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Craig Sherborne

A new prize for Miles Franklin

Miles Franklin turns fifty this year. Well, 128, to be strictly biographical. Three years after the death of Miles Franklin (1879–1954), the inaugural Miles Franklin Literary Award was inaugurated. This year, the judges have rather more money to present ($42,000) than they did in 1957, when Patrick White’s Voss won the Award.

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What would Samuel Johnson have made of sports writing? Not much, I suspect. He believed literature should strike bold notes of moral activism, of ‘Truth’ with a capital T, be an edifier, not merely entertainment. That’s asking a lot of sports writing. Or it may just be asking a lot of Australian sports writing. I mention Johnson only because I happened to be reading his Lives of the English Poets before I began this lump of a book. I know it’s quite an imaginative leap from Johnson’s book to a sports writing anthology, but they are both, in their own way, catalogues of dead and forgotten people and their forgotten deeds. Whoever remembers John Pomfret or Thomas Sprat, seventeenth-century stanza-makers once thought worthy of Dr Johnson’s attention? Who remembers Clarrie Grimmett or Bob Tidyman, sportsmen of eras past, once thought worthy of the Australian media’s attention? Not even Johnson, writing at his verbally ornate best, could make an enthusiastic poetaster like me to want to bother with the Pomfrets and Prats. As for the Grimmetts and Tidymans – I’m a sportstaster with a quick thumb for flicking tiresome pages.

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The Grass Hotel by Craig Sherborne

April 2022, no. 441

In How Fiction Works (2008), James Wood examines how novelists write characters and allow us to sympathise with them. He refers to the philosopher Thomas Nagel’s now famous question, ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ Nagel reckoned we cannot know, can only imagine what it would be like to behave like a bat. We can’t know ‘what it is like for a bat to be a bat’.

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TREE PALACE by Craig Sherborne

April 2014, no. 360

Craig Sherborne’s previous books include two memoirs, Hoi Polloi (2005) and Muck (2007), and an autobiographical novel, The Amateur Science of Love (2011). His second novel, Tree Palace, is an excursion outside the confines of the first-person narrative. First-person narrative does not of course always imply confinement, but in Sherborne’s case the mining of his own life experience has an intensity of focus and closeness of observation that reminds me of Lucian Freud’s painting. He has a way of pulling you into the room with him and making you look at the nakedness of others, holding you there to witness every nuance of exposure, physical and psychological. Sherborne’s fascination with bodily intimacy focuses on a sexual relationship in The Amateur Science of Love, but in the memoirs it arises from contemplation of evolving family resemblances from his youth and early adulthood through to his parents’ old age. They are a family of three, insular and closely interdependent, and the sense of confinement takes on a genetic dimension.

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Amateurs are untrained but fired by enthusiasm for their subject. By definition, an amateur is passionate about something (in this case love itself, being a lover, and Tilda, the loved object) but the word implies less seriousness than the word ‘science’ does, and can be a pejorative.


Muck by Craig Sherborne

October 2007, no. 295

If the central, not-made-much-of miracle in Craig Sherborne’s remarkable memoir Hoi Polloi (2005) is the disappearance of the narrator’s childhood stutter after a blow to the head, then the equivalent motif in Muck, Hoi Polloi’s equally fine sequel, is his voice.

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I put away my eyes for the night.
I forget dreams,
perhaps I don’t have them any more,
not close at hand.
I’m not book-sick from the gloomy others.
I haven’t read a word in years.
In me, drink-nettles – I’ve a glass with the same stings,
and ice which comes out as clear sweat on
this side of my skin,
the right-way-up for drying.

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Necessary Evil by Craig Sherborne

August 2006, no. 283

Craig sherborne is a poet, playwright and journalist. I remember being struck by the poetic quality of a delightful passage in his memoir, Hoi Polloi (2005), where he sketches a child’s view of flirtatious men chatting up younger women at the races: ‘The Members Bar. Race Five. Time of the day when men take women by the waist.’ Peter Craven commends that book as ‘scurrilous and unashamed’ and ‘a comic outrage’. Sherborne brings the same sharp eye, but a somewhat subdued humour, to his new volume of poetry, Necessary Evil.

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It’s before I got the wandering eye.
I daydream I’ve already left:
without her each morning I’d be able to wake,
stretch in bed-warmth, blink used to light, not lie
feigning sleep in case she cradles my back,
her lap flexing for my elbow to lift
to take her arm onto my chest. I keep still
until she shadow-dresses upon the wall.

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Australia has become a cocktail country. Those multicoloured, sorbet-like concoctions that young women drink in twilight-lit bars with techno music for a soundtrack. Liquid lollies for the adult-children of our economic prosperity. It has not, however, become a martini country, as Frank Moorhouse might put it. No matter how many little cocktail bars spring up, often without signage, in the backstreets and alleys of our CBDs, few patrons are dedicated to drinking the prince of cocktails. The expensively shabby boys still drink beer, albeit in a glistening-necked bottle with a lemon slice between its lips. For the girls, champers; the various wines for those who don’t like the sickly sorbet liquor.

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