Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: To Name Those Lost by Rohan Wilson

Rohan Wilson’s second novel, To Name those Lost is set around an apocalyptic Launceston in 1874. The riots that occurred in real life, following the call from the government for citizens to bail out a collapsed railway company, reduced the citizens to violence. This provides a sharp backdrop to the story of two fathers and their children - and redemption, retribution, loss and survival.
  Opening with the death of destitute twelve year old William Toosey’s mother, and the doctor’s demand he pay him a fee for merely pronouncing the woman dead, within pages the author has William’s father, Thomas nearly bashing his captor to death.
Toosey senior has a ransom on his head and escapes to find his son, who he knows is now alone in the world. In turn he is pursued by the Irish, Fitheal Flynn. Flynn is travelling with a hooded, gimp-like character, who is revealed to be his maimed daughter Caislynn. Her head is covered as she seems to be deformed but the how and what of the deformity remains one of the book’s many intrigues until the end. Toosey has robbed Flynn and his three daughters of 200 quid and that money provides a backbone for the narrative.
Wilson’s first novel, The Roving Party won The Vogel Prize in manuscript form and had a similar darkness and setting. It is testament to Wilson’s skills as a writer that the two novels so close in subject matter are so different. The Roving Party was compared to the dystopia and bleakness of Cormac Macarthy’s work and the comparison also works here. To Name Those Lost also offers a beautiful portrait of fatherly love, a characteristic which provides some solace to the reader.
Wilson relishes the language of the time and the characters speak a delicious vernacular; words that are nearly lost and include mullock, jackeen and rum’un. There are also wonderful snap shots of the fashions of the time, both food and clothing – the salted ling and the ‘felt wide-awake’ worn by the dead-cart driver are two examples amongst a novel which, while obviously well researched, incorporates these facts seamlessly.
  The robust language that comes from Mr Chung the hotelier’s mouth is particularly rich. Reminiscent of Mr Wu from the HBO series Deadwood, this character’s command of English insults is both disgusting and engaging.
  The badlands of colonial Launceston, where life was hard and dark and difficult, where urchins roamed the streets and accepted food in exchange for sexual abuse, drank like the clappers and suffered other physical and emotional abuses at the hands of both strangers and family alike provide rich pickings for this tale – and Wilson doesn’t shy away from viscerally recounting extreme physical violence and the torture and killing of animals, adults and a baby all make an appearance.

  Do not let the dark subject matter dissuade you from diving deep into this novel. At times the strings of the story are lost in detail and the pacing of the story is unequal, the story is finely told, the characters will stay with you and it is a fascinating and revealing history of a rough time in Tasmania’s past. 

First published in The Mercury magazine TasWeekends, Saturday October 11

Here's an interview I did with Rohan about his first novel The Roving Party 

To Name Those Lost 
by Rohan Wilson
Allen and Unwin

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chasing El Dorado, a South American Adventure by Aaron Smith

Wild ride! - Listen to the full interview with Aaron Smith here.

Travelogues of South America are a ten cent piece to the dozen - but put this one to top of your pile. Exu, Macumba, Quimbanda, Ayahuasca, love and piranhas - it's all here.

Aaron met the woman who was to become his wife when they went dancing deep in the favelas  (loosely, and incorrectly translated as 'slums' in English) of Rio de Janiero in the last week before his ticket back to Australia ran out. He stayed in Brasil and he and Vivi are now married and living on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait.

 In Chasing El Dorado A South America Adventure,  Aaron is held up at gun point in the favelas, nearly dies when the poison of a giant tree frog is pushed into wounds on his chest (by choice), ends up deep in FARC territory in Colombia following William Burrough's yage quest and quite a few other adventures.
   Chasing El Dorado provides a considered, pacy review of the shamanic and healing practice of the ayahuasca vine, proffered as a hallucinogenic brew. It is also a rambunctious and enjoyable travelogue.

Listen to the full interview here.
You can read Aaron's blog Going Strait here. 
This interview was first broadcast on Edge Radio on Tuesday 14 October, 2014

Chasing El Dorado, a South American Adventure
by Aaron Smith
Transit Lounge

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review of Born Bad; original sin and the making of the Western World by James Boyce

It is a treat for the reader that a subject as bold, intricate and dense as original sin  has been examined by the eloquent James Boyce.  In his hands what may seem a terrifying subject is thoroughly examined and put through its historical, theological and psychological paces.

Born Bad; original sin and the making of the Western World traces the progress of the notion of original sin through Western Christianity, beginning with St Augustine, the man considered to be the father of Western Christianity through to the present day. 
St Augustine began to include the teaching of original sin and The Fall of man in his rhetoric following an unfortunate mistranslation of the bible; “(h)aving limited Greek, Augustine adopted the mistranslation of Paul used in the fourth-century Latin Bible known as the Vulgate, which state that “all men had sinned in Adam." It is remarkable to consider exactly how persuasive a notion that is not even in the bible has become central to the Western Christian psyche. The book charts this path chronologically, tracing how original sin has become a central tenet in Western Christianity.

As he recounts the history of this doctrine, Boyce introduces us to some of the fascinating characters who expounded or, as heretics, questioned it.

In tracing the lineage of this doctrine with obvious energy and interest, Boyce has given us many profiles of historical moments, contemporaneous thought and the people involved in progressing this doctrine – or otherwise. The book plays host to a wide range of characters,  for whom Boyce has an authorial respect for thinkers, heretical and otherwise, who have preceded him. 
Boyce’s obvious affection for and interest in Luther and the Reformation is on show in the chapter ‘The Meaning of Marrying a Nun.’ This chapter explains the greater effects of the Reformation and the thought and rationale behind it  and the reader is introduced to Luther as a person and to some of the aspects of day to day life in Luther’s house.

Another of the historical characters Boyce offers us is Julian of Norwich, the first woman to have written a book in the English language. This beautifully titled book, Revelations of Divine Love  was the product of meditations on her visions for twenty years and she fell on the heretical side of The Fall, with a belief in God’s love and the intrinsic purity of humans.

James Boyce is a two-time winner of the Tasmanian Literary Prize for two earlier works Van Diemen’s Land; a history  and 1835; the founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia.   These books have also been recognised with other national prizes and critical accolades from around the world. His preceding books, while taking in colonial Australia are researched and related in the same fascinating and readable style. The attention to detail propels the case that he puts forward subtly, if at all, leaving the reader well equipped to draw their own conclusions.  

This is not a book that is at all easy to classify- myth, modern thought, psychology, theology, history, biography, social commentary are just some of the ways it could be defined. and as a book that both recounts huge historical and religious concepts in such a personable and descriptive manner it is both a challenge and an absolute delight to read. 

Here's the very first book related interview I did! James Boyce discussing Van Diemen's Land

First published in TasWeekend in The Mercury September 13, 2014
Born Bad
by James Boyce
Black Inc


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

David Vann on sailing, the sea, islands and his writing

David Vann is a writer of dark contemporary fiction – and nautica extrema. enjoyable interview and can be heard in full here. It was a most His latest book to be published in Australia is A Mile Down; the true story of a disastrous career at sea. It is a terrible and true tale of disaster after disaster that befalls Vann and a beautiful yacht. Vann is a sailor and his love of it is palpable, not only in his book, but the way he speaks about it. “The only thing that can keep me up all night is not thinking about writing a book or anything related to literature or love, it is thinking about the shape of a hull.”

He is currently translating Beowulf from Old English and discusses the mythic memory of language. Daily, he immerses himself in Latin and Old English. In a lot of his early fiction he draws from the suicide of his father, beginning with his first, grueling novel ‘Memory of a Suicide.’

In this interview you can hear him speak Old English and tell us why
“jokey” Moby Dick is his favourite book of the sea. He talks about the mistakes his German translator found in his prose and he ponders the influence of islands on our lives, our geographical trappings. “I spend most of my time on islands, I love them.”
  He talks about his early literary influence from Westerns and the fact that he’s read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian six times. “I think literary influence is a mostly unconscious thing it is about immersion and loving something and re-reading over and over. I don’t think any of us are original as writers, I think we are all derivative of the works we have loved.”

At the time of the interview, he was reading Richard Flanagan’s latest book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which he was finding amazing. “He is definitely one of my literary heroes.”

This blog post is dedicated to my fabulous colleague Marg.

A Mile Down; the true story of a disastrous career at sea
Text 2014
This interview was first broadcast on Edge Radio on February 2, 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Justin Heazlewood discusses 'Funemployed, life as an artist in Australia'

Justin Heazlewood sent his first book to publishers as a kind of business card. The writer, singer, comedian, stand up Bedroom Philosopher has now written a wonderfully personal account of being an artist in Australia. Published by Affirm Press, it is shot through with a range of practical tips for managing the aforementioned life and it includes interviews and comment from Australian artists, practising in many media, at many stages of their careers.
Heazlewood describes how “it too me ten years to morph from a diligently humble sweet natured star to an arrogant self pitying megalomaniac," and touches on topics like health (the alcohol industry is propped up by musicians and performers) to tax free breakfasts to when to do gigs for free and when to say no.
In his own words, the book is  “a bit of a Frankenstein between self help and memoir and journalistic non fiction. I wanted to home in on the personal emotional stuff, talking about fame, talking about jealousy, stuff that I never see people writing about much.”
You can hear the whole interview here.
Funemployed, life as an artist in Australia
Affirm Press 2014
This interview was first broadcast on Edge Radio on August 5, 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Reading Room, Brigita Ozolins

"we have around 20 000- 30 000 books in here and they are lined on top of each so you can see the spines and the titles..."
"As it is below, so it is above."
Brigita Ozolins discusses The Reading Room.

23 July - 16 October 2011

The picture is of me in The Reading Room, This image, whose photographer, his name is Glen, I should acknowledge.
Years ago/

Nicholas Shakespeare - Conversation around 'Inheritance'.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Nadine Kessler discusses book design

Nadine Kessler likes typography which is fortunate as she works with it daily as a typographer and designer, with a focus on publication design. She arrived in the studio armed with some very attractive books and was a fabulous guest to feature on episode 1 series 2, The Book Show on Edge Radio. You can listen to the full interview here.
Nadine talks about the beginning of books and the mass production that began after Gutenberg invented the letter press with moveable type and she talks about the days when scribes had to copy books by hand. We discuss the benefits of taking a knife to the spine of a book as well as the best ways to handle the object without cracking its spine or participating, unawares in other book torture.
Talking about the design of the recent Mona catalogue ‘Beam in Thine Own Eye,' the art work from which was really the result of work created in the viewer’s own mind, stimulated by the external “I found this really beautiful paper which is reflective, it is the play with whatever you
reflect in your mind.”
At the time of the interview Nadine was working on a new catalogue for Mona’s most recent exhibition.
For further information and too see Nadine’s work, check out her website.

P S a Big Thank You to Artifact in Swansea for sharing their wifi with me.