Australian women writers rocked the 2013 Perth Writers Festival! I saw (and rubbed shoulders in the green room with!) Anna Funder, Kate Grenville, Sara Foster, Caroline Overington, Emma Chapman, Dawn Barker, Annabel Smith, Anita Heiss, Susan Johnson, Belinda Castles, Toni Jordan, Drusilla Modjeska, Ambellin Kwaymullina … the list goes on.
So what did I learn? That I’m not very good at remembering the first lines of novels I’ve read and that even award winning multi-book authors need to redraft 23 times.
Margaret Atwood – The Big Highlight
I’ve been a huge fan of Atwood’s for years. Her book, The Blind Assassin, is my absolute favourite book. So to see her speak was nothing short of incredible and I can only wish I will be half as sharp when I’m in my seventies, as she is now.
Obviously, she talked about writing – something she says is a vocation. You don’t choose writing as an occupation, she said – it finds you. I particularly liked her advice about dealing with publishers – never tell them what you’re working on, because they will only say no. Surprise them with what you’ve written instead. Probably that works best if you’re Margaret Atwood; for the rest of us mere mortals, surprising a publisher could well and truly backfire.
My favourite section of the night was when she talked about other books and writers. Shakespeare is her preferred literary stylist. She read Animal Farm by George Orwell when she was about ten because she thought it would be like Winnie the Pooh. She thinks Pride and Prejudice teaches women that if a man is mean to them, he will later turn out to be nice. And rich. I only wish I could capture her dry tone in my blog to accompany those words and give them their full effect. Similarly, she said of Wuthering Heights that it teaches women the only choice is between two bad men – one’s a bore, the other’s a beast. Classic!
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Other literary learnings
The award winning Kate Grenville floored the audience when she told us that she redrafted her book Sarah Thornhill 23 times. I’m always telling creative writing students that they need to redraft multiple times but now I’m so pleased to have her as a specific example of an author who doesn’t stop until the book is perfect.
Caroline Overington provided the audience with an astounding segue when she told us the story of her friend Sarah Wilson, whose book I Quit Sugar was launched as a self-published ebook by Sarah for $10 a copy and has since gone on to sell 60,000 copies. As Caroline said, you do the maths! Self publishing and ebooks are no longer poor second cousins to p-books!
I hadn’t heard of John Freeman, the editor of Granta, before the festival but I loved listening to his defence of good literature. He said there was nothing undemocratic or snobbish about saying that certain pieces of literature are like works of art. And I thought, hear, hear!
For the kids
I decided I’m definitely in the wrong genre as I watched the line for Andy Griffiths snake out of the signing tent and down the path and across the campus and practically into the river. I thought this again as I watched author and illustrator James Foley wow my kids with his on the spot picture of a lion with a volcano, and a viking and a flotilla and the entire Milky Way inside its stomach.
And as for me …
The festival started for me with a huge giggle as part of the Stella Prize Trivia Night. I was lucky to have Drusilla Modjeska on my team and she knew everything about historical literature by Australian women, while I managed to answer a few more questions than I had expected to. So I didn’t completely embarrass myself and what’s more, we won! Toni Jordan also pulled a few obscure answers out of the proverbial hat.
My session with Andrew Croome on research was great. Andrew talked about drones and poker and I talked about heart transplants and sculpture and all in all those unrelated topics worked very well together. Having been a guest at the Perth Writers Festival before, you know when a panel works and when it doesn’t and this one definitely did.
Then it was time to talk doctors and nurses with Dawn Barker, Jacinta Halloran and Angela Meyer. Angela is the chairperson with the mostest. And it was extra special to be on a panel with Dawn, whose book is being launched this week, and to be a part of her absolute excitement at seeing people buy her book and having people engage with what she had to say about new motherhood and its ups and downs.
So, exhausted and happy, I give you the best of Perth Writers Festival 2013.