It’s been a fast-paced, jam-packed weekend — trying to get to sessions at the Melbourne Writers Festival on time and post blog reports — juggling train cancellations, sleep deprivation and children’s sporting logistics in with the mix. Here’s a quick summary of how it panned out:
10.30: Saturday morning – meet with fellow ‘Emerging Bloggers’ for brunch at Beer Deluxe in Federation Square. Running late, I realise I’ve left my festival guide at home. Oops…
11.30: Head to see former Premier Steve Bracks discuss his new book at BMW Edge. Unaware of a location change, I walk in to find I’m at another session of The New Yorker team. A fortunate turn of events as they are much more animated than the night before.
1.00: Attempt to see event ‘Why I Read’ and am directed to ACMI Studio 1. Sitting there, I realise as the presenters sit down that I am again in the wrong venue. The doors close and a staffer sweeps a large black velvet curtain across the door, blocking an easy exit. The presenters begin to speak as I try to inconspicuously escape behind the black curtain, causing it to billow wildly. To my horror, the glass door is locked. The attendant on the other side mouths that she can’t open the door and I will have to use the exit on the OTHER side of the room. Moritifed, I have to come out from behind the curtain and walk back into the room and up the stairs, around the back of the audience, down the stairs and out the door, while historian Geoffrey Blainey and Gideon Haigh pretend to ignore my clumsy and disruptive performance. Arghhh…
1.15 – Finally arrive at ‘Why I Read’ which is back at BMW Edge, where Sloane Crosley, Drusilla Modjeska and Sir Andrew Motion are discussing the power of literacy to transform lives. I enter the room silently, managing to find a seat without drawing attention. Phew. Sir Andrew is discussing his childhood experience of reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and how the image of a land frozen in ice and snow was crucial in his development as a future poet, being one of the first moments where he became aware of the power of metaphorical images. Sloane then talks about how her mother read to her from Gone With The Wind every night – a special ritual they shared and looked forward to. And Drusilla remembered vividly her teenage experience of reading Tess of the d’Urbervilles. It was the first time she became aware that redemption for the main character in a book is not always possible. It was shattering and in a sense, made her aware of how books can have a transformative experience.
2.30 – Attend a session called ‘Friendly Fire’ and WOO HOO – I arrive at the RIGHT venue and on time. Am very proud of myself. The presenters include Marieke Hardy, Benjamin Law and again, Sloane Crosley with the highly competent Estelle Tang chairing the event. It’s a funny, feisty session with all panelists performing readings from their books which brings to life their individual writing styles and personalities.
All have written books exposing raw material about their lives and relationships with friends, family and lovers. Questions fly about how far one is prepared to go as a writer and what you are prepared to risk by revealing so much. For Sloane, she says if it’s a good enough story you’ll figure out a way to tell it. Marieke says her instincts and feelings are consistently evolving about her writing but she doesn’t know how to write any other way. Although, she concedes, she did invite a few people she wrote about in her last book You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead, to have a right of reply. In the future however, Marieke wants to make comedy less of a focus in her writing and to concentrate more on a truthful emotional response to situations. Ben says his family took a fairly relaxed approach to his book, Family Law. His father didn’t even read the first manuscript, saying he was too busy and said he understood memory was selective and he accepted Ben’s story was his own interpretation of their family history.
5.00 – Catch train home to deal with domestic responsibilities.
8.00 – Head back to the city to Federation Square and BMW Edge for the MWF Opening night party. This was a wonderful opportunity to meet with everyone involved in the festival, from writers and organisers to friends and fellow bloggers. Fletch came along too and was delighted to meet New York author Sloane Crosley who I had raved to him about after interviewing her on Friday.
Much fun was had by all. The next day I attended an exceptional session ‘Remembering Patrick White’ which I think deserves a blog on its own – given it’s the centenary of the great man’s birth. Stay tuned.