2015 Eye of the Storm – Day 4
with festival guest blogger Mark MacLean
Sunday, 20 September 2015
Second days of weekend festivals have a different vibe to first days. The crowd’s different: people who were too busy to come on Saturday (getting kids to soccer or pushing through twenty loads of laundry) finally have time for themselves. Everything’s a little looser and less frenetic. The only people who were up early were the emerging writers who settled in for a breakfast meeting while older, crustier writers hit the snooze button and grabbed another half hour.
That’s not entirely true: Lorna “Wrong Way Round” Hendry was out and about with a group of eager workshoppers developing memoirs at 10 am, and at 9.45 a throng gathered in the gazebo to hear four fine minds discourse under the subject Home Truths. Celestine, born and bred in Papunya, still feels like an outsider. Bob G, when asked the question ‘How long do you have to be in a place before it’s ok to start commenting on it?’ pointed out that it’s ok any time; some people live in a place for thirty years and that doesn’t necessarily give them special powers to get it right. On another tack, Kim M described the ritual she goes through when returning to country, reconnecting with Napparurla at the dam then picking up Kim on the way back to ‘civilisation’. (A bit cryptic, I realise, but you’d understand if you were there and you’d heard her.)
Next up was Finding Home and Healing, a panel that poured out some cracking quotes.
I loved the image of Christopher Raja sitting in Alice Plaza with his head full elephants and old Calcutta,
a strangely dissonant experience that I’m sure every writer can empathise with. Life has thrown so much at Ali Cobby Eckermann and Ajak Kwai yet they were graceful and quietly determined in their creativity. Ali described Aboriginal people as being “creative in our pain”, while Ajak’s story of growing up in Sudan with a speech impediment and therefore able only to sing, not speak, for years and acting as her blind grandfather’s “walking stick” was just extraordinary. Yet somehow it prepared her for the horrors of what was to come and, like many of the artists present, became a wellspring of their creativity.
And then it was my turn! Me and my new bestie, Lorna (yes, the same Lorna who’d just finished a workshop minutes before) all coffee-ed up and ready to hit the panels, with the careful guidance of Sally from the NTWC. What a delightful pair of people to work with, before an audience who let us run on and blather and generally enjoy ourselves under the pretence of “work”. I really could get used to this.
My next panel was a very different affair, but just as much pleasure. Walking Home was the theme, with Glenn Morrison, Jan Bauer and Craig san Roque. Could there have been a more diverse group? Glenn has just finished his PhD on walking literature and its descriptions of Central Australia, while Jan’s graphic novel of trekking the Larapinta Trail is co-published in Australia and Germany, and then Craig took us to Delphi and the onto-poesis of landscape. Where on earth could a book about walking the storm water drains of Newcastle fit into that? No worries: Craig took me on a mythological tour of my own patch of dirt and wove it into the grander narrative that made the mundane world of concreted creek beds somehow poetic and filled with wonder.
We were almost finished by now. The last panel, with Lorna, Jessie Cole, Kim M and local and writers centre stalwart Jo Dutton took apart a lot of what had discussed over the weekend. I liked how Jo looked back on the brash naivety with which she tackled her first novel with a sense of warmth and pride. I was particularly taken by Jessie’s ‘anti-hero non-quest’. In a world in which the story narrative has been nailed down and structured by disciples of Joseph Campbell and Robert McKee, it was really refreshing to hear someone describe their non-quest that took place without leaving home yet still created a novel that was bedded in place yet soared beyond it. (Though the locals’ response to her having written about their community was hilarious; i.e. not a word spoken for over a year until someone says, “Read your book [long pause]. Yeah.” That’s what we write for, isn’t it?
And so to Monte’s for the Lit Kwiz. On stage on the Authors team with Lorna and Bernard, up against a team of local Teachers.
They had squeaky dogs and we had castanets: we were doomed from the start. (So Jane Austen didn’t write Wuthering Heights? Whoops.)
We got smashed and retired gracefully to drink beer amongst the hoi polloi while the Brains Trust took their turn. Who won? You never win against a teacher!
And so we ended, with flowers for the extraordinarily hard-working organisers, the amazing volunteers who kept everything running, the lighting and sound crew who kept the microphones going (even when four-way boards were plugged into four-way boards out of four-way boards). As a woman said to me as we left the Leaving Home panel: “We should do this every weekend!” Dani? Sally? Fiona? Anyone?