As the Sparks Fly Upwards
The Age Dianne Dempsey
A review by Dianne Dempsey which appeared in The Age on Saturday 17th December 2011
AS THE SPARKS FLY UPWARDS
Sid Harta, $24.95
RICHARD Stamp was obviously deeply impressed by the outback and its people when he first came to Australia in the 1960s as part of what was known as the Anglican Bush Brotherhood.
In this, his debut novel, Stamp has written a warm fictional account of his adventures through the character of Brother Mark. A comparison with the James Herriot books is tempting. Herriot may have been notionally writing about animals but his observations of their owners were warm and affectionate. Just like the James Herriot character, Brother Mark is young, gauche and endearing as he blunders his way through the strict but often hidden codes of outback behaviour.
Locals are apt to give Brother Mark their complete and utter loyalty or declare instant war on him. On meeting, or rather bumping into, a local called Ferret, Brother Mark is greeted with a malevolent glare and the comment "Bloody parsons".
As the Sparks Fly Upwards is not without humour as Stamp milks many absurd situations. Occasionally he stretches matters a little too far, as when one of the locals hooks a runaway crook on her line during a fishing competition.
But if the slapstick doesn't always come off, Stamp is very good at inserting a homily or two into the text. Brother Mark's talk with an outback family about whether animals have souls is both touching and honest.
The lives of vets and doctors have long been fodder for storytellers but those of pastors and priests only rarely so. Stamp's entertaining description of Brother Mark's life suggests he has discovered a nice little goldmine.