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SWF LogoMy favourite week of the (literary) year has arrived, with the Sydney Writers’ Festival rolling into town. The program is online at swf.org.au. As usual, it’s a case of wall-to-wall sessions for me later this week and into the weekend, but I’m easing myself into things with a one-off session at the University of New South Wales today featuring Evie Wyld, winner of last year’s Miles Franklin Award for All the birds, singing (my review here).

Authors I’m seeing later include: Brooke Davis, author of Lost and Found (my review here); Zia Haider Rahman, author of the acclaimed In the Light of What We Know, which I’m reading now and quite enjoying; Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk, which I read earlier in the year and thought absolutely fabulous (I miss Mabel!); Don Watson, The Bush, another read from earlier in the year, and another stand out non fiction title from last year; Aussies Steven Carroll & John Marsden talking about creating historical fiction alongside Amy Bloom; another Aussie in Terry Hayes talking about his epic (and fabulous) thriller I Am Pilgrim; David Mitchell, discussing his genre bending The Bone Clocks (my review here), and in another session with James Bradley and others talking about dystopian futures; Ben Okri, talking about The Age of Magic; Brooke Davis (again!) and Steve Toltz (A Fraction of the Whole; Quicksand) on sentimentality in fiction; a session on book design with the inimitable WH Chong from Text Publishing and other book designers (it’s great to see a book design panel session return to SWF); Malcom Knox, Sonya Hartnett and Kari Gislason discussing the things people hide, which, having read and enjoyed Hartnett’s Miles Franklin-shortlisted novel Golden Boys, with its menacing underbelly, should be a fascinating session.

Phew, I’m tired just typing that! Should be great fun… and if you ever wanted to know what goes on behind the shelves at your local book store, then you can catch Evie Wyld, Brooke Davis and Krissy Kneen dish all, (what a shame this session is sandwiched between the normal times of other sessions, making it difficult to get to!).

I’ll get around to giving some round-ups of the pick of the sessions in the coming days.

All the birds singing by Evie WyldH is for Hawk by Helen MacdonaldIn the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider RahmanThe Bone Clocks by David MitchellLost and Found by Brooke Davis

The Bush by Don WatsonI am Pilgrim by Terry HayesQuicksand by Steve ToltzGolden Boys by Sonya HartnettThe Age of Magic by Ben Okri

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What a glorious day Sydney put on for the first full day of events at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival (SWF).  If there’s a better advert for those of you who are further afield to swing into Sydney mid-May then I’ll eat my hat!

A brief muse on today’s sessions…

Due to overwhelming popularity of the session, I was unable to get into ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’ – a discussion of indigenous land use practices before white settlement of Australia.  Here’s hoping there’s a podcast I can download at some stage via the SWF website.

I did get to The Second Time’: where critically acclaimed authors Kirsten Tranter (The Legacy & A Common Loss), Deborah Forster (The Book of Emmett & The Meaning of Grace), and Steven Amsterdam (Things We Didn’t See Coming & What the Family Needed) were chaired by Angela Meyer (Literary Minded) through an engaging and entertaining discussion about the so-called “Second Book Syndrome”.

Part of what’s fascinating about panel discussions like this is the different approaches and experiences that each author has to impart.  Steven Amsterdam spoke about his participation in two writing groups, something Forster and Tranter couldn’t imagine doing!  In writing his second he found a freedom in moving away from writing in the present tense exhibited in his first and found he had more control in writing his second novel, though it needed a lot more editing to get right.

Forster spoke about her stories ‘sneaking up on her’ and how she ‘opened the door to see if they wanted to come in’ – a delightful way of explaining how stories come to life – though she also said that stories were a result of a lot of hard work.  When asked if the response to her first novel influenced the writing of her second, she said she had started it before the first came out so was already on her way; the second story came out of the first one.  She also spoke of her love for The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead.

Tranter relayed her experience of working with the time pressure that her two-book deal imposed on her second book.  She also explained how after writing her first she recognised that books exist differently for each reader and so there’ll always be different reactions to her work, something us bloggers no doubt prove!

A good session – see if you can find a recording of it.

I sat in on ‘Standing on the Outside, Looking In’: another panel on three very different history books, each a category winner in the 2011 NSW Premier’s History Awards: Shane White’s (et al) Playing the Numbers: Gambling in Harlem Between the Wars (winner: General History); Stephen Gapps’ Cabrogal to Fairfield: A History of a Multicultural City (winner: Regional and Community History); and Penny Russell’s Savaged or Civilised? Manners in Colonial Australia (winner Australian History).   Despite the wide subject matters, what was clear was the way in which each had found those characters and specific moments and social interactions which helped to drive the narratives of their works.  There were many interesting facts and people, typified by White’s explanation of so-called ‘Dream Books’ which were bought for 5c in Harlem to help people pick their number for the ‘Numbers’ gambling (essentially pick a number between 1-1000, with odds of 600-1 if you got it right).  These dream books had a number for an event or object that appeared in a dream.  If you had a dream about a murder, then that was number such-and-such; a fire engine, got another number, and so on.  Apparently you can buy these books on e-Bay for between $50-150.

Last, but not least, ‘Spirit of Progress’ with 2008 Miles Franklin winner Steven Carroll, talking with The Age and First Tuesday Book Club’s Jason Steger, about not just his most recent novel Spirit of Progress – a prequel to his ‘Glenroy sequence’ (as he now describes it, as opposed to ‘trilogy’ – but about all his work.  Steger had very thoughtfully handed out a print-out of Sidney Nolan’s painting ‘Woman and Tent’, which features Carroll’s great aunt and also features in his latest novel.  Described as an ‘indomitable’ woman, there’s a sense of something very personal about both the woman in the painting and the one transferred into his fiction.  I could go into a lot of detail about this session, but I’ll just pick out two points: first the book that got Carroll into reading as a young adult: The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham, a book he reads every two years or so, and one that has not lost its impact on him.  Part of the influence was the sense of key moments in people’s lives, how he likes to slow down the present and show these moments as they occur, and how characters ‘miss the moment’, that is, how they don’t recognise the importance of the present.  The second point is that his next novel will be about TS Eliot – a poet he said he greatly admired, not just for his poetry but for his essays on literary criticism.  One final observation is how important rhythm is in Carroll’s writing – and all good writing for that matter.  (Carroll is running a fiction ‘masterclass’ full day workshop on Friday – how lucky are those aspiring writers?!).  Lisa Hill loved Progress – see her review here.

That’s it for Day 1.  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 Day 2!

D.

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Well, it’s almost that time of year again: the Sydney Writers’ Festival runs the week of May 14th – 20th, with the main programme extending through Thursday – Sunday.

As always, it’s a matter of so many authors and topics of interest, so little time!   And it’s Murphy’s Law that there are always clashes.  Sigh.

I’m attending several sessions, including:

17: ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’: Bill Gammage tells Lyndall Ryan about the systematic way Aborigines managed the land.

23: ‘The Second Time’: Kirsten Tranter, Deborah Forster and Steven Amsterdam tell Angela Meyer about the second novel syndrome.

55: ‘Spirit of Progress’: Miles Franklin Award-winning writer Steven Carroll talks about his new novel, (just shortlisted for this year’s MF award).

90: “The Sweep of Narrative’: With his latest, Elliot Perlman has cemented his reputation as a master storyteller. He talks to Elizabeth Johnstone.

108: ‘Classic!’: Kate Grenville, Tom Keneally, Geordie Williamson and Michael Heyward discuss Australian classics.  (Can’t wait!)

143: ‘Kate Grenville’: Kate Grenville talks to Ashley Hay about her bestselling trilogy of novels on colonialSydney.  [Sold out]

151: ‘On Canaan’s Side’: Sebastian Barry talks to Suzanne Leal about his latest novel.  (I enjoyed The Secret Scripture – see my review here), and Barry is a reportedly a real perfomer in his readings.

167: ‘Old Scrags and Other Sheilas’: P.A. O’Reilly and Kerry Greenwood talk to Kerryn Goldsworthy about how to create memorable Australian female characters.

182: ‘But is it a Good Read?’: Stella Rimington, Stephen Romei and Neil James tells us what makes a book a good read.  (Given Rimington’s provocative statements as Chair of last year’s Booker Prize judges on her want for ‘readability’, this should be an interesting session!)

185: ‘Bring up the Bodies’: Hilary Mantel discusses her new book via video link with Michael Cathcart.  (I’m reading Wolf Hall at the moment, review soon!)

218: ‘A Frenetic Career?’: Tom Keneally talks to Richard Glover about life that comes with such prolific output.

242: ‘He Never Asked for the Matches’: Barbara Mobbs and David Marr (biographer of Patrick White) on the ethics of posthumous publishing.

I’ll try and squeeze in a few others, but, I have to eat!

There’s others I’d love to get to but can’t because of clashes, such as: Rodney Hall, Jesmyn Ward (winner of 2011 (US) National Book Award), and Pulitzer-winning Jeffrey Eugenides.

See: www.swf.org.au for details.

See you there.

Are you going to #SWF2012?  What are you looking forward to?

The D!

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