AUDIO INTERVIEW: Shaun Micallef on ‘Preincarnate’ (Hardie Grant)

Intrepid publishing assistant at Bookseller+Publisher Andrew Wrathall interviewed Shaun Micallef about his book Preincarnate (Hardie Grant) at the Australian Booksellers Association conference in Brisbane in July. As these things are wont to do, the interview soon turned to stetson hats and shopping trolleys… Listen to Andrew’s dulcet tones and Shaun’s ever-amusing answers here:

See Dani Soloman’s interview with Shaun Micallef here.

Bestsellers this week

Sugar and Spice (HarperCollins), American reality TV star Lauren Conrad’s third instalment of the ‘L.A. Candy’ series is top of the highest new entries chart this week followed by Jamie’s 30-minute Meals (Jamie Oliver, Michael Joseph). Lee Child’s novel Worth Dying For (Bantam) sits at the top of the bestseller chart for the second week in a row, followed by Minding Frankie (Maeve Binchy, Hachette) in second place and The Reversal (Michael Connelly, A&U) in third. Minding Frankie is first on the fastest movers chart and The Finkler Question (Howard Jacobson, Bloomsbury), winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize, is second on the fastest movers chartWeekly Book Newsletter.

BOOK REVIEW: Things Bogans Like (E C McSween et al, Hachette)

The authors of the blog Things Bogans Like (see also Things White People Like) have collected their entertaining and hilariously spot-on observations about that sociological mainstay, the bogan, in a book of the same name. According to the authors, the bogan has been too narrowly defined, and to ‘deny the bogan based on its North Shore home, stockbroking career or massive trust fund’ is to choose not to see the bogan. This is an inspired piece of sociological satire, entertaining to the core. It involves both the pleasure of labelling people and behaviors for which we did not previously have satisfying labels, and the pain of recognising some of our own traits reflected in these new boganic parameters. I enjoyed both. One possible barrier to potential sales, especially to those unfamiliar with the bogans blog, may be the garish cover art, which underrepresents the quality of the content. Standout things bogans like include: McMansions; misspelling their kids’ names; the Melbourne Cup; ‘no deposit, no interest, no repayments for 18 months!’; Bunnings; Andre Rieu; and Tiffany & Co. The authors retain pseudonyms, but anyone who enjoys, say, Tony Martin’s style of complex, wordy, observational toilet humour will love this book.

Rebecca Butterworth is a freelance writer and ex-bookseller living in Melbourne. This review first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

The most mentioned books this week

The wait for the release of ex-Prime Minister John Howard’s memoir is over. Lazarus Rising (HaperCollins) has hit the shelves and the controversy has hit the fan. Newpaper stories are already documenting ex-Treasuer Peter Costello’s reaction to Howard’s take on his time in government, which is probably to be expected given the light shone on the pair at the time of Howard’s 2007 defeat. In the book, Howard traces his personal and political journey, from childhood in the post-World War II era through to the present day. Tim Flannery’s new book Here on Earth: An Argument for Hope (Text) appeared again in the most mentioned chart this week. Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles (Michael Joseph) and Simon Rich’s Elliot Allagash (Serpent’s Tail) also gained a number of mentions, as did Australian author Toni Jordan for her novel Fall Girl (Text)—Media Extra.

INTERVIEW: Trent Jamieson on ‘Managing Death’ (Orbit)

Chris McDonough thought Trent Jamieson’s urban fantasy trilogy got darker and pacier in book two. He spoke to the author.

Your familiarity with the city of Brisbane is a strong element in the ‘Death Works’ series. Have you based some of the characters on familiar people too?

Well, that would be telling! But yes, I think you learn about human nature from the people around you. I think every character you write about has elements of yourself and those people you know best, they just tend to be mixed up and reconstituted in a book. So the best qualities of the characters in the book are based on my friends—the worst are probably based on me.

The series looks at what happens to humans after they die. Are your beliefs anything like those in the books?

No. But the idea of an afterlife fascinates me, how that might function, what rules it would follow, and how you might bend them. I really don’t think there is an afterlife, but I’m happy to be proven wrong—as long as it’s not the abylonian version of the Underworld, which is like hell, only worse. No, really.

The pacing of the second book felt faster than the first. Was it easier to write?

Wow, I’m so glad it felt faster! I was worried that it might be slower. No, it definitely wasn’t easier to write. Second books are so hard, you feel a real obligation to the first book. A second book has to count, and I think I went into it feeling fairly self-conscious. It was a long hard slog of an edit, but I think I learnt a lot about my limits as a writer, and even grew a bit. Well, I hope so.

There have been a lot of labels thrown around for the recent spate of supernatural novels with current settings. How would you define your series? What kinds of books were you inspired by?

Urban fantasy, without a doubt. It fits comfortably in the genre, I think. But then again, what do authors know about their own stuff? It’s firmly grounded in the urban spaces of Brisbane, and without that setting the tone would be utterly different. As for inspiration, a bit of Nick Earls, a touch of John Birmingham and a rather large splash of Fritz Leiber’s novels (any of them), Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and 30-odd years of reading fantasy and science fiction of all sorts. These novels are about love and the city of Brisbane, but they’re my love song to the spec-fic genre as well.

Read the full interview in the November issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: MacRobertsonland (Jill Robertson, Arcade Publications)

MacRobertsonland is a fascinating portrait of an entrepreneur and philanthropist, the man behind Australian confectionary favourites Cherry Ripe and Freddo Frog. Author Jill Robertson (no relation to her subject) tells the story of Macpherson Robertson’s life and the development of his confectionary business. From a childhood of poverty, Robertson used hard work, innovation and some very imaginative marketing to establish his business empire, MacRobertsons. A high-profile figure in Melbourne society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his story is told against the backdrop of Melbourne’s growth as a city during that time. This is a remarkable story of a savvy businessman, generous and charitable, but also proud and egotistical, a slightly eccentric man with a scandalous personal life, at least for the times. Alongside his chocolate factory, Robertson ventured into many areas of business and involved himself in numerous enterprises during his life. He used any opportunity for publicity and the author provides some interesting insights into the origins of some of Melbourne’s icons and landmarks, such as MacRobertson’s Girls’ School. This is a book with wide appeal; full of local history, an account of building a business empire, and a well-researched biography of an eventful and interesting life.

Lyndal More is a bookseller and publishing student. This review first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: A Darker Music (Maris Morton, Scribe)

Launched in 2009, the CAL Scribe Fiction Prize acknowledges the contribution of older writers to Australian literature and invites writers 35 years or older to submit an unpublished manuscript. A Darker Music is the winner of the  naugural award. Set on a remote merino sheep station in Western Australia, it is the story of Mary Lanyon, who travels from Perth to take up a position as a temporary housekeeper while Clio Hazlit, the owner’s wife, recovers from a recent illness. However, Mary is unprepared for the fractured family and secret history that await her at the rural homestead. As the weeks pass, Mary becomes the confidante of Clio Hazlit and slowly begins to piece together the tragic events that lead the story to its dramatic climax. Twelve years in the writing, this is a carefully crafted novel that weaves the theme of music into its storyline, as the reasons for the characters’ estranged relationships are gradually revealed. A Darker Music touches on the complexities of human nature and the decisions that can change the course of one’s life forever. Maris Morton’s first published novel should find its place in the popular fiction market.

Candice Cappe is the bookshop manager at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. This review first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Most mentioned books this week

It has been a huge week for book news this week. Howard Jacobson’s surprise Man Booker Prize win for The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury) was the talk of the town for reviewers and writers. While Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America (Penguin) missed out on the Man Booker, it was shortlisted for America’s National Book Award. Also mentioned this week were Tom Keneally’s Three Famines (Knopf), Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall (Fourth Estate) and Tim Flannery’s Here on Earth: An Argument for Hope (Text)Media Extra.

Reviewers’ top picks from the current issue

In the November issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine Avid Reader’s Paul Landymore was mightily impressed with Brendan Cowell’s How It Feels (Picador, November), a debut novel that opens in Cronulla in the early ’90s and follows central character Neil as he decides to study theatre in Bathurst. ‘Given that Cowell is a well-known actor (who also grew up in Cronulla and studied theatre in Bathurst), it would be natural to look for the autobiography in this story, but the characters are strong enough to tell their own stories,’ writes Landymore. ‘The characters are well defined and the connections between them true, difficult and sometimes inexplicable—so like life itself.’

Also in fiction, Kimberley Allsopp predicts Kate Morton’s fans will not be disappointed by The Distant Hours (A&U, November)—’an engrossing tale full of secrets waiting to be told’. Likewise, those who enjoyed Death Most Definite, the first in Trent Jamieson’s ‘Deathworks’ series will enjoy his follow-up Managing Death (Orbit, December), with Coaldrakes’ Chris McDonough writing that it ‘really picks up the pace’ from its predecessor.

In nonfiction, Max Oliver admires Street Fight in Naples (A&U, October), Peter Robb’s history of a ‘great and terrible city’ with a focus on the 16th and 17th centuries. ‘Don’t expect an easy read: do expect to be informed, entertained and transported to a particularly resilient people and place,’ says Oliver.

Landymore also reviewed Chris Bray’s The 1000 Hour Day for us (Pier 9, November). One-time ‘Young Adventurer of the Year’ Bray and a friend embarked on a 1000km walk across Victoria Island in the Canadian Arctic—’a feat the locals cheerfully tell them on arrival will result in their deaths,’ Landymore explains. ‘If you like tales of derring-do in the company of charming, enthusiastic companions, then this book is for you,’ he writes. Continue reading

The Indigenous Literacy Project: Kimberley visit

Matthia Dempsey was invited to accompany several members of the publishing industry on a recent visit to some of the schools involved in the book industry’s Indigenous Literacy Project. She shares some of her trip diary here.

Day one
Like many visitors to the Kimberley region, our journey begins with the flight into Broome, coming in over blue water and a line of white sand rimming the land. Dozens of small sightseeing planes lined up on the tarmac are the first indication of the scale of tourism in the area, and the hot one-room airport, fans turning, is full with visitors from overseas or, like us, from distant parts of the country.

The first familiar face I see is Robyn Huppert’s. As communications officer at the Australian Booksellers Association (ABA), Huppert is responsible for processing orders for books and other materials from communities involved in the book industry’s Indigenous Literacy Project (ILP)—the reason we are both here. (Later, in the four wheel drive, hours out into the Kimberley, Huppert will point out the many place names now familiar to her from these orders. At last count, the ILP supplied material to over 200 remote communities in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales and Western Australia.)

From left: Suzy Wilson, Malcolm Edwards, Debra Dank, Michael Moynahan, Robyn Huppert, Libby O'Donnell, Karen Williams, Maddie Bower, David Gaunt, Andy Griffiths and Juliet Rogers.

We are soon joined by Fred Hollows staff Maddie Bower (ILP coordinator), and Debra Dank (ILP development facilitator), ILP project officer Karen Williams; ILP founder, and Riverbend Bookstore owner, Suzy Wilson; ILP chair, and co-owner of Gleebooks, David Gaunt; Murdoch Books managing director Juliet Rogers; Hachette Australia CEO Malcolm Edwards; HarperCollins CEO Michael Moynahan; the Australian Publishers Association’s Libby O’Donnell and author Andy Griffiths.

This collection of publishers, booksellers, authors and ILP staff gets along well, which is fortunate, because for the next four days we’ll be seeing a lot of each other: part of the ILP’s annual ‘field trip’, we’re all lucky enough to have been invited to visit some of the students and schools receiving materials and support—to observe first-hand some of the factors that can come into play in remote schools.

One of the first factors to confront us, after a quick lunch, is sheer distance. We’re on the highway, bound for Fitzroy Crossing. It’s a mere four-hour drive away, incredibly short by local standards, but nonetheless a very real reminder of just what ‘remote’ can mean.  (And really, this drive is nothing; even tomorrow’s six hours to Wynham is easy, compared to the distances it takes to reach some communities supported by the ILP. To get to Warburton, for example, you drive to Uluru ‘and then keep heading west along a corrugated dirt road for eight hours’, according to Dank, who has done just that as part of her ILP job.)

Along the way we see maybe two roadhouses, the rest is rocky red and green, with big-bellied boabs gradually showing themselves amid the other trees and the occasional road train rocking past on its way back to Broome. We’re trying to beat the sun but darkness has fallen by the time we approach Fitzroy River and so it’s easy to spot the bright bands of fire—perhaps deliberate and controlled but just as likely not—showing through the trees. The Kimberley region is prone to fires, with vast tracts burned each year.

A group meal enjoyed at the Fitzroy River Lodge and it’s an early night tonight—darker and quieter than many of us have experienced for some time.

Day two
When Andy Griffiths doesn’t appear at breakfast the next morning, those of us familiar with his jogging regime assure others he’s probably off on a morning run. But David Gaunt is missing too and it’s not long before it’s established that both need to be taken to hospital (don’t’ worry, they survived).

Conveniently, though perhaps not unexpectedly, in a town of around 1500 people, the hospital is next door to the community centre where the group is due to meet a class of students who have come in for a day trip from Yakanarra, around 140 kilometres away. Less convenient is the fact that those of us in good health are somewhat under-qualified as star authors.

Under the guidance of former school teacher Suzy Wilson, we manage to facilitate the book-making workshop without Griffiths and, with a ratio of one adult to each child, aren’t too overwhelmed by the experience. We are no Andy Griffiths, but are assured by the teachers and students that we’ve done okay.

The subject matter of the students’ books points to the experiences they share with their city counterparts, as well as to their own unique local experiences—and to some impressively strong imaginations. Stories to come out of the session range from spotting sawfish, to tales of being chased by a (very impressive-looking) sabre tooth tiger, to the anticipated glories to come at an approaching sports festival.

As the students talk among themselves in local languages, we are reminded of how much more impressive their English written and reading skills are for being achieved in a language that may be the students’ second, third or even fourth. And, as Dank explains, English is not only a second(-plus) language, but is also one that, based as it is on binary oppositions, does not often take into account ways of seeing the world that are inherent in ‘matricies’-based Indigenous languages.

These observations give us much to ponder on the six-hour afternoon drive to Kununurra, some thirty-odd kilometres from the NT border.

Day three
In the rosy self-image many Australians have of ourselves, the idea of equality—fostered in direct opposition to the class systems of other countries—is an understandably cherished characteristic. One result of this can be a kind of wilful indifference to difference in others—an (on the surface) admirable ‘I treat everyone the same’ attitude.

The problem, of course, is that within Australia exist a whole range of cultures that at different times and in different places require a moderation in behaviour. The protocol documents we visitors are given with advice on dress and behaviour in remote Aboriginal communities point to this consideration. Most people, as Dank points out during one conversation, would go into a foreign culture overseas listening and watching for different behavioural expectations; yet Australians coming from outside an Aboriginal community will often not approach this in the same respectful way.

Andy Griffiths in action at St Joseph's Catholic School, Wyndham WA.

These are the thoughts that are with me as the group visits two schools in Wyndham, a community of around 800 people located 100 kilometres west of Kununurra. At St Joseph’s Catholic School (K-7), we get to witness, up-close-and-personal, just what a superstar Griffiths is. Not long into his workshop with the students and kids and adults alike are laughing uproariously. At Wyndham District High School (K-12), he is greeted by a ‘Welcome Andy Griffiths’ montage and we are again privileged to watch him at work.

I am aware, through these visits, of the delicate balancing between differing cultures that is required of Aboriginal students and—if they are to be successful—of their often non-Indigenous teachers.

‘The cross over between black and white culture and community, which Indigenous Australians are continuously expected to [adjust to] means that adaptation is a very real skill for Indigenous Australians,’ Dank tells me later. ‘Our kids may have some trouble reading books but they are experts at reading their environment, they may not speak SAE [Standard Australian English] but they articulate their needs brilliantly within our own languages.’

ILP development facilitator Debra Dank.

Dank acknowledges that the ILP has a role to play in ensuring these skills are recognized in the wider community. ‘Let’s build acknowledgement and respect for Indigenous kids as capable learners,’ she says. ‘Let’s build that through a new dialogue which recognises differences as differences and not as deficiencies.’

As we all prepare to say goodbye to the region and each other, Indigenous Literacy Day 2010 (September 1) is fast approaching—the major fundraising day that provides resources to these remote schools. ‘When we consider where these schools are situated; so much money is eaten up in the general running of the school,’ says Dank. ‘ILP can and is suppling some of the special things that make schools a nicer place for teachers and students—beautiful books that celebrate Indigenous faces and culture and activities which are not always available, for any number of reasons.’

It is also providing funding for community-identified projects (CIPs) including support for the Junjuwa Women’s Centre in Fitzroy Crossing, the GurrindinDalmi Community in Katherine; a Maningrida book project with author Leonie Norrington, support for the Central Australian Honey Ant Readers and the Barkly Tablelands Ringers Project.

‘Several of this year’s CIP’s do not have an obvious literacy look but they are creating an environment where SAE literacy and language acquisition can grow,’ explains Dank. ‘Contexts which articulate purpose and need for SAE literacy acquisition.’

You can read more about the ILP’s approach in this post. See