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Bookmarks

Gongs in the north
Nanjing Night Net

ON MONDAY, the shortlists will be announced for the new Queensland Literary Awards, which replace the premier's awards that were scrapped by new Premier Campbell Newman in April. The literary community reacted with more speed than a Lee Childs thriller to establish the new prizes. A public appeal to raise $20,000 has brought in close to $30,000. The winners of the 15 categories will be announced on September 4. Committee chairman Stuart Glover, who was the founding director of the Brisbane Writers Festival, says the future of the awards beyond this year depends on community, corporate and government support. ''There is a sense that there is support potentially from all those sources,'' he says, and adds that Arts Minister Ros Bates isn't averse to the idea of Queensland literary awards. Everyone is waiting to see what will be in next month's state budget to gauge the direction of the government's arts funding policy.

The storm continues

MANY of you will remember Dave Eggers' book Zeitoun, which told the bizarre and terrifying story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He is the Syrian-born American builder and decorator who helped people by paddling his canoe through the flooded city. The book focused on Zeitoun's wrongful arrest by the authorities, who not only kept him in detention for three weeks but also wouldn't inform his family of his whereabouts and inflicted on him a fair amount of physical and mental abuse. This week, Zeitoun was behind bars again, charged with trying to have his former wife, Kathy, her son and an unnamed man murdered. It's a sad fall from grace for a man who became a hero as a result of his behaviour in 2005 and subsequently set up a charitable foundation to which profits from the book go. Zeitoun and Kathy divorced last year. Last month, he was jailed for assaulting her and it is alleged he asked a fellow prisoner to commit the murders. An animated film based on Eggers' book is due for release in 2014.

A false climax

IT SEEMS as though the crowning of Fifty Shades of Grey as Britain's best-selling book ever has been a fraction premature. With e-books, it probably is, but Nielsen BookScan figures show that Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code remains - for a while, at least - top of the pile (and also the reject pile, according to Oxfam op shops), having sold 5.1 million copies. Fifty Shades of Grey has sold 3.8 million copies (in book form), with the other places in the top 10 consisting of seven Harry Potter titles and another Brown book. The other two erotic books by E.L. James have each sold more than 2 million copies. Writers such as Stieg Larsson and Stephenie Meyer also feature strongly in the top 20, with the only ''literary title'', Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, featuring at No.19 with sales of slightly more than 2 million. The only Australian in the top 100 is Markus Zusak, whose The Book Thief has sold 800,000 copies since 2007.

Remembering Claire

IT WAS sad to hear that Claire Kearney died a couple of weeks ago at her home in Tewantin, Queensland. She was 79. Most people would know her from her many years at the Hill of Content bookshop. The formidable Kearney started there in 1966, became manager in the early '80s and retired in 1995. She was instrumental in making the Hill of Content one of Melbourne's finest bookshops.

When crime pays

THE next couple of weeks is awards season for Australia's crime writers. The Ned Kellys will be dished out on August 29 and a few days later the Davitt Awards for women crime writers will be presented at the Celtic Club by Swedish crime writer Asa Larsson (no relation of Stieg, before you ask). The shortlists for the Davitts are, for fiction: Jaye Ford (Beyond Fear), Sulari Gentill (A Decline in Prophets), Carolyn Morwood (Death and the Spanish Lady), Jennifer Rowe (Love, Honour & O'Brien), Kim Westwood (The Courier's New Bicycle) and Helene Young (Shattered Sky); children's/young adult: Ursula Dubosarsky (The Golden Day), Nansi Kunze (Dangerously Placed) and Meg McKinlay (Surface Tension); true crime: Wendy Lewis (The Australian Book of Family Murders) and Liz Porter (Cold Case Files). sistersincrime南京夜网.au

Getting Ziggy with it

DAVID Bowie didn't make it to the closing ceremony of the Olympics in London but he is coming to the Melbourne Writers Festival. Just kidding. He is, however, getting a tribute at Liner Notes, the annual session in which a motley crew of talent delivers spoken-word tributes to the tracks of a chosen album. Among the guests are former Australian of the Year Tim Flannery and Lebanese poet and journalist Joumana Haddad. This year, the album is Ziggy Stardust and will feature Five Years, Yana Alana; Soul Love, Omar Musa; Moonage Daydream, Sean M. Whelan; Starman, Flannery; It Ain't Easy, First Dog on the Moon; Lady Stardust, Benjamin Law; Star, Alicia Sometimes; Hang on to Yourself, Ben Pobjie; Ziggy Stardust, Deborah Conway; Suffragette City, Haddad; and Rock'n'Roll Suicide, Emilie Zoey Baker. It's at 8pm next Saturday at the Regal Ballroom. For bookings, see mwf南京夜网.au

The worst of times

POOR old Edward ''It was a dark and stormy night'' Bulwer-Lytton. He gets an awful lot of flak about that opening to his novel Paul Clifford. The annual competition named after him is for the worst piece of writing. Here's this year's winner, by Cathy Bryant from Britain: ''As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids [sic] burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.''

POETRY

Graphology Cambridge Psychedelia 3

How much space we can't fit in,

Curlicue into Simenon terror,

Ennui of garden restaurants

And garden paths, an error

Of judgment deciduous as sin.

And in the name of the heaven- sent,

And the bravado of capital, refuse

To name the name on everyone's lips.

Base stations styled into the ruse

Of old buildings, so intransigent.

Ice on the grass as everyone slips,

A gecko in the Mekong issues a warning:

Sparkling colours array an alert,

And play on our Mobius rambling.

The passion is a nativity of trips.

God bless!

John Kinsella

EVENTS

TODAY

TRUDI Canavan signs copies of The Traitor Queen. 1.30pm. Dymocks Knox, 425 Burwood Highway, Wantirna South.

JOHN Jenkins launches Karen Throssell's Chain of Hearts. 2pm. Collected Works, Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston Street, city.

TODAY/ TOMORROW

CO-DIRECTOR of Dickens 2012, Adrian Wootton, discusses screen adaptations of Dickens' novels. 4.30pm. Village Roadshow Theatrette, State Library, 328 Swanston Street, city. Tomorrow: Dickens and crime. Bookings: wheelercentre南京夜网

TOMORROW

FILMMAKER Paul Cox discusses Tales from the Cancer Ward. 11.15am. Emerald Hill Library, 195 Bank Street, South Melbourne. Info: 0417 556 143.

TUESDAY

ANDY Griffiths unveils The 26-Storey Treehouse. 4.30pm. Sun Theatre, 8 Ballarat Street, Yarraville. Bookings: 9689 0661

WEDNESDAY

BARRY Jones launches David Day's Antarctica. 6.30pm. The Barn, Montsalvat, Hillcrest Avenue, Eltham. $10. Bookings: elthambook [email protected]南京夜网; 9439 8700

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A perfect protagonist

R.J. Ellory pips Mark Billingham to the post of better crime read, with A Dark and Broken Heart.RUSH OF BLOODBy Mark BillinghamLittle, Brown, $29.99
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A DARK AND BROKEN HEARTBy R.J. ElloryOrion, $29.99

IT BEGINS with a beating, escalates to armed robbery, climaxes in a massacre and then we get to page 24. British crime writer R.J. Ellory has never been one to shy away from fast and furious violence. If that sounds like too much excitement too soon, rest assured that once he has your attention, Ellory slows the pace to work through the moral consequences of these acts and their implications for the man responsible, Vincent Madigan.

Vincent is a typical Ellory hero, the contradictory man whom we have met before in a series of remarkable stand-alone novels set in various locations and epochs in the kind of US where people live lives of mostly quiet desperation.

''Things happen,'' Vincent tells us. ''Most of them bad.'' Despite his resignation, there comes a moment when Vincent wants to make them turn out right. Ellory's skill as a writer is to make us want this too, even when we know Vincent to be the cause of so many of those bad things in the first place.

This is what Ellory does so well: humanising the face of violence, taking us into the centre of the maelstrom where there is stillness and a kind of understanding. As usual, this process is cathartic and moving. Page 24 is also the location of a major revelation that curtails further analysis or commentary. This may be a reviewer-proof book. Just read it.

Fellow Brit Mark Billingham also begins in the US, in Florida at the Pelican Palms Motel, which offers ''paradise on a budget'' to sun-starved tourists.

Three British couples - Barry the builder and the overweight Angie, mixed-race Marina and the computer nerd Dave, would-be lothario Ed and long-suffering wife Sue - meet up on their sun-seeker holiday and are all present when an intellectually disabled teenager disappears. Back in Blighty, they exchange emails and meet for the first of three dinners that punctuate the book: ''I do a mean bread and butter pud!'' Angie promises in her invitation to the first.

The staging of these dinners is nicely done. What each couple chooses to cook and how their homes are organised and presented constitute an effective study in British manners, suburban aspiration and inevitable frustration.

Angie wants to cook something ''Floridian'' and almost chooses the organic chicken, opting instead for the cheaper version. Barry thinks it all sounds too ''poncey'' anyway and is embarrassed by her desire to impress these former ''best friends for six days'', including the elegant Sue, the kind of woman who puts a lot of effort into looking as if she made no effort whatsoever. Angie has even had table mats made featuring a holiday snap of them all on their last day in ''paradise''.

Needless to say, the topic of conversation returns to the missing girl. After her badly decayed body is found in a mangrove-choked inlet and another girl of similar age and handicap vanishes in England, trainee Detective Constable Quinlan pays each of the couples a visit before reporting back to the senior officer on the case in Florida. While necessary to the plot, these procedural sections receive short shrift and don't go anywhere useful.

The creator of Inspector Tom Thorne, most recently translated to television as actor David Morrissey, Mark Billingham's usual beat is the police procedural with detective hero. Rush of Blood is his first stand-alone thriller and not altogether successful.

Part of the problem has to do with voice and point of view. There are simply too many perspectives (including that of the killer). The main drawback has to do with affect, since there is not one character about whom we might care. Billingham's characters are closely observed, mercilessly dissected, but there is no emotional hook pulling us through to the final revelation.

And that's where Ellory has the edge. Even though his hero is a ''bad man'', it's impossible not to care what happens to Vincent Madigan.

While Billingham may have written a clever crime novel, it is Ellory who has written a great one.

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From a Freudian palette

NAKED CLAY: DRAWING FROM LUCIAN FREUDBy Barry HillShearsman Books, $25
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THE late Lucian Freud had a four-word manifesto, URGENT SUBTLE CONCISE ROBUST, scrawled upon his studio wall, but most people's impressions of him are less exact and combine a challenging stare, thickly painted, confronting nudes, and some vague gossip about how many children he may have fathered.

Not entirely the wrong impression, but not the whole picture, which as Barry Hill shows in this marvellous book, you won't see unless you look.

Naked Clay is art history, autobiography, existential struggle, all woven through 60 years of Freud's paintings from 1944 onwards. What does it mean to be naked, to look at, to be looked at, possessed? Can art justify the severity, or tenderness, of such a gaze? These are the questions Hill asks, as the paintings do.

Naked Clay is on one level a classically proportioned art book: a precise and perceptive examination of one man's oeuvre. The fact that it is conducted entirely through poetry almost escapes notice, even when Hill is working small lyrical wonders on almost every page.

And yet there is only one painting to be seen, on the cover of the book: Girl with White Dog from 1950. ''The girl with the white dog/as still as the door closed behind her/is daydreaming of mice/in a drawer of socks.'' Or is she? You can look at the image and decide - if you think it important.

Inside the book it's all text: readers well acquainted with Freud's work will read the poems in one way, as will those who choose to go and find the images for each poem on the way through. Reading the paintings as I did without seeing them, with only vague memories and a kind of texture in mind, the poems were nearly always enough.

But then there was Large Interior W9, with Freud's ailing, depressed mother in a chair, a woman naked in bed behind her: ''If one has been quietly weeping/the other will not have seen./The lover has made a grandmother/of Mother, and Mother might not know./And there, under the chair/is a pestle and mortar/its weight like the spirit of a woman/set down after pounding.'' Surely no painting could match that poem, but it did, even on a laptop.

True, Hill says, a little later, with the long central poem In Sight of Death but remember those questions. Have you really thought them through? And he then does exactly that, allowing neither Freud, nor himself, nor us, to avoid the issue or displace it with mere aesthetics.

Hill wrestles for 20 pages with the body, real and painted, with art and with poetry's presumption to interrogate and explain it, and with his mortal self. There's a kind of exhaustion at the end, and while the answers aren't any closer, the parties somehow agree to differ.

After this the book relents, seems almost to sigh, ending with a tribute to the poet's parents that is half mea culpa, half love song. After a long journey to London and back and through the years, the poetry settles, is somehow more accepting and resigned: ''the body becomes subject to fact/or settles into being/a constellation of resentment, grief, memories struck dumb … The best a poem can do/is keep scrubbing itself clean/withstand the furnace, refuse the insipid.''

Hill has honoured Freud's scrawled manifesto to the letter in this urgent, subtle, concise and robust book.

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Ladies and gentlemen, polish your poodles

No ruff stuff ... groomer Kazoo Hirae prepares three-year-old white poodle Remi for Purina groomQuest 2012. The competition is held at Castle Hill Showground.AXL ROSE is swaddled in blankets and shivering damply. It's a big week for this poodle.
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He is one of 120 dogs competing in today's Purina groomQuest 2012, Australia's biggest and richest dog grooming championships.The groomers will fight for glory, $40,000 in prizes and a spot on Groom Team Australia for the 2013 world championships in Barcelona. Judges are from Japan, Serbia and America.

''It's just like the Olympic Games,'' says Jenny Kent, the owner of Pet Design, a salon with six groomers in this weekend's championship.

For the past two months, Mrs Kent's Lane Cove grooming salon has been busy after hours with preparations for groomQuest 2012 - the room is lined with bins brimming with poodle curls.

''We have over 40 entries in the poodle category,'' says Les Speerin, the contest organiser. ''It's the outstanding look and polish you can put on a poodle.''

Mrs Kent praises the championships for giving professional groomers an ambition to aspire to.

Kazoo Hirae studied for three years at Sunshine Dog Grooming in Fukuoka before taking a job at Mrs Kent's salon. This year he is entering Remi, a gargantuan three-year-old white poodle.

Remi is being groomed in the famous continental style, in which the back half of the dog is shaved in strips. Remi submits to this with dignity.

The groomer's job, Mr Hirae says, while plucking at Remi's considerable mane, is to shape over nature's irregularities and present a dog that lives up to an ideal shape.

Groomers have been known to compete like terriers. ''Very nasty,'' Mrs Kent says of the competitive atmosphere at its worst. ''I personally haven't seen any sabotage … ''

But they are driven by a deep affection for their animals.

''That's my foundation bitch,'' Mrs Kent says, tapping a portrait of the 13-year-old black poodle she bought around the time she quit her job as a primary school teacher to turn pro.

Joelene Turnbull, 30, is one of Mrs Kent's most promising young groomers and is entering Axl and three other dogs.

She will rise at four this morning in a bid to improve upon last year's second placing: ''I'm having lots of dreams about poodles.''

Purina groomQuest 2012 is at Castle Hill Showground.

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It’s easy being with Greene

THE MAN WITHIN MY HEADBy Pico IyerBloomsbury, $35
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THERE has been a recent growth in books about writers that are neither criticism nor biography but, rather, use both to deal with the writer and their works as some kind of shadow self, or even role model. There's Janet Malcolm reading Chekhov and Robert Dessaix's books about Turgenev and Gide. Geoff Dyer turned the form into comedy with Out of Sheer Rage, a book about not writing a book about D.H. Lawrence; and in equally downbeat mode, there is Malcolm Knox's On Obsession, about how reading Proust may not necessarily do your life much good at all.

These are books about the relationship between readers and writers, and what reading can do to a person. They are often books that challenge received ideas about form as they also ignore the demand that criticism - writing about writing - try to reduce the merely subjective or personal.

Having a man inside your head is about as personal as it gets - it's how one might describe a lover - and the man in Pico Iyer's head is Graham Greene. Iyer starts out by wondering why he should have lit on someone as unheroic, as interested in compromised and damaged humanity as Greene: why choose as an ideal self someone as distrustful of ideals as Greene?

As the book proceeds though, the portrait he paints of Greene makes it more obvious that for Iyer, this is exactly where Greene's attraction lies. The interest in doubleness and divided characters, the ambiguity, the self-doubt and self-criticism: it's Greene's lack of moralising that attracts Iyer.

It's also Iyer's own background that sharpens his appreciation of Greene, the novelist who spent his career writing about displaced persons. Iyer's parents were Indian and he spent his childhood between England, where he went to public school, and California, where his father was an admired college teacher. His girlfriend is Japanese, which makes him rather defensive about the criticisms levelled at Greene for the depiction of Phuong in The Quiet American.

Iyer, of course, has made a living as a journalist and travel writer, and the reflections on Greene here come interspersed with his own travels, from Bolivia and Mexico to Saigon, places where Greene has preceded him or where he finds people like the characters from Greene's books: an Indian shopkeeper in the middle of nowhere in Mexico; a Vietnamese girl in an internet cafe writing to her Western lover.

The memoir and travel sections curiously come punctuated by disaster: there are two car accidents - one in Ethiopia and one in Bolivia - and Iyer returns to the time when his parents' house was destroyed by bushfires. Iyer finds a way to approach Greene's Catholicism through his own friendship with Louis, from his old school, who lives a life of Christian compassion, one considerably more cheerful-seeming than Greene's own rather dark faith.

''I couldn't quite explain to Hiroko, as I finished this book, which man within my head I was addressing.''

The other figure inhabiting the book is Iyer's father, R.J. Iyer, the distinguished scholar of Plato. Born in a poor family, he was a brilliant young man, who, by 18, was teaching at the University of Bombay and later benefiting from the colonial system of scholarships that sought either to improve the lot of the colonised or remake them in their colonisers' image, depending on how you look at it.

If a comparison between the two men is meant, it's not so easy to know what conclusions to draw: Greene gets much more attention and there is not much sense that Iyer's own father was lacking.

''You're writing about your father?'' Iyer's girlfriend asks him at one point. ''Well, not exactly. There's too much I don't know or couldn't say about him.'' That ''couldn't say'' is tantalising.

If Greene is a father substitute for Iyer, this book leaves undone the psychological work of showing just how the substitution worked and bringing Iyer's relationship with his real father into the light. But then one of the things Iyer seems to have learnt from Greene is not to judge too dogmatically or too soon; not to try to be too neat.

■Pico Iyer is a guest at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

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Hope springs eternal

Morris Gleitzman concludes his series about a young boy during the Holocaust with After.AFTERBy Morris GleitzmanPenguin, $19.95
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THIS extraordinary novel brings to a conclusion the series in which Morris Gleitzman has taken the Holocaust as his subject and told its story through the life of a small boy, Felix. It began with Once, moved through Then, took a leap to Now and has returned to After.

This fourth book draws Felix's story to its end by filling in the space between Then and Now. Even so, all four novels in the series can be read as individual works and not necessarily in sequence.

To say After is one of the finest children's novels written in the past 25 years or so is no idle statement. It is narrative at its gripping best - nail-biting excitement, tears and affirmation of all that is good, noble and dignified about childhood. Out of the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust, After offers a celebration of life and survival.

The opening is assured and exquisitely paced. It is 1945 and Felix, now 13, has been in hiding for two years in a barn on the farm belonging to his friend, Gabriek. He mistakes a party of men who arrive at the farm for Nazis. Polish partisans are fighting the retreating Germans and unbeknown to Felix, Gabriek is an explosives expert and a partisan.

Gabriek is taken away. Felix pursues him and the two join up with a partisan group in a forest. Here he meets Yuli, a fearless young woman who realises that Felix needs protection not from the suspicious partisans but from his desire to stay with Gabriek.

There are many poignant moments, handled with great poise by Gleitzman. Felix's parents have disappeared in the round-ups of Jews and he has kept a faint flicker of hope that they will have survived. Gabriek is wounded and sent away.

In counterpoint, Gleitzman does not resile from portraying the Holocaust in all its savagery. People are shot, farms are burnt and many people sent on forced marches starve to death.

Yet he never allows the candle of hope to be extinguished. As a partisan recruit, Felix helps a doctor tend the wounded. And the maternal Yuli shows him the kind of tactile affection, restrained as it is, that he has longed for from his mother.

It is a measure of Gleitzman's awareness of his audience that he brings the context of family life into sharp relief. There is much for readers to identify with. The action of the novel is unwavering. The setting changes frequently as Felix, Yuli and the partisans attack or escape the Nazis, search for food and encounter Hitler Youth fanatics and hiding Jewish children.

But nothing can prepare readers for one of the most moving and unexpected conclusions. That we do not see it coming makes it all the more powerful.

There are no weaknesses in this brilliantly imagined and unforgettable story. At its heart, After is about love and we are edified by reading it.

■Morris Gleitzman is conducting a workshop in writing for children and young adults at the Melbourne Writers Festival. mwf南京夜网.au

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Different shades

Chloe Hooper found returning to fiction liberating.''I HAD a dark night of the soul after this book went to the printer,'' Chloe Hooper confesses. ''I thought, 'Don't tell me I've just done a literary Fifty Shades of Grey'.''
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Let's be clear about this. Hooper's second novel, The Engagement, is not a sadomasochistic romp designed to titillate millions of women readers. It's a sophisticated, many-layered work that combines the headlong appeal of a thriller with a nuanced mystery about our darker sexual and romantic desires.

What it does do, however, is pose much the same questions as everyone is asking about the extraordinary Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon: what is it that women fantasise about, and why? Do they want to be their dream man's bride, or sex slave?

Hooper, a tall, slim woman with clear pale eyes, is best known in Australia for her acclaimed 2008 non-fiction book, The Tall Man, but started as a novelist (her first novel, A Child's Book of True Crime, came out in 2002 and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for women's fiction). She did her homework after she finished The Engagement and read Fifty Shades of Grey, which she found very formulaic.

''I don't think it's that different from what's been out there as erotic romance for some time,'' she says. ''But there's something interesting to be said about the nature of fantasy. Are most fantasies inherently conservative? Do they spring from some deep well? Is it like myth - are there a limited number we're calling on or find ourselves lost in?''

We wonder if it's possible for a woman to have a progressive-feminist fantasy, and we burst out laughing at the idea.

''I'll have to get back to you on that,'' Hooper says. ''Fantasy can take you to places that aren't politically correct. And I'm not talking about a cheesy, 'Bring on the manacles, Christian Grey'.''

The Engagement is about an affair between Liese, a young Englishwoman visiting Australia, and Alexander, the blandly handsome scion of a family that made its fortune off the sheep's back.

At the start of the novel, they are driving to Alexander's ancestral pile in the Western District of Victoria for a naughty weekend. The reader senses at once there's something odd about this couple. Alexander pays Liese for sex, Liese takes his money and encourages him to believe she's a professional.

In the grand tradition of the Gothic novel, Liese gradually finds herself trapped in the spooky family mansion and also in Alexander's fantasy. Or is it her fantasy? The borders ripple and blur. ''It's a story where two fantasies collide and it's difficult to know who's in charge,'' Hooper says.

''I do love all those Gothic classics - Jane Eyre, Rebecca, The Castle of Otranto, those stories of women trapped in big houses.''

The cover design suggests a period setting and there's a forced betrothal, anonymous letters, knives, guns, gutted animals and a vicar who comes to dinner, but it's a contemporary tale and Hooper has been at pains to make it seem authentic. Alexander's house is based on real homesteads: ''I was lucky enough to enjoy some old-fashioned Western District hospitality. It's fairly Gothic around that area.''

She plays with two classic fantasies: the whore and the bride. ''I like the idea of a fantasy that seems harmless but is actually dangerous. Marriage is one of the last fantasy rituals: you put on a white dress and hire a vintage car and get a cake, and there are reasons to be quite frightened of doing that when a third of marriages end in divorce.

''Even though we talk about people marrying less, and more children are born out of marriage, there still seems to be such a lot of pressure on women to formalise things. Girls grow up with a picture … do you ever get over reading Cinderella?

"We live in times where we think we're very progressive about sex and everybody's reading Shades of Grey

and what's meant to be a whole lot of gymnastics. But, actually, we're mediaeval in our attitudes to female desire and sexuality."

She also liked the idea of writing a thriller. ''When you read a good thriller, you feel a surfeit of emotions. Your shoulders tense up and your hairs are meant to stand on end. But you enjoy feeling anxious. It's almost an S&M experience. That's what gives the genre its spark - and it's also a very good medium to look at the ambivalence about marriage.''

Does this ambivalence extend to Hooper's personal life? Her partner is writer Don Watson, and they have a baby son, Tobias.

''Marriage is not out of the question, but there do seem always to be other things to deal with,'' she says.

They manage parenthood in Fitzroy with help from Hooper's mother and father and a part-time nanny. Do they help each other with their work? ''He reads my work more than I'm allowed to read his. I guess that's just the way it is.''

Her best-known work, The Tall Man, has the narrative pull and urgency of a thriller, but it's a non-fiction account of the death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee on Palm Island, and the subsequent trial of Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley. It won the Western Australian Premier's Book Award and the respective New South Wales and Victorian premiers' literary awards for non-fiction, and had glowing reviews here and overseas. Robert Drewe called it ''the country's finest work of literature so far this century''.

Hooper had started work on The Engagement when she became involved with the case, following Brisbane criminal lawyer Andrew Boe and writing a Walkley-winning report for The Monthly magazine. Then she decided so much compelling material should go in a book, which meant putting her novel aside.

Returning to fiction was ''a terrific freedom … One of the first days I was back, I closed the door on my study and nobody could get me. This character wouldn't hop off the page, there wouldn't be a lawsuit, nobody would ring me and abuse me. It had been so long since my first novel, I almost had to learn how to write a novel again … but writing The Tall Man probably made me a better writer. I've used different muscles.''

There was, however, an interruption - although a very welcome one. Ten months ago, Hooper gave birth to Tobias. She had hoped to get the novel done by then, but it didn't work out that way. ''The book was hopelessly overdue; I had to finish it. In the beginning, I would write when Tobias was asleep. When he was awake more of the time, we needed help in the house. I was lucky that this book was at a place where it was kind of writing itself, so I would … know what to do.''

Hooper's career to date sounds like a dream run for a young writer. She had short stories published while at the University of Melbourne, then at 23 she won a Fulbright scholarship to Columbia University in New York, where she studied creative writing. Her first novel was written as part of the course.

But there was a dark afternoon of the soul. She couldn't find an agent for A Child's Book of True Crime and was running out of money. Philip Roth suggested she show it to his agent, the famed Andrew ''the Jackal'' Wylie, and she sent the manuscript as a last resort. Convinced he wouldn't want it, she spent the afternoon weeping and making plans to fly home. ''I was calling up friends and offering them my sleeping bag. And then he rang that night.''

Wylie sold the novel to 13 countries, including Australia, and did a double book deal for The Tall Man and The Engagement for a reported $300,000 advance in Australia (a figure Hooper's publisher, Ben Ball, has since said is wrong). Hooper doesn't offer a comment on the money, but she's wry about the gossip the deal sparked: ''One of the reasons I wrote this novel was I was interested in writing about women and money and their price. It got me thinking a little about this world we're in, where everything is commodified.

''I've been very fortunate that the stars aligned and I was able to make a career out of writing. It keeps the baby in Huggies. Just.''

Hooper is keen to keep working, although she also loves being a mother: ''It's terribly tempting just to play with blocks and crawl around on the floor.'' She would like to write another non-fiction book, though learning about indigenous lives in the far north of Australia was often a harrowing experience.

''You forget the pain of a book, like childbirth. What's left in terms of pain is the inequities that book details. I think of my son: he's had the best prenatal and antenatal care, he has clean clothes and a safe place to sleep, and that's not the case for a lot of kids I know.''

So what to write next? ''For me, the new challenge is I can't just get on a plane - with a small child, that kind of travel is far more difficult. I have lots of ideas, but they're in far-flung places. I need a non-fiction story in Melbourne CBD between the hours of 10am and 11.30am and 2pm and 3.30pm.'' She laughs. ''That's when he sleeps.''

■The Engagement is published by Hamish Hamilton on Wednesday. Chloe Hooper is a guest at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

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Unmatched terror in the children’s crusade

BENEATH THE DARKENING SKYBy Majok TulbaHamish Hamilton, $29.95
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READERS of Beneath the Darkening Sky, Majok Tulba's graphic and gruesome depiction of the enlistment of child soldiers in Sudan's civil war, will sup a book full of horrors. Tulba begins with the sacking of the village of young Obinna. Shock forces clarity of observation from the boy: ''The only things moving slowly are the soldiers.'' Their faces are shiny with sweat and ash - ''it looks like face paint for the village dances''. A boy decapitates an old man. From his temporary vantage in a tree, Obinna can only think of how ''the old man knew so many songs''.

Obinna's role as spectator is wrenched to an end. Lined up with other boys from the village, his height is macabrely measured against an AK-47 rifle. Just tall enough, he is impressed into the rebel army.

Tulba draws on his own terrible story, save that he was just short of the rifle's height. His brother was not. Their village was destroyed by forces of what would become the army of South Sudan when that country achieved a fragile independence in July last year. Both sides in the war used child soldiers. Free for the time being, Tulba joined tens of thousands of refugees in camps along the border of Uganda and Sudan.

In 2001, when he was 16, Tulba was granted refugee status in Australia. Settled in Sydney, almost unimaginably far from the land of his childhood, he is now chief executive of LifeCare Sudan, a writer and filmmaker. Beneath the Darkening Sky, his first novel, has a dedication that explains his cause: ''For the children who died in battle, the villages that were burned, the rights that were lost, the lives not lived, and the voiceless everywhere.''

''Soldiers are dreamers,'' Great War poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote. As often as he can, Obinna (renamed Baboon's Ass as part of abusive and demeaning induction rituals) conjures the future as a doctor for which he had wished, as well as returning to memories of the ''gunless'' life he had known, with its hallowed and now forever-lost patterns of work and of ceremony.

As he says, haltingly, ''the village can just be in my head and I can visit it at any time''. Gradually, though, he is deadened by, and towards, his experiences: ''I've been a soldier for years. Countless first days.'' He has seen deaths from shooting and cholera, his brother's castration so that he can join the rebel commander's eunuch bodyguard, death from mines: ''The boy is covered in cloud. The pebbles fly so fast they gouge into his skin, then exit the other side.''

Tulba's novel is in crucial formal respects a version, or maybe a ghastly parody, of one of the most familiar kinds of war narrative: the initiation of a recruit, a litany of first things. To begin with, he joins the unit (but by violent coercion), then he meets his comrades. Some are children like him. Others are seasoned adult fighters - Parasite, Priest, Mouse and the malevolent Captain, who ''looks like he's been made in the wild, out of earth and darkness''.

Obinna has already seen his first bodies - in his own village. He undergoes training (with wooden guns, then the AK-47). Not long after his initial sexual encounter, he takes his first life. Baboon's Ass has been transformed, for the sake of the unit's morale, into People's Fire. Now he helps to inflict the terrors that had been visited upon him and his family: ''Once this village had a name. Not any more, not since we came. Now it's just chaos.''

The title of the novel comes from the wishful words of a song that the young soldier sings (and, for doing so, is tortured): ''The world will carry us home beneath the darkening sky.'' Tulba's is a blackly eloquent tale, one that seems altogether without consolation. Perhaps its most terrible element is the loss of childhood for so many, Obinna the emblem for them. The storytelling is not without awkwardness, as unfailingly sharp as its images. Tulba's materials are not easily subdued to anything ordered or - from this distance - comprehensible. Nonetheless, he has written a war novel of an originality and fidelity that has scarcely been matched in Australia.

■Majok Tulba is a guest at the Melbourne Writers Festival. mwf南京夜网.au

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Small eyes, big prize

An illustration taken from The Runaway Hug by Nick Bland and Freya Blackwood.THE winners of the 67th annual Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards were announced yesterday. The results are unlikely to cause controversy, although a dominance of heavy themes may raise the familiar debate about whether the awards reflect - or should reflect - what resonates with young readers.
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That said, the CBCA has always maintained that the intention of the awards is to recognise literary merit, not popularity. In any case, the titles selected this year might just tick all the boxes.

OLDER READERS

OF THE 77 books nominated for this category, The Dead I Know by Victorian writer Scot Gardener came out on top. The compelling story focuses on teenager Aaron Rowe, a sleepwalker with a lot of instability at home, as he starts a new job at a funeral parlour.

It's a memorable read that manages to be understated while tackling heavy subject matter and delivering believably complex characters.

The judges called Gardner's book ''a confronting story'', praising it for balancing ''the violence and desolation of Aaron's life in the caravan park with the routine and studied peacefulness of the funeral parlour in exquisite counterpoint''.

Bill Condon's A Straight Line to My Heart and Robert Newton's When We Were Two were named Honour Books (the latter, a 1916-set road-trip story about two brothers - with shades of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men - won the Prime Minister's Literary Award this year). Michael Gerard Bauer's Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel, Ship Kings: The Coming of the Whirlpool by Andrew McGahan and my personal favourite, The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky, rounded out the shortlist.

An additional 16 titles were listed as Notable Books, including works by previous CBCA award-winning authors Steven Herrick, J.C. Burke and Barry Jonsberg.

YOUNGER READERS

KATE Constable, another Victorian writer, took out top honours in this category with her time-slip story Crow Country, about a young girl, Sadie, trying to right the wrongs of generations past in a small country town where indigenous and white Australians fail to understand one another.

The judges said Constable's work was ''strongly Australian'', and ''sensitively handles difficult subject matter in a narrative that is engaging and powerful''.

The similarly themed Nanberry: Black Brother White by Jackie French was named an Honour Book alongside the more light-hearted, London-set mystery, The Truth about Verity Sparks by Susan Green.

The wonderfully versatile Emily Rodda took two of the remaining three shortlist spots, one with the utterly Australian Bungawitta (a fun-filled, uplifting story of a drought-stricken rural town) and another with The Golden Door, the start of a new fantasy adventure series. John Flanagan's Brotherband: The Outcasts - another ripping adventure - was also shortlisted.

EARLY READERS

PICTURE-book masters Nick Bland and Freya Blackwood joined forces to win this category with The Runaway Hug, which turns an unremarkable domestic scene into a story that's fun, wonderfully warm and perfect for bedtime reading.

''It is a picture book to ponder and appreciate, being deceptively simple, yet marvellously harmonious in concept,'' the judges said. ''The lively detailed illustrations and lyrical text work closely together to add humour and pathos.''

Sonya Hartnett's Come Down, Cat!, with illustrations by Lucia Masciullo, and Elizabeth Honey's That's Not a Daffodil! were named Honour Books, while No Bears by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge, The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen and James Foley, and Rudie Nudie by Emma Quay were shortlisted. Winner of the Prime Minister's award, Goodnight, Mice! by Frances Watts and Judy Watson, wasn't shortlisted but featured on the list of 23 Notable Books.

PICTURE BOOK

BOB Graham's picture books are award magnets and he's done it again, winning this category with A Bus Called Heaven.

Graham's books always imbue a wonderful sense of community and validation of the role of young people in society. This one is no exception, seeing a young girl gather support and rally to save an abandoned bus called Heaven.

''This is a heart-warming and inspiring work that amply demonstrates the expertise of its creator, his capacity for subtle inclusion and his strong affection for ordinary people,'' the judges said.

The author-illustrator partnerships of Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, and Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, have proven successful once again, with the duos receiving Honour Book status thanks to The Dream of the Thylacine and Flood, respectively.

McKinlay and Rudge's No Bears was shortlisted in this as well as the Early Childhood category, this time alongside For All Creatures by Glenda Millard and Rebecca Cool, and Look, a Book! by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood.

THE EVE POWNALL AWARD FOR INFORMATION BOOKS

ONE Small Island: The Story of Macquarie Island by Alison Lester and Coral Tulloch is the winner of this non-fiction category.

This insightful picture book tells the story of the tragic degradation of a natural marvel, bringing together historic documents with detailed illustrations and simple, straightforward text.

''The stunning illustrations reinforce the unique characteristics, the isolation and the beauty of this small island,'' the judges said. ''The final landscape that we view is Macquarie Island's sunrise, accompanied by words of environmental hope.''

The Little Refugee by Anh and Suzanne Do, with illustrations by Bruce Whatley, was the sole Honour Book selected.

The shortlist included Surrealism for Kids from the Queensland Art Gallery, Playground by Nadia Wheatley and Ken Searle, Bilby Secrets by Edel Wignell and Mark Jackson, and Carole Wilkinson's Fromelles: Australia's Bloodiest Day at War.

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The Beat goes on

Paradise lost ... Sam Riley stars as Kerouac's fictionalised alter ego, Sal, in Walter Salles' adaptation. Eye-opener ... Kristen Stewart, already a fan of On the Road did extensive research for her role as Marylou.
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"The only ones for me are the mad ones,'' runs Jack Kerouac's most famous sentence. ''The ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars …''

If Jack Kerouac had never written On the Road, wrote Ray Manzarek of the Doors in his autobiography, ''the Doors would never have existed''. Perhaps a lot of other things wouldn't have existed, either, at least not quite as they subsequently did: new journalism, the counterculture, sex and drugs and rock'n'roll. No Charles Bukowski writing about his low-life high jinks, no Tom Wolfe hanging out with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, no Bruce Springsteen whooping that he was born to run. ''It changed my life,'' Bob Dylan wrote, ''like it changed everyone else's.''

On the Road is an account of five road trips between New York and San Francisco, up to Chicago and Denver and down to Mexico, taken by Kerouac - renamed Sal Paradise for fictional purposes - alone and with various friends in the late '40s, going to bars and pool halls and living in humpies with seasonal workers.

He wrote the first version in three weeks in 1951 on a continuous scroll of drawing paper, glued together and trimmed to fit the typewriter so he need never stop; Kerouac called his method ''spontaneous writing''. No publisher would have a bar of it. It took six more years, many rewrites and some intrusive editing by unknown hands at Viking before it came out in 1957.

The New York Times gave it a rave review. The long delay, moreover, ensured its appearance was timed impeccably; literary rebels were in the news. Two weeks earlier, the poem Howl by Kerouac's friend and mentor Allen Ginsberg had been the subject of a famous obscenity trial that was, at that moment, yet to be decided. In the tight atmosphere of Cold War America, these people were like an explosion of defiance. Kerouac, by nature a silent observer - ''the great rememberer'', Ginsberg called him - found himself the spokesman for what he had dubbed the Beat Generation.

''Beat'' meant poor, beaten down, scrabbling with the dregs; as so often with Kerouac, it was an expression he had absorbed in conversation, this time from a street hustler, junkie and sometime writer named Herbert Huncke, who told him one day, ''I'm beat to my socks.''

For Kerouac, it took on an additional meaning derived from ''beatific''; the road was part of a quest that was religious, his characters fiery angels. For everyone else, it summoned images of the bebop jazz that infuses his writing. Influential as they were, however, the Beats were less of a movement than a coterie of literary romantics, all of them disaffected or marginalised in some way: gay Allen Ginsberg, drug-addicted William Burroughs, Buddhist poet Gary Snyder and, above all, the thrillingly delinquent Neal Cassady, whose manic personality as the barely fictionalised Dean Moriarty propels On the Road in a rush of speed and words.

Part of the book's power was that, despite the pseudonyms Viking insisted Kerouac use, people knew it was mythologised truth: the drugs, the frenzied sexual adventures, the gleeful poverty, crazy all-night driving and all that passionate reading and writing really were taking place somewhere in what Kerouac called ''the holy American night''.

What ignited it, however, was the fire of language. Nobody else had written with such exuberance; the sentences raced across the page, despite being jammed with poetically babbling turns of phrase that often made no ostensible sense. The literary establishment hated it: its lack of discipline, its excess, its cast of ''sideshow freaks'' with their appalling ''outlaw'' values.

These academicians had no idea how much young readers, recoiling as Kerouac himself had done from the postwar promise of a prosperous life of respectable lawn-mowing, longed for the freakish and the outlawed. On the Road, opined The Village Voice, was ''a rallying cry for the elusive spirit of rebellion of these times''.

You would imagine a film would have quickly followed. In fact, Kerouac was offered $US20,000 for the rights, a tidy sum in the early '60s, but he refused it; there were about 10 attempts to bring it to the screen, including one by Francis Ford Coppola.

But they all collapsed, one way or another; the Brazilian director best known for The Motorcycle Diaries, Walter Salles, is the first to have managed it.

His On the Road, to be released in Australia next month, was unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Sam Riley, who played Ian Curtis in Control, plays Jack/Sal; Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame plays Marylou (her real name was Lu Anne Henderson), who was 15 when she married Dean; Kirsten Dunst plays Camille/Carolyn, Cassady's second wife and the author in real life of a memoir called Off the Road.

Cassady, the ''hero of the Western night'' who turns into Dean Moriarty, is played by a little-known actor called Garrett Hedlund, who took a bus for three days from Minnesota to audition, wrote about the trip and read what he wrote to Salles.

''It seemed like Neal Cassady was writing to us,'' Salles says. Salles was 18 when he read the book and fell in love with it.

''It was the opposite of what we were living in Brazil in 1977. We had a dictatorship. Everything was forbidden. Even inside families, life was very conservative and in this book it was the opposite. I read it many times after that.''

I was 17 when I read On the Road, just a couple of years before Salles found it. Did it change my life? It certainly gave voice to things I wanted, given I had thus far spent most of my time in school uniform staring at a square of sky above Elwood between bouts of homework. I can't remember how I knew about the Beat writers, but in those days, the mid-'70s, even fashion mags ran features on cool writers and artists.

The poet who ran City Lights bookshop in San Francisco and published Howl, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, certainly came to me that way; I also recall an interview with Ginsberg and his lover Peter Orlovsky, talking about being gay. That sounds ordinary now, but we still snickered about our lesbian teachers in the '70s. There was the sudden sense of a cultural world that existed outside ours but was there for the taking.

Young people always feel like that, of course, which is why On the Road is still a reading rite of passage. Stewart is 22; she read On the Road only eight years ago. Same thing.

''I was like, 'Wow, I've got to meet people like this; otherwise, I'm not going to be as cool as I could be, as smart as I could be, as challenged as I could be, you know what I mean?'' she says.

''I kind of identified with Sal's character: I've never been one to lead the way, but I wanted to surround myself with people I want to run after, people who kind of shock me.'' It became her first ''favourite book''. ''I didn't enjoy reading before that but I ripped through it. It … opened so many doors.''

The funny thing here is that On the Road is often assumed to be a primer for boys. That's certainly what its literary haters say - that it is ''mainly read by young men'', as if it were a book about cars for petrolheads. (Kerouac confesses he hated driving; Dean calls Sal ''fearful of the wheel''.) It is true, admittedly, that a teenage girl reading On the Road in the 1970s had to imagine herself a boy, like one of those brave, disreputable women pirates of an earlier era.

Women were, in fact, central to these men's lives - Kerouac lived with his mother, along with a succession of wives, until he died, at 47, of a massive internal haemorrhage caused by alcoholism - but they were peripheral to the myth they were making of themselves.

Worse, they were the brakes in a world where acceleration was everything.

At one point, Sal is thinking of marrying a virtually invisible character called Lucille.

''I want to marry a girl,'' he tells Dean and Marylou, ''so I can rest my soul with her till we both get old.'' A few pages later, however, he is reflecting morosely the hopelessness of it.

''She would never understand me because I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you.''

For a woman to hit the road alone would have been unthinkable. There must be a fair number of girl readers who grew up to become feminists, not in order to be prime minister but because they wanted to do this, the crazy stuff.

In fact, the original scroll version of On the Road, which was finally published in 2007, included more about the female characters; Kerouac had stripped them out, at the publisher's instruction, to give the story focus. In his film, Salles says, he lets Sal and Dean drive off and stays with Camille as she struggles to support Dean's children.

''It shows that loneliness is painful and that she has a job; she is probably going to leave the baby with a neighbour and off she goes to work in a hospital,'' he says. ''Yes, this quest is memorable, to amplify all forms of freedom is memorable, but there are consequences.''

Not that these women were all doormats. Stewart met Lu Anne Henderson as preparation for playing Marylou. Unlike the men of her youth, she was thriving in her 80s. ''The difference between the two is that in the book she does seem quite used,'' Stewart says. ''But she is a bottomless pit, you can't waste her and she expects just as much in return; she is so f---ing generous.''

Salles saw Marylou as a real, if unacknowledged, adventurer. ''She makes the decisions to go or to stay and she doesn't have that Catholic sense of sin that is ingrained in Kerouac. She is an explorer just like Dean is an explorer.''

By the time On the Road was published, Kerouac was barely recognisable as Sal Paradise. At 35, drink and dysfunction had turned him into a filthy old bigot. He detested the hippies and yippies who claimed On the Road as inspiration and was loud in his support for the Vietnam War and McCarthy's communist witch hunt. McCarthy, he told an interviewer, had ''all the dope on the Jews and the fairies'' who apparently lived at the bottom of his brain's addled garden. Ginsberg, who was pretty much the poster boy for both these categories, was beatifically forgiving; asked in the interview I read whether Jack himself was ''a fairy'', he let his lover and fellow poet Orlovsky answer.

''In a tiny sense of the word,'' Orlovsky said. ''Perfect,'' Ginsberg said.

But for the wider world, it didn't matter how crackers Kerouac had become. He died in 1969; the mercurial Cassady had died of a combination of drink and drugs, aged 41, in the Mexican desert the previous year.

Like the readers who had pulled on torn Levis and headed out along the highway for themselves, On the Road had its own life by then.

It had left home, hitchhiked around the world via millions of bookshelves and was part of the lives of all the would-be writers and rebels who aspired to join the social movements Kerouac had so vituperatively disowned.

It is 55 years since the book was published. ''Nobody knows what's going to happen to anyone beyond the forlorn rags of growing old,'' Kerouac writes on the last page, as he watches the sun go down in ''the long, long skies over New Jersey'' and contemplates the vast bulk of land between the coasts.

As it turns out, the book that was about the man he loved, this ''most fantastic parking-lot attendant in the world'' full of ''a yea-saying overburst of American joy'', is a requiem. ''I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty,'' he says finally.

As I write this, I touch the book on the desk and think of him, too.

On the Road opens September 27.

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