Australia Network
English Bites

Print  |  Close


print friendly page for http://australianetwork.com/englishbites/stories/s1332543.htm
 
6 April 2005
 
Pulp Fiction
 
Watch today's story and find out more about pulp fiction.


MAN (Reads): "Anna Karpis had insured her beautiful legs with the Silver Star Insurance Company and now she was missing. I knew she was dead. I had a leg to prove it."

PETER McCUTCHEON: They were tacky, cheap and titillating, but never as explicit as the covers suggested.

Australian pulp fiction of the 1940s and 50s was enormously popular.

With print runs in the tens of thousands, authors were pumping out a novel a month.

AUDREY ARMITAGE, AUTHOR KT McCALL: One of the older writers at the time said to me: "Look, kiddo, just roll in the sheet of paper and start typing. That's how you do it."

DR TONI JOHNSON-WOODS, UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND: To the best of my knowledge, this is the richest in terms of numbers and authors in work and artists in work.

It's the richest time in Australian publishing history.

PETER McCUTCHEON: Dr Toni Johnson-Woods lectures in contemporary studies at the University of Queensland and has produced the first ever academic study of Australian pulp fiction.

The local industry took off in 1939, when Australia imposed a tariff that effectively banned cheap American novels.

DR TONI JOHNSON-WOODS: So suddenly a local industry needed entertaining reading and all of a sudden we had authors, we had artists who were sick of being exploited, who were sick of being ignored because of American pulps.

They were brought in.

They found employment in Australia for the first time.

AUDREY ARMITAGE: You either had to start off with a dead body or two people in bed.

PETER McCUTCHEON: Audrey Armitage wrote 30 crime novels in the 1950s with titles such as Playgirls for Keeps and The Lady's a Decoy. Under the pen name KT McCall, she was described on the back of her novels as blonde, beautiful and with brains, although the photo here is not of the author, but of a model from the June Dally-Watkins Agency.

Audrey Armitage explains her attempts to inject some credibility into these potboilers were rebuffed.

AUDREY ARMITAGE: I was hauled over the coals on one occasion for trying to make the books better than they wanted.

And the quote was: "We pay you to write rubbish and if you can't write rubbish, we'll find someone who can."

So I wrote rubbish, but I think it was better than average.

PETER McCUTCHEON: They may have little literary merit, but tens of millions of these cheap Australian novels were sold in the days before television - an extraordinary chapter in Australian publishing history when a tariff was not a dirty word.

DR TONI JOHNSON-WOODS: It was a great period of Australian protectionism and when you get into the era, it's kind of sad to have seen it gone.

AUDREY ARMITAGE: I'm glad it's all over and I'm glad that since then I've written things that were of a better quality, but I look back and I think, well, it was a couple of years well spent.


story notes

 knew
 
Knew is the past tense of the irregular verb know.
 
more information: know

 tacky, cheap and titillating
 
Here, tacky means low in quality. And cheap means low in price or quality. If something is titillating, it's exciting and a little bit shocking at the same time.

 explicit
 
Explicit means clear and detailed. The books never contained clear and detailed writing about the types of things shown on the covers.
 

 pulp fiction
 
Pulp fiction refers to cheap, disposable novels about crime. Fiction is imaginary writing. It's made up, not based on real people or facts.

 took off
 
started to succeed
 
Example: Personal computers took off in the eighties.
 
For more meaning of the phrasal verb take off, follow the link.
 
more information: take off

 imposed
 
To impose something is to force it to happen.

 tariff
 
A tariff is a tax on imported goods.

 banned
 
If something is banned, it's stopped or prevented from being made available.

 inject some credibility
 
Credibility is the ability to be believed. It's whether something is believable or not. To inject some credibility is to add some believable qualities to something.

 potboilers
 
A potboiler is another name for a pulp fiction book.

 rebuffed
 
rejected

 hauled over the coals
 
strongly criticised by the boss
 
Example: I was hauled over the coals for arriving late.

 rubbish
 
something of poor quality

 wrote
 
Wrote is the past tense of the irregular verb write.
 
more information: write

 sold
 
Here, sold is the past participle of the irregular verb sell.
 
more information: sell

 written
 
Written is the past participle of the irregular verb write.
 
more information: write