Helen’s Reflections on Adelaide Writers’ Week

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Looking back I barely dipped into the rich lucky dip of writers and their works on offer at this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week. A smorgasbord of talent on offer, it was hard to pick and choose which sessions to attend.  Fortunately everything will be up on podcast within a week, so I can listen to my heart’s content to those authors I missed.

I had the sensation that bees were coursing through my veins, such was the level of excitement around the Festival hubs.  My creativity leapt and each night I lay in bed with thoughts and ideas sparking randomly and uncontrollably.  In short, I was beside myself.

I took a lot of notes so that, in the words of Australian poet Chris Wallace-Crabbe, the ‘immortal words’ I heard would not prove to be mortal.  I wished I’d seen more.  In the written expression of the human condition I learnt from New Zealanders Kate De Goldi and Fiona Farrell how it is to survive a devastating earthquake and record those experiences in both fiction and non-fiction forms.  Hyeonseo Lee took me on her journey as a defector from North Korea’s strange cult of the ‘Dear Leaders’, into hostile China and finally South Korea, where her welcome was not as warm as she might have anticipated.  Her perspective was fascinating to me as I lived in South Korea for four years in the 1980’s and had stared across the impregnable 59th parallel into a North Korean mock village, its communist soldiers bizarrely laughing and pointing at us.

French novelist Muriel Barbery – ‘The Life of Elves’ – is exploring a deeper understanding of her life, as she tries to live it more slowly as she ages.  It was heartening for this slow writer to know she has taken eight years to write this, her second book.  It’s OK to take time!  I loved her sense that the novel is ‘more intelligent than you’, taking on its own life while she writes.

Annabel Crabb and Jane Caro entertained with their wit and quips while American Jim Shepard inspired with his extensive research into the voices of Polish children in the 20th century for his latest novel ‘The Book of Aron.”  New Zealand’s first Poet Laureate, Bill Manhire, advised us to write what we don’t know.  How encouraging to hear inspiration is what happens when he’s NOT working.  First time UK novelist Max Porter thrilled with his readings from ‘Grief is the Thing with Feathers”.  In the same session (recorded for ABC Radio National) Oxford English literature Professor Jonathan Bate’s erudite reflections on  the life and work of poet Ted Hughes was dramatically enhanced by original recordings of the poet reciting his work at the Adelaide Writers’ Week forty years ago.  It was haunting.

Chris Wallace-Crabbe, a national treasure, uses all language in his poetry, mixing linguistic styles, the professorial with the profane – and he travels without Gods.  Nothing is unavailable and he believes lyric poetry turns sound into language.

I took away the message from Max Porter that nothing should get in the way of the reader.  There should be no connection between the lived experience of the writer and the word.

But most of all it made me want to write!

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