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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 4 (July 1, 1935.)

A Literary Page or Two

A Literary Page or Two

One of the most likeable men I have met in Australian journalism is John Barr. When he first gripped my hand and looked at me with those keen kind eyes of his I knew I had found a friend. I was then barely in my twenties and John Barr was assistant editor of the “Bulletin.” He could not have found me very interesting, yet he did what young fellows love most of all. He treated me as though I were of his own age and mental calibre. And at that time, remember, John Barr was in his prime. He was one of the big men of the “Bulletin.” He was the perfect craftsman of that great art—the art of the paragraphist.

In later years I was fortunate in being associated with John Barr on “Aussie” magazine. As sub-editor of the paper he handled my copy from New Zealand. I learned much from the master touch he would give, by adding to, altering or deleting a word here or there in what I wrote. Most important were his lessons in the art of condensation, for John Barr could not tolerate copy that was padded. This came hard on him in later years when he had to rely for his existence on free lancing. While another writer could pad a paragraph into a short article. John Barr adhered to his old habit of bovrilisation, and therefore did not draw lineage commensurate with his work, which proves once more the anomaly of paying for matter at so much per line. Only too often is a twelve line condensed classic, worth, in the eyes of an editor only a few shillings, whereas he will willingly pay a guinea for a column of padded piffle.

John Barr was thrown on the free lance field because “Aussie” was not able to pay its way. In a desperate effort to keep this magazine going the proprietors decided on drastic retrenchment and Barr was one of the first to suffer. The paper contained his famous page, “Men and Other Sins,” which later was to provide material for Barr's first book.

I think John Barr's relationship to this book is unique in the world of authordom. He did not know it was being produced until it was practically on the market. He told me that he got the shock of his life one day when a friend of his congratulated him upon its forthcoming appearance. I do not know the inside mystery, but it must have had a happy ending, for when “Men and Other Sins” appeared it contained Barr's dedication which was to his wife.

John Barr still battles on in that arduous fight for existence—the fight of the free lancer. He glimpsed the future many years ago in his poem. “The Men Who Battle Through.”

They stamp along the pavements of the Cities of the Wrong

Where the weak are Juggernauted by the System of the Strong,

Book-plate of a well-known Australian ex libris enthusiast.

Book-plate of a well-known Australian ex libris enthusiast.

And I doff my hat before them all, those sloggers good and true—

The rough men, the tough men, the Men Who Battle Through.

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I always look forward with the keenest of interest to the annual “Sketcher” of the Otago University. For years Dunedin has been particularly strong in cartoonists and caricaturists. Viewing the work in the latest Varsity production I feel that the dour town still holds the black and white laurels of the Dominion. A tower of strength, is the versatile artist Russell Clark. His work in this 1935 production emphasises his genius—and I do not use the word loosely. Whether in caricature, cartoon, or joke blocks, Russell Clark outstands. Gordon McIntyre, too, is well represented. His work is always sound. The artist responsible for the Continental subtlety of the picture on page 47 may be “meet,” but not just. There are other items in the issue on the risque side.

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I am not surprised to learn that a rapturous reception has been given to The Friendly Road's publication “Hello Everybody,” because it is giving in instalments “The Life Story of Uncle Scrim.” Although you have to go to Auckland to touch the vortex (and it is something of a vortex) of “Scrim's” popularity, this outstanding Radio man is well known throughout New Zealand. Many a politician must envy the publicity aroused by his unique personality. “Scrim's” biography is being written with engaging candour by Harry Bell, who is one of the greatest enthusiasts of 1 Z.B., Auckland. “Scrim's” biography will occupy four instalments.

page 58

I found the other day a quaint thought beautifully expressed in an essay by that exquisite stylist Richard le Gallienne. He is writing in justification of limited editions and inquires: “What would you not pay for a ticket to see the moon rise, if Nature had not improvidently made it a free entertainment? … Yes from scarped cliff and quarried stone, Nature cries, ‘Limit the Edition! Distribute—the type!'—though in her capacity as the great publisher, she has been all too prodigal in her issues and ruinously guilty of innumerable remainders.”

* * *

In Australia and New Zealand Will Lawson has made a big reputation as a poet and a short story writer. Now he has made his debut as a novelist in his South Sea story “The Laughing Buccaneer,” just published by Angus and Robertson, Sydney. From the average reader's point of view this is a novel that should very quickly have a lengthy waiting list at the libraries. The story simply grips you with its wealth of exciting happenings. If you have the time you simply won&t leave it until you finish the last page. From the critic's point of view the book is an interesting study. In the first place Will Lawson has actually created a new novel of the South Seas—an achievement in itself. Obviously the book was written in a tremendous hurry and yet it is not slovenly done. Had Will Lawson held the book, repolished it and extended it, it would have been one of the finest South Sea romances ever written.

At any rate the publishers might have “bulked” it into a full size 6/- nett. The reading public are the gainers for they get the best 4/6 worth turned out in Australia for many a long day. With good marketing the book should have almost record sales. The introduction of Bully Hayes into this romance of the Island of Women is effectively carried out. His romantic personality is well suited to the whirlwind excitement of the story.

After the lean years we have been through it is very heartening to learn that more books were published in Australia last year than the whole of the output of the preceding decade. Small wonder that a literary agency is now operating there. This organisation (Napier, Gardiner and Co., 79 Pitt Street, Sydney) has been formed to deal with the work of established and amateur writers. For the former, valuable contact is made with publishing houses in Australia and London and for the amateur helpful advice and criticism are given. A pamphlet giving details as to terms, etc., is free on application.

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