Tim Rogers, Sofie Laguna, Anna Broinowksi and others on what they're reading in September

Authors including Graham Archer, Chris Womersley and Claire G Coleman talk about their new books out this month – and the ones they’re excited to read

Chris Womersley
City of Crows

Cover image for City of Crows by Chris Womersley

Your book in your own words: City of Crows is the story of a young woman in 17th century France who turns to witchcraft in a desperate effort to rescue her son who has been abducted. It was inspired by the Affair of the Poisons – a scandal that rocked the French court in the late 1670s, in which the Parisian police uncovered what they thought was a plot to poison Louis XIV. In their investigations, they instead uncovered a thriving underground network of sorcerers, magicians, abortionists and astrologers working in Paris.

What you were reading when you wrote it: I was reading mainly non-fiction: French history, obviously, as well as hunting down medieval grimoires in Paris – books of magic from which I might gather up the language suitable for City of Crows. I actually like to read poetry when I’m writing, as a kind of tuning fork – TS Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop and this time around, a bit of medieval French balladeer Francois Villon.

The next Australian book you’ll read: I am looking forward to reading The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc by Ali Alizadeh. The real-life tale of Joan of Arc is truly amazing and I’m keen to see what a poet’s imagination can bring to a tale so febrile with extraordinary mysticism, courage and transgression.

Claire G Coleman
Terra Nullius

Cover image for the novel Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman

Your book in your own words: Through multiple points of view, Terra Nullius challenges the dominant settler narrative – the story of the invasion of Australia – in a way designed to explain what the original inhabitants are so upset about. Fiction is a powerful tool to explain the unexplainable, to provoke empathy and understanding where they did not previously exist.

Australia was not settled or colonised; there was no peaceful arrival of white people on this continent, no welcome by the original inhabitants. Australia was invaded by the English and there is still no treaty. Most Australians have difficulty understanding or appreciating that core, fundamental truth. This was not in the distant past; it is not ancient history. There are people alive who remember the arrival of the white people to their country.

Aboriginal Australian people don’t need to imagine a dystopia: we live in one every day.

What you were reading when you wrote it: Aboriginal resistance and survival narratives were important to the development of my work. One of my favourites was the inspiring Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance by Howard Pedersen and Banjo Woorunmurra. It’s an important true story of the frontier wars that is not well known to most Australians.

The next Australian book you’ll read: I am excited about Common People by Tony Birch. I have loved his previous work, prose and poetry, and can’t wait to read this collection of short stories.

Graham Archer
Unmaking a Murder: The Mysterious Death of Anna-Jane Chaney
Ebury Australia

Unmaking A Murder by Graham Archer

Your book in your words: Unmaking a Murder tells of human tragedy and the battle against the inexorable despair of a murder conviction. A pretty young lawyer is found dead in her bath just weeks before her wedding. Her fiancé, the man she loved, is cast as her murderer, judged to be motivated by betrayal and greed. Henry Keogh receives a life sentence. Hearts and steel doors slam shut behind him.

But something is wrong. It’s discovered that crucial forensic evidence doesn’t exist. As a journalist, I can’t turn a blind eye. What follows is a 13-year battle to unmake the case for murder. Against me is not just the “finality” of the verdict but also the venomous politics of populism and the tenacity of our institutions to resist challenge. The story traces the difficult balance between reportage and advocacy and finally the quashing of Keogh’s conviction. Henry Keogh is released two days before Christmas 2014 after serving 20 years in prison.

What you were reading when you wrote it: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy is a word artist and a genius. His writing inspires me. I share his view of the beautiful but ruthless nature of existence. No one will save us; we must save ourselves and the ones we love.

The next Australian book you’ll read: The Angels by Bob Yates and Rick and John Brewster. With a few notable exceptions I prefer non-fiction and biographies. I also love popular music and its history. When it comes to Australian music, The Angels are an integral part of the great tradition. The band comes from my home state of South Australia so I will be fascinated to follow their journey into the company of legends.

Anna Broinowski
Please Explain: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Pauline Hanson

Please Explain by Anna Broinowski cover

Your book in your own words: One part dystopian road movie, one part political biography and two parts impassioned plea for Australia to return to the progressive values that once drove mainstream debate.

A pro-refugee, pro-reconciliation leftie (me) films the far-right populist Pauline Hanson for a year to understand what drives her, who loves her, who hates her, and why. In the process I am accidentally given a front row seat to the “Fed Up” election campaign that delivered Hanson back to power, after 18 years in the wilderness.

Hanson’s journey, from Ipswich fish shop to parliament to prison to TV celebrity on Dancing with the Stars, is one of the strangest in modern politics – and as I follow her around Australia, I try to make sense of the indelible stamp she has left on this nation. I fail to change Hanson’s mind about anything, of course, but the reasons why are revealing.

What you were reading when you wrote it: Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right – to understand America’s parallel descent into conservative populism. And Margo Kingston’s 1999 take on Hanson, Off the Rails – which made me realise how much tougher, smarter and more dangerous Hanson 2.0 has become.

The next Australian book you’ll read: I’m exhausted by charismatic political anti-heroes, having written about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il before I tackled Hanson. David Marr’s Patrick White: A Life and Peter Fitzsimons’ Nancy Wake: A Biography of our Greatest War Heroine are the top two antidotes on my recovery list!

John Birmingham
Stranger Thingies

Cover image for Stranger Thingies by John Birmingham

Your book in your own words: I’ve been writing for a long time – nearly 30 years now – and mostly I’ve written for the lulz.

There is an egomaniacal hunger to all writing, but especially to humour writing. It’s possible to write poetry and literature for yourself. But I don’t think anybody ever wrote a joke for purely private pleasure. Laughter wants to be shared.

It used to be the only way you knew a joke had landed was when you were lucky enough to see somebody reading your stuff in public and laughing.

That’s some powerful juju, right there; faintly, distantly akin to the magic a stand up comedian taps into when they’re in front of a full house and riding the laughs like a monster surf break. I don’t know how they do it, but I can understand why it would be so addictive, and so utterly destructive too. These are my best rides.

What you were reading when you wrote it: Soldiers and Sons by Brett Barry, a history of the Jewish refugees who fled Hitler’s Germany as young boys and returned as American soldiers. It had no effect Stranger Thingies at all, other than to remind me that the world can be a dark place.

The next Australian book you’ll read: Aussie Aussie Aussie by Ben Pobjie. It’s like a ridonkulous dictionary of biography for an alternate Australia, where our true weirdness was allowed to run free. I started reading it in a bookshop and couldn’t put it down. Very funny.

Helen Razer
Total Propaganda: Basic Marxist Brainwashing for the Angry and the Young
Allen & Unwin

Helen Razer

Your book in your own words: This book was the most effective way to answer what had become, especially after the election of Trump, a large volume of personal messages and emails, chiefly from folks under 40, asking, “What is this Marxism thing, then?”

I’d intended it first as a single long post and then, when I returned to Marx’s difficult texts after many years, I thought I’d make it a 10,000-word eBook available for maybe a buck. Then, as I read, I conceded that even a simple introduction had to be longer, and that I needed both a deadline and a little money to actually finish it.

Happily, my publisher agreed that there was a great hunger for these ideas, no longer taught at universities, and uncritically pilloried by our Cold War relics in the press. And, as the centenary of the October 1917 Uprising happened to be upcoming, we aimed for and made that date.

In short, it’s the culmination of many private conversations mostly with youngish folks who had begun to suspect that capitalism governs so much of their social experience.

What you were reading when you wrote it: This book is informed entirely and explicitly by other books, so the most efficient answer here is the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe or the “MEGA”, AKA the collected works of Karl and his adorable sidekick, Fred.

The next Australian book you’ll read: Is Racism an Environmental Threat? by Ghassan Hage, largely because my friend Shakira is disgusted that I have never read anything by this highly regarded anthropologist, who is unafraid of an enormous idea.

Tim Rogers

Cover image for Detours by Tim Rogers

Your book in your own words: In a manner similar to the reason I write songs – attempting to find some beauty in the grim and difficult. Not an autobiography, as my own story bores me more than most. Working title was Maintaining My Druthers Whilst Mistaken for Others. Unsurprisingly that was deemed a little ... glib. Which on reflection, would have been perfect.

What you were reading when you wrote it: Barry Hannah, Airships. Hence my pieces involved a lot more fishing than they should’ve, before the polite, but necessary hatchet.

The next Australian book you’ll read: Storyland by Catherine McKinnon. Recommended with a gasp by a friend, and it has been winking at me, now as I sit here … we’ll be off for a bit, excuse us.

Sofie Laguna
The Choke
Allen & Unwin

Cover image for The Choke by Sofie Laguna

Your book in your own words: My book, set in the early 1970s, is about a 10-year-old girl called Justine who is growing up in a rural town in Victoria, close to the Murray River. Justine, abandoned by her mother when she was a toddler, lives with her Pop, a man damaged by his experiences on the Burma Railway. Justine’s father comes and goes, an unsettling and dangerous presence in Justine’s life.

Justine must find ways to survive so much male aggression – she must seek out friendship, beauty, hope and purpose, against all odds. The Choke is, ultimately, a story of the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

What you were reading when you wrote it: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry. Barry’s writing is musical, rich, and character-driven. The story is original, full of pain and hope. I don’t know if his work affected mine consciously, but I suspect I am soaking up his power, I am sure his book is teaching me, showing me what is possible. If a book brings me joy, shows me new worlds, then I must be learning from it.

The next Australian book you’ll read: Coal Creek by Alex Miller. Alex has recently become my friend, and we have spoken about what it was like to write Coal Creek, how it happened with great passion and energy. I am curious about this, about where our work might be similar, or different. I can’t wait!

Anthony O’Neill
Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek

Cover image for Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek by Anthony O’Neill

Your book in your own words: This is a direct sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Not a parody, not an update, not a retelling. It’s designed to honour the original, complement it, and subvert it all at the same time.

Nearly seven years after Mr Hyde is found dead on the laboratory floor, a stylish gentleman shows up in foggy London claiming to be Dr Jekyll. Only Mr Utterson, Jekyll’s faithful lawyer and confidante, knows that he was must be an impostor—because Jekyll was Hyde. But as the man goes about charming Jekyll’s friends and reclaiming the estate (snatching it from Utterson, to whom it was about to be bequeathed), and as the bodies of potential challengers start piling up, an increasingly desperate Utterson starts fearing for his own life ... and questioning his own sanity.

What you were reading when you wrote it: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’ve always loved this book for its very measured prose and manners, and purposely reread it to get me in the right frame of mind.

The next Australian book you’ll read: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt. The world can never have enough atmospheric, macabre and ambiguous history-mysteries.


Chris Womersley, Claire G Coleman, Graham Archer, Anna Broinowski, John Birmingham, Helen Razer, Tim Rogers, Sofie Laguna, Anthony O'Neill

The GuardianTramp

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