This is another book with an interesting cover: perhaps it’s not clear from the image at left, but those brown stripes are rusty corrugated iron. The text design is by Tony Palmer, while the image is from Getty Images – and because I was intrigued that it wasn’t an Australian image I went exploring…I mean, why wouldn’t a photographer be commissioned to take a day trip into the bush and snap the first rusty water tank or shed that he/she saw? Surely, I thought, it would be cheaper, and just as good or maybe better?
Well, now I know why so many publishers recycle images from Getty Images. It’s because they’re royalty free. The publisher can subscribe for $AUD 200-250, (depending on how long they subscribe for) and then they can harvest images from the collection and use them as many times as they like. This means they don’t have to pay royalties to anybody, and presumably also not to CAL (the Copyright Agency), PLR (the Public Lending Right) or ELR (the Educational Lending Right. All these bodies monitor the use of books in educational institutions and libraries and – based on usage – pay authors, artists and publishers a small amount per book each year. For impecunious authors and artists these payments can be a substantial part of a meagre income. I bought my current car with the help of a big fat cheque from CAL so I think that sidestepping Australian artists in this way is a bit mean.
(BTW while publishers do pay the royalties, it’s not them that pay CAL, PLR or ELR. Institutional users e.g. universities, pay an annual fee for student photocopying of books and it’s from that pool of money that CAL payments to the rights holder are paid. ELR & PLR are paid by the federal government.)
Anyway, it’s possible, I admit, that feeling liverish about the penny-pinching over images influences my opinion that rusty corrugated iron is not an appropriate image for this book anyway. It hints at storytellers of long ago such as Henry Lawson, Ernest Favenc or Barbara Baynton* writing about outback battlers – but in fact the oldest stories in this anthology are those from 1979, by Elizabeth Jolley and Peter Carey, and some of the stories are distinctly urban in setting. Not only that, the editor Mandy Sayers is at pains to celebrate the fact that from the 1970s onwards Australian writers felt less compelled to ‘be’ Australian, ‘no longer bound by the national story tradition of laconic brevity‘. (p10) The rustic rust just doesn’t suit the universality of this collection at all!
Mandy Sayer’s most interesting introduction explains why the stories come only from the last 30 years, and also defines the ‘long’ story. It’s only partly length – it’s more about complexity, which is probably why I found these stories more satisfying than the short story format with its single compressed storyline and limited point-of-view. The long story can have a main plot and sub-plots as David Malouf’s coming-of-age story does in The Valley of Lagoons. The form can show the passage of time, as Peter Goldsworthy’s notorious Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam does. (A must-read, but not recommended for late night reading!) And they can depict alternative points-of-view, as Elizabeth Jolley’s harrowing Grasshoppers does, shifting in time, place and perspective as the reader’s sense of unease grows. (I found Tim Winton writing as a female narrator bizarre.)
Other writers included in this anthology include Nam Le, Tim Winton, Helen Garner, Louis Nowra, and Gillian Mears.
Liam Davidson in his review suggests that there might well be another collection. I’d like to see these stories and other stories like them available for eReaders like the Kindle because they would be perfect for plane travel but the collection-as-book at 540 pages is much too heavy to lug about in a suitcase!
*BTW the search box function on WordPress is useless. (It’s my only complaint about WP). If you search for, say The Slap, it will bring up 10 posts but not the review, and my review of Ice (by Louis Nowra) doesn’t show up at all. So use the Categories menu instead.
Editor: Mandy Sayers
Title: The Australian Long Story
Publisher: Penguin/Hamish Hamilton 2009
Source: Kingston Library