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Paul MurphyIn the past few months Paul Murphy has been kindly forwarding me his book trailers. I visited his website, www.booktease.com.au, and was impressed by the range and quality of his work in this emerging field. In our visually aligned and keyboard-bound culture, book trailers will increasingly play an important role in drawing readers to the written word. I asked Murphy a few questions about his work…

Book trailers are exploding on the web, but you’ve been dong them since before the days of YouTube! Can you walk us through your journey in becoming a bit of a book trailer specialist?

Actually, they weren’t even called book trailers when I started producing them. It was about eight years ago, I was working in the marketing department of a large Australian publisher, and one of my responsibilities was designing ‘book videos’.
 
It was a pretty doomed project. Like you said, no YouTube or Facebook back then – in fact viewing video on the web was still very unreliable – so we had to convince bookstores to play them on these large, old-style TVs (of course now every bookstore has a flatscreen TV in their front window). Even so, I thought it was a very quick and effective way to market a book, and saw real potential in the form.
 
Eventually, I left the publishing industry to work as a video editor and motion graphics designer. A few years on, I received a call from an old publishing colleague. Apparently ‘book trailers’ were an online phenomenon now. She asked me if I would consider designing a few, and I jumped at the opportunity.

That’s great. And can you run us through some of the trailers you’ve now done and the people you’ve worked with?

The first trailer that received a lot of attention was the one for Gone by Mo Hayder. The publisher had simply said, ‘Make it scary’. I had a think about what I had seen online that had really terrified me, and decided to film the opening of the novel through grainy security camera footage.
 
Another trailer that’s been popular is The Very Bad Book by Andy Griffiths. I remember trying to come up with the idea for that one, thinking, ‘How do I make it funny?’ That’s when I realised – don’t – it’s much funnier if you make it serious. So I made it like a trailer for an action blockbuster.
 
I try to work with the author wherever possible. Tara Moss was a pleasure on the trailer for The Blood Countess. We share a love of classic gothic movies, and discussed the look and fashions in our trailer at length.
 
Van Badham was very particular about the models we cast for the Burnt Snow trailer, especially the character of Brody (one of her comments was: ‘If the model looks like he would ACTUALLY WEAR a beige leather jacket with a cream turtleneck he is THE WRONG GUY’). She really pushed me to create something that I think is genuinely anti-Twilight.
 
One day a courier dropped off some footage for the trailer to Lost On Earth by Steve Crombie [see below]. At least, I thought he was the courier – he was dressed in bike gear, but very chatty. We were talking for about 10 minutes, and I was thinking, ‘Don’t you have other packages to deliver?’ Then he started asking me about how I was going to edit the trailer. I was just about to tell him it was none of his business when I realised I was actually talking to the author Steve. He’s an incredibly nice guy, and the footage from his trip is amazing.

Is it the publisher who hires you? Or do authors seek you out on their own, too, now that you’re freelancing?
 
Authors have hired me in the past, but more often the work comes from publishers, since they have marketing budgets. Sometimes after I have produced a trailer for a publisher, the author will come back and hire me to develop it further, particularly for overseas releases where the cover art or the title has changed. 

Is there a dream author or book you’d love to do a trailer for?

One of my favourite writers is Jon Ronson, who wrote The Men Who Stare At Goats, and I would jump at the chance to produce something for him. I think it would be a lot of fun to come up with visuals for his quirky style of writing.
 
Jon, if you’re reading this, please please please contact me – there’s a free trailer in it for you!

Besides book trailers, you do other freelance gigs – what’s an average day like for you?

I’m yet to experience an average day as a freelancer – every day is something different. I’ve heard other freelancers say the same thing, but it’s particular in my case, because I work across almost every aspect of production – producing, writing, directing, motion graphics, sound design, etc.
 
Today I am in my edit suite working on a World War II documentary. Tomorrow, I’ll be preparing a pitch for an upcoming campaign. By the end of the week, I’ll be on location filming a live event. I really thrive on being able to change roles throughout the week – it makes work much more exciting and dynamic for me.
 
Can I ask what you’re working on now?

With Christmas less than a month away, I’ve finished all the book trailers for the year. Even so, I just started working on a new one that’s coming out early next year. I can’t say too much at this stage, but it’s for a post-apocalyptic teen novel. I just finished reading the manuscript and it’s amazing.
 
Other than that, I have a few other projects on the boil. There’s the documentary I mentioned, which should be finished by mid-next year. I’m also in pre-production on a music video. I haven’t taken any holidays for a while though – maybe that should be my next project.

Thanks Paul!

Commentary

Nov 22, 2010

5 comments

Lovely readers, I am taking a very short blog break (about a week) as I am off to Sydney for my Confimation of Candidature and to present a paper (on this, of all things) to the Writing and Society Research Group at UWS.

A few bits and bobs to keep you occupied:

bored_to_death_ver2Follow Steve Martin on Twitter. He’s a genius. He also has a new novel out in December.

Find out when alright is all right, how to use a semicolon and more on new language-nerd site wwword.

Give the TV series Bored to Death a watch. Created by author Jonathan Ames. Starring Jason Schwartzman as a writer who moonlights as a private detective after a heartbreak. It’s so fun and you’ll fall in love (again?) with Ted Danson.

Help keep Collected Works poetry and ideas bookshop alive.

Subscribe to Overland during their subscriberthon and win prizes.

Read Janet Frame’s The Daylight and the Dust: Selected Short Stories. I’m only a third of the way through and my life has undeniably been improved by it.

Write a story. Go on.

Press ‘random’ on my crushblog.

Keep an eye out for my bookish suggestions in the upcoming Crikey gift guide, and in the January issue of Women’s Health. I’ll also be one of the bloggers featured in a forthcoming issue of the Age‘s Melbourne Magazine.

And you can never go wrong with Arts & Letters Daily. Expand your melon.

how it feelsPicador, November 2010
9781405039291

Our protag, Neil, is a young ‘arty’ guy from Cronulla whose concerns oscillate between the people of home, and his burgeoning theatre career. He’s self-absorbed, which we know because it’s reiterated a million times in the book. He can’t make up his mind about which chick to f*ck and keep f*cking. He takes a lot of drugs, including the stupid ones (which he seems to fall into so easily). And lots of people from his hometown kill themselves. Neil himself grapples with this self-destructive drive (hence the sex and drugs). At the crux of it all is a long-term friendship/rivalry with his buddy Gordon, and perpetual emotion for his first love, Courtney.

Normally I love books about escape, desire, art, getting fucked-up, and definitely books about suicide, so why didn’t this hang with me? First of all I thought that perhaps some of the issues were a little too close. I lived in a beautiful place that I dreamed every day of getting out of and I understand the way the people you leave behind might think you have ‘tickets on yourself’. I went to a highschool that was full of drugs and misogynistic language, sex, violence, and sadly, kids who felt it necessary to end their lives. The character both loathes and envies ordinariness, to which many ‘creative types’ can relate.

So in the first part of the book I thought it may have been getting to me because some things were difficult to revisit, especially the way dickhead boys were – afraid of ridiculous things (like intimacy) but egging each other on to ‘manly’ acts filled with blood and semen. In awe of, and simultaneously trying to outdo each other’s masculinity. The voice is really quite spectacularly spot on.

But as the book goes on, Neil doesn’t progress, doesn’t grow – just keeps revisiting the same issues. Neil leaves Cronulla, and deals subsequently with his home town in a completely tactless manner. I wanted him, just once, to know how to behave in a situation where other people don’t see life as he does. Fine, be the superior intellect and the alpha male, but be clever about sharing your smart-arse thoughts. It is also painful to read of the destruction and unravelling of women around him. Obviously I’m talking about the character here, and not the book yet, but on this note I did not quite get why people continue to be there for him throughout the novel, including the women. People in his life continue to support him, and yet Neil has this wretched idea that he has been continually rejected. When someone does open their self to him he either chickens out and runs, or eventually f*cks them up in some way.

There are glimmers of empathy for Neil later in the book, years down the track – but he continues to f*ck up royally. Ultimately I just saw him as a little boy. A disloyal, manipulative, self-absorbed, misogynistic, annoying and confused little boy. In terms of the characterisation, I didn’t feel he was enough the product of his schooling, family, or place (as portrayed) to make you blame these entities for his outlook on life. There was nothing much to be done in solving the personality ‘issues’ – so the book meanders toward an inevitable conclusion.

The problem is, if we don’t care about Neil and are even annoyed by his relentless pettiness, the ending doesn’t seem as imbued with meaning as perhaps it was intended to be. And yet I needed to get to that point. I needed to put him to bed.

But the book itself. I felt in some ways it was a glorified coming-of-age. At other times I did think it was something more important, perhaps especially for young men – something with a social context, feelings and drives they might relate to. There is something about not only feelings of displacement in the place where you grew up, but the way that place comes with you and instigates a certain pull (often at odd or inopportune times). There is a great scene where Neil is back in Cronulla and at a barbecue – the detail of the foods and brands of food and drink displayed on the table is so recognisable. His best mate’s step-dad leans over the table and is basically suggesting to Neil that he could do some stuff at the local theatre (which Neil is of course beyond), and there’s this duality of judgement going on. Not of different classes, but of social mores – life expectations. Why wouldn’t you want to live in a beautiful place by the ocean, build a house, pop out some kids? But Neil wins in an ironic sense throughout the book (not that what he does is any better) through the proof that not all is what it seems on the surface in Cronulla: a buck’s night means actual prostitutes, there is a shitload of drug-abuse and alcoholism, people desire the wrong people, and of course, so many young people (men, specifically) take their own lives.

But in regards to suicide, which could have been the meatiest theme of the novel, I felt Cowell only skimmed the surface. The theme itself hung like a spectre over the narrative, but there was no real delving into it. The motivations are all blurry, such as a character having some internal ‘darkness’. There was no real understanding of it besides ‘bravery’ or ‘cowardice’. Of course, suicide is rarely a thing you can explain or understand but I just didn’t think the novel contained enough of the questions that are raised and the struggle that leads toward it – or even that leads toward the destructive behaviour. It seemed very cut and dry. The characters were what they were, and then sometimes they were gone. There were no lasting revelations, which is sometimes a strong thing in fiction, but there was no real development in the characters either. Every event, then, in the story felt somewhat superficial, particularly the fight in the closing scenes. As reader I asked the characters: ‘are you guys still going on about this?’ And then I may have yawned.

The writing itself is inventive, mostly strong. The voice of the character is obviously well-developed and sustained (as it annoyed me so well!). This may come from Cowell’s acting experience, where one has to inhabit a character. There are some very awkward similes, though, ie. ‘We fished quietly as the moon made its first offering to the night, appearing as a sort-of fucked-up white banana that a mouse had chewed a hole in, but on its travels managed to insert a row of forty-watt bulbs inside’. A simile should give an instant, evocative picture of something, not make you turn away from the page and try desperately to conjure the image.

In the perpetual immaturity of the main character I can’t help but, in the main, see this as a book dealing with immaturity. And I know not every book has to deal with depth and meaning – but for me there was not much left to take away from it. This is the story of continual one-upmanship, jerking off, spitting in the face of your friends and a perpetual but flippant annihilative drive. It’s a stunted-growth story. If it were really about the drive to create art and escape the inescapable past, the pull of death, and failure to create and connect – that might have been satisfying.

tdgThe longlist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award is nominated by libraries worldwide, so it’s no surprise that Australian books have been put forward by Australian libraries. Nonetheless, the €100,000 prize is nothing to balk at. It’s a long longlist, but an interesting one. I like seeing the flavour of different libraries in different countries, such as the choices from Stockholm, Sweden: Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro and China Miéville’s The City and the City.

How wonderful it would be for Kalinda Ashton to take home the prize, for her absorbing debut The Danger Game. I would also be delighted if it went to one of my favourite authors, Alex Miller, for Lovesong. And I loved MJ Hyland’s This Is How. The other Australian/ex-pat books nominated are Peter Carey’s Parrot and Olivier in America, Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones, David Malouf’s beautiful novel Ransom (a favourite of the Warsaw Public Library), JM Coetzee’s Summertime, Kristina Olsson’s The China Garden, Evie Wyld’s After the Fire, a Still, Small, Voice (nominated by San Diego Public Library), Marion Halligan’s Valley of Grace, and Ilsa Evans’ The Family Tree.

Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn is very popular, nominated by no less than twelve libraries worldwide. I was also happy to see Philipp Meyer’s American Rust on there.

There are a lot of Kiwi nominees, too, including Rachel King’s second novel Magpie Hall, which I really need to track down a copy of.

Some other books I’m yet to read that were nominated by many of the libraries are Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin.

View the longlist by the libraries that nominated them, or by author.

The shortlist is not announced until April 12, 2011.

Self-indulgence

Nov 14, 2010

5 comments

I’ve been meaning to add video content to LiteraryMinded for yonks!

I’ve interviewed authors on stage, I’ve read my own work aloud, I can write about books – but speaking alone into a camera is an entirely different kettle of fish…

Torpedo_GH_CoverTorpedo Greatest Hits
ed. Chris Flynn
Hunter Publishers
9780980517989 (Aus)

A few months ago this collection was released with my story ‘You Will Notice That Hallways Are Painted’, along with stories by Steven Amsterdam, Mandy Ord, Jon Bauer, Krissy Kneen, Toby Litt, Ruby Murray, Josephine Rowe and even Richard Brautigan. The story was written in a rather frenzied manner, after having allowed myself to take my fiction in new directions – becoming open to non-realist genres, to expressions of the strange, the odd or the slightly off. Through the ‘strangeness’ I seem to be able to improve the evocative qualities of the fiction – emotion, humour and sensuality – and provide a socio-cultural undercurrent which is hopefully subtle and relevant.

This story paved the way for the novel I’m currently writing. I’ve done a rough first draft. There’s a lot of work to be done but I have the foundations of the story and characters. The character, Ava, who is in the story, is also in the novel. The setting of the institution is in the novel. The general themes and concepts introduced here are expanded upon in the novel. So I guess what I’m saying is, I hope you like the story and will be excited to read the novel in a few years time (yes, I’m realistic about how long it takes).

Here’s an extract from the story. If you want to read the rest, you can buy a copy of the collection here, or in good bookstores (ie. Readings).

You Will Notice That Hallways Are Painted

 

A small room made of stone that is nonetheless warm

 

She is sitting on the floor when the counsellor brings in her new roommate. He is tall and brown-skinned and has a jacket wrapped up between his arms that are in front of him. Just a whiff of his skin and it’s all summer sweat and mango hands and Ava experiences a strong, familiar pull in her groin.

 ‘Ava, this is Monty, he’ll be taking Heidi’s old bed,’ says Counsellor Dean, and Monty’s hand lifts politely.

‘Welcome,’ she says. Strange, that they had given her a man. Maybe they thought she was gay after the last one, after the thing that got Heidi moved to another ward. She isn’t sure sex is out of bounds anyway – it’s never spoken about. Perhaps changing up the sexes of her roommates is all part of her individual experiment. But what’s his?

Monty takes his bag from Dean, she leaves, and he begins to unload a few belongings on his bed. Ava peers out at the Intelligence. You never did know when someone or something was watching from that giant stone tower (with rings of tinted windows) in the centre.

‘So – what you in for?’

Monty turns and sits on his bed, fumbling with a small plastic toy of a skeleton. ‘Ah, this. I don’t know if I can talk about it yet. I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed.’ When he speaks she suspects he would sing well.

‘See, only people in here would use the word overwhelmed for how they were feeling.’ She sits up on her bed to be equal with him, crossing her black leggings so her red pleated skirt fans out. ‘I’m overtly overabundant.’

‘What?’

‘My sentence.’ She searches the skin on his neck, those brown eyes – was he Thai? Vietnamese? Strong, almost hairless arms. ‘Overt abundance.’

‘Oh, I… what does that mean?’

‘I like people,’ she grins, ‘too much and too often.’

‘Yes, that must be a problem.’

‘So they say.’

‘I like my fiancée.’

‘Oh?’

‘I suppose I’ve ruined my chances… to save for the ceremony.’ His head is down, and then he looks up and his eyes burn holes through her. Ava uncomfortably shifts all the hot parts around.

‘What are you doing here? You seem to subscribe, brother.’

But then Monty pulls a flask from his bag and starts unscrewing the cap.

‘Oh.’

 ‘My sentence is “highly inadequate”.’

‘Messy.’

Experiment: the office

Counsellor Dean, in charge of their wing, leads them down metal stairs to a room which must take up one whole wing. Today it looks like a semi-partitioned office. The lights are so bright they make Ava’s head heavy. She avoided these lights, out there. Her parents had been loud, but just slid in under the radar of socially appropriate. When she got into acting, dance, performance poetry, they warned her of diminishing crowds for sentimental works. When she cried in public for feeling the wind like a kiss on her skin she was taken in for her interview.

Monty’s lips are tight but he sits at his appointed desk, obedient and familiar. He told Ava last night about Verna, his fiancée, thin and white with one tattoo in a hidden place.

Counsellor Alex is running the office experiment. He’s dressed in army greens, with a long leather whip protruding from under a stubby arm. Counsellor Dean looks on, rapt, as Alex instructs the order of emails and phonecalls. Dean is a curvy woman, like Ava, with a tiny waist nipped in by a leather belt. The counsellors always wear one colour, or one pattern, all over. Dean catches Ava’s eye and gives a curious smile, one hand tickling her own thigh. Ava’s tongue darts out and boldly curls her lip, and the mutual attraction is satisfied. It hasn’t been a counsellor yet, and she wonders what trouble she could get in to. But it might save her from ever being separated from Monty. (Though she feels if she touched him, she would burn up to nothing.)

‘Any emails sent or forwarded inter-office must balance professionalism and coping-banter. The Intelligence will accept no absoluteness either way. There will be no period of complete distraction, nor will there be a hardcore eight-hour stretch of concentration. The workaholic is vulnerable to disease. In five minutes, we will begin. Your tasks are on the desktop. Power up.’ Ava touches her screen, still squirming under the lights, wishing for grass to roll in or even a metal wall on which to rest her hot forehead. She is soon too cold in the air-conditioning. She takes her hair out at least to cover her neck and when Dean comes past she subtly fingers one dark strand, almost pulling.

It is a long night, one that is full of longing

Ava is wondering when Dean will come as she sips at Monty’s flask. They are sprawled on the floor in front of their beds and talking like brother and sister. Her foot is three centimetres away from his and there are invisible electric strings. Her skirt is parted slightly, but he is too polite to look.

‘You seemed okay today.’

‘I worked corporate,’ he says. ‘But I have a degree in entomology. I’m interested in insects.’

‘What the hell for?’

‘They’re small.’

‘Why not bacteria?’

‘Yeah, interested in bacteria too. Very small, yes. But bugs can be colourful or hairy and there are many different types. There are over 330,000 species of beetle alone. Don’t even get me started on the Orthoptera.’

Bugs crawl on skin, Ava thinks. She imagines the tiny fingers of bugs on his arms, she imagines the flies when you die and she realises how she feels about him dying and where did all this depth in her stomach come from?

‘You okay?’ he asks. And the concern is too much. She has to turn away.

‘Orthoptera?’

‘Grasshoppers and crickets.’

‘How’s poor Paul today?’

‘Totally.’

‘Oh, man. I mean, I felt shit, like I’d never get used to it, but he only lasted an hour.’

‘Not even that.’

Paul, who looked like a leg of ham with a fist around the top, had only ever worked in the dark before, he said, in the dark, and he writhed on the floor until they put him in the Big Space. The Big Space’ll learn him, they thought. Ava had been there once, when she got cranky at eating the same lentil patty burger (with no sauce, mind you) after four days. They lead you into a bright, gaping hall where every corner is clear, but after ten minutes you’re still squinting into the corners wondering what else there might be. You’re forced to sit in the middle and far, far above, windows surround it so you can’t be sure where the Intelligence is and when they are watching. Ava’s thoughts naturally strayed to comforting and pleasing herself from the build-up of abundance. Even the thought of them watching made her want to do it. But she thought this was her exact problem and the one they would keep her here for, so she resisted and instead scratched at the floor as though it were her arms.

Later, in their small space, Monty lay facing the wall and she stared at his head wondering, wondering at the thoughts, and she stared at the back of his neck, curved gently, and his strong and slender back, encased in a singlet. She had seen it just once. There was a mole on his left shoulderblade and she wanted to put her tongue on it.

‘Hey Monty, what’s it called when grasshoppers sing?’

‘Stridulation. Achieved by rubbing parts of their bodies together.’

‘I like that.’

emptyPicador
November 2010
9781405040235 (Aus, US, UK)

Reviewed by Genevieve Tucker

Much has been made around the traps of the fact that Colm Tóibín published a story in his last collection that used the word empty (and words deriving from it) fourteen times, though no one has bothered to acknowledge that the story in question was about an Irish bank robber trying to move a Rembrandt on the black market.

While it’s convenient to consider that The Empty Family has loss as a leitmotif, it takes a fan to recognise that it also functions as a Tóibín theme park: most of the stories dip into subject areas he has expanded on at length elsewhere. He now possesses the house more or less described in the title story, as well as the view on the coast he has written about so often in his fiction set in Ireland.

He has spoken of his delight in being able to take a firmer hold on a sense of place in his fiction upon first reading the work of Alistair MacLeod, the revered Canadian writer of the Scottish diaspora. However when Tóibín does this, it’s as part of a larger project that takes in other travellers, who (among other things) also ask themselves questions about possession.

I sometimes think that his entry into international writing appeared careful to the point of neutrality, his fiction peopled by figures intent on disguising their emotions and claims on others, until his astonishing performance in his award-winning bio-fiction about Henry James, The Master, where he displayed a surefooted use of American history sources. Tóibín is a history graduate and has written about Irish history in mainstream publications, reviewing Roy Foster’s groundbreaking leadership (perhaps invention) of the school of Irish revisionist history for the London Review of Books, among other things.[i]

That security with historical material is only one of the girders beneath the beautiful structure that houses his recreation of James’ life between the failure of the play, Guy Domville, and the purchase of Lamb House, his final home in Sussex. The other is the Jamesian control he has sought to develop throughout his writing career of indirect free style. That this technique would uncover such a rich and telling depiction of James himself, free of the slightest hint of parody, remains one of the exciting discoveries of modern fiction.

In a story collection, of course, indirect free style (or ‘third person intimate’ as Tóibín has recently called it) has a place, though some stories are more equal to its discursive challenges than others. This collection sees the use of first person narrative and the occasional shifting-spanner second person for perhaps the first time in any work I’ve seen by this writer, which may be a result of the time he has spent in recent years teaching writing in the USA. Where it is used, quite sparingly, it provides a welcome shift of pace, allowing the prose to breathe with an easier, more lyrical rhythm than the deeply reflective strictures of Jamesian narrative allow. It also allows for a more direct expression of emotion than one often sees in his work, including, characteristically, a confession from one narrator towards ‘a feeling as close to anger as I will ever be able to manage.’ The opening story, ‘One Minus One’, contains a reference to the faces of his countrymen in American airports and how easily they are identified that is all the more haunting for a cleaner attack on the matter:

“You know that I do not believe in God. I do not care much about the mysteries of the universe, unless they come to me in words, or in music maybe, or in a set of colours and then I entertain them merely for their beauty and only rarely. I do not even believe in Ireland. But you know too, that in these years of being away there are times when Ireland comes to me in a sudden guise, when I see a hint of something familiar that I want and need. I see someone coming towards me with a soft way of smiling, or a stubborn uneasy face, or a way of moving warily through a public place, or a raw, almost resentful stare into the middle distance. In any case, I went to JFK that evening and I saw them as soon as I got out of the taxi…”

For perhaps the first time also, I hear in ‘The Pearl Fishers’, a story about sex abuse in a seventies Irish college, and  ‘Two Women’, a story about a visiting Irish set designer, a new toughness, both in dialogue between the Irish characters and in the protagonists, that sees him entering the domain of his peers, Roddy Doyle and Anne Enright. Tóibín has not been known for embracing Dublin demotic, having infused his earlier books set in Ireland with a quieter, less aggressive county idiom. There is an interest building in Tóibín towards a deeper engagement with the whole country in his fiction that may be something to watch.

I also saw a brief, cynical aside about ‘seventies theology that I’d love to hear more about:

“It was awful, some of it, like Teilhard de Chardin crossed with Donovan or bad Bob Dylan. I know that Grainne must remember how involved I became in it, how profoundly I talked to God!”

The final story, ‘The Street’, is the longest and although its subject matter is Pakistani immigrant workers in Barcelona, it is closer in style and emotion to Tóibín’s other works about struggling, closeted gay men in restrictive cultures. While there is some violence breaking into the story of Malik, a bonded immigrant, this is an understated piece and the tenuousness of such a life is suggested, but at times is threatened with erasure by the smoothness of the descriptive surface. The movement at the very end of the story is characteristic of Tóibín’s tight yet elegiac control of emotion to date.

I found the story of Carme, the Spanish communist, returning to her village and reclaiming her grandmother’s beachhouse from her family (‘The New Spain’), more engaging, though I also enjoyed ‘Silence’, a story about a raffish poet that might or might not have been shared by a lady with Henry James.

There is more than a glimmer of future changes in subject matter and style for Tóibín afoot: in ‘Barcelona, 1975’, an account of sexual adventure that reads like memoir, there is a pretty clear and timely statement of intention to break free from bookclub strictures about what’s ‘nice’ to read.

I was very happy to hear him say in Melbourne earlier this year that if anything he has more ideas to work on than ever before. The Empty Family is far from ‘nice’– rather, this collection is a rich, inviting global airport lounge of a book from a great craftsman of our age, whose interests continue to ripen.

GTuckerGenevieve Tucker is a freelance reviewer and semi-retired book blogger who has an internet scrapbook at Mulberry Road. She came to reviewing after the first editor of the Australian Literary Review read her blog. She blames Google for everything that has happened since.
http://mulberryroad.tumblr.com


[i] “New ways of killing your father.” London Review of Books, 15(22), November 1993. Available at:  http://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n22/colm-Tóibín/new-ways-of-killing-your-father

See also ‘Emmet and the historians’, originally published in The Dublin Review in 2003 and available on the Colm Tóibín website: http://www.colmtoibin.com/content/emmet-and-historians

LiteraryMinded also recommends her interview with Tóibín regarding his novel Brooklyn. Part one can be found here, and part two here.

sonySony Reader Pocket Edition (loaned to LiteraryMinded for two weeks)

Visit the Sony website to check out the Readers available. US readers, see Amazon.

There are about three reasons I haven’t bought an e-reader yet (actually, let’s remove the hyphen and call it an ereader – remember ‘e-mail’?). The first reason is that they’re expensive, but at $229 this little guy is one of the most affordable yet. The second is that I dog-ear my books and take notes while reading. How can an ereader live up to that? Well, this one does to a point, as I’ll explain. The third reason is that in Australia there isn’t yet a wealth of ebooks available and there are issues with territorial copyright often in attaining them from overseas suppliers. But it’s beginning to change, as epub is emerging as the dominant ebook publishing format and Australian publishers and booksellers are establishing standards and getting on board.

Let’s just clear up a few things, too. An ereader as a device is nothing like a computer or an iPhone/iPad because it uses e-ink and is not backlit. I’ve found myself explaining this to almost every person I’ve talked to when discussing ebooks and ereaders. Thus, the screen looks like a page, and does not hurt your peepers. If the light dims while reading, you’ll have to switch on a lamp, just like a book.

Since the Australian arm of the Apple iBook store went live this week, some people will be reading books on a backlit iPad. This would be a different experience to what I’ll be describing here.

1The other thing to clear up is that not all ereaders are Kindles! Since in the general press we mainly hear about Amazon’s Kindle device, many assume that it is the ereader, but what you have to remember about the Kindle is that you are locked in to purchasing your ebooks from Amazon.com. This might be fine for some folks, but many books, including many Australian and indie press titles, are not available on Amazon. So a non-dedicated ereader in the end may provide more options.6

The other thing I’ll mention is that an ereader is a dedicated device intended mainly to simulate the experience of reading a book (or in some cases, a magazine). I used to think I’d hold out for a device that had further functionality, but I’ve decided now that it’s awesome that the ereader is dedicated to reading long-form content and narrative. There are enough distractions out there, and if you want to listen to music, look something up, or tell someone about what you’re reading, I’m sure your other device/s aren’t far from reach. The fact that I couldn’t just click through to something else meant I was immersed in the book I was reading, just as I would be with a print book.

Now, to Sony’s Pocket Reader. At first I thought I was going to be reviewing the Touch ($299), but I’m glad now I was sent the Pocket Edition. It’s so light and it fit in my smallest handbag so I could read it on the tram. (Covers and other accessories are also available from Sony.) It has a touch screen so you can just glide your finger across the screen to turn the page. You may also choose to use the buttons. If you don’t know the meaning of a word, double-click and the inbuilt dictionary will pop up at the bottom of the page.

5I didn’t have to use the dictionary much for George Orwell’s wonderful Animal Farm, which I have now finally read! Orwell writes with such clarity and I found this book so compelling I barely noticed what I was reading it on. Generally when I am reading something, as mentioned, I’ll dog-ear the pages and take notes, especially if I’m reviewing it. Well, luckily the Sony has note-taking capabilities. You can scribble notes on the page itself, highlight lines, or save a memo to that page. The notes are then listed in a menu (by page order). You can use your trotters, or the Stylus (a kind of pen) included with the Reader.

One small qualm on that note: the Stylus is very inconspicuous. It’s mentioned briefly in the Quick Start Guide that comes with the Reader but it took me a minute to figure out how to access it. If a consumer does not know the word ‘Stylus’, they may never know it’s there at all!

I haven’t had the experience of uploading books but Sony told me to pick something from a RedGroup retailer website (Borders or A&R) and they’d preload 2it. So I can’t really report on the ease of this, though the retailer websites say it is one quick and easy download. The books all seemed to be very valuably priced, too, compared to print books.

4There are a couple of issues here. What if I want to support my local indie bookseller? I guess if I start reading more on a Reader I would encourage them to get on board, and I believe the process will become easier with the bookseller system TitlePage getting set to (one day) integrate the ebook supply chain into their system (source). This is over-the-counter as files but possibly also through their websites, I’m not sure how it works exactly. And of course, I could continue to support my indie bookstore by buying print books from them, as I will. In fact, I think if I really like a book I’ve read digitally, I’ll probably want a print copy still – to have in my collection or to give to someone lovely.

The other issue that is still being worked out, I believe, is payment for writers and sustaining the industry. Lucky in Australia we get to watch the battles happening in the big book markets of the US and the UK before we set our own models. But hopefully ebooks, after an initial period of costly development and transition, will be able to be sold fairly cheaply and the authors, publishers and booksellers will still get a fair share and be able to continue to provide wonderful content for us booklovers.

3But I can honestly say, after trialling the Sony Pocket Edition I can see it in my near future: on my bedside table, loaded up with new gems and classics, and definitely in my luggage. I always travel with books and this device would certainly lighten the load. The Sony Pocket is the only ereader I’ve trialled so I don’t have much to compare it to, but it’s a perfectly adequate substitution for a print book in terms of the reading experience. The screen is the size of a paperback book and you can increase the font size to however large you need it. It tells you what page you’re up to and keeps your place. The battery was still on full bars after finishing Animal Farm and playing around with it.

Of course it doesn’t project your literary identity as a bookshelf or book cover would; and it doesn’t have that lovely stink of pages. But in my life I think the rough and smelly, and the sleek and silver, can coexist. This guy’s on my Christmas list.

philanthropist150Sleepers Publishing
November 2010, 9781740669979 (Aus)

reviewed by Alice Robinson

John Tesarsch’s accomplished first novel The Philanthropist is a book about parents and children. It is about what we pass on, and what we inherit in turn. ‘The best thing a father can do, of course, is be there for his children. I wasn’t, because I was following false gods’ declares Charles Bradshaw, protagonist. He is speaking uninvited at the wedding of his mortified daughter, in the penultimate scenes of both the novel and his life. Here, Charles addresses the book’s underpinning theme, for The Philanthropist is also about money – the most imposing and controlling of the false gods Charles refers to.  Money inherited and endowed, the novel tells us, corrupts, controls, defiles, destroys – for generations. What Charles receives from his father he gives in turn to his son, with ever more cancerous consequences; each generation in the Bradshaw family more reliant on – and more deformed by – what their money can buy. We are exposed to other examples of this genealogical decay, for almost all of Tesarsch’s finely drawn characters bare the scars of their parental relationships – or lack thereof. Perhaps this is the way of the world, as Philip Larkin would surely agree.  In any case, The Philanthropist presents a deep and quietly sad exploration of the inevitably disastrous ways in which one’s parents might, without meaning to, ‘fuck you up’. It is a compelling read.

The Philanthropist is the most recent novel to come out of Sleepers, an independent publisher based in Melbourne. With Stephen Amsterdam’s widely acclaimed Things We Didn’t See Coming, and Kalinda Ashton’s The Danger Game to their credit, Sleepers must be doing something right. Whether publishing first novels – particularly those set in Australia – accords wholly with the publisher’s mission-statement or not, it remains that they are doing just that, with great success. Each of the aforementioned novels differs in regards to style and subject matter, but each shares one important element – beyond critical commendation – for each, arguably, presents a vision of contemporary life.  While the novels of Ashton and Tesarsch unfold in the world as we know it, and are definitively and enjoyably Australian in setting, Amsterdam’s vision, partly post-apocalyptic, is set in an unnamed location.

Some might balk at my positioning of Things We Didn’t See Coming, alongside the other particularly Australian Sleepers texts. Yet to me, Amsterdam’s book is as locatable, literally, in relation to the Australian landscape as Tesarsch’s – locatable also classifiably, within a canon of apocalyptic writing about Australian lands – along with, for example, the novels of George Turner and Gabrielle Lord. In any case, regardless of setting, there is an even more crucial element that underpins the three works. For the narratives of Amsterdam, Ashton and Tesarsch play out against a common thematic backdrop – each one explicitly exploring a contemporary issue, one that manifests within and around the lives of the characters it brings to life. These issues, while various – environmental and societal decay, worker’s rights, isolation and drug use, and in the poignant case of The Philanthropist, the interlaced roles of money, family, and guilt – are what makes these novels great, even important. And to say that the issues are ‘explicit’ is not to say that these narratives are didactic, preachy or overly burdened with ‘a message’. Quite the opposite. Tesarsch’s rendering of his underpinning concerns within the story of the Bradshaw family, has been done delicately, even insidiously, so that the reader is conscious only of the narrative and character development while reading; wholly absorbed in the story itself. It is only afterwards, when the book is complete, that the clarity of the message – a bitter aftertaste – remains.

Each of these special first books is contributing to the ongoing discussion about what it means to live at this time – in Australia, and in the world at large. When, in The Philanthropist, we are taken to Charles’ beachfront mansion (all glass and contemporary art) we recognise ourselves, just as we recognise ourselves on his daughter’s self-sustaining ‘hippie’ property near Hepburn Springs. This is not to say that by recognising, we like what we see. Certainly the novels that Sleepers are publishing – no less Tesarsch’s than the others – present a pretty grim picture of life, particularly life in contemporary Australia. Yet it is heartening to find that so many first-time authors are writing about their own contexts – or, that Sleepers are seeking to publish the narratives of those that do, as it may be.

In an era bloodied by genre writing, where vampires appear to reign, it is also refreshing to see that literary works do remain viable, publishable and read. Like the novels of both Ashton and Amsterdam, The Philanthropist is multifaceted without being convoluted, its structure elegantly poetic, the language precise. It is a fine example of contemporary literary fiction. As the narrative weaves through and across time we come to understand why Tesarsch’s characters have developed in the way that they have – but slowly. We first meet Charles after he is awarded an Order of Australia for his charitable works, but in spite of this accolade, we know at the very beginning of the book that something isn’t right. What is wrong is the historic tragedy that sits like a stain at the centre of the story. Tesarsch’s narrative structure serves to bring the reader into consciousness of the tragedy with patience, cranking the tension all the while. If anything, the novel is almost too neat, too controlled in its exposition – like a trinket over-buffed, a little of what might have once produced its shine has now been rubbed away. Yet this is a minor gripe, and one happily made. For better a work be endowed with too much care, than nowhere near enough.

In contrast to the poetry in the structure, Tesarsch’s prose itself is crisp, almost terse – each sentence a hard, clean nugget of polished stone. That is, the writing is beautiful and eloquent and vivid, but not in the lyrical, language-drenched manner of some authors (Anne Michaels springs to mind) for whom metaphor and imagery are the stalwarts of their craft. Instead, Tesarsch builds description and exposes his characters with disarming straightforwardness, his style deceptively restrained.  This restraint lends Tesarsch’s writing an enviable clarity. In fact, in light of The Philanthropist’s discontinuous structure: the various points-of-view and multi-generational plot line, the seeming straightforwardness of the author’s prose style serves only to enrich the narrative. There exists in Tesarsch’s writing the assuredness and poise of a far more experienced writer. Beyond this, his first novel, one can imagine many more neat, but quietly flooring stories, waiting to be penned.

A philanthropist can be defined as a person who practices charitable or benevolent actions, or one who loves humanity generally. It is a fitting title for Tesarsch’s novel, which ultimately examines the tensions between good deeds and bad, and the role that money plays in aiding and even defining both. The Philanthropist questions whether one who worships false gods, as Charles does, can truly love humanity. Or whether, despite all best efforts for charity, inheriting large amounts of money ultimately costs the humanity of oneself. It is a fitting message for contemporary Australia in an age of abundant wealth, and greed. It is what makes The Philanthropist not only an excellent first novel, but also a valuable addition to cultural development in Australia. By being shown ourselves in print, we learn something not only of who we are as human beings, but as a collective people. When Tesarsch writes about how the deeds of the past can haunt us, how money can corrupt, how guilt erodes and the way in which justice bought with cash is no real justice at all – there is a collective shiver in response. A kind of truth is painted by Tesarsch in The Philanthropist. It isn’t a beautiful picture, but remarkably, it looks just like us.

Alice_RobinsonAlice Robinson writes fiction. She works as a freelance writer, professional book group and writing group facilitator, and she teaches in universities. Since 2008, Alice has been researching climate change and Australian literature at Victoria University, where she is a PhD candidate. Having been published in various journals, she also blogs on books and reading at www.critrature.blogspot.com.

IRAN_my_grandfather(1)My review of Ali Alizadeh’s wonderful book Iran: My Grandfather (Aus, US) has been published in Mascara Literary Review.

You can read the review here.

While you’re there, have a look at the poems, reviews, stories, photographs and translations in this elegant bi-annual which focuses on the work of contemporary Asian, Australian and Indigenous writers