This review first appeared in the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher, and is cross-posted over at Bookseller+Publisher's
This review first appeared in the August issue of Bookseller+Publisher, and is cross-posted over at Bookseller+Publisher‘s Fancy Goods blog.
Chris Womersley’s Bereft, his second novel after 2008’s award-winning The Low Road, is a rich, gripping tale of love, loss, conflict and salvation. The prologue states that in 1912, during a storm in the ‘fly-speck town of Flint’, New South Wales, a teenage boy was found holding a knife next to his sister’s battered body. He fled the scene.
The novel then begins with this long-thought-dead young man, Quinn, contemplating life and death after his time in the trenches in the Great War, on a ship bound back home. Remnants of the war include a large scar across his face, and fits of coughing from gas exposure; but deeper scars lie from Quinn’s past, and he is returning to confront them. In the town of Flint, he is known as ‘the murderer’, so he cannot show his face—but he sets out to at least unburden his sick mother. He befriends a tough orphan girl, Sadie, who has strange abilities, a calming presence, and issues to resolve that are related to his own.
Womersley’s descriptions of this western plains town, its inhabitants and outsiders, plus the flashbacks to the war and to London, are fresh, rich and emotionally charged. The main characters, though their plotlines are not incredibly complex, are compelling, and even fascinating. There is an added layer of mood in both the setting and characters—gothic, magical—which makes the book a delight to consume, and makes the reader appreciate why the resolution (which could come sooner, really) is dangled, tantalisingly, through chapters of character development and skillful (but never thick) description, so that when it comes—when that moment finally comes— the reader’s reaction may be similar to mine, and that was to go ‘oh … cool!’ By then you have such a complete picture of Quinn, his state and his surrounds that it is like watching the final satisfying moments of a richly coloured and well-directed film.
This book is thoroughly enjoyable, compelling, moving, warm and completely memorable. I had that very rare experience of wanting to read it again, almost immediately. This book crosses the lines of popular fiction, literary fiction and mystery. It could be recommended to fans of Kate Grenville (though I think Womersley’s a more interesting writer), Tim Winton, Matthew Condon, Craig Silvey, Peter Carey, Peter Temple, Alex Miller and more.
Chris Womersley is appearing at Melbourne Writers Festival and Brisbane Writers Festival, and Bereft is being launched on September 15 at Readings in Carlton, Vic. All event details can be found here. You can also find a trailer for the book, here.
Just a quick note to say I may not be updating over here quite as much over the next few weeks as I’ll be full-on over at the Melbourne Writers Festival blog. You’ll see I’ve been pretty busy over there already, asking some of the MWF guests to respond to random topics such as listening, apathy, their first computer, dinosaurs, Melbourne, Franz Kafka, mornings and more.
I will nonetheless try and throw up a guest review or two over the course of the festival.
Also, I am now chairing two sessions at MWF – a Q&A on Friday with global nomad and self-confessed chameleon Mohezin Tejani. Mo’s life story is fascinating, and the event is totally free, so come along. And on Sunday I’m chairing ‘A Wordsmith’s Dream’ with word-nerds Ursula Dubosarsky, Davis Astle and Kate Burridge. Would love to see you there.
In other news: I’ve almost finished the very, very rough draft of my new manuscript. I’ll be putting it aside for a few months and concentrating on some academic work, then I’ll be coming back to it. I’ve also been really run-down and sick. I hope I don’t look too much like a zombie when you see me around MWF. I’m having a few days off from all obligations at the end of September. Until then, Thriller-Ange.
And, crap! I haven’t blogged about Torpedo Greatest Hits yet. It’s out now, with my story ‘You Will Notice that Hallways are Painted’ (the story my novel ms has grown out of). If you get to read it, would love to know what you think.
Aug 24, 2010
When I was working at Bookseller+Publisher, Kabita Dhara wrote an article for us on her Asialink residency in India. In New Delhi, Kabita worked on literature that had been translated into English from India’s many regional languages, with a view to understanding the processes behind choosing a title for translation and assessing markets for it. Kabita, an editor, former bookseller and book reviewer, arrived home inspired, and decided to address a lack of cultural conversation between India and Australia. And so arose Brass Monkey Books, an imprint of Hunter Publishers. I got in touch with Kabita to ask her a few questions about her new venture.
Can you tell us a bit about why you’ve started your own publishing company? What gap is it addressing in the Australian market?
Brass Monkey Books came about largely because of my frustration that wonderful Indian books were not getting to Australian readers, and vice versa. Most of the Indian books we get here are through the UK or the US, so we are at their mercy as to what we have available here. Consequently, we don’t see a wide range of Indian titles here, and they are often about the same themes and often have similar covers – henna patterns, sepia tints, paisley borders.
The same applies to Australian books reaching Indian audiences. Apart from Tim Winton, Peter Carey and Thomas Keneally, very few Australian writers appear on Indian bookshop shelves.
I think it is time Australia and India started having direct cultural exchanges that fall outside Bollywood and cricket!
Where did the name Brass Monkey Books come from? Can you reveal any of the other names you kicked around before settling on that one?
The book that changed my life, in a literary sense, was Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I read it when I was sixteen and, although I’d always read a lot as a child and loved a lot of very diverse books, Midnight’s Children changed the way I looked at ‘Literature’ and the possibilities of language.
I wanted the name of the imprint to pay homage, in a little way, to this wonderful book, so I chose the name of one of the characters in it. I later found out it meant a lot of other things, and that there were lots of pubs called Brass Monkey, but to my delight, it is also the name of a cocktail and I thought it was pretty cool to have a publishing house that has its own cocktail!
Why are you the best person to run Brass Monkey Books?
I identify as both Australian and Indian, and it saddens me when I see both countries persisting with misconceptions about each other instead of forging a relationship based on direct communication. For me, this has translated into a drive to make both countries see each other in a truer form, and I think writing has a large part to play in this recognition.
I also have an understanding of Indian and Australian literary culture through living and working and reading in both countries, so I can see the points of similarity and common interest.
What kind of books will you be publishing? How will you source your manuscripts?
To start with, I’ll be publishing Indian literature in English by fresh, new (to Australia) voices. I am also looking at works in translation from India’s numerous languages. I am also commissioning some non-fiction that looks at the Australia-India relationship in a serious and not-so-serious way.
I’m sourcing my manuscripts simply through reading – A LOT. Books I’ve picked up in India, tips from Indian writer friends, interesting conversations with Australians and Indians who identify with my goals – these are all sources of inspiration.
Can you tell us about the books you’re launching the company with? And how you came about them?
The first two books are novels by a wonderful young writer called Anjum Hasan – Lunatic in My Head and Big Girl Now. They are based in Shillong and Bangalore, two rarely written parts of India, and are insightful looks into contemporary India. Her voice is very different from what we usually get in Australia, completely globalised yet distinctly Indian. Some of the language might take some getting used to, but if we can make sense of Trainspotting and Ulysses then this will be a walk in the park!
I found Anjum’s work by hearing about it from Indian writer friends and on blogs, walking into a bookstore in India, buying her books and reading them. The rest followed quite naturally.
The website for Brass Monkey Books can be found here.
Interviews + Profiles
Aug 20, 2010
It's very telling, you know? Find part 1, ri
It’s very telling, you know?
Find part 1, right here, folks.
Kathy: My two very favourite novels of all time are Lunar Park, and Pet Sematary by Stephen King, which kind of makes perfect sense…
Bret: Yes, it does.
Kathy: I’m really interested in the idea that Lunar Park may be becoming a film. I’m wondering, how on earth is that going to happen? What kind of film is it going to be?
Bret: I don’t know.
Kathy: Is it going to be a horror film or a comedy or… ?
Bret: Well the irony to all of this is that I’m not writing Lunar Park, and the even bigger irony here is that the one big studio assignment that I was up for last year was the remake of Pet Sematary.
Bret: …which I badly, badly wanted. I had an entire pitch set up, I worked on it for weeks. I went into Paramount and we talked with the producers about it, and… they hired another writer. This is what happens.
Kathy: Oh god…
Bret: No, it’s what happens. They audition twelve or thirteen writers that they think might be right for the project, and so… I loved that book, I didn’t think that the first movie really did it justice, and I thought this was a great opportunity to, you know, reboot it. And I was crushed when I couldn’t get the Pet Sematary job. It wasn’t personal – it’s just business. The guy they hired is a guy who has done two very successful Stephen King adaptations, and they just felt safer with his take on it than mine – which pushed the violence a little bit too much. They wanted it to be more PG13 than R. So that was a problem. I wish I’d known that, going in. I still don’t think I could’ve delivered the movie they wanted, but that has been, for this year, my most disappointing… not getting a job. Because Stephen King’s a fan of mine, Stephen King loved Lunar Park, everyone thought: ‘oh, this is a no-brainer, you’re gonna get this job, you’ve got a great pitch’. It just so happened that, the studio needed a PG13 movie, and there was no way because of how gruesome I had made it – mine was pretty hardcore and scary.
So, Lunar Park – how are they going to do it? Well, there have been three or four directors attached, three or four actors attached – the last actor that was attached was Ben Stiller. I don’t think he’s doing it. And then Jude Law was attached for about six months.
Kathy: Benicio Del Toro.
Angela: Yeah, I heard that.
Bret: Benicio Del Toro, who is a friend of mine, was going to do it. Not doing it, definitely Benicio’s not doing it anymore. The people who are producing it are very (whispers) overly fastidious – they develop things to death. And I’m friends with them, so I can say that and it’s not off the record, it’s just… I have complained to them, I said: ‘you guys don’t make movies! Your production company develops things to death.’ So there’s a new director on it, Phil Alden Robinson – I have not read his script, but he’s writing and directing it. He wrote and directed – of all movies, and I think this is why he got hired – Field of Dreams.
Kathy: Yeah, yeah I can understand that. I think that could work!
Bret: I read a not-good script that was making the rounds. I then begged them to let me write the script, they said no, we don’t want the writer to write the script. That happens a lot.
Kathy: But the book is about the writer!
Bret: That’s why they don’t want the writer to write the script. That is exactly the reason. And I just really wanted to concentrate on… I think it’s a horror movie, I really do.
Kathy: It’s a terrifying book.
Bret: I don’t know what’s gonna happen. The first director involved with it was a British director named Sean Ellis. And I really liked his movie, and he’s young, smart; he loved the book, had a great vision for it, and actually he was supposed to direct another movie of mine and that completely fell through then he moved on to Lunar Park and then that didn’t work out. What do you do? I don’t know. The movies never get made. The movies don’t get made. And Lunar Park has been in development now for five years. So who knows?
Kathy: But most of your books have been made into movies.
Angela: A lot more than most authors who get optioned.
Bret: Yes, that is true.
Kathy: I really loved The Informers, I’m sorry to say.
Bret: You don’t have to be sorry about that at all.
Kathy: I thought it was just fantastic. I felt that the tone was what I remembered of the book.
Bret: This is the problem – if I was just the writer brought in to adapt someone else’s novel and the movie didn’t turn out to my liking I would’ve been totally cool: ‘oh yeah, I loved working on The Informers, it was great’. The problem is that I was so involved with getting that movie made. I was so involved in the screenplay – did forty drafts of the screenplay. I was a producer on it, and it was based on a book of mine. And I know – and so do all the actors, and so does the other writer on it, Nicholas Jarecki – the big movie that was there. Now of course (whispers) you guys don’t. And so it just doesn’t bother you in the same way.
I’ve seen fifty different cuts of that movie. I’ve seen cuts of that movie that are thirty minutes longer, that have much more of a resolution to them. There’s a scene at the end where Mickey Rourke drags Brad Renfro out into the desert and shoots him in the head and drives off in a van. Now, did you think that was gonna happen in the movie? Winona Ryder and Billy Bob Thornton die in a plane crash, outside of Vegas. Gone. Cut from the movie. The last scene of the movie… it was not supposed to be an ‘everyone gets AIDS and dies’ movie, which is what it ended up becoming. The last scene in that movie was a funny scene, well… it’s kind of a moving scene. It’s Jon Foster and the girl on the beach…
Kathy: I loved it.
Bret: No, we loved that too, but it was supposed… well, we had problems with the body make-up a little bit. We thought her body make-up was way too overdone.
(We all laugh.)
Kathy: She looked like she had gangrene or something.
Bret: Yeeeaah. And so that was a bit of a problem, and so it was supposed to be this much bigger ending with everyone… When Jon Foster and Austin Nichols are like laying in bed together, and Jon gets the phone call and goes: ‘what, where is she? What’s going on?’ Actually, what was shot there was this two minute scene between them where Austin goes: ‘what happened?’ and he says: ‘my dad, he’s dead. He went with Cheryl to Vegas. He was flying his plane, and it crashed.’ Austin says: ‘man, are you okay, what’s going on?’ And Jon Foster is really numb, and has a scene where he’s, like, just going through the motions and his hand shakes a bit when he tries to pick up something, and there’s a suggestion that they might have slept together the night before this weird scene with a lot of complicated things going on, and then boom, we cut to him out in the desert, inspecting the remains, and then Austin Nichols drives over to Kim Basinger’s house and fucks her again, and then the daughter, Susan, walks home – she’s in tears because she just found out that her father was dead, then she walks up the stairs and walks in on her mother being fucked by Austin Nichols, while Jon Foster is looking at the remains of Billy Bob Thornton and Winona Ryder… (Bret laughs) I know this sounds like the most horrible movie, but do you understand what that movie is?
Kathy: There is more, more going on.
Bret: And what you’ve seen now in the 97 minute version of it? So I’m watching it – and the freak-outs among everybody, the creative team are enormous. Billy Bob Thornton is enraged that his huge scenes were cut, and Amber Heard is really upset that her scenes were cut, and just, whatever, so… it’s a very different thing. But I am glad to hear that you liked it…
Kathy: I loved it.
Bret: It makes me happy, it makes me think that it’s not all for nothing, all those years working on that movie.
(Bret’s publicist waves to tell us to wrap up.)
Kathy: Oh! Can I get my Hills question in real quickly?
Angela: Yeah yeah yeah sure…
Kathy: Okay: Spencer Pratt…
Kathy: …has supposedly gone crazy. I just wanted your opinion on: what you think happened to him, if you think it’s real, or you think it’s false – or does it really matter?
Bret: It doesn’t really matter, at all. It doesn’t matter if it’s real or if it’s false… because that’s really not what The Hills is about – or that’s all that The Hills is about. And judging from that very last shot, of The Hills… do you remember that last shot?
Kathy: Oh yeah, absolutely…
(Angela does not know it, but nods and smiles. She is about to be enlightened…)
Bret: They didn’t quite pull that off the way I wanted them to. It really needs to be Lauren and Brody. Kristen and Brody in that – their relationship means nothing. You know, what’s much more heartfelt is that Lauren and Brody relationship, and then that turned to a friendship and that was much more heartbreaking and painful. Kristen Cavallari: if she was in a room, I’d think, she’s gonna eat it. She’s like, so scary. Isn’t she a terrifying girl? Would you be friends with Kristen Cavallari?
Kathy: I wouldn’t be friends with any of them, they’re all terrifying!
Bret: But the show’s energy level really dropped, because Heidi and Spencer weren’t in any of the final episodes. The show became so meaningless in that last season. It was kind of hard to watch, and I think it should have ended with that moment when Lauren Conrad walks away from the wedding, of Spencer and Heidi, and gets into some weird black car. It’s like something out of Mulholland Drive, the David Lynch movie – she’s replaced by Kristen Cavallari!
(Kathy is cracking up.)
Bret: And Lauren is looking like really oddly sad in the back seat of this black car that’s driving her somewhere, we don’t even know where, and then the group of The Hills is outside a church, where these two monsters just got married, and that’s the end of the show.
I don’t think it matters, ultimately, about Spencer Pratt’s freak-out – maybe it was real – maybe he really was doing it, or maybe it was all an act, but that’s really what’s always been so fascinating about the show. Is it real? Is it not? You know I’ve seen Justin Bobby – and not in Justin Bobby mode – where he was super clean-cut, really smiley, pretty articulate, almost gayish, like: ‘oh god, I can’t believe it, I’m up for this part is a stage production and it’s really cool’, and then you see him on The Hills and he’s like this wet octopus, you know: ‘baby, what are you doing?’. The Justin Bobby that I met once at a party was clean-cut and cute and funny, and not this kinda stoner… so I don’t know – and that’s what I loved about the show. That it was this kind of scripted reality. It wasn’t so scripted as with a staff of writers – it really was about their lives in a way. Now you watch a reality show like the Kardashians and you know it’s all scripted. (TV voice) ‘Okay this episode, they’re going to Vegas, Scott is gonna get…’ Do you know what I’m talking about when I refer to the Kardashians?
Kathy: Oh absolutely.
Angela: No, I haven’t seen it! (Fades into the background.)
Bret: He starts to get drunk, and he’s gonna ruin Kim’s party and all this stuff…
Kathy: He’s gonna punch the mirror…
Bret: So they’ve got seven writers, a staff of writers, on the Kardashians.
How I always thought the final season of The Hills should have been – was we break the fourth wall. So what you do is you have scenes with them, with their agents and their managers talking to them: ‘I’m not doing the scene with Lauren, and if I’m gonna do this you’ve gotta up my price to 25,000’. And have those scenes with them – beautifully shot, with the camera crews, talking about being on The Hills. That is the drama, and that should have been the last season of the show.
Angela: The construction, to show it.
Bret: The construction. Because none of those jobs are real anymore, no one was working for People’s Revolution by the end! They were all making fifty grand an episode! And then in the last season, in the last season no one had a job. Who was working? Lo had her boyfriend, Whitney had gone off to do the city – which I thought was completely unwatchable and I wasn’t into it – but, it should have just slowly gone into this. Like Audrina – you know she did this very famous Burger King commercial where she’s in a bikini on a beach…
Kathy: Oh I haven’t seen that…
Bret: …eating a giant hamburger and it’s so salaciously shot, because it’s really not about the burger – it’s about her tits and her ass and everything, and she got a ton of money for it. She was doing it during the filming of The Hills – bring that in! Bring in Audrina, shooting the day of her Burger King commercial, and then seeing Justin Bobby at night, and Justin Bobby saying: ‘you know, I have a girlfriend, and I don’t really wanna do this scene with Audrina’ and have Adam DiVello going: ‘well, can’t you just give a little bit, say you miss her, there’s no one else like Audrina’, you know… showing that scene. ‘Man I just don’t think I can’t do it’, and then you’d show Justin Bobby’s girlfriend in the backroom going: ‘oh my god, Justin’, you know? They should have broken the fourth wall, and they didn’t.
That shot of Brody at the end in the studio, it’s too weird. What does it even mean? And we know Brody’s dating Avril Lavigne now – did Avril Lavigne demand this heartfelt final scene of The Hills, which I never would have thought in a million years would have been between Brody and Kristen Cavallari? That’s the climax of The Hills?
Kathy: I think they thought it was more clever than it was.
Bret: What was for about four seasons almost the great modern Jane Austen novel, about girls in LA, trying to find men, and being constantly disappointed by them, and their one friend marrying a cad… Even the names were like out of Austen – Audrina Patridge, Spencer Pratt, Lauren Conrad – I mean awesome, I mean, it almost seemed like a drama about manners and morals. No matter how shallow you think they are, the show made you invest in them. It was beautifully shot, you kind of cared about Lauren – as messed up as she was… See this is why I can’t talk about The Hills, I can’t stop talking about it!
Kathy: Well, what’s happening with your own show The Canyons?
Bret: Oh that’s gone. That’s been over for a long time.
Kathy: So that’s totally gone? That’s such a shame because that would have been fantastic, I was so excited about that.
Bret: That was… (whispers) a terribly black period. That was during the Imperial Bedrooms writing period and… that was a ‘letting it go’ moment, because I’d been involved with pilots, creating shows for networks, before, and they didn’t happen. I was like: ‘oh, I really don’t care’. I really cared about The Canyons. I really did. But this was my – we talked earlier about ‘letting it go’ moments. This was the beginning of it.
The Canyons seemed to be such a sure thing and Showtime was so into it. We had the entire season written out, and the pilot had been retooled, and it was just one of the best things that I’ve written, and it was like the coolest idea for a TV show, and yet suddenly, in that last week, Tim Robbins comes in, and he’s got this big show about the corruption of the pharmaceutical companies, and that was at the time a huge topic in America. They said: ‘we don’t have enough money to make two pilots, we have enough money to make Tim’s, and it’s Tim Robbins and he’s gonna get movie stars to be in it, and we’re gonna go with that.’ They shot it, it was horrible. They never aired it. They canceled The Canyons.
Kathy: That sucks.
Bret: I was in bed for a week, which was so lame – that was how depressed I was when that show wasn’t going on – and it doesn’t go anywhere, you know? They own that pilot forever. You don’t get to shop it around anywhere else. Showtime has it for like five years.
Angela and Kathy: What?
Bret: Because they don’t want competition.
Angela: Because they buy the rights, yeah.
Bret: Yeah they buy the rights, they don’t want HBO or anyone to get it.
Kathy: I want to see this show!
Angela: What is it about?
Bret: It’s The Hills with monsters.
Interviews + Profiles
Aug 18, 2010
Pictured: Carrie, Samantha, Carrie
Let’s begin at the end. After Kathy Charles and I finished our interview with the very engaging Bret Easton Ellis, we sat with his publicist over a couple of glasses of Chandon, waiting for Ellis to wrap-up with our friend Robbie Coleman.
Robbie emerged, white-faced and swearing, revealing that the interviewee had turned interviewer (see here). Ellis plopped down beside me, smiling, and leaned in toward us girls, as Robbie went for a drink. He said: ‘If you were a character on Sex & the City, who would you be? I’m Samantha.’
‘Oh… Carrie’, I said, ‘but, I’ve always felt a bit up-myself saying so – as she’s the main character.’ But she is a writer, and she has the same David Bowie shirt as me (well, in one episode). Kathy said she’d be Carrie, too. ‘Well, that makes sense’, Ellis said, ‘you’re both writers.’ And then he said: ‘Robbie is Charlotte.’ He concluded by saying, ‘it’s very telling, you know?’
I found Bret Easton Ellis fascinating. In fact, I miss him. I caught some of his sessions at Byron Bay Writers Festival (his first writers’ festival ever), including a wonderful Q&A with Simon Marnie, where Ellis spoke about the first things he wrote. He said he was never writing to be ‘meaningful’. He wrote what he ‘felt’ like writing, and was never conscious of putting in brand names, etc. I’m fascinated by Ellis as an emotional, dramatic person who also seems to act as a kind of cultural aerial. His works come from emotional states, but it doesn’t need to be said that they also tap into a zeitgeist – and they play, suitably, with surfaces. And not only in his work does Ellis play with this, or flit between masks and metaphysics – but on stage (and he only tours every five years or so). He also presents a kind of wearied, and simultaneously amused, presence. At his Melbourne Wheeler Centre event, for example, he began by asking the audience: ‘what the hell are you doing here on a Friday night?’
The purpose of his tour was, of course, his new novel Imperial Bedrooms, a dark, sad and sparse noiresque sequel to Ellis’ boy-wonder debut Less Than Zero, featuring the paranoid, haunted and controlling character Clay, a screenwriter. When I was asked to interview Ellis I knew I must invite Kathy Charles, author of Hollywood Ending (out in the US as John Belushi Is Dead), as she’s an Ellis-expert and I knew she’d be enthused about the chance to ask him about himself and his work.
In the spirit of ‘it’s very telling’, I’m leaving Ellis’ opinions about pop culture (and the general language he uses) relatively intact, as I do think it says much about his approach, his philosophy, his interests. This will be a two-part interview. Enjoy!
Kathy Charles: I’m really interested – because I’ve lived in and I’ve written about LA, and you live in LA again now – I find there’s a distinction between the real LA and the literary LA, so like the day-to-day living in LA compared to the LA we see in literature. Do you find that? Do you find your experience of living in LA, being a resident, is different to the literary world of LA that you create?
Bret Easton Ellis: Oh yeah, totally. It’s very different because the book is completely made up and it’s made-up situations with made-up characters and it’s far darker and more dramatic than my real life is where I’m, you know, just padding about my condo barefoot with jeans on and having beers with my friends, and we like to go to the movies and stuff like that, and we’re not being chased by Mexican drug cartels and we’re not like, raping young actresses or anything like that. No, the literary world that’s in Less Than Zero, or in Imperial Bedrooms, or in The Informers, the three books I’ve written placed mainly in LA, are like my other books – I mean, Lunar Park doesn’t really resemble the suburbs so much – it’s a ghost story, it’s a haunted house story, and American Psycho is about an American psycho in New York and I don’t think everyone is that psychotic – everything’s a metaphor, a novel’s ultimately a metaphor – it’s a reflection of something emotional that’s going on.
I don’t write journalistic pieces about LA, and I’m not writing essays about LA, not in the way that say that someone like Joan Didion did, or Meghan Daum, who writes a lot for the LA times, about her personal experiences, daily, in LA. I just tend not to work that way. And I also don’t lead that literary a life in LA, I mean I kind of wanted to escape the literary world of New York, which I found overwhelming, and I didn’t feel that I could really compete… I just didn’t really feel I was smart enough.
Angela Meyer: Can I just ask, along those lines, when you were talking about metaphor, I love the grotesque appearance of Rip, in Imperial Bedrooms, and that kind of plastic surgery monster – would you say that’s kind of a metaphor for a lot of things – his character and his appearance?
Bret: (whispers) He’s the villain. He’s the villain, and, as a literary device, how’s a villain going to make his entrance? I thought about it a long time and I thought – is it too obvious? Or, is this a noir – and is it okay? Is this really a screenplay being written by Clay, and would the villain announce himself in such a way, to Clay? I thought, yes, okay it’s fine. If I had done this in third person or if I had someone else narrate the book I don’t think Rip’s entrance would be as dramatic. But because of who’s narrating the book – it made sense to me.
Kathy: One of the things I love about your books that are set in LA is: there’s this sense that there’s something really primordial and primeval going on beneath the surface, and it’s like what you were saying about Lunar Park being a ghost story… I can’t help but think about the whole idea of things like Indian burial grounds and places where people lived, because there is such an energy in the place – the inhabitants kind of become cursed. I re-read Less Than Zero and there’s that fantastic image of the people who awake to see the ghost of the Indian in their room and it just really got me thinking – the characters in your books, do you think that there’s something within the landscape of Los Angeles that is actually impressing itself upon them, or do you think they’re just architects of their own undoing – or is there something more evil and…
Bret: I don’t think it has anything to do with any of that.
Bret: I think every place has that. I think every place… imprints something upon a person. I think it really depends on the person, I don’t think it depends so much on the place. At least the older I’ve gotten that’s how I see it. I think Imperial Bedrooms, for example, could take place anywhere, I think it could take place in the corporate world…
Bret: …I think it could take place in Arizona. I think American Psycho could take place in Chicago, it could take place in Lisbon – you know?
Angela: But specifically in the Western world?
Bret: Yeah, yeah, in the Western world – and obviously because the books have (whispers) a lot of appeal around the world. I don’t know how much people are purely relating to the LA novels as ‘LA novels’. I mean, when I get letters from kids in India, who are in college, saying: ‘oh my god I just picked up Less Than Zero in a mall’ – they weren’t even born when it was published – and they say: ‘oh, it blew me away, I totally related to Clay’. So, that’s not really LA speaking to them, and I don’t see Less Than Zero and Imperial Bedrooms as being novels about LA – I see Imperial Bedrooms as a novel about a very damaged man who’s a narcissist, who happens to be in that [the movie] business; and I see Less Than Zero to be purely about my own teenage alienation. And yeah, I grew up in LA so I set it there. If I was the same kid and I grew up in, you know, Miami or Tampa, I might have written the same book with the same cast of characters in a different locale. I guess it really depends on how big a sponge you are in letting a landscape make that imprint on you as a person.
Now having said that… let’s get to a reality check here. Imperial Bedrooms is a very dark book, it’s very bleak, and it ended up becoming a lot more hopeless that I initially thought, when I was thinking about it before I moved back to LA. So I was thinking about it in a lot of ways, I wanted to know where Clay was, and I said, well, do I really want to go back to Clay? What if Blair narrates this instead and it’s about Clay but it’s about her feelings? But then I wanted noir and I wanted to do a Raymond Chandler book – all these things came together, well fine, whatever, I had an idea for this novel. Not the happiest novel in the world, but – I moved to LA. And that’s when I really began writing the novel proper, in 2006. Finished it in May 2009.
2006, 2007, 2008 were terrible. (whispers) Dark. Black. Black period. Very black. And they were black for reasons that you could pinpoint and go – that’s LA black. Involved in a film that is becoming a disaster, people are lying to you, you’re becoming super paranoid, you are drinking too much because of this, you’ve gotten involved with some pretty shady people and people in the business, the casting couch has announced itself to you, you’ve taken advantage of it and you’ve been burned by it as well, and you’re going slowly crazy, and the world is a much, much darker place for you now, than it was before you moved to LA.
‘You haven’t gotten LA yet, you’re still lost in it’ – this is what friends would tell me. ‘You’re in the wrong places, you’re looking at it from the wrong angle, and it’s infecting you.’ And I’m going: ‘yeah, are you sure? Are you sure? I don’t know.’ And because of all these things that were going on – a little bit of a switch. And I noticed that Imperial Bedrooms was heading to much darker places that I initially thought. So – bit of a contradiction I guess. Yes, I don’t really believe that, I believe it depends on the person – and I know the person who lives in LA now – I would not write Imperial Bedrooms, I wouldn’t write it, it would be a completely different book – or I wouldn’t at all be interested in writing it. I’m over it. It’s done. It’s gone. And I would probably write a funnier, lighter book, because I’m just in a different place right now. So, I have to kind of agree with you, and then halfway think that’s not always the case.
Kathy: So you don’t, with your LA novels, you don’t sort of see yourself as akin to an LA literary tradition, with people like Fante and Bukowski…
Bret: Well I do, yes, but I also wrote a New York novel I guess. But, again, I don’t see American Psycho as a New York novel – I see it as a novel about where I was at a certain point in my life, and I happened to be in New York. Just like, well, The Rules of Attraction I suppose is a campus novel, but it was also about, you know, my feelings about unrequited love and relationships and sexual stuff that was going on at the time.
Angela: So there’s personal landscapes…
Bret: It’s the personal landscape that encourages each book to be written, regardless of where I am.
Kathy: So, If you’d been living in LA at the time, American Psycho could have been about a movie producer, as opposed to a wall street banker?
Bret: Completely. Yes. Very, very true.
Angela: Just, about the darkness in Imperial Bedrooms – I heard you talk at Byron a bit about the Palm Springs sequence. I really like that sequence because it feels like Clay trying to regain control, in a way, and it’s through cruelty, and I just find that really fascinating because I think it does speak to a little part in all of us…
Bret: (nodding) Yes.
Angela: As much as it goes a lot further than the average person would go…
Bret: Because it’s a novel…
Angela: Yep, exactly, and some of my favourite novels kind of explore that, like Lolita, which I’ve heard you talk about. Just wondering if you could talk about, perhaps, Clay and control…
Bret: Clay has control issues. Well narcissists have control issues I guess…
Angela: Is that, something that interests you?
Bret: Well it interests me about everybody. It interests me who the biggest control freaks are, and – how far does that get you, being a control freak? Where does it get you? What happens when you hit the wall and you realise that you’re not in control of anything at all? What happens at that point when you just have to let it go – and realise: ‘okay, I get it, this is life. I’m not in control of it’. You know, some people never do that.
Bret: I look at certain people that I know who are in their sixties and seventies – they’re not there yet. And yet I know people who are in their mid-twenties who say ‘I’m chill, this is it, I’m friends with death’, you know? ‘I’m friends with pain. It’s cool. This is what life is like’. And if you don’t do that, you’re screwed. Life is going to be this battle. You’re never going to be really in control of it… and you just have to, like, embrace the pain, embrace the fact that death occurs and this happens to us, and if you keep fighting it, you’re going to be in constant pain. Letting go is the key.
I noticed that I have been the least happiest when I have felt that I am in the most control. Odd isn’t it? You feel that you’re in control yet it’s not that satisfying in a way – it’s fear. It’s fear-based.
Angela: Because that’s just what you’re thinking about, is maintaining that?
Bret: Yeah, because you’re scared. That’s why you’re a control freak, you’re scared. Control freaks aren’t not afraid of things, they’re totally terrified and that’s why they’re control freaks. And being terrified is not fun! And to be terrified for years on end… uh uh (shakes head). Not good.
Kathy: That’s why the final line of Imperial Bedrooms is just so stunning – and it’s really the key to the whole Clay character, it’s – his fear.
Bret: Aha, yeah: ‘I never liked anyone and I’m afraid of people’.
Kathy: And then The National song on their new album…
Bret: (laughs) ‘I’m Afraid of Everyone’, yeah.
Kathy: They’re great.
Bret: I wondered if he heard that… his wife is like the editor of the New Yorker. I wondered if somehow they got a copy of the manuscript… oh I like to flatter myself thinking that that led to writing that song! But the book was around for a long time in manuscript form. I don’t know. I haven’t asked them.
Kathy: While we’re on that, have you heard the Porcupine Tree album Fear of a Blank Planet?
Bret: You know what, okay, I haven’t heard it – I know that they like me and that they’re really into, I think Glamorama’s the novel that they really like? No wait I’m thinking of another band…
Kathy: Porcupine Tree – the whole album is based on Lunar Park.
Bret: Okay, okay I know exactly what it is now, but no I haven’t heard it yet.
Kathy: It’s great!
Bret: Well listen, I’ll, go upstairs and listen to it on my computer…
Kathy: It’s really good, yeah. It’s interesting because a lot of singers have written songs about your characters but Porcupine Tree are really interested in the prose as well.
Angela: While we’re on your prose a bit, I was going to ask, do you write really fast? Because the pacing in Imperial Bedrooms is really awesome, I mean, you read it very fast. Just wondering if it comes out like that, or if it’s a slower process?
Bret: Its only 169 pages – I thought about it eight years ago, it took me three years to work it out on paper – what is that? I’m really slow. I’m a really slow writer. I wish I was faster.
Angela: But the pace is wonderful.
Bret: Well… thank you. I don’t know how that happens. How does that happen? I mean, I guess there’s a technical aspect to that. And it also depends on who you are, I mean, there are a lot of people who say ‘American Psycho is so boring, I can’t get through it – all these lists, I can’t read this kind of book’, and yet they love Matthew Reilly.
Angela: Yeah, yeah.
Bret: Matt Reilly, he’s a very nice man, we had a lot of conversations in Byron Bay. Lovely man, haven’t read his books. I’m not sure I would like his books and he’s never read one of mine, I don’t think he’d like mine. I think it’s a case-by-case thing. There are people who find my books hard-going.
Angela: Is it very innate though, the way that you write, like you don’t really think about it – once you get inside the voice of the character?
Bret: I don’t really think about it – well, look, you’re always thinking about it, but it’s very emotional, for me, in terms of how I create a novel. It all starts with the narrator and everything flows out of the narrator. I figure out who the narrator is, what his thing is, what’s going on in his mind – and it’s usually a reflection of the pain I’m in at that time about certain things in my life, a fictional reflection. When I figure out who he is, where he is, what he’s doing, what his issues are, then I go: ‘oh, well because of all these things then this is the story, right?’ So, about seventy percent of the process is doing, what I used to refer to as ‘the outline’, the outline… it’s a first draft – but it also has notes to myself in it, and you know I don’t keep any of these, I throw all this stuff away. I don’t keep any of this stuff because I don’t want…
Kathy: You should put it on eBay!
Bret: …I don’t want any of it around. No, because I destroy everything that I think is bad! I don’t want anyone to read, like, lines of dialogue that I think are terrible or descriptions that I’m never going to use. No, so I’m just like, perfectly fine with getting rid of all of that stuff.
So the first part – the main bulk of the creation of the book, – is emotional, and going through my own creative process, and going ‘okay, well, you know what, I’m really feeling this right now’. So I’ll write a scene like, I don’t know, someone walking down La Cienega and almost cracking up. But I’m not gonna use it. It’s not gonna happen, but let’s see if it could happen. And it’s like that story about the wall in the restaurant…
Angela: The silver wall…
Bret: The silver wall that I was so proud of, I thought it was my best writing, I just loved it so much. I thought, it’ll be so cool to open up with those four sentences, then I realised (sucks in breath, whispers) Clay will never see it. He’ll never see it. He’ll never notice it.
Angela: It didn’t fit in.
Bret: He’ll never notice it! I think, he won’t notice it for four lines or five lines – well can I use just one of those lines? No. No you can’t. He’s interested in the actress and that’s what he’s focused on. So then, okay, the technician comes in. After this massive draft.
Lunar Park was about twice as long as what the final book came out. Imperial Bedrooms I would say two-and-a-half times as long maybe, in terms of like questions, alternate scenes, alternate takes. And then the technician comes in, very cool, calm. I probably walked away from the book for a month or so. Came back to it, thought: ‘okay, I know what the first line is, the last line is; the first movement in the book is sorted out, so when she goes to San Diego … then he’s gonna meet Rip there … then I’ll deal with that stuff later, and then you gotta cut this … and I’ve gotta track that…’ I’m keeping track, I’ve got like a basic outline. And that is its own kind of pleasure – that’s fun, because I’m writing this book for myself and for my own pleasure. The book is the book that I wanna read. So when the technician comes in, that’s it’s own kind of pleasure and very different from the messy and emotional, crazy side of the draft.
Angela: Yeah, that’s the control.
Bret: That’s the control aspect of the book, yeah. The first part is just no control at all. Everything – throw in everything.
Part two of the interview can be found here.
harvest: issue 5
reviewed by Raili Simojoki
Harvest ’s gentle, reflective, sometimes anxious writing appeals to Gen Y romantics who, dissatisfied by the disconnected, disposable information generated by mass media, are drawn instead to the poetic, intricate, and meandering. Editor Davina Bell speaks directly to this audience in her essay ‘To my Generation of Precious Snowflakes,’ which starts the latest harvest issue. Defending young writers against American writer Ted Genoway’s critique of their ‘navel-gazing’ tendencies, Bell sympathetically observes that more than any other generation, we’ve been exposed to a litany of global injustices, without experiencing them directly. No wonder we write about our own lives rather than the outside world; perhaps we feel that’s all we can hope to understand.
Perhaps Bell should have held Genoway’s assertion up to the light rather than accepting it as a given – it seems unlikely that after all these years of (often self-focused) writing, our generation stands out as particularly introspective. Or even if we are, a lack of direct experience of things known isn’t an adequate explanation; after all, Emily Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights despite leading a reclusive life. And disenchantment with the world can be an incentive to write about it. These factual disagreements aside, on an intuitive level, Bell’s eloquently made observations about the discombobulating effects of information ring true.
‘How it Looks From the Sky,’ is Nicola Redhouse’s bittersweet story of a family fleeing South Africa to Australia during the apartheid regime. Amidst the quiet sterility of the in-between spaces – airports, customs, a motel room – we feel the emigrants’ disorientation and melancholia, but also a sense of lightness, of momentary tranquility. Redhouse refers to the experience as ‘drowning and surviving’; there’s both a loss and a comfort in knowing that you remain the same person in changing circumstances. It’s a moving tale.
The collection at times failed to maintain the energy of previous editions. Ryan O’ Neill’s ‘The Eunuch in the Harem’ is a series of tongue-in-cheek reviews which together tell the story of Peter Crawley, a scathing critic, and as the name suggests, a bit of a creep. It’s a fun idea, but the tone is that of a somber reviewer. A less sedate, sparkling, naughtier tone, without doing away with the ‘review’ style, might have better brought out O’Neill’s playful intent. (For something really special from O’Neill, read his discomforting, more realist story about Africa in issue 1).
Nandi Chinna’s poetry feature describes West Australian landmarks and their historical legacies. ‘Bird and Seals,’ a found poem consisting of excerpts from Captain Charles Fremantle’s diary about his shootings of wildlife, offers a disturbing insight into the colonial psyche. While the language had a slow-moving beauty, the images were a bit too thinly painted, and the underlying ideas seemed unclear. They might be better read in a quiet place, perhaps amongst nature.
In Ruby Murray’s short story ‘Sunburnt Country’, two siblings drive to Melbourne with their mother in the boot. They are both drained by the ordeal and share a sense of abandonment, yet are unable to connect with one another. The subject matter, concept, and atmosphere are familiar amongst Australian books and films, and whether the story offers anything new is debatable. That said, Murray’s crisp, sparing writing has an understated grace, and she creates a perfectly desolate atmosphere. We are left by the sea with a sense of closure and a hint of redemption.
Dan Bigma’s instructive essay ‘It can be done by a Bus Driver, a Field Hand, or a Fry Cook’ explains the lessons writers can learn from Charles Bukowski. Bigma’s tone is friendly, accessible, and down-to-earth. His message – that any life experience is a worthy subject for writing – is encouraging and democratic. The insights into Bukowski don’t seem particularly fresh, but the instructive tone reminded me a little of a creative writing class led by a charismatic and much-loved teacher.
Anthony Levin’s ironic ‘A Poem Deconstructed,’ is clever, but at times falls into the overly academic and obscure with words like ‘meta-analytic’ and ‘quasi-homophonic,’ which may alienate some readers. ‘Lego Man,’ by Max Noakes, is a magic realist tale about a man’s disintegration after a life-changing accident and his desire for revenge. The prose is packed together a little densely; having to read over it twice to grasp the meaning diluted its impact. But the tale is well imagined and the character’s voice, although unusual, is emotionally credible.
Chris Flynn, editor of Torpedo, an Australian-based literary journal which makes most of its sales in America, contributes an opinion piece arguing that Australian publishing should adopt a more global focus. While readers outside of the industry may not know enough to form a strong view, Flynn’s cogent points may at least ignite their interest in this important debate.
Past editions of harvest have bought us some quality writing – Ryan O’Neill’s piece in issue 1 comes to mind, as do Josephine Rowe’s and Penelope Chai’s in issue 4. This winter edition, while maintaining the typically sweet, elegant design, yields slimmer picking of a literary nature, as some of the pieces lack vitality, or newness, despite being gracefully written. I thus look forward to spring.
Raili Simojoki is a freelance Melbourne-based writer. You can read some more of her work here.
A sun-drenched and possibly superficial series of blog posts
On Saturday afternoon I chaired a panel on magic, and expanding our ideas of the conventional world, with speculative fiction author and astrologer Kim Falconer, and Dutch poet and Voodoo Priestess Maria van Daalen. There was such a great vibe to this panel. I went in really open-minded and hoped the audience would do the same. We talked about the body in space, about energy, power, love and desire, technology, change, animals – the interrelation of everything, and the authors’ work being an extension of their life philosophy. Maria recognised that my necklace (that G got me in New York) was silver moulded from snake vertebrate. Not many people guess that! Kim has a fantastic snake tattoo all down her front. As part of Maria’s religion, she can’t wear black – so every time I saw her around the festival she was just this bright, eclectic presence. Her poetry, too, is full of colour. The authors were fascinated, too, by each others’ worldview. It reminded me that there are so many ways of seeing the world – and in these cases, so many ways of seeing the world in a rich, positive, non-judgmental and healing way.
While we’re on snakes, Alex Miller told me at breakfast the next morning that he’d seen a beautiful big black snake down by the lake at the festival site. And then on Sunday night, after the trip home, when I was deep asleep, snakes were in my dreams – not scary ones, just silky ones, uncoiling as my consciousness relaxed and expanded post-festival.
On Saturday afternoon, Dan Ducrou also had his launch for The Byron Journals, and Krissy and I went and caught up with him and Phoebe and some of his friends and family for a few drinks. Dan had a great turnout for the launch. I still have his book here on my pile and I’ll get to it eventually so I can tell you more about it. By this, stage, though, I was quite well-and-truly pooped, and at about 10 I went back to my accommodation and had a big chat to my boy, then crashed out.
I had brekky with Alex and was in a great position to watch the whales and dolphins on a gorgeous, sunny morning. Sunday became the social day. At lunch time an old family friend, Lauren, came and picked me up, with her friend, and we had sushi. They had heaps of questions for me about what exactly goes on at a literary festival. Lauren’s friend said she liked reading, and she mentioned Matthew Reilly. ‘He’s at the festival’, I said. It makes you realise that literary festivals aren’t at all on the radar of most people. Of course, the Byron audience is mostly retirees and also kids for the schools programs. There’s a bit more of a mix at city festivals, but the majority are still older. My theory is not just that there isn’t heaps programmed to appeal to 20- and 30-somethings, but that they just can’t really afford it. The older crowds have the spare time and the money for culture. It’s the same reason not a lot of people my age get to the theatre. I love it, but I can only afford a few shows a year. Anyway, that was majorly tangential. I guess I’m trying to do my bit spreading the word on loving lit (and participating in supporting it by buying books and coming to events) via this blog and my Twitter feed.
Where was I? Sunday. After that I finally got to catch up properly with Amy Barker, and a few of us went down to the lake to watch the birds. I had forgotten all about the snake Alex told me about, too. I wish I’d remembered to look for it.
The festival was all but at an end, and I think Jeni Caffin and her team did an awesome job. The volunteers were great, and Pam and Jon, my old bosses, did a great job with the Dymocks festival bookshop and the signings.
There’s so much I didn’t get to in these posts, especially actual informative stuff, but that’s how memory and exhaustion works. I’m being ‘authentic’. I promise my Melbourne Writers Festival blogging will get deeper into the featured books themselves.
One last piece of terribly salacious and superficial gossip (how absurd!) And this is the part I debated putting in but then I know you, the readers, might like it. Apparently at one of the dinners, BEE was having chats with a young male Aus author (YMAA), and young innocent author was very excited to be getting attention (but wondering why there was so much of it) and someone kinda nudged him to suggest what kind of attention this might be. ‘Oh’, I said, when I heard. YMAA said he thought he’d heard BEE talking about not judging or dividing by gender. Having fallen for BEE a bit after his funny, intelligent and kinda defiant ways in the Q&A with Simon on Sun, this added to my BEE *like* factor. ‘So he’s bi?’ I said. YMAA wasn’t sure. And no, I haven’t googled this. And no, I won’t ask him at the interview that will have already occured by the time this post goes up. But really, all the best people are.
See some of you at the BEE event at the Wheeler Centre tonight!
A sun-drenched and possibly superficial series of blog posts
On Friday I had my first three panels. I won’t go into too much detail, but there were highlights – such as being on stage alongside Tom Cho on one, and Krissy Kneen on another (and not as a chair, but fellow writer); meeting Susan Wyndham, literary editor of the Sydney Morning Herald; and getting to hear Susan Maushart’s and Alvin Pang’s differing takes on social media. Susan took her family ‘off the grid’, away from technology for six months – and that time is recorded in her book The Winter of Our Disconnect. She’s also incredibly smart, funny and lovely. Susan and Alvin spoke about a divide between the ‘real’ and ‘online’ worlds and selves. I spoke about that divide not existing so definitely for me – that I didn’t really think about my online activity so much as being separate from my real life, that it was more integrated for me.
Another highlight was my afternoon session, on which I chaired Kirsten Tranter, Brenda Walker and Georgia Blain – talking about books and family. Each author had literary influences in their lives as children, particularly their literary mothers. Kirsten and Brenda even run their manuscripts by their mothers and take on board their criticism – Georgia was fascinated by this as she felt she couldn’t really do that. We spoke about favourite books, too, and childhood memories of books (such as illustrated fairytales). I loved getting to chat to these three talented authors about personal and professional crossovers.
Later, at the close of the festival, author Marele Day pulled me aside and said she’d caught the session and that she wanted to tell me what a great job I was doing chairing. I can’t say how wonderful this is to hear. When you’re up there on stage, often you have no idea how you’re going. You are juggling your knowledge of the books, with the topic, with the author personalities, with audience interest – it’s a balancing act. And you must guide, but also take up the authors on interesting points, and make sure they each get enough air-time. So, thanks, Marele, and other audience members who let me know what worked over the festival. I appreciate it.
On Friday night I was lucky enough to be invited along to a small dinner with a few Text Publishing authors, dapper publisher Michael Heyward and publicist Jane Novak. Michael Cathcart (The Water Dreamers) was there, and his wife/partner Hannie Rayson, the playwright – what a charming pair. Susan Maushart was there, and my friends Dan Ducrou and Krissy Kneen. The steak was amazing and the conversation ranged from ’70s arthouse/erotic films to the way social media is influencing publishing. Half-way through, Dan got a text from his girlfriend, the wonderful Phoebe Bond. She had just attended the Bret Easton Ellis event with Ramona Koval and reported that he’d been very misbehaved. We awaited her arrival to get the full story.
Over the next few days I only heard snippets of the story, so this is all second-hand, but it will be played on Radio National’s The Book Show so you can make up your own minds. Many people thought he was being a wanker – tapping his feet, looking around and talking about how hot Delta Goodrem was. Some others thought Ramona was being antagonistic and should have followed along, playfully. (Again, this is all second-hand.) Many thought it was performative. I think he was being absurd, which I like, but then I really like Ramona, too, and can imagine how hard it would have been! She’s one of our most experienced interviewers and broadcasters. Anyway, enough speculation. Were any of you there? Can you give us your opinion in the comments?
I did see BEE do a one-on-one with Simon Marnie on Sunday and he was much better behaved. Some of Simon’s questions were deflected but Simon found a way to wiggle around to the info anyway. BEE, to me, seemed funny, intelligent, and actually quite authentic. He just honestly doesn’t know how to answer some of the questions about the ‘why?’. He can’t really talk about process because ‘writing a novel is not a logical, practical thing.’ It’s an emotional thing, he says. He was amused, in a way, by how the interview went the other night. He said ‘people assumed I’m a much more serious literary figure than I actually am.’ People think he’s depressed and dour. I’m going to save the rest of my notes from that session, as I’m interviewing him this Thursday, and can work them in. But maybe we’ll just talk about pop music! I will just quickly say, that he does view his books as each being quite cathartic, and he doesn’t censor himself because he needs the voice of the narrator to be authentic. And he absolutely loves that American Psycho comes in a little ‘sandwich bag’ in Australia. He thinks it’s cute.
But back to Saturday now. On Saturday I had my last two panels, I was chairing both. In the morning, a panel on ‘Fragmented Identities’ was packed-out – more than likely because of crime star Michael Robotham. Georgia Blain and Patrick Holland were also on the panel. I think Holland was a star with his articulate explanations of character complexity. I wish I’d recorded him. I’ll be posting a review of his book The Mary Smokes Boys very soon on here. This was one of those panels where I had no idea how it was going on stage. I kept being unable to find the right words (a bit fatigued by now) but once it was over both the authors and audience seemed to have had a wonderful time. So I was happy with that.
My last panel was late in the day and I spent some time down by the lake, watching ducks, and these other beautiful birds with blue bellies (which I’ve found out are Purple Swamphen), and catching up with Matthia Dempsey from Bookseller+Publisher and Peter Bishop from Varuna. Matthia is going on the annual trip for the Indigenous Literacy Project – she will probably be doing some updates on the Fancy Goods blog if she gets a chance. On this day at some stage I was also in the Green Room and heard a very familiar voice from behind me. It was ex-Prime Minister Bob Hawke! I was only a wee lass when he was PM. I was too shy to say hello, but I saw many people do so. How different would it be if it were little Johnnie Howard? On Sunday I also got to thank Clive Hamilton for his 2004 book Affluenza, which I’ve read several times and really made me think about my country, and my society, Western society, consumer society, differently. I talked about my doctorate a bit and he gave me some more authors to follow-up.
To be continued…
A sun-drenched and possibly superficial series of blog posts
Around 9pm on Wednesday night I rolled into Gold Coast airport. My talented friend Omar Musa was on the same bus into Byron and we decided we should go out and wreak some havoc. Havoc was kebabs and a quiet pub where a young blonde man by the name of Matt Buggy played pub ‘classics’. Omar and I kept forgetting his name and ended up with variations of Billy Buggy Ballbag, and we admired the way he, winkishly, asked ‘how ’bout this one?’ to the drunk, uncoordinated punters.
When we’d had enough of Ballbag Billy-Bob we found ourselves in a strange little club full of twelve-year-olds, tequila, and a very severe gothic bartender (she was pretty hot). First we just chair-danced but as soon as Billy Jean came on the seats were abandoned and Omar and I cut a rug.
On Thursday morning I had my workshop (I was fine – a slight hangover actually helps the nerves). The workshop was in a recording studio within Byron’s impressive SAE complex. Twenty-four people (a sell-out) filed in through the thick, sound-proof doors. Three hours went incredibly fast. Participants had their curiosity sated, and many walked out buzzing with ideas. I really enjoyed meeting and hearing about them all. Afterwards, it was nachos and a radio interview on ABC (regional NSW), after which I began shaking unexplainably. I’m pretty sure it was after-shocks of adrenaline. Bodies are fascinating, aren’t they? A beer next door with Omar and a chat on the phone to my boy cured all.
Thursday night was the opening party. Lots of champagne and not quite enough finger food to soak it up made the rounds. I caught up with various lovely faces and met some new ones. It was wonderful to see my friend Amy Barker (author of Omega Park), though we didn’t get to have a proper chat until later in the festival.
At some point I looked over and saw the PanMacmillan ladies (publicists Tracey and Kate) with a boyish Bret Easton Ellis. I wondered what it would have been like for him, in this room full of strangers, in a country he’s never been to, knowing he was one of the festival drawcards (at his first ever writers’ festival, anywhere). Later on stage he wondered aloud why he had chose Byron Bay Writers Festival as his first – a kind of absurd choice as the punters aren’t even really his demographic. He wondered whether he was escaping something in California, whether something was wrong. But he’d always wanted to come to Australia, because a friend said ‘people are hot and they drink a lot’.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Besides hot people drinking a lot in the room, there was Terry Denton’s stick with little rubber animals on it (wtf?) and a mass exodus to the verandah when the speeches started. I was standing with the lovely Krissy Kneen, and she said ‘why do people keep looking out here? Are we talking too loud?’ But then we realised their looks were those of envy, at the space away from Di Morrissey’s speech. I can’t actually judge as I didn’t hear it. I hear Robert Drewe rescued the crowd afterwards. (I know, I was very rude talking outside while the speeches were on.)
Pictured: party bat
Omar tells me later he was walking by a group of people when one of them said ‘Oh, I missed the speeches’ or something along those lines, and Omar said ‘Oh – lucky you! Jesus. They were fucking boring.’ One of the voices said ‘I gave one of the speeches’, and smiled, bemusedly.
I was introduced to Bret Easton Ellis sometime in the night, and he was a very friendly dude. Told me he was enjoying the Aussie sparkling wine. And I told him Kathy Charles and I were interviewing him in Melbourne next week, which he thought should be fun. I introduced him to Jack Heath, an Aussie boy wonder, with four novels under his belt at the age of younger-than-me. I honestly don’t remember much else of the conversation. Later we were at another bar, a group of us, and you could see the stars, and there was a discussion about fear of flying. BEE thought it was all about the fear of not having control, which I’d agree with. I still get it, and I fly quite a lot. When I think about the conversations, at one point I was shouting across the table to Kate how my WIP was going, and I was aware that BEE (in-between) was listening. I wonder how I embellished it. Do you think it’s possible to be genuine and still construct an image of yourself to suit different presences, different conversations? I’m fascinated by this. Obviously, as I have 3 1/2 years of a public, written, constructed self (that I feel is nonethless pretty genuine). And then, of course, there’s the ‘truths’ that come out only in fiction…
To be continued…
A quick post, lit-lovelies. I’m on a laptop near the beach (sort-of) but I’m posting between my workshop this morning (which was so fantastic) and a radio interview, while lining up another radio interview and catch-ups and trying to answer a few emails. Who has time to read?
Just wanted to say, I’ll be charging through the Byron Bay Writers Festival, hardly sucking a breath (what with all the panels and such), but I’ll try my best to pop in here with an update or two. You will find me updating Twitter, with my cyborgian hand-extension (aka iPhone).
Also, the internet here is $10 an HOUR. Writer/bloggers do not have that kind of moolah.