Wheeler Centre Highlights: Helen Garner

This post is called ‘highlights’ because I have a ridiculous short term memory, especially when I’m giddy from being in close proximity to my writing idols who are rock stars in my geeky world, and because I don’t like taking notes at events.

This evening, I tripped along to the newly open Wheeler Centre for a session called ‘In Conversation with Jennifer Byrne: Helen Garner‘. The title suggests that it is part of a series and I certainly hope so although Jennifer already hosts a similarly titled series on the ABC to complement the First Tuesday Book Club she also hosts.

The session started off with microphone issues. I was somewhere in the middle of a quite small (and sterile looking, I must say) auditorium and there was difficulty hearing Jennifer’s questions. I felt sorry for the little old ladies sitting in front of me who were a little distressed at not being able to hear. I’ve never heard Helen’s voice and it was a very nice, soft lilt. She comes across quite harsh in her photos but her voice was very warm and kind. I never tire at being surprised by authors’ voices.

Highlights:

  • I couldn’t hear the question but Helen began to talk about coercion. She read out a paragraph by Philip Roth from the latest Paris Review so you can check it out if you’re interested. I think it was the last paragraph. She adores Philip Roth’s work.
  • Helen spoke a bit about her writing. She writes everyday, either in her journals or whatever she is working on. She’s always kept journals but, rather sadly, the ones before 1980 have been destroyed.
  • She loves going to court proceedings and wonders why more writers aren’t as interested, particularly for cases which concerns human morality (not the run-of-the-mill drugs and gangs). She’s gotten me all interested in going to court cases but I’m too afraid to simply show up to watch.
  • Currently, Helen’s in the middle of writing a non-fiction book on the Robert Farquharson case but it has been put on hold. Farquharson was found guilty in 2007 of murdering his three sons by driving the family car into a dam on Father’s Day in 2005. However, Farquharson was granted a re-trial which is starts in April 2010.
  • What Helen had to say about this case has really stayed with me. She recounts the 2009 summer where Melbourne went through a long heat wave and a devastating bush fire. She noted, in a wonderful expression that, unfortunately, I can’t remember, that the heat made people go mad and do crazy things. Helen recalls the day in January when four-year-old Darcy Freeman was thrown off the West Gate Bridge by her father. That day, Helen was driving her three grandchildren to the beach in the same area and consequently had to drive under the bridge during the time the girl was being resuscitated (although Helen didn’t know what was going on at the moment). With the three grandchildren acting up in the back of the car and the oppressing and stifling heat, what made that father snap, and what didn’t in Helen, was something very small indeed. It could have easily been anybody else.
  • What makes some people ‘snap’ and what holds others back is what fascinates Helen. Paraphrasing her words, ‘there are only 30 steps of difference between them and us’.

Helen then briefly talked about her other books – The First Stone, Joe Cinque’s Consolation, and The Spare Room. She wryly quotes Simone de Beauvoir “I write so I will be loved” in response to the backlash she received when The First Stone was released.

It was a great evening. I started off writing this review in the formal manner and referred to both Jennifer and Helen by their last names but it felt so cold so I switched to their first names and now I sound like their best friend. Oh well. I’m still pulling my hair out at not being able to stay behind to get a book signed. Hopefully, there will be a next time. I always get incredibly nervous at book signings though – what do you say to them besides “I really, really, really liked your book/s/writing”? My alternative is to stand there and smile eagerly. :-)

4 comments

  1. Sounds like a great experience! Makes me want to check out the author’s works. Is there a particular one you’d recommend?

    1. She writes both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve only read her non-fiction which I really enjoyed particularly since they’re about issues in my city. I recommend ‘The First Stone’ or ‘Joe Cinque’s Consolation’. If you would like fiction, then I’ve heard good things about ‘Monkey Grip’. I hope this helps. :-)

  2. I adore Helen Garner, my favourite writer of all time. I snuck out of school one afternoon (as a teacher) four years ago, to go and see her speak at the Adelaide Writers Festival, only she didn’t show up. I was slightly disappointed…

    1. I would have been very disappointed too if she hadn’t shown up! That’s a wonderful story of you sneaking out. :-) I’m looking forward to her new book…if or when it gets released.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s