31 January 2014

Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I was captivated by this story long before I even turned the first page.

Australian author Hannah Kent travelled to Iceland as a Rotary exchange student when she was just 17 years old.  It was there that she learned about the last person to be executed in Iceland, Agnes Magnúsdóttir (daughter of Magnus) who was beheaded in January 1830. Agnes and a farmhand by the name of Fridrik were convicted of murdering two men in March 1828. Agnes was placed in the custody of a regular farming family while she awaited her execution.  

It is from these facts that Hannah Kent, working on her PhD thesis researched and wrote the magnificent Burial Rites.

After winning the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award in 2011, publishers began contacting Hannah and a bidding war erupted to publish her manuscript.  Burial Rites has now been translated and sold in 20 countries and was nominated for the 2013 Guardian First Book Award.

Hannah Kent was also featured in Australian Story in a piece called No More Than A Ghost where she expands on her writing and research process. It is revealed that she was a little obsessed with Agnes, and there were many bizarre and 'weird' coincidences throughout the writing process.

I found Burial Rites incredibly evocative, and I was immediately immersed in the countryside of Iceland, a county I had no prior knowledge of. The gruelling weather, the unforgiving landscape and harsh and close living conditions all set the scene for Agnes' life. The story is told from three points of view: Agnes, the farmer's wife where she is living awaiting her execution and a young priest, charged with bringing her to God.

Agnes' thoughts on her impending death and her love of Natan were incredibly moving and often made me pause to reflect. I read Burial Rites in the middle of summer in Australia, although I shivered with the bleak conditions, my hands ached with the labour intensive tasks Agnes was required to perform and my nostrils flared at the scents of salted meat, smoke of the log fire and stench of the family piss pot.

I lingered for a long time within the pages Burial Rites and I really didn't want it to end.  I wasn't looking forward to reading to the end of Agnes' fate, and my heart was definitely heavy at the end.

All in all, an amazing and insightful piece of writing from such a young and talented writer.  Hannah Kent was (and still is) deeply connected to the life and fate of Agnes Magnúsdóttir and I wonder if she'll ever write this way again. Was this a once-in-a-lifetime connection and story that touched her deeply, or will she throw herself into another time and place in history with the same abandon?

I can't wait to find out.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
30 January 2014

Winner Announced - Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop 2014

Thanks to all those who entered this giveaway; we had 35 entries in total (comments plus blog follows and email subscriptions).

The giveaway question was to share your favourite building in Melbourne and it seems the Flinders Street Station and the MCG were clear favourites.  

There were also a number of entries for the State Library and the Manchester Unity building.

All the participants were entered into random.org and the winner drawn was:

5childrenand IT

Congratulations!  Please email me your postal address* and I'll send your prize (a copy of The Melbourne Book - A History of Now by Maree Coote) to you right away.

I'd like to thank ShelleyRae from Book'd Out for hosting and organising this Australia Day blog hop again this year.

I hope you all enjoyed your Australia Day long weekend and of course entering the competitions on the blog hop.

Happy Reading and Carpe Librum!

* (Please make contact by midnight 7th February, otherwise another winner will be drawn).
27 January 2014

HFVBT Blog Tour & Review of Isabella: Braveheart of France by Colin Falconer

* Book from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours (HFVBT) for review *

About Isabella: Braveheart of France
She was taught to obey. Now she has learned to rebel.

Isabella is just twelve years old when she marries Edward II of England. For the young princess it is love at first sight - but Edward has a terrible secret that threatens to tear their marriage - and England apart.

Who is Piers Gaveston - and why is his presence in the king's court about to plunge England into civil war?

The young queen believes in the love songs of the troubadours and her own exalted destiny - but she finds reality very different. As she grows to a woman in the deadly maelstrom of Edward's court, she must decide between her husband, her children, even her life - and one breath-taking gamble that will change the course of history.

Does she submit to a lifetime of solitude and a spiritual death - or seize her destiny and take the throne of England for herself?

This is the story of Isabella, the only woman ever to invade England - and win.

My Review
I adored Colin Falconer's book When We Were Gods - A Novel of Cleopatra, and was excited to find out how he would write the story of Isabella of France.  Born in 1295, the only daughter of Philip IV of France and Joan I of Navarre, Isabella was married at just 12 years of age and took up residence in England, the wife of Edward II of England.  Falconer's Isabella has dreams of love and a bright future, however she soon learns that Edward II has a favourite, by the name of Piers Gaveston.  Edward lavishes Piers with lands and jewels and denies Isabella the love she's been craving.

Isabella: Braveheart of France is a heartbreaking story, filled with danger, conflict, greed, envy, tragedy and death.  Those who know their history well, might know the broad facts about Isabella but Falconer brings her story to life in a refreshing way.  This reader was behind Isabella at every point, despite her reputation as the She-wolf of France and the only woman to successfully invade England.

Recommended for lovers of historical fiction, those who enjoy court intrigue and politics and readers who enjoy a strong female protagonist.

My rating = ****

About the Author
Author, Colin Falconer
Born in London, Colin first trialed as a professional football player in England, and was eventually brought to Australia. He went to Sydney and worked in TV and radio and freelanced for many of Australia's leading newspapers and magazines. He has published over twenty novels and his work has so far been translated into 23 languages. 

He travels regularly to research his novels and his quest for authenticity has led him to run with the bulls in Pamplona, pursue tornadoes across Oklahoma and black witches across Mexico, go cage shark diving in South Africa and get tear gassed in a riot in La Paz. 

His most recent novels are Silk Road, set in the 13th century, and Stigmata, set against the backdrop of the Albigensian Crusade in Southern France in 1209. He currently lives in Barcelona.

Please click here to visit more stops on this blog tour and for your chance to WIN a copy of Isabella: Braveheart of France by Colin Falconer.
25 January 2014

Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop 2014

I'm participating in the Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop again this year after last year's online event was such a success.

The blog hop is being hosted by Book'd Out, and there are many Aussie bloggers, authors, booksellers and publishers offering Australian themed giveaways in this online event.

Carpe Librum is offering readers and followers the chance to WIN a brand new copy of The Melbourne Book - A History Of Now by Australian author Maree Coote (pictured below), valued at $55.00AUD.

The Melbourne Book -
A History of Now

by Maree Coote
To enter: leave a comment below and tell me your favourite building in Melbourne.

Entries close: midnight, Tuesday 28th January.

Eligibility: open to those with an Australian postal address only.

Winners will be chosen by random.org and announced no later than: Friday 31st January.

Additional entries: those who sign up to follow Carpe Librum by Google Friend Connect or via email after this post will receive an additional entry in the competition.  (Make sure you mention this in your comment/entry).

Once you've entered, please click here to find other exciting Aussie giveaways on offer and join in the blog hop!

Happy Australia Day and Carpe Librum!
20 January 2014

HFVBT Blog Tour & Review: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein book cover
* Book from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours (HFVBT) for review *

About The Gods of Heavenly Punishment
One summer night in prewar Japan, eleven-year-old Billy Reynolds takes snapshots at his parent's dinner party. That same evening his father Anton, ­a prominent American architect ­begins a torrid affair with the wife of his master carpenter. A world away in New York, Cameron Richards rides a Ferris Wheel with his sweetheart and dreams about flying a plane. Though seemingly disparate moments, they will all draw together to shape the fate of a young girl caught in the midst of one of WWII's most horrific events, ­the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo.

Exquisitely rendered, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment tells the stories of families on both sides of the Pacific: their loves and infidelities, their dreams and losses ­and their shared connection to one of the most devastating acts of war in human history.

My Review
I haven't read many historical novels covering the war between Japan and America, and The Gods of Heavenly Punishment was the first in a long time to grab my attention.

The author introduces us to characters from both sides of the conflict and makes us care about them all in the lead up to World War II.  Admittedly, I didn't know a lot about the Doolittle Raid in 1942 or the Firebombing of Tokyo in 1945, which killed over 100,000 civilians (almost as many as the devastating atomic bombing of Hiroshima).

While The Gods of Heavenly Punishment certainly introduces the reader to these events, the author does so gently and without preaching.  The characters' lives on both sides are entwined in a number of subtle ways, with the final link between characters cleverly revealed at the end.

This historical novel had me gripped, made me laugh, had me shuddering at humanity and thinking deeply about the familial relationships.  I loved the fact that the novel wasn't tied up with a happy ending for each of the characters and I admired the clever exploration of love beyond physical love.

Recommended for readers of historical fiction, war and deep familial relationships.

My rating = ****

Author, Jennifer Cody Epstein
About the Author
Jennifer Cody Epstein is the author of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment and the international bestseller The Painter from Shanghai

She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Self, Mademoiselle and NBC, and has worked in Hong Kong, Japan and Bangkok, Thailand. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, two daughters and especially needy Springer Spaniel.  

For more information, please visit Jennifer Cody Epstein's website.  You can also find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Please click here to visit more stops on this blog tour and for your chance to WIN a copy of The Gods Of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein.
16 January 2014

List of Popular Steampunk Novels

There was some discussion recently amongst book-lovers wanting to find out more about the steampunk* genre and some reading suggestions.  So, I've compiled a list (alphabetical by author surname) of some of the most popular steampunk novels from its inception in 1987, and there's something for everyone:
  1. Lady of Devices (Magnificent Devices #1) by Shelley Adina
  2. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
  3. Phoenix Rising (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences #1) by Philippa Ballantine
  4. The Iron Duke (Iron Seas #1) by Meljean Brook
  5. Heart of Steel (Iron Seas #2) by Meljean Brook
  6. Riveted (Iron Seas #3) by Meljean Brook
  7. Soulless (Parasol Protectorate, #1) by Gail Carriger
  8. Changeless  (Parasol Protectorate, #2) by Gail Carriger
  9. Blameless  (Parasol Protectorate, #3) by Gail Carriger
  10. Heartless  (Parasol Protectorate, #4) by Gail Carriger
  11. Timeless  (Parasol Protectorate, #5) by Gail Carriger
  12. Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger
  13. Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices #1) by Cassandra Clare
  14. Clockwork Prince (The Infernal Devices #2) by Cassandra Clare
  15. Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices #3) by Cassandra Clare
  16. The Girl in the Steel Corset (Steampunk Chronicles #1) by Kady Cross
  17. The Strange Case of Finley Jayne (Steampunk Chronicles #0.5) by Kady Cross
  18. The Girl in the Clockwork Collar (Steampunk Chronicles #2) by Kady Cross
  19. Wicked as They Come (Blud #1) by Delilah S. Dawson
  20. Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
  21. Incarceron (Incarceron #1) by Catherine Fisher
  22. The Difference Engine by William Gibson
  23. Masque of the Red Death (Masque of the Red Death #1) by Bethany Griffin
  24. The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire #1) by Clay Griffith
  25. Dearly, Departed (Gone With the Respiration #1) by Lia Habel
  26. The Native Star (Veneficas Americana #1) by M.K. Hobson
  27. The Court of the Air (Jackelian #1) by Stephen Hunt
  28. Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter
  29. The Iron Thorn (Iron Codex #1) by Caitlin Kittredge
  30. The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress
  31. Stormdancer (The Lotus War #1) by Jay Kristoff
  32. Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories by Kelly Link
  33. The Affinity Bridge (Newbury and Hobbes #1) byGeorge Mann
  34. Kiss of Steel (London Steampunk #1) by Bec McMaster
  35. Perdido Street Station (New Crobuzon #1) by China Mieville
  36. Dead Iron (Age of Steam #1) by Devon Monk
  37. Airborn (Matt Cruse #1) by Kenneth Oppel
  38. Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century #1) by Cherie Priest
  39. Clementine (The Clockwork Century #1.1) by Cherie Priest
  40. Dreadnought (The Clockwork Century #2) by Cherie Priest
  41. Ganymede (The Clockwork Century #4) by Cherie Priest
  42. The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials #1) by Philip Pullman
  43. The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials #2) by Philip Pullman
  44. The Ruby in the Smoke (Sally Lockhart #1) by Philip Pullman
  45. The Shadow in the North (Sally Lockhart #2) by Philip Pullman
  46. Mortal Engines (The Hungry City Chronicles #1) by Philip Reeve
  47. The Iron Wyrm Affair (Bannon & Clare #1) by Lilith Saintcrow
  48. Corsets & Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances by Trisha Telep
  49. Steampunk by Jeff VanderMeer
  50. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
  51. The Mammoth Book of Steampunk by Sean Wallace
  52. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  53. Leviathan (Leviathan, #1) by Scott Westerfeld
  54. Behemoth (Leviathan, #2) by Scott Westerfeld
  55. Goliath (Leviathan, #3) by Scott Westerfeld
  56. Retribution Falles (Tales of the Ketty Jay #1) by Chris Wooding
Have you read any of these? Do you have any additional suggestions? Please tell us in the comments below.

*Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialised Western civilisation during the 19th century.  Other features include Victorian inspired fashion with the inclusion of brass and leather, and of course cogs, cogs, cogs!

The term steampunk's first known appearance was in 1987, though it now retroactively refers to many works of fiction created even as far back as the 1950s or 1960s. Source: Wikipedia
15 January 2014

Review: The Sin Eater by Sarah Rayne

The Sin Eater by Sarah Rayne book cover
* From the author for review *

According to author Sarah Rayne's website, the term sin eater: refers to a person who, by means of food and drink, would ritualistically take on the sins of a dead or dying person, thus absolving his or her soul. Parts of the Old Testament hint at the ritual of sin-eating, and over the centuries it seems to have been performed, in various forms, in many parts of the world. The last recorded instance of a sin-eater in the UK was in Shropshire as recently as 1893.

The Sin Eater by Sarah Rayne is the second novel in the Michael Flint / Nell West series and follows on from Property of a Lady. I absolutely fell in love with Property of a Lady, and gave it 5 stars in my review, so I was eager to read the next in the series.  However, unfortunately for me The Sin Eater just wasn't able to match it.

Nell West is an antiques dealer and Michael Flint an academic working in Oxford and together they make a great pair.  In this novel they become involved with Benedict through a friend and his inheritance of Holly Lodge*.  Benedict begins to experience a presence in Holly Lodge and is convinced he is suffering from dissociative personality disorder or DPD.  I was frustrated by the character's explanations for what was happening to him: perhaps it was DPD, it was the mist, I knocked my head etc.  In fact, each of the three main characters were reluctant to accept that there could be unexplained forces at work.

As the reader I jumped in straight away and was more than willing to accept what was happening and just wanted to get on with the plot.  The character's continual reluctance held me back when I just wanted to be swept away by the narrative.

The sections set in London and Ireland in the 1890s were the most gripping of all, and I could easily have spent the entire novel there.  The story of the first sin eater, the evil and malevolent chess pieces and the fire in the watch tower had me powering through the pages to find out what was going to happen.  These sections were written in the signature Sarah Rayne style I've come to know and love and I just wish Michael, Nell and Benedict were less reluctant to accept what was happening to them, and get on with it.

I'm very much looking forward to reading the next in the series, The Silence.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

Funnily enough, Holly Lodge is a residence in Victoria where my sister and our family stayed while preparing for her wedding 2 years ago.  The beautiful double storey property holds special memories for me so I relished seeing the name Holly Lodge throughout The Sin Eater.
14 January 2014

Review: 2011 TV Miniseries Moby Dick

I had the pleasure over the festive period to watch the 2011 miniseries Moby Dick, starring William Hurt, Ethan Hawke and Gillian Anderson.

William Hurt played the role of Captain Ahab and I truly believe it was his best performance yet.

I tried to read Moby Dick in university, but sadly I just couldn't get into this chunkster by Herman Melville and I read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett instead.

I've got to say that after watching this miniseries though, I can now fully understand the lure of Moby Dick and why it is an enduring classic.  There were so many themes I picked up in the series that I just didn't see while trying to read the book, and I'm surprised to be saying this, it was a real thriller.

Kudos must be given to all those involved in this production, they did a marvellous job bringing Moby Dick to life and I thoroughly recommend it.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

Let me know, have you read Moby Dick by Herman Melville?  What are your thoughts?
09 January 2014

Review: Speaking Volumes - Conversations with Remarkable Writers by Ramona Koval

Speaking Volumes - Conversations with Remarkable Writers by Ramona Koval book cover
*Copy provided by Scribe Publications after winning a competition*

Ramona Koval is a successful journalist, radio broadcaster, published author and editor.  During her career she has interviewed countless authors (here and overseas) and is one of Australia's biggest names in books and literature.

Speaking Volumes - Conversations with Remarkable Writers is just that, a collection of interviews with some famous and some fascinating writers from across the globe.

My favourite interview from the collection was without doubt her interview with Les Murray, conducted in 1997.  Les takes Ramona on a tour of his area, and her questions throughout reveal so much about the famous Australian poet, and was quite nostalgic too.

I was impressed by just how well Ramona appears to have prepared prior to each interview, demonstrating an exhaustive knowledge of her interviewee's writing without showing off.  Even the writers being interviewed are sometimes surprised that she has read this or that particular work.

I was surprised and very interested to read the following quote from Martin Amis on page 309, that he: "tend[s] to read a generation behind usually" because: "time hasn't had time to weed out the excellent from the not-so-excellent..."  Readers who try to stay on reading trend and only read latest releases should bear this in mind.

Published in 2010, my only complaint about Speaking Volumes was that so many of the interviews were conducted more than a decade ago.  This passage of time doesn't mean the interviews aren't worth reading today, however I would have really enjoyed the inclusion of more recent material.

I recommend Speaking Volumes to readers looking to discover new authors, book-lovers who enjoy author interviews or the aspiring writer looking for pearls of wisdom or the inspiration behind some great authors.

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!
03 January 2014

Interview with Ken Duncan, author of Life's A Journey - The Adventure Continues

Australian photographer and author Ken Duncan took time out from his busy schedule recently to join me on the phone from his home north of Sydney.

Author & Photographer, Ken Duncan
Thanks so much for your time today Ken, it’s an honour to chat with you and I thoroughly enjoyed your new book Life's a Journey - The Adventure Continues.
Did you read it or just look at the pictures? (laughs all round).

I read every word.
Oh, (laughs) you must be the first one! 

How has it been received?
Really great.  It’s a sequel to an earlier book called Life’s a Journey.  I received a letter from a farmer who lost crops on the Murray River and the bank foreclosed on him.  He intended to commit suicide but picked up that earlier book from his coffee table and started to read it.  He told me ‘if Ken can make it, I can make it.’ He got another chance at life and hearing that makes the hard work all worthwhile.

Your work is instantly recognisable and is displayed everywhere from corporate offices to private homes.  Did you ever believe you would become a household name in Australian photography?
No, I never thought of it.  It still amazes me to this day that anyone would even have a clue what I’m doing.  My mission has been to bring the beauty of creation to people’s homes and workplaces.  There’s so much stress, (with work and social pressures) and I think it’s important to sit back and reflect on the bigger picture from time to time.

For those who may not have read your book yet, how did you get into the art of photography?
At 16 I went on a camp and learned about black and white photography.  I took some photos, came back, processed the film and watched - mesmerised - as my first image magically appeared in the tray.  I suddenly realised: wow, you can tell a story!  This was soon to the detriment of everything around me and from then on you couldn’t separate me from my camera. 

I then left school, and began working in commercial photography. I was chasing the dream, you know: money, house, wife and children. I learned that money didn’t make me happy and I felt there must be more to life than what was happening.

It was then that I found out about a panoramic camera and decided to find the meaning to life.  My camera was my diary and I thought it would only take about 3 months (laughs).  Some of those stories are in the first book: Life's an Adventure: The First Twenty-Five Years, including the story of a friend who died in my arms.  When his spirit left his body, I really felt that moment.  I didn’t believe in a creator at that time so that was a real turning point in my life.  I found meaning, realising we’re only here on earth for a minimal time.  Our bodies are just fertiliser for earth and the only thing that is eternal is your spirit.

That’s why I love hanging out with indigenous people because they would find it mystifying that a person doesn’t believe in the spiritual realm. They expect that.

I really loved the story in your book where you set up on a beach early in the morning to photograph the sunrise and a woman started doing Yoga right in the middle of the shot.  You were frustrated and annoyed and decided to move, and then captured the most amazing photograph of spray from the ocean in which you can see the image of an angel.  That story really spoke to me because it’s a personal lesson I need to learn, about patience and control.
Yes, it’s kind of a parable (laughs).  God has a sense of humour and I’m an idiot sometimes.  We all allow this anger thing to rise up when things aren’t the way we want them.  God has a much bigger picture than we have, and often if we’re willing to let go, and be out of control, then life becomes very exciting.  I have a lot of encounters in life, and don’t even know why I’m having them.

It’s the same for me in photography; I’m constantly humbled.  Sometimes I might be somewhere thinking: ‘oh, this is boring’, but then I let go and find out what sort of shot I’m there for.  All of a sudden, this picture - bigger than you could ever imagine - emerges.  We only have small pieces of the jigsaw and you don’t get the pieces until you’re ready to get them. 

I have a question from a Carpe Librum follower and photographer: do you see the final image in your head before you snap?  Sometimes I see the picture, before I’ve taken it.  One day I’ll just find it there in front of me; as if I’ve foreseen it.  There’s a certain picture that I still haven’t found, it’s a willow tree in a valley with a beautiful stream running by. I haven’t seen it yet, but I know I will.

You need to learn patience.  If you don’t learn patience you’ll end up a patient (jokes).  Photos are gifts given to those people prepared to spend time in a place, and relate and connect to a place.  Sometimes I might go somewhere and be talking to people and not bothering with photos, then all of a sudden I see something.  Other times I might be there to help someone, a greater purpose than taking photographs.

I’m glad I have the job I have, forced to spend time in God’s nature.  I have conversations with God, with time to talk and file things.  It’s a time to reflect. 

Don’t try to force it to grow.  It will grow in its own time if it’s meant to. 

Here Ken related a story that is in his new book: Life's a Journey - The Adventure Continues.  He wrote a letter to a well-known and wealthy Australian after he died, went to the other side and said there was nothing there.  Read his book for the complete story, it’s quite an eye-opener.

Ken, it’s clear that your faith has been a very important part of your life, is this the first time you’ve shared this publicly?  How have readers and fans of your work responded to this?
No it’s not the first time, I mentioned it in Life's an Adventure: The First Twenty-Five Years, and many people have been on the journey with me for a while. It would be very easy for me to put out another book of ‘pretty pictures,’ but there are people out there who are hurting and need hope and there are also things we need to deal with in our nation.  I believe I’m there to serve people, not myself, so I have a bit of a go at politicians etc as well as giving an account of my life. 

We all have our own troubles, but it’s about what can we do with what we’ve been given (our gift) to help others.

You certainly tackle the big topics: indigenous Australians, the environment, global warming…
Yes, I enjoy spending more time with indigenous people, working with kids and giving them access to technology we take for granted. Photography is storytelling, showing people how they can tell their story – and everyone has a story.

I’m not a natural writer though, I need to sit myself in a room and I’m not allowed to leave until I’ve done one story (laughs). When I was told that I needed to write the sequel to the first book, I thought ‘oh, no’ but I really enjoyed it in the end.

It’s good to have a faith. My job is closely linked to weather and the environment, and what they’re talking about now is politics; it’s all out of control. While the debate is going on, people need to look at the documentation that attaches to global warming or climate change.  Bureaucrats have reams and reams of documentation to read, so they only read the executive brief. 

As photographers we lost rights in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.  It was 360 pgs long, and in the small print was ‘no commercial activities in National Parks’ so we lost our rights to take photos. When people use the word ‘environment’ it’s often used to disguise other things. There is clear felling going on in forests in Tasmania, plastic in the oceans; deal with it now!

If you breathe the air in Beijing it’s the equivalent of smoking 20 packets of smokes a day! We know there are alternative energy supplies out there.  I’m just trying to stir things up, which might make me a target.  When it’s easier to take photographs in China than in Australia - the country of the free - that’s a major warning bell.  I believe the new generation should have same freedom I had.

I didn’t realise that you were the artist behind Midnight Oil’s iconic album cover from Diesel or Dust.  How did that happen, did they approach you for that particular photograph, or did they ask you to create something for their cover?
Oh, I just caught up with Peter Garrett other day.  Their manager, Gary, is a friend of mine so I knew about the Oils when I was living in Mona Vale.  At age 30 I went walkabout and didn’t keep in touch with anybody, I just went bush.  I came back 4 years later, and Gary asked what I’d been up to.  I’d been learning about panoramic shots and he said he was doing an album for Midnight Oil called Diesel & Dust and could he look at some of my shots.  He saw that one and immediately wanted it.
Midnight Oil's album cover
Diesel & Dust, featuring
Ken Duncan's photograph
of Burra Homestead

The building from that photograph (Burra Homestead) is an icon of SA, and we’re raising funds to support its restoration (the roof needs shoring up and the walls need repair).  We put out a new print of the cottage to raise funds and we’ve raised over $3,000 so far.

The reason I love [tumbled down or abandoned buildings] is that they beckon; they are full of forgotten dreams.  It makes you wonder: ‘what were the hopes and dreams of the people who lived there, who were they?  

Midnight Oil also asked me to do some band shots, and to be honest, I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time.  As a result, the work was very different, and won a lot of awards.

Where else have your images been used?
They’ve been used for the Sydney Olympics, by Tourism Australia, QANTAS and others. Movie makers even use my books for finding locations (laughs).  I avoid the obvious and I always look for hidden treasures.  I love shooting in other parts of the world, but I’m really enjoying Australia, and unfolding the layers within our own nature.

I don’t permit the use of my images for anything related to alcohol or cigarettes, or anything that might be detrimental to people.

Digital or film?
Both.  I still shoot film; I shoot digital like I shoot film.  The new generation think my photos are Photoshopped, but if you get the shot right, you won’t need Photoshop.  I come from a film background where exposure is critical, so I approach digital the same way. You need the histogram in the right place to give you the best amount of dynamic range.  If people learn how to read a histogram correctly and change their exposure accordingly, then there is very little Photoshop required. 

I think there should be a separation in photography between photo realism, and photo illustration. Neither is better than the other and I really admire some people who are doing photo illustration to create some beautiful pictures. But personally, I want to wait for the magical moment.

To me, the photograph Sunbaker (1937 black-and-white) by Max Dupain is a timeless representation of Australia.
I love that shot too, and I loved Max.  He had a great body of work.  However, if I did now what Max did then, I’d be arrested.  Everything is so commercialised (like the Olympic Games), everything is ‘owned’ and you need different permits for different places.  As a result, there won’t be a lot of shots in the future showing what life was really like.

Sunbaker (1937)
by Max Dupain
I love collecting photography, here are some of the photographers I admire:

Peter Jarver who has done a lot of work with thunder and lightning,

Richard Woldendorp who does amazing aerial photography

Peter Dombrovskis who did some great work documenting nature and life.

Members of the general public are taking more photographs than ever now with the use of smart phones. Do you think this clutters up the ‘sphere’ with low-grade shots or are you happy about this new trend?
Yes, people are taking lots more photos, but we need to slow down sometimes and stop the waterfall, as very little done is being done with them [the photos].  I love Facebook and all these different things but people need to leave a long-term record. 

You need to sort through your photos, then put some into a book or album so that when you pass on, you can share the little wisdom that you’ve learned.  If you don’t, and you just leave behind a hard drive full of photos, how will anyone know who you were, or who the other people are?

I don’t understand why people don’t have hanging tracks in their house; why stick holes in your wall?  My house has hanging track all through it, and lighting.  I hang my mate’s work and different people I love and admire.  I love putting their pics around, and then think: ‘I wish I’d taken that’. 

You teach as well don’t you?
Yes, I love teaching photography.  When I’m teaching I don’t want to change a person’s ‘eye’, but give them the craft and the skills to capture what they see.

New generations see what’s been done before and then set out to replicate it.  I say: ‘find your own story, your own style’, and stop copying others. 

What are you reading at the moment?
I love reading and I read different things for different purposes.  Naturally I love to read the Bible, but I read many other books as well.  I even read legislation to see what the politicians are up to.  Mostly I read for relaxation and love all genres.  I also like all types of music; you should see my iPod!

After discussing Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, I then ask Ken what's next?  Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I’m helping my indigenous friends build an enormous cross in the middle of Australia. We’ve got permission from the Central Lands Council to do it and the community are doing some paintings to help raise funds.  If anyone would like to make a donation, they can go to 
walkawhile.org.au. It is going to cost $1.2M to create a road up Memory Mountain to erect this cross. The view from the top is absolutely breathtaking; you’re completely surrounded by the beauty of nature and you can’t see any signs of humanity.

Reconciliation is not a policy: it is people learning to walk together, and creative arts is the best way to go about it.

Anything else you’d like to mention?
Thanks for allowing me to be who I am, travelling on the journey with me.  Be comfortable with who you are, then nothing anyone says will be able to shake it, if it is real.  I’m always connecting with all sorts of different people (you’re my style of person) and that’s what makes the world so beautiful - the differences.

Thank you so much to the talented and wonderful Ken Duncan for your time here today.