Adelaide writers week 1

I’ve been coming to Adelaide Writers’ week with colleagues from Elwood Writers for the past three years now and it’s by far the best writers’ festival I’ve been to. Here I am again for Writers’ Week 2018. There are 14 sessions every day – one has to pick and choose, so here I will mention just a few that interested me.

Adelaide writers week 2

Bernice Chauly, Michelle de Kretser and Vivek Shanbhag spoke in a session entitled ‘Lost Things’. Bernice’s book, Once We Were There focuses on the Reformasi movement in Kuala Lumpur. Her book, she said, was triggered by the jailing of Anwar for sodomy – it’s not talked about. She implied that by writing in English she could say things that others might not dare to put in print. She admits that it is a bleak book. Malaysia, she said, is a fractured country.

Adelaide Day 1 1.15pm

In Michelle de Kretser’s new book The Life to Come, narrative is linked by a recurring character, Pippa, a writer. Five stories unfold: a tale of youthful ambition, a tale of young love, a story about an émigré Australian in Paris who questions her life’s meaning and the commitment of her married female lover, there is a tale of motherhood and betrayal, and finally a tale of the awfulness of dementia.

Vivek Shanbhag’s book Ghachar Ghochar has been translated into English. While this has given him a much wider audience, he mentioned some of the difficulties, most interestingly, I thought, the need to translate into English what is not said. The book is a family drama set in Bangalore. He read a beautiful passage about the pervasiveness of ants.

Various themes were covered in this session. Families: Michelle found writing about families alluring from when, as an undergraduate, she studied kinship lines in Anthropology. Vivek described how, in India, every decision a person makes must be considered through the family, although, he admits, this is starting to change. Violence was another theme. Michelle mentioned that there are not many books about friendships between ‘grown-up’ women – maybe this is why the Eleanor Ferrente novels were so popular. Food was another theme. Bernice saw food as a salve, ‘it’s what binds us together’.

I then went to a session entitled ‘Invented Histories’, where Catherine McKinnon spoke about her novel Storyland, and Jane Rawson spoke about From the Wreck. The structure of Catherine’s book is interesting, with five narrators talking from different times in history (including the future and the far future) bound together by the one environment, Lake Illawarra.  Catherine said that her writing was triggered by asking: What does it mean to be Australian today?

Adelaide writers day 1 2.15 pm 1

Jane Rawson’s book is her second novel. She said that she’s preoccupied by thoughts of ecological disaster and how humans relate to nature. The ‘historical’ character in this story is based on Jane’s great-great grandfather. The character George Hills, survives the sinking of the steamship Admella off the South Australian coast in 1859. He is haunted by memories of the disappearance of a fellow survivor, and his life becomes intertwined with that of a woman from another dimension, who seeks refuge on Earth. Jane said she wasn’t comfortable writing purely in a historical mode, so the woman is an alien: a fascinating mixture of the genres of historical and speculative fiction. Jane said she’s fascinated by our inability to think outside the time in which we are living.

Adelaide writers day 1 2.15 pm 2

The Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature were announced, with the premier present to give the Premier’s Award to Eva Hornung.  http://arts.sa.gov.au/2018-adelaide-festival-awards-literatureOther winners were, Justine Larbalestier, Pam Brown, Tim Winton (who donated his prize money to research into preservation of the Great Barrier Reef), Emily Steel, Annette Marner, Jude Aquilina, Danielle Clode and Edoardo Crismani.

Finally I went to a session entitled ‘War and Peace’, which featured journalist John Lyons and American writer Sarah Sentilles. John has written a memoir, Balcony Over Jerusalem, in which he chronicles 6 years of living in Israel and gives a scathing account of the treatment of Palestinians.

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In her book, Draw Your Weapons, Sarah Sentilles explores her responses to photographs of Abu Ghraib, she particularly spoke of the responses of a guard there, who ended up ‘befriending’ prisoners and teaching them to play chess among other things.

The discussion focused on: Is it possible for human beings to live at peace? Both writers started with readings from their books where they described humans observing fighting in war as though it were a spectator sport. John said that people sit in cafes in Israel and when they get a ‘code red’ app on their phones they go to watch the trouble. Sarah spoke of an American conscientious objector to fighting in World War II – and, although a pacifist, she questioned whether, given the atrocities carried out by the Nazis, it is acceptable to opt out of fighting. There was reference to Hannah Arendt’s observations of the Nazi trials and the claim, ‘It wasn’t me who did that. I was carrying out someone else’s orders’. The question of whether we inherit trauma was discussed. Sarah referred to an experiment carried out with mice, where one generation was made to hate the smell of cherry blossoms and this hate was passed on through several generations. Another area of discussion was: can we become more empathetic? Sarah suggested that rather than empathy we need to learn how to respect ‘otherness’ – to build on an ethical system that deals with dis-ease.







Spoken Words in Woodend | Chamber Poets #53

Elwood Writer Helen will be reading two of her poems – “Twilight” and “Loss” – tomorrow afternoon at Chamber Poets in Woodend (Saturday 9th December 2017).

Venue: Woodend Neighbourhood House, 47 Forest St, Woodend, Victoria 3442
Hosted by Myron Lysenko

Featured Poet: Alan Wearne
Open Section
John Flaus Reluctant Poet Segment
Black Forest Smoke

Entry by donation, raffle for book prizes. BYO alcohol. Tea & coffee facilities available, or visit nearby cafes for a cup.

2 p.m. for a 2.30 start

Hashtag poetry!

Margaret’s Impressions of Adelaide Writers’ Week 2017

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, the World War II books of Paul Brickhill dotted the bookshelves of our den – The Dam Busters, Reach for the Sky and The Great Escape most notably. The sparseness of the books’ spines stood in contrast to the more embossed books on our shelves, suggesting that the former belonged to my father, a veteran of that war.

In Adelaide this year, I was curious to hear Paul Brickhill’s biographer, Stephen Dando-Collins, announce that Brickhill was not only Australian, but had been a prisoner of war (POW) of the Germans, as had been my father and uncle. No wonder they forced us kids to watch every late night TV re-run of Reach for the Sky, the film about the indomitable British fighter pilot and real life POW Douglas Bader.

As a prisoner of Stalag Luft 3 himself, Brickhill was fascinated by heroes, underdogs ‘struggling against impossible odds’. He determined that his first novel, The Great Escape, would be based on the events of the break out from his own prison camp, wherein fifty escapees were shot dead. Brickhill knew that his novel needed a hero to focus the story. He chose real life escapee Roger Bushell, or Big X as he was known. Steve McQueen played the lead role in a later movie, somewhat sensationalising the actual escape but cementing Brickhill’s career as a successful author.

Stephen Dando-Collins believes that Brickhill hit upon the need for heroes in a post-war Britain that was reeling from a broken economy and cities in ruin. There was little evidence to the British in the 1950s that they had actually won the war. Brickhill kept his Australian identity quiet so as not to jeopardise his authenticity as a storyteller. The objectivity of his ‘outsider’ status may have helped him shape Britain’s post-war view of itself by creating heroes for posterity.

Dando-Collins says that Brickhill was drawn to other hard-drinking, chain-smoking, driven men like himself. These days he would be described as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In those days he was just part of the norm. But this is a subject for another time.

The Hero Maker: A Biography of Paul Brickhill
Stephen Dando-Collins (Vintage)

Helen’s Impressions of Adelaide Writers’ Week 2017

Once again Adelaide delighted with its heady mix of festival fare. Writers from round the world took to the stage in the wonderfully situated Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens by the river. This year I was drawn to the writings of the chroniclers of our times – the journalists and social commentators who strive to show us the truth of complex human situations through both non-fiction and fiction. A highlight was the poetry reading session curated by Peter Goldsworthy, with six of Adelaide’s noted poets reading from their collections. I particularly loved the simplicity of Jules Leigh Koch’s and Cath Kenneally’s readings. Their observations on the small, often suburban details of life can be both profound and poignant. Leigh Koch’s Man in the Bookshop ‘tucks his thoughts away like a bookmark’ while one of Kenneally’s characters is ‘leaking at the seams’.

In US journalist Thomas Frank’s ‘Listen Liberal’ he explores the failings of the US left and the disintegration of the middle class. He believes the Democrats cannot find the policy or conviction to alter the economy and ‘the gravity of discontent keeps pulling to the right, and the right and the right’. Ben Ehrenreich and Mei Fong, respectively writing about the lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank in ‘The Way to the Spring’ and the effect of China’s one-child policy in ‘One Child’, discussed the very real issue of bias and objectivity in telling compelling stories. Ehrenreich posed the question: How can you write about Palestine objectively when it is very clear there is an absolute imbalance of power? You cannot denude the truth, he purports, and you must be transparent about where you stand. Fong concurred that the reader wants to know the truth and you must give your reader a clear point of view. Of course bias is in her book by her very status of being Chinese and a woman.

Journalists Patrick Cockburn (Ireland), ‘The Rise of Islamic State’, and Janine di Giovanni (US), ‘The Morning They Came for Us’, both Middle Eastern experts, gave a sobering and thorough account of the chaos that is Syria, painting a clear picture of the major players involved and the likely outcome. On the other hand, two novelists have brought the stories of the marginalised to readers via fiction. Mexican author Yuri Herrera, ‘Signs Preceding the End of the world’, and Korean Krys Lee, ‘How I Became a North Korean’, explore the realities of displaced people. Herrera delves into the shadowy world of border communities where people are not ‘recognisable’ (no papers or passports) and must adapt to many migrants from different worlds living together. He deems ‘art allows us not to be hostage to one version of reality’. Lee wanted to write about the people she knows who are not just ‘North Korean’, but complex human beings. How do we know what it is like to be that person who is simply a stereotype to the outside world? she asks.

I enjoyed an entertaining session on Books and Reading with Keith Houston (Scotland), an expert on the history of the book, and Alberto Manguel (Canada) who has written extensively on books and reading. It was heartening to hear both authors emphatically stating that the book will survive, that libraries are our identity and memory, and can and must collect everything, including new technologies.  Libraries must be preserved, they concurred!

Of course there was so much to sample of the Arts and Fringe festivals running concurrently. Watching the Berlin company Schaubuhne Berlin’s rendering of Shakespeare’s Richard III in German was a roller coaster of frenetic-paced, fantastic acting, to the accompaniment of heavy metal music, rapping, and with audience interaction and nudity (his) on stage. A phenomenal performance and for this writer quite thrilling as Richard limped off the stage, plonked himself next to me at the end of the row and asked ‘Do you mind?’ as Anne delivered her soliloquy over her dead husband’s body.  No proscenium arch here!

Finally, as part of the Fringe Festival, a delightful concert of popular music by The String Family, mum, dad and two teens all on cellos or violins, had everyone’s toes tapping.  Their story of life on the road for the past thirteen months, travelling around Australia, living in a caravan and winning the Australian National Busking Championship, had moments of great poignancy as they live out ‘the dream’. While missing the family and friends they have left behind, they have come to understand, first hand, the hardships of life on the land for so many Australians. Now there’s a book in that.