Author Archives: Bram Presser

Brooklyn double header book launch

Having a ball on this wild American ride, and to finish it off I’ll be going back to my punk DIY roots for a double header pop-up book launch with MaNishtana, thanks to the excellent people at Hevria. Come down to Luminescence268 Brooklyn Ave, Crown Heights, Brooklyn – this Sunday (Oct 28)  at 7pm and celebrate the launch of The Book of Dirt and the brilliantly titled Ariel Samson: Freelance Rabbi. It’s free, it’s got the awesome Matthue Roth doing his magical thing and it’s going to be totally great.

Chinese Edition is Here and Another Award Long Listing

Exciting arrival in the mail! I finally got my hands on the Chinese edition of The Book of Dirt. I loved the cover when I first saw it on email, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful the book itself would be. Thanks so much to my Chinese publishers Kuwei for the love they clearly put in to producing and publishing my book. I hope to make it to China some day soon!

In other awesome news, The Book of Dirt has just been long listed for The Voss Prize alongside some of Australia’s heaviest literary hitters. Big congrats to all the long listees. It’s an absolute honour to be there amongst them!

The Book of Dirt Long Listed For a Nib Award!

In a totally unexpected and exciting turn of events, The Book of Dirt was long listed for the Waverley Library Award for Literature. Fondly known as The Nib, the award was established in 2002 to recognise the role of research in fiction and non-fiction. You can read the full list and get more information about the Nib here.

Recovering from May Madness!

Well, the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards kicked off one heck of month, with May stuffed full of amazing events.

At Sydney Writers Festival, I had a blast on two panels: And The Winner Is… with Suzanne Leal, Kim Scott and Roanna Gonsalves, and New Australian Voices with Holly Ringland and Michaela Kalowski.

Back to my hometown for the inaugural Melbourne Jewish Book Week, for great times with friends old and new. I appeared on two panels: Through History’s Looking Glass with Marija Pericic, Rachel Kadish and Marie Matteson, and Other People’s Lives with Sarah Krasnostein, Heather Morris and Mark Baker. I also moderated a panel about immigrant literature called Elsewhere Streets featuring A.S. Patrić, Arnold Zable and Alice Pung. Melbourne Jewish Book Week closed with a fantastic gala evening where I performed a new piece alongside Morris Gleitzman, Maria Tumarkin, Sarah Krasnostein, Judy Horacek, Elise Hearst and Husky Gawenda.

Next, I was off to the gorgeous Clunes Booktown for a Booktown on Sundays session. Managed to sneak in a lovely feed and wonderful chat, then scribble my name on the Booktown banner alongside so many authors I admire.

Then it was back up to Sydney and the Woollahra Library at Double Bay for a special In Conversation event for Sydney Jewish Writers Festival with Michaela Kalowski. A strange confluence of events saw me whisked off straight afterwards to the ABC Studios to talk about the death of Philip Roth on Matter of Fact with Stan Grant. Good times!

Back to Melbourne for one last event: The ABC Radio National Hub On Books Great Debate, where Claire Coleman, Mark Brandi and I battled Graeme Simsion, Michelle Aung Thin and Jane Rawson over whether authors should write what they know. You can listen to the podcast here!

And that, my friends, was May. Excuse me while I collapse back into my little heap here in the corner.

The Book of Dirt Wins Big at THE NSW PREMIER’S LITERARY AWARDS

I’m so thrilled to announce that The Book of Dirt has won three prizes at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. In what was a fantastic event and a thrilling night, the novel picked up The Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, The UTS Glenda Adams Award for Best New Writing and The People’s Choice Award.

You can check it all out in The Sydney Morning Herald, The ABC and The Australian.

A massive congratulations to all the other shortlisted authors and winners, especially the magnificent Kim Scott for his extraordinary novel, Taboo, that took out two prizes including Book of the Year.

THE BOOK OF DIRT SHORTLISTED FOR THE CHRISTINA STEAD PRIZE IN THE NSW PREMIER’S LITERARY AWARDS

Absolutely thrilled to let you know that The Book of Dirt has been shortlisted for the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. And what an honour it is to be sitting alongside incredibly distinguished writers I love and admire. The full shortlist is:

Common People by Tony Birch (University of Queensland Press)
Seabirds Crying in the Harbour Dark by Catherine Cole (UWA Publishing)
Pulse Points: Stories by Jennifer Down (Text Publishing)
The Book of Dirt by Bram Presser (Text Publishing)
The Restorer by Michael Sala (Text Publishing)
Taboo by Kim Scott (Picador)

You can read the NSWPLA press release here and see the judge’s full citation for The Book of Dirt here.

The shortlisting rounds out a couple of fantastic weeks, with great events at Dymocks Camberwell Book Club and The Wheeler Centre.


Yours truly with Jodi McAlister and Heather Morris at the Dymocks Camberwell Book Club.


The Wheeler Centre Next Big Thing (Imagined Biographies) with Marija Peričić, Kelly Gardiner, some random guy, Joey Bui and Stella Charls.

No News is Lots of News

Apologies for the radio silence – I’ve been in my usual summer hibernation mode for the past month and a half. Lots to tell, though!

The Wheeler Centre just released their new program and I’m excited to be part of The Next Big Thing event on March 19. Come along to hear Marija Pericic, Kelly Gardiner and I chat with Stella Charls about the strange ways fact and fiction collide in our writing. Check out the details and book your free tickets here!

The Australian Book Review ran a feature where publishers picked their favourite books of 2017 that weren’t published by them, and I was humbled to see Barry Scott from Transit Lounge choose The Book of Dirt. Transit Lounge publish so many books and authors that I admire, so it was a real thrill to round out a great year. Check out the feature here.

I also did a great fun interview with Jennifer Wong on ABC Radio National‘s new arts show, The Hub. For once I wasn’t crapping on about my book, but about a book I love and collect obsessively (I have 18 different editions). Put it in your ears here!

Another thoughtful (and rather wonderful) review came courtesy of The Wayward Girls Book Club, which you can check out here.

And, last but not least, I uploaded the original Prologue to The Book of Dirt for anyone who likes absurd, meta playfulness with their heavy meditations on memory and storytelling. Have a read (and a laugh) over here!

Other than that it’s been a quiet one. Ah… summer in Melbourne. Bliss.

Discarded Scraps Vol. 1: Original Meta Prologue

In its initial incarnation, The Book of Dirt was to be presented as a “found manuscript”. The structure would take the form of Talmudic pages, with a central narrative and surrounding commentaries. I’ll be posting a sample page soon, but in the meantime, here’s the original prologue. It’s kind of embarrassing and overdone in parts, and it’s pretty long, but hey, it’s also kind of fun. So here goes:

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER ON THE SECOND EDITION OF PRESSER’S “THE BOOK OF DIRT”

I first discovered The Book of Dirt while on holiday in the Czech Republic. A colleague had given me a list of her favourite Prague bookstores, literary oases far removed from the throng of tourists that infest the more popular historical sites, and told me that I was to visit any one of them whenever I needed an escape. There are many things to love about these stores, she said, not the least of which is the vast selection of novels by Czech authors that are published by small independent houses and that never find their way to the outside world. She then joked about the tax deductibility of the trip should I happen to acquire one of these works for publication.

The morning I arrived, I headed straight to The Globe, a strange yet inviting amalgam of bookstore, restaurant and internet café, a hub for backpackers and booklovers alike. The place was mostly empty, but for a couple of college kids who were frantically typing emails before their allotted time expired, an elderly couple eating a very American looking brunch and a rather dishevelled young man behind the counter. I asked him where I might find Czech authors in English. “Kafka? Kundera? Skvorecky?” he asked, motioning to small stacks of books laid out in front of him. I said I was hoping for something other than the usual suspects. The man pointed toward the back corner.

I spent the better part of an hour trawling through the display and picked up a few novels by the likes of Capek, Viewegh, Fuchs, Kohout and Hrabal. As I headed back to the counter to pay, a wicker basket filled with dog-eared books caught my eye: “Czech Fiction Clearance Stock Only CZK5”. From what I could gather, these were all secondhand books that had done the rounds of the various youth hostels in the area until they were ready to fall apart, at which point some enterprising young backpacker brought them in and sold them for whatever junk change the owner was willing to shell out. At the bottom of the pile lay The Book of Dirt.

I don’t know what made me choose it. The cover was drab, the author completely unknown to me. Judging by its position in the basket, nobody else had been remotely interested in buying this runt of the literary litter. But it was fairly slim, the blurb was mildly intriguing and it only cost five Czech crowns so I figured I had nothing to lose.

That afternoon, I sat down for a late lunch at Mlejnice, a small stone cavern renowned for its long waits and succulent pork knuckle special. I took The Book of Dirt from my bag and began to read it, figuring that if I was not sold within the first twenty pages I would leave it on my table as a gift to the next diner. Midway through the prologue, I knew I had found something special. I sat at Mlejnice all afternoon, ordering the odd serve of beer cheese and herring to keep the exasperated wait staff at bay, finally finishing the book over a dinner of steaming goulash and Pilsner. As I lay it on the table, I had only one thought: we had to publish this book.

Acquiring the novel was far more complicated. The author was untraceable and the publishing house didn’t seem to exist. There was no listing of Bram Presser or Vaclav’s Pony Printing at The British Library, The Library of Congress or any other of the major world cataloguing depositories. None of my European connections had heard of them either. After several months I was forced to begrudgingly accept that I was in possession of what would probably be the only English language copy of Presser’s strange little novel ever to be printed.

Long after I had given up on the idea, I received a letter postmarked Hodonín, a small city near the border of Slovakia. Its sender was a man named Borivoj Stojespal and, he wrote, he was the founder of Vaclav’s Pony Printing. Without explaining how he had heard of my attempts to acquire The Book of Dirt, he said that he was writing to me as a courtesy to let me know that the author “had dropped off the face of the earth”. They had only met once, he wrote, at a poetry reading held in London by a little known group called The Czech Counter-Realists. Stojespal was bemused by this young Australian tourist, who was obviously enamoured of early and mid-20th century Czech literature despite the fact he couldn’t speak a word of the language. At the end of the night, after most of the attendees had wandered back into the streets of Cambden, Stopejspal and Presser stayed on to finish what was left of the beer. They spoke of their grand plans; Presser had aspirations to writing, Stojespal to publishing. They made a pact that, should Presser ever write a book, Stojespal would have first right of refusal. The deal was sealed with a drunken handshake. They exchanged details on the back of two napkins and parted ways. Stojespal returned to Hodnín and thought little of his encounter until he received a package in the mail some months later containing a manuscript and a terse covering letter. Presser didn’t mince his words. As per our agreement, he wrote, here is the manuscript. I give you the exclusive right to publish it and ask for nothing in return. Like me, Stojespal was completely taken in by the book though he struggled to reconcile the words on the page with the unkempt man he had met at the reading. It was as though an old European soul had entered the body of a young Australian tramp.

Vaclav’s Pony Printing did not yet exist. On his return to Hodnin, Stojespal had simply resumed his work in the local bank, figuring that his literary dreams could wait. But The Book of Dirt changed that; it was the perfect first novel for such a venture. Unfortunately, Stojespal knew nothing of business and went about establishing his company in a completely haphazard manner. Vaclav’s Pony Printing existed in his mind from the moment he decided to fulfill his end of the deal, but he never went about the formalities of registering the company or seeking out distribution networks. It was, in essence, little more than a vanity press.

When the book arrived at his front door he was quite impressed with what he had achieved given his meager budget. He immediately sent a copy to the address Presser had written on the napkin the previous year. Less than a month later it was back in his mailbox, stamped “Return To Sender”. Numerous attempts to locate the writer came to nothing. Meanwhile, Stojespal had been trying to convince bookstores to stock the novel but he wasn’t having much luck. Without press, without an author to participate in events, without a name to attract readers, they just weren’t interested in taking the risk. The book industry was changing, they told him. It now trades on celebrity. Stojespal ended up clearing only fifty-seven copies of the two hundred that he had printed. He burnt the rest and cried while watching his short-lived literary dreams literally go up in smoke.

In closing, Stojespal wished me luck with the book. “I sincerely hope you can make something of it,” he wrote. “In that spirit I assign all my copyright interest in The Book of Dirt to your publishing house. I now ask for nothing more than to be left alone.”

Unfortunately, our first edition of Presser’s book didn’t fare a great deal better than the one from Vaclav’s Pony Printing. Although it received quite good reviews, it sold in only modest numbers, causing any planned future print runs to be abandoned.

Why then print a second edition?

The thought would never have crossed my mind had I not received an unexpected package containing a well-worn copy of the book, a fresh manuscript and what amounted to the greatest mea culpa of my publishing career. “Dear Ms. H,” it began. “It is not in my nature to deal with your kind but circumstances now force me to make an exception. Some years ago you published a book I wrote. For me it was merely an act of exorcism; I sent it to the most obscure publisher I could think of in the hope that it would disappear. I didn’t want its ghosts to continue to haunt me. Much to my dismay, the novel seems to have gained minor traction, if only in that a more reputable publisher saw fit to release it to a wider audience. Thankfully, it was a commercial failure. I could not possibly have lived with myself had it been different for soon after its release I learned that most of what I had written was wrong. As such, I enclose a revised manuscript in which you will find a number of amendments accompanied by commentary and correspondence. Should you wish to print them side by side, I think you will find a significantly different Book of Dirt to the one you first published. Whether you do is a different question altogether. It is for you to decide whether a phoenix can rise from the ashes of a stillbirth.” The letter was signed Bram Presser. Again, he didn’t include any contact details.

As I read over the manuscript it was like discovering the novel anew. Only this time, with the benefit of the added material, I could no longer tell whether it was a novel at all. I have included everything Presser sent in this edition and leave it to you, the reader, to make up you own mind.