What a weekend! The 2015 Australia New Zealand Festival of Literature and the Arts at King’s College in London was a chocker-block whirlwind of words and ideas, shared.
On Saturday it was such a pleasure to be in the company of these two adventurous women, talking about writing, story seeds, the dramatic beauty of Australian landscapes and how we conjure them through our creative process. Pat Lowe, middle, is the author of 14 books, her latest is The Girl From the Great Sandy Desert, which she co-authored with her husband, renowned Australian artist Jimmy Pike. On the right is Jesse Blackadder, who’s writing has won a gaggle of awards and taken her to extreme places like Antarctica, Alaska, and the Australian desert. Her book Paruku is inspired by the true story of wild brumbies in The Kimberley caught and taken to Dubai. Our audience was attentive and kind, turning their faces towards the stories from these writers as if they were sunshine.
Later Jesse, Andi and I sat in on Breaking the Cycle, a compelling, powerful and important session with Melissa Lucashenko (Mullumbimby) and Alan Duff (Once Were Warriors) talking about love, belonging, violence, identity, and abuse in society and fiction.
Afterwards we scurried away for much-needed wine and dinner, only to be lavished with a spontaneous performance from an a cappella choir group who filled the back of the pub. As the pints flowed and their heavenly tones turned football anthem-ish, we took our leave into the London twilight and strolled home. Such a rich, fascinating day.
Sunday, day two of the festival, was a rip-snorter. I was thrilled to sit with New Zealand novelists Elizabeth Knox and Janina Matthewson and spend an hour talking about magic, mythology, non-reality and truth in our fiction. We covered everything from the apocalypse to growing roots from heartbreak. Elizabeth’s latest book, Wake is a book about extreme events, ordinary people, heroic compassion – and invisible monsters. Janina’s gorgeous debut novel Of Things Gone Astray tells the story of a group of people who, on one seemingly normal day in London, all lose something dear to them, something dear but peculiar. It is a magical fable about modern life, values and finding the things that really matter. From our chat together a clear idea emerged: writing our stories is one true magic.
In the afternoon, inspired by a session about it at the festival, Jesse, Andi and I popped out for a matinee showing of five-star-rated The One Day of the Year at the gorgeous Finborough Theatre.
The production asks, is ANZAC Day just an excuse for “one long grog-up” or is it a day when Australians reflect on those who have paid the ultimate price?
The One Day of the Year generated huge controversy in Australia following its publication in 1960 with a policeman stationed at the stage door to ward off the angry public, while death threats were sent to the author. Last seen in the UK at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1961, this production rediscovers an Australian theatre classic.
Marking the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign and taking place during a year of world-wide ceremonies commemorating the battle, the production is presented as part of this year’s Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts.
Equally spectacular were the glasses of red we shared and the wander we took together through the beautiful Brompton Cemetery nearby, one of London’s Magnificent Seven. (I later learned that Beatrix Potter may have taken the names of some of her characters from tombstones in the cemetery. Names of people buried there included Mr. Nutkins, Mr. McGregor, Mr. Brock, Mr. Tod, Jeremiah Fisher and even a Peter Rabbett, although it is not known for certain if there were tombstones with these names.)
We rejoined the festival in the late afternoon to see Man-Booker shortlisted Steve Toltz in conversation with Alex Clark. The thing he said that I loved most was that time is to writers what light is to painters: we can’t see our writing without it.
What a weekend of wonder and stories. Gratitude tanks are full and overflowing. I hurtled home on the train to Manchester, my head spinning with new stories, my heart brimming with ideas. Now, sleep.