1. Marie Munkara: in conversation with Irina Dunn – A very entertaining chat. Irina had done her homework and Marie was very engaging. She also read a few sections from her award winning book Every Secret Thing. The book recently won the Northern Territory Book of the Year Award and also won the David Unaipon (the first published indigenous author and the man on the $50 Australian note) Award for unpublished indigenous authors. The story centres on the Catholic missionaries in aboriginal communities, and is laced with vibrant humour. Marie was born on a riverbank of mixed parentage. She told us how her mother had been “promised” from birth to an aboriginal man (who had multiple wives), but refused to marry her and was sent away with the newborn Marie in shame to Tiwi Islands. But Marie was separated from her mother when aged three and was raised a Catholic. Needless to say, the mission clergy don’t get an easy ride in her book! The book’s second half becomes a lot darker, tracing the demise of the aboriginal community as alcohol is introduced. Marie talked of how she was then reunited with her mother at the age of 25 – at which point she had to learn all her culture from scratch (and almost re-learn her languages too). Marie knows many aboriginals who still struggle to find their own place after being raised in the missions. Fortunately for her, and us, she has found her place, and I went straight to Gleebooks to purchase Every Secret Thing. Stay tuned for a review.
2. Peter Carey in Conversation with John Freeman (editor of Granta). It always interesting hearing Peter Carey talk – as well as read from his novels. Here he was talking of his recent work Parrot and Olivier in America. He said he had been asked many times when he was going to write an ‘American’ novel, and had one on the go which he wasn’t enjoying when the idea for True History of the Kelly Gang came to him. So he dropped the former and went with Kelly – to much success and acclaim of course, winning the Booker Prize for the second time. It was after this that he began to return to the American theme and what better theme to tackle than Democracy. The book is based on Alexis De Tocqueville’s travels to America where he wrote Democracy in America amongst two other works. Carey talked of his horror of the Bush-Chaney Presidency and noted that whilst De Tocqueville’s more affirming viewpoints on democracy are well-known in the US, he was actually quite ambivalent about democracy and saw its ills, noting his worries about the position of the President itself. Said Carey: “De Tocqueville saw [Sarah] Palin coming.”(!) There followed a discussion on the relationship between ‘free will’ & ‘free markets’, Carey seeing the ills of the capitalist machine – including its vice-like grip on government. In writing Parrot and Olivier in America, Carey said he was most concerned with getting the voice of Olivier right – the voice of an aristocratic Frenchman – but in the end he said it was a matter of class, and here he drew on his own experience of the differences between Geelong Grammar – perhaps the finest private school in the country, and certainly home to many of the Australian ‘elite’ (though I shudder to use such a term) – and his upbringing in Bacchus Marsh, an interesting insight into how an author draws on their experience, no matter how oblique, and renders their story from both memory and imagination. In the end, Carey quite enjoyed writing Olivier. (The voice of Parrot, he said, was ‘less of a stretch’.) John Freeman opened the session by stating that he thought the book Carey’s best. Well, it’s good, but it’s not that good. Illywhacker, Oscar & Lucinda, and True History are better books in my opinion, and I quite enjoyed Jack Maggs and even his first novel Bliss too. That said, Parrot and Olivier is a far better book than his recent work, so it was a welcome enjoyment. Today’s session was interesting, but it lacked something, perhaps John could have done a better job – having enjoyed Irina and Marie’s conversation (see above), this seemed slightly inferior.
3. ‘Writing Short’ – Pasha Malla & Steve Amsterdam with Mandy Sayer – a nice session with both authors reading a short story from their collected stories books and discussing with Mandy the short form – though as Pasha noted, it seems difficult to talk about the short story without talking about its big brother – the novel – too! Mandy made one of the more interesting observations when she posited that people prefer the long stories because they ‘don’t like endings’ – readers love to invest themselves in the company of characters for a time. That said, with everyone’s attention spans shortening seemingly by the day, perhaps the short story will be the preferred format (until, of course, we can’t cope with that and poetry usurps it!).
4. ‘A Wombat at My Table’ – Jackie French talking with Geoffrey Lehmann. Okay, so every now and then I like to go to something completely left-field! And one thing’s for sure, you cannot come into contact with Jackie French and not be in any doubt as to her passion for wombats. She has written stories for children, as well as her adult memoir A Year in the Valley. Geoffrey also read a lovely poem featuring wombats that was published in New Yorker. I came out knowing a lot more about something and had quite a few laughs in the process. Good fun.
I had wanted to get into ‘Still the Lucky Country’ but you have to line up pretty early for the free events, particularly on the weekend, although I had the same issue on Thursday with one session too. Oh well, you can’t get to everything. If anyone was there, let me know how you found it.
What are your SWF highlights? Let me know!
More to come tomorrow, the final day of SWF2010, including a session on Roberto Bolano which I’m quite looking forward to.