My fellow panellist Kate Holden used the word ‘nifty’ to describe the Literati Festival at which we both appeared last weekend on Queensland’s Gold Coast. Being the wonderful writer she is, Kate’s choice was word perfect. Literati was a neat 24 hours of cleverness spent in the company of authors, aspiring writers and readers, ably hosted by the hospitable staff at the Gold Coast Library Robina.
I headed straight from the airport to the Literati venue for a workshop on ‘Targetting problem plots and weak themes’, both because I can always do with tips on plotting and as a show of support for my fellow Text stablemate Daniel Ducrou. In truth, neither Daniel nor his co-panelists Phil Brown and Bronwyn Lea needed my support. But it was interesting to learn that Daniel’s writing method is very similar to mine. We both write first drafts long-hand on the right-hand page of a note-book, using the left-hand page for ideas, notes and themes. I know some writers scoff at the idea of writing long-hand, but it works for us. I take heart from Daniel saying he can spend a whole day and only come up with a few hundred words, too. ‘Write, reflect, write some more,’ was his advice. Simple but effective.
I shared a car to our hotel with Daniel and Max Barry. We spent part of the journey talking about how to explain Osama Bin Laden to kids. My five-year-old, eavesdropping on News Radio, asked me recently, ‘Who is Osama Bin Laden and why was he killed?’ She usually fixes on news stories about people being taken by crocodiles, so this was a little trickier. I gave her a précis of what happened on September 11, 2001 and Bin Laden’s role in it. She asked why it happened. ‘Because some people think everyone should believe what they believe,’ I said. ‘It’s usually why people kill each other.’
Speaking of killing, I met up with PM (Pam) Newton and LA (Louisa) Larkin to plan our session, ‘Deadlier than the male’, before joining the rest of the festival guests and library staff for dinner. I chatted with interesting people like Phil Brown and Pamela Rushby over dinner, and afterwards at the bar with Peter Rix, who together with his then pregnant wife visited Laos in the 1960s, making them the perfect candidates to interview for a new project I’m percolating…but that’s for another time.
Kate and I had a session together at 9.30am on Saturday, talking about the impact of a setting on a story. Given neither of us are morning people, we reckon we did OK. I had just finished Kate’s memoir, The Romantic, a brave, beautiful, sad book, set in Rome and Naples; and she’d just started The Half-Child, my latest novel set in Pattaya and Kanchanaburi. We more or less interviewed each other about our work. While I can’t do justice to the hour-long session, I do remember Kate talking about her descriptions of the stones of Rome both as a reflection of the solidity of the Eternal City and as a metaphor for its hardness as a place to be alone in winter. I recall talking about my mixed feelings about setting violent crime stories in a country I love, and also my challenge to write a novel set in Thailand, which doesn’t mention bargirls. The audience seemed happy at the close, saying ‘That was fantastic’ as they applauded. We took it as a good sign.
With time to spare before my next session, I listened to Tony Wilson and Peter Rix talk about their paths to writing. Peter comes from a business background and spoke candidly about how baffled he is by the Australian publishing industry. In the food industry, he said, if someone brought him a product, he knew whether or not it would sell because he knew his market. After working on his debut novel Water Under Water for more than ten years, Peter’s agent sent the manuscript to nine publishers. At least one loved it and made an offer; another criticised the same things the other had loved about it. Go figure! Later I had a really interesting conversation with Peter and Tony about the complex love between fathers and sons, the subject of Peter’s debut novel, Water Under Water. I loved the passage Peter read so much, I bought the book.
It might have been just me, but the calibre of passing conversations at this event was quite wonderful.
Stayed tuned for Part 2 of the Literati Festival de-brief…