Books & Writing


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