As I said, I’ll be blogging for the Melbourne Writers Festival. Indeed, I’m planning to blog about every day of MWF festivities in which I partake. With two days down, and many more to go, I haven’t seen heaps, but I’ve made a good start. Things are just getting warmed up.
So first off: Friday, Day One!
I went along to The Morning Fix at Feddish. I got there a little late, and missed Joe Bageant and Jon Bauer, but arrived just in time to see Benjamin Law, then Benjamin Law’s mum, and then Benjamin Law reading this story to a room of mostly old folks. Nothing like cockroach massacre and casual cursing with your morning coffee. Kim Cheng Boey then had to follow that up with his sincere recollections and musings on memory, childhood and the father-son relationship. Estelle Tang summarises it much better than me on the official blog, which you should all be all over already.
Later that day, I went along to the launch of Above Water. 2010 sees the sixth issue of this (free!) little publication by the Uni of Melbourne Arts and Media Department. Although it started half an hour later than scheduled, and then only went for about half an hour, they managed to pack in a lot. There was some nice awarding of awards to some of the up-and-coming literary newbies at Uni of Melbourne, along with a great stack of readings from said lit-n00bs. You should head on over to the University of Melbourne campus, to Union House maybe, and hunt down one of the free copies doubtless just sitting there waiting to be snapped up. With stories of domestic tension, identity, lost marbles, mutilated mermaids and more, the collection looks pretty strong, especially for a bunch of folks only just getting started on this writing caper. I think I’ll give it a review here someday soon.
The next day, Saturday, Day Two: I busied myself with such important activities as not leaving the house, and then later I spent several hours partaking in proofreading and snacks with my Voiceworx krew. So as it was, I only got along to one session before calling it a day. But I chose well, as it was quite a spesh sesh indeed: readings and discussion from two of the Age Book of the Year winners.
In fact, only the previous night, the Age Book of the Year awards had been announced. Jennifer Maiden won the poetry prize for Pirate Rain, Kate Howarth won the non-fiction prize for Ten Hail Marys and Alex Miller’s Lovesong took the fiction prize and the Book of the Year award. Alex Miller and Kate Howarth were in attendance at this session, chaired by Jason Steger, and it was a cracking session indeed.
First, Kate Howarth spoke about her harrowing, but ultimately triumphant memoir. People have asked her, after reading her story, ‘How could you abandon your son?’. She rejected the word ‘abandon’, and tells how she was forced to leave, to come back later, to do what was best for her child in a terrible situation, in a far-too-recent time when women were essentially powerless. She read two excerpts from the end of her book, where she finally leaves her son, and then is later reunited with him years later. The emotion got to her — she’d never read that section in public before — and it was the sort of moment where it seemed almost wrong to say anything more. She may have been in awe of sharing a stage with Alex Miller, but when Jason asked Alex if he’d liked to read, he replied ‘not really, after that reading’.
Alex was compelled to instead give his own response to Kate’s story. But, eventually, he did read from his book Lovesong. I’d never seen him before or read his books (despite hearing lavish praise), but Alex Miller is a great writer to witness. At times a gently cynical, no-bullshit curmudgeon, other times a remarkably thoughtful and humble man. When he did start reading from Lovesong, he read slowly, calmly and softly. His voice had some special timbre or hidden quality that scratched past my inner ear, into my brain and rustled around comfortably somewhere in my body. I could have listened to him read all day. When he said the phrase ‘a bag of sesame biscuits’ in his reading, it was like a warm crackling aural fire. A strange, rare quality in a speaker that I notice sometimes.
After his reading, the trio discussed a wide variety of subjects. Kate spoke of the joy of being published and thus realising a childhood dream; of her wonderful publishers at UQP; how she taught herself to write rather than attend creative writing classes; of the driving forces of rage and truthtelling that motivated her to write; of her hundreds of drafts and her perfectionism in writing, that she likened to unpicking a bridal gown. And how she’s planning a sequel.
Alex Miller spoke about the power of the informed imagination’s daydream, how it can spark ideas that grow into novels, which seemed to worked for both him and for Tolstoy. He said how having a child changes your life way more than any book. He spoke of how he can’t stop writing or he gets cranky, because writing for him is a kind of therapy. And he said after he’d exhausted all other options, he had to just learn and write novels. Now he can’t help it.
All in all, it was assuredly a thoroughly satisfying session, except for that one person who didn’t turn their phone off, let it ring, and then proceeded to answer it mid-session. Let me just say: WHAT.
But all in all: a great first two days. Looking forward to the rest of the fest!
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My picks for Sunday, which will quite possibly fill my next embloggenations to bursting: another Morning Fix of several of your soon-to-be-beloved writers; The Lifted Brow and friends getting up to all sorts of shenanigans in a shipping container on the riverbank; an In Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson, the ace author of The Years of Rice and Salt and the Mars Trilogy; gettin’ wordy n nerdy at A Wordsmith’s Dream; Meanjin, Overland, Going Down Swinging: Birthday Stories; and Dog’s Tales at the Toff and moooooooorrrrrre. See you at the Fest?
(2011 Post-script: I went to a lot of other great stuff at the Fest, but never got around to blogging it fresh. Wups. Sorry. Sam Cooney, however, wrote a bunch of great stuff about the Fest, which you can read via his blog, which is full of other excellent things you should also read if you read this.)