Monday, August 03, 2009


On autobiography
As one autobiographer to another, Alexander Waugh advises Christopher Buckley to write a new memoir in a few years’ time to reconsider the harsh views of his parents in his recent Losing Mum and Pup. (He presents his father William F. Buckley as heartless and his mother as a liar, a drunk and a monster.) Waugh’s is good advice, not only for memoirs of parents but of almost everybody. You change with the years.
I once wrote a memoir, the much neglected Memoirs of a Slow Learner, about my childhood and youth. It was to have been the first of three volumes bringing the story up to date. (Don’t think I am an egomaniac. The idea was to give a view of our times as they touched one individual, a sort of Diary of a Nobody.) But while drafting the second volume I began to reconsider what I had written in the first — and not only about my parents. I put the draft to one side. (My books on Barry Humphries and Bruce Beresford are the remnants of that early draft. They began life as notebooks for the second volume.) I then set out to write a revised and more definitive version of the first volume. But Waugh also reminds those who need the advice that memoirs, even of distant childhood and youth, are never finished until you are dead.

On literary heritage
Back in the 1880s, Australian painters were demanding protection from foreign artists who were, they said, flooding the market with un-Australian paintings. (In Melbourne they demanded that the Victorian minister of customs levy a duty of ten pounds on every imported painting.)
Today the publishers and authors outdo the painters in the absurdity of their attacks on the Productivity Commission’s recommendation that protection of Australian publishers be abolished along New Zealand lines. Yes, they agree, it will reduce the high price of books, but unprotected publishers would no longer be able to afford to nurture the rich heritage of Australian literature. How much of that rich heritage do our big (foreign-owned) publishers of cookbooks and soft porn nurture? When they do have to choose between spending money on promoting an Australian writer or a foreign bestseller, you can bet they will choose the foreign bestseller.
They leave nurturing the literary heritage to small publishers — who do indeed deserve support. As the novelist and small publisher Michael Wilding pointed out in a defence of the Productivity Commission, this is why the Australia Council was created. Meanwhile, nothing will do more to help our literary heritage than lowering the price of books.

One Russian novelist has hit on an innovative way of protecting his literary heritage, which may recommend itself to some Australian writers. He sued the newspaper in Dagestan that had criticised his work, claiming that its reviewer had given him high blood pressure and chest pains. The court awarded him $1,000. He is appealing the quantum.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

Hi Beattie,

You say: 'Yes, they agree, it will reduce the high price of books'.

Where is the evidence that anyone opposing the recommendations actually agrees that cheaper books will result if the government amends the legislation according to the recommendations.

Based on my reading of the opposing arguments, most are confident that Dymocks will just absorb the profits arising out of cheaper import options.

I'm genuinely curious.