Monday musings on Australian literature: Australia’s favourite genres

A week or so ago I received an email from an organisation called Studying in Switzerland. Their main focus, as their name suggests, is helping students who want to study in Switzerland, but it seems that they also do some research of their own. A recent project was to identify the most popular book genres – in countries where data was available. 

Their methodology was to analyse Google search queries on genres from different countries, and the results are intriguing. I haven’t found much discussion of their analysis to know how others view the effectiveness of the methodology. Does it match up with borrowing or book-buying data? Or, is what we read different to what we research?

Study in Switzerland says that:

Books continue to be a significant part of our lives, with reading being a popular pastime for many people. Indeed, a typical person reads 12 to 13 novels each year, and how people choose what to read has long piqued the curiosity of researchers. As a result, book publishing has a huge market size worldwide, with revenue reaching $112.5 billion in 2022.

Anyhow, here is what came up for Australia – they identified that Australians search most for Adventure and Classics! Is this what you would have guessed? If I’d been asked, I would have thought Crime. Indeed, I probably would have said “Crime, hands down”. And, of course, as I questioned, what is searched may be different from what is actually read.

We are not the only country interested in Classics. This genre was also popular in Sweden, Hong Kong, USA, UK, Ireland and New Zealand.

Worldwide, they say, Romance, Classics and Poetry are the most searched for genres but, drilling down, there are some interesting preferences. Asians and Canadians, for example, had Poetry first, while overall Europeans (like the Russians, Poles and Finns) go for Fantasy, although some of them (like the French and Spanish) searched more or Romance! Not surprisingly, Belgians, the Dutch and the Norwegians seemed to prefer Crime and Thrillers.

Study in Switzerland makes some assumptions about the reasons for the various preferences they found. Those assumptions make some sense, but they are not based, I believe, on this research.

For their report, please check out this link.

Meanwhile …

There is other research to look at. Back in 2017, a survey conducted by the Australia Council and Macquarie University of Australians’ reading habits, found something closer to what I expected, which is that

The most popular fiction genre is crime/mystery/thriller, with 49% of Australians having read a book of that genre in the last 12 months … followed by historical fiction on 36%, contemporary/general fiction on 33%, science fiction/fantasy on 32%, and classics on 31%.

However, they also found that just over half (51%) of Australians were interested in “literary fiction”, which they described as fiction “eligible for prizes like the Man Booker and Miles Franklin”. They also found that it’s generally older readers who are most interested in this fiction. Interestingly, they found that these “older readers also tend to be more interested in work by Australian authors”.

I did report on this survey back in 2017, and posed some questions at the end. Some of these might have been answered by …

A report on bookselling published by ArtsHub in 2019 which confirmed Australians’ interest in “home-grown authors”. They found “a 30% jump in local authors featured in the top 25 fiction titles” over the previous two years. Further, bookseller and Book Club coordinator, Jennifer Stephens at Brisbane’s Avid Reader Bookshop, Brisbane, reported that “we are reading a lot of Australian women writers”. (Music to my ears, of course.)

Overall, this report, which drew on two years of Nielsen BookScan data, concluded:

Australian readers’ priorities and interests are evident: self-help and finance, a taste for home-grown writers, an eye for feminist writing, curiosity about sexuality and gender, a fascination with crime and mystery, and a deep need for First Nations perspectives.

I wonder if things have changed much since then, particularly given the pandemic? Either way, it’s interesting to ponder whether there is a significant difference between what we search for online and what we actually buy, or, whether, Study in Switzerland has identified a big swing in our interests over the pandemic?

Any thoughts?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Two new indies

This month – February* – has been designated #ReadIndies month by two British bloggers, Karen (kaggsysbookishramblings) and Lizzy (Lizzy’s Literary Life). The rules are simple: “read anything you like, in any language you like, as long as it was published by an independent publisher”. This is not a difficult reading month for me to take part in, as the majority of my reading comes from independent publishers.

However, the question is, what is an independent publisher? Karen and Lizzy admit that it’s not easy to define, but they mean smaller outfits that print and issue their own works, and aren’t part of a larger conglomerate. In Australia, the Small Press Network (about which I’ve written before) is a good place to start. In the end, Karen and Lizzy suggest “going with your gut”. They also say, quite rightly, that most independent publisher websites will proclaim their independence. I have written a few times about independent publishers. You can find most of these on my Small Publishers tag. In those posts, I’ve named many small and independent publishers. In this post I’m adding two very new publishers which launched during the pandemic: Ultimo Press and Upswell. What a funny coincidence that both start with U!

Ultimo Press

“to be distinctive, a little bit different, to disrupt and to have fun.”

Launched in 2020, Ultimo Press is an independent publisher with the simple ambition of becoming “home to Australia’s best storytellers”. They say they are part of Hardie Grant Publishing (which is now a reasonably large, diverse business with offices worldwide), making me wonder what they mean by “independent”. However, Hardie Grant describes itself as “independent” and “Australian-owned”, so I’m going with it.

Most Australians will assume, rightly, that Ultimo’s name comes from the Sydney suburb, but here is how they describe it:

Named for the Sydney suburb that houses Hardie Grant’s Sydney office, Ultimo references our home – an historic and colourful part of Sydney. The Italian translates roughly to ‘the latest’, and that will be our ambition: to provide a platform for the latest trends and newest voices.

The staff has some extensive industry cred, as the Who We Are page shows.

They “want to excite readers of general and literary fiction (especially the sweet spot in between), and discover non-fiction that inspires and ignites”. Their “hallmarks will be editorial excellence, arresting design, dynamic marketing and publicity, respect and loyalty to our authors, and publishing compelling new voices and original perspectives that reflect the full spectrum of Australian life”.

They have certainly started with a bang, with some of their books already making a splash, like Diana Reid’s Love and virtue (which I gave Daughter Gums for Christmas and she loved) and Shankari Chandran’s Chai time at Cinnamon Gardens. They’ve published Claire G. Coleman, and coming up is Yumna Kassab’s Australiana (March 2022), and local writer Nigel Featherstone’s latest novel, My heart is is a little wild thing (May 2022). Regular readers here will be familiar with Featherstone’s warm, expressive writing.

Ultimo certainly looks like a new indie to watch, as does …

Upswell

“where have all the adventurous readers gone?”**

Launched in 2021, Upswell is, you could probably say, a passion project, but it’s the passion project of someone with significant cred too. Director Terri-ann White ran UWA Publishing from 2006 until mid-2020. During that time she was responsible for significant publishing output across the genres, but, for litbloggers like me, especially for some great literary fiction and creative non-fiction. Josephine Wilson’s Miles Franklin Award winning Extinctions (Amanda’s review) and Jessica White’s hybrid biography-memoir, Hearing Maud (my review) are just two examples of too many to name.

Upswell is a not-for-profit company, with its directors being three impressive women, Carmen Lawrence, Linda Savage and White.

Like Ultimo Press, White wants to publish distinctive works, but puts it this way. She will publish

a small number of distinctive books each year in, broadly, the areas of narrative nonfiction, fiction and poetry. I am interested in books that elude easy categorising and work somewhat against the grain of current trends. They are books that may have trouble finding a home in the contemporary Australian publishing sector.

She’s shown, with her early list, not to be afraid of forms that often scare off the big publishers, like novellas, essays and poetry. And, like Ultimo, Upswell has started well with one of its first books, John Hughes’ The dogs (Lisa’s review) being shortlisted for last year’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards (not that awards are the only – or main – marker of excellence.)

Upswell is also distributing a bit differently. Of course, individual books can be bought from them directly or from booksellers, but they also have a subscription program, which Lisa and I took part in last year, receiving their first three books: John Hughes’ The dogs, Belinda Probert’s Imaginative possession and Vietnamese-American author Monique Truong’s The sweetest fruit. This year they are offering several subscription packages, which is a great option. You get to support an excellent publisher by providing them some certainty and you get little surprises during the year.

This isn’t the only different thing, however. Upswell also has DGR status, which means that (Australian) donations to them are tax-deductible. Donations will support their Regional Writing and Publishing Workshops, Mentorships with White, a strong poetry list, and their Noongar Voices program.

So, two new indies to add to the ever-growing list of wonderful indie publishers in Australia. Do support them when you can – and, the bookshops which stock (and feature) them. If you don’t see them at your local bookshop, talk to the bookseller. A personal touch is a powerful thing.

Finally, a little aside just in case you are interested, Marcie (Buried in Print) is running a Read Indies series on her blog, in which she is devoting posts to individual Canadian indies.

* The “month” has been extended to 15 March.
** From an article by Terri-ann White in SeeSaw magazine

Monday musings on Australian literature: The Guardian Australia’s Unmissables (2)

Two years ago, I wrote a post on The Guardian Australia’s Unmissables series, which was initiated in 2019 and aimed to highlight 12 new releases they deem “significant”. The series was supported by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.

Randolph Stow, The merry-go-round in the sea

I wondered at the end of my previous post whether the project would continue after the initial twelve. It seems that it did, at least until August 2020. By that time, they’d added 15 more works, but there were some changes. The initial project was about “highlighting significant new release Australian books”, but, pleasingly to me, later selections include older books like Randolph Stow’s The merry-go-round in the sea, published in 1965. This is because, from the 15th selection on, they changed tack to offer books “you’ve finally got time for”. That is, Unmissables went from “new releases” to books recommended by writers “for your lockdown”. 

With this, they also changed how the books were presented. In the original series, there were two articles per book, one on the book and one offering some additional resource – an extract from the book, or an interview with or essay by the author. From the 15th selection, there’s just one article, written by the recommender.

I’m chuffed that I’ve read several of this more broadly focused selection. And now, before I list the books, I’ll share Christos Tsiolkas’ comments on making a selection:

Should I choose a novel that I think under-appreciated and undervalued? Should I use positive discrimination in my choice? Should I choose the contemporary and au courant? Or should I be deliberately anti-fashion?

My being disconcerted speaks to the obsession with the “curated self” that we all now have in the digital age: every choice must be scrutinised for its moral and political purport. But in the end, I decided to trust my instincts. I had returned home from overseas in mid-March of this year and, knowing I was to enter a fortnight’s quarantine and then a subsequent period of quietude, I picked a handful of books off the shelves that I just had to read again. The only Australian book I chose in that initial cluster was Randolph Stow’s The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea.

Now, the books …

(Listed alphabetically by author)

Book cover
  • Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence (nonfiction) (1/4/2020) (my review) plus essay by Bridie Jabour applying Baird’s book to living through coronavirus. Little did she know in April 2020, how far we had to go!
  • Peter Carey’s True history of the Kelly Gang (novel) (3/8/2020) (read before blogging) recommended by Caro Llewellyn. Clearly a Carey fan, she says she read it knowing she “was in the presence of a writer walking along a knife’s edge of daring and audacity, my stomach churning at Australia’s cruel past”.
  • Kenneth Cook’s Wake in fright (novel)(24/7/2020) recommended by Briohny Doyle who says the story is easy to explain but its “nightmarish tension not so much”. However, she gives it a red hot go!
  • Chris Flynn’s Mammoth (novel) (24/4/2020) (my review) plus essay by Paul Daley who explains how this book about which he was doubtful got him hooked good and proper.
  • Kate Grenville’s The secret river (novel) (20/7/2020) (read before blogging) recommended by Stephanie Wood who says that “we hold our breath as we read, hoping for the happy, harmonious ending we know cannot come”.
  • Clive James’ Sentenced to life (poetry collection) (28/5/2020) recommended by Vicki Laveau Harvie who calls this slim volume “the poetic equivalent of the tiny, concentrated energy rations marathon runners take to keep going, when the end is not yet in sight”.
  • George Johnston’s A cartload of clay (novel) (6/7/2020) recommended by Paul Daley whose comments are included in my recent Unfinished books post.
  • Elizabeth Jolley’s My father’s moon (novel) (10/7/2020) (my review) recommended by Carrie Tiffany, who opens her piece with “it is proof of a fine novel when its characters enter your spirit as you are reading and take up residence there”.
  • Melissa Lucashenko’s Too much lip (novel) (17/7/2020) (my review) recommended by Alice Pung, who supports this book with a passionate argument that ‘for those of us whose family survived genocide, slavery and stolen children (as mine did), this book is a triumph, brimming with love and wit”.
  • Frederic Manning’s The middle part of fortune (19/6/2020) (Lisa’s review) recommended by Jeff Sparrow who asks “Why hasn’t Anzackery’s ever-rising tide washed Frederic Manning and The Middle Parts of Fortune further up the Australian literary shore?”
  • Alice Pung’s Her father’s daughter (memoir) (27/7/2020) (my review) recommended by Melanie Cheng who discusses her choice, saying “escapism seemed facile”. She needed “a book that could speak to the existential emergency humanity was facing, but also offer a blueprint for how to get through it”.
  • Nevil Shute’s On the beach (novel) (21/5/2020) recommended by Chris Flynn who calls it “a dynamite isolation read”. A teen favourite of mine, it has dated I think, but is still a good apocalypse read.
  • Randolph Stow’s The merry-go-round in the sea (novel) (11/6/2020) (my review) recommended by Christos Tsiolkas. He appreciates that COVID-19 has provided “the opportunity for stillness”, and suggests Stow’s novel is perfect because “it unfolds at a composed, quiet pace”.
  • Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria (novel) (4/6/2020) (my post) recommended by Tara June Winch, who provides excellent insight into how to approach this wild novel. She says “it will change you, as long as you have the guts to read all the way through”.
  • Alexis Wright’s Tracker (collective biography)(13/7/2020) recommended by Tegan Bennett Daylight who summarises this Stella-winner as “a chorus of voices about one of the country’s most prominent Indigenous activists is a glorious kaleidoscope of testimony”
Alexis Wright, Tracker

I wish The Guardian provided more about this project. How did the funding get extended and why did it stop? Regardless, there’s good reading here, both the books and the articles about them.

Finally …

This is a simple post, but interesting I hope. I am currently in Melbourne where our second grandchild, a little girl this time, has just been born. She is Neve Jessie, named for my lovely Mum. I’m just so thrilled, and not entirely focused on blogging.

What would you have recommended, if asked?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Posthumous publishing

The literary world is replete with works published posthumously. Jane Austen had two completed works published after she died, but there are many many others including Kafka, Tolkien and more recent giants like David Foster Wallace. In some cases, the writer had finished the work but time or some other reason resulted in its not being published in their lifetime. Austen’s two works are good examples. Northanger Abbey had been sold in 1803 to a publisher who never published it. It was bought back in 1816, and Austen worked further on it that year. Persuasion was completed that same year, which was the year of her death. Both were published months after her death through her brother. In other cases, as we discussed in last week’s post on unfinished works, writers specify that they don’t want their work published. Presumably, there are also cases where we just don’t know the creator’s thoughts. 

In 2018, The Conversation published an article on the ethics of posthumous publication, but, while it identifies ethical issues in relation to various authors, like Philip Larkin and WH Auden, it doesn’t fully grapple with them. It does, however, note that Auden’s literary executor, Edward Mendelson has written separately about his ethical dilemmas with regard to Auden’s wishes. For anyone interested in some stories, the article is worth checking out. The main point is that, as we discovered with Patrick White, it is most often the literary executor’s job to resolve the issue – and it isn’t easy.

This post shares a few examples of Australian posthumously published (mostly finished) works.

Across the ditch

Having said that, however, I’m going to start with New Zealand which is, after all, Antipodean, so close! (For those not in the know, “the ditch” refers to the Tasman Sea that separates Australia and New Zealand.)

My first example is the wonderful Janet Frame, and an interesting discussion on ABC RN’s The Book Show in 2008 about posthumous publication of Frame’s work. Presenter Ramona Koval discusses the posthumous release of literary works with Frame’s niece Pamela Gordon, chair of a charitable trust set up by Frame to manage her literary estate. Gordon said that she wished there’d been a “literary executor for dummies” guide to help her. Her job was facilitated by the fact that Frame believed in posthumous publishing, seeing it as “dignified”. Some of her works were not published in her lifetime for personal reasons. Frame also destroyed a lot of work that she felt was not up to being published. She also clearly indicated which poems she felt were finished. Frame wanted her poems published, and the first collection published after her death, The goose bath, was awarded New Zealand’s top poetry prize in 2007. Her 1963 novel, Towards another summer, and a 1974 novel, In the memorial room (Lisa’s review) have also been published, with, apparently, her prior approval.

My second example is an earlier, great New Zealand writer, Katherine Mansfield. She died suddenly in 1923, at the age of 34, of a pulmonary haemorrhage, leaving behind much unpublished work. Her husband, John Middleton Murry edited and published two short story collections, a volume of poems, a novella titled The aloe, and other collected writings. I’m guessing that dying so suddenly so young, she left no instructions and that we rely on her husband “knowing” her wishes.

My side of the ditch

I’ve written before about Patrick White’s literary executor, Barbara Mobbs, and her difficult decision to allow publication of White’s unfinished novel, The hanging garden. Literary executors have a challenging task, of which publishing unpublished works – my focus here – is only one aspect.

Many books, we are confident, were competed by their authors in the expectation of publication. Examples include my teenage favourite Nevil Shute’s Trustee from the tool room (1960); Morris West’s all but finalised The last confession (2000); Jacob Rosenberg’s The hollow tree (2009); Dorothy Porter’s poetry collection The bee hut (my review) and essay On passion (my review); Bryce Courtenay’s Jack of Diamonds (2012); Georgia Blain’s non-fiction The museum of words (2017); and Andrew McGahan’s The rich man’s house (2021). All were published within a year or two of their author’s death.

A different example, and one that may have better suited last week’s post, is Christina Stead’s I’m dying laughing, published in 1986. Wikipedia says that she worked on it on and off over decades between other works. One chapter, titled “UNO 1945”, was published in Southerly in 1962. A few years later, her New York agent wanted certain revisions, as did her British publisher. It appears that comments from an American friend about her handling of Hollywood radicals set off a long process of revision that she came to regret. The final book was put together by her literary executor, Ron Geering who says in the preface:

“What I inherited…was a huge mass of typescript ranging in finish from rough to polished and in length from page bits to different versions of whole chapters, along with piles of basic and supplementary material.”

There’s no suggestion here that Stead did not want it published.

My last example is a book due for release next month, March 2022. It’s Continuous creation, a posthumous collection of poems by Les Murray. Publisher Black Inc says that the volume comprises “poems he was working on up to his death, as well as work uncovered from his scrapbooks and files”. Given his wife survived him, I assume she supports this publication.

Black Inc’s promotion for this book references the title poem, which, they write, calls up ‘the spirit of continuous creation, “out of all that vanishes and all that will outlast us”’.

“All that will outlast us”! Can’t think of a better conclusion for a post on posthumous publication.

Are you aware of reading posthumously published books, and does it make a difference to your reading experience?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Unfinished books (2)

“Literary history is replete with unfinished novels which ought never to have seen the light of day.” (Alan Taylor, Scotland’s The Herald.) 

Back in 2018, I wrote a Monday Musings post on unfinished novels. I was more interested there in why they were published and what the authors may have intended. This time, I’m focusing more on how reviewers have responded to reading unfinished novels.

I have read several unfinished novels over the years, Jane Austen’s The Watsons (my review) and Catharine, or the bower (my review), for example. As many of you know, another of her unfinished works, Sanditon, was recently developed into a television series. The less said about that the better, but I am horrified that a second series has now been commissioned from this, what, 11-chapter unfinished novel. It’s all about the money. Andrew Davies and his team are not the first to “finish” this novel, but my post is on the unfinished version. Reading the unadulterated work is always my preference, because my interest is in the writer and wanting to know them better, to see where they were heading, perhaps, or gain insight into the development of their ideas or their methodology.

On reading the unfinished

All this, though, is by way of introduction, since my Monday Musings focus is Australia.

So let’s start with Patrick White, and his unfinished novel The hanging garden (on my TBR). As I wrote in my first post, he had instructed his literary agent Barbara Mobbs to destroy all handwritten papers after his death. She didn’t, and eventually acquiesced to the requests and allowed a verbatim transcription of it to be published in 2012, the 100th anniversary of White’s birth.

Being a White novel, it was, of course, reviewed by many. James Hopkin, writing in the TLS Literary Supplement, described posthumous publication against the author’s wish as “questionable, if not distasteful”, but that didn’t stop him reading it. He concluded that, although unfinished, “it works as a self-sufficient novella, and a fine one at that. (So, in this case, the publisher may be vindicated.)” I’m not sure that’s a moral justification, but it is an artistic one! Alan Taylor, whose quote starts this post, agrees that it was worth publishing. He calls it “haunting and tantalising”, and says that “the feeling that remains after reading its 200-plus generously spaced pages is one of regret and sadness at its incompletion”.

Hopkin and Taylor aren’t Australian, but Michelle de Kretser is, and she starts her discussion with:

The publication of an unfinished draft is the writer’s version of that nightmare in which you find yourself naked in the street.

But, she doesn’t exactly address the moral issue either. Instead, she looks at it from an author’s perspective, writing that “White is manifest in this book – especially in the first half, where greatness marks every page.” But as this unfinished work progresses, she says

the sense of draft, barely perceptible earlier on, comes close to the surface. Most tellingly, the grand pavane of White’s style slows and slackens. In these pages, our dominion over the dead seems brutal – surely White would never have allowed the publication of this fragmented work.

Yet the coldblooded living gain.

Ultimately, she says, “it feels like a gift”.

I also mentioned George Johnston’s A cartload of clay in my previous post. It completes his My brother Jack trilogy, and was published in 1971, the year after his death in 1970. Responses to it represent the more common gamut of responses to reading unfinished works. John Lleonart who reviewed it in The Canberra Times called it “a mellow, often distinctly melancholy autobiographical essay”. He says that while Johnston had intended it to be a novel, its incomplete nature does not detract from it. “[T]he absence of a contrived ending is, indeed, a factor in the book’s impact as a human document”.

Papua New Guinea Post-Courier‘s reviewer only partially agreed, arguing that its incomplete nature makes it “inherently unsatisfying, though it constitutes a fine piece of poignant and reflective writing”.

Writing nearly 50 years later – in 2020 in The Guardian‘s Unmissables series (see my post) – writer Paul Daley says he has often reread the trilogy, and that this third, unfinished volume, “emerges with rereading as equally compelling, and as the most stylistically elegant and, without doubt, melancholic, of the trilogy”. But, the best line comes from Johnston’s biographer, Garry Kinnane, whom Daley quotes:

“Just as in autobiography, the most complete form of ending in autobiographical fiction is the unfinished work, in which the final interruption to the self-exploration has been made by death itself.”

Love it!

My last example comes from a writer who died very recently, in 2018, the crime fiction writer, Peter Temple. I’ve reviewed his Miles Franklin winning novel, Truth. In 2019, Text Publishing published The red hand: Stories, reflections and the last appearance of Jack Irish. It includes the unfinished Jack Irish novel found in Temple’s drawer. Titled High art, it is, says Text, a “substantial fragment” which “reveals a writer at the peak of his powers”.

Text shares some responses. ABR described it as “dazzling…instantly engaging” and Michael Robotham called it “vintage Temple with black humour, crackling dialogue, suspense and achingly beautiful descriptions…I kept turning the page and holding it up to the light, hoping for more words between the lines”. Love that, too.

But it’s Anna Creer, in The Canberra Times, who gets to the heart of the experience of reading an unfinished novel:

The delight of reading High art eventually turns to reading despair as it ends abruptly with a body being discovered in a drain.

This seems the perfect point to hand it over to you. Do you read unfinished novels, and if so, what is your experience?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Untapped (The Australian Literary Heritage Project)

I have Lisa (ANZLitLovers) to thank for this Monday Musings because, commenting on my recent Margaret Barbalet post, she mentioned this Untapped project, which, embarrassingly, was unknown to me. Then, seeing our discussion, novelist Dorothy Johnston joined in, and offered to send me some information, which she did. So, I now have a copy of the launch announcement press release. This eased my embarrassment a little, as the project was announced two months ago, on 18 November 2021, and was launched on 6 December (at this gala event). Easy to miss, says she, at such a busy time of year!

Yes, yes, but what is it, I hear you all saying? Essentially, Untapped aims “to identify Australia’s lost literary treasures and bring them back to life”. In other words, it’s about bringing to the fore again those books that have been published in the past but are now out-of-print. The books are produced in eBook format, and are available for borrowing from libraries and purchase from several eBooksellers.

I like that it’s “a collaboration between authors, libraries and researchers”, and that “it creates a new income source for Australian authors, who currently have few options for getting their out-of-print titles available in libraries”. The project has some significant partners, including the Australian Society of Authors, National State and Territory Libraries, the Australian Library and Information Association and Ligature Press. 

What a visionary and practical project. I am particularly thrilled about it because it ties in somewhat with our reframing this year of the Australian Women Writers Challenge (AWW) to focus on forgotten and past women writers. The two activities don’t completely align: the new AWW is focusing on works published fifty or more years ago, whereas Untapped focuses on books that have gone out of print, and many of these are far more recent than 50 years old.

On the Untapped website, linked above, they have clearly outlined the steps:

  1. Identify missing books: it seems that the current collection comprises 161 books, which they describe as an “inclusive and diverse selection of lost books in need of rescue”.
  2. Find the authors and obtain the rights: this, I imagine, would have been particularly time consuming, tracking down the appropriate people to deal with – authors, estates and/or literary agents.
  3. Digitise the works: this involved scanning, then using OCR to convert the text, followed by careful proof-reading and scan quality checking. For this proofreading they focused on “hiring arts workers affected by COVID”. Then there’s all the work involved in (digital) publication, including design, metadata, royalty accounting, and uploading onto the library lending and other platforms.
  4. Promote the collection: this is where the libraries come into their own, promoting the collection in their various ways, and ensuring payment to the authors. Dorothy Johnston mentioned in her comment on my post that “we’re hoping to generate some publicity through the Geelong Regional Libraries this year”. She’d love to find any other “current or past writers living in or writing about Geelong” who might be covered by the collection. If you live in Geelong, keep an eye out for this.
  5. Collect the data and crunch the numbers: like any good project, its managers will analyse the sales and loan data. Their aim is “to understand the value of out-of-print rights to authors, the value of libraries’ book promotion efforts, and the relationship between library lending and sales”. They will feed this data, they say, “into public policy discussions about how we can best support Australian authors and literary culture”. They also hope the project might encourage new interest from commercial publishers. This research aspect is led by Rebecca Giblin, Associate Professor of Law, University of Melbourne.

As I understand it, the initial project involves this collection of 161 books, and the research will be based on this, but having created the infrastructure, they plan to “keep rescuing lost literary treasures” for as long as they have the resources to do so. The books will also be lodged at the National Library as part of its e-deposit scheme, ensuring that they’ll be available “for as long as libraries exist”.

It’s a great initiative that will spotlight work from beloved Australian authors and provide new access to those works. (Olivia Lanchester, CEO, Australian Society of Authors from Press Release)

The books

When Lisa mentioned the project, it was to say she’d bought Margaret Barbalet’s non-fiction book, Low gutter girl: The forgotten world of state wards, South Australia, 1887–1940. So, curious, I checked the site out, and bought Canberra tales, the anthology of short stories by Canberra’s Seven Writers (Margaret Barbalet, Sara Dowse, Suzanne Edgar, Marian Eldridge, Marion Halligan, Dorothy Horsfield, Dorothy Johnston) .

However, Lisa’s purchase should tell you something interesting about the collection, which is that it contains not only fiction. It includes a wide range of genres and forms, including novels, histories, memoirs, and poetry. The project also wanted a diverse collection, so there are works by First Nations author Anita Heiss, Greek-born Vogel/The Australian award winning author Jim Sakkas, and Lebanese-born writer and academic Abbas El-Zein, to name a few. Their books are all 21st century, but, there are also significantly older books, like Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Intimate strangers (1937) and M. Barnard Eldershaw’s Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow (1947).

I thought, of course, to check my own library, the ACT Library Service, and found an announcement on their website. Not surprisingly, they draw attention to a Canberra connection, as Johnston would like to do in Geelong:

The books include some with a connection to Canberra, through the author or substantial Canberra-related content. For example: The golden dress by Marion Halligan, One for the master by Dorothy Johnston, The moth hunters by Josephine Flood, The schoonermaster’s dance by Alan Gould, and others.

I should add that all of Canberra’s Seven Writers are included.

So, a wonderful project. The question is, will it achieve its goal of ensuring the long tail of authors’ works stay available in a world where money not culture rules?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Reflections of a 1970s feminist

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a feminist, but Bill suggested that, for his AWW Gen 4 week, I “could ‘review’ The female eunuch by discussing your experience of Women’s Lib at uni”.

I replied that I could probably do “Reflections of a 1970s feminist” but that it wouldn’t be exactly what he was thinking. The thing is, I chose to go to a new, progressive university (Macquarie) though many of my peers from school preferred the “name” one (Sydney). I’m sure things weren’t perfect at Macquarie, but in my experience women were treated well, there. It had no baggage of “traditions” that the older male-dominated universities had, and its academics seemed invested in creating something new. I think that made a difference.

Macquarie’s motto is Chaucer’s “and gladly teche” (from the lines “gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche”). I always thought it a bit strange that the motto focused on “teaching” more than “learning” but now I think it’s inspired, because it reminds the academics that “teaching” is where it all starts. All this is to say that, although I read The female eunuch during this time and was strongly affected by it personally, I wasn’t aware of an active feminist presence on my campus. However, there are things I could say about growing up from the 50s to 70s and why Greer made such an impact on me. 

A baby-boomer childhood

My father, like many men of his between-the-wars generation, wanted a son, but his first two children were daughters, me first, then my sister. A son came along, but a few years later. I never felt unloved or unwanted – indeed, I was very much loved – but we grew up, in the main, in a traditional role-oriented household. We had an intellectually frustrated but devoted stay-at-home mum and breadwinning father. Household tasks were largely gendered, with Mum looking after inside, and Dad outside – and we children followed suit. That’s how it mostly was back then, so it didn’t seem particularly strange.

Conversely, it also didn’t seem strange that my sister and I were encouraged in our education, that it was assumed that we’d go to university and on to work, and that marriage and children were sort of assumed some time down the track but were never focused on. Consequently, while my sister and I were expected to help with “women’s work” like washing and drying dishes after meals, it was only on weekends and holidays. Schoolwork came first.

They were schizophrenic times, then, and jokes were often gendered. One, I particularly remember, concerned junk car yards, which were called, by the menfolk as we drove past, “ladies’ driving school”. Yet, my Mum drove and we were encouraged to get our licences. It didn’t make sense. Was it a “little” attempt by men to retain their superiority as we encroached on their domain?

Feminism to the fore

As the 60s moved into the 70s, however, Women’s Liberation, as we called the second wave of feminism, came to popular attention. I read The female eunuch within a year or so of its publication, in my first year of university. It bowled me over, giving structure and a theoretical underpinning for how my thoughts were developing. It was both easy and not easy being a young woman then. The free-love hippy movement of the 60s gave women increasing freedom to be themselves in dress and behaviour – but old habits die hard and the pressure to conform to ideals of beauty ran alongside. Moreover, as Kate Jennings made clear in her famous Front Lawn speech in 1970, the appearance of increasing freedom for women was not matched by the reality. The recent documentary Brazen hussies documents these times very well. I was forging my own path through this, eschewing the trappings of “beauty” and dressing naturally, comfortably, sans make-up, hair colour, high heels, and so on.

Again, my family supported me. No comments were made – to my face anyhow! – but the women’s movement did not pass unnoticed. Another little anecdote, I remember, concerns my paternal grandparents, born in 1889 and 1893. They were kind, generous people, but Grandpa wasn’t averse to little digs at “women’s libbers”, including a time when Gran surprised him by suggesting she occupy the front seat of the car when my Dad was driving them home after a visit. Gran got the seat, and their marriage continued its loving way. Gran was great fun, and did her best to keep up with the times.

Moving along into the 1980s and 90s, I did marry and have children, and I chose – it was a choice – to work part-time at a time when part-time work was not well-supported in the Australian (then Commonwealth) Public Service. My good friend and work colleague had a child at the same time, so we proposed that we job-share. That was quite a saga, one too long to fully tell here. We were supported by our immediate boss, a woman a few years older than we were, and, generally, by the rest of the senior management, but we did face opposition from a few, including the female head of HR. With no regulations in place at the time for administering permanent part-time work, we needed the support of HR to make it work on paper (which included applying for leave-without-pay every week for the hours we weren’t working). We got there, eventually, but it was disappointing to find the greatest opposition coming from (some) women.

Through all of this and other feminist challenges along the way, Germanine Greer’s arguments – and those of the writers I was reading in Ms magazine, edited for a while by Australia’s Anne Summers* – underpinned my confidence that my choices and ideas were valid.

Reading women writers

It was around this time – that is, in the 1980s – that I started prioritising women writers in my reading, a priority I have maintained ever since. Virago Press was one of the inspirations for this, and I regularly scanned bookshop shelves, looking for the identifying green spine. There were other women-focused presses around, but Virago editions, in particular, inspired many of us, as we realised just how many great women writers had been forgotten. This is when I fell in love with Elizabeth von Arnim, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston and E.H. Young, to name a few.

Book cover

However, this is Monday Musings on Australian literature, so I thought I’d close on the Australian novelists who inspired me at the time. But first, back to my Mum. I grew up with reading parents, and my Mum had on her shelves – besides Jane Austen and other favourite classics – Henry Handel Richardon’s Australia Felix trilogy, Eleanor Dark’s The timeless land, M. Barnard Eldershaw’s A house is built, Eve Langley’s The pea pickers, and Thea Astley’s first novels.

So, when women’s writing started to really take off again in the 1980s I was attuned – and started reading, in that decade, novels by Thea Astley, Jessica Anderson, Elizabeth Jolley, and Olga Masters, to name a few. These writers, their contemporaries and those who followed them, including now, First Nations women writers, have added immeasurably to my understanding of myself as a woman and a person. They have helped me be comfortable in my shoes, but have also shown me where things need to change, personally and politically. I would not be who I am today without them.

A fundamental feminist principle – obvious to those who understand, but not to those who, for their own reasons, wish to remain obtuse – is that feminism is not about the sexes being the same but about all people being equal in terms of rights and respect. Germaine Greer puts it a different way in her Preface to the 21st Anniversary Paladin edition of The female eunuch. She says it’s about freedom, “the freedom to be a person, with the dignity, integrity, nobility, passion, pride that constitute personhood”, freedom from fear and hunger, freedom of speech and belief. As she says in this 1991 edition – and unfortunately it’s still true – things have changed, but not enough. It’s therefore wonderful seeing a new generation of feminists picking up the baton. They don’t always get it right, anymore than previous generations did, but womanhood – and personhood – is, I believe, in good hands.

* Anne Summers, of course, wrote another now-classic Australian feminist work, Damned whores and God’s police (Lisa’s post)

Monday musings on Australian literature: Thinking about historiography

Last week I wrote a post on Cindy Solonec’s hybrid biography-memoir, Debesa: The story of Frank and Katie Rodriguez. This book, as I explained in my post, is a rewriting of her 2016 PhD thesis which “explored a social history in the West Kimberley based on the way her parents and extended family lived during the mid-1900s.” Immediately, perhaps, you can see what inspired this post.

It has been accepted for some time now that social history, particularly that involving the stories of ordinary people, is a valid and important part of history, of the historical record. But, ordinary people’s lives aren’t well documented, history normally being, as we know, the province of the victors.

Solonec did have significant documentary sources to draw on, as the Kimberley has fascinated people for a long time. She also had her Spanish-born father’s diaries, which were not particularly detailed but they did provide the book’s “chronological framework”. Diaries are a common source for historians, so there’s nothing new about that. But, what about the First Nations side of her family? For that she had to rely on the stories her mother and extended family passed on through oral tradition. She writes that, fortunately,

Aboriginal peoples still uphold past events through oral histories … I was excited to find that their stories were not that hard to cross reference with the literature. Their memory vaults with stories that have been handed down served them well, confirming the reliability of Indigenous intelligence.

This comment reminded me of an essay “On listening to new national storytellers” in The Conversation. Written five years ago by academic Anna Clark, it considers Australian historiography and the historical record, and covers some issues that are discussed in longer tomes like Tom Griffiths’ The art of time travel. But her focus is specific.

Clark refers briefly to the “history wars” before moving on to say that

Debates over Australian history aren’t simply ideological, but also disciplinary, and reflect the historical challenges wrought by changing approaches to the past. 

She makes the point that history isn’t a simple matter of what happened and why, but is affected by “persuasions, politics and prejudices” of the historians writing it. So, a history of the “first settlement” written in, say, the 1930s, is very different to one written today, though the actual events are the same.

Clark goes on to say that Australia’s history has been viewed, at least until the 1960s, in terms of “progress” or advancement. It “privileged the written record” which is “located in archives, libraries and universities (themselves imperial institutions)”. Where did that leave the story of First Nations’ people? Clark writes that:

Dispossessed from their country, Indigenous people were in turn dispossessed from Australian historiography. It was, in the words of the anthropologist, W.E.H. Stanner, our “Great Australian Silence”, and his phrase has come to characterise the nation’s own historiographical “dark ages”.

Gradually, historians, inspired by the likes of Henry Reynolds, started to write histories that looked through lenses different to the “simple story of progress and advancement”. To do this, they used “Indigenous testimony and oral history sources”. This challenged traditional “historical research methods, which depended on written primary sources”.

Contributing to this shift have been Indigenous historians – such as Steve Kinnane, Noel Pearson and Larissa Behrendt – who have promoted “the inclusion of new historical lenses to read between the lines of colonial sources”.

Other storytellers?

That’s a good thing, but Clark has more questions, such as: while historians were “erasing the impact of settler-colonial society on Indigenous people in Australia”, were other “national storytellers” doing the same? And here is where it becomes interesting in terms of what we call “history”.

Take poetry, for example. Clark writes that

the sound of colonial violence and Aboriginal dispossession was ringing loud and clear in Judith Wright’s poem Nigger’s Leap, New England. Published in 1945, it’s based on the story of an Aboriginal massacre told to Wright by her father, and is a powerful antidote to Australian historiography of the time.

Or novels, like Eleanor Dark’s The timeless land (1941). In it “Dark tries to capture the cultural clash between the Eora people and the British colonisers in early Sydney”. This might be historical fiction, but Tom Griffiths, she says, argued in his book that “Dark deserves recognition as a historian for the work she did, and her impact on Australians’ historical consciousness”.

This doesn’t mean, she continues, that historians should ignore

the conventions of truth-seeking and critical inquiry. But as Griffiths intimates in his recent book, the relationship between history and fiction is surely more a dance than a clash, despite the heated debate over Kate Grenville’s historical novel, The Secret River. And historians who ignore the potential of fiction to imagine their way into some of those undocumented encounters diminish their own historical imaginations, he concludes.

Regular readers here will know that this accords with my – admittedly non-expert – views on the matter.

Anyhow, she goes on … mentions Mudrooroo’s Doctor Wooreddy’s Prescription for Enduring the Ending of the World, and other potential sources of history …

I think you get the gist. The point she is making is that there is increasing recognition of “the need to broaden our conception of historiography to reflect the many ways we make history, and consume it”. Aboriginal rock art is an obvious example, and other forms of “material culture”. Clark argues, and here we loop back to Cindy Solonec, that there is a need:

in Australia to expand and reconceptualise our understanding of historiography in order to recognise that history is frequently captured and made outside the academy ­– in fiction, poetry, art and even beyond the public domain altogether, such as local and family histories.

Clark has more to say, but concludes that she’s interested in how less traditional records or stories, these “vernacular epistemologies”, “can add both to our understanding of the past and the discipline itself”. I’ve been fascinated by historiography since I read EH Carr’s What is history at university, and so I loved this article.

Any thoughts?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Some New Releases in 2022

For several years now, my first Monday Musings of the year has focused on “new releases”. As before, it is mostly drawn from the Sydney Morning Herald. Their writers do a wonderful job of surveying publishers large and small, but I have found a few more on my own! Also, remember, this is Monday musings on Australian literature post, so focuses on Australian authors. Do click on the SMH link to see the full list, which includes non-Aussies, Aussies I haven’t selected, and some additional book info.

Links on the authors’ names are to my posts on those authors.

Fiction

Last year, I listed over 30 fiction works, including short story collections, and read very few – though have some on my TBR. Here’s this year’s selection:

  • Robbie Arnott, Limberlost (October, Text)
  • Jessica Au, Cold enough for snow (February, Giramondo): Brona’s advanced review
  • Mandy Beaumont, The furies (February, Hachette)
  • Geraldine BrooksHorse (June, Hachette)
  • Michelle Cahill, Daisy and Woolf (April, Hachette)
  • Jay Carmichael, Marlo, 1953 (August, Scribe)
  • Steven Carroll, Goodnight, Vivienne, Goodnight (March, 4th Estate): final in the Eliot Quartet
  • Shankari Chandran, Chai time at Cinnamon Gardens (January, Ultimo Press)
  • Claire G. ColemanEnclave (July, Hachette) 
  • Gregory Day, The bell in the world (December, Transit Lounge)
  • Ceridwen Dovey and Eliza Bell, Mothertongues (April, PRH): “experimental book of bio-autofiction about early motherhood”, a genre-bender?
  • Robert Drewe, Nimblefoot (June, PRH)
  • Nigel Featherstone, My heart is a little wild thing (no date, Ultimo Press)
  • Victoria Hannan, Marshmallow (September, Hachette)
  • Hilde Hinton, The loudness of unsaid things (April, Hachette)
  • Gail Jones, no title yet (November, Text)
  • Yumna Kassab, Australiana (March, Ultimo)
  • Tom Keneally, Dancing the Liberty Dance (August, PRH)
  • Tom Lee, Object coach (November, Upswell)
  • Robert Lukins, Loveland (Allen & Unwin, March)  
  • Fiona McGregor, Iris (October, Picador)
  • Holly Ringland, The seven skins of Esther Wilding (June, 4th Estate) 
  • Philip Salom, Sweeney and the bicycles (November, Transit Lounge)
  • Wendy Scarfe, One bright morning (March, Wakefield)
  • Jock Serong, The settlement (September, Text)
  • Craig Sherborne, The Grass Hotel (February, Text)
  • Inga Simpson, Willowman (November, Hachette)
  • Steve Toltz, Here goes nothing (May, PRH)
  • Pip Williams, The bookbinder of Jericho (November, Affirm). 
  • Dominique Wilson, Orphan Rock (March, Transit Lounge)
  • Alexis WrightPraiseworthy (October, Giramondo)

SMH lists many books under Thrills and Chills, but this is not my area of expertise. So, I’m going to leave you to check SMH’s link if you are interested, and just bring a couple to your attention:

SMH also lists Debut Australian fiction. Most of these names are, by definition, unknown, so I’m sharing them by publisher:

  • Affirm: Omar Sakr, Son of Sin (February: poet moving into fiction)
  • Allen & Unwin (A&U): Isobel Beech, Sunbathing (May); Emily Brugman, The Islands (February)
  • Finlay Lloyd: Sandy Gordon, Leaving Owl Creek (February: on my TBR)
  • Fremantle Press: Brooke Dunnell, The glass house (November: Fogarty Literary Award winner)
  • Hachette: Megan Albany, The very last list of Vivian Walker (February: First Nations); Rhett Davis, Hovering (February: won the 2020 Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript)
  • Harper/Collins: Kimberley Allsopp, Love and other puzzles (February)
  • Picador: Jessica Stanley, A Great Hope (February)
  • Penguin Random House (PRH): Clare Fletcher, Five bush weddings (September); Ashley Goldberg, Abomination (May); Lizzie Pook, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter (February); Justin Smith, Cooper not out (January)
  • S&S: James Weir, The Hemsworth effect (June)
  • Scribe: Sam Wallman, Our members be unlimited (May: graphic novel)
  • Transit Lounge: Brendan Colley, The signal line (May); Alan Fyfe (T, September); Adriane Howell, Hydra (August)
  • Ultimo: Pirooz Jafari, Forty nights (July)
  • UQP: Al Campbell, The keepers (February); George Haddad, Losing face (May)

Short stories

  • Ennis Cehic, Sadvertising (March, PRH)
  • lse Fitzgerald, Everything feels like the end of the world (April, A&U)
  • Chris Flynn, Here be Leviathans (second half, UQP)
  • Kat Gibson, Women I know (May, Scribner)
  • Mirandi Riwoe,The burnished sun (April, UQP)
  • Andrew Roff, The teeth of a slow machine (March, Wakefield Press) 
  • Maria Samuela, Beats of the Pa’u (March, Victoria University Press)

Non-fiction

SMH provides a long, long list of new non-fiction books covering a huge range of topics, so my lists here are highly selective.

Life-writing (loosely defined, and focused mainly on the arts and activism)

  • Carmel BirdTelltale: Reading, writing, remembering (July, Transit Lounge): need I say more?
  • Nick Cave, Faith, hope and carnage (October, Text): reflection on son Arthur’s death
  • Jessie Cole, Desire (August, Text): memoir
  • Jim Davidson, Emperors in Liliput: Clem Christesen of Meanjin and Stephen Murray-Smith of Overland (October, MUP): on these two literary journals and their editors
  • Aaron Fa’Aoso, So far, so good, (September, Pantera Press): memoir of Black Comedy star
  • Anna Funder, Wifedom (September, PRH): on George Orwell’s first wife; billed as a “blazing feminist masterpiece”
  • Hannah Gadsby, Ten steps to Nanette (April, A&U): memoir
  • Kate GrenvilleA room made of leaves: Elizabeth Macarthur’s letters (April, Text): non-fiction accompaniment to the novel 
  • Brittany Higgins, no title (October, PRH): memoir of activist
  • Nathan Hobby, The red witch (May, MUP): biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard (been waiting for this) 
  • Anita Jacoby, Secrets beyond the screen, May, Ventura): television producer’s memoir
  • Lee Kofman, The writer laid bare (March, Ventura)
  • Wendy McCarthy, Don’t be too polite, girls (March, A&U): activist/feminist’s memoir
  • Paddy Manning, Sly fox (November, Black Inc): unauthorised biography of Lachlan Murdoch
  • Patti Miller,True Friends (April, UQP): memoir
  • Brenda NiallMy accidental career (March, Text): biographer’s memoir 
  • Rick Morton (ed), Growing up in country Australia (April, Black Inc)
  • Ann-Marie Priest, My tongue is my own (May, La Trobe University Press): biography of poet Gwen Harwood
  • Magda Szubanski, no title (second half, Text): memoir
  • Simon Tedeschi, Fugitive (May, Upswell): pianist, “straddles the borders of poetry and prose, fiction and fact, trauma and testimony”
  • Tom Tilley, Speaking in tongues (September, ABC Books): broadcaster’s memoir

SMH also lists several biographies and memoirs on/by politicians, past and present, but, as last year, I’m taking a break from parliamentary politics. (Do check SMH’s link, if you are interested.)

Essay collections

  • Eda Gunaydin, Root and branch (May, NewSouth): race, genre and migration
  • Eliza Hull (ed), We’ve got this (March, Black Inc): by parents who identify as deaf, disabled or chronically ill
  • Kim Mahood, Wandering with Intent (October, Scribe)
  • Pantera Press anthology of Liminal and Pantera Press Nonfiction Prize longlist (August)

History and other non-fiction

  • Anna Clark, Making Australian history (February, PRH)
  • David Duffy, Nabbing Ned Kelly (March, A&U)
  • Meg Foster, Boundary crossers (November, NewSouth): Aboriginal, African-American, Chinese and female bushrangers
  • Duane Hamacher, The first astronomers (March, A&U): First Peoples’ knowledge of the stars; Hamacher is not First Nations, but did I believe work closely with Indigenous elders
  • Leah Lui-Chivizhe, Masked histories: Turtle shell masks and Torres Straight Islander People (July, MUP): First Nations author
  • David Marr, A family business (November, Black Inc): our colonial past
  • Elizabeth Tynan, The secret of Emu Field (May, NewSouth): the first British atomic test site, South Australia
  • Don Watson, The passion of Private White (October, Scribner): the 50-year-old relationship between anthropologist and veteran Neville White and Aboriginal clans of remote northern Australia

Some current-interest topics being written about, include:

  • Women and the “home-front”: Tabitha Carvan, This is not a book about Benedict Cumberbatch (March, HarperCollins: joy in women’s lives); Eloise Grills, Big beautiful female theory (July, Affirm); Sonia Orchard, The female of the species (September, Affirm: the “science of womanhood”); Sian Prior, Childless (April, Text: living without children); Gina Rushton, The most important job in the world (April, Pan Macmillan: choosing motherhood).
  • Politics and current affairs: Allan Behm, No enemies, no friends (March, Upswell: on Australia’s diplomatic relationships); Ed Coper, Facts and other lies (February, A&U: on disinformation); Jo Dyer, Burning down the house (February, Monash University Press: rethinking our political system); Osman Faruqi, The racist country (August, PRH); Samantha Maiden, Open secrets (no date, HarperCollins: on the Canberra bubble); Andrew Quilty, Fall of Kabul (August, MUP); Matthew Ricketson and Patrick Mullins, Who needs the ABC? (April, Scribe).

Interestingly, I see little this year on COVID-19 and climate change, compared with last year. Nor much about our big women’s issue of 2021, except for Brittany Higgins’ memoir coming out. Why?

Poetry

Finally, if you love poetry, do check the link, but these might whet your appetite:

  • Lisa Gorton, Mirabilia (August, Giramondo)
  • Sarah Holland-Batt, The Jaguar (May, UQP)
  • John Kinsella and Charmaine Papertalk Green, Art (June, Magabala Books)
  • Les Murray, Continous creation (March, Black Inc): final posthumous collection
  • Tracy Ryan, Rose interior (April, Giramondo)

New publisher Upswell and the established Fremantle Press also have poetry collections coming …

Anything here grab your attention?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

Challenge logo

For the last time, I am devoting my last Monday Musings of the year to the Australian Women Writers Challenge ( in its current form at least, see below). What a couple of years we’ve had. It’s hard to know whether it has affected the challenge or not but, anecdotally, our numbers did not increase over a period when more people were stuck at home. Were we too discombobulated to focus on reading or were many of our participants too tired from the challenges of working from home and home-schooling to read and review as well? I look forward in the future to seeing what sociologists and other researchers make of these years and how we behaved.

Anyhow, the challenge … it has continued to go very well. The full database now contains reviews for nearly 7,700 different books across all forms and genres, from all periods, of Australian women’s writing. This means that the number of books reviewed on our database increased in 2021 by nearly 700 books, less than the number added last year, but still a healthy 10% increase to the database.

My personal round-up for the year

These last two years have not been stellar ones for me, so my posting to the challenge was down (mirroring the overall trajectory for the challenge!) I posted only 23 reviews to the Challenge over the year, a few less than last year, but I did also read three essays I didn’t post to the challenge. I will include them here as they were by women and appeared in a book edited by a woman, Belinda Castles’ Reading like an Australian writer. I’m disappointed in my reading achievements this year, but it is what it is! Here they are, with links to my reviews:

Fiction

Non-fiction

Anthologies/Essays

This year, fiction (including short stories) represented around 53% of my AWW challenge reading, which is a little less than last year’s 61%, and only two were classics by my loose definitions. One, Elizabeth Harrower’s, was read for Bill’s (The Australian Legend) Gen 4 week (Part 1). As always, I appreciate the impetus to read books from the past, because they do not deserve to be forgotten! In terms of that problematic word “diversity”, I read four books by First Nations Australia women.

My non-fiction reading was even more heavily slanted towards memoir/life-writing than usual, though the essays shift the balance a little, with a focus there on writing about writing.

Finally, as always, a big thanks to Theresa, Elizabeth and the rest of the team. I have loved being part of this challenge, partly of course because it equates with my reading goals so has never really been a challenge, but also because it’s been a generous and supportive team working on an important goal.

And so, 2022

Challenge logo

Most of you will know that this challenge was instigated by Elizabeth Lhuede in 2012 in response to concerns in Australian literary circles about the lack of recognition for women writers. I have been involved as a volunteer since 2013. In many ways, we feel that ten years on, the goal has been achieved, as women writers seem to be well-established on Australia’s literary scene, at least by observable measures.

Partly for this reason, the challenge will change tack in 2022 and focus on past and often under-recognised or overlooked women writers, from the 19th- and 20th-centuries. The new team overseeing this new phase comprises Elizabeth, Bill (The Australian Legend) and me. We plan to offer articles and reviews about earlier writers, and publish their actual writings – in full or excerpt form, as appropriate. We three feel that Australia’s rich heritage of Australian women’s writing hasn’t been fully explored and we’re keen to nudge it a bit more into the limelight.

This does not mean that the always popular contemporary aspect of the challenge will cease, but it will now be carried through our Facebook groups, Love Reading Books by Aussie Women and Australian Women Writers News and Events. Please join those groups if you are interested and haven’t already joined them.

Meanwhile, you will hear more about AWW 2022, when we get going in February.