Adelaide Writers’ Week 2015
From the windy west last weekend, this weekend (and into the week), I find myself in Adelaide, at their Writers’ Week, for the first time. It has been going since 1960 so it isn’t as if there hadn’t been ample time…but better late than never! Peter Goldsworthy greeted us as Chairman, and his enthusiasm was infectious: books, reading and authors, all introducing wonderful new ideas and places we may have seen before, but always in a new way.
Every writers’ festival has its own ambiance. Perth was fun in the sun: walks along the river (a six kilometre walk from hotel to university where the festival was held), traffic nightmares (and long taxi waits) and the bar at the Duxton that always had a writer tucked into some corner—usually one who was looking for a chat and someone to share their chips with.
Adelaide is more reserved. From the blast of heat when we arrived last week (and the audience were still waving the festival fans frantically in my session on motherhood with Sofie Laguna—author of The Eye of the Sheep—on Saturday morning), the temperatures hover in the twenties, with a cool breeze and sunlight dappled on the garden setting, sneaking through huge old trees that give the Pioneer Memorial Gardens their ambiance. I’m not sure what happens if it rains, because these are not tents, rather high canopies with sprawling seats, two stages only (Perth had several competing streams) next to each other but with an amazing sound system that ensures you hear the writer you have come to hear—despite the other so close, and the touring cars racing in the distance. I wondered for a moment if Melbourne had lost the Grand Prix back to Adelaide but was sure I’d have heard the Albert Parkers reveling still were this the case.
I am here with “old” friends from Perth (oh, and husband of course, who had some 800 to his session on The Rosie Effect) like Miranda Richmond Mouillot (Fifty Years of Silence) and Tom Rob Smith (The Farm & Child 44 trilogy) as well as new ones. Joanna Rakoff was in Perth but I didn’t manage to connect there. Hearing her talking about My Salinger Years she transported me back to New York (I so do love New York—we lived there for 7 months) and made me wish I could go back to being young and be poor and a struggling writer (I did medicine instead) but also hearing her pain about leaving things (her boyfriend whom she loved) behind and I wondered about the pain needed to be a writer, and if I had my time again would I really do it any differently? I had my own marriage breakup pain, but didn’t have to do it in poverty, and from the women I work with, stuck in DV and unhappy relationships, I thank my father (again) for pushing me to complete Uni and don’t chastise myself too much for complying. Instead I can bring experience into my work. Fellow New Yorker, Iranian-American, Porchista Khakpour, gave her own tales of poverty and of New York and how it has changed, and a curiously entertaining reading from her fabulist alternative book, The Last Illusion, inspired my Iranian legend and set mostly in the Big Apple, about a boy who grew up thinking he was a bird (and in the reading, was in love with a canary, which got him sacked from the pet shop he was working in. Not my usual type of book, but I have to say it was very compelling).
I missed Mark Henshaw’s talk because it was on at the same time as mine but we get to do one together at another festival, and I got to meet him and his wife. The Snow Kimono is a beautifully written, hard to define book—and there was a longer queue at the signing for him than mine. I spoke to someone in the queue who suggested he’d told them what it was about—I’m still trying to work that out, so I rather doubt it! Definitely needs to be read yourself to make your own judgement.
There was Julia Gillard here too of course, a solid and competent presentation, and before I dash off to Dubai tomorrow night (another festival, but I’m back to being the handbag at this one) I have Roxanna Gay (Bad Feminist) and Helen Garner (House of Grief) to go.
More wonderful books to read and I am not sick of these festivals yet…