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Things are gonna get Festive… Take One

August 29, 2010

Memo to self: When attending Writers Festival events at Feddish never sit in the seat closest to the door. Who would do that? Who’d be that dumb? There are loads of seats, there’s a woman with a Writers Festival T-shirt on offering to find you a really goo seat, why would you stay in the seat closest to the door? Why??? So you can watch some little old lady wander in 45 minutes after the session started? So you can watch festival staff duck in and out, in and out, out and out (not judging, they’ve got a job to do)? So you can judge some sad tragedy of a man who can’t last an hour without a ciggie? So you can watch (and listen to, oh yes listen to) some woman who forgot to turn her phone off before the session started, who then takes a call (YES SHE TOOK THE FUCKING CALL), takes the call outside… and then STANDS CLOSE ENOUGH TO THE DOOR SO EVERYONE INSIDE TRYING TO LISTEN TO RODNEY HALL CAN LISTEN TO HER INSTEAD???

And it wasn’t just a little old lady who wandered in, the session started at 10am and for the next 45 minutes people just nonchalantly toddled through the door, smiling, eyes glazed, phones buzzing, and then a few of them wandered back out again as well. Where da respeck, man?

I am one grumpy bugger.

Ahem. But more about the Morning Fix at Feddish later. Here’s a pic I took this afternoon. Annoyingly I now realise you can’t read what it says. It says (the stuff on the blue panel I’m referring to here, the stuff on the yellow panel was obviously the work of some illiterate gobshite) “Why decorate a crate? Who are ya!!!” In hindsight this criminal activity is probably the work of those responsible for said crate, which is on the bank of the Yarra and hosts free events for Melbourne’s many literary journals as part of the festival. Today it was Overland and a relatively new venture, Kill Your Darlings; before taking the above photo I’d stumbled across a fascinating discussion about True Blood and The Wire and the nature of TV fandom among impassioned adults these days. Being a lifelong terminally tragic Doctor Who fan I had no idea what they were talking about.

Tomorrow, Magazine (as the crate has been christened) hosts The Lifted Brow in the morning and Going Down Swinging in the afternoon. I’ve got a story in the latest edition of Going Down Swinging. Did I mention that? Anyhoo, the crate (stuff calling it Magazine, that’s just daft) looks like being an interesting addition to the festival’s mix.

I’d stumbled upon the crate (that’s a total lie, I didn’t stumble upon it, I knew exactly where it was and what it was and why it was there, it just sounds kind of cool to say I stumbled across it, don’t you think? Yes? No? Oh.) after attending a session at BMW Edge. It delved into the books its participants had read as kids and teenagers. The writers taking part were Ben Law, whose witty family-based non-fiction I’ve struck before, Sonya Hartnett, whose name I know but whose books I’ve not read thus far, and Alex Miller, whose Journey to the Stone Country is probably one of the best Aussie novels I’ve read in the past decade. Although it’s the only novel of his I’ve read. Not quite sure why that is. So anyway: Ben Law talking about sneak peeks at his parents’ copy of The Joy of Sex. Sonya Hartnett talking about sneak peeks at her mum’s repulsively illustrated medical texts. Alex Miller talking about… um, Sonya Hartnett’s latest novel. Oh yeah, and his story-telling father, and a long-ago employer’s well-stocked library, and the Bulgarian psychoanalyst who told him something like: We need fantasy and imagination because they open the door into ourselves. Or something. If anyone is actually reading this and remembers the exact quote let me know.

Sonya was rude about John Wyndham. I wasn’t happy about that. She was rude about Stephen King, too, and Iain Banks, neither of whom I’ve ever read, although she also mentioned The Day of the Jackal which I think was the first properly adult novel I read, so she gets points for that.

But back to the Morning Fix, hosted by Chris Flynn. Despite my stupidity in sitting next to the door it was a great session. Only one of the authors was familiar to me, Rodney Hall, whose novel The Island in the Mind I read more than a decade ago. Beautifully written, I seem to remember, and obviously the work of a colossal imagination, but not a book that set me on fire. I haven’t read any of his work since. The other writers featured were David Brooks, Maggie MacKellar, Lisa Lang and Kate Howarth. All were impressive. Brooks captivated with a handful of poems that ranged from love to childhood imaginings of armadas and volcanoes; MacKellar explored the pain and rage of coming to terms with her husband’s suicide; Hall’s memories of London during the Blitz were enlivened by miraculously recalled detail; and Howarth’s time as a pregnant 15-year-old in the hands of Catholic nuns was brought beautifully, if painfully, to life. We’ve all heard about the obscenities committed by nuns in Ireland during the 50s and 60s; I’d not been aware these things had occurred in Australia as well.

Lang was of particular interest to me. Her fictionalised biography of Edward Cole, founder of Melbourne’s Cole’s Book Arcade, struck a real chord because like many kids the Cole’s Funny Picture Books are iconic memories of my childhood. She’s also written a non-fiction title, E.W. Cole – Chasing the Rainbow. There were rainbows on the covers of the Picture Books if I remember correctly.

Of course writers festivals aren’t all about attending sessions and listening to writers bang on. Later in the afternoon I was drinking Fat Yak in Fed Square, talking Harry Potter and Philip Pullman and the stupendously awesome Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea. OK yes, the people I was drinking with were involved in the festival’s schools program, but still.

I’ve just realised I haven’t detailed most of the books these writers are currently spruiking, so for the record:

Ben Law – The Family Law

Sonya Hartnett – The Midnight Zoo

Alex Miller – Love Song

David Brooks – The Umbrella Club (which he didn’t read from at the Fix)

Maggie MacKellar – When it Rains

Rodney Hall – Popeye Never Told You

Lisa Lang – Utopian Man

Kate Howarth – Ten Hail Marys

Most of these books have won or been shortlisted for a variety of prizes.

Sunday: Joe Bageant, then Going Down Swinging’s 30th birthday. Oh, and some other magazines, what were they again? Meanjin and Overland. Yeah, them. And then Dogs Tales at the Toff.

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One comment

  1. ‘Rude about John Wyndham’? I remember choosing Wyndham as one of the few select books I would bring with me to the Festival; I remember saying I loved his books and that they hugely widened my imagination when I read them as a teenager; I remember using him as an example of the books I encourage my younger sister to read. Rude? Where’s the rude? I love Wyndham, and have done for 30 years – I’m unlikely to bag him. Oh, I remember also saying that, given the era in which the books were written, they could read as sexist – is that rude? or is that just a fact? I said Stephen King was delicious trash, and that Iain Banks had never lived up to his early promise. Is it rude to say such things? Better to pretend there’s quality where there isn’t? That, surely, is the worst form of ‘criticism’.

    You shouldn’t use your blog to make people look bad. It is difficult enough to get on the stage and do what we have to, without thereafter being deliberately misrepresented.



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