The. A. Margot. School. A.

February 4th, 2015 – I keep finding more of the reviews I’ve posted to Facebook – yes this is TWO YEARS OLD now.

OK, so next in the epic list of (good) films … the rag rug grows by the digital minute!

Thanks to everyone who mentioned Mads Mikkelsen. I don’t have a TV, so of course I’m completely oblivious to the presence of this man on screen as psychopath, however I took up people’s recommendations and this is what I’ve been watching. Mads is my new favourite actor – bad luck Johnny Depp!

The Hunt, Thomas Vinterberg (2012).
I’m not so sure I could watch Mads in gruesome things, but his portrayal of this character was so moving and believable. As the rating sticker says this film certainly has ‘strong themes’. A school teacher fighting for custody of his son, is accused of the sexual abuse of a young girl. The film is about his struggle to prove his innocence. Top film, if ever so tragic.

A Royal Affair, Nikolaj Arcel (2012).
Shakespeare: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Hamlet (1601). When too much Mads is barely enough! He is so good in this, and this one really tickled my fancy for history of the period and challenges to the grip on power of the church. What an amazing history Denmark has had – Shakespeare was well ahead of his time – 150 odd years or history really does repeat! Beautiful period piece that reminded me of Dangerous Liaisons.

Margot at the Wedding, Noah Baumbach (2007).
I can’t remember why this was recommended, but it paired really well with Jack Black in School of Rock, which apparently I needed to watch because I play the, ‘well, cellooooo’! This film is icky in a proper Noah Baumbach way and was a Nicole Kidman film I didn’t mind (I normally can’t stand her acting – but this role she played extremely well). Margot (Nicole) is annoyingly smug and crazy when she turns up at her sister’s place. Betrothed Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Malcolm (Jack Black) get completely thrown by Margot’s presence and everything that was going to be slowly falls apart. A bit of a strange ending, but there you have it. Thanks again Noah!

School of Rock, Richard Linklater (2003).
What can one say? Hilarious in a pathetic kind of way. Classic Jack Black. From the crowd-surfing into nothing to the Principal chatting up the rock musicians at the end.  I’d seen my “well celloooooo” quote quite early on. The comment rivals “couldn’t you choose a smaller instrument to play” in my experience when introducing myself as a cellist. I wasn’t going to watch the rest, but hey, there was rag rug to finish, and I didn’t feel like watching a subtitled film (takes my eyes off the weaving).

Un homme et une femme: A Man and a Woman, Claude Lelouch (1966)
And a French film with subtitles to finish off. It is quite hard to believe that this film is one year off 50 years old.   What a classic French film. What amazingly well-adjusted boarding school children. What is it about train scenes in France? That’s all. There is not much to say – it’s a French film, I’m in heaven automatically. Apparently Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant re-united for A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later in 1986. Another one for the film list.

The beginning of a ‘Big Year’ at Bool Lagoon

After 25 years driving the picturesque Mount Gambier to Adelaide road, and seeing the familiar brown Bool Lagoon sign just shy of Naracoorte, today I decided to turn off the road and see what it was all about. It was reportedly flush with birds after the past overly-wet six months, so I was hopeful of some good bird watching. Maybe it will be the beginning of my very first Big Year (2011, David Frankel).

As soon as you turn off the main highway, you start to see them.  Smaller break-away flocks flying in formation to and from the lagoon.  I’d borrowed the car from my aunt and uncle – they have a pass for all National Parks in Australia – handy! The CD skipped over to Vaughan Williams, The Lark Ascending. Not so sure I’ll see so many of them though.

The reserve is set firmly within a farming and wine-growing community, however I was still surprised to see a herd of cattle all over the road, being shepherded by their owner on quad-bike, just as I was going to turn in.

The stone wall announced Bool Lagoon Game Reserve, because yes, birds are still hunted here (although the duck and quail hunts had been restricted by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources during the 2016 season). The announcement was made by Minister Hunter. Ironic.

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All manner of winged creatures greet you as you drive around at tortoise pace. It didn’t really feel right to even get close to the 40km speed limit, so I suspect I’m more a watcher than a twitcher or a chaser. Up close it’s dragonflies. Along the side of the small bitumen road, it is baby magpies, still finding their feet and wings.  Out in the lagoon, it is the black swans with their little broods trailing behind them and up in the air it is the large ibis and geese, writing their hieroglyph messages in formation to all who will watch.

I would like to have walked out across the lagoon on the board walk, but unfortunately it sits in disrepair. This is a bit of a tragedy, when it would be great to get out there amongst it – apparently it has been out of action for some time now.

Don’t forget to keep your eyes down too, as signs warn that the frogs and turtles also cross the roads.

Many of the birds that come to this lagoon are migratory, and boy do they flock together. Robert Lynd said, “In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.” Well,  I stopped at one point where the reeds made a grassed garden in the water and the large magpie geese honking to each other were less seen than heard.  They certainly make a racket. It was gorgeous in its isolation, if not silence. There were thousands of birds to see but I lost count after 10.

It was hardly like the film, I had virtually no competition for my front row seats in the bird hide at Hacks Lagoon, although another couple had arrived just after me, and proceeded to look around at their own pace. They didn’t resemble Owen Wilson or Jack Black one bit.

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I enjoyed my little visit, staying for about an hour, and then it was time for me to fly home to roost.  The day reminded me far more of that other beautiful bird film, Travelling Birds: An Adventure in Flight (2003, Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats). Oh to be able to fly with them like that. Being earth-bound though, I am content to just watch them, rather than count them, and appreciate their aerodynamics, strange habits and weird sounds.

“No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.” William Blake

Bool Lagoon, Naracoorte, South Australia.
Park fees apply – book online at National Parks South Australia.

The Tale of Genji – the Uji chapters

In the chapters of the book of my life, there are a number of leit motifs – common little elements that appear again and again. Some are musical, some are experiential and others are books. Sometimes all it takes is for one unsuspecting radio program to remind me of one.

It happened again on the 22nd December while listening to the Radio National Summer School program. Zoe Norton Lodge and Mark Sutton went in search of the definition of The Novel, then in pursuit of the earliest example.

The classics were noted, experts consulted, much conjecture ensued and the centuries slowly wound back before the conversation turned to the obscure (to some), The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu.

I have never read the tome, but it has been in my consciousness since 1992, when it began to sit on the shelf of a long-term relationship, beckoning to be read along with Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos and Emily Bronte’s, Wuthering Heights.  The Bronte I got to, but the others not so much.

I continued to fail to understand the significance of the The Tale of Genji but it made its presence felt again when I moved to Sydney in 2006. I couldn’t help but notice, and was fascinated by, a fellow Stanmore station commuter’s familiar brick-like choice each morning. It was the most unlikely work commute book I could imagine – it is around 1,100 pages long. I was always tempted to strike up a conversation about it for this fact alone.

When I visited Japan in 2012 for a Suzuki music conference in Matsumoto and had the opportunity to add on another few days in Kyoto, I was looking for things to see. The little river-side town of Uji caught my attention, not only as the centre of the Japanese green tea universe and its World Heritage-listed shrines and temples, but also because it was the scene of several of the chapters, the last ten to be precise, of The Tale of Genji. There it was again, that book!

According to the travel guides, Uji is also home to a museum dedicated to the story, two monuments on the edge of the river and a discovery trail (I’m ever so fond of a treasure hunt).  So, still having never read the book, I set out to educate myself about this significant story and possibly sample the green tea.

I’d made quite a late start, having dropped in to some other shrines and temples on the way to Uji that morning. I’d caught the train, and I knew I was in the right place given the sign greeting me near the station. Now I just needed to find the start of the trail.

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However, I needed an ice-cream refresh first. When in Uji, do as they do and eat their green tea icecream. After giving myself brain freeze, I found the trail and set off across the Kisen-bashi Bridge to To-no-shima Island, then continued to the other side of the river via the Asagiri-bashi Bridge, following the little brass plates in the pavement.

Just on the other side of the river, there is a monument to the chapters of the book that are set in Uji.  Here the lovers, Ukifune (meaning floating boat – or maybe floats my boat) and Prince Niou-no-Miya, are shown in a boat on the Uji-gawa River. Hikaru Genji has long-since died, but his son Kaoru and the Prince vie for Ukifune’s affections and she eventually jumps into the river to escape. This is clearly 11th century high romantic drama of epic proportions.

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Walking along small shady pathways past more shrines and temples, away from the main food and commerce area of the town, in time you arrive at the The Tale of Genji Museum. It provides a multi-media experience of the story and the “glamourous world of the Heian imperial dynasty”. It also has a great Japanese cafeteria and gift shop all housed in a  modern building, set in well manicured Zen-like gardens. Throughout the complex, every opportunity is made to reference the story, from the lunch trays to the lamps. The quality of the museum equals the apparent reputation of the book which Royall Tyler (interviewed on the program and one of the many translators of the book) described as a being a ‘flagship’ or ’emblem’ in Japanese literature.

Arcing back around into the town, you re-cross the river again via the Uji-bashi Bridge and a monument to the author, Murasaki Shikibu. Until I went to Japan, despite bumping into it a number of times, I never realised that ‘the first novel’ was written by a woman.

Murasaki was a born into a previously aristocratic family, and descended from a family line of notable poets. She wrote a diary, a volume of poetry and The Tale of Genji while a noblewoman in Kyoto.

Uji has a beautiful name and during sakura (cherry blossom) season, its vistas certainly match it. From the overgrown, bonsai-shaped trees to the narrow streets lined with gift-shops, tea houses and restaurants, there is plenty to see here, and it could easily fill two days or a lazy three days in your Japanese itinerary.  I felt a little rushed and it was hot in the afternoon, so I’d recommend wandering the trail early and taking in the shrines and temples in the afternoon. Whilst the area is quite traditional looking, it was still hard to imagine what this place may have been to the courtly writer or her protagonist.

In the late afternoon, I availed myself of a sweet ginger drink – a kind of ‘still’ ginger beer which was beautifully refreshing. I had a brief shop in a gift-shop where I bought the most exquisite threaded earrings (that’s a blast from the past – I wonder if that craze swept 80s Japan too) and in the evening, went back to a little restaurant in the middle of the ‘suburb’, surrounded by houses. I was early for dinner and I sat at the bar watching the chef assemble my little tray of delights. The food (as most is in Japan) was perfectly presented and of elegant sufficiency.

It is interesting to note that my latest little bump into the The Tale of Genji just confirmed what Royall Tyler said of it – “The Tale of Genji is more discussed, than read”. While I was listening to the radio conversation unfolding, I thought to myself, I wonder when it will next make its way into my life!

Uji is 20-30 minutes (depending on which train you take) from Kyoto on the JR Nara line. Cherry blossom season is around the first week of April in Kyoto – but check the internet for the forecast for each year.

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ON AIR: 40 years of 3RRR

Last year I took the unprecedented step of subscribing to not one, but two local community radio stations, RRR 102.7FM and PBS 106.7FM.  I kind of got sucked into their subscribe-a-thons because they do such a great job with them, but I also figured I do listen to them when I’m driving around in a GoGet car, and certainly get my money’s worth. What is  great about listening is the absence of whiny and insistent ads for things you neither think about nor want to buy.

Public and independent radio has for a long time been my much-loved medium for information, thoughtful comment and music (my other favourites are of course ABC Classic FM and ABC Radio National). I sometimes engage deeply when I am listening to broadcasts, and I blogged about one such experience in Skirting the Doldrums. Listening to radio sends me on philosophical tangents, takes me delving into filing cabinets worth of memories and often makes me laugh or cry. In the form of independent radio, it can bring a diversity of sounds and opinions that is so sadly lacking from mainstream media.

As part of Melbourne Rare Book week in 2016, I was lucky enough to take a guided tour of the hallowed conservator’s room in the State Library of Victoria where we were shown some large posters that were being prepared for the upcoming RRR exhibit to mark their 40 year anniversary,  ON AIR: 40 years of 3RRR. Being newish to Melbourne, it was not until I wandered into the State Library of Victoria just before Christmas that I saw the manifestation of the strong and vibrant grassroots movement I’d joined. The space set aside in the Keith Murdoch gallery of the State Library of Victoria forms a fitting tribute to the hours of audio, hundreds of volunteers, social and musical history of Melbourne community radio.

It is an interesting challenge to showcase the history of audio and musical culture in a building housing a collection devoted to books but it is successful in its multi-media approach. Ranging from letters to the station, posters and other ephemera to a collection of audio devices found in the station and prepared video interviews with station stalwarts, this display was a walk down memory lane for a child of the 1970s whose musical experience spans exactly the same era. I’m sure for music lovers who have resided in Melbourne during the last 40 years, this exhibition would re-kindle many memories. The display also speaks to the symbiotic relationship between the station and the local/national alternative music culture and industry.

The value of RRR is in the alternative voice it brings to Melbourne’s cultural mix. The fact that it has lived and grown to a community of over 12,000 people in the 40 years is a testament to the need for it and it has now taken on a life of its own, “It’s there as an alternative to the mainstream. It’s a bit like a footy team – committee men (sic) come and go, players come and go, but the fans and the colours stay the same” Leaping Larry L, 2004.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit. It is a free exhibition and its showing has been extended until 26th February, 2017 at the State Library of Victoria.

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Colourful architecture, French clocks and cricket balls.

Postcard from Christmas 2013

Until today, for me, portobello was a type of mushroom. Now I’ve had a Notting Hill experience (who was it that suggested it to me? Thanks btw), it will henceforth also mean colourful architecture, French clocks and cricket balls.

I started with a late breakfast at Jamie’s Recipease (a complete surprise I happened across after alighting from the #28 red double decker bus but not the same without my friend Jo W, [and after Googling, I realise closed just recently]). I got to write my journal upstairs at the East-facing, full length, sunny window bench whilst six keen adherents whisked furiously behind me at Jamie’s cooking class sans my friends Joanne R and Janelle (who would’ve loved it). 

Despite the sign for the Robert Redford film showing across the road at the Gate Cinemaall was not lost when I finally decided to venture back outside into the cool air wondering where all the crowds were heading. I followed, and found Portobello Road.

I’m glad to be here in winter – it would be even more of a human traffic jam if the road was fully packed with stalls, as I’m sure it is in summer.  I passed the showy counterfeit watches at the road stalls and shimmied into the second-hand shops in 6th-hand buildings, only to find real French clocks, silver-topped walking canes and cricket balls. I could even have purchased Banksy reproduction, if I’d been inclined.

I had a rustic Italian ‘dinner’ at 3.30pm consisting of artichoke risotto accompanied by prosecco then biscotti with espresso chaser at Osteria Basilico. This delightful corner ristorante was still decked out with its red Christmas decorations and snow covered fir tree branches in the window. It looked so inviting, how could I resist? Such a lovely accompaniment to the crisp weather.

No photos – you’ll just have to imagine.

Featured image by John Eckman, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons license Portobello Road, W11, London

Lorikeet Loop Walk, Belair National Park

There is nothing like a walk in the Australian bush at Christmas time to bring to mind the fanciful nature of the rituals we cling to.  Mention of Rudolf, sleigh bells and decorated fir trees conjures images from literally half a world away from the reality that is any one of our many Australian landscapes.  Australians have the uncanny ability to celebrate one thing, when observing in nature the complete opposite.

I have lived the European Christmas once. This week presented a sad reminder of it. I was at once enchanted and flabbergasted by the stark truth of celebrating the season depicted on our cards, carols and gift wraps, while rugged up to visit two German Christmas markets. Drinking mulled wine from little purpose-made cups, wandering between countless stalls full of handmade Christmas decorations and foods, the wafting smells of hot pretzels and sugar were perfect for the chilly weather of the northern hemisphere. It was not incongruous with our Christmas culture, just our Christmas place.

I returned to my home town of Adelaide this week to be with family and friends, and took the opportunity to walk each morning in the Belair National Park, literally down the hill from where I was born, in the dene where I grew up.  Sunday School picnics, primary school excursions and Corroborees (probably well-meaning yet insensitively-named back in the 1970s, with no mention of the traditional Kaurna owners) and later friend’s weddings at Old Government House have etched this landscape into long-term memory and imprinted familiar sensations.  My grandfather’s patient volunteering eradicating bone seed make this place the closest I have to a place of my ancestors, for a South-Australian of European extraction.

This magnetic park draws me each time I return home and I’ve become very familiar with the lovely 40 minute Lorikeet Loop Walk (and sometimes Valley Loop Hike extension to get the walk to over an hour).  In this week, there has been a gradual build up to the hottest Christmas day for 70-odd years for Adelaide, but despite the already warm mornings, the walks were shaded and not yet uncomfortably hot.

It is a testament to the hard work of the rangers (Harry Butler-types you sometimes see passing in their utes) that the wildlife is flourishing in the park.  The Belair Recreation Park of my childhood in 1970s was a very different place. Tall, abundantly leafy, introduced trees casting their cool, solid shade widely between well-tended ovals skirted by painted corrugated-iron huts evoking the deep green of Europe. Today, due to diligent work of volunteers also, this park contains many stands of the subtle coloured eucalypt grasslands now rare in the rest of the Adelaide Hills and plains, but the perfect and necessary environment for kangaroos, emus, koalas, bright pink and grey galahs, yellows of sulphur-crested cockatoos, bright blue of the Superior blue wrens, wood-ducks, magpies, kookaburras and crows – all of whom made their presence felt as I walked my daily circuit.

It felt like an Australian rendition of a partridge in a pear tree some mornings or rather a koala in a gum tree as I walked these beautiful tracks, collecting the list of wildlife that joined me.  But true to the experience, the perfect song accompaniment for this bush Christmas is not Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer or the Twelve Days of Christmas, but William Garnet James and John Wheeler’s more apt, Carol of the Birds:

Out on the plains the brolgas are dancing
Lifting their feet like war horses prancing
Up to the sun the woodlarks go winging
Faint in the dawn light echoes their singing
Orana!  Orana!  Orana to Christmas Day

Down where the tree ferns grow by the river
There where the waters sparkle and quiver
Deep in the gullies bell-birds are chiming
Softly and sweetly their lyric notes rhyming
Orana!  Orana!  Orana to Christmas Day

Friar birds sip the nectar of flowers
Currawongs chant in the wattle tree bowers
In the blue ranges lorikeets calling
Carols of bushbirds rising and falling
Orana!  Orana!  Orana to Christmas Day

Greetings of the season to you!

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Beyond Borders in Blois

A child of the city of churches, I grew up visiting Adelaide’s pre-eminent ‘Sunnyside Mall’ at first with my mother in our school holiday Myer excursions, then later of my own volition.

I remember the buzz and excitement (from some) when the multinational Borders Bookstore graced the Rundle Mall with its presence. Riding the tidal wave of coffee popularity, the business traded on the promise of being able to browse books whilst sipping on coffee, which, amongst other things, for some years made it a successful business. Its enormity for Adelaide could be measured by the fact that this bookshop had several levels and internal escalators. Up until then only large, long established retailers boasted this. Then ebooks and the internet seemed to make it impossible for such behemoth businesses to continue and as soon as it came, it was bought up by bigger (or more secure fish), then eventually disappeared.

When I say some were excited, I like to excuse myself, because I’m cynical about the perfect storm of a US multinational in a small local market with many rival booksellers, and I worried for the future of the small bookstores in Adelaide.

So you can imagine the pure joy, when on my 2013 trip to Blois, France, while pursuing the long line of my Chartier ancestors,  I happened across the answer to the coffee/book browsing dilemma in the form of Liber.Thés, a clever, quintessentially French play on words for a librairie/salon de thé (bookstore/tea salon).

The less intrepid tourist might not find this little gem, sited on the rive gauche (left bank) of the Loire, and away from the popular attractions like the Royal Château de Blois and for me the Archives départementales de la Sarthe.  But once on the other side, it is difficult to walk past it, as the atmosphere is both bookish and artistic – an altogether bohémien little nook. In weighing up whether to go in, I was reassured by 1. lots of customers, 2. lots of books and 3. a très cool look.

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I was searching for a feed, but I took the opportunity to search the shelves as well, and providently found a book which mentioned my ancestor’s name. (I had been shown this book earlier at the Château Royal de Blois when speaking to their collections manager about my ancestor).  It was a limited edition book, 16/155 – Deville, Les Horologers Blésois – a bargain (not), at €180. There are many other second-hand treasures here.

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I seated myself in the the room with all the books, and took the opportunity to have a flip through the large volume. I was accompanied by the industrious bibliophile/barista who whipped up gorgeous pumpkin soup with croutons and a salmon and avocado tartine.

Are two martinis too much? Well, I had them too – not usually a martini drinker, but then also not usually in Blois! Abstract art covers the walls, a very french mosaic the floor and the bar is covered with a mosaic even Giulio Cesare (the reputed founder of Blois in 100-44BC) would be proud of.

If I was ever interested in the multinational bookshop, I’m certainly beyond Borders now, and much happier sitting in a local icon, catering to antiquarian book-hunters and which will most likely be here forever.

 

liber.thes@free.fr – 21 avenue du Président Wilson 41100 Blois 0254781478

Adelaide Writers’ Week 2016

I know it is probably sacrilegious, but I almost like listening to writers talk about their books more than reading them.  Am I just strange, or is there some powerful chemistry going on when a story-teller re-tells their story interwoven with their personal lived experience?

In late February, early March, 2016 I spent a gorgeous ten days in my home town, Adelaide, attending one of the pre-eminent (so I’ve heard, as I haven’t attended any others) writers’ weeks in the world.  There is a sense of pure indulgence, sitting under those beautiful trees, listening to very wise and patient human beings, speak about the books they have birthed in recent times, and not-so-recent times.  It is a profound experience which I might yet be processing for a couple more weeks, if not months, now I’m back in my Melbourne stomping ground.

There are many facets that make up the diamond of Adelaide Writer’s Week, an integral part of the Adelaide Festival program, begun all those decades ago during the time of Don Dunstan.

As I was reminded by a number of people I sat with in the audience, it is one of the only free events in the world.  The ability to be able to flexibly drift between the tents of speakers, without having had to have decided on who you want to hear, and booked, and paid ahead, is absolutely unique.

So too, I think, is the Adelaide audience’s capacity to engage deeply with writers, and the process of writing. This ability is matched by their propensity to look out for one another, and connect with complete strangers over books and ideas.  I had lovely conversations about trees and travel, publishing and patriarchy in the warm embrace of an Adelaide summer.

Another aspect is how finely curated the program is, flipping between paired authors talking on themes and solo authors more closely with their work and lives under the spotlight, the directors skills at being able to anticipate and even create, thought-provoking combinations of writers and interviewers is simply poetry in motion.

To wander through the list of books I read each year, is to chart a course through ideas and themes that I myself deal with in my life. There seems to be a happy convergence of those themes, perhaps because that is the way of things – after all we see what we want to see.

I thought I might recount some of the ideas/issues I have been grappling with or that struck me when listening to the wonderful insights these authors shared.  The wonderful part for me, is that one cuts out one’s own pattern from a shared experience. A bit like a snowflake cut-out exercise. Even though I shared this experience with thousands of others, my resulting snowflake of ideas, characters and experience from the six days on the grass will be unique – just like everyone else’s.

I must declare my leanings. I’m interested in writing historical fiction in colonial settings, fascinated by biography and French culture so I chose to visit the places where this would be discussed. As you will see from this blog, I am also exploring the concept of travelling and the journey of the soul, so this was another theme I looked out for in the offerings.

Day 1:

A place called winter. Patrick Gale has a beautiful voice and an eloquent way of putting things.  I connected with his exploration of where fault-lines start in the patterns that are carried through generations and digging for the reasons why things come to be. As happened a number of times his talk was punctuated by the noisy flock of galahs that were the other resident artists for the week. He spoke of the myth and reality of the new colonies. The romanticised ‘new frontier’ and ideas of empire being sold as a lie.  As with many authors, there was a deep acknowledgement of the displacement of indigenous people and I found much food for thought about how we write ‘the other’ in story. From a technical viewpoint, his description of writing drafts of the story first by chronology, then re-ordering, then from the reader’s perspective, to be really helpful.

One Life. Kate Grenville raised an issue I have thought about for a while now.  Once you hear a story,  whose story is it? What rights does another have over it?  In her discussion of her previous work, The Secret River, Kate was emphatic that there is a line to be drawn about what stories we are ‘entitled’ to tell.  The discussion ranged widely through creativity, choice, women’s lives and loneliness, but a pretty strong theme came across, that ‘ordinary stories’ have just as much right to be heard as ‘heroic’ ones.

Legacy. The conversation between Magda Szubanski and Leah Kaminsky about the legacy of war in their families and their writing was rivetting.  In my experience of the stories told by my family, I related to the way they identified war traumas transferred down through generations.  This seemed to be compounded by the experience of being second generation Australians. Magda summarised her experience of her father’s trauma and the way that it effected her, “He was the gong that was struck and I’m the one stuck in the reverberation”.  There was a sense of helplessness in this idea, which Magda acknowledged and it is fascinating to me that while these traumas can have such an impact on people’s lives, they achieve greatly, whether in spite of it or because of it who could tell. Another aspect of this that seemed to be present for both writers was that there is a magnetism to telling this story, the drama of it. What is the place within us that resonates with the trauma and tragedy of war?

A Golden Age.  Whereas I felt quite personally involved in the other sessions of the day, for this session, I felt like a spectator.  I was absolutely fascinated by the characters holding the stage and felt that their stories and the story of their interplay on this stage would actually be far more fascinating that those of their chosen heroines. Laura Thompson has written about the Mitford sisters and Robert Wainwright about Rose Porteous, both stories, that of privilege and the world of the movers and shakers. It seemed a long way from my seat.  It also seemed somehow titillating to be talking about these women, in a way akin to a Woman’s Day expose.  I haven’t read either book, so I can’t comment on the angle that these writers were taking, however it always interests me what draws people to write about certain characters, or in fact whether stories choose their author.

Keating. The afternoon sun was beginning its westerly escape as a huge crowd assembled to listen to a commentary by arguably two of Australia’s most significant journalists about one of Australia’s most significant Prime Ministers, Paul Keating.  The place was packed to the rafters to hear Kerry O’Brien taking the interviewee seat to Laura Tingle and they didn’t disappoint. The session could have easily spilled well into the evening, as Kerry loves talking about this topic and it was so interesting to his side of the Keating TV series. The ideas that stayed with me were that Keating had curiosity, imagination and was a warrior, but Kerry also pointed out whilst these things clearly had him ahead of the pack, Keating despised the idea of being “too far ahead of the mob”.  This period in Australian political history will always hold a special significance for me as I was just starting out in my first job, and at that stage lapped up most things political.  Now, not so much, but it was great to hear the period retold so skilfully.

Plain speaking Jane.  I’m glad that Richard Dawkins couldn’t attend because when he was still on the list, I had decided (despite wanting to see Jane Caro more) that I should go and see what this man was on about.  “There are no right ways to be a woman, only wrong ways, so be as wrong as you like”.  It came in the first few minutes, but really it is Jane’s mantra.  I ended the day, quite convinced that the value to me of Writer’s Week, is in the writers, not just their books.  Jane reminds us that we needn’t apologise for being different any longer.

Day 2:

A Marriage. Lauren Groff and Virginia Reeves had a lovely discussion dove-tailing the stories of their respective books, looking at the theme of marriage. Is marriage possible? Is it desirable?  Is silence malignant or benign? All big questions.  The work of Gillian Rose was mentioned and quoted –  “In personal life, regardless of any covenant, one party may initiate a fundamental change in the terms of relating without renegotiating them, and further, refusing even to acknowledge the change . . . There is no democracy in any love relation: only mercy.” Love’s Work.

Traveller’s Tails. For a traveller, this session was appealling, and Fran Bryson and Beth Yahp explored faraway places but not surprisingly questioned where is home?  Does travel enable in the traveller, an exploration of the concept of home.  Fran’s vivid descriptions of her travels in Brazil, and Beth’s portrayal of her family’s history and the spiritual, unseen world was mesmerising.

Political Women.  The second session hearing Jane Caro, but this time joined by Annabel Crabb.  These two women have impeccable credentials in terms of social and political commentary and their insights into Australian society are candid and often a sad reflection of the struggles women undergo in order to be taken seriously in the world full-stop, and the world of work and politics in particular.   In outlining the current climate, it reminded me of a book that I read a long time ago, Rhonda Mahoney’s, Kidding Ourselves: Breadwinning, Babies and Bargaining Power.  I’m not so sure I did get any answers, but I suppose it is always good to illuminate the issues.

The Life of Elves. The lilt of a French accent under the shady trees of Adelaide Writer’s Week was always going to be a magnet for me, but the combination of a wise,  contemplative and humble writer speaking about her writing held me there.  It was only part-way through the session, that I realised I knew Muriel Barbery’s, The Elegance of a Hedgehog, but not the book. It was a film I had watched in the past year in a flurry of video-shop movie binges of French films.  I was so impressed with it as a film and I can’t wait to read the book.  Muriel feels in her writing she gets the chance to build understanding where as in her work as a academic philosopher she was occupied with explaining.  It was an insightful session.

Day 3:

Fairy Tale. Again making my way to see Muriel Barbery, this time in a lovingly curated session, paired for a magical discussion with Patrick Dewitt. Perhaps it was these authors, perhaps because they were discussing fairly tales, or perhaps it was just happenstance, but this session was a goldmine of beautiful ideas to me.  The meaning and etymology of words is fascinating to me, but even more so through the lens of a French speaker.  Because the languages share so many common words, the exploration of the different meanings held in the two languages, or the discovery of old English words that are still used in French with the same meanings is one of the things that most enchants me about speaking with French speakers.  In what ways is a virtuoso virtuous for instance?  The conversation roamed far, looking at the intertwined relationship of nature and art: the creativity of people and it’s connection with nature.  Patrick’s book exploring two people communicating confusion/unrealised desire, Muriel’s two little girls who understand stuff (reminiscent of the sensitive ones in Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News). Not only were the stories discussed, but the life of a writer was considered.  A writer can’t control the thoughts: in a way they are a follower.  Following, listening and observing – all key skills that need to be cultivated in the craft of writing. A writer wouldn’t want to force their point – arguing, convincing or being the purpose of the writing is not the aim. An enchanting time.

The Making of a Writer. Bill Manhire and Max Porter, witty and intelligent with salient advice for budding writers. The nuts and bolts of being a writer with an elegant sufficiency of words. I can’t remember if it was this session or the other that Max spoke at, but at some point he said something about it not being so useful reflecting too much on the life and character of the author as he didn’t feel it was helpful in reading the book. I beg to differ, and on later reading his Grief is the Thing with Feathers, I was struck at how economic is his use of words, a feature of his elegant spoken word during the sessions. In this session he mentioned that he the author must make the book the most ‘itself’ it can be, however once it is finished and in the possession of the audience, it assumes a life of it’s own, and the life that the reader gives to it.  He said that ‘finding the singleness’ never worked for him. It was interesting to hear the writers speak of the location where they write – shutting the door on the family and sitting down for allocated slots of stolen time.  Bill said “It is the job of every writer to find their voice and speak in it”. In this way writing becomes the playful search for the voice.  The importance of editing was mentioned – asking the hard questions in the 1st edit. What makes a good writer?  Reading.  Ideas books – don’t throw away anything. I understand this, and have accumulated many notebooks already.  A most helpful session.

Ocean of the Future. I could listen to Simon Winchester all day.  The combination of his voice, his knowledge, his journalistic/storytelling style make for a wonderful session. His book, The Map that Changed the World, has sat on my shelf waiting for me to read it for many years and in the months following the festival, I had the pleasure of reading The Surgeon of Crowthorn but before I heard him speak I hadn’t read his books. He felt that his secret to success is to have a good idea, a good structure and good writing. I would add to that, write often. He has published over twenty books.  I liked the ideas for providing structure to his books Atlantic – the seven ages of man, and the five classical elements used for The Men Who United the States.  I have always appreciated this in books and hope to employ it in my own.  Another reason I could listen to Simon all day is that I appreciate his observations, such as the United States “seeing the Pacific as their own private lake”. Seeing this in light of the current TPP negotiations is a very interesting observation, and one which aligns with my view of the world. It is always easy to appreciate your own ideas mirrored in another isn’t it – especially when so fluently and intelligently presented!

Day 4:

Undermajordomo Minor. Patrick Dewitt and Max Porter.  These two had the benefit of a pre-existing relationship so the session felt like phone tapping this dynamic – an editor and one of his authors.  Patrick, with dry humour notes “I don’t necessarily turn my back on the world … but my interest is waning”, while Max quips about cross-dressing, “I come from a country where the people that run it, do that kind of shit every Friday night”. I haven’t noted much else about the discussion, but remember being amused and fascinated at the same time.

Day 5:

The Crow. Jonathan Bate and Max Porter with Michael Cathcart talking Ted Hughes. Despite the confluence of subject matter, the discussion was a little disjointed, and was plagued by a few technical hitches, and the session was also being broadcast to Radio National.  However, it was a fascinating wander over the life and works of Ted Hughes, the intertwined story of Sylvia Plath and two authors views on the phenomenon.  The highlight was a recording of Ted Hughes reading his poems at the same Writers’ Week, in it’s infancy in the 1970s under these same trees. A revealing session.

Salt Creek. Having been researching my own interesting family history in colonial Western Victoria, I was really excited to hear Lucy Treloar talking about her experience writing her book, Salt Creek.  In addition, the book is set in my home state, South Australia in an area that I frequently travelled through to visit my aunt and uncle on a farm north of Kingston during my childhood, so this session held a special interest for me. How does one adequately deal with the subject of dispossession and the ‘obliviousness of the colonial attitude’ – partly a religious Victorian attitude of dominion, mingled with concepts of empire. On one hand the pride exhibited by Darwin, “impossible to behold the far colonies without high pride and satisfaction” and on the other the reality that “death follows the indigenous wherever the European goes”.  It was a session where the realities of that time were treated with sensitivity and encouraged me to read the book.

Day 6:

The Natural Way of Things. The galahs visited again during this session advertising their breakfast arrival in the park. I came part-way through this session, and it wasn’t one that I had on my list, but part of the discussion I caught was about the difference between marketing aimed at men and women, the former being about augmenting their power, the latter being to make up a perceived deficit. Charlotte Wood has since been numerous awards for this book, and I need to put it on my reading list.

Archipelago of Souls. A reflective session in which Gregory Day asked, “What do we do with the darkness (inside ourselves) when we want to love each other”. An interesting look at the effects of war; fear and defensiveness. Observing people choosing to be away from other people because they don’t know how to bring the ‘awful thing’ (their trauma), with them to the relationship. One thing I found useful was the idea that ‘if it sounds like writing, throw it out’.

Chance Developments. It would be an interesting exercise to survey readers about which Alexander McCall Smith books they prefer.  I myself, have never been attracted to the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, however once I started the 44 Scotland Street series, I became hooked. I’ve also dabbled in the Sunday Philosophy Club series, but haven’t got as far with them. Alexander’s whimsical, quirky and funny view of life is not to everyone’s taste, I’m sure, but he draws the crowds and I really enjoyed hearing from him in person.  His nature spills into his books, and he is an author that regularly has me laughing out loud – which can be disconcerting for other passengers on public transport. A lovely session.

Outsiders. Given the large number of Aboriginal writers in Australia, I was a little surprised by how few make it into the program of Adelaide Writers’ Week – outsiders indeed.  One exception was the wonderful discussion between Tony Birch and Paddy O’Reilly. Tony’s extensive experience as a writer and teacher of the technique of writing was evident in the discussion, but especially in answering the questions posed by several writers at the end of the session.  He writes to the character until it becomes a part of him. He also brought a strong sense of place in his descriptions of Birrarung (the Yarra River in Melbourne) of his youth, and the distinction between land rights and the rights of the land, the agency of the river. The river is the backdrop for his novel, Ghost River and in it he deals with kids faced with challenges which they are resilient enough to survive.  The idea that learning to listen and learning to write are intertwined brought up again the themes that had come up earlier in the week.  The discussion covered the importance of observing land and place and making this the subject of research – detailing noise, smell, image and texture. Finding out what a place isn’t is just as important, and this sense of bringing the story into relief was also a technique used in writing stories.  Both authors encouraged writers to give their stories space after writing, reading again at a distance and getting other people to read, joining writers groups for critique and also suggestion.  It is important to find the method for you, of letting the character unfold. For the technicalities of writing, this was an excellent session and it brought forth many more questions from the audience than there was time for them to be answered.

Adelaide Writers’ Week 2016

On a couple of occasions in the early 2000s, before I moved away from Adelaide, I managed to drop in to AWW for a couple of sessions in between lectures of my Bachelor of Music at Adelaide University. 2016 was the first time I have made the time to attend for the whole week and immerse myself in the atmosphere.  It is for me indulgent yet indispensable in its inspiration. The space it creates for practising listening and being open to the wisdom of experienced writers is a true blessing, and over the past year I have found myself reflecting on the ideas it has raised for me more than once. The impetus it creates for an aspiring writer is palpable, and I would classify it now as a must-do for my professional development.

I’ve booked my trip back to Adelaide for the 2017 version and I await it eagerly!

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