One day I swear I will get to the Sydney Writers’ Festival – properly, I mean. I have been to one session once, but that barely counts. Late May, though, tends to be one of my busiest times of the year, so the years pass and I don’t get to the Festival. I do, though, try to follow it a bit, and so today I thought I’d pass on a few, very idiosyncratic things, that I’ve picked up around the traps.
Discovering new writers
Festivals are great for discovering new writers. Although I watched Q&A last week and enjoyed the panel discussion with several writers from the Festival, my festival experience really started on Thursday with Michael Cathcart’s live interview with South African writer Lauren Beukes (broadcast on Books and Arts Daily on Radio National). Not being a big reader of psychological thrillers, I hadn’t heard of her before and wasn’t really sure I’d be interested in the interview but I would have been sorry to have missed this. Cathcart asked some pointed questions, including the implications of writing in detail about violent acts against women. Beukes, though, was up to the challenge. She spoke of how the real victims of violent crimes tend to be just names, that we don’t hear their stories, that we are never encouraged to think about the sort of deaths they faced – the terror, the pain, they go through before they die. She wrote her latest novel The shining girls from the girls’ points of view because she wanted us to know them, to empathise with them, though she recognised that titillation is also always there in the genre. She also set this novel in Chicago, not South Africa where rape and violence against women are rife, because she wanted to make it clear that there’s violence and corruption everywhere, not just South Africa.
Beukes believes that fiction has a social function. She writes, she said, because there are things we need to talk about. She doesn’t write to lecture, to specifically change people’s minds, but to encourage discussion.
For more interviews with writers from the Festival, do check out Radio National, particularly Books and Arts Daily’s page.
An important part of my Festival experience in recent years is reading John’s reports on his Musings of a Literary Dilettante blog. To date, John has written three posts on the Festival. The first was on a session called The Uncommon Reader, a panel discussion with critics James Wood, Geordie Williamson and Jane Gleeson-White, chaired by Tegan Bennett Daylight. In the session these critics named the books that they go to again and again. John’s post is interesting for this alone. Don’t all we readers love to know what books other readers love?
John’s second post was on book design. If you are interested in this topic, do read his post. He reports on what several designers had to say, including Text Publishing‘s award-winning designer, WH Chong. If you read Australian published books you are sure to have seen some Chong covers. John’s post resulted in a discussion (in the comments section) regarding design in the e-book world and the commercial function of design.
John’s third post is a moving tribute to Gillian Mears, author of Foal’s bread (my review), who, many of you will know, suffers from MS and needs to manage her energy carefully. It’s therefore a real treat to see her in public forums. John’s post provides a lovely insight into Mears now – the struggles she’s facing, the things that still interest and concern her, her love of nature and the outdoors, her change of mind concerning euthanasia, and, despite it all, her sense of humour.
Flying high … on poetry, stories and creativity*
This year, I also read another blogger’s reports, Jonathan of Me Fail? I Fly. Jonathan went to two days of the festival. In his first post Jonathan describes a few events, starting with the launch of four chapbooks of poetry by the poets, David Malouf, Robert Adamson, Martin Harrison and Adam Aitken. I loved Jonathan’s comment that “The mutual respect and affection among the five people [including poet Luke Davies who launched the books] on the dais was something wonderful: completely the opposite of the internecine strife for which poets are supposedly famous”. Jonathan then went to another poetry event, Harbour City Poets, at which five poets, Margaret Bradstock, , David Musgrave, Louise Wakeling and Les Wicks, read. His post concludes on two more events that day: Robert Green on Creativity and Stories Then and Now. This post gave me a good sense of how busy attending festivals can be – particularly since Jonathan had to rush home in the middle to feed his dog!
On his second day at the festival, Jonathan attended two events: Writers who blog with Mark Forsyth, , Lorraine Elliott and Angela Meyer, and Beyond Climate Denial on a Neoliberal Planet with Jeff Sparrow, Robert Manne and others. I was of course most interested in his report of the blogging session. Jonathan says he managed to ask the first question at the end of the session:
I asked about difficulties with comments. Mark had a ready, sensible answer: ‘Don’t start an argument on the Internet.’ Tara took the microphone: ‘My advice is, Start arguments on the Internet.’ They were both right, of course. I liked Tara’s final note: ‘When you do get into an argument, don’t say anything you wouldn’t want to see quoted in the newspaper.’
Love it … don’t you?
The Guardian doesn’t like Sydney’s rain
Yesterday’s Guardian (UK) online has an article titled “Ten thoughts to take from the Sydney Writers’ Festival”. The article is more entertaining than usefully edifying, but I did love “Five: on euphemisms” regarding “the sorts of euphemisms reviewers use to disguise their negative thoughts on books”. James Ley said that “‘Interesting’ is a usefully neutral term”, and Susan Wyndham suggested that “ambitious” is helpful, saying that “you don’t necessarily have to say whether the work achieved those ambitions or not”! I have two somewhat contradictory questions to ask you regarding this. Should reviewers disguise their negative thoughts? And, what euphemisms do you use? I must say that I try very hard not to use “interesting”!
But, what really made me laugh was the Guardian‘s parenthetical eleventh thought that “Sydney doesn’t do rain well. Know that you will not be able to buy an umbrella at the festival, anywhere, ever.” The Guardian people clearly aren’t used to a country where drought is common! It wasn’t until we travelled to Japan that we discovered there are countries which sell umbrellas everywhere.