Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 20, 2021

Featured author: Danielle Binks, her new novel ‘The Monster of Her Age’, and some thoughts about the Australian Film Industry

I had an email today from Aussie YA author, Danielle Binks, about my offer to spruik the books of Australian authors whose MWF events were cancelled:

My first book The Year the Maps Changed came out in April 2020, so I had events cancelled last year. My second book The Monster of Her Age came out this month, and … yup. Everything cancelled. Including MWF.

Can you imagine the heartbreak?

Now it just so happens (truly) that half an hour before I received Danielle’s email, I had retrieved The Year the Maps Changed from the TBR to read next after I finish Miles Allison’s In Moonland.  (You might remember that I told you about this book when I reported on my time at the Port Fairy Literary Weekend.)  So you will be seeing my thoughts about it before long.  Now, however, you can hear about the new novel in Danielle’s own words, with a bonus excerpt from the Author Note about the background to the novel…


My new book is a YA novel called The Monster of Her Age; about a young woman called Ellie who comes from a family of Tasmanian thespians, headed up by their famous matriarch, Lottie Lovinger – who is dying when the novel begins, forcing Ellie to return home to Hobart for the first time in a long time, and try to reconcile with her grandmother.

Ellie and Lottie have had a tumultuous relationship stemming from a film they starred in together; a schlock Aussie horror movie in which Ellie as an 11-year-old child actor, played the monster of the movie that spawned a cult-classic. But it was an emotional and traumatic filming experience for Ellie, under a despotic director and unprotected by her fame-hungry grandmother.

The Monster of Her Age is a novel that tries to pick apart the question of whether to judge the art or the artist, that people contain multitudes and it’s possible to hold both love and anger for those that hurt us. When Ellie befriends a young woman called Riya who runs a feminist horror film-club out of the State Cinema in Hobart (‘Fright Night for Final Girls’) she also begins to see the horror genre in a new light, as well as the more human necessity of art as a way to know ourselves and each other.

Below is a reproduction of an author’s note that appears in my book – a little background to the fictional Australian film history I inserted into the story, and a few of my thoughts on why it’s always been important to invest in Australian Art and our stories. In my universe, Lottie Lovinger once met Gough Whitlam at the State Cinema for a film premiere, and an old memory of Ellie’s involves her grandmother quoting our former Prime Minister. Words I still think Australia should hold close to our hearts, and take heed of; “A society in which the arts flourish is a society in which every human value can flourish”

 A note on the (fictional) Australian film history in The Monster of Her Age:  

The world’s first feature film was Australian.

It’s true.

The Tait Brothers from Victoria made the very first feature-length film – The Story of the Kelly Gang [1906] – first screened in Melbourne’s Athenaeum Hall, which was owned by their family. The brothers were amongst many pioneering Australian filmmakers throughout the silent era – including Lottie Lyell, Raymond Longford and the McDonagh Sisters.

But the 1920s saw a new era in cinema – the dawn of “talkies”, and commercialization of sound movies – and this period also marked the death of Australian cinema.

Suddenly there was a barrage of Hollywood movies flooding the market – they had higher production values, bigger stars, ability to meet fan-demand at an amazing turnover of production, and were more easily distributed to our cinemas because the Americans had control over all major distribution companies. Hollywood had more money and better technology, coupled with their inherent glitz and glamour, that it was nearly impossible for local Aussie filmmakers to compete, or even get a foot in the door of their own industry.

In 1928 a Royal Commission was even held into Australia’s movie decline, but it merely pinpointed the problem and came up with few solutions. And by 1951, the Government introduced a new rule against raising capital for companies, which further wounded the already struggling industry.

Between 1952 and 1966, Australia was averaging the release of two films a year, and those were mostly co-productions with other countries (with some notable exceptions, like the 1953 film Jedda starring Ngarla Kunoth). This also explains why the few major Australian film stars from that time – the likes of Errol Flynn, Diane Cilento, Peter Finch, and Oscar-winning costume designer Orry-Kelly – all had to go overseas to make their mark on Hollywood.

What saved the industry from vanishing completely was intervention by the Gorton and Whitlam governments in the early 1970s. Prime Minister John Gorton created the Experimental Film Fund, and the Australian Film Development Corporation, both of which fostered an independent Australian film industry, and increased government funding for the arts generally. While Gough Whitlam’s Government further built on these foundations, by creating the Australian Film and Television School (AFTRS) and establishing a Film and Television Board as one of the initial specialist panels in the new Australia Council for the Arts.

Both of these changes to the culture, funding and investment in our film and television led to a ‘New Wave’ of education and creation. Australia produced nearly 400 feature films between 1970 and 1985 – more than we had ever made before. Many of these films are today recognised as classics worldwide, but they also went a long way to shaping modern Australian identity, both at home and abroad. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Breaker Morant (1977), Mad Max (1979), My Brilliant Career (1979), and Gallipoli (1981) – to name a very few. They put Australia, our creators, and stories on the map – they gave us a voice we’d never had before.

But it’s still sad to think of the films that weren’t made, and the talent that was lost for those long years that Australia did not have a cinematic identity … which is why when I began writing this book, I decided to envision an alternate filmic history for ourselves. One in which we were making movies, right alongside Hollywood.

I imagined Ellie’s grandmother Lottie Lovinger as being at the forefront of this Aussie filmic enterprise. I chose to make-believe an era in our film history, when revolutionary costume-designer Orry-Kelly could have dressed Lottie for a local production, in-between working on Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon.

So much was lost and derailed before our Government realised the power of investing in the Arts, and what can be gained when a nation is allowed and encouraged to tell their own stories.

I simply chose to play within a fictionalised timeline, when the cultural and educational investment in our artistic industry was always there – making movies and magic – with Australian stories on the silver screen, during a Golden Age that never quite came …


I’ve just put in a whopper order at Readings, but I’ll be getting a copy of The Monster of Our Age when I do my next order…


Responses

  1. Sounds truly original and exciting.

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    • I reckon the research would have been fun too:)

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  2. Thank you, Lisa. I have added both of these books to my library list and look forward to reading them.

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  3. I loved reading about the film research background to this.

    Coincidentally, the Friends of the NFSA ran a webinar last weekend on a film called The cheaters by Australia’s McDonagh sisters. The film was initially a silent film in 1929 but was then redone as a talkie in 1930. They were pioneering Australian filmmakers – sisters Paulette, Phyllis and Isabella McDonagh.

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    • I knew this would interest you. I’m nearly finished reading it now, and it is a middle school YA book, but it’s still interesting reading for adults.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. […] And then, the 2021 Melbourne Writers Festival was cancelled and Danielle’s opportunity to promote her new book The Monster of Her Age vanished. She took up my offer to spruik the books of Australian authors whose MWF events were cancelled (an offer which is still open to anyone impacted by the cancellation), and very generously shared the author’s note about the Australian film industry that accompanies the book as well. You can read about The Monster of Her Age here. […]

    Like


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