I recently spent a fun and busy weekend at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. On Saturday 22 May I shared a panel with fellow first-time novelists Kirsten Tranter and Steven Amsterdam, chaired with ablomb by Jeff Sparrow, editor of the journal Overland. I’ve blogged previously about Amsterdam’s wonderful Things We Didn’t See Coming, which is slowly but surely conquering the world (not that Amsterdam gives any particular indication that he wants to be a conquerer). I’m about half way through Tranter’s The Legacy: enjoying it, so far. There’s real depth to the characters and it does that thing that good big books do: it seems simultaneously taut and yet sprawling. More on The Legacy when I’ve actually finished it, though. The panel itself was fun – I did my standard rant about how important the editing process is and how lots of writers think editing is some sort of competition or something to be resisted. I also went on a bit about how with all this talking about books going on, we might remember to also read a book now and again too … which I suppose was a bit like telling everyone in the audience to go home. I didn’t trot out (because I’ve come to both agree and disagree with it) one of my favourite quotes, by the great US novelist William Gaddis: ‘I feel like part of the vanishing breed that thinks a writer should be read and not heard, let alone seen. I think this is because there seems so often today to be a tendency to put the person in the place of his or her own work, to turn the creative artist into a performing one, to find what a writer says about writing somehow more valid, or more real, than the writing itself.’ (from his essay, ‘The Rush For Second Place’)
Also on Saturday I read from Figurehead at a ‘Reading Muster’ session. I got to sing a couple of lines of Roger Miller’s ‘King of the Road’ (the mangled lyrics remix). I’m not sure that helped me sell any books but you never know. I shared that session with Marie Munkara (I reviewed her hilarious book, Every Secret Thing, in April’s Australian Book Review, not available online), Rebecca James (whose writing I’m not familiar with) and the legendary David Foster, who gave an startling, theatrical performance of the beginning of his novel, Sons of the Rumour.
On Sunday I shared a panel on ‘Repressive Regimes’ with Barbara Demick, now the LA Times correspondent in Beijing. Barbara has written a fascinating book about North Korea, Nothing To Envy, which looks at the lives of individuals in that strange, troubled and troubling country. The book offers fascinating and awful glimpse into an Orwellian state, made even more troubling by the fact that Demick humanises the North Korean experience, introducing readers to people trying to get on with their lives rather than only delving into big picture politics.
I also got to do a couple of early morning jogs – well, staggers really – around Circular Quay and up the Opera House Steps. Just like Rocky Balboa, only without the muscles or the raw eggs.