Saturday, December 15, 2007

Lately I've been...

Geraldine Brook's The Year of Wonders (she's my new hero)
Sally Vickers' Miss Garnet's Angel (she's not)
Next up is A C Grayling's Enlightenment tome, Toward the Light. I'm becoming more of an unreconstructed Enlightenment product the older I get and the madder the world becomes.

The kitten climb the Christmas tree (he's obsessed)
X-Men 3 (well, I had to find out what happened to Jean Grey)
My bloody virus protection scan screen (for hours - it won't stop and it won't go away)

Listening to
Bushfire protection lectures from the local CFA
Possibly also the odd spin of Justin Timberlake

An awful lot of Christmas lunches at work
Lettuce, rocket and peas from my garden - tomatoes by next week

And also
The first reviews of Billabong Bill arrived (they're posted over here)

Friday, December 14, 2007


I recently read a review of the new film which described Atonement as based on “Ian McEwan’s romantic epic”.
I can’t think of anything less like a romantic epic.
Well, actually I can (Chesil Beach, for one), but that’s beside the point.
That’s not even a PR person resorting to that cliché: it was a film critic. Shoddy.
Makes me wonder about interesting ways to apply some of those other standard film/book cover blurbs…
Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s story of forbidden love
Possum Magic, a sweeping family saga
Silence of the Lambs is a sensitive and insightful portrait
War and Peace, a fearless expose of one man’s driving ambition
Then of course there’s that hard-hitting documentary, laugh out loud, unputdownable, wickedly funny, classic, five-tissue, pageturner – Hansard.

Monday, November 26, 2007


We have a new government. I use the term "new" advisedly. I hope it will be filled with zeal and ready to kick the place back into shape.
I should be relieved but I am strangely furious.
John Howard was shown the door by the electorate in no uncertain fashion, and I spent some hours on election night hanging out waiting to see him concede defeat on the TV.
But I'm not entirely sure that he did.
He agreed that the election had been won by the Opposition, but he didn't concede anything much.
And I woke up the next morning in a fury, because one of his major claims in the concession speech was that his legacy was an Australia that is "prouder".
I have rarely been ashamed of my country until the last few years, and I know many others who feel the same. I've been living overseas and been called to account many times for "my" country's attitude to refugees, its own indigenous peoples, Kyoto, and the war in Iraq. (And the rugby scores, but that's another matter.)
I know exactly what Howard means because his version of national pride is completely transparent and God knows we've been beaten around the collective head with it often enough. Howard's pride has to do with installing flagpoles in every school and keeping out anyone different and narrowing the study of history so that it only tells the "good bits".
But pride is not about flagpoles or packaging history.
Nor is history about pride - it's much more interesting than that, and much more important. History has light and shade, shame, regret, humour, anger and innovation.
Only a simplistic nationalist pride is less complicated than history - and that, as we know, can have disastrous consequences.
Howard makes much of Anzac Day and the Gallipoli spirit - that's a central motif in his version of pride.
Well, I've stood on the beach at Gallipoli, and pride had nothing to do with it. What I felt was horror, humility, sorrow, awe and anger. I felt loss. I felt the savage edge of hypocrisy and stupidity, and I felt that nationalism had an awful lot to answer for.
Australia after eleven years of Howard's "history" is not prouder: it's going to take an awful lot to overcome the shame, and the scorn of much of the rest of the world, and to return to the country a decent ethical framework, a deep sense of justice and, above all, vision.
I hope the new government is up to it.
Good luck.

Tom Kitten

We have a new member of the household.
He's not very big.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I fenced when I was young. A great deal. Every day at school, and training in the evenings and competitions on weekends.
I ended up with an enduring obsession with swords, a few medals, and quadriceps the size of Uluru. I even have a sword tattoo.
So it’s not surprising that my first books were about pirates, and I’m working on another now about a duelist – a real-life female D’Artagnan. I sit on the train, researching for the new novel, re-reading some of my histories of sword-life, and imagining the moves and plays in each duel as I read.
The other day I noticed my sword hand subtly moving into quarte – a parry – and get ready to riposte, as I read.

So that’s it.
I have to start fencing again.
My quadriceps are aching just at the thought of it.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


I don't get to sit at this desk much lately.
In fact, since I moved into this house - the dream house - and started working full-time again, I haven't sat still anywhere at all, except for an awful lot of collapsing exhausted in an armchair in the evenings, something that has resulted in strange new behaviours such as a fixation with So You Think You Can Dance and anything else that might flutter past my eyes.
There's just so much to do. And no clear headspace.
This morning I woke up at five, lay still and good and quiet for an hour, crept out for a cup of tea at six and by seven, when I was impatient to start planting and banging around, it started pouring rain.
So here I am. At the desk.
From here I can see frothy white sea of ti-tree flowers, and misty rain across the river, and the stick that was a rose bush last week until it became collateral damage in the ongoing rabbit insurgency.
I don't think I've actually sat here to write anything creative at all. Ever.
I have, however, started madly scribbling on the train in the mornings, the long-awaited (by me, anyway) novel about La Maupin: an 18th century swordswoman, opera singer and outrageous flirt. A story so ridiculous that it couldn't possibly be true - and yet it is. I started researching her about four years ago, but didn't have her voice in my head to start writing until a couple of weeks ago. Now I can't stop; or, at least, when I allow the time, I can't stop. I sit on the train every morning, with Pergolesi's Stabat Mater in my MP3 (for some reason, if I listen to anything else I stop writing) and scribble.
It's something. It's fun. It might even be readable. One day.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Lately I've been...

A.C. Grayling's philosophical miscellanies
Australian Gardens by Diana Snape
Victoria Glendinning's life of Leonard Woolf
The Monthly
I am, at last, onto Suite Francaise.

Listening to
Missy Higgins' new album
Podcasts of The Book Show

Thinking about
Gardening, mostly, and the huge number of things on my To Do list.
Western philosophy. No, really. But that's another story.

Not much and not very well. Have to sort that out. Maybe I can put it on the To Do list. Or write a gardening book instead. That might be easier.
Though I have done a final sweep of my never-ending World War One novel and sent it to my agent (again).

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Forbidden nonsense

You may recall I love a good scandalous literary hoax, and there are none better than that of Norma Khouri, the Jordanian exile who wrote such a devastating story of her best friend’s death at the hands of her family, in Forbidden Love – and exposed the truth about honour killings to millions of readers around the world.

Or not, as the case may be.

Khouri may well be one of the more spectacular literary con artists of all time: not merely confused, or making a literary point, or psychopathic, or in a bit deep. This is someone who seems to have perpetrated yet another in a series of deceptions – the unkind, such as the FBI and the Chicago police force, may call it fraud – and writing a book about something that never happened is perhaps less of a crime than ripping off old women with dementia who now have no life savings or anywhere to live.

Last week, I saw Anna Broinowski’s documentary, Forbidden Lie$. It is, like its subject, aggravating, flowery, declamatory and many-layered; and that’s not a criticism of the film-maker. Khouri is eel-like in both her slipperiness and opaque expression, though pathetically transparent in certain moments. Lies upon lies upon lies.

Like Helen Demidenko/Darville (who at least never claimed to be writing “faction” in The Hand that Signed the Paper), she not only deceives readers, publishers, media (and in Demidenko’s case, award judges) but also betrays and undermines the efforts of people coming to terms with extremely difficult issues in their own lives and in their communities; be it Holocaust survivors, or women struggling to find identities in the modern Arab world, or those affected by so-called honour killings in any society.

I can’t believe Broinowski refrained from slapping Khouri hard during one of their ridiculous traipses around Amman. The woman sitting behind me in the cinema was so engrossed she heckled, and I can’t say I blame her.

Although the film does go on a bit long, that’s understandable, because it takes the film-maker, and the authorities, and the con artist’s victims, and consequently the audience a while to really get our heads around the depths of deception and layers of lies.

Exhausting, exasperating, and necessary.
You can watch a trailer here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

In the bag

Got my new book in the mail, quite unexpectedly. Didn’t think it’d be back from the printer for weeks.
It’s gorgeous, even if I do say so myself. Though I can say so, because the gorgeousness is nothing to do with me, and all to do with illustration, printing, and Random House’s willingness to invest in a splash of gold tinsel across the front cover.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Don't call us

These are the sorts of stories floated to make fools of book publishers, but in fact secretly delight every hack (of which I am one) who has ever had a rejection slip:
In the summer of 1950, Alfred A. Knopf Inc. turned down the English-language rights to a Dutch manuscript after receiving a particularly harsh reader’s report. The work was “very dull,” the reader insisted, “a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.” Sales would be small because the main characters were neither familiar to Americans nor especially appealing. “Even if the work had come to light five years ago, when the subject was timely,” the reader wrote, “I don’t see that there would have been a chance for it.”
Knopf wasn’t alone. “The Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank, would be rejected by 15 others before Doubleday published it in 1952. More than 30 million copies are currently in print, making it one of the best-selling books in history.

The New York Times reports that researchers with access to the archives of the venerable house of Knopf have discovered a delightful history of tragic reader reports and no doubt deeply regretted decisions:
The rejection files, which run from the 1940s through the 1970s, include dismissive verdicts on the likes of Jorge Luis Borges (“utterly untranslatable”), Isaac Bashevis Singer (“It’s Poland and the rich Jews again”), Anaïs Nin (“There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic”), Sylvia Plath (“There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice”) and Jack Kerouac (“His frenetic and scrambling prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don’t think so”). In a two-year stretch beginning in 1955, Knopf turned down manuscripts by Jean-Paul Sartre, Mordecai Richler, and the historians A. J. P. Taylor and Barbara Tuchman, not to mention Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” (too racy) and James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” (“hopelessly bad”).

At my feet

There's a dog at my feet.
Not my dog. I'm babysitting a Spoodle.
It's a long time since I had a dog adhered to me like a shadow. When poor old Lil died it took me months to remember that I didn't have to hold the door open after me - I'd been waiting for her to follow me everywhere every day for 16 years.
Now Shiloh and I are blogging. She's a very big help. This morning she helped me get dressed, and as you can probably imagine was an enormous help to my girlfriend while she was working out this afternoon.
She has even brought us a small indefinable fluffy thing that may be part of another living creature. It's too disgusting to tell. Can't be a rabbit. I watched her this morning and she pays no attention to rabbits at all.
Perhaps it's a bit of whatever beast pulled out all my irises and freesias and threw them around the garden for fun.
It's a jungle out there.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Viral marketing

Have just emerged from a flu-induced fog. Nasty one. My head still hurts. I hope to be able to resume normal transmission soon.
In the meantime, here's Jobi Murphy's gorgeous cover of my next book, Billabong Bill's Bushfire Christmas.

It's due out in November just in time for you to stock up for Christmas.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Great Depression

It spoils you for reading, does writing. If you read anything and think “Oh, this is far better than I can do”, you get really depressed, and if it’s not as good, you think “I don’t know why this thing got published.” Either way you lose.
~ Alan Bennett, at the Edinburgh Book Festival (listen to it here)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dream boat

The Guardian reports that "more Britons dream about becoming an author than any other job, according to a new survey.

A YouGov poll has found that almost 10% of Britons aspire to being an author, followed by sports personality, pilot, astronaut and event organiser on the list of most coveted jobs."

Needless to say, the paper blames JK Rowling for the phenomenon, no doubt along with the eclipse, the death of Elvis, and the fall of the Roman Empire.
And who am I to argue with the aspiring writers of Britain?

I'd just like to know how "event organiser" got up there along with astronaut.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

So choose carefully

To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea of what he says, but to go off with him and travel in his company.
~ André Gide

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What he said

There’s been a bit of a blog flurry around David Levithan’s speech at the Reading Matters conference earlier this year.
I missed the speech, but arrived at the conference a few minutes later to find people in disarray having been blown away by the content. I’ve heard quite a few people refer to it since, so it was clearly well-timed for some of the people who were there. So I admit there’s been a bit of build up about his words of wisdom, prior to me listening to the podcast.
And don’t get me wrong: it’s good. Reminders about prejudice and the need to fight back against fear are never wasted. People come and go in any industry – new people need educating, veterans need reminding, people who didn’t want to hear from you last decade are now all ears.
He’s dead right that there could be more young adult literature that speaks of and to the experience of young gay men and lesbians – just as there should be more YA literature that reflects the reality of the lives of many other young people – most notably in this country young Aboriginal people, and young people from a range of cultural backgrounds.
But Levithan has made the classic conference speaker’s mistake of jumping to generalizations, in this case a broad and vaguely offensive conclusion that Australia is “25 years behind” the US in terms of public discourse around issues of sexuality.
I could quite easily stroll into any conference of librarians in the US (or the UK, or almost anywhere else for that matter) and make the opposite pronouncement. A public conference aimed at teachers, librarians and publishers is not the same as real life Manhattan – or inner-city Melbourne or Sydney or London.
I could quite easily stroll down the main street of a rural town in the US (or Australia) and get my head kicked in because of the way I look. Maybe that’s not so much of a threat as it might have once been, but it’s still there.
I could have my own books banned by school boards in some US districts because characters commit blasphemy or swear.
Perhaps the oddest comment was his statement that he wouldn’t ask people in the audience to raise their hands if they were gay, for fear of recrimination. I don’t know who put the fear of God into him, but I laughed out loud at that comment.
Gay men in a library? Lesbian school teachers? Perish the thought. (I'm not saying there's no discrimination - I laughed at the idea that those assembled before him were somehow more vindictive or oppressed than any other group he'd ever addressed.)
It’s a crock to suggest that Australian writers, publishers – and librarians – haven’t thought about these issues, or that good strong and sometimes even wildly popular books on the issue have never existed.
They have. Of course, not as many as there could be. And maybe not so many right now. But there are myriad reasons for that and it’s not because this country is more backward that the US or that the country’s librarians, teachers, publishers and writers have discouraged it.
I can think of a few reasons immediately. First, a whole lot of the people who might have been writing those books didn’t survive the 1990s.
Second, many of us are writing about other stuff because we are all people of many interests and we’ve said – over and over and over – as much as we can say on the topic. Indeed, many of us have raised exactly the same general issues as Levithan, over many years and to many different audiences and readers. Some of us are tired of talking about it, or would at least like to talk/write/think/listen about other issues for a while. Some - like Christos Tsiolkas - wrote a brilliant and earth-shattering book focused entirely on young people, and have now moved on to broader concerns. That's OK.
The issue of homophobia hasn’t gone away. There will be good, perhaps great books and films and albums and plays and articles and even speeches made about it – here and in the UK and the US – maybe next week or next year or next decade. It’s been like that for all of my adult life and I don’t see it changing.
It’s wonderful to challenge people, to confront them and rouse them into action or to encourage them to take on those vampires in their heads. I loved those inspiring words of defiance, and I can tell that they had an effect. I’m with him all the way on that.
It’s also critical that we question any prevailing prejudices that might affect the books to which young people have access.
But it’s never a good look to patronise an entire community on the basis of a few comments over morning tea.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What she said

Sophie Masson on writing for children:
I've written both for adults and for children, but far more for children than for adults. And that's first and foremost because I enjoy it more. Not because it's easier - it's certainly not - but because it's freer in terms of imagination and invention, more fun, more versatile, more elastic. It's the way my imagination works. Like most children's writers, I remember very well what it's like to be a child, and also what children enjoy reading--and that can range very widely. I can write many more different sorts of books, tackle all kinds of genres, periods, stories...

Read the full post (from way back in June, but I've been a bit preoccupied), and some thoughtful comments, on the Good Reading blog.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Why writing matters

Earlier this week I sat in the audience while publisher Louise Adler, from Melbourne University Press, delivered this year’s Redmond Barry Lecture on Why Writing Matters.
It wasn’t, frankly, what I was expecting, but I suppose I shouldn’t have expected Ms Adler to mince words.
... why does writing matter in the age of the image? When we are inundated by images of despair, disenfranchisement and deracination, why do words carry so much significance?
...Writing about terror can help us understand what we fear, but it can also engender a sense of the world as a frightening place. Perhaps writing about terror brings us too close to it? Should we resist, on principle, understanding how terror works? Or is it in fact the duty of literature to continue to explore such the question of man's inhumanity. George Steiner asked a version of this question in relationship to Nazism. “I am not sure whether anyone, however scrupulous, who spends time and imaginative resources on these dark places can, or indeed, ought to leave them personally intact. Yet the dark places are at the centre. Pass them by and there can be no serious discussion of the human potential”.
I have been thinking about the problem of writing about terror and the Holocaust for some time. Most novelistic attempts leave me with a sense of discomfort; the literary re-imaginings of that period can seem vaguely prurient and even self-indulgent. Today we are confronted with new horrors, new terrors to consider. The question is how can literary writing appropriately respond to the moment.
...Once we belong to a community of readers, we can begin to think aloud, to think together about hopelessness and that becomes, in itself, surely a cause for hope. And equally importantly precisely why writing matters.
Her lecture has been published in full by The Age, and will be available soon as audio soon, along with previous years’ (pardon the plug), here.
I’ll come back to the topic of writing about the Holocaust shortly.

[Days later ... you can listen to the lecture here.]

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Handle with care

A book is a fragile creature. It suffers the wear of time, it fears rodents, the elements, clumsy hands.
~ Umberto Eco

Thursday, July 19, 2007

First review - final episode

Some lucky bugger at the New York Times just walked out and bought a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at a bookshop - two days before the embargo is lifted.
And must have inhaled it in order to write a review so fast:
With this volume, the reader realizes that small incidents and asides in earlier installments (hidden among a huge number of red herrings) create a breadcrumb trail of clues to the plot, that Ms. Rowling has fitted together the jigsaw-puzzle pieces of this long undertaking with Dickensian ingenuity and ardor.

Mirror Mirror

How remiss of me. I should have mentioned this earlier: the State Library of Victoria's new website tracing the history of books through examples from its own collection: The Mirror of the World.
I'm rather keen on the Puss in Boots interactive (page turning, zooming and audio) and the incredible resolution on the Matthew Flinders map that lets you zoom up uncannily close.
It includes some of the finest and most remarkable books of all time - from cuneiform to Caxton, from manuscripts to William Morris to Nelson Mandela, via Shakespeare, Piranesi, Einstein, and the crazy old Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.
Book porn.

(Disclosure - I work there. So consider this as shameless promotion. But it's still a damn fine thing.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Huzzah for Hazza

In children’s literature circles it’s not all that cool to admit a genuine fascination for young Harry Potter.
One is supposed to point out that there are many hundreds – thousands – millions – of fantastic books for young readers that are equal to or better than Harry.
I suppose, one might grudgingly admit, that they have encouraged one or two boys to read.
One is supposed to sniff slightly at JK Rowling’s bringing together of several different genres and time-honoured themes into one package. Some fellow authors can get downright snitty about the whole thing, like Sonya Hartnett speaking to Rosemary Neill in The Weekend Australian:
“The celebration of the mediocre we have in this country is dispiriting,” she says. She objects to “this sort of rabid support of Harry Potter to the exclusion of so many other good books for children. It was fine for a couple of years until it crossed the line and became really sickening and stupid.”
A couple of months ago I was reading in a children’s bookshop and asked the audience who was looking forward to the release of Book Seven – and what they thought would happen. “This is not a Harry Potter bookshop,” the proprietor gently chided.
Told off good and proper.
But really – does Harry exclude other good books? There still seem to be bookshops filled with titles of all sorts including fantasy series of significant impact like Deltora; movies of The Bridge to Terabithia and His Dark Materials are block-busters; publishers are churning out more and more books every year and kids are lapping them up.
Don’t start me on the mediocrity of Eragon – book and movie – but Harry? It’s hardly flawless but the series is funny, and scary and complex and compelling, and it combines the best of so many possible and impossible worlds it’s a delight.
And millions of children around the world are truly and madly delighted. They are having so much fun – reading, debating, dressing up, fantasising, theorising, imagining, enjoying.
Would you really rather they weren’t?

Anyway I don’t care about the debate.
I am beside myself with suspense wondering what’s going to happen to Harry and Hermione. (My favourite plot spoiler is from Maureen Johnson.)
I’m booked to see The Order of the Phoenix at the weekend with two kids who seem slightly less enthusiastic than me.
I am desperate to know whether Snape is truly evil or part of a master plan, and whether my own personal theory about the mysterious initials RB will prove to be true.
If only I could remember what it was.

See you on the 21st, Hal.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Do not adjust your set

There will now be a short intermission while I spend a week lying on a beach in Port Douglas.
Talk amongst yourselves for a while.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else.
~ Gloria Steinem

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Picture this

I'm sitting here with the dining table covered in luscious colour illustrations for my new picture book.
I didn't do the illustrations, I hasten to add - they are by Jobi Murphy, perhaps most famous for bringing Deborah Abela's Max Remy to life.
Max the superspy and my character, a crusty old stockman called Billabong Bill, couldn't be more different, but the drawings are sensational.
You'll have to wait until November to see for yourselves.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Distant shores

Just got home from a trip back to Auckland for some schools and bookshop visits and the Storylines family day. Storylines is a riot of thousands of small excited people, some dressed as pirates and mermaids (there was even one rather sleepy unicorn), mixing it with their favourite authors and illustrators and story characters in one extremely frantic day.
While my more intelligent colleagues relaxed in the authors' room between gigs, I was on pirate queen duty with a whole team of volunteers helping said unicorns and pirates and over-excited passers-by make pirate ships, parrots, eye patches, flags and even ships' rats from cardboard and string and textas and imagination.
I had fun. Don't know about the kids.
You don't get a chance to make your own rat at the Sydney Writers' Festival.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.
~ Virginia Woolf

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The right to write

Last week I listened to Irish author John Boyne speak - a couple of times - at the Reading Matters conference in Melbourne. I liked that he was so thoughtful and acknowledged criticism of his most recent book, the best-selling The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
He has researched, wondered and worried a great deal about appropriate ways in which to present the horrific experiences of survivors of the Holocaust and other atrocities, and also how to convey those to young readers.
He said several times that he felt that he had no right to give voice to that experience: he has no survivors in his family and is not Jewish.
"I am glad I made the decision not to pretend ..." he said.
"Pretend." Not "imagine", but "pretend", as if it would somehow be a more artificial process than his normal creative practice.
It reflects Kate Grenville's statements about the decisions she made about portraying Aboriginal characters in The Secret River:
I'd always known I wasn't going to try to enter the consciousness of the Aboriginal characters. I didn't know or understand enough - and I felt I never would... Their inside story - their responses, their thoughts, their feelings - that was all for someone else to tell, someone who had the right to enter that world and the knowledge to do it properly. (Searching for the Secret River)

But as Inga Clendinnan has pointed out, Grenville does believe she has the right to enter the consciousness of a whole range of other characters whose world - two hundred years ago on the other side of the planet - is arguably as alien to her modern urban life as any other.
I also remember a session at the Melbourne Writers' Festival about a million years ago, in which somebody - a woman - argued that male writers ought not attempt female characters because they are incapable of correctly perceiving and portraying the female experience. Another panellist - it might have been Garth Nix - extravagantly suggested the use of imagination.
One might also have added the crazy concept of extensive research.
John Boyne, of course, is selling himself short. He has imagined and created a vision of the concentration camps, albeit from a naive bystander's point of view.
But Kate Grenville's decision not to portray Aboriginal characters has an unfortunate effect quite opposite, I feel sure, to her intent. It leaves a gap in the consciousness of the reader - a hole where the indigenous experience should lie. Indeed, it means that there are no real defined Aboriginal characters in The Secret River at all. So does that force the Aboriginal people - the dispossessed of the Hawkesbury River - to once again become inexplicable fringe dwellers on the edge of the action, until, of course, they become the sudden centre of attention as they are massacred?
After all, how does a writer get into anyone's skin? How does Grenville imagine her character Thornhill, his hard hands on the oars as he sculls against the Thames tide? How does John Boyne imagine the boy Bruno sitting by the wire?
What gives them the right to imagine those experiences and not others? Does someone somewhere grant these rights? Or do we each have our own internal boundaries that we feel we can't cross? And how do we know?
I'd much rather have writers like Boyne worry about transgressing those boundaries than blindly push on regardless of cultural or other sensitivities. It'd be only too easy to assume that you could dream up anything and get it terribly horribly wrong. Especially, as Boyne suggests, with the benefit of many layers of privilege.
But surely writers have the right to imagine.
There are no rules.
Sometimes you might decide you can't possibly imagine this or that - a horrific experience, an inner life, a cultural background, a sound, a voice, an entire character.
You might do it badly or wrongly.
But that's a failure of imagination - it's a totally different thing to not being allowed.
Nobody has to seek permission to imagine.
Do they?
When? Why? And from whom?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Laid bare

Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain.

~ Elie Wiesel

Saturday, May 12, 2007

New books

Never mind Pirates of the Caribbean 3.
Swashbuckler 3 is out.
No sign of Keira but she could always play Mama. Though I'd prefer ... I dunno ... maybe Frances O'Connor.
Anyway, it looks like this:

In the meantime, I'm working on a picture book (details soon) to be ready in time for Christmas.
800 words. How hard can it be?
Those are 800 hard-won words, I tell you.
Actually I think I might have crept up to 850 this week with the utterly necessary insertion of an Enid Blyton-style feast.
"Pink lemonade." Two of the most evocative words in the world.
The feast was largely written in the august Redmond Barry Reading Room over a couple of lunch breaks. Everyone else in there is solving quantum physics questions, or drafting their next Miles Franklin finalist. I'm sitting staring at the walls and agonising over whether to include chocolate crackles or pink lamingtons.
But it's a fascinating business watching your words transform into pictures and seeing characters you've dreamed up take shape - and giving up those images to allow that shape to form in someone else's mind and emerge through their drawing.
Great fun.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Dust it off

Take from the altars of the past the fire - not the ashes.
~ Jean Jaures

The cane and a dose of cod liver oil

I've had my head in "learning" on and off over the past few weeks: not my learning, since I've postponed study for at least this year, but thinking about the ways in which other people learn, and how, and why.
But it gets caught up for me in how people teach and more specifically, right now in Australia (a debate reflected in the UK, or vice versa), what people teach; what people value.
We've had this debate led, at least in the media, by the Prime Minister, about how the world's gone to wrack and ruin and nobody knows the date of Magna Carta anymore.
Or understands values - as if the mythical communal values of his youth (and age) are somehow immutable.
By all means, talk about history. Fight about it. I love it. History debates in the early news section of the Herald Sun. Wish Manning Clark was here to see it, although the debate might be rather different if he were.
Let's just pause for a moment to think about the world of Robert Menzies that John Howard is so keen to regenerate.
The Communist Party of Australia was at its most powerful and threatening, but the idea of banning it split the nation, just as conscription had divided the previous generation. Patrick White was our leading novelist; our greatest living artists included Nolan and Tucker. None of 'em particularly famous for living behind white picket fences.
Were there really any shared national values then?
What about respect? Mateship? The idea of the fair go?
Oh it was great in the fifties. Unless you were Aboriginal, female, on strike, poor, idealistic, down an asbestos mine, or some poor bastard trying to recover from one of several wars. The shared national values amounted to support for the White Australia Policy and the ability to recite Henry Lawson and down several beers at once before early closing.
You knew where you stood back then, by God: in the Ladies Lounge or at the bar, or if you were queer probably bashed and bleeding in the gutter.
History is selective, of course. John Howard's history is more selective than most. And yet it is this ill-defined fairy tale on which an idea of our national values is based, somehow tangled up in the barbed wire of Gallipoli.
But I've loved the feedback from young people channelled by researcher Anna Clark (who has written extensively on The History Wars) reported in several journals and newspapers, on learning history and particularly Gallipoli.
In The Age she writes that "kids prefer to debate it in class rather than learn it as an affirming national myth... Some politicians, public commentators and veterans' groups would no doubt like children's attitudes to the Anzac story to be more cohesive. Meanwhile students themselves show that there's no such thing as a single connection to this history."
There never was.
My family's connections to World War One include a Western Front Casualty Clearing Station stretcher bearer on one side and a whole family of anti-conscription activists on another. I have no idea how that was reconciled, or if it ever needed to be.
Was there ever really one national response to that war - or any other?
In preferring debate over myth, the students in today's schools, over whom our PM despairs, are actually displaying rigour and engagement. I'll vote for those as national values any day.
Now if I could just remember the date of Magna Carta... wasn't it Basil Rathbone who signed it?

Thursday, May 03, 2007


History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days.
~ Winston Churchill

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Selling Anzac

I've written before about Anzac Day, and about visiting Gallipoli.
This Anzac Day, with biscuits already in the oven, I'm thinking about its place in the national consciousness and the Anzac-related thread running through the history wars.
(I should say this is a public debate in Australia, as the situation's quite different in NZ, where the PM doesn't feel a need to see herself as an upholder of "traditional" national values - or even a definer of such things.)
Some commentators, such as Mark McKenna, have difficulty digesting the recent resurgence of interest in Gallipoli as history and Anzac Day as commemoration. He's been critical of what he would see as the cynical publishing phenomenon: a clutch of new or recycled titles on Australian experiences in war flood onto the market every April (and November). He looks at the dawn service at Anzac each April as either a politician's ploy or "crass commercialism", or both, and has registered his disgust at John Howard's manipulation of the emotional connection we have to the idea of Anzac, and sees parallels between the Dardanelles disaster and the Iraq invasion:
To me, this cheap choreography, much of it encouraged by the state, is not "sober mourning" but an example of the new Australian patriotism - largely unreflective and blind to its exploitation. (Quarterly Essay, 24.)

On the other hand, historian Inga Clendinnan, whose response to Anzac Day is unashamedly personal (and who would generally agree with McKenna about mixing history and politics) is not overly disturbed by the kerfuffle.
But she writes, in response to McKenna:
I think many Australians are indeed watchful for "another Gallipoli waiting around the corner", precisely because they know Gallipoli to have been a blunder: "a shameless waste of British, Australian, New Zealand, French and Turkish lives". The painful heroism of individual Anzacs does not sanctify the cause, as individual Anzac survivors have made clear time and time again, while the project itself is now generally agreed to be an ill-conceived, stupid waste.

Two thoughts on this:
That distinction made by Clendinnan is very important, now and then. When we hear Bush or Howard disparaging criticism of Iraq as being unpatriotic and - worse - unsupportive of the soldiers in the field, this is the timeless answer. We saw the Opposition get into all sorts of strife trying to find a way to both support the individuals in the forces AND reject the idea of the war in Iraq. It is possible to do both.
Mind you, I can't see that anyone besides Winston Churchill and that ninny Hamilton has thought the landings were anything less than a disaster since ... oh, I don't know... say dawn on April 26, 1915. Anyone who argues otherwise would be skating on no historical ice at all.
I am, as so often, with Clendinnan, on having both a personal and more dispassionate response to Anzac Day.
I hate to see crass commercialism take over such events, but in some ways I don't mind the commercialism so much as the crassness. If you take away the John Farnham concert and John Laws commentary from those poor long-suffering people at dawn on a pebbly beach, you simply have a pilgrimage no more commercial than any other. And indeed if there weren't a whole lot of tour operators organising them, they'd never get there.
I'd rather visit the place on any other day of the year - and indeed I have. There I met a whole lot of young British and Irish backpackers who were "doing Gallipoli" without any idea what had happened or even why they were there. It was just another tick on the list after the Oktoberfest and the running of the bulls. Each one was profoundly shocked by what they learned, possibly even more affected - or in a different sense - than we descendants who vaguely knew what to expect; and one of the most poignant moments for me at Anzac Cove was when one pale young man from Dublin had to walk away, sobbing, and sit staring at the sea for while to recover. He had no idea.
If it wasn't for crass commercialism, he would never have known. And it will change his view of the world, and war, forever.
That morning, I glanced down at one of the headstones in Ari Burnu cemetery and saw this:
Trooper Ernest Butcher
2nd Light Horse
4 August 1915

I'd never heard of him, but I knew he was one of my mob.
When I got back I ran a quick search on the War Memorial database and found him: Port Melbourne. He could have been from anywhere. But no. Fisherman's Bend. He was one of my mob. We figured out the connection (a cousin, in that generation). Mortally wounded 4/8/1915. Obviously enlisted on the first day - the first hour - as his number is 56.
Then a couple of weeks ago I finally got round to reading my copy of John Hamilton's Goodbye Cobber, and Good Luck, about the charge at The Nek. And there he is, straining against the leash of army life during training at Broadmeadows:
22-year-old Ernest had driven a milkman's cart around the streets of Port Melbourne, past the pier where the regiment would soon embark. Butcher was charged with being absent without leave from 2.15 to 6.30am and fined 15 shillings.
15 shillings! A fortune.
But the day before the infamous charge at The Nek (on which Peter Weir's film is based):
Trooper Ernest Butcher, the errant milkman from Port Melbourne, was cooking his tea in the trenches when he'd been struck by a piece of flying shell fragment; Ernest died at the dressing station, and they carried his body back down the ridge to Ari Burnu where Lex [Borthwick] dug the grave and helped bury him.
The next day, Lex Borthwick was in the second line in the charge - and was one of the few who survived.
I quite like it that the errant milkman's final thoughts focused on tucker rather then the prospect of running into a machine gun fire, but surely "mortally wounded" is one of the most horrifying phrases in history, drenched with screams and agony and dirty field dressings.

And on that note of sober mourning, I'm off to the dawn service, which in Warrandyte is at the civilised hour of 10.30.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

First person/third man/fifth column

After my comment earlier in the week about writing in the first person, I loved this from Graham Swift in Saturday's Age:
We all exist in the first person. So if you write in the first person you're automatically so much closer to life as it's really lived. With a first-person narrator you know why the story is being told. It gives you immediate access to motivation. The story in third person has to come out of the blue from some mysterious point the author has decided on. I always have a slight sense of the author taking a superior stance.

Not sure if this makes me feel better or worse. On one hand, since first person is largely what I've instinctively wanted to write so far, I feel vindicated. It's not that I can't do anything else, but sometimes it just feels right.
On the other hand, I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I thought if you were going to be a proper grown-up writer you had to do third person. In fact, I've been told that quite clearly.
So I'll ignore that bollocks from now on and trust my instincts. It depends on the demands of the story and character, and I've always known that deep down.
But on the third hand, should there be such a thing, does that mean I need to rewrite the entire story?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Honey, I'm home

I've been scribbling again, at last. Feels good.
After several weeks - or perhaps months - of unsettling chaos, packing and unpacking houses, moving across oceans, enforced temporary spinsterhood, starting a new job, and most importantly being without files, laptop, manuscripts and even web bookmarks, I'm back in business.
First, in editing mode on a picture book text that will be coming out in time for Christmas. That may seem a long time away, but apparently it isn't in picturebookland, and there's been lots to do, mostly late at night.
Then I'm back to writer-as-commuter, sitting on the train and trying to imagine myself into 16th century Venice for a historical adventure for older readers (well, 13 - 16).
And I have to do a rewrite on a manuscript set in the Blitz, because it's just not working for me yet. Third person. Maybe a mistake. Voice isn't quite right. But you can't write in first person all the time. Surely.
But soon all my books will be unpacked, and then I'll want to read everything all over again, and then there'll be no time for scribbling.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Web 2.0

As you may or may not know (or care) I work during the day at the wondrous State Library of Victoria, in the web team, bringing the world of the cool new web to the world of the rare book/research/even cooler stuff. Or vice versa.
And of course there's a great push in library land, globally speaking, towards new technologies and greater user engagement and levels of content generated by ... well... the sort of people who write blogs.
And in those dark dull moments when I am beset by doubt, I simply look at this, my new favourite blog of all time, and know that it truly is Web 2.0 in action:
It is (wait for it) the Vegan Lunchbox Blog. And it is a whole blog about lunchboxes. Vegan lunchboxes. Really.


I sat on the train the other morning reading Orhan Pamuk's love letter to his home, Istanbul: Memories of a City. I could almost hear the foghorns on the Bosphorus (through Istanbul: The Sex and the City dance mix playing loudly on my Walkie) and taste the morning's yoghurt, dried apricots and honey.
It's voluptuous, enveloping writing, perfectly capturing the feel of that most glorious of cities; one Proustian sentence on melancholy (huzun) runs for three pages.
It's as much about history (Ottoman glory, rather than Byzantine, and its after-taste) as about young Orhan and his family, and is as much about the familial love and shared melancholy that binds together the city's residents, as it is about the lives and loves (and lack thereof) of the author's own relatives.
And it's beautiful.
When I watch the black-and-white crowds rushing through the darkening streets, almost as if the night has cloaked our lives, our streets, our every belonging in a blanket of darkness, as if once we're safe in our houses, our bedrooms, our beds, we can return to dreams of our long-gone riches, our legendary past.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

It's a jungle out there

This is how things stand at my new house. There are three buildings: all mudbrick, all gorgeous. There's a river at the bottom of the garden, and possibly also fairies. Or at least foxes.
The main house is slowly losing its chaotic camping-out look. The other two buildings (what will be my study in one long gallery building, and my girlfriend's study in her own little two-story cottage) are no-go zones. Instead of having a spare room, we have spare buildings: spare in that moving house sense, that non-militarised zone where you put all the boxes you haven't yet unpacked, and exchange hostages. And since I can't unpack books, because we have to paint the walls, that's an awful lot of intact boxes.
I'm trying not to think about the garden - it's too daunting. But I wandered around this morning and made lots of new discoveries, even an old telephone pole all alone among the paperbarks, and you can hear the river splatting across the rapids from everywhere. Still, we have been generously endowed with several of the more notorious noxious and environmental weeds which will take some beating. I'm not feeling quite as organic as usual.
My girlfriend's still on the other side of the sea, but my housemates so far include Maurice Sendak the mouse (and extended family), two small bats, several brazen rabbits, and Kevin the ringtail possum; I just surprised him performing a high-wire feat across the phone line and he froze with one of those hilarious "I'll just stay very still and she won't even know I'm here" expressions. I suppose I should continue the theme and call him/her Mem Fox. But he looks like a Kevin.
My pest control measures so far have been limited to shouting: "Maurice, get the hell out of there!" or "Warren (a rabbit, of course), what do you think you're doing?" They never reply. They just stare at me and sigh.
It's been impossible to write here so far, although I did have a brief burst on a picture book text: but anything else has simply got to take a number in a queue behind faffing around getting the modem to work; folding clothes and, more importantly, finding my dressing gown; doing battle with Maurice in the kitchen; getting home late from work to spend evenings sorting through boxes, piles of paper and bags of guff; and trying not to tear open all the boxes that have been in storage for three years and just play with my stuff and read all my books.
But life is slowly returning to normal, or at least vaguely settled, and hopefully soon so will my brain.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Touch down

I'm sitting at the top of my staircase, with the laptop on a very short leash into a very slow dial-up. But that's a vast improvement. A few days ago I had no gas, no phone, and no idea.
The joys of moving house/countries.
But I'm ensconced in my dream house by the river (I can hear it) and one day I'll find the broadband modem (and the can opener) and life will slowly return to normal.
I'll write more books, unpack my clothes, sort out all these boxes (who owns all these books?) and start on the garden.
One day.
Actually I decided the other day I might need to write a Gallipoli book. Got the plot straight away. But is it overdone?
Oh and the advance copies of The Silver Swan arrived in the post. I love that bit.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Scholastic announced this morning that it has ordered a 12-million copy first printing for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which is scheduled to go on sale July 21 (but who's counting?). That tops the 10.8-million first printing Scholastic did for the last Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

And on a slightly more modest scale (remove a few noughts from the print run figure), The Silver Swan hits the shops next month. Advances have arrived, apparently, although they haven't caught up with me yet as I'm in the middle of moving house.

But that's another story.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Read it and weep

We don't read for duty. We read for pleasure.
The emotions come first, and at their highest point they enter thrill territory. To discover a book you love is not that different from discovering a person you love, and you can experience every emotion reading it, including what Les Murray calls the gift of weeping.

Jane Sullivan looks at what it takes to be a well-rounded reader, in The Age.

There's also one of many fine obituaries for Elizabeth Jolley, who died last week.
I interviewed her once for a magazine feature, and I have to confess I was more nervous about asking her questions than any other person I've ever interviewed. I thought she'd eat me alive, and did hours and hours of preparation.
But in fact she was disarmingly charming, as well as being every bit as rigorous, sharply opinionated, brilliantly read, forensically funny, and scarily intelligent as I expected. Just like her books. I completely forgot to ask all my carefully crafted questions, take notes, or do anything at all sensible. Instead I was carried away on a conversation about the nature of writing and fiction that one could never properly capture in a 1500 word feature. (Thankfully I remembered to turn on the tape recorder.)
For my money, she's our finest and most insightful novelist since Patrick White.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


How lovely. The New Zealand Children’s Literature Foundation, Storylines, has announced its Notable Books of 2006 list:

Junior fiction
Fiction suitable for primary and intermediate-age children.
And Did Those Feet… by Ted Dawe. Longacre Press.
Boyznbikes by Vince Ford. Scholastic New Zealand.
Ocean Without End: Book One of the Swashbuckler Trilogy by Kelly Gardiner. HarperCollins.
Frog Whistle Mine by Des Hunt. HarperCollins.
Thor's Tale: Endurance and Adventure in the Southern Ocean by Janice Marriott. HarperCollins.
The Unquiet by Carolyn McCurdie. Longacre Press.
Mind Over Matter by Heather McQuillan. Scholastic New Zealand.
Old Bones by Bill Nagelkerke. Scholastic New Zealand.
Castaway: the Diary of Samuel Abraham Clark, Disappointment Island, 1907 by Bill O'Brien [My Story series]. Scholastic New Zealand.
The Whizbanger that Emmental Built by Reuben Schwarz. Puffin.

That makes up for missing out on the NZ Post Awards shortlist last week, although it’s such a strong field in junior fiction one can’t be too bitter:

Frog Whistle Mine
My Story: Castaway
Thor's Tale

I confess I do wonder what the girls are supposed to vote for in the Children’s Choice round. Finer minds than mine have pondered the dominance of books for boys in awards lists. But there's no need to argue on the basis of quality. They are all terrific books.

The School Library Board in the US has also published its list of notable international books, with special mentions for Steven Herrick, Markus Zusak and Margot Lanagan, and Margaret Mahy's wonderful, riotous poem, Down the Back of the Chair.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dateline: Melbourne

I may not make much sense: new job, living out of a suitcase, girlfriend on the other side of the stupid ocean (without bloody end), not enough sleep - no clear head space for writing, or anything else for that matter.
A stack of research files finally arrived (I posted them to myself before moving countries) so I can resume work on the new book. Maybe. In the meantime the notes are stacked at the end of the bed along with scraps of paper, gardening catalogues, manuscripts, paint colour cards, old bills and various piles of books. None of which I'm reading.
Too stupid to read (although I did manage a Zadie Smith at last and not quite sure why). I'm very good at looking at pictures in gardening books. That's the extent of my reading just now.
Madness, really, since I now work in one of the most glorious buildings in Australia and it's filled with books.
I have, however, downloaded a whole stack of audio from ABC Radio's Book Show so I can listen to good old Ramona Koval talking about books, until the day I'm once again awake enough to read one - let alone write one.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Back in port

Right then, where was I?
On an island.
But now I’ve left it, sailed away (if you can call a car ferry sailing). Funny how the feeling of sailing away from a place you love is much more visceral that a quick zoom up the freeway or the fast take-off in a plane.
It takes time to leave an island. You feel yourself drawing away from it, coming unstuck, slowly separated.
I’ve lived there for two years, part of me always pining for a different place: for the way the afternoon sun slants through gum trees; for long brown grass and eucalyptus in the warm air – for country – for my own “wide brown land”. Everything in New Zealand seemed a contrast, all green and wet and pointy – and alien.
But now, to my surprise, I find there’s another landscape inscribed in me: of low grassy islands; of hilltops engraved with the lines of old forts; pale crumbly cliffs; the shape of spinnakers in the gulf; the bulge of mountains that never quite let you forget they are volcanoes.
It’s not my country, but it’s in me now and will never leave.
I saw a woman on the island, the day before I left, wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “Born here”. I smiled in secret empathy. I’d never known how strong that bond was until I left the place where I was born.
It’s got nothing to do with politicians’ tawdry nationalism. Instead, it’s a thing that can make you crazy, make you leave a perfectly lovely place, endure long-distance love, just to be there. At home. Where you feel right. Even without the t-shirt.
And yet going back is also heart-rending.
But here I am.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Here's the thing: I'm moving back to Melbourne.
Hence the sporadic blogging of late.
It hasn't been an easy decision. New Zealand has been very good to me, and I love living on an island in this lovely mudbrick house. But I get homesick, as is probably clear from this blog.
So I'm in total disruption right now, with two burly blokes packing boxes in the lounge room and the distinctive sound of those tape dispensers ringing around the vineyards. All three of us have our personal MP3 players on, which is a vast improvement on the loud Bon Jovi to which one normally has to listen under such circumstances. (Although I've always had a sneaky soft spot for Bon Jovi. But don't tell anyone.) Instead, I am underlining the homesickness by playing Deborah Conway's String of Pearls, which I haven't wanted to hear for several years because it's just so Melbourne.
I've got a jar of shells by my bedside
I've got a silver train running outside
I've got a heart running wild...
I've got a yellow rose from my garden
And a faded photo of my father
He's still keeping one eye on the weather...
I've got a bird that sings in the morning
Shadows on the floor slowly shifting
I've got a box of paints but the lid's gone
I've got a string of pearls...

Packing up is odd, isn't it? Yesterday I spent ages cleaning out the fridge, which I found strangely soothing. Then my list for this morning began:
- Take down fairy lights.
We didn't bring all our stuff to NZ. Far from it. We brought about a third. The rest is in storage in our house in Melbourne. But somehow, since we moved to NZ, we seem to have accumulated:
- Several quivers
- An 1820 artillery officer's sword
- A whole lot more books
- A whole lot more paintings
- All Susannah's childhood books that her Dad had kept safely in his basement in New Plymouth for twenty years and gleefully handed over the moment we arrived in NZ
- Not to mention her Girl Guide beret
- A (well, another) Moroccan leather pouffe
- Two Moroccan mosaic tables
- One large Moroccan lamp

(Confession: we haven't even been to Morocco - yet. We got the lamp in exotic Hastings.)
- An old set of Encyclopaedia Britannica
- Several glorious Peter Collis ceramic things
- A Turkish rug (we did go to Turkey)
- About three dozen old tins, bottles and jugs
- A knitted koala tea cosy called Kevin.*

I don't know where it all comes from. I can't begin to imagine how it's all going to fit in the Melbourne house, along with all the stuff we already have. But it will. It just might be rather eclectic - but then again, it already is. I might write one of those interior style books, like "Junk Style" or "Country Style" except mine will be "Weird Shit".
Speaking of books, the other big life shift is back to full-time work. I start as Web Services Manager at the State Library of Victoria in a few weeks. It's one of my favourite places in the world - now I get to go there every day. It's even got its very own Centre for Youth Literature.
So I'll be writing fiction part-time from now on. And there's plenty to be going on with. I haven't been able to write for a few weeks now and I'm starting to get twitchy.
But right now I have to get back to the cardboard boxes and endless lists.
Then I might clean the fridge again just for fun.

* PS: All koalas are called Kevin, according to a certain New Zealander who once spent a great many hours calling to a furry creature in a tree outside our house in Sydney, "Kevin! Come here, Kevin." She wouldn't accept that it was a possum.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Another new year.
I've been thinking over the past few weeks about the radical shift in perspective that's taken place in the last twenty years in Antipodean relationships with our great traditional protectors, Great Britain and the US.
I know that's not a new line of enquiry. (Indeed, I once wrote a thesis on an associated topic - poets' views of landscape.) During the course of my adult life the world, and the cultural life of the place in which I grew up, has been reshaped.
Funnily enough, while my thoughts have focused largely on books and writing, the initial pondering was prompted by gardening: I've been thinking a lot about gardens (more on that later), and remembering the quantum shift towards planting and designing around indigenous plants that occurred when I was growing up. It's entrenched now, taken for granted, but has enjoyed a huge surge in interest in Australia recently as a result of the drought and the push towards more sustainable gardens.
So with this in mind, on the plane to and from Melbourne last week I read the Peter Timms edited collection of essays, The Nature of Gardens, then David Malouf's Quarterly Essay, Made In England.
Malouf traces the critical point in the self-sufficiency of Australian thought to the Second World War, when invasion appeared imminent:
What it did was bring Australia - the land itself - fully alive at last in our consciousness. As a part of the earth of which we were now the custodians. As soil to be defended and preserved because we were now connected to it. As the one place where we were properly at home, the one place to which we were related in an interior way by daily experience and, as Vance Palmer put it, through love and imagination and which related us, in a way we were just beginning to grasp, to those for whom the land of Australia had always been this...

I'd argue that the cracks had appeared much earlier, in visual arts and poetry, and wonder too about the role of modernism and the impact of the Great War in breaking open the old ways of thinking before 1939. Perhaps they simply prepared the ground.
Amazing, really, how quickly the turnaround happened. When I was 18, even in a proudly patriotic family, it was clear to me that anybody who wanted to get on - especially writers - moved to London. I just never got around to it.
Of course some of that lives on, and some of it is perfectly sensible. Yet somehow in the decade or two between the Clive James/Germaine Greer exodus and my generation the earth shifted dramatically.
It's still shifting.
And so am I.
But that's another story.