Wednesday, August 06, 2008


When I was given the opportunity to write some book reviews for the SMH last year it crossed my mind for about six seconds that I ought to write under a pseudonym. This was not because I had anything to hide but because the average law-abiding person gets so few chances to act under an assumed name that it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity. I was also conscious that whatever name those reviews were published under would probably be the name I would use for anything else I might have published. (Of course I already have a pseudonym of sorts in "Tim Sterne", but that's really more of a nickname or nom de blog - I am Tim, from Sterne - than a name I have deliberately adopted.) In the end I decided to use my boring, everyday name, the surname of which I find I have to keep spelling for people despite it being the name of our recently-deposed PM of eleven years. How soon we (bash our skulls against walls in an effort to) forget.

The other thing I had to decide on was my contributor note. Again there was a strong temptation to lie, eg. "T. Kazutoki Sterne is the author of Drescher, Goebbels, Braque: An Eternal Golden Shower. He lives in a canoe under a chocolate waterfall with a sentient cabbage named Joyce." Sobriety and the desire not to appear insane prevailed once more and I settled on the more prosaic and honest, yet vastly less intriguing, "Tim Howard is a Melbourne writer". What I like about this formulation is that it makes a claim for authority - hey, this Tim Howard guy's a writer, not just some schmuck! Or at least he's a schmuck who is also a writer! - while also providing the authors of the books I reviewed with my full name and rough geographical location just in case they felt like tracking me down and pointing out my own deficiencies, literary or otherwise. "Tim Howard is a Melbourne writer" may be boring, but it is also fair.

I also like its concreteness. "Melbourne writer" rather than that common variation "Melbourne-based writer". The latter sounds as if the writer in question merely "keeps a house" in Melbourne, turning up occasionally to dust the Van Goghs and water the geraniums before jetting off to Paris, London, New York. I suppose in some cases this might be true; in my case it would be so far from the truth as to constitute a category five fib, punishable by the malicious flicking (with a ruler) of the perp's ear lobes.

All this talk of contributor's notes reminds me of Michael Martone's book Michael Martone: Fictions, which consists entirely of contributor notes for "Michael Martone". I haven't read it but I would like to. On an unrelated note: my birthday is coming up soon and I have no qualms about accepting gifts.


Incidentally, does anybody else find it odd and disappointing that this month's Australian Literary Review contains only one fiction review and that's of a short story collection largely consisting of previously published - if often brilliant - material?

Tim C. McSterne is the author of this post. He is based in a darkened room somewhere in Melbourne.


lucy tartan said...

This is a perfect post, hilarious and exactly right about everything, and yes I agree about the current ALR. The cover story is like some bizarre teleported relic from 1993.

Tim said...

Yes, and it was made more bizarre by the fact that the accompanying rebuttals tore the main article to shreds.

TimT said...

Using your real name as a pseudonym to cover up for your known, made-up blog identity is a scheme just so devilishly cunning and cunningly devlish that it might work!

I've recently been wondering about the difference between historical characters, as rendered by different authors. (Stay with me! You up the back, it's not that boring! Wake up!) So the difference between Shakespeare's Hamlet and Webster's Hamlet. Or between Chapman's Homer, or some other person's Homer. It could get to the point, say, where you start talking about John's Jesus, Mark's Jesus, Matthew's Jesus, Luke's Jesus, Paul's Jesus, and Thomas's Jesus. As if they were all different historical identities.

And I STILL intend to write a play entitled 'Hamlet's Shakespeare'. We'll see how the Bard likes that!