Blog Posts

  • Brian Johns: The Force Of Ideas

    Posted on January 11, 2016 by in Blog Posts, Other

    O the sad but perfect irony of me being asked to write about my friend Brian John’s legacy for Meanjin online just a few days after his death. He, who rarely spoke about himself, would not have approved. He loved small magazines like Meanjin, believing them to be essential, doing what he could to ensure their support. Meanjin’s quarterly essay, was funded through the CAL’s Cultural Fund which he chaired for many years. We were both on the magazine’s Advisory Committee and at different times on the MUP Board – his contribution, unlike mine, never wavering. Soon after he arrived in Melbourne in 1979 to take up the job of publishing director at Penguin, he sought out Di Gribble and me. McPhee Gribble was then in a shabby three storey terrace house in Carlton with a childcare department on the ground floor, itinerant writers and another small publisher renting rooms from us on the third, and a vast front room with a balcony in the middle, perfect for producing books and having parties. Penguin Books was then a long way out of town on the Maroondah Highway and our offices in Drummond Street, Carlton and later in Fitzroy became a sort of end of week …

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  • Letter to the Editor – ABR October 2015

    Posted on January 11, 2016 by in Blog Posts, Other

      Shannon Burns’ splendid ABR essay, The scientist of his own experience, a profile of Gerard Murnane, is rich with insights and pithy observations, plus some rather fine photos. Much of it resonated for me, as Murnane’s first editor, soon after I’d arrived at William Heinemann from Penguin eons ago. When Gerald Murnane needed a publisher for his first novel, Tamarisk Row , Barry Oakley almost certainly suggested Heinemann because the Managing Director was John Burchall, a former bookseller, prodigious reader and long luncher – and one of the few publishers passionate about original Australian writing. Certainly after one of those lunches, a fat brown paper parcel landed on my desk. Tamarisk Row immediately impressed me as an eccentric masterpiece, like nothing else. No chapters, just perfectly formed sentences in long paragraphs often over several pages, and dauntingly dense when typeset. So a kind of blank verse of one line signposts for each break, written by the author, was suggested by me, as was not to include a prelude of some forty pages of family history. Shannon Burns’ take on Murnane’s psychology is deeply interesting and made me aware that this may well have contained clues to Murnane’s unease around …

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  • It Happened on a Fishing Trip

    Posted on November 19, 2015 by in Blog Posts, Stories

      Affirm Press, 2015. Edited by Paddy O’Reilly   All the way down the South Gippsland highway in the back of Fred’s new car the women sang to Paul Kelly then to an old Tammy Wynette compilation, so no one heard the news. Warnings there may well have been, not unlike those signs about submerged rocks and tidal extremities bristling on the wharf at the Lakes. The first photo Hettie took with her new camera was of Jack and Fred with rods and reels, grinning beneath their battered hats, with Mira eyes wide pointing in mock alarm at a sign to the open sea. The boat bobbing in the marina on a light swell early that Saturday afternoon seemed much bigger than the 36-footer of the brochures. They admired the good-sized cockpit, the blue canopy, the dymo-labelled switches, the raised compass next to the wheel, the gleaming teak and oak finishes of the main cabin and the sleeping berths. There was a mainsail, neatly bundled in a blue canvas cover, but none of the friends had sailed before and didn’t intend to start. Words such as port and starboard and gimbals on which the stainless steel stove was gently rocking, …

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  • Sending Papers up the Hume

    Posted on July 11, 2014 by in Blog Posts

    Hilary McPhee reflects upon a large number of boxes in her laundry   In London again this summer, I return as I always do to the handsome Reading Room of the Wellcome Medical Library in the Euston Road, my place of refuge and strength, as I have come to think of it, in a part of the world I visit often but do not belong. The Reading Room is where I go to browse and write and sometimes to investigate medical dramas, my own and my ancestors’, and those of my friends, our dramas of the heart, the breast and the womb. The Wellcome is the world’s largest medical charitable trust for research, with assets of £12 billion, an open access policy to its collection—hundreds of thousands of digitised images, paintings, photographs and documents, body parts, surgical instruments, sex aids and medical talismans, all seemingly expressing contrariness and ambiguity, our wildly contradictory attitudes to Eros, enchantment and fate. On display in the History of Medicine Exhibition is a lodestone for healing by touch and an amulet against the evil eye from Hebron in Palestine and another from Acton, Woolwich, London. There’s a group of figurines representing dead twins from the …

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  • In conversation with Caroline Baum

    Posted on December 3, 2013 by in Blog Posts, Videos

      Earlier this year Caroline Baum interviewed me about publishing. The interview, mainly about the McPhee Gribble days and our dealings with both US and British agents and publishers, as well as the great changes affecting editing, publishing and writing today. This Top Shelf interview screened on ABC TV Big Ideas last week, and the full web version can be viewed online: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2013/11/18/3893312.htm Hope you enjoy.

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  • Missing Betty

    Posted on August 21, 2013 by in Blog Posts

      Melbourne. Full moon, winter solstice and a real chill in the air. I have been walking the Fitzroy streets even more than usual in the days since Betty Burstall died, trying to compose a condolence of sorts to her sons.   Betty lived around the corner from me in a grand old terrace, a bike ride to La Mama in Faraday Street and the Victoria Market. I’d see her going past my window some days -– a straight-backed rider of the old fashioned kind, legs in red or green tights, woollen gloves, purse and list in her basket – pedalling off to the local shops. This is the best time of year. Crisp mornings and early evenings with sunlight slanting through the trees. We’d often meet in the park with our dogs. I’d see Betty coming towards me in her old jacket with her red cheeks and jokes about the ranger, Buddy always at her side. She’s a presence in this neighbourhood and will be for a very long time – just as she is in Eltham where she and her husband Tim and other ‘arties and progressives’ bought their cheap blocks of land on the ‘Hillside’ after the …

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  • Silences

    Posted on May 2, 2012 by in Blog Posts, Work in Progress

      A short unspoken history of this part of the coast Once upon a time, a long time ago, in the 1950s and 60s when photos were black and white and scarce, there was a beautiful place by the sea, unknown and unsmart, where old bathers and dirty sandshoes were all anyone needed, plus a jumper or two when the sun went down. There was a post office and a store and a pub and six fortunate families who practically lived on the beach throughout the summer. And it was here, when the tide was right some evenings, that the six fortunate families netted fish. Fathers and big kids waded out and filled the net to overflowing with mullet and salmon and sea bream and much else besides. The rest of us piled driftwood on the fire. And after the feast of fish the catch was divided up. # It all sounds too good to be true, but I know it was true because I was there – in this unspoiled enclave, Protestant probably, Anglo-Celtic certainly, blissful and blinkered. # Then sometime in the 1960s, when cars improved and the road was better, the day trippers began –  and so …

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  • Semifinal 2 – Tournament of Books: My Brilliant Career vs The Fortunes of Richard Mahony

    Posted on November 17, 2011 by in Blog Posts

       VS  This is torture. Two dead white women whose books feel like friends — and I am already deep in subjectivity. They sort of map my life. Once a fierce nineteen year old like Miles Franklin’s Stella/Sybylla, I was determined not to get snagged in convention or my mother’s life. I once loved a brilliant Mahony of a man whose life and death followed something of the same dark passage. I was sent to wander the National Gallery once in search of paintings for the paperback covers of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony — which in 1969 had just been declared by the UK company good enough to wear ‘Penguin livery’ — as they called it back then. Both books are now in Penguin Classics and are slugging it out in a tournament that feels more like kick-boxing than tennis. Judging literary awards can be a snitch, choosing what gets published, no problem. A tournament is something else again. There’s staying power, performance, the roar of the crowd on the day. What the books are about matters and though written more than twenty years apart by very different women who didn’t much admire each other, they have much in common. Both …

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  • My friend, Diana Gribble, died the other night …

    Posted on October 7, 2011 by in Blog Posts

    Written for The Drum, ABC. Since then the tributes have poured forth from people who knew her well, and from some who didn’t but had benefitted from her gifts – her ability to make things happen, to set things to rights and to cut to the chase. Di’s risk-taking has been mentioned a good deal – and that I can vouch for. We had taken a risk on each other, after all – two young women back in 1974. Both feminists fond of men, with a shared a passion for reading and typography, but backgrounds and experiences which were poles apart. When Diana and Jack’s wedding made a big splash in the Age’s social pages, I was a bohemian young mother in the Dandenongs with an artist husband and no running water or electricity. When we met again over a campaign to interview every Federal Politician about where they stood on issues of abortion and equality, I was a novice editor and Diana was working for an advertising agency. We signed an old-fashioned partnership agreement to form an entity to do whatever came along that appealed to us,  promising to be “true and honest with each other at all times”. Risk-taking was …

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  • Certainties

    Posted on April 27, 2011 by in Blog Posts

    My euphoria after the people’s uprising in Tunisia and Cairo and the stirrings in Syria lasted for weeks. Then, during the long run up while the UN was deliberating over the no-fly zone for Libya, I was visiting the fiord country in a remote part of PNG where the villages are accessible only by boat and few people have access to radio transmitters. But mad bad Gaddafi was a name that resonated. PNG has a long tradition of zealots bearing news of change from other worlds. So when I found myself being asked questions about the Arab world,  drawing a map in the dust to show where north Africa is, and holding forth about how Cairo had been inspired by Tunisia and how Libya was in an uproar, I was tentative. But the questions I was asked went to the heart of the matter. Why did the rulers not share the oil money? Why did the people not tell the rulers what they needed? Why did the rulers shoot their own people? Port Moresby is more expensive than Sydney. With the building of the PNG Liquified Natural Gas pipeline from the Southern Highlands, have come the condominiums and marinas and …

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