Bestsellers: more dieting

Australia’s obsession with weight loss still translates into sales at the register, as seen by the latest diet book to hit the shelves is The Dukan Diet (Pierre Dukan, Hachette), which is number one on the Nielson fastest mover chart. French medical doctor Dr Pierre Dukan looks at the French paradox to devise a four-step diet that begins with eating as much high-protein food as you like. On the bestseller chart The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner (Stephenie Meyer, Hachette) is number one, followed by The Dukan Diet, then Private (James Patterson, Century) is still selling strong at number three. Stieg Larsson’s ‘Millennium Trilogy’ slowly climbs back up the charts and if followed closely by Dead in the Family: A True Blood Novel (Charlaine Harris, Hachette). Nine Lives (Adam Ramanauskas & Emma Quayle, Viking) is this week’s highest new entryWeekly Book Newsletter.

Most mentioned books this week

As expected, author Peter Temple had a great week of media coverage following his Miles Franklin win for Truth (Text). Sebastian Junger’s War (HarperCollins) and Michael Koryta’s So Cold the River (A&U) also appeared on the Media Extra most mentioned chart this week. Author of American Psycho Bret Easton Ellis is back with a new book called Imperial Bedrooms (Picador), which is also getting significant coverage. Twenty-five years on, Ellis revisits the characters from his first novel Less Than Zero. Morris Gleitzman has published the final book in his series that began with Once, continued with Then and finished with Now (Viking). In Now, Felix is a grandfather and the pain of the past resurfaces with a visit from his granddaughter—Media Extra.

INTERVIEW: Boyd Anderson on ‘Errol, Fidel and the Cuban Rebel Girls: A Novel’ (UQP)

Bookseller+Publisher reviewer Scott Whitmont spoke to author Boyd Anderson about his forthcoming book Errol, Fidel and the Cuban Rebel Girls: A Novel, to be published by UQP in August.

Not many people today know of Errol Flynn’s Cuban connection in the last years of his life and his relationship with Fidel Castro. How much film and political history research was involved in the writing of the story? Was Cuban source material readily available?

No, not many people know of it, and I wasn’t one of [the few who did] until I saw a documentary on Errol Flynn that finished with a tossed-off line that went something like: ‘When Fidel Castro rode his victory parade into Havana in 1959, Errol Flynn was on the next tank.’ This appeared so preposterous that I went straight to that fountain of all absurdity, Google, where I found it was indeed true, and the more I read about it the more I felt that it wasn’t absurd at all, that it was inevitable that these two should be attracted—the celluloid hero seeking adventure, the genuine hero seeking fame. Each had what the other wanted. Put that together with the fact that both were renowned Don Juans, one an ageing stag and the other a young buck, and the deliciousness of this encounter was irresistible. Drama is conflict, and this is a drama that occurred but has gone unreported for 50 years.

Regarding research, there is little about their connection to be found. There are a couple of grainy and badly composed snapshots, a mention or two in despatches, but few reliable reports. For his part, Fidel refused to even talk about Errol Flynn soon after the victory. He confirmed the film star’s presence to a few American reporters, but then denied he was even there. Errol, on the other hand, bragged about it all over US television for months. Something dramatic had obviously happened. Continue reading

BOOK REVIEW: Rise of the Ruddbot: Observations from the Gallery (Annabel Crabb, Black Inc.)

This book comprises Annabel Crabb’s own selection from her political writing over the past three years. Crabb is one of Australia’s most entertaining and incisive commentators and will be well known to anyone with more than a passing interest in Australian politics. A concise introduction sketches the origins of her interest in political writing and a warm-hearted afterword has Crabb telling us that she likes, respects and values most in politicians even while she is skewering them in the press. As for her writing, she can be flashy and abrasive and quick to create witty, unflattering phrases and put-downs, but behind her ebullient style lies an analytical mind and a clear-eyed view of the political issues, ideas, ideologies and personalities of the day. She tells us that ‘the beauty of the sketch-writer’s job is that the peculiarities can emerge, allowing the reader to enjoy some of the farce and folly that makes politics so fascinating’. As Alan Ramsey cautioned in his recent political pot-pourri A Matter of Opinion, the reader’s enjoyment of such material usually depends on his/her point of view. Anyone with an interest in Australia’s current political scene will find much to stimulate them in Rise of the Ruddbot. As for enjoyement–that’s up to you!

Max Oliver is a long-time bookseller and political sceptic. This review first appeared in the July 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher, before Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister.

Dinner and deadlines: the 2010 Miles Franklin award ceremony

This week I was lucky enough to attend my first Miles Franklin Award ceremony, and it was rather exciting. Apparently it hasn’t always been so.

I was surprised to read that last year none of the shortlisted authors turned up for this gala event, but then last year, as in previous years, the winner had already been informed (Tim Winton appeared by video-link) and the media had been sent an embargoed press release, so the announcement understandably lacked a little spark. This year there was none of that, and so gathered in Sydney’s Mitchell Library were five of the six nervous nominees (and they certainly looked nervous) and a handful of on-deadline journalists.

The organisers had promised to make the announcement by 8pm in order for the media to make their evening deadline (8.30m for many!), so we were on a tight schedule—not a bad thing for an awards ceremony. This meant that the winner was announced just as main course was being served, and Peter Temple gave his hilarious acceptance speech over the sound of clinking cutlery (I think the sound of audience laughter drowned most of it out).

Undoubtedly the biggest buzz of the night was around the nominee—and winner—Peter Temple. This is the first time that a crime novel has even been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, and the win is already creating lots of great discussion about the status of genre fiction, and the difference between ‘popular’ and ‘literary’ novels.

Truth is a wonderful book and a challenging one. As Text publisher Michael Heyward said after the win, ‘It’s changed the possibility of the crime novel.’ ‘Truth is a crime novel but also a novel about crime. It’s a contemporary tragedy.’

Someone on my table suggested the only thing Truth had in common with the conventional crime novel was that it opened with a dead body. What I loved about the story was that you had no idea where it was heading, that it had the ability to surprise and puzzle, as well as, like any gripping crime novel, keep you up all night until it was finished.

Temple has a talent for dialogue, as anyone who’s read his novels will appreciate. He’s also known for being an abrupt, even surly, interviewee. So it was interesting to see how he would react to the media scrum that followed the announcement. He seemed genuinely surprised, and a little stunned under the bright lights and TV cameras, but his instinct for great lines didn’t leave him. My favourite comments of the night were:  ‘It’s unusual for a crime writer to receive such a prestigious award, so cop it sweet’ (he told AAP). And his message for booksellers: ‘hand-sell this book until your hands bleed’.

Andrea Hanke is editor of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Temple wins the 2010 Miles Franklin for ‘Truth’ (Text Publishing)

Well, as we reported in a special bulletin to our Weekly Book Newsletter subscribers last night, Peter Temple’s Truth (Text) is the winner of this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award. (You can read our original review here.)

Not surprisingly, Text publisher Michael Heyward told us he was ‘over the moon’, following Temple’s win. He said Truth had ‘changed the possibility of the crime novel’. ‘Truth is a crime novel but also a novel about crime. It’s a contemporary tragedy,’ he said.

But, as Temple told Matthia Dempsey, in this interview from our September 2009 issue of the magazine, there was a time during the writing process for Truth when Heyward wasn’t quite so happy…

(Oh, and by the way, did you know the Miles Franklin was hitting the road? The ceremony comes to Melbourne in 2011 and other capital cities after that.)

INTERVIEW: Peter Temple on ‘Truth’ (Text Publishing)

You’ve referred to Truth as ‘the so-called sequel’ to The Broken Shore because, although that’s how it’s likely to be pitched, it’s not really a sequel. Why did you choose to focus on Villani, rather than write a second book on Cashin? Were you trying to avoid another series?

I love the Jack Irish series in a parental way. It’s part of me. And, to my great surprise and joy, many people want another Jack Irish book in the same way I once wanted another James Bond novel (well, perhaps not quite as much). But the idea of another series fills me with terror. When it came to think about what to write after The Broken Shore, I found myself thinking about Stephen Villani (a minor player in The Broken Shore). I’d enjoyed his character and I thought I’d try to capture him and his world in a way that treated cops as ordinary people who, as the poet said, have to save the sum of things for pay.

The Broken Shore won the Duncan Lawrie Dagger among many other awards. How did the success of that book affect the writing of this one?

It’s not the success or otherwise of the last book that matters. It’s that every book drains the well and it takes an ever-greater effort to begin each new one. I also have a horror of repeating myself, something that doesn’t help matters.

Truth follows two homicide investigations but also takes in the world of media and politics. Do you draw on your experience as a court reporter in creating your plots? Do you do a lot of research to get these worlds right?

Writing draws on everything that’s ever happened to you. My aim is always to get the feel of the book right. But it’s fiction. I make stuff up. That’s the fun of it.

As with The Broken Shore, one of the very appealing aspects of Truth is that the pared-back nature of the book makes the reader work a bit harder to keep everything in their headto make connections, remember characters. Is this your intention?

I like reading books that make you work, make you join the bits, reach your own conclusions, and so I try to write books like this.

Truth is set in the city but visits the country and The Broken Shore included descriptions of the natural world; what appeals to you about writing about nature?

Part of being a writer is being an observer. I like looking closely at things. I like staring at things, waiting for them to reveal themselves. To capture these impressions in ways that speak to the reader is the great challenge of writing. It’s also its greatest pleasure.

You’ve said that when you’re writing a book you don’t know where it’s going. Can you tell us at what point in the writing process you worked it all out? Was your publisher at all worried?

I generally begin to understand the story about three-quarters of the way through the writing. I don’t know how the process works but I now know that there is a process at work. I think worried is too mild a word for my publisher’s state of mind while he waited for the book. I think he had secretly given up on it. But he understands what miserable, lying creatures writers are and he never lets them off the hook, never gives them the excuse they are looking for to chuck the whole thing in.

Can you tell us what you’re working on next?

I’m fiddling around with the fifth Jack Irish novel and thinking about returning to the territory of In the Evil Day.

INTERVIEW: Ben Groundwater on ‘How to Carry a Goat’ (UQP)

In early 2009, Ben Groundwater posted a call-out on his blog asking if any overseas readers would let him crash on their couch for a night or two. Four months of sofa-hopping resulted in his new book, Five Ways to Carry a Goat. Andrew Wrathall spoke to the intrepid author.

How did you write the book? Were you constantly jotting down everything?

I was, but I tried not to be too obvious about it! I carried around a little notebook with me wherever I was, and tried to discreetly jot things down as they happened. Not to the point where I was locking myself in the toilets at the pub to transcribe entire conversations, but I would just jot down basic events to jog my memory later. People’s turns of phrase were a big one for me—I really wanted to capture people’s voices well, so I paid a lot of attention to things they said, and wrote down little notes about it when they’d gone somewhere else. Then whenever I had a block of spare time—say, on a train or plane—I’d get out my laptop and write out all of my notes, and the conversations I’d had, while they were still fresh in my mind.

Was it hard to find the local experience, rather than the tourist experience?

It was actually much more difficult than I’d expected. One of the reasons I’d decided to do this trip was I thought it would be a great way to see the local side of cities, given I was staying with people who lived there. So you can imagine my disappointment at the first few places I stayed when I was handed a copy of the Lonely Planet as my host walked out the door to go to work. Other places, though, the local aspect was impossible to avoid. I stayed with a guy who lived in a tiny village of about 50 people in north-eastern Thailand—he couldn’t have found me a Lonely Planet for there if he’d tried. Often, though, I found that Aussie expats don’t actually lead the exotic foreign lives I’d expected them to lead. In Seoul I ended up playing football for the local ex-pat team, then going back to the pub to watch cricket—not entirely dissimilar to what I’d do on a Sunday in Sydney.

Did your lawyer (and girlfriend) suggest you should cut anything from the book? Are you worried about negative reactions from people you’ve written about?

The lawyer didn’t actually read my drafts! She did, however, subtly suggest I choose not to stay with some of the girls who’d invited me to stay with them (by screwing up the pieces of paper and chucking them in the bin). I think we came to a consensus at the end though, and, aside from a little incident in China, I think she’s happy with how it all turned out. As for the negative reactions, it’s definitely something I’m worried about. I certainly didn’t set out to be necessarily mean about anyone, but I did try to be as honest as possible about my experiences, and they weren’t always good ones. I think the nature of the trip—going out to stay at the houses of complete strangers—was always going to mean I wasn’t going to get along like a house on fire with everyone I met. I stayed with people of all ages, occupations, cultures … and most I had an absolute ball with. The others I just hope they think I’ve been fair. Continue reading

Most mentioned titles this week

It’s now been 50 years since Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird (various imprints) was published. The hype in America surrounding this literary anniversary is high and the Australian media also spent some time over the weekend commemorating the book. Andrew O’Hagan’s The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe (A&U) received a few mentions too. Maf is a Maltese terrier given to Marilyn Monroe by Frank Sinatra as a cheer-up gift following her separation from playwright Arthur Miller. Fiona McGregor’s Indelible Ink (Scribe) has been reviewed in newspapers in several states. Michael Collins’ Midnight in a Perfect Life (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), Jane Robins’ The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath (John Murray) and Sebastian Junger’s War (Fourth Estate) were also regularly mentioned in the media this weekMedia Extra.

BOOK REVIEW: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (David Mitchell, Sceptre)

David Mitchell’s much-anticipated new novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, returns to Japan, but unlike the ultra-modern settings of Ghostwritten and number9dream, or the futuristic Japan of Cloud Atlas, this time Mitchell travels back in time, to the floating island of Dejima in Nagasaki Bay in the years 1799 and 1800 (for the most part, although it does travel several decades further on in the latter stages of the novel). Dejima is a heavily regulated trading post for the Dutch East India Company and the only point of European contact for a highly insular Japan. The novel opens with the arrival of the clerk Jacob de Zoet at Dejima, along with a new chief resident, Unico Vorstenbosch, who appears intent on wiping out the corruption in the trading factory, starting with the imprisonment of the outgoing chief, Daniel Snitker. Jacob is a morally upright man who is nevertheless astute enough to understand the risks of aligning himself with the new chief and against the existing workers who stand to lose a lot of their sideline income. Jacob also gets offside with the resident surgeon, Dr Lucas Marinus, an enlightened intellectual who has made strong bonds with some of the local Japanese. The key Japanese characters include Orito Aibagawa, a young midwife who has received a dispensation to train under Dr Marinus; Ogawa Uzaemon, a translator; Lord Abbot Enomoto; and Magistrate Shiroyama.

As with his earlier novels, Mitchell gives The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet an episodic structure. The first section, ‘The Bride For Whom We Dance’, is (apart from Jacob falling inconveniently in love with the scarred Orito) essentially a tale of corporate corruption, backstabbing and politics, as Jacob tussles with the Prussian Peter Fischer, his rival for the position of head clerk and Deputy Chief Melchior Van Cleef, and starts to become disillusioned with his mentor Vortsenbosch. The second section, ‘A Mountain Fastness’, largely leaves Jacob and Dejima behind as the bizarre nature of Lord Enomoto’s Mount Shiranui Shrine emerges. The pace shifts to that of a tense thriller as the newest sister at the shrine plots her escape and gradually discovers the horrifying truth of her role there. Meanwhile, the translator Ogawa Uzaemon comes into possession of a scroll that also reveals what happens at the shrine and musters a team of samurai for a raid.

The third and final section, ‘The Master of Go’, shifts back to Nagasaki Harbour, where the Royal Navy ship the HMS Phoebus has entered under a Dutch flag, intending to raid any Dutch East Indies ships they find docked there. The focal character here becomes Captain Penhaligon, who is wracked by gout as well as doubts over his future. Mitchell has based this section on a real incident involving the frigate HMS Phaeton, bringing it forward from 1808 to 1800. Remarkably, Jacob de Zoet remains the emotional centre of the novel, even though he is absent from the novel for large chunks of the last two sections.

There was a point during the second section that I felt I was enjoying this novel as much as Mitchell’s previous ones; however, the escape sequence felt forced to me and the revelations about the shrine too contrived—as conversations were fortuitously overheard and letters discovered. By the end of the novel, though, I was totally won over, and the second section felt like a necessary part of the journey that got me to that point. Continue reading

Fancy Goods Questionnaire: Tim Coronel

Bookseller+Publisher magazine publisher Tim Coronel has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Australian book industry, a 1969 Daimler and a thing for watches (no, really). He also has a lot of books. He kindly agreed to tell us about some of them:

What are you reading right now?

I always read multiple books at once: the challenge is finishing them! Right now, depending on the time and place, you might find me dipping into Reality Hunger by David Shields, The Radzestky March by Joseph Roth, Cooper Cars by Doug Nye, The Ask by Sam Lipsyte …

What book do you always recommend?

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. If you haven’t read it, you should. I’m not going to say anything more than that.

What book are you most looking forward to?

I haven’t yet had a chance to read the new David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet; and I might have to read Justin Cronin’s The Passage to see if it lives up to all the hype.

What book made you wonder what all the fuss was about?

I’m not going the revisit the one a few years back that I gave a really scathing two-star review to and it went on to win the Miles Franklin … I admit I never got very far with Life of Pi; and I seem to be the only person in the world who really (really!) disliked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

What’s the best book you’ve read that no-one’s ever heard of?

Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century by Greil Marcus. After finding it literally by accident (I plucked it out of the returns pile at the suburban Canberra bookshop I was working at in 1989), it was truly mind-expanding and life-changing for me. It’s a book that’s ostensibly about music, and particularly about how punk draws on a number of earlier avant-garde movements, but it’s also the book that introduced me to Guy Debord and the Situationists, and which really shaped the way I think about culture, politics, art, music and all that stuff.

Obligatory desert island question—which book would you want with you?

If it was the only book available, maybe I’d finally get around to finishing all the snippets of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project. For some strange reason, my ‘comfort book’ has been The Andy Warhol Diaries, I couldn’t count how many times I’ve pulled it off the shelf and re-read parts of it over the past 20 years.

Is there a book you’ve bought for the cover?

Loads! Most recently, Wristwatches: History Of A Century’s Development by Helmut Kahlert et al (Schiffer). I saw an old copy in the window of a second-hand bookshop and almost bought it for an extortionate price, but then found out a revised and updated edition was still in print and bought that (for a slightly less extortionate price).

Hardback, paperback or digital?

e) all of the above. It’s the words that are important, not the container they’re in. Although having said that, I’m finding I’m reading quite a lot on my iPhone.

If I were a literary character I’d be…

Hmmm, that’s a tough one, can I be an amalgam of many characters? A bit Charles Ryder (from Brideshead Revisited), a bit Bernardo Soares (from Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet), a bit Troppmann (from Bataille’s Blue of Noon), a bit Tom Ripley (from Patricia Highsmith’s novels), a bit Bernie Gunther (from Philip Kerr’s Berlin novels), with some Sal Paradise (Kerouac’s alter-ego in On the Road) and James Bond fantasies thrown in for good measure …

The best thing about books is…

They help you avoid eye-contact with strangers on public transport.