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Perth Writers Festival #3: Fiction discussion at its finest

To begin with, I was drawn to the writers in the session entitled ‘Reverberations from the past’ more than the topic. Natasha Lester is a friend of mine, whose beautifully crafted book, What is Left Over, After, won the TAG Hungerford in 2009, and I’ve read and heard so much about Gail Jones’ and Jon Bauer’s books that makes me want to pick them up as soon as I can. During the session, all three writers breathed fresh life into the over-analysed theme, and every audience member appeared captivated by their eloquence and their ideas. Gail Jones spoke about how other writers, including Virginia Woolf in ‘Sketches of the Past’ addressed the issue; Natasha Lester told us about the wonder tales of the French court in the 14th century and how she used them in her novel; then Jon Bauer read a piece he had written for the event, which was filled with soundbites, such as ‘The past is not a foreign country, nor is it the past. It is you, now.’ In the following discussion they each spoke of how their own experience had found different routes and resonances in their writing. Jon Bauer had used some personal challenges of his childhood; Gail Jones’ drew on the story her great-grandfather, who committed suicide in a Kalgoorlie hotel; while Natasha recently reached out to others in a creative non-fiction piece about her experiences of her daughter’s hip dysplasia (published in the WA journal Indigo). They all discussed how they looked for the subtle but resonant aspects of experience that might be used in storytelling to convey authentic feeling and reflection to greatest effect, whether representing grief in the landscape or manifesting in a character’s physical appearance.

Finally, Jon Bauer answered one audience member’s question in a way well worth noting. When asked about how to move a piece of writing forward, he said he wanted to respect the fact the writer was lost and struggling, as we all are at times in writing, and therefore he wouldn’t answer the question in order to empower the gentleman to find his own way through. Such an eloquent way of encouraging a writer to keep reaching for their own authentic, unique voice.

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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.