Category Archives: writers

But seriously…

28 But seriously… is the blog of Rich Merritt — seen on the right in 1994. It’s a great blog in its own right and will shortly appear on my blog roll. See also Rich Merritt Web site.

I am reading Rich’s Code of Conduct at the moment.

In Code of Conduct, former U.S. Marine Rich Merritt, explores the secret double lives of Don, Eddie, Karl and Patrick, all currently serving as closeted military men. Agent Jay of the Naval Investigative Service struggles with his past as he follows his own personal vendetta against homosexuality. As hope of President Bill Clinton’s promise to relieve the ban on gays in the military flourishes, Jay attempts to ruin the careers of our heroes. Action-packed, this novel kept me on the edge of my seat, while at the same time beautifully illustrating the passion and love that gay servicemen and women can have for each other.

A fast read, Merritt’s novel explores a fascinating section of the LGBTI community through his and others’ experiences in the military. Although the dialogue reads rather unrealistically, the novel was thoroughly enjoyable…

That last criticism is true at times; it is not the world’s greatest novel. Also, I would that it began differently, without quite so much military-speak and boys’ own adventure stuff so early. That aside, this is a passionate novel on several levels. It could have been even better if it had been written for outsiders rather more than it is. It would, I think, make an excellent movie though, so long as it was a movie-maker with the right political as well as artistic nous.

Of all the great no-brainers, the whole “gays in the military” controversy has to be close to top of the list. Of course there are gays in the military, in the USA, in Australia — I know a few of them and once passed a pleasant Anzac Day in a Sydney gay bar with representatives serving or previous from all branches of the Australian military — and, presumably, everywhere else. At the time the events in the novel take place, the US was still adopting an Iranian view of the matter; you will recall the current Iranian leader’s views that there were no gays in Iran, but if there were they would be — and are — executed.

One thing it confirms in spades: US conservatives — and there are of course gay US conservatives too, oddly enough — can be totally revolting and very dangerous — especially conservatives with decided views rooted in a literal Bibliolatry. Given the current presidential race the novel makes a timely read.

Rich Merritt: When I was a kid I just always imagined, given the fundamentalist nature I had, I would be a youth pastor at a church. Maybe a teacher at the school I was at Bob Jones University. Once I was in the Marines, I was off, and my life was a whirlwind… I’ve just tried to enjoy it along the way.

How much of Code of Conduct is based on personal experiences?

RM: I would say at least half of it is based on my own personal experience, but I would take my personal experience and say, “What if it had gone differently? “What if there was a different factor there?”

Which character or characters do you relate to or identify with the most?

RM: We all have kind of shadow self, and if you’re a follower of Karl Jung, the antagonist, Jay, is my shadow self. In my early Marine Corps time, I feared that I would become him.

How heartbroken were you when former President Bill Clinton went back on his word and didn’t repeal the ban on homosexuality in the military?

RM: It was devastating. There was a brief moment of hope in January 1993. I had just come out of the closet myself. When that brief moment of hope was extinguished… I know that we’re going to be victorious, but it’s going to take a lot of work.

What do you think would happen were gays and lesbians allowed to openly serve in the military?

RM: Absolutely nothing. It would be such a non-issue that people would barely register it as a blip on the radar screen. People always talk about what you do about the barracks. The thing is… so many people are going to come out; people will realize that someone is your roommate and also gay.  The counter argument that they always give… we shouldn’t let what happened in France happen to our country. My counter-counter argument is ‘Why not?’

It’s quite a journey, isn’t it? Code of Conduct is certainly a book to be admired, and I commend Rich’s blog to you.

As noted in the novel, in the future — one sincerely hopes — rabid homophobes will be regarded with the same contempt with which we now regard defenders of racism or slavery. In my view it is a test of civilisation…

Quite a different novel reflecting in some ways, dare I say, a greater civilisation is Reginald Hill, A Cure for All Diseases (Harper Collins 2008). A tribute to Jane Austen’s unfinished Sanditon, Hill’s novel is set in a Yorkshire town named Sandytown. If your only acquaintance with Dalziel and Pascoe is the TV version, you really need to try the books. They are streets ahead of the TV in wit and depth of reference. This is one very clever book. It also reinvents the epistolary novel for the 21st century. I rate it a Best Read of 2008.

See also A CURE FOR ALL DISEASES, Reginald Hill.



River of Heaven by Lee Martin – Random House 2008 — and Waleed Aly on Andrew Denton last night

leemartin River of Heaven by Lee Martin reminded me somewhat of the movie Stand By Me, (above) and no harm in that as it is one of my favourite movies.

On an April evening in 1955, Dewey died on the railroad tracks outside Mt. Gilead, Illinois, and the mystery of his death still confounds the people of this small town.

River of Heaven begins some fifty years later and centers on the story of Dewey’s boyhood friend Sam Brady, whose solitary adult life is much formed by what really went on in the days leading up to that evening at the tracks. It’s a story he’d do anything to keep from telling, but when his brother, Cal, returns to Mt. Gilead after decades of self-exile, it threatens to come to the surface.

A Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Bright Forever, Lee Martin masterfully conveys, with a voice that is at once distinct and lyrical, one man’s struggle to come to terms with the outcome of his life. Powerful and captivating, River of Heaven is about the high cost of living a lie, the chains that bind us to our past, and the obligations we have to those we love.

That is from the publisher’s blurb, but I wouldn’t quarrel with it. The novel is beautifully written. Given that the writer is not, so far as I can see, himself a gay man, his empathy with the central character, a 65-years-old who is closeted by social setting and past events, is utterly commendable. This is a book that just may shift a few out of their homophobia, should they be part of that sad but, one hopes, dying social phenomenon. Well, perhaps not in some cases.

In last night’s brilliant interview on Enough Rope Waleed Aly had this to say on another matter — but it fits:

ANDREW DENTON: Can logic speak to prejudice?

WALEED ALY: … it depends on the brand of prejudice …

ANDREW DENTON: Well, that that brand for instance.

WALEED ALY: No. That’s you’re not going to dismantle that through logic. There’s what is there’s a famous saying, you can’t reason a person out of a position they didn’t arrive at through reason, and I think that’s a good example of that. that’s a certain there’s a there’s an emotional rage to that.

You really must read that interview, really!

Back to my current novel. See:


That is a music blog, but the post linked to the banner is about River of Heaven — and music; Lee Martin wrote the post.

The first time Largehearted Boy invited me to write liner notes for one of my books it was for my novel, The Bright Forever. At the time, no one knew that the book would end up being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction or that I would spend some wonderful afternoons and evenings chatting with book clubs. Inevitably, during those chats, someone mentions the fact that so many songs are referenced in that novel. This happens in all my work, most recently in my new novel, River of Heaven, a story told from the first-person point of view of Sam Brady, a sixty-five-year-old man, living with a secret in the small town of Mt. Gilead, Illinois. “You have to know the rest of my story,” he says at the end of Chapter 1, “the part I can’t yet bring myself to say. A story of a boy I knew a long time ago and a brother I loved and then lost.” With that, he sets into motion this tale of the death of a boyhood friend and what it brought to Sam’s life, particularly his estrangement from his brother, Cal. River of Heaven is Sam’s confession, and along the way, a number of songs underscore his involvement in a past wrong and his present-day journey toward redemption…

A Top Read of 2008.

And back to Waleed Aly for a moment. This so resonated with my own Teenage Calvinism back around the time George Monbiot (previous entry) was born:

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Posted by on August 12, 2008 in America, Australia, Australia and Australian, Best read of 2008, book reviews, faith, Fiction, Gay and Lesbian, gay issues, humanity, Islam, pluralism, reading, religion, Top read, TV, writers



::: Alexander McCall Smith :::

9780316727822 Yes, I am again able to report sheer delight in the latest I have read by Alexander McCall Smith: The Careful Use of Compliments (2007). As I said before:

The thrust is gently conservative, with a folk wisdom that has much to commend it… Po-faced indeed would be any reader who is not drawn in and delighted, even if at the expense of an odd cringe or two — the latter probably being therapeutic.

I really am reminded of Jane Austen.

Among many lovely moments is a concert:

With the Pie Jesu, which was sung by Nicola Wood, whom Isabel knew slightly, her mind came back to the music. Dona eis requiem; grant them rest. It was not a complex melody, with its cautiously developed melody and its utter resolution; it was a lullaby really, and that, she thought, was what a requiem really was. If one were to be taken up to heaven, then it would be Faure who might accompany one.

This blogger tells you more about the series, and this one puts a different spin on the novel.

Over the fold there is a little more Faure, and a PDF extract from The Careful Use of Compliments. Enjoy.
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Flash Intro Page: Kevin Hunter

Kevin Hunter left a really nice comment on my GLBT Page. He has quite a background:

Kevin Hunter is an uninhibited fiction writer of young adult books. The issues he tackles with in his material tend to be dark themed in nature, love based and in places erotic and sexually charged, but in the end fun reads. He is the author of the books Jagger’s Revolution and Navy Blue Eyes. Kevin Hunter was born in Arcadia, California, a valley suburb of Southern California. He currently resides in a beach city in Los Angeles…

Kevin began work in the entertainment field at the age of 23 joining one of Hollywood’s most respected actors, Michelle Pfeiffer… After three years with her, he then made a move into film production hammering his name into stone in the film industry working with some highly notable talent and producers while adding to a mounting list of production credits that include Via Rosa’s The Deep End of the Ocean, as well as Crazy in Alabama, The Perfect Storm, Dr. Dolittle 2 and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I was not displeased. 🙂 Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on June 26, 2008 in America, blogging, Gay and Lesbian, gay issues, site news, USA, writers



Just about everyone I know is ambivalent about the USA

It was certainly the position of the World War II generation of my parents, and that was often based on memories of that war, both on the front line and on the home front. This is not the same as anti-Americanism. Many people I know who have lived in the USA, including some Aussies who still do, regard the place as, to quote one, having the best of what the world might offer and also some of the worst, but very little in between. Make of that what you will. Australians do tend to head “gladly home” at some point.

Contrary to the impression you may sometimes get, the Americans are nonetheless very often robustly self-critical. There is another example of a healthy American “anti-Americanism” in the latest New Yorker, a journal where one may often find such self-criticism: Return to Paradise: The enduring relevance of John Milton by Jonathan Rosen. It is primarily, however, a reflection on the great 17th century poet — whose work was out of fashion at Sydney U in the mid 1960s.

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A 20th century author I had never read before…

… which in itself is hardly surprising, given that if one thinks globally there were so many, and more in English alone than anyone could possibly ever have exhausted in a lifetime. Hence the popularity of books like 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. (See also here.)

I had a go a couple of years back constructing a “canon”. In my undergraduate days at Sydney U some fifty years ago the trend for canons was full on, and what we ought to read was neatly reduced to about twelve authors! Seriously! The whole exercise is dubious of course, which is not to say that all works of literature are equal in quality, obviously not the case. Mind you, back then we were not really encouraged to think critically about the exercise we were engaged in, perhaps laughingly called “criticism”. There were some exceptions to that generalisation, but English scholars were in general not noted for their depth of historical or philosophical knowledge.

This brings me to a writer of the World War II and mid twentieth century periods, Anna Kavan. There is also a web-site about her work. Guilty (2007) was in fact written much earlier.

Set in an unspecified but eerily familiar landscape, Guilty is told from the point of view of a young man named Mark. The novel begins in his childhood and as his father returns from war. In spite of being garlanded as a hero, Mark’s father declares himself a pacifist and is immediately reviled in a country still suffering from wartime divisions. When he is forced into exile Mark meets Mr Spector, a mysterious figure who becomes a dominant force in his life, overseeing his schooling, his employment and even his accommodation. When he tries to break way from Mr Spector to pursue and engagement with the beautiful Carla, Mark’s life begins to unravel. Thwarted at every turn by a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, he falls prey to the machinations and insecurities of his guilt-ridden mind.

Drawing on many of Kavan’s familiar themes, Guilty will be welcomed by those who already know and appreciate her work and a revelation to those who don’t.

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Posted by on June 17, 2008 in Best read of 2008, book reviews, reading, writers


Miranda versus the arts community

Miranda Devine has her say on the Bill Henson controversy in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Artistic crowd the real philistines. She has all guns blazing.

…Blanchett and another 43 members of the “creative stream” of the 2020 Summit released an open letter on Tuesday calling on the Prime Minister to retract his statement that the Bill Henson photographs of naked 12- and 13-year-olds briefly on display at the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery in Paddington were “absolutely revolting”.

So artists want the freedom to exploit budding pubescents as nude models, but they don’t want the Prime Minister to freely express his thoughts?

If the arts community is so creative and “edgy”, why do they all travel in lockstep on such things? Their single voice suggests not originality and boundary-pushing, but a suffocating conformity.

Who in the arts community – whether creator, curator or critic – has come out and said: “This is wrong,” not just “provocative” or “controversial”? They say they are happy to have the debate but they have never had the debate, perhaps for fear of being seen as prudish or out of touch with the in-crowd.

This deficit of moral courage was most stark last week in people who have since told friends they felt “uncomfortable” about the image on the invitation from Roslyn Oxley9 promoting Henson’s show, but kept their feelings to themselves…

You don’t have to regard Henson’s work as pedophile pornography to hear, in the elaborate defences of his work concocted in the past week, echoes of the justifications the pedophiles Philip Bell and Robert “Dolly” Dunn made in their talk of the ancient Greek tradition of man-boy love, as if they were simply misunderstood by philistines.

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Australian poem 2008 series #14 — Rosemary Dobson (1920 – )

I note Rosemary Dobson’s work is set from 2009 in the HSC, so more may appear later on at English/ESL. My immediate inspiration, however, was Poetry special: The Continuance of Poetry by Rosemary Dobson on Radio National’s “The Book Show” this week.

Rosemary Dobson was born in Sydney in 1920—the daughter of English immigrants and the grandaughter of poet, critic, biographer and essayist Henry Austin Dobson. And she is the only one of five featured poets who is still living. Her first collection, In a Convex Mirror, was published in 1944, and all up, she’s written 13 collections of her own work and edited several anthologies. Her work has attracted many awards over the years, and in 2000 Rosemary was given an honorary Celebration by the National Library of Australia.

The work we’re focusing on today, ‘The Continuance of Poetry’ is both an elegy and a celebration. It’s a meditation on the nature of friendship and loss, which Rosemary Dobson wrote in memory of her friend and fellow poet David Campbell. This series of 12 poems were composed on the occasion of his death. They were written more as a private memorial than a public statement of grief. The series is in fact an intimate reflection on what happens when two minds meet and share together the richness of their mutual poetic heritage. And in this case that heritage has as much to do with Chinese literature as it does with Australian poetics.

An example of her work:

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Posted by on May 16, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, English studies, OzLit, poets and poetry, writers


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Recycling old arguments…

First, let me pay tribute to a wonderful site which I have neglected lately but have just now restored as my home page in Firefox.


It’s a rare day when there isn’t some item of interest there, and it does cast a wide net across a range of views in many disciplines. Given that too many of us tend to read sites we agree with and ignore (or mock) those of a different view, making our web experience something of an echo chamber, that wide net is a bonus.

Indirectly, as you will see in a moment, AL Daily recently sent me to Professing Literature in 2008 in The Nation, that wonderful and venerable American leftish magazine. William Deresiewicz is responding to the reissue, after 20 years, of Professing Literature, Gerald Graff’s history of American English departments.

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Posted by on May 13, 2008 in America, culture wars, curriculum, English studies, future schooling, generational change, literary theory/criticism, web stuff, writers, writing


I like Norman Davies

I have just finished the collection of essays Europe East & West (Jonathan Cape 2006) and found it fascinating.

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Alasdair Duncan’s common sense

On Anzac Day last year I reviewed Alasdair Duncan’s Metro. Duncan has recently written a very sensible piece on ABC Unleashed, Formally gay and confused. He is referring to the matter of students being allowed to bring a same sex partner to a school formal, a matter that has had some considerable coverage here in Australia recently. Too many have jumped on this particular band wagon without seriously considering the reality of the situation for many gay and lesbian teens; there is more to it than simple pro or con homophobia, though obviously I would be very much con homophobia. I regret, personally, the fortunately few but still too many occasions when zeal or other considerations may have led me to a less than considered or helpful stance on such matters, or towards people in the position of those Duncan describes. But then circumstances can make fools of us all sometimes. On the other hand I don’t regret those other, one hopes more frequent, moments when I have actually been able to be some kind of model, guide or mentor, however fallible.

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Posted by on April 24, 2008 in Australia, challenge, education, Gay and Lesbian, gay issues, generational change, writers


Denise Mina and “Tartan Noir”

I have just finished, and greatly enjoyed, Denise Mina The Last Breath (Bantam 2007), set in Glasgow in 1990.

Paddy Meehan has it all: flash car, flat, job as Scotland’s leading columnist, and giant packet of biscuits all to herself, but the groggy bliss of a Saturday night in front of the TV is shattered when the police knock politely on her door, smiling sadly when she answers it. Someone close to her has died, but she’s staggered when they tell her who it is.

Terry Patterson has been found in a ditch, stripped naked and executed with a shot through his temple. He was her first ever lover and her hero, the sort of journalist she always aspired to be.

Paddy chucked him months ago but she’s down on his passport as his next of kin. Not only that but he has left everything to her in his will, a house in Ayrshire, boxes of notes, a folder.

Beginning the investigation into his murder she realises all too late that if the secret he was about to expose is worth killing for then she – and the people closest to her – are in terrible danger.

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Successful bloggers

This morning WordPress reports:

Stuff White People Like and I Can Has Cheezburger have been topping our Blogs of the Day charts for some time. Now the New York Times reports that both of those blogs have received book deals. “Stuff” apparently got a $300k advance. The books based on their blogs are due out this Fall. Congratulations to both of them!

I featured the first one here on 9 March.

One of the consistent top blogs on WordPress is also one of the most original pieces of social commentary/satire I have seen in many a day. Its deadpan delivery works far better than any rant you might imagine, yet it really does get in below the belt at times. That I have to acknowledge some of my own fetishes with a somewhat wry grin is testimony to the effectiveness of…


And here is another blog for you to meet, but in a totally different vein.

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Posted by on April 2, 2008 in blogging, other blogs, writers, writing



Following "Racism No Way": on Aussies, Skips, Anglos and other creatures of our imagination…

This is not the promised entry on how to teach the White Australia Policy to Year 10, but it is a contribution. It could even be a source of related reference material in approaching the topic in a way that does justice both to facing the unpleasantness squarely but without self-righteousness or ahistorical moral judgement — without the special pleading that people like Keith Windschuttle indulge in to prove, no pun intended, that black is white after all. (See for example Windschuttle’s essay Why Australia is not a racist country.)

I want to draw your attention not to a historian but to a writer — one some would argue is Australia’s greatest living writer: David Malouf.

In 2003 The Quarterly Essay (an excellent publication born out of informed resistance to Howardite orthodoxy but by no means blindly ideological) published Malouf’s extraordinarily perceptive and off-centre contribution to the debate about Australia and Australian values: Made in England: Australia’s English Heritage; the following issue had responses by Phillip Knightley (disappointingly perfunctory in this case), Morag Fraser, Larissa Behrendt, Alan Atkinson, James Curran, Sara Wills, and Gerard Windsor. Together these furnish a goldmine of thoughts. I found Malouf’s essay totally resonant with my own experience of Australia, even if one or two of the criticisms made by a few of the responders are well made. Most of the responders, including Aboriginal writer Behrendt, essentially confirmed the accuracy of Malouf’s deeply subjective but also deeply true reading of Australian life.

Sorry, none of these is online, but you can order back copies or go to a library. I recommend you do.

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