Posts Tagged ‘novels’

I first met John Macgregor about ten years ago. Turned out he lived down the street from me. John’s over in Cambodia now, having adventures, while I, ever unadventurous, am still in the same street. (Anyone who’s read my trip to NZ post will know that I’m not a traveller, never was.)

 John has recently put his award-winning novel, Propinquity, up on the web. I asked him to write a few words about the book and how he felt about it after all these years. This is what he wrote:

Propinquity cover


I tend to think of the 1980s as being quite close in time – a bit like Now With Bulky Devices. But exhuming Propinquity, my 27-year-old novel, revealed just how much Australia has changed in the few years since then.

Propinquity was disinterred for publication as an e-book. This meant I had to read the thing – for the first time since I was a young lad of 36 who regarded it as reasonable behaviour to wear black all the time, and smoke a lot.

I knew I had changed. And I knew my alter ego narrator would have changed (had I attempted anything so gauche as a sequel). Australia was the character which provided the surprises.

To get the difficult bit over with first: during the Mullumbimby section of the novel, my narrator, Clive, regularly goes swimming naked with two girl children (his girlfriend’s kids). That would probably be out these days. Indeed I’m nervous about even mentioning it. I suspect the way this passage was received in 1986 (not a single comment from a reader or reviewer) is different to how it will be read now.

But far more interesting (to me) is that Clive habitually tends to put a negative spin on things. I did not know in 1986  that this “pessimistic explanatory style” is the leading cause of depression. After 35 years of the black dog I was very happy to put it down about ten years ago, thanks to some learned optimism training. Many others have done the same. In my opinion we’re in something of a Golden Age of psychology – an age which lies in Clive’s future. So seeing his episodic gloomfulness now – from that future – is a bit like observing a gloomy adolescent: you feel he’ll grow out of it.

Small, linguistic things have changed too. There are no “awesomes” in the book, but one “whatever”, and one line that made me LOL:

“She laughed out loud.”

And what is it with all these hyphens? Back-drop? Match-box? Stick-figure? Plaster-board? Sun-tan? Heart-beat? Switch-board? Did we ever spell like that? If so, two and a half more decades of Americanisation have ended it.

It’s not just language that’s changed, but diction. After the Loyal Toast at a Melbourne wedding reception, Clive tells us: “The toasting done, assumed English accents at neighbouring tables began to rise again in volume.”

This alludes to a generation of Melbourne society women, who are now all dead. No-one thinks a fake English accent is sophisticated any more, even in Toorak. (One also suspects the Loyal Toast has gone the way of the Divine Right and Charles I’s head.) But it’s remarkable how recently these faux Englishwomen walked (and talked) among us. I can still hear the terrifying, brittle voices which cut the air before them them as they beelined toward you at a party, like the Queen with an icepick behind her back.

The book also suggested how our views on alcohol, diet and health have changed in scarcely a generation. Clive drank a real lot (“we spent a month drinking beer in the Portsea pub”; “The wine was tolerable too, the second bottle tasting better than the first.”), as did his friends. They even did this at breakfast. I don’t drink at all these days, and if I had anything to do with it (which I would) neither would Clive.

And to think that this young idiot also drank iced coffee and ate camembert! Didn’t he know coffee crashes the adrenals, and that dairy is the world’s number one allergen? To make matters worse, on page 126: “I consumed mountains of garlic bread.” These grain foods were the very thing that would soon make me sick for an entire decade, till the arrival of the Internet enabled me to learn that we’re not a grain-eating species. D’oh.

But Clive is incorrigible. He seems determined to submerge himself in over-work, coffee, tax evasion, alcohol, grand theft, garlic bread, procuring perjury and eating dairy – all the vices, not just a few:

“The meetings and telexes and coffees and cigarettes had been endless.” Unspeakable.

Indeed, after he has discovered the divine female at the heart of Christendom, exposed a 2,000-year Church conspiracy, fled Westminster Abbey, been chased by the authorities across the globe, and is finally nabbed by the law in Byron Bay, he tries to makes his escape by slugging a policeman. These days police are armed, and he’d be shot.

The foregoing also reminds me how radically the way people think about God has shifted. Propinquity is saying that everything we have been taught about God is nonsense – a fringe view in 1986, which is now mainstream. The old structures totter on, but the cynicism about them is total.

Finally, for all his sins, my hero Clive was right to suggest a post-revolution firing squad for Rupert Murdoch, for it is his ilk who have ensured that “the old is dying, and the new cannot be born”.

“In this strange interregnum” (to complete the quote from Antonio Gramsci) “many morbid symptoms arise”. Looking around me now at 61, he wasn’t wrong about that.

In 1986 it was thought that we were in with a chance to save civilisation, and the planet that gave rise to it. The ensuing quarter-century saw the ideas and structures by which that could have been done steadily abandoned. Now we’re down to a series of rear guard actions. The emphasis has shifted, with a slow, intricate subtlety, from preventing disaster to adjusting to it. None of that was visible when I was 36, and wore black, and smoked a lot.


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Martin Shaw of Readings Monthly described this novel as ‘gutsy, moving, beautifully wrought and utterly compelling’.  In this memoir-as-fiction, first novelist Michael Sala recalls his early life in Holland and his life in Australia after his family immigrated here in the 1980s. In compelling detail, he describes his dysfunctional family: the fragile mother he loves, her penchant for moving house and for picking the wrong men; his glamorous, estranged Greek father, his older brother Con and his relationship with his cruel stepfather Dirk. The family has secrets, things some of the older members of the family did during WWII in Holland to survive.

The first two-thirds of the book are consistent in style, tense and point of view. However, in the last third, which depicts the family’s life in Newcastle, a looser technique prevails. I found myself wishing it had been written in the same consistent style as the first two-thirds. But as the author had to jump many years to when he, himself, is a father, and his mother and estranged father are old, perhaps this did not prove possible.

Essentially, Sala is a painter with words rather than a storyteller. As each scene unfolds, it’s like watching a master painter apply brush stroke after brush stroke to a canvas until the whole comes together.  The sense of cohesion the reader is left with, despite the apparent randomness of the third part of the book (the timeline is disjointed, there are flashbacks and changes of tense and point of view), is due to Sala’s deeply felt emotion and the high level of technique he employs in describing these emotions and the interactions between family members.

Sala’s prose is impeccable. I note that Chapter 9 appeared previously under the title ‘The Men Outside My Room’ in The Best Australian Stories 2011 and Chapter 10 appeared under the title ‘Like My Father, My Brother’ in the anthology Brothers and Sisters. This is no surprise: Sala has a wonderful ability to write between the lines and is a master of the fine detail so beloved by the Australian literary establishment. At present, he lacks the polish of a Thomas Shapcott and the strong storyline structure we have come to expect from Tim Winton. But that will come.

An interesting read, though perhaps not traditional enough in form for some. I found myself looking forward to his next book – one that has a simple timeline and is, perhaps a little less ‘literary’.

Make no mistake. Sala is here to stay.

Readers can purchase a copy of The Last Thread from almost all independent Australian bookstores, as well as A&R and Dymocks etc. The e book is available from Booki.sh and Kobo.

Danielle de Valera

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With the rise of digital technology, mainstream publishers became deluged with manuscripts. Today, more and more emerging writers are taking to self-publishing as a way of getting their work out there. Below is one writer’s journey into publishing with the UK Arts Council funded site Youwrite on.  It’s a happy story.

Self-publishing with Youwriteon by guest blogger: Louise Forster

After 11 years I’ve finally cracked it, I’m published. Okay, not in the usual sense with an agent and publisher, but as a self-published writer. I’ll cut to the chase and give you the facts.

I published with YouWriteOn, a UK Arts funded site that anyone can join. Basically it works on a bartering system. You read someone’s work and, at random, someone reads yours. You receive reviews from cold readers who don’t know you. The down side is, sometimes you’ll get a reader who’s not familiar with your genre. Then you need to shrug and say to yourself, what the heck. Of course there are times when a reviewer will say, ‘I wouldn’t normally choose this genre and I almost deleted your piece, but I’m glad I didn’t because I really enjoyed it.’ Check them out at www.youwriteon.com. If the above doesn’t appeal to you, they also offer publishing without peer review at:  www.FeedARead.com

Nearly 2 years ago I paid £58.99 (A$89.77). With this fee I’m published, and printed by Lightning Source, who have Print on Demand (POD) facilities all over the world, including Melbourne (important for me, as I’m in Australia). My book is beautifully presented in paperback, glossy cover, good quality paper and lovely, easy-to-read font. Recently I paid £34.94 for 6 of my books in hard copy; that comes to about A$5.50 per book, and that includes postage!

My book is available on as many online stores you can think of and some you wouldn’t know existed, like www.flipkart.com  in India — I’m waiting for an Indian director to read FINDING VERONICA and love her so much he wants to turn it into a Bollywood movie! (Bring it on.)


• It’s free to set-up your book for sale through FeedARead.com
• You set your own book price and royalty
• Full bookseller distribution service. You can also choose to make your book available via the major online outlets, including Amazon, and for major bookshops to order. The fees for this are as follows:

UK Authors: £88
US Authors: $79
Australian Authors: $140
European Authors: E100
All other authors: £88 UK.

FeedARead’s distribution service places your book into the world’s most comprehensive distribution channel. With over 30,000 wholesalers, retailers and booksellers in over 100 countries your book will gain the maximum exposure possible in the market today. This includes your book being available to order through all of the following: Amazon and Barnes & Noble (US); Amazon, WHSmith and Waterstones (UK); Amazon Europe; and TheNile.com (Australia).

My book is also available on Kindle through Amazon. On 18 December I joined Amazon’s new program for Kindle users called Prime. It was a little scary, but looking into it, I discovered that subscribers to Prime pay $78.99 annually. This enables them to borrow 12 books per year from the Prime Kindle list. Why would readers want to go this library route when it actually costs more per book? It saves the reader from making PayPal transactions every time they want a new book. Amazon currently sets aside $500,000/month for distribution to authors. After the 90-day trial period, my book continues with Prime for another 90 days, and so on unless I inform them that I don’t want to continue. Every 90 days, I am given 5 days for promotion, during which your books are available for free, and I can choose the dates — which is most useful if you want to coordinate it with your local book launch and local PR. I had one on the 18th another on the 21st of December.  (Normally, the ebook sells for $2.99; I receive 70% of this. )

Your share of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) Fund is calculated based on a share of the total number of qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles. For example, if the monthly fund amount is $500,000 and the total qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles is 100,000 in December and if your book was borrowed 1,500 times, you will earn 1.5% of $500,000 (1,500/100,000 = 1.5%); that is, $7,500 in December.


The sudden rise in sales happened AFTER I joined the KOLL. I believe that, had I not joined Prime, FINDING VERONICA would have been lost among the millions of books available. However to be fair, I have to say that I also began tweeting a few weeks ago as part of my PR program. Whether the suddden rise in my sales was due to twitter or to joining the KOLL, it’s simply too soon to know.

Whatever it is, it seems to be working!


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