Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sydney Writers Festival 2016

It has been a few years since I attended Sydney Writers Festival…a myriad of reasons…so I was up early and excited about my day soaking up all things books and literature. 

I do love the train ride to Sydney, I always feel full of anticipation and excitement of what my day might bring, what will the weather be like, what I want to do, and what serendipity may await me.

I arrived and changed trains at Central for Circular Quay and then had a nice big breakfast which I knew would fuel me for a while. It was a beautiful day and as I left the café not too full, but satisfied I had to remove my cardigan and let the sun wash over me. I walked around the Quay, bypassing The Rocks, for under The Bridge to Walsh Bay. It is a pleasant walk with much to see, Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Campbell’s Cove, looking back on the Sydney skyline.

I had time to collect my tickets, wander around the venues and get my bearings, refresh and line up for the first event of the day.

Being Rosie Waterland with Zoe Norton-Lodge

I was always in two minds about this session, Rosie was part of the Mamma MeMeMe stable, one I am most certainly not fond of. I tend to avoid anything from that stable with a ten foot pole, but yet I had – against my better judgement – read her memoir, mostly as a few people I admire had recommended it to me. I enjoyed it, well if enjoy can be the correct word about a life that has had way too much trauma in it before she was 10 let alone the rest of it. I found it well written with a sassy (a word I normally hate too, but one that just works for Ms Waterland), humorous tone. So you could be reading the most awful passage about something dreadful and yet feel compelled to laugh. This is unique and good writing.

I do love Zoe Norton-Lodge, she is dry and sharp of tongue, but warm of nature. Her conversation with Rosie was like a warm and safe hug, which is exactly what was required given the subject matter. They spoke about some of the stories within the book, and Zoe asked a lot of questions to drive home the point of how incredibly unreal and traumatic Rosie’s childhood and subsequent life had been. Two of the most moving and harrowing parts of the book was where some local kids found a dead body in the bush, a dead body that quite possibly could be their father, so Rosie and her sister headed out to see, and another where Rosie, semi-paralysed watched her mother fail to attempt suicide. Both stories catch you at the back of your throat and make you gasp yet smile or even laugh at the humour she adds to it, mostly to soften the blow I imagine.

They spoke about how people within or connected to the book felt about it, Rosie said her father’s family were not happy and her Mum took a while to read it, and has expressed unhappiness but also that she liked it. Her mother has early effects of alcohol induced alzheimers. The Q and A was interesting, and Rosie also spoke about starting at MM and how she was not sure but a start was a start and she felt she should use whatever came her way – good for her for being honest. She has also suffered severe online bullying, which was very upsetting to hear her relate.

I walked out of the session feeling like I had been run over by a train, it was harrowing to hear the person who wrote these real life stories tell them, to see the emotion. I was pretty much wiping tears away the whole session and I was also sold on her being a solid writer, woman, and worthy of being at a such a festival.

Marlon James with Michael Cathcart

Marlon arrived on stage at the Roslyn Packer Theatre with No Woman, No Cry playing…perfection.

For those that do not know, Marlon is a Jamaican writer, now based as a teacher/lecturer in the states, who won the Booker in 2015 for his mammoth book, A Brief History of Seven Killings based on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley. A long time BMW fan, I knew I had to read this book (I have started it, it is exceptional, but dense, with three pages of characters listed at the front of the book, it is akin to Dostoevsky).

He is about my age, gay, and bloody gorgeous. The session was outstanding, and difficult to keep up with.

Michael first asked him about Jamaica, Marlon grew up in upper middle class Jamaica, so much of what he is writing about was not his experience, but he knew of it.

He did a reading from the book, I love hearing authors read their own writing (most deliver so well, but not always) and he was fabulous. Cheeky words in that cheeky accent.

He then spoke about the ugliness of country, socialism, guns, violence, and poverty. And of how the US government allegedly destabilized the country deliberately. The sense of uncertainty and panic it caused, but also the beauty and creativity, and from that Reggae music was born, and then the Jamaican arts scene started to break away from the colony.

Marlon was 6 when all of this was happening, it was not his reality, but his Mum was a detective and his Dad a cop then a lawyer. He joked his Mum put them in jail and his Dad got them out.

He spoke about Bob, and what he stood for, and that he really was a polarising figure as Rastas were thought of as scum and you never heard Bob Marley on Jamaican radio because of that. But it had a subversive edge to it and that was good. He said there are two sides to Bob Marley, the peace loving, dope smoking “Three Little Birds” Bob Marley, and the hard, tough, politically edged Bob Marley.

There was a brief moment of hilarity when Cathcart calls the book A Brief History of Time and Marlon joked how he is quite often confused with Stephen Hawking.

He then got to the heart of the book, he decided to use Bob as a metaphor for the characters to draw to and then the famous concert in Kingston to draw all the characters together. He said the book is fictional as he likes to solve mysteries and fill in the gaps, and the mystery – for him – was why did these young boys try to kill Bob Marley. This is not known.

He says he has no emotional attachment to what he is writing, that he writes like a journalist. Work is work and art is art. He writes with total detachment.

He also mentioned Prince, and that he interweaved him into the book, though he didn’t say how (and I obviously haven’t gotten to that bit yet). He said Prince pretty much changed his life as he didn’t know you could be electrified by music as he was by him.

Violence was touched on upon the end, there is a lot of violence in A Brief History of Seven Killings. Marlon felt that violence is ok if we are still shocked by it. It is when we are numbed to it, that it is wrong and pornographic. He then mentioned the violence in Shakespeare.

After the talk, I had good fortune to line up and get my copy of the book signed. I asked him two questions, the first, who was his favourite on Charlie’s Angels (he had referenced the show a few times in the talk), he laughed, paused for a moment and said Kelly (Jaclyn Smith). I then asked what I thought was a really dumb question, what his favourite Bob Marley song was, again he had to think so I was thrilled it was not an often asked question of him. He said Heathen which is off Exodus, and he asked me my favourite song which is also off Exodus, Exodus. He laughed they were the same album, I grinned and thanked him, and walked away gripping by book knowing we would have to be firm friends based on that piece of musical information!

Nicolas Fargues in conversation with Linda Jaivin

Nicolas is French and has been writing novels since 2000. Prior to that he worked in libraries, journalism, and in 2002 as the face of Chanel’s allure campaign. He is well traveled, and has lived in other countries and written about these experiences. 

It goes without saying Nicolas is a very good looking, very well spoken, and very charming French man.

I didn’t know anything about Nicolas when I chose this session. It simply said this was about the book he wrote about leaving his wife and if you wanted to know what went on in the mind of males, this was the session for you...and he was French...and if Linda was interviewing him it was probably spicey. So I took a punt.

What a fascinating session, I went from adoring, swooning, loathing, feeling sorry for, unsure if I was being swindled, to being confused, and then just amused by Nicolas. What a chameleon, what a charmer, and quite possibly either A/ a totally honest man who has been underestimated or B/ A total douchebag. I still have no idea.

The audience were even more divided than me, if the Q and A session at the end was anything to go by.

So the novel at hand, was one from 2006 and translated in 2009. I am guessing someone on the SWF panel found it and thought it would be an intriguing addition, and it was!

The story/novel tells the very true story of him and his wife about to separate after dalliances on both parts. It does not paint his wife in a very good light. For what I can gather, there is not much fiction in the novel at all, which brought about much debate about Non-Fiction/Memoir disguised as Fiction, and if indeed it really is was it says it is. It is an age old debate I guess but he has really taken it to that fine line and crossed it over. I started the book and am about halfway through, hoping it would give me some clarity. Not so far, he comes across in a very lovely light, his wife not so much and maybe that is the truth.

Or maybe he is very deceptive.

His writing is not flowery or beautiful, but more to the point and as things are in a jovial conversational way. It is sexy, but not of sex. He did say he loves style and beauty in writing, but he does not write like that. You can see this.

Apparently his wife sued him but didn’t win, she really does not come across well at all, especially in a particularly brutal scene where she physically beats him in the hope of ruining his good looks. There are scars under his day old facial growth apparently. They are friends now, but he admits it took a long while to get to that point, which only happened due to their children.

So as you can see, I have no idea what to make of this man, but I can assure you it was thoroughly entertaining.

His last piece of ‘advice’ during his talk was, “don’t fool yourself with your writing, be who you are.”

Julian Barnes with Caroline Baum

Julian is one of my favourite writers, with Sense of an Ending being one of my all time favourite books. This final session at Angel Place was really the reason I was at the festival. I was excited and had great seats upstairs, and was completely entranced by this elegant, elder statesman of the literary world, just as I had hoped I’d be.

He is very English, calm, softly spoken, but edgy with a keen sense of dry humour. Pretty much as you would expect if you have read anything by him, especially his non-fiction.

I made no notes whatsoever for this talk, which I regret now, because he had so much to say. But I was hypnotised by his voice, his cadence, his laugh, and his supreme intellect.

I know he spoke about his new book, The Noise of Time, about Shostakovich and life under Stalin. Oh that’s right, the evening commenced with a fabulous young pianist playing a piece by Shostakovich prior to Barnes and Baum arriving on stage. This was a lovely pace setting piece that calmed me after a hectic day and took my breath away with it’s beauty. You can see why Barnes wrote about the great man.

I remember a decent conversation about death and how it changes you. Barnes has memorably written at great length about death and facing it within his memoirs. In between those memoirs and the present his wife has passed away. Baum asked if it changed any of his thoughts on death, having been faced with it in recent years. He took a very long and uncomfortable pause, I was worried he’d be upset. And I guess he was, but he said it hadn’t changed much of what he thought. He spoke lovingly of her, they had had such a great relationship.

He also spoke with his great dry wit in fine form about his Philosopher older brother and how his parents always favour the brother and his more high brow achievements than those of himself.

He spoke about language, history, and his football team.

I feel so bad for my lack of details, but I remember feeling so charmed and so delighted to hear this wonderful man speak. It was pure and utter joy. There is nothing like seeing a hero, and realising they are exactly as you hoped.

Afterwards I lined up to get my large pile of books signed, this was different to most book signings, just him signing his name, no additional bits and not much chit chat, I had a large stack so he thanked me for buying so many and smiled directly at me, which was much much more than most in the line got. I smiled back and thanked him for years of joy, and walked away positively buzzing and swooning.

I then took the all stops to Cardiff train from central 9.45pm...sigh. But it gave me chance to reflect on a great day and how lucky I was to be able to take in all these wonderful people and their stories. I also – as always at such events – ran into many people I knew, always a bonus.

It was only one day and four events, but it fed my soul, my creativity, and made me smile.

1 comment:

PinkPatentMaryJanes said...

How divine. Loved how you summed up such an extraordinary day. i love how festivals feed the soul.