About Matthia Dempsey

Matthia Dempsey is editor of Bookseller+Publisher Online and editor-in-chief of the magazine Bookseller+Publisher. She can be followed on Twitter at @matthiadempsey.

Text Publishing to launch Australian Classics

Text Publishing will launch a series of ‘Australian Classics’ with 30 titles in May. The books, which contain new introductions from various well-known writers, will be priced at $12.95, with 28 of the 30 launch titles to be available as $12.95 ebooks too.

Text publisher Michael Heyward told Bookseller+Publisher ‘we set the price for Text Classics at $12.95 because we want readers to surrender to their impulse to curl up at last with The Women in Black or A Difficult Young Man.’

‘In a world of virtual infinite availability, curatorship is everything in publishing and bookselling. That’s why we are rushing back to the future in which the independent bookstore on the corner will thrive. We all want people we trust to help us make our choices in life, and especially so with books because a huge part of the pleasure of reading is the pleasure of talking about the book afterwards with our friends. Great booksellers all know this and that’s why they take the curatorship of their bookshops so seriously.

A signature series like the Text Classics, in which every book has been handpicked, will allow booksellers to offer their readers something new and something trusted in a collectible edition which is going to be pretty close to the cheapest thing in the bookstore.’

As for the design, Heyward said design director Chong Weng Ho ‘was part of the discussion from the start. ‘We wanted the covers to be like light bulbs in a dark room,’ said Chong. ‘We wanted readers to be cheered up by a good prospect. We wanted to give them art.’

The full list of launch titles is:

  • The Commandant (Jessica Anderson, intro by Carmen Callil)
  • Homesickness (Murray Bail, intro by Peter Conrad)
  • Sydney Bridge Upside Down (David Ballantyne, intro by Kate De Goldi)
  • A Difficult Young Man (Martin Boyd, intro by Sonya Hartnett)
  • The Australian Ugliness (Robin Boyd, intro by Christos Tsiolkas)
  • The Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse (John Clarke, intro by John Clarke)
  • Diary of a Bad Year (JM Coetzee, intro by Peter Goldsworthy)
  • Wake in Fright (Kenneth Cook, intro by Peter Temple)
  • The Dying Trade (Peter Corris, intro by Charles Waterstreet)
  • They’re a Weird Mob (Nino Culotta, intro by Jacinta Tynan)
  • Terra Australis (Matthew Flinders, intro by Tim Flannery)
  • My Brilliant Career (Miles Franklin, intro by Jennifer Byrne)
  • Cosmo Cosmolino (Helen Garner, intro by Ramona Koval)
  • Dark Places (Kate Grenville, intro by Louise Adler)
  • The Watch Tower (Elizabeth Harrower, intro by Joan London)
  • The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (Fergus Hume, intro by Simon Caterson)
  • The Glass Canoe (David Ireland, intro by Nicolas Rothwell)
  • The Jerilderie Letter (Ned Kelly, intro by Alex McDermott)
  • Bring Larks And Heroes (Thomas Keneally, intro by Geordie Williamson)
  • Strine (Afferbeck Lauder, intro by John Clarke)
  • Careful, He Might Hear You (Sumner Locke Elliott, intro by Robyn Nevin)
  • Stiff (Shane Maloney, intro by Lindsay Tanner)
  • The Middle Parts of Fortune (Frederic Manning, intro by Simon Caterson)
  • The Scarecrow (Ronald Hugh Morrieson, intro by Craig Sherborne)
  • The Dig Tree (Sarah Murgatroyd, intro by Geoffrey Blainey)
  • The Plains (Gerald Murnane, intro by Wayne Macauley)
  • The Fortunes of Richard Mahony (Henry Handel Richardson, intro by Peter Craven)
  • The Women in Black (Madeleine St John, intro by Bruce Beresford)
  • An Iron Rose (Peter Temple, intro by Les Carlyon)
  • 1788 (Watkin Tench, intro by Tim Flannery).

Indigenous Literacy Day: Not just about the books

Indigenous Literacy Project development facilitator Debra Dank

Today, thousands of school children, together with hundreds of bookshops and publishers, libraries and organisations around Australia will celebrate the fourth Indigenous Literacy Day.

To date, the annual event has raised more than $800,000 since its first national fundraising day in 2006, and the involvement of remote Indigenous communities has grown—from the three communities originally involved in 2004 to 160 this year.

As awareness of and involvement in the annual event grows, the ways in which the Indigenous Literacy Project (ILP) is supporting literacy development in remote Indigenous communities is also expanding and adapting.

‘ILP is developing an ear for hearing the needs of communities where it works,’ says Indigenous Literacy Project development facilitator Debra Dank, based in Darwin. ‘The Buzz Books program and the Community Identified Projects are responding to those heard needs.’

‘In [Book] Buzz, ILP provides sets of twelve books as resources but then works to build community ownership,’ she says. In the case of Warburton, a remote community in Western Australia, Dank and colleague Maddy Bower worked with elders in the community to include local translations, stickered into the books.

‘The real sense of involvement and participation which community people can feel is significant to the overall rollout of the project and creates a unique and distinct Buzz face at each project site,’ says Dank.

Community identified projects

Other Community Identified Projects (CIPs) include support for the Junjuwa Women’s Centre in Fitzroy Crossing, the GurrindinDalmi Community in Katherine; a Maningrida book project with award-winning 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.’

‘These projects are important in that they are what the communities have identified as being important and a priority for them,’ says Dank. ‘It is always important when working in a community development capacity that there is an ability to listen and that the local perspectives of needs are respected. Locally based community people are always best placed to articulate their needs.’

For Dank, this willingness on the part of the ILP to listen to local needs is one of the most important aspects of the project—as is the willingness to steadily (and sometimes slowly) build and strengthen relationships with the communities involved, rather than making the mistakes of many ‘fly-in, fly-out’ outsiders. ‘Many communities are bombarded with fly in fly out visitors,’ she says. ‘The need to develop and sustain a long-term rapport/relationship with the community is key to the success of any project. It gives community members an opportunity to form an understanding of the type of person and thus the type of service they are likely to receive and if this is something which will benefit the community.’

The project’s role in cultural exchange

Another area where Dank see’s ‘huge possibilities’ for the ILP is in its role in facilitating cultural exchange between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. A small step in this direction is the role of books written by Indigenous students in workshops with popular children’s author Andy Griffiths and then shared more widely—books featuring stories of life that can be quite different from those familiar to non-Indigenous Australians.

The narrative skills in these books should not come as a surprise; nor should the proficiency of Indigenous students in other forms of ‘literacy’. ‘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,’ says Dank. ‘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.’

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.’

[On Indigenous Literacy Day 2009 I spoke to Dank about Indigenous languages and how these interact with students’ acquisition of Standard Australian English literacy, for an article that appeared in Crikey and can be found online here. Dank will appear at an event with author David Malouf at the New South Wales National Library tonight, details online here.]

Learning to balance: Nicholas Carr’s ‘The Shallows’ (Atlantic)

Nicholas Carr lays out his non-Luddite credentials early on in The Shallows—his critical look at ‘how the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember’ (Atlantic, August). In the first chapter, ‘Hal and Me’, he tells us that in 1986 he spent nearly all his savings on one of the earliest Macs, which he used to lug between home and work, and he has since followed the enthusiast’s trajectory right through from that machine’s ‘HyperCard’ program—an early hypertext system—to the heady mix of social networking that is today’s online world.

This introduction is calculated to head off easy criticism by those who would claim Carr is critical of our internet use because he either doesn’t’ get it or doesn’t like it. Clearly, neither is true.

Instead, Carr acknowledges the appeal and myriad opportunities the internet presents, while also wishing to examine the way the medium is changing us. Not surprisingly, Marshall McLuhan’s famous maxim ‘the medium is the message’, is central to Carr’s thesis that the advent of the internet represents a wholesale change in the way we think.

To make his point, Carr takes us through a history of our communication. When writing developed in our previously oral culture, he points out, it was some time before we developed the inclination or ability to read quietly to ourselves (instead of simply using the words on the page as a tool for oration). When we did develop this skill—and when the invention of the Gutenberg press meant this option was available to many more in society—the activity changed our minds.

‘For most of history, the normal path of human thought was anything but linear,’ writes Carr. Evolution had taught us to be alert to movement, open to distraction. ‘To read a book was to practice an unnatural process of thought, one that demanded sustained, unbroken attention to a single, static object. It required readers to place themselves at what T S Eliot, in Four Quartets, would call “the still point of the turning world”.’

Such reading encouraged deep thinking, says Carr. ‘In the quiet spaces opened up by the prolonged, undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply.’

The internet, with its proven ability to ‘distract’ us (Carr cites studies that point to the disruptive effect on comprehension of the mere existence in a text of hyperlinks), proves a direct threat to this deep, ‘unnatural’ way of thinking—to the Gutenberg way of thinking. At heart, The Shallows is a love song to the book and (another) warning that we are soon to lose not only the book as we know it, but the way of thinking it ushered in. ‘Like our forebears during the later years of the Middle Ages, we find ourselves today between two technological worlds,’ writes Carr. ‘After 550 years, the printing press and its products are being pushed from the center of our intellectual life to its edges.’

To those in the book industry, this sounds a familiar alarm, and Carr’s overview of Google’s Book Search, the Kindle and other ereaders, as well as his imagined future of the book, will be of interest. But to many, the response may well be ‘so what?’ What is so dire about this change? Continue reading

Wordstorm 2010: the festival of Australasian writing

The weather at this year’s Wordstorm writers festival (held 13 to 16 May in Darwin—officially in the ‘dry’ third of the year), was humid enough for even the locals to admit things were ‘warm’. But for those who sweated and fanned their way through sessions in the lush (unairconditioned) Darwin Botantic Gardens, there was the reward of hearing voices that don’t always carry as far south as Victoria and New South Wales—or get as much airtime when they do.

Of course some big-name guests sold out special event sessions at other venues—Wendy Harmer, Tim Flannery and Germaine Greer among them—but the shelves in the Dymocks bookshop tent in the gardens were packed with titles by authors less familiar to my non-Territorian eye, books by writers from Timor, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia—a mix which justifies Wordstorm’s recent rebranding as the ‘festival of Australasian writing’.

Ha’u Maka Lucas/I Am Lucas, which won first prize in the Timorese National Short Novel Writing Competition, for example, was stocked by the bookshop in its original Timorese edition, its author Teodosio Babtista Ximenes hoping to find Australian support for an English translation of his story, which is based on the removal of Timorese children from their families by the Indonesian army in the late 1970s. Nearby was the anthology of Indonesian work in translation, Reasons for Harmony, published by the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

The bookshop shelves were also full with poetry, fiction, nonfiction, plays and anthologies by Aboriginal authors from around the country, including Marie Munkara, Yvette Holt, Wesley Enoch, Lionel Fogarty, Lorraine McGee-Sippel, Philip McLaren, Marcia Langton, Melissa Lucashenko and Margaret Kemarre (M K) Turner—several of whom appeared at the Indigenous Writers and Educators conference which ran as part of the festival on 12 and 13 May at Charles Darwin University.

From this overwhelming mix, I came away with Ali Cobby Eckermann’s book of poetry little bit long time (Picaro Press), a collection that’s direct, personal, moving and beautiful; the anthology Fishtails in the Dust: Writing from the Centre (Ptilotus Press), which includes some of the poems from Eckermann’s collection among short stories and other works by a range of Central Australian writers; Terra, a bilingual English/Indonesian anthology of work by writers who have appeared at Wordstorm between 2004 and 2006, edited by festival director Sandra Thibodeaux; and M K Turner’s Iwenhe Tyerrtye: What It Means to Be an Aboriginal Person (IAD Press), which was launched at the festival. Opera soprano Deborah Cheetham read from a section of Turner’s book in a panel on ‘Home, Land, Homeland’, emphasising the importance of words to human identity: ‘Words makes things happen. Words makes us alive… That’s how I got taught these things, how I’ve learned through out my life, how I’ve always seen the world, how I understand it, and how and what in all those ways life has always been.’ Continue reading

Emerging Writers Festival: program launched

The program for the 7th Emerging Writers Festival (21 to 30 May, 2010) was launched at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne last night. New director Lisa Dempster said it would be a ‘bold, innovative and exciting’ festival, and the program, available to guests in compact little booklets (you could choose the colour scheme you liked best, nice touch), looks promising.

As a festival unashamedly for writers, the EWF centres around a lot of the vocational and workshop events that are only really offered on the fringes of the bigger writers’ festivals. From the Express Media Skills Share ‘how to write’ workshops (‘…reviews’ with The Big Issue’s Jo Case, ‘…television’ with Paul Kooperman, ‘…computer games’ with Paul Callaghan and ‘how to edit your work for publication’ with Davina Bell and Julia Carlomagno), to the great Living Library concept in which you can ‘borrow’ industry people for a brain-pick (getting fifteen minutes with, for example, Arcade’s Dale Campisi or literary agent Donica Bettanin of Jenny Darling & Associates), the events on offer are aimed squarely at those looking to be published—or published more often.

Prices for sessions are pretty reasonable—the Express Media workshops are $10, you can borrow Mr Campisi et al for a bargain $5, and even a full weekend pass will set you back only $45 ($30 concession). Of course some events are free too, including the great-sounding ‘Stuck in a Lift With …’, in which an emerging writer gets to quiz a literary hero on writing and the books they love.

Scattered through the festival booklet are various Twitter addresses for authors, and tweeters can join the EWF’s TwitterFEST at #ewfchat; Twitter addresses and hashtags aren’t something you see a lot of at the big festivals either (though of course, one of the best things about any festival is the chance to be there in the flesh with a lot of other excited and inspiring people, and the EWF has made a name for itself providing just that).

The festival booklet is worth tracking down, not just for the program itself, but for its participant bios: this year panellists were asked to describe how they write and the result is a whole lot of bite-sized writing advice to get attendees thinking.

Check out the EWF program at http://www.emergingwritersfestival.org.au/program/.

ADELAIDE WRITERS WEEK: Some advice from the published

So according to new figures from the Australia Council of the Arts, seven percent of Australians are ‘writing a novel or short story’.  Reassuring (I’m not alone!)? Or depressing (I’m not alone?)?

Shockingly, there’s been a whole lot of talk about writing at this year’s Adelaide Writers Week. Here’s the advice I liked best (in terms of fiction writing), for all you seven percenters out there:

Inspiration v perspiration

Prime Minister’s fiction prize winner Steven Conte believes ‘there’s no way of switching on inspiration’. ‘Just write’, he says. What counts is ‘the hard graft to make those moments [of inspiration] come about.’ ‘Writing is, in other words, work,’ as Jeff Sparrow recently put it. (Or, as one of the characters relays in Michelle de Kretser’s The Lost Dog, quoting Renoir—you need to spend a lot of time collecting firewood if you want a blazing fire.)

Perfectionism v production

Jim Crace said writers needed courage: ‘be prepared to write a bad version of your novel’, or you may never write anything. ‘Inspiration isn’t worth waiting for. Don’t be tormented by the blank page, just scribble something down.’ (Crace himself wrote the first half of his most recent book before realising he would have to change everything from ‘baggy’ past tense to the ‘thrillingly democratic’ present tense, but at least he had something written to alter.)

Michelle de Kretser said that most days writing she thinks ‘that’s terrible’, occasionally, ‘that’s not bad’. ‘Distrust both reactions,’ she said. ‘Good looks tragically bad’ the following morning and vice versa. ‘Get to the following morning,’ she says.

Procrastination and other ‘enemies of promise’

Jim Crace mentioned Enemies of Promise by Cyril Connolly (that’s him behind all the books up there), which chronicles the myriad distractions, excuses, obstacles to actually sitting down to write. (And is somewhat famous for this line, among others: ‘There is no more more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.’ Hmm.)

Michelle de Kretser: ‘keep the email button off, that’s quite important’.

Be there (wherever ‘there’ takes you)

My favourite and perhaps very obvious advice was from Marina Lewycka, whose description of writing reminded me of those I’ve heard from Sonya Hartnett and from Caroline Jones, among others. ‘Be in the place [you’re] writing about,’ she said. Once you’re ‘in the place’, in the scene, as a writer, all you need to do is ‘look around’ at what you see, listen to what you hear—‘smell’, says Lewycka.

And when it comes to the question ‘to plan, or not to plan’ I’m with Charlotte Wood (and Kate Grenville, and Anne Michaels, and many others): ‘The pleasure comes not from expressing what’s on my mind but discovering what’s in my mind,’ says Wood  Or, as Jim Crace put it: ‘If you plan in advance, you’re denying yourself the joys of discovery en route.’

ADELAIDE WRITERS WEEK DAY 1: Behind the scenes

‘You write for the pleasure of putting words on a page.’ Marina Lewycka gave up on the idea of being published and then wrote the hit A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. After years of rejection slips, it was the giving up that made it possible, she told the audience during yesterday’s Behind the Scenes panel at Adelaide Writers Week. (The worst rejection: ‘We cannot summon sufficient enthusiasm’. Lewycka: ‘[Your book’s] not bad, not terrible but…”We can’t summon sufficient enthusiasm”…’)

‘I wasn’t going to get published so I thought I might as well give up and have a bit of fun,’ said Lewycka. Enrolling in a creative writing course, she wrote a novel in the voice she usually speaks in, conversationally. It was ‘different to what [was being] published’, ‘too silly, too strange’. It was her voice, not the voice of authors she had studied, not George Elliot, ‘not James Joyce’.

Lewycka’s teacher was also a literary agent so she didn’t have to send the manuscript off, risk another rejection. And suddenly she was published, following up with another two novels Two Caravans and We Are All Made of Glue.

It was ‘letting go of the idea of being an author with a capital A’ that let Lewycka find the pleasure in words she had loved as a child, before she was old enough to even know it was possible to publish them—and let her find her ‘own voice’ in the process.

Misconceptions, obstacles, ‘enemies of promise’: Jim Crace

Lewycka’s fellow panelist Jim Crace first saw a picture of ‘impossibly handsome’ Jack Kerouac in an issue of his mother’s Mademoiselle, wearing a plaid shirt, the ‘scroll’ manuscript of The Road—apparently written in just 31 days—draped over his arm. ‘I remember thinking fame was just thirty-one days away,’ he told the audience. ‘My first act as a writer was to buy a plaid shirt.’

Initial misconceptions aside (no, a writer’s life does not involve looking like Omar Sherif in Doctor Zhivago, pouring forth poetry perfectly formed before heading upstairs to bed Julie Christie), Crace faced Cyril Connolly’s ‘enemies of promise’ and told the story of his daughter buying him a coloured notepad for Christmas. Eager to practice her newly gained cursive skills she wrote on a new page of the pad each day: ‘no messages’. ‘That’s the truth of the writing life,’ said Crace. ‘No colleagues, no attention and no messages.’

The reward? ‘Excitement and joy comes from the fact narrative is ancient. It confers upon us an advantage: enables us to play out things before they happen’, arguments, war, death, illness, divorce, ‘before it comes to us’.

Smashing out of the coffin of the past: Steven Conte

Steven Conte, whose The Zookeeper’s War (Fourth Estate) won the inaugural Prime Minister’s Award for fiction in 2008,  told the Behind the Scenes audience he found his ‘narrative image’ in The Fall of Berlin (Anthony Read & David Fisher) and drew on his experience backpacking in Berlin in the mid 1980s, where his experience of its autumnal mood built upon images from le Carre.

But why set his novel during the Second World War? Why not a Stasiland? Conte said he was interested in a city in which the past of WWII was so obviously present. Still, the book couldn’t be ‘safe and stale’, it needed to ‘smash its way out of the coffin of the past’.

‘Only darkness’: Michelle de Kretser

In the early stages of writing award-winning The Lost Dog, Michelle de Kretser collected quotations. She ‘wasn’t sure why these fragments seemed to matter, but they seemed to chime’ with her preoccupations at the time. From Wordsworth to the hymn ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’, she shared some of these fragments and how they influenced the book.

The Lost Dog was the first novel De Kretser’s had set in modern Australia and she enjoyed collecting the comments of strangers from real life and ‘taking places from the world around me and working them into the book’.

But sometimes it is not so easy to name the connection between the real world, the words of others and the work that emerges: ‘sometimes behind the scenes is only darkness’, said De Kretser. She read a Nietzsche quote from Beyond Good and Evil which she had filed with her notes for The Lost Dog. ‘What baring does this have? I have no idea!’

‘A shark book’: Peter Temple

Peter Temple, once he has warmed his audience up, does a good line in self-deprecating humour. It goes down well, almost well enough for the listener not to notice the questions unanswered, how well it protects his privacy from the curiosity of his readers. We did get this out of him: yes, like The Broken Shore‘s Cashin, he has two standard poodles; yes, he has done cabinet making (a ‘displacement activity’). His football team? The Saints.

Also, that Truth was an attempt to write about Melbourne as it is now and will be, where the Jack Irish books were about ‘a Melbourne of the mind’, a city ‘that doesn’t exist any longer’. Truth is ‘a shark book’, reliant on momentum and pace. But you need to stop and ‘allow time for memories, dreams, reflections’—being careful to kick-off again ‘before you’ve bored your reader to death’.

‘I like silence,’ Temple said. ‘It’s hard to find room in a book for silence.’ So you have to find it in a sentence, a conversation. Truth is about ‘the combat in families’, the neglect by parents of children and by children of parents and the way ‘bonds persist like animals with vestigial tails, long after the need or inclination is there’. ‘I find it endearing that we have that sense of duty,’ he said.

Unfinished stories: Chloe Hooper

Recently, Chloe Hooper has been down on her hands and knees, the first four chapters of her manuscript spread around her on her study floor, cutting and pasting sentences and paragraphs from here to there. A friend informs her she is in good company: Balzac used to spread his pages out (though in his case, on velvet). ‘But he only took six weeks to write his novel’, the same friend added.

Hooper is going on for five years on the novel now. Of course, in the meantime she researched and wrote the multi-award winning The Tall Man about the death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee, a writing experience that has changed the novel she put aside to pursue it.

She is proud of the change The Tall Man has wrought: there was a lot of ‘resistance’ to the book at first, readers didn’t want to know about the story of Doomadgee’s death in custody or the subject of life on Palm Island, but this has changed, she said.

As she cuts and pastes Hooper sometimes thinks ‘a real writer wouldn’t do this’; The Tall Man, finished and polished and published gives ‘the impression, even to the author’, that there was no crisis, no effort involved. It can also give the false impression that the story of Doomadgee and Palm Island itself is finished, she added.

Allen & Unwin: 20-plus reasons to party

The first day of the festival was followed by the traditional Allen & Unwin party. A celebration of 20 years as an independent publisher, there was another immediate cause for celebration: Shaun Tan was announced at the afternoon Adelaide Festival Awards as the winner of both the children’s award and the Premier’s Prize for the Allen & Unwin-published Tales from Outer Suburbia.

It’s the first time the children’s prize winner has won the Premier’s award. (A&U chairman Patrick Gallagher professed he was also happy to have enjoyed an entire day without a panel on ‘the digital future’.)

Did anyone else get to the sessions I missed? What did you think?

Our dark and private spaces

Citing the rise of text-based social interactions such as Facebook and Twitter, Margaret Simons made the point at last night’s first official ‘Meanland’ event, that ‘text is everywhere, there is more text being used than ever before’. Like fellow panelist Sherman Young (The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book), she predicted that ereading would soon be widespread. ‘In 10 years most of our reading will be on ereaders’, with coffee table and children’s picture books remaining in print, along with ‘precious’ books: ‘I have no intention of throwing out my Jane Austen collection.’

None on the panel, which also included Marieke Hardy and Peter Craven, doubted that ereading would soon be upon us (Simons herself thinks ‘you’ll see ereaders everywhere by the end of the year’); the question that remained was whether reading on a screen would change what we read or the way we create.

Sherman doesn’t believe ‘screens will make us do things … that paper doesn’t’. So long as we still write and publish it, we will still be reading long-form fiction. But Simons didn’t seem so sure we would remain unchanged by the digital age. Social networking and developments like the forthcoming Google Wave are enabling a public collaborative process that may dilute our sense of the author, she suggested. Reading and writing ‘becomes less private’.

Authors on Twitter update followers on their works in progress, responses altering the work. Blogging authors invite readers to help decide the fate of their characters. The idea of collaboration in fiction writing is at least as old as, well, the word editor, I suppose, but Simons was suggesting something more dispersed than that–and that new technology was hastening it. We are in danger, she says, of ‘losing our dark and private spaces’. Fellow-panellist Hardy exhorted writers to ensure they were not being ‘watered down’ by their social networking, urging creators to be ‘light online’ but complex in their works Continue reading

Ebooks: why readers will pay more (but not much more)

If you’re involved in the book industry in any form you might have heard recently about a little stoush between the behemoth US online retailer Amazon and US publisher Macmillan over the matter of ebook prices.

In a nutshell:

*Amazon has been selling many ebooks (in its Kindle format) for US$9.99 for a while now (buying the books from publishers at about 50% of the equivalent print edition and making their profits from selling the Kindle ereader device you need to access them).

*Because Amazon isn’t the only big cheese talking ebook sales anymore (Hi Apple! Hi iBooks! Hi agency model!), Macmillan decided it had something of an advantage and tried to enforce new pricing terms…

*In response, Amazon removed the ‘buy’ buttons from Macmillan’s titles.

*Many booksellers were happy at Macmillan’s stance (because who wants consumers getting the mistaken idea that you can sell books—in any format—for less than they cost to produce?)

*But many customers were peeved (because who wants to believe they should pay a price for a book that reflects the actual cost of production?)

*After a tense weekend and some negotiating, Amazon agreed to the new ‘agency model’ terms demanded by Macmillan and started selling Macmillan titles again—but this time at prices decided by Macmillan.

*(Of course, there’s some worry this might be…. well, kind of anti-competitive.)

Why is this so important? Well, as the world comes to terms with ebooks, the issue of ebook pricing is a concern for publishers, to say the least.

The good news at yesterday’s digital publishing symposium held at the State Library of Victoria and attended by all sorts of publishing folk, came from Michael Tamblyn, vice-president of content, sales and marketing at ebook distributor Kobo (which recently partnered with REDgroup retail and will be providing ebooks for Borders, Angus & Robertson and New Zealand’s Whitcoulls stores by May). Ebook readers WILL pay more than Amazon’s $9.99 price-point for a title, he said. Continue reading

The Road: mourning the film that could have been

John Hillcoat’s The Road opens with the glow of sunlight, a series of dreamy images, wordless; a filmic, visual equivalent of a beautifully written phrase. Though it’s not the opening of the book, for these moments it seems the film I hope for from Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer-winning novel is about to unfold. Seconds later, the dead dark world of the author’s imagined present appears, and not long after that we hear the voice of ‘the man’, Viggo Mortensen’s gentle, exhausted tones doing away, in only a handful of sentences, with the film that could have been.

Where McCarthy spools out his hints and clues scene by scene, leaving incidents and words to be woven together by the reader, Mortensen tells us straight up the exact nature and shape of the dangers faced in this world. There will be no unfolding, it is all laid bare.

What is left will be a series of scenes reiterating what we already know, all possibilities for drama heightened (it is a film after all), but perhaps falling flat for anyone who thought the exhausting tension of the book might have made it to the screen in a smaller, quieter way. In a world where a shrivelled years old apple can grow large as a feast and a row of tinned goods is overwhelming, enough drama can surely be found in the small things.

I am being picky because I loved the book. And much of what I loved survives the journey to film—the bond between the son and his father (‘papa’, as McCarthy’s son apparently calls his own father), the moral murkiness. Some scenes are more affecting on the screen than the page, Continue reading