I’ve been lucky with reviewers, lucky even in their mistakes. A recent positive review of my current Cliff Hardy novel The Dunbar Case credited me with four Ned Kelly awards for crime writing but I only have two. Another, equally pleasing review, declared it to be the 40th Hardy book instead of only the 38th. This raises the matter of gongs and milestones in a writing career
I’ve never won any money prizes for my writing – Premiers’ Awards, the Miles Franklin and the Man Booker have eluded me. But I do have one significant ‘gong’. In 1991, Peter Collins, then Arts Minister in the Greiner government, instituted the Sydney Writers Walk around the paved area at Circular Quay.
The plaques recognised brief visits to Sydney by literary figures including Joseph Conrad, Charles Darwin, D H Lawrence and Jack London, as well as those with stronger associations to the city like Thomas Kenneally, Thea Astley, Robert Hughes, Miles Franklin and many others.
There I am, immediately outside the Museum of Contemporary Art, a permanent fixture, failing an earthquake, a tsunami or a redevelopment scheme. The plaques register the life spans of the dead, the birth dates of those still living, a short biographical note and a brief quotation from each person’s written work. The quote on mine is from Wet Graves (1991):
The sun was going down as I stop-started along in the lane for drivers who didn’t have the right money to pay the toll. The sky was clear and the water turned red-gold. The ferries and sailing ships seemed to be skating across a sheet of beaten bronze.
I am very pleased to have this tribute and plan to display it to each of my grandchildren when they are old enough to understand its significance, although I doubt they’ll be as impressed by it as by the ferries or the didgeridoo players.
I’ve noticed that on the few occasions I’ve seen it, the plaque has been liberally daubed with pigeon shit.
There’s a sidelight to the plaque story: a mistake was made in the publication date of Wet Graves and the thing had to be recast. I was presented with the faulty version as a memento. It was delivered to me in Sydney, where I was then living, and I carted it around over the following years to Queensland, Byron Bay and the NSW south coast, where it usually rested beside a tree or a shed. A metre in diameter and several centimetres thick, the plaque was too heavy to lift and transporting it eventually became a nuisance.
When Jean reconfigured a garden at a house we had at Bellambi in the Illawarra, we incorporated the plaque into a bricked path and there it remains, as far as I know. The house has changed hands several times since then and what subsequent owners have made of, or done with it is anybody’s guess.
As to milestones, my publishers tell me they plan to make a fuss on the publication of the 40th Hardy book. The 39th book is written and will appear in January next year; the 40th is not due out until 2015. It’s too early to start it yet, much as I enjoy writing the books. Too many things that would need to be accounted for could happen in the interim: an election with an uncertain outcome, for one thing and possibly natural disasters. The Queen of England might abdicate, but don’t hold your breath for that.