We couldn’t make it to the Adelaide Writers Week 2010, but lucky for us, long-time Boomerang Books customer Amanda McInerney was a constant presence at the festival, and we were lucky enough to have her blog for us.
Writers Week day 5 and Adelaide reverts to type – a blazing hot day with everyone searching for a shady spot!
This afternoon my two daughters and I sat in on the “Meet the Author” session with the improbably youthful looking Marcus Zusak, who had the audience eating out of his hand!! My daughters were very keen to see him as my eldest (19) had seen him some years before when he visited her English class and the youngest (13) has just about finished reading “The Book Thief”. Zusak has a very natural and self deprecating way about him and obviously feels very strongly for his book, “The Book Thief”. He told the very large crowd that the book really came out of stories that his Austrian parents used to tell himself and his siblings about their experiences during the lead up to the war, before they came out to Australia. Some of the passages in the book, such as when the stepfather gives some bread to a Jew, were directly derived from his parents experiences and he is grateful to them for what he feels is their gift to him, in their stories. He feels it is a book about people doing beautiful things in ugly times.
He also spoke about some of the ways he approaches his writing, trying to write simply, adding small details for authenticity to make the story more vivid to the reader and to try to use something unexpected to maintain momentum in the story.
The audience watching and listening to him was , as I mentioned, very large and entirely captivated as he read the first few pages of his next book, leaving us all keen to read more of it. He was then available to sign books, which he did with enormous grace, engaging both my daughters – and I assume everyone else – in a little small talk. No easy task as the lines for his signings were the longest that I have seen all week.
Day 3 at Adelaide Writers Week and I could only pop in for a brief visit today. I was running late and missed the first part of “Trainspotting” author Irvine Welsh’s discussion on his writing experiences, but managed to catch some of the question/answer time. He was just as I expected him to be – blunt and forthright with that lovely Scottish accent and plenty of swearing. He answered questions about his characters and how he gets around the issue of setting his books in places that he no longer lives. This, he says, is sorted by visiting his old stamping grounds and taking old friends to the pub, plying them with drink and then quizzing them!
This was followed by a panel session entitled “Mystery” with authors Sarah Dunant, Audrey Niffenegger, Sarah Waters and Marcus Zusak. It was not necessarily about mystery writing, but about the notions of mystery in their work. Niffenegger spoke of how writing genres seem to be bleeding into each other, to some extent, citing the example of how the simple mystery story is now evolving into a more literary form. She also stated that she prefers to be a little mysterious in her writing, sometimes leaving things unsaid in order to leave “space” within her work for the reader to interact and, in a way, become complicit with the story.
When the very amusing Marcus Zusak was asked if he felt it necessary to temper ambiguity in his writing for younger people his delightfully refreshing answer was “I dunno!” He went on to say that it was a mystery to him how he got to Writers Week at all as he seemed to be such a poor judge of the varying merits of his work. He was unexpectedly surprised that “The Book Thief” was so very popular! He made no mystery of the narrator and, in fact, states in the book that the concept of mystery clearly bores “Death” who much prefers the machinations behind it.
Dunant told of how the mystery for her is generally in the actual writing as she often has no idea of where the story will take her or of how the characters will develop. Thus mystery, for her, becomes motivating and exciting and keeps her writing. On the other hand, Sarah Waters was shocked at this as she could not contemplate sitting down to start a book without having a meticulously planned plot – in fact she often has a definite story ending before she starts! Clearly, there are as many ways for writing novels as there are writers.
Day 2 of Adelaide Writers Week and another day of glorious sun with a gentle breeze. Some past Writers Weeks have been blighted by scorching hot weather, so these mild days are very welcome!
My first session today was to hear Richard Dawkins, who spoke about his new book, giving a precis of the chapters before answering many questions from a very large and appreciative audience. It really seemed such an inadequate forum for such a huge topic, as the enormous audience would attest!
From there I attended a session called “Writers as Readers” with a panel containing Brian Castro – novelist and Professor of Creative Writing at Adelaide University, Kathryn Fox – Sydney doctor and very successful mystery novelist, Andrea Goldsmith – Australian novelist & Mirielle Juchau – Australian novelist and essayist. They spoke about themselves as readers and how that has subsequently informed their various works. Castro spoke of how his poor eyesight as a very young child led to him lurking about the house – under tables and behind doors – learning to read situations. Fox spoke of the need, as a doctor, for emotional intelligence and entertained with some personal anecdotes about reading people and their, sometimes unspoken, needs and rationales. Her final story about an elderly patient and his penile implant had everyone in stitches! Goldsmith told of her childhood as a very slow developer and how it has led to a fondness and need for solitude to indulge her passion for reading and Mirielle Juchau spoke about how reading helped her to uncover unspoken facts about her family history. Her Grandmother was a survivor of Hitler’s Germany, coming to Australia in 1939. While not exactly a secret, this was simply not spoken about and she worked it out for herself at the age of about 15.
With the exception of Brian Castro, they all spoke of their love for reading and the different ways that they use different reading habits when writing. Startlingly, Castro told how he doesn’t enjoy reading at all, mostly finding it a necessary slog!!
My final writer for today was the very affable – and Prime Minister’s Award winning – Steven Conte who wrote “The Zookeepers War”, set in Berlin during WWII, chronicling a marriage and a city under immense pressure and the possibilities for heroism within that situation. He spoke of his early obsession with Berlin and how his experiences as a boarder at an all-boys boarding school helped him to relate to totalitarianism!!”
Adelaide Writers Week kicked off today in the traditional glorious sunshine and, while I missed Tom Keneally’s opening speech at 11.00am, I made it to a seat in the shade to listen to Australian mystery writer, Peter Temple at 12.30pm. Born in South Africa, Temple moved to Australia in 1980 and has subsequently become one of our most highly awarded mystery authors. He has won a swag of gongs and his novel “The Broken Shore” won the 2007 Gold Dagger, making him the first Australian to win the world’s richest and most prestigious crime writing prize. His current novel, “Truth”, follows the investigations of Inspector Stephen Villani, to whom we were introduced in “The Broken Shore”. His engaging and self-deprecating manner was well received as he spoke about his experiences of writing, lying and being one of the very few authors whom editors beg to include more dialogue, not less!
I kept my seat in the shade to listen to Sarah Dunant, Geoff Dyer and Sarah Waters discussion “On Being Read”. The discussion focused around their perceptions of being read, how that affects their writing processes and the effects of the broad media exposure in the modern world of communications. Interestingly, both Dunant and Waters used the word “brutalizing” when referring to the internet and how close it brings their readers to them, while Geoff Dyer asserted that he actually had no readers anyway. Given that he has published 11 books (4 novels) and hundreds of essays and articles AND been named by Britain’s Sunday Telegraph as “England’s greatest, if most reluctant, novelist”, I think we have to assume that someone is reading his work. I know I will be very soon.
The last session that I made it to today was to listen to a nervous, but extremely dignified Chloe Hooper address a sombre audience on her book “The Tall Man”, about the death of Aboriginal man, Cameron Doomadgee, in police custody on Palm Island in 2004. She had no previous background, or connection to Aboriginal experience and spoke eloquently, if sadly, of what she had learned.”
Amanda McInerney is a long-time Boomerang Books customer and she is passionate about books and reading. She has just started her own foodie blog at http://lambsearsandhoney.com/.