening there…I recently viewed a fair bit of “SHOAH”, an outstanding documentary from 30 years ago; interviews with survivors of the nazi concentration camps. A library DVD.

* “Greatescape books” are sponsoring “WOMEN ON HE ROAD” at Airey’s in a few week time. More detail as the date approaches.

* I read “QUADRANT” regularly [because it’s always good to know what The Other Side are up to] and this month’s has a strident [well, that’s a surprise] article “The Decline of Reading In An Age Of Ignorance” by a Rob Nugent who claims that tertiary students “come in knowing next to nothing, and go out in a similar state of empty-hededness, but with a shiny new vocabulary of ideologically correct jargon to suit all occasions.” If I still had a spleen, I’d love to be able to vent it like that.

* Hart Crane was an American poet of the 20s-30s whose star shone briefly, brightly and who has really only been noticed fairly recently, via a “Complete Poems…” in 1968. There is a film coming out later this year entitled “The Broken Tower”, his last [1932] published poem – and our poem for today.

* John Bartlett will be in fortnightly again this year with reviews/interviews and words of wisdom.

This Weeks Review: Bernard Reviewed Three Books About Culture-“The Ninth…”,“The Romantic Revolution”,“Greek Pilgrimage”

In my recent down time I have been reading a few new books about culture. Perhaps they belong in the ‘higher’ end of cultural reflection, but each is quite inclusive and so well written that they are worth the mere couple of hours each takes to read, especially if you are interested in the wonderful world of art, music and literature.

In less than 200 pages, Harvey Sachs tells his reader the story of the development and first performance of Beethoven’s magnificent and quite radical Ninth Symphony in 1824. This is the sort of broad history that I love, where the author tells what else was going on, as well as the finer details of the event or the person under consideration. Of course, it takes some sort of polymath to achieve this. Sachs is such a person: he continually reminds us of the tumultuous era that was the late 18th and early 19th centuries and, not least, of the influence of Ludwig van’s forerunners – Mozart, Haydyn, Bach – without whom his genius might never have reached the height’s it did. We are in the world where, although the American Revolution had delivered such a worthy model of statehood for other nations, France’s experiments with democracy had brought an age of terror and subsequent military despotism that destroyed virtually a generation of English, French and German youth.…though one wonders [with one news columnist today] whether the Constitutional Amendment defending the “bearing of arms’ was not a tragic aberration.

The actual premiere performance of the eponymous work was rather a humble affair compared with any version we would see today in our concert halls. It was poorly rehearsed by quite a small orchestra in a rather tiny venue – and was almost certainly a loss financially – all this while the composer was very hard of hearing. Very few contemporaries realised the enormity that would be Beethoven’s reputation and influence in our day. He was one of many composers, albeit one of the more respected, earning his living by composing. All of this adds up to a reason to put on five CDs with all the symphonies, turning up the volume and having a Beethoven week at my place.

Harvey Sachs: “The Ninth…”, Faber hb, pp 225, rrp $45

Tim Blanning’s book on Romanticism raises the bar even higher. It is of roughly the same size, but of its nature is rather more demanding for the reason, I suspect, that the author has first to wrestle with the over-use and incorrect usage of the term itself. It is a more scholarly work, but rest assured he is writing for the lap reader. [I have no qualification or skill in music, though I am known to warble on occasion, sometimes even in tune.] Blanning deftly explains for us [once he’s dealt rather well with the semantic aspect] how, from about the mid-1700s there was emerging a new vision of the world – largely in reaction to the perceived sterile intellectualism of the late Renaissance and the Enlightenment.[Actually there is a rich area for debate around this question: I believe it lies at the heart of what the “New Atheists” are on about – or should be on about. I believe they are ignorant or na├»ve about the richness of pre-Enlightenment Christianity which led them to all sorts of invalid because poorly-founded conclusions.]
The way Blanning arranged and delivered his vast-ranging material reminded me of how rare a great uni lecturer. My best ever was Dr, Ian Breward, formerly of the United Faculty of Theology, Melbourne College of Divinity…The student could “hear” Ian’s topic sentence and know when the end of a paragraph was coming. In the space of two semesters, three hours a week, he taught a “History of the Christian Church” course, the last of which I was privileged to hear. Blanning’s delivery is that sort of concise and informed.
What then did I learn about Romanticism from this mini treasure trove? Chronologically, first of all, he pins down roughly 1750-1850. Geographically, the seeds of an almost spontaneous movement came from Germany, then to England and Europe in general. Features? An introspectiveness after the stringent objectivity of the previous three centuries. There was now recognition in full of the notion of the creative genius – with a cult of personality to boot. [Beethoven, Pagnini, Lizt, Goethe.] After the comparative intellectual dryness of the Enlightenment, there was blossoming of emotional and spiritual expression alongside a wider conversation about public morality. Night and dreams became subject matter for all sorts of artistic expression [e.g. “nocturnes”, etc.] Inevitably the new “arts centres”, the academies, bred an elitism [ which we still have?] This was accompanied by the reaction of a philistine bourgeoisie – which spawned its own ‘soft’ aesthetic.
Now, I am not suggesting this is an infallible thesis, but it gave me lots of information and food for thought.

SCORE: *****
Tim Blanning: “The Romantic Revolution”, W&N hb, pp 248, rrp $45

Back in October, I think I mentioned “Greek Pilgrimage’ by La Trobe academic John Carroll. This is not just a journey of the mind for Carroll provides several ‘tourist’ options for the traveller who has time for a couple of weeks in Greece. As I read this compact book – again just 200 pages – I realised the author as an unashamed hellenophile, to the extent that he seems to believe that all that is good and worthy began in that motley Mediterranean archipelago we now call Greece. This makes for lively reading, but I quibble with his scholarship when he calls the Gospel according to Mark a “Life of Christ”. Scripture scholarship left such a notion behind a century ago. As with Blanning’s book, there is a wealth of important information brought together here in a way the lay reader will find only rarely. One of the joys of senior English teaching in my life was introducing students to the eternal relevance of the Greek tragedies, albeit fleetingly, as we studied “Medea” and “Antigone”.

SCORE: ***
John Carroll: “Greek Pilgrimage”, Scribe pb, pp 215, $29-95


With a brand new year at The Blurb comes new theme music, which will be a jazz version of Lennon-McCartney’s “And I Love Her”.

Today we also played local jazz man STEPHEN MURPHY”s mellow, haunting reading of the standard “Stormy Weather”.

As well as his work tutoring Geelong’s legendary ‘Sweethearts of Swing’ at Matthew Flinders, Steve plays in various groups, one of which has a regular gig at our newest nightspot, “The Wrong Crowd” in upper Moorabool Street.