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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May 1, 1937)


Will Lawson has achieved something remarkable, and I use the word advisedly. Although past the half century in years, he had not until two years ago written a novel. Verse in plenty, much of it of fine craftsmanship, he had written, while his distinguished prose may be found in leading journals at home and abroad; He had also written travel and scenic books. Only during the last couple of years have we realised his worth as a novel writer. In that time he has written three full length novels each with an historical background. First we had “The Laughing Buccaneer,” a South Sea yarn with Bully Hayes dominating the scene. Then came “When Cobb & Co., Was King,” which is already regarded as a national Australian novel. And now, best of all, revealing the sure touch of the matured novelist and occasional glimpses of the soul of the poet, is “Old Man Murray.” This book is remarkable because it is so sure and thorough. One would imagine that Will Lawson had had the splash of the paddle boats ringing in his ear for the past half century. The art of the writer makes the reader live through the fine story he tells of love and adventure on the River Murray. The hero, Captain Ted, reminds me of Lawson himself. This novel will not only find great favour in Australia and New Zealand, but I think should be a success in an English edition and probably more so in America.

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I think it was E. W. Hornung who created the original gentleman cracksman in “Raffles.” Since then other writers have attempted more or less successful successors to that likeable gentleman burglar of many years ago. Two recent novels from England perpetuate the romance of the courteous cultured cracksman with what I anticipate will be the rapturous approval of thousands of readers. First we have “The Cat Climbs,” by C A. Torrant (Martin Seeker), where a diminutive bespectacled accountant, Peter Dean, embarks on a career of crime with the “laudable object” of devoting the proceeds for the advancement and improvement of the modern young man. Peter allows himself a liberal commission from his nocturnal pilfermgs. Really I should not say pilferings for anything short of a hundred thousand or two does not interest him. He gathers around him a small trustworthy gang and works with great intelligence and success. The story is ingenious and is crammed with breathtaking thrills. Indeed it is so plausibly told that my only concern is that its influence may be a harmful one. The other modern Raffles is “John Jeremy-Cracksman,” by Jeffrey Montague (Phillip Allan). Here we meet another cultured burglar, again a possibly dangerous acquaintance for some people, because his criminal exploits are so easily accomplished and with pseudo honesty. John Jeremy has a charming young lady as his accomplice. Their joint efforts to outwit the schemes of another criminal organisation, The League of Five, make for much of the excitement of the novel. Messrs. Whitcombe and Tombs are the New Zealand distributors of both books.

C Stuart Perry, Caricature of New Zealand writers, No. 6.

C Stuart Perry,
Caricature of New Zealand writers, No. 6.

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That the inspiration of New Zealand Authors' Week still survives is evident in the publication by the boys of Form 4A, Wellington College, of a small typescript magazine appropriately entitled “Through the Greenstone Door.” The editorial committee composed of T. McNicol, P. A. Mitchell, G. A. Albert and J. Dunkley confesses in a foreword that their effort was inspired by Authors' Week. In story, verse and article the boys have produced a magazine of distinct merit. I will watch with interest this year for the appearance of No. 2 of the magazine.

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An attractive handbook has been published by the Natal Technical College. Beautifully printed and illustrated on high quality paper with an elaborate index system, the publication is surely a model for scholastic institutions.

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Fostered by Dr. Butchers, who is in charge of the Correspondence School of the Education Department, is a scheme to publish an anthology of junior verse. The idea is to select the best of the poetry that has appeared in “The Postman,” the annual magazine of the Correspondence School, and publish it in book form. To make the anthology thoroughly representative of New Zealand I would suggest that the promoters might extend the order of reference to all the school journals published in this country. The scheme is an excellent one to encourage literary effort in the Dominion.

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There was a large gathering of members of the P.E.N. recently to do honour to Miss Eileen Duggan over the distinction of O.B.E. conferred on her earlier in the year. Among those present was the Hon. Peter Fraser whose speech for the occasion was unique in that he proved to those present that a successful politician may have a true appreciation and deep understanding of literature and art. His was no casual compliment to a writer of genius. He knew, possibly page 64 as fully as any of those present. what Miss Duggan has done in the world of letters, also her own character, distinguished as it is by almost acute modesty and yet a determination to write and interpret in prose and poetry the soul within her. Miss Duggan replied with a speech of rare beauty and sincerity. Truly a memorable gathering.

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Donald Cowie's book, “New Zealand From Within,” has arrived and already has been marked as one of the most interesting and instructive studies of New Zealand. He has discussed us exhaustively from our golf to our gastronomy, from our Reserve Bank to our William Goodfellow, and from our extinct moas to our almost extinct birth rate. It is all done with such amazing and mostly inoffensive candour. His judgments are largely sound, although they are occasionally based on extremes, but always, as we read, we must admit his honesty, and at times we glimpse his introspectiveness. He deals with our past and our future (“bound up with overseas markets and population”), our individuality (“already characteristically New Zealand”), our defences (“we are completely defenceless”), our sport (racing and not Rugby is our “national religion”), our earthquakes (“there are really no earthquakes in New Zealand”), our newspapers (“if you want to write for a living in New Zealand you had better take a dose of strychnine and get it over quickly”), and our first year of Labour Government. In fact there is hardly a stone that this energetic young writer has left unturned in this country. Of course we will not all agree with his findings, and we certainly will not agree with his strictures on our New Zealand woman. He admits that he is rude in this respect and does not expect to be forgiven. Although he is a fine big handsome-looking fellow and admittedly clever, I do not think the average young New Zealand woman would take kindly to Mr. Cowie which I think just explains why he has turned misogynist as far as our womenfolk are concerned. This is the only serious flaw in an otherwise well balanced and interesting analysis of our own country.