Author William Boyd recreating the world of the famous secret agent
Author William Boyd recreating the world of the famous secret agent

The double 0 in the title is a nice touch in the James Bond continuation novel, SOLO by William Boyd (Jonathan Cape).

There are lots of nice touches in SOLO, which celebrates the 6oth anniversary of the publication of Casino Royale, the book that gave birth to Bond, the bold blunt instrument of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

« Je suis un paysan écossais » parle 007 as he shows off his cunning bilinguals to Felix Leiter as they muse on the geopolitical chess board they are paid to play on.

Shadows and echoes of the Bond canon permeate the landscape of this mission though the book it pays most homage to is LIVE AND LET DIE. That’s the book where Leiter lost his limbs and when Bond first used the alias of Bryce. There’s also a juju man, akin to the Baron Samedi character and a subterfuge plot that has a side bar in heroin smuggling.

Indeed, the title could well have been Live and Let Die Another Day but that would be muddying and mixing the metaphors between movie Bond and literary Bond.

Fifteen years on from disagreeing with something that ate him, Felix sports his new tungsten prosthetic which has ‘the facility to pick the gnat shit out of a pepper’.

Felicity to Fleming not only has Felix back, but M, Moneypenny, the cherished Scottish housekeeper, May, and a re-acquaintance with his original make of firearm, the Beretta.

The Bentley has been booted for a Jensen and its goodbye to Goodnight and hello to Araminta Beauchamp as Bond’s secretary.

SOLO is set in 1969 and begins with Bond’s solitary birthday bash to celebrate his 45thbirthday. After a night of fine wining and dining, he dreams of his war experience, when, not yet twenty, he was part of D Day.

Also celebrating at the Dorchester, an attractive actress, a heroine of Hammer horror, who takes a shine to Her Majesty’s functioning alcoholic henchman, and who of course he is a complete cad to.

Nobody does it bedder, Bond bonks two birds between the covers of this book, the actress Bryce  Fitzjohn, aka Astrid Ostergard, and Alesha Belem aka Blessing Ogilvy-Grant, a CIA operative.

The villain of the piece is a Rhodesian ruffian known as Kobus Breed, a ridgeback warrior who delights in lynching his victims with a hook through the jaw, stringing them up like game fish.

The prize in the great game is oil, the fossil fuel that drives malfeasance, waiting under the ground of the Zanza River Delta in war ravaged Africa.

The West wants the wells, a potential paradise of petrol far from the proverbial powder keg of the Middle East with, to quote Leiter, “its goat fuck of Islam, Palestine, Israel, Shia and Sunni” and Bond is sent to stop a civil war so that BP, Shell, Mobil et al can mine and refine.

If Esso sends out an SOS then governments are quick to dispatch envoys of game changers, licensed to kill for Queen and country, black gold fuelling their neo-colonialist quest for carbon.

Just as the film franchise has had its up and downs so has the literay legacy, with keepers of the Fleming flame ranging from Kingsley Amis to Jeffrey Deaver with mixed results.

How on earth did the Ian Fleming estate allow Boyd to do Bond when I remind him of this quote from ANY HUMAN HEART:

“Freya would loathe Fleming. I can’t put my finger on his essential nature. He’s quite a handsome man- dark, lean- but it’s the sort of handsomeness that vanishes on a closer look and you see the flaws; the weak mouth, the doleful eyes. He’s affable, generous, appears interested in you- but there’s nothing in him to like. Too spoiled, too well connected, too cosseted: everything in life has come too easily.”

“Style and substance with my own spy fiction gave them confidence I could do the job” is his swift reply.

It’s a hard task to fill the Fleming boots, to follow in the Fleming footsteps and Boyd does an admirable job – no better than the greats like FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and ON HER MAJESTY’S SERVICE, and no worse than MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.



Brilliant Australian writer Felicity Volk. Pic Elese Kurtz
Brilliant Australian writer Felicity Volk. Pic Elese Kurtz

LIGHTNING by Felicity Volk (Picador)is an astonishing debut novel boasting pure, perfect crystalline prose, a prodigious intellect, and a propensity of storytelling talent and technique.

In Scheherezade style, Volk beguiles her reader with stories hewn from folk tale and begat by the Bible, rendered and imbued into the narrative of Persia, protagonist par excellence, in this road trip mosaic.

Marooned from her midwife due to the devastating bushfires conflagrating her Canberra home, Persia’s pregnancy ends in still birth.

Carefully preserving the kid’s corpse, Persia packs it and heads off on a bizarre road trip, first hitching a ride with a truckie then teaming up with an Pakistani refugee (or is he) with a medical degree.

He also has a penchant for stories, using them as smokescreen to his true identity to avoid detection from the authorities.

“I have an epic of experiences attached to the places of my youth… a place where dreams are put on ice and melt and run into the gutters outside refugee camps…they wash onto the dirty streets and the city’s people muddy their feet in the slush of those dreams.”

Big, bold, beautifully written, LIGHTNING is full of sound and thunder signifying much. There’s a crafting of story that’s sublime in its precise particular care, precious in its perception of people and place, revelatory in the power of story in our lives.

Felicity Volk is the latest great find in Australian publishing, joining Carrie Tiffany in the prestigious Picador imprint. Like Tiffany, expect Volk to be in the forefront of best lists and recipient of prizes. LIGHTNING is a lightning strike on the Australian storytelling scene, a bolt of brilliance – flash, electric, startling.



Author Ben Brooks
Author Ben Brooks

Ben Brooks’ book LOLITO  (Canongate) is puppy love in the age of porno and chat rooms, a brilliant blend of puberty blues and bravado, cut with vulnerability.

Unlike the predatory pedophilia that permeates TAMPA, LOLITO is a lovely, laugh out loud orchid to the awkward, a bouquet of barbed WiFi to the cyber sex set.

Taking its cue and title from Nabakov’s wicked Lolita, LOLITO presents fifteen year old Etgar who has a bestie called Aslam and a dog called Amundsen. He has two parents who have given him a stable home environment. They are away during the narrative, leaving their son to rule the roost, watch mindless television, drink rum and coke and surf the net.

Feeling like a coin lost down the sofa, Etgar has recently split up with his girlfriend, Alice, after she had been unfaithful. It hits Etgar hard, eliciting morbid love poetry and homicidal fantasies. He seeks solace on the n

et and hooks up with Macy, a bored housewife from Scotland.

The anonymity of their tryst is cast asunder when Macy pushes for a meet and their implied intimacy becomes hilarious, poignant reality. An inheritance from a grandparent pays the way for a stay in a London hotel. It’s interesting to note that the nana who left the legacy for the love tryst also lived in Scotland and took a toyboy as her spouse.

This story could have been grubby and sensationalist, instead it is strangely sweet and sensational. “the thing that makes me do heavy weather most is when you see someone and you can tell they want to be not alone and you know you want to be not alone but you can’t be not-alone together because of things like how she’s forty-two and you’re fifteen, or how she’s got kids and your mum’s waiting for you at home…It’s fucking retarded.”

Literary lineage maybe Lolita out of The Graduate, with a dash of Summer of ’42, but Ben Brooks creation is wonderfully original, brilliantly capturing the mind set and social milieu of the millennium enders/century starters that tweet and text, log on and boot up. LOLITO lol!



Leading Australian artist Tony Woods
Leading Australian artist Tony Woods

A blend of autobiography, lavishly illustrated coffee table, catalogue and retrospective this is a stunning book that is so pleasing to the eye.

There is a great introduction / early autobiography by Woods himself and then the book moves chronologically in a series of short essays through his dramatic life. An ‘artist’s artist ‘, born in Hobart in 1940 Anthony (Tony) David Woods developed an interest in the visual very early on. Initially focusing on watercolour landscapes of Hobart he became interested in figurative work.

In 1968 Woods was awarded a Harkness Fellowship, which allowed him to live and work for two years in New York City where he developed an interest in abstraction. Following the destruction of his New York studio by a major fire, Woods returned desolately to Australia, at first to Sydney.

The early 1970’s saw the expansion of his friendship with Brett Whitely and Martin Sharp leading to a major exhibition in Melbourne and then a move to Melbourne in 1971 where he has remained ever since , living in Fitzroy since the 1980s. Woods recommenced painting – as it says in Palmer’s essay ‘ Over the next decade Tony turned his attention to the still life, portraiture , a continuing fascination with potted plants and a return to shadows and light sources ‘. and in later years developed an interest in super 8 video and sound recording.

Same chair changed light- In Oil
Same chair changed light- In Oil

Since 1962 Woods has staged many solo exhibitions around Australia and he has featured in numerous group exhibitions. He is represented in major institutional, public and private collections both in Australia and internationally.

Alex Selenitsch has written a fascinating analysis of Wood’s actual painting technique, his use of light, line, shape and form. Phil Edwards essay ‘Tony Woods – The Field Recordings’  briefly looks at Woods long involvement in those areas of his work , an extension of his keen artist’s eye and ear. Lesley Chow provides a thrilling short essay on Wood’s ‘Light’ series of paintings and his film work.

There is a very handy fold out chronology at the back of the book and a well researched time line as well as starkly detailed photographic portraits of Wood. But mostly it is the glorious works of art – paintings, drawings, prints that are lavishly featured in this superb book. They are generally  vibrant ,bold and colourful .You can see a Picasso , Van Gough and Coburn influence in certain works and his change from early figurative to abstraction . Some of the ‘light’ series are fragile, delicate and shimmering, others vividly leap out at the viewer.

Included with the book is a fascinating DVD, featuring a 55 min documentary ‘Work for the eyes to do ‘, about Wood’s life and career . It has a number of interviews with Woods himself as well as several of those who have contributed to the book – Stephen Walker, Nick Lyon, Vivian Smith, Terry Whelan, Sue Backhouse, Jon Cattapan, Godwin Bradbeer , George Davis , Max Angus, Nick Selenitsch and John Aslandis among others.


TONY WOODS: ARCHIVE (ISBN978-1-925-003-14-7), edited by Andrew Gaynor, published by and distributed by Australian Scholarly Publishing (ASP), is to be launched at Black Projects in Melbourne on Sunday August 18 and will be available at all good bookstores retailing at $79.95.












Michael Robotham, Editor of IF I TELL YOU...I'LL HAVE TO KILL YOU
Michael Robotham, Editor of IF I TELL YOU…I’LL HAVE TO KILL YOU

It’s a mystery to me, the book commences, what’s the plot to be, what’s the vicarious experiences? Digging up the dirt on twenty established Australia crime writers is the brief of IF I TELL YOU….I’LL HAVE TO KILL YOU (Allen & Unwin), edited by Michael Robotham.

All are self confessions of techniques, disciplines, ideas, motivations and influences that are as compulsively readable as any of their novels or true crime books.

All have slightly different ways of writing – the physical act, the percolation, the navigation of the narrative – but each of the twenty agree that reading is a prerequisite and each are forthcoming with five must reads. Compulsive reading produces compulsive writers.

Another consensus is that character is king over plot, people before places for they set the paces.

The Godfather of Australian crime fiction, Stawell’s gift to gumshoe shenanigans, Peter Corris, relates a fascinating story about the great, late actor, Bill Hunter, worthy of any Cliff Hardy caper. And if you’re wondering why he has written any more Creepy Crawley or Browning books, it’s because Cliff is hardier in the hard, cold cash market. He would have liked to continue with those characters and had ideas for further outings but it seems Cliff is the public’s preferred and its appetite must be fed.

Marele Day creator of the vivacious Balmain baffle buster, Claudia valentine, confides that the purchase of a cadenza has parallels to writing. Her original intention was to buy a filing cabinet but ended up with something that performed that function but was a far more interesting creation.

Tara Moss fesses up that she took a polygraph to prove her bona fides as a writer when she became the target of unsubstantiated rumours of heavy editing and ghost-writing when she published her debut novel, Fetish.

The insinuation was that because she had modelled and was beautiful she couldn’t possibly string two words together. “How exactly does physical appearance indicate intellectual ability”, she asks, “Think Stephen Hawking.”

This is a review not a catalogue, so I’ll stop with an individual itemisation of every contributor. Suffice it say, every piece is an eye opener, an anecdote on mechanics, influences, and motivations. Thoroughly recommended.



Author Terry Hayes
Author Terry Hayes

People don’t get arrested for murder; they get arrested for not planning it properly. The planning of the murder being investigated at the beginning of I AM PILGRIM is perfect. Text book perfect. And the enigmatic character brought in to aid the investigation ought to know because he wrote the text book.

Instead of a copy cat killer, we are presented with a copy book killer, and the stage is set for a startling serial killer thriller. But wait. Writer Terry Hayes isn’t satisfied with dipping his author toes into just one popular genre pool.

The shadowy investigator who has dubbed the victim Eleanor Rigby, because the perpetrator kept her face in a jar by the door isn’t just some FBI profiler. Codename Pilgrim, he’s as much Jason Bourne as Will Graham and this particular precise and pristine homicide is a harbinger of a horror that will see him back in harness as a super spy as fast as you can say Smert Spion.

Known sometimes as Scott Murdoch, the protagonist is reluctant to return to the shadow world, but a murder masked by the mayhem in Manhattan on September 11, 2001 compels and propels him into a scenario that outclasses Clancy, lead foots Ludlum and brown-eyes Dan Brown.

Vyshaya mera – the highest level of punishment is going to be unleashed on the West- and its not the Russians. As our protagonist succinctly says, Listen. It’s the Muslims.

As a writer called Robert Louis Stevenson once said sooner or later we all sit down to a banquet of consequences. Pull up a chair and pick up a fork the time is coming we’ll all be chowing down.

This is a masterful page turning pot boiling extravaganza of a story fuelled by a high octane plot, a fascinating protagonist, an equally fascinating antagonist, a couple of terrific supporting characters and a cavalcade of others that entertain the central casting of your imagination for the entire 700 page ride.

Author Terry Hayes co-wrote Mad Max 2 & 3, as well as Dead Calm, Payback, and a number of other films, and this novel is tremendously cinematic with short burst chapters most with cliff hanging edginess. His affinity with Australia and Australians is palpable, whether he’s describing arachnids or Iraq vets. Chances are you won’t require a book mark; a seat belt might be more the order.


Brilliant young writer Alissa Nutting and her controversial new work
Brilliant young writer Alissa Nutting and her controversial new work

The protagonist of Alissa Nutting’s already notorious novel, TAMPA, is a sexual predator whose libido is a deformed thing to be kept chained up in the attic of the mind…to only be fed in secret after dark.

The lady with the deformed libido is Celeste Price, a secondary school teacher who craves sexual congress with junior high student, Jack.

A master manipulator, Celeste selects her prey with a sociopathic precision then proceeds to seduce him and use the boy quite literally as her toy.

But toying with anyone’s emotions, let alone a pubescent boy, is fraught with risks and danger.  Her fornication with a fourteen year old fosters a forlorn infatuation in the boy who fantasises that in the foreseeable future they will emerge from their furtive affair, be affianced and wed.

Little does he know that Celeste’s lust will not survive his maturation, muscle and stubble the antithesis of her aphrodisiac – youth.

But she is quite carefree in crumbling his youth, encrypting his memory with indelible imprint – ‘like a tollbooth in his memory, every partner he’d have afterward would have to pass through the gate of my comparison, and it would be a losing equation.’

Celeste’s cool management of her minor is major considering her convincing masquerade as both dedicated teacher and devoted wife of a local police officer. Mind you, her husband is a solution short of a mystery not having sleuthed some inkling of her psychology.

Such is her disdain for this dipstick cop cuckold she finally confides to him that copulating with him was merely “masturbating inside me.”

TAMPA is about the tampering of teens by adults, and the erotic descriptions concerning pedophiles will certainly stirs the pot of controversy – is it literature or pornography? Pernicious perhaps, salacious yes, but in a very well written way, with banality banished and a fascinating study of a fetish.

If, to paraphrase the ancient Roman playwright, Terence, anything human is not alien, then TAMPA is a valid voice in phenomenon fiction


Political reporter Kerry Anne-Walsh’s analysis of the fall of the House of Julia

THE STALKING OF JULIA GILLARD by Kerry-Anne Walsh published by Allen & Unwin just before Ms. Gillard’s fall from office is no less impactful now that we have a change of regime, indeed, its insights are perhaps even more relevant as we gird our loins for electile dysfunction in the coming months.

Walsh wails that “Political journalism is now a game of Gotcha – a hunt for that hint of weakness, the slight intonation or nuancing of words that might indicate something isn’t kosher. It’s a witch-hunt out of control, where the slightest stumble is magnified to ridiculous proportions, often into stories of national status, when they’re in fact based on fluff. Struggling for survival and relevance, we as a profession of political journalists and commentators have collectively debased our craft to the lowest common denominator- writing articles confected out of barrel scrapings and hectoring. In such stories, the public interest doesn’t figure”.

Walsh defends Gillard’s gumption, that despite the government’s wafer thin margin, the parliament was remarkably stable; “but it’s depicted as though we are living through the last days of Rome. Gillard  implemented reforms and parliament has passed a record amount of legislation – around 180 bills –  but the press talks endlessly of a government close to collapse”.

Walsh is best when she sticks to the facts and is no great shakes as a soothsayer – she was right about the blokes Swan, Garrett and Emerson- they went the way of Gillard, but she was wide of the mark when she predicted the sisterhood of Wong, Plibersek and Macklin would fall on their sword.

Right or wrong, Kevin Rudd is the incarnation of Richo’s “Whatever it takes.”

THE STALKING OF JULIA GILLARD is compulsory reading that puts the past three years into perspective and may have a bearing on how the electorate will respond to install a government that will preside over the next four.

DARE TO WIN- Ron Desiatnik


Lawyer Ron Desiatnik has given himself a break from editing legal textbooks that are referenced in courts around Australia with his first foray into fiction writing, something much lighter, a children’s story, DARE TO WIN.

It wouldn’t be a boy’s adventure story if the narrative  didn’t start in a cave. Tom and Ken are young, energetic kids, one ten and the other nine, who are determined to join the school’s social club. To become members of the club, the club’s committee has determined that they have to complete a difficult dare.

Within a few kilometres of the school, there is a low-lying range of hills. In the middle of these hills there is a huge cavern with tunnels running everyone within it. Kids are usually warned off playing within the caves.

The Committee’s dare is for the two young boys to enter the caves, take 50 steps inside one of the tunnels, and then reappear with something from inside. Committee members are on site to ensure that the dare is properly carried out.

One bright Saturday morning the two boys venture in. As scary as it was, the boys were going ok, had completed their fifty steps and were starting to head back when Tom, breaking his fall, leaned against a rock. The huge rock started to grow bigger and then four spider like legs appeared from nowhere and this ‘thing’ begins to move towards him.

It is then that their great adventure truly begins. Committee member Mark Bradley, two grades higher than the boys in school, can’t quite believe his eyes when from his vantage point, at the cave’s entrance, he sees his two friends being grabbed by a hairy stone monster and, with a flash of lightning and some ominous sound effects, they are whisked off into the ether.

Yes, Desiatnik charts quite a journey for his two young heroes, including a trip to a strange new planet called Merdia.

The writer originally wrote DARE TO WIN as bedtime reading for his two grandchildren, Alex and Jamie. In his preface, he tells how he read them a new chapter each week and was so pleased with their response that he was then inspired to seek a wider audience and look for a publisher.

Zeus Publications were delighted to accept his manuscript and DARE TO WIN was first published in late 2012. This charming and entertaining boys’ adventure story, with plenty of fantasy thrown in the mix, is available at all leading bookstores and online at




David Sedaris. Pic Jacob van Essen
David Sedaris. Pic Jacob van Essen

David Sedaris’ Greek grandmother was a leviathan litterer. The woman would throw anything out a car window. The important thing for her wasn’t a clean outside but a clean inside. “Look at the sky, littered with clouds, or the beach trashed with shells.” How was that mess any different from a hundred cans in a ditch?This is typical of the twisted logic Sedaris encounters from his family and fuels his own skewed attitude that informs the arresting anecdotes and observations that run through LET’S EXPLORE DIABETES WITH OWLS.

Many of the stories are travel pieces or about lengthy sojourns in foreign climes. Sedaris lived for a while in both France and England and his observations from an ex pat American perspective are both acerbic and acute.

His comparison studies of Japan and China are highly informative, contrasting cuisine, health and hygiene between the two oriental powerhouses.

No guessing which country he’s talking about in the story called Laugh, Kookaburra. Sedaris has made two trips Down Under, and this story concerns an outing to Daylesford, Victoria, which David describes as Dodge City designed by homosexuals. Here he ruminates on the song he learned at school – laugh kookaburra laugh, how gay your life must be! – and if owls are the professors of the avian kingdom, then kookaburras might well be the gym teachers.

The ornithological theme continues with Understanding Owls, a treatise on taxidermy and nocturnal bird decorative art. Like all the other stories, it’s a hoot.

Sedaris never explains the title LET’S EXPLORE DIABETES WITH OWLS, but in his author’s note he talks about ‘forensics’, a cross between speech and debate. “Students take published short stories and essays, edit them down to a predetermined length, and recite them competitively. To that end, I have written six brief monologues that young people might deliver before a panel of judges.”

One of them is “from” a husband and father so confused by the issue of state sanctioned same sex marriage that he goes on a murder spree, considers eloping with his neighbour’s ride on mower, and wonders whether legislators will decide that cars don’t belong in garages anymore.

Another is from a woman tearing strips off her crippled sister whose spouse has spurned to the extent of divorcing her and marrying the sister.  The sibling shellacking is triggered by the inappropriate wedding gift received, a set up so grotesque and cruel, you feel bad laughing. But brutality can be so breathtakingly funny; subversion as comedy.

Yet another is from a fundamentalist Christian doing the damning everyone to hell rant that Jesus junkies get almighty high on.

There’s twenty six stories in all – although the final instalment is actually a poem in rhyming couplets about a kaleidoscope of canines – and every one of them is an hilarious corrective for political correctness.




me-and-rory-macbeath (2)


ME & RORY MACBEATH (Hachette) by Richard Beasley is reminiscent of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Twelve year old Jake Taylor lives with his single parent barrister mum, Harriet, in a street in suburban Adelaide. It’s the street that houses his best friend, Robbie Duncan, son of the local cop, an emigrant from Scotland.

Into their street comes another kid from Caledonia, Rory Macbeath, moving in with his mum, dad, older brother and sister. He’s the same age as Jake and Robbie and soon the boys are mates.

Duncan! Macbeath! Is this some Shakespearean pastiche, you may ask? Not really, but there is sleeping murder and pricking of thumbs, and something this way comes.

A departure from Richard Beasley’s two previous novels, HELL HAS HARBOUR VIEWS and THE AMBULANCE CHASER, both full of adult satirical and sardonic splendour, this take is from the kids’ point of view, and while some of Beasley’s staple humour rears its hilarious head, it steers its course true to tone of pre-teens trying to figure the various vagaries of adults.

There’s the long hot summer that seems seared into every sinew of Australian youth, the street cricket, the public swimming pool, fishing trips, backyard camp-outs, grumpy old bugger neighbours, fledgling attraction to the opposite sex.

Casting a shadow over these hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer is the spectre of domestic violence, which could have been a huge downer, but Beasley, like Harper Lee, manages to make the story thrillingly palatable.

Beasley the writer creates a lovely sense of place and peoples it with wonderful characters. Mothers, fathers, siblings, step-parents, judges, cops, nice and nasty neighbours – comic, tragic, and above all, human – Beasley’s characters are warmly drawn and although they live in a time nearly four decades ago, in a place called Rose Avenue, there is no tint of rose coloured glasses.

Beasley the barrister, for that is his means of making a living, has the practical experience of making the courtroom scenes sizzle with a marvelous verisimilitude. The courtroom drama dénouement is alone worth the price of purchase of this pleasing and pleasurable reading experience. His creation of Harriet, known to family and friends as Harry, is the literary love child of Atticus Finch or perhaps his grand-daughter, out of Scout, transplanted from America’s south to South Australia to champion the rule of law.

Harriet is a chain smoking, hard drinking, fast talking, hard headed, soft hearted woman instilling in her son daily doses of irony and finely honed sense of social justice. By no means a goody two shoes, though, she’s pragmatic about some of the clients she has defended, some of dubious repute, but she has an inherent hunger for litigation and mitigation. Practising at a time when fewer women were at the bar and Family Law was going through major reform, Harry is a formidable advocate, a fierce and fearless fighter for fairness and equality.

Beasley was appointed silk a couple of years ago – we should be attorney-ly grateful that he gives of his spare time a story as entertaining and edifying as ME & RORY MACBEATH.


HERE AND NOW- Letters 2008-2011- Paul Auster and J.M.Coetzee

Paul Auster abd J.M. Coetzee
Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee

Can one eavesdrop on written correspondence? If the author’s voice is strong and distinctive, of course one can. The very letters on the page are signs, images of sounds.

Such are the letters collected in HERE & NOW a joint publishing venture between Faber & Faber and Harvill Secker presenting correspondence between Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee from July 2008 and August 2011.

Enthusiasm for Freud, Kafka and Beckett energize their cross countries conversation as well as meditations on art, sport, film, travel, the Global Financial Crisis, sleep, food, and, of course, writing.

Coetzee on critics – “Quite aside from the question of animus on the critic’s part, there may be errors of fact in the review, or elementary misreading. He (the critic) becomes like the child lobbing pebbles at the gorilla in the zoo, knowing he is protected by the bars”.

On biographical reductionism- “treating fiction as a form of self disguise practiced by writers; the task of the critic is to strip away the disguise and reveal the ‘truth’ behind it.”

Yes, these letters make up a mutual admiration society, but they are never fawning or sycophantic, just honest, open connexions by a pair of erudite minds.

Both men, with their impressive body of works, are now of an age, and sage in their pondering of their advancing years.

“How does one escape the risible fate of turning into Gramps, the old codger, who, when he embarks on one his “back in my time” discourses, makes the children roll their eyes I  silent despair” ruminates Coetzee. Well it helps that is a discourse and not a rant and that is why these two elders of our age are worth reading and listening to.

These letters are remarkable – great hatchet blows of thought, an implacable narrative speed, and a pulverising sense of prose.



Master songwriter Burt Bacharach
Master Songwriter Burt Bacharach

To the bookstore, walk on, buy.  Fans wishin’ and hopin’ that Burt Bacharach’s autobiography, ANYONE WHO HAD A HEART (Atlantic Books), would be as memorable as his tunes won’t be disappointed.

The story of his life is a real “what’s it all about?” that begins with a startling confession: “I had only been married to Angie Dickinson for about nine months when I started thinking about a divorce”.

Anyone who had a heart would be captivated by this confession, and the heart is further corralled by the revelations of the Burt and Angie’s daughter’s premature birth and her subsequent psychological problems.

But that’s Bacharach to the future. Back to Bacharach’s boyhood, we learn of his sleep deprivation.  “Because I kept hearing music in my head I had real insomnia as a kid”.

“When I was 15 I’d sneak into clubs with a fake ID. Dizzy Gillespie was the guy I loved the most. I’d go to Birdland to catch Count Basie. What I heard in those clubs really turned my head around. That was when I knew for the first time how much I loved music and wanted to be connected to it in some way”.

Teaming up with lyricist Hal David was monumental and the duo ruled the Sixties with a songbook that have not only become classics, but standards. I have those songs in my music collection- I guess a lot of people who would be interested in this book would also have these records – and I found myself playing the songs as I read, thus forming a commentary on their production.

“Whenever I was having a problem in the studio, instead of staying in the control room I would break the orchestra for ten minutes and go into a stall in the men’s room and lock the door behind me.  Thinking it through in my head rather than going to the piano, because if I did that, my hands would just automatically go to all the old familiar places and I would never be able to work through it at all”.

The act of creation is examined as well as the frustrations with the commercial side of the music business.

For instance, Florence Greenberg, music executive, had a track record when it came to not knowing when Hal and Burt had written a hit – she put WALK ON BY as a B side, for example.

The movie business fuelled Bacharach’s ascendency and the book is full of fascinating anecdotes about Hollywood. Pissed off that ALFIE got gazumped by BORN FREE at the Oscars, the Academy Award finally came two fold with BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID for best score and the song, RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING ON MY HEAD.

Those raindrops started falling, flooding into his next film project, and Bacharach was just like the guy whose beat was too big for his head, nothing seemed to fit.

LOST HORIZON was a major disaster, a monumental failure – not only a bad picture but it tore asunder the working relationship of Burt and Hal. “It was really stupid, foolish behaviour on my part and I take all the blame. I can’t imagine how many great songs I could have written with Hal in the years we were apart”.

After LOST HORIZON opened, he got in his car and went down to Del Mar, and disappeared. “I disappeared from Hal, I disappeared from Dionne, and I disappeared from my marriage”.

The disintegration of his marriage to Angie Dickinson culminated in their eventual divorce in 1981 and within a year he wed songstress, Carol Bayer Sager. Again it was a case of music before marriage, riffs before relationships, although it did produce the Oscar winning song THE BEST THAT YOU CAN DO from the film, ARTHUR.

Unfortunately, when it came to his wife, the best that Burt could do was not enough, and the union was dissolved in less than a decade. Carol Bayer Sager was writing songs that were cries for help. “When Aretha Franklin recorded SOMEONE ELSE’S EYES Burt would say “do you think the bass is high enough?”. I don’t think he ever heard the lyrics. All Burt cared about was whether the right sounding syllables were on his notes.”

The best that you can do: To the bookstore. Walk on. Buy.





William Boyd’s RESTLESS – the book becomes a television event with the author as screenwriter.

“Actress Hayley Atwell has resorted to calling herself William Boyd’s muse”, reports William Boyd via telephone from London. “And the truth is, I’d cast her in anything of mine, she’s terrific.”

Atwell plays Boyd’s ballsy heroin, Eva Delectorskaya, in the BBC adaptation of his novel, RESTLESS, which screens from June 1 through Universal’s 13th Street pay channel on Foxtel.

This is the second time she has played one of Boyd’s emboldened females having portrayed Freya in Any Human Heart. In RESTLESS, her role of Russian émigré living in France enlisted by the British Secret Service is something of a personal best in a career that counts the Hollywood blockbuster Captain America.

“She’s never had to stab a man in the eye with a pencil before”, quips Boyd, whose adulation for the actress fleshing out his creation is warranted in a performance that is layered and nuanced. Atwell’s “look” is beautifully suited to the thirties and forties, as attested in Captain America, and her portrayal of a Russian émigré recruited by the British Secret Service at the outbreak of World War II is the epitome of grace, glamour and intelligence.

Boyd has adapted all the screen versions of his books. “It’s part of the deal. I know that a book and a film are different animals, and because I wrote the book, I’m not the least reverent. It’s quite liberating.”

But doesn’t he owe the reader of his novels some fidelity with the film treatment.

“No. I’ve changed things in Restless because it was necessary. End of story.”

But it’s not end of story, because the story of the novel is the spine of the screen version, and a very solid, splendid spine it is.

“Writing novels is solitary, writing a screenplay is collaborative, and I love collaborating, and certainly on RESTLESS I have liked my collaborators.”

As well as his “muse”, Hayley Atwell, the cast includes an impressive ensemble that includes Charlotte Rampling, Rufus Sewell, Michelle Dockery and Michael Gambon, under the direction of Edward Hall, a veteran of the series, Spooks, an apt aspect of his CV considering RESTLESS seethes with subterfuge and secrets.

What is it about spy stories that so enchant us?

“Double life, duplicity, deceit, it’s fascinating- as long as it’s vicariously, and not visited upon us personally.”

The mole is the melanoma on the skin of national security.

Boyd has been asked to write the latest James Bond continuation novel. How on earth did the Ian Fleming estate allow this when I remind him of this quote from Any Human Heart:

“Freya would loathe Fleming. I can’t put my finger on his essential nature. He’s quite a handsome man- dark, lean- but it’s the sort of handsomeness that vanishes on a closer look and you see the flaws; the weak mouth, the doleful eyes. He’s affable, generous, appears interested in you- but there’s nothing in him to like. Too spoiled, too well connected, too cossetted: everything in life has come too easily.”

“Keepers of the Fleming flame feel I have a feeling for spy genre and I will be keeping true to the literary Bond.”

How hard is it keeping true to the literary Bond when the films have quite a pervading hold on the public imagination of 007?

“The two actors that have been closest to the literary Bond, I think, are Sean Connery and Daniel Craig, both of whom have starred in films I have written, Connery in A Good Man in Africa and Craig in The Trench, which I also directed. But my focus will be on Fleming.”

One wonders though if the Bond girl might have more than a fleeting resemblance to Hayley Atwell.

 The 2×90-minute drama RESTLESS is an Endor production in association with Sundance Channel for BBC One. It is produced by Hilary Bevan Jones and Paul Frift and directed by Edward Hall. The executive producers are William Boyd, Matthew Read for the BBC and Christian Vesper for Sundance Channel.

Part One – Saturday June 1st, 8.30pm
Part Two – Saturday June 8th, 8.30pm
Only on 13th Street

By William Boyd, published by Bloomsbury: available now.


Petite Mort (Serpent’s Tail)

PETITE MORTThe French film industry just before WWI is the setting of Beatrice Hitchman’s delicious debut novel, PETITE MORT (Serpent’s Tail).

Essentially, it is the back story of a mystery, the sinister incineration of a movie studio in which a recently shot silent film is destroyed erasing a sleight of hand worthy of cinematic illusion.

Cast with a cavalcade of characters kindred to the great melodramas, PETITE MORT stars Adele, a native of Carcassonne who comes to Paris with a fervour fanned by a priest to become a film star.

Film fame foiled, she finds work at Pathe in the wardrobe department, relegated from scene stealer to seamstress, where she catches the eye of studio big shot, Andre Durand, special effects wizard and husband of cinema superstar, Luce, known by her stage name, Terpsichore.

So the scene is set for a ménage a trois, with a trio that have three individual back stories that inform the future, harbour the past and haunt the present.

Imagine ALL ABOUT EVE via THE ARTIST and HUGO with dashes of Douglas Sirk and Alfred Hitchcock, and you have an idea of the tone of PETITE MORT.




Fungible. Sounds like a mushroom mish mash not something I’d instantly associate with Rin Tin Tin, arguably the world’s most famous dog.

Fungible is the word Susan Orlean uses with proclivity in her highly entertaining biography of the dog who was a superstar of stage, silent cinema, talking pictures and television, RIN TIN TIN (ATLANTIC BOOKS).

The definition of the word , being of such nature or kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part, for another of like nature or kind.

And that’s what Rinty became – a canine franchise that survived decades, a dog that had its day for generations, and a legend that won’t lie down.

After the success of her book The Orchid Thief, a publishing phenomenon as well as the source for the Academy award winning film Adaptation, Susan Orlean had a number of stories she could have followed up with, but it was the amazing exploits of this puppy prodigy that took the lead.

“I knew I loved the narrative of Rin Tin Tin because it contained so many stories within it: it was a tale of lost families and identity, and also of the way we live with animals; it was a story of luck, both good and bad, and the half turns that life takes all the time. It was a story of war as well as a story of amusement. It was an account of how we create heroes and what we want from them.”

Of course, first and foremost in people’s minds, Rin Tin Tin was a Hollywood hound, the wonder dog of Warner Brothers who garnered more votes in the inaugural Academy awards than any human actor.

The popularity of the pooch was unmatched, fending off such canine competitors as Lassie, who had a similar longevity due to television.

Orlean’s book is a treasure trove of Hollywood trivia, how deals were done, how sets and back lots were used and reused, the magic of movies and the men and animals that made them.

The two men most responsible for the ensuing and lasting legacy of RIN TIN TIN is the original owner and trainer, Lee Duncan, and the producer, Bert Leonard, protégé of Sam Katzman, and the man who brought Rinty to television, cementing the four legged phenomenon’s seemingly eternal fame.

This book not just scintillates the nostalgia nerve but is good enough to re-arouse real interest in a dog story that’s been lying dormant for too long. More than Orlean’s previous book, this one is howling for the Hollywood treatment, a story of surprise and wonder, a stroke of luck in a luckless time, a fulfilled promise of perfect friendship.

Charlie Kaufman sharpen your pencil!

(c) Richard Cotter

25th March, 2012

Tags- RIN TIN TIN by Susan Orlean, Book Review, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter


Scotty Bowers. Pic by Stephani Diani

Animal instincts of homo sapien Hollywood are given a good airing in Scotty Bower’s unabashed biography, FULL SERVICE, MY ADVENTURES IN HOLLYWOOD AND THE SECRET SEX LIVES OF THE STARS (GROVE PRESS).

Bi-sexual octogenarian Bowers outs many famous names, all fortuitously deceased and therefore unlikely to press for libel.

Discharged from military service at the end of World War II, the ebullient Bowers was a 23 year old bowser jockey pumping gas on Wilshire Boulevard.

As Hal David and Burt Bacharach said, ‘L.A. was about to become a great big freeway/Put a hundred down and buy a car/ In a week, maybe two, they’ll make you a star/ Weeks turn into years/How quick they pass/And all the stars that never were/are parking cars and pumping gas’.

Scotty Bower’s may never been a movie actor but his star was in the ascendency as a partner or procurer for studio types who swang both ways or wanted straight anonymous sex.

According to his Tinsel Town tell all, Walter Pidgeon was his entrée into the secret sex shenanigans, browsing Bowers at the bowser, gauging his boredom and bribing him to participate in a poolside petting session with Jacques Potts, movie milliner, or Hollywood hatter.

Not a movie star but certainly a Hollywood heartthrob, Bowers boasts of bedding Tyrone Power, Spencer Tracy, Vivian Leigh and Rock Hudson.

By his own admission, “living in Hollywood meant that you were never far away from a world of fantasy and make believe. Reality and fiction often blurred, even in the way people lived their lives. There was a wonderful duality about it all, a kind of mixing of personalities, times, eras, events.” So just how much is real or imagined or when you wish upon a star stuff, is a moot point.

The tone is not vindictive or muck raking, if anything it’s celebratory, a vivre la difference/ laissez faire tome.

“The truth is I never cared one iota about how people got their rocks off in private, just as long as they weren’t hurting anybody.”

Scurrilous, salacious, and as Noel Coward would say (he’s mentioned in the book) “I couldn’t have loved it more!”

© Richard Cotter

25th March, 2012