My wordy weekend

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the Melbourne Writers Festival is the highlight of my literary year. Never am I happier than when I’m listening the wonderful words of people like Carrie Tiffany, Gillian Mears, Jenny Hocking…

It wasn’t easy to fit the festival in this year, I’m not sure how we got so busy this month, but I worked hard to carve out a little time over the weekend to get to a couple of sessions.

Saturday, I revisited my own rural childhood through the works of Carrie Tiffany, Rachael Treasure and Paddy O’Reilly. Three talented authors, all of whom in their novels, have captured the essence of country, the hardship of the outback and the beauty of the rural way of life. In this wonderfully relaxed session, Carrie, Rachael and Paddy helped us to get a little closer to their characters, and also told us something of why writing rural is so important to them.

As is often the case with these sessions, we were also really lucky to be able to get a glimpse of the writing process. Carrie describing her writing as a little like creating a colleague, a collection of “found objects”, whilst Rachael revealed her desire to affect, to support a “paradigm shift of some kind” helping people to understand through fiction the importance of soil health and smart operation in the production of our food and the care of our land. In turn, Paddy recalled a need to explore the paths people carve for themselves, especially in small towns; “they follow the same tracks, go to the same places, see the same people.” The effect that this has on small town folk is captured wonderfully in her novel, The Colour of Rust. 

I was incredibly grateful to these authors, as they’ve encouraged me to revisit my own small rural background, after many years of hurriedly moving away from it.

On Sunday, I had a little more time in at Federation Square and made it to two sessions.

Firstly I heard from the inspiring and poetic Gillian Mears, the author of The Age Book of the Year, Foal’s Bread. A sold-out session, the BMW Edge was filled with dedicated fans of Gillian’s work, most of whom could be seen reacting with a real appreciation and tenderness for the work of this talented author.

Again, the session itself afforded us an opportunity to hear more about how this book was written, including a little on why it’s taken so long to be published. The answer to this often asked question is that it was as a result of consideration for an older sister with her own story to tell. Eventually though, Gillian admitted, this novel had to see the light, with the Narcarrow’s story aching to be told.

Gillian’s love of horses, riding and jumping was evident from the outset of this conversation – she spoke of horses in poems, rich with sensory details; their smell, their shine, their silkiness. In turn, her grief at her illness and the restrictions that it has placed on her riding and writing was palpable. She was open and generous in her discussion of MS, and the significant effect that it has had, and continues to have on her life.

If you’ve not already read the award-winning Foal’s Bread, I’d strongly recommend it. You can read my review here.

After this moving conversation, I was up for something a little more political, and attended a fascinating session Labor in Vain. The panel, featuring Maxine McKew, Steve Bracks and biographer, Jenny Hocking, discussed the question of whether or not the Labor Party could be said to be ‘in crisis’ and if they are, what they should do about it.

The session was very revealing, and raised many important questions about party dynamics, the importance of the ‘party line’, and the role of the media and opinion polls. I could have happily heard more, and one hour hardly seemed to do justice to this important topic.

In addition to the sessions themselves, one of the real highlights of the MWF for me was the opportunity to have a book signed and to share a quick word with the authors. I’m really pleased to have been able to add to my book collection, two more signed copies…

I’ve one more event to attend on Thursday. I’m very excited about this keynote address by Germaine Greer, who’ll be discussing our language and its use… “in an oration that will make you think seriously about our place in the world and the role that language plays in putting us there.” Stay tuned for my review of this session, or if you’d like to come along, you can book here.

Have you been able to get to any MWF sessions this year? You can check out their program here…

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