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THE WRITING LIFE


ADELAIDE WRITERS WEEK - March 2006


Adelaide Writers' Week, held in my home town as part of the biennial Festival of Arts, is always an inspiration. Held in giant marquees, set amongst palms and plane trees, in the Pioneer Women's Memorial Gardens, anyone is free to wander from author readings to panel discussions, to the book tent, or the bar, all day, every day, for a week.

The event began back in 1960, and over the years there have been storms, scandals, and upsets. One year the fiery Italian wife of Anthony Burgess verbally attacked Edna O'Brien for supposedly seducing her husband. "I can't imagine anyone I would less like to sleep with," Edna protested. In 1964 Alan Moorehead gave the opening address and announced that writing was a lonely job, advising his colleagues to avoid publishers' parties, TV appearances, and meeting other writers. Happily, his words had no effect and writers continue to jet in from all over the world to take part.

This year I staggered away with armloads of books and much to think about. The uplifting thing about this festival is the intensity book lovers bring to the readings, their thoughtful questions, the way they sit thumbing through books in the intervals. Their presence in such numbers is all the inspiration a writer needs: readers are out there, ready and willing and waiting to be wooed.

The highlight of the 2004 festival was the Keynote Lecture delivered by Jeanette Winterson, an impassioned oration on the pleasures of poetry over reality TV, which deserved the crowd's standing ovation. This year the speaker was Robert Fisk, no less impassioned but with the Middle East as his subject it was a sad and sobering narrative, which, after a minor tussle at the microphone during question time, sent me homewards feeling shaky and depressed. But those feelings were quickly erased at a beautiful reading by the Australian writer Gail Jones whose novel Sixty Lights deservedly carried off two festival prizes. And Dorothy Johnston, a writer from Canberra, kept me riveted with the sudden revelation of her early working life in a Melbourne massage parlour.

Writers' Week is like that, a heady mix of the profound and the unexpected, and as a writer my dream has always been to experience it from the stage instead of my usual spot in the audience. With an offer in hand, suddenly that dream looks like a real possibility.
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Musings on the Writing Life ...