Friday story-time at the MWF

There are many nice ways to start a day, and for me, being read to is definitely one of them. This is especially so when it’s four talented novelists doing the reading.

I was eased into my forth day at the Melbourne Writers Festival by Malcom Knox (The Life), Paul French (Midnight in Peking), June Loves (The Shelly Beach Writers’ Group) and Rosalie Ham (There Should Be More Dancing) who all kindly shared a little of their latest novels and their thoughts on said works.

I was intrigued by Paul’s fascination with “the British list of undesirables, an amazing source of many interesting individuals” which provided him with many of the characters he chose to populate the Legation Quarter in his wartime Peking.

June Loves was charming and funny, and her words reassured me that I’ve still plenty of time to write the great Australian novel, matter-of-factly proclaiming that “writing a novel is great fun to do in your old age,” particularly if you’re not overly partial to lawn bowls.

An hour of reading and conversation got me in the mood for fiction, so I popped over to the session, The Fiction of Love. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I’m not a big reader of romance. Nonetheless, something in the session description attracted me, so off I went. I am so glad that I did, it was about so much more than romance…as Jo Case said by way of introduction, all the authors “were about bending, breaking the rules and presenting love, sex and attraction in surprising ways.” Authors Eleanor Catton, Craig Sherborne and Mandy Sayer were unique characters and they most certainly had an edginess to how they viewed love, lust and relationships.

After some introductory discussion, Sayer somewhat coyly shared a scene from her novel Love in the Years of Lunacy. It was a scene that had the audience on tender-hooks, gripped ever-so awkwardly by the intimate scene being read aloud. It might have been a little difficult to listen to, but in Mandy’s opinion, sex scenes are not difficult to write: “Writing about sex is easier than writing about love. Sex is active, it has action. Love is abstract, and is passive and is harder to put into words.” In contribution to this topic, Eleanor went on to talk for a while about the difficulties of getting the balance of a sex scene right, the challenges of “choosing between metaphor, which can get kind of cheesy and the clinical choreography of the act, which in turn can get tired.”

It was then Eleanor’s turn to read a little from The Rehearsal. I’m quite smitten by this novel, even though it’s not one I had heard of before this session. The section that Eleanor read was poetically paced and disturbingly intimate. I’ve since bought a copy of her book, and will review it here as soon as I can.

The session was concluded with a really moving exert from Craig’s novel The Amateur Science of Love, with a scene chosen to illustrate the unfortunate and unavoidable transition from “wet lust to dry responsibility.” Sherborne’s reading provided a male perspective of this burden of responsibility, as his protagonist is “taken into someone’s wound,” and is introduced to Tilda’s mastectomy  scar. Craig lamented that “men’s inner lives don’t mean anything” and his fiction seems to be a reaction against this, providing a deeply personal view of a man’s perspective of love in its many forms.

I really enjoyed this session, and I’ve now found three more books to put on my reading list.

Today’s ‘artist in residence’ was Alex Hallatt, a freelance cartoonist and writer who provides cartoon illustrations for a wide range of newspapers, books, and magazines – you might recognise her Arctic Circle comic strip, gotta love penguins! I spent a little bit of time looking over her shoulder and had a nice chat with her about how wonderful the festival is. Her work is cheeky, slightly dark, but mostly fun…you can check out her cartoons and illustrations on her website.

Another amazing Friday, full of talented people and new ideas. Three more sessions on Saturday, which I’ll write about next, and hopefully a couple to wrap up the Festival on Sunday.

Do you like being read to? Do you read romance? Have you made it to the festival yet?

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