This month’s issue comprises:
The True Gods Attend You by Clarence Caddell available for pre-order!
The Neighbor shortlisted for the 2022 Indiana Authors Awards
Holding Patterns retailers
Herding Cats-October release
Australian Poetry Anthology: Call for Submissions
2. Going to The Dogs: The John Hughes Affair: Editorial by Lucas Smith, Editor-in-Chief
3. Ryan William Daffurn : A Digital Exhibition by Lucas Smith
4. “To Build a Fire” by Jack London: Review by Andrea Jonathan, Executive Director
We are pleased to announce that Bonfire’s first poetry collection, The True Gods Attend You by Clarence Caddell is now available for pre-order! The True Gods Attend You is the debut collection by Australian formalist Clarence Caddell. Drawing on the author’s deep reading of primary Biblical, extra-Biblical and other ancient sources and with direct challenges to both secular and religious worldviews, The True Gods Attend You is a profound and self-reflective examination of the modern conscience. The long blank verse poem that concludes the book is “The Candidate”, a glimpse of the burnt-out spiritual seeker at his moment of invisible crisis, worthy of recent narrative poetry masters like Anthony Hecht. With a strong through-line of satire and irony, The True Gods Attend You is a powerful challenge to obscurity in verse and a bold annunciation of the evergreen riches of linguistic euphony
.Cover image: Study of ‘Bust of an Apostle With Folded Hands’ by Anthony Van Dyck (c.1620) by Ryan William Daffurn (featured in this month’s digital exhibition. See below)
The Neighbor by Caleb Caudell was shortlisted for the 2022 Indiana Authors Awards in the Debut category. In case you missed our announcement The Neighbor joined four other books on the shortlist but ultimately came up short at the last post. We take consolation from the fact that the Indiana Author’s Awards are given biannually, meaning Caleb’s book was among the top five debuts across two years, not the usual one. The Neighbor is available here (Australian orders) and here (overseas orders)
Holding Patterns by Alasdair Cannon is available here (Australian orders) and here (overseas orders). It’s also in stock at Brunswick Bound and Neighbourhood Books, both in Melbourne; Glee Books in Sydney and Desperate Literature in Madrid. Your local bookshop will also be able to order it in if you ask. If you’re in a position to do so please patronise brick-and-mortar local bookshops, many of whom were hit hard by lockdowns. We are hoping to expand distribution for all our books in coming months.
Herding Cats by To Giang, a memoir about the Vietnamese underworld in Melbourne is set to be released in October. We are incredibly excited about this unique and important story and look forward to unveiling the cover design soon.
Submissions for our 2023 poetry anthology are open:
Thanks to a grant from the English-Speaking Union (Victoria Branch) Bonfire Books will showcase the finest in contemporary verse in early 2023.
Please send up to 3 poems in a .pdf, .doc or .docx attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org. with “Your Surname-POETRY” in the subject line. Poems should be no more than 100 lines each and no more than five pages per full submission. Poems may be previously published in periodicals within the last five years but not in books. Poets will be remunerated and will receive a copy of the anthology. While all poetic forms and themes are welcome, preference will be given to music, sense, meaning and felicity of language. Submissions close November 1 and are open to Australian citizens and Australian residents.
That’s all this month.
Going to The Dogs: The John Hughes Affair
Editorial by Lucas Smith
Now that the immediate scandal has died down, it seems time to offer some thoughts on the John Hughes saga. For those unfamiliar with the Australian literary world, The Dogs by John Hughes, the Head Librarian at Sydney Grammar School, was longlisted for the 2022 Miles Franklin Award, the most prestigious Australian award for a novel. Thanks to some astute sleuthing from The Guardian Australia it was discovered that Hughes had plagiarised significant portions of his text from the works of Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich, in particular her book The Unwomanly Face of War.
The Dogs partially concerns the aftermath of World War II and the Eastern Front and Hughes initially claimed the copied passages had been typed up for inspiration in his draft a decade or more ago, and that when he returned to finish the book he had forgotten about it, a regrettable but perhaps (just maybe) understandable mistake. This is a good time to remind young writers to immediately contain others’ words in quotation marks with attribution.
After it was revealed that The Dogs contained plagiarised passages from at least ten other authors including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Erich Maria Remarque, Hughes’ tune changed. He said it was an intentional ‘collage’, a legitimate artistic technique, legitimised by either obvious or acknowledged borrowing. In his own defence Hughes even cited so eminent an authority as T.S. Eliot himself: “good writers steal”. His publisher Terri-Ann White said she felt affronted and surprised by this explanation as Hughes had not mentioned anything like this to her during their editing process. He certainly was in no hurry to explain his “artistic techniques” in the many months between the book’s release and the discovery of the plagiarised passages.
The Dogs received a number of blandly positive review of the style typical of the Australian legacy media. If any of those reviewers had suspicions about the text, none of them went public. It was only after the longlisting for the Miles Franklin that concerns were raised.
For the record, I found Hughes a rather tedious writer before the scandal broke, having reviewed his 2016 novel Asylum (see Australian Book Review June-July 2016 no. 382) but, I never suspected him of plagiarism, indeed the thought would never have crossed my mind.
The publishing industry works on many kinds of trust. Although permissions clauses are written into contracts, publishers simply trust that writers will submit their own work. Readers trust that publishers release original material; reviewers trust that writers have integrity. And indeed, why would someone interested in literary glory plagiarise? Why would you want to be celebrated for anything other than your own talents?
It was heartening to see the literary “community” rally around Terri-Ann White from Upswell Publishing. Literary agent Martin Shaw summed up a common feeling when he said on twitter “It’s all such a crying shame this entire affair in that it rubs off on one of the industry’s most respected players. So I salute Terri-Ann for her words here, and say: long live the bold press that is @UpswellP and T-A’s exemplary publishing endeavour.” It’s easy to ask how could she not notice? On the other hand, it’s hard to find something you’re not looking for.
In my teaching career I only ever dealt with one act of plagiarism. The funny thing about it was that only about half of the essay was copied and flagrantly so. But the other half was perfectly serviceable academic copy worthy of an above-average mark. The impulse to plagiarise must come from something other than lack of ability. We never would have discovered the plagiarism without Turnitin’s comparison technology. Do Australian publishers need similar proprietary software to run manuscripts through before accepting them?
That The Dogs was published and arose to national prominence before any doubts were raised indicts this fragmented culture where even intentional pastiche or homage might go unnoticed. Surely, we all stand on the shoulders of giants and cultural accretion is at this point in time nearly parabolic with the volume of material being published every year. No one person can possibly keep tabs on the publishing industry (they say Coleridge was the last man to have read everything. He was also a notorious plagiarist…). It’s quite easy to imagine someone building an entirely fraudulent poetry career, for example, by copying dozens of unknowns, whose work, worthy as it is, appears to no fanfare or publicity in the hundreds, if not thousands of small magazines that are released every year.
More broadly, in an age of major institutional failure, where it seems that many public-facing organisations are not even trying to fulfill their purported functions, why should the literary sphere be any different? Publishers and readers, beware.
To order titles from our catalogue please visit bonfirebooks.org
Ryan William Daffurn: Digital Exhibition
Ryan William Daffurn, who graciously supplied the cover artwork for The True Gods Attend You, is an award-winning and young Australian artist. He has won fellowships and residencies and exhibited extensively in Australia and Europe. Ryan brings a deep appreciation of past masters to his work. Although he is adept at traditional styles and subject matter there is some kind of deeper presence that I am tempted to call the restlessness of the Australian landscape that lingers underneath the landscapes shown here. One of the exciting things about being Australian is the possibility to see the old with fresh eyes and bring our unique bush to the world. Ryan is certainly one to watch in this regard.
Ryan is represented by Maunsell Wickes in Sydney. For more information visit rwdaffurn.com.
Portal, Alexandra Hills (2020)
Hillards Creek (2020)
Water Dragons (2020)
“To Build a Fire” by Jack London (1908)
Review by Andrea Jonathan
“To Build A Fire” is a short story about a man who sets out with his dog to meet up with his band of prospectors (‘the boys’) in the forests of the Yukon of far northern Canada in the depths of winter. Despite warnings from locals that it is too cold to travel, the unnamed protagonist is determined to reach the camp, and encounters the slow and cruel wrath of the cold as it sabotages his expedition, smothering his fires, breaking the ice beneath him and eventually rendering his hands useless as he begins to freeze, making a tragic comedy out of his final attempt to build a fire.
The narration reads as an unreflective yet detailed and rich series of practical and physical observations made by the unnamed protagonist. His mind is one that does not pay attention to, or simply does not possess, the animal faculties that might have served as a foil to his foolhardiness.
“But all this—the distant trail, no sun in the sky, the great cold, and the strangeness of it all—had no effect on the man. It was not because he was long familiar with it. He was a newcomer in the land, and this was his first winter. The trouble with him was that he was not able to imagine. He was quick and ready in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in their meanings. Fifty degrees below zero meant 80 degrees of frost. Such facts told him that it was cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to consider his weaknesses as a creature affected by temperature. Nor did he think about man’s general weakness, able to live only within narrow limits of heat and cold. From there, it did not lead him to thoughts of heaven and the meaning of a man’s life. 50 degrees below zero meant a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear coverings, warm moccasins, and thick socks. 50 degrees below zero was to him nothing more than 50 degrees below zero. That it should be more important than that was a thought that never entered his head.
What does it say about this man that he does not truly apprehend the meaning of cold? It is to ask a question of semiotics – that is to say, the difference between the signifier and the signified. A true understanding of the cold is not expressed numerically, but rather in the tragic hopelessness of the man not being able to grasp and hold the match that would save his life between his numb and frozen fingers.
The character is at once sympathetic and unsympathetic. Despite reaching a fool’s end at the hands of the elements, the moral of the story appears not to simply show the dangers of a lack of prudence, but rather to highlight the paradox that the innate drive and determination of man to achieve the extraordinary comes at the cost of his more primal wisdom. He did not fear the cold as did his dog. He had in his head a set of rules and calculations, and when the calculations were wrong, his plan fell apart. To both ignore the warnings of the wise, in this Icarian fashion, and to lose touch with those deeper forms of primitive emotional responses is itself a uniquely human form of folly, one that is as relevant as ever in the techno-scientific age where there are few if any ethical or practical limits to human and scientific progress.
My only criticism of the text is the several occasions where London tells directly of the man’s folly, rather than simply showing it through the development of the plot. There is more than one darkly comedic moment in the story, such as the image of the man shuffling along the trail at high speed, frozen arms flapping by his side in a desperate attempt to cover ground. These comic portrayals are made all the more possible by London’s unsympathetic portrayal. It is remarkable how much of life and the flaws of the human condition can be told in a few short pages with only a single character and no dialogue. As my first introduction to Jack London, I was impressed with the simplicity and economy of “To Build A Fire” and intend to further explore his writing.