Poll position: a preview of political books in the lead-up to the federal election

Australia’s longest-ever political campaign will reach its climax this year, although the 14 September poll date is no longer certain. It has led to a publishing bonanza in Australian political books. There are new titles that focus on the woes of the Labor Party and books by Labor MPs about how to fix it, a couple of interesting books look at the failures of modern political life generally, and lastly, there’s Clive. Dave Martus, manager of Dymocks Neutral Bay in Sydney, takes a look at what’s on offer in the coming months.

Aaron Patrick’s (melo)dramatically titled Downfall: How the Labor Party Ripped Itself Apart (ABC Books), which was fast-tracked to publication in June, lays bare the self-destructive path of the ALP that led from the huge victory in 2007 to potential electoral devastation in 2013. The Stalking of Julia Gillard: How the Media and Team Rudd Contrived to Bring Down the Prime Minister by Kerry-Anne Walsh (A&U) has also been fast-tracked and will be released in July. Walsh, herself a journalist, details a central event in Labor’s implosion, pointing the finger at the press and a faction of faceless men.

The Stalking of Julia Gillard Downfall- How the Labor Party Ripped Itself Apart

David Marr’s Rudd v. Abbott (Black Inc., July) combines Marr’s ‘Quarterly Essays’ on Rudd and Abbott, Power Trip and Political Animal.


Former minister Chris Bowen used his time on the back bench to write Hearts and Minds: A Blueprint for Modern Labor (MUP, July) in which he outlines how the ALP might reform itself and win back its traditional support. Fellow former minister and Rudd supporter Kim Carr offers his ideas for revitalizing the ALP in A Letter to Generation Next: Why Labor (MUP, August), although presumably he doesn’t think it will take a generation.

Hearts and Minds - A Blueprint for Modern Labor A Letter to Generation Next - Why Labor

Geoff Aigner and Liz Skelton ponder why Australians have such a problem with leadership in The Australian Leadership Paradox (A&U, August); Jim Chalmers examines why Australians have so little faith in politics and government in Glory Daze: How a World-Beating Nation got so Down on Itself (MUP, July); and Richard King’s On Offence: the Politics of Indignation (Scribe, September) is sure to spark debate as he takes aim at political correctness.

Glory Daze - How a World-Beating Nation got so Down on Itself The Australian Leadership Paradox

For some light relief Scribe is publishing Dirt Files: A Decade of Best Australian Political Cartoons (Scribe, July). And love him or hate him, it’s impossible to ignore Clive Palmer. Now that Clive has a national political party, Sean Parnell’s Clive: The Story of Clive Palmer (HarperCollins, September) won’t just sell in Queensland.

Dirt Files - A Decade of Best Australian Political Cartoons

Not to be left out, there are revised editions of Tony Abbott’s Battlelines (MUP), James Button’s Speechless (MUP, August), Laura Tingle’s Great Expectations (Black Inc., August) and David Marr’s Panic (Black Inc., August).

Battlelines Speechless

There is also likely to be renewed interests in previously published titles about the election’s key players. The Rise of the Ruddbot by Annabel Crabb (Black Inc.), about Kevin Rudd’s initial rise to power, was published in 2010 before Julia Gillard took over as PM. Also likely to be revisited is Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott by David Marr (Black Inc., October 2012), which explores Tony Abbott’s formative years.

Rise of the Ruddbot_cover political-animal

Top picks from our first mag of 2011

Bookseller+Publisher HQ is filled with the scent of fresh magazine once again, with the first issue of 2011 back from the printers and in the hands of subscribers around our fair land and beyond.

The March issue features books due for publication in March, April and May. Here are some of the books that found favour with our reviewers this time around:

The Sparrows of Edward Street (Elizabeth Stead, UQP, March)
‘Elizabeth Stead takes readers into the grinding world of a NSW housing commission camp for the homeless in the mid-20th century,’ writes reviewer Chris Harrington of Books in Print in Melbourne. The story follows the Sparrow family, fallen on hard times, and the efforts of the eldest daughter Aria, a ‘”bottom-of-the-ladder’ photographic model’, to pull them through. ‘The Sparrows of Edward Street is a wonderful novel about family relationships, about overcoming hardship and the strengths that people can gain by pulling together to beat the odds,’ Harrington writes.

The Book of Rachael (Leslie Cannold, Text, April)
The Book of Rachael tells the story of Jesus’ younger sister, who is ‘ambitious, passionate and unconstrained by her upbringing’, and who ‘falls in love with Judah of Iscariot, Joseph’s best friend and the man who will change their lives forever’. ‘Public commentator and nonfiction author Leslie Cannold had chosen an ambitious topic for her first foray into the world of fiction,’ writes reviewer Eloise Keating. She ‘extends this story in an expert manner, showing the reader the reality of the women in Jesus’ life through engaging and fast-paced prose’.

Little People (Jane Sullivan, Scribe, April)
This ‘quirky novel’ by literary journalist Jane Sullivan is ‘inspired by the real-life tour of a troupe of “little people” to Australia in1870,’ writes reviewer Paul Landymore. When Mary Ann rescues’charismatic entertainer’ General Tom Thumb from drowning in the Yarrariver, she is invited to join his troupe of travelling entertainersincluding ‘the beautiful and perfectly formed Lavinia; her restless and wilful sister Minnie; and rival for lead Commodore George WashingtonNutt’, who ‘inhabit a world of barely restrained, savage curiosity’.'This is a most enjoyable read,’ writes Landymore.

Ashes in the Air (Ali Alizadeh, UQP, March)
‘What do we want from a book of poetry?’ asks reviewer Angela Meyer. ‘We want each poem to paint a picture, to shake us up a little, and to ultimately reach down inside us and peel something back. Ali Alizadeh’s poems doall of these things.’ She continues: ‘Alizadeh explores his own internal conflict of straddling two worlds and never completely feeling hebelongs—in Iran or Australia, or in the places he has visited.’The collection is ‘personal (deeply so) but political, social,philosophical and definitely meaningful’ and ‘makes a perfect companionto Alizadeh’s wonderful biography/history Iran: My Grandfather (Transit Lounge).’

Mezza Italiana (Zoe Boccabella, ABC Books, April)
Brisbane-born Anglo-Italian Zoe Boccabella grew up in ‘Joh’s’ Queensland in the 1970s and 1980s’ where ‘Italian food and culture were openly derided’, soit wasn’t until Boccabella was in her 20s and travelling around Europethat she made an effort to connect with her Italian heritage, visitingher family’s home village of Fossa in the Abruzzo region. ‘What followsare wonderful descriptions of relatives and other villagers, thecountryside and the food—the Abruzzo produces more superb cooks than any other part of Italy,’ writes reviewer Chris Harrington. ‘This is abeautifully written memoir full of characters and places, which willappeal to the literary traveller, to people who already love Italy and to all those intending to visit.’

The March issue has our first Junior supplement for the year too.

If you want to know more about forthcoming titles, sign up for our fortnightly Bookseller+Publisher Newsletter here.

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

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

Top picks from the current issue

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


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…

To hear about this kind of thing waaaay early, sign up for our fortnightly newsletter here.

And the election titles begin…

Black Inc. tells us they’re sending Mungo MacCallum’s 2010 election book Punch & Judy: The Double Disillusion Election of 2010 to print today, with delivery to bookstores scheduled for next Wednesday 15 September.

They think it might be the fastest turn-around of an election book ever to be published (though admittedly most elections don’t take two and a half weeks to be decided!).

Let the election analysis begin. Or rather, continue…

‘The September Issue’

Every time we say that we feel like Anna Wintour, and then we thank our lucky stars that instead of shoes, handbags and frocks, we are instead surrounded by manuscripts, advance reading copies and piles of beautiful books.

So, what’s in the September issue of Bookseller+Publisher we hear you ask? What will the trendsetters be reading in Spring/Summer 2010/11?

Well, Monica McInerney‘s new novel At Home With the Templetons (Michael Joseph, October) went down very well with Rachel Wilson, who is ‘very happy to report that the wait has been worth it’. ‘At Home with the Templetons continues to build on familiar McInerney themes and is delivered in her usual warm, humorous and moving style,’ she says. Also among the top picks this issue is Peter Yeldham‘s Glory Girl (Michael Joseph, October), according to our reviewer Kate Summers: ‘There was not a thing about Glory Girl that I did not enjoy.’

Comedian Anh Do has penned a memoir, The Happiest Refugee (A&U, September); it got a glowing review from B Owen Baxter, who said ‘when you think you’re about to die from laughing, Do wrenches your heartstrings so hard that within an instant you’re on the brink of crying’. Chris Harrington enjoyed Speaking Volumes: Conversations with Remarkable Writers (Ramona Koval, Scribe, September), saying that ‘Koval’s probing yet sympathetic questions elicit illuminating responses from her subjects’, while Sharon Athanasos enjoyed both Solo (Vicki McAuley, Macmillan, September)—’an inspiring read’—and the inaugural winner of the Finch Memoir Prize Marzipan and Magnolias (Elizabeth Lancaster, Finch Publishing, September): ‘a touching memoir of  Lancaster’s life, leading us across the seas as she connects with “all things Irish” to a battle with Multiple Sclerosis’.

The Philanthropist (John Tesarsch, Sleepers, November) got the thumbs up from Paul Landymore, Candice Cappe liked Outback Spirit (Sue Williams, Michael Joseph, September), Rebecca Butterworth enjoyed Dreaming of Chanel (Charlotte Smith, illus by Grant Cowan, HarperCollins, November) and A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to Santiago De Compostela (Dee Nolan, Lantern, November) met with the approval of Annelise Balsamo.

We’ve got some reviews for poetry lovers too this issue, with Andrew Wilkins enjoying both Sand (Robert Drewe & John Kinsella, Fremantle Press, November) and Starlight: 150 Poems (John Tranter, UQP, September).

And then there are our Junior Bookseller+Publisher reviews…

Subscribers, we hope you are enjoying the issue. The rest of you can track down a copy at one of the wonderful bookshops listed on our subscriptions page here. Or for a heads up on future issues of the magazine, sign up for our free fortnightly newsletter.

INTERVIEW: Jessica Rudd on ‘Campaign Ruby’ (Text)

Jessica Rudd tells regular Bookseller+Publisher reviewer Jo Case about her forthcoming novel Campaign Ruby, and how it felt to watch its political plot ‘become reality in such a gritty and personal way’.

Campaign Ruby seems to mint a new genre in Australian writing—campaign-trail chick-lit. It’s an unlikely but intriguing combination. How did you come up with the idea to marry politics with Bridget Jones style chick-lit?

As a West Wing tragic and Sex and the City junkie, political chick-lit seemed an obvious marriage to me. I love chick-lit—I feast on it. Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella make me laugh out loud. I identify with their characters.

When I was thinking about writing a novel an author friend of mine said, ‘it’s your first book—write what you know’. I know politics. I’ve grown up with it and have learned to love it. There is something exhilarating about campaigning, particularly when it’s for a greater purpose. With Campaign Ruby I wanted to share that buzz. The woman who puts Campaign Ruby in her handbag to read on the train should get bang for her buck. She deserves to laugh and cry with Ruby as she takes us on her maiden voyage in Australian politics.

You’ve worked as a PR consultant and on the federal election campaign trail. Your protagonist, Ruby Stanhope, is hired as a financial policy advisor but ends up mostly working in media management on the campaign trail. How has your experience fed into your writing?

When I worked on the Kevin07 campaign I noticed that regardless of a campaigner’s assigned role, sometimes there are things that just need doing which are a world away from your job description. It’s a bit miscellaneous. If you’re a speechwriter and your candidate needs a shirt ironed while they read their speech, you iron the shirt. If you’re a policy adviser briefing your candidate on economic policy and the phone rings, you answer it. In Ruby’s case, if you’re a financial policy adviser and a plane-load of journalists are hungry and cranky, you find a drive-through and feed them. Something else I really wanted to capture and share was the fun chaos of a major political campaign. I remember one particular occasion when we were campaigning in Mackay and Dad spontaneously jumped on board a massive sugar cane harvesting machine and went for a ride with its operator. Camera crew were chasing after this cane-munching contraption in a vast cane field—it was pretty dangerous. I was getting ready to call the paramedics. Dad’s press sec looked like she was going to have a coronary.

In your book, Australia gets its first female prime minister—and a snap election—following a coup by a senior colleague. Was it strange to see this situation mirrored in real life recently? What gave you the idea for this scenario when you were writing?

It was a bit spooky to watch parts of the utterly unimaginable scenario I had dreamed up become reality in such a gritty and personal way. There are a few major differences though. At the time I wrote Campaign Ruby, Labor was doing very well in the polls. The day my Dad stood down the government was on 52-48. It was—still is—a first-term government. In Campaign Ruby, the incumbent was in his thirteenth year in office. They were doing terribly in the polls when the treasurer seized the prime ministership and called an election to seek a mandate from the people.

The full interview and Jo Case’s review of Campaign Ruby appear in the September 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine, with subscribers this week. For news of forthcoming Australian and New Zealand books, sign up for the free fortnightly Bookseller+Publisher Newsletter here.

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

Shaun Micallef’s novel Preincarnate is due from Hardie Grant Books in November. Dani Soloman, who reviewed the book for the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine, spoke to the comedian about his first—and, he says, last—novel.


Preincarnation, the concept of a character being reborn backwards in time, is a relatively unusual topic to tackle, even in the world of sci-fi and fantasy. What was it about this topic that appealed to you?

I’m pleased to hear it’s not well trammeled territory. Because I’m not a real sci-fi buff, I was half expecting it to end up being a standard trope in the genre that I had unwittingly stumbled into, thinking it a fresh field; like my theory immediately following 9/11 that the terrorists had chosen the date because they wanted everyone who would ever ring 911 to be reminded of the attack. I thought I was the only one who’d thought of this and was most disappointed when I found out that it had already occurred to half the world’s population.

I think the thing that appealed to me most about the premise to Preincarnate was not so much being reborn in an earlier body, but being able to prevent your own death. It’s not so much a who-dunnit as a why-dunnit or how-dunnit.

You revealed some of your comedy influences in your show Good Evening: The Sketches of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. What are your literary influences?

I tell everyone I’m very influenced by S J Perelman and Robert Louis Stevenson, but this is just to sound posh. I’m really influenced by Spike Milligan (Puckoon), Norman Hunter (Professor Branstawm), John Kennedy Toole, A P Herbert, Tom Sharpe, Hunter S Thompson and Douglas Adams.

This is not your first book. Smithereens, a collection of poems, essays and sketches, is alas no longer available. Do you see yourself writing more in the future?

No, that’s it. I only had the one novel in me so you better enjoy Preincarnate because that’s all there is.

Preincarnate starts off with a very interesting, almost L Ron Hubbard-esque theory on the beginning of earth and what happens to the human soul before and after life. In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking you might be following in the footsteps of the Scientology founder. If you were to start your own religion, what would your first decree be and who would be your chosen one?

I’d bring back Latin for a start. When I was at school, I had to study it in Year 9. And then the next year they dropped it from the curriculum. No-one had to study it anymore. I figure this is a waste of a year and I’d like to think I could issue an encyclical forcing people to speak it. And not just at Mass either; I mean in every day speech.

My chosen one would be Isabella Rosselini.

Dani Soloman is a bookseller at Readings Carlton. Her review of Preincarnate appeared in the August 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher.