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Art of Fiction

Soon after the announcement of the shortlist of this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award (‘the Miles’), bookmaker Tom Waterhouse installed Anna Funder’s All That I Am (2011) as favourite. Fair enough, too: it’s an astute and absorbing Australian novel about, among other things, Nazism’s long shadow. But Waterhouse favoured Funder – oddly – because her non-fiction book Stasiland (2003) won the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2004. He asserted – debatably, even if it proves correct in 2012 – ‘a strong positive correlation’ between the Miles and the Australian Book Industry Awards. Most interestingly, he noted that the administrators of the Miles, The Trust Company, have now authorised the judges to extend their interpretation of Australianness beyond geography.

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Graeme Harper is a big name in the academic field of creative writing. He was the first in Australia to be awarded a doctorate in creative writing (UTS, 1993) and followed that with a PhD from the University of East Anglia; he has held professorships in creative writing in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States. He edits journals and writes textbooks on creative writing; his curriculum vitae lists more than seventy-five keynote addresses given on the subject, and thirty-one grants and fellowships. As Brooke Biaz, he also writes fiction. How does he find the time? Any academic will confirm that nothing so effectively limits one’s own creative writing output as does teaching the subject.

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Few writers, it could be argued, have ever cannibalised life for their art as ruthlessly and consistently as did Martin Boyd; and few are born into situations which lend themselves so readily to art. Boyd’s working life – indeed, much of his entire existence – was spent trying to unite the past with the present, the old world with the new, himself with the man he might have been; and in committing his efforts to paper. To this end, he never shirked from using friends and relatives as material for his novels, as well as the real-life experiences of himself and of others. If he paid a price for this – which he occasionally did, for people often hanker to be preserved in print, only to resent the style of preservation – the consequences gave him little pause. By the time he wrote A Difficult Young Man, focusing the cool spotlight of his attention on his brother Merric as well as more sharply on himself, Boyd had form as a writer whose true gift lay not in the power of his imagination, but in the brilliance of his ancestral inheritance.

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Christina Stead is an author perennially ripe for rediscovery. Her acknowledged masterpiece, The Man Who Loved Children, came out originally in 1940; in 2005, it figured in Time’s list of the 100 best novels published since 1923. But in his introduction to the Miegunyah Modern Library edition of the novel, American novelist Jonathan Franzen cites ...

British author Glen Duncan released his eighth novel this year, the title of which, The Last Werewolf, is fairly self-explanatory. Although a much more philosophical (and entertaining) read than one might imagine in our current supernaturally-dominated ‘box-office’ novel landscape, Duncan’s book was a marked departure from an author better known for h ...

For many of his contemporaries, Victor Hugo (1802–85) was the most important literary figure of the nineteenth century. He was considered the greatest French poet; he became the leader of the Romantic movement with the staging of his anti-classical play Hernani (1830); and he wrote monumental, hugely popular novels. He was also an iconic political figure. ...

‘Arran Avenue, Hamilton, Brisbane, Australia ... Why Australia? What is Australia, anyway?’ 
(Dante, in David Malouf’s Johnno)

Some footy talk before the book chat: I saw Wayne Carey play once, in Adelaide. He was a puppeteer that day. You would have needed a panoramic view – television doesn’t capture ...

In February 1878 in Marseilles, France, Józef Teodor Konrad Nałęcz Korzeniowski, a twenty-year-old Polish seafarer tormented by depression, lifted a revolver to his chest and pulled the trigger. The suicide attempt failed: the bullet, whether by chance or design, penetrated the young man’s body without disrupting any vital organ. Korzeniowski recovered quickly ...

Why do you write?

It seems to be the only way I can make sense of things. I am often surprised that everybody doesn’t feel like this. It is such a profound thrill to work with fiction and to see the patterns emerge, to feel the rhythm of the story as it develops.

Are you a vivid dreamer?

There’s a thing that happens – I am asleep, but I seem to be awake watching a full colour dramatisation on a kind of screen. If I shut my eyes the scene disappears, but when I open them, it resumes and does not stop.

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Ramona Koval: I would like to begin by talking about the differences between writing fiction and non-fiction. You write about birth and youth, sex, illness, death, sisters ... the big things in life. How does that differ for writing fiction and non-fiction, if at all?

Helen Garner: I find that the subjects for non-fiction that I write about seem to present themselves from outside myself, whereas the fictional ones are much more some little thing that’s been worming away at me that I’ve become conscious of. The fiction kind of worms its way out and the non-fiction worms its way in, I suppose you could say it that way.

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