Best books I never wrote

RE­VIEWS BY LILY WOODHOUSE

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COONARDOO: THE WELL IN THE SHADOW BY KATHARINE SUSANNAH PRITCHARD When I read this novel I won­dered why Pritchard’s name wasn’t up in lights all over Aus­tralia. First pub­lished in 1929, it is set on a cat­tle sta­tion in WA and spans decades in the lives of the main pro­tag­o­nists, white man Hughie and his lov­ing Abo­rig­i­nal com­pan­ion from child­hood, Coonardoo. To our 21st cen­tury sen­si­bil­i­ties Pritchard falls into mo­ments of in­cip­i­ent racism, but the novel is vi­brant, heart­felt and clear-eyed: an ex­tra­or­di­nary weav­ing to­gether of Abo­rig­i­nal and white Aus­tralian char­ac­ters not achieved by any of her con­tem­po­raries or many of ours. 30 SEPTEM­BER 2017 SIX COUSINS AT MISTLETOE FARM BY ENID BLYTON Clas­sist, snobbish, and not at all cel­e­brat­ing diversity, Enid Blyton’s books were en­joyed around the world for decades. I was old enough to be aware of the mount­ing crit­i­cism. But I didn’t care. I had lots of cousins too. And some­times we fought and had ad­ven­tures. I made a solemn vow that when I grew up, and if I ever wrote a book, it would be just like Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm, which I con­sid­ered bet­ter than any of the | YOUR WEEK­END THE JEWEL IN THE LO­TUS: A HIS­TOR­I­CAL SUR­VEY OF THE SEX­UAL CUL­TURE OF THE EAST BY ALLEN EDWARDES My athe­ist artist/ac­tor un­cle was a hand­some ladies’ man. I stole this book from his study and read ev­ery word by torch­light un­der the cov­ers. It was an ed­u­ca­tion, at only 13. When I loaned it to a school friend, her mother got hold of it. Af­ter read­ing ev­ery word she threw her­self into her car, drove round to our place and left it in the let­ter­box in a brown pa­per bag. She looked pretty hot and flus­tered, a state I recog­nised. FAITH SINGER BY ROSIE SCOTT Writer and ac­tivist Rosie Scott died in May of this year. She leaves be­hind a legacy of trans-tas­man work, some nov­els set in New Zealand and oth­ers in Aus­tralia. Faith Singer is set in gritty, gaudy Kings Cross. Scott’s nu­anced de­scrip­tions of her beloved adopted city are sec­ond to none. Feisty, big-hearted Faith brims with com­pas­sion for her fel­low man, not un­like the writer who cre­ated her. Read this novel and fall in love, not only with Faith but the city of Syd­ney. BUY ME THE SKY: THE RE­MARK­ABLE TRUTH OF CHINA’S ONE-CHILD GEN­ER­A­TIONS BY XUE XINRAN This is an ex­tremely alarm­ing book, not only for Xue’s un­der­stand­ing of the chal­lenges ris­ing in Chi­nese so­ci­ety af­ter 30 years of one-child pol­icy, but for the im­pli­ca­tions in the wider world. Over 10 mil­lion fam­i­lies from the first gen­er­a­tion are now rais­ing their only chil­dren, and they are ap­par­ently un­will­ing to par­ent. Xue writes “…ro­man­tic and moth­erly love are per­ish­ing amid the in­dif­fer­ence and warped views on hu­man na­ture”. This is the “three-screen” gen­er­a­tion who pre­fer to spend all leisure time on­line. Sound fa­mil­iar?

Re­viewed by Graeme Tuck­ett

James Bald­win was a friend or as­so­ci­ate of Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Mal­colm X.

Those three men, all tow­er­ing fig­ures in the Amer­i­can civil rights move­ment, were mur­dered within a few years of each other dur­ing one of the blood­i­est and most no­to­ri­ous eras of re­cent North Amer­i­can his­tory.

In the early 1970s, Bald­win pro­posed and then be­gan to write a book about the lives of the three men. Of how they in­ter­twined, of their lega­cies and of what the world lost via their as­sas­sin’s bul­lets.

Bald­win’s book – to be ti­tled Re­mem­ber This House – was never com­pleted. But from the co­pi­ous notes, jour­nals and in­ter­views Bald­win left be­hind, film-maker Raoul Peck has as­sem­bled a kind of oral and vis­ual re­cre­ation of Bald­win’s writ­ings, his vi­sion for the book and his tire­less, fear­less ad­vo­cacy for hu­man rights for all of Amer­ica’s cit­i­zens.

I Am Not Your Ne­gro emerges as a fe­ro­ciously well-ar­gued, blaz­ingly in­tel­li­gent, won­drously lay­ered and ut­terly watch­able piece of work. Work­ing within a star­tlingly brief run­ning time, Peck lays out a his­tory of race re­la­tions in North Amer­ica, the Civil Rights move­ment, the lives of the three mar­tyred men and a very per­sonal biopic of Bald­win him­self.

This film is about as good as a doc­u­men­tary gets.

What is it like in­side the mind of Stephen King? Lots of peo­ple ask him this, but could he re­ally tell you af­ter liv­ing there for so long among the mon­sters and mur­der­ers? The sec­ond-best tour guide to that re­gion, I think, would be Owen King, his youngest child, who has just taken part in a lengthy mind-meld­ing ex­per­i­ment with his fa­ther. They have writ­ten a book to­gether.

The men are sit­ting on the 17th floor of a pub­lish­ing house in Man­hat­tan. Stephen, 70, is lean and rangy with hawk­ish fea­tures and white hair. Owen is 40 and looks rather like his dad, al­though his face is wider and his fea­tures seem gen­tler.

“I think that [my kids] get some of my imag­i­na­tion,” Stephen says. “And some of my wife’s imag­i­na­tion. We are nov­el­ists and they grew up in that at­mos­phere.” The fam­ily home was and is a gothic man­sion in Ban­gor, Maine, with wrought-iron bats on the gate. The one thing he re­mem­bers about Owen’s child­hood, Stephen says, is that they didn’t have a tele­vi­sion. “Owen was a kid that read enor­mously.”

Now they have made up a story to­gether. Sleep­ing Beau­ties is a sprawl­ing fan­tasy, more than 700 pages long. The story is set in 2017 as a strange sleep­ing sick­ness that af­flicts only women spreads across the globe. A gooey web co­coons them as they nod off and if you wake them they are dis­tinctly narky, not to say mur­der-y. As the women fall into this mys­te­ri­ous hi­ber­na­tion, a gor­geous naked lady with su­per­hu­man strength, trailed by clouds of moths, shows up in a small town in Ap­palachia, mur­ders a cou­ple of blokes in a trailer and then al­lows her­self to be ar­rested.

A pitch in con­ver­sa­tion is sort of how the book came about, Owen says. The Kings are con­stantly lob­bing ideas for books at each other of an afternoon. “My brother [Joe] is a writer, my wife is a writer and of course my fa­ther’s a writer.” The only rene­gade is the Kings’ daugh­ter, Naomi, who is a Uni­tar­ian min­is­ter.

Usu­ally the pitches were “jokey ideas”, Owen says. “Like, ‘I want a story about x, y or z.’ So I had an idea. I said to my dad, ‘How about a story about what hap­pens in the event that all women in the world do not wake up?’“

Dad loved it. “I said, ‘You should write it,’“Owen says. “That’s not the first time he’s heard that.”

Stephen thought that Owen should write it. Owen has pub­lished a well-re­garded short story an­thol­ogy and came out with his first novel in 2014. He edited and con­trib­uted to a col­lec­tion of su­per­hero sto­ries too. “Most of my writ­ing is re­al­ity-based fic­tion with a comedic bent,” he says. Tack­ling a global pan­demic in which half of hu­man­ity is ren­dered un­con­scious “seemed like an aw­fully big jump for me. It seemed so much more like a Stephen King novel than some­thing that I would do.”

So fa­ther and son went back and forth. “Even­tu­ally we com­pro­mised that we would col­lab­o­rate on it.”

The small town in im­pov­er­ished Ap­palachia is in what po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists now re­fer to as Trump coun­try, al­though they were writ­ing be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and had en­vis­aged Hil­lary Clin­ton tak­ing the White House in an early draft. Trump is men­tioned once, when a char­ac­ter is try­ing to think of a worse “ass­hole” than her boyfriend and con­cludes that all that re­mained were “Don­ald Trump and can­ni­bals”.

S

Across: 7 Cleric, 8 Caught on, 9 Stingray, 10 Turpin, 11 Chains, 12 Fire­bugs, 14 Psy­chos, 16 Spi­dery, 19 Corn beef, 21 Staffs, 22 Repast, 24 Baroness, 25 Lash­ings, 26 Per­ils.

Down: 1 Blotches, 2 Fran­cis­can, 3 Scorns, 4 But­ter up, 5 Thor, 6 Lop­ing, 8 Cry off, 13 Bad man­ners, 15 Over­tone, 17 Re­fusals, 18 Off base, 20 Op­eras, 21 Straps, 23 Ache.

By Lily Woodhouse, (Harpercollins, $35). Lily Woodhouse is Stephanie John­son’s pseu­do­nym for com­mer­cial fic­tion.

Lily Woodhouse aka Stephanie John­son,

Jaru­lan by the River

US au­thor Stephen King has writ­ten a novel with his youngest son Owen (left). PHOTO: ASTRID STAWIARZ/GETTY IM­AGES.

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