Archive for the 'Non Fiction' Category

Book Review: The Little Desert by Colin Thiele

The Little Desert by Colin Thiele and Jocelyn Burt H/C D/J 1975

Book Review: The Little Desert.

Text by Colin Thiele.

Photographs by Jocelyn Burt.

Published by Rigby Limited, Adelaide, 1975.

The Little Desert

This is a region in western Victoria, Australia. It is about midway between Melbourne and Adelaide, being about 350km from either city (about 4 hours travel time). It was in earlier times suggested as an area that needed to be cleared from native vegetation and turned into farming land. In the early 1970s, there was a concerted effort made by conservationists to preserve this unique piece of the Australian landscape. Eventually, it was declared a national park and today it is still one of Australia’s most beautiful places to visit.

Not your typical desert

The area known as the Little Desert is not your typical desert. It only has this title due to the soil type. It is very sandy and lacking in essential nutrients, so it would have been very unsuitable for farming without vast amounts of fertiliser. The ‘desert’ as it has always been, and continues to be, is an area rich in plant life. With over 600 species of plants, it is a magnet for botanists, photographers and nature lovers. It also boasts a rich range of native birds and animal species. Most of the national park is covered in mallee trees. Also present in large numbers are smaller shrubby plants and even a range of beautiful native orchids. In the eastern part of the park, one can see larger eucalypt trees, notably along the Wimmera River which flows through this area.

Poetic prose

Colin Thiele’s beautiful book on this area covers some of the history of the conservation efforts to save this little gem in the Australian landscape. He also describes, in evocative prose, the hidden beauties of this landscape, from the dainty Spider Orchid to the enigmatic Malleefowl, an amazing bird found in the park tending to its enormous nesting mound of sand and rotting vegetation which acts as an incubator to hatch their eggs. Much of  Thiele’s prose is closer to poetry, and it is no surprise that he is also known as one of Australia’s leading poets. I will review one of his collections of poetry in a few day’s time.

Photography

Thiele’s wonderful prose is accompanied by equally wonderful photographs by Jocelyn Burt. She has provided photos for several of his other books. The photos cover the flowers and other botanical marvels, as well as some of the many species of birds resident in this area. Every double-page spread in this volume has a photo on the right with Thiele’s text on the left; each one complements the other.

My visits to the desert

Even though this beautiful part of Australia is only a few hour’s drive from my home, it saddens me to write that I can only ever recall visiting the Little Desert on three occasions, once to camp in our old tent, now decommissioned due to a leaking roof, and the other times were fleeting half-day visits. I must correct that oversight soon.

Further reading:

 

Review: Can I Call You Colin?

CAN-I-CALL-YOU-COLIN-BIOGRAPHY-OF-COLIN-THIELE-by-STEPHANY-EVANS-STEGGALL

Can I Call You Colin? The authorised Biography of Colin Thiele

Written by Stephany Evans Steggall

Published in 2004 by New Holland Publishers (Australia)

 

I regret only ever having met Colin Thiele once in my life. I would love to have met him many more times than that but our paths only crossed on that one occasion. I would love to have met him many more times than that but our paths only crossed on that one occasion. I would love to have chatted with him about books, writing, literature, children, teaching, the environment and so many other topics. It was not meant to be.

Published books

All through my teaching career (1969 – 2004), I read many of his children’s books to my classes over those years. He was a prolific writer and published well over 60 titles for children; many more if the various multiple editions are counted. In addition to his children’s works, he published dozens of fiction and non-fiction titles for both children and adults. He contributed articles and stories to many magazines, journals and anthologies, and his unpublished speeches and talks would fill many more volumes. He wrote many radio scripts for ABC Radio here in Australia. He was also a prolific poet, publishing six volumes of poetry in addition to several volumes of children’s poetry. And all this prolific writing was done part-time while holding down a full-time teaching position. What an amazing man.

Highly regarded

Through his works, I thought I knew him quite well. This biography, however, has fully rounded out my knowledge of one of Australia’s most highly regarded writers and educators. This is a brilliant work and pays homage to a great South Australian, one who is held in such high regard here and abroad. The author of this work has researched her topic well, interviewing not only Thiele and his immediate family, but also many of his friends, colleagues, publishers, editors and hosts of others. Even some of his admiring fans are quoted, because hundreds, if not thousands of children wrote to him during his life.

Lifestory

The author covers every aspect of Thiele’s life, from his childhood growing up on a farm in the Eudunda district of South Australia, to his time at university in Adelaide through to his war-time experiences in the 1940s. His early teaching career is well portrayed, along with his venture into married life and parenthood. Later he was an inspiration to many hundreds of young people training to be teachers.

Thiele struggled throughout much of his life between to demands of his chosen profession, and the passion he felt to always be writing. This biography shows the strength of character of Thiele in all his dealings, whether that concern was for students, family members, colleagues, editors or readers.

Challenges

Despite the challenge of an overpowering workload due to his profession, his writing and his family, Colin had one other debilitating challenge to cope with throughout much of his life, He suffered constant pain due to rheumatoid arthritis. As a result, he also endured many operations, but these never seemed to slow him down. Many times he set up his hospital room as a fully functioning office so the work could continue.

Inspiration

This biography has also inspired me to revisit many of Thiele’s classic novels for children, as well as some of his non-fiction works and especially his poetry. Tracking down some of his poetry titles has proved difficult; thank goodness for inter-library loans!

Serendipity

The inspiration to read this biography has come through a serendipitous twist: the author Stephany Evans Steggall has recently become my daughter’s neighbour while they are both teaching at Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In another serendipitous twist, I share the same birthday with Colin.

Vale, Colin

Sadly, Colin passed away in 2006. His much-loved books for children include Storm Boy, Blue Fin and Fire in the Stone, all of which have been made into popular movies. Another favourite is Sun on the Stubble which was made into a television series. His stories continue to live on, love by each passing generation of children and adults alike. Only recently it was announced that a remake of Storm Boy is being filmed this year.

Related reading:

Review of Morton’s Anglish Fictionary

Morton's Anglish Fictionary; Fierst Endition by Morton Benning

Review: 

Morton Benning – Morton’s Anglish Fictionary: Fierst Endition (2016)

It is the sign of a good book when one laughs out loud. I laughed when reading this book, almost on every page and many times on some pages.

It is even better if, when I read out a portion to my wife, she laughs out loud too. Or groans – with a roll of the eyes.

A winner

Morton Benning has a winner here with hundreds of neologisms, invented words made by changing one or two letters, all with their own improbable, but highly entertaining, daffynition.

Over several years I have seen portions of this amazing volume develop as the author tried out the words and meanings by testing new words on his Facebook friends, also known as contrefutors, many of them adding extras of their own, or modifying suggestions.

Entertainment

While I admit that I read right through the book from cover to cover when I received it, and it can be read like that, I think it is best read by dipping into various pages at random. In this way, it is sure to entertain the reader for many years.

A downside

I notice that the author has called this the Fierst Endition (read the book for daffynitions of those words). I do hope there is not only a seconnd endition, but a theard and more. There is one downside of this work. By the time I was only half way through reading, I was seriously questioning my ability to spell even basic words. Sigh.

Such phun.

Grab yourself a copy from here. You won’t regret it.

Here are a few tasty morsels:

  • pratzel: an annoying idiot twisted in a knot and baked
  • velcrow: a raven that sticks around
  • shenannygans: grandmothers behaving badly
  • articulatte: to communicate clearly about, or because of, coffee

The importance of revising your writing

A love of writing

One of the reasons I am a writer is that I really enjoy the process of writing. I love the creative process that occurs when an idea pops into my head. It does not matter if it is a poem, a short story, a novel, a blog post, a non-fiction article or even an email to a family member, the same joy of creating is there. This joyful feeling is what keeps me going. It has enabled me to write almost three and a half million words in the last twenty-four years. It has kept me pressing on while spending over twenty thousand hours at my computer keyboard.

The unexpected creative process

One of the exciting things I find about writing, especially when writing fiction, is that I discover unexpected outcomes via the creative process. I might have a general idea of where the story is heading, I may even have a clear plan of the plot, when suddenly a character does or says something unexpected, out of character or just plain startling. The plot can take some bizarre and unplanned twists when this happens. I even find that my thoughts can be railroaded into a side-track when writing blog posts or other forms of non-fiction. It’s all very exciting.

A Problem

As fascinating as this is, such a sudden turn of events, or change of direction, or unplanned content to one’s writing can have a serious repercussion. The writer can get seriously off-track. A short story about a woman’s struggle with depression (yes, I have had one such story published) could take off in the direction of telling all the woes of her childhood. This is back-story; it is probably not necessary in a 2000 word story. In a 100,000 word novel – perhaps.

The importance of revision

I have discovered over many years of writing that revision is crucial to the whole process of the art, as is rewriting, editing and proofreading. I should write articles on all of these aspects of writing – and I probably have over the years. (You can find them by using those terms in the “search” box at the top of the page.)

In this article, want to focus just on “revision”.

What is Revision?

The process of revision can include the following:

  • Reading back over the piece of writing, checking for errors of fact, especially in non-fiction. It can also be crucial in fiction, too; you can’t have a character using a mobile phone if the story is set in the 1960s – unless it is a time travel story, but then, the phone wouldn’t work.
  • Correcting the wrong use of words, or constant repetition of words and phrases.
  • Recasting sentences which demonstrate poor grammar.
  • Checking for spelling mistakes and typos (though this is usually regarded as editing or proofreading, two other important processes of writing).
  • Deleting a sentence, a paragraph or even as much as a whole chapter which is unnecessary to the whole work. In one novel I wrote, I had to delete large chunks because it read like a travelogue and didn’t advance the plot.
  • Rearranging the order of sentences, paragraphs or chapters to create a more logical flow.

How other writers revise their work

I have included only a few ways in which one can revise your writing. There are many different ways of doing this important process. Each writer is different, and individual writers can vary their own approach, depending on what they are writing.

I recently came across an article 12 Contemporary writers on how they revise. Each writer has a different approach to the same process. At the end of each writer’s segment, there is a link to further articles on that writer, including blog posts, podcasts, interviews and more. I hope that you find it useful.

Further reading:

 

 

Book review: Graeme Clark

Graeme Clark: the man who invented the bionic ear by Mark Worthing, 2015, Sydney, Allen & Unwin.

Graeme Clark grew up with a powerful and compelling vision.

He wanted to develop some way of helping his father regain his hearing. In a simple way this encapsulates the driving force behind why he became a doctor, surgeon, and later an inventor. Along the way he developed many other skills necessary for his dream to be realised. The road to success was, at times, a very bumpy one. One of the many skills Clark had to learn was fund-raising to support the development of the bionic ear. Bizarre – yes – but often that is the way with visionary people; nothing can stop them, even if the road takes some unexpected twists.

Worthing has resisted the temptation to dwell primarily on the technical side of the development of the bionic ear. Sure, there is enough scientific detail for readers who would like to know. Instead, the author has let his focus be on the man himself, what motivated him and the role of Clark’s Christian beliefs and values in the whole process. This comes through very strongly throughout the book. The author has successfully portrayed an ordinary Australian man, with a uncomplicated values but with an extraordinary vision driving him.

Probably the one thing that most impressed me about the portrayal of Clark the man was his uncomplicated reliance on prayer. Whenever the going got tough, whenever obstacles faced him, whenever he was perplexed, and whenever he faced criticism or outright opposition, Clark prayed. The development of the bionic ear was technically, electronically and medically very complex. Clark’s almost child-like faith in God and his simple, uncomplicated prayers carried him forward.

Now hundreds of thousands of profoundly deaf people all over the world are thankful to this man.

It is a truly inspirational book and highly recommended.

My Privilege:

I had the privilege of reading early drafts of this work. This came about through my involvement in a writers’ group run by the author. Dr Mark Worthing was one of my lecturers and mentors at Tabor Adelaide when I was completing my Master of Arts Creative Writing. Later we became friends and lecturing colleagues at Tabor.

You can read more reviews I have written here.

Good writing. Good reading.

Trevor