Tuesday, 26 August 2014 12:02

Meet the publisher

Ben Ball was born in Melbourne in 1970. He grew up in London, New York, and Sydney, and went to school in all of these places. He completed an Arts/Law degree, in Australia, ‘more or less entirely to create the pleasing symmetry B. Ball, BA, LLB’. In the United Kingdom he undertook an M.Phil in Contemporary English Literature. Ball worked in London in publishing for more than a decade, with Bloomsbury, Granta, and Simon & Schuster. He returned to Australia when he began working for Penguin in January 2006. In 2011 he became Penguin’s Publishing Director.

Ben Ball - colourBen Ball

I interviewed Ben Ball at the head office of Penguin Books, Australia. Situated on the mezzanine of the renovated Goods Shed South in the Docklands, it is a large open-plan space decorated in blocks of bright colours. Ben Ball is seriously tall, with dark Jim Morrison-esque hair. We talked in a sparse room with motion-sensored lights.

 

Cassandra Atherton: You worked in publishing in London before joining Penguin. What did you do there?

Ben Ball: I started in the publicity department at Granta. It was quite small then – still is.

CA: But impressive.

BB: Yes, they had some terrific authors. Because of their size, everybody did lots of things. That’s when I started editing and commissioning books. Then I joined Bloomsbury, which was probably slightly ahead of its time. They had launched a big web project with a literary magazine attached to it. I was the editor. Then I got back into books proper with Simon & Schuster, as the editorial director, before returning to Australia.

CA: Are the two publishing scenes very different?

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  • Custom Article Title Cassandra Atherton interviews Ben Ball
  • Contents Category Commentary
Monday, 25 August 2014 15:18

Westerly, vol. 59, no. 1

Voices of the dispossessed appropriate the narratives in the current issue of Westerly. The fiction in this issue is the strongest section, largely due to the originality and diversity of the writing. M.T. O’Byrne’s magic-realist short story, ‘The Day Before Christmas Island’, introduces the voice of the refugee. Reminiscent of Life of Pi (2001), the narrator and Thommo ‘pull a boy from the sea’, only to find that his siblings, at the end of a long fishing line, appear in the form of a shark and a whale and want to board their boat. Zdravka Evtimova’s ‘Happiness is a Simple Thing’ presents the retribution of the Oshav men who want ‘blood for blood’, while Shokoofeh Azar’s ‘The Woman Who Went to Stand There’ – translated from Persian – is the devastating story of a woman who waits a lifetime at the Somayyeh intersection to elope with her lover. Like Miss Havisham, her demise is charted in her decaying appearance. Finally, Mark O’Flynn’s ‘Turning the Other Cheek’ is a standout for its almost Nabokovian unreliable narration of a father who terrorises his murdering son.

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  • Custom Article Title Cassandra Atherton on 'Westerly, vol. 59, no. 1'
  • Contents Category Journals
  • Book Title Westerly, vol. 59, no. 1
  • Book Author Delys Bird et al.
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Westerly Centre, $29.95 pb, 205 pp, 9780987318046
Thursday, 28 November 2013 14:23

Even in the Dark

William Carlos Williams once famously stated, ‘No ideas but in things’, about his poetic method. Rose Lucas, in her first poetry collection, Even in the Dark, takes up the imagist movement’s poetic style but ‘makes it new’ in her examination of the role of the poet in both the local environment and abroad. Her observant and mimetic style shimmers in a collage of confronting still-life portraits. In the opening poem, ‘Heat Wave, Melbourne’, the death of a possum – ‘her young / still alive in the pouch, / squirm and cling / to the dead fur / to each other’ – is juxtaposed with a tragic Darcey-esque West Gate Bridge moment when a father ‘unbuckles his small child / from the back seat / and / then / in the rush / hot / as she falls / through sky and / slick of water –’.

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  • Custom Article Title Cassandra Atherton on Rose Lucas's 'Even in the Dark'
  • Contents Category Poetry
  • Book Title Even in the Dark
  • Book Author Rose Lucas
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio UWA Publishing, $24.95 pb, 128pp, 9781742585321
Thursday, 27 June 2013 11:46

Island 132

The Kantian epigraph to this issue of Island points to an exploration of the island as ‘the land of truth’, with the ocean around it as ‘the native home of illusion’. In this way, the translation of experience, both real and imagined, is navigated in clever and topical ways. The emphasis on ‘island’ as a micro-metonym for Tasmania demonstrates that while there are changes afoot at Island, the new editors, Matthew Lamb and Rachel Edwards, have remained steadfastly loyal to its ‘Tasmanian-ness’. Issue 132 showcases the new A4 format. The content is as rigorous and engaging as ever, but the design and layout have more in common with the sinking Cartela on its cover. While the larger format has increased the content, it is at the cost of a rather gauche and cheap-looking publication. (Indeed, pages are falling out of my copy.) Tom O’Hern’s artwork adorns whole pages, and though his huge black-and-white illustrations of skulls and decomposition are repetitive and predictable, his double-paged industrial ‘Behemoth’ demonstrates his flair.

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  • Custom Article Title Cassandra Atherton on 'Island: issue 132'
  • Contents Category Journal
  • Book Title Island 132
  • Book Author Rachel Edwards and Matthew Lamb
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Island Magazine, $19.99 pb, 96 pp, 9780987471901
Monday, 27 May 2013 15:24

Nicholas Birns (ed.): Antipodes

A polyphony of voices in Antipodes offers readers a textured view of literature from Australia and New Zealand. Contributors to this biannual journal are Australianists from all over the world. This globalisation is perhaps best evidenced by the inclusion of critics from Portugal, Slovenia, Lebanon, and Austria, writing incisively about Gail Jones, Indigenous poetry, Australian Lebanese writers, and German translations of Aboriginal literature. Stephen Mansfield’s melismatic double feature on fathers and masculinity in John Hughes’s The Idea of Home (2004) is a highlight, but his interview with Hughes suffers from being conducted via email, while Jean-François Vernay’s interview with Sallie Muirden is a fascinating and unconstrained discussion of writing. Mark Larrimore’s essay on teaching ‘Aboriginal Australian Religion in an American Liberal Arts College’ is another example of the way Antipodes offers more than standard critiques on literature.

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  • Custom Article Title Cassandra Atherton on 'Antipodes'
  • Contents Category Journal
  • Book Title Antipodes
  • Book Author Nicholas Birns
  • Book Subtitle A Global Journal of Australian/New Zealand Literature, Vol. 26, No. 2
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio American Association of Australasian Literary Studies, $US18 pb, 284 pp, 08935580

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  • Custom Article Title 'P.R.B.', a new poem by Cassandra Atherton
  • Contents Category Poem
  • Custom Highlight Text

    I wish I had been painted by Millais. Maybe not as Ophelia in a tepid bath.
    Perhaps as Lady Macbeth. Or Titania. Or Portia. Not Brutus’s Portia. Portia from
    The Merchant of Venice. I used to make you sit on a little wooden stool and pretend
    you were painting me. Stroke after stroke rasping against the canvas. I would

  • Non-review Thumbnail Non-review Thumbnail

The camera ottica in the epigraph to Hotel Hyperion alludes to Lisa Gorton’s artful play with shifting perspectives in this luminescent collection of poetry. The reader is invited to put her eye to the lines of poetry as if to a Galilean telescope or ‘perspective tube’. By looking at the poems through the peephole as an optic chamber, the reader brings the larger concerns of time and space in this collection into sharper focus.

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  • Custom Article Title Cassandra Atherton reviews 'Hotel Hyperion' by Lisa Gorton
  • Contents Category Poetry
  • Custom Highlight Text

    The camera ottica in the epigraph to Hotel Hyperion alludes to Lisa Gorton’s artful play with shifting perspectives in this luminescent collection of poetry. The reader is invited to put her eye to the lines of poetry as if to a Galilean telescope or ‘perspective tube’. By looking at the poems through the peephole as ...

  • Book Title Hotel Hyperion
  • Book Author Lisa Gorton
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Giramondo, $24 pb, 64 pp, 9781922146274
Tuesday, 26 March 2013 14:04

Chiaroscuro in Australian poetry

Australian Poetry Journal, the flagship publication of Australian Poetry, contains a veritable who’s who of Australian poets. However, this doesn’t mean that the journal is part of the poetry gangland to which some other contemporary Australian journals belong. This is a testament to editor, Bronwyn Lea, who must disappoint many poets – possibly even poet friends or acquaintances – in order to maintain the journal’s impressively high standard. While there are a bevy of famous names on the contents page, Australian Poetry Journal only publishes the best work from these poets and scholars. But it is not just a journal for established poets and poems; emerging poets Davina Allison and Carmen Leigh Keates effloresce in this vaunted company.

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  • Custom Article Title Cassandra Atherton on 'Australian Poetry Journal, Volume 2, Issue 2'
  • Contents Category Poetry
  • Book Title Australian Poetry Journal, Volume 2, Issue 2
  • Book Author Bronwyn Lea
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Australian Poetry Ltd, $25 pb, 140 pp, 9780646591148

Sonya Hartnett’s début as editor of The Best Australian Stories is marked by a series of fictions about dysfunctional families, eccentrics, and misfits. The homeless, lonely, disenfranchised, intellectually disabled, sick, afflicted, even the dead, are featured alongside the privileged, rich, and famous in a macabre mardi gras. Readers familiar with Hartnett’s writing will recognise many of her own carnivalesque qualities.

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  • Custom Article Title Cassandra Atherton reviews 'The Best Australian Stories 2012' edited by Sonya Hartnett
  • Contents Category Anthology
  • Book Title The Best Australian Stories 2012
  • Book Author Sonya Hartnett
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Black Inc., $29.99 pb, 369 pp, 9781863955805

The epigraph from Plato’s Phaedrus cleverly introduces the Socratic dialogue on which David Brooks’s new novel turns. This makes for a brilliant foray into the contradictions at the heart of the truths that both characters are seeking in The Conversation. This question-and-answer exchange is presented as a kind of Scheherazadian dégustation of narratives, where the novel endures for as long as the stories continue. For this reason, the emphasis is on pauses, languor, and an understanding of the way in which something can consume (‘eat away at’) a person.

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  • Custom Article Title Cassandra Atherton reviews 'The Conversation' by David Brooks
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title The Conversation
  • Book Author David Brooks
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio University of Queensland Press, $29.95 hb, 240 pp, 9780702249440
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