Reading Slump and an Opera

Well, it seems I’ve hit a bit of a reading slump. I’m rarely getting a chance to settle down with my book and when I finally do, it’s at the end of the night and after a page or two, I’m already falling asleep! I’m halfway through Nausea which I’m enjoying immensely but perhaps something a little fluffier for my next read.

Danielle Calder as the Governess, Victoria Opera, 2010

In other news, I attended the Turn of the Screw Opera this week. It was quite fantastic and I thought the two young performers playing Flora and Miles were great. I had never heard a child sing Opera before. The Opera was sung in English and even so, I think we were all relieved when the subtitles came on after the prologue! It was a very small cast and small stage but the props were nicely used particularly the ingenious idea of using a dollhouse to signify the rambling, Gothic mansion. The ghostly appearances of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel were nicely done too and it never failed to amuse me when my friend jumped every time they materialised on stage. I’m not an expert in Opera but the voices were beautiful. And it might be me but I never realised how overt the pedophilia overtones are. I must re-read the story again.

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.


  • 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. 🙂

A Gala Night of Storytelling

Last night, I attended the opening session of the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, of which I blogged about recently (ok, it was more like I boasted 🙂 ). The inaugural event was a good old storytelling session by a lovely mix of leading Australian writers, a comedian and a musician. I knew the event was sold out but I had absolutely no idea how many people or popular it was going to be. My friend and I were late but it didn’t matter since the line sneaked right around the corner and around 500 metres up the next block. Ironically, I ended up standing outside the antiquarian book store. I wished I had taken a photo of the line because it was pretty exciting to know how many book geeks were out there last night.

The theatre was a lovely room with bygone decor and architecture. Here are some photos I sneaked while waiting for the show to begin:

The mixture of stories told were marvelous and they were all equally captivating. Some were sad and wistful, as were the stories told by David Malouf about his mother and the simplicity and beauty of family love by Tara June Winch, who read out her piece in a most lovely sing-song and gentle voice.

There were funny stories by Cate Kennedy, who regaled the audience with funny anecdotes of her eccentric but lovable grandfather, Judith Lucy, whose family was not big on storytelling but, in turn, provided her with stories to tell, and John Safran, who told us that it was his father who first urged him to test the boundaries and to always …err…poke at things.

There were also stories with morals. John Marsden spoke about a recent incident which caused him to muse over consequences where the youth of today are not part of a community and are never, informally or formally, initiated into society as an ‘adult’. Christos Tsiolkas spoke about the alienation of migration, where grandchildren and grandparents become worlds apart and, in many instances, are no longer even able to speak the same language.

These were just some of the stories told and I was enraptured from the beginning. The finale song by Paul Kelly was both uplifting and sad, teaching, or warning, us about the importance of distinguishing between chance, fate and destiny.

It was a great night and a great welcome and introduction to the Wheeler Centre and christening of Melbourne as a City of Literature. Hurrah! For those who are interested in seeing the event, the session was filmed and it should be available to watch online soon.

It was also great to meet Elena, from With Extra Pulp, after some slight confusion, phone troubles (on my part) and chasing each other around the city on a Saturday night. We enjoyed a Booty Call and weird tasting vodka while talking about books and writing. 🙂

The Wheeler Centre

Already, I think this is going to be one of my most favourite places in the city and it hasn’t even opened yet. The Wheeler Centre (named after Tony and Maureen Wheeler of Lonely Planet) has been under development for the last two years ever since Melbourne was announced as the second City of Literature by UNESCO in 2008 (the first being Edinburgh).

The crux of the centre is to provide a melting pot of ‘books, writing and ideas’ and it is situated beside the State Library of Victoria (also a most lovely place). Everything literary is going to housed under the same roof such as the various writing organisations. What I am most excited about are the ongoing events that are to run from the centre. I think the events are innovative, fun and most importantly of all, allows people from all walks of life and background to enjoy, and be introduced to, quality literature and discover new writers as the majority of events are free.

The three month programme is out and I’ve already booked myself in for around six events, including the opening Story Telling Gala night and ‘In Conversation with Helen Garner’, and marked out many others that I want to go to. I’m most excited about the Lunchbox/Soapbox event with Kate Holden, who is one of my most favourite writers and columnists. The beauty of many of these events is that you can simply wander in and find yourself a place where your mind can be stimulated. With all the writing centres situated under one roof, debuting and established writers, artists, thinkers now have a centralised headquarter. Bibliophiles can also now indulge in literary delights throughout the year rather than the few major events.

(And no, I don’t work for the centre.)

MWF: ‘Outsiders’ with M.J. Hyland, Nikki Gemmell & Catherine Therese

I attended the Outsiders event at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival this evening and it was simply, simply marvellous. The panel was made up of M.J. Hyland, Nikki Gemmell and debut writer Catherine Therese and they discussed what it meant to be an outsider and how outsiders feature in their work. All three panellists were incredibly engaging and wonderful readers when they read aloud a section of their work. I’m not usually a fan of being read to but all were spirited and articulate.

The discussion began with Nikki who detailed her life as an ex-pat, moving from Australia and living the better part of the last decade in London, and moving back to Australia again, frustrated by her inability to finish her book (Book of Rapture). She fled London with her three young children and rented a one bedroom shack in the country where they intended to stay for three weeks. They stayed for three months and her experience reawakened her longing for home: Australia and for her children to know their roots.

Next was Catherine who discussed her dysfunctional childhood and family who are sadly still very dysfunctional today. She recounted her teenage pregnancy with a boy who had half a thumb, who, upon discovering she was pregnant, gave her $20 to go have an abortion (which she didn’t). Catherine’s family was not one for talking and, rather than tell her parents, she let the pregnancy carry on, she herself also denying the situation. Her parents were only told when Catherine felt the baby kick for the first time during dinner. When Catherine notified her parents that her book/memoir was imminent, they packed up the car and drove from Sydney to North Queensland and called her book ‘filth’. Catherine made a memorable comment when she said (and I’m paraphrasing) “your life begins when you first realise you are you”.

Finally, it was M.J, or Maria’s, turn. Her voice was the first surprise. It’s deep and full with a strong British accent tinted with a faint Irish note.  I had assumed she would have an Australian accent since she spent her teenage and young adult life here. The second surprise was how funny she was. There were numerous times when she had the audience in stitches. When introducing her, the chairman (in the first of some several major slip ups!) butchered the pronunciation of her main character’s surname. Her latest book is This is How and the main character epitomises an outsider. M.J (the other panellists called her Maria but I have her as M.J in my head) read the first few paragraphs from her book before throwing it aside, exclaiming how she hated doing this because all it does is make her want to edit the entire thing. 🙂

In discussing her inspiration for the book, M.J drew on several other works that helped mould her story. Albert Camus’ The Outsider, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and another book that I didn’t catch and that I was stupid enough not to remember to ask her later when she signed my book! I’m still kicking myself. It is a companion or a response to Camus’ The Outsider.

The hour went very fast and there were some light hearted moments towards the end. M.J even took a photo of the entire audience with her camera which I find endearing. She also broke some tension when the chairman accidentally called an older woman in the audience “that gentleman” during question time!

The three authors did book signings after the event so I had to quickly go purchase a copy of This is How from the numerous book stores downstairs (bliss!). However, due to my silly nerves about speaking to M.J, my mind went blank and as I handed her my book, clutched in my sweaty hands, all I could stupidly squeak out was “I really enjoyed your talk”. Ugh!

Edit: I have since found out from another M.J. Hyland interview that the companion book the Camus’ The Outsider is The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke.

MWF – M.J Hyland & Nikki Gemmell

Well, I’m FINALLY off to the Melbourne Writer’s Festival for the first time. I’m so excited and I can’t wait. I got a doozy of a session too for my first time – both M.J. Hyland and Nikki Gemmell will be discussing how it is to write about trauma and isolation.

The MWF has grown so much in the past few years that I feel it’s a travesty that I’m not participating. Such great authors are simply streaming out the nose and ears a few streets down from my uni.  I feel very privileged to live here, with all the bookish happenings. Melbourne is also the second city to be declared ‘The city of literature’ by UNESCO in case I haven’t trumpeted this enough. Not a bad place for a bookworm.

Books Alive

The latest book guide for this annual event has been released. This year, if you buy a book listed in the guide, you get a free copy of 10 short stories by authors including Toni Jordan (Addition), Melina Marchetta (Looking for Alibrandi) and Tom Keneally (Schindler’s Ark). Alternatively, you may choose the latest title in the Grug series! It’ll probably help if you have young children but I’m glad to see the Grug back.

Some of the selected 50 titles (“50 books you can’t book down”) include new releases such as Rapture by Nikki Gemmell and The Slap by Cris Tsiolkis, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts and Dear Fatty by Dawn French.

This year’s selection seems much better than previous years where I found there were too much chick-lit and fluff – which isn’t a bad thing since it is trying to encourage the masses to pick up a book. The free book of short stories isn’t too bad too but I’d prefer the offer that occured during the first year of Books Alive where you got to pick from a selection of published books. I picked Geraldine Brook’s Year of Wonder and it was so worth it.

Summer Reads

The State Library of Victoria has released a short list of summer reads by Victorian authors or with Victorian (Australia) settings.

1. Addition by Toni Jordan

2. Beaten by a Blow by Dennis McIntosh

3. Bird by Sophie Cunningham

4. Blood Sunset by Jarad Henry

5. The Boat by Nam Le

6. Cup With No Handles by Carolyn Landon

7. Dissection by Jacinta Halloran

8. Dreaming Again by Jack Dann

9. Flavours of Melbourne by Charmaine O’Brien

10. Growing up Asian edited by Alice Pung

11. I am Melba by Ann Blainey

12. Musk and Burne by Fiona Capp

13. Radical Melbourne by Jeff and Jill Sparrow

14. Sea of Many Returns by Arnold Zable

15. Swing by Sailor by Catherine Dyson

16. Tall Man by Chloe Hooper

17. The Time We Have Taken by Steven Carroll

18. Tom Wills: His Spectacular Rise and Tragic Fall by Greg de Moore

19. White Knight with BeeBox by Peter Steele

20. The Zookeeper’s War by Steven Conte

Many of these titles sound very good and, while I’m not an avid reader of Australian literature, I find  many of these titles very intriguing. These aren’t the typical, quintessential Australian literature where there’s the bush, desert, horses, rangemen, etc, but stories that are actually set in the suburbs and the city. These environments are actually much more familiar to many. I’m also very excited to be reading Victorian authors. I think the State Library has done a very good job in forming this list.

I’m particularly interested in Bird, The Boat (Nam Le also recently won the Dylan Thomas prize with an award worth over 60,000 Euro), Dissection, Flavours of Melbourne, Tall Man, The Time We Have Taken, and The Zookeeper’s War. The library’s website also has short summaries of all those titles.

I also hope others will be enticed by these titles too. 🙂

Melbourne – UNESCO’s City of Literature

As a proud Melburnian and bibliophile I just thought I should point out that the city has become only the second (after Edinburgh) to be named a City of Literature. I think it’s an incredible declaration and I was extremely pleased when it was announced back in August coinciding with the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. Books are never far away and they are never difficult to find in this city. It is not only the massive chain stores, where there are very few here, but also the smatterings of second-hand bookstores, independent bookstores, hole-in-the-wall stores, and book cafes. Libraries also feature strongly around the city too and where ever I have lived, I always managed to have a library very close by. I’m very lucky at the moment to be able to count on having four libraries close by, However, it’s not just reading. Writing is a ferocious past time among us too.

Although I’m not quite sure what this means for the city, and what will change, this is one city appointment that I actually care about and which is extremely inspiring. One thing I do hope, however, is that we don’t become all selective, fussy and ‘high class’ about books and what constitutes as literature (which is still debatable anyway). The most important thing about books is that people are able to enjoy a story and to escape into another world.

A photo (not a very good one unfortunately) of the State Library of Victoria at night.

State Library of Victoria

State Library of Victoria