Given I’ve been back from Adelaide for more than three weeks, it might be time to mention what I did over there for the 6 day writers’ festival (3-8 March 2018).
Last time I was in Adelaide we drove, (see the second half of that post); the time before we arrived by rail from Darwin; this time we travelled like normal civilised people and took a plane. Flight time is around two hours, and when you get there, you put your clock back a half hour.
This time I left Bill behind and went with three other friends. Unlike the four little pigs in the above photo, I shall not name our group, even though I am sure 🙂 (maybe) that they would like me to mention them. They might even like me to joke about what we may – or may not – have got up to together. But until I get a twitter account, that information is classified. What I will say is that we shared a city apartment and that went very well, and we made good company.
However, we didn’t always want to do the same things, or hear the same speakers, so here is a round-up of which talks I attended. My dedication was noted, so if you are not a confirmed bibliophile, you might prefer to give the rest of this post a miss. I thought about breaking it into several posts, but I have others waiting to be written. Maybe you might prefer to skim until one topic catches your eye.
I’ll add a link to each book in case you would like to learn more.
The festival is held in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden where two stages are set up at a distance from each other. Sessions are run concurrently, a total of fourteen sessions per day. The listeners choose their topic and assemble under the trees, the weather all week being warm to hot – even though 1st March is the official start to autumn . . . and . . . it is all free.
- Saga Land, well-known (in Australia) broadcaster Richard Fidler and his friend Kári Gíslason (AU) share a passion for the sagas of Iceland, and both have a special connection to the country which is revealed in this memoir.
- Glass Houses, Louise Penny (CA). One of our group has avidly read everything from this author, and after listening to her engaging talk, I can see that I must add Armand Gamache (head of homicide of the Sûreté de Québec) as a character-of-interest on my reading list. I also learned about debt-collectors known as cobradors. I feel that random information will work its way into a future story of mine . . .
- The Fact of a Body, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (US). This is simultaneously an account of a child-killer’s death row case and its retrial, and a memoir of the writer’s experience as a child abuse victim and later lawyer connected with the case. I think this is one where the reader will be forced to adjust their attitude on more than one occasion. The writer certainly did.
- Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie (UK). Apart from a failed attempt to audition for the role of Antigone in high school dramatics, I know little of the actual plot-line of this famous Greek tragedy. But I will be thinking about it when I read this modern day re-telling which sees the tragedy through the eyes Aneeka, a young Muslim girl living in London.
- Shelter in Place, Alexander Maksik (US) and Fever Dream, Samanta Schweblin (AR). Both of these sounded fascinating journeys into “madness” and each have won several literary accolades. Both will appeal to those who are looking for that more intricate read that leaves you thinking about the issues for long after you’ve finished.
- Blind Spot, Teju Cole (US) and Draw Your Weapons, Sarah Sentilles (US). I’d heard Teju Cole on the radio a few days prior and was fascinated to see him up close. Blind Spot was not the subject I had heard him speaking about – however, both these books combine photography and images with words to convey their message, which in the case of Draw Your Weapons includes a perspective from a former prison guard at Abu Ghraib.
- Balcony Over Jerusalem, a Middle East Memoir, John Lyons (AU). This is going on my definitely, absolutely, must, must read list. Six years of living in and reporting from the Middle East have informed Lyon’s “opinion” of 50 years of West Bank history. The author did his best to be even-handed in the talk but all the same I think some readers will take sides depending on their point of view at the outset.
- Democracy and its Crisis, A. C. Grayling (UK). OMG!!! This was a stand-out talk for me. This British philosopher and author distilled the history and intentions of democracy into words that enunciate what we thought it was supposed to be about. And he didn’t just wax on – he had logical and achievable suggestions for how to deal with modern day democracy. I so hope his book confirms what I thought I heard 🙂
- The Fighter Michael Farris Smith (US). This talk was my first exposure to writers from the American South – Mississippi in this case. I heard a new word – “antebellum” – or plantation house. Which put me in mind of having read “Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone, 1861-1868” which was a fascinating diary of a young woman from a Louisiana plantation during the American Civil War. Southern life in Smith’s books has become even more hardscrabble for his unfortunate characters. The writer has a blog called The United States of Mississippi at http://bittersoutherner.com. I’ve just signed up to it and will follow along for a while to see what he has to say.
- The Sparsholt Affair, Alan Hollinghurst (UK). This tale is told in five parts, beginning with war-time Oxford, and across three generations it spans the intimate relationships of a group of friends brought together by art, literature, and love. My expectation is this book will evoke the changes in social conscience up till now.
- Darktown, Thomas Mullen (US). The second writer from the American South whose talk I attended. The true tale behind this novel really captured my attention – the 1948 hiring of Atlanta’s first African American police officers and the restrictions placed on them during the ‘Jim Crow’ era. Read more here. A must read for me.
- The next talk I attended was about inserting your own story into a non-fiction book. Marzano-Lesnevich (from day 2) was joined by Sara Krasnostein (AU) The Trauma Cleaner, and Ashleigh Young (NZ) Can You Tolerate This? Both sound amazing reads. Krasnostein became very close to her subject, Sandra Pankhurst, who sounds a truly remarkable person.
- Whipbird, Robert Drewe (AU). Quintessentially Australian, I call Robert Drewe my talisman, because in the early days of my memoir manuscript, when Bill and I were in the process of moving to where we live now, there was a full-page advertisement for the complex in the newspaper, and on the flip-side, a full-page article about Drewe. Superstitiously, I convinced myself that this conjunction of print meant that my manuscript would ultimately be published. And it was. So there, the power of positive thinking at work. Drewe is always an entertaining speaker. I am currently reading an earlier book, Montebello which is a follow up memoir to his much earlier work, The Shark Net. You can tell I just love this guy and his work.
- The Wish Child, Catherine Chigdey (NZ) and Charlotte, David Foenkinos (FR). I couldn’t get into this talk at all, even though both books, set in Berlin in and around WWII, would normally have me hooked. Perhaps I was flagging. I backed up the next day for a deeper talk on Charlotte, and loved every word of it. More later.
The Enigmatic Mr Deakin, Judith Brett (AU). Alfred Deakin was Australia’s second Prime Minister (and the fifth, and the seventh) and one of the fathers of federation. In this fascinating talk, we learnt that he was, among many other things, a spiritualist! This won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but if the talk is any guide, this is not a dusty tome of dates and politics, but a great insight into his attitudes and foibles as well as his huge contribution to our development as a nation.
- Charlotte, David Foenkinos (FR). This time the author had the stage to himself, and the chair was former BBC journalist Caroline Beck who in my opinion was the standout chair for the event. So this time we learnt so much about Berlin born Charlotte Salomon and the 700 autobiographical paintings she produced before being deported to Auschwitz. Foenkinos is, by his own admission, obsessed with his subject and his passion enthralled us all. This is an incredibly complex story.
- Miss Muriel Matters, Robert Wainwright (AU). I have to confess that I missed this talk, even though I had the best intentions. However, this biography of “the most inspiring woman you’ve never heard of” is definitely on my reading list. Who wouldn’t want to know about “a young Australian actress, who in 1909, took to the sky over London in an airship emblazoned with the slogan ‘Votes for Women’ and dropped leaflets over the city“?
- The advertised talk, Victoria by Julia Bird was replaced with Caroline Chisholm by Sarah Goldman. That suited me, as Chisholm’s work with improving the lives of poor immigrant girls who were practically abandoned on arrival in the mid 19th century dove-tails nicely with some of my research. Many don’t realise that she is depicted on our Five Dollar note or why. As mentioned in the book overview . . . “As the government of the day refused to help, Chisholm established accommodation, services and the first employment office in the colony, drawing up the first ever employment contracts in Australia. She established minimum wages, found jobs and homes, and created employment agencies in a dozen rural centres as well.” A small taste of what this early female social activist achieved.
Due to the need to do all the necessary to check out of our hotel and get the flight back to Sydney, I also missed another talk that held promise: Anaesthesia by Kate Cole-Adams (AU) which includes “the astonishing fact that doctors don’t actually know how anaesthetics works“. As well as the research relating to the invention and use of anaesthetics, Cole-Adams explores the concept of consciousness. Something to sleep on perhaps?
And so we leave young Oliver, with his snout permanently stuck in the trough, which also serves as a litter bin in Rundle Mall. I am fascinated that no-one graffitis his hide with the names of out-of-favour politicians. Perhaps he is just too well-loved as he is . . .