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My literary week (1), in a sense

May 22, 2016

I say “in a sense” because my reading has been slow this week as Mr Gums and I have been getting back up to speed after our Lake Eyre trip. However, in terms of the literary world, much has been happening and I thought I’d share some with you, documenting it at the same time for my own future benefit.

Gillian  Mears

I’ll start with the sad news, the death of the wonderful Australian writer, Gillian Mears, who had suffered from multiple sclerosis for over 20 years. Her disease was so debilitating that she appeared in 2011 before state (NSW) hearing on the Rights of the Terminally Ill. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted from her submission in 2013. Here is part of that submission:

Not a day goes by that I don’t wish that I were dead. It would be so much easier than living in a body beleaguered now by advanced multiple sclerosis. I’m in my 17th year of living with this disease [she was diagnosed at the age of 30] and I’ve very nearly had enough.

Gillian Mears' Foal's bread

Foals’ bread cover (Courtesy: Allen & Unwin)

I had not been aware of her condition until she won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award in 2012 for Foal’s Bread and was unable to take part in the post-announcement panel, which I attended, because she needed to conserve her energy for other commitments. I first read her (The Mint Lawn) with my reading group, and we loved it, but that was way before blogging. However, I did review Foal’s bread, which also won the Miles Franklin award, here. She was a fine writer, and this book, in particular, is one you don’t easily forget.

Her death represents a tragic sad loss for Australian literature, because it was too early – she was only 51. But, given the situation she found herself in, it was clearly for her, in the end, a release. Vale Gillian Mears.

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards

The annual NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced earlier this week, as it usually is, to coincide with the Sydney Writers Festival Week. You can read all the winners on the State Library of NSW’s site, so I’ll just share the few that are particularly relevant to my blog’s interests:

  • Christina Stead Prize for Fiction: Melinda Bobis’ Locust girl: A love song (I have reviewed her Fish-hair woman, which I loved, but for a review of this novel you can check out Lisa’s of ANZLitLovers)
  • UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing (Adams being another of our writers who died too young): Sonja Dechian’s An astronaut’s life (also longlisted for the Dobbie Literary Award)
  • Indigenous Writer’s (biennial) Prize: Bruce Pascoe’s Dark emu (which is on my radar, but has also been read by that voracious reader, Lisa! as well as by Michelle at Adventures in Biography)
  • Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction: Magda Szubanski’s Reckoning (which I really MUST read). (Interesting that poet Douglas Stewart’s name is used for the non-fiction prize. He did write some criticism and autobiography too but they’re not what he’s known for.)

There are also awards for Poetry, Scriptwriting, Multicultural writing, among others, but I’ll just leave it at these for today.

Sydney Writers Festival

I’d love one day to get to the Sydney Writers Festival, but its timing in May is always tricky for me, so I end up relying on ABC RN and bloggers for my fix. I’ll share just two examples for you to check out if you are interested:

  • Jonathan Shaw of Me fail, I fly has written multiple posts, one for each day, of his experience of the Festival. Start at Day 1, and work your way through from there. I have quickly scanned his posts but will be adding my comments later. Thanks as always, Jonathan, for helping me enjoy this festival vicariously.
  • ABC RN’s Books and Arts Daily program usually broadcasts – live or later on – several events from the Festival, but I’ll just share the link for their live panel session which I listened to live. The topic was to discuss the “pleasure and challenges of writing and reading in a globalised world”. The panelists were Australian comedian Magda Szubanski (author of Reckoning), Dutch author Herman Koch (whose upcoming novel is Dear Mr M), and French writer Marie Darrieussecq (whose latest novel is Men: A novel of cinema and desire). It was a fascinating discussion in which the writers teased out a range of issues. To give one example: they discussed Herman Koch’s The dinner and the idea that even where a book’s themes may seem universal – such as parental love for children – reactions/responses can vary greatly depending on the culture of the reader.

The scandalous Lady W

Joshua Reynolds painting of Lady Worsley

Joshua Reynolds [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

To end on something completely different and not entirely literary is the story of Lady Worsley (born Seymour Dorothy Fleming, 1758-1818) as told in the BBC telemovie The scandalous Lady W, which my local Jane Austen group viewed this weekend. She was apparently the inspiration for Sheridan’s play School for Scandal and was painted by Joshua Reynolds.

Lady Worsley was involved in a high profile adultery (“criminal conversation”) trial brought by her husband against her lover. However, the story was far from straightforward, her adultery being “commanded” by this very husband who turned out to be a voyeur who preferred to watch his wife have sex with others than do so himself. The inevitable happened and she eloped with one of these lovers. This is a story of women-as-property, of women-not-having-access-to-their-own-propety, and of a woman who was brave enough to stand up for herself. She didn’t win, entirely, but my, did she make her point, as the film shows. The story reminded me that although women – western ones anyhow – have more legal rights now, this idea of “you are mine” is surely behind much of the domestic violence that still occurs.

The main reason my group watched this movie was because Lady Worsley lived during Austen’s time (Austen’s dates being 1775-1817) and lived part of her life near Austen’s home. What, we wondered, did our Jane, a keen reader, know of Lady Worsley? It was the talk of the town.

31 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2016 5:08 pm

    Very sad to hear of Gillian Mears’ death the other day. Did you hear her interview with Phillip Adams a couple of years ago?

    • May 22, 2016 8:54 pm

      Thanks Ian … I’ve heard a few but I’m not sure that one as I don’t here Adams so much now I’m retired. I’ll check it out.

  2. May 22, 2016 7:00 pm

    Thanks for the mention:)
    I was actually really pleased that Locust Girl and Dark Emu won rather than some other more high profile books. I think Bobis is a really exciting writer, and Bruce Pascoe, well, his novel Earth is just brilliant and yet it’s had far too little attention. And I wouldn’t have heard of Dark Emu myself if it hadn’t been reviewed on blogs I read, (Stumbling Through the Past and The Resident Judge of Port Phillip) – there was nothing about it in the print media as far as I could tell.

    • May 22, 2016 8:57 pm

      Yes, I think Bobis is great too, Lisa. My daughter has an earlier book of hers – before the one I reviewed – having had her as a guest lecturer at the ANU. She was really impressed too. As for Dark Emu I have put it on my reading group’s list of possibilities. With its winning this award, I might get it over the line!

  3. May 22, 2016 7:55 pm

    A useful and interesting post, thanks WG. I’m pleased about Dark Emu being on the award list too. I also blogged about it and, to my constant surprise, that post consistently collects the most hits. As Lisa says, there was little or nothing about it in the print media.

  4. May 23, 2016 2:42 am

    I can’t imagine how it felt to be just 30 and be diagnosed with a condition that you know is so debilitating. It’s astonishing she had the courage to continue writing.

  5. May 23, 2016 6:43 am

    I’m really interested in your literary week format! How often do you write these types of posts and what type of places do you source information from? If you’d prefer to send an email to discuss, that works for me. Thank you for sharing!

    • May 23, 2016 8:32 am

      This is not some thing I do regularly, Benja – welcome to blogging btw – but I’ve seen others do it. You can make of it whatever you like. Use regular subheadings, eg New releases, Award news, Meet an author, Favourite blog posts (from other bloggers). Or just share news relevant to that week using headings or a more straight prose format. Challenge is finding the news! But it’s not too hard if you cast your net widely.

    • May 23, 2016 8:40 am

      I don’t think I fully answered Benja, your question re where to get the information. Other blogs are a good source, but it is always good to acknowledge them if they point you somewhere. Publishers often have mailing lists that you can subscribe to, as do festivals, literary organisations, and so on. You can subscribe to too many but you learn from experience. And then of course there’s various news sources.

  6. May 23, 2016 9:32 am

    I will miss GMs luminous writing. Regarding the SWF (Friday and Saturday), I didn’t attend however some of friends did and they walked out of three sessions half way through and were disappointed in others. Their complaints – lack of presentation skills, authors reading direct from notes with barely any audience eye contact, rambling panel sessions that suggested there had been limited preparation and boring content. The highlight appears to have been Bob Brown, who by all accounts has the ability to turn anyone into a ‘greener’ thinker. It would be interesting to know if other attendees were disappointed in the SWF. My five 40-50 year old business women friends said they wouldn’t be attending next year.

    • May 23, 2016 10:03 am

      I attended it but stayed away from mainstay speakers. The Korean woman who escaped from North Korea, Nelson Mandela’s assistant , Zelda la Grange from New York were excellent and not a dry eye in the house for two of them. The Australian speakers were the ones who read from notes and seemed less prepared but having attended professional events over the years I often found Australian speakers were poorer public speakers than those from other countries. In America where I went to school I was taught public speaking at many levels and I fins Americaan presenters on the whole are good but I have been complaining about public speaking skills of Australians for 25 years. I wonder if that awareness of this lack of skills has ever crossed the minds of educators. I enjoyed my time at SWF though I did see people walk out of the sessions by a couple of poorer Aussie speakers.

      • May 23, 2016 10:45 am

        Interesting. Debating was the only avenue for perfecting public speaking when I was at school in Sydney. When my first novel was published I did a crash course in public speaking but I’ve been involved on and off in the theatre as well which does help on so many levels when it comes to addressing an audience. Like you, I wonder about Australian educators, but I also feel the presenter has to take responsibility for ensuring their audience is engaged.

        • May 23, 2016 11:43 am

          Yes, I 0:30:00did debating too Nicole, but I needed to be First Speaker, if l could! I was always nervous about the more off-the-cuff roles, which is why I suppose I tend to cut people quite a lot of slack. My son who teaches 5th grade has introduced debating to his class this year. I was really pleased to hear it.

      • May 23, 2016 11:34 am

        Thanks for that insight Pam. Mr Gums and I certainly noticed the greater emphasis on speaking in the US when our kids went to school there. I wonder if it’s our anti-tall-poppies ethic that discourages focussing on public speaking in our schools. Sounds like your session-selection approach is a good one.

        I must say, though, that I feel sorry for writers. Many chose writing because that’s their skill – NOT speaking. As long as what they say is interesting I tend to accept poor presentation. Of course it’s wonderful when writers can speak, isn’t it?

    • May 23, 2016 11:17 am

      Yes, I will too, Nicole. Re SWF, I wonder if they went to the same sessions as Jonathan? I have a Fiend who went on Thursday and Friday. I’ll be talking to her about it this week. A shame for your friends.

  7. May 23, 2016 9:55 am

    Our play reading group read School for Scandal and had a great time. I too was sad to hear of Gillian Mear’s death. I have MS but only suffer from the fatigue so need regular rest days. I attended the Sydney Writers Festival and plan to do another post about it but am recovering now from such a busy week. But my philosophy is better late than never. I did find it fascinating and the speakers were so interesting.

    • May 23, 2016 11:21 am

      Thanks Pam. I have a friend who was diagnosed in her early 30s, back in the 1980s. Her experience is more like yours. I’ve learnt that it’s a highly variable condition. I shall look for your SWF reports. I agree. Once it’s passed, you can write about it when you like,

  8. May 23, 2016 11:55 am

    Your mention of Lady Worsley reminds me of a novel I recently read called Margaret The First, a sparkling and imaginative historical biography of the eccentric but gifted Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, by Danielle Dutton.

    • May 23, 2016 1:08 pm

      Thanks Anne. I looked it up. A 17th century woman. She sounds fascinating. I love how many stories there are still out there to tell – from real life – as well as those authors can imagine. These real life ones – particularly of strong women – show how narrow our school history often was don’t they. (Not that I can imagine ever being told about Lady W at school!)

  9. May 23, 2016 6:55 pm

    You have inspired me to get my act together to write my own SWF post as I went to a number of events. Peter Frankopan and Jean-Christophe Rufin both convinced me to buy their books.
    Magda was fabulous and Alice Pung also convinced me I really should read one of her books soon! My disappointments were Gloria Steinem and Ann Goldstein – but perhaps I was expecting too much from them.

    My two teenage booklets have done a lot of speaking for class assessments over the course of their schooling. A lot more than I ever did. One embraced it and one loathes it.

    • ian darling permalink
      May 23, 2016 7:33 pm

      Sorry to hear about the death of Gillian Mears. That event about reading in a globalised world sounds very interesting. Also the film about Lady Worsley – I suppose their modern equivalents might be able to put out a legal injunction to stop it being the talk of the town!

      • May 23, 2016 8:44 pm

        You didn’t see Lady Worsley then, Ian? I believe it was broadcast on BBC2 last year. Modern equivalents could try to get a legal injunction these days but I’m not sure they’d get away with it. The story would be way too juicy – even now!

    • May 23, 2016 8:32 pm

      Why are we waiting? LOL, Brona. I’ve read Pung’s two books, one before blogging, and enjoyed them though I liked the second one, Her father’s daughter better because I felt she was more mature in outlook regarding her parents. That’s a shame about Gloria Steinem. I was really sorry to miss her.

      I understand re your “booklets”! There is an element of personality I’m sure in the skill don’t you think. But you’re right, I think they are trying to include more speaking in the curriculum now (from what I’ve seen and heard).

      • May 23, 2016 9:28 pm

        I think I had very high expectations for Gloria, so it was more about not living up to expectations.

        And it’s Pung’s father memoir that interests me the most. So thanks 🙂

        • May 23, 2016 9:35 pm

          Yes, I would have had high expectations too. She is in her 80s now, which I find amazing.

  10. May 26, 2016 6:50 am

    So sad about Mears, so young! Lady W sounds like an intriguing person. You do have to wonder what Austen knew and thought about her. I don;t supposed she ever gossiped about Lady W in any of her letters?

    • May 26, 2016 8:28 am

      No I don’t think she did, Stefanie. The actual court case was when she was in her teens and before the letters – unfortunately – otherwise I suspect she would have.

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