Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute Library

The building contains a glass reading room with a collection of newspapers and early books that were bought to Ballarat* through the wealth amassed by the goldfields. The Institutes Library was initially designed to cater for the education of the miners, but quickly grew to supply miners with newspapers from throughout the world, a collection of books and even a ladies reading room (containing homemaker books and magazines suitable for ladies). Continue reading →

Tim Pegler

Over the last few months I have been helping Ballarat Writers to prepare for the Ballarat Writers and Illustrators Festival for 2011. As part of this I have prepared by reading  the novels of young adult author, Tim Pegler. Continue reading →

Geraldine Brooks in Melbourne

Last week I went to see Geraldine Brooks in an event organised by Readers Feast bookstore. I am a big fan of Geraldine Brooks and it was fantastic to see a full house. It was located in the Collins street Baptist church which meant I was able to see the front clearly (at my height this is exciting). I was intrigued by the general demographic – in a full church I could only see 9 men around me, and I was left feeling very young by the end of it. The full house did endear me to the fact that people not only buy historical fiction, but they come out on a freezing Melbourne night to hear about it.

Geraldine herself was eloquent and kept her confidence with the range of microphone issues that occurred throughout the night. I enjoyed hearing about how the characters speak to her, once she finds the initial historical fact that catches her interest. She called it “collecting the string” of the story, imagining the story from the fact.

The one thing I can’t stop thinking about is the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. Geraldine used the example that she wanted to use the work foetus but was sure that that word would not have been used in 1600. So she used the thesaurus to identify the correct word for the correct period. Originally published in printed form, the thesaurus has now been incorporated into the Oxford English Dictionary Online. According to Wikipedia work began on the collection in 1965 and was completed in 2009. It sounds like such a fantastic resource for writers of historical fiction.

Geraldine Brooks

Last week Geraldine Brook’s new novel Caleb’s Crossing made it to number 1 on the Independent books top 10 list.* It was released on May 3.

It’s fantastic that an Australian female author, who writes historical fiction has made it to number 1 in such a short amount of time, and plays into the recent debate about literary awards, chick lit (or perceived chick lit) and the ongoing saga of historical fiction not selling well. Continue reading →

The Slap – Charaters, Themes or Both

I have just finished reading The Slap, and have been toying with the idea of blogging about it. For a while there I thought I was the only person who hadn’t attempted to read it. I say attempt because some of the people I spoke to stopped reading half way through. It is a book that everyone seems to have an opinion on so I thought I should read it.  I was discussing blogging about it today with a colleague who said, “You have to write about it, everybody is reading it, even my friends who don’t read are reading it. Do you think I should read it?”

That’s when I realised what the novel has become. It’s the book that you feel you need to read. It’s what The Belljar is to teenage girls, it’s what On the Road is to travel-types, it’s what Anna Karenina is to Russian lit tragic – it’s the new Shantaram.

But is it anything more than that? And does it need to be?

When I think about analysis of this novel I need to think beyond the characters to the themes – friendship, loyalty, or perceived loyalty, honesty, integrity, family, sex and lust. The novel makes a strong basis from these themes and Tsiolkas is well aware of the preconceived notions we bring to these as readers. Each reader has a different opinion before they pick up the book and they might not leave with the same opinions they had at the start. In fact the novel isn’t really about the ‘slap’, these characters would have had issues regardless of the slap, it’s the issues that really make the novel.

But on the majority of reviews I’ve read the themes are glossed over and the focus is on the characterisation. Like most people I’ve discussed it with the characters irritated me. Basically I’d describe the men as selfish ‘cunts’ to use the language of the novel (although I am adverse to references to female genitalia being used as an insult – but that’s another issue). I thought most of the women used their marital status as a defence mechanism. The characterisation did have an affect on me – I started getting paranoid about what men were really thinking while they were having conversations with me – was there an internal dialogue of abuse going on purely because I have a vagina? I also looked up some of my favourite male bloggers to see what they thought in the hope that they would tell me that men really aren’t that bad.

So are we missing the point of the novel if all we see are the characters? Or is it impossible to remove these themes from the characterisation – if I don’t like the characters maybe I just can’t cope with what it means to be Australian today? Can we separate loyalty, honesty, integrity, family, sex and lust from people and look at this from a theoretic perspective – or is that just a waste of time, when humans embody these elements?

Here are some links to some great articles if you are interested in reading more. (Or perhaps just tick it off the ‘must read or I’m missing out on the debate’ list and move on.)  

http://ikandel.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/the-fearless-observer-christos-tsiolkas-on-the-slap/

http://inside.org.au/suburban-mayhem/

Utopian Man by Lisa Lang

I’m in love with a novel, with a story and with a character. I’ve just finished Lisa Lang’s Utopian Man (published by Allen and Unwin 2010). I have written previously about attending her launch and my excitement about reading the book. I had read Lang’s Chasing the Rainbow, a brilliant little book published by Arcade publishing. When I saw that Utopian Man had won the Australian/Vogel award I locked the launch in my diary and made sure I was there.

I have finally had a chance to read the novel and I think it’s wonderful. I feel like shouting the story of Edward Cole from the rooftops of Bourke Street and forcing people to listen. I feel like setting up a memorial day and forcing people to celebrate the magic of what was Cole’s Book Arcade. When I think of the hoards that loaf through Bourke Street during the Christmas period I feel like shouting “what if it could feel like Christmas every day but without the religious sentiment and the brash commercialism, without the guilt of necessity of purchase. This is what we once had in Melbourne, right here, but no one seems to remember.” Perhaps that is what I loved about this book, it has inspired me to love, to feel nostalgic, to feel anger, it’s inspired me to feel. Continue reading →

Aussie YA fiction

I’ve recently been thrown back into the world of Young Adult (YA) novels. I am a fan, but I don’t often read them. But a few things in the last few weeks have got me thinking about the importance of YA novels in Australia.

Boomerang Books released the results from their survey on the most popular Aussie novels, not based on sales, but on a survey where readers indicated which novels they had read in their entirety. I’ve detailed the top 24 below but the entire list is worth a look. Continue reading →

Year of the Novel with Sallie Muirden

In 2010 I completed the Year of the Novel course at the Victorian Writers Centre. I have been meaning to write about it for some time, but I seem to have struggled to come up with the correct approach. I’m not going to critique the course but here are a few personal thoughts. Continue reading →