Monthly Archives: August 2013

We Warn the Tsar!

The situation in Syria is tragic, and it’s not surprising that people who see these tragedies on their television (or more likely, these days, YouTube) want to Do Something.  Maybe there’s a point to American, or British, or French, or Russian, or Iranian, or Israeli breast-beating over what is going on. I’m not so sure.  I was in Belgrade a few weeks ago and saw the site of the NATO bombing in 1993.  Did it really change anything on the ground?

Here in Australia, though, there’s no point.  We have no strategic interest in Syria, and even if we did, for good or bad we can have no impact on what is going on. Australia is a modest country, with much to be modest about – and thank goodness for that. I doubt if there are many Australians who want to join the Great Powers, especially on yet another expedition of gunboat diplomacy to the Middle East.

Unfortunately, one of them is Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.  In the middle of an election campaign he is highly likely to lose, the ex-diplomat, ex-foreign minister, takes time out from cooking or campaigning to speak in sober, measured and above all pompous terms about his consultations with Barack Obama and David Cameron and – who knows? Ban Ki-moon?

The excuse for this self-importance is that Australia is currently one of the non-permanent members of the Security Council and this weekend takes over the rotating presidency.  The real reason is that Rudd loves this sort of stuff.

It all feels to me a bit like ‘We warn the Tsar!’ Continue reading

Whose heritage?

Many countries have laws to protect any heritage objects in private hands from being sold out of the country.  Recently the issue arose in Britain regarding a ring once owned by Jane Austen.  Last year it was bought at a London auction by the American pop singer Kelly Clarkson, who naturally planned to take it home with her to America.  The private owners have a right to sell their own property, but the British government stepped in to put a temporary export ban on the ring so that the British public would have time to raise the same amount of money (£152,450) to buy it for the Jane Austen Museum.

Now Austen is British to her bootstraps.  So British, in fact, that she has just become the new female face on the £10 note.

But what about a kangaroo?

George_Stubbs,_A_portrait_of_the_Kongouro_(Kangaroo)_from_New_Holland,_1772

Continue reading

Why don’t we publish biographies any more?

A year ago, I wrote a rather depressed/depressing post about how hard it is to publish biographies these days. So it’s very encouraging to be able to say that Judy Powell, the author of one of the biographies I specifically mentioned, did get a publisher, and is being interviewed on Late Night Live tomorrow night. For Australian listeners, that means for owls on ABC Radio National 10-11pm, repeated (for larks like me) at 4-5 Tuesday afternoon.

Judy Powell Love's Obsession

Historians are Past Caring

I’m feeling both sad and angry about the state of publishing at the moment.  Someone I know is trying to get a biography published: it’s a great story about a fascinating couple, well written and with a wealth of copyright-free images.  There’s even an international conference coming up next year that will deal with the 2 people concerned.

Yet one publisher says: ‘it’s just too difficult to sell a biography of people who aren’t household names in today’s publishing climate’.

There are several issues here.  We all know that publishing is in trouble at the moment.  We’ve all discussed this ad nauseum so I’m not going there now.  But there’s also another problem: publishers want books on familiar topics, not on something new.

This problem is not limited to biography, but in a small market like Australia, it seems to be a particular problem in this field.  Yet there are…

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