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Monday musings on Australian literature: My AusLit wrap up for 2011

December 26, 2011

Here we are at the end of another year and I’ve decided that, rather than list my top Aussie reads for 2011, I’d list my AusLit highlights of the year. I apologise in advance that it’s going to be all about me – that is, the links will be to posts on this blog. After all, we are talking about my AusLit highlights. Here they are in no particular order:

Meanjin‘s Tournament of Books

This year Meanjin decided to emulate the Morning News’ Tournament of Books with the express aim of raising consciousness about Australian women writers. I don’t know how well they achieved this aim but next week’s Monday Musings will be about other AusLit-related initiatives so perhaps it’s all part of momentum building. Meanwhile, if you missed the discussion here, click on my Tournament of Books tag and you will find the 6 posts I devoted to the topic.

Having cried wolf, book cover

Having cried wolf, book cover (Courtesy: Affirm Press)

Affirm Press’s Long Story Shorts

Affirm Press is one of Australia’s wonderful small independent publishers. In 2010 they published the first of the six books in their Long Story Shorts project which involved commissioning emerging writers to produce short story collections. This year I reviewed the final three books and was impressed by the writing, the gorgeous production and the publisher’s commitment. May there be many more such collections and even more opportunities for emerging writers in 2012 and beyond. Hats off to Affirm Press!

Prime Minister’s Literary Awards panel

The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards are relatively new on the Australian literary awards scene but they’ve made a splash, partly because the prizes are comparatively lucrative. There are plans next year to add a Poetry prize and roll the Prime Minister’s Australian History Prize under the banner. This year, I attended, on the day of the announcement, a panel discussion with some of the winners and shortlisted authors. It was a real treat to hear (and see) the authors firsthand … but I have yet to read this year’s fiction winner, Stephen Daisley’s Traitor. Last year’s winner, Eva Hornung’s Dog boy, though, well demonstrates the calibre of the awards.

Miles Franklin Award

This year’s winner was That deadman dance by Kim Scott. Not only is it a beautifully written and thoughtful book but it’s a rare win for an indigenous author – and that has to make it a 2011 highlight.


Readers of this blog know that I like to review poetry occasionally, though I am by no means an expert. I reviewed two special books of poetry this year, special because of the women who produced them and for the quality of their poetry. Ginny Jackson’s book The still deceived was published posthumously after she’d worked hard to complete it while terminally ill with cancer. Her poem, “Getting off the bus”, contains some of the most poignant lines I’ve read about dying. Nora Krouk’s Warming the core of things was published the year she turned 90. I used two lines from one of her poems in our family Christmas card this year. I should read and review more poetry!

Sydney University Press’s Charles Dickens set

Sydney University Press has been doing great work in recent years re-publishing Australian literary classics, several of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. However, this year they published another “treasure”, Charles Dickens’ Australia: Selected essays from Household Words 1850-1859, edited by Margaret Mendelawitz. It’s a five-volume set of articles relating to Australia from Charles’ Dickens periodical, Household Words. The periodical is available on-line, another example of the pluses of electronic communication, but to have someone else do the work of sifting out those articles of relevance to Australia and then sort them into thematic volumes is a perfect example of value adding.

Monday Musings guest posts

When I commenced my Monday Musings series nearly two years ago I planned to include the occasional guest post but for various reasons I haven’t organised many to date. However, there were two this year and they were highlights for me – and not just because I didn’t have to write them! They were informative posts: Louise wrote on some Aussie Children’s Lit creators, and Guy Savage wrote on Max Barry. Both were passionate posts on topics dear to the heart of their writers – and both taught me some things I didn’t know. There’ll be more guest posts next year.

Meeting Alan Gould

Alan Gould is a local (to me) poet, short story writer and novelist, and he was shortlisted last year for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for his beautiful, mesmerising novel, The lakewoman. My reading group was lucky to have him attend our discussion of his book earlier this year. It was a treat to be able to ask questions about the genesis of what is an intriguing book and to discuss our reactions to it. Gould was gracious in sharing his ideas with us, and we hope he got something out of the discussion too. He should be better known.

Top Aussie post of the year – Red Dog

WordPress provides some excellent blog stats, including your top posts (by number of hits). You can ask for your top posts to be listed by specific time frames – 7 days, 30 days, year, and alltime. I decided to check for my top post over the past year and was surprised to find that it was my review of The Red Dog (Movie and Book). I posted it in August and it is so far ahead of the next top ranked post that it will be my top post for the calendar year. The movie was based on a book written by Louis de Bernières about a legendary dog of the Pilbara. It’s a slim book and is not great literature but the film has done astonishingly well at the box office. I say “astonishingly” because Australian films often do not attract good audience numbers, which worries our film industry. Red Dog, though, bucked that trend and showed filmmakers that Australian audiences will go to Australian films (sometimes, anyhow!). I would hate this movie to start a spate of similar movies in the hope of cashing in on audience interest, but it was good to see a film that appealed to Aussies. I hope we see more – and varied ones – in 2012.

And finally …

Thanks to everyone who has read, commented on and/or “liked” my blog over the last year. I may not know you all but I sure appreciate your visiting me here. I wish you all happy reading in 2012 … and, meanwhile, would love to hear of your blog or literary or reading highlights of the year.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. December 26, 2011 7:26 pm

    Dear WG,
    One of the things that drew me to your site was your love of short stories. I am also hungry for information about small publishers, about what is out there. I read Having Cried Wolf and was glad to see it on the short list for the Frank O’Connor prize. Great for the writer, but also fantastic for the small press.
    My literary highlights, apart from a very good year for writing results, have included reading Grace Paley for the first time, and going on a camping holiday to Corsica this summer where I managed to read 4 books! (My favourite being T.C. Boyle’s The Women.) I also ‘met’ some lovely writers and writerly souls through blogs, including yourself, poet John Siddique, Mike French of The View From Here for whom I now write a column, Bea and the wonderful Ether Books people. Thank goodness for the Internet!
    Happy Christmas and all good wishes for 2012 to yourself and family.

    • December 26, 2011 7:48 pm

      Oh thank you Catherine … I’m thrilled to have “met” you, and greatly enjoy your comments which always contribute something to the discussion. That’s great news about Gretchen Shirm … particularly after she was also shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards new writer prize this year. It is a great collection isn’t it.

      Thanks for sharing your highlights. I read Grace Paley back in the mid 80s or so and remember enjoying her – must suss her out again. I’ve read a bit of Boyle too including a couple of short stories, and like him too.

      I do like being called a “writerly soul” and will try to continue to live up to such a description. I wish you a wonderful 2012 too … it’s bound to be with your two successful projects to work on.

  2. December 26, 2011 8:22 pm

    A brilliant year of brilliant blogging, WG! I’ve really enjoyed reading your thoughts, and while I haven’t followed through with nearly as many of the books here that I’ve thought “ooh! That sounds good!” about, I do love that you give me something to aspire to 🙂

    • December 26, 2011 9:49 pm

      Well, you’re biassed, but thanks anyhow! As you know, most of the books are ready here any time you ask.

  3. December 26, 2011 9:26 pm

    Here’s to an equally exciting and productive 2012 – cheers 🙂

  4. kimbofo permalink
    December 27, 2011 12:16 am

    Wow, you’ve had a brilliant blogging year, Sue 🙂

    Thanks for all you do re: promoting Aussie literature. It helps keep me in the loop, as it were, which, prior to the internet, was pretty much impossible on this side of the world.

    Hope you have a great festive season — and here’s to many more blog posts about Oz lit over the next 12 months!

    • December 27, 2011 9:15 am

      Thanks Kimbofo. I’ve enjoyed it! I guess we all have otherwise we wouldn’t be here. Thanks for your interest and support this year … And I wish you a great 2012 full of great reading and writing, and work you like.

  5. December 27, 2011 8:11 am

    A belated Happy Christmas, Whispering, and looking forward to more of your reflections on Australian literature in 2012 – speaking of which, have I missed it or have you not yet had a look at Foal’s Bread (a really beautiful book, I thought)?

    • December 27, 2011 9:18 am

      Thanks zmkc … And the best of the season to you too. No, you haven’t missed it but I will be reading it in the next few months. It’s on the pile! A highlight for you then?

      • December 29, 2011 8:43 am

        It is a book I would definitely recommend – although that may partly be a reflection of my own fondness for horses. I don’t think so though – she is a wonderful writer.

        • December 29, 2011 9:49 am

          Oh good, I look forward to it. I have read a novel and a short story or two of hers so am certainly well-disposed to it!

  6. Meg permalink
    December 27, 2011 7:49 pm

    Sue, all the best for the coming year. You will love Traitor, beautiful writing, and Dog Boy is also a great read. Looking forward to reading more of your interesting blogs.


    • December 27, 2011 8:12 pm

      Thanks Meg … and thanks for sharing your opinion of Traitor. I totally agree re Dog boy.

  7. December 28, 2011 4:07 am

    Of all the many wonderful things I can say about your blog, and there are a lot, one of the top is that my knowledge of Australian writers and Australia in general has increased immensely over the past year. Now, if only I can somehow get U.S. publishers to print more of the wonderful books you talk about. Or maybe I just need to finally break down and buy some books from the Book Depository.

    • December 28, 2011 10:54 am

      You just might have to, Stefanie … but you would first have to clear some way in your TBR pile methinks! Whatever way you go, I’m pleased that my Aussie posts are interesting enough to tempt you. That’s a good start!

  8. Angela (Ms LiteraryMinded) permalink
    December 28, 2011 11:49 am

    Looking forward to reading The Lakewoman after finding out I’ll be doing a panel with Gould at a festival next year! Dog Boy is a wonderful read, I agree. And I’m going to check out that Dickens link now…

    • December 28, 2011 3:29 pm

      Oh which festival Angela and what’s the panel topic (or is this not public knowledge yet)? I’d love to hear what you think about the novel …

  9. June 10, 2013 1:37 am

    (From Max Barry’s blog)

    Syrup is playing here and I’ll be doing a Q&A
    afterward about what it’s like to have a book turn into a movie. I land in Columbus on
    the night of the 14th direct from Australia so I can’t
    make any guarantees about how I’ll smell. Because of the long flight, I mean. Not because of
    Australia. Australia smells fine.

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