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
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.
Musings on the Writing Life ...