Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Well, I'm chuffed. Just heard I've been awarded a New Work grant from the Australia Council Literature Board, for work on my next novel, An Act of Faith.
I'm classed as an "Emerging Writer" (emerging from the primeval slime, or perhaps obscurity, I imagine) and am the only kidlit writer on that list.
So now, to work!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Common sense

Historical sense and poetic sense should not, in the end, be contradictory, for if poetry is the little myth we make, history is the big myth we live, and in our living, constantly remake.
~ Robert Penn Warren

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

More history wars

I wrote earlier that I'd blog about Kate Grenville's personal history wars, but I've changed my mind: there's a fine discussion happening already amongst those vivisectors over at Sarsaparilla, and plenty of background in yet another Jane Sullivan feature in The Age.
My earlier comments on the dust-up are here and here.

Did I miss anything?

Just back on Waiheke after a whirlwind visit to Melbourne which included a book launch, several school visits, at least six kids' basketball games ("Go Redbacks!"), a spot of gardening in the country, and not a single antique shop nor garden visit. How did that happen? Ripped off.
Poet (and friend) Judith Rodriguez very kindly launched The Pirate's Revenge upon the world at Readings in Port Melbourne. Everyone stared at me. My mother didn't cry. What a waste. Must try harder next time.
My brother got back from Nepal safely on Sunday, with 750 gorgeous photos. About 500 of them include a glimpse of Everest. I'm so jealous. Any hint of that famous plume of snow blowing off the summit and I'm a goner.
There are a few other things that are compulsory for any visit to Melbourne for me: driving discreetly past our house; buying more white and black Bonds t-shirts; and sneaking into my favourite secondhand bookshop, The Old Bakery Cottage in Warrandyte. I did manage all three this time, and picked up a couple of books in a relatively brief and uncharacteristically restrained spree: The Cruel Way, Ella Maillart's 1930s trek from Switzerland to India; and - at last - Prospero's Cell, Lawrence Durrell's Corfu memoir. Those old Faber paperbacks really are the sexiest book covers ever. I still can't get over the time I nearly bought - but didn't - early copies of the individual books of the Alexandria Quartet for the whopping price of $6 each. What was I thinking? They are just right, those covers - much more appropriate than my bloody great compendium copy. It's only been about six years. I'll let it go one day. When I find another set.
I also finally grabbed Kate Grenville's The Secret River.
More on recent reading and Ms Grenville's history wars later. I need more coffee first.

Friday, October 13, 2006


I'm flying to Melbourne tomorrow - hopefully some of yesterday's 250 bushfires have receded. There I'll be eating evil but delicious things, looking at gardens, hanging out with my family, reading at lots of schools, rummaging in bookshops and antique stores, having afternoon tea, picking up the kids from school, cheering at basketball games ("What's that noise?" asked one of Conor's team-mates last time I was there - "That's my aunty"), bushfire-proofing my little place in the country, launching the new book, driving nonchalantly past my dream house to make sure all is in order, and possibly not blogging.
But someone's emailed to complain that the podcast of the interview with Radio NZ's Lyn Freeman has moved. The new link is here.
Oh Lord, I'd better pack. Ciao.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mediterranean climate

Now my second pirate book is out, people ask me constantly about Johnny Depp. Honestly. I've never cared about those Caribbean pirates, nasty lot that they were. What's the Caribbean ever done for anyone? Well, OK, if you're a British pop star you have holidays there and, sure, there is the cricket team. And Bob Marley. But through most of history, especially since European contact, it's been a place of misery and greed.
Now I accept that there are pockets of the Mediterranean that have also had their moments. But isn't it much more interesting? Phoenicians. Greeks. Romans. Venetians. Sophia Loren.
Mediterranean pirates, like my imaginary ones, got caught up in all sorts of fascinating regional and religious conflicts, wore better clothes than Blackbeard (at least if they were Knights of Malta or Barbary captains) and God knows they ate better.
This evening on the ferry I finished Chris Stewart's third book on his Spanish life, The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society (lovely read, too), went to the shop to buy pesto and cannellini beans; drove home past the olive groves to our little Spanish-inspired mudbrick home overlooking the grapevines; helped myself to some Turkish extra virgin olive oil (organic), Greek olives, and crusty French bread while I made spaghetti (Italian import) bolognese (with rosemary, bay leaves and a splash of cab sav).
Sadly, while I ponder my pseudo-Mediterranean existence, it's hailing outside, the wind is whipping right off Antarctica and heading straight towards the island, ripping the apple blossom off the trees. They've had the helicopters hovering over the vines down south to stave off the frost.
But if only I could top off the day with a Maltese pastizzi, or a Moroccan orange syrup cake and a glass of mint tea, I could at least pretend a little longer.
Where would we be without the Mediterranean? Even Johnny Depp lives there.

Vale Peter Norman

I've been shedding a tear today over the death of Peter Norman, one of Australia's greatest athletes and all-round lovely bloke.
It was Peter Norman who stood on the dais at the 1968 Mexico Olympics with the American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, as they raised their gloved fists in a silent but dramatic black power salute. I was seven - my dad was over there and the three things I remember about the Mexico Olympics is that Ron Clarke collapsed, my dad had a blood blister that took up his whole heel after his race (the kind of gross detail kids never forget), and that photo of the three men on the dais.
Oh and some kid called Raelene Boyle sprinting down the home straight within spitting distance of the great Irena Swezinska.
Look at that photo of the protest now, and you see how young, how vulnerable and how brave they were. I remember watching Peter race, later, and remember him for some reason as being much more muscular and powerful than that skinny lad standing steadfast with the world glaring at him.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos were ostracised and sacked from the team after that incident. They were both at the funeral today:
Carlos said that Norman deserved to be as well-known as Steve Irwin. "Go and tell your kids the story of Peter Norman," he said.
My parents certainly did.
Read the full story here.
Or watch a video about Mexico and the men, here.

AWW review

Oh look. I just have to post it. Bear with me.
This is Tessa Duder's review from the NZ version of the Australian Women's Weekly:
IT'S REFRESHING TO FIND a rollicking children's tale that both boys and girls will enjoy.
The heroine of Australian-born Kelly Gardiner's fine debut novel, Ocean Without End, is 12-year-old Lily Swann, and her world is one of pirates, tall ships, slaves and sword-fighting.
Ocean Without End is the first of the Swash?buckler trilogy, The second, The Pirate's Revenge, is due out in October.
In the best traditions of historical children's fiction by the author's heroes like Rosemary Sutcliffe and Geoffrey Trease, Ocean Without End has an easy authenticity borne of painstaking research.
Kelly Gardiner has a Masters degree in literature, and also works as a journalist and editor.
Apart from extensive internet and library research, Gardiner visited Malta, where she "retraced every step" of Lily's adventures. She added skills learned as a junior fencing champion in Melbourne to create In Lily Swann a wholly believable, if reluctant, pirate girl.
Abducted from her home by pirates, Lily becomes their leader, embroiled in a quest that takes her ship halfway round the Mediterranean.
The dialogue is convincing, the sailing details spot-on and an earthy humour hints at Johnny Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean.
Among the standard characters - the fat but caring cook, evil pirate chief Diablo, and Carol [ha! don't tell Carlo] the enslaved aristocrat - Lily is a confident, resourceful girl who is not afraid of a challenge.
This is a great read for children aged eight-plus and an effortless European history lesson.

And if you're quick, I think this Sunday is the last 50% discount offer on Ocean Without End in the Sunday Star Times (for NZ people only, sorry): look for the Great Kiwi Reads coupon in the Focus section.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Bells toll

In The LRB this fortnight is this review by Colin Burrow of Donne: The Reformed Soul by John Stubbs, the "decent" new biography of the irreverent Reverend:
Literary biography is one of the background noises of our age. It’s a decent, friendly sort of hum, like the Sunday papers or chatter on a train. It gives the punters a bit of history and a bit of literature, and perhaps a bit of gossip, and what’s more it saves them the trouble of reading history. And poems too, for that matter. Not to mention the ordeal of ploughing through a load of literary criticism.

One might also argue that with such thoughtful reviews, the punters need never even buy the book, especially with lines like this:
Reading poems is usually, if things go well, a process of losing and finding one’s balance, and then wondering if one has really grasped the thing after all.

Quite. Indeed Burrows' advice is to read the poems (and, I would argue, the sermons) if you want to understand the man - don't bother with a biography.
But I suspect I will have to read the book, as I've always had a soft spot for the old flirt and all his contradictions. Sunne Rising remains the poem closest to my heart, no matter what any biographer may say.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fashion forward

New look. Was so sick of the old blog.
All right?

Out to sea

The Pirate's Revenge is now afloat in the bookshops, after a minor flurry of radio interviews and a bit of breath-holding until reviews appear.
But this week my focus is on Welsh Black cattle and building barbecues at my day job. Sometimes the dichotomy gets a bit surreal. Two weeks of the month I read books like A History of Sheep in New Zealand, the next week I read a few kids books either for fun or for study, or history books for fiction research, and then if I have a few days "off" I get to read something sensible like a travel narrative or a grown-up novel. Occasionally, as with Tales from the Country, some of these aspects of life overlap: now I've stopped weeping at Brian Viner, I'm onto Chris Stewart's Apple Blossom Appreciation Society, which is part travel book, part escape to the country memoir.
Then on Saturday it's off to Melbourne for my niece's birthday, school visits, another launch, and another world altogether. I have a little place of my own in the country there, a hundred-year-old church surrounded by sheep paddocks and filled with stuff. My stuff. Very important stuff, like my great-aunt Myrtle's fly rod and a wide range of old agricultural implements. And a whole shelf of those marvellous 1950s Readers' Club or Book Circle hardbacks about somebody or other's fascinating adventures among the natives in the Amazon or the New Guinea Highlands or perhaps Kent; all with fabulous dust jackets, bought for 50 cents each at Alexandra Op Shop and perfect for weekends in the country.
Although by the time I get there, I might be reading Mrs Wishy Washy or Vikings, Lords of the Sea. Or A Short History of Gum Boots in New Zealand.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Crying shame

Can't blog. Too busy laughing my head off at Brian Viner's Tales of the Country. Sobbed with laughter so much last night my girlfriend feared for my sanity. Perhaps not for the first time.
Off to the Pink Star Walk tonight around the Domain - a breast cancer foundation charity/education event.
You have to wear pink. And fairy wings.
My girlfriend is a "wing judge" and she seems to have somehow channelled Anna Wintour and found herself a "wing slave" amongst the staff at work who whipped up a set covered in plastic flowers from a lei and large pink jewels. Outrageous.
Nobody told me you had to wear pink until after I'd registered. Red might be the best I can do.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Reading's intimate moments

The always thoughtful David Malouf addressed the National Library of Australia's literature conference, 'Love and Desire', this weekend. His speech appears (in edited form) in The Age:
Nothing in the whole heady business of writing is more mysterious than the relationship between writer and reader. That is, the spell that is cast on the willing reader by the writer's voice; the way we internalise that voice and make it, for the time of the reading, our own, so that the experience it brings us seems no less personal and real than what we experience in the world.
When we speak of being unable to put a book down, it isn't that we can't wait to find out what happens next. It's that we don't want to give up the close and quite tender intimacy that has been established; we do not want to break the spell.
... This is what we, as writers, deal in daily, a dimension, continuously negotiated, of mind, tone, language, where the writer's consciousness and the reader's imperceptibly merge, in an intimacy where, all conditions being propitious, I and other, mind and the world, are one.

Escape artists

All the best stories in the world are but one story in reality - the story of escape.
It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times, how to escape.

~ Arthur Christopher Benson