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Catherine Kenneally: The first thing that strikes me is that there are now two books in a row with Christian symbols on the cover.

Peter Goldsworthy: Yes, well I didn’t have much say in the cover of that one. They showed it to me. Interestingly there was the novel, Honk if You Are Jesus and then a novella called Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam – probably more interesting to me because that’s my own work. I’m not sure what that means. Maybe that’s the mythical 1960s generation getting into middle age and starting to worry about death and the afterlife and all that stuff.

I’ve always been fascinated by those almost banal adolescent questions, why is there something rather than nothing. I’ve never fully outgrown them, and maybe you shouldn’t outgrow them. It is the basic question, why are we here?, and all those whys that continue to fascinate me.

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This was an extraordinary task you set yourself. How did you decide to do it in the first place?

I was actually asked to do it. Lesley Mackay, who has a bookshop in Double Bay that I go to, was doing a bit of publishing and packaging, and it suddenly occurred to her that while there was a Writer’s France and a Writer’s Britain there hadn’t been a Writer’s Australia, so she came to me with the idea. She thought she could package the idea to a publisher and would I write it? I thought, what a wonderful idea and signed the contract, and then realised that what I was going to do was write an entire literary history of Australia, and every chapter could have been a book on its own, and probably should have been.

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Award-winning Western Australian poet Philip Salem is both surprised and delighted by the response to his first novel, Playback. Simon Patton spoke to him recently during a brief visit to Melbourne.

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Yacker by Candida Baker & Rooms of Their Own by Jennifer Ellison

July 1986, no. 82

Why do we like interviews so much? There must be a reason. Maybe it’s the lure – too often, alas, as in lurid – of confession: the ‘X Reveals All’ syndrome that deceives the mind into thinking it has always wanted to know what it is (finally) about to be told; or the more elevated sense of privilege and honour felt by those in whom such truths are confided.

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Les Murray describes his poetry as ‘a celebration of life; a contemplation of life in ways that interest and delight people and make them reflective’. Poetry, he says, is ‘primarily not to be studied, it is to be read’.

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