Writerly roundup, with added Dredd

judge dredd iOS gameAn Aussie voicing Judge Dredd: that’s pretty cool. Alan Baxter reports there’s a new mobile phone game set in the world of Judge Dredd, with the said judge voiced by Kevin Powe, a Melbourne actor I’ve had the good fortune to run into in bars (as you do). Better than Sly? You can be the judge of that.

  • Louise Cusack is running a series of Wednesday posts about the writing game, with recent posts by guests including using writing contests to build a CV on the way to getting a publishing contract; publishing an e-book; and wrangling media. There’s a good post about editing from Louise, too, with a handy Q&A form.

  • Speaking of editing, Angela Slatter has a handy graphic to help understand the writing cycle. The word ‘flensing’ appears. Not for the precious or faint-hearted!

  • Over at Cheryse Durrant’s, I’ve been invited to bang on about Kim Harrison and urban fantasy. I am seriously behind on the Rachel Morgan series: there’s a graphic novel now? From Ivy’s point of view? w00t!

  • catwoman comic nine livesHave you been following the Wonder Women Are blog posts over at Tansy’s place? Delightful overviews of various star women characters in the comics world. The focus has been on DC and Marvel, with this week dedicated to the Bat-family. As a one-time massive buyer of Batman comics, it’s been great to see not only how stories have progressed and been reinvented, but how the comics honchos have moved with the times … or not. I may even have to make some further investments for the collection. Outside of Batman, two of my favourite titles back in the day were Kabuki and Shi: I wonder how they hold up today? Hm, I know they’re here somewhere…
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  • Snapshot 2012: Russell Blackford

    australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoAFTER many years in Melbourne, Sydney-born Russell Blackford has returned to Newcastle with wife Jenny, where he grew up. He has a law degree from the University of Melbourne and a Ph.D in philosophy from Monash University and an Eng. Lit. Ph.D from Newcastle Uni. He’s now a conjoint lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle.

    He’s a philosopher, a literary critic and sometimes a creative writer specialising in fantasy and science fiction. His books include a trilogy of novels for the Terminator franchise, collectively known as Terminator 2: The New John Connor Chronicles. He also wrote a thriller, Kong Reborn, which is modern-day sequel to the original 1933 King Kong movie, and the much-reprinted fantasy story, set at the time of Queen Zenobia of Palmyra, ‘The Sword of God’.

    He has also been active in the Australian science fiction community for well over 30 years, including ‘a fair bit of work’ in convention programming.

    His most recent books are 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We are Atheists (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), edited with Udo Schuklenk, and, just off the presses, Freedom of Religion and the Secular State (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), which deals with many of the hot-button issues that arise when religion and politics meet. He’s currently working on two new books: 50 Great Myths About Atheism (Wiley-Blackwell, co-authored with Udo), and Humanity Enhanced (MIT Press).

    Russell’s also editor-in-chief of an online peer-reviewed journal, The Journal of Evolution and Technology, and a columnist with the magazine Free Inquiry.

    Russell is online at www.russellblackford.com, runs personal blog Metamagician and the Hellfire Club and blogs in a more philosophical way at Talking Philosophy.


    Has science fiction driven your academic interest in ethics and humanity, or has your interest in those areas steered you towards science fiction — is science fiction the ideal ‘text’ for talking about gods, identities and being ‘more human than human’?

    Really, I can’t make that kind of distinction. My interests in all these things are entangled and they date back to primary school. Also, I think there’s something more fundamental going on, which is my sense of the mutability of human cultures, something I’ve felt in my bones for as long as I can recall. I’ve always had a just-slightly-alienated, semi-anthropological attitude to my own society and its mores, folkways and default outlook. Perhaps my socialisation didn’t ‘take; in the way it was supposed to (actually, I suspect that this is true of many people who are involved in science fiction). In my essay, ‘Unbelievable!’, in 50 Voices of Disbelief, I talk a bit about this in relation to religion: at a very early age, I rejected the religious beliefs around me, largely on the basis that I saw Christianity as just the mythology of our time and place, something that would not seem plausible in, say, a couple of thousand years … any more than classical mythology seems plausible to us. As I describe in ‘Unbelievable!’, I did return to Christianity for a period in my teens, but once again it didn’t take. And just as well.

    My love of ancient cultures, and their mythologies, and my love of speculation about the future are of a piece with this, and so is my scepticism about a lot of moralising and traditional moral rules. I have certain core values that drive me -– political freedom, compassion for suffering, the life of reason -– but I also have this very strong resistance to what seem to me culture-bound and largely arbitrary restrictions on what humanity might become (hence the ‘more than human’ part of your question), and on how, in the here and now, individuals might flourish.


    Do you ever find it difficult balancing the academic mantle with the fan who just wants to say ‘Hulk, smash — hell yes’?

    Nah, that’s fine. I love adventure movies and comics, and always have. I’m very fond of many of the great characters that have become, by now, a kind of twenty-first-century syncretic mythology, albeit not one that any sane person believes literally. In particular, I loved the new Avengers movie –- until it got too long and (I thought) too lacking in tension and felt danger. I found much to love simply because of the movie’s interpretations of the characters. Hulk, Black Widow, Thor, Loki, Iron Man, etc, were portrayed in ways that kept bringing that choked-up feeling to me, with moments that were just so recognisable and ‘right’.

    None of that cuts across my work as a philosopher, but what probably would cut across it would be trying to write these characters, and create those character beats, myself. I’ve had some minor success with media tie-in work, and I thought I did a pretty good job with The Terminator in particular. I could probably write the main Avengers or X-Men characters -– I understand and love them as much as almost anyone. The problem is that creative writing demands (for me) a certain obsessive mind-set. If I were writing stories involving the Hulk, say, or, say, Doctor Doom, I’d be wandering around constantly imagining what it might be like to be inside the heads of those characters, thinking about how they would perceive, explain to themselves, and react to what’s going on. Hopefully this wouldn’t show through in my overt behaviour! But it would crowd out the level of obsession that I also need in order to do philosophy well.

    Enjoying what other people do with those characters is fine –- it’s all fun. In fact, it’s very pleasing to see the characters done properly.


    Damn it, Russell, when are you going to write cyberpunk again?
    That’s a hard one -– again, to do this well I’d need to be totally obsessed with it. That’s the big problem with me and creative writing, and why I don’t do as much as I’d ideally like.

    The cyberpunk style, or sub-genre, or whatever we call it, is a good fit for someone like me. I can feel the allure, as well as the obvious downsides, of the classic 1980s cyberpunk futures. It all fits in with my slightly alienated perspective on my own society and its various pretensions. Right now, though, I’m not sure when I’m likely to return to writing fiction. It will only be when I’m ready to give it that sort of obsessive involvement … and at the moment I’m obsessively involved with writing non-fiction books, which (for me) is a very different mind-set. I expect it will happen, though. I have a lot of stuff to get out of my system right now, but who knows what the future will bring?

    If I’ve learned one thing in my life, it’s that I’ve got to get whatever ideas are in my head out of there and onto the paper or the screen. There’s never any worry about the ideas drying up as long as I keep doing that.

    But what wants to get down onto the screen at the moment isn’t cyberpunk-style fiction. Alas.


    What Australian works have you loved recently?
    I tend to be behind with my reading of Australian science fiction and fantasy. Suffice to say that we have some exciting talents currently in the mix -– to name just one, a writer who has been exceptionally impressive of late has been Tansy Rayner Roberts.


    What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
    I doubt that it’s possible to draw conclusions about changes over a period of only two years. You need a longer timeline to see whether a trend is permanent or what impact a breakthrough might ultimately have. At the moment, one thing that strikes me is the very high quality work in fantasy and horror from a number of relatively new female writers -– Tansy Rayner Roberts again, Alison Goodman … the list would actually get rather long –- but this situation has been developing for some time now. Let’s say two decades.

    You see some other things when you step back. For example, one obvious change over the past few years, though perhaps not all that remarked upon within Australia, is the successful return to the sf genre of Damien Broderick, who has placed multiple stories in year’s best anthologies of late. Good things keep happening.

    * * *

    THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

    Snapshot 2012: Glenda Larke

    australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoGLENDA Larke is an Australian who has spent most of her adult life abroad, living in Malaysia (including Borneo), Austria and Tunisia, yet still feels herself to be 100 per cent Australian. She has worked as an English teacher and as a conservationist, specifically tropical bird conservation, on jobs that have taken her from peat swamps and tropical islands, to logging camps and fishing villages. Her 10 published novels, including three trilogies (Isles of Glory, Mirage Makers and the latest, Watergivers) have been published in six different countries, and she has had books short-listed seven times for the Aurealis Best Fantasy of the Year. She is now working on another trilogy set in a fantasy version of the 17th European century spice trade to Indonesia, involving buccaneers, birds of paradise, witchery, magical daggers — and the morality of colonialism. The first book is called The Lascar’s Dagger.

    Find Glenda online at www.glendalarke.com and on her blog, www.glendalarke.blogspot.com.

    Your most recent series have been set in arid lands — what’s the attraction for you as a storyteller?
    As an Australian, the daughter of a farmer, I know about the preciousness of water. We bathed in untreated water pumped up from the river when I was a kid. Some of my earliest memories are about shortages – the summer a rat drowned in our rainwater tank, for example. Or the night my father walked through the smouldering remains of a bushfire to pump more water from the river so we could fight the fire. They are the stories of my childhood, and they have been reinforced by what is happened in today’s world. Wars are going to be fought over water.

    In the 21st century, for the first time in recorded history, the Rio Grande has failed several years to flow out to the ocean. The Marsh Arabs had their livelihood and life styles taken from them because others wanted their water. In Australia we contaminate our underground water with salt water intrusion and endanger it with fracking. Fresh water is the most precious of all the world’s resources and we should treat it as precious.

    There are so many water stories out there!

    You mention on your blog that publishers are reluctant to buy a series based on a proposal, even from authors with your track record. Is this another sign of the decimation of the midlist we hear about?
    It certainly seems to be a widespread complaint among authors that proposals have been a hard sell lately, especially last year. I was astonished by some of the Big Name Authors who have had been unable to sell their next works without a finished book in their hands. I think it stems from publishers being more circumspect about buying on spec while they try to work out where their industry is going. Once they decide what direction their company is taking, and have invested in new methods of distribution and sales, then things will settle down. It won’t be the same industry, but it will be perhaps less volatile and a tad more predictable than it has over the past year or two.

    You are a regular visitor to Swancon, in your home state where you’re planning to retire to … soon? What is it about the convention that draws you to make the long flight from Malaysia each year?
    Not every year, alas. But that is something I intend to work on once we move to Mandurah, which I hope will be within the next 12 months. Swancon was my very first con. I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I dragged my sister (a school teacher-librarian) along because I was so scared of having no one to talk to! I needn’t have worried, of course. I had a wonderful time, people were so welcoming, and they wanted to talk about all the things I wanted to talk about – it opened my eyes to a community of writers and readers and fans that I’d had no idea was out there anywhere. Every time I go to Swancon, it feels like home.

    What Australian works have you loved recently?
    Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court trilogy and Karen Miller’s Blight of Mages. I thought the first two books of Tansy’s were utterly brilliant, worthy of huge international acclaim. I had a few plot issues with the last one that I am dying to chat to Tansy about next time I see her, but that trilogy as a whole is one of the most original and well-written works to come out of Oz fantasy writers since, oh, since The Etched City by KJ Bishop.

    Blight of Mages is a tour de force – for a start, it’s a prequel that can be read by people familiar with the series or by those new to her work, and either way it offers a startling read. On one level it’s a brilliant character study of two flawed people and the disaster they create. On another it’s a tragic love story. On another it’s a traditional fantasy with lots of magic and battles on an epic scale. I was surprised it never made the Aurealis shortlist.

    What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
    Hard for me to say because, living abroad, I am always so far behind in my reading. If I wasn’t, I’d probably be adding, say, Lanagan, Anderton or Freeman to the list of authors mentioned in the above paragraph…

    From a distance, then, I would say it has been the healthy growth and outstanding success of the small press; the international success of Australian podcasts; the success of Australian woman in fantasy, horror and science fiction writing. Generally, Australia appears to produce a huge pool of talent when you consider the small population. What I’d love to see in the next couple of years is some great Australian fantasy from indigenous writers and immigrant writers drawing on their own cultural/ethnic roots.

    Taking a broader outlook, I think Australian readers/writers of all kinds have to think very carefully about what kind of reading experience they want in the future. Simply put, if you want bookshops in High Street you have to buy from bookshops in High Street. If we want cheaper books, then we have to rethink how it can be done without bringing Australian publishing to its knees.

    * * *

    THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

    Snapshot 2012: Jenny Blackford

    australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoJENNY Blackford gave up her day job in 2001, and has been writing ever since, in between spoiling the cat, cooking and gardening. With husband Russell, she lived 30 years in Melbourne before returning to her hometown of Newcastle in 2009. In the same year, she was a judge for the World Fantasy Awards. She has had 20 stories published: eight for adults and 12 for children, and four poems, plus the historical novella The Priestess and the Slave.

    Her latest publication is ‘The Dragon in the Tent’, a magical circus story, in The School Magazine, which has also recently accepted a cat poem, ‘Soft silk sack’.

    Her latest publication specifically for grown-ups was ‘The Sacrifice’, in Aurealis 47. Jenny’s website is www.jennyblackford.com and she blogs at Living in the Past.


    You’ve had some poetry published recently, after a long hiatus, and one ventures the new stuff is quite different to your first piece in Dolly all those years ago: what do you think has inspired you to not only return to poetry, but poetry of a decidedly darker (?) nature?
    As to what has inspired me to return to poetry -– the real question is why I ever stopped writing it. Apparently, I just gave up quietly in my final dispiriting years of high school. The poetry writing asserted itself naturally a few years ago and took a while to nose its way out into the world.

    And as to the alleged new darkness: not all my recent poems are dark. My poem forthcoming from The School Magazine is a fairly sweet little thing about a cat (though some might think ‘soft silk sack of bones’ has a slightly sinister edge). And my most recent poetry publication (in Star*Line 35.1 is another sweetish cat poem (though it does start with the potentially sinister ‘Gravity is stern as death’, and does ascribe uncanny powers to cats.) Hmmm…

    I wish I could find my copy of ‘Ti-trees Rising’, the poem that was printed in Dolly back in the ’70s, but it seems to have disappeared from my filing system. It’s about ti-tree scrub, but I do distinctly remember the words ‘reptilian silver’ and ‘the cold moon in the dark’, so there’s at least a smidge of a sinister edge there as well.

    Getting deeper: it’s true that the definitely dark ‘Mirror’ was my first poem for decades, but it’s based on memories from my teens. I was totally convinced that I saw someone else’s eyes looking back at me in the mirror, and I was terrified. Back then, I’m sure family and friends would have been horrified if I’d put all that fear and darkness into a poem. Now that I’m grown up, I’m allowed to.


    What is your approach to reinvigorating the age-old story of Medea? Is that what made you pick it?
    Modern people don’t tend to take Medea seriously as a Bronze Age priestess of Hekate, as a powerful sorceress, or as a goddess, grand-daughter of Helios, the Sun, but the ancient Greeks certainly did. She’s an amazing character, and the Bronze Age –- the era of the Mycenaean Greeks -– is my absolute favourite. Just imagine a glowing, golden-haired goddess-princess sitting on a throne carved out of rock crystal with golden monkeys inlaid on the back.

    I’d loved the story ever since I studied the 5th century BC Euripides play Medea (in Ancient Greek) as part of my degree in Classics. After all the modern retellings that concentrate on how ‘heroic’ Jason was, and what a monster Medea was to kill her brother and her children, I was astonished to see Euripides rip into him so cuttingly, and so appallingly accurately. Jason could never have brought the Golden Fleece back to Greece without Medea’s help -– but a few years later, he wanted to trade her in for a younger, better-connected princess (not foreign witch), and expected Medea to be happy about him providing a better future for their children! Euripides converted me to Medea’s side, and I want to convert everyone else.


    When you wrote The Priestess and the Slave, was your inner fantasist crying out to add fantasy elements or was 5BC fantastical enough?
    When Eric Reynolds (the editor/publisher of Hadley Rille Books) asked me to write him a strictly historically accurate novella set in ancient Greece, my first two questions were whether I could use Bronze Age Greece (no – it had to be Classical Greece, 5th century BC), and whether I could add fantasy elements (no — it had to be purely historical).

    I shrugged and got on with it. Once I started to write, it didn’t matter. Living inside the head of a slave girl in the plague years of Athens, or a Pythia in Delphi, was a strange and intense experience in its own right. And the characters believed totally in their gods, who are almost characters in their own right.


    What Australian works have you loved recently?
    So much -– but a few that come to mind are Tansy Rayner RobertsCreature Court trilogy, Alison Goodman‘s Eon/Eona duology, Kim Wilkins‘ novella (‘Crown of Rowan: A Tale of Thrysland’) in Jack Dann and Jonathan Strahan’s Legends anthology.

    What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
    Aussiecon 4 seems hardly any time ago! Wasn’t it only yesterday? One very sad change, though, is the deaths of Sara Douglass and Paul Haines, both from cancer. Valete.

    * * *

    THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

    Callout to Queensland authors of 2011, and other writerly news

    queensland writers centre logoQueensland Writers Centre is compiling a booklet, Books from our Backyard, of Queensland authors to have had a book published in 2011. Must be first edition, paper or e-book, with ISBN and cover image. Details at the website.

    Also, the centre has compiled a website of reaction to the summary cancellation of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards by incoming premier Campbell Newman. The centre is looking to salvage something from the debacle and provides some avenues for reaction to the move. A separate push is underway to establish the Queensland Literary Awards.

  • In award news, and much more positive all round, Aussies Jonathan Strahan and the gang from Galactic Suburbia podcast have made the shortlist for the Hugo Awards — Strahan twice, for best short form editor and also his co-hosted Notes from Coode St podcast. Way to go!
  • The Blood-Red Pencil hosts two posts about the life of agents, including their changing role in an industry where self-publishing is no longer the path of last resort.
  • At the Lair, Sean Williams and Karen Miller talk joining Forces with the Star Wars franchise.
  • In Lisa Hannett’s Tuesday Therapy (it’s been a busy week), Kim Falconer offers some down-to-earth advice about setting goals and achieving them despite all the good advice. In today’s Theraphy, Angela Slatters offers excellent advice about both offering and receiving favours of a literary nature.
  • Looking ahead: Swancon 2013 has announced a guest list of Gail Simone, Charles Stross, John Birmingham and Lucy Sussex. w00t!

  • Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court series is pushing into overseas markets — great to see a publisher investing in local talent.
  • And finally, this piece from Call My Agent! about the cultural cringe and Australian novels. I’d like to think that the efforts of our fantasy, crime and romance writers, in particular, are changing the apparent reluctance of readers to buy locally … This post riffs off a previous one about why it’s hard to get an Aussie novel published, which kicked along a meme about ‘what Australian book have you bought recently’. You don’t buy local just because it is local, of course, but because it’s local and good: it’s that last part that has had buyers doubting, but they’re out of excuses these days. Now it’s how to raise awareness in an ever-crowded market place.
  • Late addition: I’ve been meaning to add 20c to this excellent post about the value of a book cover over at Patrick O’Duffy’s place, but that’s gonna have to wait for another day. When you see the amount of quality info Angry Robot has packed onto that back cover … wow. The absence of a back cover on an e-book — that requirement that the browser has picked up that info on the web page — is an interesting quandary that I haven’t got around to pondering in any meaningful way. Patrick, it’s up to you!
  • AWWNYRC #2: The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts

    This is the second book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.

    The Shattered City

    Book 2 of the Creature Court trilogy
    by Tansy Rayner Roberts
    Harper Voyager, 2011, ISBN: 9 780 7322 8944 7

    shattered city by tansy rayner roberts

    IN WHICH the Tasmanian author furthers the tale begun in Power and Majesty (reviewed here). For those who came in late: the city of Aufleur is under attack, with interdimensional rifts trying to destroy it overnight. Defending the city is a bunch of hedonistic and political shape shifters, led by a Power and Majesty. In book 1, the ruling P&M was whisked away through a split in the sky, and was replaced — not by the most likely candidate, the damaged and reluctant Ashiol, but seamstress Velody.

    It’s a complex world, with Italian Renaissance overtones, and both the workings of the magical world and its relationship with the physical are explored further in The Shattered City. Velody grows into her role on the great chess board, introducing a new regime of polite behaviour — of community — into the fractious, scheming Court, while her fellow seamstresses — Rhian, all but neglected for much of this story, and fiery Delphine — also find their place in the new world order.

    australian women writers challenge 2012The actual story that drives this book — an assassin in the ranks and the sense that the city faces its most deadly threat yet — takes a while to get going, but there’s no time for slacking off. There are so many points of view, often thrown altogether within each chapter, and some make only one or few appearances: it’s easy to lose track of just whose head you’re in.

    It’s a strength that the immediate story arcs of books 1 and 2 are both resolved between their covers, while the larger story stretches across them. As with the first, the second delivers some delicious moments, beautifully dressed and dead sexy, and what a relief it is to finally have the plot point that kicked the whole thing off finally out in the open. Rayner Roberts is wise to not present it as a surprise, but use it as leverage for a greater goal. The Creature Court series offers a layered, detailed, credible world, peopled with a cast of complex, motivated individuals. How fortunate that, given the impending showdown foreshadowed here, that book 3, Reign of Beasts, is out now!


    This review has also been posted at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus, who made the review copy available.

    Previous Challenge reviews:

  • Frantic, by Katherine Howell, crime.
  • Angry Robot opens its doors again, and other writerly news

    Hot on the heels of Penguin’s new open door program, British press Angry Robot is again appealing to unagented authors — they signed three debut novelists from last year’s program — but this time are being quite specific about what they want: classic fantasy and YA SF and fantasy. The submission period is April 16-30 using a website uploader. Details are here.

  • Tansy Rayner Roberts is sharing the love — a combined book launch with Margo Lanagan for those lucky enough to have easy access to Hobart (Lanagan has riffed her Sea Hearts novella from X6 into a novel, how tasty!) — and a reprint that shows even a story written for a specific universe can have legs outside it (and indeed, TRR’s yarn breaks more boundaries than that little piffle).
  • Alan Baxter has shared his love, too: the forthcoming ‘paranoirmal’ anthology Damnation and Dames from Ticonderoga with its whoop arse cover and two collaborations in its TOC. I look at the bare scraping of confused and contradictory notes on my hard drive and lament; there are two more upcoming titles I doubt I’ll be able to submit to, but they’re worth a look: issue 7 of Midnight Echo, closing this month, and another paranormal anthology, Bloodstones, open February–May.
  • And here’s pause for thought in the aftermath of Australia Day, in which Lit-icism considers the call for renewed focus on Australian literature. The part that especially struck a chord with me was this, from Italian academic Tim Parkes:

    Parkes laments what is essentially a globalisation of literature in which novels provide no authentic sense of place at all, but are instead tailored to a global market by dealing with ‘universal’ – read: more widely marketable and international prizewinning – themes.

    This is partly why I took up the pen with a view to being published — to see my country, my culture, reflected in the types of stories that I like to read. It’s heartening to see authors such as Trent Jamieson able to set their fiction in Brisbane — Brisbane! — and still find not only a wider audience, but an overseas publisher willing to run with it. It’s pleasing to see someone send some Aussie sensibility across the water, rather than regurgitating a trope-laden backdrop of New York or London.

    It’s not just eucalyptus trees (hey, they have plenty in California, anyway) — it’s viewpoint. It’s attitude. It’s how we see the world. Sharing these things is how we help us all to understand each other — not just the different priorities or approaches we might take, but also the similarities: parents what a better world for their children, for instance. Language plays an incredibly powerful part in informing culture, and where else to find its evolution than in literature?

    Parkes is talking about more than setting: he’s talking about themes and those, he suggests, can be culturally specific and deserve attention. Sure, though I’m not convinced that domestic themes don’t have wider resonance.

    Australia doesn’t have the history of European countries in dealing with certain social ills, for instance — no civil war, no religious schisms — but the social history of those events can still impact on us; we can see movements here, we can relate to the humanity of the issue, we can learn a lesson.

    And I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss universal themes. Harking back to Australia Day, is the Australian experience of colonialism, from invader or invaded viewpoint, any different to that of Canada or South Africa? How? What does it do to us? Perhaps a culture’s, or a subculture’s, response to those universal themes is equally important as those purely domestic discussions (assuming they exist).