I started the day by going to the very interesting session ‘Book Design: The Story from Back to Front’ which celebrated the work of the designers of the books we love, featuring Stephen Banham, Hugh Ford, Melanie Feddersen, and facilitated by Zoe Sadokierski. I’ll just pick out a couple of short points made…
I think Melanie Feddersen is my kind of book designer. She related the charming story of how, from an early age, when she bought a new book she would write in it what she did that day and why she had bought that particular book. Working as a freelance designer, Feddersen talked about her experience developing the design of a YA novel she worked on, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley. For us fiction lovers, this was particularly interesting. She explained where she got ideas from, starting with the publisher’s brief, reading the manuscript itself, and taking visual and textual clues from every part of her life. She showed examples of the early design of the book cover, how a searchlight shining on a girl’s face worked with the book’s mood and themes of teenage ‘searching’. A design was approved but then she was asked to change it! The publisher wanted something more to do with graffiti in the cover. Back to the drawing board – and she came up with the design shown in the photo to the left here – what a fantastic design(!) – working-in the graffiti can and spraying words. Brilliant! She then showed international versions of Graffiti Moon’s cover – there was such a wide range if interpretations and designs it often looked like a totally different book. It’s rare that one design is used in a different territory.
Banham, a graphic designer / typographer, talked about the way everything is changing in design of books. He explained the way he had approached a recent graphic design book not from the angle of the front-to-back cover design, but from the angle of how the design would appear as an ‘app’ on someone’s smart phone / tablet / web-site. Increasingly, readers are buying electronic copies and this sense of ‘branding’ is very important, something that can translate across electronic mediums. Font types are chosen only if they are a web font.
My second session was ‘The Sweep of Narrative’: Elliot Perlman talking about his novel The Street Sweeper, which deals with the holocaust, and race relations in America. Perlman was very engaging, telling the story of the development of the novel, which commenced with a question that needed answering. An oral history was recorded post-war Europe with Jewish survivors of the holocaust by psychologist David Boder. When he had interviewed over 100, he was heard on the voice record he was making (which had a huge historical significance of its own), saying, ‘Who is going to sit in judgement over this [holocaust]?’ There was a pause and then he said, ‘Who is going to stand in judgement over my work?’ Perlman wondered why this man should have any guilt over what he was doing / had done, and knew that the answer to that question would become the subject of his work. It took him six years to research and write, and he relayed how he hand interviewed hospital janitors, historians at Columbia University, African Americans, and students (now aged 80 or so) of Boder himself – a huge amount of work. He also met the last living survivor of the group of Jewish prisoners who were tasked under the threat of death with the horrific task of undressing the bodies of Jews gassed in Auschwitz. This man’s story became a character in the book. Wonderful anecdotes of a book that has gotten rave reviews and is on my shelf as I type!
The third session of the day was ‘Classic’ – a discussion of Australian literary classics with Kate Grenville, Thomas Keneally, (both featured in Text Publishing’s new ‘Text Classics’ range of books), as well as Geordie Williamson and Text’s Michael Heyward. First of all, full marks to Text Publishing for producing the Text Classic series http://textclassics.com.au/ , bringing back into print many books that should be read – one of which, Jessica Anderson’s The Commandant is on my TBR.
There was a lot of discussion about how some things have changed in the Australian ‘canon’ – the fact that we have one for starters – and perhaps, how some other things might still need changing. Keneally spoke about early Australian influences being Patrick White (Riders in the Chariot in particular), as well as poets Kenneth Slessor and Douglas Stewart. He wanted to continue their work, joking about ‘the arrogance of young writers is breathtaking’(!). He lamented the economic fundamentalism in publishing, how nowadays the poor editor has to not just get the book ready for publication but then get it by the corporate gatekeepers in Sales and Marketing. As for more recent classics, he pointed to one of my favourites, Peter Carey’s Illwhacker (see my review).
For Grenville, growing up, writers were ‘dead white British males’. Henry Lawson was as good as it got, though she also read Riders in the Chariot and although she was too young to understand it fully, she knew it was ‘something extraordinary’. She also loved The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower, another in the Text Classics series, as well as Keneally’s Bring Larks and Heroes – cue much communal love! She spoke about how we are so ‘prize’ focussed when all books are part of what she likened to a forest ecosystem. ‘There are giant oaks and there is moss and mushroom’, but every one is part of the system and need each other.
Following on from this wonderful analogy, and perhaps the best thing said in this session, was Geordie Williamson’s approach to thinking about the relationships between books, how the ‘density of the links is our culture’. What a great summation. He said we need to clear a cultural space around books – and gave the example of how the classic Careful He Might Hear You, by Sumner Locke Elliot, sold tens of thousands of copies in Germany, but before it won the Miles Franklin in 1963, had only sold 7 copies in Australia! There was a lot of discussion about the role of improving education both in school and university level. Geordie Williamson said that undergraduates and postgraduates are not obliged to read actual texts! But all agreed that there is a real appetite for Australian writing as show in the success of someone like Tim Winton. A good, fun session… many books added to the TBR – too many to list here! BTW: Geordie Williamson is writing a book about the Australian canon, to be published later this year, entitled The Burning Library, so stay tuned for that.
That’s it for Day 2. FYI: Radio National has SWF highlight programmes on both Saturday and Sunday at 1pm, plus additional programming across the next three days.
Join the SWF discussion on twitter @: #SWF2012.
Bring on Saturday!