Disher, Garry 1949–
Disher, Garry 1949–
PERSONAL: Born August 15, 1949, in Burra, South Australia; son of Donald Frederick (a farmer) and Lettie (Tiver) Disher; married; children: Hannah. Education: University of Adelaide, B.A., 1971; Monash University, M.A., 1978; attended Stanford University, 1978–79; La Trobe University, Dip.Ed., 1981. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, walking, cinema.
ADDRESSES: Home—Merricks North, Australia. Office—c/o Author Mail, Allen & Unwin, P.O. Box 8500, St. Leonards, NSW 1590, Australia.
CAREER: Writer. Holmesglen Tafe College, Victoria, Australia, lecturer in creative writing, 1979–88; University of Northumbria, Newcastle, England, writer-in-residence, 1998. Member of Spoleto Writers Festival Committee, 1990, 1991.
MEMBER: Australian Society of Authors, Fellowship of Australian Writers, Victorian Writers' Centre.
AWARDS, HONORS: Stegner writing fellowship, 1978–79; National Short Story Award (Australia), 1986; Steele Rudd Award shortlist, for The Difference to Me and Flamingo Gate; Book of the Year for Older Readers, Australian Children's Book Council (ACBC), and New South Wales Premier Award shortlist, New South Wales Ministry for the Arts (NSWMA), both 1993, both for The Bamboo Flute; Australian nomination for International Board on Books for Young People honour list, 1994; National Book Council shortlist, and South Australian Festival Award for fiction shortlist, both 1996, and National Festival Award for Literature (fiction) shortlist, 1998, all for The Sunken Road; Book of the Year for Older Readers, ACBC, New South Wales Premier Award shortlist, NSWMA, Ethnic Affairs Commission Award shortlist, NSWMA, and Ethel Turner Prize, all 1999, all for The Divine Wind.
Wretches and Rebels: The Australian Bushrangers ("Inquiring into Australian History" series), Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1981.
Bushrangers (part of "Australia File" series), illustrated by Rolf Heimann and others, Nelson (Melbourne, Australia), 1984.
The Bamboo Flute (novel), Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, Australia), 1992, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1993.
Ratface (novel), Angus & Robertson (Pymble, Australia), 1993, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1994.
Switch Cat (picture book), Ashton Scholastic (Pymble, Australia), 1994, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1995.
Restless: Stories of Flight and Fear, Angus & Robertson (Pymble, Australia), 1995.
Ermyntrude Takes Charge, illustrated by Craig Smith, Angus & Robertson (Pymble, Australia), 1995, reprinted as Good One, Erm, Hodder Children's Books (Sydney, Australia), 2002.
Blame the Wind, illustrated by Melanie Feddersen, Angus & Robertson (Pymble, Australia), 1995.
Walk Twenty, Run Twenty (part of "Bluegum" series), Angus & Robertson (Pymble, Australia), 1996.
The Half Dead (part of "After Dark" series), illustrated by Shaun Tan, Lothian (Port Melbourne, Australia), 1997.
The Apostle Bird, Hodder Headline (Sydney, Australia), 1997.
The Divine Wind (novel), Hodder Headline (Sydney, Australia), 1998, published as The Divine Wind: A Love Story, A.A. Levine Books (New York, NY), 2002.
From Your Friend, Louis Deane, Hodder Headline (Rydalmere, Australia), 2000.
Moondyne Kate, Hodder Headline (Sydney, Australia), 2001.
Maddie Finn, Hodder Headline (Sydney, Australia), 2002.
Eva's Angel, Hodder Headline (Sydney, Australia), 2003.
Two-Way Cut, Hodder Headline (Sydney, Australia), 2004.
FICTION: FOR ADULTS
Approaches: Short Stories, Neptune Press (Newtown, Australia), 1981.
Steal Away (novel), Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, Australia), 1987.
The Difference to Me (stories), Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, Australia), 1988.
The Stencil Man (novel), Collins (Sydney, Australia), 1988.
Flamingo Gate (short stories), Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, Australia), 1991.
Kickback, Allen & Unwin (North Sydney, Australia), 1991.
Paydirt, Allen & Unwin (North Sydney, Australia), 1992.
Deathdeal, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, Australia), 1993.
Crosskill, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, Australia), 1994.
Port Vila Blues, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, Australia), 1995.
The Sunken Road, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, Australia), 1996.
The Fallout, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, Australia), 1997.
Straight, Bent, and Barbara Vine: Short Stories, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, Australia), 1997.
(Editor) Below the Waterline: 31 Australian Writers Choose Their Best Short Stories, HarperCollins (Pymble, Australia), 1999.
The Dragonman, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, Australia), 1999, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Past the Headlands, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, Australia), 2001.
Kittyhawk Down, Allen & Unwin, (Crow's Nest, Australia), 2003, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Snapshot, Allen & Unwin, (Crow's Nest, Australia), 2005, Soho Crime (New York, NY), 2006.
Total War: The Home Front, 1939–1945, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1983.
Writing Fiction: An Introduction to the Craft, Penguin Australia (Ringwood, Australia), 1983, revised and expanded edition, Allen & Unwin (Crow's Nest, Australia), 2001.
Australia Then and Now, Oxford University Press (Melbourne, Australia), 1987.
(Editor) The Man Who Played Spoons (anthology), Penguin Australia (Ringwood, Australia), 1987.
(Editor) Personal Best (anthology), Collins, 1989.
Writing Professionally: The freelancer's Guide to Writing and Marketing, Allen & Unwin (Sydney, Australia), 1989.
(Editor) Personal Best 2: Stories and Statements by Australian Writers, Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, Australia), 1991.
Contributor to How to Write Crime, edited by Marele Day, 1996.
SIDELIGHTS: Garry Disher is an Australian author of fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. Writing on topics as diverse as early Australian history, the impact of World War II on Australians, and the craft of writing, Disher has also written popular crime novels for adults featuring the hard-boiled detective Wyatt. Praised by critics for his award-winning juvenile fiction, Disher's young adult novels frequently feature teenage protagonists, often alienated from family and friends, who begin the transition to adulthood by overcoming obstacles such as war, economic depression, and death. "He's a fine writer," claimed Australian Book Review contributor Peter Nicholls, "no question about it, and his work has certainly been critically undervalued."
Disher impressed many readers and reviewers with his first novel for children. Set in Depression-era Australia, The Bamboo Flute tells of twelve-year-old Paul's longing to bring back the music and happiness that have been missing from his family's life since money troubles forced them to sell his mother's piano. When Paul meets Eric the Red, a drifter he finds camping on the family's ranch, the man's musical talent leads Paul to befriend him even though his parents have warned him to stay away from "swagmen." Eric teaches the boy how to carve and play his own bamboo flute, and Paul's music allows him to make connections with classmates and his parents, particularly his father, who shares with his son his own artistic expressions.
"From its exquisite opening line … to the moving finale, this elegantly delineated tale never strikes a false note," wrote a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Disher is "a gifted writer," the critic continued, and his novel "is symphonic in its composition and layering of tones." A Kirkus Reviews writer also had praise for Disher's "spare, lyrical prose," which captures "a mood or the nuances of his character's perceptions with wonderful subtlety." Similarly remarking on the characterization of the book, Gerry Larson noted in the School Library Journal that "Paul's artistic sensitivity is underscored by the vivid, sensory details of his first-person narrative." As Nancy Vasilakis concluded in her Horn Book review: "The spare, subdued language in this introspective novel and the subtle development of character create an aura that lingers long after the last page."
The Bamboo Flute, Disher once commented, "grew out of a heartache in my father's childhood. How do I account for the book's power to move readers? I wrote it from the heart. I am reminded of Colette's classic advice: 'Look long and hard at the things that please you, even longer and harder at what causes you pain.'"
Set a few years after The Bamboo Flute, Disher's 1998 novel, The Divine Wind, tells the story of two teenagers whose lives are altered by the Second World War. Born to an owner of a fleet of pearl-fishing ships, Hartley Penrose finds his relationship with Mitsy Sennosuke, a Japanese-Australian, difficult after the outbreak of the war. With reports of Japanese atrocities in the Pacific, Hartley's feelings for Mitsy change, particularly after his sister, who enlisted in the military, is reported missing in action. Mitsy herself is no stranger to tragedy as she loses her father, Zeke, who drowned while successfully rescuing Hartley from the same fate. Plagued by the guilt over Zeke's death and his unjustified ill-treatment of Mitsy, Hartley learns to separate his true feelings from the anti-Japanese sentiment of the townspeople and helps Mitsy and her family find refuge. Hartley "is an exceptionally well-drawn character, real in flaws," wrote Magpies reviewer Helen Purdie. Purdie went on to call The Divine Wind "a mature and exciting piece of work that is highly recommended." Adèle Geras, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, had high praise for the "wonderfully moving, exact and economical retelling of an unusual love story," going on to claim that "this is one of the best books I read in 1999, and Disher is someone to watch out for."
In Ratface, Disher tackles the theme of white supremacy as young Max and Christina realize that they were never orphaned by their biological parents but rather kidnapped by members of a racist cult. Raised by kind but rather clueless parents, Max and Christina begin wondering about their true origins after a newspaper reporter begins poking around their remote mountain farm, asking questions about their leader. After another obviously abducted child, Stefan, joins the White League compound, Max and Christina realize that they must try to escape, hoping to reunite the new boy with his original family and perhaps find their own as well. Pursued by a cult member the children have nicknamed Ratface, the trio manage in the end not to escape but instead convince their adoptive parents of the White League's evils. While reviewers were not as enthusiastic with this novel as others by Disher, School Library Journal reviewer Joel Shoemaker suggested that young adult readers might be willing to overlook the book's flaws in favor of its "generally dark mood and quick moving, if unrealistic, action." Describing the book as a "thrilling, chilling ride," a contributor to Kirkus Reviews found Ratface "a fast and exciting book that also raises some serious questions, although it provides no answers."
In addition to his novels for young adults, Disher has also written several children's picture books, including Switch Cat. The young narrator of the story, a tomboy, owns a sleek, black cat named Evangelina, who would much rather spend time with the dainty and proper next-door neighbor, Cecilia. Fortunately, Cecilia's cat, Ms. Whiz, would much rather spend her days with Switch Cat's rough and tumble narrator. The arrangement works well until Cecilia's family packs up and moves away, leaving all four creatures at a loss. However, the scruffy Ms. Whiz takes matters into her own paws, working out a solution to fit both girls. "A sure-fire selection for anyone who has ever been owned by a cat," suggested Joy Fleishhacker in the School Library Journal. "Disher's verse … has a natty, asymmetrical allure," remarked a critic in Publishers Weekly, "that makes for a jaunty read aloud."
Disher's novels for adults include the Wyatt crime series as well as the Inspector Challis crime series, which were the first of his crime novels to be published in the United States and which begin with The Dragon Man, Kittyhawk Down, and Snapshot. In The Dragon Man, an "intelligent, atmospheric police procedural," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, young women have been found dead along the Old Peninsula Highway, apparent victims of a serial killer. The "dragon man" of the title is Challis himself, who has earned the sobriquet because of his obsession with restoring his vintage airplane, a Dragon Rapide. Part of the book's appeal, according to the Publishers Weekly reviewer, are Challis's "complex and morally ambiguous" coworkers, who suffer various maladaptions, from mental instability to sexual addictions, as they attempt to track down the serial killer after he sends a letter to a local reporter outlining details of the case and promising more victims. The case proceeds slowly, which allows plenty of time for subplots, some of which include arson and drugs. Rex E. Klett, writing in the Library Journal, offered positive comments about Disher's "solid prose" and "fascinating subplots."
In reviewing Kittyhawk Down, Booklist critic David Pitt compared Disher's procedurals favorably to those of Ian Rankin and appreciated their sunny Australian setting. In Kittyhawk Down, a dead body washes up on shore and speculation quickly gathers that the town may be dealing with a serial killer. Rapists, drug traffickers, and death threats against local photographer Kitty Casement, who attracts Challis's eye—despite his romance with the editor of the local newspaper—round out the plot. The book offers a "plethora of felonies and misdemeanors," with "terrific characters and believable cases against a unique backdrop," according to a writer for Kirkus Reviews. Even the Meddler, the death-threatening, letter-writing criminal who is after Kitty, "come[s] across as three-dimensional," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.
Like the previous Inspector Challis novels, Snapshot is set in the Southern Australian coastal town of Waterloo, near Melbourne, on the Mornington Peninsula. Challis once again is the man who works hard at his job and does his best to overlook the grinding routine of it all. Both Challis, whose wife has died in jail after having been convicted of trying to kill him, and his partner, Ellen Destry, have made messes of their personal lives, and they sink themselves deeper into work in order to forget their own problems. The story "starts with sleaze and swiftly moves to murder" wrote Jeff Glorfeld in the Age. Rather than concentrating on shock and gore, however, Disher prefers to build suspense slowly and steadily through a number of characters suffering from low-grade annoyances in life, which "builds almost imperceptibly to a heightened pitch and to a satisfying payoff," Glorfeld concluded.
Disher once commented: "I grew up on my father's farm in Australia. Isolation from other children—and a love of books and family storytelling—encouraged in me a strong desire to become a writer. I first sought commercial publication (of literary magazine stories) whilst a student, but I did not fully understand or appreciate the craft of writing until I was awarded a creative writing fellowship to Stanford University in the United States in 1978. For the next decade I taught creative writing part-time in order to support my writing career, producing novels, story collections, writers' handbooks, anthologies, and history textbooks. I have been a full-time writer for several years now, writing 'literary' fiction and crime novels (both influenced by my love of contemporary North American and Canadian fiction), together with a range of books for children. I write to express, not impress; I write to entertain, please myself, and make the best thing I can make, not instruct or change the world."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Age, November 26, 2005, Jeff Glorfeld, review of Snapshot.
Australian Book Review, May, 2000, Peter Nicholls, "A Well-Made Cake," p. 56.
Booklist, April 15, 1993, Elliott Swanson, review of Kick Back, p. 1496; September 1, 1993, Kay Weisman, review of The Bamboo Flute, p. 60; November 1, 1994, Anne O'Malley, review of Ratface, p. 491; March 15, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Switch Cat, p. 1334; May 1, 2005, David Pitt, review of Kittyhawk Down, p. 1519.
Horn Book, January-February, 1994, Nancy Vasilakis, review of The Bamboo Flute, p. 69.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1993, review of The Bamboo Flute, p. 932; November 15, 1994, review of Ratface, p. 1527; May 1, 2004, review of The Dragon Man, p. 423; June 1, 2005, review of Kittyhawk Down, p. 612.
Kliatt, September, 2004, Claire Rosser, a review of The Divine Wind, p. 19.
Library Journal, May 1, 2004, Rex E. Klett, review of The Dragon Man, p. 143.
Magpies, September, 1995, Michael Gregg, review of Blame the Wind, p. 35; September, 1996, Jo Goodman, review of Walk Twenty, Run Twenty, p. 31; September, 1998, Helen Purdie, review of The Divine Wind, p. 36.
Publishers Weekly, June 28, 1993, review of The Bamboo Flute, p. 79; September 19, 1994, review of Ratface, p. 72; January 23, 1995, review of Switch Cat, p. 69; June 28, 2004, review of The Dragon Man, p. 34; April 25, 2005, review of Kittyhawk Down, p. 42.
School Librarian, spring, 1999, Tony O'Sullivan, review of The Apostle Bird, p. 44.
School Library Journal, September, 1993, Gerry Larson, review of The Bamboo Flute, p. 229; December, 1994, Joel Shoemaker, review of Ratface, p. 108; March, 1995, Joy Fleishhacker, review of Switch Cat, p. 179.
Times Literary Supplement, January 21, 2000, Adèle Geras, review of The Divine Wind, p. 23.