Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Gift Guide

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift? Look no further, we’ve got you covered.

For political junkies

Presenting the one and only Mr Paul Keating – at his straight-shooting, scumbag-calling, merciless best.

Paul lets rip – on John Howard: “The little desiccated coconut is under pressure and he is attacking anything he can get his hands on.”

On Peter Costello: “The thing about poor old Costello is he is all tip and no iceberg.”

On John Hewson: “[His performance] is like being flogged with a warm lettuce.”

On Andrew Peacock: “...what we have here is an intellectual rust bucket.”

And that’s just a taste.

‘We were a motley mob, we sans-culottes of Canberra . . . ’

In this vastly entertaining book, Mungo MacCallum captures the spirit of a nation-changing time.  He portrays the Whitlam government's key figures – from Gough and Margaret to Lionel Murphy, Bill Hayden and Jim Cairns – as well as 'the other mob' in opposition – Billy McMahon, John Gorton, Malcolm Fraser and many more. 

For lovers of a good yarn

When you're born into a dynasty of champions, any sin will be forgiven so long as you maintain the winning streak. But what if that's not the life you want?

“This outstanding novel … is a nuanced indictment of a sporting culture that forgives appalling behaviour in our heroes.” – Books+Publishing

The Family Men is an intense distillation of the darkness that falls after the Friday and Saturday night lights have been turned out. This novel is shocking because it is so believable. Sometimes you hear football insiders mutter about a scandal in the game, ‘It’s worse than you think.’ Catherine Harris has cut right through to that shadowy truth, and come back with horror, yes, but also a sign of hope.” – Malcolm Knox

Rosie and Nona are sisters. Yapas.

They are also best friends. It doesn’t matter that Rosie is white and Nona is Aboriginal: their family connections tie them together for life.

When a political announcement highlights divisions between the Aboriginal community and the mining town, Rosie is put in a difficult position: will she have to choose between her first love and her oldest friend?

“A fascinating book, beautifully told, with rich insight into a deeply Australian but little known community.” – Jackie French

“Rosie’s story brims with the joy and pain and complexity of friendship and love at sixteen. I adored this smart, heartfelt book about family, kinship, country, and finding out what really matters.” – Fiona Wood

When my dad dropped us off at the front gate, the first things I saw were the rose garden spreading out on either side of the main driveway and the enormous sign in iron cursive letters spelling out LAURINDA. No 'Ladies College' after it, of course; the name was meant to speak for itself.

“Alice Pung totally nails it with Laurinda. Funny, horrifying, and sharp as a serpent’s fangs.” – John Marsden

“a candid and powerful exploration of family, culture and class … it is those of us who take our fortune and privilege for granted that I wish would read this powerful book.” – Readings Monthly

For those who prefer a gripping true story

Acute Misfortune is a riveting account of the life and death of one of Australia's most celebrated artists, the man behind the Archibald Prize–winning portrait of David Wenham. Jensen follows Cullen through drug deals and periods of deep self-reflection, onwards into his court appearance for weapons possession and finally his death in 2012 at the age of forty-six. The story is by turns tender and horrifying: a spare tale of art, sex, drugs and childhood, told at close quarters and without judgement.

“Fierce and spellbinding” – David Marr

“The terrible force of the painter’s rush to self-destruction is matched all the way by the writer’s calm mastery of his story.” – Helen Garner

“A teasing and complex ode to a man who defied attempts to categorise him or to understand him. Jensen’s portrait dares to be both beautiful and ugly - that is, he is both tender and forensic. This is a marvellous, propulsive, intelligent read.” – Christos Tsiolkas

For those who are curious about what makes us tick

Terrence Holt, whose In the Valley of the Kings was hailed as a 'work of genius' (New York Times) and made Amazon's Top Ten Short Story Collections of the year, brings a writer's eye to his experiences as a first-year graduate doctor. 

Personal, poignant and meticulously precise, Holt's writing evokes Chekhov, Maugham, and William Carlos Williams. Internal Medicine is an account of what it means to be a doctor, to be mortal, and to be human.

“[Terrence Holt] is Melville + Poe + Borges but with a heart far more capacious.” – Junot Díaz

“Terrence Holt writes with unflinching honesty about all the fears, joys and brutalities of a junior doctor's work.” – Karen Hitchcock

“Holt dissects the medical experience in exquisite and restrained prose.” - New York Times

In The Invisible History of the Human Race, Christine Kenneally reveals that, remarkably, it is not only our biological history that is coded in our DNA, but also our social history.  She breaks down myths of determinism and draws on cutting-edge research to explore how both historical artefacts and our DNA tell us where we have come from and where we may be going.

“Kenneally offers a rich, thoughtful blend of science, social science and philosophy in a manner that mixes personal history with the history of the human species.” – Publishers Weekly

“magnificently rich and sweeping in scope, in impeccable yet intimate prose” – Cordelia Fine

“a bold and absorbing work” – Weekend Australian

“original and provocative” - New Yorker 

For poetry lovers

Gwen Harwood's work is defined by a moving sensuality, a twinkling irreverence, and a sly wit. This anthology brings together the best 100 of her poems, as selected and compiled by her son, the writer John Harwood.

“The outstanding Australian poet of the twentieth century” – Peter Porter

“Gwen Harwood’s poetry is widely recognised for its stark intimacy and brilliant resonance” – The Sydney Morning Herald

“This elegant volume seems designed purely for pleasure, and in this purpose it entirely succeeds.” – Australian Book Review

For those interested in the best Australian writing of 2014

Now in their fourteenth year, The Best Australian Stories, Essays and Poems anthologies collect Australia’s best writing by new and established writers. 

This year's collections feature Christos Tsiolkas, Robyn Davidson, J.M. Coetzee, Tim Winton, Helen Garner, Noel Pearson, Clive James, Carrie Tiffany, David Malouf, Karen Hitchcock, Anna Krien, Kirsten Tranter, Leah Swann, Ryan O’Neill, Melanie Joosten, David Brooks, Les Murray, Robert Adamson, Clive James, Judith Beveridge, Maria Takolander, Lisa Gorton, Peter Rose, John Kinsella, John Tranter and many more.

For those after a transformative summer read

In the tradition of Wild and Tracks, one woman's story of how she left the city and found her soul.
Disillusioned and burnt out by her job, Claire Dunn quits a comfortable life to spend a year off the grid in a wilderness survival program. Her new forest home swings between ally and enemy as reality – and the rain – sets in.

Brimming with earthy charm and hard-won wisdom, My Year Without Matches is one woman's quest for belonging, to the land and to herself. When Claire finally cracks life in the bush wide open, she discovers a wild heart to warm the coldest night.

“A brave and adventurous book … Claire’s writing is full of life and profound surprises.” – Anne Deveson

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Nona & Me Launch

Nona & Me by Clare Atkins was launched recently at the Yirrkala Art Centre in the Northern Territory, check out some of the photos from a great night!

Clare and Merrki before the launch, alongside the beautiful display of books and ghost-net baskets

Signing books!

Clare's Yolngu family – momo Dhanggal, namala Lena and wawa Yotjin, and Clare's baby Nina

Nona & Me and some traditional baskets woven with pandanus and ghost-nets (discarded fishing nets) by Merrki's sisters

Siena performing a contemporary dance of the Bayani
Buy Nona & Me from Bookworld, and Black Inc. and Bookworld will donate $2 from every copy sold before Wednesday October 8th to the Indigenous Literary Foundation!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Artists In The Park

Holiday in Cambodia author Laura Jean McKay spent a month with the Territory Wildlife Park in Darwin as part of their Artists in the Park program. She shares some of her experiences with us.

Exhibit A

The thing about living in a caravan in the middle of The Territory Wildlife Park for five weeks is that I’m never away from the animals. At night they chew plants (or each other?) outside my screen window, making the pandanas rattle like bones. In the mornings they wake me with a lilting tune, ending in a rusty squawk. In the afternoons they lay as 3.5 metres of carpet python across the step that accesses the toilet. At dusk they bite with swarming ferocity or call with longing howls – high note to low – from their enclosures. Then there are the human animals. All khaki and reptile-handling, they’re no less intense.

I find that the dawns and dusks are quietest. When I hear the last of the tourists roar out the gates, I set out from the caravan along the hot Park roads. Just me and the birds – exhibited and wild. One night I hear the zoo train chug along after-hours and it pulls up alongside me carrying carriages full of kids.
‘You know the Park is closed?’ The guide driving the train calls out to me over his microphone.
I emerge from between some purple flowering turkey bushes, brandishing a notebook. ‘Oh. I’m the Artist-in-the-Park.’
‘You’re what?’
‘The Artist-in-the-Park everyone!’ The guide announces. The children wave and point at me. I’ve watched tourists do this to the animals exhibited throughout the place (‘Look Jason, a dingo. A DINGO!’) and I stand there, feeling my rib cage broaden, the fur sprout on my back, and produce a few distinctive calls from my muzzle. I have become an exhibit.

I arrive at the Territory Wildlife Park in July during the dry season cooler months and stay on to the start of the build-up, a time when, ostensibly, everyone goes mad. And there is a madness here – different to the madness I’m used to. Australia is divided in two: the ‘top end’ and ‘down south’. As a southerner I am constantly encouraged to move up – to where the animals and insects are bigger and the cars are bigger and the food is better and more expensive. Crocs and cars and culture. But inside the Jurassic Park style gates of the Wildlife Park, the minute world of the Northern Territory is revealed. I reduce my life to 4 x 2 metres of brown caravan, while my mind tries to take in the vast expanse of the Park, on Koongurukan traditional country, and all the animals enclosed there.

A wildlife park is like fiction: a reconstructed environment, where you can experience nature as you would never get to see it in the wild. By day I feed a 4.5 metre crocodile called Graham from the safety of a deck, by hanging a bit of chicken on a string. I visit two joeys to help them to get used to humans: one of them only wants to lick my hand; the other only wants to bite it. I am nuzzled by an endangered northern quoll. I gingerly circle wild pythons to interview people who keep frill necked lizards in their pockets as part of a socialisation program and who spend their every moment thinking about, protecting and working with wildlife. I’m here to write a novel about animals, but I can barely do it. There’s too much. I scribble, record, take footage – my pockets brim with media.

By the fifth week I have animal facts, animal scratches, animal noises, animal-themed performance credits and animal books to read. Not much animal writing. This is a research residency, I conclude, not a writing one. But I am only 10,000 words from the end of a novel draft. So I sit down at the caravan formica and shake the enclosure with typing. It’s a creepy, insular space, where the novel becomes more real than life and for a day or so, the Park fades into fiction. My neighbours – herpetologists (reptile experts) – peer in at me, offering beer and food through the screen door. I adjust the final words a few times. Then my immediate reaction is to stand and retch into the sink and I do, but nothing comes: I have nothing left. I take a beer outside. There’s a sunset hovering over the Park like a spaceship. An agile wallaby crashes through the bushes. The mosquitos find me and bite. I watch the trees against the fading sky. I watch the sun go and then turn and walk barefoot back to the van.

Laura Jean McKay's collection of short stories, Holiday In Cambodia, is out now.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sam Vincent on objectivity in investigative journalism

Sam Vincent is the author of Blood & Guts: Dispatches from the Whale Wars

Here, Sam writes about objectivity in investigative journalism.

After spending nearly two years researching, reporting and writing Blood and Guts, I’m sick of people who deal in absolute dichotomies. Eco-warriors or poachers; scientists or eco-terrorists; floating steaks or minds-in-the-water; goodies or baddies … I was attracted to the Antarctic whaling controversy because in it I see so many shades of grey: legally, ethically, environmentally and politically. But so many people just see a chequerboard of right and wrong; a point by which they can fix their moral compass.

I was continually asked if I was ‘pro-whaling’ or ‘anti-whaling’. Aren’t I allowed to think that the efforts of Washington State’s Makah Tribe to reclaim its cultural heritage by hunting gray whales, after being smashed by American expansionism for the previous 200 years, is a beautiful thing? Can’t I recognise that Iceland returned to the International Whaling Commission in 2002 with a reservation on the global whaling moratorium, but disagree with its subsequent decision to hunt endangered fin whales? Am I not able to celebrate the fact that the arrival of grog and missionaries didn’t stop Alaska’s Inupiat from hunting bowheads – and celebrate the fact that since commercial whaling in the Arctic ceased, bowheads, once threatened with extinction, are increasing steadily? Can’t I hold all these views and question why Japan maintains a program of negligible scientific esteem for a product its public doesn’t want?

But I didn’t seem to be allowed a nuanced view: it’s one or the other, you’re one of them or one of us. Whaling divides and unites, creating a demarcation, a fracture, a border between peoples. So how do you remain objective when the stakes are that high?

This is a work of gonzo journalism; I think it is extremely subjective. But it doesn’t pick sides. I approached this topic as objectively as I could, but after spending three months at sea with Sea Shepherd, visiting Japan three times and attending the recent International Court of Justice case at The Hague, I began to see that small-minded populism from all sides of the ‘whale wars’ is prolonging a conflict that should have been solved decades ago.

The closer to the middle of a story a reporter gets, the more exposed they become to criticism. But my favourite journalists aren’t afraid to be iconoclastic; to position themselves as truth-tellers unbeholdened to any side. This is why I love the writing of Matt Taibbi, Rian Malan, Michael Hastings and Janet Malcolm; and in Australia, of Anna Krien, Helen Garner and David Marr. None of them write to make friends, nor for people who have already made up their minds. It’s a lonely position to be in, but as an investigative journalist who values independence above everything else, that’s precisely where I want to be.

Blood & Guts: Dispatches from the Whale Wars by Sam Vincent is available now in all good bookstores.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

10 writing tips for emerging writers

Author Catherine Harris shares her top ten writing tips.

1. Take yourself seriously while at the same time not taking yourself too seriously.

2. Avoid the company of anyone who doesn't know the difference.

3. Write every day.

4. Revise, revise, revise, and then revise some more.

5. Cultivate thoughtful readers (they might not be writers) for pull-no-punches feedback.

6. Criticism and praise are useful only in so far as they advance your work; treat them with the qualified respect they deserve.

7. Immerse yourself in the writing community until you develop a rash.

8. Then apply calamine lotion and avoid the writing community like the plague.

9. Be generous (to others, to yourself).

10. Don’t give up.

Catherine Harris’ novel The Family Men is available now in all good bookstores.

The Family Men will be launched by Tony Birch at the Melbourne Writers Festival at 1pm on Saturday 30th August, for more information visit the Melbourne Writers Festival website.