Last Call at Adelaide Writers’ Week

As the sun sets on the 2020 Adelaide Writers’ Week, it’s time to welcome Vicky Laveau-Harvie, author of the Stella Prize-winning memoir, The Erratics.

`           In 2006 Vicky left Australia to return to her native Canada where her mother has been hospitalized for a broken hip. The mother has consistently lied to staff about her children. She only had one daughter, she has told them, and she’s dead. ‘Do I look dead,’ Vicky’s sister cries out when the nurse refuses her access. On other occasions the mother claims to have eighteen children, but not a single one of them on hand when you need them. She is most convincing in her lies, and has a way of wrapping the ‘hired help’ around her little finger.

            Vicky is travelling back and forth from the familys’ town of Ototoks to the hospital, when she spots a road sign warning of the unsafe conditions in this section of the Rocky Mountains. She seizes upon the name, the Erratics, as metaphor for the life she has led there before escaping to university. It is, she says, the perfect gift for a writer.

            After her mother’s death in 2013, Vicky Laveau-Harvie will discover that her mother’s affliction is termed ‘extreme narcissism personality disorder’, and that nothing can be done about it. Such narcissism meant that the two girls were merely extensions of the mother. Vicky’s sister becomes so incensed at her mother’s antics in the hospital that she grabs her medical chart and furiously writes: MMA. ‘What’s that?’ Vicky asks. It’s an ‘Australian-ism’ only learned yesterday, meaning ‘mad as a meat-axe’.

Vicky once asked her father why they had so much acreage around their home in Okotoks. That was the amount of space, he reckoned, that his wife needed to contain her huge personality; a personality that he has always given priority to over that of his daughters’, despite the fact that his wife has tried to starve him incrementally to death over the years.

Laveau-Harvie’s on-stage delivery at ADLWW is as smooth as the local Okotoks’ mountain range is treacherous and rocky. In her soft tones she is definite that a memoirist should never write for catharsis. You do your therapy first, she insists, and then you write.

            The Erratics twists back and forth in time, as anecdotes build to form the whole, hilarious picture of a family – or two daughters at least – in distress. It is a remarkable memoir that never loses pace, encrusted with the jewel of what is described as the author’s ‘tar-black humour’, and is an impressive credit to its literary genre.

Tags” memoir, writing, writers’ festivals, ADLWW, Vicky Laveau Harvie, Stella Prize

Where Do You Write? | Margaret McCaffrey

My local café recently changed its seating arrangement. Oh no. Not because of me, I hoped. Me, sitting at the big table by the front window, trying not to spread my papers and books about too much, but wanting to get my work done.

Under the new configuration I was forced to sit at a table for two, allowing barely enough room for my ‘stuff’. But it’s a lovely café and I determined to make do. It has been a godsend to me as I go through the latest phase of ‘where-I-work’.

When I first took up writing, I rented a small room in the CBD. Having just finished working, I couldn’t imagine not going into the city every day. But soon, it dawned on me that I couldn’t catch the tram in my dressing gown, which is what I wanted to do. Plus the office rent kept going up.

Next, I settled for working at home. Some days I barely moved from my bed. I began the day by journaling and went straight from there into writing. Tessa, our dog, patiently sighed at the end of the bed looking up every now and again in wait for her walk.

Natalie Goldberg is an author who says she loves Paris because there you can write in the cafés. I’m not sure this is still the case. But the message is, if you like a café and feel welcome there – anywhere in the world – then make the most of it.

People will tell you where to write, what your office set-up should be, how things should look and so forth. But I say: create a space that’s right for you.

Update: I visited my local favourite café last week. The long table had been returned to the front. Order had been restored. I know my secret, quiet, little coffee shop will not remain so forever. But while it lasts, I plan to write and luxuriate as much as I can.

Writing Process, Margaret

I write in my journal every morning for forty minutes, or I try to. My first writing teacher, Kim Trengove, was a fan of Julia Cameron’s book, The Artists Way. Cameron recommends the  ‘Morning Pages’ as a way of ridding your mind of the dross, and helping you uncover your real thoughts and feelings. Journaling also helps develop the ‘writing muscle’.

In writing memoir, the ‘pages’ help me drill down to my hidden beliefs, and uncover any fear being them. In clearing my mind of daily minutiae, I am better able to discover what actually lies there.  Mentor, Kaylie Jones, says memoir is about creating the ‘eye’ that watches the “I”.

As I learn to detach, ironically I can go deeper into what I am most afraid to write, find a way to express it, and allow a structure or at least a pattern to emerge. Miles Davis once said: “You have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” This is true for me. It takes me a long time to learn to write like myself; a long time to find my own voice. But any glimmer of that individuality emerging is well worth the effort. For in the single story, they say, lives the universal.

 

ADELAIDE WRITERS’ WEEK 27th FEBRUARY – 3rd MARCH 2016

12733441_561555817343430_4628818046112760300_nElwood Writers will be visiting Adelaide for Writers’ Week, held in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden near the banks of the Torrens River. Part of the Adelaide Festival Of Arts, there will be sessions with international and local writers on topics as varied as Kerry O’Brien’s biography of Paul Keating, and Robert Dessaix talking about how Enid Blyton changed his life.

This will be the second occasion the group has visited this event together. We meet each morning for breakfast to mull over the program and spend some time workshopping our own writing. The event is a good opportunity to mix with other writers, readers and artists in a stimulating and creative environment.

Look out for more posts about our impressions of this event in the weeks to come.

#ADLWW