& the World of Murray Whelan

‘Stiff’ goes classical

Sun 10 Jun 2012

When my first novel ‘Stiff’ was published in 1994, I had no idea of what would follow. Becoming a published novelist was an end in itself – the pinnacle of my ambitions. I hadn’t really given much thought to what next. I certainly had no grand scheme up my sleeve. I simply crossed my fingers and hoped that my book would find readers, those readers would enjoy it and it wouldn’t simply sink without a trace. And if, by chance, I got reviewed in the newspapers that I would not be dismissed as an incompetent failure and have to spend the rest of my life hiding my shame.

Eighteen years later, Stiff is still in print, still finding new readers. The critics were kind – Peter Craven called it ‘trash’ in The Age, but explained this was not a value judgement but a literary classification. I was asked to write a follow-up book featuring Murray Whelan. Then another, then another. Six, all told. Meanwhile ‘Stiff’ was published in German under the titleWeck mich, bevor du gehstt and French as Viande Froid a Melbourne. It was made into a movie starring David Wenham and serious though was given to selling ‘Stiff’ coffee mugs on line.

Now, it has been declared a Classic and released with nice new livery as part of a series of titles being released by Text Publishing with the intention of highlighting notable books by Australian authors, some of which had shamefully been allowed to go out of print. The books include Henry Handel Richardson’s ‘The Fortunes of Richard Mahony’ (which was a set text when I did high school English), Miles Franklins’s ‘My Brilliant Career’ (to which I am astonished and humbled to find myself even tangentially connected – and it has just occured to me that Sam Neill, who produced and directed the movie of ‘The Brush-Off’, starred in the 1979 film version opposite Judy Davis). They range across genres and cover almost 200 years of Australian writing. The authors include Thomas Keneally, Martin Boyd, Sumner Locke Elliot, Robin Boyd and Helen Garner. None of your rubbish, in other words.

I am astonished and delighted to find myself in such illustrious company. And I am proud that my first novel, a modest but brilliant foray into the hiterto unexplored territory of suburban retro-thriller apparachik-lit, continues to entertain my readers. I love youse all.

Text Classics