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Perth Writers Festival #1: Going… going…

I’ve attended the Perth Writers Festival every year since I arrived in WA back in 2004, and I always seem to forget just how damn inspiring it is – that is, until I’m back in the auditoriums, listening to beautiful, radical, compelling and disturbing ideas, whereupon it all comes rushing back to me. Last year I was caught up with the fact that I had events of my own to participate in – a particularly daunting affair as they were my first public speaking engagements as a ‘published novelist’. Therefore, this weekend it was lovely to sit among the audience and try to take in as much as possible by osmosis – as well as scribbling quotes and thoughts in my notebook too.

I was particularly interested in sessions concerning the natural world. I have found myself becoming increasingly drawn to and protective of untouched landscapes, and I’m fascinated and terrified by the commentary of some front-line thinkers and researchers on the state of the planet. In a session on landscape, Annie Proulx talked about how her surroundings inspire her, saying, ‘there’s something about striding out and looking at far distances that sets the mind on fire’, while Tim Flannery gave the best description of climate change I have ever heard, and I think most others agreed, as he got a major round of applause in the packed Octagon Theatre. In essence he explained that the earth goes through a predictable 100,000-year warming/cooling cycle, but what is happening now is a warming spike caused by man rather than the normal pattern of nature. As a result, the seas are predicted to rise one metre in the next ninety years. If they rise just half of that, then we can expect to see major events such as flooding, which have so far occurred approximately every hundred years, happening every month or up to ten times a month. I repeat: ten times a month. If that isn’t an impetus to look carefully at what we are doing at all levels from superstructure to personal, I don’t know what is.

Later in the day I listened to Tim again, this time with Dorothy Rowe, someone I’ve always admired for her ability to examine and explain the more difficult and disturbing sides of human nature. Her latest book, Why We Lie, looks at why we hide from unpalatable truths, such as the scale of climate change we could be facing. She was marvellous to listen to, and I was very moved by her comment on mourning and grief being the great themes of human literature. ‘If you love other people you will suffer loss. And if you want to avoid loss you will be lonely. To be a human being is to choose between these two.’ It could have been demoralising, but these speakers all talked with open minds, passion, and a brilliant sense of humour, and what came across most in the sessions is that while we can be ambushed by our fears and our feelings of helplessness in the magnitude of the problems we’re faced with, the irrepressible spirit of Hope keeps on finding a way through.

I’ll be writing more about the diverse range of PWF events later in the week, but tomorrow I am delighted to welcome Nicole Alexander, who visits my blog to talk about her new book, A Changing Land.

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The Reading Revolution

I am currently reading one of the longest, most talked about books of last year on my smallest new device. Jonathan Frantzen’s Freedom is over two thousand pages long on my iPhone, and it is the first book I have ever downloaded to it. The writing is way too small, and with a wayward swish of the finger I sometimes find myself back on the title page. However, over the last few weeks it has been easy to snatch reading time on car journeys, while waiting in queues for changing rooms, and in the darkness of an aeroplane with a sleeping toddler lying across my lap. And when we all shared a hotel room, hubby and child could go to sleep, and I could still carry on reading in the dark. Hurray!

Since I always want more time to read, it has been great to have such a flexible and portable way of accessing a book. But the rise of the e-book has brought with it some very serious concerns. Bookstores are struggling to maintain a viable market share; publishers are worried about maintaining control of rights; and authors are concerned about impacts on sales and royalty rates. Meanwhile, what is happening to the art of reading itself? Because that cold, hard little phone screen doesn’t encourage me to savour each word in the same way a softly turning page might give me pause. With an e-book you no longer hold a complete work in your hands (does this make the story itself less tangible?). Instead, you can simply switch your book off – or, when you are in the middle of a particularly moving passage, a message pops up over the top reminding you that your battery is dying.  

No, I might venture into e-books now and again, but I desperately need their printed older brothers and sisters to survive too. Let’s hope they can eventually be friends and work together.

Watching the King’s Speech last week served as a great reminder of how quickly things change. All those nervous comments about broadcasting being rather dangerous and distasteful seem so innocent now. And yet, back then, how long would it have taken to get word out about the terrible flooding in Queensland, and all the help needed? In fact, technology has been an incredible ally in the past week, and it’s been inspiring to watch everyone supporting each other.

I’d love to hear what other people think about the rise of e-books. In the meantime, happy reading everybody, in whatever form it takes!

To donate to the Queensland flood appeal, go to http://www.qld.gov.au/floods/donate.html, or check out some fantastic fundraising initiatives set up by writers:

Authors for Queensland: http://authorsforqueensland.wordpress.com/ Signed copies of Come Back to Me and Beneath the Shadows are on there, as well as a fantastic array of signed books, and other writing and reading related services and ideas. You can even bid to get a character named after you in upcoming novels!

Writers on Rafts – Rebecca Sparrow and the Queensland Writers Centre are putting this together, offering more chances to win an amazing host of writing/reading prizes for a small entry fee. Details to follow soon, but you can read about it now on Rebecca’s blog.

PS Look out for the lovely Natasha Lester, my very first guest blogger and author of the fabulous What is Left Over, After, who’ll be featured here next week.