Monday, December 1, 2008

R.I.P. Ivan Southall

Sad news: Ivan Southall died on November 15, aged 87. Many of his books are true Australian classics, in particular Ash Road, Hills End and To the Wild Sky.

But my favourite of his books is Josh, which is the only book by an Australian to ever win the Carnegie Medal, which it did in 1971. In fact, not only is Josh one of my favourite Southall books, but it's my favourite book full-stop. I think that even though it looks like prose on the page, Josh is as much a verse novel as many others which make that claim. Written in present tense, it truly is poetic, with short, incomplete sentences. In fact, I remember reading one particular line as a boy -- Josh drowning. -- and being struck with an epiphany: that all the grammatical rules I'd spent so much time learning in primary school could in fact be broken, and usefully so.

One of the proudest moments of my writing career came a year or two back when UQP re-released Josh in its Children's Classics series. There I was, quoted on the back cover of my favourite book, below the blurb. It was taken from something I'd written some time before:

This is the story of a boy who isn't sure who he is or who he's meant to be. It's about the lost child in all of us. And that's why we hold our breath when we read.