Sydney Writers’ Festival: An Evening With Wendy Harmer

And what an evening it was.

Tonight’s event at the Paddington Town Hall (“I went to a Sleaze Ball here once!” – Wendy Harmer) was completely different to the one earlier this afternoon. While Coming of Age was very much about the writing process, An Evening With Wendy Harmer was about the writer herself. I guess it’s because of Wendy’s history as a comedienne, or as her jacketflap bio puts it, “humourist”. She has a certain stage presence and is comfortable veering off-course. In fact, most of the evening was spent intentionally veering off Angela “I’m supposed to be interviewing you” Catterns’ script, because, as she said, “Nobody wants to hear about that, that’s boring.” And she was always right. As entertaining and funny and engaging as her books may be (and they are), Wendy Harmer’s not the sort of person you go to hear speak to learn about her authorial intent. You want jokes, you want anecdotes, you want her opinion on things, you want her guessing the weight of Angela Catterns’ breasts – and if you were there, you got exactly that.

As an aside, this wasn’t a session for the kiddies. As someone who grew up listening to her breakfast show on 2DayFM, it was a shock (and a pleasure) to hear her frequently drop the F-bomb in conversation.

Farewell My OvariesSprinkled in amongst the social commentary and relentless gags were brief mentions of her books. She was inspired to write Farewell My Ovaries because, reading chick- and hen-lit, she’d always be annoyed at the chapter breaks between the lines “They collapsed onto the bed in each others arms.” and “They woke up the next morning.” She wanted to write the sex, but writing sex is just like writing comedy, according to Wendy, because everybody has different tastes. As she puts it, one person’s “Come on over, sexy” can be someone else’s “Oh my God, get away from me”. Reactions were varied. She quoted one reviewer who described the sex as gruesome, and another that likened her exploration of sex to canonical texts I’ve forgotten since the event (my bad).

Roadside SistersShe also spoke about her newest release, Roadside Sisters, which sounds like your standard three-women-on-a-roadtrip, only doused in Harmer’s trademark humour. But, there were more pressing matters to discuss (see: Angela’s breasts – Wendy thinks they’re somewhere between one-and-a-half and two kilos each).

Five minutes before the conclusion of the session, Angela tried to steer Wendy into a bit of shameless promotion (and it worked, the book she shamelessly promoted, her personal favourite, Nagging For Beginners sold out the moment the Evening was over, and I was sure to grab a copy for Mum, which is currently being thoroughly enjoyed, judging by the laughter coming from her bedroom). She acted out a few of the featured nags, including my favourite, the Nagging for BeginnersStriptease Nag, which, if you ever have the pleasure of seeing her perform, is the funniest thing ever.

Comedienne or humourist, whatever you want to call her, Wendy is an entertainer. If you ever have the chance to go and see her live, I whole-heartedly recommend her. If you want something to keep you company until then, there’s always her writing and her podcasts.