Friday, 27 May 2016

Sydney Writers' Festival 2016 - Day 4

My SWF for 2016 is drawing to a close and as I travelled into the festival for the last day I reflected on my experiences - talking books, meeting authors, learning about different writing styles - and I feel refreshed and inspired. Here's what I got up to on my last day at the festival.

Coffee and Papers

I met a friend early in the morning for coffee and a catch up. We met at the Theatre Bar at the end of the Wharf where we could listen to writers talk about current affairs. Today Julia Leigh and Marie Darrieusecq were in attendance. Leigh has just published a book, Avalanche, about her journey with IVF which she wrote in the weeks following her last unsuccessful treatment. Darrieussecq spoke about the blurring lines of fiction and non-fiction and how books are not so distinctly segmented in Europe. While interesting, we left early as we had to head off to our first sessions.

Julia Leigh (2nd from left) and Marie Darriessecq (2nd from right)

Our Darker Selves

I was grateful this panel session was on as I had been looking at attending sessions with Mark Tedeschi and Paula Hawkins individually, but could not fit them into my Festival program. So this panel session was perfect as I could hear from all these authors.

Koch, Tedeschi, Hawkins and Condon
The topic was about what makes us attracted to wickedness, and this panel of writers have all explored the darker side of humanity with their books.

Paula Hawkins is the author of the best selling The Girl on the Train (2015) which is about to be released as a feature film. Hawkins said she has 'no great interest in domestic bliss' and that what she wants to explore is 'how do people get from their normal boring lives to a point of depravity'. She used to be a romance writer (under a pen-name) and decided that 'finding Mr Wrong is much more interesting than Mr Right'.

Mark Tedeschi QC is one of Australia's leading Crown Prosecutors, having prosecuted cases like Ivan Milat, the murder of Victor Chang, and the assassination of John Newman, knows a thing or two about people who have a dark side. He has recently written a book, Kidnapped (2016) about the 1960 abduction of Graeme Thorne, a young boy who was kidnapped after his parents won a major lottery. In speaking about why people are so drawn to crime and true crime books, Tedeschi said 'We all have little bits of violence within us. It intrigues us because we can identify with it."

Herman Koch is a Dutch writer who has written Summer House with Swimming Pool (2011) and The Dinner (2009) which both feature violent crimes. Just as he was at the Gala on Friday night, Koch had everyone laughing with his stories of petty crimes in his youth. He spoke about how people like characters that are unlikeable, pointing to TV figures Tony Soprano, Don Draper and Walter White.

The moderator of this session was Australian journalist and author Matthew Condon, who asked really insightful questions about getting into the headspace of a killer, building suspense, sympathising with perpetrators and revenge. They spoke about areas that they would not want to write about and agreed that terrorism, child assault and pedophilia were all crimes they would not want to explore in their works. After the session I met Paula Hawkins and she signed a copy of The Girl on the Train for me.

Our Reading Year

I am a fan of journalists Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales. I listen to their Chat 10 Looks 3 podcast and I watch their When I Get a Minute show. I know their schtick: banter, books and baked goods. So in many ways I did not need to attend this session and I was fearful that it would be nothing new.
Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales.

But it was great fun to see them in person talking about their reading year (even if they did debate over calendar year vs financial year).

Books they recommended included One on One by Craig Brown which sounds absolutely intriguing - 101 interlinked stories of true encounters. Annabel Crabb said she has given this book to people on a number of occasions and thinks it is 'so crackers but so good!'

Annabel also has enjoyed Stoner (1965) by John Williams and Fates and Furies (2015) by Lauren Groff. She spoke about how Australia does not  really have any books about college life.

They spoke about A Little Life (2015) by Hania Yanigihari and what a challenge it was to read. Sales stopped reading it as she wasn't enjoying it, while Crabb persevered without enjoying the last half.

Leigh Sales liked My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, who also wrote Olive Kittridge. She also recently read Anna Funder's Girl with the Dogs, which is a reworking of a Chekov short story. She has also enjoyed biographies by Magda Subanski and Amanda Keller.

They spoke about memoirs by Gregg Fleet, Richard Glover, Julia Leigh and others. They both enjoy long-form journalism such as articles in Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and Paris Match. Along the way they mentioned other books that sound interesting and I have taken note of.

When they opened for questions they were flooded with baked goods from attendees. In the end, I didn't really learn anything new but I enjoyed spending an hour with these two friends.

Frank Moorhouse on George Eliot

For my final session of the Festival I chose this one so I could spend an hour with one of Australia's literary legends Frank Moorhouse talking about one of my favourite authors, George Eliot.

The format of this session was different than they others I attended. Moorhouse delivered a lecture on Eliot and then spoke with Elizabeth Johnstone for a while about Eliot and her influence on Moorhouse.

Elizabeth Johnstone and Frank Moorhouse

Moorhouse said that a few years ago he started to re-read George Eliot: Middlmearch, Mill on the Floss, Scenes form a Clerical Life, Silas Mariner, Adam Bede, and Daniel Deronda. The only one he didn't re-read was Romola.

Eliot wrote about country life in the 1800s during a period of social, religious, cultural and industrial change. Moorhouse said that there is 'a clear gap between our time in hers, but distance shrank' as he read. He could draw clear parallels between Eliot's England and his early life in Nowra NSW.

He spoke about gender identity in Eliot's books and the 'growing restlessness of women'. In terms of women's rights, he said that "George Eliot would be astounded that things are still grim."

He spoke about his own novels, especially the Edith Campbell Berry trilogy (Grand Days, Dark Palace and Cold Light) and said that Eliot would have got on well with this character. After the session I met Frank Moorhouse and he signed a copy of Grand Days (1993) for me.

So that is the end of my festival. I had a wonderful time and enjoyed myself immensely. The festival atmosphere was vibrant and the festival staff and volunteers did an amazing job. Now all I have to do is finish all of these books before the next festival!

Today's book signings included:

  • Paula Hawkins - The Girl on the Train
  • Frank Moorhouse - Grand Days