BOOK REVIEW: How to Make Gravy (Paul Kelly, Hamish Hamilton)

Paul Kelly’s story begins with the Spiegeltent in Melbourne in 2004 when he was offered an exclusive show: four nights of never-to-be repeated performances. Around that was born the idea of singing 100 of his songs in alphabetical order, each night consisting of a completely different set-list. Around the songs, storytelling was added for theatrical effect, and as the shows hit the road they were recorded with a view to a CD release and then a book. How to Make Gravy is the ‘mongrel beast’ that emerged, and what a beast it is. Part memoir, part tour diary, part song-writing manual, this sprawling book is filled with all manner of letters, lists, confessions, hymns and yarns. Kelly’s 100-plus songs begin each chapter (alphabetically) followed by a story that loosely or closely relates to the song. That Kelly is a consummate storyteller is evident in his song-writing. Here he has space to explore his storytelling skills further, which he does admirably, weaving in and out of the past and present easily and with an intimacy that invites the reader into his world. This book is full of tales that will delight Paul Kelly fans, and will appeal to anyone with an interest in popular music. How to Make Gravy is also available with an exclusive 8-CD box set entitled The A-Z Recordings and a 64-page booklet of photos for $125.

Deborah Crabtree is a Melbourne-based writer and bookseller. This review first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher.

Most mentioned this week

Lisa Lang’s Utopian Man (A&U) received the most mentions in the media this week. Set in 1880s Melbourne, before the Depression of the 1890s, it features eccentric entrepreneur Edward William Cole owner of the Cole’s Book Arcade. Cole advertises for a bride in the paper and swiftly marries the girl who meets his criteria. As the Depression hits and other tragedies come his way, Cole fights to keep his singular vision alive. (Read our review of Utopian Man here.) In Delusions of Gender: The Real Science behind Sex Differences (A&U), Cordelia Fine argues against the belief that men’s and women’s brains are intrinsically different, and instead exposes just how much of what we are is how men and women have been conditioned. Tim Flannery’s Here on Earth: An Argument for Hope (Text) and Lane Smith’s It’s a Book (Walker Books) also appeared on the most mentioned chartMedia Extra.

Sony forum: the trade talks ebooks

Charlotte Harper rounds up the discussion at Sony’s ebook forum in Sydney:

Digital titles could make up between 20 and 30% of the trade book market within two to five years, according to attendees at a round table event on the future of reading hosted by Sony in September.

Sony Australia arranged the forum in Sydney to discuss the impact devices such as the company’s just-launched Readers will have on reading, writing, literacy and publishing. Panellists included Paul Colley, technology communications manager, Sony Australia; HarperCollins COO Jim Demetriou; REDgroup Retail managing director—ecommerce and digital, Singapore, James Webber; Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) CEO Joel Becker; Get Reading program director Cheryl Akle; and Alex Pollack, media analyst, Macquarie Group.

Their predictions, on the rise of the ebook varied—Akle said she could envisage an 80-20 mix in three years, Becker posited a 75-25 by 2015, while Demetriou guessed at 70-30 in five years, adding that he believed overall volume would increase as digital devices enticed particularly male readers into the market.

‘I’m really positive that more people will come to books,’ said Demetriou, adding that he expected there would be a lot of experimentation in terms of pricing, devices and enhanced ebooks before the market settled down.

The tipping point

The industry was already on its way to a tipping point in terms of ebook take-up, or would reach one within a couple of years as everyone from major players like Apple and Google to small independent booksellers began to sell ebooks.

Demetriou said the tipping point would come when ebook sales reached 10% or more of book sales, and that US ebook sales were still at around 7% but may reach 10% this Christmas. In terms of device availability and retail set-up the US was about 18 months in front of Australia, while the UK was around 12 months ahead.

‘We take our cues from the US and the UK, so I think the tipping point is still a ways off, but we’re definitely seeing signs of movement in the marketplace,’ he said. ‘Our sales are growing rapidly, but from a very small base.’

Webber pointed out that the figures were likely to change dramatically again in a few years, once a generation that has grown up with smartphones, tablets and e-readers—and never reading physical books—comes of age.

He said REDgroup stores (Borders, Angus & Robertson and Whitcoulls) and their websites sold out of the original Kobo devices within three days of launch, and that four months on, ebook sales are two to three times what they’d expected. He said the company saw adding ebooks to their business as necessary. ‘People were thirsty for this change. There is no doubt that people here are wanting to get into this market.’ Continue reading

Bestsellers this week

Prior to the cinema release of the The Girl Who Played with Fire adaptation, Steig Larrsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (Quercus) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Quercus) are back on top of the Nielsen bestsellers chart. The Very Bad Book (Andy Griffiths, Pan) is top of the fastest movers chart this week, and hot on its heels are four of John Marsden’s novels from the ‘Tomorrow’ series (Pan), following the release of the film adaptation of Tomorrow, When the War Began. The second book of the series, The Dead of the Night, is second on the fastest movers chart; Tomorrow, When the War Began is in third place; followed by The Third Day, The Frost in fourth; and Darkness, be My Friend in fifth place. Another restaurant guide tops the highest new entries chart this week with The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2011 (Joanna Savill & Terry Durack, Penguin) in first place—Weekly Book Newsletter.

INTERVIEW: Kate Holden on ‘The Romantic’ (Text)

Andrea Hanke talks to Kate Holden about her new memoir The Romantic, a follow-up to In My Skin.

I read that The Romantic originally started out as a novel. How did it evolve and how do you think this has influenced the style of the book—for example, the decision to write it in the third person?

The memoir was originally going to be the last third of a tripartite novella work, but soon took on the dimensions of a full-length book which put paid to that idea. Even after the first full draft I was considering how to fictionalise the protagonist, give ‘her’ a different character and borrow the real-life events for a narrative contrived on the themes of my real experience. But it wouldn’t work: skewing even one element threw the whole thing out of balance, particularly the emotional truth. However the third-person perspective remains and presents a critical distancing which is, I’m told, unusual in a memoir.

In The Romantic you travel to Europe to discover yourself—a rite of passage for many Australians. Do you think this experience—which can often be a lonely one, so far away from family and friends—is an effective way for people to gain a better understanding of themselves? Do you think you could have made the same discoveries about yourself living in Melbourne?

In In My Skin I was alone in Melbourne, and often fugitive—in Italy I was alone too, still looking for a safe place. I needed freedom from the humiliation I’d felt as an addict, and a chance to re-make myself. The amnesiac anonymity of overseas is attractive to many travelers.But it is frightening also. I do think solitude is clarifying, though it reminds us all the time of how much we need other people. Travel is a test as well as a solace, but one well worth taking.

Most of the sexual encounters you describe in In My Skin were in the context of your profession as a sex worker. Was it harder to write about personal encounters and relationships in The Romantic?

I was terribly, terribly conflicted about portraying my personal relationships, not for my own sake but for that of the privacy of my ex-partners. Fortunately they gave me permission—or at least forgiveness. I am a compulsive over-sharer and already used to having exposed my sexuality in writing but there were moments when I wondered if I should just skip over something truly intimate—and then realised that that instinct meant I should probably share it, because that’s where the good—and empathetic—material is. Everyone’s had relationships so I try to present mine as candidly as possible in the hope that others can relate.

Through your Age column and various public speaking events, you’ve developed a public profile—particularly in Melbourne. How does it feel to encounter strangers who know such intimate details about your life?

Just today I was recognised by my postman! I never know what to say when strangers say they’ve read my work, but I suspect I am more disconcerted than they are, and I try to remember why I chose to be revealing in the first place. Readers seem to be able to separate my writing persona from my real one. And I am always amazed how warmly people respond to my written character. Those who don’t like me don’t bother to say hello. But I am humbled by the sweetness of readers, and how my candour seems to invite their own.

What are you working on now?

I’ve got my Age column to write, and I’m prodding away at a draft of a novel, and making notes on a possible non-fiction book. I’d also like to do more short stories. But right now I’m preparing to do promotion for The Romantic, and I know I’ll have little concentration for writing while that’s on. I feel lucky, excited, and anxious all at the same time!

Andrea Hanke’s review of The Romantic appears in the current issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: Maudie and Bear (Jan Omerod & Freya Blackwood, Little Hare, October)

Maudie and Bear is one of the most exciting collaborations for 2010 between two beloved Australian author/illustrators. Freya Blackwood has gone from strength to strength over the past few years, and her whimsical illustrations are the perfect complement for this beautiful picture book, which will sit alongside great works by Shaun Tan and Alison Lester as examples of great picture books for older readers. Readers young and old will love Maudie, whose demanding but endearing voice will ring true to anyone who has known a young child. Bear is the ideal stand-in for the older parent, sibling or friend, who is there for every demand, will cater to every whim, and most importantly, will always be there for Maudie. The unusual chapter format of this book will give readers who are making the transition from picture to chapter books the opportunity to progress with their reading, while still enjoying the comfort of illustrations, and the safe picture book format. Maudie and Bear has the look and feel of a classic. I have no doubt that this will be gracing our bookshelves for years to come.

Bec Kavanagh is a freelance reviewer and accounts manager for The Little Bookroom in Melbourne. This review first appeared in the Term 3 issue of Junior Bookseller+Publisher.

INTERVIEW: Monica McInerney on ‘At Home with the Templetons’ (Michael Joseph)

Monica McInerney spent six months researching stage fright, Irish surf schools and much more for her latest novel, she tells Rachel Wilson.

At Home with the Templetons, like all your novels, deals with family dynamics. What particular dynamics were you trying to explore in this novel and how do they differ from your previous books?

Families of all shapes and sizes fascinate me, but in my previous books the story focused on one family each time. What I wanted to do with this novel was bring two very different families—the seven unruly Templetons and the smaller unit of Nina Donovan and her son Tom—into each other’s orbit, with good and bad consequences. I also wanted to touch on issues such as jealousy in its many and damaging forms, the lasting impact of grief, the different aspects of motherhood and marriage, sibling rivalry and sibling loyalty, contrasting parenting styles, family secrets and lies, all against a background as rich in comedy and drama as possible.

It’s been three years since your last novel and I have read that you undertake extensive research before completing each one. Could you describe how you prepared for this book?

The starting point was visiting as many stately homes in Australia, Ireland and the UK as I could to help make my fictional Templeton Hall as authentic as possible. As the writing unfolded, I researched the antiques trade;  homeschooling; the Australian gold rush of the 1850s; architecture, interior design and clothing from that time; Captain Cook; stage fright; selective mutism; alternative therapies; the nanny industry; life as a freelance illustrator and painter; cricket; Irish surf schools; alcoholism and the rehab industry; spinal injuries; yabbying; and children’s television (though my own time working on the Here’s Humphrey children’s TV program in the 1980s helped there). I used the internet or read books or watched films on many of the different subjects but the best source of detail for me was talking to people who had first-hand experience of what I was writing about. It’s those fragments of fact that add the real colour to the story, I always hope. I also visited (or had previously visited) nearly every location mentioned in the book— Castlemaine and the Victorian gold fields, London (including Lord’s Cricket Ground), Melbourne, San Francisco, Chicago and Woodstock, Illinois, Auckland, Whitby in Yorkshire, the Isle of Skye, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Italy, France, Sligo in Ireland …

Could you describe your approach to writing and your working regimen?

I spend about six months plotting in my head before I sit at the computer and start writing. There’s usually an overlap between my books. I had the idea for At Home with the Templetons about three months before I finished Those Faraday Girls. Similarly, I had the idea for what will be my next book halfway through the Templetons. I aim for 2000 words a day minimum in the early stages of writing, getting very attached to the word-count button. A day always comes when the word count is irrelevant, when all I want to do is be at the desk writing. The final six months are usually seven days a week. I edit as I write, and also show the manuscript to two people in the early stages, my husband, who is a journalist, and my younger sister, who is an editor. I completely trust their feedback, and their encouragement keeps me on track until the manuscript is as polished as I can make it before sending it to my publishers. I also love deadlines. They terrify me into finishing. Continue reading

Most mentioned this week

The Mary Smokes Boys (Transit Lounge) by local author Patrick Holland is at the top of the Media Extra most mentioned chart this week. Grey’s mother dies giving birth to his sister Irene and the tragedy haunts his life in the small town of Mary Smokes. Readings Monthly editor and regular Bookseller+Publisher reviewer Jo Case, writing in the Age, describes the novel as being ‘fiercely relevant to contemporary Australia’. Also receiving several mentions this week were Sonya Hartnett’s Midnight Zoo (Viking), William Gibson’s Zero History (Viking), D B C Pierre’s new book Lights out in Wonderland (Faber) and John Cornwell’s Newman’s Unquiet Grave: The Reluctant Saint (Continuum)—Media Extra.

Top picks from the current issue

Which books got good reviews in the October issue of Bookseller+Publisher you ask?

Well…

The proof copy of Caroline Overington’s novel I Came to Say Goodbye came covered in glowing quotes from Random House staff who’ve read the book and our reviewer Scott Whitmont has joined the chorus. He calls the novel ‘a gripping blockbuster that booksellers can recommend unreservedly’ and predicts Overington’s following ‘is destined to grow in leaps and bounds’.

Toni Whitmont was impressed with That Deadman Dance by Miles Franklin winner Kim Scott (Picador, October), suggesting it will ‘surely attract consideration for a raft of major prizes’. ‘While the story is compelling,’ writes Whitmont, ‘what makes this an extraordinary book is the writing. Scott’s prose shimmers.’

Andrew Wilkins was equally taken with a collection of work by the late Dorothy Porter. Love Poems (Black Inc., October) ‘brings together poems and song lyrics from across Porter’s career, gathered into sections that suggest love in its various phases’ and is ‘simply an essential collection of Australian poetry,’ says Wilkins.

Other eagerly awaited books being reviewed in this issue include Tim Flannery’s Here On Earth (Text, October), which Eliza Metcalf says is ‘an important read’. ‘Flannery traces our species’ evolution and expansion out of Africa and across the globe, noting the trail of destruction we left in our wake,’ she writes. ’The picture he paints is a fairly devastating one, but also quite awe-inspiring.’

Paul Landymore assures readers that When Colts Ran, the new novel by Roger McDonald (Vintage, November), lives up to expectations raised by the author’s Miles Franklin win in 2006. ‘If you’re a fan of Australian literature then I’m sure you will find this book, as I did, a deeply satisfying read,’ writes Landymore.

Deborah Crabtree, our regular music book columnist, was taken with Paul Kelly’s How to Make Gravy (Hamish Hamilton, October), a book that grew out of series of performances Kelly put on in 2004. ‘Part memoir, part tour diary, part song-writing manual, this sprawling book is filled with all manner of letters, lists, confessions, hymns and yarns,’ writes Crabtree, adding that the book gives Kelly ‘space to explore his storytelling skills further, which he does admirably, weaving in and out of the past and present easily and with an intimacy that invites the reader into his world’.

And that’s not to mention Lloyd Jones’ Hand Me Down World (Text, October), Kate Holden’s The Romantic (Text, October), Things Bogans Like (E C McSween et al, Hachette, November), Toni Jordan’s Fall Girl (Text, October), and many, many more…

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MWF celebrates 25 years

A Wordsmith's Dream: David Astle, Kate Burridge, Ursula Dubosarsky, Angela Meyer

Melbourne Writers Festival celebrated its 25th birthday, in a year the organisation moved to a permanent home in the Wheeler Centre and the festival was held in Federation Square for a third time. The number of tickets sold increased by 10% this year for an audience of 50,000 people. Steve Grimwade, CEO and festival director said he thought ‘moving Federation Square was the best thing we ever did, it has opened us to a much larger audience, and gave far more people the chance to come to festival events’.

Keynote speaker Joss Whedon, writer of cult television series Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse, addressed a sell-out crowd on the opening night. Chairing the session was academic Sue Turnbull, who began the session by asking, ‘How do it feel to be God?’ after which Whedon indulged in megalomaniac persona in front of an audience of adoring fans.

Stories are hung on the Hoist

‘I think we have achieved what we set out to do—engage with the written word in all possible ways.’  Grimwade said the festival ‘took some risks and extended the program—introduced more free events and opened up the programming to include music and art-based projects’.

Artist and author Shaun Tan appeared on a panel, with author Neil Gaiman—via a video feed from London—and host illustrator Andrea Innocent, presenting to an audience full of school students. The video feed failed during the start of the panel, but resumed later on. The children were restless during Tan’s interview with Innocent, but they became interested with audience participation, when Tan asked what he should draw. The event was a success, as children walked away pleased, even with the technical hiccups.

Shaun Tan, Neil Gaiman, Andrea Innocent

Many of the free events were held in The Feddish Bar, with each event packing out the venue to standing room only. Some interesting sessions at Feddish included one with Chinese author Ma Jian, and another with American author Joe Bageant. The Morning Fix, hosted by Chris Flynn at 10am in the morning, was a popular place to hear from authors with newly released books, such as R J Ellory, Jon Bauer, Benjamin Law, Angela Savage, Kate Howarth and Angelo Loukakis. The crowd also enjoyed David Halliday’s launch of his book The Bloody History of the Croissant (Arcadian) at Feddish.

‘I’d say everything we did this year was an obvious and organic growth in what we’d done in the past,’ said Grimwade. ‘What we did was really an extension to what a festival normally is, and I think we’re testing boundaries in regards to what it was and what it should be. And I think boundaries should be tested.’ Continue reading